“Gunning for God” Review, Part Seven

Having discussed and shown the weakness of arguments against miracles in general, Lennox turns in chapter 8 to arguments against the reported resurrection of Jesus.

He quotes Richard Dawkins, “Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well documented as Jack in the Beanstalk”, and Christopher Hitchens who speaks of, “the highly questionable existence of Jesus”, and criticises them for seemingly not  having consulted any reputable ancient historian.

The quotation from Hitchens comes from page 114 of “God is not Great“, and indeed Hitchens does not seem to cite any specific authority for his statement, simply asserting on the next page “The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms…” (Hitchens, 2008, p. 115). To anyone immersed in the field of Biblical scholarship, that is laughably untrue.

Dawkins, though, seems to be relying on the work of Professor G.A. Wells, and Lennox is too peremptory, I think, in dismissing Wells just because he “is an Emeritus Professor of German”, writing out of his field of primary expertise. I think that Wells made a reasonably scholarly attempt in his discussions of the historicity of Jesus, even though in the end his reasoning is faulty and his conclusions cannot be sustained. Dawkins should indeed have read more widely, though, for Lennox goes on to cite several reputable authorities who have a very different opinion than Wells, Dawkins and Hitchens – Ed Sanders of Duke University, Christopher Tuckett of the University of Oxford, and Gerd Thiessen, a leading German New Testament historian. And, of course, he could have listed dozens of others.

Hitchens and Dawkins are equally remiss in the “authorities” to whom they turn to support their view that the Bible is unreliable. Hitchens cites satirist H. L. Mencken (Hitchens, 2008, p. 110), and Dawkins cites Bart Ehrman, Robin Lane Fox and Jacques Berlinerblau and then asserts, “…reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament … as a reliable record of what actually happened in history” (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 121-122). They are inevitably guilty of begging the question by designating as “reputable” only those authorities whose work is shaped by the same naturalistic presuppositions as their own.

Over against the circularity of those authorities, Lennox summarises the very great evidence that the Biblical texts are highly reliable, and cites in support the opinions of Sir Frederic Kenyon (a leading authority on ancient manuscripts) and Bruce Metzger, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary (Lennox, 2011, pp. 190-194). And, again, he could have listed dozens of others.

Lennox completes the chapter by discussing the evidence for the historical reliability of the evidence for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and ends with this paragraph:

“The reader will note that there have been relatively few references to the New Atheists in this section on the resurrection. There is a simple reason for that. For all their vaunted interest in evidence, there is nothing in their writings to show that they have seriously interacted with the arguments, many of them very well known, that we have presented here” (Lennox, 2011, p. 223).

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