Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Can We Trust The Gospels?

I have argued quite often that we can trust the gospels. I was convinced by the notion of apostolic succession. The notion that even in the early church the handing down of the faith from one generation of leaders to another was taken very seriously. That young potential bishops would spend a lot of time with older bishops and learn every aspect of the faith. A life to life passing on very much like what Jesus did with the disciples over 3 years. 

Now I have always known that many scholars have come to a different conclusion. I hate disagreeing with scholars. It feels to much like believing in a conspiracy theory. Yet two things made it less disagreeable. First of all, they all shared a strong aversion to the supernatural. That is an assumption they all get from modern culture. So they are not really independently arriving at wrong conclusions. They all get their bad starting point from the same place and all make the same mistakes and all affirm each other in their flawed way of thinking. 

Secondly, I found the theory they came out with to be quite unimpressive. They rejected traditional Christian teaching for sure but they didn't come up with any plausible way the story could have been created and become accepted by the church. This is especially true because the church did believe in apostolic succession and was geographically spread out. Both these features would cause any big changes to be noticed and talked about as they grew to become accepted. We don't see any of that.

Now I have read Brant Pitre's book The Case For Jesus. It is odd because it is almost too good. My biggest problem is discussing this with sceptics is getting people to accept that the scholars might be quite far wrong. Yet Dr. Pitre actually convinces me that the scholars have been much less worthy of respect then I have said. I had assumed that there was at least some evidence for many of the assertions they have been making. That the ideas they arrive at and defend make sense from a scholarly perspective given the philosophical assumptions they make. The trouble is that is not true. 

For example, the idea that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John almost certainly didn't write the gospels and their names were added later to what might have been put together at some other time by someone else. Now you hear this so much that you think there must be some evidence for it. That some early manuscripts must be missing the name of the author. That maybe one or two early church fathers might have suggested they were written at least in part by someone else. Something that could launch them into this great speculation about anonymous authors. 

Dr Pitre makes very clear that nothing of the sort exists. Every early manuscript clearly identifies the traditional author. None of them are nameless. None of them name anyone else. Moreover, the people who talk about the gospels, both Christians and opponents of Christianity never suggest the gospels were late additions or forgeries. They do say that about some gospels but those are the gospels the church rejected. So they dared to question allegedly apostolic writings like gospels attributed to Peter, Thomas and Judas. Yet they didn't question Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Go figure.
The trouble is these scholars have prestigious positions at ivy league schools and many of them claim to be Christian. How can you convince people they have gotten it so wrong? That they did not just added two and two and got 437 but actually added zero and zero. That is they didn't just overstate their case but they actually have no case. Not one data point pointing the the theory that they keep asserting is obviously true. How can anyone talk about such a fiasco without having people baulk and assume they must be the one off base?

Dr Pitre just calmly presents the evidence and lets people arrive at their own conclusions. By the time he quotes Bart Ehrman for the tenth time you wonder why he is still taking him seriously because he has been so far off base each time. Still he is very charitable and never questions motives or competence. 

Yet he is dealing with people who are interested enough in what he has to say to read a whole book. It is still quite a challenge to get people to even open their mind to the possibility. Thinking about many of the people I have discussed this with the stronger case becomes a harder sell because you need to believe something worse about guys like Ehrman.


  1. Your blog is great! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for reading. God bless you.

  2. "Scholars...all shared an aversion to the supernatural..." ? Not true. The statement is not qualified - it is absolute, without any hint that some or many or most scholars do not fit the description. So either Danielou and Martini and Vanhoye and von Balthasar were or are not scholars - which would surprise their academic colleagues; or they had "an aversion to the supernatural" - which would surprise their fellow-cardinals. and the Popes who created them cardinals.

    This kind of statement is really not helpful :(

    1. All was a bit of an exaggeration I admit. Obviously Pitre would be an exception. I think I indicated he quoted many scholars, both those who agree or disagree. So there are some in agreement. The question I was trying to address is why so many scholars have arrived at another conclusion when the evidence against them is so strong. I what not trying to make their numbers greater than they are.