On several counts, you project your modern understanding back into ancient context:
They obviously do not have a physical person in mind when they make these kinds of declarations, so why suppose the early Christians were speaking about a physical Jesus when they claimed to have "witnessed" him?" If the word “witness” enjoys a very loose meaning for many of today’s Christians (and it very often does), why suppose it didn’t enjoy similar flexibility among the early Christians?
A word’s current usage cannot be transferred anachronistically “backwords” (get it?).
When Peter gives his sermon in Acts ch. 2, and says (v. 32) “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses,” what do you think he means? No gospel account puts anyone with Jesus in the tomb when his dead body was supposedly brought back to life.
In Acts 4:32-34 we find the following passage:
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold
The error is counted doubly when you attempt the feat with two different languages. (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies pg 33)
If I had seen a man who was actually resurrected from the grave, whom I thought was "the Son of God," I would waste no time in writing down exactly what I had seen, where I had seen it and when I had seen it. If I knew of others who had the same experience, I would not hesitate to get their testimony down in writing, or at least to have them endorse such statements of witness. But that's me.
Do you live in the oral culture of first century Palestine? If you did chances are you’d be illiterate, and if you could read and write could you afford it? How could you assure the transmission of your document?
Now your objection is sensible on the basis of my worldview, for the concerns you raise would impact the situation. But how could it be sensible on the basis of the Christian worldview, where naturalistic constraints like the one you raise should ultimately be of no concern? Would a supernatural deity appear only before the illiterate? Christians are always trying to tell us that it’s a fallacy to assume everyone “back then” was illiterate, uneducated, unscientific, superstitious, etc. (and I don’t, by the way). But we can’t have it both ways here. If Jesus appeared only to the illiterate, I’d say that was a bad choice on his part. Also, if he did appear to only illiterate persons, why should this matter? Jesus is supernatural, and could easily empower an illiterate person with supreme fluency in a multitude of languages if he wanted to. In fact, the writer’s sudden ability to write could itself be evidence of Jesus’ supernaturalism, something the gospel writers were so eager to insert into their stories.
See how supernaturalism takes the apologetic backseat here? No, I do not live in the oral culture of first century Palestine, and you know it. I know this too. And the chances that had I lived in those days I’d most likely be illiterate is ultimately irrelevant. Would this stop a supernatural deity? Why think it would? Your response here assumes naturalistic constraints. Why would these apply if Christianity’s supernaturalism is true? Having to acquire literacy in order to write is understandable on my worldview, which recognizes the primacy of existence and therefore does not presume to fake the nature of the human mind. But Christianity denies the primacy of existence. What guided Matthew’s hand in penning his gospel, if not a divine hand, according to Christianity? What force assured the transmission of his gospel through the ages and into our hands, if not a divine force, according to Christianity?
It seems more and more that the authors of the New Testament texts were just as bound to the reality I know as I am. Their stories suggest otherwise, but the textual development speaks louder than this.
Even granting your position for the sake of internal critique, how many average people in our modern society have ever written a historical account of some life changing event they experienced?
How about the Virginia Tech mass homicide? This was a major event to witness. Who decides – and why – whether or not it’s a major event? I was going to school at James Madison University at the time (2 hours down the road), and saw no written accounts circulating amongst my close friends who were only several feet away from the killer that day. Indeed not even blogging about their experiences?”
There were also news reports about the event for days and weeks afterwards, many of them including interviews with firsthand witnesses.
I am close friends with a man whose son was a student at Columbine when Klebold and Harris went on their rampage. My friend (also named David) wrote to me several times about his son’s experience shortly after the incident. I don’t know if his son ever wrote about it (I wouldn’t expect a 13-year-old to write much about anything), but that’s irrelevant.
But the incident at Virginia Tech is hardly analogous to a religious experience like a resurrected man-god walking and talking with you and commanding you to go tell the world. It seems that Peter and co. took their sweet time in fulfilling this commandment.
No, but they told me plenty about it. Even if they did write some of it down, would it still be around in a couple of millennia? Maybe so with today’s standards, but I don’t think that even close to a reasonable expectation for 30 AD.
Geisler (same book) points out it may very well be the case that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and James were among the 500 as well as nine who are elsewhere named Apostles (Geisler/Turek, pg 248); if he’s right then there are written accounts.
Paul nowhere suggests that Jesus had taught these things during his life on earth. But that’s what we find when we get to the gospels: Jesus marching a squad of disciples through the ancient countryside between various towns in Palestine performing miracles, healing the blind, the lame and the infirm, giving moral instruction and teaching in the form of parables. We never learn any of this from Paul.
It’s as if you are surprised by the fact that Paul was writing letters on the road and not historical narrative.
Was Paul’s purpose in writing those letters to give exhaustive account of Jesus’ earthly ministry? No.
Would these references have made his arguments more compelling? Perhaps to you, but where has it been argued that the original intended audience shares your worldview?
So why blame Paul for not fulfilling your requirements when they are incompatible with Paul’s authorial intent?
1 Corinthians 9:10 ‘To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband’. Now why does Paul put this moral teaching in Jesus’ mouth, and then immediately afterwards clarify something that he is saying instead of Jesus? Indeed this teaching was nothing new (Gen 2:24; Mal 2:16).
Still more to come!
by Dawson Bethrick