Habermas & the Gospel Evidence

Those fully conversant with Gary Habermas’s latest views about the authenticity of the gospels will appreciate the subtle but highly significant differences between the two simple arguments summarized below.

Habermas’ argument can be summarized as:

Peter told Paul about the resurrection in Jerusalem. Paul then propagated Peter’s claims. Unknown gospel authors then immortalized Peter’s claims in their gospels

My slightly different version can be summarized as:

Peter lied to Paul about the resurrection in Jerusalem. Paul then unknowingly propagated Peter’s lies. Unknown gospel authors then unknowingly immortalized Peter’s lies in their gospels

I can’t prove Peter lied to Paul and Habermas can’t prove he didn’t and the final outcome is exactly the same either way, namely resurrection claims in the gospel that are based entirely on unsubstantiated hearsay claims made 2000 years ago by an unsophisticated peasant fisherman from Galilee [aka Apostle Peter]. Peter’s unverified hearsay claims still remain unverified.

The evidence backing up my claim that Peter lied to Paul was published originally back in 2014, but a revised & updated version of The Christianity Myth can now be read online free of charge [click here if interested]. It’s a 2-3 hour read about the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Although it addresses the very roots of early Christianity, it’s an easy cogent read, offering a decent overview of first century Christianity. It gathers together all the available factual information relevant to the alleged Jerusalem resurrection and it establishes a timeline of relevant events. Many other far more knowledgeable authors have already done this, and done it in far greater detail, but this book does what most of these other authors fail to do, namely it examines the authenticity and veracity of the assembled data to see if it will withstand close scrutiny. It then uses the results of this close scrutiny to ascertain what really happened 2000 years ago. The primary goal of this book is not to reinforce the existing orthodox dogma, nor to maintain the existing status quo. The primary goal of the unique book is to ascertain the real reason why, 2000 years ago, many people came to believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Christians daring to read this book will find it a disturbing and challenging read.

17 thoughts on “Habermas & the Gospel Evidence

  1. Hello Ken, hello Ark.

    Reading over the discussion you both were having reminded me of a multi-part series Bart Ehrman is currently blogging about. For example: “Scribes Who Changed Their Texts on Purpose, A Christian Forger Caught in the Act,” and “An Ancient Author Trying to Justify His Deceit.” This series of Ehrman’s blog-posts are mostly drawn from his 2012 book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.

    Regarding A) authentic, cumulative historical records versus B) their narrations/stories about real persons and/or events AND C) our modern abilities to verify factually the entire content of these narrations/stories as well as the hand(s) that wrote/scribed them, is not an exact science in all cases. Theories abound. Degrees of probability, plausibility, unlikely, maybe, etc, are current Best Determinations — until further evidence says otherwise or confirms. LOL 😉

    Regarding ancient (liberal) literary license by 1st thru 4th-century CE writers, Dr. Ehrman says (and bear with me on the length please):

    …people on the blog frequently ask me about: Did scribes really change the texts of the NT on purpose, and how can we know? The answers are simply: almost certainly yes and it’s difficult!

    …I stress that these [New Testament] alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we can never know what a scribe intended to do (they aren’t around for us to ask about their intentions). I use the term simply to mean an alteration to the text that a scribe appears to have made on purpose because he wanted to change it for one reason or another. Part of the historical task is trying to reconstruct what might have been a plausible reason.

    One of the most intriguing variations in Mark’s Gospel comes in the Passion narrative, in the final words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus is being crucified, and he says nothing on the cross until he cries out his final words, which Mark records in Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Mark then translates the words into Greek: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus then utters a loud cry and dies.

    What is striking is that in one early Greek manuscript (the fifth-century codex Bezae — an erratic manuscript that nonetheless on very rare occasions preserves an original reading when all other Greek manuscripts say something else) and several Latin manuscripts, that often agree with it, Jesus’ cry is translated into Greek as: “My God, my God, why have you mocked me?”

    I have long been fascinated by this change. One great scholar, Adolph von Harnack (arguably the greatest scholar of Christian antiquity of the 20th century), argued that this alternative reading was in fact original, that scribes changed it from “mocked me” to “forsaken me” because they did not approve of the theology involved with the idea of God mocking his son. Moreover, since this “cry of dereliction” (as it is called) is a quotation of Scripture (Psalm 22:1), and the Hebrew of Ps. 22:1 (as well as the Greek) is clearly “forsaken” instead of “mocked,” then it is likely that scribes would have changed the original “mocked” in order to improve its theology and into line with how the verse is found in the Old Testament itself (and into line with how Matthew records the cry).

    Ehrman points out that Harnack’s differentiation of mocked vs. forsaken fits very well within the broader literary context of Mark, written around 67-70 CE when Christian Gnostics (in Arabia, Nabataea, northern coast of Africa) were in raging theological debates about Jesus’ real nature, life, and purpose for death throughout the next several decades!

    Skipping way ahead on Ehrman’s blog-post, Ehrman writes:

    Why was it then changed? …because now [mocked] cannot be used as easily by heretical Christian Gnostics who want to argue that at the cross the divine element left Jesus behind to die alone. Now, in the changed text, Jesus does not wonder why he has been left behind. With that later change, the verse is no longer [heretically] usable for these Gnostic Christians.

    Point being, with Antiquity and the clash of hard-line stubborn cultures like 1st-century Jews in Judea, Nabataea, and Syria versus the mighty Roman Empire — and her short fuse of patience/tolerance to dissenters! — rarely are the historical facts happily married to a conquered people heavily partial to their ways of living, and dying for them. LOL

    Personally, I think what CAN be unanimously agreed upon by us three gentlemen about the veracity of the NT’s four Gospels, their authors, a person/disciple named Peter, and a person/Jew named Saul is that according to limited historiography within a tiny region of an obscure, quite volatile Roman province eventually destroyed, slaughtered, and forced to heed to Roman authority and daily respect to Pax Romana as conquered people/servants… there is no such thing (currently 1,974+ years later!) as 100% certainty regarding Judeo-Christian FACTS in light of (contaminated, skewed) independent historical records/authors, primarily Roman.

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    1. Bearing in mind the claims made by Saul/Paul in the biblical texts and the complete lack of evidence to support them one can be forgiven for suggesting the historicity of these characters is dubious at best.

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      1. …the complete lack of evidence to support them…

        Well, to be more precise the “evidence” comes from very partial, biased, DEPENDENT sources to corroborate: the Apostolic/Patristic Church Fathers, who were themselves mostly Hellenic (Herodian?) slanted Christological Followers of a distorted caricature not of a Messiah of true/pure Second Temple Judaism, but instead one of a more preferred Greco-Roman Christos near identical to long traditions of Greco-Roman Apotheosis — the latter being the Victorious who write history, not the exterminated Palestinian Jews. 🙂

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      2. The lack of evidence supporting Paul’s claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem we can agree on. The dubious historicity we can agree on. Professor Taboo’s earlier comment addresses the reasons why it’s never going to be easy/possible to completely ascertain what happened back then. It’s a jigsaw with many/most of the pieces either missing or, if we’re lucky, just faded. We have to discern “the picture” as best we can with what’s available.

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    1. Hi Ark, Good question as usual. Christianity exists. The Christian New testament exists. The genuine Pauline epistles in this NT exist. Many accept these as contemporaneous historical records. All these facts have to be explained somehow. The absence of proof is not proof of absence. All the main characters associated with early Christianity including Jesus Peter & Paul were essentially “historical nobodies” whilst alive. Their significance was not recognized until much later. It took at least 50-100 years for a nascent new belief system based on an alleged resurrection that never happened to “bed in”. Until it did, nobody outside of its influence paid much heed to this new belief system. Hence the [almost] complete lack of contemporaneous historical records. Why would any classical scholar/historian waste their time writing about something that, at the time you are referring to, was both insignificant & irrelevant in the world they occupied?

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      1. As these characters do not appear on the historical timeline anywhere then I am inclined to consider that absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and has no more substance that the nonsense peddled by Habermas.

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        1. I thought I had addressed that issue in my reply. Why do you expect to find any contemporaneous traces? The epistles written by Paul are historical documents accepted by many relevant scholars who know a dam sight than you & I. Why do you discount this info and continue with your claim that there are no records?

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          1. The official epistles are regarded as genuine – written by the same hand.
            Paul/Saul does not feature in the historical record therefore the historicity of this character is suspect. And the epistles never surfaced until presented as a collection by Marcion there is no way to establish their claims of veracity re the character Paul.
            The biblical character Peter even more so.
            So, no there are no independent historical records to support these characters.

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          2. Furthermore, there are no records of a Jewish ”Christian Hunter”, schooled under Gamaliel.
            And it is highly unlikely that Saul would have gained permission from Roman authorities to pursue Christian to Damascus.
            The tale is farcical.

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