Credit where credit is due: I am finding that the claims in this book require more effort than I usually put into these posts. This book is probably going to take me a while, but I am ok with that. I am ok with taking the time to research things carefully.
Because of the fact that this book is intense, and requires me to do a lot of research, Case for Christ posts will only occur once a month. I’ll try to start another book soon so that we can get another weekly one going.
We last left off with the author interviewing a man I’m calling “Dr. B.” They’ve been establishing the reliability of the canonical gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The author and Dr. B have just established that they believe the gospels are written by the people who’s names are their titles. The author seems to be under the impression that this a burning question atheists have. I never did, but sure, maybe some atheists out there do, who knows.
We pick up after a section break to talk about the Q documents. What the fuck are the Q documents? According to Dr. B:
“It’s nothing more than a hypothesis…with few exceptions, it’s just sayings or teachings of Jesus, which once may have formed an independent separate document….it was a common literary genre to collect the sayings of respected teachers, sort of as we compile the top music of a singer and put it into a “best of” album. Q may have been something like that. At least that’s the theory.”
Is it a theory or a hypothesis? These are not synonyms. A theory is something that, after much testing, we know to be true. The theory of gravity, for example. A hypotheses is something that we do not know to be true, that still needs testing.
In any case, from what I have read, Dr. B’s explanation is pretty much correct. There’s disagreement over whether or not the Q documents actually exist (or ever existed), and I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or the other.
The author of this book starts to wonder what exactly the Q documents would have to say about Jesus. If you only read the Q document, would it be similar, in any way, to the gospels?
Dr. B says that Q was just a collection of Jesus’ sayings. Without any narrative context, sure, we might get a very different picture of Jesus. And you know what, fair enough. If you just take the things Jesus said, and you don’t have any context for it, you could wind up with some pretty crazy interpretations.
“A significant scholarly book,” [said Dr. B] “has argued recently that if you isolate all the Q sayings, one actually gets the same kind of picture of Jesus-of someone who made audacious claims about himself-as you would find in the gospels more generally.”
It does not state which “significant scholarly book” is being referred to. Set that aside. Note that Dr. B seems to believe in the existence of the Q documents, and that Q wouldn’t be all that different from the gospels we have today.
Dr. B then points out that, even in Q, there’s evidence of Jesus’ miracles because Jesus talks about his miracles once, very briefly. Dr. B seems to think this is evidence that Jesus actually did these miracles.
I mean, whoever wrote Q could have put whatever he wanted in there. Yes people could have protested, but it’s what gets written down that gets preserved.
Next the author decides to ask Dr. B a few questions about how the gospels were put together. This could be fascinating… but not particularly relevant?
It’d be even more interesting if done by a non biased source.
I need to go find a non biased source, because I think that would be fascinating.
“Why..would Matthew–purported to be an eyewitness to Jesus, incorporate part of a gospel written by Mark, who everybody agrees was not an eyewitness? If Matthew’s gospel was really written by an eye witness, you would think he wold have relied on his own observations.”
That…. is actually a good question.
If this were not the Bible we were talking about, I would say something like, “people don’t always have the ability to put what they saw into words. Some people just aren’t good at writing. It makes sense, then, to find someone who can write well to help you express yourself.”
But this is the Bible we are talking about, and it is believed that “holy men spake as they were moved of God.” Most Christians believe that the Bible was written by men, but dictated by God.
Couldn’t God have told Matthew what to write? Wouldn’t he have made Matthew write in a style completely different from that of Mark?
When you look into it, the whole thing really falls apart. In an attempt to establish the reliability of the gospels, this chapter ends up doing precisely the opposite.
Dr. B’s response:
It only makes sense if Mark was indeed basing his account on the recollections of the eyewitness Peter…as you’ve said yourself, Peter was among the inner circle of Jesus and was privy to seeing and hearing things that other disciples didn’t. So it would make sense for Matthew, even though he was an eyewitness, to rely on Peter’s version of events as transmitted through Mark.”
Sorry, this doesn’t work for me. If men wrote as God dictated, why would Matthew need to check with Peter (through Mark) about anything? And what if Mark, intentionally or not, made a mistake? Would that have crept into Matthew as well? Why wouldn’t Matthew just skip reading Mark’s book and go ask Peter? Well there may be reasons why this wasn’t possible, but still.
The author thinks back to when he was reporting on a person. He heard the person say something, but not very well, so he asked another reporter who had a tape recorder if he could please listen to the recording. He did this even though he heard the person speak, because the author wanted to be sure he was reporting accurately.
This I do not have a problem with. However, there is a world of difference between listening to a tape recorder and reading a book. Tape recorders record what a person says. That’s fact. But memory is extremely faulty and unreliable, and just because a person wrote it down doesn’t make it true. (I am aware that voice recording can be edited and faked, but it is still more reliable evidence than things written down years later.)
I personally don’t think this analogy holds water.
For some strange reason, the author is satisfied with the answers Dr. B has given him, so he moves on to talk about the gospel of John, which is different in some way from the other 3.
I’m gonna have to go re read the gospels. I feel like I need to see this for myself. I personally noticed no differences the first 5 times I read the gospels, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It has been a while since I’ve read the Bible, and my memories are probably a little less than accurate at this point.
Anyone who reads all 4 gospels will immediately recognize that there are obvious differences between the synoptics and the gospel of John, and I wanted to know whether this means there are irreconcilable contradictions between them.
Oh trust me, there are plenty of irreconcilable differences between the other 3 gospels. Whether or not you believe these differences matter is something I’d be open to discussing. I have heard that there are Christians out there who don’t believe that the writing in the Bible is exactly how things happened. These Christians don’t really care where Jesus was born or how, as long as the basic facts remain the same: that Jesus was born and that he died for our sins and was then resurrected. I would be interested in hearing more from these types of people, partly to satisfy my curiosity as to whether or not they actually exist.
Dr. B admits that, yes, the gospel of John is a little different than the other 3.
“Only a handful of major stories that appear in the other 3 gospels appear in John, although that changes noticeably when it comes to Jesus’ last week. From that point onward the parallels are much closer.
This makes sense. All 4 gospel writers would have thought that the events leading up to Jesus’ death, the death itself, and the resurrection were a lot more important than whatever miracles he had been performing. Dr. B continues:
There also seems to be a very different linguistic style. In John, Jesus uses different terminology, he speaks in long sermons, and there seems to be a higher Christology….”
The author of the book asks what accounts for the differences. Dr. B says that, since John wrote later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he would have known that some things were already out there, and he would have felt no need to repeat himself.
More recently it has been assumed that John is largely independent of the other 3 gospels, which could account for not only the different choices of material but also the different perspectives on Jesus.
In Bible class, I was always told that the 4 gospels were marketed to 4 different audiences: Matthew wrote to the Jews, Luke wrote to the Greeks, and then Mark wrote to the Romans. But not John. No, John was actually writing to us.
I will agree that theological differences don’t necessarily have to mean there are contradictions. It’s not a stretch to think that the actual gospel writers, whoever they were, actually were marketing themselves to different audiences, and would have tailored their messages accordingly. The audience the writer of GJohn was actually writing to may not have cared about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, hence it is not included.
Despite the theological differences in GJohn, Dr. B doesn’t believe there are any contradictions between the gospels. (To give the author some credit, he will talk about the “supposed contradictions” later in the book. They do not appear in this chapter.)
The author then asks Dr. B what he believes is a really important question:
“John makes very explicit claims of Jesus being God, which some attribute to the fact that he wrote later than the others and began embellishing things. Can you find this theme of deity in the synoptics?”
The writer of GJohn would not have to be knowingly “embellishing” things. He may have just heard the stories and legends going around, and even tricked himself into believing that they were true. Human memory is extremely unreliable and faulty, and it is possible that the writer of GJohn believed everything he wrote.
Now, maybe I’m wrong and the writer of GJohn was intending to decieve people in regards to what Jesus said about himself. I couldn’t say. But I can say that there is more than one option, and that we can’t really know.
“[Claims to divinity are] more implicit,” [says Dr. B] but you find it there. Think of the story of Jesus walking on the water, found in Matthew 14:22-23 and Mark 6:45-52. Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, “Fear not, it is I.” Actually, the Greek literally says, “Fear not, I am.” …..”I Am” is the way God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the old testament.”
I don’t think the Bible translators were trying to hide anything. It’s entirely possible that they thought that was just how Greek grammar was, and that by changing it, they were making it more readable to an English speaking audience. I know it’s nitpicky, but the way Dr. B is speaking here implies that he thinks someone did this on purpose to hide the fact that Jesus claimed he was God.
All that aside….huh. That is really interesting. Of course, as the gospels were probably not written until many years after this actually happened, I wonder how exact the wording is. But no matter.
Dr. B then proceeds to talk about the term, “son of man.”
The author points out that that doesn’t sound like a claim of divinity to him, and Dr. B gets defensive.
“Look,” he said firmly. “Contrary to popular belief, ‘Son of Man’ does not refer primarily to Jesus’ humanity. Instead it’s a direct allusion to Daniel 7:13-14.”
13 I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
I looked this up in multiple versions, and the wording is the same. “Son of Man” is present in at least 4 Bible translations, so it’s probably translated correctly. Now the question exists: was Daniel retroactively edited? You know what, set that aside. It’s not important. Even if Jesus was referring to this verse, even if he was using it to claim to be God, that in no way supports his claims.
Just because some guy said something a few thousand years ago and someone wrote it down doesn’t make it true.
So the main question I have is this: WHY DO I CARE? How does this prove the existence of God? How does this prove that Jesus is the son of God? This is like using the Bible to prove the Bible: The Old Testament to prove the New. Which….might make sense if, maybe, the author is trying to market to Jews, under the mistaken impression that “Torah” is synonymous with “Old Testament?”
In case we are not convinced that the title “Son of Man” is a claim to divinity, the author quotes from another interview he did. I’m assuming we’ll get more details of this other interview later in the book.
“Son of Man” is often thought to indicate the humanity of Jesus, just as the reflex expression “Son of God” indicates his divinity. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Son of Man was a divine figure in the Old Testament book of Daniel who would come at the end of the world to judge mankind and rule forever. Thus, the claim to be the Son of Man would be in effect a claim to divinity.”
We’ll stop there for now. I will have to think of a different way of breaking up these posts, because if I do them chapter by chapter they are going to get long… really long… and to be honest, the material isn’t all that interesting. It would be if the author were presenting both sides of the story, and then explaining why he prefers one explanation over the other, but he’s not. Instead he’s trying to prove the existence of God by using the Bible.
And that’s not something atheists are interested in.