Let's just quickly get this out of the way. There are no contemporaneous documents about Jesus. The gospels were written a minimum of 30 years after his supposed death. Paul, author of much of the New Testament and Christianity's architect, never met him. It's reasonable to say that the Bible is not agenda-free. And early non-biblical evidence is by the Jewish historian Josephus, who also never met Jesus. The authenticity of his writings on Jesus, specifically Testimonium Flavianum, has been continually challenged for centuries. Hearsay is almost always inadmissible in a court of law, and yet 2,000-year-old hearsay – and there is no other way to describe it – is the basis of a 2 billion-strong club, with not so much as an "objection!"To which I'd probably better say, Hie thee to the Bishop of Durham, young man. But let me give a few brief responses.
- There may be no contemporaneous documents, but if the gospels were written by people who were eye-witnesses to some spectacularly super-natural events, you might expect their memories to be pretty good, hey?
- Paul's non-meeting (Damascus notwithstanding) is a non-issue, given that as we claim, the facts of Jesus' life are every bit as important as his teaching. This is precisely the point, and if he's not going to try and get his head round it now, he'll never understand what's going on.
- That the Bible has an agenda is not untrue, but everyone has an agenda. Even Adam Rutherford. And if he tries to pull the "impartial observer" line, then we can have another look at Luke's expressed intention when he wrote.
- Josephus is debateable, but let's be honest: no-one really founds their entire faith on the testimony of one document. We got four in Scripture, plus a host of Old Testament prophecies.
- To describe this evidence as hearsay, when three of the accounts claim to be eye-witness and the fourth claims to have interviewed eye-witnesses, would be akin to my referring to Rutherford's article as a fantasy.
To me this is a daft, ass-backwards argument. If you want to show someone as humble, have them submitting to humble things.But if you're making your religion from whole cloth and you want it to gain ground, you make it appealing and plausible in some sense. Scientology is actually proof of this, since despite its bizarre 'theology', it appeals to the kind of mind that thinks humanity is basically a pawn of some alien force; it also appeals to the kind of conscience that wants to take the easy way out by paying some cash and getting 'relief'.But Rutherford has not yet got the point where he's had a proper explanation of some of the stuff which ought to have come first (like sin, and the necessity of the Resurrection), so he's not so bothered about this "Did Christ really rise?" stuff. Perhaps that's a flaw in Alpha, or perhaps Rutherford's not been paying attention. Either way, he's still asking the question that all good natural Pelagians will ask:
So this all leads me to ask this question: if I followed the actions of Jesus to the letter, loved my neighbour, turned the other cheek and generally was a good egg, but at the same time regarded him as simply a mythical archetype of goodness and the Golden Rule – if I did all that, come judgment day, could I enter paradise?The answer is obvious: not exactly, because you'd have to accept God's testimony in history otherwise you're calling him a liar. But parking that for a moment and focussing on the "do unto others" stuff, let's have a look at what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, and find out what he really expects if you're going to Do-It-Yourself. And hopefully, Rutherford might realise that perhaps doing it oneself is not as easy as all that.Well, the Alpha leaders appear not to have given such a straightforward response. But Rutherford concludes,
If Alpha dictated that Christ's existence were simply a matter of faith, then I would have no beef. But by straining so hard to back it up with facts, hearsay as they are, the whole case falters.It sounds like a decent précis of 1 Corinthians 15 might have been a useful preparation for providing the evidence that demands a verdict. If Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.