Friday, April 4, 2014

5. How do we know there is any truth in the gospel stories?

The principle of embarrassment applies here. If you were making up a story, why would you include things that make you look bad?  The gospels include embarrassing or problematic details.

As an example of a problematic detail, remember that the New Testament argues that Jesus is sinless & therefore the perfect sacrificial lamb to die for the sins of mankind.  All 4 gospels record the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  In Matthew 3:13-17 John even asks Jesus if Jesus should baptize John instead.  John's thinking he's the sinner not Jesus, but Jesus says it is proper for John to baptize Jesus.  Does that imply Jesus is admitting he isn't sinless?  Then there is the story of Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple which is also in all 4 gospels.  You end up having to explain Jesus' anger as righteous anger to get around the implication that his anger & violence are sinful.  Wouldn't it be better to leave out these stories, if one of your main points is that Jesus is the sinless Messiah, the unblemished perfect lamb who dies for mankind's sins?

Here's an embarrassing detail that's in the story of the Last Supper.  It's Jesus predicting that Peter will deny him 3 times before the cock crows (Mt 26:34, Mk 14:30, Lk 22:34, Jn 13:38).  Peter has just said that he is willing to lay down his life for Jesus (Jn 13:37).  When it turns out his life could be forfeit in the next 24 hours, though, Peter has a change of heart & does exactly as Jesus predicted. Makes Jesus look smart, but Peter not so much.  If the gospels are just stories made up by the disciples to make themselves look good, Peter must have missed the brain storming session where the other disciples decided to make him out to be a weak namby-pamby coward.  Peter gone fishin' again?  Let's make him the one that almost didn't get away! Now compare that with what I already told you in my last post about Peter's death in Rome for the crime of being a christian. That was the time to deny Jesus too, but Peter didn't, even though, it cost him his life. That's the kind of story a bunch of liars would include. The kind that would make them look like noble heroes.

My last example of an embarrassing detail that I'll mention is probably my favorite one.  You know it, but don't recognize it as such.  On Easter morning, women find the tomb empty (Mt 28:1, Mk 16:1, Lk 24:10 & Jn 20:1). Why is this embarrassing? Actually this one would get you laughed out of court. At that time if you wanted to sue your neighbor, according to jewish  law you needed witnesses to testify on your behalf. 2 is good, but 3 is better. The witnesses couldn't be just anybody. Whoa, Mary, not your kind.  You aren't good enough around here. That's right women were not allowed as legal witnesses in jewish courts at that point in time. Putting this detail in is just asking all the men in the Sanhedrin, the jewish ruling council, to suspect the story is a big lie from the start.  If they were smart, though, and didn't want to sleep on the couch, they didn't bring this up for discussion around their wives.

All the skeptics at this point say I told you so.  The disciples made it all up.  The hitch is they could have just left out those details, if the story is made up.  The disciples knew women weren't legal witnesses.  They could make themselves look good & Jesus look perfect by just leaving stuff out, but they didn't.  It's not a made up story & those details are in there, because they were trying to tell the absolute truth about how the events unfolded no matter how it makes them look.

As a skeptic, my next thought was maybe they were honestly reporting most of what they saw, but lies work better when mixed with some of the truth.  How do we know the disciples weren't just lying about seeing the resurrected Christ?  I'm surprised I'd never heard the answer to this one in a church & it's a pretty important question.  More in my next post.


  1. I really don't have much problem with the truth of the Resurrection. If we accept that Jesus is God, Resurrection doesn't seem a great difficulty.

    I agree that the apparent lack of coordination of the Gospel accounts is telling. With regard to the stories of Christ after the Resurrection, there are difficulties reconciling the timelines in the Gospels. I won't go into those here, you can find them on a lot of Skeptical websites as proof that the Bible is "made up", but I tend to agree with you instead. If the stories were made up, they would have reconciled the stories more carefully.

    I accept the authority of the Bible because of the authority of the Church. Jesus wrote none of the Bible, he told the Apostles to go and convert the world without ever saying that they should carefully write everything down so future generations would have the story correctly. Christ promised the advocate that would guide them and I believe it was under the influence of the Holy Spirit that the Scriptures were written.

    Karl Popper observed that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: there will always be some who misunderstand you. (

    I think trying to read the Bible without guides is problematic.

    The Bible itself says that there are Scripture that is easily misunderstood and are twisted:

    As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16, KJV)

    This being the case, we have to find those in with the authority, those who are informed by the Holy Spirit, who can help us in interpreting Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It's clear to me that just sitting down with the Scripture and trying to interpret it ourselves, disconnected from the original languages, history, idioms of the times in which it was written leads to the situation we have now with many contradictory interpretations.

    One thing is clear from the Scripture and the Early Church is that there were those in authority to teach. I don't see any reason to believe that has changed. The gift of prophecy has not left us.

    I'm not saying that finding those with authority is easy, thousands of denominations teaching mutually exclusive doctrines all based on the same Scripture makes it difficult, but I do think that's where we are at.

  2. When I was a 2x/year christian, I couldn't accept Jesus as God no matter who said it. Wasn't even sure that God existed. After studying the historical evidence for the resurrection, though, I could accept Jesus as God. I've been going back & forth on the idea of inerrancy in the Bible. Still struggling with what that means, since I know there are grammatical mistakes & occasional copying errors. Was reading Geisler's "When Skeptics Ask" & he discussed it. One of his first arguments for inerrancy boiled down to "because Jesus said so" along with verse citations. That I could follow, but a skeptic wouldn't. I had to be sold on the resurrection first, then I could say we can't do that, but God can. Tied it together with Jesus' identity as the Messiah & I could get to Jesus is God with Us. Now what he said matters much more.

    Peter was talking about Paul's writings in 2 Peter 3:16 & it's true some parts are hard to follow. It can be helpful to discuss problem passages with others, but you do have 2 more choices in books & prayer. Books give you the opinions/interpretations of other experts. If the Bible is the inspired word of God, thoug, there's no better expert to talk to about your difficulties than God. I've had answers pop up in my email in the form of a daily verse, in a daily devotional or just talking to someone at church. There is something about reading the Bible by yourself that should not be given up lightly. The Bible speaks to you in a way that just makes some verses pop out as relevant to your life in that moment.

    I look at the squabbles between denominations about theological questions as an example of sin in the church. I have to wonder if God laughs at the trivialities we argue about. I've even wondered if he considers all those who believe in & worship the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob as his children. Does it matter that muslims call him Allah or that the jews call him Yahweh or some christians call him Jehovah or just Lord? He is still the Great I Am who was & is & is to come. Does the label matter at all? Mt. 12:32 (NIV) makes the comment that he who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. Mk 3:28 says something similar, but uses the term blasphemies. We say Jesus is God, muslims say Jesus was a prophet, but not the Son of God. Jews says he was a good magician, but if saying bad things about Jesus can be forgiven maybe even jew vs. muslim vs. christian is just another example of sin that can be forgiven. Probably spun a number of christians in their graves with that one!

    1. Wish I could edit my comment. I notice that my Bible tool pops up a different NIV version of Mk 3:28 than the Bible app on my computer. Must be a later translation. My versions of the NRSV, NASB, NKJV & NLT refer to blasphemy. Mt 12:32 NLT also uses blasphemes & blasphemy.

    2. Got me again. The tool pops up NLT 2nd edition which doesn't use blasphemy like the 1st version did. Sigh. Maybe I should quote it in greek, but then I wouldn't know what it said either!