Eyewitness Testimony and Apologetics

Most Christian apologists believe that the case for Christianity is strong because of alleged eyewitness testimony to the life, death and supposed resurrection of Jesus Christ. I say alleged eyewitness testimony because it is not an established fact that we have the actual testimony of eyewitnesses in the Gospels. What we have are second hand accounts from those who claim they spoke with eyewitnesses (Luke 1:5) or we have anonymous writings (all four Gospels) from those who claim to have been eyewitnesses to some of the events. Even if we assume, however, that there is genuine eyewitness testimony in the Gospels, then there is still the question of the reliability of that testimony.


Below is a quote from Oral Tradition as History by Jan Vansina (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985). Vansina is widely recognized as one of the leading authorities on the subject of the oral transmission of history. Here is what he says about eyewitness testimony.

In the best of circumstances, even the best of witnesses never give a movie-like account of what happened, as all accounts of accidents show. Eyewitness accounts are always a personal experience as well and involve not only perception, but also emotions. Witnesses often are also not idle standers-by, but participants in the events. Furthermore, an understanding of what happened cannot occur through mere data of perception. Perceptions must be organized in a coherent whole and the logic of the situation supplies missing pieces of observation. The classical cases of car accidents or purse snatching document this to satiety. A witness reporting a car accident typically first heard a smash, then saw it, then deduced how it happened—how both cars were traveling before the accident after which he or she built up a coherent account of the incident. Usually he did not see the two cars before the accident drew attention to them. Most witnesses cannot resolve themselves to build up a story starting with a noise and the result of the accident first. If a witness was traveling in one of the stricken cars, much of what took place happened at a speed greater than his own reaction time allowed him to perceive. Such persons often only remember one or two images of the accident. Yet when called upon to tell what happened, they must become coherent and build up a tale in which the logic of the situation makes up most of the account. (pp.4-5) Eyewitness accounts are only partly reliable. Certainly it is true that complex or unexpected events are perhaps rarer than simple, expected events. Yet even here the account remains imperfect. The expectation of the event itself distorts its observation. People tend to report what they expect to see or hear more than what they actually see or hear. To sum up: mediation of perception by memory and emotional state shapes an account. Memory typically selects certain features from the successive perceptions and interprets them according to expectation, previous knowledge, or the logic of “what must have happened,” and fills the gaps in perception. (p. 5)

Note several things from Vansina's statements.

1. Eyewitness accounts are always a subjective experience and involve not only perception but also emotions.

Witnesses often are not idle standers-by but participants in the events. If there is genuine eyewitness testimony in the Scriptures, it is from individuals who are not unbiased by-standers but individuals who have a "stake in the claim." This automatically makes their testimony somewhat suspect.

2. An understanding of what happened cannot occur through mere data perception but must be interpreted.

Perceptions must be organized in a coherent whole and the logic of the situation supplies missing pieces of observation. If there is genuine eyewitness testimony in Scripture, it is from individuals who had to "make sense" of what they saw. They interpreted what they saw in accordance with their world view, which in the first century, was one in which the supernatural realm (angels, demons, God) regularly invaded the natural realm. So, their testimony is "colored" by their world view, a world-view which is largely rejected since the Enlightenment.

3. The expectation of the event itself distorts its observation.
People tend to report what they expect to see or hear more than what they actually see or hear. In other words, all personal testimony is subjective. People interpret the events in light of their emotional connection to the person(s) involved and in light of what they see as compatible with their overall set of beliefs about a person or an event. As Vansina says: mediation of perception by memory and emotional state shapes an account. Memory typically selects certain features from the successive perceptions and interprets them according to expectation, previous knowledge, or the logic of “what must have happened,” and fills the gaps in perception. (p.5)So, the claim to eyewitness testimony in Scripture, even if true (and that is far from certain), does not guarantee the authenticity of the events. While many apologists seem to think that this alleged eyewitness testimony is the strongsuit of evangelical Christianity, to me it seems more like an achilles heel.

38 comments:

Former_Fundy said...

BTW, I am aware of Richard Bauckham's new book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. In fairness I have not read it and I understand he does interact with Vansina in a couple of places. I have it on Inter library loan request. I have read many books however by conservatives on this topic including the classic by FF Bruce, The NT Documents are they Reliable? as well as the standard conservative NT Introductions.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

"we have anonymous writings (all four Gospels) from those who claim to have been eyewitnesses to some of the events."

Actually, they don't. Neither "Matthew" nor "Mark" self-identify in any way, nor make claims about their sources of information. "Luke" specifically states that he is not an eyewitness, but "has enquired".

"John", except in the vague statement, "we beheld his glory," (which could very well be a generic "we", as "the church") makes no claim to have been there at all. He specifically refers to an anonymous source: "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true." If "the disciple" is the writer of the gospel, then who is "we"? If he is a third party, which seems more in line with the context, then "we" are not claiming to be eyewitnesses.

Former_Fundy said...

Wandering,

You are right--my language was imprecise. What I should have said is that conservatives attribute the Gospels to men who would have been eyewitnesses.

Slapdash said...

How interesting - I wrote a blog entry last week wondering about the reliability of eye witness testimony myself. I refer there to psychologist Elizabeth Loftus's work on the malleability of memory.

http://slapdashgal.blogspot.com/2007/07/malleable-memories-and-gospel.html

Thanks for this piece.

Jason said...

I'd like to know who these Christian apologests are because they're certainly not talking on behalf of the rest of Christianity. The Bible is the inspired word of God - something every Christian out there should be well aware of. Therefore, an eyewitness didn't need to record a first-hand account of resurrection in order for it to be true from a Biblical point of view. From an atheist point of view, this obviously causes difficulties, but when one considers the amount of atheist faith required to believe the scientific theories regarding evolution in light of the absence of any eyewitness, the sort of Christian faith regarding inspired writings shouldn't be all that bizarre.

Finally, I seriously question the neutrality and unbiased nature of the Bible critic's definition of the word 'eyewitness'. Case in point, the dictionary definition of the word doesn't mention "subjective", "participant" or "bias"...

--
(noun) a person who actually sees some act, occurrence, or thing and can give a firsthand account of it: There were two eyewitnesses to the murder.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Jason,
I addressed your evolution comment as a blog article.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Former_Fundy,
Nice article!

I took the liberty of fixing the formatting of it to conform to the standard.

Former_Fundy said...

Jason,

You wanted to know who these apologists are who talk about eyewitness testimony--try Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, and just about every apologist I have ever read. One of their big arguments is that the resurrection must be true because of the eyewitness testimony to the empty tomb as well as those who were said to have seen a resurrected Jesus.

As for your dictionary definition, you need to dig a little deeper--try reading Elizabeth Loftus book on Eyewitness Testimony within the legal system and the flaws entailed.

Jason said...

Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, Elizabeth Loftus...huh? Sorry but I'll stick with the good old dictionary and 2 Timothy 3:16.

Former_Fundy said...

Jason,

No problem. But how do you know 2 Tim. 3:16 is true? And if it is, how do you know which writings its referring to?

Jason said...

Former,

How do you know 2 Tim. 3:16 isn't true?

Jennifer said...

Peter was an eyewitness. He knew a few people.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
Just popping in here for a moment to bring you the good news!

I know you've all been eagerly awaiting Douglas Waltons next book as I have, and coincidentally it is on Witness testimony and argumentation.

Witness Evidence Testimony: Argumentation and the Law by Douglas Walton (Paperback - Nov 30, 2007)

It'll be a nice cozy winter read.
;-)

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Jennifer,
did you used to be OneWave?

You just brought back horrible memories of when OneWave spanked me on the lifespans of the apostles!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Jennifer,
in your "how they wrote the new testament" link in the evolution article, the analogy they used was all wrong. To fix the analogy, they would have to make so that the recipe lady did not write her recipe but after 50 years dictated it to a friend, meanwhile, lots of others were coming up with their own recipes for the same thing, most of them with entirely different ingredients, then after 350 years or so a bunch of people got together, sorted through them all and compliled the ones that were most similar even though they varied widely in ingredients.

And the recipe, may or not have been valid. Remember, there are no relics of Jesus, there is no physical evidence of Jesus, and no reliable mention of him anywhere except in christian scriptures. That is not the case for other historical figures.

Slapdash said...

***Former, How do you know 2 Tim. 3:16 isn't true?***

I don't understand this line of reasoning. For one, you didn't address the question of which Scripture it would have been referring to, since the NT did not exist at the time.

Secondly, your response reminds me of kids arguing on the playground: one kid says, disbelieving some story another kid tells, "nah, that didn't happen!" and the other kid stomps his foot on the ground and says "did so!"

Well. I don't think they've advanced the conversation any. Have you nothing more compelling to add? Sure, it COULD be true, but on what basis SHOULD we believe it's true?

Former_Fundy said...

Jason,

2 tim. 3:16 makes an assertion, namely, that the Scriptures (still to be defined) are God-breathed. The burden of proof rests on the one making the assertion. What proof do you have that 2 tim. 3:16 is true? And what are the Scriptures it refers to?

Btsai said...

This discussion is starting to seem eerily similar to one Jason and I are involved in here:

LINK

On 6:42 PM, June 28, 2007, Jim posts some questions to encourage critical thinking about the Bible. A discussion ensues between Jim, Jason, and Lee. It ends as Jason asserts that the Bible needs no 3rd party corroboration because it is divinely inspired, and no 3rd party evidence is needed to prove its divine origins. I jump in around 11:35 AM, July 06, 2007 to challenge what I viewed as circular and faulty logic. I link this so that you can see what's already been said on both sides; maybe some repetition can thus be avoided.

Jennifer said...

Lee,
Yes, I used to be Onewave :o)
I'm not trying to hide or anything, just changed some things and am comfortable using my real name now.

Anyway, am I spanked back!? I am skeptical about there not being the original recipe. It all goes into the realm of possibility now so I can't say anymore I guess.

I don't remember if I mentioned Homer in a previous post, but placing Homer in an historical context is difficult, from what I've read. The Illiad and the Odessy are thought by some to be written by someone else. Do you think this is a parallel?
As far as ancient manuscripts and their reliability, I was told once and can't remember now (ugh) that there is only one book used from antiquity that was copied fewer times than the New Testament. If that is true it is significant.

Eyewitness testimony isn't perfect, but it is the best source we have isn't it? What else is there in history?

Jason said...

Slapdash,

Firstly, my response is valid. I'm not the one questioning Scripture. If someone has a problem with it, I naturally expect them to present something that would challenge my position.

Secondly, the modern day NT didn't exist at the time but the various letters and books written prior to Timothy certainly were.

Jason said...

Btsai,

I've never said the Bible doesn't need third party corroboration and I've never said third party evidence isn't needed to prove its divine origins. I would appreciate it if you had the decency and maturity to stop presenting false summations about my beliefs.

Btsai said...

Jason claims,

I've never said the Bible doesn't need third party corroboration and I've never said third party evidence isn't needed to prove its divine origins.

Oh, this is too easy.

From this thread:

"I’m explaining that a Christian doesn’t require third-party evidence to prove these stories because divinely inspired writings don’t require corroboration." Jason, at 10:05 am, July 06, 2007

"Christians don’t require evidence from a third-party to verify the divinity of the Gospels." Jason, at 11:32 PM, July 08, 2007

I would appreciate it if you had the courage to own up to your own comments.

Former_Fundy said...

Jason,

Why don't you prove to me then that the Book of Mormon, the Koran, the Apocryphal books and the Pseudipigrapha are not inspired?

You have things backward. When an assertion is made, the burden is on the one making the assertion. Am I supposed to just assume that the Bible is inspired? I know there is a group of apologists (presuppositionalists) who believe such but as someone has already pointed out--its circular reasoning.

Listen, if you want to believe the Bible is inspired--be my guest. But don't expect thinking people to just accept it because you say so.

Former_Fundy said...

Jennifer,

You asked:


As far as ancient manuscripts and their reliability, I was told once and can't remember now (ugh) that there is only one book used from antiquity that was copied fewer times than the New Testament. If that is true it is significant.


I think you mean "more times"? I don't know of any ancient book copied more than the Bible.

I am getting ready to post something today on this blog about Textual Criticism and the elusive Original Text.



Eyewitness testimony isn't perfect, but it is the best source we have isn't it? What else is there in history?


You are right. We do depend upon eyewitness testimony for history. My point was in opposition to evangelical apologists who argue as if the presence of eyewitness testimony in Scripture guarantees its truth in every detail. The fact is that eyewitnesses get things wrong and interpret events they see in light of their world view.

I am not saying that all eyewitness testimony is wrong. Of course, its not. I am only saying that its not objective and free from misunderstanding.

Jennifer said...

Former_fundy,
I'll have to get that information right and explain it better. It is not the amount of times it has been copied, it's the number of copies away from the original.

My point was that universities do not scrutinze textbooks and literature like they do the scholarship of the Bible.

Lee,
I am not throwing out exceptions. I am accusing you of the same practice you accuse me of with science. Have you looked into the accuracy of literary works and who they are attributed to? Homer isn't the only one but I don't have time to list all of the resources. I don't think it's a fair playing field when the Bible is held to a stringent degree of word-perfect accuracy when many things are not.

B H said...

Jennifer,
Even if you assertions re: the bible in an academic setting is true, it's not unexpected, is it? Few other ancient books are held by so many living today to be inerrant records of human history or have influenced human society to the degree that the Bible has.

But I would suggest that other books are scrutinized to the degree that the Bible is, only by comparatively fewer historians. The books attributed to Homer, as you pointed out, are continuously being compared to archaeological evidence and the debate over their authorship is never-ending. There's been similar debates over every other ancient epic I'm familiar with. The Indian epics probably generate just as intense a fervor as the Bible. The Irish epics are the subject to the same degree of scrutiny over their authorship, troubled by the paucity of evidence for wheels and roads in Ireland.

The problem, as I see it, is that the literal Bible makes claims that aren't backed by current archaeological, biological, linguistic, textual, historical, etc knowledge. Whereas current positions in these academic areas are supported by enough evidence that we can hesitantly accept their conclusions and methodology until contrary evidence comes in.

The current judgment on the Bible isn't absolute. If an acceptable third-party account of Jesus's life, works, and resurrection were to appear, it would do for the Gospels as much as finding the hut of a Irish chariot maker would do for the Tain Bo Cuailnge in cementing its historical value. As it stands, due to misrepresentations of the world they claim to describe, both texts must be taken to be compiled after the fact and certainly not by eyewitnesses.

Jason said...

Btsai,

What's wrong with you? You're refusing to note the context in which my comments are to be taken.

The first comment was in response to the lack of evidence proving the killing of babies by Herod.

The second comment specifically mentions the Gospels, not the Bible. Are you not aware the two aren't the same?

Indulge me. Have I specifically said the Bible doesn't need third party corroboration and have I specifically said third party evidence isn't needed to prove the Bible's divine origins? (The Bible, not the Gospels. I can explain the difference if you're confused.)

Jason said...

Fundy,

Let's not get off topic. The original assertion was that eyewitness testimony is not a valid means of corroborating the events recorded in the Gospels, namely Christ's resurrection. Is this proof that the resurrection never occured? Am I supposed to just assume the criticism of eyewitness testimony is correct?

I'm not asking you to assume the Bible is inspired and I'm not expecting thinking people to accept this just because I said so. I'm not sure where you're getting these ideas from...? I'm explaining things from a Christian point of view. I thought I had made that clear.

As of 2007, there is no extra Biblical evidence proving Christ's death & resurrection. Does this bother a Christian? No. Does it bother an Atheist? Yes. Does the lack of evidence prove anything in and of itself? No.

Btsai said...

My mistake, Jason, I'll correct my statement.

"It ends as Jason asserts that the gospels needs no 3rd party corroboration because it is divinely inspired, and no 3rd party evidence is needed to prove its divine origins."

There. Except that changes nothing. The same circular logic is still present!

But of course, this is not an issue for you. You seem to think that it's ok for a Christian to assume by default, with no evidence whatsoever, that the gospels are divinely inspired. Well, I'm just glad that not all Christians assume this intellectually lazy position.

And of course, you will have no problem admitting that the Muslim is perfectly justified in his belief that the Quoran is divinely inspired, the Jew's belief that the Torah is divinely inspired, and the FSM-ist that the Book of the FSM is divinely inspired, right?

Jason said...

Btsai,

"From a Christian point of view" is the next important chunk of quote you conveniently forgot to insert. If you got it right the first time, I wouldn't have to keep feeding you in this manner.

Of course it's okay for Christians to assume by default, without any evidence, that the Gospels are divinely inspired. Invaluable insight into God, salvation, Jesus, forgiveness of sins, baptism, the new law and so on are all contained within the Gospels, all of which continue and support innumerable threads and concepts found throughout the rest of Scripture. I fail to see what a Christian has to prove to himself before he/she can believe in the authority of these books.

Your last question is tiresome and irrelevant to the topic being discussed. It's already been addressed elsewhere.

Former_Fundy said...

Jason,

You said:

Let's not get off topic.


So you don't want to have to prove that the Koran, Book of Mormon, etc are not inspired? But yet you want me to prove that to you about your holy book? It is your job to prove that your holy book is inspired just as it is the Mormons to prove that the BOM is and the Moslems to prove that the Koran is.


The original assertion was that eyewitness testimony is not a valid means of corroborating the events recorded in the Gospels, namely Christ's resurrection.


I am saying that eyewitness testimony is far from perfect and it cannot be considered as equal to objective truth. I am not saying that it is completely unreliable.

BTW, are you the same Jason that is on Tribalogue?

Btsai said...

Jason claims,

Of course it's okay for Christians to assume by default, without any evidence, that the Gospels are divinely inspired... I fail to see what a Christian has to prove to himself before he/she can believe in the authority of these books.

"The Gospels are divinely inspired because it just is!" is good enough if you're talking to yourself, or to people who share your assumptions. But when you start trying to justify your beliefs to others who don't share it, that faulty reasoning just won't do. As I said to you in the other comment thread:

"You are free to hold any belief you want, and free to justify them to yourself using any unsound reasoning you fancy. And maybe unsound reasoning is acceptable among your colleagues who share your beliefs. But when people of different beliefs want to exchange and discuss ideas, the common coin is sound reasoning, free of logical fallacies. So if you want to have any meaningful discussions here, best to start learning how to employ sound reasoning. Until you do, don't expect much to come out of your attempts to engage others."

Your last question is tiresome and irrelevant to the topic being discussed. It's already been addressed elsewhere.

It's quite relevant, because it's the position that your "reasoning" inevitably leads to. I'm simply asking if you accept that position. Why is it so hard for you to give an answer? Because you certainly didn't address it in the other comment thread. Repeated ducking is not "addressing".

Will you admit that according to your reasoning, the Muslim is perfectly justified in his belief that the Quoran is divinely inspired, the Jew in his belief that the Torah is divinely inspired, and the FSM-ist in his belief that the Book of the FSM is divinely inspired?

Former_Fundy said...

Jason at Tribalogue has a post about this particular discussion. Here is my response to him.

You said:

How many Christians appeal to eyewitness testimony for "movie-like" or "perfect" memories?

My major point in the post was that the simplistic notion of some apologists that “eyewitness testimony” equals objective fact is wrong. Eyewitnesses interpret what they see or hear through their particular philosophical grid. Facts are interpreted by people who have world views. How a person sees the world will color how they interpret the fact. For example, in one of the gospels (John 12:28-30) it mentions that when the Father spoke from heaven and said this is my beloved Son, some people standing around interpreted it as "thunder" (perhaps they were the naturalists?), others interpreted it as the voice of an angel (supernaturalists?) and perhaps a few interpreted it as the voice of God the Father.

So, the gospels represent one interpretation of the events that took place in the life and ministry of Jesus. This interpretation has become the “official” interpretation as it is essentially the only one that survived. (An interesting sidelight here is that this “official interpretation” has itself been interpreted in a multitude of ways by the followers of Jesus).

Why should we think that the gospels were anonymous?

Simply because they do contain the name of the author. One can assume that everyone knew who the author was but that is an assumption. Even today conservative scholars (much less critical ones) cannot agree on who wrote the fourth gospel.

I said:

"If there is genuine eyewitness testimony in Scripture, it is from individuals who had to 'make sense' of what they saw. They interpreted what they saw in accordance with their world view, which in the first century, was one in which the supernatural realm (angels, demons, God) regularly invaded the natural realm. So, their testimony is 'colored' by their world view, a world-view which is largely rejected since the Enlightenment."

To which you responded:

The large majority of people in today's world believe in "the supernatural realm", including activity by angels and demons, answers to prayer, and other occurrences which are thought to be "regular".

The people you are referring to would be those who are effectively living as if the Enlightenment never took place. They either are ignorant of it or they are inconsistent in their application of it. Regardless, there is an undeniable difference between the way most people understand and explain phenomena that occurs in the world today vis-à-vis the way the ancient or pre-Enlightenment people understood the same phenomena. Fewer and fewer things are being attributed to supernatural causes.

Again, my main point is that the Bible reflects the interpretation of events by a prescientific group of people. That does not mean they were stupid. It means that they did not have the advantage of knowledge that we have today. So, even if we have eyewitness testimony in the Scripture (which is far from certain), it is certainly not the objective slam dunk that many apologists make it out to be.

Jason said...

Fundy,

Firstly, I could prove to you the books you mentioned aren’t inspired but since I imagine you reject religions as a whole, my ‘proof’, by definition, must also be rejected. Am I right? In other words, an atheist can’t judge the arguments put forward by Religion A in relation to Religion B and come to a decision about who is right since in his eyes, both are wrong anyhow.

"I am saying that eyewitness testimony is far from perfect and it cannot be considered as equal to objective truth. I am not saying that it is completely unreliable."

Noted. Also, who determines ‘objective truth’?
"BTW, are you the same Jason that is on Tribalogue?"
Nope.

Jason said...

Btsai,

"The Gospels are divinely inspired because it just is!" is good enough if you're talking to yourself, or to people who share your assumptions. But when you start trying to justify your beliefs to others who don't share it, that faulty reasoning just won't do."

Er, I don’t need to justify my beliefs to others who don’t share it. If they don’t share it, that’s fine. I’m simply explaining my position from a belief perspective. Like I said before, I fail to see what a Christian has to prove to himself before he/she can believe in the authority of these books.

"It's quite relevant, because it's the position that your "reasoning" inevitably leads to."

What do you think is my reasoning?

"Will you admit that according to your reasoning, the Muslim is perfectly justified in his belief that the Quoran is divinely inspired, the Jew in his belief that the Torah is divinely inspired, and the FSM-ist in his belief that the Book of the FSM is divinely inspired?"

It depends on what you think my reasoning is.

Former_Fundy said...

Here is my latest response to Jason on Tribalogue.

Jason wrote:

I don't think that somebody like Norman Geisler would maintain that "eyewitness testimony equals objective fact" in the manner you've suggested. You initially referred to "conservatives" and "just about every apologist I have ever read", and you named people like F.F. Bruce and Norman Geisler. But now you refer to "some apologists".

Please be fair. You are taking points from my original article, points I made later in response to someone’s question and points I made on your site and lumping them all together. This is the classic case of taking someone out of context. Obviously there are different levels of sophistication among apologists. All aren’t as bad as some of the internet apologists I read.

You continued:

I don't think that many people of the status of Bruce or Geisler, if any, would deny that eyewitnesses can have faulty memories, that people interpret information through their worldview, etc.

They all put great emphasis on eyewitness testimony, however, and rarely, if ever, say anything about how this eyewitness testimony may be highly biased.

You continued:

Saying that "eyewitness testimony" is "more like an achilles heel" isn't the same as saying that some Christians are inaccurate in their arguments about eyewitness testimony.

My point is that skeptics sometimes cave in too quickly to the claim of eyewitness testimony by Christian apologists. While it appears to be a very strong argument, it is not so strong, IMO. Eyewitnesses can be wrong; they can misinterpret what they see, they can have ulterior motives in describing what they saw, etc. Its quite complicated not the simple issue that some think.


You continue:

See my citations of Bauckham and Hengel at the beginning of this thread. See also the articles I linked to. As the books and articles I cited explain, we have evidence for the inclusion of authors' names in the early copies of the gospels, and there are many reasons to believe that oral accounts of authorship accompanied the circulation of the documents.

Are you saying that the names of the authors of the gospels was part of the “original text”? If not, then my point stands. I am not denying that there is a long tradition around the authorship of the gospels and that the church has for the most part agreed on who wrote them (at least until the 18th century) but that does not eliminate the fact that the authors do not identify themselves as say Paul does in his letters.

You continue:

What significance for you think such disagreements have? The fact that different interpretations exist doesn't prove that the interpretations are equally credible or that there isn't any way to distinguish among them.


Why can’t Christians even agree on the way of salvation? There are huge disagreements concerning almost every doctrine of Scripture. Of course, you think you are right and the others think they are just as right. Why is the Bible so open to various interpretations, if it is really the word of God? This is a whole other subject that is worthy of a separate discussion.

I wrote:

"The people you are referring to would be those who are effectively living as if the Enlightenment never took place. They either are ignorant of it or they are inconsistent in their application of it."

And you asked:


How so?


People who use superstitious explanations to explain cause and effect phenomena in the world are living as if the Enlightenment never took place. For example, Christian Scientists or some extreme Pentecostalists who forbid the use of medical doctors and believe that prayer alone is what heals the sick person. Or the RCC who believes that the Virgin Mary is appearing in some plane glass window, etc. Or the charismatic who thinks that mental illness is caused by demonic possession. Or the evangelical Christian who believes that God led them to go to a certain school or marry a certain person. These same people may live like post Enlightenment people in other aspects of their lives but they are inconsistent here.

You continue:

And people a hundred or a thousand years from now will know more than we do.

Yep and I predict that the more we know the less we will need to turn to ancient explanations of natural phenomena.

Men like Peter and John didn't need to be chemists or live in an age of automobiles in order to be able to credibly report that they saw Jesus' tomb empty.The ancient world's ignorance of string theory and airplanes doesn't prevent the large majority of modern scholars from concluding that the empty tomb is a historical fact.

The problem would not be in knowing whether a tomb was empty or not; the problem would be in knowing 1) if Jesus was actually placed in a tomb; and 2) if the empty tomb you are seeing is the one in which he was placed; and 3) if the answer to both of the former questions is yes, then, why the tomb is empty.

This again illustrates how simplistically apologists want to frame the debate when it is actually much more complicated.
I also highly doubt your assertion that the majority of scholars would agree with the evangelical interpretation of a supposed empty tomb.
You continue:


I agree with you that some Christians are too simplistic in their appeal to eyewitness testimony.

Thanks. That was my whole point.


But I think that your initial comments about F.F. Bruce, Norman Geisler, "just about every apologist I have ever read", etc. made that group of people seem broader than it actually is.


As I said earlier, I recognize that there are different levels of sophistication among apologists (and interestingly enough they have some major disagreements among themselves, e. g. I am quite certain that Bruce and Geisler do not share the same view as it relates to just exactly how accurate the NT documents are.)

You continue:

And I don't know why you keep referring to the possibility that there may not be any eyewitness testimony in scripture. Even some of the most radical of skeptics, such as some of the people who argue that Jesus didn't exist, accept the Pauline authorship of some of the documents attributed to Paul.

I am referring to being an eyewitness of the events in the Gospels, i.e. the life and miracles of Jesus.

And Paul was an eyewitness to some things that are highly significant in the context of making an objective case for Christianity. Do you think it's "far from certain" that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, for example? If so, what does "far from certain" mean? A probability would be sufficient. And I see no reason to conclude that it's anything other than highly probable that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.

I think its pretty certain that Paul wrote I Cor. To what in the earthly ministry of Jesus was he an eyewitness to? He claims to have seen a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus but that is a whole other story. He certainly was not an eyewitness to any of the accounts recorded in the gospels.

Btsai said...

Er, I don’t need to justify my beliefs to others who don’t share it. If they don’t share it, that’s fine. I’m simply explaining my position from a belief perspective. Like I said before, I fail to see what a Christian has to prove to himself before he/she can believe in the authority of these books.

Jason, you don't seem interested in actually discussing anything. You come to a web forum dedicated to rationally scrutinizing Christianity's premises, and claim that Christians don't need to justify a priori acceptance of Christianity's premises. This a priori acceptance becomes your magical logic trump card, with which you can "prove" any Christian claim. There is no point in talking to you. As I did in the other thread, I now take leave of you.

Jason said...

No, I came to this forum wondering what evidence atheists were going to offer showing that the Gospel of Matthew isn't inspired.

Where is it?