Berfore I really got down and dirty with the history of the New Testament books, I knew that the situation was bad for believing in its veracity. But I was never prepared for just how bad the situation really is, all the while people taking the New Testament as – well, gospel. This is a transcript of part of episode 8.18 of the Non-Prophets podcast (aired in December) in which Matt Dillahunty responds to a letter from a listener who has a friend claiming that the evidence for miracle claims in the bible is irrefutable. I have to say I always enjoy listening to Matt on subjects biblical.
The facts are these – there are no contemporary extrabiblical accounts of any events specific to the life of Jesus. That means no independent sources from any eyewitnesses with regard to his birth, life, miracles, ministry, death or proposed resurrection. The gospels are anonymous; we have no original manuscripts; they do not agree on details; they do not agree with recorded history; and the consensus of New Testament scholarship is that none of them were written by eyewitnesses. The bible has stories about eyewitnesses, but we don’t have a single comment from anyone claiming to be an eyewitness.
The process of canonization included books that doctrinally agreed with those in power, and eliminated and attempted to destroy books that were considered heretical by those in power. Yet those same books were considered inspired by other sects. Books like Revelations barely made it into the bible as many considered them uninspired. Books like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocolypse of Peter which have traditionally been considered divinely inspired were excluded. Paul’s epistles, some of which are of questionable authorship, were the first books of the New Testament to be written, and that was decades after the purported life of Jesus. The gospels were written many years later – perhaps even decades later – by unknown authors. Historians from the late first and second century do mention Christians and some refer to Jesus, but none of these were eyewitnesses, and most of them couldn’t even have spoken to someone who claimed to be an eyewitness.
So we have the bible, a collection of stories by largely unknown authors who were unlikely to be eyewitnesses and we don’t have originals of their work. We have copies of copies of copies of translations of copies of copies of anonymous books reporting an oral tradition passed down for decades or centuries after the purported events in a time when myths, superstitions and god-men claims were plentiful; during a time when fact-checking and literacy were rare; and when doctrinal wars prompted forged documents (Paul even mentions this in the bible) in order to prop up competing theologies as orthodox or heretical. And for my money, that means none of it is believable.
Contrast this with, for example, claims of alien abductions. You can – if you like – actually speak to people who claim to have actually been abducted by aliens. If you look around, you’ll find groups of people who tell consistent stories, and might even claim to have been abducted together. There are countless reports of UFO sightings, often by groups of people or, in rare cases, dozens or even hundreds of people in a particular town or area. These reports have been ongoing for decades, reported by countless news sources in addition to specialized periodicals. Many of these people sincerely believe their story. Do you? Does you’re friend?
I don’t, because there isn’t sufficient evidence. Yet the quantity and quality of evidence for these claims is vastly superior to any miracle claims reported in the bible. We have more evidence, and we’re not 2000 years removed from events, and we still don’t believe, and find the most fervent believers to be a little crazy. Yet somehow, millions of largely ignorant, well-meaning, nice people sincerely believe third-hand reports of miracles from thousands of years ago. And they don’t just believe – they strongly believe. They not only consider it not only absurd to disbelieve, but also their sacred duty to convince others – at a minimum – and legislate their beliefs on others – or worse. And yet we do not somehow don’t consider these people a little crazy.
Here endeth the lesson. Amen.