What is a Gospel?

What exactly is a Gospel?
Atheist Answer: 

What is a Gospel? For the last few hundred years, New Testament scholars, particularly in Germany, have been asking themselves this very question. Are they the biographies of a miraculous savior written by those who knew him and were closest to him? If that is the case, were they redacted by later Christians to include specific dogmatic and doctrinal ideals? Or, were the Gospels written up to centuries after a historical, human Jesus, by which Christians embellished his story into fictional history? And If that is what they are, do the discrepancies between the four Gospels represent the authors own theological perspectives? If so, how would one accurately determine which perspective is that of the authors and which is the perspective of the so-called real Jesus?

Since the time of the Bultmannian school, theologians have worked tirelessly, it seems, to locate the historically real behind the fictitious myth. In their eyes, and the eyes of historical Jesus scholars across the world, the legendary embellishments and indeed even literary narrative created by the authors overshadow the historical events of a real Jesus. And since the start of this ‘demythologizing’, as Bultmann put it, there have been detractors. These detractors who label themselves as apologists—Christians with the intent to defend the Gospel narratives has wholly accurate, including the miraculous parts—have published their own books relying on early Christian testimony and their so-called historical authority to prove that not only were these texts derived from those who knew and spoke with Jesus as his disciples, but also that they recorded accurately the events of Jesus’ ministry and even parts of his life.

Indeed, according to these apologists, the very reason why discrepancies exist (although some claim, falsely, that no discrepancies exist) is because eyewitness testimony could not be 100% similar across four accounts; that, had they been all copies of each other, this would have raised suspicion of their accuracy. Therefore, per these apologists, the Gospels are different and conflict precisely because they are eyewitness testimony. In response to these claims, historical Jesus scholars have accurately shown, through textual criticism, that the discrepancies do not exist through memory recall. To start, the historical Jesus scholars show that the similarities exist not because four authors recall similar events, but rather because the authors copied off each other. The discrepancies, therefore, exist because the authors altered the text of the version they copied from.

This is why there are different theological perspectives in each of the four Gospels. This is why Mark agrees with Paul and his denouncement of Jewish law, why he has Jesus changing the law, and why he has no birth narrative. This is also why Matthew, who disagrees with Paul, sought to have his Jesus condemn those who change the law to eternal damnation and hellfire, and why he includes a birth narrative resembling the narrative of Hezekiah’s found in Isaiah. It is why Luke makes Matthews birth narrative allude to the narrative of Isaac’s birth with Abraham and Sarah. He plays on multiple themes, to combine the Hellenistic Pauline theology with Matthew’s more Jewish theology. This is, according to the historical Jesus scholars, precisely why there are both similarities and discrepancies in the Gospel narratives.

But then we have an additional problem which threatens the foundations of scholarship as a whole. By attempting to pick which parts of the narratives are historically grounded, and which are not, scholars have effectively fractioned the Gospel narratives into fragmented sections or verses. A line here in this chapter may be historical, but the rest can be dismissed as fiction. The obvious problem of utilizing this method is that the narrative ceases to be looked at as a whole, and is only examined in small amounts, bit by bit. And what is examined depends entirely on which scholar is doing the examination. When one looks at the vast amount of literature that exists in scholarship on the historical Jesus, one can see that there is not one historical Jesus presented. There are as many representations of the so-called historical Jesus as there are scholars writing about him. This is because each scholar is giving us their own interpretation of what fragment of text is historical based on their own presuppositions, their own hermeneutical understanding of the text, and their own self reflections. So, what is happening is that we are getting fragmented selections of text based on a biased reason of a scholar. We are not getting a strict, underlining history based on critical observation of the whole manuscript. All that scholars can agree on, it seems, is that the events of the Gospels, as a whole, are not accurately reporting historical events. This fact is not helpful in answering the question posed in the title of this piece, it only confounds the problem. But there may still be a way to save this question, and present an answer based on the evidence presented above.

That brings us to an additional third option in an attempt to answer the original question: What is a Gospel? If scholarship is already in agreement, that fictional narrative is the functioning motif of the Gospels, why is there a broad presupposition that somewhere under this narrative exist historical fact? Hellenistic scholars outside of New Testament fields agree that Hellenistic Jews were famous for inventing fictional stories, events, characters and even whole wars to make their traditions more ‘Greek’, while reinterpreting scripture to show their cultural superiority. Is that not what the Gospels are? Are they not reinterpreted scripture, written in Hellenistic fashion? It’s a fact that no outside testimony to Gospel events are ever recorded by contemporaries. And scholarship admits that most of the “events” in the Gospel narratives relate back to reinterpreting scripture – the birth narratives, Jesus’ trial for 40 days in the wilderness, the transfiguration, the crucifixion (taken right from Psalms and Isaiah), every event that originally seemed to make Jesus appear real is nothing more than fictional restyling of scripture passages. Even the name “Jesus” (which means “savior” or “Yahweh saves”) is representative of earlier traditions where biblical patriarchs were named for their purpose (Abraham = “Father to many nations”; Isaac = “laughter”; etc…). There are twelve disciples just as there are twelve tribes, representing the instant where Moses father-in-law instructs him to find a head of every tribe for which to handle the business of their tribes – where Moses effectively sends out these twelve heads to their flock to make them straight in the sight of the lord.

So then what does that make the Gospels? If historical Jesus scholars do not view the Gospels as biographies, in the sense that they are depictions of somebody’s life, and that they are made up of fictional events created from scripture reinvention, a common method of Jewish Hellenistic writing, what is a Gospel? It seems more plausible that these narratives are probably completely fictitious in nature. That they were not, as it is commonly assumed, written about a historical Jesus, but instead these narratives were originally intended to be read as historicized fiction.

It is important to remember that the intent of this discussion is not to determine who wrote them, or for what additional purpose the narratives might have been written, although this author could certainly provide evidence for these questions. Instead, the question must be asked, and indeed, it has been asked: What is a Gospel? And the answer has to be met with criticism, in light of the exposed presuppositions mentioned above, and needs to be addressed by scholarship as a whole. Until this is done adequately, scholarship will continue to present us not the Jesus of history, nor a Gospel history, but a history fashioned entirely by the scholars themselves. Whole worlds have been—and will continue to be—created which never existed. Entire reflexive trends in Judaism have been assumed and, in a typical ad hoc manner, critiqued and presented as if they were known to Jews in the first century Common Era. Of course, they were not.

For some great resources on this subject, please read my blog.

The best,

Rook Hawkins

Christ a Fake

just saw a portion of cbc documentry ,The pagen jesus ,I need more info on new testament storys plagurized from egyptian texts 1000 years older than the "good book" In some cases word for word
Atheist Answer: 


Thank you for the question. I have a serious problem with the claims made by "documentaries" which support a very flawed hypothesis that Jesus was a composite of Egyptian myths. It is more probable to say that Jesus is a composite of Old Testament legends, like that of David, Solomon, Asa, Elijah and Elisah. The events of Jesus' life are not taken, in any way, verbatim from Egyptian myths, but rather stem from several sources. Many are taken from the Old Testament, for example the multiplication of the loaves is taken from Elijah's miracle of multiplying the oil and the bread yeast in Kings. The birth narratives in both Luke and Matthew come from the narratives of Abraham and Sarah's birth of Isaac in Genesis, as well as other patriarchal figures such as Solomon. The calling of the 12 disciples is written to mimetically be read as Elijah's calling of Elisha, and the 12 disciples symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 heads of the tribes found in the Torah, by which Moses had called to handle the tribes personal and family businesses so he would not be left to handle that, as well as the many other problems that came to him as head of a nation. The scene with Bar'abbas, the crucifixion, and the resurrection stem from Old Testament traditions found in Leviticus, Isaiah and Malachi. Even the name "Jesus" is significant.

For some references on this subject, I highly recommend the Messiah Myth, by Thomas L. Thompson. For a look at what the Gospels are, please read my brief introduction found HERE.

The best to you,

Rook Hawkins

Please help me get my resources so I can continue to historically show the inadequacies of the Bible and early Christians.
My wish list.

Looking for reliable information resources. .

First off, I'm new here so, hi! I would like to ask for suggestions on reliable, and credible sources for information on religion in general, and Christianity in particular. I want to do a personal research paper on the History, and validity, of the Christian religion, as it is the religious indoctrination I was subjected to growing up. I am more or less convinced there is no God, but I want to do the research to make sure. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Atheist Answer: 

Hi wtfi54rasm,

You're actually asking for three essential things.

1.) Resources on the validity (or lack there of) of Religion

2.) Resources on the psychology of indoctrination (if not on belief in general)

3.) Resources on atheism (or rather, resources on evidence for a god's nonexistence)

For a great book on the psychology of primitive man, and why religion was possibly introduced into society, the two best books that I am aware of on the subject are Daniel Dennet's, Breaking the Spell - which deals specifically with the indoctrination of man into these beliefs and how to get yourself out of that indoctrination, and Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind which deals with primitive man's mental development, and how they viewed the world through their primitive brains, and thus the development of primitive ideas such as "god".

For resources on the validity of Christianity, the book Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman is a very good introduction into who changed the Bible, and for what purpose. Although he is a bit of a scholarly fossil, and I don't agree with all his conclusions, his work is pretty outstanding as far as it goes. Unfortunately, the vast amount of research one needs to do in order to see all the flaws of Christianity is extensive, and can not be read in a few books. Although, a start would be to read the Bible from cover to cover, and mark down all the contradictions and fallacies within, take notes, and check them when you're finished.

For a specific book dealing with the origin of Christianity, I would suggest getting a copy of my book when it is published.

For an excellent resource on god's nonexistence, I would recommend the message boards on the Atheist Network and the Rational Response Squad websites.

The best to you,

Rook Hawkins

Please help me get my resources so I can continue to historically show the inadequacies of the Bible and early Christians.
My wish list.

what am i, where am i, and how the hell did i get here?

hey! my question is concerning the beginning of the existence of everything. i know that you can't lump all atheists into one group with the same beliefs, but i would like to hear an answer from somebody who doesn't believe in a god. the reason for this is because the answer from any sort of "religious" person is usually, but not always, that their god created everything. i guess i actually have two questions. first, i am wondering what do you, as an atheist, believe allowed all things that exist to exist? i know that the big bang is sometimes used to explain the creation of the universe, and if that is what happened, i can go for that, but i'm wondering about something bigger. if the big bang is what really happened, something had to exist to go "bang" right? so then what allowed that thing that went "bang" to be so that it could go "bang?" i hope that question makes sense, i just have a difficult time putting my thoughts into words. if you don't believe the in the big bang, then where do you believe everything came from? secondly, i've heard a good bit about the conservation of engery being used to discredit creationism and the idea that everything came from nothing. now, i can't disprove the laws of thermodynamics so i believe in the conservation of energy; you'd have to be a fool not to. so my question is if engergy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred, where did all this energy originate from before there was anything? i'm sure that both of these questions have answers and someone knows them, but i'm ignorant, so please help me out. having questions like these running around in my head all day without answers gets very frustrating! haha
Atheist Answer: 

There's no standard atheist answer to these questions. There's really no standard atheist answer to anything. There's no atheist dogma or doctrine, no supposedly inerrant textbook, no creed to recite. Atheism is just a single conclusion. You may draw other conclusions from that one, but they're your own.

And here's what so many people don't consider: there may not be an available answer to every question. We may never know it all. What more people do realise is that just because someone has an answer doesn't mean that it's correct. I'm glad to see that you doubt the god answer even without a satisfying alternative.

The Big Bang was what happened when all the matter in the universe was compressed to one point and then started expanding outwards. It's still happening, and it's even speeding up. We've worked that much out by watching some of that matter whizz apart. Before that point, we don't know what all the matter and energy was doing.

Firstly there may not even be a proper "before" if the Big Bang started time as we know it. Causality gets a bit wobbly when chronological order and displacement are not reliable.

Leaving that aside, the creation of matter or energy breaks the law of conservation. You could make an exception and say that matter can be created by some unknown process and is then permanent, I suppose. If the law is 100% true, though, then all matter and energy has existed forever. I'm fine with that.

Before the Big Bang theory the leading concept was an eternal "steady state" universe. Perhaps there's another universe like that which is the source of all the matter in this universe. Perhaps the pre-Big Bang singularity was a discrete packet of matter ejected from that other universe. Free of the confines of its origin, it relaxed and expanded.

If an eternal universe doesn't appeal to you, why not an eternal series of finite, sequential universes? As each one "dies", the matter somehow collects and starts over. Not necessarily by a Big Crunch, as the discovery of accelerating expansion put paid to that idea, but perhaps by everything draining out when some barrier or membrane finally breaks.

We can carry on this line of thinking if you like (the next step would be to discuss how the above could satisfy the second law of thermodynamics) but my point is that there are plenty of other theories for the origin of matter and energy, one being that it's eternal and needs no origin. This is no less plausible than an intelligent superbeing with the same quality.

I hope having a few more possible answers will make the questions a bit more pleasant as they run around in your head. It won't stop them from running though, because they run through the head of everybody who doesn't utterly accept some religious answer.

Contrary to what anyone tells you, we do not know our ultimate origin, or whether we have one. This doesn't stop us from wondering, observing and theorising. Which is great, because doing all that is fun.

- SmartLX

Athiest women trouble

I'm born and raised in the bible belt of america. Last relationships were going great until we hit religious subjects then I got dumped because I'm atheist (this is the reason, it wasn't because of any other circumstances). I'm not that upset about the relationships as I wouldn't want to spend my life with someone that narrowminded. I was curious if you could suggest a place to look for some women that are well...intelligent.
Atheist Answer: 

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens discovered as their book tours brought them through the very buckle of the Bible Belt that wherever you go, there are plenty of people who are happy to be and know atheists. But you're right, finding them can be a pain if they don't come to you.

Honestly, it's worth bringing up your atheism early if you're worried it will end a relationship. Sure, it might last longer if you don't, but you'll always be worried.

My first port of call would be the internet. www.richarddawkins.net has a social section, there's regularly an ad on the right of this site for www.freethinkermatch.com, and many of the conventional dating sites have an option to search by religion. (Yes, I know atheism isn't a religion, but having it on the list is better than nothing.) There are lots of other communities out there.

Offline, just go out and meet lots of people in any setting which isn't explicitly religious. Don't expect everybody to be devout, because trust me, they aren't.

Finally, don't think you can only find happiness with another atheist. My girlfriend is a liberal Christian, and although we disagree on many things we're happy in an atmosphere of tolerance, personal respect (as opposed to respecting all each other's views) and free exchange of ideas.

- SmartLX

Scared of the "Truth"

I recently had a heated debate with a young-earth creationist. According to him the ONLY reason I'm an atheist is because I'm scared of the "Truth" (yes, with the capital T). I tried in vain to find out what this supposed Truth was that I'm afraid of and he seemed to just ignore the question, repeating his allegations of my fear over discovering his Truth. What "Truth" was he talking about? What does he mean when he says "Truth" and that I'm scared of it? And what can I say next time to assure him I'm not afraid of his so-called truth?
Atheist Answer: 

First of all, consider the possibility that your creationist, let's call him Bob, didn't know the Truth himself beyond a vague concept. Either that, or he realised his idea of the Truth wouldn't make sense to someone who wasn't conditioned to accept it unquestioningly, or simply wouldn't convince a real live atheist. Maybe Bob lost his nerve and accepted that he was no apologist.

I'll take a small leap and assume that Bob the young-earth creationist is a Christian. The Christian Truth is just the business end of Christian belief, the critical bits you have to accept to be a functioning Christian:
- God made the world and everything in it, and rules over it.
- Humans are all tainted with Original Sin, plus all of their own sins.
- Jesus Christ was the son of God and he died to save us from all those sins. God then resurrected him.
- To get your share of this salvation, you must 1. accept Jesus as your personal Lord and saviour and 2. confess all your sins and be absolved. You must keep these two things up for the rest of your life.
- Do 1 and 2 until you die and you will go to Heaven. Fail to do either, and you will go to Hell.
- Aside from all this, both God and Jesus love you.

Young-earth creationism is the direct result of belief in biblical inerrancy, which means that every word of the Bible is the God-given truth (with a little t). Geology, biology, astrophysics and other branches of science very plainly contradict the Book of Genesis, for one, which throws into question not only Creation but the story of Original Sin. Christianity needs that Sin as a hook; it gives everyone something he/she needs absolved. It's like a pest control ad which says everyone might have cockroaches in their walls.

So believers take on science indirectly, not usually trying to change the established theories but campaigning to teach the alternate Bible-friendly versions to people young, devout or gullible enough to believe them. That's where Bob is coming from.

Bob actually thinks that you only claim to be an atheist. The only reason you might be afraid of Bob's Truth is that you think it really is true but you're in denial. In other words, you're a closet Christian trying to avoid responsibility for your sins.

In your next round with Bob, in order to advance his understanding your task is simply to convince him that you are an honest-to-Bob atheist. To do this, you might have to convince him first that there's even such a thing as an atheist. If he acknowledges your genuine atheism it should become obvious to him why you're not afraid of what, from your perspective, is an Untruth. Then he's got to convince you it's the Truth from scratch, and you've both got a much more reasonable conversation.

How do you demonstrate your atheism, you ask? Ironically, through your knowledge of Bob's Truth. A common, almost unconscious assumption among religious people (and many others) is that to be exposed to their beliefs is to adopt them, almost universally. You preach, you convert. The fact that you have a clear idea of what Bob believes and yet reject it might be a bit of a shock to Bob on some level.

Best of luck, and comment here later to let us know how you went. May Bob be with you.

- SmartLX

The Great Big Arguments #1: Transcendental

I'm quoting an admittedly simplified version of this argument from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). Read the original at http://www.carm.org/atheism/transcendental_outline.htm "Logical absolutes exist. Logical absolutes are conceptual by nature, are not dependent on the space, time, physical properties, or human nature. They are not the product of the physical universe (space, time, matter) because if the physical universe were to disappear, logical absolutes would still be true. Logical Absolutes are not the product of human minds because human minds are different, not absolute. But, since logical absolutes are always true everywhere and not dependent upon human minds, it must be an absolute transcendent mind is authoring them. This mind is called God." Follow the link for CARM's own list of possible objections and responses to each.
Atheist Answer: 

The Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG for short) demands a certain sardonic respect due to its sheer ambition. In its full form, it claims that logic (and by extension rationality, sense, morality and any argumentation at all) can only exist if the Christian God does.

In simplified form it's not Christian-specific, but it can be used at any point in an argument to override the whole thing and declare that the argument is only possible (or evidence is only understandable as a concept, or our senses are only reliable) if there's a god, so one must exist.

This approach does not convince many atheists as far as we know. It seems like the equivalent of winning at chess by knocking over all the pieces. Nevertheless it's difficult to find a clear hole in it which Christians in particular haven't already closed with an addendum (see how much longer CARM's list of defenses is than the argument itself).

One good way to make it a lot less convincing, strangely, is to temporarily presuppose the existence of God. If God exists, He still isn't guaranteed to be the source of logic, because how could we check? We can't go to a universe without God to see whether logic fails there, either because we're stuck in this universe or because God's omnipresence extends beyond it. In other words, we can't remove God to see whether logic is independent of Him.

Therefore even if God existed and we all knew it, that logic is dependent on Him could only ever be an assertion and the Transcendental Argument is still not self-evident. If He doesn't exist, of course, then the TAG is not only moot but flat out false.

I have two other major objections which CARM's pre-emptive defenses don't fully cover. Firstly, logical absolutes, rather than being conventions, eternal or anything else CARM mentions, may not really exist at all but instead may only be apparent.

Secondly, if logical absolutes do exist, saying that they must be the product of an absolute transcendent mind is an argument from ignorance. (Likewise is the assertion that if the physical universe were to disappear they would still be true. Again, how would you check?) Even if they're not the product of the physical universe or human minds, there may be any number of unknown alternatives besides a transcendent mind, or any mind at all.

I realise that most objections to the TAG are simply alternative hypotheses and doubts as to its basic assertions, but that's really all you need. If there is any possible alternative, an argument presented as the only possible state of affairs cannot be a proof until it clearly dismisses all competition. Once the possibility of an a priori proof is gone, the TAG loses its power and is just another thing theists say.

- SmartLX

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