Wednesday, April 25, 2007

accusing the text pt. 1

So I decided to do a short series of posts regarding certain accusations pretty frequently made against the New Testament texts, partially as a response to an atheist presentation I just read on 18 Unconvincing Arguements for God, and partially in reflection on some reading that I've been doing.

One big arguement made against the credibility of the New Testament, more specifically of the Gospels, regards the integrity of the authors, i.e., what agendas they are driven by.
Two such agendas commonly offered include:
1) to impose divinity onto Jesus of Nazareth(yes Leigh Teabing, I'm thinking of you), and
2) to, mainly by means of the above, solidify the authority of the leaders in the early Christian church.

The first response to these accusations will come from my man, C. S. Lewis.
Lewis was not a New Testament scholar or a historian, but rather was a literary scholar, well known for his work in Renaissance and Medieval literature. His studies also included mythology, language, and philosophy. As an author, he is best known for his works The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and That Hideous Strength.

In his essay, The World's Last Night, Lewis addresses the issue of Jesus's apparent prophesying that the end of creation would come within the lifetimes of his first disciples in Mark 13:30:

Assuredly I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

The these things that Christ refers to are the Tribulation and the coming of the Son of Man that He speaks of in verses 14-27. These events, of course, did not occur within the life times of Christ's disciples. The initial accusation here is, obviously, that Jesus, the "Son of God", didn't know what He was talking about. Lewis's response:

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement 'But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.'

He is not going to refute Christ's apparent ignorance on the topic, but rather confirm, just as Jesus Himself did confirm it. Lewis continues:

The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus Himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt.

Thus the accusation, aforementioned, of attributing divinity to Christ is roundaboutly approached. An instance of both error and "the one confession of ignorance" by Jesus does little to support claims to divinity.

Unless the reporter were perfectly honest he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest, they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about 'this generation' after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34) together make the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.

Much of Lewis's work in apologetics, such as in Mere Christianity, relies on philosophy and logic; here his chief cornerstone is common sense. Any unscrupulous editor who would augment Christ's sayings or even add statements to the gospels to push an agenda of making a God of a man simply wouldn't display such errancy in this God. This does not support the agenda. Would there be any conceivable reason within such an agenda to include this account? We don't expect our gods to make mistakes, and we do expect them to know what they're talking about. This would have beeen no different in 1st Century Palestine. Such a report--within Mark's gosepl, the model of the other two synoptics, no less--hardly betrays an agenda to force Jesus into Godhood.

With part two we're going to take a look at an actual New Testament scholar and historian of 1st Century Israel, as well as Bishop of Durham in the Anglican church, N. T. Wright.

-N

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