Case for Christ vs Scott Bidstrup

Because I believe that Lee Strobel's Case books deserve their place as the leading "gateway" apologetics books for popular audiences, I intend to take some time to address critiques I find of Strobel's material. One of these is a commentary/review by cowboy-scholar Scott Bidstrup.

It is far from being as detailed as Earl Doherty's critique, and consists in the main of Bidstrup uncritically repeating his favorite lines from his own sources.

Since much of Bidstrup's critiques are "old hat", in many cases I'll just have links. Note: He is apparently unaware that Strobel was not, at the time of writing this book, an atheist. He therefore hypothesizes that the book was ghostwritten.

Page 21-24 - Authorship of the Gospels -- Bidstrup deals with none of the highly relevant issues of determination of authorship. See here. Bidstrup resorts to a fallacious appeal to authority: His assertion is contraindicated by many other scholars, both apologetic and secular. He claims:

The claim that "Papias, writing in 125 AD" verifies the authorship of Mark, and that Mark recorded events accurately, is fundamentally without merit. It's as meaningful and as useful as my personally telling you, more than a century after the time of Joseph Smith, that "yeah, the guy really did dig up some golden plates, and yeah, the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation of them." Papias is as distant from the events he's verifying as I am from the events of Joseph Smith's time. So why should we believe him?

If Bidstrup is right, then professional historians who accept much later-dated evidence for authorship of other ancient documents are wasting their time. The works of Tacitus come down to us from copies found no earlier than the 11th century, with nothing but a superscription, and the testimony of other writers just as late if not later, to back it up.

The Gospels are in far better shape than any ancient document in this regard, with superscriptions found in every copy that has a full first page (with copies from the 2nd and 3rd century) except one of Matthew, and testimony from within a much, much smaller space of time.

Beyond that, the comparison to Smith is apples and oranges. A closer parallel would be a son of Oliver Cowdrey or one of the witnesses saying that Smith wrote the Mormon works. (Bidstrup apparently thinks that Smith's witnesses saw the plates dug up; at most they only claimed to see the plates, and whether Smith did have some sort of plate before him -- not necessarily a genuine artifact -- can be debated.)

The digging up of the plates themselves was never claimed to be a public act; the results -- transcribing them -- was. The work of the evangelists was widely distributed and as shown in the linked essay, the evidence is firmly against their work running around uncredited.

Page 26 - The Gospel 'Q' -- see here. Bidstrup has clearly taken the line from the likes of Mack that Q has some kind of certitude behind it. One wonders, given his skepticism over Gospel authorship, how he can place so much faith in the existence of a document there is no "hard copy" of.

Page 29 - Reliability of the ancient Greek -- Bidstrup places a translation done by Lattimore against Blomberg. I do not doubt Lattimore's competence, but the fact is that Blomberg is right -- the passage in Matthew, according to interlinear Bibles, does have Jesus saying ego eimi, "I am," just as in John's Gospel.

Page 33 - Chronology of the gospel writings -- see link on Gospel authorship above. Also:

While pointing out that the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years after the warrior's death, are considered quite accurate, there is no reason to believe that they were written with propagandistic purposes in mind - hence there would have been no motive for the authors to write propaganda. In the case of the gospels, however, we know without question that they were, because all the elements of propaganda are there. Indeed, one of the gospel writers ("John" in John 20:31) even admits that he's writing propaganda - for the purpose of "building faith" as he puts it.

We point the reader to Glenn Miller's essay here. Like James Still, Bidstrup has effectively "boxed in" the Gospel writers -- if indeed the events described in the Gospels happened, how could they be reported, by Bidstrup's accounting, and not be construed as propaganda? This needs to be answered; merely throwing out the top-heavy, emotional word "propaganda" isn't going to do the job.

Finally, several of Alexander's biographers, and other biography writers even today, did have their own agenda: To make their subject look good. See here.

For matters of contradiction between the gospels, see here and here. Bidstrup claims that the biographies of Alexander are consistent, but makes no comparison of them at all; I think he is merely assuming that they are all consistent without doing the needed legwork. But in the link above, the Lincoln bios are no more "consistent" than the Gospels.

Page 40 - Accuracy of gospel histories -- Bidstrup's comment, Blomberg is saying that the gospels are an accurate record because, in essence, their authors say they are, is a rather oversimplified view of the matter. Don't take this summary statement as accurate; read C4C on your own.

Blomberg's comment that you don't see the "outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in other ancient writings" is quite clearly without merit. Virgin birth? Ressurection? Miracle working? Son of God? These are all myths with antecedents in other writings of the period. By act of the Roman Senate, for example, Julius Caesar was declared to have been born of a virgin and to have been resurrected. The very coinage of the realm says he was the "Son of God" right there on it. How could a 'divine' Jesus have been any less? That's why those myths are in the gospels - to make him at least as divine as Julius Caesar.

Several points: