Thursday, September 23, 2021

Do the Gospels Contain Legendary Embellishments?


In Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A New Transdisciplinary Approach, author Andrew Loke offers 4 reasons why he believes skeptics who claim that the later accounts in the Gospels (e.g. the young man at the tomb in Mark becomes an angel accompanied by earthquakes in Matthew) contain legendary embellishments are in error.  

He writes:

"First, the amount of details does not seem to follow a consistent pattern when we compare the later accounts with the earlier ones.  For example, following the argument for embellishment, one might expect a larger number of eyewitnesses and resurrection appearances in the later accounts compared to the earlier ones, but the opposite is the case: Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15, which is the earliest, contains the greatest number of eyewitnesses ('more than five hundred brethren') and the largest number of appearances.  It is more likely that the authors took into consideration the needs of the audiences when they decided the amount of details to include.  Second, some of the details can be understood as clarification rather than embellishments.  For example, the inference that the 'young man' in Mark 16:5-7 is an angel can be justified by the context, which describes him as dressed in white and conveying divine revelation.  He does not simply report what he found, but gives it an authoritative explanation and goes on to convey a message from Jesus himself, recapitulating what he had said privately to the Twelve in Mark 14:28, and conveying not comment but command (France 2002, pp. 675-679; compare the use of 'young man' for angel in Tob. 4:5-10, 2 Macc. 3:26, 33, etc., see Gundry 1993, p. 990).  Thus, the latter account in Matthew can be understood not as an embellishment but a clarification; in other words, Matthew merely makes the identification of the young man as an angel more explicit.  Third, the inclusion of more details does not have to be regarded as embellishment, rather, it 'could simply be a matter of a later writer adding new and truthful traditions that were known to his own community, purposely filling in the gaps' (Habermas 2013, p. 477).

Concerning the apparent lack of agreement, Wright notes that first-century writers who intended to tell others what actually happened took for granted that they were not obligated to mention every event or every detail of an event.  (Wright (2003, pp. 648-649) observes, for example, 

'when Josephus tells the story of his own participation in the various actions that started the Jewish-Roman war in AD 66, the story he tells in his Jewish War and the parallel story he tells in the Life do not always correspond in detail.' 

Many of the differences between the Gospels can be explained by literary devices which were also employed by other ancient historians, such as Plutarch (c. AD 45-120) (Licona 2016).  In several biographies Plutarch frequently covers the same ground, thus creating a number of parallels and editing his materials in ways similar to the writers of the New Testament Gospels, compresses stories, sometimes conflates them, inverts the order of events, simplifies, and relocates stories or sayings (Evans, in Licona 2016, p. x).  When it comes to the editing and paraphrasing of the words of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels were far more conservative than the compositional practice of Jewish Scriptures (ibid.).  Indeed, a comparison of the paralleled periscope of Jesus' aphorisms and parables shows a high degree of stability and reliability of transmission (McIver 2011)."1

So, if Loke is right, these are at least 4 plausible explanations for some of the differences we see in the later accounts in the Gospels.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Andrew Loke, Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A New Transdisciplinary Approach, Kindle. 

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Friday, September 10, 2021

Book Preview: Person of Interest by J. Warner Wallace

About the Author

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline-featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker, and bestselling author. His is a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University). Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, Wallace provides the tools needed to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview.

About the Book

Detective J. Warner Wallace listened to a pastor talk about Jesus and wondered why anyone would think Jesus was a person of interest.
Wallace was skeptical of the Bible, but he’d investigated several “no-body, missing person” cases in which there was no crime scene, no physical evidence, and no victim's body. Could the historical life and actions of Jesus be investigated in the same way?

In Person of Interest, Wallace describes his own personal investigative journey from atheism to Christianity, as he carefully sifts through the evidence from history alone without relying on the New Testament manuscripts.

Creative, compelling, and fully illustrated, Person of Interest will strengthen the faith of believers, while engaging those who are skeptical and distrusting of the New Testament.

Notable Recommendations 

“Every so often a novel approach to Christian apologetics comes along.  I am more than pleased to endorse Person of Interest.  What a boost to the field of Christian evidences!”

- Gary Habermas, author of The Historical Jesus

"I could hardly put the book down.  With a panoramic perspective, if offers a fascinating journey into some lines of evidence most of us haven't even considered!"

- Craig S. Keener,  author of The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

"Person of Interest is a brilliant book, I've been studying the historical Jesus for decades, and Detective Wallace made some fresh insights I have not thought of before.  I could not recommend this book more highly."

- Sean McDowell, author of The Fate of the Apostles 

To order your copy of Wallace's latest book, go here.  You can find out more about Person of Interest here

To learn more about Detective Wallace and his work, go here.

Courage and Godspeed,

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Book Review: Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

Book Review- God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe by J. Warner Wallace

Book Review: Forensic Faith by J. Warner Wallace