‘It is often said that it is reasonable to believe that the Bible is the word of God because many of the events recounted in the New Testament confirm Old Testament prophecy. But ask yourself, how difficult would it have been for the Gospel writers to tell the story of Jesus’ life so as to make it conform to Old Testament prophecy? Wouldn’t it have been within the power of any mortal to write a book that confirms the predictions of a previous book? In fact, we know on the basis of textual evidence that this is what the Gospel writers did.
The writers of Luke and Matthew, for instance, declare that Mary conceived as a virgin, relying upon the Greek rendering of Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew text of Isaiah uses the word ‘alma’, however, which simply means “young woman,” without any implication of virginity. It seems all but certain that the dogma of the virgin birth, and much of the Christian world’s resulting anxiety about sex, was a product of a mistranslation from the Hebrew. Another strike against the doctrine of the virgin birth is that the other evangelists have not heard of it. Mark and John both appear uncomfortable with accusations of Jesus’ illegitimacy, but never mention his miraculous origins. Paul refers to Jesus as being “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” and “born of woman,” without referring to Mary’s virginity at all.
And the evangelists made other errors of scholarship. Matthew 27:9-10, for instance, claims to fulfill a saying that it attributes to Jeremiah. The saying actually appears in Zechariah 11:12-13.
The Gospels also contradict one another outright. John tells us that Jesus was crucified the day before the Passover meal was eaten; Mark says it happened the day after. In light of such discrepancies, how is it possible for you to believe that the Bible is perfect in all its parts? What do you think of Muslims, Mormons, and Sikhs who ignore similar contradictions in their holy books? They also say things like “the Holy Spirit has an eye only to substance and is not bound by words” (Luther). Does this make you even slightly more likely to accept their scriptures as the perfect word of the creator of the universe?’
– Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 19-20
All four gospels were written anonymously, and names not assigned these authors until well into the 4th century. The unknown author pseudonymed “Matthew,” particularly made an effort to point out to his readers, each time he wrote of an event that appeared to fulfill an ancient prophecy. There is little reason not to suspect that he crafted his stories with that end in mind.
The first three gospels, in the order that they were written – “Mark,” about 72 CE – “Matthew,” about 77 CE, and “Luke,” around 85 CE, are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because of their similarities. There is an excellent reason for this – “Matthew” (the Greek name for Levi, the NT tax collector and disciple of Jesus), copied 90% of his gospel from “Mark” (which wouldn’t have been necessary, had the author been the actual Levi, a disciple), often word for word. “Luke” copied roughly 65% of his gospel from “Mark” as well.
Most who are familiar with the New Testament, know well the story of Jesus, walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and upon seeing the fishermen, Peter, his brother, Andrew, and brothers James and John, both sons of Zebedee, the fisherman, invited the four to follow him, saying that he would make them, “fishers of men.”
Oddly, the unknown author called “John,” who, had he been the son of Zebedee, would have BEEN one of those “fishers of men,” tells an entirely different tale in the gospel attributed to him. He asserts that he, his brother, James, and both Peter and his brother, Andrew, were all followers of John the Baptist, and upon seeing Jesus walking along the banks of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing, “John” waded across the river, chatted a bit with Jesus, went with him for the evening, and returned the next morning to invite Peter, Andrew, and brother James, to join him in following Jesus. That is a significant divergence from the synoptic “fishers of men” tale.
Of additional interest, the last eleven verses of the “Gospel according to Mark” (16:9-20), were never in the original manuscript, but were added at some point in the third century CE.
Of equal curiosity, the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, that now appears in the “Gospel according to John” (8:1-11), wasn’t added to that gospel until the fourth century CE, but first, it was attributed to “Luke,” and placed in his gospel for a time, until someone decided it sounded more like something that “John” might write.
The New Testament addition to the Bible is not a place I would first go for accurate, historical information.
Thanks Arch for sharing your philological knowledge with us.
I feel rational people also need to stress the issue Harris states in the final paragraph of this chapter “What do you [as a Christian] think of Muslims, Mormons, and Sikhs who ignore similar contradictions in their holy books?” That is to say,
‘Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible’s account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the point of view of Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad’s opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.
Why don’t you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid.’
– Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 4-5
Exactly, and those Christians, who have devoted so much time proselytising to me and to others on blogsites I frequent, convinced that their god is the “one true god,” to be known in one’s heart (a blood-pump), never spend a second wondering how they would believe if they had been born in a country with a different belief system.
To take it a step further, let’s look at the Gospel of John, written, as I’ve said, anonymously, but the authorship having been assigned, at least two centuries after it was written, to John, the fisherman son of Zebedee, the fisherman.
The author of that gospel was highly literate and trained in Greek, at a time and place where a 90% illiteracy rate was the rule, and literacy reserved only for the wealthy and well-educated. The actual John, as mentioned, would have been a fisherman and the son of a fisherman, whose native language was Aramaic – what are the chances that this individual acquired such an education that he was able to compose a book in classical Greek? It is believed, but not proven, that the same John may have written the apocalyptic final addition to the New Testament, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine.”
Of John, the anonymous author of “The Acts of the Apostles” had this to say:
According to biblical scholar, author and educator, Bart Ehrman, the first mention of names associated with the four gospels appeared in the writings of church father and heresiologist Irenaeus [Against Heresies 3.1.1], around 180-85 CE.
According to Ehrman, “Irenaeus wanted there to be specifically ‘four gospels’ because there are ‘four winds’ and ‘four corners’ of the Earth [Against Heresies 3.11.8]. This was the kind of logic by which the Gospels were later attributed.“