Which Are More Reliable, Aristotle and Plato, or Matthew, Mark, Luke And John?

One of the most frequently mentioned myths about the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is the claim they cannot be historically accurate because they were written decades after the events they purport to report.

Several of the commenters to yesterday’s post here — “Are Christians The Biggest Fools Of All Time?” — repeated variations of the claim the Gospels are unreliable because so much time elapsed between the events and the writing of the individual books. The actual facts, the critics argue, were lost to the myths and legends that grew up around the events related in the Gospels.

The German higher critics of the 19th Century made this claim a standard argument in the conventional wisdom scholarship of the 20th century among those who reject the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claim to be the incarnate creator of the universe and everything in it. And the argument continues in popular culture and debate to this day, as seen in the comments to yesterday’s post.

There has been a tremendous amount of scholarship on the accuracy and reliability of the Gospels in recent decades. Below is a link to a recent podcast of Frank Turek’s interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg, who is one of the most respected scholars in the world on this issue. I highly commend it to anybody on any side of the debate.

But more immediately, let’s address the question posed in the headline above. Nobody today doubts when they read Plato’s “Republic” or Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” that they are reading what the Greek philosophers actually wrote, even though what they hold in their hands are copies of copies of copies … stretching back centuries.

Even so, when was the last time you heard anybody say Plato’s discussion of the shadows on the wall of the cave cannot be trusted as what Plato actually wrote or believed because so much time elapsed between his original manuscript and the earliest copies used by copyists in the millennia before Mr. Gutenberg invented the printing press? Or that Aristotle’s Golden Mean as the key to human virtue was a creation of a later copyist and thus was not the philosopher’s original view?

Nevertheless, that’s a commonly expressed argument whenever the Gospels are under discussion.

But guess what? There are far more copies of the Gospels, written much closer to the original authors, than there are for any other of the ancient classics, including Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle’s works were written between 386 B.C. and 322 B.C. The first copies came along in about 1,100 A.D., or roughly 1,400 years after Aristotle did his thing. As for Plato, he wrote between 427 B.C. and 347 B.C, and the first copies date to 900 A.D., for an interval of roughly 1,200 years.

Compare that to the New Testament, which, regarding the Gospels, the critics claim were written, at the earliest, around 70 A.D., with copies first appearing around 130 A.D.

In other words, if the same standards of reliability and accuracy are applied to the New Testament that have long been accepted without question for other ancient authors, then the Gospels must be viewed as among the most reliable of the ancient classics. You can check out this post by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research for more specifics on this angle.

And as I always say, a great place to start in assessing these issues is “More Than A Carpenter” by Josh and Sean McDowell. Just tell me your address and I’ll get a copy of MTAC for free.

Now, here’s Frank Turek’s extended audio conversation with Dr. Craig Blomberg:

https://crossexamined.org/?powerpress_embed=72550-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland.

42 thoughts on “Which Are More Reliable, Aristotle and Plato, or Matthew, Mark, Luke And John?”

  1. The primary resistance to the Gospels, in my opinion, is the supernatural content. If Plato and Aristotle are true accounts, so what? One can read them or not and proceed through life unhindered. But, if the Gospels are true, well then, there are eternal consequences to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are, here, engaging in rhetoric. It’s fascinating to a student of rhetoric to see so many tropes displayed in one short essay!

    Unfortunately some of this descends into fallacy. A slick ad-hominem is to be found here: “The German higher critics of the 19th Century made this claim a standard argument in the conventional wisdom scholarship of the 20th century among those who reject the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claim to be the incarnate creator of the universe and everything in it.”

    This statement impugns the motives of the German higher critics. We won’t look at the reams of scholarship handling the Synoptic Problem. We won’t even name names (Gottlob Christian Storr, Karl Lachmann, Heinrich Julius Holtzmann). We’ll just note they were Christ Deniers. And we’ll sneer at the Conventional Wisdom.

    (One would think that Matthew’s and Luke’s heavy reliance on Mark – word for word in vast stretches of text, as any first-year student of Greek could tell you – would suggest that neither Matthew nor Luke were eyewitnesses to events. But apparently that’s Christ Denial. And Conventional Wisdom.)

    But you, Mark Tapscott, hold the Higher Gnosis. We are to come *here* for the true red pill! (That was me using rhetoric right back at’cha. Puts your back up, doesn’t it?)

    Like

    1. Well said, Zimriel, at least on the rhetorical level. No, doesn’t get my back “up” at all. You are undoubtedly far better informed and more knowledgeable than I, so it’s probably foolhardy of me to do this, but what the heck! Tell me, please, how you account for the empty tomb. That’s not a rhetorical question, I ask it in all sincerity and hope that you will respond in kind.

      Like

      1. With Jesus being born 4 bce for Herod the great per Matthew, or born 6ad with the census per Luke, you don’t have to go far afield to refute them.

        Like

      2. I believe the empty tomb was the Resurrection. Partly I say this as a Catholic but mainly I’m basing that off of Mark (who admittedly doesn’t much account for it either in its present form…) and on John (probably based on a now-lost earlier gospel). We can’t really use Matthew or Luke on account that they are secondary, like Peter and Thomas, but they may point to oral-tradition.
        I objected to your misuse of texts, not to your interpretation of the base texts. I object to Fundamentalism, not to Christianity.

        Like

      3. I would say that Jesus is the Word, in hypostatic union with the Father. I might not comprehend the Trinity but I like to think I comprehend the Council of Chalcedon.
        The Gospels bear witness to the Word. Sometimes secondarily -but that is why the Church preserved four of them. So if one got a fact wrong (like Mark calling Antipas a “basil”), the others were there to correct it (“tetrarch”).

        Like

  3. I see the point about the Gospels but regarding the old testament what is considered to be the reliability of it as a historical document?

    Like

  4. “Aristotle’s works were written between 386 B.C. and 322 B.C. The first copies came along in about 1,100 A.D.”

    More accurately, the earliest surviving copies cam along about 1100 AD. Aristotle’s original texts did not survive until 1100, when some monk decided to copy them. There were unnumbered earlier copies that did also not survive. There is also a surviving manuscript dating to about 100 AD called, “The Constitution of the Athenians,” which is attributed to Aristotle, but his authorship is not universally accepted.

    All totaled, there are only 49 manuscript copies of all of Aristotle’s works combined between his life and the invention of the printing press. Contrast that with the hundreds (or more) of copies of the Bible, especially of the New Testament before the printing press. That does not include the innumerable citations of quotations of NT passages by the Church Father and later figures – in fact, all the gospels can be reconstructed from their citations and quotations alone even if no copies of the four gospels had been written.

    The British Museum has on display a fragment of Matthew dating to the early 60s. Furthermore, both Matthew and Luke use verbatim many passages from Mark, proving that Mark had to have been in circulation at the time.

    Even the very liberal professors of my classes at Vanderbilt Divinity School would practically laugh out loud at the claim that the NT texts were so far removed from their events that they cannot be trusted.

    And don’t get me started on the even more ludicrous claim that Jesus never existed!

    Like

    1. “… even if no copies of the four gospels had been written.”

      I meant to write, “even if no copies of the four gospels had survived.”

      Like

      1. Thanks – fortunately, I was 40 years old when I started M.Div. studies there. And my BA is is philosophy, so this piece fired on all cylinders for me!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, there’s a question of disinterestedness. Copyists of Plato or Aristotle would have had little or no axe to grind whereas Christian writers have enormous reasons to take liberties with their texts such as John does in inventing whole theological monologues to put words into Jesus’ mouth which, syntactically, would have been foreign to a Galiliean unless Jesus was given to studying Greek philosophy.

    What makes the Gospels unreliable is the way they are used by its authors (and possible redactors) to present a mix of fact and fiction, myth making, and wanting the story of Jesus to correspond with Hebrew scripture as prophetic. The Gospel of Thomas is a good example of this. It contains much that is in the other gospels, but was considered deviant on the whole. Yet, the author(s) of Thomas may have felt the others were deviant and his more accurate in spirit and invention.

    The simple fact is that we don’t know what Jesus said exactly. We have a better idea of what happened to him, though, since anyone can meet the risen Man/God if they want to. God doesn’t write books. People do.

    Like

    1. There are over a dozen works attributed to Plato which are either of controversial origin or are widely considered to be ‘spurious’ as the textualists put it. Those include the Axiochus, the First Alcibaides, and many others. Plato attracted a *lot* of imitators who either tried to draw his authority over their own work, or had their work mis-attributed to the master as copyists had their way with the record.

      The eastern world’s attitude towards wisdom literature is far worse, and some argue that almost none of the Confucian classics are actually the work of a single man.

      Like

  6. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not unreliable because of concerns about the chain of transmission down through the centuries. They are unreliable because they relate fairy-tale-like accounts of miracles and resurrection from the dead. Even if we had sworn affidavits from eyewitnesses, the gospel stories would be considered incredible and, therefore, unreliable.

    Like

  7. I have found the little book “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” by F. F. Bruce to be illuminating and very helpful. I personally prefer it to McDowell’s book, as fine as it is.

    Like

  8. OK, but the more important question on the gospels isn’t who composed them, it is whether they are accurate reflections on history; if they are not, then they are more like the Illiad than like Plato’s “Republic.” If a Platonic lesson was improved by Aristotle, the lesson is no less useful as a piece of philosophy, and it matters little to us which member of the Socratic school actually came up with these details, but if the story of what happened to Jesus’ body was improved over the years by the bards or by the compilers of the Gospels, then it is a less accurate work of history.

    Like

  9. In that the gospels can’t even get the story of the supposed cruxifiction straight, contradicting each other, and there is no evidence for any of the essential events in the bible, why would you think that they are historically accurate? It’s interesting that you are comparing apples to oranges since the parts from Plato and Aristotle aren’t dealing with historical events.

    Like

    1. The fact the crucifixion stories aren’t all exactly the same, differing on certain details, strengthens the view that they were in fact different eyewitness accounts, rather than a coordinated effort at telling a story after the fact.

      Like

      1. No, it doesn’t strengthen them at all. In any criminal court, you would be laughed at for making such a ridiculous claim. All you’ve done is invent a really silly excuse that doesn’t work. We have the cruxifiction stories which disagree on what the thieves said which contradict each other, and interfere with the claims of going to heaven; we have different claim on who was at the tomb, we have different claims if one could touch JC or not, and what the apostles did after the cruxifiction among many many other things. Now, consider that last one, Tim. Who was writing and why would they get that bit wrong if the gospels were written by the apostles and they were all together?

        Like

      2. Even a moderately competent defense attorney would be able to demonstrate that the four accounts do not contradict each other but provide individual details from their own perspective. None of the accounts are presented as the one, exclusively true version. Contradictory details would be where one of them say “Mary wasn’t there” and another says “I saw Mary there.” The fact that some of the accounts exclude details that another includes doesn’t meet the rules for contradiction.

        The four versions can be – and have been – synthesized and together give a full account of what happened.

        Like

      3. That’s nonsense, Tim. Let’s take for instance, where the apostles were after the cruxifiction. We have that they were hiding, afraid for their lives, and we have them going directly back to Jerusalem to celebrate in the temple. Which was it because it could not be both? What did the thieves say, both of them making fun of Jesus or the one asking to be saved? They can’t have done both. We have Mary meeting JC in the garden where she embraces JC but in another he forbids her to do so. These are not “perpective” but direct contradictions. So your attempt to excuse things by saying “some things” weren’t mentioned doesn’t work. I can say “I ate the cake for lunch today” or I can say “I didn’t eat the cake for lunch today”. It can’t be both.

        The accounts were presented as the one true version when they were invented decades after each other) and combined together during the councils to make everyone happy. And yes, Christians have tried to excuse the contradictions in the gospels and in Acts. That doesn’t mean that they succeeded. You might want to also consider the supposed event in Gethsemane. The author of the Gospel of John never mentions it and his version of Jesus never shows any doubt or questioning. If we don’t know any other version of Jesus, the theology doesn’t work, the human Jesus never shows up, and there is the problem of who saw these events to record them?

        Many Christians have tried to harmonize their bible. The problem comes up when there are directly contradictory events happening at the same time, and when Christians pick and choose what parts that they find important and which they do not. It could indeed be that the authors were writing for different audiences like many biblical scholars say, but that doesn’t mean that the story was ever true.

        And any moderately competent prosecuting attorney will have the jury laughing at the defense when she asks her opponent just how it could work that JC carried the cross the whole way and at the same time, Simon helps out, that JC drinks wine but doesn’t drink it at the same time, that JC immediately ascends into heaven but the others say that it takes 40 days for this to happen, JC is in despair since God has abandoned him, but then is sure that God is right there. And of course the major earthquake, sky darkening and the dead rising from their graves on one day that somehow Mark, Luke and John, and and every other person in the area miss.

        Now, which of the apologetics for how this all can happen all at once do you find the best?

        Like

      4. From your answer, it doesn’t appear that you have read the Gospels recently. I looked at them today to try to make sense of your criticisms. I’m not sure it would make a difference to you anyway, but I will address a couple of the simpler ones.

        First off your statement, “The accounts were presented as the one true version when they were invented decades after each other…” is not supported by the Gospels. None of them say, “This is the one true version.”

        I looked at the accounts of the thieves who were crucified with Jesus and here is what is provided:

        Matthew says that the two thieves were casting insults at him along with the crowd.
        Mark says only that two criminals were crucified with Jesus..
        Luke is the only one that provides the detail that one of the criminals was hurling insults but the other rebuked him.
        John only mentions that two criminals were crucified with Jesus.

        That is not a contradictory account. An obvious reading is that the two robbers were insulting Jesus, but one of them became remorseful and rebuked the second one.

        Like

      5. I’ve read the entire bible, and it hasn’t been terribly recently that I’ve read the gospels, but they don’t change and I can always look them up.

        It’s curious that you think that if you claim the gospels don’t say “this is the one true version” that means they weren’t presented that way. We know that they were because people accepted them as true when they came out, again, decades after each other. We have the gospel of Mark circa 65-80 CE, Matthew 80-100 CE, Luke 80-130 CE and John 90-120 CE. We also have bible scholars saying that they were for different audiences, and were presented as the truth to these audiences. A book doesn’t have to say “this is the true version” to know that is how it was meant. However, the author of Luke certain seems to think his version is the only true one right there in the first paragraph “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

        Matthew says this “44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way..” Mark says “32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.” So we have both Matthew and Mark agreeing, though you did not note that. Luke says “39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And John says “18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.” With no mention of mocking at all.

        So we have two versions that have both of the other crucified men taunting JC, one that says one taunted and one didn’t, and one that mentions no taunting at all by anyone. These verses are all from the NRSV version of the bible at biblegateway.com. The reason I cited the exact verses is because I knew you would try to misrepresent them, either intentionally or out of ignorance.

        You want to claim that “That is not a contradictory account. An obvious reading is that the two robbers were insulting Jesus, but one of them became remorseful and rebuked the second one.” That is not what the author of Luke wrote. He said that one was taunting JC and one was not. He did not say “Both of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked himself and the other, saying….” The use of “but” in the original indicates that there were two different actions by two different men.

        Like

      6. I’m not sure why you feel the need to say that I would try to misrepresent what the Gospels “either out of ignorance or intentionally.” I sense from you an attempt to misrepresent – possibly due to malice – but I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt due to the limitations of this type of communication.

        My view for the dates of the writing of the Gospels would be in the earlier years of the ranges you provided. My very brief summary of the thieves and their taunts does not differ from what you stated. You have asserted that each of the Gospel authors provided their writing as THE authoritative version of events. The documents themselves don’t support that assertion, nor have I ever read that that is how their audience viewed them.

        It appears to me that you have hold a presupposition as to the content and veracity of the Gospels which could be coloring your reading of them.

        Like

      7. I will be addressing Alter in the near future. Not surprisingly perhaps, I don’t remotely share the reviewer’s headline claiming Alter “demolishes” the apologetical case(s) for Christ’s literal resurrection. More to come.

        Like

      8. Thank you for the link. The article starts out by saying it is a very lengthy review. It also says that the author, Michael Alter, is Jewish, not a Christian.

        I am leaving town for two weeks tomorrow and I won’t be reading the whole article any time soon, nor the executive summary. I scanned the first few paragraphs and I will say, I have issues with Alter’s method. I may be mistaken given what little I’ve read, but it seems similar to yours. If I am able to get to it after I return, I will be able to speak more intelligently. It is unfair to draw conclusions based on what I’ve read so far.

        I will admit to a bias, though: there is nothing Alter nor anyone else can write that would dissuade me from my belief in the historicity of the Resurrection and its spiritual import. But that has not prevented me from reading such articles in the past.

        Like

      9. so, you don’t think that someone who is Jewish can look at the facts? And what “method” is this that you have issues with? When you claim that nothing can change your mind, you show that you aren’t using reason and logic to believe, you are only accepting what you want to believe.

        Like

      10. You want to claim that “That is not a contradictory account. An obvious reading is that the two robbers were insulting Jesus, but one of them became remorseful and rebuked the second one.”

        This would be a reasonable argument to make.

        That is not what the author of Luke wrote.

        True, we can only know that if we take into account Matthew, Mark and Luke together. With Luke on his own, we would not know one of the robbers was only scared straight later on toward the end.

        He said that one was taunting JC and one was not. He did not say “Both of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

        True, but Luke also didn’t say that it was not true both criminals were deriding Jesus at an earlier point. That is why there is no contradiction. If he had said that, then you would have found a contradiction. Luke is silent on the matter, probably because his Gospel was written after the Matthew and Mark gospels, so no need to reiterate that point.

        But the other rebuked himself and the other, saying….” The use of “but” in the original indicates that there were two different actions by two different men.

        Correct.

        Like

      11. you might want to read this analysis of the gospels by a Christian:

        I would be happy to… All further bold text is from the review…

        Nearly everything in the Gospel narratives of the crucifixion turns out to be highly dubious, when judged by the standards which a fair-minded historian would employ.

        A false supposition declared by a book reviewer who is not a historian.

        Three of the Gospels tell us that Jesus was crucified on the Passover, and that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-15) during which Jesus took some bread and a cup of wine, and then told his disciples to eat his body and to drink blood, which he called “the blood of the new covenant” (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; see also 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

        Which is completely consistent with John 6:53-56.

        Most New Testament historians would consider these claims highly questionable, to say the least.

        Key word here is most, which means not all of them. Is it somehow more questionable than coming back from the dead?

        Even former Pope Benedict XVI admits that “the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism.”

        Which is why Christians don’t celebrate Passover. Establishing a new covenant means replacing the old with the new. Out with the old meal, in with the new meal. Not a difficult concept to grasp.

        To complicate matters, John’s Gospel disagrees with the other three Gospels in placing Jesus’ Last Supper and Crucifixion on the eve of the Passover (John 19:14, 19:31; see here and here below, for more details).

        This is a common interpretation based on the assumption that John is using Jewish time. The historical evidence however, is that John is using legal Roman time, which is not sunrise to sunrise, but instead is midnight to midnight. This historical evidence is both internal, as shown in John 1:39, and external, which is that the Gospel of John was written late, well after the destruction of Jerusalem, and was first written at the request of Christians in Asia Minor, a region which kept legal Roman time.

        Historians generally agree that this is a much more plausible date. So does former Pope Benedict XVI: he acknowledges that “one has to choose between the Synoptic and Johannine chronologies,” and he accepts that “the weight of evidence favours John.”

        IF you assume John is using Jewish time. But nowhere does John state or imply he is using Jewish time. And if you switch that assumption to legal Roman time, then the Synoptic and Johannine chronologies line up.

        As for what happened at the Last Supper: Dr. Michael Cahill, Professor of Biblical Studies at Duquesne University, freely acknowledges the unlikelihood of a devout Jew such as Jesus instituting a blood-drinking ceremony,

        Just how unlikely is it? Is it more unlikely than rising from the dead?

        “Those who hold for the literal institution by Jesus have not been able to explain plausibly how the drinking of blood could have arisen in a Jewish setting.”

        A laughably false claim. John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

        The Word arising in a Jewish setting is not going to be constrained by Jewish customs. The blood drinking is far less implausible than rising from the dead. But instead of someone writing a book just saying, “Look, I can’t believe someone rose from the dead.”, we get this fallacious nit-picking over whether Jesus declared the wine is his blood and having the apostles drink it.

        Interestingly, the blood-drinking ceremony at the Last Supper is omitted from John’s Gospel.

        This is a lie by omission for two reasons. First, the ceremony itself is not present because the Gospel of John was written with the assumption that the reader is familiar with the Gospel of Mark at the very least. Second, John instead covers where Jesus first explained to his followers they would drink his blood.

        John 6:54-55 Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.

        And furthermore, John explains this is why Jesus had so few followers: John 6:66 After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more.

        So having reviewed the text and the evidence, the Gospels actually show the exact opposite of what Michael Alter, vjtorley, and Dr Cahill claim about the implausibility of blood drinking in a Jewish setting. The guy who was popular and attracting big crowds announced that his followers would need to eat his flesh and drink his blood…and then he lost almost all of his followers. That is, of course, completely plausible in a Jewish setting. It also happens to be completely plausible in any setting involving human beings who aren’t cannibals. Now if Jesus had been preaching to cannibals and he said that…and most of the cannibals left…than THAT would actually be implausible. In fact, that would be more implausible than rising from the dead.

        Alter’s book assembles a mountain of evidence which demonstrates convincingly that it isn’t. In his book, Alter uncovers no less than 120 internal contradictions (relating to 113 different issues) in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection, as well as scores of historical inaccuracies.

        Correction, that would now be 119 internal contradictions relating to 112 different issues…

        …and dropping…

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I decided to pick up where I left off on my last comment about Alter/vjtorley’s, moving on to the next paragraph.

      All four Gospels agree that Jesus was betrayed by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot. However, they disagree about practically everything else, when it comes to Judas – in particular, why he betrayed Jesus (was it for money, as Matthew declares, or because Satan entered into his heart, as Luke and John maintain?),

      The two are not mutually exclusive, which makes this a False Dilemma logical fallacy. Subtract one more from Alter’s list of “contradictions”.

      when he turned against Jesus (was it two days before the Passover, as in Matthew and Mark, or during the Last Supper, as in John?),

      It is during the Last Supper, neither Matthew nor Mark claim Judas turned against Jesus two days before Passover, only that the chief priests and the teachers of the law were plotting against Jesus and had made the decision two days before Passover to kill him. So subtract one more.

      and what happened to him after he betrayed Jesus (did he return the money to the chief priests before going out and hanging himself in a fit of remorse, as in Matthew, or did he use the money to buy a field, where he suffered the mishap of his bowels suddenly bursting open, as in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles?)

      This is the first “contradiction” in this paragraph that actually looks like a contradiction…at first glance. But this only shows that Alter is unfamiliar with Matthew’s use of typology. What actually happened to Judas is described by Luke in Acts as a historical description. What Matthew is doing is identifying Judas as a traitor in the mold of Ahithophel, found in 2 Samuel 17:23. Ahithophel hanged himself in grief. This typology would be familiar to Matthew’s target audience which was, based on the historical evidence we do have, 1st century AD Jews. Subtracted three total.

      Matthew even manages to bungle the famous prophecy he quotes about the thirty pieces of silver Judas returned to the temple priests: it’s not in Jeremiah, as he claims, but in Zechariah,

      Only people historically ignorant of Jewish ancient exegetical practices believe this. What Matthew is doing here is called a composite attribution. There are two composite attributions found in the Bible, the first is found in 2 Chronicles 36:21, and the second is found in Matthew 27:9-10. Jewish composite attributions have the following characteristics…

      1) Two quotations are pulled from two different sources and synthesized together as one longer citation.
      2) Only one source is attributed, not both.
      3) The source which gets attributed is the most prominent source. When drawing from two different prophets, that means the first/most prominent prophet.

      Matthew is citing both Zechariah chapter 11:12-13 and Jeremiah 32:6-10. Jeremiah being the more prominent prophet, he gets the attribution. A second hint this is the case is that Matthew identifies the attribution as that which is spoken, not that which is written. Zechariah in his two verses is transcribing that which Jeremiah spoke, but did not record, in his(Jeremiah’s) four verses.

      and it says nothing about Jesus, anyway: the author of the prophecy was writing about the rupture between Israel and Judah.

      This is a simple category error. Alter and vjtorley are not Matthew’s target audience. What they think of those OT verses means nothing. Once again, according to the historical evidence, Matthew’s target audience was 1st century AD Jews. What they thought of these verses is the category that matters. And according to the evidence we have they thought these verses were significant prophecy regarding the Messiah…if they hadn’t, Matthew wouldn’t have cited them with the goal of persuading his audience.

      Alter’s book assembles a mountain of evidence which demonstrates convincingly that it isn’t. In his book, Alter uncovers no less than 120 internal contradictions (relating to 113 different issues) in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection, as well as scores of historical inaccuracies.

      Updated correction, we are now at 116 internal contradictions on 109 different issues, along with a minus two on those scores of historical inaccuracies…

      …and still dropping…

      Like

  10. This post is a TOTAL misrepresentation of the issues raised in the last post. I know, because I raised them.

    This post is pretending that the issue is the amount of time between when the Gospels claim to have been written and the first surviving copy. That wasn’t ever the issue.

    In fact, the main issue I raised was the amount of time between the events and when the supposed “eyewitness” accounts were first written down.

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at Christians being involved in such wholesale deception as misrepresenting the entire discussion … but I am. I guess I’m a slow learner.

    Next, a commenter upthread said:

    With Jesus being born 4 bce for Herod the great per Matthew, or born 6ad with the census per Luke, you don’t have to go far afield to refute them.

    But they are the inerrant work of GOD! They CANNOT contain errors, it’s Gospel Truth! … or something like that.

    But in fact, they can’t even agree on the dates of the events, much less what happened. Eyewitness accounts? Seems very, very doubtful.

    However, all I can say about that is … so what?

    For me, Christians are crazy to try to claim that Mat, Mar, Luk, Joh, et. al. are eyewitness accounts. Too many arguments against that. More importantly, however, is the fact that it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference whether they are eyewitness accounts or fairy tales. It doesn’t even matter whether Jesus actually existed or not.

    What matters is the message that Jesus brought, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love your God above all else. In a world where almost everyone hated their neighbors and feared their God or Gods, that was a radical, world-changing message whether or not the Gospels were eyewitness reports or total fantasies.

    That message is undeniably real, and has brought documented changes to many, many people’s lives and has changed the course of nations and of history, whether or not the Gospels are eyewitness accounts, whether or not Jesus ever lived, died, or was crucified.

    It is the MESSAGE that is important, not the HISTORY. And every moment that you guys spend dogfighting about the HISTORY is a moment that you are not living and spreading the MESSAGE.

    Which makes this whole thread meaningless …

    Best wishes to all on a lovely late summer day,

    w.

    Like

    1. Willis, this post is definitely not a “misrepresentation.” As I said above, I was addressing the fact that multiple critics over the years have “repeated variations of the claim the Gospels are unreliable because so much time elapsed between the events and the writing of the individual books. The actual facts, the critics argue, were lost to the myths and legends that grew up around the events related in the Gospels.”

      I understand that you want to focus your argument on the time elapsing between the events and the first written witness accounts. That’s fine and it’s definitely an important and directly related issue, and one that I welcome. It’s also one I will address at some point on HillFaith. But my point raising the comparison of Plato and Aristotle was to highlight what appears to me to be something of a double-standard when assessing their writing, compared to that of the Gospels.

      Like

    2. a commenter upthread said:

      With Jesus being born 4 bce for Herod the great per Matthew, or born 6ad with the census per Luke, you don’t have to go far afield to refute them.

      But they are the inerrant work of GOD! They CANNOT contain errors, it’s Gospel Truth! … or something like that.

      While Matthew is specific about the time that Jesus is born, Luke is not. Luke is very vague about the census, only telling us when the census was most prominent, but not telling us when Joseph actually traveled to enroll. Luke brings it up because he has Jesus being of Nazareth while being first born in Bethlehem, so he explains the circumstances.

      So there isn’t enough information to tell us if there is an error or not.

      That message is undeniably real, and has brought documented changes to many, many people’s lives and has changed the course of nations and of history,

      That is actually how we know the messenger was real, and not just the message. Changing the course of nations and history is not something those peasants in Galilee picked up in their local creative writing class.

      Like

  11. clubschadenfreude – You’re right I did make a mistake in my summary, leaving out that Mark stated the two criminals both taunted Jesus. I apologize for my error. Only John made no mention of the insults, as your excerpt provided. Matthew and Mark made mention of insults only and Luke alone mentioned the repentant thief. Fortunately, my error doesn’t alter the fact that those are not contradictory accounts. I assure you my error was only due to carelessness, not ignorance nor intentional misrepresentation.

    Like

Comments are closed.