The Trial of Jesus

We’re going through the New Testament and seeing Trinitarian passages. Right now, we’re in the gospel of Matthew. For those of us reading for the first time, we are not going to touch a story in Matthew and then do the same one in Mark or Luke. Usually, we deal with all of them together so Mark and Luke could be shorter ones to go through. (John having so many dialogues will be different and we have much to touch on there.) Tonight, we’re in Matthew 26.

62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”63But Jesus remained silent. 
      The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

 64“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think?” 
      “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Gary Habermas has said that he believes this is the strongest statement of deity that Jesus Christ made. Why? First off, it’s an obvious reference to Daniel 7. However, let’s take some time to look at some references to clouds in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 4:

10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.

Deuteronomy 33:

 25 The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, 
       and your strength will equal your days.

 26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, 
       who rides on the heavens to help you 
       and on the clouds in his majesty.

 27 The eternal God is your refuge, 
       and underneath are the everlasting arms. 
       He will drive out your enemy before you, 
       saying, ‘Destroy him!’

2 Samuel 22:

 9 Smoke rose from his nostrils; 
       consuming fire came from his mouth, 
       burning coals blazed out of it.

 10 He parted the heavens and came down; 
       dark clouds were under his feet.

 11 He mounted the cherubim and flew; 
       he soared  on the wings of the wind.

12 He made darkness his canopy around him— 
       the dark  rain clouds of the sky.

 13 Out of the brightness of his presence 
       bolts of lightning blazed forth.

Job 22:

 13 Yet you say, ‘What does God know? 
       Does he judge through such darkness?

 14 Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us 
       as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.’

 15 Will you keep to the old path 
       that evil men have trod?

Psalm 68:

 3 But may the righteous be glad 
       and rejoice before God; 
       may they be happy and joyful.

 4 Sing to God, sing praise to his name, 
       extol him who rides on the clouds 
       his name is the LORD—
       and rejoice before him.

 5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, 
       is God in his holy dwelling.

Psalm 97:

 1 The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; 
       let the distant shores rejoice.

 2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him; 
       righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

 3 Fire goes before him 
       and consumes his foes on every side.

Psalm 104:

 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; 
       he stretches out the heavens like a tent

 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. 
       He makes the clouds his chariot 
       and rides on the wings of the wind.

 4 He makes winds his messengers, 
       flames of fire his servants.

Ezekiel 30:

2 “Son of man, prophesy and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 
       ” ‘Wail and say, 
       “Alas for that day!”

 3 For the day is near, 
       the day of the LORD is near— 
       a day of clouds, 
       a time of doom for the nations.

 4 A sword will come against Egypt, 
       and anguish will come upon Cush. 
       When the slain fall in Egypt, 
       her wealth will be carried away 
       and her foundations torn down.

Nahum 1:

2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; 
       the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. 
       The LORD takes vengeance on his foes 
       and maintains his wrath against his enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; 
       the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. 
       His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, 
       and clouds are the dust of his feet.

 4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; 
       he makes all the rivers run dry. 
       Bashan and Carmel wither 
       and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.

Let’s keep in mind also that the Jews certainly understood the claim of Christ so much so that the high priest tore his robe. Why is that important? First off, the high priest did not have his robe always as the Romans ruled. It was brought out only four times a year so this is an event Rome would know about.

Second, look at Leviticus 21:

10 ” ‘The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt  or tear his clothes.

The whole trial was a violation of Jewish custom, but right here the high priest tore his clothes in response, something that the Law forbade him to do.

I believe Habermas is right. Jesus depicted himself coming on the clouds, a statement of deity, and referred to himself as the Son of Man. Ironically, the Jews were right in charging him with blasphemy.

That is, unless his claims are true, which they are.

Were they not true, then no. It was not a correct charge.

Which is one conclusion we have to realize when we come to the crucifixion. Either the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all putting to death the most righteous person of all, or it was the most righteous act of all putting to death the most wicked person of all.

No one can leave the cross neutral.

You must decide.

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36 Responses to “The Trial of Jesus”

  1. Vinny Says:

    Gary Habermas has said that he believes this is the strongest statement of deity that Jesus Christ made.

    At best it it the strongest statement of deity that Jesus Christ was reported to have made forty or more years after his death by an anonymous author.

  2. apologianick Says:

    Nice assertion. Can you back it was 40 years later? Also, can you show me a work by Tacitus that has his name on the top of it?

  3. Vinny Says:

    For the 40 years, I am compelled to rely upon scholarly consensus. I have read arguments that place it both earlier and later. What date do you like?

    I do not possess any works of Tacitus, but if he does not identify himself as the author of the works that are attributed to him, I would expect scholars in the field to be able to provide persuasive reasons for believing that he is. In fact, even if the writings carry his name, I would be surprised if scholars were not able to cite corroborating evidence.

  4. apologianick Says:

    I don’t care what the scholars say as much as I care about why they say what they say. Do you have any reasons for dating Matthew to forty years later since there are some scholars who don’t. Otherwise, you are just choosing to agree with those who already agree with you.

    And for Tacitus, good that you’ve already stated then that anonymity is not a problem. There are reasons for believing Matthew is the one who wrote his gospel. Have you ever read them?

  5. Vinny Says:

    Otherwise, you are just choosing to agree with those who already agree with you.

    This would seem to assume that I formed an opinion before I read what scholars had to say on the subject. How do you suppose I would have done that?

    My reason for dating Matthew to forty years is because it falls within a fairly wide range of dates for which I have read arguments that seem rational to me.

    And for Tacitus, good that you’ve already stated then that anonymity is not a problem.

    Don’t be silly. I have said nothing of the kind. Anonymity is certainly a problem. With respect to Matthew, I have not read anything that persuades me the problem has been overcome. With respect to Tacitus, I have not read anything on either side of the question.

  6. apologianick Says:

    You: This would seem to assume that I formed an opinion before I read what scholars had to say on the subject. How do you suppose I would have done that?

    Me: Irrelevant. All that needs to be known is that it has been done.

    You: My reason for dating Matthew to forty years is because it falls within a fairly wide range of dates for which I have read arguments that seem rational to me.

    Me: Then the good thing to do would have been to have given a reason instead of simply “scholars say.”

    You:Don’t be silly. I have said nothing of the kind. Anonymity is certainly a problem. With respect to Matthew, I have not read anything that persuades me the problem has been overcome. With respect to Tacitus, I have not read anything on either side of the question.

    Me: Then it would seem for some reason it’s not a problem for Tacitus but one for Matthew. If that’s the case, then we simply have special pleading going on. For Matthew, you can say you’ve read nothing to show the problem has been overcome. I’d prefer for you to show that there is a problem to begin with.

  7. Vinny Says:

    Then the good thing to do would have been to have given a reason instead of simply “scholars say.”

    If I had known beforehand that you would have found that formulation more acceptable, I would have given it.

    Then it would seem for some reason it’s not a problem for Tacitus but one for Matthew.

    I have no idea what pleading you think I am making with respect to Tacitus. I do not know whether anonymity is a problem or not. I personally don’t know whether Tacitus is identified in the writings that are attributed to him or not. Nor do I know what reasons historians might have for believing that Tacitus is the author of the writings that are attributed to him. I have never looked very closely at Tacitus probably because no one has ever tried to convince me that his writings are particularly relevant to my life today.

    On the other hand, people frequently try to convince me that the things that Matthew(?) had to say about a certain first-century itinerant preacher are vitally important to my life today. Unfortunately, the author of this work did not identify himself or say where he got his information about that preacher. In fact, the author of this work is not identified until approximately a century and a half after the death of that preacher.

    Not knowing who wrote Matthew and where he got his information prevents me from concluding that it reflects what Jesus thought about himself rather than what the author thought about Jesus.

  8. apologianick Says:

    You:If I had known beforehand that you would have found that formulation more acceptable, I would have given it.

    Me: The formulation is irrelevant. I want the reasons and you have yet to give them.

    You:I have no idea what pleading you think I am making with respect to Tacitus. I do not know whether anonymity is a problem or not.

    Me:Ah yes. Say one thing and contradict it the next. You have no idea whether anonymity is a problem with Tacitus. You do know it is one for Matthew however. If anonymity is a problem to an ancient document, it doesn’t matter which document it is. Please tell me why you want to put Matthew to a test you don’t put Tacitus to.

    You: I personally don’t know whether Tacitus is identified in the writings that are attributed to him or not.

    Me: Then try reading them.

    You: Nor do I know what reasons historians might have for believing that Tacitus is the author of the writings that are attributed to him. I have never looked very closely at Tacitus probably because no one has ever tried to convince me that his writings are particularly relevant to my life today.

    Me: So then you admit that you’re ignorant of the methods historians study ancient documents while at the same time saying anonymity is a problem.

  9. Vinny Says:

    Please tell me why you want to put Matthew to a test you don’t put Tacitus to.

    I don’t put Tacitus to the test because I cannot imagine any way in which the outcome of the test would have any impact on my life.

    On the other hand, many people tell me that the author of Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write inerrantly and infallibly. They tell me that one of the ways people determined which writings were inspired was by their apostolic origins. According to these people, the authority of this writing is directly dependent on the connection between its author and that certain first-century preacher.

    If anyone tried to tell me that anything as important as that depended on the authorship of Tacitus, I might look closer at it.

  10. apologianick Says:

    You: I don’t put Tacitus to the test because I cannot imagine any way in which the outcome of the test would have any impact on my life.

    Me: Do you consider Tacitus reliable in the matters he wrote about? (But then again, have you read him?)

    You: On the other hand, many people tell me that the author of Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write inerrantly and infallibly. They tell me that one of the ways people determined which writings were inspired was by their apostolic origins. According to these people, the authority of this writing is directly dependent on the connection between its author and that certain first-century preacher.

    Me: Which is all very interesting, but right now we’re asking first if anonymity is a problem. The question of inerrancy doesn’t matter at this point as we’re not looking at the truth of the document in itself but in relation to the author.

    You: If anyone tried to tell me that anything as important as that depended on the authorship of Tacitus, I might look closer at it.

    Me: And you still have given no reasons for dating Matthew late….

  11. Vinny Says:

    Which is all very interesting, but right now we’re asking first if anonymity is a problem. The question of inerrancy doesn’t matter at this point as we’re not looking at the truth of the document in itself but in relation to the author.

    The question I was addressing is one that you posed “Please tell me why you want to put Matthew to a test you don’t put Tacitus to.” The answer to that question is that I test Matthew because Christians tell me that the outcome of the test matters. I don’t know how to discuss the problem of anonymity without discussing the consequences that flow from knowing who the author is. If we are only looking at Matthew in order to gain some understanding of what a particular community of believers late in the first century thought about Jesus, then knowing who actually wrote it doesn’t really matter. If the book has some sort of magic powers by virtue of being written by someone who personally knew Jesus, then it does.

    In the abstract, anonymity is simply a fact or circumstance, i.e., either an author identified himself or he did not. Anonymity is a problem if it hinders our ability to identify the author and we in fact care who the author is. I would guess that Roman historians consider it important to know who wrote the works that are attributed to Tacitus because it effects their conclusions on a variety of topics. I would guess that it would effect the corroboration and dating of other historians and the events they report. That is just a guess however, because knowing who wrote Tacitus is not a cause for concern to me.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we might consider Plato. Is it possible that some of the writings that are attributed to Plato were in fact written by someone else? Could it be that one or more of his Dialogues were actually written by one of his students? Could it be that some unknown philosopher who lived fifty years later attached Plato’s name to his own work in order to get it read and that work made it into the corpus that we now know as Plato? Is it possible that substantial portions of The Republic were reworked by later philosophers? I don’t think any classisicist would deny any of these possibilities.

    On the other hand, are the uncertainties about who wrote any given passage in Plato a probem? I would say no. The significance of Plato is the influence that the ideas have had on subsequent philosophers. Nothing of consequence flows from whether any individual passage reflects the exact thoughts of the person that we think of as the historical Plato.

    As to dating Matthew, I did not know that 40 years later (or say 73 A.D.) was considered “dating Matthew late.” It is the date that I find in my Catholic Bible and it is the early end of the range proposed by Bruce Metzger. My reason for using that date is that conservative Christians usually seem willing to concede that it is a reasonable guess. As to my personal estimate, I find it hard to be any more precise than sometime after Paul and before Ignatius.

  12. apologianick Says:

    You: The question I was addressing is one that you posed “Please tell me why you want to put Matthew to a test you don’t put Tacitus to.” The answer to that question is that I test Matthew because Christians tell me that the outcome of the test matters. I don’t know how to discuss the problem of anonymity without discussing the consequences that flow from knowing who the author is. If we are only looking at Matthew in order to gain some understanding of what a particular community of believers late in the first century thought about Jesus, then knowing who actually wrote it doesn’t really matter. If the book has some sort of magic powers by virtue of being written by someone who personally knew Jesus, then it does.

    Me: Then let us begin by simply looking at it as a first century text telling information about Jesus. As a Christian, I find it ridiculous also to refer to the Bible as a book with some sort of magical power. It was text written in the common language of the day.

    You:In the abstract, anonymity is simply a fact or circumstance, i.e., either an author identified himself or he did not. Anonymity is a problem if it hinders our ability to identify the author and we in fact care who the author is. I would guess that Roman historians consider it important to know who wrote the works that are attributed to Tacitus because it effects their conclusions on a variety of topics. I would guess that it would effect the corroboration and dating of other historians and the events they report. That is just a guess however, because knowing who wrote Tacitus is not a cause for concern to me.

    Me: Or is it a guess because you’re unfamiliar with ancient history? (I’m going to guess you’ve never read a work of Tacitus or Plutarch or Josephus.) If anonymity is a problem, then we’re going to have to throw out the majority of ancient history as unreliable. You use the standard you have for Matthew for everything else and it leaves us entirely ignorant of ancient history.

    You: On the other end of the spectrum, we might consider Plato. Is it possible that some of the writings that are attributed to Plato were in fact written by someone else? Could it be that one or more of his Dialogues were actually written by one of his students? Could it be that some unknown philosopher who lived fifty years later attached Plato’s name to his own work in order to get it read and that work made it into the corpus that we now know as Plato? Is it possible that substantial portions of The Republic were reworked by later philosophers? I don’t think any classisicist would deny any of these possibilities.

    Me: Nor would anyone who’s actually read Plato, as I have. There are early dialogues, middle dialogues, and late dialogues. These show developing ideas in Plato’s thought. Then there are dialogues that are considered questionable. A good collection of his works will show those.

    You: On the other hand, are the uncertainties about who wrote any given passage in Plato a probem? I would say no. The significance of Plato is the influence that the ideas have had on subsequent philosophers. Nothing of consequence flows from whether any individual passage reflects the exact thoughts of the person that we think of as the historical Plato.

    Me: With some minor exceptions. The apology and the Phaedo come to mind as these give us information about Socrates.

    You: As to dating Matthew, I did not know that 40 years later (or say 73 A.D.) was considered “dating Matthew late.” It is the date that I find in my Catholic Bible and it is the early end of the range proposed by Bruce Metzger. My reason for using that date is that conservative Christians usually seem willing to concede that it is a reasonable guess. As to my personal estimate, I find it hard to be any more precise than sometime after Paul and before Ignatius.

    Me: Duly noted that in all of this there is no reason other than “scholars say.” I want more than appeal to authority. If an authority believes it, I want to know why they believe it.

  13. J. P. Holding Says:

    Vinny, you’re such a pathetic fraud. You know very well that you can’t apply standard tests to the NT because you know you’ll be forced to be consistent and admit to their authenticity and reliability — or else toss out oll of ancient history. Why don’t you go ahead and do that, since your credibility is less than zero already anyway?

    I’ll let Nick continue to kick your sorry hiney into the stratospehere. This is fun to watch. It’s like seeing a fly beaten to a pulp with a sledgehammer! 😀

  14. Vinny Says:

    Then let us begin by simply looking at it as a first century text telling information about Jesus.

    Fine. As a first century text relating information about Jesus, I would want to know how the information came to the writer and how he decided what information to include in his account. Unfortunately, the author does not provide much information in this regard. Being able to identify the author and when he wrote might be helpful.

    Or is it a guess because you’re unfamiliar with ancient history? (I’m going to guess you’ve never read a work of Tacitus or Plutarch or Josephus.) If anonymity is a problem, then we’re going to have to throw out the majority of ancient history as unreliable. You use the standard you have for Matthew for everything else and it leaves us entirely ignorant of ancient history.

    Your guess is quite reasonable. I have read passages quoted by other writers but I have not read the works themselves. However, I did just take a look at the beginning of Tacitus’ Histories and while the author does not identify himself by name, he does seem to give a lot of information about himself and the people he knew. Based on the translator’s preface, it sounds to me like Tacitus was well known to his contemporaries. It seems to me that there might be plenty of corroborating evidence that historians could use to overcome Tacitus’ failure to attach his own name to his work.

    In any case, I do not know why recognizing anonymity as a problem would require us to throw out the majority of ancient history? Why can’t we just acknowledge that ancient events are subject to greater uncertainty than more recent events? I have read a decent amount of Civil War history and I am always amazed by the how much uncertainty there is about well-documented events. There is a wealth of primary source material about the Battle of Gettysburg, but historians still aren’t sure about many questions like what General Lee said or did at certain key moments, how many Confederate soldiers participated in Pickett’s charge, or why General Stuart and General Custer fought a cavalry engagement behind Union lines on third day of the battle. We know a lot, but there are many issues where the best we can do is narrow it down to a range of possibilities.

    It is unfortunately the case that uncertainty generally increases as events become more remote it time. We tend to have fewer contemporaneous and independent accounts of events making it more difficult to corroborate reports. We also find that historians were less careful about documenting their sources. That does not mean that we are entirely ignorant of ancient history though. It just means that we cannot be as sure of events that occurred during the Trojan War as we are of events that occurred during the First Gulf War.

    Duly noted that in all of this there is no reason other than “scholars say.” I want more than appeal to authority. If an authority believes it, I want to know why they believe it.

    Unfortunately, this seems to be one of those areas where the evidence is so sparse that the best we can hope for is a pretty wide range of possibilities with considerable uncertainty about any specific date within that range. I realize that scholarly consensus is a fairly weak reason for using early 70’s, but with the present state of the evidence I don’t hold out much hope for finding a much stronger one.

  15. apologianick Says:

    You: Fine. As a first century text relating information about Jesus, I would want to know how the information came to the writer and how he decided what information to include in his account. Unfortunately, the author does not provide much information in this regard. Being able to identify the author and when he wrote might be helpful.

    Please tell how Tacitus came about the information he used and how he decided which information to put in and which not. Please also explain this in light of his being anonymous.

    You: Your guess is quite reasonable. I have read passages quoted by other writers but I have not read the works themselves. However, I did just take a look at the beginning of Tacitus’ Histories and while the author does not identify himself by name, he does seem to give a lot of information about himself and the people he knew. Based on the translator’s preface, it sounds to me like Tacitus was well known to his contemporaries. It seems to me that there might be plenty of corroborating evidence that historians could use to overcome Tacitus’ failure to attach his own name to his work.

    Me: Okay. Here’s the thing. Based on the information we see in the gospel and what we hear from the early church, Matthew was known as the writer and there was no need to explicitly state it since he was well-known to his contemporaries. It seems there is corroborating evidence historians can use to overcome Matthew not attaching his name to his work.

    You: In any case, I do not know why recognizing anonymity as a problem would require us to throw out the majority of ancient history? Why can’t we just acknowledge that ancient events are subject to greater uncertainty than more recent events? I have read a decent amount of Civil War history and I am always amazed by the how much uncertainty there is about well-documented events. There is a wealth of primary source material about the Battle of Gettysburg, but historians still aren’t sure about many questions like what General Lee said or did at certain key moments, how many Confederate soldiers participated in Pickett’s charge, or why General Stuart and General Custer fought a cavalry engagement behind Union lines on third day of the battle. We know a lot, but there are many issues where the best we can do is narrow it down to a range of possibilities.

    Me: Why should I admit such a great uncertainty. Sure there are questions in every area. There’s questions in modern history when eyewitnesses are still alive. That’s not the fault of history but of people. Do we expect everything is right in each historical book? No. We expect basic truths to be in there. Someone may have some facts wrong on the Civil War, but we sure know unless they’re writing historical revisionism that they won’t say the South won.

    You: It is unfortunately the case that uncertainty generally increases as events become more remote it time. We tend to have fewer contemporaneous and independent accounts of events making it more difficult to corroborate reports. We also find that historians were less careful about documenting their sources. That does not mean that we are entirely ignorant of ancient history though. It just means that we cannot be as sure of events that occurred during the Trojan War as we are of events that occurred during the First Gulf War.

    Me: Yes. Let’s keep judging the way history was written in the ancient world by saying it’s not the way it was written in the modern world. The ironic thing is I find historians of the past were more concerned about truth than modern-day ones are

    You: Unfortunately, this seems to be one of those areas where the evidence is so sparse that the best we can hope for is a pretty wide range of possibilities with considerable uncertainty about any specific date within that range. I realize that scholarly consensus is a fairly weak reason for using early 70’s, but with the present state of the evidence I don’t hold out much hope for finding a much stronger one.

    Me: What evidence? You haven’t given any! You just say “scholars say.” Basically, you’re making an appeal to faith in this regards. Even if I’m not an expert in a field, if I’m going to say “X says” I’m going to want some basic reasons. What this tells me is that you’re making a statement on a subject matter you have no knowledge of.

  16. Vinny Says:

    Please tell how Tacitus came about the information he used and how he decided which information to put in and which not. Please also explain this in light of his being anonymous.

    According to the little I read, Tacitus seems to be claiming to have personally known many of individuals about whom he is writing and to have participated in many of the events. I have not read enough to say how he decides what to put in and what to leave out although I have seen passages in other ancient histories where the historian discusses the sources of various stories and why the historian finds one source more reliable than another. Knowing Tacitus’ sources and his method for evaluating them would certainly increase my confidence in his reports. My confidence would certainly be decreased without evidence to corroborate Tacitus as the author.

    Here’s the thing. Based on the information we see in the gospel and what we hear from the early church, Matthew was known as the writer and there was no need to explicitly state it since he was well-known to his contemporaries.

    I would be interested to know what you think we hear from the early church. I don’t see anyone demonstrating familiarity with this writing prior to Ignatius and I don’t see anyone identifying Matthew as the author prior to Irenaeus.

    Why should I admit such a great uncertainty.

    Because, as you note, even eyewitnesses get things wrong. Even when we have multiple accounts of the same event, there are often inconsistencies that cannot be conclusively resolved. Sometimes the account that gets preserved is the one that best furthers someone’s agenda rather than the one that it most accurate. Sometimes a story gets retold and preserved because of its dramatic effect rather than its evidentiary basis.

    I think the reason you should acknowledge the uncertainty is because it is preferable to the other alternatives you seem to be proposing: simply accepting it uncritically as reliable or throwing it all out and declaring complete ignorance.

    Someone may have some facts wrong on the Civil War, but we sure know unless they’re writing historical revisionism that they won’t say the South won.

    This is absolutely true. Some events are so well supported by so many independent contemporary sources that it is virtually inconceivable that they did not occur. On the other hand, some incidents are much less certain because they are only evidenced by a single uncorroborated account that dates from considerably after the event.

    What evidence? You haven’t given any!

    I really wish I could but I don’t think there is a whole lot beyond the fact that Ignatius seems to have known the gospel (although he never names Matthew as its source) and Paul does not seem to have been familiar with it. That puts it somewhere between 50 A.D. and 110 A.D. (give or take a couple decades) and I have not read any arguments that convincingly pinpoint it much better than that. The fact that no scholar has been able to convince a majority of his peers of a more precise date leads me to believe that there is not enough evidence to convincingly do so. It does not seem to me to be a subject upon which anyone can claim to know all that much.

  17. apologianick Says:

    You:According to the little I read, Tacitus seems to be claiming to have personally known many of individuals about whom he is writing and to have participated in many of the events. I have not read enough to say how he decides what to put in and what to leave out although I have seen passages in other ancient histories where the historian discusses the sources of various stories and why the historian finds one source more reliable than another. Knowing Tacitus’ sources and his method for evaluating them would certainly increase my confidence in his reports. My confidence would certainly be decreased without evidence to corroborate Tacitus as the author.

    Me: And the problem with Matthew then is? Do you have reason to believe he’s not reliable? How could Tacitus be a witness to some of what he said also as he covers events that happened before he was born. What about Plutarch?

    You: I really wish I could but I don’t think there is a whole lot beyond the fact that Ignatius seems to have known the gospel (although he never names Matthew as its source) and Paul does not seem to have been familiar with it. That puts it somewhere between 50 A.D. and 110 A.D. (give or take a couple decades) and I have not read any arguments that convincingly pinpoint it much better than that. The fact that no scholar has been able to convince a majority of his peers of a more precise date leads me to believe that there is not enough evidence to convincingly do so. It does not seem to me to be a subject upon which anyone can claim to know all that much.

    Me: Actually, it’s quite early for Ignatius and why should I think Paul didn’t know it?

    Also, the evidence is not just external but internal as well. I’ve still seen no reason why it must be dated 40 years later. In fact, your post indicates it could be earlier by saying 50-110 A.D. Please tell me why you automatically assume it’s 40 years later.
    You:I would be interested to know what you think we hear from the early church. I don’t see anyone demonstrating familiarity with this writing prior to Ignatius and I don’t see anyone identifying Matthew as the author prior to Irenaeus.

    Me: And your problem with those are?

    You:Because, as you note, even eyewitnesses get things wrong. Even when we have multiple accounts of the same event, there are often inconsistencies that cannot be conclusively resolved. Sometimes the account that gets preserved is the one that best furthers someone’s agenda rather than the one that it most accurate. Sometimes a story gets retold and preserved because of its dramatic effect rather than its evidentiary basis.

    Me: Oh please. History is written by winners? This is just historical relativism. We have this problem with modern events just as much with ancient history. Why are you not as skeptical about modern events?

    You: I think the reason you should acknowledge the uncertainty is because it is preferable to the other alternatives you seem to be proposing: simply accepting it uncritically as reliable or throwing it all out and declaring complete ignorance.

    Me: Excuse me? Please point to where I ever suggested accepting it as reliable uncritically or making it an all-or-nothing deal.

    You:This is absolutely true. Some events are so well supported by so many independent contemporary sources that it is virtually inconceivable that they did not occur. On the other hand, some incidents are much less certain because they are only evidenced by a single uncorroborated account that dates from considerably after the event.

    Me: You have four sources that state Jesus was on trial and the charge in each is eventually blasphemy. You’ve got four sources saying he rose from the dead. Problem?

  18. Vinny Says:

    You have four sources that state Jesus was on trial and the charge in each is eventually blasphemy. You’ve got four sources saying he rose from the dead. Problem?

    Suppose all I knew about the Battle of Gettysburg came from four accounts that could not be definitively dated any earlier than fifty years after the battle and whose authors could not be identified with any certainty. Further suppose that all four accounts appear to be written from the Confederate perspective by men who considered General Robert E. Lee to be the greatest commander in history. Further suppose that all four accounts reported that at one point during the battle, Lee sprouted wings and flew into the air to get a better view of the battle field. Further suppose that the accounts appear to have copied from each other in large part. I don’t know about you, but I would have to consider my knowledge of the battle to be subject to considerable uncertainty.

  19. apologianick Says:

    First off, duly noted how much you failed to respond to.

    You: Suppose all I knew about the Battle of Gettysburg came from four accounts that could not be definitively dated any earlier than fifty years after the battle and whose authors could not be identified with any certainty.

    Me: Then I would say you accept those four accounts and do let it be noted that you haven’t given one reason yet to place the gospel accounts 40 years after the events. Also, do note that you don’t seem to have a problem with Tacitus who wrote around 110 A.D. and wrote about events that happened in 20 A.D.

    You: Further suppose that all four accounts appear to be written from the Confederate perspective by men who considered General Robert E. Lee to be the greatest commander in history.

    Me:And the problem would be? Bias doesn’t mean automatic embellishment. Jews today keep highly accurate holocaust museums going. They have a bias working. They want to make sure they present it right. Why should I assume that because the NT writers were devoted to Jesus that that meant that they made stuff up? Especially since they all present Jesus as a man who valued truth!

    You: Further suppose that all four accounts reported that at one point during the battle, Lee sprouted wings and flew into the air to get a better view of the battle field.

    Me: Do you have an a priori reason why I should not accept the miraculous?

    You: Further suppose that the accounts appear to have copied from each other in large part.

    Me: All four accounts would not have copied from each other. The last account coud not have been copied by the earliest account for instance. Finally, if the other accounts were seen as reliable sources, why not use them as reliable material?

    You: I don’t know about you, but I would have to consider my knowledge of the battle to be subject to considerable uncertainty.

    Me: Then that would be your problem.

  20. Vinny Says:

    Then I would say you accept those four accounts.

    And I would describe that as simply accepting a writing uncritically.

    do let it be noted that you haven’t given one reason yet to place the gospel accounts 40 years after the events

    Duly noted. Moreover, I will happily concede that I have no better reason for placing it 40 years later than I would have for placing it 70 years later.

    Also, do note that you don’t seem to have a problem with Tacitus who wrote around 110 A.D. and wrote about events that happened in 20 A.D.

    I don’t have a problem with Herodotus either, but it is not because I believe that there are no problems with anything he wrote. It is simply because I haven’t investigated Herodotus to know what the problems might be. Similarly, I have not investigated Tacitus sufficiently to know where the problems in his work might lie. Life is short and I don’t have the time to read everything.

  21. apologianick Says:

    You:

    And I would describe that as simply accepting a writing uncritically.

    Me: Which would not be what I was having in mind. I’m simply saying you accept those as the historical accounts. Now can you go through and sift for accuracy and such? Of course, and you should! All historians do such.

    You: Duly noted. Moreover, I will happily concede that I have no better reason for placing it 40 years later than I would have for placing it 70 years later.

    Me: And do you have a better reason for placing it 40 years later than 20 or 30 years later or is this just choosing a position because you agree with it?

    You: I don’t have a problem with Herodotus either, but it is not because I believe that there are no problems with anything he wrote. It is simply because I haven’t investigated Herodotus to know what the problems might be. Similarly, I have not investigated Tacitus sufficiently to know where the problems in his work might lie. Life is short and I don’t have the time to read everything.

    Me: Oh whine whine whine. Life is short and I’ve read Tacitus and Plutarch in addition to the biblical narratives. If you don’t know about the subject and don’t have familiarity with it, don’t comment on it. As it is, you are simply accepting what Tacitus says and might I say it seems you are doing so uncritically, the same as you do with Herodotus. Yet when you treat the New Testament as a historical account, you put it on completely different level.

    Let’s hear it for special pleading.

  22. J. P. Holding Says:

    The Vinny School of Historiography, Lesson 1:

    “Duh….I dunno! I never studied that. Life’s so short, ya know??”

    Lesson 2:

    “Let’s just make it up as we go along!”

    School dismissed. Report to the Charmin factory to receive your diploma. 😀

  23. Vinny Says:

    If you don’t know about the subject and don’t have familiarity with it, don’t comment on it. As it is, you are simply accepting what Tacitus says and might I say it seems you are doing so uncritically, the same as you do with Herodotus. Yet when you treat the New Testament as a historical account, you put it on completely different level.

    I would be delighted not to comment on Tacitus but you keep bringing him up and claiming to know what I think about him. Now you are claiming to know what I think about Herodotus when I explicitly stated that I have not read him and I do not know what problems there might be with his work. I do recall A.N. Sherwin-White writing that the various histories of Tiberius Caesar “disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion, both in major matters of political action or motive and in specific details of minor events.” That would lead me to believe that there are many problems with Tactitus’ writings, but once again, I have not investigated them myself.

    And do you have a better reason for placing it 40 years later than 20 or 30 years later or is this just choosing a position because you agree with it?

    Actually, I chose 40 years later because I thought you might agree with it. In my experience, conservative Christians are often comfortable with Bruce Metzger so I picked his estimate as a place to start the discussion. I could have said “as much as seventy years later” but I thought that would be a more provocative.

    However, I do think that 40 years later is somewhat likelier than 20 years later for a couple of reasons: First, the earlier the date you assign to Matthew, the longer period you have in which it was in circulation without any other writer taking sufficient notice of it to refer to it. All other things being equal, I think it less likely that Matthew would have gone uncorroborated for fifty years than that it would have gone uncorroborated for thirty years. The second reason I would consider 40 years more likely is that the earliest Christians expected Jesus to return within their own lifetimes. The need to collect and preserve the stories about Jesus would not have become apparent until after the first generation of Christians had passed from the scene. That could also explain why preserving the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry does not seem to figure into Paul’s letters. I don’t think that either of these reasons is sufficient to conclusively eliminate the possibility that Matthew was written in the 50’s but I think they point to a later date.

  24. apologianick Says:

    You: I would be delighted not to comment on Tacitus but you keep bringing him up and claiming to know what I think about him. Now you are claiming to know what I think about Herodotus when I explicitly stated that I have not read him and I do not know what problems there might be with his work. I do recall A.N. Sherwin-White writing that the various histories of Tiberius Caesar “disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion, both in major matters of political action or motive and in specific details of minor events.” That would lead me to believe that there are many problems with Tactitus’ writings, but once again, I have not investigated them myself.

    Me: Which is the point. You haven’t read Tacitus and you’re not familiar with any other ancient historian but now you come and set the standards for how it was to be written. Contradictions can exist in historical accounts even without having the basic truth being denied. We have two sources for Hannibal crossing the Alps. They hopelessly contradict. No one denies though that Hannibal crossed the Alps.

    You: Actually, I chose 40 years later because I thought you might agree with it. In my experience, conservative Christians are often comfortable with Bruce Metzger so I picked his estimate as a place to start the discussion. I could have said “as much as seventy years later” but I thought that would be a more provocative.

    Me: So you simply accept Metzger uncritically? (And I wouldn’t mind seeing the Metzger souce but if he said such, I’d like to know why he thought such.) It seems like you’re just taking opinions and going with them without considering them.

    You: However, I do think that 40 years later is somewhat likelier than 20 years later for a couple of reasons: First, the earlier the date you assign to Matthew, the longer period you have in which it was in circulation without any other writer taking sufficient notice of it to refer to it.

    Me: Oh wow. An appeal to silence. Do tell why Paul or the other epistle writers should refer to Matthew.

    You: All other things being equal, I think it less likely that Matthew would have gone uncorroborated for fifty years than that it would have gone uncorroborated for thirty years.

    Me: Reason being?

    You: The second reason I would consider 40 years more likely is that the earliest Christians expected Jesus to return within their own lifetimes.

    Me: Evidence of this?

    You: The need to collect and preserve the stories about Jesus would not have become apparent until after the first generation of Christians had passed from the scene. That could also explain why preserving the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry does not seem to figure into Paul’s letters. I don’t think that either of these reasons is sufficient to conclusively eliminate the possibility
    that Matthew was written in the 50’s but I think they point to a later date.

    Me: So you have speculation that I seriously doubt you’ll back. Wow. You’re making a claim that Matthew was written 40 years later and your only reasons are “so and so says” and then speculation that I doubt you can back at all.

  25. Vinny Says:

    It’s been fun. Thanks.

  26. apologianick Says:

    And so we are left with no answers and blatant assertions. Thus, I see no reason to believe a serious quest for truth has gone on. Yes. Life is too short to spend time studying truth, but it is not too short to spend arguing about truth claims you haven’t studied.

  27. Vinny Says:

    And so we are left with no answers and blatant assertions. Thus, I see no reason to believe a serious quest for truth has gone on.

    I guess that makes us even.

  28. apologianick Says:

    Minor difference. I didn’t make the assertion. You did. I just challenged you on it and found you couldn’t even back your original assertion.

  29. Vinny Says:

    That’s one perspective. Most of the time you were challenging assertions I never made.

  30. apologianick Says:

    Like the assertion that Matthew was written 40 years later? Yeah. That one sure was defended well.

  31. Vinny Says:

    From the start, I admitted the essential arbitrariness of picking any particular date within the range. You accused me of not having a good reason and I admitted it. I never could figure out why we were wasting so much time on that.

  32. J. P. Holding Says:

    That you couldn’t figure it out is precisely why you’re such an ignoramus, Vinny!

    Go back to commenting on liberal politics — when it comes to Bible study, you’re a hopeless nose-picker!

  33. apologianick Says:

    You see Vinny, I have this strange idea that when people make assertions, they usually have some way of backing them. Thanks for demonstrating that you can’t. It’s also good to see that you’re basing your entire dismissal of the gospel on faith alone.

    Sorry. I don’t have that kind of faith to blindly believe and assert something.

  34. Vinny Says:

    I freely admit that I haven’t figured out a way to produce evidence to show the absence of evidence.

  35. apologianick Says:

    You have great faith!

    I think I’ll place mine in evidence though.

  36. Ed Komoszewski Says:

    For a careful defense of the authenticity of the Markan account of Jesus’s trial, see Blasphemy and Exaltation in Early Judaism by Darrell L. Bock.

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