Feedback on the Debates

Any replies I make are in bold

4th June 2000

I quote from his first reply:


The strength of the Christian case for the resurrection of Jesus is the overwhelming historical evidence for it as opposed to alternative possibilities. Its occurrence in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians some 15 years after the death of Jesus, the empty tomb, the appearances etc build up together to a convincing case.


What other evidence do we have for this outside of what's written in the Bible? We only have the word of those who have a vested interest in making up stories about the supernatural powers of God.

Mark Gradwell

26th April 2000

I agree with Dr. Wilkinson that the miracles contained in the gospels cannot be used to 'prove' the truth of Christianity (any more than the supposed fulfilment of biblical prophecy in the life and times of Jesus can). As I'm not a scientist I can't argue with his proposition that 'miracles' might appear to occur because we don't yet understand all the workings of the universe (though I strongly doubt his story of flying Bibles!).

However, even if 'miracles' are possible I question whether many of the stories in the gospels are about historical events. As Dr Wilkinson says, they are there to encourage and to strengthen the faith of people who already believe - trusting that the events portrayed actually happened obviously helps but isn't in my view essential. Some time ago I heard a superb sermon on the story of Jesus walking on the water, and Peter's attempt to reach him. The preacher never mentioned the question of historicity (probably deliberately, since some listeners would believe the story to be 'true', others wouldn't) but concentrated on what it would mean to the earliest hearers - to encourage them in the face of doubt, criticism and scorn - and how it might help believers today when they're thinking about new potentially daunting ventures (eg starting a youth group for kids on the local housing estate, setting up a luncheon club for elderly largely immobile residents and so on). This sort of use of scripture to affirm people and help them in everyday life is very ordinary and pedestrian but very common - and is found helpful.

What I'm suggesting is (i) that even if miracles are possible this doesn't mean they actually happened as the gospels relate, and (ii) that the use of miracle stories as material for meditation and inspiration is and probably always was far more important than their historicity.

A couple of points about Dr Wilkinson's view of the resurrection. He says:

'All the evidence of the gospels is that the disciples were frightened and confused after the death of Jesus. They did not expect the resurrection and even doubted the first reports of the empty tomb. What transformed them into the roaring lions that preached and died for the risen Jesus?'

Or putting it a bit more soberly: how do we account for the success of the Church in its first three hundred years? Presumably Christianity offered people something which other religions of the time, or no religion at all, didn't. At its best it taught equality before God (or at least more equality than others did) and gave people hope of a better life than they had now. There's a good discussion of all this in Gerd Theissen's recent 'Theory of Primitive Christianity' (SCM 1999). He argues that *faith* that the death of Jesus was in fact God's triumph, not his defeat (not the same thing as saying the resurrection actually happened) was important, but also that Christian faith and membership of the believing community satisfied social and psychological needs, which acted as spurs to belief (as of course they still do).

'And what about the testimony of millions of Christians over 2000 years who in their own experience have encountered the reality and life of Jesus?'

Yes, although this is mystic-speak, the testimony is that Christianity is still inspirational, which is hardly surprising. Why not substitute the experience of Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc (with necessary modifications to the rest of the sentence)? These religions are also inspirational for their followers - does Dr Wilkinson believe they're true as well for that reason?

But as far as Christians are concerned:

1) Christians are encouraged to meet for worship where they sing hymns to God, hear stories about Jesus, pray and share in 'fellowship' meals where Jesus is believed to be mysteriously present. They are also encouraged to pray on their own, so it's hardly surprising they feel Jesus to be a real living presence.

2) Christians in most churches are encouraged to believe that despite our human failings each one of us is infinitely valuable in God's eyes, and to people who feel bad about themselves this can be enormously encouraging.

3) Since the main teaching of the Church is that we should love God, love our neighbours and support and affirm one another, this (or at least the second and third - many see these two as the means of doing the first) appeals to people's sense of altruism and desire to do something good, helpful and useful with their lives.

Some, though not all of these, suggest the need to believe that Jesus is still alive and approachable, but since the orthodox view is that Christ is the second person of the Trinity, and you surely can't kill God, it's not clear to me that any of them depend upon a resurrection, much less on an empty tomb.

Dr Wilkinson continues:

'Now none of these things prove the resurrection. But taken together they give at the very least strong evidence for the Christian claim that Jesus was raised on the third day.'

I disagree. They provide evidence for the strength of that package of beliefs, attitudes and practices which is Christianity, one of whose core beliefs is that Jesus's death was in fact God's triumph, that it was part of a divine plan which would eventually lead to the establishment of the kingdom of God and that Christ was in some sense alive in the Church and in the individual believer. This belief developed, grew, changed and was added to over time as Christianity spread and encountered other views, religions and philosophies (it's still doinng so). But the strength of a belief alone doesn't guarantee its validity.

Best wishes,

Alan Zanker

1st January 2000

Enjoyed the debate thoroughly. I am an Englishman living in the increasingly theocratic United States...Whenever I engage American Christians with the suggestion that the historicity of Jesus Christ is very much open to question, I get that worried look in their eyes. Have you read "Losing Faith In Faith" by Dan Barker?


30th December 1999


I have enjoyed reading your debate with Dr. Marston on the historical veracity of the Gospels. I am certainly no biblical scholar but I think I do know a couple of things about philosophy and I find some of Dr. Marston's attempts to use concepts from the philosophy of science to bolster his position concerning the veracity of the Gospels to be rather troubling.

He claims to be a critical realist who rejects relativism and yet his use of ideas from Kuhn and Feyerabend seem in fact to imply a relativist epistemology. He also to my mind mischaracterizes the views of philosophers with whom he disagrees such as A.J. Ayer or Daniel Dennett as well as scientists like Dawkins. He seems to think that Ayer didn't change his views concerning logical positivism until his old age. Even a cursory reading of Ayer's writings would suggest that such a view is in error. When Ayer published the second edition of *Language, Truth, and Logic* he included a new introduction which subjected many of the theses of that book to criticism.

Ayer to the end always remained a militant empiricist but his philosophical views certainly underwent considerable evolution through the course of his life.

Also, Marston accepts (too readily IMO) the common criticism that the verification principle was self-refuting but Ayer like many of the other positivists took great pains at rebutting the claim. Ayer seemed to regard the verification principle as a kind of stipulative definition (hence making it an analytic proposition) . The justification for its acceptance in his view seemed to be that it corresponds to our ususal linguistic practices concerning the attribution of meanings to propostions.

The demand that the verifiaction principle be applied to metaphysical and theological statements seems to have a demand for intellectual consistencey. Ayer was demanding that we follow in metaphysics ths same practice that we follow in most other departments of life. For Ayer the main problems with the verification principle seemed to be of a more narrowly technical nature - how could it formulated so as to exclude metaphysical statements without excluding what we would regard as valid scientific propositions. Ayer seemed to regard this as an unsolved problem in philosophy.

Dr. Marston seems to think that Dawkins is guilty of some sort of gross contradiction because he is a materialist while advocating strong moral views. I am frankly puzzled by Dr. Marston's charge. First of all Dawkins never claims that we are slaves to our genes. Indeed, Dr. Marston seems to ignore Dawkins' concern with memes and memetics. However, Dawkins denies that we are necessarily slaves even to our memes either. In fact it is his contention that to the extent that we come to understand the genetic and memetic determinants of our lives then to that extent we will become freer in our actions. Such a view of freedom is one that many materialist thinkers have propounded over the years.

Anyway returning to bibilical matters I like you find it most telling that Dr. Marston never answered your objection that the same methods that he used to harmonize the Gospels could be used by Muslims to harmonize the Koran or Mormons the Book of Mormon. Apaarently such folks have the wrong paradigm (How Kuhn must be rolling in his grave when Dr. Marston writes like that).

Dr. Marston also dislikes your characteriztion of first century writers both Christian and pagan as gullible. He seems to think that this is cultural arrogance. I guess epistemological relativism is alright when it supports his own religious views apparently. For someone who claims to be a realist, it should be self-evident that people ,even very intelligent people, can be gullible or superstitious and that superstition and gullibility will flourish in certain ages. Dr. Marston seems to find that to be an extraordinary observation but to most people that would seem to be commonsense.

Anyway please keep up the good work.

Jim Farmelant

4th November 1999

Hi Steven,

just a couple of comments on your latest email in the most interesting debate between yourself and Paul Marston.

(1) I think that the Vespasian stories are actually from Seutonius' "The Twelve Caesars". Thomas Paine attributes them to Tacitus in "The Age of Reason", which as I understand it is incorrect - Paine was not inspired :-) However , if you have information to the contrary, then I would be interested to hear of it. I still agree with your argument, but the force is weakened slightly by the fact that Seutonis was a later writer than Tacitus. In any case, I think that you should reference the quotes - saves confusion.

(2) The question of the stalk of "hyssop" has several different explanations. You mention the one presented in, for example, "Gospel Fictions" by Randell Helms (he seems to go a little overboard on his "parallels" at times). Another explanation comes from a confusion between two quite similar Hebrew words - the word for "hyssop" and the word for "spear" differ by two letters and could have been confused.

Graham Stanton argues this in "Gospel Truth?" In this case, I'm not sure that the argument that you put forward - that the "hyssop" was added for symbolic reasons - is so strong. There is another reasonable possibility for explaining the "hyssop". However, this is really a minor quibble - John has so much symbolism in his Gospel that one less doesn't make too much difference.


John Clark.

ps. I hope that you continue your "attack" until Marston responds directly to your points. It is quite a challenge! Perhaps it would be better to concentrate on a few key points, rather than taking what often seems to be a series of random pot-shots. Either way, good luck. I will continue to read with interest.

It is in Tacitus Histories Book 4.81 'The hand was instantly restored to its use, and the light of day again shone upon the blind. Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.'

If it is in Suetonius as well, that makes it even better attested than many of miracles in the Gospels and Acts. At least it would if Suetonius was totally reliable :-)

(hyssop or javelin)

Actually, Greek not Hebrew. As Stanton points out, only two very late manuscripts have 'javelin' - all important manuscripts have 'hyssop', including the earliest and best.

Stanton also notices the symbolism between John 19:29 and Exodus 12.

29th October 1999

Dear Mr. Carr:

One passage from your "Opening Statement" especially caught my attention:

"Even if evil is outweighed by the moral goodness of freewill, the evil is not eliminated. If a murderer freely kills a child, then a child is killed. All Christians should realise that their freewill has been bought with the blood of that child. They might say that their freewill is something good which outweighs the evil caused by the death of that child, but that does not get rid of the fact that children suffer."

In a dialogue between two of the brothers in Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" cites examples of children's suffering and states (if I remember correctly; it's been 50 years since I read the book) that even if everything is ultimately justified and made right in heaven and we finally understand the "why" of it all, and that even if the mother of a murdered child embraces the murderer, the fact remains that a little child suffered and nothing can ever change that. Therefore, he (the brother)--while willing to accept everything his theistic brother says about "God's plan"--is compelled in all honesty to return his "ticket to heaven." For him, the promised bliss of the afterworld is not worth the suffering o f even one child in this world.


Don Oakley

24th October 1999

(In response to Dr. Paul Marston's first main email )

I don't have time to read all his ramblings, but I caught some glaring errors:

"Luke refers to Quirinius in 2:2, apparently placing him as governor of Syria at a time when Herod was alive  inscriptions place it at 6 AD, ten years after Herod's death. NT scholar N.T.Wright's excellent Who Was Jesus? (1992) gives a balance picture of the nature of the historical evidence, and also deals with this particular question. The word protos followed by the genitive is accepted by major Lexicons as sometimes meaning 'before' (as in John 1:15).

Luke is referring to a census before Quirinius became governor  in distinction to one which took place when he was: 'Luke knew as well as we do that it couldn't have been the one conducted under Quirinius because by then Jesus was about ten year s old.'(p.89)."

This is a joke. First of all, Romans didn't control the province--so why would they conduct a census? The whole point of a client kingship is that the kingdom retains its independence while paying agreed tribute. To conduct a census in contravention of an alliance would have been a notable event indeed, and mentioned in many other places. Secondly, it is standard practice to begin control of a province by counting its population for tax and manpower reasons. Quirinius is the first Roman magistrate to control the province, thus we expect a census to occur then. So the rationale here is very weak and contradicts sense and expectation.

But it gets worse: the Greek says (using h for eta, ' for aspiration, and w for omega):

auth apograp'h prwth egeneto 'hgemoneuontos ths Syrias Kyrhniou

auth (this) apograp'h (census) prwth (the first) egeneto (happened to be)

'hgemoneuontos (while the one ruling) ths Syrias (Syria) Kyrhniou [was] (Quirinius)

There is *absolutely no way this can mean "before" Quirinius* in this construction. The key element is 'hgemoneuontos which is a present participle in the genitive with a subject (Kyrhniou) also in the genitive, making this a genitive absolute construction, not an objective genitive connected to the "census" clause. In fact the object genitive theory is ruled out immediately by the fact that the verb (egeneto) stands inbetween the census clause and the ruling clause--in order for the ruling clause to be an object of the census clause, it would have to immediately follow the adjective "first," but since it doesn't, but is distinct from the whole sentence, it can only be an absolute construction, which does have many possible renderings, though none are what he wants (it can mean "while" or "after" or "because" or "since," etc.), and the context only allows "while" or "during" as an appropriate meaning here.

Then there is the adjective, prwth, which does not mean "before" but in fact is the *superlative* of "before" (proteros), and if "before" were meant, Luke would have used the correct adjective (in this case, proterh). It can only be rendered "before" in English when "first" would have the same meaning (e.g. "in the first books" can mean the same thing as "in the earlier books" (cf. Aristotle, Physics, 263.a.11), and "the earth came about first in relation to the sea" can mean the same thing as "the earth came before the sea" (cf. Heraclitus 31)). There is no context here which allows such a license.

John 1:15 is a case in point: the verb emprosthen is already used (the first "before") to establish the context, and then comes hoti prwton mou hn, "because he was first [in relation] to me." Notice: the genitive is not a participle with subject, but a lone pronoun, and it follows immediately after the adjective, and the previous use of emprosthen establishes the context.

Thus, it is very sloppy indeed to suppose that these are similar constructions. That the "first"+genitive is translated "first in relation to" (and thus only "earlier" when such a rendering means the same thing in English ) is confirmed by the use of this construction in Acts 16:12.

Finally, "Luke knew as well as we do that it couldn't have been the one conducted under Quirinius because by then Jesus was about ten years old"

This begs the very question at issue: *did* Luke know that? It appears not. Or perhaps Luke is correct, and Matthew got it wrong--which is more likely, due to Matthew's penchant for fantastic stories and mythologizing, such as his use of the Herodian baby massacre which somehow didn't start a war or even get mentioned by anyone.

Richard C. Carrier

Richard Carrier has written an article The Date of the Nativity in Luke

11th October 1999

There ought to be a photo of you as well as the debate opponents!!

(Or do we just visualise the horns and pitchfork and toast some sulphur knowing that'll get us most of the way there?).

John M. Collins

31st July 1999

Dear Mr Carr,

I have just finished reading your posted debate with Mr Motyer on your web site, and I enjoyed it very much. As someone with several such communications under my belt, I say emphatically, "Good job !". It was obvious that you had done your homework and dug deeper than I have yet to be forced to. ;- )

Typical of most Christian apologists, Mr Motyer, although a very well learned man, resorted (in my opinion, at least) to question begging, circular reasoning, and just good 'ol delusion. It always does me good to see such folks' arguments easily disposed of, especially by someone who does not purport to be a "bible scholar"...But I would add, your biblical scholarship was obviously proven to me and all who read it, I'm quite sure, to be the most intellectually honest. Well done.

But the real reason that I'm writing is to let you know that there are some of us out here who read this, enjoyed it, and most important of all LEARNED from it. For that I thank you. I welcome the opportunity to learn, and actively pursue debate and/or discussion with Christians on these very matters. Sometimes I learn from them, mostly I just gather insight into the workings and weaknesses of the human mind. I take the rather strong view that religion is a virus of the mind, detrimental to advancement, and often harmful to others.

Anyhow, many thanks for the chance to learn more and for once again putting apologists in their place. As long as some of us out here are watching them and looking at their unproven assertions with a skeptical eye, there will be no more Crusades. ;- )

My Regards,

Russell Funke

29th June 1999

Dear Steven

I read your debate with Stephen Gotyer with considerable interest, partly because Dr Gotyer represents a Christian tradition that I was acquainted with in my youth. It is a gentlemanly, well-educated, rather intellectually superior tradition that responds to criticism with friendly, personal faith statements, on the one hand, and scholarly, creative obfuscation, on the other. (Despite having moved away from this background, I have very fond memories of the people involved.)

The religious arguments this tradition generates are essentially circular and self indulgent. You can trust the Gospels, they tell us, because our scholarship demonstrates that they are reliable. And if you trust the Gospels, you will accept the message they contain, that Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God.

When it is pointed out that the reliability of the Gospels is seriously open to doubt and that, on the grounds of honesty, consistency, accuracy, completeness and similar principles they leak like a sieve, we are to ld that this is what one might expect from positively biased, genre specific, first century texts.

You cannot expect to appreciate the reliability of the Gospels if you are 'predispositionally unsympathetic', one is told. What you need is the eye of faith.

(The same eye one imagines that is needed at a Conservative Party Conference, or on reading the back of a cornflakes packet, or as a shareholder at a conference on the relationship between tobacco and lung cancer.)

The questions are Why and Why not. I can understand that the Gospels are the product of a particular way of viewing the world and are a particular type of literature. In their own way they are magnificent. That is not the point. The issue is, are they reliable? This does not mean, would they be believable to a first century, pre-scientific, relatively ignorant, predispositonally sympathetic ex-follower of Mithras. It means, if I apply to the Gospels the same kind o f criteria and principles of reliability that I would use for anything else that demands my belief, from Hitler's Diaries to a report from Kosovo, from the letters of Cicero to an astrologer's column, do they measure up? What degree of historical and factual reliability do they reflect?

(This is not to ignore the fact that the Gospels are all sorts of other things as well as historical and factual records; poetry, biography, worship statements, prophecy, genealogy etc.)

The Gospels are, after all, or purport to be, or the Church claims them to be, the oracles of God, the official summary of God's redemptive intervention into human history. Surely one can request rigorous criteria o f authentication from such a source. Unless God is playing some kind of game with us like his counterpart at Delphi.

In presenting the issues rather starkly, I am doing nothing more than the sources themselves. It is not an unimportant question as to whether the Jesus Christ of the Gospels is the risen Son of God. (Apart from anything else, Mark informs us that those who don't believe are damned.)

It is reasonable, I would have thought, to be predispositionally unsympathetic to such a claim. On the surface, as C S Lewis, and others, have pointed out (including the writers of the Gospels themselves) the story is a bit far fetched. A predispositional lack of sympathy would seem to me a natural and healthy way to start looking at the four accounts, as it is with many investigations. The scientific method has proved very reliable over the past few centuries precisely because it formally builds in a lack of sympathy to experimental hypotheses. The disciples themselves suffered from predispositional lack of sympathy. (In fact, Evangelicals have been inclined to argue that this in some way proves that what the disciples ended up believing must have been true!)

As it happens, I am an example, along with many thousands of others, who started off with a strong predispositional sympathy towards the Gospels rather than any antipathy against them. I was brought up to believe in them implicitly. And I enjoyed reading them. I still do, occasionally. That didn't stop me examining the evidence (on the question of reliability and many other issues) and coming to different conclusions from those I held previously. Nor does it, in it self, stop someone moving in the other direction.

If what the argument for predispositional sympathy really means is Believe first, Think later, (or Leap before you Look) then that is how it should be stated. We can then rewrite traditional presentations of evangelical belief, like 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so', into something like, 'I believe the Bible's true because Jesus loves both me and you.' Quite a different approach from the Gospel writers themselves who did at least put things I n the right order: 'But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you might have life through his name.' (John 20.31 KJV)

The issue of the Bible's reliability cannot be fudged by absorbing it into an ad hominem charge that those who find it unreliable must be attitudinally defective in some way. That kind of fudge is what the debate, in part, is about.

Robert Walden

21st January 1999

Just a further point about the Motyer debate. Motyer reccomends N.T. Wright's "Jesus and the victory of God" as being an excellent source for the first century backdrop of christianity. By way of contrast for a non-sectarian view of the second temple period I would recommend Jonathan Campbell's "The essene scrolls" a recent accessible penetrating analysis of the origins of modern Judaism and Christianity in the light of the priceless information contained in the scrolls about the early formative period from which they both emerged.
Edward Tuddenham.

1st December 1998

Congratulations on a great site which I picked up, through a link on Internet Infidels, to your debate with Motyer. You had him pinned out and set as far as I could tell, and he only escaped to his own satisfaction (if to no one else's) by retreating to vague generalities and preaching a bit. He seems to be far from an inerrantist and therefore intrinsically harder to nail than the people Farrell Till so amusingly roasts, but he seemed to have no effective non evasive answers at all.

The reason for writing, apart from expressing my appreciation of your efforts, was to mention that I had planned for some time to write a review on Keith Ward's book of second hand arguments (God Chance and Necessity) for Internet Infidels. Jay Lowder has asked for a review. Do you mind if I quote some of your excellent review of GCN with attribution? Professor Edward Tuddenham

29th May 1998

Steven (and Stephen)

Congratulations on an interesting debate. A few comments:

1. I don't think the question of reliability of the Gospels can be addressed in complete isolation from the truth of their central claims about Jesus. I hope Steven would agree that IF Jesus is the Son of God then it is more likely that the Gospels would be reliable than if he were just a wandering rabbi.

2. Although it's a fair amount of work (as I know from my debates on is well worth adding hyperlinks to the EMails to make it easier for the reader to cross-reference. Links to the books and authors are helpful as well.

3. Steven often uses the "argument from silence" but I think this is specious. Scrolls and scribes were very expensive, so that fact that a well-known idea was not mentioned does not prove, or even strongly suggest, that it was unknown. EMails are cheap, but neither Steven nor Stephen mentions any scientific evidence - we don't infer that they know no science.

4. It's a gross misconception to call Peter a Galliean Peasant. Peter and Andrew were partners in a successful family fishing business. This was pretty high-tech stuff in those days (although not as high-tech as a teknos ~ architect/builder/carpenter) .

5. You can almost always find parallels between a story and some earlier story, or some word play in names, but this does not prove that the new ones were 'made up'. For example, this debate about small changes in the Biblical text is between Steven and Stephen. How appropriate that there is only 1(2) letters between them! A future sceptical 'critic' could easily adduce this as evidence that the whole thing was made up

Nicholas Beale

I gave word for word copying, not just parallels. I repeat my challenge for you to find the exact phrase 'and he gave him back to his mother.', (kai edoken auton te metri auto) in any work which is not obviously a commentary on Luke or Kings.

10th May 1998

The statement that the writer is not a disciple of Jesus is confirmed by the fact that the fourth gospel is written in excellent Greek that even makes poetic plays on words. According to Papias (c. 110-130), the apostles didn't know much Greek: Peter needed Mark as an interpreter, and Matthew wrote the sayings of Jesus in a semitic tongue, which others translated.

By way of comparison, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote in Greek for a Gentile audience. There are a number of passages where Josephus has to translate for Titus to the Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jews (J.W. 5.9.2, J.W. 6.2.1, Ag.Ap. 1.9). But even after spending years in Rome (where much Greek was spoken) studying Greek prose and poetry, he must defend himself (with more than a little awkwardness in the Greek text) against the well-known fact that his pronunciation of Greek left something to be desired (Ant. 20.12.1).

At the beginning of the Antiquities, he said that he put off writing because of the difficulty of writing such a huge work in Greek, which still represents a language that is foreign and strange to him. We are not surprised then to learn that Josephus had originally composed the Jewish War in his native tongue (probably Aramaic) and then employed 'collaborators' (synergois) to translate the work into Greek (Ag.Ap. 1.9). If Josephus was struggling with Greek even after years of the best education Rome had to offer, how is a poor fisherman turned preacher from the rural backwater of Galilee supposed to fare better?"

Peter Kirby

30th April 1998

Dear Dr Motyer and Mr Carr,

I am reading your on-line debate with considerable interest.

I note that you have been discussing the matter of Paul's reference to 500 witnesses of the risen Jesus, in 1 Cor 15:6.

This reference has always puzzled me. It is very brief, and contains almost no details on the event. There is no other reference in the bible to such a visitation, and no names of the 500 are given. Most of them are said to be still alive, and perhaps the readers would know of whom Paul was speaking, but this is by no means certain.

Presumably anyone interested at the time could ask Paul for more contact information: but travel and communication in those days was substantially more difficult than now: most probably Paul's readers would -- as most do today -- simply accept Paul's words as given and leave it at that.

However, and being aware that I am indulging in amateur speculating, it may be significant to look at some other curious features of 1 Cor 15.

The chapter goes on to make some strong statements on the nature of the resurrected body being spiritual rather than physical. When speaking of the resurrection appearances Paul says that Jesus appears to people; rather than people see Jesus.

Thus I disagree with Dr Motyer's second email in the debate which suggests Paul "wants to rub home to the Corinthians that Jesus rose bodily from death". Paul has almost no interest in a physical resurrection, and very little interest in the physical life of Jesus before his death. However, if Dr Motyer had omitted the word "bodily", I would quite with him.

Paul also mentions an appearance to Simon (Peter, I presume); but in the gospels we read that Peter saw the empty grave; and subsequently (in Luke 24:34) a brief mention of an appearance to Peter but with no detail at all. All the detail in this part of Luke relates to the event on the road to Emmaus (which does imply some kind of physical body, though capable of a mysterious disappearance). This suggests to me that Peter's experience was rather less suited to Luke's purpose. There is nothing in the letter or the gospels to refute the speculation that this appearance to Simon was an appearance in a vision or dream, for example. Curiously, Paul omits reference to the appearance on the Road to Emmaus;

Paul also lists his own experience of the risen Jesus in the same list with the appearance to 500 -- and Paul's experience was certainly more of a vision than an encounter with a resuscitated physical body.

In short, the appearance to the 500 seems to be a genuine reference to a real historical event; but there seems a weak basis for thinking that this event involved an encounter with a physical body; and given the lack of mention of this in the gospels there is every reason to think it did NOT involve an encounter with a physical body.

It is sheer speculation on my part; but I suspect that the appearance to 500 is a genuine reference to a historical event, which is most probably the Pentecost experience or some other similar shared ecstatic experience. It carries no weight as evidence for a bodily resurrection.

You may include this email on your feedback page if you consider this appropriate.

27th April 1998

Steven I think the fundamental problem in your debate is what I would now call the Red/Green issue. If you start from Red (There exists a Loving Ultimate Creator) then the likelihoods of certain events is radically different from those under green (=not Red). But it is rather vacuous to counter a statement from Stephen that "Under Red, A is likely", by "under Green, it is not".

So for example under Red, the parallels between God's work in Jesus and God's work in Elijah are exactly what we would expect - God is faithful and true and, although He does not work in exactly the same way in everyone, His work shows consistent patterns. But under Green, since the accounts must be fictional, setting up a parallel is taken as evidence that it is false. But this would only be true if you could demonstrate that the likelihood of a parallel under Green was substantially greater than under Red.

22nd April 1998

Original in normal text. Mr. Watson's comments are in blue, and my reply is in bold.

In response to Steve Carr's posting I went to his web site to watch the debate on the reliability of the NT, it is quite interesting.

Steven Carr has already replied to Stephen Motyer's opening statement with a list of "dubious" NT passages for him to explain. Since he has given Dr. Motyer a lot to handle (with respect to volume) I will give him a helping hand - I hope!

When reading the New Testament, one is struck by how often the miracles are not supernatural at all, just bad science. In Mark 8:23-25, Jesus cures blindness by spitting on someone's eyes and putting his hands on the eyes. In Mark 7:33-35, Jesus puts his fingers in someone's ears and spits, and cures his deafness. In Mark 5:30, Jesus knows that some unknown 'power' has come from him, and healed somebody, even if he never consciously willed it.

I think you will find that these actions should be regarded as symbolic rather than having an effect. The majority of healings involved just a touch or saying some words.

All this is readily explainable by a primitive belief that some people had certain powers (see Luke 6:19 'and the people all tried to touch him,because power was coming from him and healing them all')

I think you will fi an issue.

The belief that Jesus's spittle had healing powers is hardly different from a faith in the power of relics.

The passage does not imply such a thing - certainly not in the context of the whole gospel.

In Mark 9:14-26, Jesus cures an epileptic boy by driving out the evil spirit that was causing him to throw himself to the ground, foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth and become rigid. Epilepsy as demon-possession is an appealing idea that epilepsy can be cured by exorcism is just blind prejudice against the idea of the supernatural, then I must line up in the blind and prejudiced camp.

I beg to differ, this passage has nothing to do with epilepsy. You also claim the symptom of rigidity AFTER the afflication is cured (verse 26) I think you are stretching your analysis a bit too far.

With many of these miracles, it is very easy to see where the story originated , even if it has taken a few twists and turns on its way into the Gospels.

I think you mean very easy to imagine; it is quite easy to take a miracle account and fabricate a "natural" equivalent without any proof to back up the speculation.

In 2 Kings 4:27-37 a distraught parent of an only child comes to Elisha just as in Mark 5:22-24 (which continues in verses 35-43) a distraught parent of an only child comes to Jesus,pleading for help.

Nowhere in Mark is it intimated that this was the only child of the parent.

Are you saying the child was not an only daughter? Luke 10:42 'because his only daughter, a girl of about 12, was dying.'.

In both stories someone tries to discourage the parent from bothering Elisha and Jesus.

Yes, but for different reasons. One to stop the woman grappling with Elisha and the other because the ruler's daughter had just died.

In both stories it is unclear to some people in the story whether the child is dead ,dying or asleep.

No, both texts quite clearly state the child was dead (II Kings 4:20 and Mark 5:35). Don't be misled by terms such as 'sleep", these have been shown to be euphemisms for death itself (for example, see I Corinthians 11:30).

So when Jesus said 'The child is not dead, but asleep' , he meant 'The child is not dead, but dead'?

In both stories the child is in a house some distance away.

The Elisha incident certainly required an ass to get there, but the Mark incident gives no indication of how far away the father's house was.

In both stories a second source comes from the house and confirms that the child is dead.

No, in the Mark account, the child was still presumed alive prior to the arrival of Jesus. The child was long dead in the Elisha story.

But you said just a couple of sentences ago 'Both texts state quite clearly that the child was dead'.

In both stories Jesus and Elisha continue anyway to the house.

Granted, though I do not see this as significant.

In both stories the parent precedes Elisha or Jesus so that the miracle worker finds both parents present when he arrives at the house.

Have you actually read these stories or are you just quoting someone else? The Mark account says no such thing and in the Elisha account, Elisha's servant Gehazi precedes both prophet and parent!

Mark 5:40 'After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother...' How did Jesus do this if the parents were not present at the house? 2 Kings 4:22 places the child's father at the house , and never states that he abandoned the child.

In both stories Elisha and Jesus seek a high degree of privacy by turning people out of the house before their miracle .

Not quite, Jesus had three other people with him. Elisha had none.

The story in Mark is such an obvious rewrite of the story in Kings that if I remind you that Jairus in Mark 5 falls at Jesus's feet, you can guess what the parent in 2 Kings 4 did.

It says no such thing! II Kings 4:27 only says that she caught him by the feet, an act which does not imply falling down. Once again, I question whether you have actually analysed the text yourself!

True, the story says only that she caught him by the feet. Elisha may have been doing a handstand at the time, so there may not be a connotation of descending downwards to grasp the feet.

The name Jairus has 2 meanings. 1 is 'he enlightens'. The other is 'he awakens'. Is not 'he awakens' a remarkably apt name for someone in a resurrection story, where Jesus says that the child is not dead but sleeping?

As I said earlier, the text says the child was definitely dead in both accounts.

I suppose that is possible, but it seems to me rather like the idea that God planted the fossils to test our faith. Possible, but simpler solutions are preferable. In this case, the simpler solution is that early Christians regarded the Old Testament as a book of coded prophecies about Jesus and by reading it, they could work out what Jesus had to have done. In particular they regarded the Old Testament prophets as 'types' of Jesus.

You draw a big conclusion from a faulty comparison of texts!

Typology is a strong theme in the New Testament - just look at John the Baptist, who is declared to be , in some way, Elijah returned.

Yes it is, but not enough to lead to your conclusions.

I'm not sure why an alteration of only a sentence at most should be seen as of little consequence. The New World Translation, prepared by the Jehovah's Witnesses, translates John 1:1 as 'the word was a god'. I've yet to see a Christian book about the NWT, which explains that this hardly matters, as it is only involves an alteration of two letters.

Yes, but the JW's didn't alter the Greek text! This is a translation issue, not about alterations. The arguments there revolves around the indefinite article which has no Greek equivalent.

'Son of God' in Mark 1:1 involves only two words but makes a large difference to Mark's Gospel.

Not really, the term appears at least three other times in the gospel.

Surely the variation in the early manuscripts involves far more than just one sentence here and there. Mark 16:9-20 is missing until the fourth century. The story of the woman taken in adultery is missing until Codex Bezae.

I think Dr. Motyer was probably referring to texts which alter the creeds of Christendom rather than disputed canonicity.

Marcion made huge alterations to Luke's Gospel.

It is just as well no one took him seriously when it came to deciding the canon of scripture!

So your argument is that there are no variations which alter the creeds of Christendom because alterations which do alter the creed of Christendom, like Marcion's, don't count - because you only accept texts which do not alter the creed of Christen dom.

Are you sure no one took Marcion seriously? I thought he had quite a few followers.

I'm also curious to know which are the oldest complete surviving manuscripts of the Gospels which date from 200-225 AD. p45,p66 and p75 are hardly complete.

I thought the oldest was a fragment of John's gospel dated around 125AD? I am confident that the extant manuscripts reflect the autographs to a high degree, just as the dead sea scrolls showed that the Masoretic text showed no s ignifcant departures.

The fragment of John's Gospel does not have two complete consecutive words on it. Is this what you mean by 'reflecting the autographs to a high degree'? If not, why did you mention it?

But then again, we won't know until some digs up some 1st century NT papyrii. I am sure the critics were as critical about the Masoretic text prior to the Qumran manuscripts turned up.

You think the Qumran manuscripts reflect the Masoretic text exactly do you? What about the Psalm book, Jeremiah, Samuel - the Qumran texts are all very different?


You also write 'Nor is there the slightest evidence for the existence of many other competing 'Gospels' from which the four New Testament Gospels were chosen.'.

I'm sure I can find some. Justin Martyr in 'Dialogue with Trypho', writes 'But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village'. The idea that Jesu s was born in a cave comes from an Infancy Gospel and is not to be found in a canonical Gospel. Justin was hardly part of a Gnostic sect, being as orthodox as you can get in those days.

Justin Martyr is entitled to his opinion, but I dare say most Christians do not take his writings as canonical.

So you argue that there were no non-canonical Gospels, by saying the the other Gospels that Justin quotes were not canonical. Strange logic.

As an aside, Luke's gospel only states Christ was born in a stall or crib with no reference to what kind of shelter it was under. A cave seems a plausible choice and is no contradiction to the gospels.

Many non-canonical books were used by the early Christians. Tatian's harmony of the Gospels was so popular that it had to be suppressed by Bishops. The Epistle of Barnabas, the Sibylline Oracles (accepted as genuine he Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas etc were all very popular.

Yes, but as you say, they are non-canonical and are no longer of any interest to anyone except academics. Christians believe that God has providentially guided the Church towards the canonical list of scripture through historica l events. This is a matter of faith which is beyond your analysis.

It is strange that people felt the need to write other Gospels such as the Gospel of Peter, Thomas and so on, if the canonical Gospels were accepted and used and their authority well established.

Why should it be strange, the gospels themselves warn of false teachers and prophets who tried to undermine the early church?

While it is difficult to find evidence of competing Gospels from around 50-100 AD which were used, it is equally true that it is quite difficult to find evidence that the canonical Gospel stories were well known before the second century AD.

Would you use the same argument of doubt as regards secular documents which have no copies within centuries of the original autographs?

A total non answer , as my paragraph never even mentioned the date of the copies. As it happens, do you know any people who think we have no doubts as to what Catullus or Tacitus, or Josephus actually wrote? So the answer to your question is - yes.

For example, the Epistle of Barnabas puts an interesting twist on Matthew 22. 'Since then men will say that Christ is the son of David, David himself prophesieth being afraid and understanding the error of sinners. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand until I set thine enemies for a footstool under Thy feet. And again thus saith Isaiah - The Lord said unto my Christ the Lord, of whose right hand I will hold, that the nations should give ear before Him, and I will break down the stren gth of kings. See how David calleth Him Lord, and calleth Him not Son.'

Sounds like one of those false prophets trying to twist Matthew 22 :)!

Barnabas regards the idea that Christ is the Son of David as the error of sinners, and adds another quotation from Isaiah, to the one Jesus gave. Perhaps he thought Jesus overlooked that. Barnabas never gives any clue that Jesus has already discussed this issue.

Who said Barnabas wrote it? You are a bit more lenient as regards authorship when it comes to anti-Christian documents?

Calling an Epistle of 'X', by the name 'X' is purely conventional and does not imply that X actually wrote it. I just can't believe that you think Barnabas is an anti-Christian work. Words fail me.

Do you want to know which early manuscript of the Bible it is in - the manuscripts that you said you were confident that they reflected the autographs to a high degree?

1 Clement from 95 AD shows almost no acquaintance with the traditional Gospel narrative. Clement knows Romans and Hebrews, but hardly quotes the Gospels.

So? I haven't quoted them much either so far!

Clement knows some teachings of Jesus, but that is about all. For example, 1 Clement 17 mentions Elijah,Elisha and Ezekiel as those who heralded the coming of the Messiah, but never mentions John the Baptist.

'Let us be imitators also of those who in goat-skins and sheep-skin went about proclaiming the coming of Christ; I mean Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel among the prophets, with those others to whom a like testimony is borne.'

It sounds like Clement is talking about the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ to come - which excludes John the Baptist.

So where is the evidence that the canonical Gospel stories were circulating so widely that they were taken as undisputed and authoritative?

You said yourself earlier that Paul's intention was to "preach Christ crucified" if that be the case, the rest of Christ's earthly life was secondary. Also, regarding the miracles Jesus performed, the reason they were performed was to prove His credentials to the Jews whether they believed Him or not. To recount them to the Gentiles would add some value, but they were to be converted through apostolic teaching and confirming miracles.

Off the top of my head, the Hebrews epistle mentions the blood incident in the garden of Gethsemane,

Where does Hebrews mention 'Gethsemane' or 'garden', or 'blood in a garden'?

By the way, the blood incident in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43-44) is missing from the very earliest manuscripts of Luke - p66 and p75. As you are convinced that the earliest manuscripts reflect the autographs to a high degree, I imagine yo u do not regard these verses as what Luke originally wrote. They are also missing from Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus,Codex Borgianus and Codex Washingtonensis.

and I or II Timothy quotes Luke's gospel - "the servant is worthy of his hire". Whilst the book of Acts mentions a previously written gospel by the same author.

You know I don't hold 1 Timothy to be Pauline. I grant that Acts mentions Luke's Gospel - but the fact that the author knew he had written a Gospel hardly counts as a wide circulation.

It is also possible that the gospels were not penned till shortly after the epistles were written, e.g. 70AD onwards?

So how did 1 Timothy quote Luke?


You write that the differences between John and the other Gospels must not be exaggerated. If I can't exaggerate them, may I at least be permitted to list them?

In the Synoptics, Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the son of Mary,a virgin. He is baptised by John, and is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. He then proclaims the coming kingdom of God. His preferred method of teaching is by parable. Jesus performs many exorcisms. He teaches his disciples the Lord's Prayer. In the transfiguration, he meets Moses and Elijah. He does not speak openly of his identity as the Son of God. At the Last Supper, he sets out the basis of the Eucharist. He then undergoes an agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, before being examined by the Sanhedrin, who find him guilty of blasphemy.

None of this is in John.

You will have to explain why you find this variety a problem. John obviously relied on his own experiences more than the synoptic sources and had a different reason for authoring his gospel account. What that reason was may be g iven when he says:

Jhn 20:30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

Jhn 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

So, John's selection would revolve around demonstrating the divine nature of Jesus. Therefore, for example, may I suggest that the absence of the eucharist institution was on the basis that it did not demonstrate the divinity of Christ but was a ritual feast between Christians to promote church unity and growth?

There are other striking differences between John and the other Gospels. In Matthew 5:46, Jesus points out that people who love one another are doing no more than sinners and pagans do. Jesus in John 13:34 tells the disciples to love one another so th at people will know that they are disciples of someone special. How are Christians to be differentiated from other people - by the way they love one another, or by the way that they love their enemies?

There is a subtle difference. In Matthew, the sinners' love is obviously conditional upon receiving the same in kind. In John, it is an unconditional command - "love one another" - no conditions on receiving love back are stated.

In Matthew 11:38, Jesus says that he will not tell his opponents by what authority he is doing these things, while in John 8, Jesus is entirely clear that his authority is the Father.

The reference to Matthew 11:38 is wrong, but nevertheless, there is no contradiction, in once case Christ chooses not to tell them while in the other he chooses to tell them.

Thanks for the correction. I should have put Matthew 21:27 or Mark 10:33. I wonder where I got 11:38 from.


Were the stories of his life elaborated and changed during this period of mainly 'oral' transmission?

The earliest documents we have are Paul's letters. They contain creeds and hymns which are considered by all to be quotes by him of earlier material about Jesus.

By looking at these early creeds, we can get an idea of what the earliest Christians considered to be the most vital information about Christ, and what they emphasised.

The early creeds, quoted by Paul, are considered to be Romans 1:2-4, Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Colossians 15-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

Now write the Gospels and allow a few years for them to circulate and become accepted and then look at Christian creeds.

Ignatius's Letter to the Trallians 'Be ye deaf, therefore, when any one speaketh unto you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David, who was born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was tru ly crucified and died, in the sight of the things that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.'

Mary and Pontius Pilatelly missing from the earliest creeds , from Paul's letters, from James, the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1 Peter etc.

Hebrews mentions the garden of Gethsemane tears incidentally.I don't see the problem - you are working on a presupposition that Paul was obliged to mention such people - can you explain this?

Where does Hebrews mention 'garden' or 'Gethsemane'? I suppose you mean Hebrews 5:7. This narrows down the 'loud cries' and 'tears' to the time-frame of 'During the days of Jesus's life on earth'. I suppose you think that's close enough.

1 Tim. 6 mentions Pilate, but this is the exception that proves the rule, as it is widely considered, on other grounds, that it is not Pauline.

How convenient, could it be I Timothy 5:18 which quotes Luke's gospel? It seems the professors have made their mind up about the Pauline epistles despite the evidence - after all, we mustn't let scripture get in the way of acade mic debate :).

Paul's letters are primary and excellent sources for what early Christians taught about Christ.

Exactly, and that is their sole aim - preach Christ to a pagan world.

Do you really think Paul's letters were written to pagans? Have you read them?

Ignatius's letters and Justin's writings are primary sources for what Christians of 100-130 AD taught about Jesus.

These primary sources show that once the Gospels were written and accepted , they became part of the teaching about Jesus. Before they were written, the teaching about Jesus was of him as a cosmic deity, and of his crucifixion and resurrection.

Paul writes in 1 Cor. 2:2 - 'I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.'. Frankly, I believe him. Galatians 3:2 is another reminder that what Paul preached was the crucifixion of Jesus.

Once again, no problem, Paul was a missionary and a theologian - not a historian. The historical work was left to the gospel writers such as his companion Luke.

Isn't this what I was saying? Paul did not do any historical work. So who preached the Gospel stories to all the churches Paul planted?

There are a couple of places where Paul mentions commands of the Lord.

Paul states clearly (1 Cor. 2:13, 1 Cor. 7:40, 1 Cor. 14:37) that he regards many of his judgements as coming straight from God , and not from any oral tradition, passed on by the disciples from Jesus.

In 1 Cor. 11, Paul states that he has received from the Lord the instructions for the Eucharist. He does not say that he is receiving it from the disciples.

But surely, Paul's authorship of I Corinthians is under doubt just like I Timothy above because an extract from the synoptic gospel is quoted :)!

Paul's authorship of 1 Corinthians is not under doubt. The part of Luke's Gospel which is quoted is missing from quite a few early manuscripts - ie the ones which reflect the autographs to a high degree.

Seriously, Paul is saying this ordinance of communion has been received from the Lord. The question is how? You are implying it is some fresh direct revelation given only to Paul. Look in I Corinthians 7:10-12, in one instance t he command come from the Lord and the other from Paul. The first refers to a previous commandment from Christ prior to Paul's ministry, the other Paul states on his apostolic authority and not from the earthly ministry of Christ. The communion ordinance falls into the former category - a command given by Christ in His earthly ministry and committed to Paul as one with apostolic teaching authority.

One command of the Lord (1 Corinthians 9) has to do with the rights of the apostles and their wives to be supported by the church. It would seem rather cynical for me to say that one of the few times the apostles insisted that Jesus backed up their vi ews was when it came to getting food and money for themselves.

Tut, tut. Did Paul receive money for his work? I think not.

Did the others? I think so. Why do you think Paul did not receive money for his work? Philippians 4:16-18 makes clear that Paul received gifts.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul does mention a command of the Lord about divorce, but the command is not the same as the ones in Mark 10 and Matthew 5.

So Mark 10 and Matthew 5 teach something different to I Corinthians 7?

If it is objected that people did not receive instructions to write letters based on visions and instructions from Jesus after Jesus ascended to heaven, but restricted themselves to Jesus of Nazareth's earthly teachings as recorded in the Gospels, the n may I point you to the Apocalypse?

No problem.


Romans 12 has many ethical teachings. Paul tells the Romans 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirst, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.' This is an interesting twist on Jesus's teachings, bu t Paul never mentions that Jesus may have taught anything similar. He is not quoting Jesus. He is quoting Proverbs 25.

So what? Just like His Lord, Paul quoted extensively from the Old Testament. Once again, you presume too much.

As for the theory that Paul tried to usurp the "different" teachings of Peter and company, you would have though that he would have qouted or misqouted Christ at every opportunity?

Paul does say that Christians should love one another. He never says that Jesus taught Christians that. He says that God taught Christians that.

1 John 4 also mentions the command for Christians to love, without ever mentioning the little fact that somebody called Jesus, hailing from Nazareth, may have mentioned it.

I suggest you read I John 4:9.

I can't find 'Jesus' or 'Nazareth' in 1 John 4:9 in my Bible.

It is often claimed that Paul mentions so little of what Jesus did because he is interested in who Jesus was , not what Jesus did. One main feature of Paul's letters is his arguments with people preaching another Jesus. (2 Cor. 11:4). Paul can hardly presuppose Jesus's teaching with people who were being taught another Jesus.

I think it was also case of what this "another Jesus" *WAS* and not *did* as well.

So we have two powerful arguments for Paul to use saying of Jesus about who Jesus was , yet where are the great, ringing declarations Jesus made?

I turn it back on you, why didn't Paul (mis)quote Jesus to back his false claims up? Isn't that how all the great fraudsters have worked?

'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me'. 'I and the Father are one'. 'I am the Good Shepherd'. 'Before Abraham was, I am.'. 'I am the true vine'. Ideal material for Paul to use when explaining who Jesus was to people who were being led astray, but there is no hint of any such sayings in Paul or Hebrews or James or 1 Peter or 2 Peter.

Ideal material perhaps (maybe not in the case of John's gospel wih probably postdated all epistles), but you forget that the apostles spoke with their own God given authority. They were not preachers who relied on a second hand revelation, they WERE the foundation layers of church doctrine. Read John 14:26 which talks of post-ascension revelation being given to the apostles. Also note the text implies that the apostles would forget a lot of what they heard and would be brough t o their minds by the Holy Spirit at the apppropriate time. It is quite possible the gospels were only written when the Holy Spirit prompted their minds later in life.

I will answer your other points if you wish.


Roland Watson.

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