Questioning the Validity of the New Testament Witness to Jesus Christ

[NOTE: I have been privileged to briefly participate in a Facebook conversation where one of the participants seems to have legitimate concerns about the validity of the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ. I will attempt to copy the conversation thread below, and boldface the questioner’s misgivings about the truth of the New Testament as detailed in an early comment made on the thread. I have furnished my own title to the thread for easier reference here.]

Questioning the Validity of the New Testament Witness to Jesus Christ

David Black
October 13 at 8:34pm • iOS •
This was the Huron house study tonight. I underestimated these guys. They were explaining to me. The most Exdraordinary book – The Bible – Prophecy – 70 weeks of Daniel (part1)

The most Extraordinary Book–the Bible

The most Extraordinary book – The Bible – Prophecy – 70 weeks of Daniel (part1)

In the series The most Extraordinary Book The Bible , we will see what is the extraordinary in it. This…
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David Black

David Black If you study this and don’t believe well your just not very smart lol
Like • Reply • 1 • October 14 at 12:16pm

Nathan Sweet If you study this and you do believe it then you believe things for which there is zero empirical evidence supporting. There is not a single contemporary source for the life of Jesus outside of Christian scriptures. In fact not a single verifiable person that was alive when he was supposed to have lived even mention him in passing. The only account we have for his life comes from the New Testament which is a very biased source and at the earliest was written decades after his supposed life and death by an most of which was written by an unknown number of anonymous authors. Not only that… there’s even no evidence anywhere in the scriptures that Paul ever met Jesus in the flesh, only that he saw him in visions. The best non-biblical accounts we have for the existence of Jesus are from people that weren’t even alive when he was supposed to have lived. Stories that were passed down verbally for decades or centuries before being written down. Did you ever play the game “telephone” in school? If so you should understand why this is cause for concern.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 2:44pm • Edited

Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet I’d also like to ask why you feel the need to insult and berate those that don’t believe exactly what you believe? How is this conducive to an honest sharing of ideas? If you are going to try to publicly belittle other people’s intelligence you should at least learn the difference between “your” and “you’re” and basic grammar and punctuation usage of your primary language.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 2:32pm

David Black
David Black Nathan are you serious. No I know you just sound like you know things. Caught you. You have a good vocabulary. Are doubting Jesus was here on earth. Even the die hard atheist don’t dispute that. Everything you said is so wrong and so provable. You should have stuck to generalities and your impressive writing. But you are not educated in this subject. Sorry. Brother.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 2:33pm

Nathan Sweet replied • 2 Replies
David Black
David Black Dude get off of Christian bashing.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 2:34pm

Nathan Sweet replied • 1 Reply
David Black
David Black And PS I use dictation I don’t bother correcting it
Like • Reply • October 14 at 2:35pm
David Black
David Black Nathan you got busted not knowing your facts baby
Like • Reply • October 14 at 2:36pm
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Nathan Sweet You have failed to demonstrate this in any way, shape, or form. Again, feel free to show me the evidence for your claims.
Like · Reply · October 14 at 2:36pm
Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet And I will be happy to reconsider my beliefs. I am man enough to admit if I am wrong, and have changed my beliefs based on new evidence many times in my life.
Like · Reply · October 14 at 2:40pm
David Black

David Black
David Black ok.. google…jesus outside the bible.. josephus etc to many to mention…im done bro, you will never believe…
Like • Reply • October 14 at 3:34pm

Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet Ok, your only example is Josephus… who lived from 37-100CE. He wasn’t born until AFTER Jesus lived and died. Thank you for confirming my original statement to be true.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 4:21pm • Edited

Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet At best Josephus was someone who heard and retold stories about a man who lived and died before Josephus was ever conceived… making it impossible for him to be an eyewitness to anything in Jesus’s life. At worst this claimed source is a fraud or a forgery….
Like • Reply • October 14 at 3:44pm

Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet When addressing the mythical nature of Jesus Christ, one issue repeatedly raised is the purported “evidence” of his existence to be found in the writings of Flavius Josephus, the famed Jewish general and historian who lived from about 37 to 100 CE. In Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews appears the notorious passage regarding Christ called the “Testimonium Flavianum” (“TF”):

“Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works,–a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Whitson, 379)

This surprisingly brief and simplistic passage constitutes the “best proof” of Jesus’s existence in the entire ancient non-Christian library comprising the works of dozens of historians, writers, philosophers, politicians and others who never mentioned the great sage and wonderworker Jesus Christ, even though they lived contemporaneously with or shortly after the Christian savior’s purported advent.

Despite the best wishes of sincere believers and the erroneous claims of truculent apologists, the Testimonium Flavianum has been demonstrated continually over the centuries to be a forgery, likely interpolated by Catholic Church historian Eusebius in the fourth century. So thorough and universal has been this debunking that very few scholars of repute continued to cite the passage after the turn of the 19th century. Indeed, the TF was rarely mentioned, except to note that it was a forgery, and numerous books by a variety of authorities over a period of 200 or so years basically took it for granted that the Testimonium Flavianum in its entirety was spurious, an interpolation and a forgery. As Dr. Gordon Stein relates:

“…the vast majority of scholars since the early 1800s have said that this quotation is not by Josephus, but rather is a later Christian insertion in his works. In other words, it is a forgery, rejected by scholars.”

http://truthbeknown.com/josephus.htm

Josephus on Jesus | Forgery and Fraud? | Flavius Testimonium
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Like • Reply • October 14 at 3:44pm
Jerome Smith

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Jerome Smith
Jerome Smith I recommend that Nathan Sweet try doing some actual study on this subject from scholarly, knowledgeable sources. There is a 200 or so page book I made a copy of years ago, a book that contains all the references to Jesus Christ from secular sources in the first two or so centuries after His death. It was compiled by a noted classics scholar, not someone attempting to support the Christian faith. But there are many sources beyond this one I mention worth looking into. Unfortunately, some of the best books go out of print. But I have obtained PDF copies at googlebooks in many instances. Irwin H. Linton wrote a book titled A Lawyer Examines the Bible. That book both answers the kind of assertions Nathan has made, but gives a good list of the irrefutable sources that prove the historicity of the New Testament and the truth of Christianity. Unfortunately, far as I know, Linton’s book is not in print, but probably could be found second hand. It is not old enough to likely be in PDF form at googlebooks.
Like · Reply · October 14 at 4:50pm
Like • Reply • October 14 at 4:50pm
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Nathan Sweet Suggesting that I haven’t done any research from scholarly or knowledgeable sources because I have been unable to find a single first hand contemporary source for the life of Jesus and then failing to provide an example of one is a very weakly veiled ad-hominem. It seems like you are more interested in attacking my character than actually addressing my concern. Feel free to list any first hand contemporary sources for Jesus’s life rather than asserting that they exist and then failing to provide a single example.

David Black
David Black Nathan. Start with Josephus. I am wondering if you know this ! And are just amusing yourself ? Quit playing around ! At least 5 contemporary writers of Jewish or roman heritage discuss Jesus.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 5:42pm
Fraud? | Flavius Testimonium
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Like • Reply • October 14 at 6:01pm
Jerome Smith

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Jerome Smith
Jerome Smith Nathan, the New Testament consists of 27 primary source documents that are obviously from the time of Jesus Christ. There are no sound reasons for rejecting the historicity of those New Testament documents. Those documents were written by eye witnesses to the events they record, or were written under the very direction of eye witnesses to the events of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As for Josephus, his testimony is extra-biblical, of course, but what he writes confirms many things in the Bible itself. Leslie wrote a work called something like “Short and Easy Method with the Deists.” In this classic work on apologetics, Leslie outlines the logic behind the historicity of the Bible without depending at all on written texts. It is available readily as a PDF at google books. I first read of his argument in Linton’s book, A Lawyer Examines the Bible. Over time I have tried to follow Linton’s advice to read the great classic defenses of the Bible and the Christian faith. I have gradually collected a number of these older volumes in hard copy that he lists in his book and have studied some of them. I have summarized Leslie’s argument in my own book, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, at a note I included at 2 Peter 1:16 on pages 1482-1483. And no, I am not trying to use an ad hominem attack upon you at all. I just wish I could more easily access material I have here that I have mentioned, like the author of the book I mentioned that contains and discusses all the written records making reference to Jesus Christ in the first two centuries after His death and resurrection from secular sources–writings, monuments, etc. When I find it (I wish my memory would serve me better!) I’ll share that information.
Like • Reply • October 14 at 9:52pm
Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet Wow, that is a really long winded way of saying “No, there are no contemporary first hand accounts of Jesus’ life other than the bible.” I will do my best to address each one of your “points” so you might better understand my scepticism.

// Nathan, the New Testament consists of 27 primary source documents that are obviously from the time of Jesus Christ. //

Unfounded assertion, citation needed.

To be a primary source document they would have to have been written during the time that Jesus lived and been written by first hand eyewitnesses of the events described. However the earliest NT documents are believed to be written at or around 70CE, decades after Jesus died. The majority of the new testament (other than Paul’s writings) have unknown authorship but scholars agree that they are most likely not written by the people whom they are attributed to.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_New_Testament

It’s also worth noting that Paul was not above using deception to further his agenda of spreading his belief system. This makes his writings very biased. I have found no evidence that he ever met Jesus in the flesh, however there is ample evidence that his teachings came from “visions” and not from Jesus himself. This is beyond the scope of a Facebook post but the following article covers it:

http://www.problemswithpaul.com/Apostle_Paul.html

// There are no sound reasons for rejecting the historicity of those New Testament documents. //
The many reasons are again beyond the scope of a Facebook post. These articles cover just some of the inaccuracies and contradictions in the New Testament.

http://www.weseekthetruth.org/articles/article105.html

http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php…

// Those documents were written by eye witnesses to the events they record, or were written under the very direction of eye witnesses to the events of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. //

Unfounded assertion, citation needed. Anything that can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

// As for Josephus, his testimony is extra-biblical, of course, but what he writes confirms many things in the Bible itself. //

If authentic (which is highly debatable) his testimony is irrelevant from a historical standpoint as he was not even alive Jesus supposedly walked the earth. Again, at best he was retelling stories that were told to him and which would have been impossible for him to witness and at worst his single attributed statement about Jesus was a fraud and forgery.

As Dr. Gordon Stein relates:

“…the vast majority of scholars since the early 1800s have said that this quotation is not by Josephus, but rather is a later Christian insertion in his works. In other words, it is a forgery, rejected by scholars.”

http://truthbeknown.com/josephus.htm

// And no, I am not trying to use an ad hominem attack upon you at all. //

The statement “I recommend that Nathan Sweet try doing some actual study on this subject from scholarly, knowledgeable sources” makes assumptions about what I have and have not studied, and calls to question my studies rather than actually addressing any of my points directly. By definition this is an ad hominem. You then followed it up with a number of unfounded assertions. This is a very intellectually dishonest way to have a conversation and is not conducive to a constructive exchange.

// I just wish I could more easily access material I have here that I have mentioned, like the author of the book I mentioned that contains and discusses all the written records making reference to Jesus Christ in the first two centuries after His death and resurrection from secular sources–writings, monuments, etc. When I find it (I wish my memory would serve me better!) I’ll share that information. //

The references to Jesus in the “first two centuries after his death” are also irrelevant. What people claimed about a person that lived before they lived and which they never witnessed first hand is completely irrelevant from a historical standpoint. There are people that believe that Elvis has been raised from the dead and walks the earth again, and if someone wrote this down in a book decades after the fact and claimed they witnessed it even though they weren’t alive when it supposedly happened doesn’t make it true. The fact remains there is not a single verified first hand eyewitness account of the life and miracles of Jesus from anyone that was even alive when Jesus was alive outside of the very biased scriptures.
Like • Reply • 6 hrs
Nathan Sweet
Nathan Sweet And even IF someone were to produce evidence that Jesus was a real person it still doesn’t prove any of the supernatural claims about him. There is still not a single shred of empirical evidence supporting the existence of any ghouls, ghosts, Gods, deities, demons, devils, psychics, alien abductions or any other supernatural phenomenon. Zero, zilch, nada. In scientific terms theism would be described as an unfounded hypothesis due to the lack of falsifiable evidence supporting the claim.
Like • Reply • 5 hrs
Jerome Smith

Dear Nathan Sweet, I am myself an acknowledged scholar with reference to the Bible, so I am pleased that we can have a civil discussion about these matters. I have two standard Bible reference books published by the world’s largest Bible publisher under my name, Jerome Smith: namely, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (1992); Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible (2007). The assertions you make regarding what evidence is required to prove the supernatural element witnessed to by the New Testament writers would in and of themselves make the study of history itself impossible if such objections were valid. Hume made a similar argument, and it is fallacious because it arbitrarily denies the validity of multiple eye witness testimony to an event if the event for philosophical reasons is deemed impossible. (I, too, would discount any claims others might make that Elvis has been raised from the dead and walks the earth again; but such claims cannot be compared to the testimony of the New Testament writers to the resurrection of Jesus Christ; see Gilbert West’s classic work on the resurrection of Christ; and as for the testimony of Paul, see Lord Lyttleton’s work on the conversion of Paul). Unlike many religious writings of other world religions, the New Testament is remarkable because it stands or falls upon its historicity. Its historicity has been carefully documented by scholars such as William M. Ramsay who carried on extensive archeological research in Asiatic Turkey and the ancient Bible lands, and published the results of his studies in many volumes, many of which I have in hard copy, and most of them I have in my Logos 6 software library. He is acknowledged as the outstanding authority on the life of Paul and the history of the early church. Above, I furnished you the title and author of a work of scholarship, C. R. Haines, who documents and discusses all the known mentions of Jesus Christ from secular sources made in the first century and a half after the death of Christ in his 124 page volume. I mentioned in a post above that I have benefited from and learned much from a volume by Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible. Mr. Linton makes the very interesting and telling observation early in the book that he had discussed these matters with a large number of individuals, but he had never met even one person who had doubts about the New Testament, Christianity, and Jesus Christ who had ever read seriously and thoroughly so much as even one of the standard, classical works written by scholars in support, or defense, of the truth of the Bible. I have never met such a person either, but that of course does not mean there are no such persons. I agree with you, that this Facebook format does not easily lend itself to enabling us to share what we know so far about these issues. I don’t know how to make separate paragraphs in a Facebook post, for example, for if I hit “enter” it just posts what I have written, far as I know. I am not as knowledgeable as you when it comes to working with this format, but I appreciate your efforts to continue this discussion. I regard you as a sincere seeker for truth until proven otherwise. By the way, Mr. Linton in his day was not a small-town lawyer; he practiced law before the United States Supreme Court. I think I will post some of this conversation we have had at my little blog, Real Bible Study, where it may be easier for both of us to further this discussion in a more user-friendly format. Since you disagree with Theism, I will assume you may consider yourself an atheist. I have welcomed discussions at my site with atheists in the past, and have a separate category for those discussions.
Jerome Smith Nathan, I finally spotted the book I am referring to on my bookshelves here. The author is C. R. Haines, M.A., B.D., F.S.A. The title is: Heathen Contact with Christianity during its First Century and a Half; Being all references to Christianity recorded in Pagan writings during that Period. Publisher: Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., LTD. 1923. 124 pages. I trust you can see that while my memory lapsed briefly, I found the scholarly secular book I made reference to. I do not own the book. Mr. Alec R. Allenson, a library bookseller outside of Chicago, kindly loaned me his copy, and I made a Xerox copy of it back in the 1960s, which I just found again. I returned the original copy when I went back to Chicago perhaps a year later.
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1 Response to Questioning the Validity of the New Testament Witness to Jesus Christ

  1. Jerry says:

    I visited the “rationalwiki.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_New Testament site you linked.

    The top paragraph headlining the article reads:

    The authorship of Biblical New Testament texts was traditionally attributed to legendary figures from early Christianity. Following Jewish tradition of pseudepigraphal[2] works, an anonymous writer would “speak” in the name of a historical figure. The gospels, it was felt, would more likely be viewed as accurate, authentic, and persuasive if it was believed they were written by the disciples of Jesus, eyewitnesses to his ministry. The Canonical Gospels reflect this attitude. In addition, Paul was one of the most fundamental figures (some would argue, more influential than Jesus himself) to what was to become the Christianity of the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. His letters held (and hold) an authority unlike any other theological writings of the day. Hence, convincing the Priestly Elite that a specific letter was written by Paul increased its likelihood of being included in the formal and final Canon (3rd Century CE).

    This is not scholarship. It is drivel.

    The Gospels were written by whom they are claimed to have been written by.

    The notion that the formal and final Canon was settled in the Third Century is likewise nonsense.

    When you read information from “poisoned wells,” you ought to suspect the validity and truthfulness of the information at once.

    The New Testament does not present “legendary figures” from early Christianity.

    And just who were the alleged “Priestly Elite” that needed “convincing”?

    The New Testament documents are, as I stated in the first place, primary source documents (1) because they were written by the authors as stated, (2) by eye witnesses of the events they record, (3) well before 70 AD.

    The only New Testament book written after 70 AD is the Book of Revelation, generally dated by competent scholars as having been written in 95 AD.

    When I suggested in my first post on the above thread that you would benefit greatly by doing serious research from scholarly, knowledgeable sources, I made the suggestion because I could tell from the kinds of arguments you make that you have not yet had the opportunity to do so.

    You cannot expect to learn the truth about the Bible, the New Testament, or Jesus Christ if you depend for your information on sources clearly biased against the Bible, the New Testament, or Jesus Christ.

    Therefore, I have suggested some resources that do present reliable information about these matters, the most important resource I have read in particular, Mr. Irwin H. Linton’s work, A Lawyer Examines the Bible.

    As I mentioned, his work is most likely currently out of print, and too recent to be available at google.books in PDF or ePub format. You could probably find Linton’s work on Amazon, used. It would be worth your while to read and study it.

    The scholarly resources Linton discusses have been out of print, by and large, for many years. But the works are old enough that they can be read, or downloaded as a PDF file, from google.books.

    I used to participate in many online discussion threads at the Timebomb discussion board until about 2005, when I had to devote much time to preparing my then new book, Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible. Shortly before I stopped posting in the Timebomb religion section, a person participating there started a series of threads to challenge belief in the Bible, and to support the position of non-believers in the Bible. I participated briefly under the board name “bookworm1711,” and suggested to the person who started that thread that he consider reading carefully, thoroughly, and all the way through any one of several titles listed by Linton in his book as a classic defense of Christianity and the Bible. He found one of the titles at google.books as I had suggested, and we agreed to read and discuss the book on line in that discussion thread. Once he started reading the book, he no longer posted any more to that thread on Timebomb, so I never learned what his reaction to the book was. Here I thought at last I had encountered one person who would read through such a scholarly defense of the Bible and address it, perhaps refute it, but it never happened.

    Some of the questions you raise are dealt with in such a work as Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible. Another work relevant to the discussion is The Origin and Transmission of the New Testament, by L. D. Twilley. Another good work is The Books and the Parchments by F. F. Bruce. Dr. Metzger has written several scholarly volumes pertinent to this subject. Theodore Zahn wrote a classic three-volume work in Introduction to the New Testament. I base my judgment on the dating of the book of Revelation in part on his discussion of the issue. Another author represented in my personal library is Nathaniel Lardner, whose works occupy large ten volumes, many if not most devoted to the historicity of the New Testament. When I had Professor Paul Mier speak to a conference, he discussed his then new work on Pilate; he had already written two other works of a popular nature which defended the historicity of the NT record. I mentioned to him Lardner’s works during a conference intermission, and he was amazed that I would have any knowledge of that resource, and when he autographed one of his books to me, he greeted me as “fellow scholar.”

    So, in short, what I am saying is, there is plenty of evidence discussed by great scholars, which supports the truthfulness and the historicity and detailed accuracy of the New Testament. Those are the kinds of resources I suggest you learn more about, and take time to study.

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