Mailvox: History and Christianity

JF wonders how to handle the historical angle:

I am a new reader to your blog (better late than never!) and I must say I am very impressed. I have your book “The Irrational Atheist” on my wishlist and am looking forward to reading it when the time comes. Quick summary of my worldview: Baptized as a Catholic, bordered on Deism/Agnosticism in my teens/young adulthood and then re-embraced Christianity after reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S Lewis, combined with a personal spiritual experience. I have now decided to return to the ranks of the RCC as I now approach my 30’s. After finding out the horrific crimes of State Atheism in the 20th century, and realizing the absolute bankruptcy of metaphysical naturalism in regards to objective morality and purpose, I lose no opportunity to challenge the few atheists I know and take them to task on their often narrow views. I have been successful when it comes to monotheism vs atheism. No problems there. The one chink in my armour, so to speak, is when discussing Christianity, and that is why I have come to you. While I am a mere amateur at this, you have ten times the intellect that I do and have sent the mightiest New Atheist arguments packing with the tail between their legs. So here is my problem and question for you and the purpose of this email:

How do/can I argue that Jesus Christ is the Son of God/Divine when the historicity, authorship and authenticity of the Gospels are often challenged or even dismissed by some scholars? Another example of this challenge is that many atheists (or non denominational monotheists, like my fiancee) champion the supposed fact that none of the Gospels are actual eyewitness accounts, but second or third-hand re-tellings of past events, often with gross embellishment and fabrication? Many scholars share this opinion and I find it difficult to refute. If one takes the Gospels (especially that of John) as an actual eye witness testimony of Jesus, then of course (thanks to the Lewis Trilema) one is almost forced to admit him to be the Son of God. But if someone does not consider the Gospels historically accurate, I have no way of arguing that Jesus was who he said he was.

First of all, you must recognize that they have just handed you a gigantic sledgehammer with which to smash their feigned rationale for their lack of faith. It is only the historically illiterate and the willfully dishonest who consider the Gospels to be historically inaccurate. There are three things to keep in mind. 1) If it were not for the supernatural claims, not a single historian would cast any aspersions on either the Old or New Testament. 2) As an archeological guide, the Bible has repeatedly proven to be far more accurate than the current state of archeological science. There are a host of examples where scientists thought to have disproved the Biblical history, such as the nonexistent “Assyrian” and “Hittite” empires, only to learn to their chagrin that they were incorrect and the Bible was supported by the archeological evidence. The relatively recent discovery of a Bronze Age kingdom in Israel which corresponds with the Davidic kingdom is another, more recent example of this phenomenon. 3) Rejecting the Bible as a historically reliable document on any of the grounds usually cited requires rejecting most of history’s most famous figures, including Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

For example, the primary source on Alexander the Great, Arrian, was writing as a second-hand source more than 400 years after Alexander. All four Gospels, on the other hand, were clearly written within 70 years of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. “The Gospels are dated traditionally as follows: Mark is believed to be the first gospel written around A.D. 60. Matthew and Luke follow and are written between A.D. 60-70; John is the final gospel, written between A.D. 90-100.” And Paul’s letters were written between 48 AD and 60 AD.

The best way of defeating these silly arguments is through brutal mockery. For example, you can ask them if they are asserting that it was the Persian Empire that occupied Judea and not the Roman Empire as the Bible has it. Or you can ask them if it was Julius Caesar who ordered the famous census that led to Mary and Joseph being at Bethlehem, not Octavian. You will be surprised at how most atheists with whom you speak will stick their heads directly into the easiest of historical traps. Once they have done so, you can point out that they have absolutely no grounds for holding an opinion on the historical reliability of the Bible.