In the quest for the real Santa Claus, what is discovered more often than not is that he can assume any shape. He can accommodate anyone… (191)
There are many discussions floating around about the “real” Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas. I have a bit of a side interest in the topic because I was never a believer in Santa Claus and so I’ve always been interested in the reality behind the myth. So, when I received The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus
for Christmas last year, I was excited to dive in for the season this year
Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work is English’s discussion of the historiographical difficulties related to unearthing the historical Nicholas of Myra. The difficulty with discovering the “real Santa Claus”–Saint Nicholas–is compounded by the fact that Nicholas of Myra (the Nicholas in question) is often confused with Nicholas of Sion (10; 80; 120; 174). Historical accounts of the life of Nicholas have often conflated these two persons, which means historians must extract them from each other in order to make an account of either. English confronts the possibility that Nicholas did not exist–a possibility put forth by some scholars, in fact–head-on by noting the multiple, independent sources for his life. Although Nicholas did not leave behind a legacy of his own writings, the extant evidence, argues English, is enough to acknowledge his existence as well as a historical core of stories about his life (11ff).
English does a great job of reflecting upon the apparently historical narrative while also drawing out the legends and apologetic tales which grew up around the narratives. Throughout the book, he reports a number of stories related to the life of Nicholas of Myra. He reports these stories seemingly in order of legendary development. For example, the famous story of Nicholas’ gift of gold to three women in need (about to be sold into prostitution) received more embellishment as time went on (57ff). However, English does not always do a great job of making the distinctions clear when these various types of tales are discussed. Part of this is probably due to the historiographical difficulties noted above, but it would have been nice for English to at least offer his opinion regarding the stories he related as to which he felt might be accurate as opposed to inaccurate. At some points he does, but at others he simply offers a series of increasingly surprising accounts without any commentary as to the possible historicity of the accounts.
A central part of the work focuses upon the council of Nicaea and the famous incident of Nicholas’ alleged slapping or punching of Arius or a different heretic (Arian) at the event. English argues that it is unlikely that it would have been Arius, because Arius was not a bishop and so likely would not have been present at the council itself (101-107). Moreover, English believes that a different story, in which Nicholas reasons with an avowed Arian to change his view, is more likely the historical background for the story (107-109). Nicholas’ own place at the council is disputed, but his orthodoxy is acknowledged by all his biographers, and it is likely that he defended the orthodox position at the council itself (107ff).
Apart from his participation at Nicaea, Nicholas also, of course, performed the basic functions of a bishop, which at his time included helping to resolve issues in Myra and the surrounding area (115ff). He helped with the struggle against pagan belief and practice, and at this point some of the stories and legends of Nicholas of Sion were often intermixed with those stories of Nicholas of Myra (120-125).
English’s work also draws out the way that Nicholas of Myra has been adapted for multiple purposes and occasions. Whether this is through the adaptation of his apparently real, historical life to various theological discussions (including Aquinas) or legends which were developed to supplement his legacy and individual viewpoints, Nicholas’ story continues to have widespread appeal.
The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus is an interesting read on a compelling man. Perhaps the most interesting part is the frequent fusion of myth and legend with the historical account. Those interested in the life of the “real Santa Claus” should immediately grab the book for their collection.
Adam English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).
Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told- I wrote about the interplay between myth and reality in the stories about Nicholas. I wrote about how the myth of Nicholas actually bolsters the Christian worldview by pointing toward our longing for the ideal.
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“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). Matthew 1:28 ESV.
Familiar words to most Christians, aren’t they? Along with His Death and Resurrection, the virgin birth of Jesus is among the most celebrated and unifying events in all of Christianity. Nativity scenes can be found in front of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and all sorts of churches of all denominations. The virgin birth is counted as among the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and was important enough to be counted as one of the twelve articles of the Apostolic Creed. For centuries, the account that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin woman, Mary of Nazareth, was undisputed, at least as far as any known challenges can be documented.
But, then, along came the Enlightenment. With it came the idea that science and reason were the test of Scripture and all truth, and not the reverse. Therefore, if Scripture says that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that is not logical nor scientifically provable, then it must be rejected. Thus, the Jefferson “Bible” excludes any reference to the virgin birth as well as Jesus’ miracles, Deity, resurrection, etc. As time went on, through the historical critical method and other destructive methods of using reason not to teach but to judge Scripture, the Enlightenment principle of reason and science over Scripture slowly infiltrated the thinking of many churches. Surveys confirm this infiltration.
1998: A poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. showed a wide variation in belief. The following ministers did not believe in the virgin birth:
2007-DEC: The Barna Group sampled 1,005 adults and found that 75% believed that Jesus was born to a virgin. 53% of the unchurched, and 15% of Agnostics and Atheists believe as well. Even among those who describe themselves as mostly liberal on political and social issues, 60% believe in the virgin birth. (Source for surveys.)
It is a great travesty in the Church today that many clergy find themselves looking at their positions only as a job, and will say what they must to preserve their positions. From the source of the polls previously cited comes this quote:
“…one Hampshire vicar was typical: ‘There was nothing special about his birth or his childhood – it was his adult life that was extraordinary….I have a very traditional bishop and this is one of those topics I do not go public on. I need to keep the job I have got.’
Such hypocrisy and blatant deceit is unworthy of anyone, let alone one who claims to proclaim the Word of God and represent Him to the people. yet such is the state of much of the clergy, as indicated by the above polling figures. No wonder the Church is in such disarray, and seems so powerless in the world today!
If Christianity is only a “nice” way of life that is only about love and compassion, then I suppose the virgin birth is not so essential, But if Christianity is an intimate and personal relationship by faith with the Creator of the Universe, then Who that Creator is makes all the difference. And if being born of a virgin is something He says about himself, even once, in His Book, then it might be best if we believe it. After all, wouldn’t you like to know a bit about, say, the pedigree of a dog or horse that you were to buy, or even more so, wouldn’t you like to know all about a future spouse that you profess to love before marriage? (Please forgive the analogy, which is not meant to cheapen God, spouses, dogs, or horses).
The virgin birth of Christ—and I would say, the historical fact that Jesus was conceived by a miracle like unto creation itself—does not travel alone. It ties intimately into other doctrines-the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture, and more. “Scripture cannot be broken”, Jesus said in John 10:35. Even so, the most basic teachings of the Christian faith cannot be broken off and accepted like items on a buffet table. They are all one. Accept all of them-or none of them. That is the challenge that the catechumen, the seeker, the growing disciple of Christ is faced with. Finally, you see, the importance of the virgin birth is found, like all things, bound in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
As far as the prophecy quoted by Matthew, namely Isaiah 7:14, much ink has been spilled on this by scholars with more degrees than I have. Some modern Bible translations, notably the NRSV, CEB, TEV and others use “young woman” to translate the Hebrew word almah. Others, such as the NASB, ESV, NKJB, TNIV (=NIV 2011), use the more traditional “virgin.” The LXX also translates the word “virgin.” While the matter is not as simple as some might make it, certainly I would think that the Septuagint scholars would have known Hebrew and Greek well enough to have chosen a different word besides the Greek word for “virgin” if “young woman” would have been indicated. They had no agenda to support a virgin birth or not. The same cannot be said of some modern translators. The sainted Dr. William Beck wrote a study on this subject, available at www.wlsessays.net/.
Human reason helps us put all of these things together systematically from Scripture; but human reason cannot accept and believe them itself. That, too, is a special creative work of the Holy Spirit. What a delight to know that God wants everyone to know Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture. It is through the very words of Scripture that God creates faith. Through those Holy Spirit given and empowered words He keeps one in the faith. As I stand in awe that God chose this supernatural way to join our human race, so I stand in awe that He created faith in my heart, and has kept that faith to this day. All glory and praise to Him forever!
Finally, though, the virgin birth is a matter of faith. For the individual, it is a matter of personal faith whether one accepts what Scripture says about the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus or not. But the virgin birth is also a matter of THE Faith; that is to say, it is an article of Christian doctrine that is beyond dispute. To accept it is to accept a fundamental, essential doctrine of all Christianity. To reject it is to put one outside the bounds of the Christian faith. I pray that this Advent and Christmas season you will join with me, and with all the Christian world, in celebrating the supernatural way that God chose to enter our human race to bear our sin and be our savior.
Rev. Kent Wartick is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kent, Ohio. He has been preaching for over 26 years in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He’s my dad, and an inspiration for the faithful.
I’ll forego the preliminaries here and just say it: this is the best introductory apologetics book in regards to the historicity of the Gospels I have ever read. If you are looking for a book in that area, get it now. If you are not looking for a book in that area, get it anyway because it is that good. Now, on to the details.
Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace maps out an investigative journey through Christian history. How did we get the Gospels? Can we trust them? Who was Jesus? Do we know anything about Him? Yet the way that Wallace approaches this question will draw even those who do not care about these topics into the mystery. As a cold-case homicide detective, Wallace approaches these questions with a detective’s eye, utilizing his extensive knowledge of the gathering and evaluation of evidence to investigate Christianity forensically.
He begins the work with a section on method. He argues that we must learn to acknowledge our presuppositions and be aware of them when we begin an investigation. Like the detective who walks into a crime scene with a preconceived notion of how the murder played out, we can easily fall into the trap of using our expectations about a truth claim to color our investigation of the evidence for that claim. Learning to infer is another vastly important piece of the investigation. People must learn to distinguish between the “possible” and the “reasonable” (34ff). This introduction to “abductive reasoning” is presented in such a way as to make it understandable for those unfamiliar with even the term, while also serving as great training on how to teach others to reason for those involved in apologetics.
Chapter 3, “Think Circumstantially” is perhaps the central chapter for the whole book. Wallace notes that what is necessary in order to provide evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not necessarily “direct evidence.” That is, direct evidence–the type of evidence which can prove something all by itself (i.e. seeing it rain outside as proof for it actually raining)–is often thought of to be the standard for truth. Yet if this were the standard for truth, then we would hardly be able to believe anything. The key is to notice that a number of indirect evidences can add up to make the case. For example, if a suspected murderer is known to have had the victim’s key, spot cleaned pants (suspected blood stains), matches the height and weight a witness saw leaving the scene of the crime, has boots that matched the description, was nervous during the interview and changed his story, has a baseball bat (a bat was the murder weapon) which has also been bleached and is dented, and the like, these can add up to a very compelling case (57ff). Any one of these evidences would not lead one to say they could reasonably conclude the man was the murderer, but added together they provide a case which pushes the case beyond a reasonable doubt–the man was the murderer.
In a similar way, the evidences for the existence of God can add up to a compelling case for the God of classical theism. Wallace then turns to examining a number of these arguments, including the moral, cosmological, fine-tuning, and design arguments. These are each touched on briefly, as a kind of preliminary to consider when turning to the case for the Gospels. Furthermore, the notion of “circumstantial” or cumulative case arguments hints towards the capacity to examine the Bible and the Gospels to see if they are true.
Wallace then turns to examining the Gospels–Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John–in light of what he has learned as a detective. He utilizes forensic statement analysis as well as a number of other means by which to investigate witnesses and eyewitness reports to determine whether the Gospels can be trusted. He first turns to Mark and makes an argument that Mark had firsthand contact with Peter, one of the Disciples and an Apostle. He shows how we can search for and find “artifacts”–textual additions that were late into the accounts of the Gospels. None of these are surprises, because we know about them by investigating the evidence we have from the manuscript tradition. By piecing together the puzzle of the evidences for the Gospels, we form a complete picture of Christ (106ff).
It is easy to get caught up in “conspiracy theory” types of explanations for the events in the Bible. People argue that all kinds of alternative explanations are possible. Yet Wallace notes again that there is a difference between possible and reasonable. Simply throwing out possible scenarios does nothing to undermine the truth claims of the Gospels if the Gospels’ own account is more reasonable. Furthermore, drawing on his own knowledge from investigating conspiracy theories, Wallace notes that the Gospels and their authors do not display signs of a conspiracy.
A very important part of Cold-Case Christianity is the notion that we can trace back the “chain of custody” for the Gospels. By arguing that we are able to see how the New Testament was passed authoritatively from one eyewitness to disciple to disciple and so on, Wallace argues that conspiracy theories which argue the Gospel stories were made up have a much less reasonable explanation than that they are firsthand accounts of what happened. Much of the information in these chapters is compelling and draws on knowledge of the Apostles’ and their disciples. It therefore provides a great introduction to church history. Furthermore, Wallace notes that a number of things that we learn from the Gospels are corroborated not just by other Christians, but also by hostile witnesses (182ff). He also argues that we can know that the people who wrote the Gospels were contemporaries of the events they purported to report by noting the difficulties with placing the authors at a later date (159ff). This case is extremely compelling and this reviewer hasn’t seen a better presentation of this type of argument anywhere.
There are many other evidences that Wallace provides for the historicity of the Gospels. These include undesigned coincidences which interlink the Gospel accounts through incidental cross-confirmations in their accounts. I have written on this argument from undesigned coincidences before. Archaeology also provides confirmation of a number of the details noted in the Gospel accounts. The use of names in the Gospels place them within their first century Semitic context.
Again, the individual evidences for these claims may each be challenged individually, but such a case is built upon missing the forest for the trees. On its own, any individual piece of evidence may not prove that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, but the force of the evidence must be viewed as a complete whole–pieces of a puzzle which fit together in such a way that the best explanation for them is a total-picture view of the Gospels as history (129ff).
All of these examples are highlighted by real-world stories from Wallace’s work as a detective. These stories highlight the importance of the various features of an investigator’s toolkit that Wallace outlined above. They play out from various viewpoints as well: some show the perspective of a juror, while others are from the detectives stance. Every one of them is used masterfully by Wallace to illustrate how certain principles play out in practice. Not only that, but they are all riveting. Readers–even those who are hostile to Christianity–will be drawn in by these examples. It makes reading the book similar to reading a suspense novel, such that readers will not want to put it down. For example, when looking at distinguishing between possible/reasonable, he uses a lengthy illustration of finding a dead body and eliminating various explanations for the cause of death through observations like “having a knife in the back” as making it much less probable that accidental death is a reasonable explanation, despite being possible.
Throughout the book there are also sidebars with extremely pertinent information. These include quotations from legal handbooks which describe how evidence is to be viewed, explanations of key points within the text, and definitions of terms with which people may be unfamiliar. Again, these add to the usefulness of the book for both a beginner and for the expert in apologetics because it can serve either as a way to introduce the material or as helpful guides for using the book to teach others.
Overall, Cold-Case Christianity is the best introduction to the historicity of the Gospels I have ever read. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. Wallace covers the evidence in a winsome manner and utilizes a unique approach that will cause even disinterested readers to continue reading, just to see what he says next. I pre-ordered two copies to give to friends immediately. I am not exaggerating when I say that this book is a must read for everyone.
I would strongly endorse reading this book alongside On Guard by William Lane Craig–which thoroughly investigates the arguments for the existence of God. With these two works, there is a perfect set of a case for Christianity.
J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013).
Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
SEE UPDATE: It has become revealed that this fragment is almost certainly a fraud. But, if you’re still bothered by it, check out the links below.
There has been a bit of an uproar about a 4th Century Coptic Manuscript which purportedly provides evidence that Jesus had a wife. Apart from the fact that it is 4th century and therefore a few hundred years after the events and during primetime for Gnostics making up facts about Jesus to undergird their own theological leanings, many seem to think this is somehow evidence against Christianity. Well, here are some great responses to the discovery.
Reality Check: The “Jesus’ Wife” Coptic Fragment- Daniel Wallace, an influential NT scholar, comments on the discovery. He really gets into some great textual-critical details here. I would say this is one of the more important responses. I highly recommend this response.
Durham University professor calls the “Jesus had a wife” manuscript fragment a forgery- Yep, folks, we might be cutting this one off pretty quickly. Some analyses are suggesting fragment is actually a hoax, and the arguments seem pretty decisive. See the next post:
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a Fake Gospel-Fragment Was Composed- This is a very interesting post which you can find Francis Watson, a professor of religion and theology at Durham University making a concise argument in a PDF which argues that the fragment is a fake. It’s a fascinating article, and perhaps destroys the whole controversy at the start. (To be fair, the late purported date of the fragment does little for me, anyway.)
New Coptic Fragment Says Jesus Was Married- A summary of skeptics’ attitudes towards historicity.
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?- Glenn Andrew Peoples has a simply fantastic discussion of the implications of this discovery. One of my favorite lines: “Prepare yourself. Suddenly, people are going to read a sensational article about a tiny scrap of parchment and become experts on early church history.”
Did Jesus Have a Wife?- A post which focuses on the authenticity of the document and the implications if it is indeed authentic. Another great response.
SHOCKING New Evidence Reveals 4th-Century Coptic Christians WONDERED If Jesus Was MARRIED!- What is the historical significance of the discovery, assuming it is genuine? A few very good, concise points.
So What if Jesus did Have a Wife?- Definitely an alternative approach. John Byron notes that Christians could grant that Jesus was married without somehow undermining the core doctrines of Christianity. This one is really interesting and I’m sure will be controversial. While not a response to this article, Aggie Catholics has a very different view of the implications of the discovery, while denying that it has historical import other than as showing the beliefs of Gnosticism: Proof That Jesus Was Married?
The Wife of Christ and the Bride of Christ- This post looks at the discovery from a more presuppositional type approach. We know the Bible is reliable, so what should we make of this discovery?
Stop the presses! Jesus was married! Oh no!- Carl Olson at the Catholic World Report comments on a number of issues with jumping to conclusions about the text. I found this one particularly insightful about how the discovery is being portrayed in the media.
Quick Thoughts on the New Jesus Wife Text- Darrell Bock, a prominent NT scholar, shares his thoughts on the implications of the text. It’s highly informative and concise.
Was Jesus Married?- A reflection on the way the media portrays stories like this along with an examination of the importance of the document and apologetics.
Get Ready for A Wave of Gnostic Looniness Again- James White notes that the discovery was made by a woman who loves to sensationalize gnosticism.
“[I]n the case of Jesus Christ, where virtually every detail of the story fits the mythic hero archetype, with nothing left over, no ‘secular,’ biographical data, so to speak, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical figure lying back of the myth.”
One needs only to ask the question, “Did Jesus exist?” in order to spark intense debate amongst skeptics and Christians. A simple search for the question online turns up any number of non-professionals who boldly assert that there was no historical Jesus, or even that the evidence that Jesus was a myth outweighs the evidence that he was a real man. There are even a few scholars who allege that Jesus never existed. Perhaps the most frequently-cited “evidence” that Jesus never existed is the purported evidence of parallels in pagan and mystery religions. The notion that legendary or historical parallels can discredit a historical account is itself on shaky epistemological ground. If, however, one were to take seriously the notion that parallels discredit a historical account, vast swathes of history would also evaporate into skepticism. Simply put, if the hyper-skepticism related to parallels about Jesus were applied to all of history without bias, historical inquiry would be undermined. In order to draw out the implications of parallelomania for what are generally acknowledged as historical accounts, the rest of this study will start off with a tongue-in-cheek investigation of one historical event (the wreck of the Titanic), emphasizing the parallels between it and a fictional account; then an inquiry into historiographical investigation will be launched in relation to the methodology which utilizes alleged parallels and their connotations for historical study. Thus, the following study will show that the methodology of those who argue from alleged parallels to the non-existence or “legendary hypothesis” of Christ is mistaken, rather than arguing that individual parallels are wrong.
There is a tradition within Christian apologetics of pointing out the absurdity of rival positions, sometimes even by satire. Essentially, by showing that an opponent’s method or conclusions lead to absurd conclusions about things nearly everyone agrees upon, the apologist can discredit the method or conclusion that is under investigation. The following section will be an exercise in this strategy. Note that the author is satirically employing the methods found in several sources of supposed historical inquiry into the existence of Jesus.
It is clear that the wreck of the Titanic is a mythic tale which has been foisted upon history. Few people know that Morgan Robertson’s novel, Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, which was written in 1898, 14 years before the RMS Titanic sank, outlines a highly telling, fictional account that has any number of parallels to the purported wreck of the Titanic. First, note the number 14’s significance: the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14th, 1912! The book itself discusses the wreck of the Titan, which a child could see is very similar to Titanic. Consider the first line of Robertson’s work: “She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men.” The Titanic was supposedly the largest ship afloat at the time of her voyage. The captains on both ships had the same name, Robert Porter. Not only that, but both the fictional and supposedly historical ships had three propellers. Both were said to be unsinkable. Both ships carried the minimum number of lifeboats required by law and therefore both ships lost an enormous number of passengers when sunk.  Finally, the clinching piece of evidence is that both the Titan and the Titanic were sunk by hitting an iceberg.
From these evidences one would not be hard-pressed to conclude that the story of the Titanic is merely the plot of the Titan with historical embellishments. Consider the parallels once more. From the description (unsinkable) to the propulsion system (three propellers); from the lifeboats to the size of the ship; from the names of the ships to the very means of destruction, the Titan and Titanic are the same. Furthermore, numerology is inherent in the Titan/Titanic narratives. The 14 years between the two stories echoes in the alleged date of the wreck of the Titanic. Therefore, in the case of the Titanic, where virtually every detail of the story fits the “shipwreck” archetype, with nothing left over, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical event lying behind the myth.
Parallels and Historiography
Setting aside the satire, it is clear that the example of the Titanic used here is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a number of other historical accounts and persons one could do a similar “study” upon. But what does such an investigation prove? The notion that parallels can somehow discredit a historical account is on a very faulty ground. First, the notion of “parallel” is highly subjective and can mean different things to different readers. “One tends to read into accounts the commonalities one is looking for.” If one assumes that a text is mythical—if one assumes the text is not trustworthy or at least had other sources or was derived—then one will find exactly that which one has assumed in the text. Samuel Sandmel writes, “I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist… I am speaking words of caution about exaggerations about the parallels and about source and derivation.” He goes on to argue, regarding alleged parallels as derivations in Paul’s writings, “[T]o make Paul’s context conform to the content of the alleged parallels is to distort Paul… if we make him mean only what the parallels mean, we are using the parallels in a way that can lead us to misunderstand Paul.” Similarly, if readers look at a historical account—even one that they believe only alleges to be historical—and make it mean only that which the parallels allow, then they distort the text’s meaning. Indeed, it can lead one to look only to the parallels for meaning rather than to the text itself.
A second problem with the kind of parallelomania found in some skeptics’ looks at Jesus and alleged sources for the Jesus “legend” is that they have discounted many principles of historical inquiry. Historians begin by looking at the conventional meaning of a text. They also look at the historical context of the text in order to interpret the text. However, in order to do this accurately, they must be aware of their own biases and be open to correction. It is of the utmost importance for historians to consider the complexities of a historical picture as well as the links between causation, contingency, and counterfactual reasoning in historical research. To put it more precisely, history is not a simple task in which one can conclude with certainty the causes of a past event. Rather, historians must consider the interdependency of variables in a historical event and avoid the temptation to oversimplify a historical account in an attempt to “clean it up.” Those who seek to reduce the story of Jesus “without remainder” to legendary figures have fallen victim to a historiography of their own invention. They’ve followed their intellectual biases to their own conclusions and failed to take the texts into account.
Those who argue that the Gospels are discredited because of alleged parallels also utilize a poor, unjustified inference. Even were there a huge number of parallels between Jesus and the supposed mystery (and other pagan) religions, these would not, of themselves, discredit the account of Jesus as historical. Consider the “Titanic Myther” in the satirical account above. The myther seeks to show that, due to all the parallels one can draw between the Titan and the Titanic, the latter is derived from the former. But by what principle of reasoning does it follow that similarities show derivation? Is there a way to determine when a document is derived from another? What is the cutoff point at which we know that a supposedly historical event can be said to be legend? None of these questions is intended to say that historians can never accurately say that a document—even one that claims to be historical—is legend. Rather, the question is whether the Gospels are shown to be legend by supposed parallels. If one holds that they are legends, then how is it that one comes to the conclusion? One can see by looking at most of the purported “studies” online that the conclusion is most often reached simply by citing a number of alleged parallels to Jesus across differing accounts, but of course that won’t do. One would have to show that these parallels are accurate in their claims (and many of them are not), while also showing that the parallels are not mere coincidences, like those between the Titan and Titanic. Finally, the question remains: what rule of logic or historical inquiry yields the outcome that a prima facie historical account is in fact legend because there are legendary parallels?
Finally, there is the question of the burden of historical proof. The burden of proof is upon the one making the claim, and in this case, people claim that Jesus was a legend. That is a positive claim in need of evidence. Unfortunately, the argument is most often made in a manner which simply dismisses counter-evidence while vastly overstating and sometimes even lying about the parallels which are found in other religious figures. The dismissal without argument of counter-evidence, combined with a sometimes blatant disregard for historical accuracy radically undermines the case of those who claim Jesus was a legend based on parallels.
Jesus and Legend
Hypotheses about historical events must take into account the entire body of evidence. The theories which try to reduce Jesus to a legendary figure alone do not take into account the entire body of evidence, and therefore fail the test of historical credibility. Suppose, for the moment, the numerous alleged historical parallels to Jesus were true. How, then, would historians account for the willingness of the disciples to go to their deaths for their beliefs in the truth of the Gospel accounts? What of the Pauline epistles? What of the archaeological evidence and extra-biblical documentation about the life of Jesus? By reducing their historiography to a mere shadow of that which is used in standard historical studies, those who argue that the parallels of Jesus discredit the Gospel accounts have failed the test of explanatory scope for their theories. Like the “Titanic Myther” above, who didn’t take into account the photographs of the wreckage of the Titanic or the numerous firsthand accounts of her voyage, their theory cannot begin to account for the above questions—it does not cover the whole body of evidence. The “Jesus Legend” is a pure figment of their own imaginations–one which is not backed by historical inquiry.
Finally, those who argue from parallels make a number of other methodological blunders. First, they tend to lump all the mystery religions in with other pagan and ancient religions in order to form a kind of “composite parallel” to Jesus from which the Gospels are supposedly derived. The problems with such a method, of course, are that it is extraordinarily anachronistic and that those proposing such theories “have been a bit too casual in fitting Christian elements into mystery religion data.” Second, they borrow terminology from Christianity in order to retrospectively apply it to mystery religions, despite what are often entirely different contexts. Third, the theories disregard the first century context of the Gospels in which, first, the “Homeric assumption” about resurrection (that is, that humans did not rise from the dead) persisted throughout the world; second, the Jews would have been staunchly opposed to letting pagan religions undermine Judaism. Fourth, the groundwork which must be laid down in order to establish dependence of one religion upon another is often ignored or misrepresented by those who alleged the ahistorical nature of Jesus. Finally, at least some of the “sources skeptics typically cite as evidence that pagan religions influenced early Christian beliefs postdate the writings of the New Testament.”
Just like the “Titanic Myther” above, who drew upon disparate, unconnected, and self-invented (the reader may have noted one such example in the satirical section above) connections and connotations to prove his point, those who hold that Jesus never existed, or that the Gospel narratives are reducible to legend have fallen into the trap of parallelomania. In their search for meaning, they have found exactly that which they set out to find. By rejecting the standard methods of historiography and embracing a hyper-skeptical approach to the Gospels, those who argue from parallels to the non-existence of Jesus become caught in their own arguments. Without any kind of historiographic base, their theories are trumpeted as unassailable facts. The study that has been presented here reveals that rather than using sound historiographic methods, these hyper-skeptics have fallen into historical madness. Once one applies their method to widely acknowledged historical facts, history collapses in upon itself. In short, the way of parallelomania leads only to madness.
Some people, reading this post, may immediately object because they find the parallels referenced in things like Zeitgeist very convincing. My stated topic in this paper was not to explore the individual parallels and refute them, but rather to point out the flawed methodology of these persons. However, for those who want more point-by-point rebuttals of these “parallels,” I have included a few links:
All About Horus- in-depth analysis of Horus as a potential parallel for Christ. Also, follow the links for discussions of other supposed parallels. See the next link.
Evidence for Jesus and Parallel Pagan “Crucified Saviors” Examined- More supposed parallels examined.
Zeitgeist Part I- a fairly thorough rebuttal of the movie.
 Robert Price, “Christ a Fiction.” Infidels.org. 1997, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/fiction.html.
 Robert Price, Alan Dundes, and others are cited in Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 136ff.
 Eddy and Boyd dedicate a chapter to rebutting such claims in The Jesus Legend, 133ff. Examples of those who use this evidence are in abundance, for example: Robert Price, “Christ a Fiction”; Mark Thomas, “Did Jesus Really Exist?”; Jim Walker, “Did a historical Jesus exist?” No Beliefs. 22 April, 2011. http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm.
 Following Samuel Sandmel’s study of Parallelomania, “We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction.” (Sandmel, “Parallelomania” Journal of Biblical Literature 81, 1962: 1-13, 1.) I came upon this source independently of Eddy and Boyd, but am pleased that they cite this excellent paper as well.
 Again, for a study of these supposed parallels, see Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, esp. 133f; see also the excellent study in J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), 219-258.
 Perhaps the most interesting and humorous of these can be found in Richard Whately, Historical Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte (1819), where Whately applies Humean skepticism about the historical Jesus to Napoleon Bonaparte with great success.
 This study is not intended to be a comprehensive refutation of the sources which have already been cited. However, by showing the flaws in historical methodology, it seeks to show that those who ascribe to the non-existence of Jesus due to parallels are starting off from a flawed position.
 Morgan Robertson, Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, 1898.
 This Day in History, April 14th, The History Channel. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rms-titanic-hits-iceberg.
 Robertson, Futility, Kindle location 15.
 “Historic Images from the Titanic Sinking” Times Union, 2012, http://www.timesunion.com/news/slideshow/Historic-images-from-the-Titanic-sinking-41504.php#photo-2803535.
 Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 15; “Sinking the Unsinkable” 2005, http://www.snopes.com/history/titanic/unsinkable.asp.
 Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 32; “Titanic Lifeboats” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/titanic-lifeboats.html.
 The wording here intentionally parallels that of Robert Price at the beginning of this study.
 A search on Bing of “weird parallels between fiction and history” turns up millions of results. Many of these parallels are extremely thoughtful and creative, and demonstrate parallelomania (intentionally) in a perfect way.
 No pun intended in relation to the Titanic. Or was it the Titan? Sorry.
 One of the more popular historical examples is to compare Abaraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy—in particular, the stories of their assassinations. A skeptical treatment investigating these parallels (while still acknowledging that many of them are parallels) can be found at “Linkin’ Kennedy”, 2007, http://www.snopes.com/history/american/lincoln-kennedy.asp.
 Boyd and Eddy, The Jesus Legend, 141.
 Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” 1.
 Ibid, 5.
 There are indeed writings on the internet which allege, for example, that Robertson was “inspired” to prophesy the wreck of the Titanic in his novel. This is an example of parallels dictating not only the history but also the interpretation of a text. See “Inspiration 1: Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan” http://www.light-eternal.com/Titan.htm/.
 C. Behan McCullagh, The Logic of History (New York: Routledge, 2004), 18.
 McCullagh, The Logic of History, 24-26.
 Ibid, 31-34.
 John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History (New York: Oxford, 2002), 71ff.
 Gaddis, The Landscape of History, 102-103.
 Ibid, 69-70.
 Ibid, 108-109.
 Using the terminology of those who denote themselves “Jesus Mythers” who deny the historical existence of Jesus.
 Eddy and Boyd evaluate many claims in The Jesus Legend, 142ff; another problem with assessing many of these claims is that they are often given without any citation. One infamous example of outright lies is the “Zeitgeist” video (Peter Joseph, “Zeitgeist, the Movie” 2007, accessible here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZgT1SRcrKE), which literally makes up a number of its parallels (a critique can be found here: Edward Winston “Zeitgeist Part I: The Greatest Story Ever Told” 2007, http://conspiracies.skepticproject.com/articles/zeitgeist/part-one/). For example, it uses the English words’ “sun” and “son” to supposedly demonstrate that Jesus was the Sun God (despite the fact that English didn’t exist when the Gospels were written).
 For an argument to this effect see Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010), 94ff.
 A number of claims are analyzed and come up wanting, or as simply inaccurate or false in Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 219ff.
 Ibid; see also Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, esp. 139-146.
 McCullagh, The Logic of History, 49-52.
 On testing for historical credibility, see McCullagh, The Logic of History, 138ff.
 William Lane Craig, “Opening Statement” in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Edited by Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 34ff; William Lane Craig, The Son Rises (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1981), 127-134.
 Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 400ff.
 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MS: College Press, 1996), 187-242.
 Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 223-224.
 Ibid, 224.
 Ibid, 224-226.
 See N.T. Wright’s brief but devastating criticism of the “dying and rising gods” alleged motif in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 80-81.
 Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, 136ff.
 Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 226ff.
 Ibid, 233; for even more historiographical blunders made by those putting forward this theory, see Eddy and Boyd The Jesus Legend, 134ff.
 The reader may not have caught the lack of citation for the notion that the Captains’ names were the same in the book Titan and the “real life” Titanic. It is that easy to sneak a claim in between the lines. The actual names of the captains were Captain Bryce of the Titan and Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic.
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Why Do Atheists Talk So Much About Religion?- A short, interesting post with a self-explanatory title. Check it out.
Ah, Richard Dawkins, when will he learn that attacking people doesn’t make their views wrong? His buddy PZ Myers has actually attacked me personally as well, but that’s beside the point. Check out Max Andrews’ thoughts on Dawkins refusing to debate Craig. Dawkins, of course, enlists the help of his yes man Myers.
Undesigned Coincidences and the Historicity of the New Testament- This is a great apologetics video making the rounds. The “undesigned coincidences” argument is one which is slowly seeing a revival–in part due to Dr. Tim McGrew, a friend of mine and a phenomenal philosopher. Check it out.
A Review of “The Magic of Reality”- Dawkins has been adamant that we should not indoctrinate our children. Yet his new book is intended to do just that: indoctrinate children with atheism. Check out this timely review over at Deeper Waters.
Sharing the Gospel – 10 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Talking with Cult Members (part 1)- it is what it says… some great hints for witnessing when the cults come a-knockin’.
The Book of Mormon, 1/18- part one of a series in which an apologist reads through the Book of Mormon. Great stuff.
This post is part of a series, “Jesus: The Living God.” See other posts in the series here.
The belief that Jesus existed is, quite simply, historical fact. The historical figure of Jesus is beyond denial. Jesus walked on this planet. There are those who actually deny this fact. They say things about our knowledge of Jesus being derived only from “hearsay” accounts, or that the other historical sources outside the Gospels aren’t reliable because they were written after Jesus died.
What people who try to deny Jesus as a historical fact don’t realize is that we have more evidence for the historicity of Jesus than we do for historical figures such as Alexander the Great. Our sources on Alexander the Great date from sources written utilizing biographical accounts about him. This is hearsay, if that is how those who want to attack the historicity of Jesus want to define such historical accounts. The sources we do have date at least 200 years after Alexander’s death (derived from Green, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age, pp. xxii–xxviii). But according to the “historical standards” set by those who wish to deny that Jesus ever existed, we absolutely must accept that Alexander the Great existed either!
We know of Alexander the Great only through accounts written hundreds of years after his death (scholars date the Gospels to about 70AD–40 years after the death of Jesus [see Blomberg, Craig, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels)! Sure, there are many reasons to think Alexander existed, such as the shape of western civilization, various corroborating evidence, etc… but we have reasons like that to believe Jesus existed too!
The reality is that no serious scholar denies the historicity of Jesus, due not only to the Gospel accounts, but also Josephus, Tacitus, etc. Those who wish to discredit the accounts of the Gospel, Josephus, etc. should realize they should be consistent in their “historiography” and discredit the accounts written about Alexander the Great, not to mention other figures like Attila the Hun, Confucius, etc.! If this is the kind of historical relativism and denial we are forced to embrace due to the denial of the historical Jesus, then almost all ancient history is thrown into question.
The fact of the matter is that the reason people try to deny the historicity of Jesus isn’t due to historical reasons, it’s either due to ignorance about how historiography operates or simply willingness to blatantly deny historical fact.
Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus, The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God
Blomberg, Craig The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Strobel, Lee The Case for the Real Jesus and The Case for Christ
Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace Reinventing Jesus
Note that even accounts critical of Jesus do not deny his historicity, cf Crossan, John Historical Jesus or Borg, Marcus Jesus
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.
This is part of a series I’ve entitled “Jesus: the Living God,” which explores Jesus from Biblical, theological, and apologetic levels. View other posts in the series here.
For now, let us focus on the “tools for the task” (Wright, 29 and following). What kind of historical, textual means are used to talk about Jesus? I’ll be outlining views made by N.T. Wright in his The New Testament and the People of God, (hereafter NTPG) and Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. First, I should outline my presuppositions. I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, whose salvation is freely available to all who believe by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is no other name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12). I believe that the Bible is the Holy, Inerrant Word of God. It is infallible in its teachings.
Wright argues for a “critical realist” view of history. This view describes a “process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower… while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known” (Wright, 35 emphasis his). This acknowledges that observers have their own point of views, that they have their own interpretations, and that metaphysical beliefs will influence interpretation of data (36). This is vitally important throughout not just Wright’s body of works, but any historical (or other field) study–one’s presuppositions will influence how one interprets the same data.
Wright argues that one primary function of worldviews is to tell “stories” (38). This doesn’t mean these stories are fiction, rather, Wright is arguing that these stories form the basis of a worldview as well as the ways the worldview will interact with other views (38-40). In the context of the New Testament, “They [first-century Jews] never expressed a worldview in which the god in question was uninterested in, or uninvolved with, the created world in general, or the historical fortunes of his people in particular” (41). It is this worldview that, upon reading more of Wright, I think Wright not only acknowledges but agrees with. God is not uninterested or uninvolved, rather, the opposite is true–God is intimately involved and interested in His creation and creatures.
Wright emphasizes the “impossibility of ‘Mere History’” that is wholly divorced from any worldview (82). This doesn’t mean there are no facts… rather, it means there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact (88). These interpretations are generally used in conjunction with historical hypotheses. Thus, it is important to note what composes a good historical hypothesis:
1) The historical hypothesis must include the data. One cannot, for example, simply drop the eschatology which was clearly part of Jesus’ teachings as well as the rest of the New Testament, in order to make one’s hypothesis easier to produce. The data must all be included (99).
2) “It must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture” (100).
3) The hypothesis must show that it is useful in related areas, it must explain other problems (100).
It is important to realize that a simply enormous amount of material has been produced on Jesus and the Gospels, not to mention the rest of the New Testament. Thus, I will turn to Craig Blomberg’s work, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (hereafter HRG) to analyze some of the ways this study has been done. The tools for our task (to borrow Wright’s terminology) should utilize the best available evidence from New Testament scholarship, while discerning everything in light of the truth of Scripture.
Craig Blomberg wonderfully summarizes the various methods of historical criticism and analyzes them for usefulness in HRG. Note that I’m not endorsing historical criticism, rather, I’m endorsing taking what is useful from historical criticism and use it as part of the toolbox. In my summing up, I’m leaving out much of Blomberg’s task of pointing out flaws in these criticisms (which is not only in-depth, but also illuminating), but rather emphasizing his ways to use them in the presuppositions that I’ve outlined above.
1) Form Criticism- Form criticism emphasizes the genre of the work being viewed (Blomberg, 50). It also discusses how a text was transmitted or brought into being. Christians can find this useful as it can be readily implemented in the “historical grammatical” type of reading of Scriptures. The background of the text is indeed important, as well as realizing the genre involved (i.e. the historical telling of what Jesus did, as opposed to His parables, which are not literal history).
2) Redaction Criticism- Redaction criticism views the writers of the Gospels as “editors” of the New Testament, “selecting, arranging, and rewording their sources to highlight particular theological and stylistic emphases” (Blomberg, 67). Christians can utilize this not to break down the reality of the Gospels, but rather they can use it as they realize there are indeed differences in the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels (i.e. Mark’s suffering servant and Matthew’s son of David), not as contradictions, but as parts to a whole picture of Christ as suffering servant, son of David, compassionate teacher, and Word Incarnate (74).
3) Midrash- Midrash criticism of the Gospels focus on the “relationship of the Gospels to various [Hebrew Scripture] passages to which they may refer” (75). Clearly, this has uses for the Christian. How did the writers of the Gospels utilize Hebrew Scriptures to make their arguments or draw their conclusions about who Jesus was and what He did? This is vitally important to Christological study–who did Jesus say He was, based on the passages He cites, and who did others say He was?
4) Literary Criticism- this discipline is broken down into three types, though the most useful type for the Christian is the “narrative criticism” which analyzes characters, symbolism, figures of speech, etc. within the Gospels (87).
I’ve left out much of Blomberg’s analysis in order to simply sift off what we can use from these various methods, in light of the presuppositions I’ve outlined above. There is much more that could be said about either of these fantastic works (NTPG or HRG), and there is much more that could be said about the “tools for the task”, but for now, these are our tools, and I shall soon move into some of the historicity of Jesus.
Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. InterVarsity Press. 2007.
Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress. 1992.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.