Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the eighth of a nine-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

The latest, John, was written between 90-100 CE.
(R) Close enough.
(MB) So, doesn't the ongoing problem of a lengthy gap between event and story-telling still exist? If one claims that John was an eyewitness, he would be upwards of 90 years old when he wrote his Gospel. Maybe this is why his account is so much different from the others? More likely is that his Gospel is not an eyewitness account at all.

If we agree with that claim, it is obvious that both men were very old at the time they wrote their respective Gospels.
(R) Since I don't agree with your dating of Mark, this holds no water.
(MB) So, how is it that the same scholars who give dates you agree with for most of the NT can be so "wrong" about Mark? Even if you don't agree with the dating of Mark, my argument is still applicable to John, isn't it? Since John's Gospel is so much different from the others, wouldn't it be reasonable to accept that this may be due to the longer time span between its writing and the events it is talking about?

Considering how many young adults can't accurately remember important details in their lives that happened just last week, it strains credibility to think that old men could accurately recount events three to seven decades past.
(R) You are forgetting what John 14:26 says. The Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of everything Christ had said. Thus, if you believe in Holy Spirit, your question is answered.
(MB) I'm not forgetting anything. You are, once again, assuming that something is true just because it's written in the Bible. Until any evidence can be produced to verify that the Holy Spirit actually exists, any claims made on its behalf are little more than hot air. Also, your last sentence is equivalent to saying that the Holy Spirit doesn't exist unless you believe in it. This is clearly hogwash. Either it exists or it doesn't. Belief or non-belief in that existence doesn't change that one bit.

(R) If you don't believe in the Holy Spirit, you have a much bigger problem to think about then how the disciples recalled these things.
(MB) Oh? And, just what "much bigger problem" would that be?

So, the best that can be said for Mark is that his Gospel is composed of second-hand information.
(R) Actually, that is not true at all. There is no reason at all not to think that Mark was a witness to most of these things.
(MB) Sure there is. Mark never says at any point that he was a witness to anything. His Gospel reflects the teachings of Peter and is not an eyewitness account. Therefore, it is second-half information, at best.

(R) Throughout the ministry of Jesus we know that He almost always had a crowd present.
(MB) So what about it? That doesn't mean that Mark was one among them. And, what about the various incidents that are reported for which there were no witnesses at all (such as the temptation of Christ)?

(R) Plus, there were others (such as Matthias in the book of Acts) that we know of who were present during the whole ministry of Jesus and were not mentioned in the Gospels.
(MB) Again, so what about it? What anybody else may have done or seen has no bearing upon whether or not Mark himself was an eyewitness.

Yet, it is the Gospel which provided the source material for Matthew and Luke.
(R) This is only one of many theories that try to explain the similarities in the synoptics.
(MB) It's the only one that has any basis in fact. What other theories would you propose as alternative explanations?

That makes those Gospels, at best, third-hand information.
(R) How do you figure this?
(MB) Simple. If Mark was second-hand, then any Gospel which derives from it must be third-hand.

(R) Matthew was an apostle of Jesus for cryin' out loud!
(MB) Was he? There is considerable doubt about that claim. For example, in the Encyclopedia Biblica, we find the following in reference to the authorship of Matthew:
The employment of various sources, the characteristic difference of the quotations from the LXX (Septuagint) and the original (Hebrew), the indefiniteness of the determinations of time and place, the incredibleness of the contents, the introduction of later conditions, as also the artificial arrangement, and so forth, have long since led to the conclusion that for the authorship of the first Gospel the apostle Matthew must be given up.

(R) He was a witness to the whole ministry of Jesus and experienced first-hand what happened.
(MB) How could Matthew have first-hand experience of the incidents he reports which happened before the disciples were chosen? How could he have first-hand experience of those things that happened when he was not there to see them?

(R) Matthew had a much larger Gospel because He had more information being a disciple.
(MB) He has a larger Gospel since he drew not only on Mark but also on the Q document as well as adding his own stuff (often wrong) about how various events supposedly fulfilled OT "prophecies".

(R) Luke, on the other hand, was a historian gathering information from various sources. Most, if not all, of his information I'm sure was second hand. As a historian, however, we can trust the accuracy of his information. It was written only a few decades after the death of Christ.
(MB) Why can we trust Luke's information? (BTW, now he's a "historian". Earlier, you said he was a "physician".) If it can't be verified by other sources, we have only Luke's say-so for what he writes. That is true no matter how long after the death of Christ it was that he wrote his Gospel. If Luke "gathered information from various sources", why is it that none of them has ever been identified and none appears in any contemporary secular history work?

(R) And yet I don't see you criticizing the history books of today which are written centuries after the events and have passed through so many "hands" of information it would be considered ridiculous to trust the information as accurate given the standards you present.
(MB) History is not considered to be reliable unless there is some evidence with which to crosscheck what it reports. There are no commonly accepted historical accounts which derive from only one unverifiable source of information. Yet, you wish us to accept the absolute historical accuracy of the Gospels?

Given the numerous conflicts between these three Gospels, the deleterious effects of time and retelling are quite evident.
(R) You have yet to present any evidence at all which show contradictions or myths that have been fabricated.
(MB) There are none so blind as those who will not see. When it comes to the blind faith of the Christian, that applies even more strongly. Let's see if you can rescue your blind faith from all of the unsolved problems I've already presented to you.

(R) It is interesting that over the years atheists have always been able to conjure up negative evidence against the Bible and yet have never been able to produce positive evidence to support their view.
(MB) This is clearly untrue. The volume of evidence that I've already presented demonstrates this and I've only barely scratched the surface of modern scholarship. What "positive evidence" would you demand or expect to see?

You've just admitted that neither Luke nor Mark were contemporaries of Jesus.
(R) How exactly did I do this? Again, try to show some evidence.
(MB) Go back and read your own words. You said "The Gospel of Mark was written by Mark who was a very close friend of Peter..." and "The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke who was a historian and close friend of Paul...". Both of these are true statements and both imply that they got their information second-hand rather than being eyewitnesses.

Matthew is the most likely contemporary of Jesus,...
(R) Well that is rather obvious since Matthew was the disciple of Jesus.
(MB) He is the "most likely" only since somebody named Matthew was a disciple. That does not mean the the disciple and the Gospel writer were the same person. It only means that they shared the same name.

...while any claim for the author of John as a disciple is still an open question given the date of authorship of his Gospel and the vast differences between it and the other three.
(R) Early church tradition says John wrote it, and they are certainly in a better position to judge then we are since they lived during the time. Also, Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John, clearly says John wrote it. The Rylands Fragment was a fragment of the Gospel discovered in the Egyptian hinterland and dates around 135 AD. It would need several previous decades for the writing, copying, and circulation of John to reach that far.
(MB) I didn't question whether or not John wrote the Gospel which bears his name. The question was over whether or not he was actually a disciple and that is seriously in doubt given his Gospel's date of authorship and the vast differences between it and the synoptics.
    Are you sure you wish to hang your hat on what Bishop Irenaeus has to say? He (as well as Bishop Papias) stated that Christ lived into advanced old age (possibly as late as 117 CE) and, thus, considered the Gospel accounts of the resurrection to be heresies.
    Polycarp wasn't born until 69 CE and, therefore, was rather unlikely to have become a disciple of John until at least 90 CE (which is the earliest date accepted by most scholars for the authorship of the Gospel which bears his name).
    The Rylands Fragment appears to be genuine, but it does nothing to dispute a dating of John to around 90 CE or later. Besides the fact that there is no reason to accept that it would take over four decades to travel to Egypt, there is also no reason to accept that it wasn't written somewhere else and eventually carried to Egypt at some future time. You may be interested in checking out the following web site for more information:

(R) If you read the Gospel it is clear that the writer was an eyewitness.
(MB) Oh? How is that clear? If the writer had been an eyewitness, he would had to have been a Jew. Yet, all four Gospels refer to Jews as a group in the third person -- as a non-Jew would do.

(R) The reason it is different is probably because John wanted a fresh look at the life of Jesus. The synoptics had already been circulated and John wanted to write something new.
(MB) What would that be necessary or even desirable? If John is reporting on the life and times of Jesus, there is only one version to talk about. Either the events surrounding Jesus happened or they did not. There is no "fresh look" that results in a vastly different story that can hope to be considered to be accurate.

Absolutely, they could have been embellished! No story survives the retelling with 100% accuracy. Most likely, the point(s) being made encourage embellishment. Consider what we all do when retelling good jokes or other stories from our own lives.
(R) Yes, people do sometimes embellish stories. But you are forgetting that there were four Gospel writers. They agree on everything on the life of Jesus and there are absolutely no contradictions.
(MB) Since I've already demonstrated that there are many contradictions and that they don't, in fact, agree on everything, your argument is false.

(R) Stories that are fabricated by different people certainly do not agree with each other and are not embellished at exactly all the same points of the story.
(MB) And, that is exactly what we see when we read and compare the four Gospel accounts. We see disagreement and contradiction. We also see that incidents which they have in common tend to be reported at greater length and have more problems in the later Gospels.

(R) Using this logic, I guess we could assume that the story of George Washington was also a fable.
(MB) Some parts *are* (like the tales of the cherry tree and the throwing of a dollar across the Potomac). They were invented by biographers to help portray Washington in the manner they desired. The Gospel writers certainly sought to portray Jesus in a positive manner, too, didn't they? In addition, few of the stories which lionize Washington speak of his being one of the largest slave-holders in Virginia. In a similar manner, it is reasonable to assume that the Gospel writers would suppress or gloss over any uncomfortable incidents surrounding Jesus.

Why should the Gospel writers be immune from this -- especially given the decades of time between the events and the writing of the books relating them?
(R) John 14:26. Enough said.
(MB) You've tried that before and it didn't work. It doesn't work now, either. Continuing to repeat a mistake doesn't eventually make it right.

Which "scholars" are these?
(R) How about Bible scholars. i.e.--those who actually study the Bible for a living.
(MB) I was looking for some names rather than a bogus generality. If the majority of Bible scholars agreed with what you are saying, I wouldn't be arguing the point.

Even at that, the problem of the decades-long gap still remains.
(R) I have already discussed this above.
(MB) Not really. You just keep throwing out John 14:26 and hoping I'll buy into it just because it's a Bible verse.

(R) Also, as I have said before, these Gospels were written when people who saw Jesus were still living. They could have easily refuted the Gospels and condemn the disciples as heretics.
(MB) Many of those people did so. Are you familiar with the Jewish Talmud, for example? Needless to say, Christians aren't going to present any rebuttals in their Bible and aren't going to hand out copies of the Talmud in their churches. Nor were any of the 4th century councils going to vote any dissenting work into the NT canon. Basically, what you're doing when you place absolute faith in the Bible is to base your entire life on a one-sided story.

(R) You never have explained what motive the writers would have for doing this. A life of poverty, beatings, imprisonment, and death? Gee, that sounds great. Sign me up!
(MB) Sounds like you've already signed up.

That's what the word "myth" implies!
(R) I was referring to reasons why the writers would have embellished.
(MB) You gave one reason yourself when you suggested that John wanted a "fresh look" at Jesus. I've already supplied other reasons.

The Gospel writers were writing about men and not about fantastic creatures and/or places.
(R) This is all the more reason why their stories can be trusted and should be considered accurate.
(MB) Why? Just because stories are about men does not automatically make them any more truthful than stories written about other things. Do you wish to claim that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes can be trusted and should be considered accurate? If not, why not? He wrote about men and not about fantastic creatures and/or places.

(R) They also wrote about God just in case you missed that.
(MB) I thought the Gospel writers wrote about Jesus and God only had a bit part. In any case, why does writing about God make any story trustworthy and accurate?

Fairy tales don't inspire people to believe in the same way as tales which are presented as fact.
(R) Most of the time, the only difference between a fairy tale and tale is that a tale IS presented as fact.
(MB) Thanks for agreeing with me. So, we can say that the Gospels are fairy tales which are presented as being factual so that people will be more inspired to believe in them.

Also, the style of reporting does not make a mythical tale real nor does it make a real tale mythical.
(R) Agreed. But the style goes to show you that it is not like common writing found in tales and myths and to call the Gospels tales would be to create a new class of tales all together.
(MB) Oh? What's special about the style of writing in the Gospels?

How long would it take to invent such a story? Any reasonably clever writer could concoct such a tale in a single day.
(R) Probably. But this wasn't told by just one person but by hundreds who actually saw and touched the resurrected body of Jesus. This would of had to have been one of the greatest hoaxes in history with hundreds of people collaborating stories so as to prevent any contradictions.
(MB) There weren't "hundreds of people" collaborating. There were twelve disciples -- not all of whom went on to do any writing. It would only take a small meeting or series of meetings for them to iron out their story and get the ball rolling.

(R) This would have taken much more time then a single day and besides, the sightings were already being reported on Sunday. As already said many times, what motives would they have to invent a story?
(MB) Remember that it's only the second- and third-hand Gospel accounts that are telling us about the reported sightings. It's entirely possible that the sightings stories were made up to add weight to the tale. Since only the disciples are named and since it is they who are telling the story and since the story is being told several decades after the fact, how could anybody else be interviewed either to confirm or deny it?
    Also, given the decades-long gap between the writing of the Gospels and the event being reported, it's likely that the majority of potential eyewitnesses would either be dead or would have forgotten whatever may or may not have actually happened. Either way, they would be in no position to credibly dispute the accounts.

With no hard evidence either to prove or disprove the account, the story might likely be accepted as read by a population already predisposed to believe it.
(R) There was hard evidence to prove the account such as Jesus Himself, the empty tomb, eyewitness testimony and of course the lack of a better alternative.
(MB) What "hard evidence" is this? And, don't go quoting Bible verses or interpolations in Josephus again. I mean hard evidence that anybody of any religious or non-religious persuasion could examine and be compelled to believe in the Gospel accounts.
    BTW, there is no such thing as a "better alternative" to an event that never happened. If you believe otherwise, then you must accept the accounts of the Greek gods as truth simply because there is "no better alternative" for them.

(R) You are right in saying there is no hard evidence to disprove the account.
(MB) It is impossible to prove that it didn't happen, but that is not necessary. A basic tenet of logic and philosophy is that the burden of proof always rests with the side making the positive existential claim -- and that is you.

(R) The population, however, was not predisposed to believe it. Most people, including the disciples, did not even realize that Jesus had to rise from the dead until after He showed Himself to them.
(MB) Uh-huh. They thought this even though Jesus told them that he would rise after three days and three nights? They may well not have believed him, but they had certainly been informed. On a side note, it's obvious that Jesus' prediction is wrong. He was crucified in the late afternoon on Friday and had already arisen prior to sunrise on Sunday. At best, he rose after only two nights and one day had passed.

(R) If anything, they were predisposed to believe that Christ had died and that the hope of Him fulfilling the role of the political Messiah had been destroyed.
(MB) The Jews were the only ones who believed in a political Messiah. They never equated the Messiah with the Son of God. To this day, they still don't believe the spin on the events surrounding Jesus that has been promoted by Jesus' followers.

Sure, it does.
(R) I am glad you agree.
(MB) Methinks you've forgotten what I agreed to. Just to refresh your memory, I agreed to your analysis that Paul's claim about 500 people seeing the resurrected Jesus looks unbelievably audacious if the whole story came by way of mythological development. Why shouldn't I agree with that assessment when I'm firmly convinced that Paul's story *is* mythology?

Once again, we have only Paul's say-so on this as there is no independent verification.
(R) Paul was not the only one to have professed the resurrected Jesus. The Gospel writers and disciples also verified what Paul preached.
(MB) They echoed what he preached, but that does not constitute any sort of verification either that it happened at all or that Paul's details were accurate. That would be similar to saying that any claim that Bill Clinton is innocent is verified simply because his staff members profess that he is.

(R) There is also no independent verification that George Washington ever existed, yet he is taught in every school.
(MB) You're really grasping at straws with this one. If you truly believe that there's no independent verification that George Washington ever existed, then you must absolutely believe that about Jesus. If, on that basis, you conclude that we should not be taught about George Washington in schools, then it follows that Jesus should certainly not be taught, either.

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