I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.
Once again we see that Fisher’s time is quite different from our own in many ways, as he notes that “No one doubts that the Gospels contain a great deal that is true about the life and teaching of Christ” (37). All kinds of people doubt that now, but that doesn’t do much to undermine Fisher’s apologetic in this section. Here are some of the highlights.
Fisher notes that Jesus continually tried to retire to solitary places, and that he commanded others not to report the miracles done by him. “No one can reasonably question that these injunctions not to report miracles were uttered by him. There is no motive that could account for the invention of them, especially since it is added that they were disregarded” (38). This seems to be clearly the case. Why invent the notion that Jesus gave commands that were immediately disobeyed? It doesn’t fit the narrative of the alleged myth of Jesus.
Moreover, Jesus went on to caution against “excessive esteem of miracles,” which would undercut any reason for inventing accounts of the miraculous to begin with. Too often, people argue that the miraculous in Jesus’ account demonstrates that it must be myth (here not using myth in the technical sense, but in the sense of “untrue”). But if these miracles were invented to show how great Jesus is, why have Jesus caution against exactly that interpretation, and why have Jesus ask people not to spread stories about them?
Another interesting point Fisher makes is that no miracles are attributed to John the Baptist, despite this man’s importance in testifying for Jesus. He asks, “If there had been a dispoistion to make up stories of miracles that did not occur, why is not John credited with works of a like nature?” (40). After all, if John’s testimony was so important–and it clear that it was–and miracles were allegedly invented to highlight the importance of Jesus and others, why does John not have any attributed to him? The only answers to these questions will be ad hoc–invented to try to avoid the questions asked.
The notion that miracles were invented in these narratives is difficult to defend under scrutiny. These and other points Fisher makes in this brief chapter are powerful.
Do you think that it is true that Jesus’ commands not to tell anyone about his miracles must be genuine? What other explanations might be possible? What evidence might go against other explanations?
What purpose do the miracles seem to have when you re-read the accounts?
Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).
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