Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict

Da Bomb from Pilgrimage Blog asked me to review these videos of the truthfulness of the New Testament. They are composed by Josh McDowell, who is selling a book. These videos are supposed to be a small part of the book.

First the man on the street thing is not an accurate representation of what is being done in Textual Criticism. It is not even an accurate view of what most people think, just of the people they interviewed and used in the video.

The first video, he really says nothing. He makes a claim about what young people say but that is still not evidence.

The second video. It starts out talking about papyrus and its fragile nature. This is true. It is a plant and without the proper treatment, which they didn't have at the time of its use, it will rot and decay. He then references a story about an archeologist finding a book of the Bible and holding it to the light where it is destroyed. Well who is the archeologist? It is a neat story but what kind of archeologist is stupid enough to not take care of papyrus when they find it. That is very amateurish.

He keeps using the phrase bibliographic test, I tried looking this up and it only comes up on Christian websites. What he describes are part of the process used in textual criticism but not all of it.

Comparing classical literature to religious documents is comparing apples to oranges. Religious documents are more important to the followers than other forms of literature. Also he claims that we have copies from 50-60CE, but he does not cite what they are. Instead he cites documents from 125CE and later. Codex Sinaiticus is known to be written in the 4th Century or in the 300CE. Notice he didn't mention when it was written. The same goes with Codex Vaticanus, again 4th century. Here is a list on Wiki of each source and when it is dated. Notice there is very little in the early years, it is not until the 9th century and later do the large numbers show up.

He also seems to be making the claim the original documents were written during Jesus' time. I have never heard anyone say that. Again the beginning of Luke it admits that is a story handed down to the writer. Plus how many of the Disciples could read and write? At best one, more than likely zero.

Josh is talking about the number of documents. All the copies have errors, every single one of them. He makes the claim that we know we have the originals because we have a bunch of copies with errors. Well that is just false. The Wiki list, I cited earlier, also notes that we have between 200,000 to 300,000 variations of the New Testament alone. We can't know that we have it exactly like the original. A good example is that scholars believed the story of the adulterous woman and Jesus in the book of John was part of the original for a long time. In recent years some older texts were found, some around 200CE, that showed the story was not in John originally. Yet it is still placed in most Bibles. So without having originals we can't know for certain we have good copies. Instead all we know is we have the majority consensus on what was taught at the time of the last big group of copies.

He goes back to comparing apples and oranges. People put a greater emphasis on the Bible because of its claims. If Caesar had claimed he was the son of Jupiter and he died and came back to life, then yes there would be a lot more scrutiny as to its truthfulness. Caesar does not make this claim. Plus we have archeological evidence that Rome conquered Europe. I have walked down streets built by the Romans in England, and have touched the pavement stones they used in the streets. There is more to it than just the one book about Caesar and the Gallic War.

He is still comparing apples and oranges, there is more to it than just manuscripts and how close they are to the source. Also the claims of each are far different than the Bible.

Video 3: He talks of the early church fathers about copying of scriptures. This is true. Those also contradict with some of the copies we have found. Also the writings of the early church fathers are considered as part of the source for the New Testament. Notice also those early church fathers were before the Council of Nicaea in 325CE where it was voted on what the church should teach. The first official Bible was pieced together from the various writings circulating in 382CE.

Josh again makes the claim that what we have is what was written down originally. He does not know that, nor can he know that.

He skips over that the earliest copy of a Gospel we have is 200CE and that is a single fragmentary copy of John. Most of them the oldest we have is around 250CE.

He is now claiming the Truthfulness of the Gospel. At least he is not claiming Luke is an eyewitness, but he is claiming that the others are. He is claiming Theophilus hired Luke. notice he does not cover who Theophilus is. Theophilus is a title, it just means friend of God, it in no way tells us if it was an eyewitness or not. Luke, like Matthew, copies a lot from Mark. Luke was also written around 60CE, this is known because Luke did not write about the death of James in 62CE or the fall of the temple in 70CE.

Josh starts to just making assertions without evidence. He is claiming that the early church people knew Jesus, so that any story that came out that was not true would be called out on. Where does he get this idea? Matthew makes the claim that people rose from the grave when Jesus died and that these people were seen by many. Where is this recorded anywhere else? Where are Jesus' miracles recorded anywhere else? If something like that happened, it wouldn't be in just one book. It would be something talked about by everyone, yet it seems confined to one book, and really only one book of the Bible.

He admits that Mark is not an eyewitness. First off, we don't know who wrote Mark. The name was given to it, because people thought it was Mark the evangelist that wrote it. Now there is some evidence that it was a disciple of Peter that wrote Mark. It is still unknown. Josh is making the comment that it was written by someone scribing for Peter. If that is true, then Peter would have signed off on it and it would be known as Peter. Letters written by Paul were transcribed, but Paul signed them and sent them to the churches. Most of the oldest manuscripts from the Bible are Paulian letters. We attribute these writings to Paul not the scribe.

Next he talks of an attorney that wrote a book, and claimed that Mark would be considered an eye witness. Without reading her book, I can only make guesses as to what her standard of evidence was on who wrote Mark. I would venture the guess that she makes the claim as Josh does here that he was a scribe for Peter. There is no evidence for this. At best the writer of Mark may have been a disciple of Peter.

Josh proceeds to quote 1 John to verify the truth of the Bible. Quoting the Bible to prove the Bible, I believe that is circular reasoning. 1 John is traditionally attributed to John and it seems to be the same writer as the Gospel of John, 2 John and 3 John. It was written around 100-110CE. If it was written by John he would have been very old. Again we actually do not know who wrote it.

Again he uses the Bible to prove the Bible in referencing 2 Peter. Really, Peter denies that they made up stories, shocking. I am sure Mohammad denied making up stories also. I know Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, claimed he did not make anything up.

Josh knows it was the truth because the disciples died for it. Do of Heaven's Gate cult died for the story he made up. Joseph Smith of the Mormons was also martyred for his beliefs. Just because they died for it, does not make it true.

I love his theatrics, like he is trying to recall the verse off the top of his head instead of this all being scripted. He now quotes John 20:30-31, where it talks of the many other signs. These signs are never recorded by anyone, other than in the Bible. Why would no one else write about these things? That just does not make sense. Technically these other signs aren't even recorded in the Bible. John just states they existed.

Video 4. This starts off with another man on the street style interviews about whether religion could be proven in a court of law. Even though I agree with the people, are any of them lawyers? Are any of them textual critics? I am going to guess possibly to the first. No to the second question. This proves or disproves nothing.

The first thing Josh says is that all the evidence for the Bible can be found in the Bible. Corroborating evidence is what most people rely on. Josh still claims that the Gospels are eyewitnesses. Notice he lays no proof out for this, just makes the claim. He has said nothing about Matthew or John. In fact all he has done is pointed out that Luke and Mark are not eyewitnesses. He then proceeds to quote the writer of Luke, who also wrote Acts, in Acts about how the disciples saw Jesus for 40 days after he had arisen. That Jesus performed miracles for them. Yeah, that would fly in court, that is not hearsay at all. Josh again claims that Luke recorded an eyewitness account. That cannot ever be confirmed. Luke even says he just looked at the reports from eyewitnesses, not that he even talked to eyewitnesses. Let's go back and actually look at Luke 1:1-4

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

First note the [a]. This is the NIV translation. The word fulfilled could easily be translated as 'been surely believed'. So he starts out saying, 'Hey, this is what we believe' not 'what happened'.

Next he says as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. What he is saying is these are stories passed down mainly orally to them. It does not say he is getting these directly from eye witnesses.

Then it says he is writing them for Theophilus, not scribing them like Josh claims, but writing them down so that he will have an account. There is nothing in here that allows you to claim Luke was scribing for an eyewitness.

Now Josh is claiming that they presented this before people that knew Jesus personally. I don't know where he is getting that from. There is no evidence for this. In fact these stories were not written to be part of the same book. Instead they were written to help spread the faith, so that others could learn of Jesus. These were the equivalent of gospel tracks today.

Acts 2 is the story of the Day of Pentecost and the first anointing of the Holy Spirit, according to the Bible. This says nothing to validity of what is written. There is no evidence that the person that wrote Luke even talked to eye witnesses. Josh is just stating this is all facts because they are eye witnesses yet he has done nothing to prove they are. So his whole premise, is that it is an eye witness and because of that then it must be true. Since it is true, then people must have known of the miracles, although no one else wrote of miracles. He is being semi-logical based on his premise, but his premise is wrong. He has not shown sufficient evidence that Luke/Acts is an eye witness account and not just a story that was passed down.

Video 5: Again using Acts 26, he is still not proving his premise that Acts is an eye witness.

Josh states that he believes what is written in the Bible is what Jesus said and did. Awesome, you can believe whatever you want, that does not make true. Nor does really wishing and hoping make it true. He is claiming the community was there for these miracles, but were they? There is no evidence of that. Josh keeps making this claim and does not back it up with anything. This is really starting to annoy me. If he could prove that these are the same people that supposedly followed Jesus, now some 30 to 80 years after his death then he has something. Just stating it over and over again does not make it true.

He now references Paul statement that Christ appeared to over 500 people after his death and that the majority of them were alive during Paul's time. Okay, who were they? Paul gives no names or where to find any of them. Paul just makes this assertion and goes on. This is not evidence. I can claim over 1,000,000 people witnessed my friend Steve walk on water. That makes it true. Wait, no it doesn't, you would want the names of these people and where it happened to see if I am telling the truth. Apparently, Josh thinks we should just take Paul's word on it.

Now he is claiming dieing as a martyr makes what you said true. I hope that Josh will convert to the cult of Heaven's Gate, David Koresh's cult, the People's Temple or in the very least the Mormon church. As all their leaders were martyred or killed themselves for their beliefs. This is why the martyr card doesn't work.

He just used an appeal to authority, citing Robert Greenleaf a philosopher, saying that the apostles suffered the most painful death without denying their stance. I am not even going to look up whether Greenleaf said it or not, because it doesn't matter. Greenleaf is not an expert on religious history or torture history. His opinions are just that his opinions, what Greenleaf and Josh need to do is prove the statement. But even then it is not proof that the apostles were telling the truth.

Josh uses another false analogy, when comparing Watergate and the idea the disciples made everything up. With Watergate, what was being covered up was nasty and the lies to cover up hurt a lot of people. Christianity on the other hand makes most people feel good about themselves. People are less inclined to question something they agree with and feel good about than they are something that does not. Plus the changes in technology between Watergate and the writing of the Bible are more than just significantly different.

Wait, he is now pointing out that a lot of people have died for a lie. He is saying that those people that died for a lie thought it was the truth. Well no shit, you can say the same about the disciples. You can convince yourself of your own lies. Again I will point to Do, David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Smith. All these men died for lies they themselves made up.

More man on the street interviews, these serve no purpose.

Video 6. Josh is just making a straw man. Jews do not believe the messiah will die, that is one of the many reasons they reject Jesus. Now he is claiming that the leaders declared Israel itself was the messiah, again that holds no water, because there is a very specific check list for the messiah. Jesus, at best, fulfilled the line of David requirement and that is it. You can question that as the two differing lines are both from Joseph (Yes, I know the claim is one is from Mary, but where is the evidence for that? Plus the two stories were not written to be side by side, they were stories for new churches and fliers for new believers.) Rabbi Shraga Simmons points out all this on his About page, Ask the Rabbi. Covered in that is what Josh is trying to explain, the suffering servant.

Christianity claims that Isaiah chapter 53 refers to Jesus, as the "suffering servant."
In actuality, Isaiah 53 directly follows the theme of chapter 52, describing the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. The prophecies are written in the singular form because the Jews ("Israel") are regarded as one unit. The Torah is filled with examples of the Jewish nation referred to with a singular pronoun.
Ironically, Isaiah's prophecies of persecution refer in part to the 11th century when Jews were tortured and killed by Crusaders who acted in the name of Jesus.
From where did these mistranslations stem? St. Gregory, 4th century Bishop of Nanianzus, wrote: "A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire."

Josh is still beating away on his strawman. Claiming that Jews believe they as whole took the sins of the world on them, utter bullshit. If that was true there would be no need for atonement of sins as the Jews still practice (Teshuvah).

Cool, this video turns into a smut film with some scenes of Jesus death.

Josh is still quoting the New Testament like it was truth, then using that to prove it is true.

Sorry Da Bomb, I am still not convinced, because I don't stand by his premise that the Gospels are eye witnesses and perfect eye witness accounts at that. Which is what everything he said hinges on. He does nothing to prove the premise. I am not paying to get proof of the "Truth". If my soul is truly in peril and he has the answer he should be giving it away not making money off of it. This sounds similar to selling animals for offerings in the temple. I believe that was frowned upon in the stories contained in his "Truth"


Chris said...

I especially like your point that if Jesus had done all the miracles ascribed to him then he would be the most well mentioned figure in ancient history.

Consider this. There were spooky howls coming from woods on one island & Tacitus makes mention of it. A few spooky howls! Now imagine if some guy had walked on water & raised the dead. And all that in full view of countless witnesses.

We should expect to be inundated with ancient authors from that era mentioning these events even if it's only to ascribe the happenings to their own god. Instead all we get is a deafening silence.

For the sake of argument let's say that the miracles occured too far away & in too despised a corner of the Roman empire to be recorded. Fine. Does the same apply to the sun darkening at noon? That was supposed to have occured at Jesus' crucifiction. Since a huge number of authorities in the ancient world paid a great deal of attention to phenomena in the heavens shouldn't at least one of them have written about the sun going dark?

Da Bomb said...

I have run out of time I need to go (I read most of it).

The main problem you have that I see is the assumption that the/some of the gospels were eyewitnesses.

Yet you make the assumption that they were not eyewitnesses.

Thanks for watching them. Obviously the book has more detail. I am sure that since he has been in many debates before that should he reply to you it may give you more stuff to think about.

Pr 18:17 "The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him."



BeamStalk said...

Da Bomb, it is not an assumption. There is no evidence that they were. Show me the evidence and I will change my mind.

BeamStalk said...

Also he provides zero evidence that they are, he just says they are.

Chris said...

To be fair Josh McDowell is a bit of a twit. He pontificates on history, archaeology, ancient Greek & Hebrew, and Theology yet is qualified in none of these subjects.

The logic which is presented in McDowell's books is usually extremely flawed at the best of times. But then McDowell's books aren't meant for nonchristians. They are for believers who accept every word McDowell writes & who assume that when a nonchristian rejects McDowell's baseless assertions it's because the nonchristian is prejudiced.

BeamStalk said...

Chris are you saying that a Masters of Divinity means jack all when it comes to archeology, textual criticism, Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek? No way. /sarcasm


Da Bomb said...

Hey BS,

I thought you might be interested. I been doing a bit of reading around for interest and found this. Food for thought :)



BeamStalk said...

I will take a look at it DB and probably cover it in a post.

MrFreeThinker said...

Hey Da Bomb . I wouldn't recommend reading Josh McDowell. Someone like Craig Blomberg or Ben Witherington would be better to read since they have PhD's in New Testament and know what they are talking about more so than Josh. (I have books from both and both also have blogs).
Daniel B. Wallace also has great articles on his site and books. There is material pertinent there to textual criticism and the authorship of the gospels .
Mcdowell might be ok for a surface level treatmemt but these are more in depth.