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« How Do You Handle Name Calling in a Winsome Way? | Main | No Broadcast Today »

March 24, 2015

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Claim #1: The "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" are different people.

Rebuttal #1: Lataster made no attempt to prove his claim. Instead, he simply assumed that we're really talking about two people who are completely separate from each other. Unfortunately, the rest of his article depends on this distinction. Without proving his foundation, the argument is unsound.

Claim #2: The "Christ of Faith" is obviously fictional.

Rebuttal #2: Like the previous point, Lataster made no effort to prove that the "Christ of Faith" is mere myth. He just assumed it to be true.

Claim #3: We can't trust the Gospels because they're about the "Christ of Faith," who was obviously fictional.

Rebuttal #3: Since Lataster made no effort to prove that the "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" are different people, and he made no effort to prove that the "Christ of Faith" was fictional, he can't then use these points to undermine the Gospels. If the "Christ of Faith" was a real person, then this claim falls on its face.

Claim #4: The Gospels were all compiled decades after the original events, which makes them unreliable.

Rebuttal #4: Firstly, Lataster made no attempt to prove the age of the Gospels. In fact, he didn't even propose any dates for their authorship. He didn't even propose a range of dates, just the nebulous "decades." Personally, I've seen some good arguments for why the Synoptic Gospels (at least) must have all been written prior to 70AD. Some of them might have been written as early as 50AD, less than twenty years after Christ's death and resurrection.

More importantly, Lataster made no effort to explain why an historical document is automatically unreliable if it wasn't written immediately. Modern-day historians are still writing about events that happened a few decades ago, such as the fall of the USSR. Are those historians also unreliable? If so, why?

Claim #5: "The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify." (Quoted directly from his article.)

Rebuttal #5: If the Gospel authors failed to name themselves, then how do we know who they were? I mean, the early Church didn't just pull the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John out of a hat! The reasons for not directly identifying themselves are many and obvious (fear of persecution, not wanting to take credit for Christ's work, simple humility), but the early Church seemed to have no trouble figuring out who wrote which Gospel.

Concerning their qualifications: Matthew and John were both disciples and eyewitnesses. Their "credentials" should be obvious. According to tradition, Mark's Gospel is based on Peter's memories and testimony, who was also a disciple and eyewitness. Only Luke was neither a disciple nor an eyewitness, and he clearly identified himself as such at the beginning of his Gospel. However, Luke also identified himself as an interviewer and historian who "carefully investigated everything from the beginning" (Luke 1:3, NIV). Luke must therefore be given as much credibility as we would give any ancient historian such as Plutarch or Xenophon. Since Luke's Gospel is harmonious with the other Gospels (which did come from eyewitnesses), we should accept it.

Honestly, I'm not sure what Lataster meant by claiming that the Gospel authors did not "show any criticism with their foundational sources," so I'll leave that point for someone else. :)

Claim #6: The Gospels fail the criterion of embarrassment, largely because the authors can't be identified.

Rebuttal #6: See above for the identification of the Gospel authors.

Moreover, the Gospels are highly embarrassing to the twelve disciples. They're shown as slow to learn and weak in faith. They all fled when Christ was arrested. Peter even denied Christ when confronted. Only John returned to stand with the women as Christ was crucified. After His death, the disciples were slow to accept His resurrection. Frankly none of the Twelve look good by the end of the Gospels. Only Christ stands flawless.

I suppose that could be part of a cunning plot to make Christ look good by portraying His disciples as dolts. Except ... those same disciples were the earliest messengers of Christianity. Undermining the messengers would also undermine the message, which would make the cunning plot seem rather stupid. More importantly, if Christ was really the Son of God, then we would expect Him to be an unflawed character.

... Wow, it keeps going. I could spend an hour or more with Lataster's claims, but I have other stuff to do. Someone else will have to identify and address the rest of it. :)

Did a figure known as Socrates really walk the earth? He never left any writing, and the documents that do reflect his life and teachings are dated to centuries, even a millennium after his death. And even then the alleged "Plato's" works are concerned with his political ideas that rational, academic, "ivory tower" philosopher (like himself) kings should run things, instead of the people who had proved by their military prowess, charismatic rhetoric, or successful business acumen that they knew how to manage people and resources.

Any worldview based on Greek philosophy should thus be viewed with suspicion, or at least be forced to reexamine itself because we can't trust the validity of the "fathers of modern philosophy".

But I am confused. Mr. Lataster asserts that we cannot trust the gospel accounts of Jesus because from only a few decades after his (supposed) death, the accounts of his life make clear his followers believed him divine or semi-divine and their accounts are "filled with mythical and non-historical information". But all those books by Bart Ehrman and others say we cannot trust the Gospel accounts because all the miracles and divinity stuff was added later to (assumed) documents that only recorded the parables and teachings of a regular rabbi who never claimed supernatural status and certainly never rose from the dead. So can we not trust the gospels because they had "mythical, non-historical" content from the get-go, or can we not trust the gospels because the "mythical, non-historical" stuff was added in later? Or maybe both simply cannot accept anything that attests to the reality of the miraculous or supernatural, and we can thus "easily dismiss" all their critiques since they are so hobbled by the blinders of their materialism.

Mr. Lataster also claims that we cannot trust the gospel writers because they clearly "were eager to promote Christianity". But, even though he clearly is eager to promote atheism, we can trust his interpretation of those writings and the history behind him? At what point can we trust anything committed to paper?

All Latster's comments prove is that when you approach the gospels with a pair of scissors: "oh he clearly couldn't have walked on water (snip), but I like the 'let he who is without sin throw the first stone' line" you really can't stop until there's nothing left at all.

Naaman's analysis is keen in pointing out all the flaws of this challenge.

I am also aware that the "historical Jesus" and "Christ of faith" distinctions are quite hollow. To even dismiss the "historical Jesus" fails on even one mention outside of the Gospel corpus. There are several. My favorite is from Tacitus, since it does speak indirectly to this point:

[Nothing] "availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite torture, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also." (Annals 15/ Chap. 44)

Tacitus, a historian in the 110's, referred to an event in A.D. 64. In understanding the "pernicious superstition," we are dealing with the "Christ of faith," His teachings, His miracles, His resurrection, His Lordship. This would be the objectionable portions of a faith that derived from Judaism, as perceived by a Roman historian. And this superstition was suppressed once before in Judea, an allusion to the persecutions sanctioned by the Sanhedrin and entrusted to Saul of Tarsus (circa A.D. 35).

The whole argument that Lataster proposes is that the "historical Jesus" could never be the "Christ of faith." Yet Tacitus (along with Seutonius, Josephus, Pliny the Younger) acknowledge the historical Jesus. Tacitus would propose that the "Christ of faith" is the individual whose followers has always perceived as the one described in the Gospels.

Great comments so far! I was ready to say some of those things, but you all saved me the trouble!

One thing I will say is this, no sane or credible person would ever discount or deny the reality of the man Jesus Christ. If one does, they are severely deluded and irrational. As DGFischer said above, there are many references to his being a real person in non-biblical writings from that time period for one thing.

I really think the burden of proof is on the people who deny Jesus' existence rather than on people who say Jesus was a real person. There are some things in apologetics that I understand that we need to unpack for some people. But, when people are so ridiculous as to deny the historical reality of Jesus, that's when it's really not even worth discussing to me. Even Muslims, who deny Jesus was anything more than a prophet believe he existed.

As Ray Comfort is wont to say, "You can lead an atheist to water, but you can't make him think!"

No scholar, that is, reputable scholar supports the claim that Jesus never existed--Latasters claim is pop fiction, plain and simple. Even Dawkins backed down on this claim when confronted by John Lennox during a debate. Lataster states, "The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith." Really? It seems that Mr. Lataster hasn't studied the sources he is discounting. I will reference just two of the number of sources that are available:

Josephus--here are the historical facts that can be ascertained from his historical record:

*Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man, one recognized for his good conduct.
*He had many disciples, both Jews and Gentiles.
*Pilate condemned him to die, with crucifixion explicitly being mentioned as the mode.
*The disciples reported that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion.
*Consequently, the disciples continued to proclaim his teachings.
*Perhaps Jesus was the messiah concerning whom the OT prophets spoke and predicted wonders
*Jesus was the brother of James
*Was called the messiah by some

Then from Tacitus:

1. Christians were named after their founder—Latin Christus
2. Roman procurator Pontius Pilate—‘suffered the extreme penalty’
3. During the reign of Tiberius—(14-37AD)
4. His death ended the superstition for a short time
5. But it broke out again
6. Especially in Judaea, where the teaching had its origin
7. His followers carried the doctrine to Rome

And as J. N. D. Anderson of University of London has stated, “It is scarcely fanciful to suggest that when he [Tacitus] adds that ‘A most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out’ he is bearing indirect and unconscious testimony to the conviction of the early church that the Christ who had been crucified had risen from the grave.”

DGFischer wrote:
The whole argument that Lataster proposes is that the "historical Jesus" could never be the "Christ of faith." Yet Tacitus (along with Seutonius, Josephus, Pliny the Younger) acknowledge the historical Jesus. Tacitus would propose that the "Christ of faith" is the individual whose followers has always perceived as the one described in the Gospels.

I have to disagree with your first point, because Lataster never actually made that argument. He just assumed that "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" are different people. Then he built on that assumption by also assuming that the "Christ of Faith" is completely fictional.

The only time that Lataster actually started to make a real argument was for his central contention that "Historical Jesus" is also fictional. Unfortunately, much of his supporting evidence for this contention rested upon his earlier assumptions. If you agree with those assumptions, well and good. If not....

Your second point about the non-Christian historians of the period is quite solid. I doubt that Tacitus &c would have accepted Christ's claims to divinity, but there is no doubt that they understood Christ's followers believed in Him.

---

The tragic scope of Lataster's article is how he built on previous errors to build a whole new level of error. Previous scholars proposed this bogus distinction between "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith." Sadly, many of these scholars even claim to be Christian. I can recognize the appeal of "Historical Jesus" to a secular mind, but no Christian should attempt to promote or defend the notion.

Because of those other scholars, now Lataster can break new ground by rejecting "Historical Jesus." Note that he didn't even give any consideration to the actual Christ Who really existed. No, Lataster set his sights on a lower target, so-called "Historical Jesus," and tried to discredit that person.

Well, as it happens, I have some agreement with Lataster. I also reject "Historical Jesus." However, I have reached that decision because I reject any attempt to divide Christ into multiple characters. The Babe of Bethlehem was also the Savior of the World. The wisest teacher Who ever lived is also the Son of God. "Historical Jesus" is merely an attempt to divide the indivisible.

Is there some confusion here about what is generally meant by the terms “Christ of Faith” and "Historical Jesus"?

A lot of good points so far, so I will just add the two that jump out at me.
"all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity"
Yes, the authors had a bias, but how does that disqualify the document? How much of history will we lose if we have to discard any document that was written by an author with a bias?

"The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves"
I am pretty sure that I have read that this was considered the "proper" way of documenting historical events at the time. Even if that isn't the case, does this mean we have to throw away every historical document where the writer does not clearly identify themselves?

If those two things were actually used by historians to disqualify historical documents, I would think that there would not be much history left to study.

RonH wrote:
Is there some confusion here about what is generally meant by the terms “Christ of Faith” and "Historical Jesus"?

From Lataster's article, I have understood the following definitions:
"Historical Jesus" = The materialist concept of Jesus as endorsed by members of the Jesus Seminar, other liberal theologians, and many secular historians. Basically, he is Jesus without all of the supernatural stuff. He might have been a sage, a revolutionary, or a prophet ... but he certainly was not the Son of God.
"Christ of Faith" = The Son of God, miracle worker, savior, etcetera. A mythological figure who was mistakenly worshiped by misguided cultists nearly two thousand years ago, and some odd people still worship him today.

The folks who Lataster cited (Crossan &c) believe in "Historical Jesus," but they reject the "Christ of Faith." In a way, they're actually taking ancient Nestorianism to its logical extreme. (Nothing is new under the sun.) According to them, Jesus was just a man. He might have been an exceptional man, but he was still just a man. He taught some stuff, helped some people, and was killed by the Romans. End of story.

Lataster's big point seems to be that he doubts the existence of "Historical Jesus." It goes without saying that he also rejects the "Christ of Faith." In fact, he just assumes that the supernatural claims are ridiculous, and then he uses the supposedly ridiculous nature of these claims as part of his attack against the Gospel authors. The foolishness of believing in the "Christ of Faith" is one of the foundational supports of Lataster's argument, but he never bothers to engage or address that belief.

If "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" are actually the same person, then much of Lataster's argument falls apart like a sand castle in front of a tsunami.

But Lataster doesn't separate the "Jesus of History" from the "Christ of Faith". His claim is that a lot of other atheists do, but he doesn't. He recognizes that the supernatural parts of Jesus story are as important, if not more important to Jesus earliest biographers. Since people obviously cannot turn water into wine, the other gospel critics claim we can easily dismiss those parts of the story. But Lataster agrees with the theists that they form the foundation on which the more mundane part of Jesus' story is built, the authority behind his teaching and the proof of his divinity. So the more mundane parts of the story must also be just as imaginary. Jesus, to Lataster, must be as fictional a person as Hercules, Merlin, or Superman.

The interesting aspect to Lataster's assertions is that they take an opposite tack to the usual dismissal of the Gospels. Typically the new testament critic argues that Jesus was a real person who lived and taught in first century Judea generally out of the apocalyptic stain of Judaism common at the time. But that after his death, his followers, especially Paul, came to think of him not just as a Rabbi, but as a prophet, and eventually as something uniquely semi-devine. They usually claim that this idea grew so that by the Nicean council in 325 most of Christendom believed Jesus to be a manifestation of God himself (even though, these critics claim, Jesus never taught he was God). You can see this idea in pop culture (like the DaVinci Code), in the books by archeologists who claim to have located Jesus' "real" tomb, in PBS documentaries like "From Jesus to Christ", or in Bart Ehrman's books attacking the veracity of the Gospels and other New Testament books. They claim that the supernatural stuff (the healings, the walking on water, the resurrection) were all added to Jesus teachings (parables about loving your neighbor and curses on the religious conservatives of the day) later.

Lataster recognizes that all the supernatural stuff is there in the earliest records of Jesus and his life and ministry. He recognizes that they typical attack of a real, human Jesus whose desperate followers transformed into the resurrected Christ just doesn't hold water.

Lataster doesn't separate Jesus from Christ as many atheists attempt to do. He simply dismisses stories of a man who can make food magically appear, revive dead people, or walk on water as too implausible to accept. Indeed, as far as he is concerned, so ludicrous that they cannot be trusted even if they have a few details correct. Once he's determined that the gospels must be fundamentally unreliable, since they are built on the (in his mind,) obvious fiction of Jesus' miracles, he logically progresses to the idea that they are ENTIRELY fictional. If the important parts (the miraculous stuff) are fictions, the derivative parts (the rest of Jesus life and teachings) must be fictional as well.

His recognition that you CAN'T separate the man from the miracles, the "Jesus of History" from the "Christ of Faith" forces him into the position of denying the historicity of the man, since he cannot, in his utterly materialist worldview, accept the miracles as remotely possible.

The big hole in his line of reasoning is that if the historicity of the man is demonstrated, and Jesus existence is fairly undeniable, then the miraculous core of the earliest stories about Jesus forces one to wonder. Lataster can't allow the possibility, so he has just slammed the door on all those other anti-gospel critics who assert the miraculous stuff is a later addition, and dismissed, out of hand, any truth in the gospels at all, even though they plainly include historical events.

All his more typical points about the lack of proper history degrees, tenure, or press credentials of Mark or Luke are there to reinforce his claim that everything about the gospels is made up. The bumpkins and hicks (or charlatans) who wrote the gospels obviously have never heard of the need to put the standard disclaimer about "any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely coincidental" on a work of obvious fiction like a story about a man who can control the weather. He's made an argument that is short on evidence (the evidence is that Jesus really lived and was executed by crucifixion), so he's left with ad homonym attacks on the gospel writers. He has to continue to deny any historical value to the gospels, because his earliest biographers made it clear that the miracles, especially the resurrection, are central to Jesus work and teaching. If they were right about Jesus really partying with tax collectors and prostitutes, if they were right about him saying "love your neighbor as yourself", then that opens the door to the possibility that they were historically accurate about that voice from heaven that declared, "This is my beloved son, heed him!"

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