With the advent of The Blasphemy Challenge Brian Flemming’s The God Who Wasn’t There is once again garnering attention. I have addressed some of the more glaring aspects of this video on the DL in the past, but since the kind of “scholarship” that this kind of film promotes is so common in humanistic “academia” today, it is good to address it here as well. Let’s start with this claim from Flemming:
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Yes, I think “year of our Lord” is a shot, too.
Flemming says Mark was the first gospel written, and he states it as a simple fact. There is no doubt that “Markan priority” is the majority viewpoint of New Testament scholarship. But not only are there other possibilities as to the relationship of the gospels to each other, the question of direct documentary utilization is wide open as well. That is, it is a grossly simplistic assertion to say Matthew, for example, is sitting at a desk with a complete, written version of Mark in front of him, and some “Q” source as well, and is going, “Hmm, well, I don’t like the way Mark said this, so I am going to change it to this.” As popular as this is these days, it is itself mythological in nature. Sure Luke says he used sources, and there is nothing inherently “anti-spiritual” about study and preparation and research in the writing of the gospel of Luke. But what so much of this discussion ignores, discounts, dismisses, etc., is the very testimony of the NT itself. As we will see, Flemming makes the same mistake. They put the gospels as late as possible, and then point to this “empty” space during which all sorts of development could take place. Every wild-eyed liberal theory on the planet requires us to believe that from AD 33 or so until AD 70 a massive amount of “development” was taking place. But the reality is quite different. We know the Apostles were preaching during this time. We know the church was being persecuted, first by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and then, over time, the Romans began to take note of this (at first) Jewish “sect,” and then, sometime during the sixth decade, as a religion unto itself. This took the Apostles all across the known world (see Paul’s travels as just one example). What is the result of this dispersion of the original eyewitnesses? In a way similar to the distribution of the early manuscripts of the writings of the New Testament, so too the oral preaching of the Apostles was not limited to a small group in a small place (and hence subject to particular, focused redaction and “development”). Instead, the apostolic message, including the core of the gospel accounts themselves, was spread across the Mediterranean in a relatively small amount of time. The story of Jesus became known to thousands, and tens of thousands, in Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and many other tongues. They would be memorized, and re-told, countless times. In the early Christian gatherings the Old Testament scriptures would be read, and then the fulfillments, seen in Jesus, would be narrated. The parables would be retold, the Sermon on the Mount recounted, etc. This is the real “Q” source, it seems to me. I hear precious little discussion of the fact that there would have been an insatiable desire for knowledge of Jesus and His teachings in those early decades. And once the gospel stories became known to tens of thousands, memorized by devoted repetition, the idea that someone else could come along (i.e., Paul, for example), and make up a whole new religion and a whole new view of Jesus (as Shabir Ally suggests) is simply without merit. While the early church surely looked for the imminent return of Christ (as do we today), I think the real impetus for the production of the canonical gospels was the growth of the church and the need for documentation of the record that was already so familiar and well known to believers. The idea that these gospels were just “cooked up” decades later flies in the face of the reality of the existence of the infant Christian church. Of course, this would require Flemming to be honestly examining the facts at this point, and one thing we can tell just by the choice of “scholars” used is that examination of facts is not his goal.
Flemming says the rest of the gospels, Matthew, Luke, and John, are “clearly derived from Mark.” Excuse me? Not even someone as radical as John Dominic Crossan would go that far regarding John. This is just bright-eyed fundamentalistic atheism speaking. If he is speaking of the oft-discussed and highly studied relationship of the Synoptics, I would only expand upon what I said above to point out that if I am correct about a widely-dispersed (i.e., not simply focused upon Jerusalem, for example) core of apostolic teachings entrusted to the entire body of the church (not to just a few who memorize it, as you have in the Qurra of ancient Islamic history), then one must seriously consider the possibility that each of the gospels is drawing upon this firmly established knowledge of the gospel and presenting it within the context of each writer’s intended audience. Luke, for example, is writing, along with Acts, in defense of Paul’s liberty, presenting the fact that the gospel is free from the accusations made against it by Paul’s Jewish enemies at his trial in Rome. He is not writing for an Aramaic speaking Palestinian audience, and this answers many questions about style and format, etc. That a strong and meaningful case can be made for such alternative viewpoints of the literary relationship of the Synoptics demonstrates that Flemming’s borrowed cavil against the gospels, which becomes the ground of all else that follows, is ill advised.
And finally, the glaring nature of the circularity of Flemming’s naturalistic world view comes out in the bland way in which he says that since Mark mentions the destruction of the Jewish temple, well, that must mean he was writing after the event itself, because, of course, we all know there is no such thing as prophecy. Talk about assuming your conclusions so as to arrive at them! But I think even here the student in the college classroom who encounters this kind of argument can offer an excellent response. It might go along these lines, “That argument seems to prove too much. You say Mark was written after Jerusalem fell. But, Mark, and all the gospels, include elements in the predictive passages about the fall of Jerusalem that clearly have not yet been fulfilled completely, or, at the very least, would not be something someone would include in something they are pretending to be prophetic in nature. Why include problematic items you would have to explain when all you are really doing is trying to make Jesus look good as a prophet? Instead, these elements clearly indicate, to the semi-unbiased reader, that these words were written before the fall of Jerusalem, in fact, before the Roman seige began, probably before AD 66.”
But Flemming is not interested in a fair accounting of the information. Just watch the end of his video to see what his real motivations are.
I will continue with a review of the heart of Flemming’s attack upon the faith over the course of the next few weeks.