Fine. We shouldn’t assume twenty-first century people are not gullible either ("If Jesus existed"??? What have you been reading?
There were no Christians prior to the ascension, Pentecost, etc. There were disciples of Jesus in the time you are referring to. The disciples of Jesus did not believe he was John the Baptist resurrected. That some townspeople in the area at the time had other ideas is irrelevant.
Nothing in what you write is convincing me you have a grasp on how the Gospel accounts came to be or the history of the early church, from a purely historical perspective. You can believe whatever you want to believe and be incredulous of what sounds unconvincing to you. But like the t-shirts that say “science doesn’t care what you believe,” history doesn’t care what you believe. There are certain facts that are not in dispute. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish rabbi who was crucified by the Romans. Very shortly after his death, (not long enough for myth or legend to be an explanation because of the preponderance of eyewitnesses who could have set the record straight) a new Jewish sect developed claiming Jesus was bodily resurrected. Believers (including those who claimed to be eyewitnesses to this) were killed and persecuted for their testimony. These are historical facts. Do they prove Christ’s resurrection? That is subjective, of course. But you lose all credibility when you seem ignorant of or skeptical of the actual history involved.
You can’t know some of these bigger questions with the same confidence as you can have regarding the physical things accessible to science. What you want is for us to make an (I would say unwarranted) faith leap with you toward believing there is nothing that is not addressable / measurable empirically. For all those things that are so accessible – we are happy to use science to know more about them, just as I’m happy to use my eyes to their fullest extent to avoid catastrophe while bicycling down the road. But that doesn’t mean I become agnostic about a world beyond what my eyes are telling me. My actions will be based on a whole stew of sensory inputs coupled with processing of prior knowledge, and faith about what I expect to find around the next corner, at my intended destination, etc.
Yep, I’m a mythicist, but I did not start out this way. But assume for the sake of this discussion that Jesus is historical. I also am not assuming that modern people are not gullible, but we are definitely more educated and likely more reasonable.
My point was that the 1st century Palestinian Jews could believe John the Baptist rose from the dead. This is the claim Synoptic Gospelers make. Modern Christian apologists claim that 1st Century Jews would never believe the Resurrection unless it was a bodily one. Well, they are not paying attention to their Gospels’ claims.
There probably were several rabbis names Jesus that were killed by the Romans, perhaps even crucified. However, taking the Gospels at face value, you can’t tell me that Synoptic Jesus is the same as Jesus of John’s Gospels. And even these two Jesus’ are unlike the Jesus of Hebrews (Epistle).
> At this very time in history Judaism split into more than twenty sects, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Hemerobaptists, Nasaraeans, Ossaeans, Herodians, Therapeutae, Bana’im, Hypsistarians, Maghariya, Masbotheans, Samaritans, Galilaeans, Qumranians, Essenes, Dositheans, Sebuaeans, Gorothenes, and a dozen others (see “2. The Heady Days of Jewish Diversity” in Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” Jeff Lowder & Bob Price, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): pp. 107-10, 198-201). They all differed and often fell into heated debate over the proper beliefs and community values, yet they all thrived. Some rejected the Torah, some credited an angel with the creation, some worshipped Moses as Christ, some permitted obeisance to idols, some practiced astrology, some accepted baptism as an atonement for sins, some rejected a literal interpretation of the scriptures, some scorned the Jerusalem Temple, some believed Herod was the messiah, some denied the existence of souls or angels or spirits of any kind, and some denied resurrection altogether.
Notice, some worshipped Moses as Christ! Were they Christian? Perhaps they were, who knows.
Also, we find that in Corinth there were people in the church who said there were no resurrection(s). How many people were there and what kind of a ‘Christian’ were they?
There were some heretics that did not preach that Jesus has has come in the flesh! This was considered a heresy by the group that survived to our times, but how many people believed in Jesus as a pure spirit being and not a human? We’ll never know, but it’s important to acknowledge these differences among “Christians”.
I’ve found it puzzling that even John the Baptist did not join Jesus. According to the Gospel of John, both John the Baptist and Jesus were baptizing people, implying these were different sects, while John the Baptist, supposedly, held Jesus in a very high regard. So, why didn’t John the Baptist become Jesus’ disciple? There are so many questions like this that the more I ponder them, the more likely the gospels appear to be made up tales (and not good ones, either)
Even Luke’s Gospel appears to be an edit job
Luke 9:18 And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying,…
Jesus was alone and praying, but the disciples were with him and he questioned them… O…K…
And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars? And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Cæsar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre? And what kind of deeds are recorded of each of these reputed sons of Jupiter, it is needless to tell to those who already know. This only shall be said, that they are written for the advantage and encouragement of youthful scholars; for all reckon it an honourable thing to imitate the gods. But far be such a thought concerning the gods from every well-conditioned soul, as to believe that Jupiter himself, the governor and creator of all things, was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions. But, as we said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things. And we have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire.
At least Justin was consistent. He did not deny the miraculous of others’ religions, just attributed the works to the wicked devils.
Well, @Mervin_Bitikofer , here is the deal. I have a very religious family, that tries to argue with me occasionally regarding religious matters. I switch gears on them and start making claims that I, myself, am divine. And my family realizes that they have no response to that. They notice that they must resort to the same atheistic arguments/questions that I’m using when discussing Christianity with them.
And that is all I’m really after. Lets be consistent. If I make divine claims, I must prove my divinity or be considered a liar (or mentally ill). And everyone is justified in not considering me a God just because I (jokingly) claimed to be one. So, why aren’t atheists justified in not believing in Gods for the same reasons?
Your family wouldn’t have to resort to anything more than the original disciples-to-be did when they were wondering if they should follow Jesus. If you go around healing people, transforming lives, and generally being willing to stand up to the powers that be on behalf of the powerless, you’ll have gotten my attention! Note that the disciples didn’t decide to follow Christ just because he said so. They followed him because he would do things like tell them to put their nets down on the other side of the boat. Would-be messiahs wanting to talk the talk were apparently a dime a dozen back then. If you had actions behind such words (and if you weren’t joking) then we would have something to talk about.
Each author had specific goals in his presentation of Jesus. I don’t have any problem admitting that all of them were crafting their narratives around their individual rhetorical goals, not setting out to do a purely objective, chronological historical record. But no, I don’t see how, taken in light of the context, the narratives present radically different pictures.
Historians find a vast array of beliefs of any world religion at any point in history. I don’t understand your point. Christians, at any point in history (until maybe very recently with some extremely liberal branches), have all claimed the Resurrection as the center of Christian belief, no matter what else they have interpreted differently.
Christians have always had creeds. Moses as the Christ is not found in any Christian creed. Those in Corinth who denied the Resurrection were specifically called out by the apostles as wrong.
John had his own ministry, and it was repentance focused. He saw himself as preparing the way for Jesus, not competing with it. Plus he got beheaded early on. Where do you see Jesus baptizing anyone? In John 4:1-2 it specifically says it was his disciples who were doing the baptizing.
@Mervin_Bitikofer But you are assuming that Jesus was a miracle worker. We are back to the written text and assumptions. But if you test the promises of Jesus that apply to today (Matt. 17:21, John 14:12) you’ll find that they all fail. There are no miracles. Therefore, I’m justified in holding a view that the Gospels too are likely just stories.
@Christy, but if three narratives are following the same outline, you know that they were copying each other, no? Why would an independent eyewitness have to copy Mark?
And Jesus of GMatthew endorses Pharisees!
Matt. 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
Jesus’ only gripe is that the Pharisees don’t practice everything they teach, but Jesus has no problems with their doctrines. Yet, here comes Paul to proclaim Jesus the end of the Law. Gospel of John Jesus is similar to what Paul is preaching, but not GMatthew’s!
Most textual critics think Mathew and Luke used Q and Mark to compose because they were already part of the tradition. Dominantly oral societies do different things with written texts and see texts as serving different purposes than we do now in our text-dominant society.
Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience and the Pharisees were highly respected by the Jews.
Well, there’s New Perspective on Paul that has a much more Jewish-loving take on Paul that I think explains some stuff pretty well.
… and testimonies of people by their lives and works ever since. But you are right that these can all be dismissed by a determined skeptic. If, for example, one is able to convince themselves that Jesus never existed, then I probably also can’t convince them that the holocaust happened or that people have landed on the moon. You are correct that gullible people can always be found then and now.
Have you tried this? I mean other than seeing if God will make a Ferrari or some such thing materialize at your bidding?
If one really submits themselves to God and desires a relationship in a personal sense (not a vending machine or personal slave), then I they may be on their way to really “taste and see”. Jesus has been a true friend and Lord to me (truer than I have been to him), and so while I can’t say that every prayer I’ve prayed has been answered in the way I wanted, nor is it my observation that God has “failed”. The verses you reference can yield to such a surface interpretation, and as such may be convenient for those who need to use them to write off Christian faith. I don’t follow you in that practice, though, just as I don’t write off science the moment somebody is caught misusing or misunderstanding it.
Almost any religion is messy … because every generation there is some “new theologian” who finds “new perspective”.
It is a living tradition … that commands the hearts and minds of millions of people. The Atheist view is that you can’t have Free Will with God in the picture. But I have concluded otherwise: without God in the picture, all we are is deterministic aggregations of quanta.
I reject the senselessness of aggregations of quanta. You may celebrate it. But you can’t expect millions of people to adopt senselessness. The Human heart and spirit requires “meaning” … and you can join in that if you like.
Well, Jesus did exist. Heck, there are Jesus’ alive today (i.e people named “Jesus”). The reason I am convinced that Jesus of the Gospels did not exist is based largely on the Epistles not mentioning anything that he thought and written as if he wasn’t around to teach anyone anything. The Christianity that survives today should really be called “Paulianity”, but I digress. I’ve also admitted that I’m willing to assume a historical Jesus for the sake of this discussion. It doesn’t follow that a Jesus mythicist must deny holocaust or the moon landing. I think there is just too much documentary evidence to dismiss the holocaust or the moon landings. However, IF all we had were anonymous written sources, some of which clearly copied each other, then the story would be different.
Also, you don’t have testimonies of the disciples. You have anonymous sources, written in Greek, claiming to be telling a true story. But fairy tales work the same way.
Ah… but here you are just conveniently excusing the falsehood of the promise. Look, imagine that I made the same promise. Go ahead and pray in SuperBigV’s name and you will receive whatever you ask in prayer. Nothing will be impossible to you. At what point are you going to acknowledge that my promise is worthless? I am not the one with the double standards here. I don’t have one standard for fairy tales and another for the Bible. I don’t have one standard for Jesus and another for everyone else.
@gbrooks9, you are right there. I’d only add that the religion is messy because it’s created by people and people make lots of mistakes and can be ignorant.
“Atheist view”? An Atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a God or Gods. You don’t believe Zeus is God, right? Then you are an Atheist as far as Zeus and his followers are concerned. I just disbelieve one less God than you guys. As far as Free Will, I don’t have an opinion on that. I can see both sides of the limited arguments that I’ve heard.
Without God in the picture you decide what you want to be. Btw, I’ll share a secret with you. Most Christians I know are already making their own decisions that are not based on the Bible. For example, Jesus said that you cannot be his disciple if you don’t give up your possessions (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:33). But very few Christians follow this today. They just have an interpretation that allows them to ignore the inconvenient teachings of Jesus. So, why claim that God is their guide?
Just a few thoughts on this conversation of central importance.
I’ve read your posts @SuperBigV and I want to thank you for gentle and respectful voice. You are offering an atheist perspective, and you are doing it kindly. It is a credit to you. I’m often reminding religious folk that most atheists are “friendly”, and you are making that case easier for me. Thank you.
I want to point out one thing from the start that we should agree on, but for different reasons. This conversation is most certainly not about science. Our faith is not based on a claim that rests on the scientific method. Rather, it is accessible to all people in all cultures of all socio-economic status of all languages. Science is much too narrow to accommodate this message.
Though it is not science, it is certainly based on evidence. Many of the arguments considered here rely on ignorance of that evidence. If we believe evidence is important, we could understand that evidence rightly and avoid rhetorically strong arguments that fail the evidence. The goal is not to win, but to truthfully explain.
Let me give a couple examples.
It is correct that the Bible discuss that many people rose from the dead (e.g. Lazarus). In fact, the claim is that we will all rise from the dead, so this is not a stunning thing. This, however, does not diminish the uniqueness of the Resurrection of Jesus, which is a “sign”: a miracle with evidence. We do not have the evidence for Lazarus rising from the dead, either now or at the time. Nor do we for any of the myths raised here. In the story of Jesus, however, we find a large amount of evidence, and ignoring it does not make it go away.
Another example is the claim that it is a strange to see the crowds swing from saying “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him.” It is easy to pick out details in coherent stories and paint them as contradictions, but this framing entirely ignores the actual narrative. We are given reasons why the crowd shifts like this; they wanted a Messiah that would overthrow the Romans, not one who would overturn the tables in their place of worship. They wanted power, instead of peace. Everyone conspires to murder Jesus for entirely relatable reasons that we all understand.
Moreover, the story is striking (unique?) for beginning a movement by exposing everyone’s depravity, including the movement’s leaders.
I should point out, that this is not merely about “personal impressions” about the sensibility of the narrative. We really do have to ask how this was understood at the time. This story does appear authentic, and all the key facts of the Resurrection are corroborated by secular historians at the time.
As for Paul and Jesus having different message, this is a common argument that depends the confusion in the Church about what exactly is the Gospel (shame on us). This article by CT is very helpful: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/9.25.html I will point out that Paul and Jesus used very different language. Paul talks about “justification by faith”, but Jesus talks about the “kingdom”. Pauls talks about “Christ” but Jesus talks about “The Son of Man.” Paul talks in platonic ideals, but Jesus talks in parables. What are we to make of this? Did they have different messages?
In first 1 Cor 15, we hear Paul tell us that his message is the Resurrection, but this is also what we hear Jesus say this too (Matt 12:38-45). He says that the “only sign” given to skeptical people is that “the Son of Man” would enter the belly of the earth and rise again three days later. Notice the total mismatch in language, but the exact same message. Why is that? What does this mean for us?
They are using different language to communicate the same thing in different cultures. Paul is hellenizing the message of Jesus, but in a way that matches the core teaching of the Resurrection. Of course, if we reject the Resurrection or do not take it as foundational, then it seems like they are teaching different things. The evidence that should remove any confusion is how the early church received Paul. They did not think he was teaching another Gospel, but accepted him as an apostle, even as 11 of the disciples were still around. We cannot reject Paul without given an account of why they did not reject him. Clearly he was teaching something they agreed with and worked with in their own writing.
What you see as evidence of error, most historians see as clear evidence of authenticity. The switch in language from “Son of Man” to “Christ” is a great example. These “discontinuities” right at the core of the Christian faith only make sense if they were actual accounts. They would not be observed so strikingly in fabricated accounts, which smooth out these details.
I could go on, but I encourage those interested to actually look at the evidence before loosely claiming there is no good evidence.
@Swamidass, Dr Joshua, thanks for your eloquent reply (as well as all other posters) and for the kind words. I appear to be a lone dissenter here and I am not sure if it is beneficial to continue with the arguments. I believe I’ve provided enough information in defense of my doubt of the existence of the Divine and of the resurrection(s).
What I will say, is that in my opinion, any and all contradictions, no matter how strong and obvious, can be reconciled, given enough imagination.
Frankly, I do not understand why Christian apologists make the claim that the disciples were killed for their belief or teaching on the resurrection. Paul himself states that it is the issue of the circumcision that is the stumbling block.
Gal. 5:11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.
The Canonical Acts of the Apostles describes (what I think is) the infighting among the various Christian factions.
Acts 21:17 After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do this that we tell you…
The story goes on to tell us how Paul was seized in the Temple and I wonder how many, from the thousands of the James’ believers, were among the crowd?. These are Christians’ own writings and they don’t mention anything about a belief in the resurrection being a problem.
In fact, as I’ve pointed out previously, the Pharisees agreed with Paul!!!
I would submit that it is the Christian Apologists who are using their imagination (and largely) ignoring their own Scriptures to provide evidence for the Resurrection that is a product of their own mind.
But here is an even bigger issue, that I have not brought up yet. Lets imagine that there are God, the Angels and Satan. If true, that will create another dimension to the debate. On the one hand, as Christians argue, this will make resurrection possible, that’s true and I agree with this. But, what Christians seem to miss, is that it will make supernatural theft of Jesus’ body possible also! I am, admittedly, using my own imagination here. But, assuming Satan’s existence, and provided he has the powers of a supernatural being that is more powerful than humans, he could have stolen the body and appeared as a vision to the disciples and the 500 brethren in order to deceive them. Again, admittedly this is a product of imagination, but I think anyone who relies on spiritual forces must account for the negative supernatural influences also.
After Jesus’ violent death, His followers were frightened and scattered. Then, something happened that grew a strong, bold, and confident belief that resisted sustained, murderous opposition. Unlike other movements with executed leaders, once they came back together they did not replace Jesus with one of his family members. Their resistance was entirely non-violent and devoid of political power. Yet they were all suddenly willing to die for what they saw. What changed them? Why was there not evidence at the time to undermine their belief? What convinced them that Jesus was inconceivably greater than his family?
We think the answer was they encountered Jesus, risen again, and therefore believed God’s Kingdom had come and they no longer had to fear death.
You can take your shot at an answer, but no historian has been able to provide an account. The claim is not that they all died for teaching the Resurrection (that is false), but that they all became willing to nonviolently die after witnessing the Ressurection.
This is an interesting theory that can be tested with evidence.
Your posts are helpful here. What you call contradiction are examples of quote mining, where passages are taken out of context, and divorced from the narrative to say exactly the opposite of what is meant. We here at BioLogos are really familiar with this style of reasoning, because we see it all the time in anti-evolutionists. It is very easy to quote mine for contradictions. In the age of the Internet it is even easier. Just google around and you will find pages and pages of silliness like this, both against evolution and against Jesus.
At some point, we have to decide if evidence really matters to us or not. There is evidence for the Resurrection. And for evolution too. One has to be willing to look for it with an open mind, and turn from the silliness of quote mining, and to be willing to go where the evidence points.
There are good reasons to turn from Jesus. He calls to willfully suffer for those injured by the injustices in this world. This is costly. This is hard.
Quote mining, however, is a silly reason to turn from Him. Why not try to understand what you reject to resolutely? I ask the same thing of my anti-evolutionist friends. It is only easy to reject evolution when it is not understood. The same is true of Jesus.