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My View of Jesus

This began as a response to unkleE in the comment thread of my last post.  However, I decided that I was getting too wordy for a comment and decided to turn it into a post.  But I’m also pretty lazy and have left the post as though I’m talking directly to unkleE.  Here it is:

I want to address your statements about Jesus. You are someone who has actually studied what the historians have said about Jesus, and I respect that about you. Too many people on all sides of this issue don’t do the research they should. That being said, doing that research doesn’t necessarily make someone a believer. There’s not even full agreement among scholars on whether or not Jesus was even a real person. I tend to think he was, but there are some decent arguments that take the opposing view.

But even among those who do think he was historical, there’s a wide assortment of opinion about who he was. Before the Enlightenment, virtually all scholars believed Jesus was divine, because that was about the only option in Western society. I think that’s why there’s broader diversity on the subject today.

So if he wasn’t divine, how did his following begin? I think that’s a question we could ask about every example of hero worship. Why did people follow Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, or David Koresh? What about Sathya Sai Baba? The details are varied, but they mostly come down to charisma. I think Jesus was a charismatic preacher that made a huge impact on his small group of followers. I think his death was quite a shock to the disciples. They had given up so much to follow him, how could they just forget all his teachings and go back to their old lives?  So I think they continued to move on and hold together.

More than likely, at least one of them saw him in a dream or during a moment of great sadness, etc. And I’m sure they felt that he was “living on” in the work they continued to do. Regardless, decades go by, and the disciples are successful in bringing others to their manner of life. Stories about Jesus circulate among these new believers — no doubt some of them become embellished. By the time the gospels are written (at least 30-40 years after his death, by most estimates), there are many stories about Jesus’ life and his works. In fact, now that we’ve found some of the “other gospels,” we see just how varied some of these stories were. There are very good reasons for thinking that the 4 gospels in our Bibles were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, so that makes it hard to take them as first-hand accounts.

So at that point, what are we left with? Yes, Christianity grew, but so has every other religion — ones that Christians would consider false. We do have some secular sources of the time that refer to Christ or Christians, but none of them actually verify any of the miraculous things we’re told about Jesus. At most, they just show that some people of the time believed in and followed him.

I guess the crux of the issue comes down to who wrote the gospels. I’m convinced that they were written by Christians who never actually knew Jesus — and probably didn’t know any of the apostles either. Even if Luke actually wrote Luke, he’s not someone who knew Jesus. He only seems to have been an associate of Paul’s. His gospel even seems to use Mark as a source (Mark didn’t know Jesus either). For me, there’s just not enough evidence to make the claims about Christ tenable.

Now I don’t expect any of that to convince you that Jesus was not truly divine. That’s not my intent. I just want to show that someone can be familiar with the gospels, the historical evidence, and the arguments of scholars and still not believe that Jesus was anything more than a man. Granted, I haven’t gone into much detail, but I know you’re familiar with the things I’ve mentioned.

Thanks as always for the great conversation.

So that’s what I had written to unkleE.  Let me add just one more thing.  In my last post, I talked about the historical evidence that claims Tecumseh was a prophet.  Now these accounts were all written after the fact.  None of his prophecies were written down before the events he prophesied took place.  So it’s easy to assume that he never actually prophesied anything at all.  Instead, these could have just been claims made by those who revered and believed in him.  Is it surprising that his followers might have exaggerated his abilities because of their incredible admiration of him, especially once he died?  No, to me, it’s easy to understand why they might have been inclined to do that.  So why should we think Jesus’ situation is so different?  Isn’t it easy to see why Jesus’ followers might have told larger than life stories of him out of reverence?  In fact, passages like the woman caught in adultery are a great example of that very thing.  All evidence indicates that that story was a small bit of fiction that made its way into the book of John many years after it was first written.  So if we can understand the very human tendency to add a bit of mythology to life stories of those whom we love and admire, why do we assume the followers of Jesus didn’t do any of that?

Anyway, those are some of the reasons why I don’t believe Jesus was any more divine than you or I.  I hope that helps clarify my position a bit more, and I hope you’ll all feel free to comment away in the section below.

Thanks! (and a Happy 4th to my fellow Americans!)

44 thoughts on “My View of Jesus”

  1. G’day Nate, since you wrote to me, I guess I’d better respond.

    “There’s not even full agreement among scholars on whether or not Jesus was even a real person.”
    No it’s not full, but it’s about 99.99% agreement.

    “there’s a wide assortment of opinion about who he was.”
    Of course there is, but there is broad agreement on a lot. My list at Jesus in history is drawn from two agnostic scholars, one of whom says his list is pretty much certain. There’s enough there to make up our minds.

    “I think Jesus was a charismatic preacher that made a huge impact on his small group of followers.”
    Of course he was, but was he more? What made him different to a zillion other charismatic teachers? How did he convince so many people? How did a bunch of Jews with no belief in resurrection in this life come to believe he was resurrected? How did a bunch of monotheists come to believe he was divine, perhaps the only plausible claim of divinity ever? Why would his followers write false biographies about him? Why did he tell lies about himself? If you don’t see more there, then I doubt arguing would help.

    “now that we’ve found some of the “other gospels,” we see just how varied some of these stories were”
    None of the “other gospels” are first century, including (almost certainly) Thomas.

    “There are very good reasons for thinking that the 4 gospels in our Bibles were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”
    There are very good reasons to believe they are based on eyewitness reports. All have input from apostles. And there are good reasons tho think they are accurate regardless of who wrote them.

    “I guess the crux of the issue comes down to who wrote the gospels.”
    I don’t think so. The question is whether they contain accurate information about Jesus, and the consensus is that they do.

    “if we can understand the very human tendency to add a bit of mythology to life stories of those whom we love and admire, why do we assume the followers of Jesus didn’t do any of that?”
    Many of the questions you ask have been answered by the scholars, including this. Few believe the stories are legends because (1) we know some of the creeds about Jesus were in existence within a few years of his death, (2) it takes way, way longer for myths and legends to develop, and (3) the multiple sources emanating from different places make the collusion required virtually impossible.

    “someone can be familiar with the gospels, the historical evidence, and the arguments of scholars and still not believe that Jesus was anything more than a man. “
    I have no argument with that – it is true for many of the scholars for instance. But many of your statements above are (I think) demonstrably wrong or doubtful at best, and this makes your conclusion look stronger than I think it is in reality. So in the end, I believe it is as we have discussed elsewhere. We both see the evidence, I think you interpret some of it wrongly contrary to the scholars because you don’t want it to be true, and I interpret it more positively (and I think closer to the scholars) because I do want it to be true.

    I think we will be judged by our motives more than our assessment of evidence, but our motives affect how we assess the evidence.

    Thanks for spelling it out, and for giving me the opportunity to reply.

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  2. That’s an interesting point.

    How much do our motives play in our assessment of evidence?

    Is it actually possible to find truth if we are always coloured by our motivations?

    Once we have reached our conclusions are we ever willing to re-evaluate them. Or are they then cemented into our bias?

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  3. People can twist isolated verses in the bible to justify just about anything. In the same way people can take small samples of statistics and take them out of context to justify just about anything. And this is guided by what people want to be true rather than what is true.

    Can we really seperate ourselves from our bias?

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  4. I almost feel I should strip myself bare. As much as possible. To remove all assumptions and start at the bare basics then enable me to percieve. One point of reference. I exist.

    then from that one premise I can hopefully begin with the most minimum bias possible.

    But how can I remove myself from humanity, where I grew up, where I went to school? How can I free myself from my what I want to be and embrace what is?

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  5. Personally when I read posts like this and unkleE’s response, it reminds me why I’m a big fan of citations (coming from a very slight lab research background). Without them, discussions like this tend to go “Uh Uh!” then “Actually, uh uh” ad infinitum, with neither sounding very convincing (very much relevant to the joke “X% of statistics are made up on the spot”).

    I do think it’s clear though that a scholarly look at the history of Jesus allows for views on either side. To really make an argument from history convincing though would be a massive undertaking of laying out numerous positives and negatives like throwing an immense pile of documents on a table and being asked to study them all. To me, if I am expected (emphasis on expected) to have a belief in any God, the truth should be far more evident than that. Which isn’t to say that it’s still not truth, but if there’s any responsibility in it, then it goes both ways.

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  6. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait just a minute unkleE. You state, “How did a bunch of Jews with no belief in resurrection in this life come to believe he was resurrected? How did a bunch of monotheists come to believe he was divine…” First off, Jews of the intertestamental period DID believe in the resurrection of the dead, it was to be a sign that the kingdom of God (end of days) had arrived, and then the judgement. Secondly, the early Jewish followers did NOT believe that Jesus was divine, but that he was the messiah (anointed one) who would usher in the kingdom in their lifetime as Jesus had promised. Jesus never taught salvation by believing in his death (but by being faithful to the law), never taught that he was God (actually the opposite), and remained a Jew throughout his life (was not associated with the Christian movement of Paul). The earliest gospel, Mark, does not embellish in this regard as do the later gospels (beliefs about Jesus began to change over time). A Jew would never consider a man to be a god, it was blasphemous. The divinity of a mortal on the other hand was a part of pagan belief. Thus the various divine birth stories which are echoed in the Bible, which I might add are rife with historical inaccuracies. For what it’s worth, the entire NT is full of contradictions and inaccuracies (for major reference, look at the conflicting resurrection accounts). The only Jews which were recorded as not believing in the resurrection of the dead were the Sadducees, and that was because they followed only the pentateuch (first 5 books of the OT which do not mention it).

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  7. Again to add to the discussion, when studying any historical mystery such as the origin of Christianity, you are dealing with probabilities. To the best of one’s ability the researcher should remain as impartial as possible, asking questions on both sides of the issue, searching for the truth. It is possible to arrive at the most probable hypothesis, for instance rarely does one find the murderer standing over the body with a knife in his hand. And even before the advent of fingerprint and DNA analysis, detectives would on occasion solve the murder using deductive reasoning. An excellent example of deductive reasoning can be found in the movie “12 Angry Men” starring Henry Fonda. Researchers into history do this all the time and the study of the origins of Christianity is no exception. So it is not enough to just throw up one’s hands and claim it is all according to one’s preconceived notions and motives. You must aim for the best percentage of probability.

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  8. Ryan,

    “Is it actually possible to find truth if we are always coloured by our motivations?”

    Some truths require a response, not just recognition. It is our motivation or core values that will determine that response as much as the facts will. That’s how I see it.

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  9. G’day Page 28, how are you going?

    “Personally when I read posts like this and unkleE’s response, it reminds me why I’m a big fan of citations “

    Yes, I tend to agree, but blog comments are not the place for footnotes! But I think I can supply references for every historical matter I mentioned – is there any one you’d particularly want?

    “if I am expected … to have a belief in any God, the truth should be far more evident than that.”

    I see it quite the opposite. Let’s assume for the sake of the discussion that the christian God exists and wants to give eternal life to a bunch of his creatures. If he was going to make everything clear and obvious, and have everyone automatically get to “heaven”, why create a physical universe and give us choice? It wouldn’t make any sense I can see, he should just create us in heaven to start with. So I think your expectation is mistaken

    So why did God create this world. Well I can’t help thinking that part of it must have been to give us real autonomy. Human beings are like little gods, with personality, rationality, ethics, appreciation of beauty, compassion and choice. The conventional christian view is that he keeps himself “hidden” (to a degree) to make our choice to follow him real and unforced, but I think it is much deeper than that. I think he gives us the opportunity to create our own characters rather than just accept what he gives us (that isn’t autonomy).

    So this is mostly the sort of world I would expect if the christian God exists, though I must also admit that there are some aspects that I wouldn’t expect.

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  10. Hi Aurelius,

    “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait just a minute unkleE. You state, “How did a bunch of Jews with no belief in resurrection in this life come to believe he was resurrected? …. Jews of the intertestamental period DID believe in the resurrection of the dead, it was to be a sign that the kingdom of God (end of days) had arrived, and then the judgement.

    The reading I have done indicates that the Jews only expected a general resurrection of the righteous at the end of time and the beginning of the new age, not a resurrection of one person in the middle of time – hence my wording said “in this life”. What have you read different to that?

    “the early Jewish followers did NOT believe that Jesus was divine”

    On what basis do you say this? My statement was based on the writings of Larry Hurtado, who has made a particular study of this question, and says the consensus of scholarship is what I said. I understand Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman are writing books on the subject that may take a different line, but I don’t think they’re finished yet. I think there was development in their understanding of Jesus’ divinity, but the evidence seems to be that they were worshiping him as divine within one or decades of his death, when many of the apostles were still alive.

    “Jesus never taught salvation by believing in his death (but by being faithful to the law)”

    Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    He taught both.

    You have written too many statements (without any justification for them) for me to respond to each one, but I think almost all are factually (historically) as inaccurate or imprecise as the ones I have addressed. (I don’t mean to be rude, just trying to be direct and brief, as you have been.) If you wish to pick one or two to contest that conclusion, please do.

    Best wishes.

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  11. unkleE:

    “is there any one you’d particularly want?”

    Perhaps some other time, though I respect your willingness to actually scour these.

    As to your statement about expectation, you bring up a good point, and I think a noteworthy apologetic. However, I would mention that I say “if I am expected” as in the sense of my discernment of the facts leads to some hellfire or heavenlight, then I don’t feel it jibes. It is hidden, or at least obscured from any lay study. I don’t mean this as a refutation of the Christian god, or any god for that matter, rather instead for the need of his/its/her admittance based on historical facts. Really the point was a side-note to pass the buck of importance of our philosophical convictions to a more holistic outlook on our experience and observations.

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  12. @unkleE

    I anticipate what Nate is communicating is that if you believe Jesus performed these miracles you are ungrudgingly compelled to concede that other people implemented them as well like Apollonius of Tyana, Vespasian, Hanina ben Dosa, and Tecumseh. The evidence that is permitted in any one of these putative expositions must be admitted in the other purported occurrences as well.

    Also, I am compelled to add that Christianity is not the religion of Jesus, but a religion about Jesus. Or more accurately, Christianity is a religion about a belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is less about what Jesus said and more about what people said he did, specifically overcoming inherent expiry. As Aurelius44 formerly alluded to history does not establish what will or did eventuate, but what probably eventuated. Since historians can only substantiate what probably transpired, garrisoned on the maximum quantity of procurable evidence, and the probability of a miracle occurring, by definition, is inconceivably remote, a believer can under no circumstances demonstrate that a miracle probably materialized. For illustration, a historian cannot declare, with incontrovertible certitude, that Jesus did not perambulate from the grave, but he can say Jesus, probably, did not ascend from the sepulcher. Therefore, if Christianity is about what individuals averred Jesus did and Jesus probably did not achieve what people contended he did then Christianity is positioned on an insecure premise.

    “We both see the evidence, I think you interpret some of it wrongly contrary to the scholars because you don’t want it to be true, and I interpret it more positively (and I think closer to the scholars) because I do want it to be true.”

    How do you know Nate doesn’t want it to be true?

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  13. These are excellent comments — thank you to everyone.

    I feel like I have some good responses about unkleE’s points on the time it takes for myths to develop, whether or not 1st century Jews would have expected a resurrection, etc. But I think those points are better left to another thread. For a long time now I’ve wanted to do an in-depth post about the canon and about the secular sources of the time, but I want to do it with footnotes. I just haven’t made the time for it. So when I can, I’ll dedicate some time to that project, but it may take a while… 🙂

    Anyway, feel free to continue to comment. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated them all. Thanks!

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  14. “if you believe Jesus performed these miracles you are ungrudgingly compelled to concede that other people implemented them as well like Apollonius of Tyana, Vespasian, Hanina ben Dosa, and Tecumseh”

    G’day Persto. I have already said I have no problems in principle in accepting that miracles and prophecies could possibly have been associated with other people. But your statement is only true if the evidence is the same.

    And it isn’t.

    The evidence for Jesus’ miracles is way better historically. Scholars are quite convinced that Jesus was known as a miracle worker. So the only question is whether you are closed to the possibility of miracles, and are willing to believe that people of that day could recognise a miracle.

    Apollonius and ben Dosa are not in the same league. The stories about Apollonius were written about 150 years afterwards, likely long enough for legends to develop, and we have only one source. The stories about Jesus were written within a lifetime, not long enough for legends to develop, especially as we have at least four sources, more if you believe the scholars. The writer was not convinced himself. And it seems likely that the Apollonius stories were copied from Jesus.

    ben Dosa is a little more believable, although I doubt the documentary evidence is as good. But it is worth noting that ben Dosa and other rabbis didn’t do nearly as many and impressive miracles as Jesus, and never did the miracles themselves, as Jesus did, but prayed that God would do them. So they weren’t so much miracle-workers as pray-ers.

    “I am compelled to add that Christianity is not the religion of Jesus, but a religion about Jesus.”

    There is some truth in what you say here, but there is a return to the teachings of Jesus in postmodern christianity, and I am part of that. So we’re starting to put that right now.

    “How do you know Nate doesn’t want it to be true?”

    I don’t know – I just said “I think ….” My comment arose from some previous discussion we had been having.

    Best wishes.

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  15. “Scholars are quite convinced that Jesus was known as a miracle worker.”

    Not impartial scholars. In fact, that was my point the actual disposition of the historical discipline inhibits individuals from affirming miracles probably occurred because that is more than one can be apprised of by employing the tenets of historical knowledge.

    “So the only question is whether you are closed to the possibility of miracles…”

    I am not closed to miracles. I, merely, deem them exceedingly improbable. Since, miracles are phenomena that contravene all probability.

    “and are willing to believe that people of that day could recognise a miracle.”

    First-century Palestinians surmised the sun coming up, lightning striking, and crops putting forth fruit were miracles. For ancient people the natural world was not separate from the supernatural world. So, no I do not believe that people of that day could be relied on to identify a supernatural violation of natural law.

    “Apollonius and ben Dosa are not in the same league.”

    Apollonius, ben Dosa, and Jesus possess the equivalent probability of conducting miracles. That is they probably did not perform miracles. We can examine and compare the evidence buttressing the assertions that these individuals did or did not perform miracles, but a principled historian cannot declare they literally transpired. When this occurs that person is no longer conversing as a historian but a believer. Do you detect the distinction? Comparing various accounts that explicate or invalidate miraculous events is impressive and historical, but it does not get you any closer to manufacturing claims that the alleged miracles of Jesus actually occurred.

    “The stories about Jesus were written within a lifetime, not long enough for legends to develop, especially as we have at least four sources, more if you believe the scholars.”

    Are you suggesting early Christians did not modify and invent stories about Jesus?

    “There is some truth in what you say here, but there is a return to the teachings of Jesus in postmodern christianity, and I am part of that.”

    The teachings of Jesus proffer very little. While “love thy neighbor” is a noble precept it is “overshadowed by the harsh unloving behavior of the preacher and by its absolute subordination to the unreasonable commands to love God and believe in Jesus.”

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  16. Hi Persto.

    I said: “Scholars are quite convinced that Jesus was known as a miracle worker.” You replied: “Not impartial scholars.”

    You are very confident, yet you don’t know which scholars I was referring to. And I don’t know which ones you say conclude differently.

    I tell you what, I’ll show you mine and you show me yours. : )

    Firstly, note I didn’t say that the scholars concluded that the miracles were genuine (some do, some don’t) but that he was known as a miracle worker.

    EP Sanders is recognised as one of the pioneers in modern New Testament scholarship. And he is an agnostic. He wrote: “I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.”

    The late Michael Grant was a respected classical historian who wrote more than 50 books on the Roman Empire, and an atheist. In his book about Jesus (in which he used the same historical methods that he used for his other work) he writes about Jesus’ miracles: “Jesus’ prime intention was not merely to cure sick men and women, but to symbolise and prefigure their salvation in the Kingdom.”

    Geza Vermes is an agnostic Jew and was an academic and Oxford University. On page 22 of his book ‘The Changing Face of Jesus’ he names Jesus as a historical figure known as a healer, exorcist, teacher and champion of the kingdom of God.

    The Jesus Seminar were a collection of highly sceptical scholars, yet in their book ‘The Acts of Jesus’ (p 566), they conclude he was most probably known as a healer and exorcist.

    John Meier is another major scholar. His book A Marginal Jew” concludes after exhaustive historical study (based explicitly on no assumption either way) that Jesus’ miracles are almost the most well supported aspects of his ministry.

    The most generally accepted reconstruction (supported for example by Geza Vermes, Robert Van Voorst, James Dunn and John Meier – all big names in NT history) of the famous Testimonium Flavianum by first century Jewish historian Josephus includes a phrase saying Jesus was known as a miracle worker.

    Finally Graham Stanton was an academic at Cambridge, and a christian I think. In the anthology ‘The Cambridge Companion to Jesus’ he writes: “Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered.”

    So, do you consider those scholars “partial”, or do you accept that the consensus among NT historians is that Jesus was known in his day as a miracle-worker?

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  17. @unkleE
    You state:
    “…do you accept that the consensus among NT historians is that Jesus was known in his day as a miracle-worker?”

    Initially you stated:
    “Scholars are quite convinced that Jesus was known as a miracle worker.”

    Your initial statement was ambiguous. It appeared, to me, that you were conveying that the preponderance of scholars, indubitably, advocate the veracity of Jesus’ miracles. (Btw, if scholars do promote the truthfulness of Jesus’ miracles than they are biased scholars.) Of course, another interpretation–and the one I believe you were professing–is that the scholars are not convinced Jesus was miracle-worker; rather they are convinced Jesus’ contemporaries believed he was a miracle-worker. The inceptive sentence was equivocal.

    However, your permuted statement illuminates the ambiguity and specifies, perspicuously, that reliable scholars do not produce protestations on the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles. Responsible NT scholars only aver that first-century Palestinians believed Jesus to be a miracle-worker or something in the vicinity of that description.

    So, yes I concur that first-century Palestinians, and a substantial quantity of mortals over the last 2000 years, believed Jesus to be a miracle-worker–believed is fairly distinct from know, I must say–or something neighboring that description.

    Yet, what I do not accede to is compiling and analyzing the historical data and then constructing grand denouements about the veracity of Jesus’ miracles established on the compilation and examination of the historical evidence. Of course, the compilation, examination, and discussion of the historical evidence is a function of the historian, however, when that evidence is utilized to fabricate affirmations about the veracity of supernatural acts, at the moment of that assertion, that individual is not speaking as a historian. On the contrary, that person is speaking as a believer and is a prejudiced scholar.

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  18. Hi Persto

    Initially you stated:“Scholars are quite convinced that Jesus was known as a miracle worker.” Your initial statement was ambiguous.

    I’m sorry if it was ambiguous but I tried to explicit, by saying “known as”. But at least we are both clear and agreed about that aspect. Which means that Jesus is indeed different to most other alleged miracle workers, because for most of them we don’t know if people at the time believed in their miracles, or even that they existed, whereas we are agreed that we can know both those things about Jesus.

    “On the contrary, that person is speaking as a believer and is a prejudiced scholar.”

    This was not my original point, but I have to disagree with this statement, and ask what evidence you base it on? For of the scholars I quoted, and others, quite a few do actually believe that miraculous cures were affected, though they don’t necessarily believe that they were supernatural – some do and some don’t.

    So Michael Grant, a non-believer, from what I read, did believe that Jesus healed people, though he believed it was by extraordinary natural powers (I think).

    I don’t know whether John Meier is a believer or not, but he goes to great lengths to make his work unbiased (in many cases he assesses how people of different beliefs would respond to an event to come to his final conclusion). And he concluded that taken on the historical evidence alone, the miracles seem to be real.

    Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, does not believe Jesus was the Messiah, son of God, etc, yet concludes that the historical evidence points to the resurrection being a true event.

    The Jesus Seminar and EP Sanders conclude that the disciples did indeed see visions of Jesus after his resurrection, without concluding what actually caused these visions. I think the Seminar may also have accepted the genuineness of some miracles, but I’m not sure about that.

    Of course many reputable scholars who are christians also believe the miracles occurred (e.g. NT Wright, Craig Evans), but they are generally fairly carefully to base their views on historical argument, not prejudice.

    So it is not just believers, and certainly not prejudiced scholars, who go further than that he was known as a miracle-worker, but also that they could indeed have occurred.

    I think you need to be very careful here, for you are in danger of (1) libelling some of the world’s most respected scholars just because they come to a conclusion that you don’t accept, and (2) showing that it is not the scholars that are prejudiced, but you. (To avoid misunderstanding, please note I didn’t accuse you of this, just said you were in danger of it.)

    Do you really want to fall into those two dangers??

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  19. @unkleE

    I am not declaring Jesus existed only that he probably existed. However, the Jesus of the synoptic gospels almost assuredly did not exist.

    What is your definition of a miracle?

    Again, they are not serious or reputable scholars if they claim Jesus performed supernatural acts of healing because that is more than they can know using the canons of historical knowledge. The problem of historical probabilities should restrain their conclusions.

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  20. Hi Nate,

    I agree with your take on Jesus. I do think there is evidence in the Bible to back up a lot of what you’re saying. If you read the new testament as objectively as possible, some things become clear. Matthew, if he was a disciple should not have borrowed so much from Mark. Mark was written first and has the least amount of “fantastic” events. Only in the later gospels do we see the virgin birth and the post resurrection appearances (I’m not counting Mark’s later addition). The resurrection stories are in contradiction with one another. The two birth narratives are in contradiction with one another from a historical dating standpoint. Paul’s letters are written before the gospels and do not mention an empty tomb, the ascension, or any of the miracle stories. So there is good evidence for a “building up” of embellished stories.

    UncleE wrote:
    “There are very good reasons to believe they are based on eyewitness reports. All have input from apostles. And there are good reasons tho think they are accurate regardless of who wrote them.”

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. None of the gospels name any sources nor do they claim to be quoting from somewhere else. They are written in the third person which makes it sound more like a story than an eyewitness report. You make it sound like it doesn’t matter who wrote them, but for someone like me who is trying to assess them it is a very important detail. It would make a big difference for example if the gospel of John was written by a disciple of Jesus or if it was written by a presbyter.

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  21. G’day Persto

    You seem to have a habit of making very definite statements without offering any evidence – why is that?

    “However, the Jesus of the synoptic gospels almost assuredly did not exist.”

    That may be your opinion, but it is nowhere near “assured”. Many scholars believe the gospels are substantially historical, many believe there are many problems with them.

    “they are not serious or reputable scholars if they claim Jesus performed supernatural acts of healing because that is more than they can know using the canons of historical knowledge”

    Again that may be your opinion, but it is factually incorrect. One of the most respected of current scholars is John Meier (I say this because I have seen several scholars list those they think are most influential and respected, and he is one of them), and Wikipedia says this of him:

    “Meier finds that Jesus’ performance of extraordinary deeds deemed miracles at the time is supported most impressively by the criteria of multiple attestation and the coherence of Jesus’ deeds and words (p. 630). In moving from the global question of miracles to the particular, Meier examines each miracle story by broad category. That examination drives the conclusion that no single theory explains all such stories with equal assurance and applicability. Rather, it is suggested that some stories have no historical basis (such as the cursing of the fig tree) and that other stories likely go back to events in the life of Jesus (though theological judgment is required to affirm any miracle) (p. 968). At the global level again, Jesus as healer is as well supported as almost anything about the historical Jesus. In the Gospels, the activity of Jesus as miracle worker looms large in attracting attention to himself and reinforces his eschatological message.”

    So while that doesn’t make hi correct, and you would probably mistrust him because I see he is a Catholic priest, it nevertheless shows that your statement was factually incorrect – a serious and reputable scholar has claimed that the historical evidence points to the likelihood that Jesus performed miracles.

    Other examples can be given – NT Wright, Craig Evans, Michael Grant, etc. May I suggest it would be safer if you didn’t think that your opinions are necessarily factual on these matters?

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  22. Hi Dave,

    “I’m sorry, but I have to disagree.”
    No need to be sorry, people have disagreed with me before! : )

    “Matthew, if he was a disciple should not have borrowed so much from Mark.”
    One possibility, given by Papias who lived later 1st century/early 2nd, is that Matthew wrote down sayings of Jesus and later other people used them. It is noteworthy that Matthew’s gospel is structured with groups of sayings separated by narrative. So your statement is only accurate if Matthew was the final author/editor. But if the gospels were named after the original sources, not the final editors, then your objection isn’t strong.

    “None of the gospels name any sources nor do they claim to be quoting from somewhere else. They are written in the third person which makes it sound more like a story than an eyewitness report.”
    Luke makes clear he was using eyewitness sources. Papias says Mark & Matthew were too. I think you may be judging by 21st century standards rather than 1st. don’t know how interested you are in this, but you may learn something from reading about how scholars think oral history became written history. I suggest Richard Bauckam’s ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ – it is a fascinating book, though not everything in it is accepted by all other scholars.

    “You make it sound like it doesn’t matter who wrote them, but for someone like me who is trying to assess them it is a very important detail. It would make a big difference for example if the gospel of John was written by a disciple of Jesus or if it was written by a presbyter.”
    LIke I said before, I don’t think this comment takes account of 1st century realities. I don’t know how expert you are in these matters, but I think it is safest to go with the historians rather than have my own (inexpert) criteria.

    There is a strong eye-witness element in John, for he has good knowledge of locations around Jerusalem which were destroyed or changed not long after Jesus’ life – see Archaeology and John’s Gospel.

    So there is plenty of variation among scholars, but there is indeed some good evidence on these matters, albeit contestable.

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  23. @unkleE
    “You seem to have a habit of making very definite statements without offering any evidence – why is that?”

    Would you like me to furnish all the evidence for why Jesus, as he is rendered in the bible, did not exist? Or should I simply assume that you are acquainted with all the evidence challenging the existence of Jesus and possess prepared rejoinders–which I am, perfectly, familiar with? So, bearing this in mind, I propose we abstain from an exercise in futility and remain on topic: are miracles historically probable?

    “May I suggest it would be safer if you didn’t think that your opinions are necessarily factual on these matters?”

    As I have already professed, I do not oppose the possibility of miracles nor do I repudiate that miracles could have occurred in first-century Palestine. Yet, as previously stated, I do deny that miracles probably happened.

    Historians can only substantiate what probably transpired or probably did not transpire, garrisoned on the maximum quantity of procurable evidence, and the probability of a miracle occurring, by definition, is exceedingly improbable, a historian can under no circumstances confirm that a miracle probably materialized. If they do assert that a supernatural violation of the laws of nature occurred they are manufacturing this assertion not as a historian but as a believer. What are you disputing here, specifically?

    Let illustrate my point with a theoretical instance similar to one posed by Bart Ehrman. Imagine a troop of upright and seemingly reasonable people–let us say 5 individuals–on the 4th of July 1904 observed a Roman Catholic priest display authority over nature by verbally instructing the rain and wind to discontinue their fundamental function. Historians should possess an inclination for demonstrating what can be known about the claim: eyewitness accounts and backgrounds, what can be known about storms of that period, what can be known about weather conditions on that day, what can be known about the area of the alleged miracle, what can be known about the alleged miracle worker, etc. However, the historian, when articulating as a historian, cannot contend that the priest, in actuality, effectuated the miracle. Why? Because that is more than one can be apprised of by employing the tenets of historical knowledge. Historical probabilities subdue the historian’s idiosyncratic illation. We all know people, none of whom can command nature, but all of whom at one time or another have been incorrect about what they thought they saw, or have been misquoted, or have been embellished, or have deceived. Indubitably, this behavior was improbable for these five seemingly honest witnesses. But it would be more probable than the priest conducting a miracle that contravened the laws of nature.

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  24. I sense I should add that I have not once located a historian or scholar who does not believe in the supernatural that affirms the authenticity of the miracles of Jesus, as they are portrayed in the bible. Does that strike you as odd?

    It is possible, if Jesus existed, he may have been a healer but that is something quite distinct from a man who uses supernatural powers to cure paralysis and leprosy.

    Jesus being a good healer does not make him a miracle worker.

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  25. UnkleE,

    The point I was making is that there is evidence for a “building up” of embellishments. If we accept, as you say, that Matthew wrote the sayings of Jesus (which could be Q) this fits right in. The additions that the final author of Matthew makes are borrowed from Mark and are made even more fantastic. Compare the scene when Jesus dies in both gospels or the resurrection story.

    If you consider the motive for exaggerating the case becomes stronger. The verbal stories would become more and more grand as they are passed from person to person because they are trying to make the next person believe what they’re saying. Then there’s the fact that there were many other gospels written, most of which no longer remain (probably expunged by the “orthodox”).

    I don’t expect to see 21st century footnotes in the gospels, but some kind of explanation of who is writing and who they are quoting from would be helpful.

    Thank you for the link concerning the gospel of John. I will check it out.

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