Thursday, June 17, 2010

Claims in History

We often see the claim, ”If the New Testament is not reliable history that we can trust, then no ancient history can be trusted.” Understand when the apologist makes the claim, it is a dichotomous hyperbole where either every single fact within the New Testament (including the miracles) must be accepted as fully historical OR not a single fact is true, and therefore all histories of any sort must likewise be false.

There is no consideration for the possible alternative that some facts are historical (Pilate, Herod, even a traveling Rabbi named Jesus) and some are mythological (walking on water, clearing the temple, Slaughter of the Innocents).

There is a simple response to this claim.

Remember this joke?

A man walks up to a beautiful woman and asks, “Would you have sex with me for One million dollars?”
“Yes!” she exclaims.
“How about for $5?” the man replies.
“No way! What kind of woman do you think I am?”
“Ma’am, we’ve already established that. All we’re doing now is negotiating price.”

I feel the same way with this claim. The Christian apologist equally agrees certain documents are not historical regarding Jesus’ sayings and life—all we really are doing is haggling over method.

The Infancy Gospel of James claims Mary, Mother of Jesus, was born out of Immaculate Conception. (No male involved.) Was this historical?

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas records an incident when Jesus, as a child, was bumped by another child. Jesus, of course, miraculously struck the child dead. The parents, understandably vexed, complained to Joseph, whereupon Jesus blinded them. Is this historical?

Josephus records a star in the shape of a sword over Jerusalem before it fell. A comet that lasted a whole year. Mysterious light, a cow giving birth to a lamb, doors opening on their own, strange voices and earthquakes. Were these historical?

Joseph Smith saw Jesus; the Gospel of Philip implies Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ paramour. Historical?

See, at some point every historian—every person—reaches a point of exclaiming, “That is not true. Didn’t happen.” Like the joke…we’ve established some stories (including stories about Jesus) are not historical. All we’re doing now is haggling over method—over how to determine which stories are historical and which are myth.


  1. I was immersed in this type of thinking for many years.

    If there is ONE error in the Bible then none of it is true. No thought was given to any other viewpoint. All or nothing.

    There are many historical facts within the Bible to be sure. But there are certainly some events that have been proved untrue or have no corroboration.

    While I reject the notion that the Bible is an inspired, God given text, I do see its historical value, and even see some value in its moral and ethical teachings. (if I can pick and choose) :)


  2. NW Ohio Skeptic: … and even see some value in its moral and ethical teachings. (if I can pick and choose) :)
    While I appreciate what you are saying…do you realize this doesn’t work? In order to “pick and choose” you must apply some other standard exterior to the thing you are picking and choosing. Otherwise you wouldn’t know what to pick and choose!

    It must be some other moral or ethical standard by which you accept one precept or reject another contained within the Bible. Therefore, the Bible itself is not providing the moral or ethical teaching (this external source is)—at best it provides confirmation.

    Humorously, many Christians equally “pick and choose” (what person claims women can’t wear gold or pearls? 1 Tim. 2:9) and equally demonstrate they use an external source to reject moral teachings. Sure they use the catch-all “interpretation” to do it…but they still do.

  3. That's true, not everything is true and not everything is false.

    A long time ago I wrote a post saying that even fiction novels include some truth, since they're usually based on real life events and people. In other words, even totally fictional literature involves some historic facts. For instance, reading Jane Austen we can learn about the culture of the day, but leaping from there to saying that Mr. Darcy was a real man and that Pemberley actually existed would be insane.

    Sure, the Bible can teach us a thing or two about historic cultural values of the ancient Hebrews and early Christians, but from there to living our life according to every letter and comma of the writings is utterly ridiculous.

    Personally, I have decided to put the Bible aside because, frankly, I already read it enough, and I have learned anything it was going to teach me. Now, I am learning from other sources, like films, literature, and blogs.

    ** Lorena **

  4. "dichotomous hyperbole"
    That was fantastic. Good writing. Thanx

  5. I've always wondered why the apocrypha were not considered by Xians to be "valid" sources of information about Jesus. Particularly modern American Protestants, who generally don't think that highly of the Catholic church and would be inclined (if they thought about it) to doubt their methodology.

    But this is another case of a completely closed mind. The Bible is perfect just as it is, never mind what the history of its compilation might be or what evidence we have for who wrote it or the blatantly stupid and internally contradictory stuff it contains. In fact, in my limited experience in asking people about it, they become quite agitated at the idea.