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A Silly Assertion

As Easter approaches, a particularly annoying assertion masquerading as an argument seems to be constantly rearing its ugly head this year. I’ve stopped counting the times I’ve heard or read it.

Here it is: “The Gospel accounts can’t be considered historically reliable because they were written by men who believed that Jesus was God”.

The implication of this statement is that the authors must have been too biased in favor of their subject to record true accounts. It is intended to place the burden of proof of the reliability of the Gospel accounts on we who believe them, and to further place the bar of authenticity so impossibly high as to be unachievable.

It fails miserably in many ways. The first is presenting it as an argument that requires refutation. It is not, and I’ll explain.

An argument posits a conclusion that logically follows from one or more premises. An example is:

All bikers ride motorcycles.

Curly is a biker.

Therefore, Curly is a biker.

In the example argument, if all bikers do in fact ride motorcycles and Curly is in fact a biker, then it MUST be true that Curly rides a motorcycle. If either of the two statements are not true, then Curly is not a biker. This is an argument.

The statement “The Gospel accounts can’t be considered historically reliable because they were written by men who believed that Jesus was God” is not an argument; it is an assertion. Assertions are not conclusions based on logic or truth. They are simply statements of belief. The burden of proof therefore lies upon the person making the claim.

But beyond that, the statement is nonsensical.  The implied premise is that anyone claiming to be writing an account of a person or event cannot be telling the truth if the writer believes what he or she is writing.

For example, the following statements are logically equivalent to the assertion in question:

“Carl Sandburg cannot possibly have written an accurate account of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency because he believed that Lincoln was actually President.”

“There was a story in the newspaper yesterday about a bank robbery, but I can’t give it any credibility because the author believes the bank was robbed.”

Notice that the above statements carry no information or premises to support it. It is the proper responsibility of those making the assertion to provide evidence to support it. It it entirely reasonable for someone objecting to it to consider the statement false unless supporting arguments can be supplied.

My objection to the “the Gospels aren’t true because the authors believed in Jesus” assertion isn’t primarily about whether the Gospels are true or not; it is the sloppy logic and intellectually lazy idea behind it. It is simply an assertion that does nothing but reveal the unwillingness or inability of the person stating it to think through what they are saying.

Sadly, it is increasingly apparent that many college age and younger people are both. Pointing out the deficiency of their statement as gently and objectively as possible, and more often than not they react as if you are personally attacking them. Be prepared, but don’t back down. Truth matters, and this kind of fuzzy thinking rarely leads to the truth. Simply stating that something is so does not MAKE it so.

The evidence (as shown in previous posts) for the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts – and therefore the resurrection of Christ – is better than that for any other ancient text. It is our job to point that out as cheerfully and gracefully as possible when it is contested.

Quick Thought -Bible Conspiracies

There’s been a lot published on the Internet lately about the “Jesus is really Apollonius” theory lately. It has been popularized by an hour long documentary recently been made available through Amazon Prime Video entitled Bible Conspiracies.

Released in 2016, the so-called documentary was written and narrated by Philip Gardiner, a former Marketing Director turned conspiracy propagandist. It is full of undocumented, unverified, and debunked drivel that I and others have rebutted at length repeatedly. The “Jesus is really Apolonius the Greek” is just another in a long line of conjectures made up of whole cloth. 

Even in looking at a number of internet articles on the subject, I could find not even one primary source, or even a reliable secondary source, cited to back up any more than superficial link between the alleged stories about Apollonius and the Biblical narrative about Jesus.

But to get back the film itself. It is a little over one hour of Mr. Gardiner (who never appears on camera) reciting a litany of supposed ‘facts’ about the Bible with a series of still images and short film snippets as backdrop. He cites no primary sources to support his assertions; in fact, his very, very few reference to source material are all passing remarks, and he gives no information as to authorship or level of expertise in the field for ANY of his sources. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve actually researched most of his speculations and therefore knew where some of his stories originated, I would have assumed that he’d made it all up himself.

Some of the ideas he throws out are:

* Jesus never existed, and is both (!) a recycled Horus myth and was really a Greek philosopher/healer named Apolonius, as well as a physician trained in healing arts in Egypt

Real consistent there, isn’t he? But wait – there’s more!

* The Bible teaches reincarnation

* Jesus was married, and the wedding where He performed His first recorded miracle was His own

* The gospels were written by Gnostics

* Monothiesm was a Christian ‘invention’

….. and on and on and on.

In short, anything concerning the Bible or the Church citing either this film or Gardiner as a major source is very suspect. It is at best poorly researched and logically and historically bankrupt. It is a pastiche of misinterpretation, twisted logic, false statements, and fanciful concoctions that deserves to be ignored.

Is History Written By Those Who Believe Their Writings Reliable?

Recently, I was surprised by an assertion that I had read about, but had not given much thought to since I’d never heard it before in personal conversation. After some inquiry, I found out that it is becoming a popular objection to the trustworthiness of the Gospel records.

The main premise of the argument is this: The New Testament accounts are unreliable simply because the authors of the books were followers of Jesus, and because of that were prone to exaggeration and fabrication.

Now, the person who presented this to me was quite convinced that this was not only a valid argument, but a powerful one as well. After all, if you can’t trust the authors to be accurate, you can’t reasonably believe what they write to be true. Therefore, the argument goes, Christianity cannot be true.

By the strict rules of logic, this argument is valid, but only if the premise is true. Show that to be false, and the conclusion becomes not only irrelevant but rather silly.

The premise (the text is unreliable because the authors believed the unique claims about the subject) is obviously false once you apply it to other works of nonfiction. If it is true, it is also true that all of the following are unreliable simply because the authors believed the facts presented are true:

* All history texts, both modern and ancient
* Any published scientific texts
* Any owner or service manual for a mechanical device
* All biographies
*Any courtroom testimony

… and the list goes on. My point is that just because the presenter of an implausible fact or historical event believes it to be true, it does not follow as a necessity that what he is relating is untrue. So, with the premise being shown false, the argument falls apart.

But the logical fallacy is not the only problem with this argument. It presupposes that the Gospel writers were purposely making up their writings in order to deceive people into believing that Jesus is the Christ when in fact he was not.

I’ve dealt with that idea before here and here if you want more detail and many resource links. Briefly, it is highly unlikely that the writers could have gotten away with it if that was their goal – there were scores (if not hundreds) of witness to the activities of Jesus alive at the time of publication who could easily refute their claims. The only Gospel account that is disputed by any available contemporary writings is the resurrection of Christ, and those few texts offer no evidence other than speculation to support the allegation. No body was ever found or said to have been found by contemporary writers.

It should also be noted that three of the Gospel writers did not start out as ‘true believers’, and not enough is known about Mark to be able to tell when he became a follower of the Christ. Two of the authors (Matthew and John) were disciples of Jesus, but even they admit that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they realized that He was God. Luke was an historian (and probably a doctor); according to the introduction to the Gospel he wrote, his intent in writing it was to provide an orderly and factual account of the Christ. That many archaeological finds and ancient text corroborate formerly disputed passages and none have contradicted him is testimony to the truth of Luke’s Gospel.

So, because the Gospel accounts agree with known history on every point in which they can be verified AND there are no contemporary historical accounts that give any verified evidence to contradict them, the argument that the Gospels are untrustworthy because the authors believed that Jesus was the Christ falls apart on historical as well as logical grounds.

Why Apologetics?

One attitude that I’m often confronted with from other Christians is, in my opinion not only nonBiblical but nonsensical. It is usually stated with the conviction that stating the truth excludes further discussion along with an air of smug ‘piety’. It can most easily be summed up with a statement that I heard last night (paraphrased for clarity):

“There is no need for apologetics; only the Spirit can convince (Mormons, atheists, etc – fill in the blank). You can’t reason with those people or argue them into the Kingdom. Besides, we’re supposed to be Christlike, and Jesus never argued with people, nor are we told to in Scripture.”

Let’s examine the statement against apologetics one assertion at a time, but first some groundwork by way of defining terms. For a definition of just what Christian apologetics is, take a look here. The most common definition of an argument is ‘reasons presented in order to persuade”. Here’s a link to a collection of dictionary definitions of the term. Notice that for practical purposes, an a apologetic and an argument (in this technical sense) are one and the same. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!

First point: “only the Spirit can convince (fill in the blank).” This statement is irrelevant to the question of whether the Christian should engage in presenting apologetics, for two reasons:

First, the primary purpose of an apologetic is to offer a reasoned DEFENSE of the Christian faith – to show that it is a reasonable belief. The primary purpose is not to prove the opposing world view false (that is a polemic). If God uses that defense to convince the nonChristian that his position is untenable, great!

Second (and I believe this is the case), if Christ and the apostles modeled and encouraged the use of apologetic reasoning, it is my duty as a Christian to follow that example and directive regardless of the outcome. God is in charge of the results; I am responsible to obey.

Second point: “You can’t either reason with these people or argue them into the Kingdom.”

I contend that not only is it possible to effectively present an argument with non-Christians, but, in many cases that is the method by which God confronts them with the truth of the Gospel and their need to become a disciple of the Christ.

My case is twofold; Biblical example and personal observation. Let’s look at examples of where the Bible shows the presenting of an argument in order to bring someone to Salvation.

Carefully read Acts 8:29 – 38. It tells the story of Philip presenting the Gospel to an Ethiopian. Notice that he presented reasons (an argument) for the deity of Jesus, giving the reasons from the book of Isaiah.

Next, look at Acts 2:5 – 41. This is the account of Peter’s first recorded public speech after the resurrection. The populace had accused the the Apostles of being drunk. Peter gives an eloquent argument demonstrating that not only are the Apostles not drunk, but that Jesus is the Messiah. The result of this ‘ineffective and unnecessary’ argument? THREE THOUSAND souls were saved as a direct result!

There are many more examples of the use of argument and apologetics in Scripture; I’ll present a few more examples when we look at the last anti-apologetic point.

My other refutation of the ‘you can’t argue people into the Kingdom’ assertion is personal observation. While in the sense that a ‘I’m right and you’re wrong” exchange is rarely effective, I have yet to meet a single former Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who has become a Christian that has been presented a reasoned argument for the supremacy of Biblical truth over their doctrines.

So now we come to the final point, summarized as  ” Christ didn’t do apologetics, and the Bible tells us to be loving, not argumentative.”

I’ll grant that the Bible does instruct us to be loving, but there is a great difference between presenting an argument and being argumentative. The difference is in attitude; an argumentative attitude almost always results in anger and a failure to examine the argument presented, while a calm, friendly presentation of an argument MAY result in angering the person you are presenting an apologetic to – but it is an anger about the argument, not an response to an aggressive attitude. Besides, isn’t refusing to present the need truthfulness and need for the Gospel essentially telling the person you are talking to to ‘go to hell’? How loving is that??

But back to the point: there are many examples in Scripture that show that not only did Jesus engage in presenting apologetics, but that we as His followers are expected and instructed to do the same. I’ll give you a few examples, with those of our Lord first:

-) John 5:16 – 47
In this passage, Jesus is giving an apologetic for both His deity and the acceptability of healing on the Sabbath.

-) John 7:14 – 24
Here Jesus gives another argument for the propriety of healing on the Sabbath.

-) Luke 5:20 – 26
Jesus is accused of blasphemy for forgiving a man’s sins. He heals the man, and clearly states that He did so as a demonstration of his authority to do so.

There are many more examples of Jesus using apologetic arguments in the Gospels, but I think the point has been made.

The book of Acts has many examples of the Apostles presenting arguments to defend the Gospel or a position of faith; I’ve already mentioned Peter’s first public speech. Acts 6:15 – 7:53, 8:30 – 36, 15:5 – 21, and 17:16 – 31 are a few of these many examples. Additionally, most of the Epistles (especially Romans) are writings that are apologetic in nature.

And finally, we are instructed in the Bible to engage in apologetics, and in Jude 3, specifically to present a reasoned defense of the Gospel to those (like the Mormons and other heretic groups) who spread false doctrine:

“Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

1 Peter 3:14-16 commands us to “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you”. The word translated ‘answer’ is apologia – so it can be said that we are commanded in Scripture to give an apologetic to everyone who asks for a reason for our hope in Christ.

Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?

For more information about this topic, here are some additional thoughts by well-known apologists:

Stand To Reason has a LOT of information; here’s a short article by Alan Shlemon

CARM lists Eight Reasons Why We Need Apologetics

Icthus77 has a lengthy article on this topic, with many links to related information