Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Salvation, Truth

The Historicity of Jesus

On a recent blog post, conversation turned toward the reliability of the New Testament, and more specifically, how much evidence we have for whether or not Jesus ever existed. Instead of continuing the discussion there (since it had already broken the 500th comment mark and this would have taken the conversation in a different direction), I thought it might be a good idea to do it here. Makes it easier for other people to find.

So without further ado, here are the three main comments that kicked it off. Feel free to add additional comments below.


Hi kcchief1, it’s impossible ion a blog comment to do justice you your question, so I’ll give you a few quotes and some references.

EP Sanders, possibly the most respected NT scholar of the last few decades:

“Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain. Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.”
(from The Historical Figure of Jesus, p281)

“I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)

Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
he was baptised by John the Baptist;
he called disciples;
he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
he had a final meal with the disciples;
he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.”

(from The Historical Figure of Jesus, p10-11)

“I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.”
(from The Historical Figure of Jesus, p154)

Maurice Casey:

“[Mark’s] sources, though abbreviated, were literally accurate accounts of incidents and sayings from the life and teaching of Jesus. …. The completed Gospels of Matthew and Luke are also important sources for the life and teachings of Jesus ….Some of his [Matthew’s] special material … shows every sign of being authentic material literally and accurately translated from Aramaic sources.”
(from Jesus of Nazareth, p 97-99)

Classical historian, Michael Grant:

“The consistency, therefore, of the tradition in their [the Gospels’] pages suggests that the picture they present is largely authentic.”
(From Jesus: an historian’s review of the gospels, p 202)

Craig Evans:

“the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable, especially when properly understood, and to view the historical Jesus in terms much closer to Christianity’s traditional understanding, i.e., as the proclaimer of God’s rule, as understanding himself as the Lord’s anointed, and, indeed, as God’s own son, destined to rule Israel.”

John A.T. Robinson:

“The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.”
(From Can we Trust the New Testament?, p36)

You can find more quotes on Jesus in history, <a href=""Are the gospels historical.

Note that both Evans & Sanders claim to be reporting the view of the majority of scholars.

I don’t think archaeology can help much because it can throw light on places, but not much on the text. But the much-maligned John’s gospel has been found by archaeology to report accurately several locations that were destroyed long before it was written – see Archaeology and John’s gospel.

So that’s as much as I should write here. Please check out the references for more.


unkleE, you can always find Scholars to support your claims. That doesn’t mean they are right. Here are just a few Scholars who don’t agree with your Scholars. If your evidence was conclusive, why this disagreement amongst Scholars. Also when you tour Jerusalem the most common statement your Tour guide will make before he talks about a Holy Site or Holy person is the famous, ” Tradition tells us” NOT “History tells us” I was recently in the ancient city of Ephesus and someone from my group asked the local guide why he kept using the phrase,”Tradition tells us Paul preached here …isn’t there archaeological evidence for this?” The guide said ,”It’s your story not ours” I have no proof there wasn’t a Jesus any more than you have proof there was. I agree that much of the NT is historical in as much as certain cities, villages, and government official’s names are true. But you can’t boldly proclaim there is historical evidence for the main character, Jesus.

Oh not that it really matters because it proves nothing either but here are scholars who question the historicity of Jesus and/or the NT.

When the Church mythologists established their system, they collected all the writings they could find and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear under the name of the Old and New Testaments are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them, or whether they added, altered, abridged or dressed them up.

-Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

The world has been for a long time engaged in writing lives of Jesus… The library of such books has grown since then. But when we come to examine them, one startling fact confronts us: all of these books relate to a personage concerning whom there does not exist a single scrap of contemporary information — not one! By accepted tradition he was born in the reign of Augustus, the great literary age of the nation of which he was a subject. In the Augustan age historians flourished; poets, orators, critics and travelers abounded. Yet not one mentions the name of Jesus Christ, much less any incident in his life.

-Moncure D. Conway [1832 – 1907] (Modern Thought)

It is only in comparatively modern times that the possibility was considered that Jesus does not belong to history at all.

-J.M. Robertson (Pagan Christs)

Many people– then and now– have assumed that these letters [of Paul] are genuine, and five of them were in fact incorporated into the New Testament as “letters of Paul.” Even today, scholars dispute which are authentic and which are not. Most scholars, however, agree that Paul actually wrote only eight of the thirteen “Pauline” letters now included in the New Testament. collection: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Virtually all scholars agree that Paul himself did not write 1 or 2 Timothy or Titus– letters written in a style different from Paul’s and reflecting situations and viewpoints in a style different from those in Paul’s own letters. About the authorship of Ephesias, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, debate continues; but the majority of scholars include these, too, among the “deutero-Pauline”– literally, secondarily Pauline– letters.”

-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, (Adam, Eve, and the Serpent)

We know virtually nothing about the persons who wrote the gospels we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, (The Gnostic Gospels)

Some hoped to penetrate the various accounts and to discover the “historical Jesus”. . . and that sorting out “authentic” material in the gospels was virtually impossible in the absence of independent evidence.”

-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University

The gospels are so anonymous that their titles, all second-century guesses, are all four wrong.

-Randel McCraw Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?)

Far from being an intimate of an intimate of Jesus, Mark wrote at the forth remove from Jesus.

-Randel McCraw Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?)

Mark himself clearly did not know any eyewitnesses of Jesus.

-Randel McCraw Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?)

All four gospels are anonymous texts. The familiar attributions of the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John come from the mid-second century and later and we have no good historical reason to accept these attributions.

-Steve Mason, professor of classics, history and religious studies at York University in Toronto (Bible Review, Feb. 2000, p. 36)

The question must also be raised as to whether we have the actual words of Jesus in any Gospel.

-Bishop John Shelby Spong

But even if it could be proved that John’s Gospel had been the first of the four to be written down, there would still be considerable confusion as to who “John” was. For the various styles of the New Testament texts ascribed to John- The Gospel, the letters, and the Book of Revelations– are each so different in their style that it is extremely unlikely that they had been written by one person.

-John Romer, archeologist & Bible scholar (Testament)

It was not until the third century that Jesus’ cross of execution became a common symbol of the Christian faith.

-John Romer, archeologist & Bible scholar (Testament)

What one believes and what one can demonstrate historically are usually two different things.

-Robert J. Miller, Bible scholar, (Bible Review, December 1993, Vol. IX, Number 6, p. 9)

When it comes to the historical question about the Gospels, I adopt a mediating position– that is, these are religious records, close to the sources, but they are not in accordance with modern historiographic requirements or professional standards.

-David Noel Freedman, Bible scholar and general editor of the Anchor Bible series (Bible Review, December 1993, Vol. IX, Number 6, p.34)

Paul did not write the letters to Timothy to Titus or several others published under his name; and it is unlikely that the apostles Matthew, James, Jude, Peter and John had anything to do with the canonical books ascribed to them.

-Michael D. Coogan, Professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (Bible Review, June 1994)

A generation after Jesus’ death, when the Gospels were written, the Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (in 70 C.E.); the most influential centers of Christianity were cities of the Mediterranean world such as Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Damascus, Ephesus and Rome. Although large number of Jews were also followers of Jesus, non-Jews came to predominate in the early Church. They controlled how the Gospels were written after 70 C.E.

-Bruce Chilton, Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College (Bible Review, Dec. 1994, p. 37)

James Dunn says that the Sermon on the Mount, mentioned only by Matthew, “is in fact not historical.”

How historical can the Gospels be? Are Murphy-O-Conner’s speculations concerning Jesus’ baptism by John simply wrong-headed? How can we really know if the baptism, or any other event written about in the Gospels, is historical?

-Daniel P. Sullivan (Bible Review, June 1996, Vol. XII, Number 3, p. 5)

David Friedrich Strauss (The Life of Jesus, 1836), had argued that the Gospels could not be read as straightforward accounts of what Jesus actually did and said; rather, the evangelists and later redactors and commentators, influenced by their religious beliefs, had made use of myths and legends that rendered the gospel narratives, and traditional accounts of Jesus’ life, unreliable as sources of historical information.

-Bible Review, October 1996, Vol. XII, Number 5, p. 39

The Gospel authors were Jews writing within the midrashic tradition and intended their stories to be read as interpretive narratives, not historical accounts.

-Bishop Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels

Other scholars have concluded that the Bible is the product of a purely human endeavor, that the identity of the authors is forever lost and that their work has been largely obliterated by centuries of translation and editing.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “Who Wrote the Bible,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Yet today, there are few Biblical scholars– from liberal skeptics to conservative evangelicals- who believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote the Gospels. Nowhere do the writers of the texts identify themselves by name or claim unambiguously to have known or traveled with Jesus.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The Four Gospels,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Once written, many experts believe, the Gospels were redacted, or edited, repeatedly as they were copied and circulated among church elders during the last first and early second centuries.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The Four Gospels,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The tradition attributing the fourth Gospel to the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee, is first noted by Irenaeus in A.D. 180. It is a tradition based largely on what some view as the writer’s reference to himself as “the beloved disciple” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Current objection to John’s authorship are based largely on modern textural analyses that strongly suggest the fourth Gospel was the work of several hands, probably followers of an elderly teacher in Asia Minor named John who claimed as a young man to have been a disciple of Jesus.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The Four Gospels,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Some scholars say so many revisions occurred in the 100 years following Jesus’ death that no one can be absolutely sure of the accuracy or authenticity of the Gospels, especially of the words the authors attributed to Jesus himself.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The catholic papers,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Three letters that Paul allegedly wrote to his friends and former co-workers Timothy and Titus are now widely disputed as having come from Paul’s hand.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The catholic papers,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The Epistle of James is a practical book, light on theology and full of advice on ethical behavior. Even so, its place in the Bible has been challenged repeatedly over the years. It is generally believed to have been written near the end of the first century to Jewish Christians. . . but scholars are unable conclusively to identify the writer.

Five men named James appear in the New Testament: the brother of Jesus, the son of Zebedee, the son of Alphaeus, “James the younger” and the father of the Apostle Jude.

Little is known of the last three, and since the son of Zebedee was martyred in A.D. 44, tradition has leaned toward the brother of Jesus. However, the writer never claims to be Jesus’ brother. And scholars find the language too erudite for a simple Palestinian. This letter is also disputed on theological grounds. Martin Luther called it “an epistle of straw” that did not belong in the Bible because it seemed to contradict Paul’s teachings that salvation comes by faith as a “gift of God”– not by good works.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The catholic papers,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The origins of the three letters of John are also far from certain.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The catholic papers,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Christian tradition has held that the Apostle Peter wrote the first [letter], probably in Rome shortly before his martyrdom about A.D. 65. However, some modern scholars cite the epistle’s cultivated language and its references to persecutions that did not occur until the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) as evidence that it was actually written by Peter’s disciples sometime later.

Second Peter has suffered even harsher scrutiny. Many scholars consider it the latest of all New Testament books, written around A.D. 125. The letter was never mentioned in second-century writings and was excluded from some church canons into the fifth century. “This letter cannot have been written by Peter,” wrote Werner Kummel, a Heidelberg University scholar, in his highly regarded Introduction to the New Testament.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The catholic papers,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The letter of Jude also is considered too late to have been written by the attested author– “the brother of James” and, thus, of Jesus. The letter, believed written early in the second century.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, “The catholic papers,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

According to the declaration of the Second Vatican Council, a faithful account of the actions and words of Jesus is to be found in the Gospels; but it is impossible to reconcile this with the existence in the text of contradictions, improbabilities, things which are materially impossible or statements which run contrary to firmly established reality.

-Maurice Bucaille (The Bible, the Quran, and Science)

The bottom line is we really don’t know for sure who wrote the Gospels.

-Jerome Neyrey, of the Weston School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass. in “The Four Gospels,” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Most scholars have come to acknowledge, was done not by the Apostles but by their anonymous followers (or their followers’ followers). Each presented a somewhat different picture of Jesus’ life. The earliest appeared to have been written some 40 years after his Crucifixion.

-David Van Biema, “The Gospel Truth?” (Time, April 8, 1996)

So unreliable were the Gospel accounts that “we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus.”

-Rudolf Bultmann, University of Marburg, the foremost Protestant scholar in the field in 1926

The Synoptic Gospels employ techniques that we today associate with fiction.

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 43)

Josephus says that he himself witnessed a certain Eleazar casting out demons by a method of exorcism that had been given to Solomon by God himself– while Vespasian watched! In the same work, Josephus tells the story of a rainmaker, Onias (14.2.1).

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 43)

For Mark’s gospel to work, for instance, you must believe that Isaiah 40:3 (quoted, in a slightly distorted form, in Mark 1:2-3) correctly predicted that a stranger named John would come out of the desert to prepare the way for Jesus. It will then come as something of a surprise to learn in the first chapter of Luke that John is a near relative, well known to Jesus’ family.

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 43)

The narrative conventions and world outlook of the gospel prohibit our using it as a historical record of that year.

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 54)

Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it.

-C. Dennis McKinsey, Bible critic (The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy)

The gospels are very peculiar types of literature. They’re not biographies.

-Paula Fredriksen, Professor and historian of early Christianity, Boston University (in the PBS documentary, From Jesus to Christ, aired in 1998)

The gospels are not eyewitness accounts

-Allen D. Callahan, Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School

We are led to conclude that, in Paul’s past, there was no historical Jesus. Rather, the activities of the Son about which God’s gospel in scripture told, as interpreted by Paul, had taken place in the spiritual realm and were accessible only through revelation.

-Earl Doherty, “The Jesus Puzzle,” p.83

Before the Gospels were adopted as history, no record exists that he was ever in the city of Jerusalem at all– or anywhere else on earth.

-Earl Doherty, “The Jesus Puzzle,” p.141

Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.

-Robert M. Price, “Jesus: Fact or Fiction, A Dialogue With Dr. Robert Price and Rev. John Rankin,” Opening Statement

It is important to recognize the obvious: The gospel story of Jesus is itself apparently mythic from first to last.”

-Robert M. Price, professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute (Deconstructing Jesus, p. 260)


unkleE, I could have shortened my last post by 90% by simply providing one Scholar whose reputation speaks for himself. Geza Vermes

Géza Vermes or Vermès (Hungarian: [ˈɡeːzɒ ˈvɛrmɛʃ], 22 June 1924 – 8 May 2013) was a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian origin—one who also served as a Catholic priest in his youth—and writer on religious history, particularly Jewish and Christian. He was a noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targums, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research,[1] and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time.[2] Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning the basis of some Christian teachings on Jesus.[3]

Geza Vermes on the Resurrection

Vermes contends that neither the empty tomb or resurrection appearances satisfy the “minimum requirements of a legal or scientific inquiry. The only alternative historians are left with in their effort to make some sense of the Resurrection is to fall back on speculation…”(141) This speculation requires the dismissal of “two extreme” theories – (1) the “blind faith of the fundamentalist” who accept the bodily resurrection and (2) the “unbelievers” who “treat the whole Resurrection story as the figment of early Christian imagination.” (141) So what are the alternatives between this spectrum?

1. The Body was Removed by Someone Unconnected with Jesus
The emptiness of the tomb was genuine, but there are a number of reasons aside from Mark 16:6. The swift nature of the burial in a tomb “obviously prepared for someone else” is explained that someone – possibly the gardener (Jn 20:15) – “took the first opportunity to move the body of Jesus to another available tomb.” (142) It was this innocent transfer of the body that later developed into the “legend of the Resurrection.” (143) Vermes notes that this is itself problematic – those who organised the burial were well known and could have explained this.

2. The Body of Jesus was Stolen by His Disciples
Those familiar with the narrative in Matthew will recognise this hypothesis as a current polemic against the empty tomb tradition (Matt 28:15). Vermes points out that this theory “presupposes that a fraudulent prophecy concerning Jesus’ rising from the dead was widely known among Palestinian Jews.” (143) Evidently, this is a “later Jewish gossip” circulating the time the evangelist was writing and its value for the Resurrection is “next to nil”.

3. The Empty Tomb was not the Tomb of Jesus
Drawing on the fact that the witness of women was not very convincing, the disciples who investigated the report of the empty tomb (Luke 24:11) may have suspected the women had “gone to the wrong tomb.” The disciples may have simply been mistaken, and the resurrection appearances that soon followed “rendered such an inquiry [as to the location of the tomb] superfluous.” (144)

4. Buried Alive, Jesus Later Left the Tomb
This is self-explanatory, and is elaborately forwarded by Barbara Thiering. Josephus’ Life 420 evidences crucifixion victims surviving. The theory is that Jesus was on the cross for such a short time that he was not dead when Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body. John’s mention of the spear in the side was an apologetic to dispel these sort of doubts. (John 19:34) However, I would argue that John’s mention, if invention, would have more to do with suffering servant styled prophecy fulfilled. Vermes sees this as implausible – a “semiconscious Jesus crept out of the tomb in the darkness of night…” (145)

5. The Migrant Jesus
A belief evident in contemporary Ahmadiyya Islam which believes Jesus was revived and eventually died in Kashmir, India. Others such as Thiering believe that Jesus wandered off to Rome where he died. Vermes concludes “In the absence of real ancient evidence, these modern musings need not retain us.”(146) By real evidence, he is of course referring to Thiering’s discovery by using “Pesher” to find whatever she wants in whatever document. For a brief review of pesher see my earlier post.

6. Do the appearances suggest spiritual, not bodily, resurrection?
Visions of the risen Jesus are abundant in the Christian sources (with a notable exception being the shorter ending of Mark.) These visions are separated into 4 categories:
1. “In Matthew no concrete details are given”
2. John/Luke – unknown man such as the gardener and travel are later recognised as Jesus
3. Luke/John – “a spirit mysteriously enters the apostles’ residence despite the locked doors”
4. “The ghost later becomes a stranger with flesh and bones, who says he is Jesus and invited the apostles to touch him, and eat with him.” (146)
As the evangelists do not mention appearances to people outside the circle of his close followers Vermes takes these to imply that the Resurrection was not meant to be an extension of public ministry. In essence, the “Resurrection becomes a purely spiritual concept without requiring any accompanying physical reality.” (147) The idea of spiritual resurrection accounts for the visions, but the Jewish bond of body and spirit spurred the empty tomb and physicality of the body in John and Luke. In appealing to the mystic tradition, Vermes contends that this view is no different from crosscultural experiences. [I didn’t explain this option best although in my defence neither does Vermes.]

Vermes really does come to something quite unsatisfying – “All in all, none of the six suggested theories stands up to stringent scrutiny.”

Geza Vermes on the Nativity
‘The nature of the birth stories and the many fabulous features incorporated in them, angels, dreams, virginal conception, miraculous star,’ bring Dr Vermes to the view that the Infancy Gospels are ‘not the stuff out of which history is made’.

Thank you for your time

164 thoughts on “The Historicity of Jesus”

  1. @joenbjerregaard , “My favourites points to defend are the old “science” of the Bible and the gospel contradictions. Old “science” / myths to old people. Do you expect neo-darwinian evolution in Genesis 1?”

    You can’t trivialize the contradictions on one hand then expect us to be serious about the rest of it.

    Most of you would like to leave out the OT all together. Can’t do that because your NT writers point to it too often to back up their stories about Jesus.

    There has been a change in the wind of Christian Scholars who are re-evaluating their positions on the virgin birth and the resurrection . Geza Vermes and Raymond Brown have to be in the top 5 of NT Scholars. They are not trivializing the flaws of the scripture to explain them away.

    Vermes goes as far as telling Christians they need to rethink their doctrines .

    Attempting to explain away the contradictions doesn’t make the rest of it any more true.


  2. Joe,

    There was one other thing I meant to mention. You said that early Christians weren’t bothered by the discrepancies in the gospels, but that’s not the case. The Diatesseron, written in the late 2nd Century, combines the 4 gospels and rationalizes their discrepancies. We also know that early Christians attempted to find ways to explain the differences in Jesus’ genealogy. And we know that Jerome wrote about being unable to explain why Tyre was still in existence after Ezekiel’s specific prophecies against it.

    So the idea that early Christians saw no problems with these issues is simply a myth perpetrated by those who want that to be the case. Luckily for the church, most people couldn’t read back then…


  3. Nate,

    Your question concerning John 3:12; do you think Jesus is speaking about issues in the Hebrew scriptures? On the contrary, Nicodemus in sounds like a American Bible fundamentalist in John 3:4 expecting any statement to be true in a strict literal sense. But Jesus is “spiritualizing like them liberals spiritualizing everything they can’t accept” quote fundamentalist :).

    The Diatesseron was never accepted outside the Syrian church (considered very heretical by the Latins and the Alexandrians in the first many centuries) and its main motivation was not to solve an apolegetic issue. It is also much more obscure and doubtful issue than certain internet sources would say. You are making much more of it than there really is to it. But it is a good story. There are numerous books that were used to various extent in the early centuries and rejected later. I read book of enoch and gospel of peter and I fail to see the problem in the church discarding those. I dont miss them and they do not resemeble any of the canonical books.

    The difference in Jesus genealogy is not an issue I can get excited about. Because of the virgin birth, any lineage will not be straightly biological. In good ancient tradition, Jesus is unnaturally inserted into a lineage by given birthright in time. “Also I will make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth” Psalm 89:27. It is a very unlikely issue to bother the believer and it is much more in line with myth (in the old meaning of the word, “sacred history”) to see symbolic and authoritative explenations for the records rather than some modern journalism.

    I want to tell you that this exaggerated American Bible word for word truism and literalism has never been a part of historical Christianity. The Bible was not seen as a quran dropping down from the sky. That is a newer American invention creating much food for this blog :). Faith in God preserving his eternal Gospel is not the same as book faith where a collection of books is supposed to be verbatim true from a to z and – as american fundamentalists in the most scary way do – be quoted like a law book, like Christianity was a law faith replacing the old testament law faith. People should always keep in mind what matters.


  4. Nate, About Tyre, I’m no expert but we should remember verbal exaggerations in the ancient near culture. There are many expressions in the Bible that doesn’t add up to modern western literal assumptions. Some classic examples:

    Isaiah 34:9-13. Beast living in burning pitch where nobody can pass.
    Zephaniah 3:8-9-11: The whole earth devoured, yet not devoured and the people restored.

    It is similar to the Mosaic accounts of nations destroyed yet showing up again. There is no issue unless you believed the Bible dropped down from the sky and has modern America as first audience.


  5. kcchief1, I dont think the Old Testament is much needed to understand the New, especially if we keep in mind and accept the many clear references to 1st century Jews as the first preaching audience. The gentiles were as nations (proselytes always existed) left out of the picture until the Gospel went to them. I think the terms New Testament and Old Testament are very fitting. I dont have the Old, I have the New. What I need to learn from the Old can be written in a few lines or – to be generous – on one page.

    Ancient “science” or ANE verbal exaggerations are not real problems. They just require us to see things a little from the perspective of ancient people and I think we can do the little part. If you ask Ken Ham, not taking Genesis 1-11 literally and scientific is a big problem, but I just dont agree. I do have see an issue with the portrayal of God’s character in slaughters and such. I propose a sync between Marcion and orthodoxy by suggesting a angelic reign in the Old Testament which there are many indications of in the prophets and the New Testament, but I dont believe everything in the Old to be true. As I say, our our main attention and emphasis should be on the New Testament.


  6. Very well done, Joe ! Basically you have taken an exacto-knife and carved up the entire bible to make it fit what you believe. I thought that was against the rules ? Not changing a jot or tittle ? 🙂

    Joe you say, “Nate, About Tyre, I’m no expert but we should remember verbal exaggerations in the ancient near culture. ”

    And you don’t think a virgin birth and a resurrection could be an exaggeration ? Raymond Brown conceded these could have been exaggerations in order to compete with other divine stories of the day.

    Speaking of virgin birth, can you tell me how Jesus was born without sin when his mother was human and all humans are supposedly born with sin ?

    Why no comments about Geza Vermes or Raymond Brown ? Most Christian Apologists don’t want to talk about their works. Very interesting.


  7. Joe, since we both apparently agree that the Bible is unreliable about many of its claims, why do you believe the religion associated with it (Christianity) over any other revealed religion? Or over deism?

    What is there to make you believe the claims that Jesus is divine?



  8. Hi kcchief1,

    The ANE verbal exaggerations I refer to are those we can identify from the texts. Like the examples I gave. Edom could be the example to fit Tyre, it would be a similar usage. Like when wiped out people continue to exist. Or perhaps like when Sodom and Gomorrha suffers eternal or eonian fire (Jude 7). There are no such examples of the resurrection and virgin birth. On the contrary, there is not anywhere in the New Testament that the resurrection could be denied.

    I have no idea who Geza Vermes or Raymond Brown is. I’m not an apologist rather a proponent of what I believe Christianity is about.

    Hi Nate,

    Accepting the New Testament doesn’t depend on accepting everything collected in the Old Testament. Nor does accepting that the Bible should be read as historical and with original audience in mind, ancient “science” or ANE culture symbolism and exaggeratons lead to the verdict of an unreliable collection of writings. I have to hightlight the point again that American Bible Fundamentalism is not historical Christianity. God given faith in the Gospel and testing the spirits of what we accept does not demand us to believe non-spiritual matters like that hares chew cuds, or believe that Genesis 1 was ever intended to be scientific or to accept any genocide attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament. It simply doesn’t follow – regardless of what American Bible Fundamentalism considers True Christianity(TM). Of cause faith in God is no. one here, not sophistry about every Gospel irrelevant word being true.


  9. Sorry Joe. That doesn’t answer my question. Jesus was born of a woman. The bible plainly says in Romans 3:23 , ” for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” How did Jesus become sinless when his mother was born with sin ?

    @Joe, ” I have no idea who Geza Vermes or Raymond Brown is. I’m not an apologist rather a proponent of what I believe Christianity is about.”

    Do you ever do any research to see if what you believe has any evidence ?

    I might be a pushover but Nate is pretty well rehearsed in what he does and does not believe. Don’t take a butter knife to a gun fight . 🙂


  10. Thanks KC! You do a nice job yourself. 🙂


    I appreciate your comments, though I’m not sure you see what I’m driving at. I’d like to know what makes you believe Christianity over all other world religions. If it’s not the quality of the Bible — and obviously it isn’t — what’s the source of your belief?




  11. Hi kcchief1,

    Well let us look for a good tale here. What was the use of the virgin birth and / or the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, if it didn’t do anything supernatural? What are the alls of Romans 3:23, anyway? Does it include God and bed bugs or is it mankind in general? Is a man supernaturally infused into mankind included? That seems counterproductive to the whole supernatural mission of Christ. Fighting this is too ambitious, even with a sharp buter knife.

    I googled those guys and the Jesus according to historic theorizing is of little to no interest to me. I guess that is why I never came across those name. There is a lot of nice theories. I read that this “Jew” (your know their whole existence today is very unlikely) Geza favoured a Jewish only Jesus but there is no more historical evidence for Matthew 15:24 than any Pauline gentile favouring writing and biblically the pieces on this fit together nicely. He had a theory and not in the scientific meaning of that word. Theological science is a ridiculed discipline anyway in 2013.


  12. Hi Nate,

    I do believe the Bible contains truth. But why are some arguing that every word in the Bible is true OR is supposed to be true? Perhaps you can explain, as one who seems to accept this premise? As a believer, one must of cause believe that God had a hand in the compiling of a collection of books containing the Gospel, but where does it follow that every word is true? I was simply not raised in that assumption.

    The source of the Christian faith is God. That is a basic belief in biblical Christianity and historical Christianity. To argue the Bible is the source is a faith in a book rather than in God. The reformers were the originators of this belief.


  13. Perhaps better to say the source of the Christian faith is by far and foremost God, most secondary the Bible.That is of cause a declaration of faith. Christian faith without faith or without faith as the foundation makes no sense.


  14. The historical beef with faith as the foundation of Christian faith (rather obvious right) – which is continued in the USA when some want to confuse the kids by demanding that evolution denial should be taught as science – is that people were sadly forced by people. An idea utterly foreign to the New Testament. Sad as that is, it doesn’t change the foundation of Christianity.


  15. Hi Joe,

    Sure, I can explain why some of us think the Bible would need to be inerrant if it were inspired. I believe the only way to learn about Christianity is via the Bible. Well, the Bible is simply a book — so when it describes miraculous events that couldn’t possibly be true in a purely physical world, why should we believe it? After all, we have many, many ancient texts that talk about miraculous things, and we know those are superstitious exaggerations. Take the writings of Homer, for instance. Or the tale of Beowulf. So why, when it comes to the Bible, should we actually believe the fantastic?

    According to the Bible, when God’s messengers spoke to the people, they often used signs (miracles) so the audience would see that these people had supernatural powers. Those powers gave credence to their claims that they spoke on God’s behalf.

    Since that’s the pattern — extraordinary evidence to support extraordinary claims — where’s our evidence today? Some Christians believe that there are still those today who can perform miracles or give prophecies by the power of God. But many Christians don’t believe this. I was one of the latter. So the one “sign” that I believed we had been left with to convince all people of the truth of Christianity was the Bible. I believed it was without error — and that was the miracle we were given to help convince us. After all, how likely is it that a book written by so many different people and over such a long period of time could be in perfect harmony if it was only the work of ordinary men? And how could we explain the Bible’s prophecy fulfillments, unless the Bible had been inspired by God? Finally, if God is perfect, and he wants to deliver a message to mankind, couldn’t he deliver that message perfectly? How could he do anything less?

    Of course, I finally realized that the Bible doesn’t fit together perfectly. It contains contradictions, some of its prophecies completely fail, some of the “prophecies” weren’t actually prophecies at all upon closer examination, some of its morality is barbaric, and some of the history and science it recounts is completely wrong. The Bible is still an important historical work. But there appears to be nothing divine about it. It’s exactly what we should expect from an anthology of Jewish theological texts.

    I hope that explains the thought process a little better — please let me know if it doesn’t. But could you also answer something for me? For people whose faith is not strictly based on the Bible, where does your faith come from? How do you learn about Jesus? And what evidence do you point to as the basis for your faith as well as the reason someone else should convert to Christianity?



  16. @ Nate.
    You should embark on a speaking tour to counteract dingbats like WLC and his ilk.
    You could gather a few former fundamentalists, ( there are some prime candidates here in blogville, and some live in neighbouring States, I think?) get an agent and do speaking engagements all over the States.
    You have an excellent manner ( and anyone who can engage unklee without requiring medication is all right in my book LOL)

    You would be doing some real good, you;d make a biot of money.and some of the profits could go to The Ark’s Weekend Real Ale fund.
    Which you would naturally be invited to drink providing you brought it with you!
    Jokes aside, if Krauss and Harris make it work, why not a real live refugee from Christianity like you?


  17. Hi Nate,

    I believe God gives the faith (Romans 12:3). Some agree, some disagree, some believe it can be resisted, others not. The Bible is a means of learning about the Gospel. It contains other doctrines and opinions also. As a means of conversion, I will give you that it has weakened over the years. All the criticism and various mostly unnecessary doctrines at odds with modern knowledge such as the weird idea that Genesis 1 is science and literal, that it should concern us what ancient Jews believed about hares or mustard seeds or the widespread ignorance about something as in reality simple as symbolism

    All the assumptions and opinions. Paul not the author of all the works ascribed to him? Perhaps, hard to say today. But it could also be that someone wrote a letter for him after instruction in his authority. If the Bible record is so altered what do people argue about? Why would someone not correct the two creation records if that was a problem? Why would someone (other than that obscure Syrian issue previously discussed) not correct the significant differences in the ressurection accounts if seeing a problem here is not just one big misunderstanding? The Jesus copycat teachings went out of commision when people started looking in the sources. But it is very rare that we can consult external matters in Bible related controversities.

    Some problems obviously do exist. While genuine gaylove might not have been common knowledge in his time, Paul’s singlehanded attack on what is difficult not to see as a the very sex-act (as opposed to temple prostitution, Roman master’s penetration of male slaves, cultic related bisexual acts etc.) was a serious problem in the aftermath. But here we must discern the spirits and simply say that it is certain that true love can’t be wrong. Even if God himself said so – just for the sake of the isolated argument – there would not be much of a relationship with God, if we could not diagree with God.


  18. Ark, thanks for the kind compliment! I may look into something like that… you know how dear the Ark’s Weekend Real Ale Fund is to my heart! 😉

    Seriously, thanks. I wouldn’t mind having an opportunity to do something like that; I’ve just never looked into the feasibility. Maybe I can figure something out.


  19. Hi Nate,

    Thanks for providing a very thorough explenation. I believe this perspective is what is wellknown in the US as “Arminian”. The weakness in this is as you so honestly describe when the center of faith doesn’t seem to be what you thought it were, faith weakens or falls. But I do not believe “my solution” is in my hands :).


  20. Joe, LOL… I cant tell if you’re being serious or just messing around. So basically, your point is that the bible isnt ever really serious, and cant really be pinned down on anything other than “jesus saves?”

    “the early man wouldnt have understood scientific accuracy, and god was too busy to educate them, so he gave a ridiculous story because it was easier…” I guess that could make sense… it at least seems to to a lot of people. I think it’s crazy, but hey.

    “could have been,” “maybe this happened…” and others like them arent valid or working arguments – they’re excuses.

    Tyre is there. And at least the North Tyre Harbor is the original one. The bible says it shouldnt be there. yeah, maybe it was being facetious. maybe Ezekiel was just exaggerating, although that kind of harms the prophecy. And maybe, Ezekiel just got it wrong. And maybe god wasnt really talking to him. the bible says something and it’s wrong – and it doesnt end there.

    The Genealogy problem doesn’t go away as easily as you’d like. mathew says x. y. z joseph, jesus. Luke says, b, m, q, joseph, jesus, and neither match the OT. There is no reasonable way to explain this other than by labeling it contradictory. And if this isn’t a contradiction, what is?


  21. @Joe, “I googled those guys and the Jesus according to historic theorizing is of little to no interest to me”

    If you googled “these guys” ,either the country you live in scrutinizes what you are allowed to see or you didn’t look at the top 5 listings for Geza Vermes., “he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time”

    You like to refer to those who happen to live in America as American Fundementalists as if we are all radical fundementalists and now you are discounting one of the premier scholars in the world because he happened to be a Jew.

    I tend to wonder like William, are you serious or just messing around ? Regardless, it seems as though your religion has no roots as you have minimalized most of the bible and you can only defend whats left of it by minimalizing those who question it.


  22. I just added an image to my blog that says this:

    So the Bible means what it says … ?
    but it doesn’t say what it means?”

    I think that sums it up very well.


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