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A-Week: Testimony of the Evangelists: No Evidence Found: Part 1

To finish off A-Week I am going to post a multi-part series about a book called The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf. Todd Pitner is a Christian who uses Twitter to preach to atheists and you may be familiar with him if you follow me on twitter or have read my previous blog post which mentions him. When he first started preaching to me, I asked him for the first thing I ask any preacher:

Evidence of God's Existence

Todd asked if I would read a book that he'd buy and send and I said yes. He sent me a copy of the book mentioned above. He claimed this book contained evidence for the existence of God. The author, Simon Greenleaf, was a lawyer (died in 1853) and is supposedly providing evidence that would stand up in court. It took me awhile to start reading it because I was in the middle of reading the Qu'ran at the time. Greenleaf puts forward a set of criteria which are needed to be met by old documents/manuscripts for them to be admissible in court, so I'm going to address those criteria in these posts. It's a little different in tenor from my other A-Week posts, but since my reading of the book coincides with A-Week, I might as well post them as part of it.

However, I was disappointed that at the very beginning of the book, Greenleaf explicitly states that he won't even be addressing evidence for the existence of God.
The proof that God has revealed himself to man by special and express communications, and that Christianity constitutes that revelation, is no part of these inquiries. pg 13

So, no evidence is going to be presented in this book. Ah well. Let's move on to his requirements for accepting text as evidence.

Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise. pg 16

He admits in the following pages that discrepancies among copies of the Gospels have been introduced over time, but dismisses those discrepancies as "slight" and says they do not corrupt the original.

Slight? Let's take a look at the Gospel of Mark.

It is considered to be the first Gospel written, approximately 40 years after the death of Jesus and is no longer considered to be written by Mark. The author of this Gospel is generally considered to be unknown. Greenleaf didn't have access to the archaeology which changed our view of this Gospel. Not his fault, but still. However, his argument is primarily about the content, not the author.

Let's take a look at Mark Chapter 16:

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

They said nothing to anyone.... so then how did anyone know that happened? Well, that's how the Gospel of "Mark" appeared in the 1st century. That's NOT how it appears today... at some point it was more than DOUBLED in size and had the ending completely changed.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

You can see this for yourself, just go grab your Bible off the shelf and check. There should be a footnote in there. It's in all of the Bibles I have. They all mention that the second half of the chapter does not exist in the oldest manuscripts.

Another example is the Gospel of John chapter 8:

1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

11 "No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Everyone knows this story, right? The only problem is that it doesn't exist in the original manuscripts.

I can continue, but I think my point is clear. In a general sense, the stories presented in the Gospels have been changed over time, written by people not present for the events they describe, etc.

To respond to Greenleaf's particular rule of evidence: There is plenty of evidence of tampering with the stories in the years between original authoring and now.

Continue to Part 2...

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