This is part 6 of my glorious response to this article.
Persuaded by Lewis of the reasonableness of the Christian message, I then examined the evidence for the historical truthfulness of the Gospel records in the New Testament. And once again closer scrutiny of the facts forced me to abandon my old prejudices against Christianity. The first thing I noticed was the internal evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts. Far from being self-serving propaganda, the Gospels faithfully record the weaknesses and failings of Jesus’ disciples, including their frequent inability to understand what He is talking about. Peter, to cite the most famous example, refuses to believe Jesus when He warns him of His impending arrest and execution, and is firmly rebuked for it. Later, at the Last Supper, he swears he will never abandon Jesus even if all the other disciples do, but then goes on to do precisely that, denying all connection with Him in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house after Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. The other disciples are revealed in a similarly poor light. On one occasion they are shown quarrelling about who amongst them will occupy the highest positions in Jesus’ Messianic Kingdom. At other times they, like Peter, are shown to be either unwilling or unable to accept Jesus’ teaching that He, the Messiah, must suffer and die “as a ransom for many”. Not surprisingly, they too abandon Jesus at the moment of supreme crisis in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Christian message is not reasonable. God sacrificing himself to himself to save us from himself is not reasonable, nor is the ridiculous mythological story that led up to the supposed need for God to sacrifice himself to himself — the talking snake, the two obviously mythical people, and the magic fruit from the magic tree affair detailed in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 2:4-3:24).
The truthfulness of the Gospels? They were all written anonymously decades after the events they purport to describe allegedly occurred, and they are riddled with myth, legend, and geographical errors. The Gospels also hopelessly contradict themselves. Take a look at Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge concerning the contradictory resurrection accounts. The Gospels are not only not true, they are not even in agreement on the most important alleged event in Christian history, which of course is the alleged resurrection of Jesus! I’ve pointed out the fact that the Gospels are myth and not history before, but that fact bears repeating again. I posted this glorious video from Dr. Richard Carrier before in a previous response, but here it is again.
Even more significantly, all the disciples are taken by surprise by the Resurrection, despite having been told in advance by Jesus, before His arrest, that He would come back from the dead. Indeed, this very fact, mirrored in their slowness to accept the testimony of their women and the evidence of their own eyes, offers powerful support both for the truthfulness and reliability of the Gospels as a whole, and for the reality of the Resurrection. And this brings me, finally, to the two most compelling and convincing reasons for believing in the truth of the Christian message and the story on which it is based: the undeniable fact of the Empty Tomb, and the subsequent careers and martyrdoms of Jesus’ closest followers.
If these two reasons are the most compelling and convincing reasons you can come up with for believing the Christian message, then the message is in real trouble and on very shaky ground indeed. The undeniable fact of the empty tomb? Sorry, but that’s a later development in the Christian myth. The earliest accounts of the resurrection contain no mention of an empty tomb. The evidence available to us shows that the earliest community of believers did not know where the tomb was. The modern locations for the alleged empty tomb have no historical basis. And, we can reliably sketch out the development of the empty tomb story. It is a legend and nothing more.
The alleged careers and martyrdoms of Jesus’ closest followers carries no weight at all for the supposed truth of the Christian message. People throughout human history have believed things that are not true strongly and they have died for myths and lies. That is going on right now in the modern world as militant Islamic terrorists blow themselves and others up for the glory of Allah, firmly believing that their reward will be Paradise. Of course, that is not true, but does the willingness of these Islamic fanatics to die for their beliefs and their god indicate that Islam is true? Of course not, and so of course the Biblical disciples of Jesus and their alleged careers and martyrdoms does nothing to indicate the supposed truth of the Christian message, even if the accounts we have of their lives and deaths are accurate, which is questionable at best.
As Frank Morison (originally a sceptic) argued long ago in his illuminating book, Who Moved The Stone? none of Jesus’ enemies and opponents of the newborn Christian Church could deny the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb in which He had been buried by Joseph of Arimathea. Despite having every religious and political incentive to do so, neither the Jewish religious authorities who condemned Him, nor the Romans who crucified Him, were able to produce Jesus’ body, and by doing so, give the lie to the preaching of His resurrection by the disciples. If they had done so, Christianity would have been snuffed out instantly. But they didn’t because they couldn’t.
As has already been pointed out, the empty tomb is a myth, and for the record so is Joseph of Arimathea. Christianity started out as a very small and very persecuted sect that wasn’t even made legal in the Roman Empire until the year 313 A.D., and it was not much of a concern to Jewish or Roman authorities. Again, the Gospel stories are myths (historical fiction, at best) and not reliable historical accounts. The Jesus of the Gospels is a myth, and very little if anything accurate can be known of the real historical Jesus at this point in time. That includes knowing what happened to his body!
Secondly, only the fact of the Resurrection and the disciples’ encounter with the Risen Jesus can adequately explain the change that took place in them, and their subsequent careers. Having been a frightened, broken-hearted, and demoralised group of men, they emerged from hiding and became a band of joyful and heroic missionaries, boldly and fearlessly proclaiming the Christian gospel, in the teeth of persecution and suffering. What is more, all of them except John eventually suffered painful martyrdom for doing so. Three of them, including Peter, were crucified; two were stoned to death; another two were beheaded; Thomas was killed with arrows in India; Philip was hanged on a pillar in Phrygia; another disciple was beaten to death, and Bartholomew (Nathaniel) was skinned alive in Armenia. Is it likely, if the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (as their enemies alleged), that they would have endured all this for something they knew to be a lie? Is it, in any case, psychologically credible to believe that these men, emotionally shattered by Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, would have had the will, motivation, strength, or courage to attempt to snatch away His dead body from under the noses of the soldiers guarding His tomb?
A paragraph of nonsense and suppositions about stories that I have already pointed out are suspect at best as far as their historical accuracy goes. There are various legends about how Jesus’ disciples died, but that’s all they are is legends! I have already pointed out that people throughout human history have lived and died for myths and lies! They are still doing so right now in our modern world! That Jesus’ disciples did the same according to ancient stories and legends is nothing remarkable.
My former scepticism about the Resurrection was further challenged by the undeniable and highly significant fact that St. Paul, the great ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’, had originally been the fiercest opponent and persecutor of the Early Church. Here was a man who had been passionately convinced that the Christian claims about Jesus were dangerous blasphemy, and that those who believed them deserved imprisonment, beatings and death. Then, suddenly, this same man changed a hundred and eighty degrees and became the greatest and most widely travelled evangelist of the fledgling Christian Church, a transformation, moreover, which began during an anti-Christian heresy-hunting missionary journey! What else, other than his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, could possibly explain Paul’s dramatic conversion? This conclusion is further reinforced by the telling references in one of Paul’s pastoral letters to the many different witnesses to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection, most of whom, Paul declared, were still alive at the time he was writing (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-10). Would he have dared to say all this, implicitly challenging sceptics to interrogate these living witnesses, if Jesus had not risen from the dead? And would he, like the other apostles, have endured beatings, imprisonment, stoning by hostile crowds and eventual beheading, for a message he knew to be false?
The great Apostle Paul couldn’t even get the story of his own alleged conversion straight! There are three contradictory accounts of it given in the Book of Acts. See this link for a lengthy discussion of Paul and the development of his theology, which by the way, was quite different from what Jesus himself allegedly taught in the Gospels. The Book of Acts, which details Paul’s missionary journeys and the supposed growth of the Christian church is historical fiction as Dr. Richard Carrier demonstrates in this glorious video:
In addition, this glorious book makes it clear that the Book of Acts is fiction, not history.
What do alleged witnesses to an alleged event that never happened matter? It’s religious FICTION! Jesus never rose from the dead and never appeared to anybody!
Finally, the last nail was hammered into the coffin of my former atheism by the realisation that there was very good external evidence for the authenticity and truthfulness of the Gospels. There are first of all significant corroborating references to Jesus’ existence and execution in the writings of Roman historians like Tacitus and Suetonius, as well as in those of the first century historian, Thallus. There is similarly corroborating evidence about some of the details of Jesus’ life and death in other non-Christian sources like the Jewish Talmud. To quote one of these, the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, writing in about AD 93: “At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Antiquities of the Jews)
Nonsense. Although Josephus did mention Jesus twice in his writings, the Testimonium Flavianum referenced here is known to be a later Christian interpolation. Parts of it are original to Josephus, but parts of it were added later by Christian scribes. Most, if not all, of the supposed extra-biblical references to Jesus can be dismissed as hearsay. Further discussion of the Jesus and Josephus question can be found here, though it is buried in a response to David Fitzgerald’s book entitled “Nailed”. Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah, as Orthodox Jews can easily prove. They maintain a number of “anti-missionary” sites on the Net, and they can prove conclusively that Jesus did not fulfill the requirements necessary to be their Messiah.
In addition to all this, the manuscript evidence for the authenticity and reliability of the Gospel texts is earlier and more plentiful than that for any other document of ancient times. In particular, the historical reliability of Luke’s Gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, which is full of explicit political, legal, medical, cultural and topographical details, is confirmed by a lot of archaeological evidence as well as by plentiful documentary evidence from non-Christian sources. According, for instance, to classical scholar and historian, Colin Hemer, in his study, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, 84 separate facts in the last sixteen chapters of the Acts of the Apostles have been confirmed by archaeological and historical research.
The manuscript evidence we have for scripture, including the Gospels, is actually not very impressive. As has already been pointed out earlier, the Book of Acts is historical fiction and not a reliable account of actual historical events. Even if it’s true that there are some facts that can be verified in Acts, that does not make the accounts it relates historically accurate and true. The TV show Star Trek makes references to some stars that actually exist. Does that make Star Trek true and for real? Of course not.
So, confronted by all these facts and arguments – philosophical, scientific, and historical – I surrendered my sword of unbelief to God, and asked Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my life during the hot, dry summer of 1976. In the years that have followed, I have never regretted that decision, despite many ups and downs and trials of my faith. Through prayer, worship, and the company of other Christians, I feel I have begun to know Jesus personally and to understand something of the breadth and height and depth of His love for me and for all His creation. If, therefore, my journey from atheism to faith has helped in any way to persuade you of the truth of Christianity, I can only hope and pray that you too will experience the joy of reconnecting with your Creator by asking Jesus to forgive your sins and come into your own life. He longs for you and is only waiting for you to make the first move.
Questionable “facts” and arguments that are easily refuted? Yeah, real convincing stuff you have there… you can’t have a real relationship with someone who does not actually exist, and that includes Jesus. There is no Creator to have a relationship with. Sin is a religious concept with no demonstrable basis in reality. And, I thought Jesus made the first move by sacrificing himself to himself to save me from himself? I sincerely gave my heart and my life to Jesus on March 7, 1985 when I was 19 years old. That was after extensive “witnessing” by a Christian friend (who remains a hardcore believer to this day) and after seeing the Jesus Film. I have lived to deeply regret that decision, as have many other ex-Christians, many of whom are now atheists, just as I am.
On the other hand, if you are still unconvinced by my testimony but are willing to explore these issues further, I invite you to read I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, (Crossway, USA, 2004). It is a very readable yet scholarly book which sets out, in massive and very interesting detail, the philosophical and scientific evidence for the existence of God, as well as the historical and archaeological evidence for the reliability and truthfulness of the New Testament. Get hold of it and see whether it can resolve your doubts or answer your objections and questions.
It takes absolutely zero faith to be an atheist. And Christian apologetics by people like Norman Geisler? Gimme a fucking break and pardon me while I enjoy a good belly laugh. I haven’t bothered to read Christian apologetics in years, and the one time I tried recently, I had to stop reading when the author of the book (William Lane Craig) started blaming shit on Satan. Again, give me a fucking break…. I’m supposed to take an author and a book seriously that blames shit on an obviously mythical being who likes to appear as a talking snake in mythical Bible stories? And this book was supposed to convince me that Christianity is a religion that makes sense for modern, thinking people to embrace. 😆 🙄
This concludes my response to the article “From Atheism to Christianity”. I hope it’s been helpful and that it has demonstrated the many problems that exist with taking the Bible and the Christian religion seriously and as being believable by educated people living in the modern world. Glory!