Friday, August 22, 2014

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Subtitle: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus
 (Book Review)

[Although I originally broke my review of this book into several parts for the ease of reading, I'm going to put all the parts together here into one big post for the purposes of having something I can link to in my book review index, and any future back links.  If you've been reading this review all along, there won't be anything new here.  This is just a repeat of all the previous posts, which are also available at the links below]

Part 16: My Conclusion

--“If my conclusions in the case for Christ is correct, your future and eternity hinge on how you respond to Christ”
            Lee Strobel, p. 271

Why I Read This Book
          As someone who has considered myself a skeptic for several years now, I suppose this book makes a strange edition to my reading list.  But I read this book for the same reason that (I suspect) most skeptics end up reading it—it was recommended to me by a believer.
            I had never heard of Lee Strobel before this book was recommended to me.  Of course that’s not saying much.  As someone who doesn’t read as much or as widely as I should, there are lots of things I haven’t heard of.  But it turns out that for some time now Lee Strobel has been making waves in certain circles because of his books and his accompanying conversion story.
            Lee Strobel’s story is that he is a former skeptic who one day decided to investigate the truth claims of Christianity.  During the course of his investigation, he found the evidence for the truth of Christianity so overwhelming that he converted.  What makes this story all the more impressive is Lee Strobel’s intellectual background: he has a law degree from Yale, and he worked for years as an investigative legal journalist for the Chicago Tribune.  In other words, he’s not some yokel whose opinion can be easily dismissed.  He’s someone who’s been trained by his profession to carefully examine rhetoric and documents, and then be able to determine the validity of the arguments. 
            The implication of all this (and the line with which this book is usually marketed) is that if a man as smart as Lee Strobel has examined all the evidence and thinks Christianity must be true, then there must be something to consider.

            Because I - have - been - reading, - and - reviewing - on this blog, a number of books that are skeptical about the claims of Christianity,  someone suggested to me that I should read Lee Strobel’s book before I wrote off Christianity completely.

            And for my part, I was intrigued enough by Lee Strobel’s background to want to hear what he had to say on the subject.

My Own Background and My Expectations Going into This Book
          Lest I exaggerate my own naivete, I should clarify that Lee Strobel is not my first encounter with Christian apologetics, nor with conversion stories.  The story of “skeptic-turned-believer” is, after all, common enough to be its own genre, and having grown up in the church, I had had plenty of previous exposure to both apologetics and conversion stories.
            Although most of the conversion stories I had heard in Church tended to be based more on emotional needs than rational logic, I did get some previous expose to intellectual conversion stories as well.  One of my Christian school teachers used to read to us from Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (A)—another book by an author who had started out as a skeptic, but converted to Christianity after he examined the evidence.  (Actually it turns out that Lee Strobel references Josh McDowell’s work frequently in The Case for Christ.)  At Calvin College, we were assigned to read Surprised by Joy (W) by C.S. Lewis—another intellectual skeptic turned believer.
            Also, in my 22 years growing up in the Church, I had already been exposed to many of the traditional arguments that people often use to “prove” the truth of the Gospel stories.  It wasn’t that I was ignorant of what the usual arguments were, it was that they had stopped working for me. 
            And so, going into this book, I was somewhat skeptical that Lee Strobel would be able to tell me anything that I hadn’t heard before.
            And yet, for all that, I was still curious about what Lee Strobel had to say.  His arguments seem to have impressed a number of people, and he did have an impressive background.

            [Digression: In Christian circles, the “conversion story” has become its own genre, and many Christians think that this in itself is proof of Christianity— in their eyes the fact that anyone, ever, could convert from skepticism to belief proves that there must be something to Christianity.  However the truth is much more complex.  Against all the conversion stories common in Christian circles must be balanced an equally large number of stories of born-again Christians who lost their faith, or people who converted to religions other than Christianity.  If we were to take conversions as evidence of proof for their respective religions, we would get into a statistical numbers game about which faith has the most conversions every year, or the most believers.  It is a rubric which, by the way, Christianity would not emerge on top of.  Over the last hundred years, Atheism has grown much more than Christianity (W).  Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in the world--this includes population growth, but they also have more conversions than Christianity (W).  In the United States, as a whole Christianity loses more converts than it gains. Although 85.6 percent of American adults say they were raised as Christians, more than a fifth of that group (19.2 percent of all U.S. adults), no longer identify with Christianity. (LINK). Ultimately, an argument for faith must be judged on its own merits, and not on the personal story of the person who makes it. 
            All that being said, although we still have to keep our skepticism about us, I think that when someone who was previously skeptical of religion decides to drop their skepticism and convert, it is worthwhile to listen to their reasons.  And for that reason I was curious to hear what Lee Strobel had to say.]

            When this book was recommended to me, I was initially unable to get my hands on a copy.  (In Southeast Asia, where I’m currently living, it can be hard to track down specific books.) So in the meantime, I tried to satisfy my curiosity about Lee Strobel by Googling him.  And what I found surprised me.

            From reading other people’s reviews of Lee Strobel’s book, I was able to surmise that he was basing most of his arguments for the truth of the Gospels off of the reliability of the eyewitness testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
            Now, this is actually pretty extreme.  They don’t tell you this in Sunday School, but no serious scholar of the Bible believes that the Gospels were actually written by the apostles whose names they bear.  Not even my professors at Calvin College (a conservative Christian school) believed the Gospels were written by the apostles.  And they have some very good reasons for this—reasons which are hard to get around.
            In fact, I had been under the impression that it was pretty much impossible to argue for the apostolic authorship of the Gospels.  And I had even been going around telling people this in my various “coffee-house” conversations.

            So, one of two things was going on here: either I was mistaken, and there actually was a legitimate case for the apostolic authorship of the Gospels.  In which case I should find out what it was, so I don’t continue to make a fool out of myself.
            Or, Lee Strobel was arguing something that didn’t make any sense whatsoever, and was somehow still able to maintain a well-respected reputation in evangelic circles. 
           
            Which one was it?
           
            My curiosity was sufficiently piqued to the point that I was convinced this would be an interesting read either way.

Mini-Review
          If you don’t want to read the rest of my review, I’ll save you the suspense.  It is the latter.  Lee Strobel is arguing a case that just makes no sense whatsoever.  It’s an absolute train wreck of a book.
            This book is one of many books that exist solely for the Christian market, and it takes a very relaxed attitude towards things like logic, consistency, and factual reliability.  It’s marketed to an audience that values doctrinal purity over logical coherence, and the book doesn’t make any sense, because it’s not designed to make sense.

So What Happened?  How Could a Man as Smart as Lee Strobel Write Such a Terrible Book?
          Well, your guess is as good as mine really.  It’s possible his intellectual reputation was much exaggerated to begin with.  It’s possible (and there are hints of this in the conclusion) that he converted to Christianity for emotional reasons, and then (as many people do) he tried to twist the facts to meet a conclusion that he so desperately needed for emotional and psychological reasons.
            At times, however, it’s difficult to avoid being cynical while reading this book.  It’s hard not to think: “He must know that doesn’t make any sense, and yet he’s writing it anyway.”  Is Lee Strobel getting into Christian publishing for reasons other than pure idealism and love of the truth?  Is he just trying after money?  Or fame?  (That seems like a harsh accusation to make, I know, but, at the very least, you’ll grant me that it wouldn’t be the first time someone got into religious publishing for the money, right?)
            But, as I claim no private window into Lee Strobel’s soul, I’ll refrain from trying to infer what goes on in his private mind.  All I can do is examine the arguments of the book as they come.
            I’ll start out by making some general comments about the structure of the book.

General Comments
          The premise of this book is that it is supposed to trace Lee Strobel’s spiritual journey from skeptic to believer.  What makes this premise slightly awkward is that by his own account Lee Strobel converted in 1981, and this book was written in 1998.
            A lot had changed for Lee Strobel in the intervening years.  By the time he came to write this book, Lee Strobel was not only a believer, he had become a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church.  He had even previously published several Christian books before this one. (Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary (A) What Would Jesus Say (A) and Gods Outrageous Claims by Lee Strobel (A)) and he had started doing a series of presentations at his church about the evidence for Christ, when his wife suggested to him that he make a book out of these presentations.
            And so was born the idea for Lee Strobel to re-trace and re-construct his spiritual journey by interviewing a number of prominent Christian apologists.  Lee Strobel’s job is to “play” the skeptic, and try to ask the type of questions that a skeptic might ask.
            Despite his history as a one time skeptic, it’s been noted by just about every secular reviewer of this book that the Pastor Lee Strobel does a very poor job of playing the skeptic’s part.  He’ll occasionally pose some tough questions, but then he’ll just unquestioningly accept whatever gibberish the Christian apologists give him.
            In fact, many of the “proofs” that the Christian apologists give Lee Strobel only make sense if you start out from the assumption that Christianity is true, and then work backwards from there.  These types of arguments are very popular inside the Christian community, but lack all validity outside of it. In real life, a real skeptic would be constantly saying, “Yes, but you’re just assuming that’s true.  How do you know any of this for sure?”  Lee Strobel, the pretend skeptic, makes no such objections.

            With a set up like this, it’s not hard to see that the game is rigged from the beginning—a prominent pastor is interviewing Christian apologists about the evidence for the truth of the Gospels, and not surprisingly, they always come to the conclusion that all the evidence is on their side, and that the skeptics are always completely wrong. 
            Typical is this comment on page 126 from apologists Gregory Boyd:
            “…I’m glad we have such incredibly strong evidence to show us they [the claims of the Gospels] are true.  For me, it comes down to this: there’s no competition. The evidence for Jesus being who the disciples said he was—for having done the miracles that he did, for rising from the dead, for making the claims that he did—is light-years beyond my reasons for thinking that the left-wing scholarship of the Jesus Seminar is correct.

            Imagine living in Lee Strobel’s world!  It must puzzle him and his apologist buddies that anyone, ever, in the history of the world could ever become a skeptic, considering their conviction that that all the evidence is always overwhelmingly for Christianity.  “Why do we even have the debate?” they must constantly wonder.  “With all the overwhelming evidence on our side, isn’t it strange that not everyone has converted by now?”


            The chapters all follow the same format.  First, Lee Strobel will begin by citing an example of a legal case he witnessed from his days as a courtroom reporter, and then use this to frame an issue.  Then, Lee Strobel will lavishly praise the intellectual achievements of a Christian apologist with expertise on the subject.  Then Lee Strobel will pretend to take on the role of a skeptic, and ask questions to that apologist.

The Courtroom Anecdotes
            The constant reference back to Lee Strobel’s legal days has a duel purpose: first of all, it constantly reminds the reader of Lee Strobel’s background as someone who has a sharp legal mind.  Secondly, Lee Strobel will connect the court room anecdote to the evidence being presented for Christianity.  The implication is meant to be that the case being built for Christianity in this book would stand up to the scrutiny of any court.
            The assumption in all of these sections is that the reader is an idiot.  Or more charitably, that the reader is not paying attention.  Because the evidence that Lee Strobel actually does present would get thrown out of any court of law in the world (and given his own background, Lee Strobel must know this.)
            Take, for example, the first chapter on The Eyewitness Evidence.  Lee Strobel opens with a very dramatic story about a grisly execution-style murder in Chicago’s slums, and the bravery of a 17 year-old eye-witness who secured the conviction of the murderers with his eyewitness testimony. 
            It’s compelling stuff, and Lee Strobel uses this to pivot to how the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels should be just as compelling for us.  But the whole thing is meant as just one big bait-and-switch, because if you closely follow Lee Strobel’s arguments, it becomes very clear very quickly that he is not using the word “eyewitness” in the traditional way.  He’s talking about stories that have been handed down from several people until they finally get written down by the Gospel writers.  This is not eyewitness testimony.  In fact, if you want to get technical, this is the exact opposite of eyewitness testimony.  About halfway through the chapter, Lee Strobel starts using the word “indirect eyewitness testimony.”  But this is a term he’s just making up.  There’s no such thing as “indirect eyewitness testimony.”  There’s eyewitness testimony, and then there’s hearsay.  And hearsay would get thrown out of any court in the world.  And yet here’s Lee Strobel, a supposed expert in law, writing this book in which he’s equating direct eyewitness testimony with an oral tradition passed down from several people. 

Introducing the Christian Apologists
          After using the court room anecdote to frame the issue, Lee Strobel will introduce a Christian apologist with supposed expertise on the subject.
            Lee Strobel always begins by lavishly praising the academic achievements and the intellect of the Christian apologist he has chosen to interview.
            Now, to be fair, some of these guys are actually pretty brilliant. (I have a passing familiarity with a handful of the apologists he interviews, and they’re smart guys—more on that below.)  However, the amount of high praise Lee Strobel gives all the apologists sometimes makes it feel like the reader is supposed to be impressed by the person, and not the argument.  Rather than just let their arguments stand or fall on their own strength, Lee Strobel has to be constantly praising all of his interview subjects, even moving on from a list of their academic achievements to more editorializing comments. For example, “Armed with razor-sharp arguments and historical evidence to back them up, he’s [Gary Habermas] not afraid to come out swinging” (p.226).  Or “Moreland’s highly organized mind works so systematically, so logically, that he seems to effortlessly construct his case in complete sentences and whole paragraphs, without wasted words or extraneous thoughts” (p. 245).
           
            My own pet suspicion is that a lot of Christians out there deal with the logical inconsistencies in their religion by projecting their faith onto someone else—something along the lines of: “Well, it doesn’t all make sense to me, but my pastor’s such a smart guy, and he believes in it, so there must be something to it.”
            Lee Strobel seems to have picked up on this psychological phenomenon, and is exploiting it to its fullest extent.  You are constantly made to feel as if all of these men are infinitely smarter than you’ll ever be, and that since they all believe in the truth of Christianity, you should just follow their lead rather than try to think it out for yourself.

            Then, once it’s established how incredibly smart all of these guys are, Lee Strobel can get away with having them make all sorts of pronouncements that they don’t even bother to back-up or defend.  A lot of the things they say in this book they don’t give any evidence for at all, but, hey, if guys this smart said it, it must be true!  One example from many is this comment from Lee Strobel’s interview with Dr. Edwin Yamauchi on page 90:  “I think the alternative explanations, which try to account for the spread of Christianity through sociological or psychological reasons are very weak.”  He shook his head. “Very weak.” Neither he nor Lee Strobel ever bother to explain what these alternative explanations are, or why they’re very weak.

            (I also suspect that there’s some mutual back-scratching going on here inside the Christian apologist community.  Given that this was the first in a long series of “The Case for…” books written by Lee Strobel that would follow the same format of “interviews-with-prominent-apologists,” some of this over the top praise is probably just Lee Strobel trying to keep every one on his contact list sweet so he can use them again for later projects.)

            Lee Strobel himself, although his name is on the title page, actually makes very few of the arguments that advance his thesis.  Rather his role is just to try to play the pretend skeptic, ask the questions, and write down the answers.  (This creates something of a stylistic awkwardness in reviewing the book, because when refuting the arguments, it’s sometimes difficult to know whether to attribute all the arguments to Lee Strobel, or try to go through and carefully attribute each argument to the appropriate apologist.  For stylistic reasons, I’m mostly going to attribute everything to Lee Strobel, as his name is on the cover, and as he agrees with everything the apologists tell him.)

The Interviews
            The role of the pretend skeptic is a little bit awkward for Strobel, because he can’t seem to make up his mind if he wants to play the role of adversary or collaborator in these interviews, and he’s constantly breaking character.  He’ll start out in adversarial mode (“Tell me this,” I said with an edge of challenge in my voice, “is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were written by the people whose names have been attached to them?” (p. 22)), but then he’ll switch back to collaborator mode as the discussion goes on.  (“I smiled because I had been playing devil’s advocate by raising my objections.  I knew he [Moreland] was right.  In fact, this critical distinction was pivotal in my own spiritual journey [17 years earlier]” (p. 247)).

            At the end of every interview, Lee Strobel will usually do a wrap up in which he’ll praise how well the apologists has definitively proven their case.  For those of us readers who haven’t completely left our common sense at the door, the discrepancy between how poorly the apologist will argue their case, and the high praise Lee Strobel will dish out to them, is a bit jarring to read.  For example, after Craig Blomberg has finished making his case for the reliability of the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels, a case which made absolutely no sense, and in which just about every sentence contradicted the one before it, Lee Strobel gives this summary of the argument: “I’ll admit I was impressed by Blomberg. Informed and articulate, scholarly and convincing, he had constructed a strong case for the reliability of the gospels.  His evidence for their traditional authorship, his analysis of the extremely early date of fundamental beliefs about Jesus, his well-reasoned defense of the accuracy of the oral tradition, his thoughtful examination of apparent discrepancies—all of his testimony had established a solid foundation for me to build on” (p.52)

The Mass of Contradictory Arguments Contained in this Book
            It’s very difficult for me to try to refute Lee Strobel’s arguments for the simple reason that most of the time it’s very difficult to figure out what Lee Strobel is actually arguing.  He clearly wants to prove that Christianity is right, but he doesn’t seem overly concerned about which method he uses, and as a result he contradicts himself wildly. 
            He argues that the contradictions in the resurrection account prove that the story couldn’t have been fabricated, and he also argues that there are no contradictions in the resurrection account.
            He argues that the Gospels consist of direct eyewitness testimony, and also that the Gospels consist of material carefully transmitted by oral culture.
            He cites Church tradition saying that Matthew was the first Gospel written, and then on the very next page he claims Matthew was copying from Mark’s Gospel.
            When he wants to prove that something from the Gospel of Mark is historically reliable, he claims that Mark is the earliest Gospel.  When he wants to claim that something from Matthew has historical validity, he cites scholars who claim that Matthew is the earliest Gospel.
            When dealing with the fact that scholars date the Gospel of John to 90 A.D., Lee Strobel says that’s perfectly alright because it still would have been within the lifetime of many of the witnesses.  But when trying to explain away the fact that the Jewish historian Josephus never collaborates the Bible’s claim that Jesus appeared to a crowd of 500 after his resurrection, Lee Strobel argues that this is because in the ancient world people had short life-spans and local stories would have died out after 60 years.

            The whole thing is such a mass of contradicts, logical impossibilities, and fabrications that it’s difficult to imagine this is in anyway the work of someone who started out as a skeptic.  It instead reads as someone desperate to smooth over all the historical problems with the gospels, and not concerned about if the solution he uses to smooth over problem A contradicts another solution he uses elsewhere for problem B.
            It also makes it very hard for me as a skeptic to argue against it.  I mean, how do you argue against something that doesn’t even make coherent logical sense?

            Ah…But this book was never meant for me as a skeptic.  This book had an entirely different target audience.

The Target Audience
            This is a funny little book.  Lee Strobel often writes as if he’s addressing a skeptical audience, but the book only makes sense if you assume it’s targeted towards the Christian market.  How else to explain the number of “arguments” in this book that are already starting out from the assumption that the Gospels are true?
            The fact that the book is purported to be for the skeptics is just the marketing gimmick.  The real purpose of this book is to milk the buying power of the believers themselves, who presumably get some satisfaction out of reading that there’s absolutely no intellectual problems with their faith, and that all the experts overwhelmingly validate their current world view.  And hopefully they’ll also buy copies to give to their skeptic friends.
            Although it flies somewhat beneath the radar, there is a huge market for Christian publishing.  And it is a very lucrative market.  The Left Behind series rivaled Harry Potter in US sales--total sales for Left Behind surpassed 65 million copies (W).  (And when you consider how badly Left Behind series is written, it makes that figure all the more impressive.)  Lee Strobel had already published for this market before (see books listed above), so presumably he had a good idea of how lucrative it could be when he sat down to write this book.

            And Lee Strobel and his publishers have since done very well off of this Christian market.  Lee Strobel had enough success with his best-selling The Case for Christ to encourage him to publish a whole series of follow-up books: 
The Case for a Creator,
The Case for the Real Jesus, 
The Case for Faith, 
The Case for Faith for Kids, 
The Case for Christ for Kids, 
A Case for a Creator For Kids, 
Off My Case For Kids, 
The Case for Christ Student Edition,
The Case for Faith Student Edition,
The Case for a Creator Student Edition 
The Case for the Real Jesus Student Edition
The Case for Christ/Case For Faith--Student Leader's Guide,
The Case for Christianity Answer Book, 
The Case for the Resurrection, 
Case for Faith/Case for Christ Compilation, 
The Case for Christ Study Bible,  
Cold Case for Christ,
The Case for Grace,
The Case for Easter, 
The Case for Christmas
The Case for Christ: with DVD A Six Session Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus 
The Case for Christ Visual Edition  
et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...
            Even if you assume the most spiritual of motives for the first couple books, it’s hard to look at this list and not think that in the course of cranking out book after book, at a certain point in this list marketing considerations began outweighing spiritual motivations.
            And if all that wasn’t enough, the Questions for Reflection or Group Study at the end of each section only make sense if you assume this book was designed to be talked about in small group study—He’s basically all but saying he’s going after the Sunday-School market here

            It might seem like I’m being overly cynical, and it probably is uncharitable to question an author’s motives in any situation.  And I wouldn’t go down this path unless I had to. But I have to.  The book doesn’t make sense until you realize it wasn’t written to convert the skeptic, but to cheer-on the faithful.  And then all of a sudden, everything makes perfect sense.

            Anyone approaching this book with a skeptical eye will be astounded at how quickly Lee Strobel steamrolls through any potential problem areas.  He raises a question, his Christian apologists answer it, and he moves onto the next question, whereas the skeptical reader will be constantly thinking: “Wait, that doesn’t prove anything!” or “But that explanation causes as many problems as it solves” or “Hold on! That doesn’t even make sense.”
            If you take a skeptical approach to any of the arguments being advanced in this book, then the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards.
            A little bit further on in this review I’ll get around to examining Lee Strobel’s argument that the Gospels were actually written by the apostles.  As I’ll show in that section, it’s not a coherent argument at all— it’s just a mess of contradictions and leaps of logic.  It’s not believable that Lee Strobel ever intended this argument for a critical secular audience—he’d get laughed out of the room.  The only way the book makes sense is if you assume this argument is intended for an audience that’s not going to critically examine it.

            Also, a surprising amount of the book is based off of the assumption that you can use the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible.  How do you prove Jesus wasn’t psychologically deluded?  Well, the portrait in the Bible shows him as perfectly sane.  How do you prove Jesus resurrected from the dead?  Well, just look at all the people who are reported as seeing him in the Bible. 

            Another one of the most noticeable characteristics of this book is that it proposes multiple explanations for many historical difficulties.  This can work tolerably well as a defense of Christianity (it will give Christians a lot of ammunition to use against their annoying agnostic friends who are always going on about the problems in the Bible), but it can in no way function as any sort of “proof” of Christianity, because the minute you posit alternative explanations, you’re admitting you don’t know for sure.  And if you don’t know for sure, then other explanations are also possible.

            For example, one of the famous historical problems in the Bible is that according to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was born when Herod the great was King.  According to Luke, Jesus was born during a census that took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  But Herod the Great died in 4 BC, and Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until 6 AD.
            Well, Lee Strobel and his Biblical apologist offer two ways out of this.  First of all, they claim the meaning of the original Greek text could be interpreted to mean that the census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Secondly, they say archaeologist Jerry Vardaman has uncovered some evidence that there may have been two people named Quirinius.
            Now, actually, as it happens both of these explanations are flawed.  (The first explanation involves going against the natural reading of the Greek text, the second explanation is a discovery that has been since discredited.)  But forget about that for a moment.  The larger point here is that once you posit two alternative explanations, you’re essentially admitting you don’t know which one is true.  And once you admit you don’t know, then you have to admit that another possibility is that Luke just made a mistake.  (I mean, it’s at least possible, right?)
            So in a normal logical discussion, you can’t prove certainty based off of uncertainty.
            But in Lee Strobel’s world, every argument always starts off from the assumption that the Gospels must be true, and then it doesn’t really much matter if you prove them true by method A, or prove them true by method B.
            But if you don’t already share the assumption that the Gospels are true to start with, do you see how quickly this whole argument falls apart?

            In the same way, Lee Strobel switches back and forth between multiple explanations of how the Gospels were recorded—either direct eye-witness testimony, or carefully preserved oral tradition.  Whichever it was doesn’t seem to be important to Lee Strobel as long as you start from the assumption that the Gospels are true however they got written down.  Lee Strobel offers 3 different explanations for why Matthew and Luke have contradicting genealogies of Jesus.  Et cetera.

            Then there’s also the fact that the book takes a very shallow view of the nature of skepticism.  The assumption throughout this book is that the only reasons anyone would ever be a skeptic of Christianity is either because they never bothered to do the research themselves (which, in Lee Strobel’s world, always overwhelmingly supports Christianity), or because they don’t want to change their wicked lifestyle.  As Lee Strobel writes about his own conversion story: “Frankly, I had wanted to believe that the deification of Jesus was the result of legendary development….That seemed safe and reassuring; after all, a roving apocalyptic preacher from the first century could make no demands on me.” (p. 264) This cynical view of skepticism is very popular inside the church.  (I had heard many variations on this theme growing up in the church.)  But it will immediately alienate any real-life skeptics who pick up the book.

            Nor is the book meant for people of other faiths.  The assumption throughout is that the choice is between Christianity and some sort of secular skepticism.  Therefore if the evidence leads to Christianity (and in Lee Strobel’s world, it always does) then that’s all there is to it.  You don’t even have to worry about the competing truth claims of other religions.  In Lee Strobel’s world, Christianity seems to be the only game in town, so even when the evidence doesn’t lead 100% to Christianity, but Christianity is just the “scenario which fits the facts most snugly”, then you should just throw in your lot with Christianity.  In the preface of the book, Lee Strobel instructs his readers that they must ask as a jury on the evidence: “You [will] be urged to thoughtfully consider the credibility of witnesses, carefully sift the testimony, and rigorously subject the evidence to your common sense and logic….Ultimately it’s the responsibility of jurors to reach a verdict. That doesn’t mean they have one-hundred percent certainty, because we can’t have absolute proof about anything in life.  In a trial, jurors are asked to weigh the evidence and come to the best possible conclusion.  In other words…which scenario fits the facts most snugly?” (p.15)
            But what is the Muslim to do, confronted with their own tradition—the tradition that the best evidence is that Mohammed had a revelation from God?  And if you went to 13 famous Muslim apologists (just like Lee Strobel went to 13 famous Christian apologists), how much do you want to bet they would have also slick answers already thought out for every apparent problem with the Muslim faith?  And then what are you going to do? 

Making Sense of the Contradictions
          As I’ve mentioned above, there are a lot of contradictions in this book Sometimes these contradictions will take the form of a multiple choice explanation.  But other times it gets a lot more bizarre.  Lee Strobel will be advancing one theory, and then suddenly start advancing another theory that completely contradicts the previous one.  There’s no explanation or transition or apologies or anything—he seems to be just hoping the reader won’t notice.
            There are a few cases where this is especially noticeable: the first is when talking about the Gospels as authentic eye-witness testimony.  Lee Strobel and his Christian apologist spend several pages defending the Church tradition that the Gospels were written by the apostles, and then, suddenly without any transition or anything, they begin talking about how the Gospels are perfectly preserved oral traditions.  Well, which is it?  If the Gospels are the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, then they can’t also be a collected oral tradition.
            Another strange little episode happens when Lee Strobel and his Christian apologist are talking about the differing resurrection accounts.  They argue that the differences in the resurrection accounts prove that the disciples weren’t colluding with each other, and that this proves the authenticity of the Gospels.  But then they go on to argue on the very next page that there are no contradictions in the resurrection account.

            What is going on here?
          Well, once you understand that this book is not written for skeptics, but for Christian audiences, then everything makes a lot more sense, including the various contradictions in the book.
            A lot of the contradictory arguments in this book are because Lee Strobel is writing for a conservative Christian audience, but within that audience he’s got a split between the fundamentalist Christians (who believe every word of the Bible has to be completely true) and the more realistic conservative Christians.  Lee Strobel’s trying to sell as many books as possible, so he’s trying to bend over backwards to keep the fundamentalists happy, but he’s also aware that half of his arguments are not going to wash with Christians who actually know their bible.  So he puts in both arguments at the same time, and hopes that this will keep both sides happy.
            I’ll give an example: in eighth grade, I had a Bible teacher who was, to put it mildly, not a liberal guy.  (He used to talk about how California was one day going to be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah because of the homosexual population there!)  But to his credit, he knew his Bible backwards and forwards, and he knew that the 4 different resurrection stories from the 4 different Gospels contained too many contradictions to ever be synchronized into one account.  “Some fundamentalists have tried to devise ways to explain away all these contradictions,” he told us, “But it’s simply impossible to synchronize these accounts in any way that makes sense.”  Instead, he taught us the view that the four Gospels were based on four different eye-witness accounts, and the contradictions arise form the fact that eye-witnesses will sometimes get confused during dramatic events and give contradictory accounts afterwards.  And in fact, he went on to say, this just goes to prove that the Gospels are true, because if the disciples had been trying to sell a false story, they would have been sure to collaborate with each other before hand to make sure that all of their stories were in-synch with each other.
            This is an explanation that is very popular in circles which are conservatively Christian, but not quite fundamentalist.  (I believe it is a flawed explanation for a number of reasons, but I’ll have to save my long explanation for another post.  The point here is just that a large number of conservative Christians believe this.)

            Lee Strobel knows he’s got two groups of Christians he’s got to keep happy when he writes about the resurrection, so he advances both arguments at once.  First he talks about how the contradictions in the various stories prove the disciples weren’t colluding with each other, and then he goes on to argue that, properly understood, there’s no contradictions in the resurrection stories.
            I’m fairly sure the same thing is going on with his account of the authorship of the Gospels.  First he has this long convoluted argument about how the Gospels actually were written by the disciples, then he abruptly shifts gears and starts writing about how they were carefully preserved oral traditions.  He has to keep the fundamentalist happy by supporting Christian tradition, but he knows that there are a lot of conservative Christian scholars (my Calvin College professors were among them) who know that the evidence against apostolic authorship is too overwhelming.  So he just includes both arguments.
            And I suspect this is also why Lee Strobel repeatedly implies throughout the book that your eternity is at stake if you don’t agree with his conclusions, but stops short of actually saying unbelievers are going to hell.  Again, he knows he’s got sizeable Christian readership on both sides of the eternal damnation issue, and he’s got to keep them both happy.

The Christian Apologists Who Appear in Lee Strobel’s Book
          Lee Strobel has actually managed to gain access to some very impressive people for this book.  Some of these Christian apologists he interviews are famous enough that I even have a passing familiarity with them.
            Dr. Gregory Boyd, interviewed in chapter 6, wrote Letters From a Skeptic (A), which I read back in 2005 (before this book review project), and which I thought had some good points.
            Bruce Metzger, interviewed in chapter 3, was Bart Ehrman’s mentor at Princeton, and in all of his books that - I’ve - read, Bart Ehrman always has nothing but praise for him.
            Dr. Ben Witherington III, interviewed in chapter 7, is another colleague of Bart Ehrman, and I’ve read Ben Witherington’s critique of Ehrman (and linked to it off of this blog), and found it thoughtful and worthwhile.
            Dr. William Lane Craig has a quite a formidable intellect despite his extreme fundamentalist positions.  He’s an avid debater, and has never been beaten yet.  William Lane Craig debated Christopher Hitchens [youtube video here] is a classic, and if you read the commentary of the Internet-literati, it’s widely conceded by even the atheists that William Lane Craig pretty much wiped the floor with Hitchens.  (Hitchens is quite good on rhetoric, but unfortunately light on the hard facts, which you need to know going up against William Lane Craig).  The debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman, however, is much more evenly matched.  [YOUTUBE VIDEO].  Bart Ehrman held his own against William Lane Craig, but didn’t defeat him entirely.

            It’s a pity that minds as brilliant as these are got put into a book as terrible as this one is.
            Sometimes I wonder a bit if all of these guys are entirely happy with the edit Lee Strobel gave them, because they come off sounding quite stupid in this book, and they’re not stupid in real life. 
            Another theory is that they all knew this book was intended for a Christian audience, and so they knew they could get away with certain assumptions that they couldn’t use when talking to secular audiences, and some of them perhaps got a bit lazy and left their “A-Game” at home.  I don’t know.

Why It’s Sometimes Worth Taking These Apologists With a Grain of Salt, Even Though They Are Incredibly Intelligent Guys
          It’s been pointed out by several people before me that there is no connection between how intelligent a person is and what there religious beliefs are.
            Indeed, if there were such a correlation, then all the intelligent and educated people would all agree on the correct religion.  And religious affiliation would be determined by intelligence level, and not geography.  And there would be the same percentage of Buddhists and Christians in every country.  And there would be no such thing as highly educated and intelligent Mormons.  (In fact there’s an astounding number of brilliant doctors, lawyers, and scholars who belong to the Mormon faith, which seem to prove that intelligence and religion have no connection.)

            In reality, religion appears to meet emotional and psychology needs that exist on a plane independent from intelligence. 
            In addition to whatever emotional and psychological needs religion is fulfilling for these guys, for most of them there is also the matter of job security.  William Lane Craig, for example, is absolutely brilliant, but he works at a college which requires him to believe, as a condition of employment, that every word in the Bible has to be accurate.   In other words, he can not afford to be a dispassionate scholar who looks at all the evidence and lets it lead him where it may.  He has to always go from the starting point that that everything in the Bible is true, and then work his logic backwards from there.  Brilliant logic, to be sure, but what makes a lot of it so impressive is his ability to spend enormous intellectual energy getting around the problems in the Bible instead of accepting the obvious.
            As brilliant as these guys are, a warning point for the reader should be any time you get the sense that they’re inventing these huge convoluted explanations instead of just accepting the apparent evidence in front of them.

            Lee Strobel, however, does a very good job of keeping these more convoluted explanations carefully hidden in the background.  Occasionally convoluted explanations will come to the surface (Craig Blomberg’s attempt to explain why Matthew is copying from Mark is a good example).  But the preferred strategy is for Lee Strobel to praise the knowledge and intellect of the apologist-de-jour so highly that they don’t have to explain anything they say— their credibility has been so built up that they can just make proclamations, and have the reader take them at their word.
            I’ll give a couple examples.  From page 100, apologist John MacRay proclaims, “Archaeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible.”  Now, that’s not exactly the truth.  In fact it’s pretty much a bold-faced lie.  Whole books are written on how much of the Bible appears to be contradicted by archaeology.  There are whole lists of contradictions, ranging from some more nit-picky details about what kings were at which battles, to huge sections of the Biblical narrative.  The whole narrative of the conquest of Canaan (basically all of Numbers and Joshua) has been completely contradicted by everything archaeologists have been able to find out about the period.  Archaeologists are sure that the Israelites actually emerged from within Canaan, which means not only is the conquest of Canaan narrative discredited, but that the preceding story of Moses and Exodus as well.  [There are numerous sources for this, but The Unauthorized Version by Robin Lane Fox, The Introduction to the Old Testament Yale Lectures by Christine Hayes,  and Bible Mysteries by the BBC all touch on the problem of archeology and the Bible]
           
            I suspect what John McRay should have said was, “We have put enormous time and energy into producing very convoluted explanations in order to get around all the instances in which archaeology appears to contradict the Bible.” But all of the actual convoluted explanations for these pronouncements are left safely out of the pages off the book.  The reader is simply meant to accept that John McRay is a brilliant guy, and if he thinks that there is not a single contradiction between archaeology and the Bible, then that’s proof enough in itself.
            Another example is all the twisted convoluted explanations fundamentalists have come up with to explain away all the contradictions in the resurrection account.  On pages 216-217, Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig talk about how all the contradictions “could be rather easily reconciled”.  They give a couple of examples of some of the explanations they would use to explain away some of the easier more superficial examples, and then they just tell the reader that these are typical examples of “how many of these discrepancies can be explained or minimized with some back-ground knowledge or by just thinking them through with an open mind.”  The real heavy duty explaining needed to get around the more serious contradictions is a can of worms best not opened here.

Some Other Statements that are of Questionable Accuracy
            I’m not going to try to do a complete list here of every time Lee Strobel and his apologist buddies take some liberties with the truth, but here are just a handful of quotations that caught my eye:

* The Old Testament paints a portrait of God by using such titles and descriptions as Alpha and Omega, Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd, Creator, giver of life, forgiver of sin, and speaker with divine authority.  It’s interesting to note that in the New Testament each and every one is applied to Jesus (p. 169)
            God is referred to as Alpha and the Omega in the Old Testament?  Oh, no, no, no, no.

* “The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian” McRay replied.  “…archaeological discoveries are showing over and over again that Luke is accurate in what he has to say  (p.97)
* “given the large portion of the New Testament written by him, it’s extremely significant that Luke has been established to be a scrupulously accurate historian, even in the smallest details.  One prominent archaeologist carefully examined references to thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands, finding not a single mistake. 
            Woah boy!  This is not true—at all.  I’m not going to get into this here, but you could make a long list here of all the areas where scholars have found mistakes in Luke’s geographical references.

The Logical Fallacies Contained in This Book
          As I read this book, I tried to make a list of all the logical fallacies which occurred repeatedly.
            At one point, it was my ambition to actually sit down and explain why these arguments were flawed.
            I’ve since decided against that (see below for “The Evolution of this Book Review”).  Anyone reading this book with a skeptical eye should be able to see why these arguments are flawed without my assistance.  Whereas the target audience for this book, the Christians that this book is meant to reassure, are not trying to find logical flaws in Lee Strobel’s arguments, and don’t really care that none of these arguments make sense

            So, instead of getting into long explanations about why these arguments are logical fallacies, I’m just going to list the more egregious logical fallacies that pop up in this book repeatedly:

Lee Strobel’s Logical Fallacy 1. The Gospels must be true because they are written down.

Lee Strobel’s Logical Fallacy 2: Anything that is written down must be true

3. The Church tradition must be true because church tradition says it is.

4. The Gospels must be true because they were written by Christians, and Christians wouldn’t lie.

5. The Gospels must be true because no contemporary witness ever bothered to write down a book proving that Jesus didn’t do all the miracles that were attributed to him.

6. If you have two written sources, and one is relatively older than the other, than that proves that the older source must be true.

7. Legends can only develop after a certain amount of time has passed, so anything written down within a few years of the event must be true.

8. Whenever Christian theology contradicts logic, we should assume that the problem is with our puny human brains and not with the Christian theology.

9. If you have one source claiming that 500 people witnessed something, than that is equivalent to having the actual eyewitness testimony of those 500 people, even if you have no other collaborating evidence.

10. The burden of proof is on skeptics to prove that something didn’t happen, rather than on believers to prove that something did happen

11.  If we were skeptical about all ancient documents then all of ancient history would be called into question.  Since we accept ancient historical documents when they record history, then we should also be just as accepting of ancient documents when they record supernatural events.

12.  If a document claims that several people witnessed a certain event, then you can claim that you have eyewitness evidence, which in turn can be used to prove the truth of the document from which these claims come from.  (Or in other words—It’s acceptable to use the stories contained within the Bible as proof of the Bible’s accuracy.)

13. If you have a religious figure who claims to be God, and you want to examine the sanity of that religious figure, then the best thing to do is to examine the portraits of that religious figure that were written by his followers.  If his followers portray him as being perfectly sane, then that must be proof that he was perfectly sane in real life.

14. Anything written in any corner of the Roman Empire was read by everyone everywhere (everyone in the ancient Roman Empire was apparently literate and multi-lingual in Lee Strobel’s world), so the (Greek speaking) Gospel writers would never have been able to get away with writing down anything that wasn’t 100% true, or they would have been criticized by the actual (Aramaic speaking) eyewitnesses.

15. Nothing that was untrue ever got written down without someone else writing a rebuttal of it.  So if you have a document that claims fantastic supernatural things happened, but you don’t have any other documents explicitly saying these things didn’t happen, then you have no choice but to accept the truth of the document claiming the supernatural.

16. Anything written by eyewitnesses is always 100 percent reliable.

17. Anything preserved by oral tradition and then later written down by anonymous scribes is also always 100 percent reliable.

18. If someone can give you accurate geographical references about a particular area, then you should believe whatever they say about any supernatural events that took place in that particular area.

Other Annoyances—Lee Strobel Cites Historical Fiction As If It Were Scholarly Research
           
            So in a post I did a while back on my favorite historical fiction books, I mentioned that as a young Christian I had enjoyed the Christian historical fiction books of Paul Maier  The Flames of Rome, and Pontius Pilate.  And in fact, I still have fond memories of them.  (Assuming you accept Paul Maier’s world view, they’re good novels that attempt to blend Christian traditions with larger Roman history.) 
            But you can imagine my jaw dropping when I read Lee Strobel trying to pass these books off as serious scholarship!

            Now, if you want to try to be fair about this, you could argue it’s border-line legitimate.  Maybe.  Because Paul Maier is a serious scholar in his own right, and Lee Strobel and his Christian apologist Edwin Yamauchi are not quoting from the fiction part of the book, but from the footnotes in the back where Paul Maier tries to explain and justify some of the narrative choices he made in the fictional parts.
            But still, a work of historical fiction, even if written by a scholar, is subject to a much less rigorous peer review process than an actual scholarly work, and consequently should be quoted with a bit of a grain of salt.  Lee Strobel should not have tried to pass this book off as work of scholarship.  He should have told the readers he was quoting from a work of historical fiction, and the fact that he and Edwin Yamauchi try to pass off historical fiction as scholarly research is a measure of the contempt for which they hold their readers.

So…If This Book Is Really so Terrible, Then How Do You Explain Its Incredible Popularity In Christian Circles?

          This book was first published in 1998, and believe it or not, in the intervening 16 years, I’m not the first person who noticed all the huge problems with this book, or the first skeptic who noticed the book is just filled with low hanging fruit for anyone who cares to try to refute it.  There are several lengthy rebuttals to this book already on-line—for example HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE (and many more).  There’s also another whole book solely devoted to refuting this book: The Case Against The Case For Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel by Robert M. Price (A)

          I’ve not read Robert Price‘s book yet, but it’s somewhat surprising that a bona fide academic scholar would actually waste his time attempting to respond to Lee Strobel.  I mean, do the logical fallacies I’ve listed above really even merit a response?  (Of course now that I’m several thousand words into my own review of this book, I suppose I’m in no position to criticize.  But I’m not a serious academic.) 

            It’s not remarkable that Atheists should have a field day picking holes in Lee Strobel’s book.  What’s remarkable is that Lee Strobel’s book should be so incredibly popular with Christians. 
            The book has been a bestseller with Christians, running through multiple prints and various editions (student version, young readers version--see list above).  Off of the success of this book, Lee Strobel has launched a whole series of “The Case for…” books, currently totaling over 20 at my count.
            The Case for Christ has been praised by Christian academics and philosophers.
           
            The Amazon.com page for this book is particularly revealing [LINK HERE].  There’s a few skeptics who are grumbling about how this book makes absolutely no sense and how they can’t understand how people could rate it 5 stars, but that’s in the face of the overwhelming majority of reviewers who are rating this book with 5 stars (637 at last count) and praising it highly with their comments.

            Read the comments of the skeptics (the 1 star reviewers [LINK]) and compare them with the Christians (the 5 star reviewers [LINK]) and it’s hard to believe that these two groups are reading the same book.

            In one sense, I suppose there not reading the same book.

            What’s going on is a classic case of Confirmation Bias (W).  Psychology has shown that when we read something that we agree with, we tend to uncritically accept most of the things in it.  We don’t try to look for the holes or problems in the arguments, and consequently we don’t find them.  Whereas for a skeptic like me, who is approaching this book with an eye to test and evaluate everything in it, the problems just leap off the page at me.

            Lee Strobel knows which audience he’s writing for, and he knows which audience he’s not writing for, and boy oh boy does he ever take advantage of the fact that he knows he’s writing for an audience that is not going to challenge anything he says.

How This Book Only Works if You Don’t Challenge Anything Lee Strobel Says
          It’s tempting to say that Lee Strobel is being intellectually dishonest with this book, and he definitely is, but he’s misleading people who want to be misled.  So it probably doesn’t do a lot of good for me as a skeptic to rant and rave about how dishonest this book is.  Lee Strobel knows exactly who his audience is, he’s made plenty of money off this book already, and both he and his target audience are very happy with the results. 

            But it’s worth noting, just for the record, that in order for this book to work, the reader has not realize any of the logical fallacies stated above.  The reader also has to not realize any of the various contradictions in the book.
            In order for this book to work, the reader has to be completely ignorant of any Biblical scholarship.  The reader also has to accept everything from this book on faith, and not double check any of it with another source. 
           
            Interestingly enough, another qualification for this book to work is that the reader must never look up any of the Bible passages Lee Strobel references. 
            You would think a book written for Christians would at least accurately portray the Bible passages, but they seem to be counting on the fact that none of their target audience is actually going to look up any of their Biblical references.  It’s interesting how many of the Bible passages Lee Strobel and his apologists buddies cite actually, if you take the time to look them up, mean the exact opposite of what they say it means.  Examples are numerous, but I’ll give one of many here:
            When dealing with the fact that both Luke and Matthew give conflicting genealogies of Jesus, apologist Craig Blomberg says that one explanation for this discrepancy is “that Matthew reflects Joseph’s lineage, because most of his opening chapter is told from Joseph’s perspective and Joseph, as the adoptive father, would have been the legal ancestor through whom Jesus’ royal lineage would have been traced.  These are themes that are important for Matthew.  Luke, then, would have traced the genealogy through Mary’s lineage. And since both are from the ancestry of David, once you get that far back the lines converge.” (p. 47)

            Now, in order for this explanation to work, Lee Strobel’s target audience has to think, “Well, that explains it nicely then.  I wonder why the skeptics made such a big deal about this in the first place when the answer was so simple.”  And then never look up the passages to check if Lee Strobel is telling them the truth or not.
            If you actually look up Luke’s genealogy, however, Luke makes it quite clear he’s giving the genealogy of Joseph.  The genealogy beings in Luke 3:23 “When Jesus began his work, he was about thirty years old. He was the son, so people thought, of Joseph, who was the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of….”
            The Gospel writer clearly states that he is giving the genealogy of Joseph, and then even goes out of his way to remind the reader that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’s biological father, but that the Gospel writer is going to give Joseph’s genealogy anyway, because people thought he was Jesus’s father.
            Now, Christian fundamentalists have actually invented this long convoluted explanation for how the Gospel of Luke is really giving the genealogy of Mary even though the Gospel writer goes out of his way to clarify that he’s talking about Joseph.  But none of that is in Lee Strobel’s book.  Lee Strobel doesn’t even bother to open that can of worms, because he knows none of his Christian target audience is going to bother fact checking him anyway!!

The Evolution of this Book Review  (Or: A Discussion on Whether or Not to Waste Time Attempting to Refute Lee Strobel, when Lee Strobel Clearly Doesn’t Care Whether He’s Making Sense or Not.)

          Judged solely on the criterion of readable prose, Lee Strobel is not a bad writer.  The book is breezy, conversational in tone, and could quite easily be finished in a couple of days.
            So it’s not a hard little book to read through.  The difficulty comes for those of us who have this compulsion to review everything we read on line.  (Since 2006, I’ve made a project of reviewing all the books I read on this blog, so by virtue of reading this book I was committed to reviewing it.)  This book has sat on my shelf for over a year now, and over that time this book review has gone through various phases.

            Given that Lee Strobel doesn’t even bother making logical sense, and that this book was written specifically for people who could be relied upon to turn their brains off when they picked it up, is it actually worth my time to write a refutation of it?

            Many of the skeptical reviews of this book that I’ve read have just washed their hands of the book rather than attempting to actually refute it.  Something along the lines of: “Well, this book obviously was not intended to be read by skeptics like me, so I’m not going to waste my time trying to argue with it.”

            I’m tempted to do the same.  And yet, given how popular this book is in Christian circles, part of me does feel like it might be worth while to attempt a “walk-through” of the book, to demonstrate to people why it actually doesn’t make any sense, and why the arguments it uses actually contradict each other.
            To us skeptics, it seems self-evident that this book is complete nonsense, but the success this book has had in evangelical circles indicates that it is not self-evident to everyone.  In order to establish a dialogue between skeptics and believers, some work apparently needs to be done pointing out what appears obvious.

            Many people have already refuted this book (see the list above).  Many of them are quite good, but for my money, no online review has yet systematically gone through all the absurdities in this book.  It seemed like a niche waiting to be filled.

            For a while, I thought I would be that blogger who finally filled that niche and systematically went through all the contradictions, logical fallacies, and factual errors in The Case for Christ.

            And then reality set in, and I realized that I didn’t have the time to devote to this project, and that it would be a pretty pointless project anyway.  (It seems a waste to spend all my time systematically debunking a book that is 16 years old now, and only ever existed in the first place for an audience that didn’t care whether it made sense or not.)

            My next plan was much more limited in scope.  I would choose just 4 areas that were important to me, and limit my analysis to Lee Strobel’s handling of just these areas. I decided to only write about “The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony,” “The Legend Hypothesis,” “The Problem of Hell” and “Why Would the Disciples Die for a Lie?”  (The first 3 topics were areas of interest of mine, the last one was something Lee Strobel and his Christian apologists harped on quite a bit, so I thought it deserved a response.)
            Despite the fact that Lee Strobel’s book is not worth taking seriously, I believed the issues themselves were worth a serious examination.  Religion is, after all, the ultimate philosophical issue, and our view on religion theoretically affects every other aspect of our lives.  For this reason, I wanted to lay out as clearly as I could my thoughts on each of these 4 areas.  I thought I would use Lee Strobel’s handling of each subject as a jumping off point from which to explore them deeper.

            But this plan too got dropped in the end.
            I still believe all four of these issues are important, and they may still well merit a separate blog post at some point in the future.  But if I ever do go back and talk about these issues, I will talk about them on their own terms, without having to try to tie them back to Lee Strobel’s analysis.  On all of these issues, Lee Strobel’s thoughts are just a mass of contradictions, and it seemed a waste of time to have to write several pages trying to sort out all of Lee Strobel’s contradictory messages before I could get around to a more serious examination of the issue.

            So, in the end, I’ve decided to just limit myself to one issue.  I’m only going to talk about “The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.”  And that’s it.  I’ll demonstrate why Lee Strobel’s arguments on “The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” make absolutely no sense, and once I’ve established how ludicrously bad the logic of this book is on just one issue, I’ll wash my hands of the rest of it. 
            (Even though I’ve just limited myself to one issue, I’m arguably still giving this book more of my time than it deserves, but I just can’t help myself.  I feel like if I accuse this book of being complete nonsense, I have to at least take the trouble to show that it’s complete nonsense.)


          Lee Strobel is trying to argue that the Gospels are based on eyewitness evidence, but what he means by eyewitness evidence is not at all clear.
            To illustrate how confused his arguments all, I’ll start by quoting the overview he gives to the first chapter of his book.

From Lee Strobel’s Chapter 1
            The Eyewitness Evidence: Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted

            When I first met shy and soft-spoken Leo Carter, he was a seventeen-year-old veteran of Chicago’s grittiest neighborhood. His testimony had put three killers in prison. And he was still carrying a .38-caliber slug in his skull—a grisly reminder of a horrific saga that began when he witnessed Elijah Bapist gun down a local grocer.
            Leo and a friend, Leslie Scott, were playing basketball when they saw Elijah, then a sixteen year-old delinquent with thirty arrests on his rap sheet, slay Sam Blue outside his grocery store.
            Leo had known the grocer since childhood.  “When we didn’t have any food, he’d give us some,” Leo explained to me in a quiet voice. “So when I went to the hospital and they said he was dead, I knew I’d have to testify about what I saw.”
            Eyewitness testimony is powerful. One of the most dramatic moments in a trial is when a witness describes in detail the crime that he or she saw and then points confidently toward the defendant as being the perpetrator.  Elijah Baptist knew that the only way to avoid prison would be to somehow prevent Leo Carter and Leslie Scott from doing just that.
            So Elijah and two of his pals went hunting.  Soon they tracked down Leo and Leslie, who were walking down the street with Leo’s brother Henry, and they dragged all three at gunpoint to a darkened loading dock nearby.
            “I like you,” Elijah’s cousin said to Leo, “But I’ve got to do this.” With that he pressed a pistol to the bridge of Leo’s nose and yanked the trigger.
            The gun roared; the bullet penetrated at a slight angle, blinding Leo in his right eye and embedding in his head. When he crumbled to the ground, another shot was fired, this bullet lodging two inches from his spine.
            As Leo watched from his sprawled position, pretending he was dead, he saw his sobbing brother and friend ruthlessly executed at close range. When Elijah and his gang fled, Leo crawled to safety.
            Somehow, against all odds, Leo Carter lived.  The bullet, too precarious to be removed, remained in his skull. Despite searing headaches that strong medication couldn’t dull, he became the sole eyewitness against Elijah Baptist at his trial for killing grocer Sam Blue.  The jurors believed Leo, and Elijah was sentenced to eighty years in prison.
            Again Leo was the only eyewitness to testify against Elijah and his two companions in the slayings of his brother and his friend. And once more his word was good enough to land the trio in prison for the rest of their lives.
            Leo Carter is one of my heroes. He made sure justice was served, even though he paid a monumental price for it. When I think of eye-witness testimony, even to this day—more than twenty years later—his face still appears in my mind.
Testimony from Distant Time
            Yes, eyewitness testimony can be compelling and convincing. When a witness has had ample opportunity to observe a crime, when there’s no bias or ulterior motives, when the witness is truthful and fair, the climatic act of pointing out a defendant in a courtroom can be enough to doom that person to prison or worse.
            And eyewitness testimony is just as crucial in investigating historical matters—even the issue of whether Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God.
            But what eyewitness accounts do we possess?  Do we have the testimony of anyone who personally interacted with Jesus, who listened to his teachings, who saw his miracles, who witnessed his death, and who perhaps even encountered him after his alleged resurrection?  Do we have any records from first century “journalists” who interviewed eyewitnesses, asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true?  Equally important, how well would these accounts withstand the scrutiny of skeptics? (p.19-20)

            This type of story from Lee Strobel’s courtroom experiences is how each chapter begins. As you can see, it’s so much fluff, but I’ve gone through the trouble of quoting all that fluff because it’s important to see what Lee Strobel is setting up as his gold standard for eyewitness testimony in a courtroom.  Remember this introduction, because he’s not going to be able to prove anything remotely like this with the Gospels.  In fact, by identifying in the introduction what he regards as convincing courtroom evidence, he’s setting himself up to prove the opposite point.

            So, how does Lee Strobel defend the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels?  Well, like everything, he makes a completely incoherent case.  Just a few pages later (in Chapter 2: Testing the Eyewitness Evidence), we find Lee Strobel making statements like this:

            You’ve probably played the game of telephone yourself: one child whispers something into another child’s ear—for instance, “You’re my best friend”—and this gets whispered to others around a big circle until at the end it comes out grossly distorted—perhaps, “You’re a brutish friend.”
            “Let’s be candid,” I said to Blomberg. “Isn’t this a good analogy for what probably happened to the oral tradition about Jesus.”
            Blomberg wasn’t buying that explanation. “No, not really,” he said. “Here’s why: When you’re carefully memorizing something and taking care not to pass it along until you’re sure you’ve got it right, you’re doing something very different from playing the game of telephone.”
            ….
            “Then why,” I asked “isn’t that a good analogy for passing along ancient oral tradition?”
            …”If you really wanted to develop that analogy in light of the checks and balances of the first-century community, you’d have to say that every third person, out loud in a very clear voice, would have to ask the first person, “Do I still have it right?” and change it if he didn’t.
            “The Community would constantly be monitoring what was said and intervening to make corrections along the way. That would preserve the integrity of the message,” he said. (p.44)

            Okay, I don’t want to nit-pick too much here, but this is not eyewitness testimony he’s describing.  In fact if you’re inclined to be critical, you could say he’s describing the exact opposite of eyewitness testimony.  (Go back and look at the courtroom example with which Lee Strobel opened up this section.  How well does this fit Lee Strobel’s own example of eyewitness testimony?)
            The weird thing about this section on the well preserved oral tradition is that it’s just inserted into the chapter on eyewitness testimony with no transition, or explanation of how this fits into what he was saying before.  One minute Lee Strobel is defending the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, and the next page we’re all of a sudden in the middle of his defense of the well-preserved oral tradition of Jesus. 
            This is typical of the style of which the whole book is written in.  It zooms wildly from one contradictory argument to the next.
            At first I thought Lee Strobel might be using oral tradition to supplement his eyewitness theory.  Perhaps Lee Strobel was using oral tradition to explain the parts of the Gospels where the apostles couldn’t have been eyewitnesses, such as the birth narratives.  But no, he’s not using this as a supplement.  He’s advancing two contradictory theories at once, as becomes clear in the passage below:
            “One study suggested that in ancient Middle East, anywhere from ten to forty percent of any given retelling of sacred tradition could vary from one occasion to the next.  However, there were always fixed points that were unalterable, and the community had the right to intervene and correct the storyteller if he erred on those important aspects of the story.”
            “It’s an interesting”—he paused searching his mind for the right word—“coincidence that ten to forty percent is pretty consistently the amount of variation among the synoptics on any given passage.”
            Blomberg was hinting at something; I wanted him to be more explicit. “Spell it out for me,” I said. “What precisely are you saying?”
            “I’m saying that it’s likely that a lot of the similarities and differences among the synoptics can be explained by assuming that the disciples and other early Christians had committed to memory a lot of what Jesus said and did., but they felt free to recount this information in various forms, always preserving the significance of Jesus’ oral teachings and deeds.” (p. 43-44)
           
            The birth narratives in the synoptics share no similarities.  (Matthew and Luke wrote two completely contradictory accounts of how Jesus was born).  So Lee Strobel can’t be talking about the birth narratives here.  He has to be talking about the whole story being transmitted by oral culture.

            Throughout the whole book, he jumps back and forth freely between the eyewitness testimony argument, and the well-preserved oral tradition argument, never seeming to realize he’s contradicting himself.
            (One of the struggles with writing a rebuttal to this book is that it’s so hard to figure out what Lee Strobel is arguing in the first place.)

            There is one hint that Lee Strobel realizes he is contradicting himself by including oral tradition in his section on “eyewitness testimony,” because he tries to insert some weasel words to cover himself.  He started the chapter off with the dramatic story about the power of eyewitness testimony, but then once he was a few pages into his analysis of the Gospels, he starts to sneak in the words “indirect eyewitness testimony.”  For example: “we can be assured that the events they [the Gospels] record are based on either direct or indirect eyewitness testimony.” (p.25)
            Or again on page 32: “It’s one thing to say that the gospels are rooted in direct or indirect eyewitness testimony…..
           
            Now, there is no such thing as “indirect eyewitness testimony”.  This is a term Lee Strobel (and Blomberg, his Christian apologist for this section) are just making up.  There is eyewitness testimony, and there is hearsay.  Lee Strobel apparently does not understand the difference between the two, but hearsay is not admitted in a court of law.  (Remember again the legal example that Lee Strobel used to set this whole section up with?  Remember how this whole book is supposed to be based on Lee Strobel’s legal expertise?) 
            By the loose definition he’s using of eyewitness testimony, anything and everything can be said to be based on “eyewitness testimony”.

            And then what makes all of this even more confusing is that near the end of the book, during the interview with William Lane Craig on page 209, a third theory is presented.
            William Lane Craig claims that:
            Mark is so extremely early that it’s simply not possible for it to have been subject to legendary corruption.”
            “How can you tell it’s early?” I asked.
            “Two reasons,” he said. “First, Mark is generally considered to be the earliest gospel.  Secondly, his gospel basically consists of short anecdotes about Jesus, more like pearls on a string than a smooth continuous narrative.
            “But when you get to the last week of Jesus’ life—the so called passion story—then you do have a continuous narrative events in sequence.  The passion story was apparently taken by Mark from an even earlier source...” (p.209)

            So in William Lane Craig’s view, the Gospel of Mark is apparently a patchwork of different sources from anonymous writers.  And not only does Lee Strobel not have any problem with William Lane Craig’s view, he even repeats William Lane Craig’s point about Mark in his conclusion when he tries to sum up all the evidence (p.263).

            It’s interesting that in Lee Strobel’s world everything seems to prove the truth of the Gospels.  If the Gospels were based on eyewitness evidence, then that “proves” they are accurate.  But if the Gospels are based on oral tradition, then that also “proves” they are accurate.  And if the Gospels are a patchwork of different anonymous sources, that also “proves” their truth.

            However for those of us who are more skeptically inclined, I think that it should be obvious that attempting to argue several contradictory arguments at once is tantamount to admitting you don’t know which one is correct, and that consequently other explanations are possible. 
           
            In all of Lee Strobel’s arguments, he’s always assuming the best of conditions.  He’s assuming that any eyewitnesses were always reliable, he’s assuming that any oral tradition always took place under the best of conditions with the most reliable of transmitters, and he’s assuming that the Gospel of Mark was always using reliable sources to put together his Gospel.
            However, we have no—absolutely no—proof of any of these assumptions.  The oral tradition could have been carefully preserved, like Lee Strobel assumes it was, or it could have gotten horribly mangled along the way.

            Similarly, once you admit that a variety of explanations are possible, you have to admit that it’s at least as likely a possibility that many of the stories in the Gospels were just made up by the writer.  The legend of Jesus almost certainly has a historical basis at its core, but a lot of the details in the Gospels could easily have just been invented.  Many of the details lack any corroboration from elsewhere in the New Testament or any outside historical source.  The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, for example, both contradict each other, and are both unsupported anywhere else in the Bible.  Did the writers get these from oral tradition, or did they just make them up?  What about the census of the whole Roman Empire that occurs only in Luke (which no other ancient source collaborates, and which is found no where else in the Bible).  Or the incident of all the dead rising from their graves only in Matthew (which strangely enough, no other Biblical or secular writer ever seems to have noticed).  If Lee Strobel can’t make up his mind whether these are oral tradition or eye-witness testimony, then we can just as well posit that the Gospellers just made up these details in a dark room somewhere.

            So, to sum up Lee Strobel’s arguments:
            From pages 22-36, Lee Strobel is arguing that the Gospels are written by the apostles.
            From pages 42-44, Lee Strobel argues that the Gospels come from oral tradition,
            And on pages 209 and 263, he appears to argue that he Gospels are a patchwork of sources, some earlier than others.

            I don’t have the time or the energy to thoroughly debunk all three of these theories in turn.  As I said in part 1, I’m only going to focus only on debunking the argument that the Gospels are written by the apostles—the arguments advanced in pages 22-36.

            Even within pages 22-36, though, Lee Strobel manages to contradict himself.  He’s got a difficulty he needs to get around: Church tradition says that Matthew wrote his Gospel first, but modern scholarship has proven that Mark is the earliest Gospel, and that Matthew was copying out of Mark.
            So, of course, Lee Strobel argues both points at once, even though they contradict each other.
            From pages 22-26, Lee Strobel argues that Church tradition is correct, and that Matthew wrote his Gospel first (in Hebrew).  Then, from pages 27-28, Lee Strobel admits that modern scholarship has shown the Gospel of Matthew was largely copied form the Gospel of Mark, and argues this bizarre theory that the apostle Matthew was consciously copying from the apostle Mark.  It’s a bizarre amalgamation of Church tradition with modern scholarship that thoroughly perverts both, and furthermore contradicts everything Lee Strobel had just gotten done saying in the previous 4 pages.  (The assumption behind this whole book is that the reader is just not paying attention, so Lee Strobel can get away with constantly contradicting himself every few pages—yet another reason this book couldn’t possibly have been written with a skeptical audience in mind.)

            It’s very difficult to have a serious discussion of the issue, and still follow Lee Strobel’s outline, because he just goes back and forth from one contradictory statement to the other.  In order to have the discussion make any sort of sense, I’m going to try to break down Lee Strobel’s arguments into the essentials, and then look at each part of it.

            Even though Lee Strobel can’t seem to make up his mind on whether Matthew or Mark wrote first, in both cases his section defending Apostolic authorship rests on three assumptions:
1) The Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels
2) Therefore, the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony,
3) Therefore, the Gospels are 100% reliable.

            In actuality, all three of these assumptions are flawed.  Modern scholarship has shown that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John couldn’t have written the Gospels that their names are attached to.  But even if Church tradition were correct, Lee Strobel still couldn’t argue that Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony.  And even if the Gospels had been based on eyewitness testimony, that still wouldn’t prove they were 100% reliable.

            I’ll deal with each assumption systematically, in reverse order.
            In the next few sections I’ll be arguing that:



and finally….
IV Trying to Make Sense of Lee Strobel’s Convoluted Arguments about the Gospel’s Authorship

[Addendum: This youtube reviewer here picks up on another problem with the courtroom example  that I initially missed.  The eyewitness evidence simply by itself would probably have not been enough to convict someone.  It was the eyewitness evidence in conjunction with the physical evidence (the bullet in the brain, the dead bodies) that sent those men to prison.  Absent any dead bodies and any bullets, the eyewitness testimony simply by itself would have been of limited value.]

Part 3: Even if the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitnesses Evidence, That Would Not, Ipso Facto, Mean That They Were 100% Reliable.

  Lee Strobel devotes the first couple of his chapters to attempting to prove that the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony.
            Once Lee Strobel considers this proved, the whole rest of the book takes it as a given that the Gospels must be accurate in every detail.  (In chapter 8, Lee Strobel and Dr. Gary Collins actually go so far as to determine Jesus’s sanity based on the descriptions of Jesus written in the Gospels!)
          One of the difficulties that Lee Strobel ignores in his book is the idea that you can have eyewitness testimony that is unreliable.  (In fact, as Bart Ehrman points out in Jesus, Interrupted, our entire legal system is predicated on the assumption that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable.)

When attempting to prove the validity of a religion based on eyewitness testimony, a number of points can be made in response:
I. People Claim to be Eyewitnesses to Crazy Things All the Time, and We Are Not Always Obligated to Believe Them
II. Throughout History, Messianic Figures Have Captivated Millions of Eyewitnesses
III. The Majority of Eyewitness to Jesus in First Century Palestine Did Not Actually Become Believers
IV. All That Being Said, Let Me Admit the Obvious: An Identifiable Eyewitness Source is better than an Anonymous Second Hand Source


I. People Claim to be Eyewitnesses to Crazy Things All the Time, and We Are Not Always Obligated to Believe Them
            In fact, if we were slaves to every eyewitness who claimed to see something supernatural, then we would have to believe in every UFO story, every person who saw Jesus in their tortilla, every Elvis sighting, and every bigfoot sighting.

            I’m currently living in Cambodia, where the superstitious Cambodian people believe in regular occurrences of the supernatural, and one is constantly hearing stories of demon possession, sorcery, miracles, and ghosts.  Walter Mason comments on this extensively in his book about Cambodia, but I’ve experienced it plenty enough myself.  In areas of the world like Cambodia where people have a world view that allows them to turn to the supernatural for explanation of events, it’s amazing how often the supernatural is invoked.
            Often one hears testimony first hand from Cambodian friends who swore that they once saw a ghost, or that there was black magic in their village.  Or, you hear about these stories and rumors and superstitions second hand (what Lee Strobel would call “indirect eyewitness testimony”) where Cambodian friends claimed to know from very reliable sources that miraculous supernatural events occurred.
            Often, these supernatural rumors get large enough to make the papers, such as Spirit Possessions Mark End to Chinese New Year, Sorcerers, Magic Coconut Trees .  And then there were all the miracles that were attributed to King Sihanouk after his death, which thousands of Cambodians swore they saw

            Given how much importance Lee Strobel places on eyewitness testimony, one gets the impression that were he living in Cambodia, he would have no choice but to believe all of these stories.
          As for me, however, I did not personally witness any of these miraculous events myself, and so I consider myself under no obligation to believe them, no matter the number of eyewitnesses.  So, although thousands of Cambodians believe they saw King Sihanouk after he died, I am under no obligation to believe it myself.  In my experience of the world, I do not consider it likely that black magic and ghosts exist, nor are these phenomena accounted for by science.  On the other hand, I have enough experience of the world to know that sometimes people lie, sometimes people are deceived, sometimes people see what they want to see, and often rumours can get out of control very quickly.

II. Throughout History, Messianic Figures Have Captivated Millions of Eyewitnesses
            Throughout history there have been plenty of Messianic movements, in which those claiming to be chosen by God have captivated thousands of eyewitnesses.  There was the Mahdi (W) who fought Gordon in Khartoum, who attracted thousands of followers.  Millions  of Chinese peasants joined the Taiping rebellion when Hong Xiuquan (W) claimed to be the half-brother of Jesus Christ.  Others were attracted by Jim Jones (W) and David Koresh (W). 

III. The Majority of Eyewitness to Jesus in First Century Palestine Did Not Actually Become Believers
          Lee Strobel tries to make much out of the fact that no 1st Century Jew every left a document disproving that Jesus did all the miraculous things attributed to him.
            In fact, this is actually not so surprising.  Given how low literacy rates were throughout history at any point before the industrial revolution, it is highly unlikely any of the people who had witnessed Jesus in person would have been able to write such a document, even assuming it had been a priority for them.  (This same reason is why scholars find it highly unlikely that the highly stylized Greek found in the Gospels could have been written by Jesus’s uneducated Aramaic speaking followers—but I’ll get to that in part 8.)
            Secondly, even if the majority of First Century Jews could read and write, it would have been almost impossible for them to witness a negative.  I mean, unless someone had made it their life’s mission to watch Jesus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, then how could you prove that he never did any miracles ever?
            As for Jesus’s resurrection, although all 4 Gospels give contradictory accounts, in no account of Jesus’s resurrection does he ever make public appearances after he rose from the dead.  Jesus only appeared in resurrected form to the disciples in secret.  A first century Jewish skeptic, even if he could read or write, is not going to be able to say that he witnessed Jesus not appearing to his disciples in secret.

            However, despite the fact that we don’t have any people explicitly writing down that they witnessed Jesus not doing something, we can infer a lot from the conversion rates among the Jews in first century Palestine.  And we can infer that the majority of eyewitnesses to Jesus were not impressed.
            Jesus had a handful of loyal followers, but the vast majority of eyewitnesses in Galilee and Jerusalem did not convert to Christianity.  If the people who actually witnessed Jesus had found him actually convincing, then there would never have been a split between Judaism and Christianity.  And this is to be weighed against the handful of eyewitness documents Lee Strobel thinks he has.

IV. All That Being Said, Let Me Admit the Obvious: An Identifiable Eyewitness Source is better than an Anonymous Second Hand Source

            It is true, however, that eye-witness accounts are better than anonymous accounts.  So the case for the Gospels is going to get even worse for Lee Strobel when (as we will see later) we don’t even know who wrote the Gospels.  But even if they were written by the apostles, as Lee Strobel claims, this doesn’t mean we are under any obligation to believe something which contradicts our common sense. 
            As Thomas Paine said: When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not; such circumstance requires a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it; but we have not even this—for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others that they said so—it is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.

Update October 20, 2015This video here is a great explanation of all the problems with eye witness testimony.  It's about the problems with eye witness testimony in regards to UFO sightings, but much of this also applies to Lee Strobel's over-reliance on eye-witness testimony as well.

Part 4: Even if Lee Strobel Were Able to Prove that the Church Tradition about the Gospels Was Correct, Most of the Gospel Stories Still Would Not Be Based on Eyewitness Testimony

Something Lee Strobel never addresses even once in his book is that, even if the Church tradition on the Apostolic authorship is correct, he still can’t claim that the majority of the Gospels are based on eyewitness evidence.  (Lee Strobel is just really, really, really hoping you won’t notice this, so he just doesn’t talk about it at all.)

            In fact, even according to the Church tradition Lee Strobel is defending, most of the Gospels are second hand evidence.  I’ll address this in the following points.
I. A Clarification on What the Church Tradition Actually Is
II. Even According to the Church Tradition, 2 out of the 4 Gospels are Not Eyewitness Accounts
III. Parts of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John were Added Later, and We Have No Idea Who Added Them
IV. Even for the Remaining Two Gospels, They Can Only be Called Eyewitness Testimony for the Parts that the Apostles Actually Witnessed
V. A Discussion of What to Make of All the Material in the Gospels that Was Clearly Not Witnessed By Anyone, And Is Attributable to No Clear Source

I. A Clarification on What the Church Tradition Actually Is
According to Church tradition, Matthew’s Gospel was written first in Hebrew (it was the Gospel for the Jews), and then later translated into Greek.  Mark’s Gospel is attributed to John Mark, who was a travelling companion of Peter for many years, and after Peter died, John Mark was encouraged by the Church to write down everything Peter had told him over the years about Jesus, so John Mark did so (although because John Mark wasn’t actually present for any of these things, he didn’t know what order Peter’s stories were supposed to go in, so Church fathers admit he may have fudged up the order of the stories.)  Luke was a travelling companion of Paul who wasn’t an eyewitness to any of the things in his Gospel, but he did some research.  And John, like Matthew, was an apostle of Jesus.

II. Even According to the Church Tradition, 2 out of the 4 Gospels are Not Eye-Witness Accounts
            Now, before we get any further into this, it’s worth noting that even if we accept Church tradition, Lee Strobel can only claim two of the four Gospels as eyewitness testimony.  Mark’s Gospel is second hand, and Luke’s Gospel (by the author’s own admission) is even farther removed.  As Luke himself writes: “Dear Theophilus, many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning, and who proclaimed the message. And so, Your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you.” (Luke 1:1-3).
            So Luke is basing his account off of written documents, which were themselves written by other people who were reporting what they had been told by the eyewitnesses.  By my count, that means Luke is, at best, 3rd hand testimony.

            Lee Strobel never directly addresses the fact that 2 out of his 4 Gospels are not eyewitness testimony, but he does sneak in the weasel words “indirect eyewitness testimony.”  Here again, it’s worth re-emphasizing that there’s no such thing as “indirect eyewitness testimony.”  It’s either eyewitness testimony or it’s second hand.

III. Parts of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John were Added Later, and We Have No Idea Who Added Them
            Also, even if you assume that the Apostles of Church tradition originally wrote the Gospels, you would still have to account for the parts of the Gospels that were added later by anonymous scribes.
            The earliest and most reliable ancient Greek manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20 (when Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection) and John 8:1-11 (the  story of the woman caught in adultery—the one where Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”).  This is beyond dispute, so much so that even the people who print your Bible have footnoted these passages.  (No one, not even Lee Strobel and his apologists, disputes that these two passages are later additions.)
            So, where do these passages come from?  You can only claim these are eyewitness testimony by more wishful thinking.  We have no idea what the source for these passages are.
            So even assuming the Church tradition Lee Strobel is trying to defend, we would still have a whole half chapter of the Gospel of Mark, and a whole story from the Gospel of John, that we have no idea who wrote them. 

IV. Even for the Remaining Two Gospels, They Can Only be Called Eyewitness Testimony for the Parts that the Apostles Actually Witnessed
            So only Matthew and John can be called eyewitness testimony, and even here it can only be eye-witness testimony for what Matthew and John were physically eyewitnesses to.  

So, all the stories in Matthew in which Jesus takes Peter, James and John aside from the rest of the apostles is not eye-witness testimony—for example the transfiguration, and the Garden of Gethsemane, et cetera.  These events could only be called second hand evidence at best.  Of the four Gospel writers, only John would have been an actual eye-witness to these events.  But strangely enough, John’s Gospel is the only Gospel not to mention these events.  The transfiguration (of which John would have been the only eyewitness out of the 4 Gospellers) is not even mentioned in John’s Gospel.  So even by Lee Strobel’s criteria, we have absolutely no direct eye-witness testimony of one of the most miraculous events of Jesus’s life.  Nor is the story about Jesus taking Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane mentioned in John. 
            It’s possible the Gospel writers could have gotten these events second hand from Peter, James and John, but this certainly isn’t eye-witness testimony.  (By the way, the fact that John just forgets to write about all these big events he was supposedly an eye-witness to is also problematic for Lee Strobel, but we’ll get to that later in Part 10).

            And then there were all the events during which none of the apostle could have been eye-witnessesThe birth narrative in Matthew, for example, can not be based on eyewitness testimony.  Nor the section on the death of John the Baptist and Herod’s dancing daughter in Matthew 14.  Nor could Matthew have been an eyewitness to the secret meeting of the high priests to plot against Jesus in Matthew 26.  Or Judas meeting the high priests to plan Jesus’s betrayal.  Or the story about the guards at the tomb and Pilate and the chief priests plotting to bribe the guards.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

            So where does this information come from?  Well, we have no idea.  It’s theoretically possible that some of this could have come down to Matthew second hand from other sources, but we don’t know.  Matthew doesn’t state his sources.  We don’t know how accurate his sources were, or how reliably the material was preserved, or anything.  To assume that this is all accurate material is either just wishful thinking, or pure faith.  There’s no indication of the source, and there’s certainly no proof.

                 And then there’s plenty of material in the Gospels for which there were no eyewitnesses at all.  In the Gospel of Matthew, the wise-men are warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, and so returned to their country by another road.  Now, notice that not only could Matthew not have been an eyewitness to this, it's hard to imagine anyone being a source of this information.  Unless someone went all the way into the East and tracked these men down, what source could this information possibly have come from?  It's not just a matter of this being 1st versus 2nd hand--it's a matter of the source being completely inexplicable.

            And there are many stories in the Gospel like this which don't seem possible to attribute to any eyewitness source.  When Jesus goes into the desert to be tempted by Satan, no one else was there—it was just Jesus and the Devil. Unless Jesus told his disciples specifically what had happened ("Now, when you write your Gospels, don't forget to include the part about how Satan said to me..."), then this information is not coming from anywhere.
            In John’s Gospel, there is a lengthy conversation between Jesus and Pilate that took place away from eyes of the crowds.  As the incident is described in John’s Gospel, there don’t appear to have been any other eyewitnesses. 
            And then there’s Jesus praying to God in the garden of Gethsemane after all the other disciples have fallen asleep.  Again, no eyewitnesses to this except Jesus and God.  Unless Jesus specifically told his disciples about this afterwards, then this information is not coming from any source.  ("Now, when you write the Gospels, don't forget to include the part about how I pleaded with God to spare me from my fate.  And make sure you write that I was sweating blood, and that an Angel came down to comfort me.")
           
V. A Discussion of What to Make of All the Material in the Gospels that Was Clearly Not Witnessed By Anyone, And Is Attributable to No Clear Source

            So how does Lee Strobel get around the fact that much of the Gospels just physically can’t be based on eyewitness testimony?  Well he doesn’t.  He doesn’t even acknowledge the issue.  Once again, he’s just really hoping the reader won’t notice all these huge holes in his theories as he steamrolls on.

            It’s an interesting difficulty for him though. 
            It is an assumption of The Case for Christ that the truth of the Gospels can be proved in a court of law just like any other court case could be proved, so Lee Strobel is understandably reluctant to just fall back on articles of faith like divine revelation.  But then how else to explain where all this material is coming from?
           
            Many Christians just rely on the idea of divine revelation—the idea that God was telling the Gospellers exactly what to write, so that anything that the Gospellers weren’t personally eyewitnesses to can be explained by God just zapping their minds.  This of course can neither be proved nor disproved—you just have to take it or leave it on faith the same way you’d have to take the Koran on faith or the book of Mormon on faith.  And Lee Strobel doesn’t bring it up because his whole book is about how you can “prove” the case for Christ.  (Well, actually, you can’t prove any of this stuff, which is the problem with the whole premise of the book.)

            The problem with the divine revelation argument, however, is that it means that the Gospels are a divine document rather than a human document.  Which is going to make things sticky when we get around to discussing the mistakes and the contradictions.
            As I mentioned in part 1, one popular way conservative Christians have come up with to explain the contradictions in the resurrection account is to attribute this to the human frailty of the eyewitness testimony.  But if the Gospels are based on divine revelation, then how to explain the contradictions?

            (As I mentioned in part 1, Lee Strobel plays both sides of the fence on this one.  He argues for both the inerrancy and the errancy of the Bible, but he does at least at times invoke the conservative Christian argument that the contradictions in the Bible prove the disciples were independent eyewitnesses.  For example, he quotes a Christian apologist who says of the Gospels: “There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction” (Simon Greenleaf, as quoted in Lee Strobel page 46).)
           
            Assuming human authors of the Gospels, you can get away with some discrepancies.  Assuming this is divine inspiration, it’s not clear why God is always contradicting himself from one Gospel to another.

            So, to sum-up, even assuming Church tradition, Lee Strobel has a very weak case when he argues that the Gospels are based on eye-witness testimony.  It gets even worse for Lee Strobel, however, because we now know that Church tradition about the Gospels are completely wrong.

 Part 5: Why the Church Tradition on the Apostolic Authorship of the Gospels is Incorrect (Overview)

The Gospels referred to as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not actual claim to be written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  Nowhere inside any of the Gospels, or anywhere else in the bible, is any sort of author for the Gospels identified—they were written as anonymous documents.
            The designation of the authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John come not from the Gospels themselves, but from Church tradition dating from the 2nd Century A.D, about a century after the apostles were dead.
            Modern scholarship has established, for a variety of reasons, that it was extremely unlikely the apostles could have written the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  This is so well established now that it is currently being taught in both conservative protestant and catholic colleges. 

            [I personally attended Calvin College which is not a liberal institution—to put it mildly.  (The faculty are currently prevented from writing anything on the issue of homosexuality, and the ordination of woman is still regarded as controversial—to give you some idea.)  Our religion professors taught us what is commonly regarded as the scholarly consensus—that the Gospels could not have been actually written by the apostles.  I recently compared notes with a friend who grew up in a conservative catholic high school, and he told me the priests there had also taught them that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.]

            This is one of those things that is widely known in Christian seminaries and colleges, but never gets communicated to the people who attend Church every week.  (You could write a whole book about the Christian scholarship that never gets communicated to the regular church-goers, but that’s another topic.) 

            The only people who currently believe that the Gospels were written by the Apostles are the extreme fundamentalists, or people who are ignorant of any modern scholarship.  (The latter category overlaps heavily with the former.) 

           Lee Strobel himself appears to be aware that the evidence against apostolic authorship is too overwhelming, which I suspect is why he only makes a half-hearted attempt to defend it, and then quickly switches gears and goes instead into his defense of how the Gospels came from well preserved oral traditions.  (But then once he’s tried to cover his bases on both sides, he will go back and forth between them, and throughout the book he will continually cite the eyewitness testimony of the apostles as proof of the Gospels).

            In the next several posts, I’ll try to lay out the reasons why scholars are pretty much unanimous in agreeing that the Gospels couldn’t have been written by the apostles.  Then, once I’ve established what is currently the scholarly consensus, I’ll return to look at how Lee Strobel deals with the issue.

In the next several sections I’ll be showing that the Gospels couldn’t have been written by the apostles for the following reasons.

and, as a bonus, I’ll put in my own thoughts on
IX. Does It Matter that the Gospels are Anonymous?

Part 6: The Gospels Do Not Contain Any Internal Evidence that they were Written by the Apostles

  It’s worth noting that if the church hadn’t put the Apostles’ names on the Gospels, there would be absolutely no internal evidence inside the Gospel to indicate that they are written by the apostles, or that they are eye-witness accounts.
            The author of the Gospel of Matthew, for example, never self-identifies himself as Matthew.  He never uses the words “I” or “we” when talking about himself or the disciples.  The style of the narrator is 3rd person omniscient throughout, and the parts in which Matthew could not have been an eyewitness (the secret meeting of the Sanhedrin, for example) are written in the same style as the parts in which he would have been a witness.  And the same is true for the other Gospels.  And note that Mark and Luke (who were not eyewitnesses) use exactly the same narrative styles as Matthew and John (who were supposedly eyewitnesses).
            And don’t imagine for a minute that this is simply because the ancients didn’t know how to write in the first person.  For a Biblical book that’s actually written as an eyewitness testimony, check out the book of Nehemiah.  Scholars can debate whether the book is genuine or forged but there’s no doubt the book is intended to be read as an eyewitness account.  The narrator uses the first person, explicitly identifies himself with the historical personage of Nehemiah and tells us his own thoughts and intentions, but doesn’t have access to the thoughts of anyone else. Contrast that with the gospels.
            Furthermore, church tradition identifies Luke as a travelling companion of Paul precisely because the author slips into the 1st person narrative (using the pronoun “we”) during some of the voyages.  Scholars debate whether this was genuine or a forgery (more on that in part 11) but for here just note that if we identify Luke as the author of Acts because of the “we” passages, then how much more striking do the absence of any “we” passages look in Matthew and John?

            Another indication that the Gospels are written in 3rd person omniscient style of narration, and not as eyewitnesses, is that the Gospellers claim to know the thoughts of everyone in their story.  For example, just by flipping through the Gospel of Matthew I can find several instances where the Gospeller claims insight into other’s thought processes. In Matthew 14, the Gospeller tells us what Herod was thinking, what Herod wanted to do, what Herod was afraid of, when he was pleased, and when he became sad.  In Matthew 19, the Gospeller knows the intentions of the Pharisees who tried to trap Jesus, and the emotions of the rich young man.  In Matthew 22, the Gospeller knows what Jesus is thinking when he is aware of the Pharisee’s plan.  In Matthew 26, the Gospeller knows what Judas is thinking, and later what Peter remembers.  In Matthew 27, the Gospeller knows what Pilate’s thoughts are as he tries Jesus.  And many more examples.
            This is precisely what we would expect from an omniscient 3rd person narrator, and not from an eyewitness account.  (Also, as I noted before in part 4, these passages, which could not have been written by an eye-witness, are very difficult to explain unless you simply fall back on the idea that God directly revealed this information to the Gospellers.  But that assumption can neither be proven nor disproven.  It must simply be taken as an article of faith.)

The Gospel of John
          Judged solely on their internal contents, Matthew, Mark and Luke make no claim to be based on any sort of direct eye-witness testimony.
            The same, however, can not be said of the Gospel of John, which does contain a coda in which the author seems to be trying to base his story on the eyewitness of an apostle. 
            At the end of the Gospel, the writer references an unnamed anonymous disciple, referred to only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and says: “He is the disciple who spoke of these things, the one who also wrote them down, and we know that what he said is true.” (John 21:24) 
            So, is this an example of direct eye-witness testimony?
            Possibly.  Although the first point to make is that we don’t necessarily have to take the writer at his word.  He could be accurately representing the disciple’s story, or he could just be using this as a literary technique to give authority to his Gospel—we don’t know.
            The second point is that, as Bart Ehrman pointed out in Jesus, Interrupted, whoever wrote this couldn’t possibly have been the disciple, because they make a distinction between the disciple’s testimony, and what we know.  we know that what he said is true.”  The “we” includes the author, and is distinct from the disciple’s testimony “what he said.”

            Lee Strobel and his friends try to get around this difficulty by positing that the end of the Gospel of John was written by an editor.  From page 24, Lee Strobel quotes Craig Blomberg as saying: “However, if you read the gospel closely, you can see some indication that its concluding verses may have been finalized by an editor. Personally, I have no problem believing that somebody closely associated with John may have functioned in that role, putting the last verses into shape, and potentially creating the stylistic uniformity of the entire document. (p.24, Craig Blomberg quoted by Lee Strobel).

            Well…maybe.  As with everything else that spouts out of Craig Blomberg’s mouth during his interview with Lee Strobel, he’s just assuming stuff here without any sort of evidence at all.  We actually have no records of this, or any insight whatsoever into any editorial process that went on when any of the gospels were written.  Did John have an editor who worked closely with him on the Gospel?  Or was this last bit added by some anonymous scribe who didn’t even know John?  Or was the whole Gospel written second hand all along?  Or is that last bit just a complete lie?

            In Lee Strobel’s defense, I’ll say that they have at least one atheist scholar who agrees with them: Robin Lane Fox, an atheist, also makes the assumption that the coda to John was a later edition.  Although Robin Lane Fox believes it was some later scribe who took it upon himself to add the ending.  To assume that it was “somebody closely associated with John,” as Blomberg and Strobel do, is really assuming too much.  We have no evidence, at all, whether it was somebody closely associated with John or not.

            But whatever you think about the ending coda, it’s worth noting that whatever way you side on this question, it means the Gospel of John was written anonymously.  If the coda was added by a later scribe, then the Gospel, as it was originally written, was anonymous and made no claims to eyewitness testimony.  If the coda was written by the author of the Gospel of John, then the Gospel was based on (at best) second-hand evidence.

Part 7:  The Problems with Church Tradition Concerning the Apostolic Authorship of the Gospels

The tradition that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John does not date back to the time of the apostles themselves.  We have nothing from within their lifetime that indicates they authored these Gospels
            Our earliest copies of the Gospels do not contain the titles of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  (Granted, our earliest copies of the Gospels are just fragments, so it’s difficult to draw too much from this.)
            Also, the earliest quotations we have of the Gospels from the writings of the early Church fathers do not contain the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. 
            In ancient fragments, there’s substantial variation on how the titles are written, which indicates these were not part of the original text.  Furthermore, as Bart Ehrman points out, Matthew would never have titled his Gospel: “The Gospel According to Matthew”.  He would have just simply said “by Matthew” as the title line. [MORE ON THAT HERE]

            The names of the Gospels were not settled on until the mid second century.
            The earliest source we have on the authors of the Gospels is Papias, who wrote somewhere between 110 and 140 A.D., long after the apostles themselves would have been dead. 
            Papias only commented on the authorship of Matthew and Mark.  (He said nothing about the Gospels of Luke and John).
            As Bart Ehrman points out in Jesus, Interrupted, Papias is problematic to use as a source because he had a credibility problem.  The Church historian Eusebius (W) called Papias “a man of very small intelligence.”  Papias also seems to have believed in a lot of crazy stuff.  Papias believed that after Judas betrayed Jesus, Judas was cursed to bloat up, becoming so fat that eventually he couldn’t walk down the street because his head couldn’t fit between buildings, and eventually exploded and died. Ehrman cites other writings of Papias (surviving in Eusebius’s records) in which Papias quotes bizarre sayings of Jesus that no one today takes seriously at all.  Papias claimed that these sayings came from via the same church elders who vouched for Mark’s authorship. As Bart Ehrman notes, the only reason Christians ever bring up Papias is to establish the authorship of the Gospels.  Other than that, everything else he wrote is completely disregarded.  But, Erhman asks, if we can’t trust Papias on any of his other writings, why trust him about the authorship of the Gospels?

            Papias’s own writings do not survive (the other Church fathers apparently thought Papias’s writing were not worth saving), but some of his quotations survive in other writers. 
            Papias’s writings survive in the records of Eusebius.  Eusebius quotes Papias as saying that he personally talked to Christians who knew a bunch of people called the elders who vouched that Mark had written one of the Gospels.  (You can see already how this information is already 4th hand: theory of some anonymous elders, via anonymous groups of Christians, via Papais, as quoted in Eusebius).
            For Matthew, Papias doesn’t even say what his source is.

            Other than Papias, we don’t get any identification of the Gospels until Irenaeus in 180 A.D.  Here, for the first time, is someone now vouching for the authorship of Luke and John, after the apostles have all now been dead for quite some time.
            The time difference here is really quite incredible.  (As one blogger put it, this is like me now identifying the author of someone who wrote during the American Civil War.)

            Plus, there are any number of textual problems with the Church tradition inherited from Papias and Irenaeus.
            Ireneaus claims Matthew wrote his Gospel first (before Mark, Luke or John), and that it was originally written in Hebrew, and then only translated into Greek later.  (Papias also believes the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.) 
            But all evidence points to Matthew being an originally Greek document.  No Hebrew copies of it have survived.  And as Robin Lane Fox points out, we know something about how the ancients translated documents, and we can generally tell if something was written originally in Greek, or if it was translated into Greek from another language.  There’s no textual evidence that Matthew was originally translated from Hebrew.  (And if Matthew had been originally written in Hebrew, then that would make the Synoptic problem that much more of an issue—but we’ll get to the Synoptic Problem in part 9).

            As Bart Ehrman points out, the probable reason that the Church tradition on the Apostolic authorship for the Gospels emerged in the late 2nd Century is that this was about the time that a lot of heretical Gospels started popping up that were forged under the names of the apostles (for example Peter, Thomas, Philip, et cetera).  Since the heretics were claiming that their Gospels were authored directly by the apostles, the Orthodox Church fathers needed to start coming up with traditions that linked their established Gospels back to the apostles.  The Orthodox Christians couldn’t be using Gospels with anonymous authors when the heretics claimed that their Gospels came directly from the apostles.

So Why Did the Church Fathers Then Settle on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Instead of Attributing the Gospels to More Major Apostles like Peter, Paul, and James?
          There are a couple different theories for this:

            Bart Ehrman argues that it’s possible in the first and second centuries these names carried more weight in early Christian circles than they do today.  John-Mark, after all, was closely associated with both the missionary activities of both Peter and Paul.  Matthew and Luke may also have been bigger names back then than we realize.
(It’s notable that a lot of the heretic Gospels were attributed to apostles who are today considered minor—Thomas, Philip, Andrew, Mary Magdalene—but may have had more weight in some early Christian circles.)
            The big three names of the early apostles were Peter, James, John and Paul.  We already have the Gospel of John.  Luke was closely associated with Paul, and John-Mark was closely associated with Peter.  This was possibly a way of tying the Orthodox tradition directly to the big names of the Apostles, and yet at the same time not being too obvious about it.  (If they were too obvious about it, it might have invited the Gnostics and other unorthodox Christians to refute the authorship claims.)
           
            Robin Lane Fox, however, argues that it could be precisely because these figures were so minor that it was easy to attribute Gospels to them.  In the second century, Peter could have been too well known in Church circles to falsely attribute something to him—it might have been too well known by Peter’s associates that he never actually sat down and wrote a Gospel.  But minor figures like Matthew, John-Mark, and Luke would have been much more obscure, and harder to check up on if you claimed a Gospel was written by them.
            Also, it’s important to remember that the 4 Gospels were not originally forged under false names.  (Although other New Testament documents—Titus, 1&2 Timothy, 1&2 Peter—were forged, but that’s a separate topic.)  The Gospels were written anonymously, and only later did the Church try to assign names to them.  
            Robin Lane Fox suggests that the Church probably worked backwards from clues that they had in the Gospels.  For example Matthew is the only Gospel which defines the apostle Matthew by name (instead of “Levi” used in Mark), and the only Gospel that gives Matthew’s job as a tax collector.  Matthew’s Gospel also includes descriptions of sums of money in Jesus’s parables—the type of thing a tax payer would notice.  This kind of guess work might have caused the early church to attribute the Gospel to Matthew.  (Robin Lane Fox has similar theories for Mark and Luke.  I won’t list all the details here, but it’s the same kind of thing—they also involve working backwards from clues in the Bible.)
            The Gospel of Luke, because it’s preface makes clear the author was not an eyewitness, could never have been attributed to a major Apostle anyway, but it could easily be attributed to a companion of Paul.

Part 8: The Linguistic, Literacy, Cultural, and Geographic Problems Which Indicate the Gospels Were Not Written by the Apostles

The Linguistic and Literacy Problems
          The big problem with arguing for the traditional authorship of the Gospels is that the Gospels are written in a highly educated Greek.  It is unlikely that this could have been written by the disciples, because they (like Jesus) spoke Aramaic, not Greek.  And, like most people in the first century, they would almost certainly have been unable to read or write.

            In the ancient world, only a very privileged few were able to read and write, and the disciples would not have been among this privileged few. 
            If you require extra persuasion on this, in his book Forged Bart Ehrman spends considerable time running the numbers of literacy in the ancient world, and explaining why there is almost zero chance the fisherman in Galilee would have been able to read and write. 
            But if simple common sense didn’t tell us this already, then the books of Acts tells us explicitly that Peter and John were illiterate.  Acts 4:13 “The members of the Council were amazed to see how bold Peter and John were and to learn that they were ordinary men of no education.  The Greek word used here for “no education” specifically means illiterate.
            Matthew is questionable.  As Bart Ehrman points out, it’s possible that Matthew, as a tax collector would have had some education if he was high up the ladder.  But if he was just a low-level tax collector, he probably wouldn’t have been educated.
            But though Matthew may be questionable, John was certainly not educated enough to write the highly stylistic Greek Gospel that appears under his name.

            In addition, some of the double entendres in the Gospel only work in Greek, and could not have originated in Aramaic.  Bart Ehrman gives the example of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus.  The confusion over the words “born again” between Jesus and Nicodemus come from the fact that these words have two different meanings in Greek, but this would not have been true in Aramaic.


[The section from Bart Ehrman is as follows: In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus has a famous conversation with Nicodemus in which he says, “You must be born again.”  The Greek word translated “again” actually has two meanings: it can mean not only “a second time” but also “from above.”  Whenever it is used elsewhere in the John, it means “from above” (John 19:11, 23).  That is what Jesus appears to mean in John 3 when he speaks with Nicodemus: a person must be born from above in order to have eternal life in heaven above.  Nicodemus misunderstands, though, and thinks Jesus intends the other meaning of the word, that he has to be born a second time.  “How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb?” he asks, out of some frustration.  Jesus corrects him: he’s not talking about a second physical birth, but a heavenly birth, from above.
            This conversation with Nicodemus is predicated on the circumstance that a certain Greek word has two meanings (a double entendre).  Absent the double entendre, the conversation makes little sense.  The problem is this: Jesus and this Jewish leader in Jerusalem would not have been speaking Greek, but Aramaic.  But the Aramaic word for “from above” does not also mean “second time.”  This is a double entendre that works only in Greek.  So it looks as though this conversation could not have happened—at least not as it is described in the Gospel of John. (From Jesus, Interrupted p. 154-155).]

            Also, in the Gospel of John, the following exchange is recorded between Peter and Jesus:

            After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?”
            “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.”
            Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.”  A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
            “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.”
            Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”  A third time Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
            Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!
            Jesus said to him.  “Take care of my sheep…..”
John 21: 15-17 Today’s English Version

            Now, in the English translation, some of the nuances of the original Greek are lost, but I suspect many of us who grew up in Sunday School have had the original Greek meaning expounded to us at one point or another.  (In my case, I had the significance of the original Greek explained to me twice in my upbringing—once it was the subject of a sermon our pastor preached in church, and once it was a lesson my 8th Grade Bible teacher taught.)

            In the Greek, Jesus is using the word “agape” for love—what is often translated as a deep kind of love.  Peter is using the word “philio” which supposedly means a brotherly kind of love.  Jesus asks Peter twice using the word “agape” and then in the final question switches to “philio”.  The significance (as it’s usually explained) is that by the third time Jesus was willing to meet Peter on his own level, and accept whatever kind of love Peter was willing to give.

            Where this becomes problematic for Lee Strobel and other Christian conservatives is that Jesus and Peter would have been speaking Aramaic, not Greek.  And the distinction between philio and agape would only work in the Greek—there is no equivalent distinction in Aramaic.

            (Lee Strobel, by the way, never once mentions these linguistic difficulties in his book.  This is one of many issues where he’s blatantly assuming the reader is ignorant of any Biblical scholarship, so he feels free to just ignore the issue completely.  But it’s worth noting that the linguistic difficulties he’s ignoring would undermine not only his argument that the Gospels are written by the apostles, but also his other argument that the Gospels are carefully preserved oral traditions going back to the original sayings of Jesus.)

Cultural and Geographic Problems
          In addition to the fact that the Gospels are written in an educated style of Greek, and Jesus and his followers were illiterate Aramaic speaking fisherman, there are other indications which make scholars think that the Gospels were probably written by educated Greek-speaking Gentiles in other parts of the Roman Empire, and not people who lived near Jesus or Palestine.  The Gospels make a number of mistakes when describing geography in Palestine, and they also make mistakes when describing ancient Jewish customs  

 I'd be lying if I said that the geography of Palestine was my area of expertise, but it is my understanding that for serious scholars this has been one of the reasons they doubt the Gospel writers could have been eyewitnesses.  Bart Ehrman says this in Jesus, Interrupted 
Lee Strobel and his buddies are aware of  these geographic problems, because they deal with several of them in a defensive way.  The geographical mistakes in the Gospels, and the apologists defense for them, pop up in both Lee Strobel's conversations with Craig Blomberg and John McRay. They have some very innovative way of explaining away apparent geographical mistakes.

There's also plenty of information on the web listing the geographical mistakes in the Gospels: see here.  And here.

There also appears to be a number of cultural mistakes about the first century Jewish community that indicates the authors were Gentiles from elsewhere in the Roman Empire.  Again, I'm not an expert myself.  However Bart Ehrman says one of the passages frequently cited is Mark 7, in which the Gospeller claims all Jews had to wash their hands before eating, which was a tradition they acquired from their elders.  In fact, no such tradition was followed by the majority of Jews, only by some of the more strict sects, and the Gospeller should have known something this basic if he had actually lived in Palestine.  [For more commentary on that chapter see here  and here].
Robin Lane Fox mentions the same incident, and says the whole story about Pharisees going all the way down from Jerusalem to Galilee to inspect the hand-washing of Jesus's disciples seems suspect to begin with.
There is also the problem of the Sanhedrin meeting during Jesus's trial.  According to the rules of the Sanhedrin, they were forbidden from meeting during the three days of the Passover, and from meeting at night.  In the trial of Jesus as recorded by the Gospels, they did both.  This is often cited as a further example of the Gospellers being ignorant of the customs.  [For more commentary on the inaccuracies in the Sanhedrin trail see here and here.]
Dale Martin in his Yale Lectures mentions in passing some of what appear to be anachronism in the Gospel of John in which the heated 2nd Century debate between Jews and Christians is projected back into Jesus's lifetime--the blind man whom Jesus healed being expelled from the Jewish synagogue is cited as an anachronism.
The Gospel of John also is unable to distinguish between the different Jewish groups in 1st Century Palestine, referring to all the different sects of Judaism simply as "the Jews".  
(To quote from an old paper I wrote back in my Calvin days Whereas the other gospels distinguish between which groups sought the death of Jesus (the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, et cetera), John makes no distinction, referring to Jesus’ enemies as simply “The Jews”. )

Part 9: The Synoptic Problem and the Q Hypothesis

     Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels, because they all present a similar view of Jesus’s life and ministry.  (This is in contrast to the Gospel of John, who presents a much different view.  I’ll write about the problems between John and the synoptics in the next section.)

            However, careful analysis of the synoptic Gospels shows that not only do they have the same view points, but the synoptic Gospels are word for word identical for much of the time.
            This means that they aren’t 3 independent accounts.  Someone was obviously copying from someone else.

            Bart Ehrman, in his lectures on the New Testament, says that he often has trouble making his students believe that 3 independent accounts cannot by coincidence alone produce passages that are word-for-word exactly the same.  So he says he does an exercise where he walks into class and rearranges things on his desk for 5 minutes without saying anything.  Then he has everyone in the class write down a description of what has happened, and afterwards the class compares to see if anyone produced sentences exactly the same as someone else.  Inevitably, there are no exact duplicates of sentences.  “So,” Ehrman asks, “if you find a group of documents that were written many years after the event, and they all had sentences that were word for word exactly the same, what would this tell you?”  At this point, Ehrman claims, someone in the class will usually yell out, “It’s a miracle.”
            Well, says Ehrman, those are our two options.  Either the synoptic Gospels were copied from each other, or else there was some sort of divine miracle that caused them to be word-for-word the same at certain passages.  However, Ehrman adds, if you assume a divine miracle for the passages that are the same, then you are going to have trouble explaining the contradictions in passages that are different.  As I’ve mentioned in part 4, a certain amount of discrepancy might be excusable in human eyewitnesses, but in divine revelation it doesn’t make sense that God is always contradicting himself.

            So, if the synoptic Gospels are copied from each other, then which one is the original, and which two are the copies?

            Scholars have generally assumed that Mark is the original, because the Gospel of Mark is the shortest, and Matthew and Luke both contain most of the material that is in Mark, plus their own substantial additions.  Scholars assume that it is more likely that Matthew and Luke would be adding material to their source material, and less likely that Mark’s Gospel would be deleting material from his source material. 
            This is problematic for Church tradition, because Church tradition says that Matthew wrote his Gospel first.  In order to try to preserve this Church tradition, at one time there used to be a theory that Matthew could have written his gospel first, and then Mark wrote his gospel which was intended as a short summary of Matthew.  But that doesn’t really make sense for a whole bunch of technical linguistic reasons.  For example, Matthew seems to be correcting factual mistakes in Mark, or fixing the grammar, or getting rid of the redundancies.   It makes sense that Matthew would be trying to improve on the original material that he was using as a source but it doesn’t make sense that Mark would be taking Matthew’s account and adding mistakes or deliberately sabotaging the grammar, or adding in redundancies.
            This is just a very brief summary of the issue.  Whole books are written on the synoptic issue, so for more hard hitting analysis of the technical side of it see HERE, HERE, or HERE.

            Moreover, whenever Matthew and Luke can both use Mark as a source, they tell the same story (with occasionally some added minor details or changes).  But when Matthew and Luke are writing stories for which they can not go to Mark as a common source, then they contradict each other wildly.
            For example, there is nothing written in Mark’s Gospel about the birth of Jesus.  (Mark’s Gospel just starts when Jesus is already an adult.)  So Matthew and Luke have no common source for the birth stories, and have to make up the stories on their own.
            In Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph and Mary start by living in Bethlehem, then have to flee to Egypt when Herod kills all the newborn baby boys.  Then later, after Herod dies, they return from Egypt, but are warned in a dream not to go back to Bethlehem so they resettle in Nazareth instead.
            In Luke, Mary and Joseph start by living in Nazareth, but then there is some sort of strange census which for some reason requires everyone to go back to their ancestral town, so they go down to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, and then return to their home in Nazareth after the birth.
            (Sidenote: The details of either birth story, by the way, are not supported by history.  We have no record of Herod killing all the newborn baby boys in Bethlehem, or of this Empire-wide Roman census that required everyone to go back to their ancestral towns.  It appears Matthew and Luke are just making their stories up.  Both seem to be trying, in separate ways, to get around an awkward problem: Jesus was well known to have been from Nazareth but the prophesies predicted the Messiah would from Bethlehem.  So how to explain that Jesus was born in Bethlehem even though he was from Nazareth?)

            Another example is that in Mark, in its original form, Jesus never appears to anyone after the resurrection.  (Mark 16:9-20 was added much later.  This should be footnoted in your Bible).  In Mark as it was originally written, the women see the empty tomb, they run away, and then the Gospel just ends there, and Jesus never makes any appearances after his death. 
            So Matthew and Luke, when they were writing their Gospels, could copy from Mark only up to the point of the empty tomb story, but then after the empty tomb, they were left on their own to write the stories of the resurrected Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, and for this section they again contradict each other wildly.  In fact, they contradict each other on just about every point that it’s possible to contradict on.
            In Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are told that Jesus has been resurrected, and to prove it he will meet them in Galilee.  So they all trudge all the way out to Galilee (the Gospel says many of them were still skeptical that Jesus had risen, but they went out to Galilee anyway) where Jesus met them.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples while they are still in Jerusalem, and then leads them out to Bethany, where he ascends into heaven from there.  In Acts (which is written by the same author as Luke) the disciples are explicitly told not to leave Jerusalem until they receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
            Unless you assume Mark was the first Gospel, it doesn’t make sense that Matthew and Luke would both follow Mark for the points that Mark had written on, but then go off on completely different stories at precisely the points on which Mark is silent.

            Now again, none of this is crazy left-wing scholarship.  All of this was explained to me in my religion 101 class at my conservative Christian college.  I remember this lecture very well, because I remember at this point getting very confused, and I raised my hand and asked, “But, wasn’t Matthew an eyewitness?”
            “Exactly!” the professor responded.  “So why would Matthew, who was an eyewitness, be copying down from John Mark, who wasn’t even there?  This is one of the reasons scholars think the Gospel of Matthew wasn’t actually written by Matthew.” 
            The professor then went on to explain some of the other reasons why scholars don’t think the Gospels were written by their traditional authors.

The Q Hypothesis
          There are sections of Matthew and Luke which are word for word the same, but do not appear in Mark.  More specifically, there are a number of sayings of Jesus which are word for word the same, and which furthermore appear in the same order in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.
            Once again, note that this could not have been from coincidence.  They had to be copying from somewhere.
            So, since these passages are not in Mark, is Matthew copying from Luke or is Luke copying from Matthew?
            Well, probably neither.  Or at least if the author of Matthew knew about Luke, or vice-versa, then he obviously didn’t trust him above half.  Remember in the places where Mark is not a common source—the birth narratives and the resurrection appearances—Matthew and Luke tell completely different stories which contradict each other on everything.  So if somehow the author of Luke knew about Matthew, he obviously didn’t trust anything Matthew had to say about the birth of Christ or the resurrection.
            So since the authors of the Gospels Matthew and Luke either didn’t know each other, or mistrusted each other, it is hypothesized by scholars that there must have been some collections of sayings of Jesus (so named as the “Q” source) which both Matthew and Luke were copying from, and which has since been lost to history.
            This is another reason why it is problematic to claim that Matthew’s Gospel is direct eye-witness testimony.  The author of Matthew is apparently copying straight out of the Q source, and we don’t even know who wrote the Q source, or how reliable it is.  Did an eyewitness write Q?  Is it a collected oral tradition?  Or did someone somewhere just make it up?  Scholarship has no idea, and church tradition is entirely silent on the issue.

Part 10: The Problem of the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospels of John

With the Gospel of John, there is no synoptic problem—none of the other Gospels are copying from John, and although occasionally some of the stories are similar, the wording is always different.  John is a completely independent source. 
            But the problem is that it’s too different from the Synoptics. There are so many differences between John and the Synoptics that it’s problematic to claim that they’re both eyewitnesses to the same events.  If the Synoptics are based on eyewitness testimony, then John can not be a reliable eyewitness, and if John is eyewitness testimony, then the Synoptics are not reliable.

            For example, many of the most famous stories in the Synoptics are not in John.  None of Jesus’s parables are in John.  There’s no mention in John of Jesus going out into the desert.  Jesus performs many exorcisms in the Synoptics, no exorcisms are mentioned in John. 
            And, surprisingly, there’s no mention of the transfiguration in John.  Remember, John was one of the 3 disciples selected to go up on the mountain and see the transfiguration of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus.  You would think that if someone saw the reincarnated spirits of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus, this would have made a big enough of an impression on someone to include it in their eyewitness testimony, but there’s nothing in John.  (And ironically, according to Church tradition the Gospel of John would have been the only eyewitness to this.  The only Gospellers who wrote about it, Matthew, John-Mark, and Luke, weren’t even there, and the one person who was there didn’t even write about it!)

            Then there’s an equally great problem going the other way: all sorts of fantastic stories which are in John, but not in the Synoptic.
            For example, the Gospel of John is the only Gospel which contains the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It’s hard to believe that if this really happened, the other 3 apostles simply forgot to put this into their account.  You would think someone being raised from the dead would be the kind of thing you’d remember. 
            According to the Gospel of John, the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was not a private little affair that no one knew about—in John 12 many Jews are flocking to believe in Jesus because of the miracle of Lazarus, so much so that John reports that the chief priests plot to assassinate Lazarus to take away the proof that Jesus raised someone from the dead. 
            Did Matthew and Mark just forget about this?
            And what about Luke?  Although Luke is all 3rd hand information (at best) Luke’s introduction claims that the author was scrupulously researching all the documents available about Jesus.  It’s hard to believe that Luke missed this story if it really happened, and if it was as big a deal as the author of John claimed.
            Also, remember that none of the Gospel writers knew that their Gospel would later be bound up together in the Bible alongside the other Gospels.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not originally bound up and sold as a package deal.  Each Gospel original existed completely independent of the others, and each Gospel writer at the time must have assumed that for their readers, this one Gospel was the only Gospel they might ever read.  So the authors of the Synoptic Gospels could not possibly have been thinking, “Oh, its okay.  We’ll leave these parts out, because people can read about them in John’s Gospel.”  (Plus the synoptic Gospels were written first, so John’s Gospel wouldn’t even have existed at the time they were writing!)  If the Synoptic Gospels left something out, that’s an indication that they didn’t know it happened, or they didn’t believe it happened.

            And then besides the omissions, there are lots of explicit contradictions between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics.  For example, in the Synoptic Gospels Jesus is crucified after the Passover meal, but in John’s Gospel Jesus is crucified before it.  In the Synoptic Gospels the trial of Jesus before Pilate takes place in public, but in John’s Gospel Jesus and Pilate have private conversations.
All four Gospels contradict each other on the resurrection.  Mark only writes of the empty tomb, so Matthew and Luke contradict each other on everything after the empty tomb (see part 9).  John has a separate account all together of story of the resurrection.  In the Synoptic Gospels, all three agree that Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb, and the angels told her Christ had risen.  In the Gospel of John, Mary simply sees an empty tomb, and cries because she believes Christ body has been stolen by his enemies, until she encounters someone who she believes was a gardener, and who turns out to be Christ.  

As with all the other subjects I'm touching on, I'm not really doing this justice.  Whole books are written on the differences between John and the Synoptics (something Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg admit during their discussions).  But this chart at this website here is a very useful quick and dirty breakdown of the differences. 

            Okay, so the contradictions and the omissions are one problem.  The second problem is that John’s Gospel is the only Gospel where Jesus claims to be God.  In the synoptic Gospels Jesus gives himself many titles (son of man, son of God, the Messiah), but nowhere in Matthew, Mark and Luke does Jesus ever make the claim to be an incarnation of God, nor does anyone else make that claim on his behalf.
            In John, all of a sudden, the narrator of the Gospel and Jesus himself are both making the claim that Jesus is God descended into human form.

            That…that seems a bit of a major detail for Matthew, Mark and Luke to forget to write about, doesn’t it?  According to John’s Gospel, Jesus is walking around claiming to be God incarnate, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke just forget to write it down?  (And again remember, they couldn’t have assumed that their readers would just learn it from John.  The Bible didn’t exist yet, and John’s Gospel hadn’t even been written yet when they were writing.  If Matthew, Mark and Luke weren’t telling their readers that Jesus was really God incarnate, they must not have believed it was important for their readers to know this.)

How Does Lee Strobel Get Around the Problem of the Different Stories between John and the Synoptic Gospels?
          From page 28-29:
            “For many years the assumption was that John knew everything Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote, and he saw no need to repeat it, so he consciously chose to supplement them. More recently it has been assumed that John is largely independent of the other three gospels, which could account for not only the different choice of material but also the different perspectives on Jesus.” (Craig Blomberg, as quoted by Lee Strobel, p. 28-29)
           
            Arrgh!  This is so typical of how this whole book is written!  He gives two arguments at once.  The first one he knows is nonsense, so as soon as he’s done giving that one, he alludes to a second argument, which he then doesn’t even develop!!! He just claims to have it in his back pocket in case you don’t believe his first explanation.  So, now, I’m going to spend all my time and energy debunking the first argument, and Lee Strobel is still going to have some mystery second argument that he can cling to.
            Okay, well let’s go through the motions anyway: Why does it make absolutely no sense to assume that “John knew everything Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote, and he saw no need to repeat it, so he consciously chose to supplement them”

            Well, first of all, there’s no evidence or proof for this supposition.  Like so many of the arguments in Lee Strobel’s book, it’s just an assumption, bereft of any evidence, that is used to retrospectively explain away a difficulty. 

            Secondly, you would have to ask why.  Was there a papyrus shortage going on or something?  Was John limited to a certain amount of words?  Given how hotly disputed these stories were in the first and second century (the intense debating between Jews and Christians) why wouldn’t John have wanted to just add his eyewitness support to reinforce the stories that were already appearing in the Synoptics.  Especially some of the more fantastical stories (the transfiguration, for example, or the story in Matthew that all the dead rose out of their graves after Jesus was crucified).

            Thirdly, this assumption, even if you granted it, would only explain the omissions in one direction.  It might explain why John didn’t write about the big stories in the Synoptics, but it wouldn’t explain why the Synoptic writers omitted the big stories from the Gospel of John.  (Again, I know I’m repeating myself, but it’s important to remember they could have had no way of knowing that John would supplement whatever stories they left out.)

            Fourthly, it’s not even entirely consistent as an explanation, because then how to explain the stories the stories that John does repeat (for example, Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem)? 

            Fifthly, if you assume that John knew about the Synoptics, then it would make it much, much harder to explain the all the explicit contradictions between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics.

How Does Lee Strobel Get Around the Problem that in The Synoptic Gospels Jesus Never Explicitly Claims to be God, But in the Gospel of John Jesus Claims to Be God?

          I’ll quote here from Lee Strobel’s interview with Craig Blomberg.
            First, they acknowledge the problem briefly.  From page 28: “There also seems to be a very different linguistic style [between John and the Synoptic Gospels]. In John Jesus uses different terminology, he speaks in long sermons, and there seems to be a higher Christology—that is, more direct and more blatant claims that Jesus is one with the Father; God himself; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Resurrection and the Life.

            Then from page 29:
            John makes very explicit claims of Jesus being God, which some attribute to the fact that he wrote later than the others and began embellishing things,” I said.  “Can you find this theme in the synoptics.”
            “Yes I can,” he [Craig Blomberg] said. “It’s more implicit, but you find it there.  Think of the story of Jesus walking on water, found in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52. Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, “Fear not, it is I.”  Actually the Greek literally says, “Fear not, I am.”  These last two words are identical to what Jesus said in John 8:58, when he took upon himself the divine name “I AM,” which is the way God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14.  So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.”

            From page 30:
            “In addition, Jesus claims to forgive sins in the synoptics, and that’s something only God can do.  Jesus accepts prayer and worship. Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Final judgment is based on one’s reaction to—whom?  This mere human being?  No,that would be a very arrogant claim.  Final judgment is based on one’s reaction to Jesus as God.”

            (I should make clear that in the above excerpts, I’ve omitted a section in which Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg discuss the significance of “The son of man” label, partly because I don’t think it adds anything.  But you get the idea.)

            What to make of this argument?
            Well…I’m not overly convinced, but I guess people can believe this argument if they want to. 
            In the synoptic Gospels, apparently Matthew, Mark and Luke never got around to saying explicitly that Jesus was God because….it was implied if you read the Gospels closely?  Does that make sense?  But if Jesus was God, and they knew he was God, then why wouldn’t they just say it?


Update: I found another blogger who has more information on this: The use of "I am" in Mark 6:50, he argues, is Jesus equating himself with god, whose name is "I Am that I Am" in Exodus 3:14 (p. 29). Amusingly, though, the Greek word Jesus uses for "I am" in Mark 6:50, eimi, is elsewhere used by men who Christians would certainly not consider to be making divine claims, such as Paul in Romans 1:14 and even a Roman centurion in Matthew 8:8-9! If those men could make "I am" statements without being found guilty of blasphemy, then maybe eimi was simply common language that wasn't seen as a claim of divinity in itself. In similar fashion, Blomberg contends that "son of man" was a divine title (p. 30), as an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, yet he conveniently omits the use of the term in Psalm 144:3, Numbers 23:19, Job 25:6, and other passages where mortals are called sons of man.

Part 11: The Problems With the Gospel of Luke 

  I’ll make my points on Luke in the following order
I. Lee Strobel’s Confusion over the Church Tradition He is Trying to Defend.
II. The Debate over Whether or Not the Apostle Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts
III. Luke’s Record for Accuracy
IV. Luke’s Record as a Historian
V. How Careful is Luke with his Sources?

First:
I. Lee Strobel’s Confusion over the Church Tradition He is Trying to Defend.
            As already noted in part 4, even according to the Church tradition he is trying to defend, Lee Strobel shouldn’t be claiming that all of the Gospels are based on eyewitness material.  Luke is, according to its own introduction, at best a 3rd hand source.
            Lee Strobel will remember this occasionally, and forget this occasionally.  Occasionally he will make reference to Luke’s work as a “historian” or “journalist”, but far too often he and his apologist buddies will just slip into claiming that all the Gospels are eyewitness materials.
            Even when Lee Strobel remembers that Luke is not an eyewitness, he still manages to get his facts muddled.  Take for example his quote from page 20, which he uses to set up his chapter “proving” the eyewitness evidence:
            But what eyewitness accounts do we possess?  Do we have the testimony of anyone who personally interacted with Jesus, who listened to his teachings, who saw his miracles, who witnessed his death, and who perhaps even encountered him after his alleged resurrection?  Do we have any records from first century “journalists” who interviewed eyewitnesses, asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true?  Equally important, how well would these accounts withstand the scrutiny of skeptics? (p.20)

            Okay, now look again at that sentence: Do we have any records from first century “journalists” who interviewed eyewitnesses, asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true?
            Presumably the first-century “journalist” he’s talking about is Luke—Luke wasn’t actually a journalist by trade (even by Church tradition) but of the four Gospellers, he’s the only one who remotely fits this description, and it’s something Lee Strobel confirms later on page 25 by calling Luke “sort of a first century journalist.
             But look at all the things he implies in this question which are either flat out wrong, or blatantly unprovable: Luke didn’t interview eyewitnesses.  In his own preface, Luke states he was looking at written material that other people had collected from eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-3).  And did Luke ask tough questions, and scrupulously record what he determined to be true?  Well, it’s impossible to say, because Luke didn’t leave us any insight into his methodology.  He could have been asking really tough questions, or he could have been asking soft questions.  We don’t know.  He could have been examining everything carefully, or he could have just believed any old rumor he heard.  We have no idea. 

            (Sometimes, you have to wonder if Lee Strobel is just incredibly stupid and doesn’t understand what he’s writing about, or if he’s too clever by half and knows exactly what he’s doing.  I mean, look at how he phrased that whole section as a series of questions instead of as statements.  Is this because he knew he couldn’t prove any of this, so he deliberately used questions so he could get away with implying what he couldn’t prove?)

            Throughout this whole section on the Gospels, Lee Strobel is just way too eager to assume the best case scenario for all 4 of the Gospels, but we really have no idea if the methodology was scrupulous or fallacious.  The Gospellers don’t quote their sources, and they don’t explain their methodology.  Your only reason for assuming that they “asked tough questions, and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true” would be if you were already a believer, but based on the evidence of the documents alone you certainly couldn’t prove any of this to a skeptic.

II. The Debate over Whether or Not the Apostle Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts

            Since Lee Strobel is basing his case for Christ on the evidence of eyewitness testimony, for our purposes here it doesn’t matter so much if the Gospel of Luke was written by the apostle Luke using 3rd hand sources, or by an anonymous writer using 3rd hand sources.  Either way, Lee Strobel shouldn’t be claiming him as an eyewitness.

            ….But, just by the bye, we might mention in passing that there is some debate about whether the apostle Luke really wrote the Gospel attributed to him, before moving onto the more pressing subject of Luke’s accuracy

            The reasons for thinking Luke wrote the Gospel are because of church tradition (although we’ve already seen in part 7 all the problems with the church tradition), and because when describing some of the voyages of Paul in Acts, the author slips into using “we” when describing Paul’s voyages.  (Luke and Acts are by the same author)

            The reasons against thinking Luke is the author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts are that:
1)  The apostle Luke was a follower of Paul, but the Gospel of Luke contradicts Paul’s theology.  (See Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman for more on this.)
2). Paul’s own accounts of his travels in Galatians 1&2 contradict the account of his travels given in Acts.
3). There are lots of mistakes and problems with geographical references in Luke and Acts, which indicate that the author wasn’t actually personally on these voyages.

            So, if Luke didn’t write the Gospel of Luke and Acts, then how to explain the “we” passages in Acts.
            Scholars have several theories.  Some people say that this was a common literary style in the first century, especially when describing travel by sea.  Other people say it was a literary device to add immediacy to the text.  Other people say the author could have been inserting material from a different source into the text at this point.  (One of the oddities of the book of Acts is that the "we" passages jump in quite abruptly, with no explanation of who "we" is, or how "we" joined up with Paul, so it's been hypothesized that the author of Acts might have been borrowing from someone else's travel diary.)

            In Forged, Bart Ehrman argues that the “we” passages are a deliberate forgery designed to give the appearance that the author was close to Paul, and thus give more authority to the author’s text.  [I’ve included the full quotation in my review here].
            Was Acts a deliberate forgery?  Well…maybe.  It’s hard to say for certain, of course, but it has to be at least entertained as a possibility that the “we” passages are a deliberate falsehood.  It’s not inconceivable, of course.  Human beings have made falsehoods before.  (However, this is something that never crosses the minds of Lee Strobel and his apologists.  They continue to believe that everything written in the Bible must be true because it is written down.)

            On the other hand, Robin Lane Fox is an atheist, but believes that Luke and Acts were probably written by Luke.  Or at least, by a travelling companion of Paul.  Luke is never explicitly identified as the author of Acts, so those “we” passages could have been written by any travelling companion of Paul.  Assigning the authorship to Luke specifically appears to have been the result of a certain amount of guesswork by the early church.

            Indeed, if Christians cling too much to the “we” passages in Acts as proof of the apostle Luke’s authorship, it causes certain paradoxes.  If the presence of the first person narrative in Acts means proof of an eyewitness account, then what to make of the absence of any first person narratives in all four of the Gospels?  And what to make of the fact that in the book of Acts, the apostle Luke himself is mentioned only in the third person.  (The author slips into a “we” narrative, but never does he use “I” to identify the apostle Luke when Luke is mentioned in Acts.)

III. Luke’s Record for Accuracy
            In his book The Unauthorized Version, Robin Lane Fox defends the possibility that a travelling companion of Paul might have written Acts even though he got so many geographical references wrong because humans, after all, get things wrong some times.  Journalists and travelers, even eyewitnesses, often get the details muddled when they later write up their adventures.
            This may or may not be convincing, but it’s a fair enough argument.
            It is quite another matter, however, for Lee Strobel and his friends to argue that the author of Luke and Acts never make a single mistake ever. 
            It’s extremely significant that Luke has been established to be a scrupulously accurate historian, even in the smallest details.  One prominent archaeologist carefully examined Luke’s references to thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands, finding not a single mistake.  Here’s the bottom line: “If Luke was so painstakingly accurate in his historical reporting,” said one book on the topic, “on what logical basis may we assume he was credulous or inaccurate in his reporting of matters that were far more important, not only to him but to others as well?” (p. 98-99)
           
            Okay, I know what jumps out in that above quote is that fact that Lee Strobel is shamelessly trying to use Luke’s supposed accuracy on geographic references as a way to prove that his claims about the supernatural are also correct.  But put that aside for now.
            What’s important here is that Lee Strobel making all sorts of claims about Luke’s accuracy that he has no business making.  These type of statements are true only in fundamentalist Christian circles—this is NOT the scholarly consensus on Luke’s accuracy.

            Lee Strobel and his apologist buddies are full of praise for the author of Luke.  Lee Strobel calls him “a scrupulously accurate historian, even in the smallest details” (p.98) And “an especially careful historian” (p.209).  And indeed, in Church circles Luke enjoys a reputation for precision and accuracy.  I heard this several times in Sunday School growing up, and like anything you hear many times, you begin to accept it as truth without really bothering to investigate it for yourself.  Lee Strobel and his buddies know they are talking to a Christian audience, and so just repeat the myth about Luke’s accuracy, and feel confident that they don’t have to explain anything.

            In reality, however, there are several reasons to doubt Luke’s accuracy.  The accounts in the Gospel of Luke and Acts contradict not only secular history at several points, but they also contradict the other accounts in the Bible.

            There are several points where Luke appears to contradict established history.  For example, Luke records that at the time of the birth of Christ there was a census that took place across the whole Roman Empire.  We have no records of this census, and secular historians are convinced that if such a census had taken place, we would at least have some kind of record.  Also according to Luke, everyone had to return to their ancestral town to register for the census, but this was not the way censuses usually worked in the Roman Empire (then, as now, the governments were interested in where people were living now, not where their ancestors had come from.)  Plus Judea was at the time a client kingdom of Rome, so wouldn’t have been directly taxed by Rome anyway, so they wouldn’t have been included in the census.
             Luke also places Jesus as being born when Quirinius was governor of Syria, and when Herod was King of Judea, despite the fact that according to secular history Herod was long dead by the time Quirinius was appointed.
            The portrait of the bleeding-heart liberal Pontius Pilate produced in Luke and the other Gospels seems inconsistent with the harsh Pontius Pilate we know from history.  The death of Herod Antipas in Acts 12 contradicts the account we have in other historical sources.  And many more examples.
            Of course, Lee Strobel and his Christian buddies live in the Christian fundamentalist bubble, where every time there is a problem between secular history and the Bible, they assume the problem must be with secular history.  (Some of these problems are dealt with briefly in Lee Strobel’s book.  On the problem of the Census, he and his friends just assume the historical records must have gotten lost somewhere.)  So in their own little world, they can get away with making these type of statements, and it’s true for them.
            Okay, fair enough, I guess.  It’s a free country, and everyone can believe what they want to believe.  But once you step outside of the Christian bubble, looking at the whole thing from a secular perspective you can’t “prove” Luke’s accuracy by looking at how well he holds up against the historical record.  Instead you would have to prove Luke’s accuracy in spite of how well he holds up against the historical record.
           
            And then there are all the places even inside the Bible where Luke-Acts is contradicted.  Luke’s account of the birth of Christ contradicts the Gospel of Matthew.  Luke’s account of the appearance of the resurrected Christ contradicts Matthew’s account.  Luke’s accounts of Paul’s missions contradicts Paul himself.
            Christian fundamentalists have spent great energy into coming up with lengthy explanations to explain away all the apparent contradictions in the Bible, so although secular scholars count these as contradictions, Lee Strobel and his buddies can wriggle out of these as well if they want to.  (They don’t go into any details in the book.  Never once inside the book does Lee Strobel ever mention the contradictions between Luke and Matthew’s birth narratives, or between Galatians and Acts.  All of these are cans of worms best not opened for them.  But I have to assume that they relying on these convoluted explanations in order to get away with the kind of statements they are making about Luke’s accuracy.)

            Okay, once again, fair enough.  I can’t get them to admit that there are problems with Luke’s historical accuracy if they’re committed to finding convoluted ways to explain away all the contradictions they find.

            But there are two points to make.
            The first is that, once again, this type of logic doesn’t “prove” Christianity.  This type of logic is already starting from the assumption that Christianity is true, and then working backwards to try to explain away the difficulties.

            The second is that, even assuming you use this logic to keep from admitting there are errors in Luke-Acts, you would still have to admit that there are sins of omission.  And this brings us to our next point.  If Luke was such a great historian, how did he miss all this information that is in other parts of the Bible?

IV. Luke’s Record as a Historian
            On page 120 of this book, Lee Strobel and apologist Gregory Boyd are discussing the differences between Christianity and several other mystery cults that arose in the Roman Empire around the same time.  Their contention is (of course) that Christianity is qualitatively different from the mystery cults like that of Apollonius.  To prove it Gregory Boyd cites the difference in writing style between the biography of Apollonius, written by his follower Philostratus, and the Gospels.
            Also the way Philostratus writes is very different than the gospels.  The gospels have a very confident eyewitness perspective, as if they had a camera there.  But Philostratus includes a lot of tentative statements like, ‘It is reported that…’ or ‘Some say this young girl had died; others say she was just ill’.  To his credit, he backs off and treats stories like stories.

            Okay, Gregory Boyd and Lee Strobel are too dense to realize it, but this is precisely the problem with Luke.  He wasn’t present at any of the events he reported in his Gospel, and yet he speaks with the exact same style as the Gospels which Church tradition claims are eyewitnesses.
            The problem is that Luke, as a historian using 3rd hand sources, really should be making statements like, “It is reported that…” or “Some say this, other people say this.”

            Robin Lane Fox points out that ancient historians, even though they did freely mix truth and legend together in a way that would appall modern historians, would sometimes give two alternative accounts when they weren’t sure which one was true, and then perhaps say which one they thought was the more reliable and why.  (And by the way, having read some ancient history in my youth, I can attest to this as well.)  This is how historians write.

            Notice the complete absence of any of this in Luke.  He is not writing as a historian, he’s writing as a religious propagandist.  There is one account of what happened, and one account only.

            And what makes this all the more striking is that we know from the other Gospels that there were multiple accounts of what happened.  If Luke was such a thorough historian, how come he completely missed everything that Matthew had to say about the birth of Christ?  Either Luke didn’t do his research thoroughly, or Luke heard it but didn’t believe it, or the stories didn’t exist prior to Matthew’s Gospel because Matthew just made them up by himself.
            The same question could be asked of the conflicting accounts in Matthew and Luke of Jesus appearing to his disciples after the resurrection.  Even if you accepted the convoluted logic that fundamentalists have come up with to explain away all the contradictions, then you still have to ask the question: if Luke was such a thorough historian, how come he never came across any of the stories in Matthew?  (How did Luke ever miss, for example, the story reported in Matthew that all the saints rose out of their graves after the crucifixion of Christ?)

            And then, as we have already noted in part 10, all the problems between John and the Synoptic Gospels would also seem to cast further doubt on Luke’s accuracy as a historian.

V. How Careful is Luke With His Sources?
          As already mentioned in part 9, scholars have identified two of Luke’s sources: The Gospel of Mark, and the Q source.  So we know where at least some of his information is coming from.  As for information not found in the Mark and Q, we have no idea where Luke got it from.  Lee Strobel assumes it is all coming from reliable impeccable sources, but we really have no idea.  We also have no idea how careful Luke was with his other sources.  Again, Lee Strobel assumes that Luke was always carefully faithful to the records of eyewitnesses left behind, but we really have no idea how careful or faithful he was to any of his sources, except for the ones we can identify: Mark and Q.  And it’s worth noting, Luke takes quite a few liberties with his source material in the Gospel of Mark.

            Both Matthew and Luke are copying out of Mark, but it’s important to remember that they are not always slavishly copying from Mark.  They are taking material from Mark and altering it to suit their narrative purposes and they’re theological points of view.

            Both Matthew and Luke “soften” material in Mark that seems to portray Jesus and the disciples in an unsympathetic way, or leave out these passages completely.  Luke omits several passages from Mark which show Jesus exhibiting human emotions, acting in a violent way, or that might seem to portray Jesus as a magician.  For example, in the original Mark, the disciples don’t understand Jesus because they are stupid, but Luke alters this so that the reason the disciples don’t understand everything is because of divine concealment. 
In Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman notes that Mark and Luke seem to have conflicting theological interpretations of the meaning of the death of Christ.  Mark thinks Christ died as a payment for our sins, Luke thinks that Christ died as a symbol for us to repent.  Whenever Luke comes across any passages in Mark referring to Jesus's death as a payment for sins, he just deletes those passages.

            [I’m just skimming the surface here.  Whole books are written on all the changes that Luke makes to the original material in Mark’s gospel.  Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman  is a good source on this, but also see HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.]

            If these are the liberties Luke took with the material we know about, we have to wonder how faithfully he transcribed the sources we don’t know about.
            …That is, of course, assuming there was a source at all.  For all the material that is collaborated nowhere else in the Bible, or in secular history, we have to at least maintain the possibility that he might have invented some of the details himself.  I know this would never cross the mind of Lee Strobel and his friends, but it’s something a skeptic can’t help but think.

Part 12: My Personal Thoughts on Whether It Matter That the Gospels are Anonymous

  I hope I have by this point adequately proven that the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts, and that the Gospels were not written by the apostles assigned to them by Church tradition.
           
            I’m going to take a brief digression to ask the question: Does it matter?

            Well, to Lee Strobel it obviously does, because much of his book is based off the argument that the Gospels are the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles.  And with the claim of eyewitness testimony gone, so goes most of the rest of Lee Strobel’s case.

            But a point I should re-emphasize here is that most Christian scholars believe the Gospels are anonymous, and in fact I was first taught this at a conservative Christian college.  And it apparently doesn’t affect their faith.

            Over the years, I’ve somewhat regretted that I didn’t raise my hand in Religion 101, when my Christian college professor first told us that the Gospels were written anonymously, and ask, “But if we don’t even know who wrote the Gospels, how can we trust what’s inside of them?”  I regret this because today I am very curious to know what the professor’s answer would have been, and how he would have reconciled the uncertainty of the Gospel’s authorship with the certainty of Christian faith.
            However, when I was 18 and first learning all this for the first time, I was not yet in a position to ask this question.  I “knew” that the Christian faith was true, and I “knew” that the Gospels were inspired by God, and whether they were written by the Apostles, or whether they were written by some anonymous person didn’t affect my faith. 
            And indeed, if you start from the assumption that you “know” the Gospels are inspired by God, then it doesn’t really matter much who wrote them.  But this is just circular logic.  You believe in God because the Bible says so, and you believe in the Bible because God inspired it.  If at a certain point you get off this circular merry-go-round to stop and ask, “But how do we really know any of this stuff?  How do we know that the Bible was inspired?”, then it becomes a lot more difficult.

            When the early church was deciding what books were canonical, and what books were not canonical, one criteria they used is that all canonical books had to be written by an apostle or the associate of an apostle.  (This was something I learned in my confirmation class, as I wrote in this paper years ago, but it’s also something that Lee Strobel believes and repeats on page 66 of his book.  Dale Martin also makes the same point in his Yale lectures.)  So, the Gospels of Matthew and John were admitted into the Canon because they were apostles, and Mark and Luke were admitted because they were associates of the apostles.  But take away the authorship of these books, and you've also taken away much of their original justification for being admitted into the canon into the first place.
            But more than that, if we accept that the early Church was wrong about the authorship of the Gospels, then I think it’s a legitimate question to ask how we know they were right about the Gospels being inspired by God?

I mean, consider this: at no point in history did God come down  from heaven and tell us explicitly what books of the Bible were inspired by him, and which books were not.  Nor is the divine inspiration of the books self-evident from their content.  There is simply no proof that any of the books of the Bible are divinely inspired.  As Thomas Paine said, These books, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation ...., are, we are told, the word of God.  It is, therefore, proper to for us to know who told us so, that we may know what credit to give to the report.  The answer to this question is, that nobody can tell, except that we tell one another so.
One just has to take it on faith that the church fathers, hundreds of years ago, were able to accurately judge which books where divinely inspired and which ones were not

But on what basis can we say the Church fathers were wrong about the authorship of these books, and yet right about the divine inspiration?  If we now know that the church fathers were mistaken in some of their assumptions about these books, doesn't it raise questions about their credibility on other assumptions?

            And leaving aside the question of divine inspiration, and using the Gospels simply as historical documents to prove the truth of Christ (as Lee Strobel tries to do), you have serious problems of reliability once you admit the Gospels were not eyewitness documents, and that you have no idea who wrote them.

When talking about the first five books of the Bible, Thomas Paine wrote that he did not believe the books were really written by Moses, and that consequently the books must be anonymous, and consequently they could not be believed.  He justified his thinking in this way:
I know, however, but of one ancient book that authoritatively challenges universal consent and belief, and that is Euclid’s Elements of Geometry; and the reason is, because it is a book of self-evident demonstration, entirely independent of its author , and of everything relating to time, place, and circumstances.  The matters contained in that book would have the same authority they have now, had they been written by any other person, or had the work been anonymous, or had the author never been known; for the identical certainty of who was the author, makes no part of our belief of the matters contained in the book.  But it is quite otherwise with respect to the books ascribed to Moses, to Joshua, to Samuel, etc; these are books of testimony, and they testify of things naturally incredible; and therefore, the whole of our belief as to the authenticity of those books rests, in the first place, upon the certainty that they were written by Moses, Joshua, and Samuel; secondly upon the credit we give to the testimony.  We may believe the first, that is we may believe the certainty of the authorship, and yet not the testimony; in the same manner that we may believe that a certain person gave evidence upon a case and yet not believe the evidence that he gave.  But if it should be found that the books ascribed to Moses, Joshua and Samuel were not written by Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, every part of the authority and authenticity of those books is gone at once; for there can be no such thing as forged or invented testimony; neither can there be anonymous testimony, more especially as to things naturally incredible, such as that of talking with God face to face, or that of the sun and moon standing still at the command of a man.

Change the names here from Moses to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the same critique could be made of the Gospels.  If we know that they are anonymous, how can we put our faith in their testimony?
            And leaving aside the question of divine inspiration, and using the Gospels simply as historical documents to prove the truth of Christ (as Lee Strobel tries to do), you have serious problems of reliability once you admit the Gospels were not eyewitness documents, and that you have no idea who wrote them.

            Since many Christian scholars know the Gospels were anonymous and still believe in them, I’d be interested in hearing their defense of the Christian faith. 

            [I have a friend who was raised in a conservative Catholic school, and he told me that from the age of high school the priests let him in on the secret that the Gospels had not been written by the Apostles, but had been written anonymously.  But that didn’t matter, because God had inspired them nonetheless, and the anonymous human scribe who wrote down God’s words was of no importance.  This he believed for several years afterwards, he told me, until he found all the contradictions in the Gospels too problematic.  If God had inspired the Gospels, then why was God always contradicting himself?]

            In my opinion, I think you may be able to argue some sort of weak version of Christianity based on anonymous Gospels.  Something like: there probably is some sort of benevolent God, and he probably reveals some of the truth about himself in the Bible, and maybe we can use some of the teachings.
           
            But I don’t think based on anonymous Gospels you can argue the old-time-religion strong view of Christianity—the version that we are right, and everyone else is wrong, and your eternal salvation depends on if you believe in the Bible or not.  (In other words, the version Lee Strobel is arguing.)
            You certainly couldn’t launch missionary work based on this kind of view of the Bible.  You can’t go up into the hill tribes and say, “We have these 4 Gospels.  We don’t know who wrote them, or what their sources were, and we’re pretty sure they weren’t eyewitnesses to the events that they describe.  The Church believed they were inspired by God based on the mistaken assumption that the Apostles wrote them.  And they all contradict each other on the key points of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ—in other words, all the key parts of the doctrine.  But anyway, you have to believe in them or you’re going to hell for all eternity.”
            That would be absurd, right?  And yet, missionary groups continue to set out.  (I see them all the time here in Cambodia).  What do you think these missionaries are telling people?

            Also, if you believe, as Christians do, that the resurrection of Christ was the most momentous event in human history, then why didn’t God leave us better documentation of it?  Especially concerning all the other areas of history that are much better documented.  (We have more surviving eye-witness accounts of Marie Antoinette’s tea parties than we do of the resurrection of Christ.)  If God really wanted us to believe in this, why wouldn’t he have left us with more reliable documentation?

            Well, anyway, those are all my thoughts on that problem.

Part 13: Lee Strobel’s Arguments for Why the Apostles Wrote the Gospels

Okay having, I hope, established all the reasons why it’s impossible that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John could have written the Gospels assigned to them, I’ll now finally get around to looking at Lee Strobel’s arguments.
            Lee Strobel, and his apologist for this section Craig Blomberg, talk about this for pages 22-28.  During these pages, I’ve divided their arguments into 2 sections, which I’ll address separately.

I. Church Tradition is True Because Church Tradition Says It Is.

            Having thus “proved” the truth of Church tradition on the Gospels, Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg get around to trying to explain away the central awkwardness of their position: Why Matthew, the eyewitness, is copying from Mark, who is not an eye-witness.  I’ll address this in the third section.


          I’ll start with Lee Strobel’s first point:
I. Church Tradition is True Because Church Tradition Says It Is.
From page 22-23:
            Tell me this,” I said with an edge of challenge in my voice, “is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were written by the people whose name have been attached to them?”
            Blomberg set his cup of coffee on the edge of his desk and looked intently at me.  “The answer is yes,” he said with conviction.
            He sat back and continued.  “It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking the gospels are anonymous. But the uniform testimony of the early church was that Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of the twelve disciples, was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of Peter, was the author of the Gospel we call Mark; and that Luke, known as Paul’s ‘beloved physician’ wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.”
            “How uniform was the belief that they were the authors?” I asked.
            “There are no known competitors for these three Gospels,” he said.  “Apparently, it was just not in dispute.”

            Okay, as I said in part 1, in order to refute Lee Strobel’s book, I’m going to have to point out the ridiculously obvious reasons why his ridiculously stupid arguments don’t work, so just bear with me here as we work through the obvious.
            In a book trying to prove the truth of Christianity, the accuracy of the uniform testimony of the early church is precisely what is in dispute.  You can’t point to Church tradition as a proof of Church tradition in and of itself.  (I can’t believe I just had to say that.)
           
            Secondly, we have absolutely no documents or testimony from before the 2nd Century to indicate that these any of these Gospels were written by these people.  There is nothing that goes back to the lifetime of the apostles to support the authorship.  So when Craig Blomberg cites the “early” church, it’s important to remember this is a relative term.

            The fact that there were no known competitors for the authorship in ancient times is not convincing.  When disproving a legend, you don’t actually need to cite a competing legendary tradition in order to cast doubt on the first one.  For example, no modern historian takes seriously the legendary story about Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome.  And no one ever has tried to prove the truth of this story by saying, “But in Roman tradition, Romulus and Remus had no other competitors for the founding of Rome.  In fact it doesn’t even seem to have been in dispute among the ancient Romans.”  (You also can’t prove a tradition by just simply saying that it wasn’t in dispute among the people it developed in.) 

            Okay, so exactly what is the early Church tradition these guys are relying on?  They get into that on pages 24-25:

            “Let’s go back to Mark, Matthew, and Luke,” I said.  “What specific evidence do you have that they are the authors of the gospels?”
            Bloomberg leaned forward.  “Again, the oldest and probably most significant testimony comes from Papias, who in about A.D. 125 specifically affirmed that Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter’s eyewitness observations.  In fact, he said Mark ‘made no mistakes’ and did not include ‘any false statement.’ And Papias said Matthew had preserved the teachings of Jesus as well.
            “Then Irenaeus, writing about A.D. 180, confirmed the traditional authorship.  In fact, here—,” he said, reaching for a book.  He flipped it open and read Irenaeus’ words.
            Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the Church there.  After their departure, Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter himself, handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia. 
            I looked up from the notes I was taking.  “OK, let me clarify this,” I said. “If we can have confidence that the gospels were written by the disciples Matthew and John, by Mark, the companion of the disciple Peter, and by Luke, the historian, companion of Paul, and sort of a first-century journalist, we can be assured that the events they record are based on either direct or indirect eyewitness testimony.”
            As I was speaking, Blomberg was mentally sifting my words. When I finished, he nodded.
            “Exactly,” he said crisply.

            Right, so there are several points to be made in response to this:

I. First of all, there are a lot of problems with both the testimony of Papias and Ireneaus.  I already went over all this in Part 7, so I’m not going to repeat myself here.
II. This is a minor nitpick, but as I said in Part 7, Papias’s writings may have been as late as 140 A.D.
III. Note carefully all the things they establish here, because in just 2 more pages (on page 27) they’re going to completely contradict almost everything they say here.  In the quote above they’re admitting that by Church tradition Matthew wrote first, Matthew wrote in Hebrew, Mark wrote after Matthew, and Mark wrote after Peter and Paul had departed.  They’re going to completely contradict themselves on all of these points when they try to explain away why Matthew is copying from John Mark on page 27.
IV. Scholars generally date Mark to 70 A.D., Matthew and Luke to 90, and John somewhere between 90-120.  Look how big the gap is between the Ireneaus’s testimony and when the actual material that was produced.
            The problem is bad enough if we go by the secular account, but it gets much worse if we accept the timeline that Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel propose on page 33-34.  They want to argue that Acts “cannot be dated any later than A.D. 62.  Having established that, we can then work backwards from there.  Since Acts is the second of a two-part work, we know the first part—the gospel of Luke—must have been written earlier than that.  And since Luke incorporates parts of the Gospel of Mark, that means Mark is even earlier. If you allow maybe a year for each of those, you end up with Mark written no later than about A.D. 60, maybe even the late 50s.  (p.33-34)
            Now, no serious scholar takes Lee Strobel’s timeline seriously, but I’m not going to get into that here.  The point for now is that judged by their own timeline that they themselves want to use, there’s a huge gap between when the Gospels were actually written and the testimony of Ireneaus.  It’s over a 120 year gap.  This is like someone now establishing the authorship of a Victorian Era document.  

 Part 14: Lee Strobel’s Argument that Church Tradition Must Be True Because the Church Would Have No Reason To Lie  

  Lee Strobel’s second argument is Church Tradition Must Be True Because the Church Would Have No Reason To Lie
          From page 23:

            Even so, I wanted to test the issue further.  “Excuse my skepticism,” I said, “but would anyone have had a motivation to lie by claiming these people wrote these gospels, when they really didn’t?”
            Blomberg shook his head. “Probably not. Remember, these were unlikely characters,” he said, a grin breaking on his face.  “Mark and Luke weren’t even among the twelve disciples. Matthew was, but as a former hated tax collector, he would have been the most infamous character next to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus!
            “Contrast that with what happened when the fanciful apocryphal gospels were written much later.  People chose the names of well-known and exemplary figures to be their fictitious authors—Philip, Peter, Mary, James. Those names carried a lot more weight than the names of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So to answer your question, there would not have been any reason to attribute authorship to these three less respected people if it weren’t true.”

There are several points to make in response to this:
I. This Doesn’t Actually Prove Anything
II. Anonymous Literary Texts Tend to Attract Apocryphal Oral Traditions about Their Authors, and You Don’t Necessarily Need to Prove an Ulterior Motive
III. That Being Said the Church Did Actually Have Plenty of Reasons for Wanting to Claim Apostolic Authorship
IV. His Own Examples Are Undermining the Point He is Trying to Make
V. By His Own Criteria, This Means Any Gospel Bearing the Name of a Minor Apostle Must Be Authentic
VI. By His Own Criteria, This Means the Gospel of John is Probably Falsely Attributed
VII. Matthew, John-Mark and Luke are Not Actually as Problematic as He’s Making Them
VIII. He’s Going to Contradict His Own Argument Here on Page 27 When He Tries to Claim that Mark’s Gospel is Actually Directly from Peter

            Starting then with the first point:
I. This Doesn’t Actually Prove Anything
           First of all, notice how incredibly weak this is as a proof.  The most Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel should be able to say from this is, “Hmm, isn’t it strange that the Church used some names of minor apostles instead of naming everything after Peter, James and John.  Maybe something’s going on here, maybe not.”
            In no way does this “prove” that the Apostles actually wrote the Gospels.  But this is typical of how the whole book is written.  Every little piece of evidence, no matter how flimsy, is immediately declared to “prove” Christianity.

            By the way, this is it.  This is their whole argument on Apostolic Authorship of the Gospels.  Church tradition is true because church tradition says it is (which we examined in part 13), and then this.  The whole rest of the section on eyewitnesses they either launch into defensive mode (explaining away the difficulties with their position) or advance completely contradicting theories (oral tradition).

II. Anonymous Literary Texts Tend to Attract Apocryphal Oral Traditions about Their Authors, and You Don’t Necessarily Need to Prove an Ulterior Motive
            In secular history, there is a debate about the authorship of The Iliad.  Tradition assigns the epic poem to a poor blind poet named Homer, but many scholars doubt that Homer actually existed.
            Now, whatever you think about Homer, notice that it is not a valid argument to say: “Well, Homer must exist!  Why would the ancient Greeks ever lie about it?  What would they have to gain?  Why wouldn’t they have assigned The Iliad to a great king like Alexander the Great instead of to a poor blind poet?”
            You don’t actually need to prove a motive when apocryphal authors get assigned to anonymous texts.  The fact is that a text as important to the Greeks as the Iliad was bound to attract speculation about its author.  And if nothing was known about him, theories were bound to develop.
            How much more true this must have been for the early Church when they believed their eternal salvation relied on their faith in these documents.

III. That Being Said the Church Did Actually Have Plenty of Reasons for Wanting to Claim Apostolic Authorship

          So, hopefully anyone with an ounce of common sense can see plainly enough that the Church actually did have a motive for connecting their key texts with the Apostolic tradition.  What Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel really should be saying is that, according to their logic, the appeal of claiming authorship from the minor Apostles is not nearly as great as the appeal of claiming authorship from the major Apostles.  But that’s not the same as saying the early church would have had no motivation.  Any connection at all with the Apostles is preferable than anonymous texts that have no authority.
            In fact, the irony is that Lee Strobel attempts to base his whole argument for Christ on the testimony of the eyewitness apostles, and yet at the same time doesn’t realize that someone with the same ideological agenda as him could have had a motivation to falsely attribute these documents.
            The early church had plenty of reasons to attribute these Gospels to the apostles.  In the battle between what would later become orthodox Christianity and the different heresies, each side needed to claim that their Gospels were connected directly to the apostles.  What’s more, in order to be accepted into the New Testament Canon, the early Church made it an explicit condition that the Gospels had to be written by an Apostle or an associate of an Apostle.  So there’s plenty of motivation right there.
            The fact that Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg think Peter, James and John would have been the more obvious choice is altogether different from saying that there would be no motivation.

IV. His Own Examples Are Undermining the Point He is Trying to Make
          It’s hard to believe Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg think they’re proving the point they want to be proving.  The evidence they’re citing proves the exact opposite of the point they want to make.
          Contrast that with what happened when the fanciful apocryphal gospels were written much later.  People chose the names of well-known and exemplary figures to be their fictitious authors—Philip, Peter, Mary, James. Those names carried a lot more weight than the names of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

            First of all, he’s already admitting that in early Christianity lots of Gospels were found under false names.  Why does it escape his imagination that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John could be under false names?  (He says these apocryphal Gospels were written later, which is true.  The apocryphal Gospels are from the second Century, whereas Matthew Mark and Luke were from the late first century.  BUT, although canonical Gospels were written earlier, they didn’t have the Apostolic names assigned to them until the same period as the apocryphal Gospels starting appearing.)

            Secondly, Peter and James I’ll give him, but how does Philip make the list? Surely Philip has got to be just as obscure an apostle as Matthew, right?  So which point is he trying to prove anyway?
           
            And then there’s the Gospel of Mary.  There are 3 Marys in the New Testament, but the apocryphal Gospel he’s referring to here is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  
This is, by the way, one of the many slimy "slight of hand" little tricks that Strobel and Blomberg employ throughout this section (and that Lee Strobel employs throughout this book).  Mary the mother of Christ has been venerated into a semi-divine figure in Catholic tradition, and would definitely have been a source that carried a lot of weight in the Catholic Church.  Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, was assumed by Church tradition to be a prostitute--she was a sympathetic figure in Church mythology, but she was a fallen figure, one of Jesus's many imperfect followers.  Blomberg knows that his argument would carry more weight if the readers think he is referring to Mary the mother of Christ, and that furthermore this is probably the Mary that the readers would naturally think of first anyway. So he just leaves the reference deliberately unclear to try to get away with inferring something that's not true.
But the apocryphal he is referring to here, the only "Gospel of Mary" we possess, is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene (W).

Citing the Gospel of Mary Magdalene as one of the “names that carried a lot more weight than the names of Matthew, Mark, and Luke” is a very interesting choice, because later in the book Lee Strobel is going to argue that the testimony of women was not respected in the ancient world.
            In fact on pages 217 and 218, Lee Strobel argues that the story of the Mary Magdalene and the women visiting the empty tomb “proves” the resurrection, because in the ancient world the testimony of women was not considered valid, and so the Gospellers would have no incentive to make up such a story were it not true.
            Here, he’s arguing that the choice of Mary Magdalene as a Gospel writer would have had more credibility in the ancient world than the Matthew, Mark and Luke. 
            Surely he can’t have it both ways.
            (By the way, when you get to the empty tomb stories later in this book, remember that Lee Strobel has already conceded that the testimony of a woman in the ancient world was popular enough for a group of Christians to follow her apocryphal gospel.)

V. By His Own Criteria, This Means Any Gospel Bearing the Name of a Minor Apostle Must Be Authentic

          So, guess what, in the early Christian era there were tons of apocryphal Gospels claiming to be written by all sorts of apostles major and minor: the Gospel of Thomas, Nicodemus, Andrew, Bartholomew, Judas, Pilate, Joseph.... (see list at Wikipedia Here)
            Now, according to Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg, any Gospel bearing the name of a minor Apostle must be authentic, because no one would ever falsely attribute any Gospel to anyone who wasn’t Peter, James, or John.  (And for some reason, in their logic Philip and Mary Magdalene make this list?)  So they would have to recognize all of these apocryphal Gospels then, right?
            But of course they’re not going to.

VI. By His Own Criteria, This Means the Gospel of John is Probably Falsely Attributed

          So the logic that Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel are advancing is that the early Church would only have had motivation to falsely attribute authorship to the major Apostles: Peter, James, and John.
            Well, guess what?  John is already spoken for as the author of one of the 4 Gospels.  Doesn’t this mean, by their own criteria, that we should be highly suspicious of the Gospel of John?

            To his credit, Lee Strobel asks Craig Blomberg about this problem directly.  But then to Craig Blomberg’s discredit, he gives a long and convoluted answer about something on a completely different subject.  And then Lee Strobel accepts this.  It’s a truly bizarre exchange.

            That sounded logical, but it was obvious that he was conveniently leaving out one of the gospel writers.  “What about John?” I asked. “He was extremely prominent; in fact, he wasn’t just one of the twelve disciples, but one of Jesus’ inner three, along with James and Peter.”
            “Yes, he’s the one exception,” Blomberg conceded with a nod.  “And interestingly, John is the only gospel about which there is some question about the authorship.”
            “What exactly is in dispute?”
            “The name of the author isn’t in doubt—it’s certainly John,” Blomberg replied. “The question is whether it was John the apostle or a different John.
            “You see, the testimony of Christian writer named Papias, dated about A.D. 125, refers to John the apostle and John the elder, and its not clear from the context whether he’s talking about one person from two perspectives or two different people. But granted that exception, the rest of the early testimony is unanimous that it was John the apostle—the son of Zebedee—who wrote the gospel.” (p.23)
           
            Okay, first of all even if you take what he’s saying at face value, notice how this adds nothing to the discussion.  He briefly mentions some sort of dispute just to cloud the waters, and then promptly dismisses it and returns to what he’s been saying all along.  Nowhere at all does this address what should have been the principle concern: according to the criteria he himself introduced, the Gospel of John is a likely candidate for false attribution. 
            Instead, that whole digression is essentially the equivalent of him yelling, “Hey, look over there!  Now what where we talking about again?”
           
            Secondly, Papias never wrote anything about the Gospel of John (Papias only wrote about the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  See Part 7 ).  So if Papias occasionally confused John the elder and John the apostle, it was never in the context of discussing the authorship of the Gospel of John.  And he knows this, because he recites Papias’s testimony on the following page (see Part 13).  So he’s deliberately bringing in something he knows has absolutely nothing to do with this.  (Boy!  You really have to watch these guys closely!  Talk about slimy debating tricks!)

Okay, continuing on with Lee Strobel and Blomberg:
            “And,” I said in an effort to pin him down further, “you’re convinced that he did?”
            “Yes, I believe the substantial majority of the material goes back to the apostle,” he replied. “However, if you read the gospel closely, you can see some indication that its concluding verses may have been finalized by an editor. Personally I have no problem believing that somebody closely associated with John may have functioned in that role, putting the last verses into shape and potentially creating the stylistic uniformity of the entire document.
            “But in any event,” he stressed, “the gospel is obviously based on eyewitness material, as are the other three gospels.” (p.24)
           
            The issue of the “editor” was already discussed in part 4, and I’m not going to repeat myself here.
            Also, notice how he just simply states that all the Gospels are “obviously” based on eyewitness material, even though he and Lee Strobel have done absolutely no work to show that any of the material in the Gospels is the kind of material an eyewitness would report?  (Nor will they.)  This kind of just declaring stuff by fiat is very typical of the whole book, and once again makes me think that Lee Strobel simply wrote this book to make money of off Christians, and it’s not a serious attempt to convince skeptics.

VII. Matthew, John-Mark and Luke are Not Actually as Problematic as He’s Making Them

          Even assuming that Matthew was hated as a tax collector, one of the main themes of the Gospels is that Jesus attracted people who were ordinarily rejected by society.  So it would not be incongruous at all for the Church to assign a Gospel to Matthew’s name. 
            However, the idea that Matthew was the second most hated of all the disciples after Judas is certainly not in evidence from the text of the 4 Gospels themselves.  In fact arguably Matthew comes out looking better than some of the other disciples, like the infamous “doubting Thomas”.  (And yet there’s an apocryphal Gospel forged in Thomas’s name as well, so what does that prove?)

          Really, none of the disciples come out all that well in the Gospels, as Craig Blomberg himself says much later on page 50.  Mark’s perspective of Peter is pretty consistently unflattering.  And he’s the ringleader!  The disciples repeatedly misunderstand Jesus.  James and John want the places of Jesus’ right and left hand, and he has to teach them hard lessons about servant leadership instead. They look like a bunch of self-serving, self-seeking, dull-witted people a lot of the time.”

            So, really, Craig Blomberg could play this game no matter which disciple the church had picked.  (Imagine right now there’s a parallel universe somewhere in which the Gospels had been attributed to Peter.  And in that parallel universe, there’s a book called The Case for Christ in which Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel are arguing that the church would have no motivation to falsely assign a Gospel to Peter’s name when Peter comes off as such a dunce in the Gospel narratives.)

            As Craig Blomberg says, it is true that John-Mark and Luke weren’t even part of the 12.  But then remember that no one is claiming that these Gospels were forged in the Apostles names.  (There are deliberate forgeries elsewhere in the New Testament, but that’s a separate subject.)  What people are claiming is that the Gospels were written anonymously in the first century, and then the Church only assigned them names in the second century.  In other words, the Church was constrained by the material that was already written in the Gospel.
            The preface to the Gospel of Luke makes it quite clear the author was not an eyewitness, so the early Church couldn’t have assigned the Gospel of Luke to one of the twelve even if they had wanted to.
            For more on why the early Church chose these particular apostles, see my discussion in part 7.

            As for John-Mark, he was well known as an associate of Peter.  Which brings us to our next section.

VIII. He’s Going to Contradict His Own Argument Here on Page 27 When He Tries to Claim that Mark’s Gospel is Actually Directly from Peter
            We’ll get to this in the next section, but just 4 pages later in the book Lee Strobel is going to contradict himself on the Gospel of Mark.
            When attempting to explain why Matthew had copied from the Gospel of Mark, Strobel will argue that everyone knew that the Gospel of Mark was really straight out of the mouth of the Apostle Peter.  So on one page he’s saying that Church tradition would never assign a Gospel to a nobody like John-Mark when Peter was the more obvious choice, and then just 4 pages later he will argue that according to Church tradition, Mark’s Gospel was really Peter’s direct words. 
            So, to sum up, Craig Blomberg believe that the Church would never falsely assign a Gospel to anyone except the major apostles: Peter, James and John.  (I’m going to just ignore Philip and Mary).
            John is already spoken for, and soon they’ll be claiming Mark as Peter’s Gospel.  That only leaves James! 
            ….So essentially, they’re arguing the Gospels couldn’t have been falsely attributed, because the church forgot about James.  

Part 15: Lee Strobel’s Attempt to Explain Why Matthew is Copying From John-Mark

Lee Strobel believes in Church tradition that the Apostles wrote the Gospel, but one of many problems with Lee Strobel’s argument is that modern scholarship has shown that Matthew and Luke are copied from the Gospel of Mark.  (See part 9).  But if Matthew was an eyewitness, then what was he doing copying from John Mark, who was not an eyewitness?

            Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg attempt to address this on pages 27-28:
            Blomberg’s mention of Matthew brought to mind another question concerning how the gospels were put together. “Why,” I asked, “would Matthew—purported to be an eyewitness to Jesus—incorporate part of a gospel written by Mark, who everybody agrees was really not an eyewitness?  If Matthew’s gospel was really written by an eyewitness, you would think he would have relied on his own observations.”
            Blomberg smiled.  “It only makes sense if Mark was indeed basing his account on the recollections of the eyewitness Peter,” he said. “As you’ve said yourself, Peter was among the inner circle of Jesus and was privy to seeing and hearing things that the other disciples didn’t.  So it would make sense for Matthew, even though he was an eyewitness, to rely on Peter’s version of events as transmitted through Mark.”
            Yes, I thought to myself, that did make some sense.  In fact, an analogy began to form in my mind from my years as a newspaper reporter.  I recalled being part of a crowd of journalists that once cornered the famous Chicago political patriarch, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, to pepper him with questions about a scandal that was brewing in the police department.  He made some remarks before escaping to his limousine.
            Even though I was an eyewitness to what had taken place, I immediately went to a radio reporter who had been closer to Daley, and asked him to play back his tape of what Daley had just said.  This way, I could make sure I had his words correctly written down.
            That, I mused, was apparently what Matthew did with Mark—although Matthew had his own recollections as a disciple, his quest for accuracy prompted him to rely on some material that came directly from Peter in Jesus’ inner circle.

            Okay, first, a minor nitpick:  Blomberg says to Lee Strobel, “As you’ve said yourself, Peter was among the inner circle of Jesus and was privy to seeing and hearing things that the other disciples didn’t. Nowhere in the conversation between Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg does Lee Strobel actually say this.  Maybe it was part of the conversation that happened off the record.  Or maybe Blomberg just got confused.   I don’t know—your guess is as good as mine.  But it seems like very poor editing either way.  Plus, Lee Strobel is supposed to be pretending to be the skeptic in these conversations.  I know it’s a very poor charade (as I noted in part 1), but, come on, this is really getting ridiculous here if Lee Strobel, the pretend skeptic, is feeding Craig Blomberg the points that Blomberg is using to build his argument. 
            As I was reading this book, I was constantly having to ask myself, “What is going on here?”  It’s like these guys exist in their own separate world that only makes sense to them.

            Right, okay, well let’s get into the meat of their argument here.  A number of points can be made in response to this:
I. This Doesn’t Make Sense
II. This Contradicts the Church Tradition on Which They Are Basing Their Whole Argument
III. They Are Just Making This Whole Theory Up Out of Thin Air
IV. There is Absolutely No Textual Evidence to Support This Theory
V. The Textual Evidence Contradicts This Theory
VI. This Still Wouldn’t Explain Why Matthew Was Copying From Q

          I’ll start with:
I. This Doesn’t Make Sense
          So, this doesn’t make any sense.  At all. 
            It is true that Peter, James and John seemed to have been the more favored disciples.  But how do Strobel and Blomberg jump from “more favored disciple” to “more precise memory”?  Matthew, if he was the greatest among the 12, or the least among the 12, should have been able to narrate the events from his own memory equally as well as Peter’s version. 
            The analogy with the tape-recorder is flawed for a number of obvious reasons that I shouldn’t even have to point out.  Peter’s memory was not like a tape recorder.  (At least as far as we know.)  Peter may have been more favored, but his memory was just as flawed as Matthew’s would have been.  And for this analogy to work, not only would Peter’s mind have to have been like a tape recorder, but John-Mark’s mind would also have to have been like a tape recorder, because the Gospel doesn’t come directly from Peter’s mouth, but (according to Church tradition) it’s John-Mark’s remembrance of what Peter had said that John Mark wrote down after Peter had left.  So both Peter and John-Mark would have to have had amazing memories, and not only that, but Matthew would have had to somehow know about their awesome powers of memorization.  But we have no evidence of any of this.
            And then there are the linguistic problems.  Jesus, Peter, and Matthew all spoke Aramaic, not Greek.  The Gospel of Mark is written in Greek.  Lee Strobel throughout the whole book never mentions the linguistic difficulties, but according to his theory to work we must imagine Peter gave his testimony in Aramaic, John-Mark translated it into Greek, and then Matthew used John-Mark’s Greek translation of what John Mark remembered that Peter remembered that Jesus had originally said in Aramaic.  And all of this, Matthew (a supposed eyewitness, remember) found preferable to simply using his own recollections?

            There are a handful of times when Peter was an eyewitness to things the other disciples weren’t: the transfiguration, the garden of Gethsemane, his own denial, et cetera.  But these exceptions aside, for the majority of Jesus’s life and teachings as recorded in the Gospel, there’s no indication in the Gospels that the other disciples are not getting the same access to Jesus’s words.  (And, incidentally, it is precisely the exceptions, the points where Peter was present but Matthew definitely wasn’t, that are going to be the most problematic for Lee Strobel’s theory, but we’ll get to that in part V).

II. This Contradicts the Church Tradition on Which They Are Basing Their Whole Argument
          Okay, so up until now, the whole argument that Lee Strobel had been using to prove the Church tradition on the Apostolic Authorship has been: “Church Tradition is true because Church tradition says it is” and “Church Tradition Uniformly Agrees on This.”  (In Lee Strobel’s world, this counts as “proving” something.)

            Now, he’s going over and completely re-writing the Church tradition on which he had been basing his whole argument.
            Church tradition does not say that the Apostle Matthew was copying from the Apostle John-Mark.  Church tradition says that Matthew wrote his Gospel first, and John-Mark wrote his Gospel later.  Furthermore, according to Church tradition, the two Gospels weren’t even originally supposed to be in the same language—Matthew was supposed to have first written in Hebrew.

            And Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg know this because they just got done reciting this Church tradition two pages earlier!
           I mean, really!  What is going on here?  Did Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg just completely forget everything they were talking about two minutes ago?  Did they just forget the Church tradition that they just got done reciting three pages ago on page 24?

          I've quoted this before in part 13, but at the risk of becoming repetitive, I'm going to quote that section again.  Read it again in conjunction with Lee Strobel's arguments on page 27 quoted above, and then judge for yourself how much of this book appears to be based on the assumption that the reader is just not paying attention:

     “Then Irenaeus, writing about A.D. 180, confirmed the traditional authorship.  In fact, here—,” he said, reaching for a book.  He flipped it open and read Irenaeus’ words.
            Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the Church there.  After their departure, Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter himself, handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia. 
            I looked up from the notes I was taking.  “OK, let me clarify this,” I said. “If we can have confidence that the gospels were written by the disciples Matthew and John, by Mark, the companion of the disciple Peter, and by Luke, the historian, companion of Paul, and sort of a first-century journalist, we can be assured that the events they record are based on either direct or indirect eyewitness testimony.”
            As I was speaking, Blomberg was mentally sifting my words. When I finished, he nodded.
            “Exactly,” he said crisply.
 (p. 24-45)

            Furthermore, according to Church tradition, John-Mark did not copy Peter’s words directly out of Peter’s mouth.  John-Mark wrote the Gospel later after Peter had left.  And because Peter wasn’t around to guide him, according to Church tradition John-Mark wasn’t even sure which order the stories were supposed to go in.  (This has been the traditional explanation the Church used to explain why the same stories occurred in different order in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.)
          Now, it sounds as if Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel want to argue that the Gospel of Mark came directly from Peter’s mouth, as if John-Mark had simply been the scribe who had written it down.
            But this is not Church tradition.  And furthermore, if Peter had dictated his Gospel directly, it would have been named “The Gospel according to Peter” and not “The Gospel according to Mark.”  Books get named after the author, not after the scribe.  (Paul used scribes when writing some of his letters.  One of them is named in Romans 16:22: "I, Tertius, the one writing down this letter, greet you in the Lord.".  But we don’t call Romans the letter of Tertius.)

III. They Are Just Making This Whole Theory Up Out of Thin Air
          Okay, so at this point, they are just completely making things up.  This little theory they are advancing here is supported by neither Church tradition nor modern scholarship.  (There is no church tradition about the Apostle Matthew copying from the Apostle John-Mark, and modern scholarship does not believe the Apostles wrote the Gospel.)  They are just wandering out in left-field, with this theory they invented out of thin air.

IV. There is Absolutely No Textual Evidence to Support This Theory
            Notice how there is absolutely no textual evidence to support this theory.  Nowhere in the Gospel of Matthew does the author say anything like, “Okay, now at this point I, Matthew, am going to borrow from Peter’s recollections, because I think he remembers it slightly better than I do.”

V. The Textual Evidence Contradicts This Theory
          Furthermore, if you look closely at the passages Matthew copied from Mark, it seems to completely contradict their theory that Matthew regarded Peter’s memory in some sort of awe. 
            Of course it’s a major assumption of The Case for Christ that the reader is never going to bother to look up anything, ever, so Lee Strobel and his buddies can get away with spouting off all sorts of ridiculous theories.  But notice how this whole theory falls apart the moment you actually start to examine the Bible.
            Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were using the Gospel of Mark as their source material, but neither Matthew or Luke felt obliged to reverently copy down Mark exactly when it contrasted with their own theology, or with their own literary agendas.  If you accept Lee Strobel’s theory that Matthew was copying from Mark because Peter had insights and information that Matthew did not, then it makes it all the harder to explain why Matthew is changing details.  [See for example HERE, HERE, and HERE.]

            And this is specifically true for some of the instances when Matthew wasn’t even there.
            Take, for example, the story of Peter’s denial.  Peter was an eyewitness to this, Matthew was not.  So this is one of the few instances where it actually does make sense that Matthew would be copying from John-Mark’s account.  But although Matthew is using Mark as his source, look at all the details that Matthew is changing. 
            Here is Mark’s account: 66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. 68 But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

            And here is Matthew’s account: 69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!" 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." 74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

            Did you catch all those little differences?  I’m not going to list them all here, but notice how the rooster crows twice in Mark’s account, but only once in Matthew’s account.  Also notice all the little details.  Mark’s version said “[Peter] broke down and wept.”  Matthew’s version said, “He went outside and wept bitterly.” 

            According to Lee Strobel’s theory, Matthew must have looked at John-Mark’s account and said, “Well, John-Mark’s version comes straight from Peter.  And Peter was there, and I wasn’t.  And Peter’s memory is much better than mine apparently.  But I’m just going to go ahead and change all the details anyway.”  Or "Even though I wasn't even there, I'm fairly sure Peter was weeping bitterly, not just weeping.  I'd better change that detail."

VI. This Still Wouldn’t Explain Why Matthew Was Copying From Q
          Okay, so even if we accept that Matthew, a supposed eyewitness, was copying from Mark because of his reverence for Peter, this still would not explain why Matthew, a supposed eyewitness, was copying from Q.  I mean, we don’t even know who wrote Q.
            Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg pretty much ignore the problem of Q.  They address Q on pages 26-27, in a subsection entitled “The Mysteries of Q”, in which they kind of concede that Q probably existed.  But they carefully avoid saying anything about Q that would be problematic to them.

            From the perspective of Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg, there are two points about Q that are problematic for them.  One is that Matthew, a supposed eyewitness, is copying from Q.  The second is that, as far as we can tell, there are no references to Jesus’s resurrection in Q.  (Both Matthew and Luke, who quote from Q when they can, share no common sources on Jesus’s post resurrection appearances to the disciples, so scholars infer Q is silent on the resurrection.)

            Strobel and Blomberg just pretend these questions do not exist.  (As one reviewer of The Case for Christ said, the book is very notable for what it’s not saying.  You get the impression sometimes that these guys know exactly what the problems with their theories are, and are very careful to tiptoe around them.)

Part 16: My Conclusion

            Okay, so I have not gotten close to covering this whole book.  I’ve just covered the problems with the first 10 pages.  If I were so inclined, and if I had an infinite amount of free time and nothing else to do, I could easily keep going like this through all 271 pages of the book.
            I’m not going to, but just because I’m giving up here does not mean the rest of the book is not problematic.  The huge leaps in logic, the self-contradictions, and the misrepresentations and falsehoods that I’ve pointed out on the first 10 pages continue all the way through the rest of the book. 

            If you’ve been reading my review carefully so far, I hope I’ve done enough to show that the book is complete nonsense, and that at this point we can just write the rest of it off, and that it would be pointless to go on debunking every stupid thing Lee Strobel says when we’ve already proven there’s no point in taking him seriously.

            Much more likely, you probably haven’t been carefully reading everything I’ve been writing.  You probably have only glanced briefly at these dense, text-filled computer screens, before getting a headache and going on to do something else.  But in that case as well, all the more reason to stop writing now rather then continue to waste my life writing long rebuttals of forgotten Christian apologetic books that no one is reading.  Either way, we’ve come to the end of this review.

            If you do continue on with The Case for Christ, you shouldn’t need my assistance to see how stupid the whole thing is.  Just make sure you:
1) Always look up every biblical reference Lee Strobel gives to see if it actually means what he’s claiming it means (much of the time it doesn’t), and
2) Always double check to see if modern scholarship says what Lee Strobel is actually claiming it says (most of the time it isn’t), and
3) Just use your own common sense.

Addendum 1: Lee Strobel and the Problem of Hell

     Okay, so I know I said in my last post that I was done with this book, but not completely.  I’ve got two addendums I’m going to tack on here—one in this post, and then one in the next post.
            As I wrote in Part 1, this book review has undergone several incarnations in the course of its evolution.  Initially I had ambitions of tackling much more of the book before I eventually decided to limit myself to only debunking Lee Strobel’s arguments about the Gospels being eyewitness accounts.
            The section below comes from an earlier draft of the book review, back when I thought I would tackle a wide range of other problems, including the problem of Hell. 
            Although I’ve since decided to narrow my focus, I had already written this section by that time.  Because it was already written anyway, I’m just going to tack it on here as an addendum, so it doesn’t go to waste.
            This section is also a good example of what complete nonsense the whole book is.  In fact it was after I had finished writing this section that I sat back and said to myself, “What am I doing even trying to make sense out of this gibberish? Why even bother trying to refute this when Lee Strobel clearly doesn’t even care if he’s making sense or not?”  It was after that revelation that I decided to drastically narrow the focus of my review.

What Does Lee Strobel Believe About Hell?
            Like everything else in the book, Lee Strobel’s thoughts on hell are an incoherent mess.  Again, it’s worth remembering here that if none of this makes sense, it’s not supposed to make sense.  This book is not meant to be picked over and analyzed by a hostile reviewer like me—it exists solely just to make money off of Christians who aren’t going to question it.  So it’s somewhat of a waste of time to try to make sense of it, but since I’ve chosen to draw attention to the issue I suppose I have to go through the motions anyway.

            Lee Strobel seems to believe there are some sort of eternal consequences for not believing in Jesus.  He never says what these are, so everything’s very vague, but taken in conjunction with traditional Church doctrine, it’s not hard to guess at what he’s implying.

            I do feel a strong obligation to urge you to make this a front-burner issue in your life. Don’t approach it casually or flippantly, because there’s a lot riding on your conclusion.  As Michael Murphy aptly put it, “We ourselves—and not merely the truth claims—are at stake in the investigation.” In other words, if my conclusion in the case for Christ is correct, your future and eternity hinge on how you respond to Christ. As Jesus declared, “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24) (Lee Strobel p. 271).
           
            Okay, so he never says exactly what he means, but it’s not hard to guess.  When he says your “eternity hinges” on the conclusion, he’s not talking about God giving you really bad acne for all eternity, right?  He’s talking about heaven and hell here, right?
            This same kind of vague language is repeated all throughout the book. For example: “I hope you take it seriously, because there may be more than just idle curiosity hanging in the balance. If Jesus is to be believed…then nothing is more important than how you respond to him.” (p. 15)
            He’s obviously trying as hard as he can to imply something without saying anything concrete that someone could take him up on.  Much of the book is like that actually—he’s very skilled at using weasel language throughout the whole thing.  It’s extremely important that you believe in Jesus because….SOMETHING!  (And yet, somehow not quite important enough for him to bother explaining what that something is…)

            The only place where Lee Strobel directly addresses the problem of Hell is on page 164-166 when talking to D.A. Carson and again it’s very difficult for me to figure out in concrete terms what they’re talking about, and I suspect that’s deliberate.  I’ll quote the whole exchange first, and then I’ll go through and try to make sense of it.
            The Bible says that the Father is loving.  The New Testament affirms the same about Jesus.  But can they really be loving while at the same time sending people to hell?  After all, Jesus teaches more about hell than anyone in the entire Bible. Doesn’t that contradict his supposed gentle and compassionate character?
            In posing this question to Carson, I quoted the hard-edged words of agnostic Charles Templeton: “How could a loving Heavenly Father create an endless hell and, over the centuries, consign millions of people to it because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs.”
            That question, though tweaked for maximum impact, didn’t raise Carson’s ire.  He began with a clarification.  “First of all,” he said, “I’m not sure that God simply casts people into hell because they don’t accept certain beliefs.”
            He thought for a moment, then backed up to take a run at a more thorough answer by discussing a subject that many modern people consider a quaint anachronism: sin.
            “Picture God in the beginning of creation with a man and woman made in his image,” Carson said. “They wake up in the morning and think about God.  They love him truly. They delight to do what he wants; it’s their whole pleasure. They’re rightly related to him and they’re rightly related to each other.
            “Then, with the entrance of sin and rebellion into the world, these image bearers begin to think that they are at the center of the universe. Not literally, but that’s the way they think.  And that’s the way we think.  All the things we call ‘social pathologies’—war, rape, bitterness, nurtured envies, secret jealousies, pride, inferiority complexes—are bound up in the first instance with the fact that we’re not rightly related to God.  The consequence is that people get hurt.
            “From God’s perspective, that is shockingly disgusting. So what should God do about if? If he says, “Well, I don’t give a rip,” he’s saying that evil doesn’t matter to him.  It’s a bit like saying, “Oh yeah, the Holocaust—I don’t care.” Wouldn’t we be shocked if we thought God didn’t have the moral judgments on such matters?
            “But in principle, if he’s the sort of God who has moral judgments on these matters, he’s got to have moral judgments on this huge matter of all these divine image bearers shaking their puny fists at his face and singing with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.” That’s the real nature of sin.
            “Having said that, hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes but just didn’t believe the right stuff.  They’re consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their Maker and want to be at the center of the universe.  Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn’t gentle enough or good enough to let them out.  It’s filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be at the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion.
            “What is God to do? If he says it doesn’t matter to him, God is no longer a God to be admired.  He’s either amoral or positively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself.”
            I interjected, “Yes, but what seems to bother people the most is the idea that God will torment people for eternity.  That seems vicious, doesn’t it?”
            Replied Carson, “In the first place, the Bible says that there are different degrees of punishment, so I’m not sure that it’s the same level of intensity for all people.
            “In the second place, if God took his hands off this fallen world so that there were no restraint on human wickedness, we would make hell.  Thus, if you allow a whole lot of sinners to live somewhere in a confined place where they’re not doing damage to anyone but themselves, what do you get but hell?  There’s a sense in which they’re doing it to themselves, and it’s what they want because they still don’t repent.”
            I thought Carson was finished with his answer, because he hesitated for a moment.  However, he had one more crucial point.  “One of the things that the Bible does insist is that in the end not only will justice be done, but justice will be seen to be done, so that every mouth will be stopped.”
            I grabbed ahold of that last statement. “In other words,” I said, “at the time of judgment, there is nobody in the world who will walk away from that experience saying that they have been treated unfairly by God.  Everyone will recognize the fundamental justice in the way God judges them and the world.”
            “That’s right,” Carson said firmly.  “Justice is not always done in this world; we see that every day.  But on the Last Day it will be done for all to see.  And no one will be able to complain by saying, “This isn’t fair.”  (p.164-165)
           
            Okay, I’ve got to be honest—I don’t really understand what they’re talking about, which makes it difficult for me to respond to it.  (This is a problem I frequently encounter when reading this book.)
            On the surface of it, Carson appears to be rejecting traditional Christian doctrine that we are saved by faith: “I’m not sure that God simply casts people into hell because they don’t accept certain beliefs.  But at the same time he firmly believes in the necessity of a hell because evil must be answered. 
            He frontlines his argument for the necessity of hell with horrific acts of human evil: the Holocaust, war, rape.  (“It’s a bit like saying, “Oh yeah, the Holocaust—I don’t care.” Wouldn't we be shocked if we thought God didn’t have moral judgments on such matters?”)  But then he quickly slides into a whole list of thought crimes—bitterness, nurtured envies, secret jealousies, pride, inferiority complexes.  By including all of these on the same list, Carson appears to think that the thought crimes are morally equivalent to the holocaust, war and rape.  And although Carson uses the actual physical atrocities like the Holocaust to justify the existence of Hell, it appears to be the thought crimes (the failure to repent foremost among them) that land people into hell.  In other words, according to Carson, God needs to establish a Hell to show he cares about the Holocaust, but that doesn’t mean that Hell is necessarily filled only with Nazis and War criminals—it also includes people who indulged in: bitterness, nurtured envies, secret jealousies, pride, inferiority complexes.

            Furthermore, traditional Christian doctrine is that once you’re in Hell, you’re in for all eternity.  However Carson’s verb tenses imply that he thinks someone’s time duration in Hell is directly correlated to their status of repentance, and he appears to be implying that the unrepentant can get out of Hell at any time by simply repenting.  Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn’t gentle enough or good enough to let them out.  It’s filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be at the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion.
            But if that’s the implication, then Lee Strobel is not getting it, because Lee Strobel responds by asking a question about the problem of damnation for eternity.  “Yes, but what seems to bother people the most is the idea that God will torment people for eternity.
            Carson hears this question about the time duration of damnation, completely ignores it, and instead responds with a statement about the intensity of damnation.  In the first place, the Bible says that there are different degrees of punishment, so I’m not sure that it’s the same level of intensity for all people. 
            But this idea of a Hell with carefully orchestrated levels of punishment is immediately contradicted by his very next sentence, in which he talks of a laissez-faire type Hell, in which God simply removes his presence, and leaves sinners to their own devices. “In the second place, if God took his hands off this fallen world so that there were no restraint on human wickedness, we would make hell.  Thus if you allow a whole lot of sinners to live somewhere in a confined place where they’re not doing damage to anyone but themselves, what do you get but hell?”

            By the way, note that second conditional verb tense: if God took his hands off this fallen world so that there were no restraint on human wickedness, we would make hell.  They are clearly implying that this is not the way things are currently.  In other words, they believe that in the present world, God is restraining human wickedness.  I’ve noted the problems with this in a previous blog post when discussing World War II.  If God is currently restraining human wickedness, how do you explain most of human history?  I mean really, how much worse could things get?  What could we possibly do to each other that we haven’t already done?  Where, for example, was God’s hand restraining human wickedness when babies were getting their heads smashed against trees in the killing fields of Cambodia?
           Furthermore, this sentence directly contradicts the one before it about the “different degrees of punishment” doctrine.  Most of the damage human wickedness causes is not harm done to ourselves, but harm done to others.  You could argue that the murder, thief and rapist are hurting themselves in an indirect intangible psychological way, I suppose, but you’d have to be especially thick not to notice that they are doing the majority of harm to their victims.  If God simply allowed no restraint on human wickedness, this would not mean that the most wicked would suffer the most, it would mean that the most wicked would inflict the most suffering.
            (By the way, it’s not at all clear what Carson imagines is going on in Hell.  Given that everyone is immortal in hell, I’m imagining sort of a scene like Prometheus chained to the rock—where the eagles come down and eat his liver every day, but then it regrows again because the gods are immortal.  In other words, I’m guessing he’s envisioning a hell where humans can still inflict physical pain and harm on each other even though we will have immortal bodies.  But notice that this is not at all clear in his own explanation, and he doesn’t seem to have thought out the details of what he is saying.)

            And then at the end comes the truly bizarre part—Lee Strobel and Carson believe that on the day of judgment, everyone will believe that God’s judgment is fair.  So they believe there will be a group of people in Hell, who believe that it’s absolutely completely fair that God put them in Hell, but who are still refusing to repent?  I have a hard time reconciling Carson’s belief that the people in Hell are in permanent rebellion against God with his belief that the people in Hell think it’s totally fair God put them there.  Wouldn’t it have to be one or the other?  If they acknowledge the justness of God’s judgment, isn’t that really in essence the same as repenting?
             According to Carson’s vision, we would have to imagine a Hell filled with people who are saying to themselves, “Boy it really sucks here.  And I would love to be in heaven.  And it was totally just for God to put me here, because I absolutely deserved it.  But I’m still not going to repent.”

            Right, so what to make of all this gibberish?  He’s going on about something about sin and defiance of God and repentance, and he clearly believes in a Hell and he believes that there are some people going there, but more than that I can’t logically work out.
            I’ve got two guesses as to what he’s talking about: either he’s defending traditional Church doctrine, or he’s not.
            Firstly, I’ll posit a guess that he might be defending Church doctrine.  Having grown up in the church, I’m aware that they like to use a certain amount of semantic shifting to get around difficult theological issues.  In other words, Christians believe people go to heaven or hell based on their religious beliefs, but they don’t like to phrase it in exactly those words.  They prefer to place the emphasis on the idea that people are going to hell because of sin, and that only those who repent (through Christ) can be saved.  So the Christians are still going to Heaven, and everyone else is still going to Hell, but for those being damned the emphasis has been moved from a failure to believe to the doctrine of sin.  (The fact that everyone is born into sin, and that escape from sin only comes through belief, is regulated to a minor detail.)  
            I somewhat suspect that’s what he’s doing here with—just trying to change the wording of the doctrine, but not its essence.  The “failure to repent” part could be interpreted as synonymous with “failure to believe in Jesus.”
            So that’s guess number one. 

            But if that’s not what’s going on, then it sounds like he is advancing the idea that people are still given a chance to repent after they die, and anyone can get out of hell anytime by just repenting.  Is that what he’s talking about?
            Actually, some religions, like Mormonism believe that after they die heretics will be visited by an angel and still given a chance to repent and avoid hell.  This isn’t Christian doctrine, but it sounds like Carson is stealing this idea anyway.
            Well, if so, it’s an interesting idea, but remember this is a book that is supposed to prove the truth of Christianity.  And where is the proof for any of this?  It’s not in the Bible, it’s not traditionally church doctrine—he appears to be just making stuff up as he goes along. 
           
            Look, you can either accept Church doctrine as divine revelation received from God, and take or leave the whole package.  Or you can just admit that no one knows what happens when we die, and become an agnostic.  What you can’t do is just start making up random stuff out of thin air, and then tell everyone you know what God is going to do or what God isn’t going to do.  It may sound good. It might be what you want God to do, or what you would do in God’s place.  But there’s no proof.  This is nothing more than wishful thinking at its purest, without even the shell of divine revelation to fall back on at this point.
            The Bible is not a short book.  God clearly wasn’t operating on some sort of word limit.  If you believe God inspired the Bible, and you think this is the view of Hell that God wanted us to believe in, then I can’t understand why God didn’t just say this in the Bible.

            Not to mention, the whole thing doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  Given this liberal state of affairs, why does he believe there will still be people in hell who are refusing to repent?
            And, if you can repent and get out of Hell at anytime, then doesn’t this undercut Lee Strobel’s assertion that “your future and your eternity hinge on how you respond to Christ.
            [Also, while I’m nitpicking, Carson’s whole idea about sin entering the world appears to rest on a literal version of a creation account—in the beginning before sin entered the world, there was one man and one woman and everything was perfect.  Unless you take a hard core creationist view of the world and deny all the science, this view has long since been discredited.  Nature was filled with death and destruction long before humans evolved.]
           
            But I’m wasting my time trying to make logical sense of this mess.  As with everything else in the book, Lee Strobel is simply trying to play both arguments at once.  If the threat of your eternal damnation motivates you to become a Christian, then he’ll imply it.  If Hell is a theological problem for you, then you don’t need to worry about Hell—no one is going to Hell who doesn’t want to go, apparently.

            But if there’s no advantage to belief, and no penalty for disbelief, then Lee Strobel’s book doesn’t really make sense.  The whole thing is predicated on the idea that it’s extremely important for you to get to the truth of Christ (…for some vague reason he’s afraid of saying clearly).
            Indeed, not only Lee Strobel’s book, but all of Christianity seems predicated on the idea that belief in Jesus is advantageous, and not believing in Jesus is disadvantageous.  The entire New Testament is emphasizing over and over again the importance of believing in Christ.  (For example Mark 16:16—“Ye that believeth shall be saved and ye that believeth not shall be damned.”)  Traditionally, the church has interpreted the emphasis on belief in Christ as meaning that this was because believers were saved, and unbelievers were damned.  But if you take this away, it’s not clear to me what the Bible is talking about.  And while theologians continue to pretend to know who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell, I wonder why, if God had something he wanted to communicate about all of this, he couldn’t have just said it.
            But as long as you’re operating under the assumption that belief does have some sort of advantage, and unbelievers are at some sort of disadvantage (whatever this happens to be) then the same criticisms of belief can be made—why is it morally virtuous to believe in something without evidence? Why are some people geographically disadvantaged?  And why doesn’t God just come down and tell us what he wants us to believe, instead of leaving us to sort out ourselves what religion is true?

Addendum 2: Why it’s ridiculous to even get into the debate about what the evidence says about the truth of Christianity

   As with the previous addendum, this is a relic from earlier drafts when I still had it in mind I was going to write a much more comprehensive rebuttal.  This was originally meant to preface the discussion, and contains my thoughts on why it is ridiculous to even get into the discussion of trying to prove Christianity from the evidence.

The Problem of Hell
          I remember the first moment when, as a teenager, it suddenly occurred to me that although my Church kept talking about the “good news of Christianity,” it was in fact a horrific view of the world I was being presented with.  According to what the Church preaches, the majority of the world’s population is destined to be tortured for all eternity in hell.  Call that what you will, it’s not “good news.”  Objectively speaking, it would be far better for the vast majority of people if the atheists were right, and there was no God, and consequently no hell.

            More than any other intellectual issue, the problem of hell caused me to lose my faith.
            Although some people like to laugh about it, I’m somewhat sympathetic to Pascal’s Wager which states that you might as well believe in God, because if there is a God then you go to heaven, and if there isn’t a God, it doesn’t really matter anyway.  If this truly worked, the insurance against Hell comes at a cheap enough price.

            The problem though is that Pascal’s Wager assumes a binary opposition between faith and disbelief.  In fact, since most of the world’s religion claim exclusivity, to believe in one is to reject the others.  When you become a Christian, you are rejecting Islam.  And then what happens when Mohammed comes down on the clouds instead of Jesus?

            Christopher Hitchens more correctly theorized that belief in religion is like Aladdin’s cave.  To escape from the cave, Aladdin was presented with a choice of multiple doors, one of which lead to safety, and all the others lead to certain death.
            Or, to quote Homer Simpson when he was explaining to his wife why he didn’t want to go to Church: “And what if we picked the wrong religion?  Why every week we’d just be making God madder and madder.”

            It is the problem of heaven and hell that makes everything Lee Strobel says so ridiculous.  If so much is at stake, is this the best evidence God has left us with?  Are we reduced to psychoanalyzing the trustworthiness of a group of fisherman in order to avoid being sent to hell for all eternity?  Why doesn’t God just appear and tell us what he wants us to believe?

Why It’s Absurd To Even Get Into This Debate
            The same questions asked about the Gospels can be asked about any other ancient document.  Did Homer really write The Iliad ?  How true are the events in The Iliad?
            But in the case of The Iliad, no one would argue that you could go to hell if you got the wrong answers to these questions, and it would be ridiculous to do so.
            Lee Strobel asks us to believe in the Gospels because the Gospels are authentic eyewitness testimony, and because the apostles proved their faith by dying for it, and no one would die for a lie.

            In response to this, a number of things can be said.  First of all, there are historical reliability problems with many of the early Christian traditions about the martyrdom of the apostles.  But even assuming that the tradition was historically reliable, we might note in passing that lots of people have died for a lie.  Joseph Smith died as a result of fabricating Mormonism (W), but probably not because he particularly wanted to.  Rather, at a certain point, the events he had set in motion got out of his control, and it became too late for him to back down and retract it.
            The 910 followers  of Jim Jones died for a lie (W), but they did it because they were deluded.
            It could also be that the disciples found it difficult to go back to being ordinary fisherman after they had experienced a level of fame and social recognition associated with ushering in the messianic age, and that they were quite happy to ride this wave as long as they could.  (Human beings are not always entirely rational creatures—historically, people have died for less.)

            But whatever conclusion you end up with, to even consider the question you have to put yourself in the absurd position of having your eternal salvation dependent on your ability to successfully psychoanalyze a group of fisherman across a distance of 2,000 years. 

           The same problem occurs with the authorship of the Gospels.  Even assuming Lee Strobel was right on this, what a bizarre thing to have your salvation hinge on—how well you are able to follow the literary clues in the Gospels to deduce their authorship.

            And it becomes even more bizarre when you consider that you and I are able to conduct this investigation from an extremely privileged position with all the resources of the world’s libraries at our fingertips.  But that isn’t true for everyone.
            When the Christian missionaries go up to the Cambodian hill tribes and tell them that they are all going to hell unless they accept Jesus Christ (which, by the way, they are currently doing), how are the illiterate hill tribes supposed to evaluate the reliability of the Gospels?

            And when competing Muslim and Christian missionaries try to proselytize the same groups of hill tribes in Cambodia (as described in this NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE HERE), or the villages in West Papua (as described in this AGE ARTICLE HERE), and the Christians tell them they are going to Hell unless they believe in Christ, and the Muslims tell them they are going to Hell unless they believe in Mohammed, how are the hill tribes supposed to make a logical decision between the two groups?

            To accept that there is some sort of “right” answer necessary for salvation, even if this answer is arrived at through careful examination of the historical evidence, is ridiculous.
            Worse yet, it means that for hundreds of years the salvation of millions of Chinese was of no importance to God.
            As Thomas Paine said, if God truly had something he wanted to communicate to all of humanity, it is within his power to do so.  He didn’t need to wait 1,500 years until Christian missionaries reached Asia, he could simply have emblazoned on the moon, written in all languages, that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” 

            [I once had a Chinese friend ask me why wasn’t Jesus placed in an area where the Chinese would have had more historical access to his teachings if it was so-all important for everyone to believe in him.  “Besides which,” he said, “if God did need to send a Messiah, China would have been the logical place to send him.  China was one of the most literate civilizations in the ancient world and kept meticulous historical records of everything.”]

Furthermore, to borrow more from Thomas Paine, Paine also points out that if God really wanted everyone to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the event should have been a public demonstration that was witnessed by all.  Instead, even according to the account in the Gospels, Jesus only appears to his followers in secret.  And so these select few men are then meant as a stand in for the entire world.  So in order to believe in the resurrection of Christ, we have to believe first in the integrity of the men who supposedly witnessed it, and secondly in the integrity of the men who wrote down their stories.  Lee Strobel defends both of these propositions, but notice how ridiculous the premise of the debate is before we even enter it.  Is this what our salvation is supposed to hinge on?  Our ability to determine, at two-thousand years distance, the reliability of the testimony of a handful of eyewitnesses?  Why didn't God just make a public demonstration that would have been available to all?

Well Then, What About Faith?
          If salvation by reason is ridiculous, then what about salvation by faith?  Trusting in faith is equally ridiculous, I believe.
          Salvation by reason involves trusting your head to get the right answer to save you from damnation.  Salvation by faith involves trusting your heart (or your gut) to save you from damnation.  But although the mechanisms for arriving at the correct answer are different, the concepts are equally ridiculous.  Both concepts assume that there’s a right answer and that you must arrive at. 

            Salvation by faith would be somewhat less problematic if all people of faith arrived at the same answer—that is, if everyone who trusted their religion to blind faith ended up being lead by God to become a Christian.  But obviously this isn’t the case.  And what’s really interesting is that if you talk to a Muslim, or a Mormon, they will describe their faith to you in exactly the same way that Christians do. 
            I don’t know how many of you have had the experience of talking to Mormon missionaries, but they’re a visible presence in many parts of Asia, and when they came to my door once in Japan, I thought I was going to talk sense into them.
            Now, Mormonism is a religion that makes absolutely no sense.  As Lee Strobel himself says:
            As authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon concluded in a book on the topic, “In other words, no Book of Mormon cities have ever been located, no Book or Mormon person, place , nation or name has ever been found, no Book or Mormon artifacts, no Book of Mormon scriptures, no Book of Mormon inscriptions… nothing which demonstrates the Book of Mormon is anything other than myth or invention has  ever been found. (Lee Strobel, p. 107)
            In fact, it’s even worse than that.  Linguistic and genetic evidence contradict the Mormon claim that Native Americans are descendents of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.  Advances in Egyptology over the years have since proved that the meaning of ancient Egyptian scrolls that Joseph Smith claimed to translate have no relationship to what Joseph Smith claimed.  There is the incident (made famous in South Park) in which the original translations of the book of Mormon were lost, and Joseph Smith was unable to duplicate them.  Et Cetera.
            I pointed all this out to the Mormon missionaries, and they listened to me politely, and for each objection I raised, they said they just encouraged me to pray to God about my doubts, and they were confident God would move in my heart and God would show me the truth if I asked for it.
            The next week they came back to my door and said that since their last conversation with me, they had prayed about all the things I had said, and they felt that God had responded by moving in their hearts and they felt that now their faith was stronger than ever.

            Well, how can you logically argue with that?

            But the thing was, this was exactly the same type of language that I had heard growing up in the Church.  My Sunday School teachers had also taught me to pray to God about my doubts, and encouraged me to feel God moving in my heart.
            I’ve since heard Muslim friends describe their faith in the same terms.  They know their faith is true because they’ve felt God move in their hearts.

            Well, far be it from me to dispute what some people do or do not “feel” in their hearts about their faith.
            The only thing I can say is that against such testimony I’m left with little resources to determine whose feelings of faith are legitimate, and whose are delusional.  If you grant the power of faith to one religion, you must grant it to all who claim it.  And by the way, they all claim it.

            How ridiculous is it then to claim salvation is dependent on such a faith?

            I’m sure certain people feel that they really do have authentic faith, but this is not difficult to explain psychologically.  When my Mormon friends had doubts about their faith, they prayed to God to remove their doubts.  I think we know enough about psychological reinforcement to understand that if you want to believe something, and you tell yourself to believe something, and you pray to believe something, you will end up believing it no matter if there is a God working in your heart or not.
            The same is true for the Christian motto: “God I believe, help thou my unbelief.”  If you want to believe badly enough, your mind will fall in line eventually.
            This is all the more true when you are surrounded by people who believe the same thing, and who are constantly acting as a reinforcement on your faith.  This is why religion has always historically always been concentrated in geographic areas. 

Faith Versus Reason
          My own upbringing was that it was morally virtuous to rely on your faith even when it seemed to be contradicted by reason.  I remember listening to sermons in which the pastor criticized those who relied on their own intellect instead of their faith.  At school, I remember my Bible teacher talk in disparaging terms about his scholarly friends who lost their faith once they started encountering reliability problems with the Bible.

            The idea that faith was morally virtuous was ingrained in me for years.  Every time I felt that my reason was leading me away from my faith, I felt ashamed of myself for trusting in my reason instead of in my faith.  I never really questioned the whole things until I encountered people like Richard Dawkins  and Christopher Hitchens, who asked why it was considered a moral virtue to believe something without evidence.  They concluded it was no virtue at all, and I’ve eventually come to agree with them. 

            Religious leaders like to decry intellectuals who put too much faith in their reason.  It’s not hard to see the appeal of this—human reason is flawed, and intelligent people arrive at all sorts of different conclusions about religion.  But what to replace reason with?  Faith?  Faith is equally flawed, and across the world people who put their trust in faith arrive at all sorts of different conclusions about religion.  If I can’t trust my intellect to arrive at the correct decision, why should I then put blind trust in my feelings?

The Historical Reliability of the Bible and the Problem of Faith
          I’ve touched on this before in past reviews, but the interesting thing about modern Christianity is the huge gap between what Christian scholars know, and what normal people are told every week at Sunday School.
            Today’s Christian scholars and universities know full well about the historical problems with the Bible.  Even conservative protestant Christian colleges (like Calvin College) believe that there are serious historical problems with the Bible—the apostles didn’t write the Gospels, Paul didn’t write half the letters ascribed to him, Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch, historical evidence does not support the story in Joshua, there’s no outside evidence for the Census in Luke….et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
            And yet, a lot of Christian scholars, knowing this full well, continue to believe in Christianity.
            This is the really interesting question.  How can people know that the Bible is unreliable, and still believe in Christianity?  And this is the question I’d be curious to hear the answer to. 
            Personally, I’m skeptical that the claims of Christianity can be rationalized given the historical problems with the Bible, but I have yet to hear a good Christian defense of this.  Maybe it’s out there somewhere.
            At any rate, given that the historical problems of the Bible are established as fact, this is the debate that people need to have going forward.
            Lee Strobel’s book, however, is attempting to move the debate backwards.  He’s arguing that there are no historical problems with the Bible.  And this is untrue.  Demonstrably untrue. 
            Lee Strobel not trying to advance the debate--he’s just trying to manipulate certain facts, and hide others, to throw sand in the eyes of his readers.  (And he’s assuming a reader who wants to be deceived on this.)

The historical problems with the Bible make the problem of faith all the more severe.  To paraphrase Thomas Paine slightly, if the Bible were the most perfect document ever created, it would still be difficult for us to believe in, because the possibility exists that someone could have written a falsehood, and because it would seem strange that God would entrust his revelations to only a handful of eyewitnesses when it was within his power to communicate it directly to all humanity, and even stranger that belief in this revelation, only communicated to a select few of humanity at a certain point in history, would be required for all people everywhere for all time to gain salvation.

However, when we find all the numerous problems with the Bible's accuracy--all the points where the Bible appears to contradict established history, all the scientific problems with Genesis, all the contradictions within the Gospels, all the apparent forgeries within the Bible,--if we consider all this, then how much more difficult does it become to believe in the Bible.  Why would God keep throwing up all these obstacles to our belief if our entire salvation was dependent on this belief?  Why wouldn't God make it be overwhelmingly evident to everyone that the Bible was perfect in every way if it contained his divine revelation?

Link of the Day 
Science, Religion, and Human Nature

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