06 May 2007

Truth in Multiplicity?

Hmmm. I'm gratified to see that my blog is starting to attract some comments, and I'm particularly glad to see some of my old pals from William Crawley's Will & Testament blog showing up to drop a line or two. You're most welcome, folks :-)

PB suggests that Prof FF Bruce argued that because the gospels exist in so many ancient (by which he means over 100 years after the death of Jesus) fragments, this is a testament to their truthfulness.

As an argument, this is clearly ludicrous. For example, if we were to make a zillion copies of Mein Kampf and distribute them around the world, would that make Hitler's rambling claptrap any more "true"? Of course not. What Bruce's argument (in this line anyway) points to is merely *popularity*, not veracity. He's really no further on.

Yet it is amazing how often this false argument rears its ugly head. Perhaps that's just a mark of the desperation of some people, when faced with people who do not believe. Christians would do better to buck up their apologetics, rather than rely on nonsense.


  1. Amen

    I have re-read what FF Bruce said.
    He was making the point that many other docs from that period that were not committed to paper for the best part of a century are still considered reliable by historians.

    One example is Caesar's Gallic war, apparently.

    Any mainstream history work I pick up accepts almost without qualification their historic accuracy.

    One point I have learnt from you is that it appears generally accepted that Luke was not an eye witness but a very professional historian of the period nonetheless.

    You were of course wrong to suggest Christ was not a carpenter and that he was not born in a stable, as I demonstrated previously.

    Didnt you also challenge where he was born/grew up too?


  2. PS I think it is also generally accepted that oral tradition was very strong and accurate in this epoch; so there is good reason to believe the gospel info was preserved accuratley.


  3. Good grief, PB, you really don't get it, do you? I am not actually questioning whether Jesus (as opposed to "Christ") was a carpenter or was born in a stable - merely your basis for *believing* that. As I have shown, it is very very shaky indeed.

    As for the Gallic Wars, they don't claim supernatural spooky pixie acts, whereas the gospels do. I have no doubt that some of what is in the gospels may well be correct, but much is clearly nonsense (including much of Luke's supposedly excellent history). I take it you believe the Roman historian Dio when he recounted giants roaming the slopes of Vesuvius, hurling boulders down on Pompeii?

    If FF Bruce is seriously using this as an argument for the accuracy of the gospels, then he was (sadly) a fool.


  4. Calm down Amen

    You certainly have questioned (wrongly) whether Jesus was born in a stable and a carpenter so dopnt fly off the handle on that point.

    Im not sure we fully understand what each other is saying.

    Though when you say god does not exist because "I am" -to quote you-, you certainly leave me wondering what you mean. Just being provocative?

    I stronlgy agree with SG that you are very dogmatic outside your field without demonstrating your reasoning.

    If you arent questioning whether Christ was born in manger and was a carpenter then what need is there to question my basis for beliving that?

    You have certainly not shown that anything my faith stands on is shaky, on the contrary. For one thing, it doesnt matter to me one jot whose name is written on the biblical books.

    But on another, unbroken tradition and the church fathers fully accepted MML&J at the authors of gospels.
    Luke said he had "perfect understanding of all things from the very first".

    Just because you are sceptical of the supernatural and the gospels does not for a second mean they are wrong. The same goes for all the liberal higher criticism of the bible. It raises lots of questions and possibilities, but it proves and disproves nothing.

    BTW, you said in an earlier posting that evolution was dependent on evidence, not a western secular worldview.

    But of course the very type of evidence you request is conditioned by western secular thinking. Sacred text or "empirical" or revelation. But you knew that didnt you.

    Do you *really* believe you should be able to reduce spiritual faith to a testtube? Are you serious?

    Lastly, what specific evidence of God could an avowed athiest conceive of which would satisfy him of God's existence?

    I dont believe there is any.

    till next time



    PS, here is the Encyclopaedia Brittanic take on Jesus and his miracles;-

    Jesus Christ

    A prophet and teacher of ethics, Jesus was also a healer and miracle worker. In the 1st century, healers and miracle workers were fairly well known, though not precisely common, and were not considered to be superhuman beings. Jesus himself granted that others were capable of performing miracles, such as exorcisms, regardless of whether they followed him (Matthew 12:27; Mark 9:38–41; 6:7). Thus, the significance of this very important aspect of his life is frequently misunderstood. In Jesus' time, it was accepted that people could heal and perform nature miracles, such as causing rain.The question was, by what power, or spirit, they did so. Some of Jesus' opponents accused him of casting out demons by the prince of demons (Mark 3:19–22; Matthew 12:24; Luke 11:15). He countered that he did so by the spirit of God (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). Obviously, many people disagreed, but this was the issue in Jesus' lifetime—not whether he, like a few others, could perform miracles, but by what power he did so. In his own day, miracles were proof neither of divinity nor of messiahship, and, at most, theymight be used to validate an individual's message or way of life.

    Jesus Christ
    Summary of Jesus' life

    Although born in Bethlehem, according to Matthew and Luke, Jesus was a Galilean from Nazareth, a village near Sepphoris, one of the two major cities of Galilee (Tiberias was the other). He was born to Joseph and Mary shortly before the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2; Luke 1:5) in 4 BC. According to Matthew and Luke, however, Joseph was only his father legally.They report that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived and that she “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18; cf. Luke 1:35). Joseph is said to have been a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), that is, a craftsman who worked with his hands, and, according to Mark 6:3, Jesus also became a carpenter.

    Luke (2:41–52) states that as a child Jesus was precociously learned, but there is no other evidence of his childhood or early life. As a young adult, he went to be baptized by the prophet John the Baptist and shortly thereafter became an itinerant preacher and healer (Mark 1:2–28). In his mid-30s, Jesus had a short public career, lasting perhaps less than one year, during which he attracted considerable attention. Some time between AD 29 and 33—possibly AD 30—he went to observe Passover in Jerusalem, where his entrance, according to the Gospels, was triumphant and infused with eschatological significance. While there he was arrested, tried, and executed. His disciples became convinced that he still lived and had appeared to them. They converted others to belief in him, which eventually led to a new religion, Christianity.

  5. Ah, PB, me old China, you do have a sort of endearing naivete about you, don't you? It's worth pointing out that although Luke was probably written by Luke (the so-called "beloved physician"), and Mark *may* have been written by John Mark, Matthew and John were certainly not written by those two blokes, regardless of what the "early church fathers" some 200 years later may have thought.

    Something you need to try to get your head around - the people who wrote about Jesus wrote about the Jesus in their head. Which is why I don't even *disagree* with much of that EB article you cite.

    You have a very poor grasp of the assessment of historical evidence (which is why you have trouble understanding your bible), just as you have trouble assessing scientific evidence. That's a bit of a handicap.

    The "I am" bit was not about god not existing - it is about Jesus being god's son. Jesus *can't* be god's son, because *I am*, and I would know. Now perhaps you might try proving that I am *not* god's son?

    Dear oh dear...


  6. quite quiet here Amen??

    I wonder what proof you have that John and Matthew did not write those gospels???

    In epochs before literacy was widespread oral traditions were very accurate and enduring, so 200 years is neither here nor there.

    Mark, Matthew and John were witnesses of Christ's life, so how you get that they made it up is beyond me. From reading the opening lines of Luke, I am not convinced he wasnt a witness too.

    As I am quite comfortable with the EB articles and you are not, who has the biggest problem with historical evidence Amen? It would seem my view is much more mainstream than yours.

    As for the proof that you are not God's son, try making that claim as the opening claim in some of your lectures on genetics at the university and we will see what conclusion the men in the white coats make on who is the real Christ.

    Faith or otherwise is not about evidence or lack of it Amen. It is a choice, as you well know.


  7. PB

    The wiki article that you loved so much says that the gospels were not eye-witness accounts.

    So oral traditions are accurate! I wonder if you would apply your same evaluations on other ancient texts that were originally oral in origin?

    The synoptic gospels were named years after they were written. So Luke says what he says is true, therefore when Herodotus writes at the start of his Histories that what he writes is true...then it must be?

    Faith is belief without evidence.

  8. Hi PB,
    Yes, it's pretty quiet - busy busy busy. Day job and all that. I see you're still spouting nonsense about the gospels without considering any evidence - ah, but evidence is no good when you have "faith". I'm not sure "faith" should be considered a virtue - it seems something of a vice.

    As to making the claim to be "God's Son", I seem to recall old stories of someone else not being recognised as such, only in those days there weren't men in white coats - there were soldiers with pointy spears. I think the burden of proof remains with you to demonstrate that I am not the One True Son of Almighty God.

    Of course, I could just be teasing you, because you have no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth (whom some Christians quaintly refer to as "christ" for some reason) was anything other than an ordinary bloke in extraordinary circumstances.

    As for oral history being accurate, that evidently explains why the gospels contradict each other over unimportant points such as the nativity and the resurrection. Face it - they are human documents, written with human imperfect understanding, prejudice and gullibility. They are not to be despised for that - just understood.


  9. Hi Amenhotep,

    Hope things are well with you?

    Haven't seen you for a awhile on W & T. I am afraid that PB is up to his old tricks re: being willfully ignorant on science you can check it out on the Belfast's Biblical Flood thread(it's quite long!). PB is asking for professional opinions and some areas involve genetics. If yo ahve the time it would be great to see you.



  10. Hi again Amen

    You wrote;-

    "PB suggests that Prof FF Bruce argued that because the gospels exist in so many ancient (by which he means over 100 years after the death of Jesus) fragments, this is a testament to their truthfulness.

    "As an argument, this is clearly ludicrous. For example, if we were to make a zillion copies of Mein Kampf and distribute them around the world, would that make Hitler's rambling claptrap any more "true"? Of course not. What Bruce's argument (in this line anyway) points to is merely *popularity*, not veracity. He's really no further on."

    This is misunderstanding or mistating my main point. First of all written records of parts of the NT exist from before 100 AD which confirm latter records.

    Second as Bruce points out, the info was kept as oral info before that, which was (and still is) very reliable in less literate socieities.

    eg Armagh folk musician Tommy Makem said his mother, a factory worker, could remember every word in a song of almost 30 verses with ease.

    The issue of the volume of copies is also more complex than you portray.

    If the oral tradition is established as trustworthy in the first instance and then the mss are known to have remaimed unchanged over a period of 2000 years, then this attests to the fact that the resurrection was accurately recorded in the first place.

    You could easily photocopy 5000 copies of mein kampf and distribute it around the country now in 2007; but you could NOT make 5000 copies by hand over a period of hundreds/thousands of years and pass them off as the work of many, many different people in different lifetimes, languages and places across the world.

    That is an entirely different proposition!

    What this attests to is that the original oral and written record of the ressurection remains unchanged since it happened.

    Another problem for you is; How if you wanted to stage a resurrection today would you do it in such a convincing manner?

    In other words, if the original records were so obviously a gross misrepsentation of what actually happened nobody in that epoch would have believed it.

    In fact the opposite happened and so many people were so absolutely convinced that they laid down their lives for it.

    These people had three main choices;-

    1) The resurrection was possibly true, but not proveable and not worth sacrificing ones life for.

    2) The resurrection was not true and the dogs in the street knew it.

    3) They were so convinced by their own observation, the testimony of the dogs in the street and their expierence of the risen Christ that they laid down their lives without question.

    I think 3 is the only credible analysis.

    Another point is, it is my understanding that for any Roman soldier to fall asleep on duty, as they did at the tomb of Christ, was a terrible misconduct with very serious consquences. So for several of them to simply fall asleep like that does not seem credible.



    Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, was one of the foremost experts on ancient manuscripts and their authority. Shortly before his death, he wrote this concerning the New Testament:

    "The interval between the dates of the original composition (of the New Testament) and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established." (The Bible and Archeology, pp. 288-89).

    Prof FF Bruce, says: "The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning."

    He also states, "And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded beyond all doubt" (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p. 15).

    CS Lewis, a leading English scholar at Oxford University said that as an historian of literature he had no doubts the bible was the word of God; he was especially convinced by the level of unncessary detail in narratives and the fact that the alternative would have been the creation of fictional novel writing long before it actually happened.

  11. Boy, I've been neglecting this, haven't I? Regarding the NT documents, what Anonymous says above is simply nonsense - the NT documents were all decades after the death of Jesus the Nazarene, but even if they had been *weeks* afterwards, this is plenty of time for a resurrection myth to get going.

    FF Bruce and CS Lewis are hardly objective historians (Lewis in particular is spectacularly overrated in my opinion), and if the secular historians (e.g. Herodotus) had said some of the things that were in the gospels, they WOULD have been doubted, and indeed many of the things they wrote ARE thought/known to be incorrect.

    So Anonymous's points are just plain silly here.

    But don't take it from me - get 4 bibles; open each of the gospels at the resurrection accounts, and read them side by side. If you can do that, and STILL believe that they are telling the truth, you've got very well developed defence mechanisms against logic.

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