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apologetics, Historical Apologetics

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 9

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.

Chapter 9

Fisher’s argument in chapter 9 centers on the credibility of the apostles. In Chapter 8, he argued for the credibility of the Gospels, so he builds on the notion that the Gospels may be trusted to report the words of the Apostles to the question of why we ought to trust them.

First, he notes that we ought to generally trust people unless we have reason to distrust them, whether through intent to deceive or some independent reason to doubt their testimony (71). Other reasons to distrust them may be that they were “enthusiasts” or “simpletons.” A primary reason Fisher cites to trust the apostles is that they give testimony that shows them in a poor light. One example is Paul’s own writings in which he states that he persecuted the church (72-73). They also admit their own contentions about who should be first–the inner fights they had, and the rebukes against some of them by Jesus. Their willingness to show themselves as foolish or mistaken in various forms lends credence to their reports as truth.

Regarding the miracles they report, Fisher touches on the mythic theory put forward by David Friedrich Strauss–that the miracles found in the Gospels were imagined by followers of Jesus who were so caught up in him that they (intentionally or not) invented tales about his power. Fisher counters this by noting that this gets the story backwards, for the reason so many were interested in Jesus was because of the very miracles those selfsame people are alleged to have invented. How could they have become followers of Christ on account of miracles if they themselves invented them (74-75)?

One objection to the authenticity of the Gospels is found in alleged discrepancies between their accounts. Fisher approaches this argument from a few different ways. First, he notes that many of these alleged contradictions are not actually contradictions at all. He does not exhaustively look at such contradictions (for such a look, it is interesting to look at J.J. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences). Second, Fisher argues that minor discrepancies are to be expected in any human testimony. Should we demand 100% agreement in all testimony everywhere, courts would have to be “shut up, for the most veracious witnesses seldom agree in all the minutiae which enter into their testimony” (76).  One example I use personally is that of someone’s height. I’m short for an adult man, so on the witness stand I may call someone “tall” who someone of average of height might call “average.” Such a discrepancy in testimony doesn’t suggest we’d both be wrong, but that human perspective changes based on who the witness is. Fisher’s comments here would likely make some uncomfortable regarding specific doctrines of inspiration, particularly a stringent view of inerrancy. It seems Fisher is willing to allow for their to be even some factual discrepancies between the Gospels due to their human authorship. Third, Fisher notes that the Gospels are not intended to be exhaustive historical accounts but rather the remembrances of eyewitnesses, and so frequently the apparent contradictions or discrepancies could be resolved by simply having more detail. These details are often provided by other Gospel accounts, so it is important to compare them.

Regarding the miracles in the apostles’ accounts, Fisher notes a few lines of evidence. First, they verify revelations. Second, the miracles go against prevailing belief, such that they went against expectations. Third, several of the miracles were in circumstances people felt they were highly unlikely to occur. Fourth, the apostles were subject to persecution regarding their belief in many of these miracles. Thus, if they were inventing them, it was likely they would have given up the invention rather than try to maintain their false pretense. Fifth, the manner of reporting of miracles the apostles had was such that it lends credence to “sobriety of mind” rather than invented myths. Regarding the appearances of Christ, one of the points Fisher makes is that they were limited in time and scope. If they were invented, why would the appearances have stopped?

I think regarding Fisher’s last point, we could note that some do still allege appearances of Christ here and there. There are the infamous “Jesus toast” type of instances, which are dismissed by virtually all, including believers. So again, this seems to go against the idea that Christ-followers were or continue to be particularly prone to the invention and perpetuation of the miraculous. This doesn’t go into issues of charismata and the like, but questions and responses could be asked here as we continue to look at the nature of the miraculous.

Fisher’s succinct chapter here is filled with lines of thought. Again, he merely touches on most issues, but his arguments seem powerful. What takeaways did you have from this chapter?

Study Questions

  1. Fisher’s response to Strauss is quite brief. How might you expand it? What other interactions with Strauss have you run into?
  2. What do you think of Fisher’s comments regarding discrepancies in the apostles’ accounts? How might his answer impact one’s view of the Bible?
  3. What apparent contradictions have you seen in the Bible that you have been able to resolve?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

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).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

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