Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

FAQ

A lot of these issues I covered in depth in the articles on this site, so these are basically just brief summations. These are actual arguments and questions that have been collected from critics and skeptics, most of which reside on internet forums.

 
1) Why does the New Testament proclaim Jesus rose after three days, yet Good Friday and Easter Sunday only account for two days at best? »

 

2) What makes you think the stories in the Gospels are credible? »

 

3) How did the gospel authors know what happened during certain events, such as Jesus' trial, if they all had fled after Jesus was apprehended, or especially situations they couldn't have possibly known, such as Pilate's conversation with his wife about her dream? »

 

4) Why do scholars argue that Mark's gospel is grammatically sloppy, and why do they consider his Greek "Ghetto Greek?" »

 

5) Why do skeptics like Acharya, Freke, and Gandy still argue that Jesus was a myth when this has since been abandoned by the majority of people in the field of biblical scholarship and academia? »

 

6) Was the ending in John's gospel, chapter 21, really part of John's original gospel or a later interpolation? »

 

7) Chapter 15 in the first Corinthian letter is known as Paul's famous "resurrection apologetic," which he delivered to some stubborn Corinthians in the church who may have been doubting it. So why didn't Paul just point out the physical evidence and say "By the way, this empty tomb, can still be seen, go check it out if you don't believe me"? »

 

8) Was there a rift between Paul and the other apostles, and why is Paul's brand of Christology different than the Christology presented in the gospels? »

 

9) 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 has often been cited by apologists as a very early resurrection hymn or creed that has a basic semblance to the resurrection accounts found in the gospels, only much earlier. But was it really a creed recited by Paul, or was it a later interpolation? »

 

10) I also think that you're reading things into the mini "creed" Paul recited in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that you want to be in it. For instance. How does Paul's word "buried" become tomb in your world? »

 

11) Did Matthew really commit a gaffe concerning Zachariah's 9:9 prophecy, which he mistakenly interpreted as two donkeys as opposed to one, then economized the event by redacting the text to fit into his mistaken interpretation? »

 

12) Why does Jesus' genealogy in both Matthew and Luke's gospel contradict? »

 

13) If there is a God, why is there so much misery and suffering in the world? »

 

14) Why do the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke contradict? »

 

15) Did Luke make a historical gaffe with Quirinius? »

 

16) Can the gospel story of Jesus’ tomb burial be verified as historically accurate? »

Skeptical arguments

These are also actual arguments that have been collected from forums. 

 

1) There was no traditional-gospel foundation for Christianity, pre-70 CE. There may have been a Jewish sage named Jesus, but that's all he was -- a Jewish sage. There were no miracles, no empty tombs, no angels, no resurrection appearances. Christology started with Paul, and the gospels followed in his footsteps, reinventing and reshaping Jesus from the scraps of Paul's theology into the resurrected Jewish Savior deity he had become as portrayed in the gospels. »

 

2) Paul taught an immaterial spiritual resurrection of Christ, and since Paul's teachings in his letters were earlier than the gospel texts, proves that an immaterial spiritual resurrection was at the heart of the early Christian movement, which evolved into a material bodily resurrection legend found in the gospels later on. »

 

3) Eyewitnesses would have been a non-factor, and nothing could have impeded or affected the legends that had formed in Christianity. By the time the four Gospels were being written, there was virtually a clean historical slate for the Jesus story. Palestine was geographically a world away; Jerusalem had been destroyed during the Roman siege of 70 CE, the apostles and eyewitnesses had either passed away, or were gone, and the Jerusalem Church would be no more. About 1.1 million Jews had been killed and others were enslaved or exiled. No one would have worried about some new developing pagan religion that had scattered far off into the land of the heathens, and these prime conditions set the stage for the Jesus-creed to be radically redacted and reshaped in the hands of Gentile non-eyewitnesses, and virtually reborn with a whole new theology, ideology, and Gentile purpose once they made it into text form. »

 

4) Also, one should keep in mind that for decades the stories in the Gospels were circulating orally until someone decided to write them down. One only need to play the telephone game to understand how much different from the original the final copy would become. »

 

5) Oral mythology can form within days, or even hours, of the event: we saw this vividly with the events of 9/11, but that was in a community that had mass-media available: non-mass-media examples would include the "Cargo Cults" of World War Two, and the various legends that developed around George Washington during his life that were published one short year after his death. The Gospel themselves were collections of this oral material, and the authors not only had the opportunity to selectively pick and choose which particular threads to ignore and which to publish, redact, embellish, and improve, but they also had the "doctrinal needs" of the emerging Christian churches to consider. »

 

6) Okay, maybe they were honest enough not to change the old traditions, but this doesn't mean they just didn't add to the old traditions with new theology about Christ's divinity, when it became useful to do so or when these ideas began to evolve in the church. »

 

7) Additionally, we can see that the early church did not benefit from a "controlled and formal" oral transmission of the Gospel--too many of the letters of Paul and the early church fathers are written to correct error, to argue against texts considered spurious or false, or to counteract heresy. »

 

8) Mark doesn't even include a resurrection appearance because most scholars agree that his gospel ends at 16:8 with the women fleeing in fear, and the rest being added by a later interpolator. This shows that the resurrection legend developed as time went on, a gradual evolution if you will, where Matthew and Luke copying Mark added their own embellishments to the story. And finally John which is the latest gospel, and is more detailed about the resurrection than the others. »

 

9) Mark says that Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. Matthew says it was just the two Mary's. John says it was just Magdalene. Did these guys just leave women out? Seems like sloppy history to me. Doubting Thomas is found no where but in John. Either these guys have a short memory or they are fabricating data. In short, to much legend is found in the empty tomb story. If the story were true, the accounts would have been harmonized. »

 

10) The gospel accounts of the resurrection may be connected to a common core, but they badly contradict each other nonetheless, particularly the locations, with conflicting appearances of Jesus which occur in Galilee and Jerusalem. »

 

11) Nice try with rationalization of the resurrection contradictions. But Luke has Jesus ascend from Bethany, while Mark, Matthew, and John have him ascend from Galilee. »

 

12) The first century Jews in Judea were influenced by Hellenization, making them less devoted to Judaism and more susceptible to esoteric cult influences like Christianity. »

 

13) It’s simple. Here’s the scenario: Jesus was an apocalyptic figure who thought he would usher in God’s kingdom like so many other ambitious Jews of his time, only he was a bit less radical and violent. He obviously failed, only to meet his miserable demise. Some of his followers, perhaps feeling remorseful, carried on his teachings, others even claimed sightings here and there, resurrection rumors swirled and grew, and as time went on, the teachings gradually evolved away from apocalyptic teachings and more towards a spiritual movement with teachings of “love thy neighbor.” Eventually the movement shifted away from Jews towards Hellenized Gentiles - we see this conflict played out in the New Testament - the theology also evolved which then took shape into written gospels. As more time went on, this movement flourished not only because it was based on a verifiable historical figure, but because the communities were sharing their wealth and possessions like hippie communes which was an attractive hedge against circumstances like famine, poverty, or those who just didn’t have a capacity to earn a decent living, in addition to its ethics and rich spiritual mysticisms of Christ-Saviors, which gelled nicely with the surrounding environment of pantheon gods and demigods, in addition to heavenly promises of rewards (eternal life) and unavoidable punishment. »

 

14) According to the Ebionites, who are associated with the Jerusalem Church of Jesus’ brother James and Peter and the earliest Jewish Christians, Jesus was not divine, not pre-existent, not virgin-born, not bodily resurrected - he was a man like everyone else. What made him special and set him apart was that he was the Jewish Messiah, and that he perfectly followed God's Law. »

FAQ #1

Why does the New Testament proclaim Jesus rose after three days, yet Good Friday and Easter Sunday only account for two and a half days at best? »
 
The traditions of Good Friday and Easter Sunday were not practiced by Judeo-Christians, are not found in canon scripture, and are demonstrably false. My beef with traditions is when they cloud fact, putting unnecessary burdens on apologetics. Jesus plainly stated that his resurrection would be as the "sign of Jonah" and would occur after three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40).

Though traditionalist Christians have tried every rationale under the sun to etch out three whole days between Friday and Sunday morning to maintain the validity of these popular traditions, fact is, the secular world certainly is not stupid enough to fall for such hocus-pocus number crushing, so why should we?

Passover began on the fourteenth day of the month, which then kicked off a seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread that was sandwiched within two Sabbaths, one at the start of the Feast and one at the end (Leviticus 23:5-8). Since Passover immediately preceded Feast of Unleavened, sometimes Passover was associated and identified as Feast of Unleavened Bread and vice versa -- i.e. Luke (22:1) and Josephus (Ant 18.2.2) -- which is why the gospel authors use the two interchangeably.

To simplify this, you had eight days of feasting -- Passover, then immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the latter of which started with a Sabbath and ended with a Sabbath. Therefore, there were at least two Sabbaths that occurred that affected Jesus' burial and resurrection -- the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) and the Sabbath at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The Sabbath that kicked off the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread was the high Sabbath, as noted by the gospel of John (19:31). This also explains why Mark 16:1 -- who indicates the women bought the burial items after the Sabbath, and Luke 23:56 -- who indicates they did this before the Sabbath -- both look like they contradict. They were both right. Mark was speaking of the high Sabbath, and Luke was speaking of the weekly Sabbath. 

The Jewish authorities were concerned about the high day Sabbath on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that was approaching, so they wanted the bodies to be removed and buried by sundown. Joseph of Arimathaea was rushed during this task (John 19:40-42).

Just to show you how inconsistent the traditions really are: there is another tradition called Palm Sunday, which represents the event when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on an ass, supposedly on Sunday. Before that event, however, Jesus came to Bethany SIX days before the Passover, a Passover that would be his Last Supper before he was tried and crucified (John 12:1).

The gospel of John indicates that the "next day" (five days before Passover) he rode into Jerusalem on an ass (John 12:12-16; click here to read the whole sequence of events) after his trip to Bethany. We know that one Jewish day is measured from sundown to sundown, so Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown would have been Palm Sunday. Now if Jesus was to be crucified on Good Friday, he could not have ridden into Jerusalem on Sunday, since John indicates this was the fifth day before Passover, which would put his crucifixion on Thursday...

 

  • Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown = day 1
  • Sun sundown to Mon sundown = day 2
  • Mon sundown to Tues sundown = day 3
  • Tues sundown to Wed sundown = day 4
  • Wed sundown to Thurs sundown = day 5

 

Therefore, the two traditions -- Palm Sunday and Good Friday -- actually contradict each other.

The gospel accounts work like separate puzzle pieces. When we piece it all together, the likely scenario here is that after Jesus rode into Jerusalem, which was most likely Friday, there were five days until Passover (according to John). His disciples ate the Passover meal (Last Supper) on Tuesday at sundown or twilight (Leviticus 23:5), which preceded the beginning of the next day, Wednesday, the day of Passover (the whole day being from Tue sundown to Wed sundown).

He was then crucified Wednesday and left on the cross just before sundown as Passover was ending and the "Day of Preparation" was to begin (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54). The Day of Preparation was the first day of the seven day Unleavened Bread Feast that was kicked off by the first Sabbath, which John indicates is the high day Sabbath, not the weekly Sabbath (John 19:31). 

Thus Jesus is buried Wednesday just before sundown and before the high day Sabbath kicked off the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was the count down of day one of his resurrection. Thus, the scenario would work like this...

 

  • Day 1 - Wed sundown to Thurs sundown (the Sabbath/1st day Feast of Unleavened Bread).

    Day 2 - Thurs sundown to Fri sundown (The high Sabbath ends at Thurs sundown; women buy and prepare the spices, indicated by Mark (16:1), then rest just before the weekly Sabbath begins at Fri sundown, indicated by Luke (23:55-56).
  • Day 3 - Fri sundown to Sat sundown (the weekly Sabbath).

 

Jesus rises Saturday evening, after three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40), NOT Easter morning. The women arrive at the tomb sometime between Saturday evening (John 20:1) to early Sunday morning while it was still dark and discover the tomb empty. »

FAQ #2

What makes you think the stories in the Gospels are credible? »

The criterion of dissimilarity is an internal methodology, and is one way that can be used to specifically evaluate the integrity of the gospel traditions. It’s very extensive (as you can see from my post), but I’ll break it down as simple as I can. There are two categories to this. One is called the criterion of embarrassment. Example:

Let’s say one day the internet was shut down and all the information and data was forever lost. It’s the year 3000, people dig up a religious document containing various written narratives. The scene within the narratives takes place in various parts of America in the 70’s, but primarily in New York city, and though it contains a lot of religious themes and fantastic miracles, historians confirm that it at least contains a good deal of historical fact based on the settings and descriptions within the work. The works were written about a religious figure and his movement by adherents of the movement. Based on historical nuances and calculations, it is determined that this religious figure lived around 1970-1975. However, there is a controversy on giving a precise date of the written works themselves, because the religious leader makes a prediction of a nuclear war with accurate details that occurred in 2050. Two different groups of scholars debate the issue. Group A dates the works to around the 1980’s or earlier, while group B dates them no earlier than 2050 because of the so-called accurate prediction. There are instances throughout the works that cite other earlier scriptures that date around the 1800s, which was actually the mother religion that this particular sect sprang from. These older scriptures foretold a figure that would rise up in America and not only defeat all their national and international enemies, including all enemies and terrorists who hate America, but that he would one day rule as king in New York on a throne set up in the Twin Towers, and that the city would flourish and be the epicenter of America and the world and never live in fear or be attacked ever again. The authors of the works proclaim that their religious leader fulfilled this figure that was foretold in the 1800’s and proudly tout prophecies from these earlier scriptures that they believe their leader fulfilled in the 70’s. This of course occurred before 911, yet the writers offer no apologetic for the prophecies that contradict the political environment that happened in New York during 911.

The only natural conclusion with this is that either group A is correct and these works were written in the 80’s before 911, which would make the accounts about this figure that occurred in the 70’s told by actual eyewitnesses much more plausible thus more reliable than if written much later, or that the authors wrote down these traditions after 911 and were extremely impartial and honest about recording the facts that were handed down to them in spite of the contradictions of 911 that would have raised potential problems with the credibility of this religion and their messianic leader, and this would obviously contradict the argument that they were inventing and embellishing the story to serve their purposes.

Then there is another category to this that I personally call the argument from misrepresentation. Example:

Scholars also uncover a number of letters written to various churches throughout America in the 90’s about the movement. The letters address a number of serious issues and theological disputes that arose in the movement, one being an issue on whether blacks should be excluded from the movement even though blacks at the time of the letters made up a large part of adherents to this religion, and evangelism was focusing more and more on black neighborhoods at the time. The narrative works themselves, however, not only don’t address any of these issues at all, but the story is centered primarily on whites only, and on top of that, the leader in the narratives treats blacks rather disparagingly when they are mentioned. Once again, we can conclude that either these works were written by people who lived before these issues arose within the movement in the 90’s, or that they were being extremely honest about portraying their leader the way he was, and abstained from using him to solve any of these issues that he never addressed, which once again contradicts the argument that they were inventing and embellishing the story to serve their purposes, and especially debunks form criticism: that the traditions, found in the written texts, were evolving as the church evolved (for a more in-depth discussion go here). »

FAQ #3

How did the gospel authors know what happened during certain events, such as Jesus' trial, if they all had fled after Jesus was apprehended, or especially situations they couldn't have possibly known, such as Pilate's conversation with his wife about her dream? »

To put it simply -- we don't know.
Yet when we consider the ancient world this occurred, this is hardly a problem and certainly not adequate to prove they made up these events, which is the issue that some have used in support of this view. Peter was there at the trial, and apparently another nondescript disciple who had access inside where the trial was being held (John 18:15-17). The question is really only significant to those who assume, for some odd reason, that no one but "insiders" could have retrieved this info. This was an ancient world that had no telecommunications. There were no top secret X-files, or for your eyes only written documents other than information that pertained strictly to official political issues, nor secret phone calls or emails that could be kept concealed. Word got around, and information was easy to retrieve because everything was shared via word of mouth, and even secrets in the most secured places were often unwittingly picked up by wondering ears. Maybe Pilate's wife secretly converted afterwards and told of her conversation with Pilate (Matthew 27:17-19) to other Christians. Perhaps a Christian heard some of the authorities telling and retelling the events of the trial, such as Matthew who, being a tax collector, would have had certain political access to inside information. Maybe some of the Pharisees, who had later converted (John 12:42; Acts 15:5), were there at the trial. Nicodemus who, apparently sympathetic to Jesus' case, was a political official of some capacity (John 3:1-3, 19:39-40), as was Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43). Jesus also had contact with certain authorities like the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-7), and Jairus whose daughter he healed (Mark 5:21-23). There were those of Herod's household who were apparently part of his ministry and even financed it (Luke 8:3). Therefore Christianity had some "ears" in some pretty high and significant places. Of course, on the presupposition that Jesus rose from the dead, they obviously got a lot of their inside information directly from the one whom the trial was being held for!

FAQ #4

Why do scholars argue that Mark's gospel is grammatically sloppy, and why do they consider his Greek "Ghetto Greek?" »

Compared to the other gospels, some have argued that Mark's literary work is horrible, rife with poor grammar and errors, which has led some to conclude that Mark was not a very educated man. Yet, on closer examination, there are more plausible reasons for this. There is no doubt that the gospel of Mark was either originally written in Aramaic and translated into Greek by another scribe, or Mark himself was translating the traditions he used in his text from Aramaic. Since most scholars would argue against the former, the clear Aramaic traces throughout Mark's gospel makes the latter simply undeniable:

J. C. Hawkins gives more than thirty examples of Aramaic phrases used by Mark (Horae Synopticae, pp.131-134).

Martin Hengel states: "I do not know of any work in Greek which has as many Aramaic or Hebrew words and formulae in so narrow a space as does the second Gospel" (Studies in the Gospel of Mark, p.46).

Maurice Casey states: "Substantial parts, at least, of his gospel were translated from Aramaic" (Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel, p.102).

F. F. Bruce argues: "There is no lack of evidence in his Gospel that much of the material originally existed in Aramaic" (The New Testament Documents; Are they Reliable? Chap. 4, The Gospels).

If Mark was Jewish, his first language was undoubtedly Aramaic, his second language Greek. If he was Gentile, then the reverse would have been true. According to Papias, the earliest tradition we have, Mark transcribed the oral traditions that Peter used to teach the Jews at Rome as strictly as he could (Papias, as quoted by Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.15-16). Imagine trying to translate something from Spanish into English, yet being very careful to stick to the original verbatim without paraphrasing or modifying your source. Ask any translator and they will tell you that this would make for a rather odd and grammatically sloppy text even from a highly educated person.

FAQ #5

Why do some people like Acharya, Freke, and Gandy still argue that Jesus was a myth when this has since been debunked by the majority of people in the field of scholarship and academia? »

Probably the most assured fact about Christianity that most scholars agree on is that there was a man named Jesus who was crucified. The dispute between fact and fiction mainly ranges in various degrees about the actual details surrounding this individual. However, there are a few who actually continue to purport a myth from whole scratch. From both extrabiblical (including the Qumran scrolls, Jewish Old Testament scripture, apocryphal Jewish scripture such as Psalms of Solomon, Ezra, and Enoch I, some rabbinic writings, and historians such as Philo and Josephus)and biblical writings we get the clear indication that second Temple Jews of the first century hoped, anticipated, and waited for a Messiah ben David, or a political Conquering King (discussed in more detail here). Crucifixion was the most disgraceful and humiliating death a hero could die in ancient history, a hideous fate that was the last thing anyone expected their anticipated hero would undergo. So even if one argues that Jesus was a historical figure who was crucified, to then assume just about everything else about him was mythological fabrication and legendary embellishment by his adherents who honored and worshipped him as the Messiah and Savior they were anticipating, they have two major hurdles they must face:

  1. Why and how was he adored and honored as the Messiah above other influential Jewish men of his era who also advocated the love of God, one's fellow man, and promoted moral living just the same, like Hillel, Shammai, John the Baptist, the Teacher of Righteousness, Gamaliel, etc., who did not suffer such a disgraceful and humiliating death.
  2. Why he was a Jew adored and honored as a resurrected Messiah above other Jewish men who actually attempted to achieve a political agenda -- like Judas the Galilean, Athronges, Theudas, Simon bar Kokhba, etc -- an agenda Jesus did not even address, let alone fulfill, an agenda that was an anticipation in just about every pre-Christian Jewish literary source, and was clearly a messianic expectation of the Jewish people of that time?

When one understands the full historical spectrum or framework involved with Judeo-Christianity (and this is indeed a rarity with most skeptics), hurdles #1-2 alone present complications against alternative explanations given in place of the explanation found in the New Testament as to why they worshiped this man as a deity and Messiah, aside from the myriad number of other hurdles that stand in the way of an alternative, hurdles that I cover in my series of articles on this site. Had this crucified Jew resurrected, then this is the extraordinary explanation that gets past these extraordinary hurdles, because then his adherents would have had no reason to doubt he was the one sent from God that they had been anticipating, regardless of the potential conflicts that went on around them in the social and political environment.

To just assume the whole thing is mythology is a much easier hurdle to get over than acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person and then trying to find explanations to get over these series of historical hurdles presented as a result of him being a historical person.

FAQ #6

Was the ending in John's gospel, chapter 21, really part of John's original gospel or a later interpolation? »

Though the ending of John (chap.21) has been debated by scholars whether the passage is authentic, an interpolation, or misplaced, Jörg Frey, Jan Gabriël Van der Watt, Ruben Zimmermann, and Gabriele Kern (Imagery in the Gospel of John, pp.369-372), lay out the debates from various scholars on this issue, and the current consensus seems to be that the passage is in fact authentic. Of course, with all the talk about textual criticism, what was added into the bible later and what wasn't, and especially the suspected spurious story of the adulteress in another area of John's gospel (8:1-11), seems to inevitably put any questionable passage of John's gospel under a microscope of suspicion. Yet, in the case of chapter 21, the only real evidence to base an interpolation argument on is three things:

  1. The passage just "feels" like an interpolation, anticlimactic and misplaced (in other words, John seems to conclude his gospel at the end of chapter 20 -- John 20:30-31), indicating the subsequent chapter was not originally there).
  2. The church father Tertullian (Praxeas, chap. 25) mentions the end of John chapter 20, but does not seem to acknowledge chapter 21.
  3. There are supposedly 28 unique words that don't appear anywhere else in John's gospel.


#3 is by far the weakest, and F. F. Bruce (The Gospel of John, p.398) points out that there are also distinct words found in chapter 21 that are in fact unique only in John's gospel that shatter this argument, such as the double synonyms (21:15, 21:17), double adverbs (21:18), the frequent construction of "This he said, signifying…" (21:19), his identification of characters with surnames (21:2), as well as being the only author to mention the Sea of Tiberias, etc.    

As far as #2, this hardly serves as evidence that the chapter didn't exist, as Tertullian was not writing a commentary on the gospel of John. He was specifically arguing an apologetic for Jesus' identification as the Son of God, and chapter 20, which states: "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" obviously fit into the context of Tertullian's specific argument.

As far as #1, we'll get to that in a bit, but the fact of the matter is, we simply have no textual evidence for a manuscript of John with chapter 21 missing, and this would be placed in the category of definitive evidence. Because of the availability of extant New Testament manuscript sources, textual criticism is indeed one of the best methods in determining the legitimacy of a particular passage.  Chapter 21 of John, found in the works of Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) and the United Bible Societies (UBS4), bring the hard evidence to this conclusive point. If any interpolation occurred, it occurred very early, during its conception period, and before this gospel ever became published. In regards to #1, there is some possibility that the chapter was either misplaced or added by the author himself later on. However, this might be a case of a typical 21st century assessment of ancient literature that used completely different styles of transcribing historical accounts. Craig S. Keener (The IVP Bible Background Commentary; p.318), argues that this type of literary structuring was nothing out of the ordinary to ancient writers, as the end of Homer's Iliad can be viewed as "anticlimactic." Another thing to consider is that the gospel authors were obviously writing oral constructs, or weaving together oral tradition, thus had a completely different intent with their works than most ancient historians and biographers of that era (discussed in more detail here). 

In any event, the evidence sustains the high probability that the passage was added by the author himself (or perhaps a school of Johannine redactors under John's instruction), and an even higher probability that the story is an authentic account from someone who had intimate knowledge about the event and the setting, and whether it was added during its initial composition or very shortly after, it
was undoubtedly an intended correlation with the rest of John's gospel. » 

FAQ #7

Chapter 15 in the first Corinthian letter is known as Paul's famous resurrection apologetics, which he delivered to some stubborn Corinthians in the church who may have had doubts about it. So why didn't Paul just point out the physical evidence and say "By the way, this tomb, can still be seen, go check it out if you don't believe me"? »

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is truly the oft used (and abused) passage by skeptics to argue against the validity of the empty tomb, or the idea that it was not known to Paul since he did not outrightly mention it, and it amazes me the frequency that it is actually used. Yet some will desperately cling onto it for dear life in their arguments, because this is really the only argument that can be found that is even close to an apologetic for the resurrection by any other epistle writer. The amazement among skeptics is in how Paul did not pointedly state:

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ [was tried by Pilate and then crucified] for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried [in a tomb in Jerusalem], and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that [women discovered the tomb empty three days later, and saw an angel who told the disciples to wait for him in Galilee], and that He appeared [to the women], and then to Cephas and the twelve."

The highlights are to show you what is missing and what skeptics argue should have been there had Paul known about the same story found in the gospels. Problem is, Paul was not arguing in defense of Jesus' resurrection. Instead he was defending resurrections of Christian believers in general. The Corinthians did not doubt the fundamental "Christian Creed" of resurrection, but there were obvious contentions with "those among them" about Christians themselves bodily resurrecting like Christ, so Paul gave a quick summation of Christ's bodily resurrection and the witnesses who saw him alive for two reasons:

  • Paul was unifying a message he had preached to them prior with the same apostolic authority and beliefs that the other apostles shared
  • he was laying down the fundamental creed, which they accepted and believed, as the foundation for his following thesis in order to remind them of the bodily resurrection modeled after Jesus that would eventually happen to them.

How do we know this? Two obvious clues that are typically ignored:

1 Corinthians 15:12:14: “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain."

This makes it clear that the Corinthians were already familiar with the tradition of Jesus’ resurrection and had already accepted it as creedal truth, because Paul obviously does NOT say: "Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that Christ was not raised from the dead?" Paul also goes on to say: "not even Christ has been risen," something Paul took for granted and obviously would not have used in his argument if they were doubting Christ's resurrection.

The Corinthians were unsure of what would happen to Christian believers in general after they died, and some doubted that what happened to Christ, the Son of God himself, who became immortalized by his resurrection, would also happen to Christian believers, a theology that Jesus himself briefly made inferences of (Mark 12:23-25; Luke 20:34-36), and something Paul had consistently affirmed throughout his own teachings (see Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:20-23; 2 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Paul argued that every Christian believer's body would be transformed into an immortalized Christ-like body, and the firm exclamation point in conclusion of his theological argument solidifies this (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), where he declares the "mystery" of what would happen to the physical body of the believer in the future (not specifically what happened to Christ in the past), and stated that this process would simultaneously occur to both those who had died and those who hadn't died ("fallen asleep") yet on an appointed day when Christ returns.

Yet let's take this a step further and assume for a moment Paul was actually defending Jesus' resurrection. He still only had to summarize the resurrection since he was arguing this to Christians who already presumably heard the full tradition about the empty tomb, the stone rolled away, the women, the angels, etc. Notice that Paul also did not go into extensive detail about what scriptures he was referring to, how Jesus died, when, why, by whom, and where he was seen for the same reason that it was already a familiar tradition.

Then, if we take it even a step further and assume Paul was defending the resurrection to unbelievers who had never heard the whole tradition, an empty tomb as an apologetic still would have meant squat as a witness anyway. No one in the gospels was convinced that Jesus had risen just by the empty tomb alone, so why would this convince someone
one to two decades later? John was the only one who was convinced prior to Jesus' appearances, but was specifically convinced by the grave wrappings, not the empty tomb alone. Magdalene assumed a natural explanation that anyone today would assume -- that someone else took the body. Moreover, the tomb "evidence" paled in comparison to what Paul did in fact offer -- the very names of the eyewitnesses who SAW Jesus alive afterward, many of whom he declared were still alive in their day. »

FAQ #8

Was there a rift between Paul and the other apostles, and why is Paul's brand of Christology different than the Christology presented in the gospels? »

In order to explain the formation of Christianity so rapidly among Jews in the first century, attempts have been made to separate a "Hellenized Paul" from fundamental Judaism by exaggerating the rift that occurred between Paul and the other apostles as being more severe than it actually was, as well as distorting or skirting just what that rift was actually about. It becomes somewhat painstaking for secular naturalists, with a full knowledge of first century Judean life and culture and who reject the miraculous claims of the New Testament, to try and explain how second Temple Jews took such a drastic and rapid turn from fundamental Judaism towards a crucified Jew from Nazareth as Lord and Savior, which would have been no smooth transition nor small violation of Judaism in almost every aspect of not only their religion but their entire culture. Thus to exploit the rift between Paul and the other apostles than there really was by misinterpreting Paul's Galatians letter addressing this issue (Galatians 2:1-9), in addition to Paul's argument with Peter, becomes the only real viable theory to solve this problem. In other words, since Paul proclaimed himself the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 15:16), even though he was a former Pharisee, and a rather devout one, the idea is that the Jewish Christians, who had much more mild views about Christ, were fiercely competing with the Gentile or Hellenized Christians over issues of theology; Judaism -- much more strict and fundamental -- versus Hellenization -- much more free-flowing and liberal, with Paul as the main contender on the side of the latter. Paul, with his radical, distorted, and aberrant Christology, and his Hellenized army eventually won the battle.

The problem with this theory going out the gate is the fact that the effects of Hellenization in first century Judea is also greatly exaggerated, which uses outdated 19th - early 20th century premises that have been abandoned (or at least greatly revised) by present scholarship due to current archeology and data (discussed in more detail here). Secondly, the gospels are not only Jewish to the core (discussed here), hence the supposed evolution of theology from Judaism to the Gentiles to the gospels is a gross anachronism here, but contains Christology just as deep and rich as Paul’s. The next problem is the interpretation of the rift itself.

Paul indeed emphasized the severance of Judaic practices in some of his letters rather vehemently, while others of his Christian brethren vehemently disagreed. The problem is that this had absolutely nothing to do with actual theology. The argument between Paul and Peter was about formality and conduct -- eating or not eating with Gentiles -- and Peter’s supposed hypocrisy on that issue (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul’s feud with the others was likewise formality, based on adhering to the Mosaic law or not (specifically circumcision).  Indeed the feud about circumcision at Galatia got so heated that Paul accused some of them as "false brethren." But this actually further works against the rift that is exaggerated or misinterpreted. Had this feud been based on deeper issues such as the theology Paul taught -- the deity and worship of Christ, specific Jesus-tradition – his death and resurrection or status as Lord/Messiah and Son of David, or more than what Paul described it was, either Luke (in Acts) and/or certainly Paul would have addressed it, especially since this would have been no small issue that needed resolve and the fact that it would have further served Paul’s own argument in favor of "his brand" of Christology at their expense.

Moreover, the idea that the early church was haphazard and unorganized is also propagated as a necessity to further bolster this divide. Since the supposed argument is that this rift had such an effect on theology, we wouldn’t expect any sort of control or organized authority to be in place. But this is an argument that has no merit or basis of support either. There is firm evidence that the early church was under very efficient control and communication factors and that Paul adhered to these factors:

  • The apocryphal gospels -- i.e. gospel of Peter, gospel of Mary, gospel of Nicodemus, Questions of Bartholomew, et al. -- about Jesus or the characters surrounding Jesus from the second century and later not only don't resemble the first century canon gospels like the canon gospels similarly resemble each other, but no two apocryphal works are anything alike in the same way the canon gospels are alike. In other words, the canon gospels are associated with one another, reflect off each other with similar content, and are similarly structured (hence the theories of textual-interdependency to explain this phenomenon) starkly more so than their later gospel counterparts, which is why we have such an array of later apocryphal texts that were not only obviously extensions to the canon gospels, but don't reflect off each other at all in the same way. Even if we assume Markan priority is correct (Matthew and Luke copied Mark), this still shows the authors wanted to maintain a level of consistency before these controls dispersed and creative freedom became more fluid later on.
  • We see many instances of efficient communication methods revealed in Paul’s letters: his full knowledge of activities taking place within the churches in his absence (examples: 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10; Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 1:4).
  • Other theological connections and evidence of a systemic early Christian doctrine are found in parallels with not only diverse epistles between Romans (a church that Paul hadn’t initially founded), 1 Peter, Hebrews, Timothy, and Titus, as well as their correlation with the theology of the gospels, but between Paul and other early extrabiblical Christian sources like Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, Clement I, Polycarp, Ignatius. So this Christology, which reflects the doctrine of the Christian movement in the first century, was clearly not Paul's own independent beliefs.
  • We see a uniformed and closely monitored movement displayed in the chronicles of Acts, starting at Jerusalem, with apostolic leadership presiding as the chief authority there (Acts 2:45, 4:32-37). This leadership was often consulted when issues, including non-consequential ones, rose up in the early church. For example: when the Hellenized Jewish Christians felt they were being discriminated against by the Hebrew Jewish Christians with the daily distribution of food, these leaders were consulted about the matter (Acts 6:1-6); when the Christian message began to expand into Samaria, there was communication and interaction with these leaders at Jerusalem who sent Peter and John (Acts 8:14); when evangelism expanded into Antioch, we see the same pattern occur, with the administration sending out their representatives to investigate (Acts 11:19-22); when the issue of circumcision came up, the church in Antioch appointed Paul and Barnabas to consult the leaders back at Jerusalem about the matter (Acts 15:1-2; Galatians 2:1-2). This administration was also where one of the most hotly debated issues raised in the early church was discussed and settled -- Gentile inclusion and whether Gentiles should adhere to the Mosaic law (Acts 15:23-29).
  • Paul was clearly a subordinate to this higher authority at Jerusalem that monitored the activity inside and outside the church there.

Paul’s declaration that he did not "immediately" seek flesh and blood (meaning he did not consult the apostles at Jerusalem) when he at first converted, is also exploited to the fullest in support of this argument, yet the key word is "immediately." His Galatians letter also needs to be put into historical perspective, because no passage in Paul’s letter can be adequately interpreted if the historical circumstances surrounding it aren’t understood, and especially since being inconsistent is human nature under different circumstances. The Galatian letter is obviously a very emotive one, written in the heat of battle, and we can clearly infer from the letter that those Paul was in dispute with about the Mosaic law were at Galatia attacking his character in an attempt to undermine his apostolic authority while he wasn’t there (Galatians 1:6-9). This is why Paul grabbed any means of authority at his disposal and declared that his message was not from man, but a direct revelation of Christ himself on one hand (Galatians 1:12), yet totally contradicted this in two other places in a different letter on the other, where he used the plural "we" in regards to what he preached (1 Corinthians 15:11), and stating that what he preached was based on doctrine he "himself had received" from others (or paradosis -- tradition handed down to him from another) (1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3). Considering the circumstances, it’s safe to assume the latter confession has a bit more genuineness for obvious reasons.

Paul was no evangelistic Maverick and clearly acknowledged the apostolic authority at Jerusalem (Romans 15:30-31), acknowledged his subordination to the leadership there whom he submitted his doctrine for approval (Galatians 2:1-2), and kept in close contact with some of the early apostles once he returned to Jerusalem after his conversion (Galatians 1:16-19). Acts indeed affirms this authority at Jerusalem wherein Paul not only serves as a messenger who delivered a decree throughout the churches specifically ordained by this authority (Acts 16:1-4), which also confirms what Paul claimed in his letter (1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3) and signifies controlled doctrine of outside churches from this authority within, but this was the administration that officially approved Paul to evangelize to the Gentiles at Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (Acts 15:19-23). Acts shows that Paul also submitted to the orders of James, head of the Jerusalem church, who served as the "middle man" between Paul and the Jewish Christians that were in refutation of him at the time (Acts 21:18-26). Though some critics might unjustifiably try and downplay or question these incidences in Acts (something that critics naturally do), whether they’re actually credible or not, being that the author of Acts (Luke) was associated with Paul and obviously had an affection towards Paul, it’s unlikely the author would have fabricated Paul as the subordinate to the Jerusalem church if it weren’t true, in addition to the fact that most of these accounts also gel with Paul’s own attestation within his letters. »

FAQ #9

1 Corinthians 15:3-11 has often been cited by apologists as a very early resurrection hymn or creed that has a basic semblance to the resurrection accounts found in the gospels, only much earlier, but was it really a creed recited by Paul, or is it a later interpolation? »

There have been about as many scholars analyzing the passage in Paul's Corinthian letter (15:3-11), known as the "Pauline Creed" or "Resurrection Creed," as there have been attempted theories about it. You basically have three categories of scholars: The apologists who accept it without question, the skeptics who reject it as a later interpolation (specifically Robert Price) which are indeed the minority or the fringe, and everyone else in between. And though no two scholars agree on the exact way to interpret it, sometimes you can meticulously dissect and analyze something -- every letter, word, phrase, occasion, possible ulterior motive or agenda, internally and externally -- to death. Any passage from any historical literature that received the same analytical dissection this passage gets would end up just the same -- ten million suppositional ways to interpret it, which would just leave it in a quagmire of ten million views and opinions as a result. This is the case with the Pauline Creed of 1 Corinthians 15. Therefore the only way to cut through this over-analyzation and resultant quagmire is to lay down the hard facts...

  1. The idea that it is an interpolation has no Textual Criticism support: There are no extant Pauline manuscript copies that do not contain the passage, nor any church father indicating they had a manuscript that didn't contain the passage (and indeed many of them were very open about this problem with other manuscripts), nor is their any internal indication that it was added (such as the verses around it that may have been altered to accommodate the fit as a result of one manuscript having the interpolation in comparison to others that didn't), the latter of which is also part of Textual Criticism analysis.
  2. A later addition by a Christian makes no sense relative to the interpolation -- i.e. why would the interpolator add things that aren't generally found in the gospels? Ironically, the theoretical argument proposed as the reason of interpolation is that they wanted to add evidential weight to the resurrection tradition recorded in the gospels. Yet there was no recorded sighting by Peter (Cephas) before the other disciples in the gospels. There was no sighting by James in the gospels. Why wouldn't the interpolator add a tomb? Or add the women to the list of witnesses, or the Emmaus men? Why wouldn't he briefly specify how Jesus was killed (crucifixion), when (on Passover), by whom (Pilate, the Sanhedrin, his countrymen, the Jews, etc.), why (sedition and blasphemy), and where he was seen (Jerusalem and/or Galilee)? But most of all, if this was not Paul's own wording, why would the interpolator bring up the persecution of Christians that was initiated by Paul and then classify Paul as "the least of the apostles," Paul being one of primary adored heroes of the early Christian church?
  3. The creed is firmly believed by many scholars to date much earlier than even Paul's letter, well within a decade of the crucifixion, based on things like syntax, certain primitive words and phrases within the passage, its stylized poetic form and Hebraic parallels, its distinction and non-Pauline terms that are Semitic in nature, etc. (see Francis Beckwith, William L. Craig and James P. Moreland, To Everyone an Answer: a Case for the Christian worldview, pp.182-183. R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, p.81. Thomas Sheehan, First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity, pp.110, 118; 1986. Renald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, p.10. Craig A. Evans, Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus (pdf) (html), p.12. Phil Fernandes, No Other Gods, p.241).

These three facts alone make a pretty solid case against the probability of interpolation. I might also include three other factors that certainly don't fall within the same weight of the above, but indeed play a significant role.

Factor #1) To assume an "early" interpolation, something that Robert Price is forced to do to get past Fact #1 above, you're working with a very narrow window of time. The first problem is that Paul's letters may have circulated while he was still alive (examples: Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 1 Timothy 4:13). Polycarp also noted that the transmission and sharing of epistles from church to church was a common practice (Philippians, 13). Secondly, Paul's letters were obviously circulating quite early, because they were often used and quoted in various early works and epistles between the end of the first century -- Clement I, Ignatius, Polycarp, and possibly the Didache, to the early second century -- Marcion, Shepard of Hermas, the Odes of Solomon, thus anyone attempting to introduce an interpolation faced the danger of being identified and having his contaminated work considered non-Pauline. This pushes the interpolation extremely early, well before the end of the first century, if even possible at all. To assume someone would audaciously add interpolations to one of Paul's letters during that time is not an impossibility (though obviously impossible if the Corinthian letters were circulating to other churches while Paul was still alive), but highly unlikely. Yet, the fact remains, we're essentially skating on very thin ice here, because one needs to push the envelope as early as possible, since anything up to and after the first century starts to conflict with not only the redistribution of Pauline copies throughout the churches, but with Fact #1 above.  

Factor #2) The Pauline Creed makes sense in its placement and context. As was thoroughly addressed in FAQ #7, the Corinthians clearly were not doubting the resurrection of Christ, but resurrections of Christian believers in general, a theology that Paul had consistently taught throughout his letters. In 1 Corinthians 15 he was first establishing his apologetic by giving a brief summation of the fundamental Resurrection Creed. He didn't have to go into detail about this creed itself, because it wasn't an issue. The creed was based on what Paul states in the beginning of the chapter (1 Corinthians 15:1): "the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand." In other words, like any thesis, Paul is establishing the main foundation before he argues his points…

15:1-2 "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

  • Paul establishes the fact that what he and others taught them, which is the resurrection creed of Christ, is the whole foundation that is necessary for salvation, and is something he was confident they accepted as creedal truth...

15:3-11 "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed." 

  • Here, Paul then gives a brief summation of this resurrection creed by listing the eyewitnesses and the chief conveyors of this creed, including himself as an apostle qualified to preach this resurrection creed along with the others.  
  • Then comes the following verse that is not part of the supposed interpolation... 
15:12 "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?"

The other verses fit like a contextual glove with this verse and everything else in the entire chapter about Paul's resurrection thesis. Paul is essentially saying: "Hey, you heard the eyewitness accounts about Christ's resurrection and seeing him alive again, you believed it as creedal truth which I and others preached to you and which is the foundation of your very salvation, so why do you doubt hope in your own resurrection?" It fits in and compliments the other verses around it and the entire context of Paul's thesis as a whole, as opposed to most interpolations which are typically spotted for its contextual misplacement within the text.

Factor #3) In terms of bias -- and no one is free from bias in this case, neither the apologist nor the skeptic -- who does the interpolation benefit more, the skeptic or the apologist? This is more suppositional than the other factors, and must certainly come before the other evidence is evaluated and the facts against interpolation are established, but being that Robert Price, one of the few critics who argue total interpolation, is one of the most outspoken fundamental atheists against Christianity, it certainly has some relevance here.

The apologist doesn't have to rely on the Pauline Creed for resurrection proof when they have the four gospels. Skeptics like Price, on the other hand, have the burden of not only disproving the gospel's reliability, but must somehow work around this Pauline Creed as well, which serves as an annoying little bump in the road (Paul's letters being much more difficult for the skeptic to shoot down based on the authenticity of the Corinthian letter itself). So in terms of bias, the interpolation clearly benefits the skeptic. If they can get rid of that annoying little creed in Paul's letter, they can then freely focus on the issue of the gospels. »

FAQ #10

I also think that you're reading things into the mini "creed" Paul recited in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that you want to be in it. For instance. How does Paul's word "buried" become tomb in your world? »

Paul used the Greek word thapto for "buried," and was the same word Luke used when he was obviously implying tomb burials of the rich man and of David (Luke 16:22; Acts 2:29). I should point out that, though the apostle Peter confirmed Jesus was killed and bodily raised when he preached on the day of Pentecost in Acts, and even subtlety hinted at an empty tomb by comparing Jesus' death and resurrection to David's "still occupied" tomb, Peter also did not directly mention Jesus' empty tomb (see Acts 2:22-32). It is not necessary to suppose this scene was an invention on Luke's part, the writer of Acts, as critics naturally assume, because this was the same writer who explicitly illustrated the empty tomb in his previous work, the gospel of Luke, which would have made this somewhat of a disparate event from the previous work. Even if Luke/Acts was written as a single unit, which is indeed speculative, the author might still have been naturally inclined to follow the basics of his previous work for emphasis and consistency, or in other words, recapping some of the basics he had described in his previous work to add impact to a speech that was such a pivotal part of Acts -- i.e. Peter:

 

"Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But [his tomb was found empty after] God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:22-24).

 

The highlight is oddly missing from Luke's second Luke. Examples of this habit Luke had in recapping events is the ascension he mentions in his second work (Acts 1:9-12, 2:34), which was recorded in his gospel (Luke 24:50-51), the involvement of the women (Acts 1:14), which was recorded in his gospel (Luke 24:9-10), and Herod's and Pilate's involvement with Jesus' trial (Acts 4:27), also recorded in his first work (Luke 23:7-12). This suggests not only that Luke did not fabricate Peter's speech and honestly recorded what he had preached that day, but suggests a couple of other things:

  1. Peter himself took for granted that the empty tomb was already known, and had become a piece of familiar rumor to the crowds he directed this speech to, even at the time of Pentecost (about a month later).
  2. In those days, when a death was a topic of discussion in Judea, a tomb burial was taken for granted, being that there was no other type of burial they would have assumed of the body of a Jew (which is supported by the external and archeological facts we discussed earlier).

Though A is speculative, B indeed reflects the situation with Paul and why he excluded mention of a tomb. There was nothing extraordinarily unusual about Paul not detailing the empty tomb to this culture anymore than if we were to mention to someone that we just buried a loved one, yet left out details about what the casket looked like, that they were even buried in a casket and that it was buried in a cemetery. These elements in our culture are naturally assumed as part of the burial equation, just as a tomb burial would have been assumed of a first century Jew in Judea (discussed in more detail here).

What is also often not mentioned is that Paul and the rest of the epistle writers were not narrating tradition, nor were they writing beginner's guides or introductory courses on the history of the Christian movement. They were writing letters to Christian churches. They didn't have any idea that these letters would be compiled and forever preserved as canon scripture and used for evangelism centuries to come, and a tradition as basic as an empty tomb would have already been established with the Christians they were writing to at least a decade or two prior. Notice in that particular passage (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), Paul also took for granted the basics of what specific scripture he was referring to (this is much more significant since he could have been referring to a myriad number of Old Testament scripture), where Jesus actually died (Jerusalem or Judea) how he died (crucifixion), why (sedition and blasphemy, or false accusation), by whom (Roman soldiers, the governor, the Procurator, Pilate, the Sanhedrin, his own fellow countrymen, etc.), facts he left out of which no credible scholar today would doubt about the historical Jesus. Paul was clearly summarizing the basics of what they had already heard years prior, thus had no need to mention these details. 

This is only to show the logical fallacies with this particular argument from silence. It is really a moot point anyway, because this was covered in the previous question here. Also, there are indeed historical facts why it would have been preferred not to mention the details specifically of Jesus' tomb burial even if we assume his audience had never heard about the gospel message, particularly if Jesus had been buried in shame (discussed here).

FAQ #11

Did Matthew really commit a gaffe concerning Zechariah's prophecy, which he mistakenly interpreted as two donkeys as opposed to one, then economized the event by redacting his texts to fit into his mistaken interpretation? »

This argument is used so frequently that it stuns me, and I cringe every time I see it used against the author of Matthew, because it is about as dumb of an argument used against Matthew as the stupidity they use to bestow on Matthew himself for making the supposed error. Yet what's even more disturbing is that I've actually seen a couple of "noted" scholars in their books argue this same supposed mistake.

The suspected Old Testament passage (Zechariah 9:9) was viewed by the Judeo-Christians -- and I might add, Jewish rabbis as well (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a) at some point -- as pertaining to the coming of the Messiah, which Judeo-Christians equated to Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion (see Matthew 21:6-11; Mark 11:7-10; Luke 19:35-38; John 12:12-15). For starters, though there is question whether the gospel of Matthew was written by the original apostle Matthew, there is no question that the author was Jewish, writing to Jewish Christians, and no serious scholar questions this fact. Church fathers Irenaeus (Heresies, 3.1.1), Eusebius (History, 3.24.6), and Origen (John, 6.17), all concurred that Matthew wrote his gospel originally in Hebrew or Aramaic. Jerome (Illustrious Men, chap. 3), not only concurred with this as well, and stated that there was a Hebrew Matthew that was being preserved in the library at Caesarea, but claimed he had his own copy with him (discussed in more detail here). Therefore if Matthew wrote some of his works in Hebrew or Aramaic, he was obviously Jewish, thus there is a very good probability that the Greek Matthew we have today was written by the same Jew. Yet, this aside, there is no doubt, when examining the stark Jewish content contained in Matthew's gospel, that this is the case, and these are just some of the scholars who are in agreement in the consensus that the author was Jewish…

  • Craig S. Keener, A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p.40; 2005.
  • Paul Foster, Community, law, and mission in Matthew's Gospel, pp.1-6; 2004.
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, pp.1-2, 8-9, 20; 1991.     
  • Daniel B. Wallace, Matthew: Introduction, Argument, and Outline: #3 Internal Evidence (www.bible.org).
  • Michael L. White, Who Was Matthew Writing For? (www.pbs.org).
  • Marilyn Mellowes, The Gospel of Matthew (www.pbs.org).


Craig A. Evans (Jewish Versions of the Gospel of Matthew, p.1 [endnote] html pdf) confidently asserts:

 

"The Gospel of Matthew has been traditionally viewed as the most Jewish of the four New Testament Gospels. Whereas the Jewish authorship of Mark and John is disputed, almost everyone agrees that the Matthean Gospel was composed by a Jew."

 

The critical argument is that while Matthew thought the prophecy contained two donkeys, and thus had Jesus absurdly riding these two donkeys at the same time because of his gross misinterpretation, all the other authors only had one donkey in their account, hence must have been Matthew's own incorrect interpretation. Yet could a Jewish man, experienced in Jewish exegesis, and knowledgeable in both Septuagint and Hebrew Old Testament scripture have made such a ridiculous gaffe? Once we break down the passages in their rightful languages and perspectives, the gaffe is on those who make the accusation against Matthew...

 

Zechariah 9:9: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey (chamowr - masculine), even on a colt (ayir - male ass), the foal (ben) of a donkey (athown - female ass)."

 

Versus…

Matthew 21:6-8: "The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey (onos - female/male ass) and the colt (polos - masculine), and laid their coats on them (autos); and He sat on the coats (or literally "sat on them"). Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road."

 

The argument is that Matthew misinterpreted the Hebrew, thought that the Old Testament Zechariah passage stated that the lowly king would be literally riding two donkeys, hence made it seem that Jesus sat on both donkeys. However, in the Zechariah passage, there ARE in fact two donkeys. The Hebrew word chamowr is a "male donkey," the word ayir is a "young male donkey," the two words are one and the same, as this was often how ancient Hebrew was constructed, often times repeated for emphasis. The word ben means "son of," which is obviously related to the word athown, and distinctly means a "female donkey." So we have a young donkey (colt) and a grown female donkey (its mother). In Matthew's passage, the Greek word polos means a "young male donkey." Therefore if anyone interpreted the prophecy incorrectly it certainly wasn’t Matthew, and the Greek word that is wrongly translated as "them" is autos which occasionally means "them," but more accurately means "him" or "it." Yet the other authors didn't necessarily interpret it incorrectly either, apart from just not finding it necessary to include both donkeys…

 

Mark 11:7 "They brought the colt (polos) to Jesus and put their coats on it (autos); and He sat on it."

 

Luke 19:35 "They brought it (autos) to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt (polos) and put Jesus on it."

 

John 12:14 "Jesus, finding a young donkey (onarion), sat on it (autos); as it is written…"

 

John's Greek word onarion also means "young donkey," and as you can see, they all indicate that it was a young ass (colt), finding it unnecessary to mention the other donkey. Why would they even bring two donkeys? The logical reason for this is that it would have made the young colt manageable, being close to its mother. Makes sense. And this actually bolsters Matthew's version as an eyewitness account, being a detail that would be recorded by an eyewitness, as opposed to an unlikely detail a non-eyewitness would include as in the case of Mark and Luke, unless we assume Matthew was highly intelligent and cognizant of this easily missed detail in the account -- something your average ignoramus might miss. » 

FAQ #12

Why does Jesus' genealogy in both Matthew and Luke's gospel contradict? »

To put it simply -- Matthew listed Joseph's genealogy, Luke listed Mary's. Jacob was Joseph's father (Matthew 1:16) Eli was Mary's father (Luke 3:23). Those who argue against this Eli/Mary's father connection basically base it on two reasons:

  1. Luke does not clearly point this out to us.
  2. The genealogical records of Jewish women were not counted, and the bloodline was not carried on by women.

Why would Luke even bother to list Mary's genealogy? Obviously Jesus would not have been connected to the Davidic line by blood through Joseph (assuming Jesus had no human father in the virgin birth equation), and Luke apparently wanted a blood connection. It's not unusual for Luke not to have indicated pointedly that this was Mary's line, so #2 is sort of a half-truth. No, the specific names of women were not typically listed in Jewish genealogies, but there are apparently a few indications of daughters able to pass on bloodlines in Old Testament scripture (Joshua 17:3-6; 1 Chronicles 2:34-36; Ezra 2:61), but the primary place we see this initiated into law is the inheritance clause in Numbers that did in fact make inheritances passed onto daughters acceptable if the father died without a son (Numbers 27:1-11), and this indeed referred to genealogies as well as inheritances, as this is made plain in passage…

 

Numbers 27:4 "Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father's brothers."

 

Yet this still does not mean that Mary (assuming this was the case here) would be listed, since Mary was merely the "middle man" that redirected the inheritance from her father to her son, thus her father and her son would be listed in the genealogy, which was a protocol Luke followed ("Jesus son of Eli"). In other words, the inheritance would pass from Mary's father Eli through Mary to Jesus, so Luke indeed followed typical protocol, listing Eli and Jesus, not Mary. And it's also possible that Luke, writing to Gentiles, assumed his readers did not know about these inheritance technicalities, or even cared, thus recorded a direct bloodline, which was Mary's direct bloodline, obviously the only bloodline. Both the evidence against the supposition that both Matthew and Luke merely fabricated their genealogies as well as supporting the idea that Eli was Mary's father is as follows:

  • Luke not only stated that he had researched things carefully prior to writing his gospel (Luke 1:1-3), but was particular about the facts, and fabricating genealogies about your contemporaries just wasn't done for obvious reasons, not just because it was unconventional, but because it just wasn't all that smart. Jesus as the "Son of David" was ingrained in oral tradition in the movement from the very beginning, with the phrase saturating early Christian literature that expresses Jesus' Davidic ancestry as far back as Paul's letter to the Romans (1:3), which scholars argue is an external creed that dates much earlier than the letter itself (see Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, pp.220-221. James D. G. Dunn and Doris Donnelly present quite extensive evidence for an very early Davidic tradition: Jesus: A Colloquium in the Holy Land, pp.47-64). I also detailed in my article "Vain Genealogies" where firm evidence suggests that Davidic genealogical records were still accessible, at least up to the time of Domitian, in addition to a first century ossuary that was recently found in Israel with an inscription to "the house of David," and the Talmud (Ta’anit 4:5) which declares that the members of the "family of David, of the house of the tribe of Judah" brought wood offerings to the second Temple (discussed here). So supposing they fabricated the lineages of a contemporary, or that they were even careless about it is just question begging on steroids. Considering Jews were sticklers with this issue, that such a claim of Davidic ascendancy was a very bold and audacious one in this culture, and the fact that they obviously had way to verify such a haughty claim, it's extremely difficult, if not impossible to suppose no one had an inclination to verify it.
  • Luke and Matthew would have been doomed anyway because they were writing to readers who could have easily compared their genealogical records to the one recorded in Jewish scripture that everyone had access to, the Old Testament book of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 3:17-19), thus easily discrediting any sort of fabrication. Had the two just fabricated the lineage to David and Abraham, obviously they would have at least tried to keep their genealogies correlated with scripture. Being this would have raised obvious questions because the genealogical records in each account contain different information, it seems logical that they had access to public records their readers also had access to or were at least privy to that recorded additional fathers and sons that were not recorded in Chronicles.
  • Error is one thing, but outright fabrication or embellishment is even less likely in light of the previous two points, but most of all, because it runs starkly contrary to the patterns against fiction artists or embellishers we find in other areas of their work that are usually mild or restrained for the most part, particularly the resurrection account (discussed here), and especially a fabrication of this caliber (fabricating heritages, historical scenarios, events, political figures, timelines, and intimate details of Jesus' family is stretching beyond these conservative patterns to the contrary).
  • Luke was clearly intent on establishing the "seed" (Greek word sperma -- the direct connotation of offspring here is obvious) or the direct line that was promised to Abraham and her fathers before him (Luke 1:54-55), and indeed traced it back to Adam the first father (Luke 3:38), apparently highlighting the very first promised "seed" given in Genesis (Genesis 3:15). Also, Luke not only told intimate details of the family, indicating personal contact with the family, but told the entire story from Mary's perspective, and Matthew from Joseph's, so it might stand to reason that Luke would record Mary's ancestry, and Matthew Joseph's.
  • Just before Luke lays out Jesus' ancestry, he states that Jesus was the "supposed son of Joseph" (Luke 3:23). Scholars like James Tabor (The Jesus Dynasty, p.52) argue that the Greek words "as was supposed, the son of Joseph" (υιος ως ενομιζετο ιωσηφ του ηλι) indicates the equivalent of a parenthetical, which does not show in the Greek -- in other words, it should be translated from the Greek into English properly as "Jesus being the son (which was thought to have been Joseph) of Eli." And when looking at the logical side of this, the translation seems pretty clear, since it would have been a rather odd thing to say had Luke just followed with Joseph's genealogy. His readers would have undoubtedly wondered why Luke listed Joseph's genealogy if he was "the supposed" father, and how Jesus was "the seed" (offspring) of the Son of David through Joseph as a result.
  • Though Jews understodd the legalties of adoption, because of the previous issue right before this, if Luke was not recording Jesus' grandfather from Mary's lineage, Jesus would have been considered illegitimate in the human sense, which was quite a deprecating issue in this culture, even with Gentiles.
  • The second century apocryphal work, Protevangelium of James, indicates that Mary was of the family of David (section 10), and though not much weight should be given to the actual story, being that it's a possible fictional rendition of Luke's version of Zacharias and Elisabeth, as well as connotations of Mary's perpetual virginity legend, it's interesting to note the highlight of Mary's Davidic bloodline being such an early tradition. Also, in the story, the father of Mary is named Joachim (or Joakim) with an intriguing name correlation with Eliakim (Eli), such as in the second book of Kings where Pharaoh changes the name of Josiah's son Eliakim to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34).
  • Paul declared that Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4), which was rather redundant and unnecessary to proclaim since everyone had a mother and every Jew was born under the law, something the Galatians who were Christian certainly would have already known about Jesus. "Born under the law" was all that was required to get Paul's point across which, in the context of the entire letter let alone the particular chapter, was based on being freed from the law (Galatians 4). Paul was apparently tying an aspect of genealogical law to Mary's ancestry they were aware of that qualified Jesus as the expected Jewish Messiah and Savior, a "descendant of David" that Paul also acknowledged elsewhere (Romans 1:3). 

The only thing that complicates this argument -- if it can really be viewed as a complication -- is that we must assume Mary's father had no sons in order to meet the qualification specified in Numbers (27:1-11), otherwise Mary's brothers would have gotten the inheritance from Eli, which would have passed down to their sons instead. We know that Mary had a sister also named Mary according to John (19:25), yet no record mentions she had any brothers, so we're essentially weighing the previous evidence we stated alongside the reliability of an argument from silence.

In the Papias fragment (Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, section X), where Papias is giving a historical ancestry of the early saints, he also confirms that Mary had a sister named Mary, wife of Alpaeus, whom John identified as Clopus (Cleophus, which could have been a derivative of the same name in different languages, or perhaps a different husband, or even a mistake), yet Papias does not mention she had a brother, as he undoubtedly would have in this case if this were so. The fact that Jesus also instructed "the disciple" (most likely John) to care for Mary also suggests that Joseph had died and there were no immediate senior male family members to care for her (John 19:26-27).

Thus, with no other apparent males in her family, there is no doubt that Mary's Davidic descendancy passed onto Jesus from her father (for a more detailed discussion go here). »

FAQ #13

If there is a God, why is there so much misery and suffering in the world? »

Skeptics, atheists, and agnostics have heard it time and time again, and it is typically summed up in that simple nauseating word -- Freewill.

Christian theology is this: Freewill is a trait that is obviously so cherished by God, that he was willing to risk the potential cost and calamity of the human race just to reap this precious trait. But aside from the consequences of such a trait, as a result of another repercussion is the limitation it places on God's omniscience and omnipotence (or what he knows and what he can do or choices to do and doesn't do). Many Christians refute this because the idea that God allows something to limit his awareness and even power is troubling, but contrary to what Christians believe, and though God has a pretty good idea about us and how to predict our actions and responses as individuals, God cannot read our minds, or know what decisions we will make at a split second. Otherwise he would not have had to tempt Adam and Eve with a tree of Good and Evil if he knew beforehand they would disobey him. He had a good idea of the potential outcome, but did not know the choice they would ultimately make. He would not have had to test Abraham's faith if he could read Abraham's mind, then proceed to proclaim "now I know" that Abraham would trust and obey him even if it meant sacrificing his only son (Genesis 22:1-12).

How does God know the future then, you ask? God knows the future not because he's an expert tarot card reader or some great divine psychic with a crystal ball. We have an ability to predict the actions and courses taken by our loved ones, whether a child or a spouse we've lived with for many years just based on our familiarity with that person. And even though our prediction about their actions can be made with an impressive degree of accuracy, even with an adolescent or spouse we're not always with them at all times including during their private moments alone. Now imagine if you are with this person 24/7 at all times, how you'd be able to predict their actions. God is omnipresent (or he is in all places at all times all the time), and he knows the future because he has the power and capacity to make the future come out the way he wants it to. God can tighten or loosen the screws on every individual just enough to make them act a certain way or do a certain thing out of compulsion based on their particular nature without infringing directly on their freewill as a result. Sound like a contradiction? Not really. Of course there is no freewill without at least some causation, which varies in degrees depending upon the circumstance of each individual. For example, God might cause a tree to fall in front of an individual's vehicle in order to get the driver to take a different road to a particular destination. God knows this individual so well, that he knows the chances of the individual choosing a different action than simply taking a different route are extremely low (i.e. getting out of the car to try and move it, turning back the other way, etc.). In other words, God is a constant re-constructionists, setting up and resetting scenarios and situations, multiplied by billions, trillions, to get a certain reaction, cause and effect, or end result. Every once in awhile he tightens the screws so tightly that the course of action an individual can make is extremely limited, such as the case with the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9). God made himself so irresistible to Paul that Paul had a very limited choice other than obey the voice of God, albeit he still had a choice to obey or disobey, though the latter was extremely unlikely.

God obviously knew that there was a pretty good chance of the outcome from such creatures as humans running rampant with a trait like freewill, which is why, according to Christian theology, he had a "fail-safe" design in case it did end in a potential negative outcome. Therefore, since God had some idea of the outcome of mankind with such a potentially dangerous trait at their disposal, apparently what this essentially equates to is: God's desire to have people willingly choose to obey, trust, and worship him of their own volition is much more important to him than the comfort, pleasure, the order and unified bliss of the human race itself. This is a reality that most agnostics and atheists can't stomach. Would God create such a monster that, once released, had the potential to create untold havoc on themselves, just for his own potential pleasure? In a word -- yes. Fact of the matter is, if God is God, then he's omnipotent (all powerful), or at least a whole lot more powerful than anything else that can oppose him, therefore he's the head honcho who calls the shots, like it or lump it.

Because of this potential monster God let loose, the misery and suffering comes from within our own inert being that is inherently evil. We willfully choose to do harm to others, or seek our own personal gain at the expense of others. Sure, people are good and bad in different ways and degrees, some more evil than others. But the misery and suffering is solely derived within us and caused by us in many varying degrees and ways, and all because of that little ugly monster, freewill, that God let lose within us. The problem with freewill, other than what we mentioned, is that it not only puts limitations on God's omniscience and even omnipotence somewhat, but God's ability to deal with freewill. Ultimately, in the context of freewill, God has only three ways to deal with the suffering and misery in the world that is caused by our own hand:

1) Override freewill and control everyone like marionettes to act good towards each other, or just miraculously end everyone's suffering simultaneously. This doesn't work for two reasons:

  • The first reason is obvious. Since free will is of the utmost precious trait to God -- he does not want robots programmed to act a certain preconditioned way -- this obviously is not an option for him.
  • The second reason is a bit difficult to explain. Everything has a cause and effect, like a chain reaction multiplied by billions. If God were to cease the suffering of one individual, ten more individuals might suffer as a result. God probably did not cause the Holocaust, but God allowed it. Why? Misery and suffering at the hands of Hitler was inevitable. If God had killed Hitler, perhaps the nation would have rallied behind his generals, and ten more Hitlers would have arose in his place, or if God had ceased or prevented the Holocaust, perhaps America would not have gotten involved, Hitler would have thrived as a result, and even greater consequences would have occurred. This is difficult for us to fathom simply because we have no way to comprehend the cause and effect equation on such an infinite scale, especially when it is balanced with how far God will infringe on our freewill.   

2) Wipe out the entire human race, and be done with it. He tried this once, and it didn't work. It only labeled him a sadistic murderer by some. If God were to take one million of the most morally superior people and set them on another planet, rest assured, within one to two millenniums the misery and suffering would continue just the same. Apparently he tried it with eight people, so this certainly wouldn't work with a million, or even a dozen. The only way this would remedy the problem entirely is if God wiped out everyone and left no survivors. Obviously not an option.

3) Continue to let the world run its course with very little intervention and action, or only where it's needed, and leave those who are willing to trust and obey him with a promise of not only an afterlife, but the necessary tools and guidance to make it through the suffering and misery of this life, something they will surely suffer just the same as those who do not trust and obey him.

When we analyze God's options, #3 obviously is the better choice -- the only choice -- and allows God to leave the door open as long as possible for those willing to get on board before the final and ultimate meltdown. Of course, he could reveal himself to everyone, and just make faith in him much easier and unassailable. Yet this doesn't work either. He revealed himself to Adam and Eve in a way that he had never revealed himself to anyone else, but this obviously didn't do the trick. Nor did it do much good when he revealed himself to the Israelites in the book of Exodus and Numbers in a unique way that has never before occurred in the history of mankind. Besides, there are obvious limitations and degrees of revelation that begins to infringe on our freewill, which diminishes its purpose and value.

The suffering and misery in the world is not difficult to understand, it's just that most people analyze it on an emotive level which often produces anger or hurtful feelings about the subject and clouds logic. »

FAQ #14

Why do the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke contradict? »

An issue that is often missed is that the intent of the gospel authors wasn't necessarily chronicling history per se (though this certainly doesn't mean they were fabricating things), with the exception of Luke, because the gospels are oral constructs, something I went into great detail in one of my articles (discussed here). Hence we would certainly expect telescoped, condensed, even conflated, or patches of oral tradition strewn together in a written form. With all this in mind, piecing a reasonable scenario or bridging the gap between two accounts that might appear like a contradiction is not an unreasonable method of exegesis. And though Bart Ehrman argues that this borders on what he calls "meta-narrative" or creating a gospel of your own in some cases (Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, p.38), which is odd since you would expect someone like Ehrman to be aware of the preponderance of oral tradition in this culture, I would argue that the same is true for skeptics who try and create contradictions out of non-contradictions, or exploit obvious gaps with as supposed contradictions to make it worse than it is.

There is probably no other event recorded in the New Testament that is a perfect example of this (other than the resurrection) than the Nativity birth story, and since this is undoubtedly the most extensive combination of supernatural events other than the resurrection, guess it just comes with the territory. Historical error is certainly to be expected, if this is indeed the case, when putting aside collusion and the erroneous "inerrancy of scripture" belief. Yet to the contrary, most of these inconsistencies, which are delightfully exploited as contradictions, are merely exclusions one author includes that the other leaves out, therefore, if they don’t overlap, they simply cannot be concluded as contradictions, just assumed as such.

According to Matthew's account, Joseph gets his angelic messages in a dream (Matthew 1:20, 2:12), whereas Luke has Mary get it directly from the angel himself (Luke 1:28-35), but since there are two different parties involved here, these are not contradictions, just different perspectives with two different parties. Matthew is clearly telling it from Joseph's perspective, while Luke is telling it from Mary's, therefore the two authors obviously recorded different events and experiences by two different individuals, and undoubtedly had two different sources of information.

Matthew records a visitation of magi (wise men). Luke records a visitation of shepherds. Which is it, three magi or three shepherds? Neither, because there is no specified number as to how many magi and shepherds there actually were in each group, contrary to extrabiblical tradition. There is no reason to suppose that both groups didn't visit the newborn? Each visit was in two different locations after the birth had occurred. The shepherds visited the infant in a manger (Luke 2:15-16), the magi visited the infant in a house (Matthew 2:11; note: Matthew never indicates who’s house this was), therefore there is no evidence of sequential overlapping, no conflict, only an assumed contradiction since the information that serves as a bridge for both locations obviously is not recorded. If two eyewitnesses to 911 were describing the planes that hit the WTC tower, yet their stories seemed to contradict, we wouldn’t assume they were lying, we would assume one was describing the first plane and the other the second plane. Yet if either the magi or shepherds had visited either the house or the manger, or if you had three shepherds in one account and three magi in another then you might have a problem.

I've heard a slew of explanations to try and explain the two genealogical differences in both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38), and though every critic naturally assumes that the two genealogies are Joseph's, this is mere speculation, and rather careless speculation that is not at all supported. The most plausible explanation to me is that Matthew recorded Joseph's genealogy while Luke recorded Mary's (discussed here). But the typical method or credo for an historian is to put subjective biases aside, give the accounts the benefit of the doubt and find reasonable and workable explanations before jumping to speculative conclusions, especially when assuming fabrication is not only begging the question (there is no indication at all that Matthew was writing fiction or that his readers assumed this of Matthew), but when such an assumption requires us to stretch beyond what we would factually assume of genealogies which were not written as fiction but written to prove one's heritage, and in this particular culture with a people who were exceptionally attentive to such issues, such a claim of Davidic lineage for the propose of proving Jesus’ royal claim to the throne would have been irresistibly verified by others.

When I analyze the so-called contradictions, the only genuine problem I find is that Matthew (2:23) seems to imply that Joseph and Mary settled in Nazareth for the first time after Jesus was born, whereas Luke (1:26-27) clearly indicates they lived in Nazareth prior. If it was a mistake on Matthew's part, it was minor, and a mistake that is certainly understandable, although Matthew certainly doesn't directly indicate this settling was their first time. Another issue, though certainly not a contradiction but could easily raise a timeline issue, is that Luke (2:22) indicates Joseph and Mary -- following the law of purification (Leviticus 12:4) which prohibited a woman from entering the Temple after the birth of a male for about a month -- came to the Temple to present the child after the month was up. So this narrows the plight to Egypt in Matthew (Matthew 2:13-14), the death of King Herod (Matthew 2:19-21) and their trek to Nazareth afterwards within a one month radius. In other words, there is a one month gap between the visit of the shepherds (Luke 2:20-21) and Jesus being presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22), and it's certainly not an impossibility that Matthew's flight to Egypt fits into that gap, but further supplies ammunition for those who would choose to readily exploit it as a problem. I should also note the subtle way Luke describes it. He indicates that Joseph, Mary, and the infant arrived at the Temple after the purification law, but this certainly didn't apply to Joseph and Jesus. Since Luke combined both the law of purification and the requirement of the first born law (Exodus 13:12-13), this might imply that they fulfilled both laws in one shot as they came from Egypt before returning home to Nazareth. It would have been unnecessary and somewhat odd for Joseph to wait for Mary's purification to adhere to the firstborn law unless he had been unable to bring Jesus to the Temple before that time. In other words, Luke doesn't necessarily say they waited at Nazareth for the month and then made the trek to the Temple exactly after the month was due. Luke wasn't interested in the flight to Egypt in his story, and he was merely indicating that they didn't violate the purification law, which of course doesn't say had to be achieved no later than a month, just not before 33 days had passed (Leviticus 12:4), and since he also included the dedication of the first born law all in the same trip, this implies they stopped in Jerusalem to fulfill both laws as they returned from Egypt on their way to Nazareth. 

What about Matthew's (2:16) indication that Herod killed the children of Bethlehem two years and under, suggesting that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed in Bethlehem when Jesus was at least two years old? Nowhere does the story that they were in Egypt for two years. Once again, I'm not a fundamentalist that claims everything has to be perfect, but I clearly see where the swords are drawn between skeptic and apologist based on partiality to the story. And since the skeptic has already concluded that the story isn't true a priori based on the miraculous, the skeptic usually goes beyond the bounds of reason to claim an overlap where there is none, and this is a perfect example. The magi were the only source of information Herod heard about the child, yet there is no way the magi knew how old Jesus was since their visit to Herod was before they visited the family, and Mathew makes it clear that the magi did not return to Herod afterwards, therefore based on common sense, Herod was obviously making a safeguard guesstimation.

What about the Quirnius issue? That is a subject in another discussion (here).

The irony is that the events that seem to contradict actually present an obvious problem for those who are critical of the story, because it bolsters its authenticity. Since the two gospels are recording essentially the same event, with both starkly similar yet unique differences, suggests that Matthew and Luke got their information from two different external sources independently of each other, indicating both stories were connected to an earlier tradition, adding that unneeded thorn for those to try and figure out where this tradition came from, who invented it, and how it skirted the eyes and ears of the other apostles (discussed here). »

FAQ #15

Did Luke make a historical gaffe with Quirnius? »

If it wasn't bad enough for the Christian apologist, and a thing of beauty for the skeptic, is that not only does the Nativity story appear in only two canon gospels, Matthew and Luke, but the stories told by each also appear to grossly contradict each other, which I discussed in the previous argument. And of course the final nail that seems to seal the coffin shut, and indeed fully exploited as the primary argument against the story, is that there are arguable historical discrepancies as well. There is what is perceived as a problem specifically about the dating of certain rulers in office at the same time during this period (Luke 2:1-2), notably between Herod the Great, Quirinius the Syrian governor, and "the" national census. Luke's census is presumed to be the census mentioned by Josephus which occurred during the governorship of Quirinius, who served as governor of Syria around 6 CE (Josephus, War 2.8.1; Ant 18.1.1)  But the death of Herod the Great was around 4 BCE who was also part of both stories (see Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5). Josephus also records an eclipse that occurred at Herod's death, and astronomical calculations conclude this eclipse occurred around 4 BCE, thus historical documentation and science both decry a major ten year discrepancy. Yet the criticism against Luke here is usually presupposed, when it's really just begging the question based on limited information we have and rests on a number of other assumptions and suppositions:

  1. Assuming an error, the presumption is that Josephus himself was right and Luke was wrong. Not a stretch of a presumption, but still a presumption. Josephus does in fact contradict himself about the date of Archelaus' reign, Herod's son and successor, in both his works (Jerry Vardaman, Edwin M. Yamauchi, Chronos, kairos, Christos, p.106).
  2. That Quirinius didn't serve twice. Though this is pure speculation in regards to a two-term of Quirnius, it's certainly not at all a situation that was historically and politically impossible according to a Tiburtine inscription, indicating Quintilius Varus had served as Syrian governor twice (ibid., p.90.).
  3. That a census didn't occur prior to 6 CE and that Quirnius didn't assist the governor of Syria or was co-ruler before he was an official governor. According to Tacitus (Annals 3:48), he was already on active duty, leading successful expeditions in the eastern provinces of the Roman empire for Augustus, and a theoretical scenario where he would have assisted with such a volatile project, a project that would have angered the Jews and caused inevitable uprisings thus requiring military expertise is certainly conceivable (obviously information Luke left out). Tertullian stated that imperial records show the census recorded in Luke was conducted in Judea under Sentius Saturninus, who served as Syrian governor between 9-6 BCE (Tertullian, Against Marcion, book 4.7, 19). Justin Martyr stated that Quirnius was not governor at the time, but procurator, so a scenario where he could have assisted Saturninus because the situation was volatile becomes even more plausible (Justin Martyr, First Apology, chap.34). Note that Luke's word for "governor" is the Greek word hegemon, and though it is uncertain that it meant anything else to Luke other than governor, it did in fact have a general range of meanings -- i.e. ruler, prefect, president, chief, general, commander, sovereign. 
  4. That the English translation of the Greek in Luke (2:1-2) is correct. Commentators agree that Luke's use of the word "first," which is protos in the Greek, is grammatically awkward and quite a few scholars have challenged it as instead meaning "before." Thus the proper translation would be rendered: "This was the first registration, before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria,” and the scholarly support for this is rather abundant (Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights Into the New Testament, p.23-24. Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity, p.98-99. N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, p.20. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, p.21-22. Craig A. Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary p.49; 2003). Luke would have presumably used him in this scenario as a benchmark because he was a recognizable political figure. The argument against this is an argument from silence, that there is no census recorded before Quirnius in any extrabiblical sources, which isn’t true, because Tertullian claimed there was such a census recorded in the archives as noted in #3.

Though this remains one of the most heavily disputed controversies of the Nativity story between historians, much of the attempt to discredit the story is clearly based on arguments from silence, giving other historical sources the benefit of the doubt against the gospels, and of course, this is all fueled by an obvious presupposed bias against the supernatural elements of the story itself, which the critic has already concluded can’t be true. And as it stands, the issue with Quirinius will never be satisfactorily solved in a way that apologist and skeptic will agree on. It's also not like human error is an impossibility on the part of either Josephus or Luke, particularly since we know that "inerrancy of scripture" (no human error whatsoever) is a imaginative Christian farce that I personally reject. Though fabrication is typically easy for most skeptics to assume, this is just begging the question it can be demonstrated. Any time you assume blatant fabrication about historical figures, places, and events, including vary intimate details of Mary and her family which we find in Luke's account, without any support for this other than prejudice becomes unrealistic and problematic. You would have to disregard Luke's declaration of his historical prowess in the beginning of his work and his claim that he checked the facts as just blatant lying (Luke 1:1-4). You would have to disregard his historical detail and accuracy with everything else in his works, including in his second work Acts. You would then have to disregard the likelihood that if Luke heard of such a story, he would have most likely investigated it further as to get the details right. Then you have the problem between him and Matthew, both of whom record the story, yet the differences between Matthew and Luke suggest unique and independent variations. In additional, it would face stark conflicts with the criterion of similarity patterns we find in the gospel traditions against such embellishment, particularly a fabrication of this magnitude (discussed here).

And since even late daters suggest Luke's gospel was written within 60 years of the purported event, it's also not plausible to assume Luke merely fabricated it based on the fact that such a census would have undoubtedly been common knowledge to the generation his work was written to (sort of like its common knowledge to us, even 200 years later, to know whether Lincoln was in office during the Civil War or the Revolutionary war). There is also the problem with what we know of Luke's preciseness with his historical detail in other areas of his work as per the archeological discoveries of the first century. For example, Luke's census, described as being an "ancestral registration," was once automatically assumed false since such a census based on ancestry was not described this way by any other historical source we happened to have, so since he was in error here, he must have been in error about Quirnius. Yet this proved to be untrue. A Qumran scroll written in Greek found in Nahal Hever, Papyrus Yadin 16, describes a woman by the name of Babata and her husband who had to leave their town of residence, Makhoza/Maoza, to go to Rabbath during a tax initiated in 127 CE. The Greek word apografestai -- "to register" -- is the same Greek root Luke (2:3) uses (Carsten P. Thiede, The Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 87).

Scholars like Craig S. Hawkins, in his thesis debunking F.C. Baur's 19th century critical views of Luke/Acts, have also noted Luke's accurate historical detail (Craig S. Hawkins, The Book of Acts and Archaeology; html). So there's no reason not to give Luke the benefit of the doubt since such a ten year discrepancy on his part is no small discrepancy to reckon with. He correctly placed the birth of John the Baptist "in the days of Herod" (the Great), and correctly identified him as "king of Judea" (Luke 1:5). He understood the complex issue of how Herod's kingdom was divided after his death in 3 BCE (Luke 3:1-2). He was not only precise distinguishing King Herod (the Great) from his son Antipas whom he identified as "Herod the Tetrarch," the ruler of Galilee (Luke 3:19, 9:7; Acts 13:1), but accurately identified him as Tetrarch instead of king. It's certainly not like the alleged historical discrepancy is hopelessly and impossibly unsolvable, which does leave room for alternative apologetics, and indeed there have been plenty, quite a few more than even what I listed above. One only needs to search for it on the Internet to come to a slew of partisan arguments, both against (skeptics) and solutions for (apologists) this issue. Glenn M. Miller offers a rather extensive apologetic on his site (here).

I should also note here that none of the earliest critics of Christianity such as Trypho, Porphyry, Celsus, Emperor Julian (who had direct access to Roman records and archives) ever questioned the historical accuracy of Luke, something that would have been a sure score against the story, even though they did question other problems like the supposed contradictions between them. How very odd that 21st century critics of today, 2,000 years removed from the actual history readily question the historical aspects of it, yet the critics and skeptics who were closest to the actual history never did. »

FAQ #16

Can the gospel story of Jesus’ tomb burial be verified as historically accurate? »

Believe it or not, there have been some (a fringe really) who argue that the empty tomb story in the gospels is actually a fabricated legend injected into the Jesus-tradition some 30 years (the date they argue the first gospel was written) after the fact, when Mark (which they presuppose was the first gospel written) set out to write his work, with the other gospels basically following the fabricated story from his gospel. But to assume it was a fabrication without firm evidence to the contrary is just begging the question, so the burden is clearly on the proponents of this argument. To make matters worse, there is firm evidence supporting the story’s authenticity, based on both internal and external evidence. The very idea of a second Temple Judean tomb burial alone is very much historical, thus to argue that the tomb burial was a legend is more of stretch to accept it as history because it is simply outside the scope of fact and history. Death and ritual was a very powerful and integral part of first century Judaism, and tomb burials were as much a part of second Temple Judean culture as cemetery burials have become a part of western culture (Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, p.302. Byron R. McCane, Roll Back the Stone, p.29-40). There was no other form of burial. We know Jews that were executed as criminals were also buried as per the record of Josephus (War of the Jews, book 4.5.2), a Roman record called the Digesta (Craig A. Evans, Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus [pdf] [html], p.7), and archeological findings (Times, A Death in Jerusalem, 1/18/71).

The body of this particular Jew known as Jesus had to be placed somewhere, thus dismissing the gospel accounts of Jesus' tomb burial as a legend in this culture becomes as vacuous as dismissing a casket burial reported in a newspaper obituary of someone deceased today as a fabricated legend. It not only becomes unnecessary to dismiss a casket burial today, since this is a typical burial norm, but becomes quite the stretch to dismiss the actual obituary report on top of that, especially in face of lack of evidence supporting any other option used to discard the body. Gospel story aside, even if all we had record of Jesus’ burial but just his death, the archeological evidence in and around Judea of the first century as well as other external factors in and of itself is enough to conclude that Jesus' body was most likely buried in a tomb, thus it becomes unreasonable and far outside the scope of history and circumstance to dismiss the gospel record of the tomb burial than to accept it as historic fact.

There is also good evidence to confirm the authenticity of Pilate handing over the body to Joseph of Arimathea being that he was a Jewish authority who was likely assigned to the task of burying the victim. Pilate had no animosity towards Jesus, nor was Jesus personally indicted for any personal or grave offence directly against the Roman order, such as an open rebellion that resulted in casualties, in fact, expressed indifference to Jesus’ movement and did not initially accuse Jesus of sedition himself, but only got involved when the Sanhedrin requested his involvement. The fact Jesus was buried in shame is one the most acute evidences of his tomb burial, and we indeed can see glimpses of this fact inferred in the gospel traditions. As we pointed out earlier, we have solid data backing the historical fact that Jesus, condemned as a criminal, would have been granted a proper burial. Yet even if we want to argue that Jesus was not denied a proper burial by Roman authority, this still doesn't mean that a shameful burial would not have been enforced by the Jewish authorities, in fact, ancient rabbinic records firmly support the fact that this was typical protocol. In historical Judaic culture, a criminal would have been buried in shame, which consisted not of a non-burial (this was something they obviously could not avoid as per their own law: Deuteronomy 21:22-23), but in the ritualistic and symbolic way the burial would have been carried out. We get clear glimpses of this in descriptions of Judaic burial protocol for criminals from ancient rabbinic writings...  

 

"The one executed was not buried in the cemetery of his parents, but two cemeteries were prepared by the court, one for those who were slain with a sword and choked, and one for those who were stoned and burned. After the flesh of the corpse was consumed, the relatives gathered the bones and buried them in their right place. And the relatives came, and greeted in peace the judges, as well as the witnesses, to show they had nothing in their heart against them, as the judgment was just. The relatives also did not lament for him loudly, but mourned in their heart" (Tractate Sanhedrin chap. VI).

 

Corpses were stored in tombs where the body atrophied, the bones then collected later and placed in ossuaries, and this was allowed even for those condemned as a criminal (Times, A Death in Jerusalem, 1/18/71. Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period, p.302. McCane, Roll Back the Stone, p.29-40). What could have been shameful about such a burial? According to the above quote, the hint of ritual dishonor was disallowing those to mourn for the victim and disallowing the victim an initial family burial. Craig Evans points out the customary ritual of a shameful burial consisted of these two very critical symbolic actions, and that these rituals are evident from other ancient Jewish sources...

 

"From the Hebrew bible through rabbinic literature, dishonorable Jewish burial meant two things: burial away from the family tomb, and burial rites without rites of mourning… When tended to their dead in this way, Jews were doing more than simply disposing of a body and dealing with their grief; they were also making a symbolic statement about their most basic cultural norms and values" (Evans, The Historical Jesus: Jesus' mission, death, and Resurrection, p.259-261). 

 

Joseph of Arimathea was not a family member even though some have proposed a theory claiming he was Jesus' uncle for purely religious reasons, but the theory is completely bogus. Probably the main issue against the theory is that there is no early source which acknowledges this tradition. Laurence Gardner, a rather staunch proponent of these wild theories, admits that they're all based on Byzantine traditions and legends no earlier than the 9th century (Laurence Gardner, Bloodline of the Holy Grail, p.119). This is obviously irrelevant to Judeo-Christianity of the first century, particularly when there is no support of any relation of Joseph to Jesus prior to that century. Just to be sure, in my own research I too haven’t anything remotely supporting this tradition in the early records. Of course the canon gospels don't so much as even imply any relation of Joseph of Arimathea to Jesus. None of the church fathers -- Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement II, Jerome, Tertullian, Eusebius, Origen, Augustine, John Chrysostom -- from the second to the fourth century acknowledge any such tradition, even though most of them mention Joseph of Arimathea quite extensively in their works. Papias, the earliest source, actually gives a brief ancestry of Mary and does in fact point out that Mary had a sister, yet does not acknowledge Joseph as a relative (Papias, Fragments X). John Chrysostom, as late as the 4th century, gives a rather lengthy commentary on Joseph of Arimathea with no acknowledgment of any such tradition even in his era (John Chrysostom, Homily 85: John 19:38). Most notable is the fact that none of the apocryphal gospels, which date to the second century or later, acknowledge any such tradition, and yet these works are some of the most relevant sources when it comes to progressive legendary Christian tradition and fiction. The Gospel of Peter, which gives even more detail about the burial than even the canon gospels, does not mention this tradition. The Gospel of Nicodemus, which probably gives the most attention to Joseph of Arimathea, including a fiction about a feud he has with the religious authorities for placing the body of Jesus in a "new tomb," his admonishment of them for crucifying Jesus, and even a resurrection appearance of Jesus to Joseph afterward, does not acknowledge this tradition. Another interesting thing to note is that in the gospel of John, Jesus leaves custody of his mother into the hands of "the disciple" standing with her at the crucifixion site (John 19:26-27). Tradition holds that this was John himself, though nothing really to substantiate this other than circumstantial evidence. Yet this was unlikely Joseph of Arimathea because John goes on to formally introduce Joseph seemingly for the first time after this event (John 19:38). If we assume Joseph was the uncle who reared Jesus as the legend claims, as well as being wealthy as the canon scriptures claim, why wouldn't he have been the likely choice to care for his mother instead? We can pretty much dismiss the Joseph of Arimathea/Jesus relation theory outrightly, not only for things that work against it, but lack of any valid sources supporting it.

Though we do hold some semblance of honor towards burials of our dead even today, the ritual of mourning and burial with one's family and ancestors isn't anywhere near as symbolic and customarily significant as it was to the ancients, particularly to an ancient Jew, and archeological excavations of family loculus tombs throughout Israel that consisted of many relatives buried together affirms this was the dominant form of burial in the first century (Bruce Chilton, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, p. 442-444). In the Old Testament we see burials and mourning as ways of expressing ritualistic honor quite starkly (examples: Genesis 25:8-10; Numbers 20:29; 1 Samuel 25:1; 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Chronicles 10:12), in contrast to ways that were expressed as dishonorable (examples: Job 27:13-15; Ezekiel 24:16-23; Isaiah 14:18-20). Three of the canon gospels point out that Joseph of Arimathea was either a member of the Sanhedrin or a Jewish official of some capacity (see Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-51; John 19:38), which is historically accurate with a dishonorable burial as we pointed out earlier and why he would have been delegated to that duty. Clearly the canon gospel authors knew how to depict expressions of death mourning and certainly recorded it to heighten the impact by illustrating to the reader that the individual in these other accounts was truly dead (see Mark 5:35-38; John 11:14-36: Acts 8:2). Yet none of the canon gospels describe any form of mourning attributed to the burial of Jesus nor give any hints that it was handled by relatives as we pointed out, and we could assume that had any of this activity taken place, the authors would have gladly recorded this information.

Interestingly, Evans also points out that the second century apocryphal Gospel of Peter makes up for this embarrassment of dishonor with embellishments that included honorable attributes within its own account of the burial, such as the women, after being prevented the customary rites of mourning by the Jews, vow in defiance to perform such rites after the Sabbath (The Historical Jesus, p.265). In fact, there are quite a few hints and clues of Jesus' burial throughout the gospels that scholars argue make it clear he was indeed dishonorably buried according to these Jewish custom rites (Bruce Chilton, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, p. 448-449), and some scholars also believe that three of the gospels may have even tried to disguise it by having him placed in a "new tomb" (see Matthew 27:59-60; Luke 23:53; John 19:41). Personally, I don't think a "new tomb" needs to be supposed as an embellishment, because Mark does not mention a new tomb at all, so even if Markan priority is true, the new tomb account comes from three relatively independent sources, thus seems to hold a firm position of legitimacy. Matthew interestingly states that it was Joseph's own tomb, but of course he does not indicate any relation to Jesus. Though some of this may have been Matthew's only way to alleviate the problem without crossing the acceptable boundaries of distorting the facts (or he could have been emphasizing Jesus as the Servant prophesied by Isaiah 53:9), according to David Daube and Josef Blinzler, such an attempt couldn't downplay the significance of this embarrassment, thus even "a new tomb would still be a shameful place of internment" (Chilton, 448). One thing is clear, if they were willing to embellish it so as to eliminate the shame, then a family burial and mourning could have just as easily been embellished, and if this was an invented legend as the tomb legend theory supposes, then this would have been a natural inevitability. »

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