Posts Tagged ‘argument from silence’

A Response To Richard Hagenston

October 6, 2014

Is your pastor really not telling you some truths about the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister and a former pastor who has written a book called Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became A Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected. Now to be fair, I have not read the book yet, but someone sent me a link to the blog of Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist”, where he has a guest post by Mr. Hagenston.

Now I’d like to start with a sad statement. I think the reason many of these issues will never come up from pastors is that frankly, most pastors don’t even think about them. I have said several times that too many pastors are unequipped. I am not saying all pastors should specialize in apologetics, but all pastors need a basic knowledge at least of apologetics, they need to have at least one “Go-to” person in the church on apologetics, and they need to be able to emphasize the importance of apologetics to their flock. The sad reality is too many people in the flock have no clue what apologetics is, including myself for a long time, and this could be because many pastors don’t know either.

The result of this will be in the increasing amount of misinformation put out. On the one hand, Christians who apostasize from the faith will go out and share all this information that they never knew about, most of it coming from bogus sources on the internet. The second is that there will be too many Christians who will follow in kind because their pastor never protected them. Unfortunately, those who stay in the faith too often live in their secluded bubbles and ignoring the outside world, which kills any chance of their fulfilling the Great Commission.

That having been said, let’s look at the truths that will not be told.

The first is that the apostles did not know of a virgin birth.

The problem with such a claim is the same as illustrated by Christ-mythers. It relies on an argument from silence. If X never mentioned an event, then he didn’t know about it. We could only guess from something like this that a large population of the world at the time knew absolutely nothing about a volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because we deem something as important does not mean that the people of the time would have really wanted to talk about it.

Let’s consider the virgin birth. If the first Gospel written was Mark, why would Mark not mention it? It’s really quite simple. Mark is an inclusio document that is based on the eyewitness of Peter. Peter would most certainly have not been present for a virgin birth. Despite this, some think there could be a veiled reference in describing Jesus as the son of Mary instead of of Joseph in Mark 6:3.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In fact, it could be the virgin birth would not be something that the writers would want to mention. As David Instone-Brewer points out in The Jesus Scandals. the virgin birth would have also been seen as an embarrassment. Not because if it was true that that would lower Jesus. It is because it would be seen with skepticism and in a Jewish culture, it would admit one sure fact about Jesus.

Jesus had a birth that was not normal.

Why would that be shameful? Because that could easily lead to the charge that Jesus was a mamzer, that is, a child born illegitimately. That might not be as big a deal here in modern America, but in the Jewish culture, that would really call into question your status as a righteous man of God. A writer like Matthew could have heard the rumors and think he had to say something and grasp onto Isaiah 7:14, which was admittedly not seen as Messianic at all. (Were Matthew making up a story, one would expect him to use passages that were seen as Messianic.)

Another danger of this is that unusual births (Not virgin but unusual) was part of the system of pagan gods at the time. Jews were quite resistant to paganism at the time. Now they could accept some cultural aspects, but their religious aspects were by and large kept. Excellent information on this can be found in Jesus and His World by Craig Evans and The Jesus Legend by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. For a brief example, we see in the garbage of the Jews in Jerusalem few if any pig bones before 70 A.D. After 70 A.D., we see them. Why 70 A.D.? That’s when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Romans would have taken over the area and observance would not be practiced as much.

Why would Luke mention the virgin birth? Luke could quite likely have had Mary as one of his sources while he was in Jerusalem, which I suspect at this point happened when Paul was on trial as described in Acts and Luke had plenty of time. Luke wanting to show Jesus’s relation to all men could have shown that this happened this way to say Jesus is not just for the Jews. He’s for the Gentiles as well and his unique birth pictures that.

For John, John goes way beyond the virgin birth and has the fullest statement of pre-existence in the Gospels. If John is also the last to write, it could be that he would know what was covered in the others and feel no need to repeat that ground.

As for Paul, why would Paul really need to mention it? Now it could be mentioned in Romans 1 and possibly in Galatians 4, but is it really important to the message of Paul? In a high context society, this is what would have been known already. Paul is not writing a life of Jesus. He is trying to deal with problems in the church and there’s no need to interrupt an argument on whether Christians should be circumcised or not with “Oh by the way, Jesus was born of a virgin.”

For more on this, listen to my interview of Ben Witherington in the second hour of my podcast here and to my interview with David Instone-Brewer here.

Now could it be that the other apostles didn’t know of a virgin birth for arguments’ sake? Sure. You need more than silence to show that.

The second myth is that Jesus offered nothing for the Gentiles. The first two pieces of evidences are that first off, Jesus’s healing of Gentiles was limited, such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and second, the way Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman.

It is interesting that the centurion’s servant is used as an example because in the story, Jesus says many will come from the east and the west to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the author misses is that Jesus’s first focus was Israel. He was coming to them to offer Himself to them as their king. It never meant He never saw anything beyond, but it meant that His message started with Israel.

So what about the Syrophoenician woman? Here we have a case of Jesus using sarcasm and I’d say in fact, pointing out the problems with the attitudes of the Disciples who most likely would certainly have seen this woman as a dog. Let’s look at the story.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eatthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus in the Gospels regularly challenges the assumptions of people around him. “Why is He with a Samaritan woman?” “Which one of these men is a neighbor?” “If this man was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is.” “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes?” John the Baptist as well did this. “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” Could Jesus be doing the same here?

Note that Jesus doesn’t complain about the presence of the woman. It is the disciples who do. The disciples are the ones who have no compassion for the woman and want Jesus to send her away. Jesus doesn’t go out directly since he’s trying to escape the crowd and rest for now along with his disciples. This woman must have sought him out then and Jesus’s first words in the dialogue are not to the woman, but are to the disciples.

Jesus in fact points to a schedule in His ministry to the woman. He never says “No.” He instead points out that His first priority is Israel. The woman in fact never disagrees. She never asks specifically to be made a focus. All she asks for is crumbs from the table. Pets in the house would traditionally be fed later, but surely she can get a little something for now. Jesus commends her on her faith which would no doubt have shamed the disciples who were supposed to be part of faithful Israel. Jesus in fact was being the true Israel by being kind to a foreigner and acting as a priest for a foreigner.

Let’s consider also another passage in Matthew. This is 21:43.

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

This is part of the Parable of the Vineyard and we must realize how shocking this statement is. This would be like saying in our country that much of our financial abundance and our land would be given to a third world country outside of us. Many of us in America still have this idea that we are central in the story of history and everything revolves around us. Now I do love our nation, but we are not the focal point of history. Empires come and empires go.

If you were a Jew and heard this, it would mean the covenant promises were being violated by your people and God would leave you abandoned. The Jews had experienced that in the Babylonian exile and did not want to go through it again! They were the special nation. They were the ones chosen by God. How could they miss out on the blessings? Jesus’s words are absolutely shocking.

And of course, Matthew is the one that has the Great Commission in His Gospel as well ending out his own inclusio account. Jesus is said to be God with us in the virgin birth and he is God with us even to the end of the age.

The other piece of evidence is that Paul experienced resistance from the Gentiles. This is the passage used.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step withthe truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Yet in this passage, we see nothing about how Peter responded to Paul. Instead, we find the way that Paul responded to Peter and pointing out that Peter was acting out of line with the Gospel by living as though righteousness would be declared by following the food laws rather than through faith in Christ. What evidence do we find that Peter accepted Paul?

Now we could point to 2 Peter, but that is not usually accepted and since our writer later on writes about forgeries, I doubt he would accept it. So let’s go with Galatians itself.

In Galatians 1, we read the following:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

No resistance here.

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

No resistance here either.

In fact, if tradition is true and Clement was the disciple of Peter, then we could see what Clement says about someone his teacher would have supposedly opposed.

We read the following in 1 Clement 47:1

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

Again, not real resistance.

So thus is the second secret dealt with.

For the third, how about Jesus never claiming to be God in the synoptics?

The first major mistake here is that the only way to many people to claim deity is to go around saying “Hey! I’m God!” In reality, in the ancient world, like much of today, actions spoke louder than words and Jesus regularly pointed to His actions. This would be His claim to forgive sin, and this apart from the temple itself, His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and His claim to send out the angels in Mark 13 as well as His strong claims about sitting by the right hand of God and coming with the clouds (Language of theophany) in response to the high priest.

While more passages could be listed, let’s look at what Hagenston says.

In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

Obviously? No. Not obviously. It might seem that way to a modern Western reader, but in the ancient world, Jesus would have known this man was trying to butter him up as it were. How will He respond to a compliment of an exalted type? Does He deny that He is good? Then why should anyone listen to Him? Does He affirm His own goodness? Then what kind of person is He claiming to be? Jesus instead deflects the comment without once denying it. “Okay. You want to say I’m good? That applies to only God. Are you ready for that level of commitment?”

Unfortunately as the story shows, the man was not ready for it.

For more on this and how the church perceived Jesus early on, see my interview with Charles Hill, Michael Bird, and Chris Tilling on How God Became Jesus . For a look at how the ancients would have viewed Jesus from their perspective, see my interview with E. Randolph Richards here. For a defense of the incarnation and Trinity, see my interview with Rob Bowman here. 

The next objection is that the Gospels have irreconcilable differences in the resurrection accounts.

Let’s suppose that’s true.

So what?

Most scholars today defending the resurrection don’t even go to the Gospel accounts to do so. They go to 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1-2. Inerrancy is not a requirement for the Gospels to be true or even reliable. (Although one could find in commentaries several ways to reconcile the resurrection accounts.) So what does Hagenston say?

To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

Once again, the problem is the argument from silence. There are any number of reasons why such an appearance would not be mentioned, including it not being really needed. One account with more than one witness would have sufficed in a Jewish court of law. Of course, for an excellent defense of the resurrection, the best work now is Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” You can hear my interview with
him here. You can hear my interview with Gary Habermas on the same topic here.

Next is the claim that Jesus opposed public prayer. Did he?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How is it you are not to pray publicly? You are not to pray publicly to be seen by others. Jesus would have known about several public prayers in the history of Israel, such as Solomon at the temple ceremony in thanking God for it. This was in fact proper for someone acting as a priest to the people. Jesus condemned instead showman prayers, prayers done just to receive glory for oneself.

The next claim is that some books of the Bible are forgeries and this is most notably, the pastoral epistles. Hagenston does bring up some reasons why they are thought to be forgeries.

However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

It’s interesting that he talks about the teachings being so different and then in the next paragraph compares 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, he does say 1 Cor. 14 is likely a later insertion. It is quite possibly an interpolation. Also possible is that Paul was quoting the words of the Corinthians to them. We know earlier in the epistle he has women taking part in worship in chapter 11.

But to look at the earlier argument, yes, there are differences, but this can also be expected depending on who is being written to. For instance, these letters are personal letters. The only other example we have of this from Paul is Philemon. If I write an email to a friend, it will be quite different in all of those ways from an email I could write to my wife.

This would be easier of course to reply to had Hagenston given more concrete examples. He didn’t. For a look at the teaching on women however, see my interview with Lynn Cohick here. For the question of forgeries, see my interview with Andrew Pitts here.

Next is that some contradictions in Scripture are intentional. The first example is Psalm 51. What does Hagenston say?

An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Hagenston sees a contradiction between offering up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart and then switching to offering bulls. This is only a contradiction if you hold to a view that is a legalistic one of Judaism. Judaism instead more often saw the sacrifice of bulls and other animals as something done not so much to earn forgiveness but to show forgiveness. The proper response to forgiveness was to offer something of value to you.

Since God pronounced David righteous by his contrite heart, David would respond by offering up bulls on the altar.

Hagenston goes on to say.

In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

Once again we have the same kind of scenario going on here. As I read the texts, I do not see repentance alone. In the texts themselves, John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that John’s disciples fasted, for instance. Jesus is seen as walking out of lock-step with the tradition. We see John saying nothing about sacrifices. He doesn’t commend them and he doesn’t forbid them.

The final is that apostles taught by Jesus insisted Paul was wrong about His Gospel. What does Hagenston say?

As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

Is this possible? Sure. Some commentators are open to it. Is it a done deal? Not at all. Hagenston gives no argument for it. There are not scholarly authorities cited. It is only an assertion.

Hagenston will need to make an argument and do so interacting with the best scholars in the field. Until he does so, there is really nothing that can be said.

In the end, I find many of Hagenston’s criticisms lacking. While he says he is still a Christian, and that could be the case until he starts denying Christ rose from the dead as I do not see inerrancy as an essential of the faith, he seems to have come from a more modern perspective and is not interacting with the scholarship in the field. As is too often the case, he gives a one-sided presentation.

I conclude the way I started. This is precisely why more education and awareness of apologetics is needed in the field.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Why Arguments From Silence Are Weak

December 2, 2013

Does silence on cases involving Jesus reveal a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the #1 arguments used by people like Christ-mythers is the argument from silence. Surely if Jesus was a historical figure, more people would talk about him! This was the Son of God! This was someone going around doing miracles! Why isn’t he being talked about everywhere?

Some people compare this to the modern world. If some great phenomenon happened, such as, say, a meteor hitting Mt. Rushmore and destroying it immediately, this would be talked about the world over immediately. You would suddenly have bloggers writing everywhere! News teams would swamp the area! Even as far away as the other side of the world, people would be talking.

Yes. Yes they would be. The problem is these modern comparisons fail. Let’s note some important differences.

First off, this all takes place after what Brent Sandy and John Walton have called in their book “The Lost World of Scripture”, the Gutenberg Galaxy. (The title is not original with them) Readers interested in The Lost World of Scripture are invited to listen to my interview with one of the authors, Brent Sandy, here and read my review of it here.

After Gutenberg everything changes. People can produce books much more quickly and efficiently. As a result, the number of books goes up and the cost to make them goes down. Because of this, literacy will go up as more books can be distributed to the public and there is in fact more leisure time rather than much time spent on the tedious task of copying a manuscript. Of course, it’s still not as efficient as today’s methods, but it is much more efficient.

Move forward to today and everyone can get their opinion out there. As soon as you see a story on the news, someone can comment on it and it can be anyone. Twitter is an excellent example of this. A news story takes place and people are immediately sharing it and in fact sharing links to it.

Over Thanksgiving while visiting the Liconas, we were watching a football game on Thanksgiving night. (I say we loosely. Allie and Mike were watching. I was reading more. Football just bores me honestly, but my wife and father-in-law are both Ravens fans.) Mike was getting tired and so was Allie and we all decided we’d just go to sleep.

Now this game was not played in the city where we were, but there was no doubt that when we woke up in the morning, we would be able to tell who won. In fact, immediately when the game was over, we could have been told who won. The age of mass communications has made this kind of knowledge much easier to come by.

Second, if literacy is up, then it turns out that the written word can often become the best way to spread information, though even this is not always the case. Today, we can use videos on YouTube or for news just go to a news broadcast. The visual is still a powerful aid to get the message out. Something that made the Vietnam War so different was we could really see the images of it. People who heard the Kennedy/Nixon debate for the most part said Nixon won. Those who watched for the most part said Kennedy won. The visual is definitely having an impact.

Third, when information is written down more and more, memory will take less and less place in society. An oral culture thrives on memory far more than we do and seeks to have all its information not so much in individual memory, but rather in collective memory. (Again, see Sandy and Walton above) You could change some secondary details in a story, such as some chronology, but the primary details had to stay the same.

We still do this today. If I have Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons visit me, I will certainly call my own parents to give an account of what happened, but my parents are not apologists so I give a basic account. When I call Mike then or my former roommate or write it out here, the account gets more and more detailed. Why? Because these are the people that know the language and I can communicate it to them in a different way.

It’s not for these reasons alone that written sources were not used the most in the ancient world. As alluded to earlier, cost was an issue.

Here is what one writer says about the issue who happens to have a PH.D.

“By the estimates of William Harris, author of Ancient Literacy (1989), only 20% of the population could read anything at all, fewer than 10% could read well, and far fewer still had reasonable access to books. He found that in comparative terms, even a single page of blank papyrus cost the equivalent of thirty dollars—ink, and the labor to hand copy every word cost many times more (p. 195). As a result, books could run to the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in value each. Consequently, only the rich had books, and only elite scholars had access to libraries, of which there were few.”

Of course, I already am sure that several out there are saying that this is just another Christian excuse for not having writing. It’s a convenient little remark that is meant to explain away a problem. For those who think that, there is a problem. Here is the source for this statement.

“Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God, 2005. p. 232”

Carrier himself is a Christ-mythicist, but I have no problem with this here. To get just the papyrus of a single page could cost $30. Ink and labor would cost more. Add in as well that for these books someone else would have to deliver the book which would be a delivery charge and you’d have to make sure someone was there who could read the book. Usually, the deliverer would serve as a reader and he would have to know the content well enough to be able to explain it to the audience, properly read it with all the nuances in speech, etc. This was a costly enterprise!

So let’s compare these methods.

One method, writing, costs an exorbitant amount to produce and reaches only about 10% of the population at the most. Oral tradition, which in the ancient world was just as reliable if not more reliable, was absolutely free and could spread the word far and wide to everyone who could speak the common language.

Which one will be done? Decisions decisions….

Today we value the written word the most, but the problem is this is an anachronism on our part where we throw our modern mindset back into the ancient world. It is saying “We value writing today and seek to write things down immediately. Weren’t the ancients the same way?” No. No they weren’t.

Another point when it comes to Jesus is as I have written about elsewhere, Jesus would have essentially been a nobody in the ancient world. He could have been popular in some circles where he was, but that does not extend everywhere.

Many a town can have its own celebrities and such. Politicians in states can usually be known in their states, but unless they do something really big or have a scandal of some sort, that fame won’t likely extend much beyond that. A professional athlete who’s not that well-known can still be a celebrity in his own town.

Jesus lived in an area that was important as a trade route that connected three continents, but it was not viewed as important for its culture. The culture was certainly tolerated by the Romans due to it being old, but it was not something that they celebrated. What was Rome interested in? Power and glory. What were the Greeks interested in? Knowledge.

So who was Jesus?

Jesus was a rabbi. He was a preacher who supposedly did miracles (Oh who would believe in that stuff? Not an educated Roman). He never ran for political office. He never as an adult traveled outside of his own country. He never led any troops into battle. He was such a weak figure that it only took a small cohort to arrest him. The Romans didn’t have to call in an army or anything. The movement was put down in a weekend. (Of course, the resurrection did change that) Worst of all, He was crucified, the most shameful death of all, something that any Messiah and Son of God claimant would surely avoid.

It’s quite amusing to hear Jesus then being compared to other people at the time who we have records of such as, say, the Caesar on the throne. Yes. We all know that a Jewish rabbi should get as much attention as the reigning Caesar at the time. Let’s keep in mind that some who have made the mistake of thinking that the sources are equal have in fact admitted it was a mistake. See here for details. Of course, we all will make mistakes in our research from time to time. By all means, check all claims from everyone.

Yet we are told that there are no contemporary eyewitness accounts for Jesus. Indeed, there are none for Alexander the Great. Tim O’Neill at Armarium Magnum gives a comparison with this in using Hannibal. As he says:

“To highlight how easily a peasant nobody like Jesus could very easily pass without any surviving contemporary notice at all, I held up the example of someone at the other end of the scale of fame and significance to Jesus and who, despite this, also has zero contemporary references that have survived to us. Hannibal was about as far from a Jewish peasant preacher in terms of fame and significance as you could get in the ancient world, yet we have no contemporary references to him at all. None. This shows that the nature of ancient source material is such that we have contemporary references for virtually nobody, including people much more significant than Jesus. So making an argument about the existence of any ancient figure based on the lack or otherwise of contemporary references is patently ridiculous; doubly so for a peasant preacher.”

Source here.

And once again, before someone writes this off as another Christian grasping at straws, please keep in mind Tim O’Neill is an atheist. He has no desire to promote Christianity, and while I disagree with him on his historical conclusions concerning who Jesus is and what He did, I have great respect for his methodology and for his also not putting up with atheists making bad historical arguments.

If Hannibal does not receive this then why should we expect such for Jesus?

In fact, all of this assumes that the gospels are not contemporary and are not eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness accounts. Luke explicitly says he spoke to the eyewitnesses. Few people in fact I see are actually responding to a work such as Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” to see if it could be that the gospels are eyewitness accounts.

As for contemporary, I recently had Dr. Paul Maier on my show which can be heard here who said no scholar he knows of who studies the ancient world would accept the idea that only contemporary accounts are to be used. If we followed such an account, we would have to throw out much of ancient history. In fact, Carrier saying why he thinks the accounts of the crossing of the Rubicon are more reliable than that of the resurrection says the following:

“Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch.” That can be found here. Little problem with this. Not one of those scholars is a contemporary.

Let’s consider Appian. From Livius.org, we get this. This tells us that Appian would have written in the second century A.D. Carrier dates the crossing of the Rubicon to 49 B.C. This means that Appian wrote at least 149 years later and unless he wrote when he was 5 years old, it could have been written around 200 years later.

Information on Suetonius is here.

What does this mean? Suetonius was born 120 years after the event and would have written later as well of course.

Cassius Dio is even worse. We are told he started his work in the 190’s and wrote the Roman History from 211-233. So let’s go with 211 being the date of the writing of the event just to be as generous as possible.

This is 260 years later!

Finally, there’s Plutarch. Plutarch’s information can be found here.

This means Plutarch was born 95 years after the event.

Now if all of these are acceptable to be seen as accounts of historians of the age writing about these events, then if the gospels are before 125 A.D. (30 + 95) then we should be on good grounds. In fact, most liberal scholarship today would date the gospels to around 80-95 A.D. This isn’t even counting the Pauline Epistles which speak of these events even earlier. If 95+ counts for Caesar, why does it not count for Jesus?

In fact, James Crossley has argued for an early date of Mark, perhaps going into the 40’s. Once again, I’d like to remind readers that Crossley is not a friend of evangelical Christianity. He is an atheist. See an interview here.

Another claim is that the gospels are anonymous. We are not told what this has to do with the price of tea in China. I suppose if every skeptic was immediately convinced of traditional authorship, then they would suddenly accept them as valid historical accounts.

Yet as Paul Maier told me on the show, this is really a weak argument. A large number of works from the ancient world are anonymous and we know about who wrote them from outside sources. Besides, even if there was a name on them, why think that would be accepted? The Pastorals have the name of Paul on them, but most critics do not accept Pauline authorship of those works. To establish authorship of a document requires more than having the name on the document. This will require a methodology of determining authorship. Unfortunately, most skeptics today have no such methodology and just want to shout out “anonymous!” as if that alone is an argument. For those interested, I plan on writing in the near future why I consider the gospels to be by their traditional authors. Those interested in more right now can look at my interviews with Dr. Tim McGrew and with Andrew Pitts.

Let’s also not forget something else. Much of the writing of the ancient world has sadly not survived. Some of it was destroyed intentionally unfortunately, but some of it is just lost due to the ravages of time, and this includes Christian writings. Much of what we could find about Jesus would be in the area of Jerusalem and yet we are told by Josephus that after its destruction one would never know a city had been there.

It is for all of these reasons that arguments from silence is weak. The principle to follow is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak. The rest of the world would not have been interested in a failed Messiah who was crucified and never ran for office or led an army. Miracles would only be scoffed at.

What is required? Doing real history which will require real work, including reading as much as one can on an argument. Too many atheists for too long have been using simple arguments without doing the heavy lifting of real historical work. They may think they are damaging the Christian cause, but in reality, they are only hurting their own cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus Is Not Worth Talking About

September 24, 2013

Why should no one care to talk about Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Today, Jesus is a really popular guy. Everyone who is informed today in the world knows something about Jesus. Everyone has to come up with a response to him. Islam that came up after Christianity had to explain Jesus. Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that existed prior to Christianity try to give a place to Jesus. Cult groups that rise up have to say something about Jesus.

In pop culture, he’s everywhere. Sure. We could talk about a movie like “The Passion of the Christ” but how many movies do we see where a hero dies and we see his arms outstretched and think “He’s supposed to mirror Christ.” How many times do we see the concept of one person sacrificing themselves for another and realize that we’re supposed to see Christ?

Discussion today still rages around this person. Philosophers and ethicists look at his life and discuss whether miracles are possible and what the great teaching of Jesus was. Ethically, most would say Jesus was ahead of his time. Even those who are not Christians like Jesus. Richard Dawkins even has support for the idea of “Atheists for Jesus.” Even those who don’t think Jesus was a historical figure often can point to several good teachings we’d like to see followed in the gospels.

When we see such a figure like Jesus, we have this idea that surely everyone must have been excited when he showed up on the scene! Surely everyone must have been paying attention to someone who claimed to be the Son of God and was working miracles!

But no. For the ancient world, Jesus was not worth talking about.

And that’s for very good reason.

Suppose today that somehow, Mormonism took over America. Then using America as its main tool of evangelism, the Mormon Church became the dominant world religion after that with everyone all over the world knowing about Joseph Smith.

Now suppose one historian says “I want to know all about the origins of Joseph Smith!” So off he goes to do some research and studies the accounts and says “Well, I see we have a notice of birth here, but that was for everyone. Nothing special about Joseph Smith.”

The historian looks and notices that few people outside the church really were interested in the life of Smith. If they wrote about him, they would write to condemn him if anything. Even nearly 200 years later, the ones who would write about him most were generally those following his tradition or those who were his critics wanting to stop his tradition.

Our historian could be puzzled. This man is known all over the world today after all. Why would no one make a big deal about his life?

The mistake many people make is the same with Jesus. They look at how He is today and assume that it must have been the same for those people back then. The truth is, it wasn’t. Jesus just really wasn’t worth talking about. In fact, what I tell people is that it doesn’t surprise me how few sources outside the NT mention Jesus. What surprises me is that any of them bother to do so.

Many skeptics make a big deal out of what is called the argument from silence. The principle one must keep in mind with silence is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak.

There are some claims that we would not expect to see mentioned because they’re mundane. The fact that the president had breakfast this morning would not be worth mentioning in a future biography. Most people do that already. The fact that he is in a tight political situation with Syria would be worth mentioning.

Let’s suppose however that someone shows up centuries from now who is unaware of who the president is and they pick up a biography. They read it and find no mention of Michelle Obama anywhere in it. They could be justified in thinking that Obama wasn’t married. Why? Because an important aspect of any president we’ve had is who their first lady was. Note they could have justification, but they’d still be wrong.

When someone writes something claiming it is historical, they write it for two reasons. The first one is that they think that it is true and they want you to believe it. The second is they think that it is false and they still want you to believe it. One could write about a belief they wish to criticize, but they want you to know they think their criticism is true.

Also, we have to keep in mind that in the ancient world, much has been lost. We could say some of it has been destroyed by some groups, including the Christians, but we can also say much has been lost due to the ravages of time. For instance, we would love to have Thallus’s record of the darkness at the crucifixion. We don’t. Most likely because it has been lost over time. Furthermore, keep in mind how much would have been lost in Jerusalem where the most would have been said about Jesus! After its destruction, Josephus even said it looked like there had never been a city there.

Suppose there was an event that took place and 100% of the people noticed this event. Then suppose that 100% of the people recorded it. Already, this is extremely unlikely. 100% of the people who could write wouldn’t even mention the rule of Caesar due to writing about their own interests. Still, stay with the argument. Now suppose 15% of those writings have survived. What are the odds we will have a statement about that event happening today?

Answer: 15%.

This gets even more complicated when we realize that we live in a post-Gutenberg society. Today if something happens, it hits the written word before too long. Blogs can be written near instantly. Newspapers will have it all the next day. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites will have the news everywhere. It will show up on the major news networks as well and even with pictures in many of these places. Why? Because we have the means to do that today and it works well. If we see someone in our society who is incapable of reading, we find that person to be an anomaly. How can you make it without reading? Gutenberg made it so that books are more accessible to people and therefore made reading more of a necessity.

Now go back to the time of Jesus.

Let’s suppose in Judea about 10% of the population could read. Also, keep in mind that even if you could read, being able to write was a totally different skill. Furthermore, paper would not come about cheap. It was a costly process to make and ink was just as costly. Then, you also had to pay someone who could send your message to its recipients. In fact, the cost of writing one of Paul’s epistles if put by today’s standards could be around $2,500.

You can go this route if you want to, or you can go the route of oral tradition whereby you could have items memorized and in a society where memorization was prized. After all, if you could not make a note to yourself and read it later, you will make it by improving your memory over time. Furthermore, Jesus’s parables were often memorable and easy to learn. We can have a parallel today by seeing how easy it is to learn a song after hearing it a couple of times or to tell a joke after just one hearing.

In the oral tradition, the story would be told to a community and that community would pass it on and check itself regularly to make sure the facts were still the same. Minor details could change, but the gist of the story had to remain the same and checks and balances were in place to make sure it happened. In reality, this tradition was more valued than the written tradition because it had more checks and balances to it.

So you can write your message down which would cost thousands of dollars and be heard by few, or you could have the story spread orally.

It was no contest.

Hence, when we are told “Why didn’t anyone write this down for decades?” the response is “Why should they?” It was only when the apostles began to die off that they wanted to get their teaching down for the future generations as apostolic authority was very important. Until then, there wasn’t much need.

“Well why would no one else really want to mention the Son of God doing miracles?”

Question. How many of you have investigated Lourdes? How about perhaps Benny Hinn? How about any miracle claims? Now Lourdes I think has some credibility to it. I don’t attach any to Benny Hinn. Yet few of us have really bothered to really investigate miracle claims from any of these sources because they’re written off right at the start. If you have a worldview that says “Miracles can’t happen” then are you really wanting to take the time to investigate Lourdes or just write it off? In fact, those of us who have a worldview that says that miracles can happen rarely investigate Lourdes. We can be just as skeptical!

To the ancient world, someone doing miracles was viewed with great suspicion like a televangelist today and people sought to explain away miraculous claims. Just look at the way Lucian liked to expose a false prophet in his own time.

Do we really think someone sitting in Rome who is concerned about political and economic situations in the Roman Empire is going to want to go and investigate claims of someone like Jesus doing miracles in Judea based on what for him is just hearsay? No. He’s going to dismiss them just as much as you or I would.

Oh yes. Jesus is in Judea. Let’s talk about that. It was an important part of the world as trade routes went through there and it did connect three continents, but it was also a place of strange customs. The people held to what was then seen as a bizarre monotheistic viewpoint and where tolerated only because their belief was old. Judea did not produce great politicians or ethicists or philosophers. The only Jewish philosopher we have of the time, Philo, lived in Alexandria.

Why would anyone take a Jew from this area seriously?

Then of course, there’s the idea that Jesus was crucified. If anything says Jesus is not worth mentioning, it’s that he was crucified. There’s no point in listening after that point. Jesus was guilty of treason to Rome and was seen as guilty of blasphemy to YHWH. On both counts, he would not be mentioned by Jews or Greeks both. Crucified people were not worth talking about, except perhaps only to add further shame to them.

So what do we have of Jesus? He never really traveled in his adult life past Judea. He never held political office. He did not fight any major battles. He was said to perform these questionable practices called miracles. He was from a land that was just bizarre to people. His own hometown in there was a small place not worth talking about. He was crucified.

“But he was the Son of God!”

So He claimed, and yet people looking at that above paragraph that talks about Him would say “If He was the Son of God, you think He’d have avoided crucifixion and have done a bit more.” That claim wasn’t taken any more seriously than you take the claim of the man in the local insane asylum who claims to be the Son of God.

Who talks about Jesus the most? His students, and this is the same for most any great figure in ancient history who’s a teacher. Muslims talk about Muhammad the most. Buddhists talk about Buddha the most. Mormons talk about Joseph Smith the most. Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about Charles Russell the most.

We can look back today and realize Christianity did in fact become the dominant world religion, but no one would have seen that coming at the start. Until around the time of Constantine, it was seen as still something that could be shut down in fact. Even afterwards, Julian the Apostate tried to shut it down and restore paganism, which, of course, he failed at.

Today, we expect people to talk about Jesus. More people can read and write. We have more ways of distributing the written word and its much cheaper. We see the effect today that Jesus did in fact have on history. The Roman Empire was wrong and Jesus was right. Today, we must mention Him.

Back then it was not so, and it should not surprise us.

It is for reasons like this that the argument from silence so often used just doesn’t work. Where we expect to see such silence anyway, the argument is weak, and we can rightly expect that such silence would surround the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters