The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

It should not take a professional historian to know that the Gospels are inadequate as evidence for their miraculous/bizarre claims, just as it should not take a legal scholar to observe that the claim of a trial witness, that the defendant resurrected a corpse, needs corroboration by physical evidence.

When we weigh evidence for a claim, the physical evidence that is closest to our first-hand experience should be given the greatest weight. Physical evidence further removed from our experience (say, a photograph in an old book, or a digital photo that could have been altered) should be given a somewhat lesser weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a well known and trusted friend should initially be given moderately high weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a stranger should be given a low weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a known liar should be given no weight. Claims that produce no further evidence when reasonably investigated should be dismissed as baseless. (A large amount of mutually consistent evidence that is far removed from one’s first-hand experience can still be properly convincing.)

The claims of a small set of long-dead authors, writing in an era significantly more primitive than our own, are, for purposes of everyday life, not properly considered evidence at all. (The standards of evidence for purposes of determining probable history are necessarily lower than those properly required for personal conviction on current facts.) When we add in the fact that the claimed events in the Gospels are ones that violate well-known laws of physics, the inadequacy of the mere fact that they were written down should become even more apparent.

But in case anyone is clinging to a rationale along the lines of, “But why would they make such testimony up?” here’s a professional historian: Dr. Richard Carrier has a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University. Here he discusses the Gospels and the reasons one shouldn’t consider them even as historical evidence:

Furthermore, the New Testament contains quite a few internal contradictions that further reduce whatever weight it might have had as historical evidence. See the bottom of the post for a list of them.

The book Dr. Carrier mentioned that analyzes Acts.

Here’s another interesting talk by Dr. Carrier on the question of whether Jesus existed in history at all. I think he presents a pretty good case for why it is highly likely that Jesus was a purely mythical figure:

Contradictions in the Gospels

(I have checked a sampling of these, but if you find any that are errors, feel free to let me know.)

1) How many generations were there between Abraham to David?  Matthew 1:17 lists fourteen generations.  Matthew 1:2 lists thirteen generations.

2) Is Paul lying?  In Acts 20:35  Paul told people “to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Since Jesus never made such a biblical statement, isn’t Paul guilty of deception? [Not really a contradiction.]

3) When did the leper become not a leper?  (Matthew 8:13 & 8:14)  Jesus healed the leper before visiting the house.  (Mark 1:29-30 & 1:40-42)  Jesus healed the leper after visiting Simon Peter’s house.

4) Who approached Jesus?  (Matthew 8:5-7)  The Centurion approached Jesus, beseeching help for a sick servant.  (Luke 7:3 & 7:6-7)  The Centurion did not approach Jesus.  He sent friends and elders of the Jews.

5) Was she dead or just dying?  (Matthew 9:18)  He asked for help, saying his daughter was already dead.  (Luke 8:41-42)  Jairus approached Jesus for help, because his daughter was dying.

6) Just what did Jesus instruct them to take?  (Matthew 10:10)  Jesus instructed them not to take a staff, not to wear sandals.  (Mark 6:8-9) Jesus instructed his disciples to wear sandals and take a staff on their journey.

7) When did John find out Jesus was the Messiah?  (Matthew 11:2-3)  While imprisoned. John the Baptist sent followers to Jesus to inquire if Jesus was the messiah.  (Luke 7:18-22)  While imprisoned.  John the Baptist sent followers to Jesus to inquire if Jesus was the Messiah. (John 1 :29-34,36)  John already knew Jesus was the Messiah.

8) Who made the request?  (Matthew 20:20-21)  Their mother requested that James and John, Zebedee’s children, should sit beside Jesus in his Kingdom.  (Mark 10:35-37)  James and John, Zebedee’s children, requested that they should sit beside Jesus in his Kingdom.

9) What animals were brought to Jesus? (Matthew 21:2-7) two of the disciples brought Jesus an ass and a colt from the village of Bethphage.  (Mark 11:2-7) They brought him only a colt.

10) When did the fig tree hear of its doom?  (Matthew 21:17-19)  Jesus cursed the fig tree after purging the temple. (Mark 11:14-15 & 20)  He cursed it before the purging.

11) When did the fig tree keel?  (Matthew 21:9) The fig tree withered immediately.  and the disciples registered surprise then and there.  (Mark 11:12-14 & 20) The morning after Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples noticed it had withered and expressed astonishment.

12) Was John the Baptist Elias?  “This is Elias which was to come.”  Matthew 11:14 “And they asked him, what then?  Art thou Elias?  And he said I am not.”  John l:21

13) Who was the father of Joseph?  Matthew 1:16 The father of Joseph was Jacob.  Luke 3 :23 The father of Joseph was Heli.  Christians shall try to LIE and tell you that one is the heritage of Mary and the other Joseph.  This is utter bullshit, the Hebrew and Greek cultures NEVER regarded the bloodline of the mother.  They were patriarchal societies which only concerned themselves with paternal lineage.

14) How many generations were there from the Babylon captivity to Christ?  Matthew 1:17  Fourteen generations, Matthew 1:12-16 Thirteen generations.

15) Matthew 2:15, 19 & 21-23 The infant Christ was taken into Egypt.  Luke 2:22 & 39 The infant Christ was NOT taken to Egypt.

16) Matthew 5:1-2 Christ preached his first sermon on the mount.  Luke 6:17 & 20 Christ preached his first sermon in the plain.

17) John was in prison when Jesus went into Galilee.  Mark 1:14  John was not in prison when Jesus went into Galilee.  John 1:43 & 3:22-24

18) What was the nationality of the woman who besought Jesus?  Matthew 15:22  “And behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, Have mercy on me, 0 Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”  Mark 7:26 “The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation, and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.”

19) How many blind men besought Jesus?  Matthew 20:30 Two blind men.  Luke 18:35-38 Only one blind man.

20) Where did the devil take Jesus first?  (Matthew 4:5-8)  The Devil took Jesus first to the parapet of the temple, then to a high place to view all the Kingdoms of the world.  (Luke 4:5-9)  The Devil took Jesus first to a high place to view the kingdoms, then to the parapet of the temple.

21) Can one pray in public?  (Matthew 6:5-6) Jesus condemned public prayer.  (1 Timothy 2:8)  Paul encouraged public prayer.

22) If we decide to do good works, should those works be seen?  Matthew 5:16  “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.”  1 Peter 2:12  “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that … they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  This contradicts: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them…that thine alms may be in secret.”  Matthew 23:3-5  “Do not ye after their [Pharisees’] works … all their works they do for to be seen of men.”

23) Who did Jesus tell the Lord’s Prayer to? (Matthew 5:1, 6:9-13 & 7:28) Jesus delivered the Lord’s Prayer during the Sermon on the Mount before the multitudes. (Luke 11:1-4) He delivered it before the disciples alone, and not as part of the Sermon on the Mount.

24) When was Christ crucified?  Mark 15:25 “And it was the third hour and they crucified him.”  John 19:14-15  “And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour; and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your king…Shall I crucify your king?”  John 19:14-15.

25) The two thieves reviled Christ.  (Matthew 27:44 & Mark 15:32) Only one of the thieves reviled Christ. Luke 23:39-40.

26) In 1 Corinthians 1:17 (“For Christ sent me [Paul] not to baptize but to preach the gospel”) Paul said Jesus was wrong when he said in Matthew 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…”  Clearly one of these people is wrong, either way, it’s a contradiction.

27) When did Satan enter Judas?  Satan entered into Judas while at the supper.  John 13:27  Satan entered Judas before the supper.  Luke 23:3-4 & 7

28) How many women came to the sepulcher?  John 20:1  Only one woman went, Mary Magdalene.  Matthew 28:1  Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” (Jesus’ mother) went.

29) Mark 16:2 It was sunrise when the two women went to the sepulcher.  John 20:1 It was still dark (before sunrise) when Mary Magdalene went alone to the sepulcher.

30) There were two angels seen by the women at the sepulcher and they were standing up.  Luke 24:4  There was only one angel seen and he was sitting down.  Mark 28:2-5

31) How many angels were within the sepulcher?  John 20:11-12 two, Mark 16:5 one.

32) The Holy Ghost bestowed at Pentecost. Acts 1:5-8 & 2:1-4 The holy Ghost bestowed before Pentecost. John 20:22

33) Where did Jesus first appear to the eleven disciples?  In a room in Jerusalem.  Luke 24:32-37  On a mountain in Galilee.  Matthew 28:15-17

34) Where did Christ ascend from?  From Mount Olivet.  Acts 1:9-12 From Bethany. Luke 24:50-51

35) Can all sins be forgiven?  (Acts 13:39)  All sins can be forgiven.  Great, I’m happy to know God is so merciful, but wait (Mark 3:29)  Cursing or blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.

36) The Elijah mystery: (Malachi 4:5) Elijah must return before the final days of the world.  (Matthew 11:12-14)  Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah.  (Matthew 17:12- 13)  Jesus insists that Elijah has already come, and everyone understood him to mean John the Baptist.  (Mark 9:13)  Jesus insists that Elijah has already come.  (John 1:21)  John the Baptist maintained that he was not Elijah.

37) Who purchased the potter’s field?  Acts 1:18  The field was purchased by Judas.  John 20:1  The potter’s field was purchased by the chief priests.

38) Paul’s attendants heard the miraculous voice and stood speechless.  Acts 9:7 Paul’s attendants did not hear the voice and were prostrate. Acts 22:9 & 26:14

39) Who bought the Sepulcher?  Jacob, Josh 24:32 Abraham, Acts 7:16

40) Was it lawful for the Jews to put Christ to death?  “The Jews answered him, we have a law, and by our law he ought to die.”  John 19:7  “The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” John 18:31

41) Has anyone ascended up to heaven?  Elijah went up to heaven: “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”  2 Kings 2:11 “No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the son of man.”  John 3:13

42) Is scripture inspired by God?  “all scripture is given by inspiration of God.”  2 Timothy 3:16 compared to: “But I speak this by permission and not by commandment.”  1 Corinthians 7:6 “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 7:12 “That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord”  2 Corinthians.

Source: (Source page claims no copyright.)

If, after all this, you still consider the Gospels reliable in showing the historical truth, then you can truly say that you have blind, abject, mind-numbing faith in the Bible. You have a belief completely without evidence and in contradiction to what is known about cause and effect and the laws of physics.

[Edited: 5-23-13]


Related Posts:

A Refutation of the Argument from Design

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Axioms of Objectivism

God: The Immovable Mover

8 thoughts on “The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

  1. 1) There is a very important difference between historical evidence and scientific evidence which all legitimate historians should be aware of and consistent with. Here is a helpful quote from another blog:

    “And do not let us begin by confusing the boundaries between how science and philosophy do their business with how history does its business. As Lewis once commented, we do not find out who won the Battle of Waterloo by digging up Napoleon and the combatants and making them fight it again in a test tube. Neither, for that same reason, do we settle the question of the Resurrection by barking, “But dead men don’t ordinarily rise!” or “But I wasn’t there!” or “Do you have a Polaroid?” All of that is emotional confusion. The doctrine does not claim that dead men usually rise (Hence, the word ‘Miracle’) or that you were there (the first century witnesses were) or that there was the same sort of evidence as would be furnished by twenty-first century Americans (Would you really trust that if there was?).”

    2) Demanding special criteria for the New Testament on the sole basis that it has “extraordinary claims” (miracles) is non-scientific special pleading. Such demands are based in un-spoken philosophical assumptions that God does not exist and that physical nature is all there is — but those are not things which science can study. Therefore the attempt to pass off such philosophically loaded “examination” of the New Testament as “un-biased” and “scientific” is disingenuous at best.

    3) When you drop the philosophical assumptions, and the false scientific (vs. historical) criteria, and look at the New Testament as a historical document up against a whole host of other historical documents from the same era, the New Testament stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to normal tests of historical validity. Look at the thousands of copies available, scattered all over the Roman Empire, within decades (sometimes) from the original events, and see how remarkably little variation there is between those copies. Then compare that to any other historical document from the same era (which is today trusted as accurate history) and try to say that “the New Testament was copied over and over and over again so there’s no way to know what the originals said”, etc… Look at the extra-Biblical (and usually hostile) references to Jesus from Roman and Jewish writers, and try to say that He was a myth.

    The amount of evasion and special pleading on the part of atheists when it comes to objectively analyzing these issues is absolutely astounding. They will twist themselves into preposterous conspiracy theories before admitting to the very likely historical reliability of the New Testament.

    • First of all, it doesn’t sound like you watched the first video. It shows that the Gospels are not even written in the form of literal history, but in the structure of poetic chiasmus. The alleged events of Jesus’s life were apparently manipulated and/or manufactured to fit into this structure.

      Most ancient historical evidence about individuals (who weren’t rulers or extremely prominent among contemporaries) is insufficient as proof of their deeds. Socrates is in a similar class as Jesus with respect to evidence, in that there are a few sources about him, but no writings by him. The existence of Socrates is better established than Jesus, because the sources for Socrates were his contemporaries. But I would not put much stock in the words or deeds ascribed to Socrates, even though the sources claim nothing miraculous. His deeds integrate just fine with my first-hand knowledge.

      But imagine if the first known sources were from at least 30 years after his death and claimed that he turned lead into gold with a snap of his fingers. That deed does not integrate at all with my first-hand knowledge and becomes even less reliable by being further removed from his life. Let’s further suppose that Socrates was claimed by these sources to have deposited a HUGE treasure of gold artifacts, (that he “made from lead,”) somewhere under ancient Athens. Such claims would not be anywhere near the evidence necessary for me to devote my time and money to finding such a claimed treasure. Are you seriously prepared to tell me that you would consider those claims proof for the purposes of your life, now?

      I’m not the one who is engaging in evasion and special pleading here.

  2. Sword of Apollo,
    I actually feel sorry for you. You’ve put a lot of work into this post. Have you at least managed to convince yourself?
    Christianity, although logical, cannot be proven to someone who refuses to have faith. God set it up that way on purpose. Sadly, your philosophy only limits you.
    Those who follow Christ do so wholeheartedly and we are grateful that we don’t need to sacrifice logic at all, even in the face of a lengthy post on wordpress. Sorry to disappoint you. You might get some action out of the egoist, and as usual we can sit back and watch you guys squabble like an old married couple 🙂 
    I can assume you’ve read the New Testament in the process of choosing to reject it, but I’ll go ahead and refer you back to Romans chapter 1, and 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2 to give you an idea of why you can’t make a dent in a Christian’s faith with your pontificating.
    You may feel free to claim that I have a “blind, abject, mind-numbing faith in the Bible” and I would be willing to suffer much worse insults in my service to Christ. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I am happy to do it now.
    May God bless you, and may you choose to follow Him before it’s too late.
    P.S. I have spent a lot of time dealing with these sorts of arguments and it gets old. There are numerous authors who do a much better job than I do anyway. If you really desire to seek the Truth, you can find it.

    • A complete refusal to think, abject, zealous faith, along with petulant defiance, mockery of philosophical discussion and goading. I could not have asked for a better proof of my point.

  3. Hey Apollo!
    Great post. I am glad to see a nonbeliever put forth effort and hard work into making a good point. It was not lost on me, I assure you. The two replies you have received thus far make decent arguments for faith. However,I wish that the faithful could wrap their heads around the fact that for some of us, faith isn’t enough. AND IT’S OKAY. We are living fulfilling lives, being kind to our fellow man, and raising fantastic children without religion as our guide. Why can’t we agree to disagree?

    But for the sake of argument, what are your thoughts on Mormons, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses? I mean, if we have to support the belief that the Bible is true and Jesus is Savior, then why are the other religions wrong? They are based off of faith and what others saw as well. Joseph Smith was told to look for the golden leafs that would form the book of Mormon in a hillside in New York by an angel. How do we know? He has signed affidavits stating its authenticity and it happened pretty recently in history. Yet, you have to admit that the Book of Mormon reads like it was written by a man that was making it up to fit his ever changing needs. Does this sound familiar?

    Your Fellow Heathen

    • Thanks, Glad you appreciate the post.

      I would care very little whether strangers believed things on faith, if they all left their faith out of their politics. The problem I have with the faith of others is when they attempt to force it on me. I don’t consider simply “agreeing to disagree” an option when the other side wants (or will want) to rule my life based on their faith. So I want to persuade anyone who is open to reason not to provide intellectual cover for the sheer faith of those who are zealots.

      As far as Mormonism goes, looking at the distinctive claims of the Book of Mormon about the New World, versus the utter lack of archaeological evidence–along with Joseph Smith’s history as a con man–should be enough to convince anyone that the BoM was faked. See: “Why I Left Mormonism”.

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