Saturday 14 July 2007

Inspired Forgeries?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but did imitation take a step too far into outright fraud and forgery in the New Testament?

There certainly were forgers out there. Two documents claiming to come from the Apostle Paul are obvious examples: Third Corinthians and an alleged exchange of letters between Paul and the philosopher Seneca.

These guys could be tricky. A text emerged in the fourth century claiming to be written by the original apostles. Called the Apostolic Constitutions, it brazenly advises its readers to avoid reading books that make false claims to apostolic authorship. Talk about chutzpah!

But what about the documents that made the final cut for the New Testament? There are at least six books claiming to be written by Paul that display the tell-tale marks of being pseudonymous (a scholarly way of saying forgeries.) The suspect letters fall into two groups: the Deutero-Pauline epistles (2 Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians), and the Pastorals (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.)

That means, of the 13 letters attributed to Paul, nearly half are thought to be fabrications. That just leaves us with Romans, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and 1 Thessalonians as genuine.

What about Hebrews? It's not by Paul either, but then it doesn't claim to be. Although it was included in the canon on the false assumption that Paul wrote it, it can't be considered a forgery as it makes no pretense to be from Paul (or any other apostle). Church father Origen wrote about the identity of the author: "God only knows." James was a common name at the time, and the letter bearing that name nowhere claims to be by the brother of Jesus; hence not pseudonymous. Revelation is in a similar category: John the apostle? Not likely. The Gospel of John is famously unconcerned with the end of the age, quite unlike the Apocalypse. While it's true that these books made it into the canon largely on wishful thinking about authorship, there's nothing in the way of such extravagent claims within these documents.

But there certainly do seem to be flagrant forgeries in the Pauline corpus. Unfortunately there's more. Chalk up 2 Peter as pseudonymous, along with Jude. Questions need to be asked about 1 Peter as well. The letters of John are also dubious affairs, most scholars optimistically attributing them to a later disciple of John.

Despite the special pleading of latter-day apologists, "forgery was almost universally condemned by ancient authors." The exception was in schools of philosophy where it was considered a bit of an art form to place your thoughts in the mouth of a great teacher of the past.

Bart Ehrman comments: "Many scholars are loath to talk about New Testament "forgeries" because the term seems so loaded and suggestive of ill intent. But... [it] is striking that few scholars object to using the word "forgery" for books, even Christian books, that occur outside the New Testament."

The beginning of wisdom in tackling the scriptures, whether the Old Testament or the New, is honesty. These ancient books are many things, but inflating their value by misrepresentation can serve no useful purpose.


        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

Paul of Tarus' bombastic style lends it self easily to immitation. He's kind of the John Wayne of authors. Every joker mimics him. They even threw in a few jokes about gays and women. "Listen up pilgrim....don't you be bringin' them pansies to church! And you women folk, shut up while the men are preachin!"

You don't see any others in the canon quite like Revelation. Talk about a book every lunatic knows. I've come to view that book more as a Rorschach test of Christian believers than a guide to the future.

The odd thing about predicting the end, is that some day (in geological time?) the end will come. So the true believers can always readjust their calendar calculations, tell the flock the Bride of Christ was not ready, and find some other farce to stir up zeal with.

Anonymous said...

‘There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation.’
– St. Jerome (Epistle. lii, 8; p. 93.)

Luminaries of Deception

Bishop Eusebius, the official propagandist for Constantine, entitles the 32nd Chapter of his 12th Book of Evangelical Preparation:

"How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived."

Eusebius is notoriously the author of a great many falsehoods – but then he does warn us in his infamous history:

"We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity."
(Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 8, chapter 2).

John Chrysostom, 5th century theologian and bishop of Constantinople, is another:

"Do you see the advantage of deceit? ...For great is the value of deceit, provided it be not introduced with a mischievous intention. In fact action of this kind ought not to be called deceit, but rather a kind of good management, cleverness and skill, capable of finding out ways where resources fail, and making up for the defects of the mind ...

And often it is necessary to deceive, and to do the greatest benefits by means of this device, whereas he who has gone by a straight course has done great mischief to the person whom he has not deceived."
(Treatise On The Priesthood, Book 1).

The 5th and 6th centuries was the 'golden age' of Christian forgery. In a moment of shocking candour, the Manichean bishop (and opponent of Augustine) Faustus said:

"Many things have been inserted by our ancestors in the speeches of our Lord which, though put forth under his name, agree not with his faith; especially since – as already it has been often proved – these things were written not by Christ, nor [by] his apostles, but a long while after their assumption, by I know not what sort of half Jews, not even agreeing with themselves, who made up their tale out of reports and opinions merely, and yet, fathering the whole upon the names of the apostles of the Lord or on those who were supposed to follow the apostles, they maliciously pretended that they had written their lies and conceits according to them."

Once the Church had grabbed mastery of much of Europe and the middle-east, its forgery engine went into overdrive.

Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the tireless zealot for papal authority – he was the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) – even wrote:

"We should always be disposed to believe that which appears to us to be white is really black, if the hierarchy of the church so decides."

Anonymous said...


Once one can cross the boundry between "the Bible is what it appears to be" and "Hmmmmm, no one ever explained it to me that way," you can't go back.

The Gospels are not eyewitness accounts and not written by the authors named. Paul did not write all the Epistles attributed to him which accounts for the somewhat schitzophrenic nature of "Is Paul for or against the Law?" and the two defensible but contradictory concepts of law and/or grace. It depended on who was writing in his name and how they needed to clean up Paul to literalize his non literal Christ

Jesus, who writes nothing in his "earthly life", inspires in perfect Greek after he dies to bring us the Book of Revelation... truly one of the most fanciful books ever written and the cause of endless harm.

You can't unring a bell. Once you understand or even suspect the truth of inspired forgeries, how common they were and the real story of NT politics, you have a perspective that never goes away.

Once you see the evolution of Paul's cosmic Christ, that he meets only in vision, to a Jesus fleshed out with OT references, just don't feel like tithing anymore.

Most COG Bible readers would never even know that Paul lived, wrote and died before any Gospel was ever written. Their purpose was to bring Paul's Cosmic and Heavenly Jesus down to earth...literally.

You have to ask how true a human Jesus would be if every event in his life was either midrashed out of the OT or was a retell of the the life events of pagan god/men of the times and before.

How inspired are gospels where Mark seems basic and first, Matthew quotes 91% of it and Luke 53% of it? John is in a category of his own and not "Synoptic". That's pretty lazy inspiration on God's part.

Truth is not as inpiring as I had hoped it would be to say the least.

'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail!'
– Jeremiah 16.19

Anonymous said...

'Clearly the Christians have used ... myths ... in fabricating the story of Jesus' birth ... It is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction.'
– Celsus (On The True Doctrine, c178 AD)

Celsus was one of the foremost thinkers of his age. His critique of the Christians was so damaging that Christians destroyed every copy of his work they could find.

Corky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas Becker said...

The original reference is
"The Forged
Origins of the New Testament"
recounted at the

Conspiracy Planet Site

The only thing this "proves" is that anybody can
write a book these days and then get certified as an authority by those who want
to believe in what is propounded.

It certainly tends to undermine the Catholic position, though -- the Catholic position as kneeling before their idols claiming they worship the true Three Gods in One [the ones from pagan origins]. The Churches of God have one up on the Catholics: They only believe in Two Gods.

One would hope this would be a lesson to so many here: Learn how to embed URL links so people don't lose the reference and end up looking at something more interesting than the intended original topic.

Gavin said...

You lost me here Douglas... what original reference?

Douglas Becker said...

The posting has now been removed by the poster, but there was an incomplete URL which was intended to point to "The Forged Origins of the New Testament" on the Conspiracy Planet website and instead, because it was truncated, pointed to "Pope Says Catholics Good, Protestants Bad".

It's one of life's little ironies which works out either way -- if you are in on the private joke!

Douglas Becker said...

And I want to hasten to say that I do not sanction one word of what is presented on The Conspiracy Planet.

I'm still not certain whether to view it as satire or whether the guys there are total nut jobs -- which only means that it is either deliberately funny or unintentionally so. [And note that this is given in the context of "The Fraud Bible" -- a conspiracy theory in its own right.]

Caveat Emptor.

Anonymous said...

Conspiracy Planet is totally serious. It keeps the complacent on their toes.

Douglas Becker said...

And the rest of us laughing!

Understand that laughter is good for health, therefore the Conspiracy Planet may actually be doing some good.

Gavin said...

I think the inclusion of the dubious books into the canon was more willful stupidity and bone-headed naivety than conspiracy. We all tend to believe what is most convenient, and the proto-Orthodox Christians who are responsible for the canon were no exception.

All critical scholars are pretty much agreed that only 7 of Paul's letters are authentic, so this isn't a radical thought. Unfortunately in the dumned down pews it's another matter. The fault with that lies not with the lay members but IMHO squarely with those clergy who refuse to tell it like it is lest their congregations get upset. "Speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits."

In the blog I linked to Bart Ehrman's text. It's a bit pricey, but worth every cent.

Douglas Becker said...

Caveat Emptor. Here are two reviews from

One Sided View

Many readers have already commented on how Ehrman fails to provide any good information but basically his own point of view. I completely agree with these statements. Ehrman frequently uses poor and very simple analogies to "prove" his point. He rarely ever clearly backs his point with something solid. "I don't need to give every piece of data here to make my basic point" (229). I find most of the book just verbage and mostly opinion, which is unusual for a historical introduction.

What I find most interesting is that he states that religious people must use a lot of faith to believe what they do, while in fact I feel the same way about him. He clearly goes into all his pursuits with an agenda while totally under the guise that he is "objective" and "neutral".

The basic premise of his opinions are skepticism, which basically is no foundation for any type of opinion. Anything he disagrees with is questionable because he believes one cannot possibly know for sure. If John states that Jesus says he is the Son of God, he would state that that was due to the pre-conceptions of the disciples who attributed such words to Jesus. Besides John was written later. If Mark gave any evidence toward Jesus stating that he was God, Ehrman would state that this document was most likely changed by a later writer. His technique is basically to cast doubt into all controversial parts of the Bible. Which is fine, except that anyone can easily see that he rarely ever does any close readings of the texts, only makes generalizations. In fact he rarely ever quotes the texts.

One should also note that he never quotes or paraphrases other scholars who may disagree with him.

Misplaced historical references and interpretations

In reading Ehrman's textbook, it became quickly obvious that the genre is New Testament criticism. Not criticism in exegetical terms, but criticism in downgrading terms. Ehrman posits many positions of his own by shrewdly engaging in verbal "gimicktry". His implicit comments regarding aspects of Christianity when compared to Greco-Roman practices are unfounded in fact. Like a courtroom lawyer, he makes statments that can't be substantiated under cross. In one section of the text he describes, Christian practices as rituals that have the same words repeated over and over again in the same manner and that they have been conducted in this way for centuries. The context being any Christian celebration of significance, but clearly aimed at the Catholic Christian Mass. Having made his comment about the duration of the same words invoked for so long during similar celebrations, he leaves the reader with an implied misdirected sense of purpose for the celebrations. He never commits to the question, "Is this a good thing or a bad thing that the same words have been used for centuries? Indeed one would wonder if Ehrman would have his readers ask the question; "Is the existence of a God, a good thing or a bad thing? His text would resound with his answer, it doesn't matter. And since it apparently doesn't matter to Ehrman, what ultimately is his point in writing this text. An impressionable young student would be ripe for noncritical acceptance of his interpretation of events in history. The text does not list specific sources for his suppositions, but rather provides a litany of whole books to read of the same genre. I doubt that this text would standup under cross by other theologians like N.T. Wright. Wright's writings counter modern historians methodologies of review of the ancient texts.

It certainly seems the case that it would be just as appropriate to adopt the
radical view of
The Forged
Origins of The New Testament
where the author launches to posit the theory
that Christianity itself was an invention of Constantine in the Fourth Century for his own political expediency.

In this particular scenario, paganism is all wrapped up in one neat package by syncretism:

Constantine's intention at Nicaea was to create an entirely new god for his empire who would unite all religious factions under one deity. Presbyters were asked to debate and decide who their new god would be. Delegates argued among themselves, expressing personal motives for inclusion of particular writings that promoted the finer traits of their own special deity. Throughout the meeting, howling factions were immersed in heated debates, and the names of 53 gods were tabled for discussion. "As yet, no God had been selected by the council, and so they balloted in order to determine that matter... For one year and five months the balloting lasted..." (God's Book of Eskra, Prof. S. L. MacGuire's translation, Salisbury, 1922, chapter xlviii, paragraphs 36, 41).

At the end of that time, Constantine returned to the gathering to discover that the presbyters had not agreed on a new deity but had balloted down to a shortlist of five prospects: Caesar, Krishna, Mithra, Horus and Zeus (Historia Ecclesiastica, Eusebius, c. 325). Constantine was the ruling spirit at Nicaea and he ultimately decided upon a new god for them. To involve British factions, he ruled that the name of the great Druid god, Hesus, be joined with the Eastern Saviour-god, Krishna (Krishna is Sanskrit for Christ), and thus Hesus Krishna would be the official name of the new Roman god. A vote was taken and it was with a majority show of hands (161 votes to 157) that both divinities became one God. Following longstanding heathen custom, Constantine used the official gathering and the Roman apotheosis decree to legally deify two deities as one, and did so by democratic consent. A new god was proclaimed and "officially" ratified by Constantine (Acta Concilii Nicaeni, 1618). That purely political act of deification effectively and legally placed Hesus and Krishna among the Roman gods as one individual composite. That abstraction lent Earthly existence to amalgamated doctrines for the Empire's new religion; and because there was no letter "J" in alphabets until around the ninth century, the name subsequently evolved into "Jesus Christ".

This is not just devastating to the entirety of the Christian faith, but knocks in the head Catholicism which emerges from this mishmash of paganism as the state religion with no claims to godliness at all if the proposition holds true: No Apostolic lines back to Christ because there was no Christ. The Papacy at that point is an absolute fraud and any attempt to establish authoritative ascendancy is abolished.

As additional background, Forged
Origins of The New Testament
attempts to demonstrate that none of the New Testament was written until it was invented in the Fourth Century. No earlier texts exist -- at least according to the research brought forth by the book -- the New Testament was a total forgery and none of the texts are legitimate.

If true.

Anonymous said...

or it could be somewhere in between both extremes,yet not as presented in most churches to the laity.

DennisDiehl said...

Everyone reads, processes, adopts or rejects information based on past experiences or current need. While we may believe we are just seeking the truth of any matter, there is lots of subconscious needs that can get in the way of being truly objective. Of course, truths that run counter to our perceptions of ourselves or beliefs are difficult to accept, and generally aren't.

I used to read criticism of the Bible as it presents itself with great defensiveness. After all, I could read the Bible and see what it said about itself and it said it was inspired by God and profitable for just about everything. It never crossed my mind that something that promotes itself as true because it says it's true may not be true. In time, I learned that a lot of obvious problems with the text and the dogmatic demands of most religions were not as easily discerned as the adherents needed them to be.

I learned the same thing about the organization I thought was on the right track to truth and about myself as a person as well.

One of my present truths (even Paul called truth that and it beats Plain Truth, which has proved to neither Plain nor True,) is that those who know, do not say and those that say way too much, probably don't know. It goes right along with when someone tells me they belong to the true church, they don't. True for them in the form of a belief, but beliefs are not the same as truths.

I don't think "where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them," is near so true as "where two or three are gathered together..." there are differences of opinion. (or jealously, or competition, or someone wanting to take up an offering.) At some point, everyone in a group think has to conform or at least be quiet about differences they have in belief or application of group think. But where there is no freedom of thought or possibilities, there is simply stagnation and the danger of thinking one has arrived somewhere when they have not at all. Or maybe I should say, we think we have arrived at the final truth when we have merely stopped along the way.

When it comes down to it, I am cautious in adopting any belief that has been bent and twisted by politics, control and need of petty men for power over thousands of years, into it's present form. What's the chance of it having survived in any spiritual form all that filtering through humans? Almost none, to me. Perhaps we have the homeopathic version of Christianity in our time. Maybe that's why it doesn't seem to work so well. Then along come those that want to reconstitue it, in their perceived true format, and all hell breaks loose again. Take the three major world religions out of the news and we'd have world peace.....

Personal beliefs along the road to truth are indeed personal. Even the idea of one person trying to get another person to see the world through their eyes only is repulsive to me. Or at least seems silly and a waste of time.

I suspect, had I the resources, a log home, in the mtns with some wind and water readily available would be enough.

Do you think Neanderthals argued over which clan had the Plain Truth about Mammoth Hunting, The Plain Truth about Dragging Your Mate From the Other Clan, or the Plain Truth about those Slender Guys that Keep Outsmarting Us? And let us not forget, "Cro-Magnon in Prophecy..Will Non-Humans Survive?"

Douglas Becker said...

The problem is that none of this is really verifiable. With technology, there may be a fair number of different possibilities, but generally, the same things happen with the same processes under the same circumstances. Usually (excepting for quantum physics and even then much of the time), experiments are reproducible.

Not so with dusty texts of lost manuscripts conveniently "found" to support which ever "expert" picks and chooses for his own agendas. Authorities become authorities by quoting other authorities who became authorities by quoting earlier authorities, ad infinitum. One gets ones credentials not by objective reproducible experimental results based on carefully reasoned and substantiated formulae, but by quoting the handiest source available which supports their hypothesis. The first liar is the winner. The most ancient deception becomes the standard. And you can't really prove one darned thing.


By faith... things work out... unobtrusively, often with complexities that elude ordinary perceptions. By faith... extraordinary becomes reality, with sometimes plausible deniability. By faith... transformations occur just exactly where they aren't supposed to. By faith... the rewards become tangible such that all things work together for good -- without any good explanations and without quoting any dusty tomes invented by supercilious liars.

XCGMouse said...

Yea, if the canon is composed of forgeries, there's a lot of explainnig that needs to be going on.

And, one could use historical critiscms and textual criticism to explain what events might have been going on and what people might have been thinking.

Contrawise, if a group thought there weren't forgeries, and the authors were who they claimed to be, then there'd be alot of stuff going on, like what's going on in churches.

If, as it seems to be, that (many) churches operate in bad faith: Attributing historocity to mythical statements (well, actually, isn't it myth is historically impenetrable to historical methods,right?), or the a-historcity of ancient philosphy (Aristotle thought people had fixed natures, and history was philosophically less reliable than poetry since it dealt with individuals - poetry deals with types), telogical conceptualizations - it's a given all past roads lead to Rome becoming Rome, and substanialism - only what is unchanging is knowable, what is historical is unchanging events;

What entails someone prefering one historical tradition over a given church tradition? Or, why not a purely scientific view over both? Why value one over anothers, or value any at at?

DennisDiehl said...

In my view, the problems of religion tend to be the results of:


There are more special people than others (the good/bad, the chosen/unchosen, the right/wrong). Rather than see all of us as part of the same one thing, we fracture into thousands of competing pieces, each claiming to be the true piece. Division begins once one of the pieces claims to be more special or it's views more right. We really are all the same, differences notwithstanding. As noted, every church multiplies by division and adds by subtraction (of other members from each other.)


There is really only one narrow way to think or be and life is designed just long enough for you to find it or else. Everyone stays in the box they were born in and violators will be hung. "This is how it all is" and the shoulds and musts define this way of thinking.


Most don't care and few bother to think about it, but nothing is as it appear to be. We all suffer from this in both our perception of reality and of truth. Though painful, becoming Dis-illusioned is better than being stuck in them. For this group, or maybe at least the COG's, the illusion that there ever was one coherent, got the beliefs right, Jesus meant this Church of God ever existed in fact. The NT presents the illusion of cohesiveness, not the facts.

Assigning Meaning:

Most humans, and certainly all religionists have to assign meaning to everything. Not only that, they have to assign the right meaning, which is no small feat. It's when assigning my meaning as more meaningful than your meaning we get into trouble. For example, I can assign ten different meanings for me as to what the WCG experience was all about for me or anyone else. But the moment I do that, I probably get it wrong. It's like people asking me why this or that bad thing happened. I used to think I had to come up with a reason or meaning for it all. (God will not give you more than you can take..etc...) Then I realized if I knew the exact right meaning, I would still not like it. No one ever said, "Oh, God wants me learn to trust him...soooo I have cancer...that's good, thankyou!" More often the real meaning might have been, don't smoke, don't be so angry all the time, don't worry so much, but who knows. Assigning a meaning to everything that happens seems now to be a formula for more problems. What does it all mean? I don't know and maybe don't have to. This is far healthier than, "God this or that..." You'd probably be wrong but it seems to make the decider of meaning feel better for a time.

Off topic I suppose but few seem able or willing to discuss the topic of forgeries or pseudopigrapha in anything more than just a yes/no right/wrong is/isn't way. Thus, it really doesn't get discussed. I'd drop over dead if we all started saying things like "that's interesting," "I never thought of that" "I see what you mean," or "I can understand how that might seem to be..."

S.L.I.M (The above points) messes up our inquisitiveness and open minded pursuits.

XCGMouse said...

Of course, truths that run counter to our perceptions of ourselves or beliefs are difficult to accept, and generally aren't.

Which could be construed as a valid reason why people reject the Gospel: The Incarnation is preported to be a unique historical event.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the true gospel or message of Jesus was, history seems to indicate that the original disciples/apostles believed in it to the extreme that the vast majority of them died horrible deaths for it.

How do we factor the concept of martyrdom into this mix? I've heard some fairly learned theologians cite this as validation of Jesus' messiahship.


Anonymous said...

Dennis here:


Explanations about "no one would die for a myth" presupposes that all the stories about who died for what and how are true to begin with. People die all the time for ideas rather than real people. They die for not disavowing Mithras or Osiris, or Zeus or Visnu and Shiva. I supsect far fewer humans died who were contemporary to Jesus who we know is really God, than the story tells us about. The story of Steven is written to bring this Saul/Paul onto the stage of Acts. The book of acts is not so much about real church history as about Paul and how in sync he was with the Church, which he was not according to Galatians etc...BIG STORY

We have the story of 12 disciples, turned Apostles, but why did they not write anything? This posting, if pursued, would show that most of the names affixed are not the authors of the books.

We have traditions of their death in far flung areas, that have the distinctive "we made this stuff up" quality to them, but nothing real. We don't even know how Paul died as if it was some kind of embarassment and the story stops just short of the end. Add to this the Jesus of the Gospels being almost totally constructed from OT scripture, stories and passages, and we have very little. The sermon on the mount is not original nor is the Lord's prayer. Paul of course never heard of either.

The birth narratives are added in Matthew and Luke to undo the messiness of Mark having Jesus rebuke his family and they saying he was insane. The Mary of Mark knew nothing of the Jesus of Luke, nor his miraculous birth. The Virgin Birth story, take badly from the OT, was no doubt meant to clean up the questions about where this man Jesus came from and under what circumstances. Who's son was he really=Gods.

Paul's Jesus was an idea more than a human being. The "no he really was a person" came later. Most Jesus contemporary historians ignore him and the few that mention him are suspect as additions after the fact because there was so precious little outside the NT references to Jesus. Most now acknowledge the text in Josephus about Jesus was added, perhaps as late as the fourth Century by Eusebius to at least give Jesus some outside reality. It's a huge topic.

Once you come to not assume the story as being told accurately nor the characters as being who they are portrayed to be, the idea that "certainly men don't die for a myth" can fall away. Once the mythology of the character sets in, subsequent generations can die for the myth in good conscience.

The bottom line is history gets dicey and nebulous when it comes to really knowing what happened to even the main characters of the story of Jesus. The NT Can't even agree on what really happend at Jesus birth, trial, crucifixion and resurrection accounts.

Douglas Becker said...

no one would die for a myth

Arab Radical Islam Child Suicide Bombers spring to mind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob..Dennis again...Here is a more coherent perspective on your question.

Martyred Apostles Confirm the Gospel Stories?

Joseph Francis Alward

This short commentary addresses some of the common apologetic arguments Christians bring to bear on the issue of the gospel stories.

If the gospel stories about Jesus were false, the apostles would have said so.

Not necessarily. This assumes that the gospel stories were in circulation at the time the apostles died. However, the gospels were written between 70-120 AD, about forty to ninety years after the events alleged in the gospel stories. If the average age of the apostles at the time they allegedly walked with Jesus was 20 years, then they would have been between 60-100 years old when the stories were written. The life expectancy in those days was 40 years, so there is a good chance all of them were long already dead before the first gospel story about Jesus was written. Thus, the apostles prior to the time of their deaths would obviously not be in a position to deny stories if they had not yet in circulation because they had not yet been written.

Why else would the apostles have died for Jesus, if it wasn’t because they had direct knowledge of his being the son of God?

This is a standard apologetic argument advanced by Christians in support of their belief that the alleged martyrdom of the apostles was proof that they saw Jesus work miracles and knew therefore that he was the son of God, and that they would be live in everlasting bliss in the kingdom of God if they did not forsake Christianity. They happily risked martyrdom, they say, because they would have known that upon their death that they would live forever in infinite bliss in the heavenly kingdom of God.

Christians who make this argument apparently don’t believe that the apostles would have let themselves be killed unless they knew for sure that the Jesus they allegedly walked with was God. The fact that they willingly died for Jesus proves the truth of the gospel stories, they say. They never would have martyred themselves if they knew the gospel stories were fictional, they argue. However, what these Christians overlook is the possibility that those who martyred themselves hadn’t actually witnessed any miracles, but merely believed with all their heart and soul that Jesus did perform the miracles alleged in the gospel stories and that he was the son of God, just as faithful Christians today sincerely believe that Jesus existed and worked miracles. The apostles then, as is the case for faithful Christians today, believed that if they place their faith in Jesus, they would get their reward in heaven.

Dying for one’s faith is nothing new; people do it every day, but those willing deaths don’t prove the truth of the martyr’s belief. They only prove that the believer's faith is extremely strong--so strong in fact that they’re willing to die for it. Examples of this type martyrdom for one’s faith abound in the 20th Century. Suicide-bombing Palestinians believe in their god, too, but their willingness to die doesn’t prove that the stories about Allah being god are true.

In1997, thirty-nine well-educated members of the so-called “Heaven’s Gate” cult, many of whom were computer programmers who worked on the cult’s web sites, committed suicide in a town near San Diego, California, because they were certain that their “prophet’s” vision of a spaceship traveling in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet was true. The “prophet,” a man named Marshall Applewhite, told them that if they all committed suicide when the comet was passing near the earth, they all would enter heaven right away. These poor folks didn’t know first-hand that a vehicle which would take them to heaven was in the comet’s tail, but they obviously believed it as strongly as apostles of Jesus in the first century must have believed in their God.

The same type of psychology would have been at work in the minds of members of other religious groups of the 20th Century who willingly die for their beliefs, including for example the nine-hundred faithful Peoples’ Temple followers of Jim Jones in Guyana, and the 76 members of David Koresh's Branch Davidians, who believed him when he told them he was the divinely appointed head of the biblical House of David, and an angel and agent of God, and allowed themselves to die in the fire at the church compound in Waco, Texas.

Anonymous said...

Gavin said...
I think the inclusion of the dubious books into the canon was more willful stupidity and bone-headed naivety than conspiracy.

If that isn't ever the truth!!!

Who was the person that said that one shouldn't confuse conspiracy with outright stupidity?

The nearly universal belief in Tkachian conspiracy to change the WCG twenty years previously is a case in point.

Sorry folks, they weren't clever, just stupid and greedy. The stupid part is all the alienation of ministers, members, friends and family over shades of doctrine.

"And by this you shall know them, those that love one another...."

Anonymous said...

I agree, I think I knew JTSr well enough to know he was not capable of planning too far ahead or such a grand plan. It was reckless bravado and an ego gig too big to pass up. The man simple was not qualified in any way to lead a "spritual" organization, right or wrong.

The actual scripture does show a progressive rewriting to correct the embarrassments and mistakes of previous authors or to fill in the gaps which then lead to more problems that needed to be addressed. There was also an evolution of theology and texts written to elevate or belittle the various NT players and their communities of believers.

For example, Peter is marginalized as much as possible by Paul, John and Luke as, to to them, there was no difference in a Judas betraying Jesus and a Peter denying him. Neither were worthy anymore of anything. Peter's community of believers won out however with the addition of Mark's (Pro Peter) original ending (John "21") to the already ended Gospel of John who went out of his way to equate Peter to Judas. Cool story.

XCGMouse said...

Transcript of a debate at Holy Cross between Bart Erhman and William Lane Craig.

Erhman - Craig Debate

Gavin said...

Having just read Ehrman, I have to disagree with the reviewer comments that Douglas quotes. Ehrman goes to pains to point out that the historian is limited in what he or she brings to a study. There are lots of faith-based studies out there - but this one restricts itself to the discipline itself. I think that's why I liked it so much - you don't have to shovel bulldust to get the information.

Each chapter concludes with a reading list that includes at least one book that presents a different perspective to the author's. Haven't seen that from too many apologetic texts - of which there are an abundance.

A comparison with N.T. Wright, suggested by one reviewer, gives the game away. Wright is a prominent Anglican Evangelical, a prolific apologist and a Bishop to boot. No objective scholarship there.

I printed off the Ehrman / Lane-Craig debate (link provided above) some weeks ago to read at leisure, and would recommend it to anyone interested.