I’ve been off, debating Early Church writings on
Vinny’s blog. Nothing exciting; the same arguments we see time and again.
One of the frustrating aspects is when Christian apologists take only the positive from a document, or couch the statement is such a carefully worded way so as to appear if this was a great point, but in fact there are numerous problems.
One of the common items we see is a statement along the lines of Papias mentioned the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.”
This is technically true. Papias did mention two gospels—one by Mark and one by Matthew. But the impression given is that these are the same Gospels we have today. Are they?
A few points to ponder which are also in the few writings we have on Papias:
1. That Mark’s gospel is “not in order” when, in fact, it IS in order.
2. That Matthew’s gospel was in Hebrew, whereas our Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek.
3. There is a question whether Papias was a disciple of John the Disciple or another John (the Presbyter), yet Papias does not list any Gospel by John.
4. Papias does not list any gospel by Luke, nor indicate any familiarity with Luke.
5. Papias lists a saying of Christ which he claims to have heard from John that is not in a canonical Gospel. It is from 2 Baruch.
6. Papias gives an account of Judas’ death that is different than Matthew’s and different from Luke’s.
7. Eusebius did not find Papias reliable, primarily because of Papias’ doctrinal belief in a Millennium.
I think it important to emphasize that last point. People’s writings were rejected NOT because of the historical accuracy, NOT because of the reliability of the writing, NOT because of the deterioration of the copies—they were rejected because the person held the “wrong” doctrine!
Imagine that! If a stenographer followed Jesus and recorded his every word, yet ended up Gnostic, his/her writings would be eliminated from consideration for their Gnosticism. Not their accuracy.
The Christian apologist is attempting to use documents, claiming they are historically accurate, when the people of the time were not trying to be historically accurate, had no goal of being historically accurate, and were not preserving documents based on historical accuracy. Theological “correctness” is what determined a documents viability—not its historical accuracy.
Anyway…what does the Christian apologist do when these points are brought up? Usually two responses:
1) Hand-waving: “Oh, those points aren’t important. What IS important is that Papias mentioned any gospels at all.”
2) Ad hoc explanations: “Oh, the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, and then translated to Greek. Papias had the Hebrew Copy.” (We would call it “Matthew 1.0” in the computer age.)
The problem with hand-waving is what the Christian embraces; they would NEVER allow a skeptic or a person from another religion. Imagine if we said, “Papias doesn’t mention Luke, so it wasn’t written then.” There would be cries of “Argument from Silence” and “He mentions other Gospels” and “there is no demonstration he would have known Luke to mention it.”
If all we want to do is pick-and-choose the helpful bits, the Christian apologist would cry “foul.” Yet this is exactly what they do.
The problem with ad hoc explanations is that there is no proof (where is a copy of this “Hebrew Matthew”?) and only create further problems. How is it Hebrew Matthew was translated to Greek Matthew in many places the exact same wording as Mark?
Of course, when a Christian apologist has a Christian congregation, these problems are easily resolved. They are never confronted with them from a friendly audience.
When I prepare for a case, I have to look at each fact in the case from three standpoints:
1) Does this help my client?
2) Does this help the other side?
3) What will a neutral party likely determine?
If I had the Christian apologist sitting across my desk, and they brought out Papias, I would be questioning them on these very points. What do I say when the other side brings them out? I cannot ignore them, because if I do, my opponent will surely demonstrate these problems. The jury will not only hear them, but wonder why I ignored them.
What would a neutral party think? Would they be convinced of a (non-existent) Hebrews Matthew we cannot prove, but conveniently “helps” our case? Would they think Mark is not in order? Would they think the death of Judas contradicts Matthew and Luke?
Would they be impressed that these were the same Gospels as what we have today? Or would they be more hesitant to make such a conclusion.
I tire of the failure to recognize the other side has legitimate points. Of Christian apologists who dogmatically state conclusions and then are shocked when we skeptics don’t roll over and simply agree. Their congregation of 1000 did last Sunday—who are we to dare question them? Dare to actually claim knowledge of their church father’s writings.
In my practice I would be lambasted, paupered and then disbarred for continually being unprepared if I treated cases in such a fashion. We HAVE to acknowledge counter-points, because they will be presented to our neutral party who is making the determination. To ignore them, or act as if they don’t exist would be malpractice.
I don’t care if the Christian apologist agrees or disagrees with me. I don’t care if, after reviewing arguments from both positions, they are convinced of their own. This is humanity. What I find stunning is the inability to even recognize the counter-points as having any legitimacy, and the constant brush-off of such points as those of heretics, heathens and hyper-skeptics.
I would dearly, dearly love to take such a Christian apologist, with their approach, into a court of law. They would find such tactics a catastrophic failure.