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††††††††† ARE THE FOUR GOSPELS HISTORICALLY TRUE?

 

THE HISTORICITY OF THE GOSPELS DEFENDED AGAINST NEWSWEEK

 

Jon Meachamís Assault on ďThe Passion of the ChristĒ Briefly Considered

 

By Eric V. Snow

 

Jon Meacham's recent article reviewing the supposed actual "history" concerning the death of Jesus is actually a full-throttled assault on the historicity of the Gospels using the standard arguments of skeptical higher critic scholars.  This opinion piece has no place in a supposed "news magazine" that should have attempted to balance this piece by citing the counter-arguments of conservative and fundamentalist scholars.  But do such names as (say) Gleason Archer or J.P. Moreland appear in the Rolodexes of Newsweek reporters?  Meacham's "old textbooks" and the "Christian and Jewish leaders and experts" he consulted were almost surely all united in their liberal skepticism.  Does Newsweek assume that the defenders of a both miraculous and historical Jesus have no evidence for their viewpoint?  Perhaps if Newsweek worked as hard to hire Christian fundamentalists into its editorial staff as it surely does blacks, women, Hispanics, etc., to their own representative portion of the American population (about 20%) such diatribes wouldn't get written.  For there's little difference except perhaps in tone between what Meacham has written as a "observant Episcopalian" and what an atheist, agnostic, or skeptical Jew would write.  Ironically, Meacham's own article helps to prove "a common belief [by evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics] that the larger secular world--including the mainstream media--is essentially hostile to Christianity" (p. 47).  The equivalent situation inverted on the political/religious spectrum would be supposing that when "The Last Temptation of Christ" came out Newsweek would publish (say) Pat Buchanan's writing of a nine-page counterattack from a conservative Catholic Christian viewpoint.  The inconceivability of this hypothetical inversal of the situation ideologically demonstrates how out of place Meacham's article really is.

When Meacham writes that "Scripture is not always a faithful record of historical events," this is his opinion, born of theological liberalism that can't accept the reality of the miraculous as recorded in the Bible.  But, of course, why is a news magazine publishing a skeptical assault on Christianity's historicity without any conservative rebuttals (even if confined to a one-page opinion piece tacked on at the end)?  The Jewish leaders fearing anti-Semitism being produced by Mel Gibson's movie surely know far more anti-Semitism has been produced in recent decades by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, not just among Muslims, but (much more dangerously for them) among the liberal intelligentsia of the West.  These leaders merely don't want to hear the claims of Christ publicly proclaimed in a movie that attempts to honor Christ rather than denigrate him.  They cry "Anti-Semite!" in order to silence Christians, which is especially out of place when living in a country (the USA) that has treated them better than any other in the Diaspora even as it also is the most religious (i.e., Christian) of any of the major industrial nations.

Much could be written by me to rebut systematically all the historical errors in Meacham's piece.  My book, "A Zeal for God Not According to Knowledge:  A Refutation of Judaism's Arguments Against Christianity," systematically examines many of these claims against the New Testament's historicity in detail.  (I have an M.A. in history, and B.A.'s in philosophy and history, so I presume my credentials on this subject are at least as good as Meacham's a priori).  But let's make things at least slightly manageable for a magazine operating in the media world of sound bites and hundred-word letters to the editor.  Let's briefly and specifically examine one of these supposed historical errors, which concerns Pontus Pilate's hesitancy in executing Jesus and the general liberal "political victimization" model of the Passion.

If Jesus was executed only for being a political rebel against Rome, a patriotic Zealot aiming to lead Jews against Pilate's legions, why did He only (perhaps) a few days before His death predict the Temple's destruction and Jerusalem's downfall?  (See Matthew 24:1-2, 15-20; Luke 21:20-24).  Or, is it that we simply don't want to believe what the Gospels record because they describe the miraculous?  Furthermore, He denied that the kingdom of God was going to come immediately (Luke 19:11), which his audience took for meaning the overthrow of the Romans and the restoration of national independence.  He also denied to Pilate that His Kingdom was of this world, so His followers wouldn't fight (John 19:36-37) despite He was a king.  Jesus also had kept His countrymen from making Him king by force earlier in His ministry (John 6:15).  Since liberal skeptics don't want to believe in a God-man who came to die for the world's sins, they have to invent a counter-story to explain away what occurred in the Gospels semi-plausibly.  Hence, if someone wants to accept or reject the literal text at whim in order to make it conform to some theory based on antisupernaturalistic philosophical assumptions, he can always do that.  But that process shouldn't be called "finding the historical Jesus," but rather "inventing a non-miraculous Jesus."

Likewise, Pilate is repeatedly portrayed in the Gospels as hesitating to execute Jesus (such as in Luke 23:13-15).  Why is this questioned?  Well, Josephus and Philo describe Pilate as a pretty nasty guy.  But they weren't describing how he acted in this one particular but crucial instance.  The primary sources can be readily reconciled by saying the Gospels' main record of Pilate concerns his actions in one incident while the other two concern his general actions in other cases.  Importantly, one has to ask Meacham and the scholars he relies on this question:  Why are Philo and Josephus regarded as more reliable sources than the four Gospel writers?  If one applied Josh McDowell's three objective historical tests (see "More Than a Carpenter" and/or "Evidence That Demands a Verdict") of a historical document's reliability (bibliographical test, internal evidence test, external evidence test), would Philo and Josephus come up on top?  Could Philo and Josephus be wrong, and the Gospels right?!  Or is that unthinkable to the skeptical liberal mind?

The historical reality is that a majority of the Jewish leadership in the first century A.D. decided to railroad Jesus as a troublemaker, but since they no longer had the authority to impose capital punishment for violations of their own religious laws, they had to invent political charges (see Luke 23:2) that would get Rome to impose the death penalty on Jesus.  For although Jesus was the Messiah, He was to be a suffering servant for expiating spiritual sin, not a political rebel for restoring national independence.  It's unlikely that Jesus would have told His hearers to render unto Caesar what was Caesar's and to God what was God's if he was about to lead a revolt against Rome!  This spiritual king or spiritual Messiah wasn't going to be a threat to Rome's ability to tax or rule, so the Jewish leadership had to deliberately misstate what He taught in order to mislead Pilate into executing Him.

True, as you may gather from the length of this letter already, and the complexity of the issues it deals with, I could readily rattle on.  But I think Newsweek should publish at least a one-page conservative scholar's rebuttal to Meacham's claims as a letter to the editor.  See if you can find one someplace--they are out there, if start looking!

 

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/Apologeticshtml/Is Christianity a Fraud vs Conder Round 2.htm

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