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.