A short description of what we’re up to can be found here. Comments are welcome but may be moderated for content and tone.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Disqualify!!

People whose foremost desire is to disqualify the word of God from application to the human experience start with a set of baseline assumptions that cannot help being wrong.

One is that the world has always operated exactly the way they have personally experienced it to operate. Another is that every difference in eyewitness testimony amounts to a contradiction.

Neither is remotely true.

Tell Me A Story …

A hypothetical: A man is looking for John Smith, who lives next door. Depending on who answers the doorbell, he may hear any of the following:

“He’s out.”
“He’s with his girlfriend.”
“He’s at work.”
“He’s at 225 Vanderly Road, Suite 417.”

As it happens, all these statements may be simultaneously true, but they are very different from one another. To someone who is unaware of the details of John Smith’s life, they may even appear contradictory.

A little perplexed, the visitor asks, “When do you expect him home?”

“Don’t know.”
“Lunchtime, probably.”
“At the end of his shift.”
“Around 3:30.”

Again, every one of these statements may be the gospel truth. John’s shift ends around 3:00 p.m., it takes about half an hour for him to get home, and his mother serves lunch around 3:30. The Smiths tend to eat late. But some of these answers could appear contradictory if your own family eats lunch at noon every day and you’ve never encountered people who don’t, or if in your very limited experience everyone works from nine to five.

Living In the Real World

But in the real world, nobody is necessarily lying just because they don’t use exactly the same words in the same order. Nobody is necessarily trying to manipulate anyone or copy anyone. The sort of statement you hear may be more precise or less precise. Certain people who answer the doorbell when you ring may not offer an opinion at all.

You can see that numerous things may cause witnesses to give different but not contradictory testimony.

One may be lack of information. Johns younger sibling didn’t see his brother leave and doesn’t know where he went. So he says, “He’s out. Don’t know”. It’s a perfectly truthful response, though it lacks content.

Another may be personal experience. John’s sister has relationships on the brain currently, so she replies, “He’s with his girlfriend. Lunchtime, probably”. That her brother and his girlfriend work in the same office is information she simply takes for granted, so she doesn’t include it. Her response is incomplete and potentially misleading if you don’t have certain information, but completely truthful all the same.

Yet another may be interest. John’s mother is delighted he is at his brand new job because he’s just gone through six months of unemployment. She’s thrilled to have him out of the house. So she responds, “He’s at work. At the end of his shift”. Her response is truthful, but unhelpful if the only thing that matters to you is what time you can find him home.

Another thing that may cause testimony to differ is a mature witnesses’ comprehension of the concerns of his audience. Seeing a courier in a uniform holding an urgent package, John’s father wants to help him deliver it to John. So he replies, “He’s at 225 Vanderly Road, Suite 417. Around 3:30”. He’s covering all the bases just in case the courier wants to stop at John’s office, and giving him accurate information in case he simply wants to return to the house once John arrives home. So the father’s testimony is tailored to his perception of what the moment requires.

Factoring in the Baseline Assumptions

These are just four possibilities with four very particular witnesses, but you can see how easily accounts of the simplest story may differ — even when told by people who all live under the same roof — without any dishonesty, and without any contradiction at all. And, as already mentioned, the experience of the person asking the question factors into his interpretation of the words he hears, even if his baseline assumptions are entirely incorrect: Not everyone works nine to five like the courier. Not everyone has lunch at noon.

But if your object is to DISQUALIFY, any excuse will do. It doesn’t have to be legitimate.

Laying the Gospels Side By Side

You know where I’m going with this, right? People who have already decided Jesus Christ cannot possibly be God look at the four gospels and their first inclination is to lay the four of them side by side in the hope that statements made in one may conveniently contradict another. Yet these critics completely fail to take into account all these very normal factors of human psychology that I’ve attempted to bring out in the example above.

The writers of the gospels were inspired, but they were not robots. They were not automatons to whom the Holy Spirit dictated the word of God line by line. If they had been, their testimony would be identical. And it’s already too close for the comfort of those who object to it. Let’s hear from our friends at Wikipedia:
“[The] strong parallelism among the three gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke] in content, arrangement, and specific language is widely attributed to literary interdependence. The question of the precise nature of their literary relationship — the ‘synoptic problem’ — has been a topic of lively debate for centuries and has been described as ‘the most fascinating literary enigma of all time’. The longstanding majority view favors Marcan priority, in which both Matthew and Luke have made direct use of the Gospel of Mark as a source, and further holds that Matthew and Luke also drew from an additional hypothetical document, called Q.”
Ah yes, the hypothetical but entirely ahistorical Q”, If you ever find me a copy, I’d be grateful for a peek.

To sum it up, in the minds of the critics, the similarity of three of the gospels constitutes a “synoptic problem” (or more colloquially, the accusation of collaboration). And yet wherever the gospels differ, that is taken as evidence of inconsistency.

In other words, the writers of the gospels cannot win. The critics screech “DISQUALIFY!!” no matter the evidence.

The Gospels vs. the Smiths

But if we assess the truthfulness of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John exactly as we would assess the truthfulness of the hypothetical Smith family, we might come to a very different conclusion. Lots of people have done this before, and you’re welcome to Google them. But here are the four gospel accounts of Peter’s betrayal of the Lord Jesus.

There is nothing here that seems to me remotely fishy, but I’m not starting from the assumption that these four men owe me evidence on the level of a science experiment. I just want their four accounts to make sense if you put them together.

And lo and behold, they do:

1.   Matthew 26:69-75   Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

2.  Mark 14:66-72   And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

3.  Luke 22:54-62   Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

4.  John 18:15-18; 25-27   Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Comparing the Denials

First Denial

Where?
Matthew: “sitting outside in the courtyard”
Mark: “below in the courtyard”
Luke: “Peter sat down … in the middle of the courtyard” (there were others there)
John: in “the courtyard of the high priest” (servants and officers standing warming)

To Whom?
Matthew: “a servant girl”
Mark: “one of the servant girls of the high priest”
Luke: “a servant girl”
John: “the servant girl who kept watch at the door”

Doing What?
Mark: “warming himself”
Luke: “they had kindled a fire”
John: “the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire because it was cold”

Accusation
Matthew: “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”
Mark: “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.”
Luke: “This man also was with him.”
John: “You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?”

Denial
Matthew: before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”
Mark: “I neither know nor understand what you mean.”
Luke: “Woman, I do not know him.”
John: “I am not.”

Rooster
Mark: Crows once as he goes “out into the gateway”


Second Denial

Where?
Matthew: “when he went out to the entrance”
Mark: “he went out into the gateway”
Luke: “a little later”
John: [does not say]

To Whom?
Matthew: “another servant girl”
Mark: “[the] servant girl … began [again] to say”
Luke: “someone else saw him”
John: “they said to him”

Doing What?
John: “standing and warming himself”

Accusation
Matthew: [to the bystanders] “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
Mark: [to the bystanders] “This man is one of them.”
Luke: “You also are one of them.”
John: “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?”

Denial
Matthew: [with an oath] “I do not know the man.”
Mark: “again he denied it”
Luke: “[Man], I am not.” [but she had accused him to bystanders]
John: “I am not.”


Third Denial

Where?
Matthew: “after a little while”
Mark: “after a little while”
Luke: “after an interval of about an hour”
John: [does not say]

To Whom?
Matthew: “the bystanders”
Mark: “the bystanders”
Luke: “still another insisted”
John: “One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off”

Doing What?
John: Probably still “standing and warming himself”, but it is not explicit

Accusation
Matthew: “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
Mark: “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”
Luke: “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”
John: “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”

Denial
Matthew: [invoked curse on self/swore] “I do not know the man.”
Mark: [invoked curse on self/swore] “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”
Luke: “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”
John: “Peter again denied it.”

Rooster
Matthew: “immediately the rooster crowed.”
Mark: “immediately the rooster crowed a second time.”
Luke: “immediately, while he was still speaking”
John: “at once a rooster crowed”.


Conclusion

Can you see how all of this looks remarkably similar to the testimony of the hypothetical Smiths?

If you have the slightest interest in allowing the benefit of the doubt here, all you see are similarities. It is a series of eyewitness accounts with so much in common as to be arresting in its authenticity. There are minor differences here and there, sure, but every “inconsistency” can be plausibly accounted for and no account is clearly and demonstrably false.

The disciples did not produce for our benefit high-definition video evidence of the things to which they testified. We should not expect something that did not exist until two millennia later. They also did not produce word-for-word transcription of what was said in their hearing, anymore than an unaided witness might be able to produce today. Instead, they did exactly what was consistent with the times in which they lived. What they said accurately reflected the substance and the content of what they heard, though it might differ in a word here or there, as every reasonable person would expect.

That doesn’t mean they were untruthful, any more than the family members in my example were untruthful just because their testimony did not align word for word. They gave us everything they knew, and they told the truth.

So believe if you wish. The benefits of believing are tremendous.

Or you can just DISQUALIFY!! But you do yourself a major disservice if you do.

No comments :

Post a Comment