Straw Men

There are so many interesting (and often humorous) ways non-believers attack Christianity. From moral arguments against Christianity (yeah, right!) to the Problem of Evil to the so-called Euthyphro Dilemma and so on.

One of the ones that I find the most hilarious is when they start trying to pick apart the Bible itself and try to point out inconsistencies. For example, I remember once hearing a call-in, public-access TV show asking callers (specifically Christians) to call in and answer some pre-determined questions. The questions were ones like, “Who was at the empty tomb first?” and “How many young men (or angels) were in the tomb when they arrived?”

The point of these questions was to try to show how dissimilar the gospel accounts were with regard to such details. On the one hand, there is a part of me that is saddened because I’m aware that there may be believers out there who’s understanding of their faith is so shallow that these types of things completely rattle them and they lose their faith and walk away.

On the other hand, these types of attacks are so completely lame that they’re almost laughable. Why? Because they obviously have not the slightest clue about how textual criticism actually works. They throw out a straw man like this to try to get us caught off guard and fighting against something that really poses no actual threat.

From everything I’ve ever heard about how textual criticism is done, as well as everything I’ve ever heard about how things like police detective work are done, it seems very obvious that the incidental details of the story is judged separately from the overarching point of the narrative.

It works kind of like this…

All four gospel accounts agree on the main facts of the account. Those facts were that a group of women were the first to arrive at the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. They all agree that the women eventually came back with some disciples and were informed by an angel that Jesus had risen as He had prophesied prior to His crucifixion.

In all these main details, all the accounts agree. Now, on the incidental details, such as how many women there were, how many disciples there were, whether there was one or two angels or if they were young men, etc., there was obviously some variation. If you ask any detective about how they interpret the statements of various witnesses, they will tell you that they look for the main, major details to be consistent. They will also tell you that if the incidental details are too similar, they begin to suspect that the witnesses “rehearsed” their stories before-hand in order to all sound the same.

Therefore, the fact that the major theme of the gospel narratives are the same and some of the incidental details vary actually lends more credibility to the accounts, rather than less. I suppose, in light of that fact, we owe a big “thank you” to the non-believers and Bible critics who point these things out for us.

Grace, love and peace.

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