Why We Cannot Trust the Gospels

Christianity on Trial challenges the authenticity of the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem. Read it here free of charge whilst you still can.

Because this substantial read requires more commitment than usual, I’m putting the conclusions up front, so readers can decide whether they’re prepared to allocate the necessary time needed to absorb both the evidence & the reasoning used to reach these conclusions.

Main Conclusions:

Because the existence of the New Testament Gospels can now be explained in two different ways, and because it’s now impossible to discern which of these two ways is the correct way we must now consider the distinct possibility that the resurrection accounts in the New Testament Gospels could be based entirely on Peter’s lies.

The only way to resolve this awkward dichotomy, is for those apologists who accept the Gospels were written after the death of all concerned, to prove definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome as a Christian, or for those apologists who believe the Gospels were written by reliable eye witnesses, to prove definitively that the traditional early Gospel dates are correct.

Conclusions Based on Speculative Interpretations:

The Orthodox narrative and the alternative new narrative both require speculative interpretations of Galatians 1:19. The Orthodox narrative claims Galatians 1:19 proves James was present at Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem We can, however, reasonably suggest that James was not present at Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem. We can also reasonably suggest that, at this first crucial meeting, Peter may have lied to Paul about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem that never happened.

The Orthodox narrative and the alternative new narrative both require speculative interpretations of Galatians 2:6. The Orthodox narrative claims Galatians 2:6 proves Paul preached the same message as the other Apostles, but we can reasonably suggest that Paul did not preach the same message as the other Apostles.

Conclusions Based on Confirmation Bias:

The available evidence suggests the historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Apologists now claim this historical-Jesus was the Gospel-Jesus. This is an unjustified assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

The available evidence suggests Paul’s dramatic conversion experience was a simple psychotic hallucination triggered by his epilepsy. Apologists have always claimed Paul’s life-changing experience was a divine encounter orchestrated by God.  This assertion now smacks of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Apologists claim James was present at Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem.  This is an unjustified assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Apologists claim all the Apostles preached the same message. This is an unjustified assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Apologists claim Peter was martyred in Rome as a Christian. This is an unproven assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Conclusions Based on Available Evidence:

Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably suggest the Gospels were, of necessity, deliberately fabricated to provide Jesus’ missing biographical details.

Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably suggest the resurrection accounts in these fabricated Gospels may be based on Peter’s lies.

Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably suggest that Gary Habermas [1] could be wrong when he claims the Gospel evidence can be trusted.

REFERENCES:

[1]. Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

CONTENTS of BOOK
1 Introduction
2 Confirmation Bias
3 Religiosity
4 Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
5 The Historicity of Jesus
6 Was This Historical Jesus Resurrected?
7 Was Peter Martyred in Rome?
8 Paul’s Conversion [Orthodox version]
9 Paul’s Conversion [Scientific version]
10 Paul’s First Meeting in Jerusalem
11 Was James Present at this First Meeting?
12 Did Peter Lie to Paul at this First Meeting?
13 Did All Apostles Preach the Same Message?
14 Why Does the Notorious Gospel Gap Exist?
15 Were the Gospels Deliberately Fabricated?
16 Why Are the Gospels So Different?
17 Why Did Christianity Survive?
18 The Orthodox Narrative’s Short Comings
19 The Old Model v The New Model
20 Outcome of the Investigation

1. INTRODUCTION

For centuries, Orthodox Christianity has claimed that the New Testament Gospels are historically accurate documents, written either by reliable eye witnesses, or by close associates of reliable eye witnesses. Recent scholarship, however, now suggests these Gospels were actually written by unknown authors well after the death of all concerned. Although these new developments are problematic for traditional apologists, apologists like Gary Habermas now argue [1] that the Gospels resurrection accounts can still be trusted, because they’re still based on reliable eye witness evidence furnished by two pillars of early Christianity, namely the Apostle Peter and Jesus’ brother James. Habermas now argues these two reliable sources first told the Apostle Paul about the resurrection in Jerusalem, and Paul then relayed this information to his early Christian communities in the pagan world.

Habermas’ new argument does accommodate the much later Gospel dates now accepted by many relevant scholars, but his argument doesn’t address why the Gospels were written well after the death of all concerned. Christianity on Trial does address this issue, and it does so by examining first century events in strict chronological order. This unconventional bottom-up approach separates the actual events documented in Paul’s Epistles, from the alleged events documented many decades later, both in the Gospels and in The Acts of the Apostles. This chronological separation of actual events and alleged events facilitates greater clarity, and this greater clarity facilitates a plausible and very rational explanation of why the Gospels were written only after the death of all concerned.

It should be noted that Christianity on Trial does not seek to present itself as a scholarly work. It’s just a straightforward and rational assessment of the Orthodox evidence used to support the Orthodox narrative. It starts by quickly reviewing confirmation bias and religiosity. It then moves on to a more in depth look at temporal lobe epilepsy. It does this because the conclusions derived from these preliminary considerations, prove beneficial when scrutinizing the evidence used to support the Orthodox narrative. Scrutinizing the apologetic evidence from the bottom-up exposes many weaknesses in the Orthodox narrative, and an alternative narrative is postulated to fix these weaknesses. This alternative narrative better accommodates the known facts. It also generates exactly the same Gospels portraying exactly the same resurrection accounts, and it does so without resorting to divine interventions by mythical deities.

Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotations in Christianity on Trial are taken from the New International Version [NIV] Bible. Also, throughout this book, the term Gospel-Jesus is used when referring specifically to the Orthodox Jesus featured in the New Testament Gospels, and the term historical-Jesus is used when referring specifically to a simple itinerant Jewish preacher from Galilee.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

2. CONFIRMATION BIAS

Everybody views their world through the dual lenses of their own prejudices and their own beliefs, and everybody automatically favours that which affirms these prejudices and beliefs. This totally unconscious process is called confirmation bias, and it often corrupts our objectivity, albeit unconsciously, especially when dealing with highly emotive subjects like religion. A typical example of this unconscious corruption can be found in Cold Case Christianity [1]. In this book, the author attempts to establish that all three synoptic gospels [Mark Matthew & Luke] were written by people who actually witnessed the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE. To prove his point, the author cites the two accounts of the Eucharist [Lord’s Supper] found in the New Testament.

Luke’s account of the Eucharist [Luke 22: 19-20] states:

  • “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. 

Paul’s account of the Eucharist [1-Corinthians 11: 23-26] states:

  • “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The author highlights the obvious similarities in these two accounts, and then suggests the Apostle Paul simply based his account on the earlier account found in Luke’s Gospel. Unfortunately, in constructing this argument, the author totally ignores the fact that Luke is dated c 85 CE and 1-Corinthians is dated c 54 CE. This obvious example of cognitive dissonance, and very convenient selective amnesia, illustrates how apologists can sometimes let their objectivity be corrupted by their inner need to confirm what they already believe is true.

Based on these observations, we can now conclude the following:

The unshakeable convictions of apologists can often corrupt their objectivity whilst striving to affirm their existing beliefs.

Potential confirmation bias should always be a factor when evaluating the veracity of apologetic claims.

REFERENCES:

[1] J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity”, Published by David Cook, 2013, ISBN 978-1-4347-0469-6.

3. RELIGIOSITY

We’re all atheists in practice. Atheists simply reject all gods, whereas theists simply reject all competing gods. Their own god is always an exceptional case, because their own god is a very special god, deserving of very special consideration. Although apologists can view alternative religions in a rational and objective manner, they seem incapable of applying the same criteria to their own religion. This irrationality and lack of objectivity is the subject of an interesting book by John Loftus [1]. In this book Loftus suggests that when theists understand why they reject all other gods, they’ll automatically understand why atheists reject their god. Unfortunately, however, when apologists are considering their own religion, their rational thought processes and objectivity all too often, just evaporate away, to be replaced by an unconscious subjectivity that clouds their judgment, and corrupts their objectivity.

Why does this happen? Why do some of us appear to have intense inner needs to believe in gods, and others appear to find the idea of gods totally irrational. The simple answer is our individual degree of religiosity, a simple personal characteristic that attempts to semi-quantify our personal responses to religion and religious influences. These individual religiosities can vary from extremely high at one end of the religiosity spectrum, to virtually non-existent at the other end of the religiosity spectrum. Like many other shared characteristics, most of us fit somewhere near the middle of the religiosity spectrum, where religiosity is neither very strong nor very weak. The biological factors influencing and controlling individual religiosities are dealt with in the next chapter, but for now, it suffices to note that the enhanced religiosity of ardent theists offers some insight into their irrationality when dealing with their own religion.

Based on these empirical observations, we can now conclude the following:

The religiosity of ardent believers is very high, and they have great difficulty understanding why others don’t share their passion.

The religiosity of ardent non-believers is very low, and they have great difficulty understanding why anyone would want to believe in gods.

REFERENCES:

[1] John Loftus, “The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True”, Prometheus Books, 2013, ISBN 9781616147372.

4. TEMPORAL LOBE EPILEPSY

So what actually determines the importance of religion in our lives? We’ve already considered religiosity, the simple answer, but what determines the extent of our own religiosity? Why do ardent apologists like Gary Habermas fervently believe their god actually exists, and why do ardent atheists like Richard Dawkins fervently believe no gods exist? And why do ardent believers and ardent non-believers, both seem totally incapable of understanding the other’s world view?

A clue to the factors controlling religiosity can be gleaned from the fact that epilepsy and the gift of prophesy have both been associated with religious fervor and behavioral changes since the time of Hippocrates. Epilepsy in ancient times was often portrayed, either as a punishment imposed by evil spirits, or as a divine inspiration orchestrated by God [1], and many famous religious prophets are now believed to have suffered from some form of epilepsy. In fact, epilepsy’s potential role in the lives of major religious figures like the Apostle Paul and Mohammed is now the subject of intense scientific interest.

Understanding the complex biological processes that influence and control our individual religiosities is now the focus of a new scientific discipline called neurotheology, the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality. Two recognised experts in this new field of study are Dr Michael Persinger, a professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Laurentian University in Canada, and Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran, director of the Brain and Perception Laboratory at the University of California in San Diego. These and other experts are using sophisticated brain scanning technologies to unravel how the biological wiring in our brains influences and controls the extent of our religiosity. It has already been established that the hippocampus and the frontoparietal region of the brain play some role in religious seizures [2], but most of the research is focused on the temporal lobe regions of the brain, because temporal lobe epilepsy is known to be associated with ecstatic seizures [3], sudden religious conversion [4], hyper-religiosity [5] and even an automatism of prostration [6]. There are four distinct phases associated with temporal lobe epilepsy:

  • The early symptom stage [pre-ictal prodrome] indicating the onset of illness.
  • The main seizure stage [ictal phase]. This is often of very short duration.
  • The period immediately after the main seizure stage [post-ictal psychosis].
  • The long-term state after the main seizure stage [inter-ictal religiosity].

Clinical observations spanning one hundred and fifty years now support an association between religious experiences occurring in the ictal phase, post ictal phase and inter-ictal phase. Many religious conversions related to epilepsy are post-ictal phenomena [7], and patients with post-ictal psychosis may also experience inter-ictal hyper-religiosity. This inter-ictal hyper-religiosity usually presents as a heightened state of religious conviction, together with observed personality changes [8]. However, hyper-religiosity can also be an ictal phenomenon or a post-ictal phenomenon.

The following highlights are taken from medical reports dealing specifically with religious experiences triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy. The earlier reports are obviously based entirely on empirical observations, but the more recent reports are based on neurochemical studies and neuroimaging techniques using sophisticated brain scanning technologies.

  • 1872 Howden [9] reported that a patient actually believed he was in heaven after his conversion experience.
  • 1899 Mabille [10] discussed religious hallucinations associated with epilepsy.
  • 1919 Boven [11] illustrated the intensified piety of epileptics after a severe seizure. He specifically mentioned the audio-visual symptoms of a 14 year-old boy that saw God and angels and heard a celestial fanfare of music after a severe seizure.
  • 1955 Karagulla & Robertson [12] discussed the symptoms of four temporal lobe epileptics with visual hallucinations. One had a seizure pattern which included a vision of Christ coming down from the sky.
  • 1963 Beard [13] reported the conversion experience of a man who believed he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others. This man believed he had been specially chosen as God’s instrument. The man completely believed everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase.
  • 1963 Slater & Beard [14] reported that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common in epileptic patients, and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences.
  • 1963 Christensen [15] reported on the religious conversions of 22 men professionally engaged in the field of religion. Christensen also defined conversion as an acute hallucinatory experience, characterised by its subjective intensity, sudden onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert.
  • 1966 Sedman [16] mentioned a state of ecstasy, in which the patient sees heaven open, hears God speak, and feels himself transfigured into God.
  • 1970 Dewhurst & Beard [17] documented numerous cases of religious experiences triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy.
  • 1975 Waxman & Geschwind [18] described several common traits found in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. These common traits included hyper-religiosity and altered sexual behaviour.
  • 1987 Landsborough [19] offered evidence to suggest a neurological origin for Paul’s ecstatic visions on the road to Damascus. Landsborough postulates that both Paul’s state and his experience on the road to Damascus were manifestations of temporal lobe epilepsy.
  • 1989 In a study of 50 patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, Roberts & Guberman [20] showed that 51 percent of these patients had an experience of salvation.
  • 1997 Dr Michael Persinger [21] reported that external stimulation of a region of the brain called the God Spot or God Module often created mystical or spiritual hallucinations. Those responding to external stimulation tended to explain their hallucinations in terms that reflected their own personal beliefs. Typical examples included visits from angels, visits from lost loved ones, an extraterrestrial encounter, a higher plane of consciousness and even visits from God.
  • 1998 In a study analyzing a large group of epileptic patients, Ogata & Miyakawa [22] found that all their patients had ictal religious experiences which included a sense of presence of God and auditory or visual hallucinations of God. They also reported that 1.3% of their patients had temporal lobe epilepsy and inter-ictal ‘hyper-spiritualism’.
  • 2009 Dr Persinger [23] reported that very religious people with temporal lobe sensitivity had religious experiences when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. He also found that 80% of normal people felt a sensed presence of something unusual within the room when similarly tested. Based on these empirical observations, Dr Persinger postulated that electrical circuitry in the temporal lobe region of the brain may determine the extent of a person’s religiosity.

These various studies suggest that adult religiosity is more or less predetermined by the biological wiring in the temporal lobe region of our brains. They also indicate that many epileptics with temporal lobe epilepsy often become obsessed with religion following sudden and dramatic conversion experiences [24], [25]. Such experiences invariably leave the patient totally convinced that their psychotic hallucinations were actual real events in the real world. The implications of these sudden and dramatic religious conversions will be considered later, when we examine the nature of Paul’s dramatic conversion experience.

Based on these findings we can now conclude the following:

The extent of our own religiosity, or lack of it, is more or less predetermined by the biological wiring in the temporal lode regions of our brain.

Temporal lobe epilepsy can sometimes trigger sudden and dramatic changes in religiosity.

Many of these sudden and dramatic changes in religiosity result in prolonged hyper-religiosity.

REFERENCES:

[1] Temkin, “The falling sickness: a history of epilepsy from the Greeks to the beginnings of modern neurology”. 2nd ed. Johns Hopkins Univ Press, Baltimore 197[2] Landtblom, “The ‘Sensed Presence: An Epileptic Aura with Religious Overtones,” Epilepsy & Behavior 9, no. 1 (2009): 187

[2] Landtblom, “The ‘Sensed Presence: An Epileptic Aura with Religious Overtones,” Epilepsy & Behavior 9, no. 1 (2009): 187

[3] Hansen & Brodtkorb, “Partial Epilepsy with ‘ecstatic’ seizures,” Epilepsy & Behavior 4, no. 6 (2003): 667.

[4] Dewhurst & Beard, “Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy” The British Journal of Psychiatry 117, no. 540 (1970): 497

[5] Trimble & Freeman, “An Investigation of Religiosity and the Gastaut-Geshwind Syndrome in Patients with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy,” Epilepsy & Behavior 9, no. 3 (2006): 408

[6] Liling Dong and Xiangqin Zhou, “An Uncommon Automatism with Religious Connotation—Prostration in a Case of Right Temporal Lobe Epilepsy,” Seizure 35 (2016): 33[7] Devinsky & Lai, “Spirituality and Religion in Epilepsy,” Epilepsy & Behavior 12, no. 1 (2008): 638.

[7] Devinsky & Lai, “Spirituality and Religion in Epilepsy,” Epilepsy & Behavior 12, no. 1 (2008): 638.

[8] Devinsky & Lai, “Spirituality and religion in epilepsy” Epilepsy & Behavior, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 636–643, 2008

[9] Howden, “The religious sentiments in epileptics”, J Ment Sci 1872; 18: 491–7

[10] Mabille, “Hallucinations religieuses et d_elire religieux transitore dan l’epilepsie”. Ann M_edicopsychol 1899: 9–10: 76–81

[11] Boven, “Religiosite et _epilepsie”. Schweiz Arch f Neurol u Psychiat 1919: 4: 153–69

[12] Karagulla & Robertson, “Physical phenomena in TLE and the psychoses”. Brit Med J 1955: 748–52

[13] Beard, “The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy”. Brit J Psychiat 1963: 109: 113–29

[14] Slater & Beard, “The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy”. Brit J Psychiat 1963:109: 5–112 & 143–50

[15] Christensen, “Religious conversion”. Arch Gen Psychiat 1963: 9: 207–16

[16] Sedman, “A phenomenological study of epileptic experiences”. Psychiat Neurol 1966: 152:1–16

[17] Dewhurst & Beard, “Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy”, British Journal of Psychiatry 1970: 117: 497–507

[18] Waxman & Geshwind, “The interictal behavior syndromes of temporal lobe epilepsy”. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1975, 32, 1580–6

[19] Landsborough, “St Paul and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy”, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 1987, 50(6), 659-64

[20] Roberts & Guberman, “Religion and epilepsy,” Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa, vol. 14, pp. 282–286, 1989

[21] Persinger, “Experimental simulation of the God experience: implications for religious beliefs and the future of human species”. In: Joseph R, editor. Neurotheology, San Jose, CA: Univ. Press; 2002. p. 267–84.

[22] Ogata & Miyakawa, “Religious experiences in epileptic patients with a focus on ictus-related episodes”. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci, 1998; 52: 321–5

[23] Persinger, “Are our brains structured to avoid refutations of belief in God?” Religion, 2009, 39(1): 34-42

[24] Azari Nickel Wunderlich et al., “Neural correlates of religious experience”. Eur J Neurosci 2001; 13: 1649–52.

[25] Newburg d’Aquli Rause V,”Why God won’t go away”. New York: Ballantine Books; 2001

5. THE HISTORICITY OF JESUS

Some very reputable scholars, including Richard Carrier [1], still query the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but these days, the vast majority of relevant scholars now accept that the historicity of the historical-Jesus has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. Most scholars now accept that Jesus of Nazareth did exist, and there’s widespread acceptance that the Roman authorities crucified this Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem c 30 CE. The historical evidence used to establish the historicity of Jesus consists of various first and second century documents penned by Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger. Because many others have already examined this evidence in great detail, for example P. J. Williams [2], only the essential elements of this historical evidence will be considered here.

Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. He wrote a series of books called The Antiquities of the Jews c 93–94 CE, and in Book 18 of this series, there is a passage now known as the Testimonium Flavianum passage which simply states:

  • “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day”.

This passage describes Jesus as the Messiah and describes him as a wise teacher who was crucified in Jerusalem by Pilate. It also states that this Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Some apologists still insist this reference to an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem is fully authentic, but most modern scholars now reject the authenticity of this passage in its present form. The majority of scholars maintain the passage does contain an authentic nucleus referencing the execution of Jesus by Pilate, but most scholars now agree that this passage was, at some later date, subjected to Christian interpolation and/or alteration. The exact nature and extent of the Christian redaction is still unresolved. However, it’s generally agreed that the part referring to the crucifixion of a charismatic Jesus is genuine, and the part referring to his alleged resurrection is a forgery [interpolation], added sometime later by the early church, to prove their Gospel-Jesus really was resurrected in Jerusalem as claimed.

The Roman historian Tacitus briefly refers to Christus [Jewish Messiah] in Book 15, Chapter 44 of his Annals, written c 116 CE. He also mentions Jesus’ execution in Jerusalem, and the existence of early Christians, both in Rome and in Judea. He also mentions that in 64 CE, many Christians in Rome were arrested and executed, because Nero accused them of starting the fire in Rome. Suetonius also mentions Christiani [followers of Christ] in his Life of Claudius, one of The Twelve Caesars series written in 121 CE, and Pliny the Younger (c 61-c 112 CE), a lawyer and magistrate in Rome, records how he pursued suspected Christians according to Roman law.

Based on the cumulative evidence found in these four historical references, most relevant experts now believe a historical-Jesus did in fact exist. It is generally thought that this historical-Jesus was just a simple itinerant Jewish preacher with very radical views, who the Romans eventually crucified in Jerusalem c 30 CE, because his radical views upset the Jewish establishment.

Based on these considerations we can conclude the following:

The existence of a historical-Jesus has now been established.

REFERENCES:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Carrier.

[2] P. J. Williams, “Can We Trust the Gospel Gospels?” Crossway, 2018, pp 17-35 ISBN: 978-1-4335-5295-1

6. WAS THIS HISTORICAL JESUS RESURRECTED IN JERUSALEM?

Apologists regularly cite Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger to prove their Gospel-Jesus existed. These apologists simply assert that the historical-Jesus referred to in these historical documents, was also the Gospel-Jesus featured in their New Testament Gospels. This simple assertion is a totally unjustified assertion smacking of blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity, but it does allows apologists to then claim their Gospel-Jesus was resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

This resurrection claim is the central tenet of Christianity, and it’s also a very extraordinary claim that demands very extraordinary evidence to back it up. Some apologists still assert that the Apostle Paul, a man with impeccable credentials, actually validates the alleged resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9. This passage states:

  • “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God”.

In this passage, Paul does mention the alleged resurrection of the Gospel-Jesus, and he also names those who allegedly witnessed it. Paul also appears to imply he was one of these witnesses. However, before jumping to any conclusions we should note the following:

  • In this passage, Paul is not validating the alleged resurrection. He is simply summarizing what he learned whilst staying with Peter in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE. Paul’s crucial first meeting with Peter will be closely examined later.
  • When, in the above passage, Paul says “and last of all he appeared to me also”, Paul is not including himself in the list of alleged witnesses to the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem. He is simply referring to his own dramatic conversion experience, which occurred sometime later, allegedly on the road to Damascus. Paul’s conversion experience will also be closely examined later.
  • This passage does confirm Paul’s conviction that the Gospel-Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem.

The other argument apologists use to prove their Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem is the disputed claims found in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. These claims are the only independent reference to the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem ever found, but as already stated in the previous chapter, most relevant experts now believe that this independent citation in Antiquities is an interpolation [forgery] engineered at a later date by unknown vested interests in the early church. We should note that the very existence of this forgery more or less proves there never was any genuine independent evidence to support apologetic claims that their Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Had any such independent evidence ever existed, we can rest assured that the early Christian church would have zealously preserved it, just as they preserved early copies of Paul’s epistles and early Gospel manuscripts. However, none of the existing Judaic and Roman documentation from the period in question, including from authors who were known to have lived, both at that time, and in that region, makes any mention of the alleged resurrection of the alleged Gospel-Jesus.

Thus today’s apologists can no longer just mislead us with the claims made by Paul in 1 Corinthians and the claims allegedly made by Josephus in The Antiquities of the Jews. These days, apologists trying to convince us that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem must rely on the only evidence they now have, namely the partisan evidence in the New Testament itself. In effect, they must convince us that the resurrection claims in the Gospels can be trusted. For centuries, the Orthodox Christian church simply asserted that the Gospels were historically accurate accounts written by people who actually witnessed the alleged resurrection. Today, however, apologists have to contend with the notorious 45-65 year gospel gap separating the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE from the appearance of the Gospels c 75-95 CE. Why these Gospels appeared well after the death of all concerned will be addressed later, but for now we should just note that apologists like Garry Habermas [1] have recently devised an argument to overcome this awkward gospel gap problem. They now use Paul as a reliable intermediary to bridge over this awkward gospel gap. These apologists simply assert that Peter and James first told Paul about the alleged Jerusalem resurrection when they all first met in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE, and Paul then relayed this reliable eye witness evidence to his early Christian communities in the pagan world. This simple chain of events, involving three pillars of early Christianity, all paragons of virtue with impeccable credentials, demonstrates that the resurrection accounts in the Gospels can be trusted, because they are based on very reliable eye witness evidence furnished both by Peter and by James.

However, before accepting this new argument at face value, we should note that the resurrection claims made at Paul’s crucial first meeting with Peter c 35-36 CE have never been independently corroborated. These claims are still just unvalidated hearsay claims which Paul accepted at face value because of his own earlier experience. Habermas himself never addresses this issue. He believes the resurrection actually happened, and thus for him, the veracity of these resurrection claims is never an issue. More astute apologists acknowledge the existence of this unsubstantiated hearsay issue, and then simply claim that Peter didn’t lie to Paul about the alleged resurrection because he was martyred in Rome c 65 CE for his Christian belief that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem. The veracity of this martyrdom claim will be addressed in the next chapter. For now we should simply note that this ploy to side-step the unsubstantiated hearsay issue, implies that the veracity of the resurrection claim now depends entirely on the veracity of the claim that Peter was martyred in Rome.

Based on the above considerations we can now reasonably conclude the following:

We can state categorically that Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews does not validate apologetic claims that the Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

We can state categorically that Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-9 do not validate apologetic claims that the Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

We can reasonably suggest that the historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans.

We can reasonably suggest that apologists exhibit blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity when they claim the historical Jesus was also the Gospel-Jesus.

We can reasonably conclude that apologists have now demonstrated that the veracity of apologetic claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem now depends entirely on the veracity of apologetic claims that Peter was martyred in Rome.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

7. WAS PETER MARTYRED IN ROME?

Having now asserted that the Gospel resurrection accounts can be trusted because they are based on reliable eye witness evidence furnished both by Peter and by James, and having now asserted that this reliable eye witness evidence can be trusted because Peter was martyred in Rome, apologists must now prove definitively that Peter was in fact martyred in Rome as claimed. Failure to do so means apologists cannot prove definitively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the only evidence apologists can muster to prove this martyrdom claim is the evidence found in the following ten records of antiquity [1].

  • The New Testament: The Bible infers that Peter would die as a Christian martyr but it does not state it would be in Rome. In John 21:18-19, Jesus cryptically predicts Peter’s execution, though no details are given, and 2 Peter 1:12-15 records Peter writing from Rome in the knowledge that his death is imminent.
  • 1 Clement 5:1-4: This first century document is believed to be a letter from Clement, the church leader in Rome, to the church in Corinth. Clement assumes that Peter’s martyrdom in Rome around 60 CE is common knowledge. Skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman says, “By the end of the first century and into the second it was widely known among Christians that Peter had suffered a martyr’s death. The tradition is alluded to in the book of 1 Clement”. McDowell says, “At the very least, this passage provides evidence that Peter and Paul were considered examples of faithful endurance for the Gospel, even in the midst of suffering, until their deaths”.
  • Two writings of Ignatius: Ignatius is a second century Christian leader who was also martyred. In Letter to the Romans 4:3, Ignatius faces his impending martyrdom and he seems to assume both Peter and the Apostle Paul were also martyred before him. His Letter to the Smyrneans 3:1-2 presupposes the martyrdom of many of the apostles, including Peter.
  • The Apocalypse of Peter: This work is attributed to Peter, but the real author is unknown. It is dated to the first half of the second century and it is thought to be built around a historical core of data, thus providing “early attestation for the martyrdom of Peter in Rome under Nero”.
  • The Ascension of Isaiah: The real author is unknown but the work is dated early second century. It refers to an apostle who fell into Nero’s hands, and, since it was written in living memory of Peter, the readers would know who was being referred to here. While it doesn’t explicitly state Peter was martyred, it implies it happened in Rome.
  • The Acts of Peter: Dated toward the end of the second century, this work contains legendary material in the form of a historical novel. Yet scholars note that the authors did not just make material up. Rather, they were bound by received tradition and memory of events, including the martyrdom of Peter.
  • The Apocryphon of James: The real author is unknown, but the text is dated to before 314 CE. It shows that “by the end of the second century at the earliest, the crucifixion of Peter was assumed by both Orthodox and Gnostic circles alike.
  • Dionysius of Corinth: This was a pastoral letter written around 170 CE to encourage the Corinthian church. He mentions the martyrdoms of both Peter and Paul, and the historian Eusebius uses Dionysius’ work as confirmation that both apostles died under the reign of Nero.
  • Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Written at the end of the second century to challenge Gnosticism, Irenaeus references the deaths of Peter and Paul in Rome. The tradition of their martyrdoms was strong at the end of the second century, and this text is clearly referring to this tradition.
  • Tertullian, Scorpiace 15: Written in 208 CE, Tertullian is confident in Peter’s martyrdom in Rome, and encourages the reader to check the archives of the empire if they doubt this fact.

According to apologists these ten records of antiquity justify their assertion that Peter was martyred in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church even goes one stage further by categorically asserting [2] that “it’s an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter labored in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course by martyrdom”. However, before accepting apologetic claims that these ten records of antiquity prove Peter was martyred in Rome, we should note the following:

  • None of these records of antiquity proves definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome.
  • Three of these ten records were left by leaders in the early Christian movement, and four other records were left by unknown authors who may have had similar partisan agendas.
  • Most of these records of antiquity are second, third and fourth century documents and they leave ample room for alternative interpretations, interpretations such as the source simply believed Peter was martyred in Rome; the source is a vested interest promoting the idea that Peter was martyred in Rome; the source is just reiterating what others already believed and the source is just acknowledging the existence of earlier records/comments.

We should also note the following contrarian evidence:

  • There’s no obvious biblical evidence that Peter was ever in Rome [3].
  • Competing religious groups needed a presence in Rome to establish their authenticity and authority. As the leader of one of these competing groups, Peter had to be introduced into the Rome scene somehow [4].
  • Claims that Peter founded the Church of Rome are still disputed, claims that Peter served as Rome’s first bishop are still disputed and the location of Peter’s grave is still unresolved [5].
  • Competing religious interests vied for supremacy during the first couple of centuries and the early history of Christianity is as much about church politics as it is about religion [6].
  • Nothing in the Bible suggests Peter ever travelled to Rome, and there’s no solid evidence—textual or even archaeological—that Peter died in Rome. The absence of any connection between Peter and Rome in the New Testament, the lack of references to him in our earliest Roman Christian literature, and what we know of Peter’s background and character, all combine to make it unlikely that he ever went to Rome [7].
  • Justin Martyr, a citizen of Rome, is totally silent on Peter’s alleged presence in Rome, and the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to apostolic authority stands on no real evidence [8].
  • Romans, written by Paul c 57 CE, establishes that Paul had no knowledge of any apostle, least of all Peter, having preceded him to Rome, and Paul’s failure to mention Peter, would have been an incredible oversight if Peter had lived in and evangelized the city. Paul’s policy was to evangelize in places where no one had previously evangelized, and therefore it’s almost certain that Peter did not visit or preach in the city prior to 57 CE [8]
  • Early church politics dictated that establishing Peter’s presence in Rome was not enough. It was necessary to establish Peter also died there. Pope Damascus I (c 366–384 CE) harnessed stories of Peter and Paul in Rome to elevate Rome’s primacy over the other bishoprics in the East [9].
  • There’s not a single piece of reliable literary evidence and no archaeological evidence to suggest Peter was ever in Rome [10], [11].
  • It’s significant that the Apostle Peter wrote the book of 1-Peter from the city of Babylon, not Rome as others have suggested. This fact indicates that Peter had heeded Jesus Christ’s instructions by traveling to territory ruled by the ten tribes [12].
  • There’s no definitive Biblical evidence that Peter ever visited Rome, and the tradition that he visited Rome is only tradition and nothing more [13].

This array of contrarian evidence clearly indicates that these records of antiquity were almost certainly preserved by the early Roman Church, as part of its political ambitions to establish both the primary of Rome and the authenticity of the papacy. This contrarian evidence also clearly indicates that to achieve these political goals, it was necessary for the early Roman Church to establish a belief that Peter died a martyr’s death in Rome. We already know this early church tampered with Josephus’ Antiquities to garner desperately needed independent support for its claim that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Thus, we can reasonably suggest that this same early church spared no effort to garner desperately needed independent support for its claim that Peter was martyred in Rome. Thus we can reasonable suggest that the early Roman Church simply lionized Peter as part of its early self-promotion campaign to establish Rome’s primacy over the other bishoprics in the East.

Finally we should note the following very relevant points extracted from the New Testament:

  • Galatians 2:1-10, written c 54 CE, describes Paul’s second meeting with other Apostles c 50 CE. This Council of Jerusalem confirms Peter still believed only circumcised Jews adhering to Jewish Law could be saved. Thus, we can reasonably infer that Peter was still a Jew when he died c 65 CE.
  • Acts, written c 95 CE, acknowledges Peter’s presence at the Council of Jerusalem c 50 CE [data extracted from Galatians 2:1-10], but Acts does not indicate how, when or where Peter actually died. This would suggest the author of Acts knew nothing of Peter’s eventual fate and certainly nothing about an alleged martyr’s death in Rome.
  • Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, written by Paul whilst he was imprisoned in Rome 61-63 CE, make no mention of Peter. This would have been a glaring omission if Peter was also imprisoned in Rome. This suggests Peter did not preach or live in the city before 63 CE.

When weighing the evidence supporting the alleged martyrdom of Peter in Rome [1] against the evidence refuting the alleged martyrdom of Peter in Rome [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], we should note that this alleged event is now a crucial facet of the Orthodox narrative, because the current methodology used to prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, now implies that the veracity of this alleged resurrection in Jerusalem, now depends entirely on the veracity of the claim that Peter was martyred in Rome. In effect, if apologists cannot prove definitively that this alleged martyrdom actually happened, then they cannot prove definitively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. We should further note that simply proving Peter died in Rome is not enough. Apologists must prove Peter was actually a Christian when he died. Long-established Orthodox dogma asserts that all Apostles died as Christians, but the Council of Jerusalem [14] convened in Jerusalem c 50 CE, indicates that Peter, James and John, the three stalwarts of early Christianity were all still Torah observing Jews when this meeting was convened. Thus it’s highly unlikely that Peter, James and John died as Christians. We have nothing other than apologetic rhetoric and a few inconclusive records of antiquity to suggest Peter was anything other than a Torah observing Jew when he died. This crucial fact needs to be kept in mind when trying to decide if the limited partisan evidence offered by apologists is sufficient to justify their claim that Peter was martyred in Rome because he was as a Christian.

Based on the above considerations we can now reasonably conclude the following:

Apologetic claims that the records of antiquity prove definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome, smack of blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity.

We have ample cause to challenge apologetic claims that Peter was martyred in Rome.

REFERENCES:

[1] McDowell, “The Fate of the Apostles Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus”, (London: Routledge, 2015), 55 – 92.

[2] 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.

[3] Wikipedia on Saint Peter.

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica, “Emergence of Roman Catholicism”.

[5] Encyclopedia Britannica, “Tradition of Peter in Rome”.

[6] H. W. Attridge, The First Christians, “The Diversity of Early Christianity”, Frontline, 1998. [Attridge is The Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School].

[7] Nicola Denzey Lewis, “The Apostle Peter in Rome”, Biblical Archaeology Society, Bible History Daily, March 31, 2017. [Nicola Denzey Lewis is visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University].

[8] Peter Nathan, “Was Peter ever in Rome?” Vision.org. [Vision.org is funded by the Church of God, an International Community. It offers many viewpoints in the broader discussion of ideas]

[9] John C. O’Neill, “Messiah. Six Lectures on the Ministry of Jesus”, Cambridge: Cochrane Press, 1980.[10] Zwierlein, Otto, “Petrus in Rom”, (20 February 2010), Walter de Gruyter. ISBN9783110240580

[10] Zwierlein, Otto, “Petrus in Rom”, (20 February 2010), Walter de Gruyter. ISBN9783110240580

[11] Zwierlein, Otto, “Petrus und Paulus in Jerusalem und Rom”, Vom Neuen Testament zu den apokryphen Apostelakten, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013. ISBN 978-3110303315.

[12] Steven M. Collins. “The lost ten tribes of Israel…found!” p 310–311, Revised Edition 1995, CPA Books, Boring, Oregon.

[13] Philip W. Comfort, “Complete Book of Who’s Who in the Bible”, Tyndale House Publishers, 2014, ISBN 10:0842383697/ISBN 13:9780842383691.

[14] See Chapter 13 for details of this important Council of Jerusalem.

8. PAUL’S CONVERSION [Orthodox Version]

We’ve examined the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE and we’ve examined the alleged martyrdom of Peter in Rome c 65 CE. It’s now time to examine the events occurring between these two events, starting with Paul’s dramatic life-changing experience that allegedly occurred on the road to Damascus c32 CE. This dramatic experience transformed a zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers into a zealous advocate of Jesus himself. The Orthodox version of Paul’s conversion experience is first told in Acts 9:1-19, and later retold on two separate occasions in Acts 22:6-21 and Acts 26:12-18.

ACTS 9:1-19 [The New Living [NLT] translation]

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink. Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied. The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem!  And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.  Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

ACTS 22:6-21 [The New Living [NLT] translation]

As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’ The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me. I asked, ‘what should I do, Lord?’ And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’ I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions. A man named Ananias lived there. He was a godly man, deeply devoted to the law, and well regarded by all the Jews of Damascus. He came and stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And that very moment I could see him! Then he told me, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance. I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’ ‘But Lord,’ I argued, ‘they certainly know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’

ACTS 26:12-18 [The New Living [NLT] translation]

One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’

We can summarize the contents of these three accounts in Acts as follows:

  • After the crucifixion of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee in Jerusalem, swore to wipe out the new Christian church, known then as The Way. In Acts 9:1 we are told that Paul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. Saul obtained letters from the high priest, authorizing him to arrest any followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus. On the Road to Damascus, Saul and his companions were struck down by a blinding light and Saul heard a voice say, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? When Saul asked who was speaking, the voice replied: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do. Because Saul was blinded, his companions led him into Damascus to a man named Judas. For three days Saul was blind and didn’t eat or drink.
  • Meanwhile, Jesus appeared in a vision to Ananias, and told him to go to Saul, but Ananias was afraid because he knew Saul’s reputation as a merciless persecutor of the church. Jesus told Ananias that Saul had been chosen to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. So Ananias went and found Saul praying for help at Judas’ house. Ananias laid his hands on Saul, telling him that Jesus had sent him to restore his sight and that Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. Saul then ate, regained his strength, and stayed with the Damascus disciples three days. After his conversion, Saul changed his name to Paul.

Thus, according to Acts, Paul experienced some form of divine revelation whilst he was on his way to Damascus. Exactly when this revelation happened is still unknown, but it’s thought to be c 32-33 CE. Acts tells us that during Paul’s revelation, he was told by Jesus that he had been specially chosen to preach to the Gentiles [non Jews] in the pagan world. Acts also tells us that Paul’s experience transformed him from a zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers into a zealous advocate of Jesus himself. However, before accepting the Orthodox version of events at face value, we should note the following:

  • Acts was actually written c 95 CE, some six decades after Paul’s life-changing experience and some three decades after Paul’s death.
  • Acts is seen as a continuation of Luke’s Gospel and Orthodox dogma alleges that both Acts and Luke’s Gospel were written by one of Paul’s travelling companions called Luke.
  • ACTS 9:1-19 is a third-person account, allegedly furnished by this Luke, but ACTS 22:6-21 and ACTS 26:12-18 are both first-person accounts alleged furnished by Paul.

We should note that Paul himself tells us very little about his life-changing experience, and he never mentions the road to Damascus anywhere in his epistles. However, we know Paul did eventually change his mind about Jesus, and we know Paul did eventually spend three decades or more touring the pagan world vigorously promoting Jesus as the saviour of mankind, but only after Paul’s fellow Jews in the Levant had rejected both him and his radical new ideas.

The late dating of Acts, and the fact that many of today’s scholars now question both the authorship of Acts and its reliability, allows us to reasonably suggests that Acts was probably written by an unknown ex-pagan convert in one of Paul’s early communities.  That said, we can also reasonably suggest that the three accounts in Acts were almost certainly inspired by information found in Galatians 1: 11-24 written by Paul c 54 CE. This revealing passage states:

  • “I want you to know, brothers and sisters that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie. Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.”

This passage indicates that Paul himself believed his life-changing experience was a divine revelation received directly from Jesus Christ. It also indicates that Paul’s life-changing experience completely reversed his opinion of Jesus and caused him to go and preach to the Gentiles. We also learn from Paul that he went to Arabia immediately after his revelation and then he returned back to Damascus. This would suggest that Paul’s life-changing experience happened in Damascus itself rather than on the road to Damascus, but that’s just detail. The important thing here is the actual nature of Paul’s life-changing experience, which Paul himself believed was a revelation from God delivered by Jesus Christ. This is no surprise given Paul was a well educated person, and as such, he would have been very familiar with the Sacred Disease, a temporary physical affliction known to be associated with dramatic spiritual experiences and religious revelations, many of which included dramatic audio-visual experiences. Thus we can reasonably suggest that Paul simply rationalized his life-changing experience in the only way he knew how, namely by concluding he had temporarily succumbed to the Sacred Disease. Given the dramatic nature of the revelation stories appearing in Acts some sixty years later, we can also reasonably assume that the unknown but well educated author of Acts also reached this same conclusion.

Based on the above considerations, we now can say the following with some confidence:

We can reasonably suggest that Paul himself believed he had succumbed to the Sacred Disease.

We can reasonably suggest that the unknown author of Acts came to the same conclusion some sixty years later.

9. PAUL’S CONVERSION [Modern Version]

Having considered the Orthodox version of what happened to Paul some 2000 years ago, it’s now time to look at Paul’s life-changing experience in the light of today’s much better understanding of the Sacred Disease, which today is better known as temporal lobe epilepsy. Two fairly recent reports in the medical literature [1], [10] suggest that Paul’s life-changing revelation was probably the result of a temporal lobe seizure triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy. This modern epilepsy hypothesis accommodates both the audio-visual symptoms and the religious ecstasy that Paul allegedly experienced on the road to Damascus, and almost certainly did experience in reality. In Acts we hear how Paul saw a bright light from heaven, which caused him to fall down and hear voices. Acts also describe ecstatic experiences characterized by depersonalization, a connection to heaven, and auditory revelations. These are all typical symptoms known then, to be associated with the Sacred Disease and known now, to be associated with temporal lobe epilepsy. This more recent epilepsy hypothesis also accommodates Paul’s other relevant symptoms, namely his self-declared hypo-sexuality, his self-declared thorn in the flesh, his self acknowledged awe-struck ecstasy, and his subsequent long-term hyper-religiosity.

Paul’s acknowledged hypo-sexuality

In 1 Corinthians 7: 1-7, Paul acknowledges his hypo-sexuality [his own lack of interest in human sexuality and sexual matters] on two separate occasions:

  • “Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

Paul’s acknowledged thorn in the flesh

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul states:

  • “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”

This obscure reference to a thorn in my flesh obviously refers to some chronic ailment afflicting Paul, and many have suggested this chronic affliction was probably some form of epilepsy, which in those days, was often viewed as an affliction with very negative connotations. Paul reinforces this epilepsy idea in 1-Corinthians 15:8 when he claims:

  • “and last of all he appeared to me also, as one abnormally born.”

Paul’s acknowledged awe-struck ecstasy

Paul acknowledges this in 2 Cor. 12:1-7 which states:

  • I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say or because of these surpassingly great revelations”.

Paul’s acknowledged long-term hyper-religiosity

  • Paul frequently endured hardship and personal danger during the three decades he spent touring the pagan world preaching to Gentiles, and enthusiastically promoting God’s new covenant. We can reasonable infer that only a man driven by inner conviction would endure what Paul endured.

All these symptoms support recent suggestions that temporal lobe epilepsy is a reasonable etiology [1] to explain Paul’s life-changing experience, whether it be on the road to Damascus as alleged in Acts, or actually in Damascus itself. Either way, the initial seizure would have been a profound experience for somebody as devout as Paul, and it could certainly have resulted in a total about-face in religious beliefs. We should note that this epilepsy idea is actually not a new idea. It was first muted in the nineteenth century [2], [3], but recent technological developments have rapidly expanded our understanding of religious conversions triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy, as indicated by the following relevant medical and scientific publications.

In 1955 Karagulla and Robertson discussed four temporal lobe epileptics with visual hallucinations. One patient had a seizure pattern which included a vision of Christ coming down from the sky [4].

In 1963 Slater and Beard reported that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common, and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences [5].

In 1963 Beard reported a specific case study that could have been describing Paul himself. In this study Beard reported the conversion experience of a man who believed he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others. This man also believed he had been specially chosen as God’s instrument. The man completely believed everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase [6].

In 1963 Christensen reported the religious conversions of 22 men, all professionally engaged in the field of religion. Christensen also defined conversion, as an acute hallucinatory experience, characterised by its subjective intensity, sudden onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert. Again this definition of conversion aptly describes Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus [7].

In 1975 a new inter-ictal syndrome dominated by hyper-religiosity and hypo-sexuality was recognised in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. Again the relevance to Paul is obvious [8].

In 1984, a study of 16 hypo-sexual men revealed that 11 of them had previously undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy [9].

In 2013 Muhammed L reported that St Paul’s religious conversion on the Road to Damascus may have followed a temporal lobe seizure, which would account for the lights, the voices, the blindness and even the religious ecstasy he described [10].

Thus we now have ample evidence to indicate that seizures in the temporal lobe region of the brain triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy are often associated with a feeling of religious ecstasy and often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations. We also now know that these focal epileptic seizures starting in the temporal lobes are fairly common experiences which often cause psychotic hallucinations, some of which are religious in nature. These seizures usually happen suddenly without warning, they last only a short period, and then they just suddenly stop. We should note that this pattern is very similar to that experienced by Paul.

Given what we now know about sudden and dramatic changes in religiosity triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy, I think we can now say the following with reasonable confidence:

Paul’s conversion experience was almost certainly just a simple psychotic hallucination triggered by his temporal lobe epilepsy.

Apologists rejecting this epilepsy hypothesis in favour of the Orthodox explanation exhibit blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity.

REFERENCES:

[1] Landsborough “St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy”, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1987 Jun; 50(6):659-64.

[2] Howden “The religious sentiments in epileptic”, J Ment Sci 1872; 18: 491–7.

[3] Mabille “Hallucinations religieuses et d_elire religieux transitore dan l’epilepsie”. Ann M_edicopsychol 1899: 9–10: 76–81.

[4] Karagulla & Robertson “Physical phenomena in TLE and the psychoses”. Brit Med J 1955: 748–52.

[5] Slater & Beard “The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy”. Brit J Psychiat 1963:109: 5–112 & 143–50.

[6] Beard “The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy”. Brit J Psychiat 1963: 109: 113–29.

[7] Christensen “Religious conversion”. Arch Gen Psychiat 1963: 9: 207–16.

[8] Waxman, Geschwind “The inter-ictal behavior syndromes of temporal lobe epilepsy”. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1975; 32:1580–6.

[9] Spark Wills and Royal “Hypo-gonadism, Hyper-prolactinaemia, and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy in Hypo-sexual Men”, Lancet, Feb. 25, 1984; 1(8374):413-7.

[10] L. Muhammed “A retrospective diagnosis of epilepsy in three historical figures: St Paul, Joan of Arc and Socrates”, J Med Biogr, 2013 Nov; 21(4):208-11.

10. PAUL’S FIRST MEETING IN JERUSALEM

In chapter 6 [Was this Historical Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?] we touched on the current methodology used by apologists to prove the Gospel resurrection accounts can be trusted. Today’s apologists [1] simply link the Gospel resurrection accounts to reliable eye witness evidence provided by Peter and by James, using Paul as a reliable intermediary. The alleged reliable eye witness evidence was passed to Paul c 35-36 CE whilst he was staying with Peter in Jerusalem. This crucial first meeting with other Apostles in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE initiated a chain of events that eventually changed the world. It fits into the Orthodox narrative as follows.

  • The Gospel-Jesus was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 CE. This resurrection was witnessed by all of Jesus’ apostles, by Jesus’ brother James and by at least 500 other unspecified people. Following Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem gathered together and formed the first Jerusalem Church led by Peter and by Jesus’ brother James. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem, Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and three years after this life-changing experience, Paul travelled to Jerusalem to visit Peter.

Paul refers to his crucial first meeting in Galatians 1:18-19. These two short verses simply state:

  • “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother”.

Paul makes no attempt to explain why he saw only James and none of the other Apostles, and he makes no attempt to explain when he actually saw James, and for how long. Given this paucity of data, we will never know with any certainty, what really happened at this first crucial meeting. All we can now do is speculate about what happened. The Orthodox narrative simply ignores Paul’s first claim that he saw no other Apostle, and then it asserts the second claim justifies the following three Orthodox assumptions:

  • At this crucial first meeting, Paul told Peter and James about his dramatic conversion experience.
  • At this crucial first meeting Peter and James told Paul about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem several years earlier.
  • At this crucial first meeting, both parties accepted the other party’s claims at face value.

These three assumptions, all based on purely speculative conjecture that James was actually present at this first meeting with Peter, then allow the Orthodox narrative to assert that Paul’s knowledge of the Jerusalem resurrection was gained directly from two reliable eye-witnesses, both pillars of early Christianity with impeccable credentials. We should note that this simple ploy conveniently circumvents any suggestion that Paul’s knowledge of the alleged resurrection was based entirely on Peter’s uncorroborated hearsay claims.

This quick preliminary look at Paul’s crucial first meeting allow us to say the following with some confidence:

James’ alleged presence is an essential element of the Orthodox narrative.

Galatians 1:19 does not prove James was present.

The speculative conjecture that James was present has neither been validated nor independently corroborated.

The speculative conjecture smacks of blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

11. WAS JAMES PRESENT AT THIS FIRST MEETING?

The Orthodox narrative simply asserts that Galatians 1:19 proves James was actually present at Paul’s first crucial meeting with Peter. However, before accepting this Orthodox assertion at face value, we should look closely at what Paul actually tells us in Galatians 1: 19. In the NIV version, Paul simply states:

  • “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother”.

We should note the deliberate use of the word saw rather than the word met. Practically all New Testament translations of Galatians 1:19 use the word saw rather than the word met. The only exception is the New Living Translation [NLT] which states:

  • “The only other apostle I met at that time was James the Lord’s brother”.

This NLT translation does suggest James could have been present at this crucial meeting, at least some of the time, but even this translation is not definitive confirmation that James was party to Peter and Paul’s exchanges. All other translations of Galatians 1:19 just reflect Paul’s basic claim that he saw only James and none of the other Apostles whilst staying with Peter in Jerusalem for 15 day. These two simple claims are actually very incongruous, given the actual circumstances of this first meeting. It occurred in Jerusalem just a few years after Jesus’ alleged resurrection also in Jerusalem. It lasted 15 days, and at the time of this meeting, Peter was a patriarch of the “early Jerusalem church”. Thus we can reasonably suggest that many of those who allegedly witnessed Jesus’ alleged resurrection were now members of this early Jerusalem church. So why didn’t Peter invite Paul to attend his Jerusalem Church? Why didn’t Peter introduce Paul to other apostles and to other church members whilst he was in Jerusalem? Why didn’t Peter and the other apostles celebrate Paul’s recent redemption?

The Orthodox narrative addresses none of these issues. It simply exploits the paucity of data in Galatians 1:19 and asserts Peter, James and Paul spent 15 days comparing notes and swapping stories about their own personal experiences. However, as already demonstrated, the Orthodox interpretation of this sparse verse is just speculative conjecture that has never been validated nor independently corroborated. Its simple purpose is to make the Orthodox narrative more robust. Thus we can reasonably challenge this very convenient conjecture and simply postulate that James did in fact make a brief appearance during Paul’s 15 days stay with Peter, but he didn’t stay very long. This perfectly reasonable alternative interpretation of Galatians 1:19 can be justified as follows:

  • Paul was a zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers and his sudden arrival in Jerusalem left Peter feeling very perturbed and very wary of Paul’s presence. Peter was also very skeptical of Paul’s claim that he was now a reformed character since meeting Jesus three years ago. Peter knew Jesus died in Jerusalem 5-6 years ago, so. Paul was obviously lying about meeting Jesus and he was just trying to trap Peter into revealing the whereabouts of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. Thus it took Paul considerable time and effort both to allay Peter’s fears and to convince Peter that his claims about meeting Jesus were genuine. At some stage during this initial uncertainty phase, James arrived not knowing Paul was there. He was thus very perturbed by Paul’s presence and he quickly excused himself and rushed off to warn people to keep their heads down until Paul left Jerusalem.

We should note that this postulated James just popped-in but didn’t stay scenario is pure speculative conjecture, forcibly made in response to the dearth of definitive data. However, it’s very plausible conjecture, it’s totally compatible with the limited facts and with the prevailing circumstance, and unlike the Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19, it fully addresses Paul’s claim that he saw only James and none of the other Apostles.

Given the above considerations, and the paucity of data, we can now say the following with some confidence

We can reasonably argue that James was not present at Paul’s first crucial meeting with Peter.

We can reasonably argue that the Orthodox claim that James was present smacks of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

12. DID PETER LIE TO PAUL AT THIS FIRST MEETING?

We now know that this first crucial meeting in Jerusalem set in motion a train of events that eventually changed the world. We accept Paul visited Peter to tell him about his own dramatic life-changing experience, and we accept Paul arrived in Jerusalem knowing nothing of an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem prior to his arrival. We also accept Paul left Jerusalem 15 days later, now convinced that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem prior to his arrival. In 1-Corinthians 15:3 Paul actually says “I give you what I was given” and in 1-Corinthians 15:5-7 Paul tells us that Peter and many others saw this resurrected Jesus shortly after his crucifixion.

Thus we can safely conclude that Paul learned of the Jerusalem resurrection whilst staying with Peter. The Orthodox narrative insists he learned of Jesus’ resurrection from Peter and James, but we’ve already demonstrated that James’ alleged presence at this crucial meeting is little more than wishful thinking. That said, we can now reasonably suggest that Peter himself told Paul about the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem.  But did Peter tell Paul the truth? There’s no reliable independent evidence to validate Peter’s resurrection claim, and the forgery in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews suggests there never was any reliable independent evidence. Some more traditional apologists claim the Gospels validate Peter’s claim, but the Gospels cannot be used to validate Peter’s claim because these Gospels are based on Peter’ claim. Other less traditional apologists claim Peter’s alleged martyrdom in Rome validates Peter’s claim, but this alleged martyrdom is still unproven [see Chapter 7]. Thus we can reasonably suggest that Peter did just lie to Paul about an alleged resurrection that never happened? We can readily justify this outrageous suggestion by demonstrating why Peter was well motivated to lie to Paul.

  • Paul’s unexpected arrival in Jerusalem left Peter feeling very disturbed and Paul had great difficulty persuading Peter that he was no longer a threat, and even more difficulty persuading Peter that he was now a fellow Apostle, one specially chosen by Jesus himself. Peter eventually accepted Paul’s assurance that he was no longer a threat and even accepted Paul’s claim that he had met Jesus three years earlier, but Peter found it impossible to accept Paul’s claim that he was now a fellow Apostle, one specially chosen by Jesus himself. Paul was a wealthy well educated Roman citizen, whereas Peter was just an illiterate peasant fisherman from Galilee, and both Paul’s vast superiority, and his claim that he was now a special Apostle, posed a very serious threat, both to Peter’s authority as a patriarch of the local Jerusalem Church, and to his comfortable lifestyle financed by the Jewish tithe system. Faced with this serious threat to his authority and comfortable life style, Peter simply told Paul that he and many others had already seen the risen Jesus in Jerusalem well before Paul saw him three years ago. This simple ploy underlined Peter’s own authority, downgraded Paul’s status and neutralized Paul’s threat.

Thus simple self preservation motivated Peter to lie to Paul about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened, and we can reasonably suggest that Paul’s own similar experience, three years prior to his arrival in Jerusalem, made him very receptive to Peter’s lies. We can also reasonably suggest that, having lied about this alleged resurrection in Jerusalem, Peter then took steps to ensure Paul met nobody else whilst he was in Jerusalem. This very plausible scenario is totally compatible with the known facts. It also offers a plausible reason why in 1-Corinthians 15:8, Paul makes a point of saying:

“and last of all he appeared to me also, as one abnormally born.”

However, we should note that, just like the earlier “James just popped in but didn’t stay” scenario, this “Peter just lied to Paul” scenario is pure speculative conjecture, forcibly made in response to the dearth of definitive data. It does, however, produce exactly the same final outcome as the Orthodox narrative, and unlike the equally speculative Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19, it does fully address Paul’s claim that he saw none of the other Apostles whilst staying with Peter.

Close scrutiny of Galatians 1:19 allows us to reasonably suggest the following with some confidence:

James was not present at this crucial first meeting.

Paul’s knowledge of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem was gained directly from Peter.

Peter just lied to Paul about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem that never happened.

13. DID ALL THE APOSTLES PREACH THE SAME MESSAGE?

Paul’s second important meeting with other Apostles is now known historically as the Council of Jerusalem. It occurred in Jerusalem c 50 CE, and it was deliberately convened by Peter, James and John, to discuss with Paul, the relevance of circumcision and adherence to Judaic law. Paul describes this second and last known meeting with other Apostles in Galatians 2:1-10. This passage states:

  • “Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do”

This passage clearly indicates there were obvious tensions between Paul and the other Apostles, mainly concerning the relevance of circumcision and the relevance of Judaic law. In Galatians 2: 6, Paul specifically states:

  • “As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message”.

In this verse, Paul is effectively saying

  • As for those who seemed to be important – all probably circumcised Jews but I don’t care – those men added nothing to my message.

These implied tensions between Paul and the other Apostles are a common theme running throughout Paul’s epistles, as the following examples confirm:

In Galatians 2:14-16 Paul says:

  • “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

And later, in Galatians 5:2-6, Paul says:

  • “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”.

And in Philippians 3: 1-3 Paul warns:

  • “Further, my brothers and sisters rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh [Jews}. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”.

Many other instances confirming these tensions between Paul & the other Apostles can be found in Galatians. For example Galatians 2: 1-5, Galatians 3: 1-5, Galatians 3: 11-13, Galatians 3: 23-25, Galatians 5: 11 and Galatians 6: 11-15. Two more instances can be found in 1-Corinthians 7: 17-20 and Romans 2: 25-27.

Apologists ignore these obvious tensions between Paul and the other Apostles, because they totally contradict long established Orthodox dogma that all the Apostles miraculously became Christians shortly after the alleged resurrection of Jesus. However, these obvious tensions highlight the fact that Peter, James and John, three stalwarts of early Christianity, were still Torah observing Jews as late as c 50 CE. Apologists obviously have no desire to acknowledge the existence of this very inconvenient fact, because it totally undermines their assertion that Peter was a Christian when he was martyred in Rome. Thus apologists simply argue that the simple terse phrase “they added nothing to me” in Galatians 2:6 proves Paul and the other Apostles all preached the same gospel message. But does it? Yet again, Paul leaves us pondering what he really meant to say when he said “they added nothing to me”. Was Paul trying to say the other Jewish Apostles had nothing new to add to his message? Or was Paul trying to say the other Jewish Apostles had nothing relevant to add to his message? We can answer this dilemma simply by comparing Paul’s own message with that being preached by the other Apostles.

After his life-changing experience, Paul zealously promoted Jesus as the saviour of mankind. He first evangelized in the Levant, but following rejection by his fellow Jews, Paul then evangelized exclusively in the pagan world, where he focused on trying to convince both Jews and Gentiles living in the pagan world, that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead in far off Jerusalem. Paul’s universal message was very simple and very effective. Accept Jesus as your Lord and saviour and receive his promise of eternal salvation after death. This novel promise of an eternal after-life was music to the ears of the down-trodden masses and they readily accepted Paul’s novel offer.

The other Apostles proselytized mainly in and around Jerusalem and the wider Levant, and they focused on trying to persuade their fellow Jews that Jesus was their long awaited Jewish Messiah, sent by their Jewish God to save their Jewish nation. They claimed that only Torah compliant male Jews could be saved from the coming apocalypse, and then only if these Torah compliant Jews accepted Jesus as their long awaited Messiah. History tells us that their fellow Jews eventually rejected both these other Apostles and their message.

Thus, it’s inescapable that Paul was never on the same page as the other Apostles, and whereas the other Apostles failed to promote their Messianic version of Jesus in the Levant, Paul succeeded in planting the seeds of nascent Christianity in the pagan world. These two totally conflicting messages explain the obvious tensions between Paul and the other Apostles. They also confirm that in Galatians 2:6, Paul was really trying to say these other Jewish Apostles had nothing relevant to add to his universal new message. That said, it’s now perfectly clear that the apologetic interpretation of Galatians 2:6 smacks of blatant confirmation bias driven by an absolute necessity to repudiate any suggestion that Peter was not a Christian when he died. Thus, when interpreting Galatians 2:6, apologists simply ignore the more appropriate relevant option and choose the less appropriate new option, because this inappropriate choice then allows them to argue that Galatians 2:6 proves Paul and the other Apostles all preached the same gospel message. This simple ploy then allows apologists to justify their claim that Paul and the other Apostles were a single cohesive Christian force that launched Christianity onto an unsuspecting world.

Given the above considerations we can now reasonably say the following with some confidence:

We can reasonably suggest that Galatians 2: 6 does not prove Paul preached the same message as the other Apostles.

We can reasonably suggest that the apologetic interpretation of Galatians 2: 6 smacks of blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity.

14. WHY DOES THE NOTORIOUS GOSPEL GAP EXIST?

For centuries the Orthodox Christian Church simply asserted that the New Testament Gospels were historically accurate accounts written either by Jesus’ Apostles or by close acquaintances of said Apostles. Also, for centuries this same church asserted that Josephus validated the Gospel resurrection claims in his Antiquity of the Jews written c 95 CE. However, modern scholarship now demonstrates that both of these assertions are unfounded. The alleged Josephus validation has now been discredited, and independent scholarship has now indicated that the Gospels were actually written by well educated unknown authors in the pagan world c 75-95 CE. Thus they were written many decades after the death of all concerned and today’s apologist still cannot explain why the Gospels were not written much earlier whilst alleged eye witnesses were still alive.

More traditional apologists ignore the existence of this awkward 45-65 year gap and stick to outdated claims that these Gospels were written by reliable eye witnesses. Other more modern apologists like Gary Habermas [1] bridge over the gap by linking the resurrection accounts in the Gospels to reliable eye witness evidence furnished by Peter and by James, using Paul as a reliable intermediary. These latter apologists then authenticate Peter and James’ unvalidated eye witness evidence by asserting Peter was martyred in Rome, thus proving Peter told Paul the truth when he claimed Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem. We should note that this latest methodology simply bridges over the gospel gap without attempting to explain its existence. We should also note that the logic of this latest methodology implies that the veracity of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem now depends entirely on the veracity of Peter’s alleged martyrdom in Rome. Unfortunately, apologists have yet to prove definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome [see Chapter 7 for details].

Explaining the existence of this notorious gospel gap is problematic for apologists asserting their Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, but all these difficulties just melt away when one simply asserts the historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. In this alternative scenario, there is no resurrection after the crucifixion c 30 CE, and thus, initially at least, there’s nothing to write about. Paul is in the pagan world trying to establish his early Christian communities, and the other Apostles are in the Levant trying to convince their fellow Jews that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. These two separate activities spanned c 30-65 CE and all activity ceased with the death of all concerned. We then had the Gospel phase c 75-95 CE, and explaining why these Gospels only appeared after the death of all concerned is the subject of the next chapter.

Based on these and earlier considerations, we can now say the following with some confidence:

In trying to overcome the gospel gap problem, today’s apologists have now established that the veracity of the Gospel resurrection claims depends entirely on the veracity of unproven assertions that Peter was martyred in Rome.

There is no notorious gospel gap when one asserts the historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem c 30 CE.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

15. WERE THE GOSPELS DELIBERATELY FABRICATED?

Having explained why the notorious gospel gap exists, we must now explain why numerous Gospels started to appear throughout the pagan world after the death of all concerned. The explanation is very simple. These Gospels appeared when they did, because it took several decades for Paul’s heroic evangelic efforts in the pagan world to eventually bear fruit. Whilst evangelizing in the pagan world c 40-65 CE, Paul told his newly converted pagans all about the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Jerusalem, but he told them absolutely nothing about Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion. It’s thus reasonable to postulate, that sooner or later, Paul’s newly converted pagans would start asking about Jesus and his life prior to his crucifixion. It was these growing demands to know more about Jesus’ life that eventually triggered pressing needs to provide the missing biographical details. The dating of the four canonical Gospels suggests it took about 30 years on average, for each of Paul’s early communities to reach their own particular tipping point, necessitating fabrication of their own particular account of Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion.

At first sight, postulating that the four New Testament Gospels were, of necessity, deliberately fabricated after the death of all concerned, does seem ludicrous. Certainly all previous attempts to discredit these Gospels have been dismissed as ludicrous, notably by J.N.D.Anderson [1]. However, unlike all earlier attempts to discredit these Gospels, many of which proposed unexplainable conspiracies of one sort or another, we are now simply postulating that these fabricated accounts were, of necessity, just honest attempts to provide Jesus’ missing biographical details, honestly written by creative ex-pagan writers who shared Paul’s conviction that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem. Under these circumstances, we can reasonably suggest that such writers would have had little difficulty fabricating suitable accounts of Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion. For a start, the ending of these accounts was more or less dictated by Paul’s own claims in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9, which simply summarized the identities of those who allegedly witnessed the alleged resurrection of Jesus. We should note that these claims are based entirely on what Paul learned from Peter during their first crucial meeting in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE. We should also note that the sparse nature of this crucial information in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9, explains why all Gospel resurrection accounts are portrayed as near invisible events noticed only by a handful of Jews.

Another source these creative ex-pagan writers turned to for inspiration was the many oral stories about the life and death of the historical-Jesus. This very popular itinerant Jewish preacher from Galilee amassed a very large following of fellow Jews, so much so he eventually posed a significant threat to the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem. It was the Jewish establishment’s attempts to eliminate this perceived threat that led to the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus in the first place. In keeping with Jewish tradition, many of these oral stories would still be circulating amongst the many Jewish communities in the pagan world. Some of these oral stories would have been about the events in far off Jerusalem leading up to the crucifixion, and many others would simply contain details of the many parables used by Jesus whilst preaching to his fellow Jews. This reliance on a common source of oral data ensured that all these fabricated stories contained fairly consistent accounts of events leading up to the alleged resurrection. Many of these fabricated accounts simply focused on Jesus’ ministry years leading up to his crucifixion, and they made no attempt to say anything about Jesus’ early life. This is only to be expected, because that at the time, this historical Jesus was nothing more than a historically insignificant itinerant Jewish preacher from far off Galilee. However, Matthew and Luke both contain totally fictitious virgin-birth stories that were suitably tailored for their ensuing audiences. Matthew’s account was written for a Jewish audience whereas Luke’s account was written for a Gentile audience.

Inspiration for the theological elements in these fabricated accounts was readily found in Paul’s epistles and the Jewish scriptures [Old Testament]. Examples of material borrowed from these sources include:

  • The third-day resurrection and sightings found in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 which ended up in all these accounts.
  • The apocalyptic message in 1-Thessalonians 4:14-17 which found its way into early accounts.
  • The love thy neighbour theme from Leviticus 19:18 that later appeared in Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:9-10, and eventually appeared in Matthew 7:12, 22:39.
  • The Lord’s Supper in 1-Corinthians 11: 23-26 that eventually found its way into Luke 22: 19-20.
  • Numerous references about accepting authority were inspired by Romans 13:1-3, and the essence of John’s Gospel was probably inspired by Philippians 2:5-1.
  • The crucifixion scene in Mark was probably inspired by Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
  • The portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb of God in John’s Gospel was probably inspired by Isaiah 53.
  • The ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God was probably taken from Psalm 110:1.

Other examples include the phrase born of a virgin found in Isaiah 7:14, the phrase blood atonement found in Leviticus 17:11, the phrase Jesus the begotten Son found in Psalm 2:7, the phrase God among His people found in Isaiah 9:6; & 40:3, the phrase only begotten Son found in Genesis. 22:2, the phrase return of Christ found in Zechariah 14:1-5 & Micah 1:3-4 and the phrase Son of God found in Psalm 2:7.

Many of these fabricated stories were written for Gentile audiences [non Jewish ex-pagans], and the unknown authors often mangled and twisted passages like Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53, and Psalm 22 to fit their newly emerging theologies. We should also note that these ex-pagan authors probably borrowed miracle stories and other material from competing pagan religions to satisfy the expectations of their newly converted ex-pagan audiences.

The above considerations allow us to say the following with some confidence:

We can reasonably postulate that the Gospels were, of necessity, deliberately fabricated to provide Jesus’ missing biographical details.

We can reasonably postulate that the Gospels were written by unknown ex-pagan authors who shared Paul’s conviction that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead in Jerusalem.

REFERENCES:

[1] J. N. D. Anderson “The Evidence for the Resurrection” Inter-Varsity Fellowship 1950

16. WHY ARE THE GOSPELS SO DIFFERENT?

Traditional apologists still assert the Gospels were written before Paul died c 65 CE, but more recent scholarship from less partisan sources indicates  the four New Testament Gospels were probably written in the second half of the first century, well after the death of all concerned. Mark is usually dated c 75 CE, Matthew and Luke c 85-90 CE and John c 95 CE or later. We should note that both Jesus’ true identity and Jesus’ true nature were being hotly debated whilst these fabricated stories were being written, and the second half of the first century saw Jesus rapidly transformed from the simple envoy portrayed in Mark, to God’s only son portrayed in Matthew and Luke, and eventually to God himself portrayed in John. It’s now time to look a little closer at the actual differences in four canonical Gospels

Mark, the earliest of the three synoptic Gospels, is a relatively basic attempt to explain Jesus’ ministry years, and it portrays Jesus as a simple envoy sent by God to offer enlightenment about the impending apocalypse. Mark originally stopped at the empty tomb [Mark 16: 8] but it was later extended [Mark 16: 9-20] to include various sightings of a resurrected Jesus, and a brief reference to Jesus’ ascension to heaven. This 12-verse add-on [interpolation] is essentially just a quick paraphrasing of the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Matthew & Luke, the other two synoptic gospels, appeared about ten years after Mark, and both of these gospels portray Jesus as the son of God, born of a virgin. Both virgin-birth stories satisfy the basic criteria that Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, and that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Unfortunately, neither of these two unknown authors new their conflicting accounts of the virgin birth would later appear in the New Testament. We should note that Mark was deliberately inserted between Matthew and Luke to separate these two conflicting accounts and thus mitigate the embarrassing differences. John, the last of the four canonical Gospels drops the virgin-birth idea and portrays Jesus as the word made flesh [God], and as The Lamb of God who willingly goes to his death, to absolve the world of sin, to break the power of death and to offer mankind a chance of everlasting salvation. John underlines this Lamb of God theme by having Jesus die on Friday afternoon, the Jewish Day of Preparation, instead of in the early hours of Saturday morning, as per the three earlier synoptic Gospels.

Most Christians are oblivious of the many variations found in these Gospels, especially the variations revolving around Jesus’ birth and the exact time of his death. Why we find Mark inserted between Matthew and Luke becomes obvious when we compare what Matthew and Luke have to say about the virgin birth of Jesus. In Matthew, Mary & Joseph live in Bethlehem and Jesus is born there. Three wise men follow a wandering star, and they eventually arrive in Bethlehem with gifts, to pay their respects to baby Jesus. Herod, fearful of potential opposition, orders the slaughter of male children aged two and under, but Joseph is warned of this in a dream. They all flee to Egypt, and after the death of Herod, Mary, Joseph and Jesus relocate to Nazareth. A totally different version of the virgin birth can be found In Luke. In this version, Joseph & Mary live in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and because of a Roman census, they travel to Bethlehem for the virgin birth. Luke outlines the usual nativity details including the stable, a meek and mild Jesus in the manger and the shepherds summoned by angels. A few weeks after the virgin birth, Joseph & Mary return back to Nazareth with baby Jesus. No wise men and no wandering stars. Inserting Mark between these two conflicting accounts makes these awkward differences less obvious, and the Orthodox narrative then blends these two conflicting accounts together to form the classic nativity story rolled out every year to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Another significant difference can be found in the accounts detailing Jesus’ ascension to heaven, first found in Luke, and later reinforced in Acts. These accounts underline the divinity of Jesus, and they also offer a very convenient way to dispose of the Gospel-Jesus after his miraculous resurrection. Luke’s Gospel and Acts disagree when this alleged ascension to heaven actually occurred. Luke’s Gospel alleges it occurred shortly after the resurrection [Easter Sunday], whereas Acts states it occurred forty days after the resurrection. This is surprising given that apologists claim Luke and Acts were both written by the same author. We should note that the brief reference to Jesus’ ascension at the end of Mark’s Gospel can be ignored, because it was not present in the original version of Mark. This interpolation was added later to make Mark compatible with Matthew and Luke. We should note that such inconsistencies are to be expected when postulating the Gospels were, of necessity, deliberately fabricated by unknown authors striving to provide Jesus’ missing biographical details.

Given the above considerations we can now say the following with some confidence:

After the crucifixion and alleged resurrection of Jesus, it took some considerable time to reach agreement about Jesus’ perceived true identity and Jesus’ perceived true nature.

The four canonized Gospels simply reflect the ideas circulating when they were written.

17. WHY DID CHRISTIANITY SURVIVE THE DEMISE OF PAGANISM?

Orthodox dogma asserts that shortly after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, Jesus’ many apostles went forth from Jerusalem and successfully launched Christianity onto the unsuspecting world – with just a little help from Paul of course. This dogma implies that Jews believing Jesus was their long awaited Jewish Messiah, miraculously converted, more or less overnight, into Christians believing Jesus was the son of a new Christian God. However, we should note that this Orthodox dogma makes no attempt to explain how this miraculous feat actually happened. We should also note that the need to convene the Council of Jerusalem c 50 CE indicates that Peter, James and John, three stalwarts of early Christianity, were still Torah observing Jews c 50 CE, and thus we can reasonably infer they were still Torah observing Jews when they died. Thus long established Orthodox dogma simply withers under close scrutiny.

The scant evidence that is available suggests that, after the historical-Jesus was crucified, Jesus’ Twelve Apostles simply continued trying to persuade their fellow Jews that this now dead Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. History tells us that they eventually failed, because their fellow Jews knew Jesus had fulfilled none of the scriptural prophecies, and because many of their fellow Jews saw Jesus as just another Galilean fundamentalist trouble maker, who the Romans eventually crucified as a common criminal. The Council of Jerusalem convened by Peter, John and Jesus’ brother James c 50 CE, confirms these three alleged “pillars of early Christianity” were all still Jews at the time of this meeting, and it’s not unreasonable to suggest they were all still Jews when they died. How and when they died is still uncertain, but apologists usually roll out the long standing Roman Catholic Church mantra that Peter was martyred for his faith in Rome c 65 CE. The other lesser known Apostles just seem to fade away into obscurity, leaving behind nothing other than a few traditional according to tradition stories concocted by vested interests in the early church to explain what allegedly happened to these Apostles.. This is only to be expected, given most, if not all, of Jesus’ Apostles were illiterate, and thus totally incapable of recording their efforts and experiences for posterity.

Paul, the other well known Apostle, was initially a zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers. However, after his life-changing conversion experience a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul avidly promoted Jesus, initially in the Levant and later in the pagan world. His proselytizing in the Levant was both short-lived and unsuccessful, so Paul re-thought his message, stripped out all reference to Judaism and took his revamped more universal message to the Gentiles in the pagan world. Here he focused on trying to persuade both Jews and Gentiles in the pagan world that Jesus had died for their sins, and was then resurrected to break the power of death and to offer them a chance of eternal salvation. Pagans probably viewed Paul’s nascent Christianity as just another new pagan belief system, albeit one with a very novel new offer of eternal salvation after death. This novel new offer was well received by the down-trodden pagan masses, as was Paul’s claims that both circumcision and adherence to Judaic law were unimportant. Paul’s radical new message also reached out to both Jews and Gentiles of both sexes, regardless of their background. This universal acceptance of all in sundry, combined with the promise of eternal salvation, ensured that Paul’s new nascent Christianity spread rapidly amongst those already familiar with the resurrection concept. It also helped that nobody in this pagan world had any first-hand knowledge of events in far off Jerusalem.

Paul and the other Apostles led by Peter and by James ’ appear to have had very little contact with each other, apart from the two meetings Paul briefly mentions in Galatians. Both meetings have already been closely examined, but it’s worth noting here that the first meeting c 35-36 CE triggered Paul’s life-long crusade to convert Gentiles and Jews in the pagan world, and the second meeting fourteen years later, highlighted the obvious differences between Paul and the other Apostles. The Orthodox narrative does not acknowledge the existence of these two polarised groups. It simply homogenizes them into a single cohesive whole, and then claims this homogenized group successfully launched Christianity onto an unsuspecting world. However, the Orthodox narrative makes no attempt to explain how this mythical launch of a radical new concept was actually achieved. The only reliable evidence available [Paul’s Epistles] indicates that after his dramatic conversion experience, Paul spent the rest of his life proselytizing in all the important political and cultural centres of commerce and trade in the pagan world, thus ensuring his radical new theology spread rapidly throughout the pagan world. This indicates that the seeds of nascent Christianity were actually sowed by Paul and Paul alone, and sown in a pagan world that willingly embraced his radically new and inclusive message.

There then followed a period of fluid evolution lasting two to three centuries, during which rapidly evolving nascent Christianity became a melting pot of competing ideas. We had pro-Jewish Ebionites who rejected the Virgin Birth of Jesus and maintained that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary who became the Messiah because he obeyed the Jewish law. They taught that Jesus was the Messiah and the true prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15. We had anti-Jewish Marcionites who accepted some parts of the New Testament but denied Christ’s corporality and humanity and condemned the Creator God of the Old Testament. We also had Arians who believed a divine Jesus Christ was sent to earth for the salvation of mankind, but claimed this Jesus Christ was not equal to God the Father and that God the Father and the Son of God were not equal to the Holy Spirit. There were also Gnostics and various other groups with other views about Jesus’ identity and true nature. These diverse groups all competed for supremacy throughout the second and third centuries, and we should note that early Christianity was still a very diverse beast at the beginning of the fourth century.

Nevertheless, politically astute rulers in Rome eventually realised that the rapid spread of nascent Christianity amongst the oppressed masses, presented them with a golden opportunity to establish a simple cost-effective method of self-regulating crowd-control. If exploited properly, the politicians in Rome could simply control the religious leaders, and leave the religious leaders to placate the masses, both with promises of eternal salvation for those who acquiesced and threats of eternal damnation for those who dared to transgress. This pragmatic marriage of the emotional needs of the many and the political needs of the few ensured Christianity’s long term survival, and throughout the fourth century, newly evolving Christianity was gradually transformed from a relatively new and very popular semi-illegal pagan belief system, into the official religion of the Roman Empire. In 313 CE, Constantine-1 issued the Edict of Milan, which effectively legalised this radically new concept called Christianity. In 325 CE, Constantine-1 convened the First Council of Nicaea to rationalize the huge diversity associated with early nascent Christianity. In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which ordained that the now standard version of Christianity known as Nicene Christianity was to become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then, just to round things off, in 391 CE, the worship of all other pagan gods was made illegal throughout the Roman Empire. These miscellaneous fourth century political developments rapidly transformed, what was essentially a semi-illegal pagan belief system, into the standardised belief system we now call Nicene Christianity, and the subsequent adoption of this Nicene Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, thus ensured Christianity’s long-term survival. It also initiated the terminal decline of paganism.

Fourth century Roman patronage then ensured that the now legal Roman Church enjoyed almost a century of unfettered protection and unrivalled privileged status prior to the demise of Roman Empire in 476 CE. This gave the Roman Church plenty of time to put down roots strong enough to survive the fall of the Roman Empire, and the inevitable demise of Rome left the Roman Church ideally poised to fill the ensuing power vacuum. Having survived the fall of Rome, and with its dominance guaranteed for the foreseeable future, the Roman Church proceeded to minister unto the needs of the ever-increasing multitudes. However, behind the scenes, the new religious class quietly amassed power and wealth beyond people’s wildest dreams, and it was soon virtually impossible to challenge this Roman Church without putting one’s very soul in jeopardy. Increasing theological differences eventually led to an East-West split, and in 1054 CE, Christianity polarised into the Western Church centred on Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, centred on Constantinople [now Istanbul].

The period following this divide, is now characterised as the Crusade era. The Crusades were a series of religiously inspired military campaigns carried out against both pagans in Europe, and Muslims in The Holy Land. This Crusade era lasted for several centuries, and during it, the Roman [Catholic] Church continued to amass further power and wealth. In the early sixteenth century, continued widespread greed and corruption precipitated yet another schism, this time a North-South divide. This second schism resulted in the formation of the Protestant Church. After the Protestant Reformation, Christianity continued to both spread and diversify. Today there are over 43,000 different denominations of Christianity, ranging from the traditional bells & smells Christianity found in more traditional churches, to the more informal clap-happy Christianity found in the newer Evangelical Churches.

And thus, something that started out as a very popular new pagan-like belief system, based on an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem that probably never happened, managed to survive the demise of paganism, and eventually it became the world’s largest religion.

Based on the above considerations, we can say the following with some confidence:

The down trodden masses in the pagan world willingly embraced Paul’s radical new all inclusive message.

This widespread acceptance eventually presented astute leaders in Rome, with a golden opportunity to exploit a new cost-effective method of self-regulating crowd control.

The ensuing Roman patronage produced a standardized version of nascent Christianity, now called Nicene Christianity, and the adoption of this newly standardized version of Christianity ensured the eventual demise of paganism.

18. THE ORTHODOX NARRATIVE’S MANY SHORT COMINGS

Some of the more obvious issues include:

The real nature of the early Jerusalem Church:

The Orthodox narrative does not explain how Jews believing Jesus was their long awaited Jewish Messiah, miraculously converted, more or less overnight, into Christians believing Jesus was the son of a new Christian God.

No independent evidence to support the alleged resurrection:

The forgery in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews confirms there never was any reliable independent supporting evidence.

All Gospel resurrection accounts are portrayed as near invisible events noticed only by a handful of Jews:

The unknown Gospel authors had to base their resurrection accounts on the scant details supplied by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9.

Paul preached a totally different message:

According to Paul, Jesus was sent to earth to save mankind, and his universal message stressed that both circumcision and adherence to Judaic law were irrelevant. The other apostles preached that only circumcised Jews and other males prepared to be circumcised could be saved, and then only if they obeyed the Jewish law.

Jesus’ twelve Apostles just faded away:

The Orthodox narrative says very little about the fate of the other Apostles. Even Peter’s alleged death in Rome remains unproven, and most of the other Apostles simply disappeared without trace, thus making it necessary for the early church to conjure up a series of traditional according to tradition stories to explain their fates.

Paul was the only successful Apostles:

Paul’s message was willingly embraced by Gentiles in the pagan world, whereas the other Apostles failed to convince their fellow Jews that Jesus was their long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Many apologists simply muddy the water by deliberately conflating the terms “God’s only son”, “Christ” and “Messiah”

There’s no attempt to explain the notorious Gospel Gap:

Orthodox Christianity still fails to explain why the Gospels were not written earlier whilst the alleged witnesses to the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem were still alive.

The four Gospels are different:

They simply reflected the prevailing views about Jesus’ identity and true nature when they were written.

Why was the Acts of the Apostles necessary?

Acts describes Jesus’ ascension to heaven which affirmed Jesus’ divinity, and it also provided a convenient way to dispose of the resurrected Jesus after his alleged resurrection. Acts also records Paul’s heroic missionary efforts, and attempts to paper over the obvious cracks between the failed Apostles and the more successful Paul.

19. THE OLD MODEL verses THE NEW MODEL

The Orthodox narrative was formulated in a pagan world full of pagan gods and it fails to explain why the Gospels were written well after the death of all concerned. It simply links the Gospel resurrection accounts to Peter & James’ reliable eye witness evidence, using Paul as a reliable intermediary. The Orthodox narrative makes five assertions:

The Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

Paul’s life-changing experience was a divine encounter with Jesus orchestrated by God.

James was present at Peter & Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem.

Peter and James told Paul the truth about the resurrection in Jerusalem [a].

The Gospel resurrection accounts are historically accurate accounts based on reliable eye witness evidence provided both by Peter and by James.

Footnote:

[a] The Orthodox narrative asserts Peter’s martyrdom in Rome proves Peter and James told Paul the truth and Paul then simply relayed this reliable eye witness evidence to his early Christian communities in the pagan world.

Scrutinizing the Orthodox evidence reveals many weaknesses that can be eliminated simply by formulating an alternative revised narrative that better fits the known facts. This revised narrative explains the existence of the notorious gospel gap in a very rational manner. It also produces exactly the same final outcome. The revised narrative makes five postulations [b]:

The historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.

Paul’s life-changing experience was just a simple psychotic hallucination triggered by his temporal lobe epilepsy.

James was not present at Peter & Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem.

Peter lied to Paul about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened.

The Gospel resurrection accounts are based entirely on Peter’s lies

Footnote:

[b] All five postulations are totally reasonable postulations, and they’re all fully compatible with the available evidence.

20. OUTCOME OF THE INVESTIGATION

Main Conclusions:

Because the existence of the New Testament Gospels can now be explained in two different ways, and because it’s now impossible to discern which of these two ways is the correct way we must now consider the distinct possibility that the resurrection accounts in the New Testament Gospels could be based entirely on Peter’s lies.

The only way to resolve this awkward dichotomy, is for those apologists who accept the Gospels were written after the death of all concerned, to prove definitively that Peter was martyred in Rome as a Christian, or for those apologists who believe the Gospels were written by reliable eye witnesses, to prove definitively that the traditional early Gospel dates are correct.

Conclusions Based on Speculative Interpretations:

The Orthodox narrative and the alternative new narrative both require speculative interpretations of Galatians 1:19. The Orthodox narrative claims Galatians 1:19 proves James was present at Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem We can, however, reasonably suggest that James was not present at Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem. We can also reasonably suggest that, at this first crucial meeting, Peter may have lied to Paul about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem that never happened.

The Orthodox narrative and the alternative new narrative both require speculative interpretations of Galatians 2:6. The Orthodox narrative claims Galatians 2:6 proves Paul preached the same message as the other Apostles, but we can reasonably suggest that Paul did not preach the same message as the other Apostles.

Conclusions Based on Confirmation Bias:

The available evidence suggests the historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Apologists now claim this historical-Jesus was the Gospel-Jesus. This is an unjustified assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

The available evidence suggests Paul’s dramatic conversion experience was a simple psychotic hallucination triggered by his epilepsy. Apologists have always claimed Paul’s life-changing experience was a divine encounter orchestrated by God.  This assertion now smacks of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Apologists claim James was present at Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem.  This is an unjustified assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Apologists claim all the Apostles preached the same message. This is an unjustified assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Apologists claim Peter was martyred in Rome as a Christian. This is an unproven assertion smacking of confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Conclusions Based on Available Evidence:

Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably suggest the Gospels were, of necessity, deliberately fabricated to provide Jesus’ missing biographical details.

Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably suggest the resurrection accounts in these fabricated Gospels could be based on Peter’s lies.

Based on the available evidence, we can reasonably suggest that Gary Habermas [1] could be wrong when he claims the Gospel evidence can be trusted.

REFERENCES:

[1]. Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

EPILOGUE:

This alternative version of first century Christianity suggests there’s now a distinct possibility that Jesus was not resurrected in Jerusalem as claimed. Apologists will refute this suggestion, and they will never admit they could be wrong about Jesus, but early Christianity and paganism did share a common heritage. Nevertheless, this radical new narrative will have great difficulty gaining traction against a 2000 year old Christian head wind. However, as history regularly demonstrates, today’s perceived wisdom can often end up as yesterday’s perceived history. But, even if these ideas do eventually gain a little traction, there’s still the prickly question of Islam. According to Muslims, their Qur’an is an authentic record of the many messages Muhammad received from Allah, via the angel Gabriel. These messages were received over several decades, and Muhammad’s experiences whilst receiving these messages, have now been well documented, notably by Ali Sina [1], by M. A. Sherlock [2] and by F. W. Burleigh [3]. These three authors have demonstrated that Muhammad’s many experiences whilst receiving his messages are not unlike Paul’s dramatic conversion experience. The implications of this similarity are all too obvious, and it cannot be just coincidence that both Christianity & Islam would appear to stem from psychotic delusions experienced by individuals suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy. If true, we can only hope that the medical profession will eventually find the courage to stick its corporate head above the parapet, and challenge the authenticity of both Christianity & Islam. Until then, Christians will continue to insist their god is the one true god, and Muslims will continue to insist Allah is the only god.

Religion is a very emotive subject and potential issues revolving around insidious confirmation bias are very common. Those able to bring more objectivity and less emotion to the table will probably find the revised narrative intellectually more satisfying, and even very persuasive, given it explains the existence of both Christianity and the New Testament without any reference to gods and the supernatural. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that neither the Orthodox narrative nor the new narrative offers definitive proof of what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. We should however note that Occam’s razor would suggest the simpler and more rational new explanation is probably the better explanation. Those Christians not comfortable with this new more rational narrative can just play the trump card called faith and continue to believe that God’s son died on a cross and was resurrected to forgive their sins and to offer them eternal salvation. Others less committed Christians might now want to reflect on the outcome of this investigation, and maybe reconsider whether their current world view is still appropriate. Personally, I’m now happy to settle for the intellectual satisfaction of knowing Christians are probably wrong, even though it means I’ll never experience the emotional satisfaction they get from knowing they’re right.

And finally, a quick reference to the implications of this new narrative for biblical scholarship. The original first century Gospel texts are the Holy Grail for biblical scholars, and if any of these turned up still proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, then in their opinion, this would be incontrovertible proof that the Gospel-Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem as claimed. However, this new alternative narrative, now demonstrates that even the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus will produce first century Gospels portraying the resurrection of the Gospel-Jesus.

REFERENCES:

[1]. Ali Sina, “Muhammad & Temporal Lobe Epilepsy”, schnellmann.org

[2]. M.A. Sherlock, Did the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad Suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy? – Michael A. Sherlock, wordpress.com

[3]. F.W. Burleigh, “Was Muhammad an Epileptic?” – American Thinker

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2 thoughts on “Why We Cannot Trust the Gospels

  1. This makes an interesting read K… but can I ask: You talk about the ‘gospel gap’ of 10 years or so making the gospels ‘suspect’ but what if that gap were 2000 years, would that make it better or worse?
    Why can’t you trust the gospels? What do you want them to say that they don’t? It is necessary to understand who they were written for to grasp their message.
    You talk a lot about St Paul’s temporal lobe epilepsy; was Jesus, John the Baptist, Moses and me and others also subject to epileptic fits? Seems that epilepsy is a bit more common than we used to think it was.
    The Sanhedrin could have had Jesus killed for blasphemy at any time they wanted. He was nearly thrown off a cliff in Nazareth early in his mission. but they wanted him crucified, a death penalty they could not impose so they had to appeal to Pontius Pilate to have him executed for treason against the Roman state so that he would be hung on a tree ‘like a dog’, an ignominious death for a ‘Messiah’ that would stop any Jew from following him.
    Let’s not talk about ‘Confirmation Bias’ eh?

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    1. The gospel gap [actually a gap of 40-70 years] doesn’t “make the gospels suspect”. It’s just a thorn in Christianity’s side because apologists cannot explain why it exists. Trusting the gospels implies you believe what they say. I’ve simply demonstrated there’s a better than evens chance you can’t believe what they say, especially what they say about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem. TLE is fairly common, as is the associated changes in religiosity often triggered by TLE. Agreed crucifixion was the best way to send a message to Jesus’ many followers. Potential confirmation bias needs to be recognised and called out when it’s an obvious factor in crucial decision making.

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