The Case for Christ

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The Case for Christ is a popular book on Christian apologetics by Lee Strobel.

Counter-apologetics issues[edit]

Although Strobel claimed to be an atheist when he started this book, many readers have pointed out that he did a very bad job supporting the atheist position. Furthermore, he conducted interviews only with Christian apologists, and none with atheists or skeptics. He has claimed that the book is balanced because he himself is arguing against the apologists, but at many points in the book he appears extremely reluctant to challenge his subjects.

Further, if Strobel proved the existence of Christ as a historical fact then there would be no room for "faith". Therefore, he is satisfied to give the reader a "case" as to not negate the importance of faith.

Formula for the book[edit]

Basically, each chapter goes like this:

  1. Insert an anecdote about modern criminal cases and how they were solved by a piece of evidence.
  2. Introduce somebody to serve as the Christian apologist.
  3. Describe every facet of their education and work history (a classic appeal to authority in hopes the reader will trust the validity of the next few pages).
  4. Play devil's advocate and ask the person "tough questions" posed by skeptics.
  5. Accept weak argument.
  6. Asks personal questions about the subject's religious convictions. ("How much do you love Jesus now?" "A lot!")

Rebuttals by Chapter[edit]

Chapter 1: The Eyewitness Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: 'Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?

Interview with Craig Blomberg. Blomberg acknowledges that "strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous." However this does not stop Blomberg from suggesting that the four gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, making them eligible eyewitness testimony. According to Blomberg, this fact is confirmed by Papias (writing circa CE 125).

Response: What Blomberg fails to mention is that we have no surviving writings of Papias. We rely for what he said on Eusebius, a fourth century historian of the Church. This is similar to a modern historian telling you, more than a century after the time of Joseph Smith, that Smith dug up the tablets and the Book of Mormon is an accurate record. Perhaps Eusebius is quoting Papias correctly, but even so, what can we glean from that quotation? It’s pretty clear that Papias is himself passing on secondhand reports about these documents and their reputed authors. He says that his information about "Mark" comes from "the elder."

Chapter 2: Testing the Eyewitness Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Do the Biographies of Jesus Stand Up to Scrutiny?

The interview with Bloomberg continues. Strobel first asks him if the biblical authors were interested in actually reporting what really happened? Blomberg quotes Luke 1:1-4, basically saying that the gospels are accurate simply because they say they are.

Response: However, Luke uses the phrase "handed down to us" which does not seem like something that happens in just a couple of years. Also, the "account of the things that have been fulfilled among us" as far as we know there is only one: the gospel of Mark. And yet, how could Lukes work omit many stories that Matthew says happened? Plus, if Luke was a companion of Paul, why does it never say so? Bloomberg continues as notes that the gospels were written with "sober and responsible fashion." Again, this is misleading. Sober and responsible is not the appropriate terms to use when the gospels contain many contradictions and early fabrications and deliberate forgeries. Is the tale of a mass resurrection of the dead who walked in the streets of Jerusalem for all to see really sober and responsible reporting, or just another tall tale.

Blomberg then says that the gospel accounts do not contain "outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in other ancient writings."

Response: This is really not the case. Virgin births, miracles, raising the dead, son of the divine, and so on. All of these were used in myths all the time. Julius Caesar claims he was born of a virgin and the coins with his name declare him "son of God."

To explain away all the inconsistencies in the Bible, Bloomberg defends the Bible by stating "If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses. People would say that we really have only one testimony that everyone else is parroting."

Response: This does pose a big problem for the inerrantists. Even the non-inerrantists have a problem: can't be too consistent and can't be too inconsistent. According to Blomberg, the gospels are inconsistent to the right degree. However, using Blomberg's own argument, the biographies of Alexander the Great (the two principal biographies written four hundred years after Alexander's death) are widely accepted as accurate are considerably more consistent with each other than are the gospels. So the gospels "flunk" Bloomberg's own test.

Blomberg tries to counter the propaganda aspect of the Bible, saying that the Bible contains many embarrassing or difficult problems and yet the gospel writers made no attempt to cover it up.

Response: The problem is that a propaganda piece has to include some embarrassing or difficult material to appear objective. Just like modern day propagandists, the gospel writers knew what they had to do.

Blomberg concedes that the Gospels, if accurate, would be corroborated by archaeological and historical evidence.

Response: However, he does not name a single one. Blomberg is also not up to date with what modern archaeological evidence states about the Bible. The evidence for veracity of the settings of the New Testament - and Old Testament - is so bad that scholars now question the whole model of "biblical archaeology," which starts with the assumption that the Bible is a reliable guide for field research. There is now so much archaeological evidence against the historical accuracy of the Bible that the term "biblical archaeology" has been discarded by professional archaeologists and "Syro-Palestinian archaeology" has been suggested by some in the field as a more appropriate term.

Finally, Blomberg questions if the gospel accounts were not true, then why did contemporary eye-witnesses not correct them or proclaim their inaccuracy.

Response: Actually, it's a simple explanation. First of all, the gospels were written later than Blomberg would like them to be. Second, if the gospels are for the most part contain things that never happened, there would not be an contemporary "eye-witnesses" to speak out. For instance, Paul says that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus, but Paul does not name who they are, where they came from, what they saw, how old where they, were they sober or mentally stable, how many of them were male adults, etc. It is very likely that the 500 witnesses is just a number written on paper and the whole thing is one example of the many propaganda pieces.

Chapter 3: The Documentary Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Were Jesus' Biographies Reliably Preserved for Us?

Interview with Bruce M. Metzger, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary and chairman of the New Revised Standard Version Bible Committee on the reliability of the textual transmission of the New Testament. That is, because the original books of the New Testament are lost, how do we know that "each copied document was identical to the original?" Metzger argues that because the gospels have a vast amount of copies that often agree with each other provides evidence for their accuracy.

Response: However, there is still a problem. If the gospel writers were inaccurate in the history they wrote, or wrote with a deliberate bias, all the copies in the world aren't going to make up for those biases and inaccuracies.

Strobel then asks Metzger why some books were included in the New Testament and others (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas) were not? Strobel includes why did the early church fathers seek to exclude legitimate books that portrayed Jesus in a way they did not like and why the New Testament contains some evident interpolations. Metzger admits that "church councils squelched equally legitimate documents because they didn't like the picture of Jesus they portrayed."

Response: Equally legitimate? Then why does Metzger not accept the stories on the Gospel of Thomas. The only reason why not is religious bias.

Chapter 4: The Corroborating Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Is There Credible Evidence for Jesus outside His Biographies?

Interview with Edwin Yamauchi (who holds a doctorate in Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis University, and teaches at Miami University in Oxford, OH.) about extra-biblical evidence that confirms the contents of the New Testament. The first on Edwin's list of evidences in Josephus. Josephus was a Jew, born around 37 CE in Palestine. He served in the Jewish War of 66-70 and was captured by the Romans. He then threw his support behind the enemy, declaring that the General Vespasian would become emperor—a prophecy which came true within a year. As a consequence, he was adopted as a client by Vespasian and spent the rest of his life in Rome, where he wrote histories of the Jewish War and of the Jewish people. In manuscripts of the latter work, called Antiquities of the Jews, published about 93 CE. There are two references to Jesus in this book.

Response: They have been discussed many times by countless critical scholars, and the current consensus is the vast majority considers both references as forgeries. Edwin does mention a few problems with the passages, but he does not include the huge problems such as Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. Whoever wrote these references was a believer in Christ.

Yamauchi also claims that other ancient sources provide independent confirmation of the New Testament: Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, the Talmud, and the writings of the early church fathers.

Response: However, there is no good reason to believe that any of these sources provide corroborating evidence (see the article Mythicism to see why). The writings of the church fathers do not provide any independent confirmation; they were late and based on earlier Christian sources.

Chapter 5: The Scientific Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus' Biographies?

Interview with John McRay, Ph.D. He teaches at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago and studied at Hebrew University and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem (an institution funded by the Vatican that for many years kept the Dead Sea Scrolls locked away from serious secular scholarship). McRay claims that archaeological discoveries have corroborated several of the incidental details of Luke, and that archaeology has bolstered the credibility of John and Mark.

In this chapter, they examine several stories in the New Testament, including the Consensus, Herod slaughtering the inhabitants of Bethlehem, and the existence of Nazareth.

Response: There is much in the New Testament account of Jesus’ life which has produced no echo in the record of the time by non-Christian historians, such as the dramatic event of Herod slaughtering all the male infants in the town of Bethlehem.

The Consensus: In support of this contention, McRay provides an official Roman document (104 CE) that includes the reference: "...who for any cause are residing outside of their provinces to return to their homes that they may carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments..."

Response: However, this reference does not speak to paternal nativity, but rather to current ownership and cultivation of land. It clearly means that you're supposed to go back home and tend to your farm as well as be counted in the census. Nowhere does it say anything about returning to the village of paternal nativity as does the reference in the birth narratives of Jesus. As for who was governor of the time, there exists the problem of Herod dying in 4 BCE and Quirinius not ascending to the governorship of Syria until CE 6.

The Existence of Nazareth: McRay says that Nazareth did exist as a hamlet.

Response: Wrong, the gospels tell us that Nazareth was larger than a hamlet with a decent sized population, and included a temple. It is difficult to locate because no references to Nazareth can be found in any written source outside the gospels before the fourth century.

Herod and Bethlehem:

Response: This incident is only found in the gospel of Mark, nowhere else.

McRay points out there is no historical evidence for the Book of Mormon, however reassures that evidence does exist for the New Testament.

Response: This is not true. There is no evidence for the mass resurrection of saints who walked in the streets of Jerusalem for all to see, the three hours of darkness, or the location of the tomb where Jesus was buried. While there is no evidence either for the book of Mormon, that does not mean that McRay's position wins by default.

Chapter 6: The Rebuttal Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Is the Jesus of History the Same As the Jesus of Faith?

In this chapter, Strobel addresses the Jesus Seminar. The scholars of the jesus seminar examined the canonical gospels and the Gospel of Thomas and pinpointed what Jesus actually said and did not say. They concluded 82% of the words of Jesus in the Bible are not the actual words of Jesus (doubt still remains on the remaining 18%).

Strobel interviews Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D. Boyd holds a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and he is a professor of theology at Bethel College. Boyd is also a pastor at Woodland Hills Church. Boyd dismiss the Jesus Seminar because they do not think like traditional scholars.

Response: What Boyd is doing is inserting that he has the correct models and not a large group of well-trained scholars.

What is Boyd's model? He makes a statement that flies in the face of the scientific method: "Historians usually operate with the burden of proof on the historian to prove falsity or unreliability, since people are generally not compulsive liars. Without that assumption, we would know very little about ancient history." To prove a contention as controversial as the resurrection, you can't simply rely on the testimony of those who say they were there and then try to disprove it. Only after collecting all the available evidence can a person make conclusions based on where that evidence points to. This is exactly what the Jesus Seminar did.

Later, Boyd defends the miracles of Jesus. He claims they must have been real because they are too radical and unlike the other miracle workers of Jewish history. Boyd says that "the radical nature of his miracles distinguished him." Here are several of Jesus' miracles: multiplied fish, raised sons and daughters from the dead, cured blindness, deafness, and leprosy. Based on all of this, Boyd concludes that Jesus was different and special.

Response: What he fails to acknowledge is that many other "miracle workers" both of that time. For instance, Apollonius of Tyana healed the sick, raised the dead and is even said to walk through walls. Simon Magus levitated in the air. However, Boyd does examine Appollonius of Tyana, and concludes that the accounts of Apollonius are not as reliable as the gospels. Boyd's reasons: Philostratus (the author) was writing during the Christian era and could have borrowed from Christian sources. The problem here is that the gospel writers were also living in a "magical" era. There were lots of magicians, illusionists, miracle workers and religious reformers working the crowds in the time of Christ. Christ was not unique or special. The gospel writers could have just as easily borrowed several ideas from other miracles works just as Philostratus could.

However, Boyd addresses this magical era as well. According to Boyd (dismissing the previous point that the gospel authors could have borrowed stories from others), Boyd says "if you're going to argue for borrowing, it should be from the direction of Christianity to the mystery religions, not vice versa."

Response: This is astonishing. Boyd does not explain why, and there is no good reason to accept this absurd claim. Boyd thinks that the other religions were not contemporary, ignoring that Caesar called himself born of a virgin around the same time as Jesus.

Boyd argues at baptism could not have come from pagan sources (such as Mithra).

Response: What Boyd does not explain is that baptism was practiced by the Essenes for at least a century and a half before the Common Era, and John the Baptist is believed to have been an Essene by some scholars.

Near the end of the chapter, Strobel notes Boyd was "on the very edge of his chair" making a case for believing in what you love to believe in because you love to believe in it!

Response: What an excellent proclamation of bias and prejudicial error.

Chapter 7: The Identity Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Was Jesus Really Convinced That He Was the Son of God?

Strobel interviews Ben Witherington III, Ph.D. Witherington and they examine the Hick theory. The Hick theory comes from a British theologian John Hick (and a half-dozen like-minded colleagues) which it is alleged that Jesus never thought of himself as a god incarnate (John Hick, ed., The Myth of God Incarnate 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 1993)). In response, Witherington examines several passages from the Bible where Jesus references himself as God.

Response: What Strobel did not do was interview biblical scholars who do not accept these verses as authentic. The fallacy of this argument is that Witherington does not examine the biblical text that predates the gospels, and none of them support the concept that Jesus was god incarnate (thus supporting the Hick theory).

Chapter 8: The Psychological Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Was Jesus Crazy When He Claimed to Be the Son of God?

Interview with Dr. Collins has a doctorate in psychology from Purdue University and teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, which might offer a clue as to what he's going to say about the sanity of Jesus.

Collins makes the claim that people in Jesus' time thought him mad (John 10:20) because he went around doing miracles. However no Christian critic of the time recorded anything claiming Jesus was crazy, but Collins states that Jesus was not crazy because he did not exhibit the behavior of someone who is mentally disturbed.

Response: How can a psychologist come to this conclusion about someone who lived over 2,000 years ago. Collins say Jesus critics described Jesus in a way that does not fit the description of "a trained mental health professional" but how are the Christian writers of the New Testament were any more qualified as "mental health professionals."

Collins makes the claim here that Jesus' miracles could not be accounted for by mass hypnosis, because first, mass hypnosis doesn't work, and second, the descriptions of the miracles don't fit the phenomenon of mass hypnosis.

Chapter 9: The Profile Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Did Jesus Fulfill the Attributes of God?

The purpose of the chapter is to justify the reasoning behind the Trinity in a Biblical sense.

Response: By using the Bible as the source of the explanation, the discussion is ultimately irrelevent to the validity and factuality of the material itself.

Regardless of personal belief of the positive characteristics of Jesus, the chapter is light on details of the actual functionality of God.

Chapter 10: The Fingerprint Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Did Jesus - and Jesus Alone - Match the Identity of the Messiah?

Explains how Jesus fufilled Old Testament prophecy.

Response: And he did fufill the prophecy - as did a guy named Jim I completely made up right now.

It's easy to fudge facts to fit the story - Strobel's only defense to this point was that he is convinced the unknown writers of the gospels would have checked each other's facts. How that is even possible as none of them were eyewitnesses, he does not explain. He also does not explain why they would care about people embellishing a character they cared about.

Think of it like Star Wars fan fiction. If you write a story about how R2D2 saved a planet, George Lucas isn't going to come to your house and kill you. He's going to not care, or not even hear about it. Lucas will eventually die, his grip on the franchise will be lost and your story might become as canonical as his is.

Chapter 11: The Medical Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Was Jesus' Death a Sham and His Resurrection a Hoax?

This chapter was devoted to explaining that if you get nailed to a cross, you will die.

Response: To get this far, you must already be convinced that Jesus was a real person that actually did get punished by the Romans, but then Houdini'd himself out of it just for kicks.

It is such a bizarre concern that it makes one think that the only people worried about this sort of minutia in such an incredible story are Lee Strobel and bored kids in Sunday School.

Chapter 12: The Evidence of the Missing Body[edit]

Subtitle: Was Jesus' Body Really Absent from His Tomb?

Response: Strobel goes to great lengths trying to explain that a tomb that he hasn't actually seen and doesn't know the location of is actually empty.

For this chapter, he interviews William Lane Craig. Craig's credentials include a doctorate from the University of Birmingham and a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich.

Craig goes on to try to explain away the massive contradictions amongst the gospels of the story from the Trial to the Resurrection. Criag's best response: none of it matters. The gospels main message - that Jesus was tried, found guilty, crucified, declared dead, and rose from the dead - remain consistent.

Response: This is not really surprising, since both Matthew and Luke obtained most of their information straight from Mark.

Craig is satisfied that the details of the story are not consistent, otherwise (Craig argues) this would be a sign of plagiarism.

Response: However, it is agreed amongst the critical biblical scholars that Luke, Matthew and John took as inspiration the writings of Mark. So the use of the plagiarism argument is specious.

The bulk of Craig's arguments against the motive of plagiarism was that the gospel writers motives were "pure."

Response: Nowhere does Craig provide any evidence that the gospel writers were being sincere, he only accepts it as a given.

Chapter 13: The Evidence of Appearances[edit]

Subtitle: Was Jesus Seen Alive after His Death on the Cross?

Response: Of course. He's seen on grilled cheese sandwiches every day. Who cares? People see Elvis on a regular basis. It isn't reliable testimony, if it was, then all religions would be valid. By itself, an empty tomb does not entail that a dead body came back to life. If we examine the tomb of Napoleon, we do not assume he rose into Heaven.

For this chapter, Strobel interviews Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D. Habermas holds a doctorate in divinity from Emmanuel College in Oxford, England. His Ph.D. is from Michigan State University, where he wrote his dissertation on the Resurrection. He is currently the chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's school for evangelical fundamentalists.

Habermas, basing on linguistic evidence, argues the Nicean Creed (quoted from I Corinthians) is in fact a creed of the early church.

Response: However, not once does he bring up the possibility that this section of Corinthians is a later interpolation, nor does he attempt to disprove such a possibility.

Moving on, Storbel and Habermas discuss hallucinations. Habermas quotes Gary Collins as saying that hallucinations are, by their nature, never a mass phenomena. Yet confusing or misunderstood phenomena often are misunderstood by masses of people. For example, the "UFO" seen by hundreds of people in Phoenix on an August night in 1997. Many who saw them swore that the five lights were attached to a huge wing-shaped object. Yet it was later proven by photographic analysis of the videos and still photographs shot that night that they were simply illumination flares lit off over the Goldwater Gunnery Range in southwestern Arizona by the Maryland Air National Guard on maneuvers. There's no question of what they were. But that doesn't stop the hundreds of people in Phoenix from believing that they saw a huge UFO that night. Similarly, it's quite possible for many people to misinterpret a phenomenon with a simple, rational explanation as something supernatural.

Chapter 14: The Circumstantial Evidence[edit]

Subtitle: Are There Any Supporting Facts That Point to the Resurrection?

Here, Strobel interviews J.P. Moreland. Moreland holds a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Southern California and is a professor at the Talbot School of Theology. Moreland makes an argument for the martyrdom of the early Christians, that they are different from Mormon and Muslim martyrs. The early Christians were willing to face torturer, no instant death.

Response: However, there is eviddence that the early Christians did not face any torture or persecution. Faith can be a powerful motivator. Many have died or faced torment for their faith, Morelands assumption does not hold any weight.

Next, Moreland addresses the "harden skeptics" who were convinced by the resurrection of Jesus.

Response: The main problem is that Moreland begins with the presupposition that the gospel accounts are reliable and accurate. Moreland mentions Josephus works on James, Jesus' brother. However, the accuracy of Josephus works are highly controversial, even some early church leaders contradict Josephus's account of how James died.

Finally, Moreland concludes the reason for Christianities success must be because it is true.

Response: What Moreland does not take into account is the years of Christians persecuting others and using political and social pressure to submit as many people as possible to their faith. Based on Moreland's own reasoning, he should accept Islam over Christianity.

Conclusion: The Verdict of History[edit]

Subtitle: What Does the Evidence Establish - And What Does It Mean Today?

External links[edit]