Earl Doherty on the Case for Christ: Critique

The following is a sort of "answer key" for Earl Doherty's Challenging the Verdict. Little is offered by Doherty in this book that is new or is not a rewrite of his material in The Jesus Puzzle, answered in our series here, which is a reading prerequisite for this essay. We have indexed reply material according to the person being answered.


Doherty questions Blomberg's assertion regarding the authorship of the Gospels: He asked him if it was not true that "no one in the surviving Christian record outside the Gospels ever referred to written Gospels before well into the second century, so we cannot tell if their authors were in dispute or not, or whether the early Christians who wrote the epistles and works like Revelation or the Didache were even familiar with such documents at all."

It is not true; we do have references to the Gospels, as well as quotes and allusions, throughout the patristic writings. But here is an example of how Doherty refuses to acknowledge the evidence:

Doherty notes that Justin Martyr offers what you admit are "clear quotations from the Gospels," which he refers to as being "the memoirs of the apostles."

This is sufficient evidence of what we call the Gospels being referred to. There is no evidence of other documents containing exactly the same material that Justin referred to.

We have quotes that (as even Doherty admits) are clearly from the documents we now call the Gospels; we have also Justin attributing these to Apostles as authors. What prevents the identification with what we now call the Gospels?

Justin's reference to "Memoirs of the Apostles" is recognized as reference to the Gospels. They would not of course be called "gospels" when they were written, or for quite some time, because the word "gospel" was used originally to signify the kerygmatic message of the church, and to refer to four "gospels" would imply four entirely different messages.

Justin's term for the Gospels is "memoirs" and it is the same term used to refer to the "memoirs" or reminisces of Socrates, compiled in four books by Xenophon; the allusion to the gospels would be inescapable. "Memoirs" here refers to documents that were ancient biographies.

Doherty asks: "Why, if they had been known for decades by their present names, and there was no dispute, would Justin not mention those authors?"

There is no reason for Justin to have mentioned the names of these authors. Do allusions to the work of Tacitus have his name in all cases of allusion to them? They do not, and so Doherty has not provided any compelling reason for Justin to make the attributions. In line with the quotation methods of the time, direct attribution is far from being as common as it is today, in our era of footnotes.

We are left with this: Either Justin was referring to these documents we now call the Gospels, or else there existed at the time some other documents, containing exactly the same material, and also attributed to the Apostles.

Re Blomberg's testimony concerning Irenaeus, "a century and a half after the time of the Gospels' origins": Doherty accuses Blomberg of not "acknowledging that this is a very long time to wait...before finding some opinion or confirmation that the Gospels were written by the men whose names are now attached to them."

But how does this compare with parallel works of secular literature? In other words, to take an example, Tacitus wrote the Annals attributed to him. He does not name himself as author in that work, other than in the initial line, as is the case for the Gospels.

The earliest attribution we have of that work to Tacitus, the earliest confirmation that the Annals were written by the man whose name is attached to them, is by Tertullian, perhaps 150 years after the Annals were written, which is less than the number of years after Papias' witness.

So by Doherty's reasoning, he ought to be claiming someone other than Tacitus wrote the Annals, or that evidence of Tacitus' authorship is so slim and that Tertullian's time is too long to wait for opinion or confirmation. But for some reason, classical scholars never doubt Tacitus' authorship of the Annals.

On Papias: according to Blomberg, in about A.D. 125 "specifically affirmed that Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter's eyewitness observations." Doherty accuses Blomberg of not having "given a full enough picture of Papias' so-called testimony." He says, "First of all, you fail to point out that we have no surviving writings of Papias," and that we rely on Eusebius, writing in the fourth century, for his words.

Is it normal in the canons of historical inquiry to make a point of such things? In other words, we know for example that Tacitus relied on sources for information prior to his era (as of course he would have had to). Do Greco-Roman historians consider Tacitus any less reliable on these points because he took them from an earlier source whose work we no longer possess?

The answer is no. Doherty is arbitrarily raising the bar of evidence.

Hereafter, we may present Doherty's commentary in quotes, followed by our answer.

"The fact that Papias said nothing himself to confirm the nature of these documents, tells us that he probably didn't possess copies of them."

Doherty can only say that Eusebius quotes nothing from Papias to this effect; he cannot say that Papias himself said no such thing, since we do not have Papias' work other than through quotes. Moreover, Doherty has arbitrarily created a new rule here: An author must "confirm the nature" of any documents in order to show he had copies of them. Why is this required? It isn't. Doherty has simply made up a new rule without basis.

"....we can be quite certain of this, since Eusebius and other later commentators who quote from his writings are silent about him discussing anything from his 'Mark' and 'Matthew.'"

Papias tells us that Matthew and Mark committed material to writing. That we agree upon. We have documents attributed to Matthew and Mark; we agree on this also. If these do not correspond, what was Papias referring to? Are there two lost documents of Matthew and Mark?

"If the Gospels were written as early as you and Mr. Strobel claim they were...why would he have to rely on a report by some 'elder' that such documents even existed, let alone who had written them?"

Let's quote Papias to start:

Matthew made an arrangement of the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each translated them as he was able...
Mark indeed, since he was the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, but not in order, the things either said or done by the Lord as much as he remembered. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed Him, but afterwards, as I have said, [heard and followed] Peter, who fitted his discourses to the needs [of his hearers] but not as if making a narrative of the Lord's sayings'; consequently, Mark, writing down some things just as he remembered, erred in nothing; for he was careful of one thing - not to omit anything of the things he heard or to falsify anything in them.

How does this show that Papias was "relying on" anyone for reports of the existence of these documents, or who had written them? This is someone explaining the how of the situations, not the whats and the whos.

Papias "does not even say they were called 'Gospels.'"

Again: The reference to these works per se as "Gospels" is a much later affectation; the early titles were "The Gospel According to" so and so. "Gospel" referred to the kerygmatic message contained therein, not the documents. But again, we can really only say that Eusebius does not report Papias saying such a thing, not that Papias does not say such a thing.

"...why would a narrative Gospel, with a carefully constructed story line from the beginning of Jesus' ministry to a culmination in his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, be considered 'not in order' or not having 'a systematic arrangement'?"

As the classical scholar George Kennedy recognized, Papias refers here to the preliminary notes composed by Mark which he later arranged into a coherent form. He is not referring to Mark's final product.

On ther other hand, few would equate what Papias refers to with the known Greek Matthew. For a response to the idea that Matthew used Mark see here.

Doherty next queried Blomberg regarding his having "likened the Gospels to ancient biographies" and noting that, "The only purpose for which the ancients thought that history was worth recording was because there were some lessons to be learned from the characters described." Doherty says that he has "very much undercut the historical reliability of the Gospels."

How so? Lessons cannot be drawn from real events? Doherty argues:

"Aren't lessons more efficiently conveyed by fiction and even fictional characters? Wouldn't strict history offer less scope for teaching lessons than artificially constructed stories in which the writers could embody all the points they wanted to make?"

No, not at all. One might think from this argument that true history is insufferably dull and devoid of moral content. What basis is there for Doherty's implied argument that "lessons are more efficiently conveyed by fiction"? There is none.

Doherty's inquiries concerning the authorship of John do not ask any better questions, or apply any standards for determination of authorship for all documents.

"...can we really believe that a character such as John the son of Zebedee, like all the apostles a rather rough and simple man, could have authored a sophisticated piece of writing like the Fourth Gospel?"

May I ask what Doherty's evidence is that the Apostle was "rough and simple"? Then may I ask how this forbids a mind of great insight and passion capable of writing the Fourth Gospel?

Given this argument, one might argue that persons living in the rough streets of Harlem, or in the barrios of Los Angeles, are utterly incapable of works of sophistication. But any student of literature knows better. Doherty also neglects the factor of the use of scribes in the ancient world.

Doherty expresses doubts that John is based on eyewitness accounts, on the grounds that "the content of John is so different from that of the synoptics."

Applying this logic, any work on the one hand recording only the Presidential speeches of Lincoln is "irreconcilable" with a work recording only his pithy sayings of wit on the other hand. Moreover, what of the thesis of Bauckham that John was written specifically to complement Mark, as well as the comments of Malina and Rohrbaugh on the purpose of John?

Jesus' words, "like I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, or, I am the Resurrection and the Life...are consistent with the tone and theological agenda visible throughout the Johannine Gospel, indicating that its content is the product of the evangelist and conforms to the thinking of his particular community."

There is not any evidence of this community's existence, other than the putative evidence of the Gospel of John. It is assumed, not proven, that the words recorded are part of an "agenda" and are manufactured -- could they have been part of an "agenda," indeed, but merely selected from the repetoire of the historical Jesus?

That an agenda or purpose is present does not prove fabrication. One may as well say facetiously that Doherty has an "agenda" to prove that Jesus didn't exist -- does that make his arguments unnecessary to answer?

John records "bold claims to some kind of exalted status for Jesus" whereas the synoptics "scarcely seem to portray Jesus as divine at all."

Not at all. There is a vast literature on this subject showing that the claims made in the Synoptics are just as bold. See material here.

Blomberg said, "In the ancient world, the idea of writing dispassionate, objective history merely to chronicle events, with no ideological purpose, was unheard of." Doherty replied, "So you would allow that the various pictures presented by the Gospels are not intended to reflect history, but serve the ideological purposes of the evangelists."

Blomberg clearly says that there was no idea of writing objective history merely to chronicle events -- he does not say that this means they thereby did not reflect history. Once again, Doherty arbitrarily declares that ideological and historical purposes must be mutually exclusive. Yet it is clear that one can promote ideology via selection of genuine historical events in a report.

Regarding the idea that Acts should be dated early because it does not report Paul's death: Doherty responds that "scholars see in Acts' plot line a symbolic progression of the faith's early expansion from Jerusalem to Rome, from a Jewish beginning to a gentile culmination, so the author may well have wanted to avoid ending on a negative note."

Some may do so, but they miss an important point. Scholars also see that a sub-theme of Acts is the "equality" of Peter and Paul -- the vindication of Paul's apostleship; so, how better to demonstrate this than to end with both martyrdoms in Rome?

Second, from a literary perspective, if Luke's readers knew that Paul had been martyred, then he has ended Acts in the worst possible way for inspiring confidence and commitment in his readers. Ending the work on an "upbeat" note, when it is known that Paul went on to be executed, is like writing a biography of a solider who went heroically to war, in order to exemplify and encourage patriotism, and omitting the fact that he was killed in action.

Would a reader appreciate the patriotic sentiments? I think rather they would report the death, and do so in a patriotic light.

Doherty: it "strikes me as a little naïve to assume that Luke just happened to write his work in that narrow time span after Paul's arrival in Rome but before he met his fate."

Why does Doherty make the presumption that Luke did not begin to write his material in the process of travel with Paul? Ancient writers took notes when they composed a more complex work. Other than that, Paul was under house arrest in Rome for several years, giving Luke ample opportunity to write, and we also hold that Paul was not executed at that time but released, and later re-arrested and executed under Nero.

"...if Acts was written so early, how can it be that no Christian writer, no Father of the Church, shows any knowledge of such a document or its content for another century?" He says that the earliest allusion comes from Justin in 155 or so.

But what about that Marcion knew of Acts in the 130s? What of awareness of Luke's Gospel in the Clementine letters and in Polycarp? A mere listing of four scholars who date Acts to the second century, and those who think that Luke and Acts were written or modified by different hands years apart, is not sufficient, as we could list dozens more who do not adhere to this thesis.

"I would like to point out that there is something very significant in 1 Clement, a letter written from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth around the turn of the second century. Here the author seems ignorant of any martyrdom in Rome for Paul. In chapter 5, he refers to the hardships both Peter and Paul suffered in their apostolic work and the fact that they had ended their lives in the service of the faith. But surprisingly, he brings neither figure to Rome nor states that they had been martyred there."

This is merely reading significance into silence. If it was well-known that Rome was the location of these events, what need was there to mention it? It would be "natural" to do so -- this is a low-context answer concerning a high-context document. Clement's readers in Rome hardly need a locational reference.

Indeed, it seems rather odd here, for inarguably, Clement says that Paul was martyred; yet Doherty is saying that this lack of detail in mentioning Rome "suggest[s] that such traditions were second century legends not based on fact at all."

How is it that here and elsewhere, legends developed that apparently recorded the death of Paul, yet failed to say where it happened? Did the legend-makers forget about geography? Doherty is saying they made up these legends, which the church accepted in spite of not pinpointing the location. Clearly, if they made up an idea that Paul was martyred or not, and Clement alludes to it, the story must have included details such as method and place of execution. So where are these also? This is just as much a "problem" under Doherty's thesis.

"...so much of Acts contradicts the information supplied by Paul himself in his letters."

See here.

Regarding the amount of time needed for legends to form, that "I might say that half a century would be sufficient time...."

He would say it, yes, but on what grounds? Let's have some parallel situations in which legends formed around a person, and stuck -- keep the latter criteria in mind especially.

"...do you really think that if unfounded beliefs did develop within the Christian church, that anyone would listen to or heed objections put forward by non-believers who were 'in the know'?"

The point is not whether anyone would listen, but whether such objections even existed; and as for that, we have the "stolen body" polemic recorded in Matthew, and nothing else -- certainly no idea that Jesus as a person never existed, or that any of the teachings ascribed to him were falsely ascribed, for example. Moreover, the issue is also what would happen to attempts to gain new converts for an already-controversial belief system.

Does Doherty really think, as one fond of citing silence, that there would be so much silence about these important points in works critical of Christianity, from Jews and from Gentiles? Not in a collectivist society, in which everyone minded the business of others.

"That's an assumption one can't bring to the period and mentality we are examining. Even Paul condemns as apostles of Satan those who preach 'another Jesus,' showing he is hardly open to opinions that would suggest his own ideas are wrong."

This is plainly Paul's first retort to these "apostles of Satan"; how can Doherty judge whether or not those he writes to listened to or heeded him? Moreover, hasn't Doherty already assumed that Paul is wrong for judging others wrong, and therefore criticizing Paul for doing exactly what he (Doherty) is doing?

"Besides, how many of these corrective eyewitnesses would be available? The Jewish War of 66 to 70 was an horrendous upheaval, killing or dispersing three-quarters of the population of Palestine."

Jesus was crucified during a time when there were literally millions (even hundreds of thousands, by conservative estimates) of Passover pilgrims in town; that leaves for plenty of corrective eyewitnesses and their immediate descendants. Doherty also overstates the effects of 70 AD.

"In any case, how widely do you think the Gospels would be known to outsiders over the first couple of decades of their existence? Even most Christians don't seem to be familiar with the story."

How widely known? Christianity spread to Rome by the time of Nero, if not by the time of the Claudian expulsion; why would it take documents (or the story therein) and longer to be known? In addition, it is fallacious to apply modern ignorance to people 2000 years in the past.

Doherty next apppeals to his "silence" arguments, our reply is here.

Re 1 Cor. 15: "(o)nce you set aside preconceptions based on the Gospels, this passage implies that all these seeings were of the same nature-namely, visionary."

How could this be so? Paul is clearly emphasizing the physicality of the resurrection, and answering Corinthian queries about what kind of body the dead will be raised with, and that would not work with a vision. In Judaism, a "spiritual resurrection" is a contradiction in terms.

Other epistles confirm "the spiritual nature of that resurrection...." Can Dr. Blomberg, and Mr. Strobel "find any sense of the Gospel resurrection in passages like 1 Peter 3:18? 'In the realm of the flesh he was put to death, in the realm of the spirit he was raised to life.'"

Where is the equivalent word for "realm" in the original language of the passage? There is none. The two verbs in this passage are also found together in the LXX of 2 Kings 5:7, as references to God's power to kill and make alive. Why is this not sensible of the Gospel resurrection?

Peter says: "(Baptism) brings salvation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ who entered heaven after receiving the submission of angelic authorities and powers, and is now at the right hand of God." Doherty says, "From resurrection to heaven with no mention of a sojourn on earth. He was seen by angelic powers apparently, but not by human beings."

Doherty neglects Peter's purpose in this passage. He is not trying to prove anything about the resurrection body, as Paul was; he is encouraging his flock, who are persecuted by evildoers, and using the fate of the spirits as an example.

Ephesians 1:20: "...when God raised him from the dead, when he enthroned him at his right hand in the heavenly realm." Doherty: there is "(n)o mention of a period on earth or resurrection appearances to followers there, either."

This translation is also injudicious. Those I consult offer this as saying, "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places..." with reference to demonstration of God's power. Obviously merely appearing on earth and appearing to people is not a demonstration of power.

Philippians, 2:6-11: Doherty says, "(t)hat, too, has Jesus going from death to being raised to the heights by God, with not a whisper about any period on earth."

Doherty is imposing unwarranted expectations on the texts; how many hymns today sing about the exalted Jesus and also make reference to his resurrection appearances? See also answers to claims from Hebrews and Romans 10:9 and 1 Thess. 4:14.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 15: "(w)hen Paul goes on in 15:12-16 to urge his readers to believe that humans will be resurrected from death, otherwise 'Christ has not been raised,' he makes no appeal to the 'seeings' listed earlier, and expresses himself once again as though the raising of Christ from the dead is a matter of faith."

Paul has already appealed to them once, in the context of a highly structured rhetorical argument; why must he appeal to them again? Why must Paul be obsessed with repetitive detail?

Regarding the various tests for reliability proposed by Blomberg:

Regarding "the intention test" Doherty says, "the idea of things 'handed down to us' does not sound like only a few years after the events themselves."

It is clearly few enough that a living witness is handing to the next generation; how many years is a "few" in this context? They did not wait until they were nearly dead to pass things on.

"..if Luke was writing early, even any time in the first century," he would have known only Mark's Gospel and not "many" precedents, as he says.

Doherty is taking advantage of silence again, assuming that we have all data in hand and all sources have survived from this period. Given how little has come down to us from the first century, it seems rather presumptive to assume that Luke is telling a fib here.

As for knowing Matthew, we will only make these few points beyond issues of the birth narratives.

"What about the fact that the teaching of Jesus as presented in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount ends up in pieces and spread all over Luke's map?"

Matthew's structure is that of an anthology and a teaching manual. This is normal literary practice for the period.

"What about the hearing of Jesus before Herod, splitting up the trial scene before Pilate?" and about the Emmaus scene being only in Luke?

One fails to see why this is a problem. Put together any four biographies of the same person and you will find that each writer keeps and omits what suits his purposes.

"If the Gospel of Luke were indeed written by Luke, Paul's companion, why does the writer of the preface not say so? Why wouldn't Luke, intruding these personal remarks at the beginning of his work, not identify himself, or his link to the apostle Paul?"

We ask rather: Why should have Luke made a point of this link? Of what necessity was it? However, we do think Luke attached his name at the very beginning, in the title -- just as Tacitus did in the Annals.

It was "a natural part of the appeal he makes to tradition and his own reliability [to] include the connection he is supposed to have enjoyed with the circle of followers of Jesus."

Would Theophilus be unaware of this? Had he never met Luke nor spoken to him before this date? These things are "natural" only to a low-context reader and writer.

See regarding 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16.

With regards to the "character test," Doherty cites Paul and John delivering insults which are no different than those delivered by the Qumranites, the rabbis, and secular historians of the period -- are they therefore not to be trusted to tell the truth?

"Was John a man of integrity when he had his Jesus condemn the entire race of the Jews as belonging 'to your father the devil, 'calling them liars as Satan is a liar?"

Jesus spoke these words at the Temple, to some Pharisees (John 8:13). How does he say he is speaking to the entire Jewish race?

"Was Matthew's integrity something admirable when he placed in the mouth of his Jewish crowd at Jesus' trial a line that would haunt them for two millennia: 'His blood be upon us and upon our children'?"

Yes, we know that this verse has been manipulated by anti-Semites to indicate that the Jewish people accepted blood-guilt for the execution of Jesus, knowing that He was innocent. But as Sloyan observes:

The expression, far from being a self-inflicted curse, is a strong statement of innocence. It appears in later, mishnaic form in the Tractate Sanhedrin 37a, where in capital cases the witness uses the invocation as a proof of his innocence. If he is lying, he is willing to have the blood of the accused fall on himself and his offspring until the end of the world.

So, do we still think Matthew might be lying and that a Jewish crowd (more likely, we may add, a crowd in the pay of the high priest, composed of Temple workers) would not say this?

With reference to the "consistency test," Blomberg says, "My own conviction is, once you allow for paraphrase, abridgement, explanatory additions, selection, omission, the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it's fair to judge them." Doherty says, "It seems that quite a lot could get in the door according to that list. But even all those items wouldn't cover some of the blatant contradictions we find between the Gospels."

Doherty offers no analysis of ancient standards in what follows, merely repeats of his previous objections, and a profession that Blomberg's explanation is "just a smoke screen." This is not sufficient answer.

Regarding the "bias test," Doherty uses the example of changes in the account of Jesus' baptism, and says, "later evangelists have altered Mark, for example, to change a picture of Jesus they apparently disapproved of. What has happened to Jesus' baptism, for example, through successive Gospels? Mark has him baptized by John in a straightforward manner, with no sense of difficulty. When Matthew comes to this scene, he hedges a little by having the Baptist express misgivings about the necessity for Jesus to be baptized, and his own worthiness to do it. Luke also evinces some embarrassment about the scene, skimming through a quick reference to Jesus' baptism along with "all the people," and associating the words and the dove from heaven only with succeeding prayers. John will have nothing to do with a baptism of Jesus at all, and simply has John proclaim him to be the Lamb of God. "

He further says this shows that "recording Jesus' life with great integrity was not the Gospels' intention."

Doherty and manufactures problems where none exist. Let's make the point about Matthew's difference first.

Presumably the point is that there is a problem here in that being baptized by John would suggest that Jesus was not sinless, and that Matthew is covering up this "problem" with John's comments. But the sinlessness of Jesus is an established teaching in the writings of Paul (2 Cor. 5:21), in the book of Hebrews (4:15) and in epistles of Peter (1 Pet. 2:22) and John (1 John 3:5) that are generally recognized as early and authentic even by the most staid critics. The first and third are thought by the critics to have been written some 10-30 years before Mark, and some will allow that Hebrews and 1 John were written that early as well.

Now let's consider this a moment. We have proof (from Paul, John and Peter) that the doctrine that Jesus was sinless was promulgated quite clearly and unequivocally within 20 years of Jesus' death and resurrection. Few doubt that Mark or anyone else invented the account of Jesus' baptism by John, for the reason that it supposedly causes the very dilemma we alludes to, but even otherwise could be badly misinterpreted. Yet, in spite of the fact that Jesus was baptized by John, somehow Peter, Paul, and the rest came to decide that Jesus was without sin.

So the "problem" existed already when Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians; it existed when Peter wrote his first epistle, and it means that it existed before either of these men wrote, and that it probably was part and parcel of Christian catechism from the very beginning, for we can be fairly sure that neither one invented the doctrine on the spot, and certainly not independently of one another.

Therefore, Matthew could in no way be solving a "problem" Mark created. If Jesus' sinlessness was an essential doctrine of the church from apparently the very beginning, and if the baptism by John was a certifiable fact as well, the answer is actually that even in Mark the "problem" does not exist. Start at Mark 1:4 --

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark here makes it quite clear that John's baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, as we all agree. Now go to verse 7-8:

And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

In the context of the gospel, this verse -- which appears in some form in all three Synoptics -- is quite clearly supposed to allude to Jesus. Jesus is someone greater than John, more powerful than John, someone so important that John isn't even fit to tie his shoes for him, someone who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Who could possibly exercise such control over the Holy Spirit as John exercises over water? Can someone with sin, or any mere mortal, exercise or be given such enormous control over the Holy Spirit? Would God trust such intimate and blanket control of the Holy Spirit to any old shmoe who had a laundry list of sins in his past?

Of course not. And so it is that the sinlessness of Jesus, and the fact that he did not come to baptized because he needed it, is clear from the very beginning in Mark to anyone who bothers to read what the text is saying. Matthew's little John cameo, whether you take it as a genuine recollection of an apostle or a witness, or whether you think he made the whole thing up, serves (in line with Matthew's purpose as a "teaching" gospel) as an explicit explanation of what is already clearly implicit in Mark's Gospel: This person to come isn't someone whom John would consider a candidate for baptism.

The only way he would be baptized would be for a different purpose -- which is, as is obvious from the divine voiceover that follows in all three versions, because of obedience: The Father wanted Jesus to be baptized. And thus also these passages are quite explicable by common oral or eyewitness tradition emanating from two apostolic sources, Matthew and Peter -- and, by Matthew's predisposition as a teaching tool.

Moreover, let us remember the connection that Paul's epistles and the Gospels make of Jesus with divine Wisdom, thereby including Jesus in what Bauckham calls the "divine identity." There is simply no way, under this paradigm, that Jesus could have been regarded as anything but sinless.

Now to Luke's changes to the story. Doherty seems to think that Luke moving quickly through the scene, and referring to "all the people," has some significance.

Not at all. If Luke is trying to de-emphasize the role of John, why does he provide us with his birth story and an extensive recounting of his teaching that none of the other Synoptics provide us with? Isn't this the wrong way to draw attention from John? Luke says Jesus had been baptized, and what famous baptizer did Luke just spend a dozen or more verses telling us all about? Who else was there to baptize?

Finally, re John's Gospel allegedly leaving the baptism out -- this is false. John the Baptist was recorded as saying, "And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." Now is this not clearly an allusion to the baptism of Jesus? And if, as we say, John was written to supplement the Synoptics, how is he hiding that Jesus was baptized?

Regarding the "cover up test," other than appealing to John's supposed omission of Jesus' baptism, Doherty appeals to the idea of dependence on Mark for the others, which is addressed in a link above

Re the "corroboration test," Doherty is simply missing Strobel's point -- the point is that accurate topographical data, for example, adds to reliability, because inaccurate data of that sort detracts from it -- there is otherwise no point in checking such data.

Regarding the "adverse witness" test, Doherty is again forgetting that more than the 70 AD population of Jerusalem was concerned.


"....multiplicity may be an asset, but it's also understandable. Christianity was a new and vital movement that continued to grow, whereas the ancient culture which it supplanted and even actively sought to destroy was on its way out. Considering that the survival of ancient manuscripts was dependent upon Christian copyists, and that many ancient works were deliberately burned by the Christians, that disparity hardly proves anything."

That is beside the point -- Metzger does not say that the multiplicity itself proves something, but that it makes it easier to prove textual reliability. For whatever reason, the NT textual evidence is superior, and that is all that matters in this context.

"Even if we had more extensive copies of the Gospels from within a couple of generations of their writing, this would not establish the state of the originals, nor how much evolution they had undergone within those first two or three generations."

Then are all textual critics wasting their time, since we have far less evidence for all other works? Is the exercise pointless? Doherty is once again arbitrarily raising the bar far, far past what is requried of all other works.

"It is precisely at the earliest phase of a sect's development that the greatest mutation of ideas takes place, and with it the state of the writings which reflect that mutation."

This is a vague, sociological generalization without textual evidence -- as well as an immensely begged question. Doherty's only proof of "evolution" in early Christianity is supposed changes to Mark -- and we have seen that the only detailed example you gave is of no use; the few changes otherwise are well within the pale of reliable oral tradition.

Re the Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark.

Regarding the "rule of faith" criteria: "...considering that there seems to have been so much dispute in that first hundred years or so, on everything from the nature of Jesus to the need to apply the Jewish Law, how can you speak of 'what the church regarded as normative'?"

Why not critically analyze the oppositional views stated and test them for coherency? In other words, we can apply the same tests for "normalcy" that the church did. Doherty offers little but vague generalizations here -- how were there differences in these areas he specifies?

"...if manuscripts can survive from the third and fourth centuries, why not from the second?"

Is Doherty suggesting conspiracy at work? The textual evidence is as we would expect -- with more evidence emerging as we progress forward to this time, the same as it is for secular works. How many manuscripts of anything have survived from the second century? And do other documents not reflect the same chronological pro rata? If they do, then how can Doherty suggest that this is an issue for the NT?

May I also note that the transition from scrolls to codices took place at just this period, and that the church underwent persecutions that involved the destruction of manuscripts at just this time (late second century)?

"If you postulate that Mark, and even some of the others, were written within a couple of decades of Jesus' life, surely multiple copies would have existed all over the Christian world by the end of the century."

Doherty is not very well informed on the difficulties in reproducing manuscripts in this day and age. Less than 10 percent of the population was literate, by the most optimistic standards, and writing materials were quite expensive. Of course we would not see multiple copies until much later -- when the church had some wealth and power to make the needed copies, and when the writing process was made simpler by the advent of the codex. Then again, there is that matter of destruction of manuscripts due to persecution. There are much simpler solutions available for these "problems" Doherty poses.

YOn A HREF="http://www.chirstian-thinktank.com/pseudox.html">pseudonymity here.


This area concerns the secular references to Jesus.

The Josephus cite is, for the most part, regarded as authentic, and this by a consensus of scholarship; Doherty attributes this to "bandwagon effects" -- in other words, to bias. This is as much an admission that Doherty cannot actually answer the arguments arrived at by the consensus.

It is said that the phrase "a wise man" would not likely be used by Josephus, because of his opinion of other "would-be messiahs" of that time. I would ask Doherty here about how he terms these others as "would-be messiahs" -- we have no evidence that any of them claimed the title. On the other hand, we also have no indication that Jesus did what Josephus disapproved of with reference to these other people -- led people out to their deaths and led an anti-Roman movement.

Josephus would have appreciated much of what Jesus said and did; he was not the same as the overzealous would-be militaristic "Messiahs" commonly opposed and defeated by the Romans. We may note that though containing various subversive elements, Jesus' teachings of this sort were directed not against Josephus' Roman patrons, but against the Jewish establishment, and his miracles were never done with a "revolutionary" purpose in mind (like the pretender Theudas' promise to divide the Jordan do that his troops could pass, or the unnamed Egyptian's threat to knock down the walls of Jerusalem).

Jesus never came close to this sort of activity, and even in his "threat" to the Temple was focused on the Jewish establishment, not the Romans; and he did not actually threaten the Temple himself. I believe Charlesworth's comments are pertinent:

Jesus argued against the zealous revolutionaries and was not an apocalyptic fanatic; Josephus would have admired this argument and position. Jesus uttered many wise and philosophical maxims and Josephus was fond of Jewish wisdom and of Greek philosophy.

Doherty is mistaken in thinking that Josephus would put Jesus in this category.

Jesus "caused an uproar in the Temple by driving out the money-changers" it "would have been the equal of several revolutionary incidents by agitators he mentions elsewhere" and "could hardly have escaped Josephus' attention, or his mention."

Indeed? How many people were killed in that incident, and how many were involved? Doherty is rather overstating the matter.

"...it is highly unlikely that Josephus could have possessed some inside information about such a Jesus" which would enable him to rate Jesus a "wise man."

No "inside information" would be needed -- only the content of Jesus' public teachings. Doherty removes access to these by arbitrarily dating the Gospels very late; but Jesus' teachings would also be available orally, and their content known by reputation.

"...there were 'counter-culture' sentiments which would have disturbed Josephus, things like the poor inheriting the earth (which implies the overthrow of established authority) or things that openly criticized the system."

How this would have "disturbed" Josephus, when the OT contained practically the same sentiments, is difficult to see. That teaching may well have disturbed -- slightly -- some of Josephus' Roman patrons, but their opinions hardly caused Josephus to abandon his Judaism.

We see the argument of no mention of the passage by writers before Eusebius; Doherty has provided no reason why one of them who should have referred to it in full. He also objects that Josephus shows no knowledge of the Pauline side of Christianity -- Doherty merely creates an invalid objection by assuming a highly diverse Christian movement. And likely, yes, Josephus would have disapproved of the elevation of Jesus to Godhead, but he is not talking about Jesus' followers here other than to note in amazement that they still exist.

On the shorter passage in Josephus, we still see little new, other than: That Josephus in his work "never once deals with the specific topic of Jewish Messiah expectation." Doherty supposes that without explanation, the use of the word "Christ" "would have left the reader scratching his head, and raised a subject Josephus seems to have studiously avoided."

Of course, that assumes that Josephus' readers had no idea what the word would mean in the first place. Here again the problem is of Doherty's own making -- we would assert that the average Roman reader was familiar with the Christian movement and how it used the word, for of course there were Christians in Rome at the time Josephus was writing. There would be no point of reference or need for referring to Jewish Messianic expectation.

We see the objection about the phrase "so-called" used in Matthew and John -- it has already been seen that this objection, and many others, are answered with no response from Doherty.

With reference to James, we "have to question why the Jewish establishment would have become so incensed at the killing of a Christian leader that they would seek to depose their own High Priest."

I would suggest that it was not the killing of James per se, but that the High Priest took the coveted right of the Romans to execute people into his own hands.

On Tacitus, Doherty finds it "curious that none of the extant Christian commentators for centuries afterwards refers to a persecution under Nero associated with the fire, despite the fact that they generally love to play up the alleged history of Christian martyrdom."

One wonders why this is curious, if Doherty confesses the authenticity of the passage. But Christian commentators would get far more mileage out of detailed and recent accounts of martyrdom such as they did use rather than a vague and distant-past account by one who disapproved of Christianity.

"The likelihood that the Romans kept official records of every one of the countless executions that were conducted around the empire to keep the peace is almost nil. We have no evidence of such extensive record keeping."

We don't? I would ask, what then was the purpose of the Romans doing a regular census in their provinces? Did they not write down the information, or did they throw it away immediately upon receipt? The Roman military issued millions of pay slips, yet we have less than a dozen of these extant -- it seems more likely to me that they did keep detailed records, like any bureaucracy, and that they simply did not survive.

We see the argument that Tacitus got Pilate's title wrong; this has been answered before. Against Dr. Yamauchi's point that these Christians did not recant, Doherty says, "Tacitus has nothing to say about whether the accused Christians were given the opportunity to recant. In view of Nero's alleged need for scapegoats, one might think it was unlikely he offered them such an out."

Not at all. The opportunity to recant would come at once, at such time as when the subject was asked if they were a Christian.

Regarding Anderson's comments that in referring to Christianity as a superstition that was "checked for the moment" but later "again broke out," Tacitus was "unconsciously bearing testimony to the belief of early Christians that Jesus had been crucified but then rose from the grave," Doherty asks, "what could Tacitus have had in mind by referring to Jesus' ministry before he was crucified as a 'mischievous superstition'? Would he really have known that much about it?"

Tacitus certainly had the ability to find out more about it, as he did find out more about his other subjects, and this counts as testimony of recognition of Jesus as a divine harbinger of the Kingdom of God -- the very core of the Christian "superstition" -- during his earthly ministry.

"Tacitus may have had no more in mind than the idea of Jewish messiah expectation in general, and saw Jesus' career as simply one expression of it."

Doherty certainly cannot keep consistency. On the one hand he wants to suggest that Tacitus would not have known much about Jesus' ministry; yet he also wants to suggest that Tacitus had intimate enough knowledge of Jewish Messianic expectations to see Jesus as "simply one expression" of it. One wonders what it is in Jesus' career that Tacitus knew enough about to fit it into the paradigm of Jewish expectations, since Doherty tells us Tacitus could not have known the Gospel story.

Dr. Yamauchi commented, "Regardless of whether the passage had this specifically in mind, it does provide us with a very remarkable fact, which is this: crucifixion was the most abhorrent fate that anyone could undergo, and the fact that there was a movement based on a crucified man has to be explained. Of course, the Christian answer is that he was resurrected." Doherty says: "[That] founders on an assumption...that the Gospel story is essentially history, and that the movement began and spread more or less on its basis, according to the scenario laid out in the Acts of the Apostles."

Doherty is refuting his own thesis. He has no answer for the point that is at issue; he merely assumes it to be wrong.

He objects next that Tacitus does not "grace us with a mention of any resurrection, a detail which, even if he did not believe in it himself, would surely not have been ignored if there were strong, longstanding traditions that the movement had begun in response to such a thing."

Certainly -- assuming that Tacitus himself agreed that such traditions were strong, longstanding, and so on; let us recall the disrespect the Romans showed for religious innovation, not to mention what they thought of the Jewish view of resurrection -- i.e., it was thought ridiculous to start with, and was far different, despite Doherty's implications, from the "mystery cult" ideas he so carelessly refers to.

I daresay that Tacitus' opinion that the faith was "superstition" would serve well enough to encompass what he thought of the reports of an empty grave and resurrection.

On Pliny: Dr. Yamauchi says that this passage "attests to the rapid spread of Christianity" -- Doherty expresses doubts about this, noting the spread of fifty years or so, saying, "I don't know by what measure this is rapid. And all the salvation religions of the day had believers that cut across class lines."

This is perhaps a valid point, though I think Doherty's commentary would be better informed by input from Rodney Stark.

Yamauchi then said that Pliny "talks about the worship of Jesus as God, that Christians maintained high ethical standards, and that they were not easily swayed from their beliefs." Doherty issues a slight corrective, that Pliny actually says that "they worshiped 'Christ as a god,' Christo quasi deo."

This is correct, but he goes on to say that this "is far from identifying their object of worship as a man named Jesus who had recently lived." The phrase ['as a god'] here would indicate that someone who would not ordinarily be perceived as a god (in Roman eyes) was here being accorded the status of deity, and this points to someone who was (again, in Roman eyes) a known, supposedly mortal person. Pliny would not make the point that Christ was worshipped "as to a god" unless Christ was for some reason not, from his perspective, a being who would not be taken as a god. It is like saying, "They talk to that man as to a spoiled child." The man is not a spoiled child, yet he is treated as one, because his actions are perceived to be those of a spoiled child; indeed such comments, while possible to be made as a clinical observation, usually carry the connotation that the treatment is for some reason inappropriate. Likewise, Pliny's observation indicates that Christ is not (from his perspective) a real god.

This leads to the question of why Pliny phrases his words as he does. Doherty might say that it is because Christ never existed as a person on earth, but was just a spiritual being inhabiting a sublunarrealm. But if that were the case, then Pliny's statement is curiously worded. He notes that this identification of Christ as a god is part of their "guilt" or "error".

How would Pliny know that the Christians were in error about Christ's identity as a god? If Christ was only a spirit-world being, then Pliny has no rational grounds for doubting his classification as a deity. (Of course that Christ might not have been an all-powerful, supreme deity would not reduce his potential classification as a deity in this context: not all of the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon were omnipotent.)

If he disbelieved in the god Christ, then Pliny would have said, "they worship their god, Christ". When Pliny says Christ is worshipped "as to a god" he must have some concrete reason for believing that Christ could not have qualified for a god.

We find no strangeness in Pliny's use of "Christ" rather than "Jesus" -- Pliny simply uses the name which Trajan would be most familiar with. Beyond that, Pliny's lack of report of Gospel details is meaningless -- even in the context of Doherty's assumption that Christ was a sublunar being, Pliny has still left a great deal out.

Doherty repeats refuted arguments about the Pauline epistles and his circular reinterpretation of Pauline life markers, along with the idea that the Pastorals are not Paul's work. The sound of his silence on these matters is deafening.

Doherty offers his past arguments on Romans 14:14 -- addressed here, and again miscategorizes Lazarus and Jairus' daughter as "resurrected."

"As to whether Paul was a monotheist, we have to question that. Joining a subordinate divine entity to God the Father would have contravened strict monotheism, never mind elevating a human man to that status."

Doherty needs to consult Hurtado and especially Segal (Two Powers in Heaven)-- he will see indeed evidence of the furor that he wonders about, and he will also see that Paul addresses this doctrine quite clearly.


McRay said, "If the details check out this doesn't prove that his entire story is true, but it does enhance his reputation for being accurate." Doherty: "[I] reject that view on two counts. We would hardly say that an historical novelist's characters and experiences are true just because the setting he puts them in is highly accurate. He is simply aiming for a ring of authenticity, which does not make his fictional elements authentic."

The rejection is arbitrary. Accuracy of confirmable detail is a hallmark for regarding of accuracy in other matters. Doherty is also mixing the point of accuracy with that of genre -- and in that regard, the Gospels are ancient biographies, where we would expect historical reportage -- that is how we know that the evangelists intended their stories to be understood literally. If this is not a criteria to be used, then are secular historians who use this criteria ignorant?

Second, Doherty seeks to accuse Luke of error: "Luke has Jesus performing this miracle while walking into Jericho, while Mark says he was coming out of it. By a somewhat convoluted explanation about migrating city walls, you purported to show that both could be accurate."

Convoluted? We want to hear the explanation for ourselves, not Doherty's opinion of it. Jericho consisted of two parts, and between the two was a likely place for beggars to rest.

Appeal then to Luke's Nativity story and the differences with Matthew, which Strobel is criticized for not mentioning -- I daresay had Strobel dealt with these, it would be objected that he omitted something else.

Re differences in the Sermon on the Mount: Carson has observed that Matthew's "mountain" refers to a mountainous region. As for the difference in teachings, again, under genre considerations, Matthew's composition, in line with his didactic purpose, is a gathering of material in one place (an anthology), whereas Luke provides us with what is closer to what was actually said on that particular occasion.

Again, merely noting unique reports of Luke is ineffectual -- if single reportage of an event like this, or like Lazarus' raising, has any meaning, then all modern biographies are unreliable when they report an event other biographies do not.

"John has Jesus crucified on Passover Eve itself, while the Paschal lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple, whereas the synoptic evangelists place it on the day before."

I see no date indication given; Doherty merely assumes that the Last Supper was a Passover meal observed at the only time possible. See here.

Re Mark 7:31, McRay "pulled a Greek version of Mark off his shelf, grabbed reference books, and unfolded large maps of ancient Palestine," and said, "Reading the text in the original language, taking into account the mountainous terrain and probable roads of the region, and considering the loose way 'Decapolis' was used to refer to a confederation of ten cities that varied from time to time, McRay traced a logical route on the map that corresponded precisely with Mark's description."

I too wish that Mr. Strobel had reproduced the map but Doherty makes the same errors that all do on this point.

First, he assumes that in delineating this route, Mark is thereby stating that this was the shortest route -- why is this not a reflection of an extended tour through the region? Furthermore, note the comments of Edwards, who, in his essay, "The Socio-Economic and Cultural Ethos in the First Century":

Indeed, even the Jesus movement's travel from Tyre to Sidon to the Decapolis depicted in Mark, which has struck some New Testament interpreters as evidence for an ignorance of Galilean geography, is, in fact, quite plausible. Josephus notes that during the reign of Antipas, while Herod Agrippa I was in Syria, a dispute regarding boundaries arose between Sidon and Damascus, a city of the Decapolis. It is therefore conceivable that the movement headed east toward Damascus and then south through the region of the Decapolis, following major roads linking Damascus with either Caesarea Philippi or Hippos.

We will leave the discussion of the census for others more competent in that area, though note also here.

On the idea that Nazareth did not exist, see here.

Doherty admits that Josephus may not have mentioned Nazareth because it was so insignificant, and says with McRay, "certain archaeological finds which might suggest that there was such a place in the first century, and some scholars do agree, though not with too much enthusiasm." Really? Where are quotes from these scholars proving their less-than-enthusiastic endorsement? I noted none such in any literature on the subject.

Doherty asks why Nazareth is not mentioned in the epistalory writings. Within what contexts should it have been mentioned, and why? Regarding Matthew's typological efforts, they are quite typical for the Judaism of the period.

Re lack of mention of Herod's "Slaughter of the Innocents" in non-Christian historian's works, and the conclusion that it is "logical" to say it did not happen because it was not recorded in Luke: McRay makes the usual and proper points in reply -- that there would be few male children of that age group in Bethlehem -- we would estimate as few as five or ten -- that in the grand picture of Herod's career, this would hardly be a point of dust; and finally, he adds that news of this would not get out from "a minor village way in the back hills of nowhere."

"Bethlehem...was scarcely five or six miles from Jerusalem. That is hardly in the back hills of nowhere."

Doherty is anachronizing. In today's age of automobiles, this is of no moment, but for a poor and tiny village whose inhabitants were unlikely to possess rapid transportation, not so much as a horse though perhaps a drowsy mule, five or six miles is a considerable journey.

"....even if this slaughter were of only a couple of dozen male children, the senselessness of such an act would surely have captured someone's attention."

"Surely"? Why? McRay has provided the antithesis, a "surely" thrown in the air is not an answer as to why it is "sure." This objection is from one used to modern news reports that bring us word of every school shooting from every corner of the nation. Josephus says that Herod murdered a vast number of people, and was so cruel to those he didn't kill that the living considered the dead to be fortunate. Thus, indirectly, Josephus tells us that there were many atrocities that Herod committed that he does not mention in his histories - and it is probable that authorizing the killing of the presumably few male infants (I rather think "couple of dozen" is even an overstatement) in the vicinity of Bethlehem was a minuscule blot of the blackness that was the reign of Herod.

Being that the events of the reign of Herod involved practically one atrocity after another - it is observed by one writer, with a minimum of hyperbole, that hardly a day in his 36-year reign passed when someone wasn't sentenced to death - why this event have garnered special attention? We think it doubtful that Josephus recorded EVERY atrocity performed by Herod; if he had, his works would be rather significantly larger.

The "motif of a child being born who presents a threat to a ruler, who then seeks unsuccessfully to have that child killed or neutralized, often by slaughtering other children, is rampant throughout ancient world mythology and even biographies of historical famous men."

Real history is also full of accounts of heirs being slaughtered for political purposes; it is illegitimate to assert that alleged parallels (Doherty names them, but fails to explain them) equate with invention.


Aside from bare dismissal of the miraculous, we have:

"If this man in Palestine in the early first century¾assuming he existed at all¾really did all the things the Gospels claim of him, can we really believe that his fame would not have spread far and wide?"

Well, it did, and to Rome by as early as the 40s, so that is an answer. Of course, Doherty has caused his own problem here by refusing to recognize the sources as valid. But at any rate, it seems clear that the spread of Christianity follows an expected rate of growth for any social movement, and I am not sure what more Doherty could ask.

Moreover, I think he anachronizes yet again here -- he is placing his skepticism of miracles in the heads of all who would hear the Gospel and anticipating that they would be as amazed as he would be. Even today, men have ways of explaining away what they do not wish to accept. Jesus could be dismissed, as Celsus dismissed him, as an Egyptian magician. Today we have William Shatner suggesting offhand that Jesus was a spaceman.

"Jesus would have been inundated by people with recently deceased relatives."

There are several assumptions inherent in this. First, that there would be those who would want their relatives alive again -- the Jews didn't exactly think that life after death was unpleasant, and I daresay that only the likes of Jairus or Mary and Martha would look for such help from Jesus -- that is, in the case of a young life cut tragically short.

Second, there is the assumption that they could readily find Jesus before the body decomposed to the point where resuscitation (note: not resurrection) would be feasible. The centurion managed this, of course, but he had better resources at his disposal than the average Galileean peasant.

Third, the assumption is that mortality was frequent enough within the given space around Jesus that such events were likely to have opportunity in the first place.

Finally, there is the false assumption that all would believe that Jesus was capable of such feats.

"He would have been brought to the empire's capital, ready to resuscitate the aged Tiberius when the emperor's death arrived."

Indeed? So the Romans would stoop themselves to acquiring the services of a backwoods Galilean Jew, a believer in superstition? Jews were regarded as magicians, but I see no indication that the Emperor Tiberius would stoop to the assumed level.

Moreover, Doherty fails to realize the implications of his scenario -- next would come rival political factions seeking to destroy Jesus personally, or start a political war, or kidnap him for their own purposes. And then there would be worse to come...it seems Doherty has failed to learn the same lesson that those who tried to make Jesus king missed.

And incidentally, what makes him think that Jesus would have agreed to go to Tiberius' service in the first place?

"If Jesus had really cured so many people of blindness, deafness, leprosy, illnesses of many kinds, he would have been crushed by the stampede, or forced into hiding."

Yes, and the Gospels record that this did indeed happen at times.

Much of what follows has been answered in other venues, especially the material on Apollonius of Tyana, Mithras and Dionysus.


Doherty begins by asking whether it is "curious" that God "had never given [the Jews] an inkling that he was in fact a tri-partite God, comprised of Father, Son and Holy Spirit." He did -- see here.

Witherington commented, "Look at his relationship with his disciples. Jesus has twelve disciples, yet notice that he's not one of the Twelve. If the Twelve represent a renewed Israel, where does Jesus fit in? He's not just part of Israel, not merely part of the redeemed group, he's forming the group just as God in the Old Testament formed his people and set up the twelve tribes of Israel." Doherty says he "fail[s] to see the relevance of such a 'clue.'"

Witherington is making the point that in choosing exactly twelve disciples, he was imitating God's choice of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Witherington said, "It's not the fact that Jesus did miracles that illuminates his self-understanding. What's important is how he interprets his miracles. To Jesus, his miracles are a sign indicating the coming of the kingdom of God. They are a foretaste of what the kingdom is going to be like. And that sets Jesus apart."

To this Doherty replied, "Yes, and since the time of the prophets, such as Isaiah, that Kingdom was forecast as destined to involve dramatic miracles like healing the blind, the lame, the sick, the dumb, although no prophet actually forecast that it was Jesus, much less a divine Son of God, who would perform such feats. This was the expectation of an era marked by sectarian and even popular agitation over the advent of God's transformation of the world, which he would do through a variety of agencies or simply by his own arrival on the Day of the Lord. This was hardly a new idea produced by Jesus or his personal activities."

It is not that the idea was "new," but that Jesus himself is doing the forecasted miracles. Whether the idea is "new" or not is utterly beside the point. It seems not surprising, then, that Doherty essentially changes the subject by simply suggesting that the early Christians wrote these miracles back into the record and by assuming the normal roster of theoretical constructs such as the legendary Q document and "communities" matched to each Gospel. When you have no actual evidence, I suppose that's the best you can do is theorize something out of existence.

On the matter of the "Abba" usage, Doherty fails to grasp the implication of Jesus being the first to use this designation for God. He also fails to show that the Cynics he appeals to referred to God in such intimate terms. That they saw God as benevolent is beside the point -- the point is that the specific intimacy, the personal relationship suggested by "Abba," points to Jesus' claim to divinity.

Doherty intimates that it is somehow unfair that "salvation and a relationship with the universal God should be available for all people at all times and places only through contact with a single man who appeared at a fixed and obscure point in history..." Given that Doherty himself has full knowledge of this "single man" and the "obscure point in history" he refers to, his objection is self-defeating.

Doherty wonders why Mark offers no parallel to the "rock" profession of Peter, if Peter is indeed the source of Mark's material. I think that Doherty has falsely assumed that the traditional Catholic interpretation of that passage is the only one available. His objection here is based upon a premise he has failed to investigate.

Doherty follows by responding to the claim that the idea of a divine Jesus could not have arisen in such a short period with more allusions to his own thesis concerning lack of details in the epistalory records. We will simply note that these arguments have been refuted in other contexts and that Doherty has offered no response of substance. He repeats his sentiments regarding Mithras, Dionysus, and now Osiris and Attis as well.


Doherty offers the standard misunderstanding of Luke 14:26, and that fails to note that Jesus clearly states that division within families would occur because of those who reject the believers, not the other way around.

Doherty says that the ancients "regarded the world as full of hostile evil spirits, who were responsible for everything from sickness to accidental mishaps, even for unbelief and incorrect faith. Jesus clearly subscribed to this outlook, in his exorcisms and exchanges with evil demons."

Is this an accurate sociological assessment? Just what does it mean, "full of" and "everything"? Did they attribute every sickness, mishap, etc. to demons and spirits? From the little old lady tripping to the flowerpot falling from the window? And is this actually a correspondent to the modern condition of paranoia? From what I see in the New Testament, and from ancient literature, there are many mentions of sickness and mishaps and unbelief, if not the majority, that are not regarded as finding their source in evil spirits.

Collins next makes an excellent point, that the teachings of some of these mentally-disturbed "Christs" is quite enlightening. Collins refers to Jesus as one who "spoke clearly, powerfully and eloquently...was brilliant and had absolutely amazing insights into human nature...was loving but didn't let his compassion immobilize him; he didn't have a bloated ego, even though he was often surrounded by adoring crowds; he maintained balance despite an often demanding lifestyle; he cared deeply about people; he responded to individuals based on where they were at and what they uniquely needed."

Doherty can only accuse. Collins of merely seeing what he wants to see, and then proceeds to beg the question by making the claims of divinity a sign of a bloated ego. Psychologically, this is an impossibility is a collectivist society as the world of the NT was.

On miracles, Doherty does no more than recite previous arguments and beg the naturalistic question. Re suggesting that Mark's account of the Gerasene swine is an allusion to Roman soldiers, or to an episode recorded also in Josephus: it is interesting how much history must be invented in order to explain away history.

Re the idea that the NT writers simply copied OT stories, see here.

Take your reference to Jesus multiplying the bread and fish to feed 5000 people. First of all, such an event would have been something the Roman authorities could not fail to have learned about and become alarmed at a popular agitator attracting vast crowds and working them up with alleged miracle-working. This is something which would have led to Jesus' immediate arrest and probable elimination. Palestine at that time was a land in ferment, and we know from the historian Josephus that quick action was taken against such agitators, usually involving their summary execution and the slaughter of those who followed them.

Hardly so. This event took place in the countryside; no Roman witnessed it, and hardly would have, given that 5000 is also the likely number of Roman soldiers stationed in the entirety of Palestine. If one or more of those Galileean peasants came back to Capernaum and told a Roman soldier that some preacher had miraculously produced food for them, do we really think that Roman soldier would think twice about it before collapsing in laughter at the idiocy of these foolish backwater natives?

The majority of Romans thought of Judaism as a superstition. Perhaps if that Jew had come saying that Jesus was miraculously producing spears and armor, and had that peasant and others come as well and knocked the Roman solider senseless, then perhaps there would have been some reaction by the Romans. They hardly had enough troops available to do more than go after the most extreme and militaristic cases.

Doherty says that it is naive to say there would be no such reaction, and that anyone "who preached to the downtrodden masses that they were going to inherit the earth upon the imminent arrival of God's Kingdom would have been seen as advocating and promising the overthrow of present society. The encouragement of belief, especially through alleged miracles, that Rome was about to be ousted by divine forces, was precisely what the authorities were forced to suppress through most of the first century."

Other than the miracles, which no Roman witnessed, haven't we just described the Qumranites? So why were the Romans not rooting them out of their caves? And let me ask further, how could Doherty on the one hand argue earlier that Jesus' miracles would have had him taken to Rome to be the emperor's physician, yet argue now that it would have caused a military response by Rome?

Doherty fails to recognize the proper interpretation of Col. 1:15 and of "firstborn." Next he addresses Colossians 2:9, in which the word somatikos is used. He disputes the interpretation of the word as meaning "in bodily form" and note that "Bauer's Lexicon suggests that it is probably to be understood as meaning "in reality" rather than "symbolically," and that it "points to the use of soma in 2:17, which translates this way: 'These (referring to present religious practices) are a shadow of the things that are to come; the reality (soma) is found in Christ.'"

An interesting interpretation, but I wonder why he did not note that the "in reality" interpretation was offered by the likes of Caird under the presumption -- now greatly in disfavor -- that in Colossians, Paul was disputing a docetic Christology, so that it is actually taken to be affirming the Incarnation.

But does verse 2:11 refer to "the reality (soma) of the sins of the flesh"? That doesn't make sense, does it? It seems that this verse and the references to the resurrected body, and to physical actions of the body, that follow, point in precisely the opposite direction.

"Notice also, that the verb 'lives' is in the present tense, not the past, which any writer would surely have used if he were thinking of the 'body' of a recent man on earth."

By the thinking of these men, the resurrected Christ is still alive and has ascended to Heaven. Of course it is in present tense; and Christ, in his historical embodiment, would still bring the characteristics of deity into focus. Doherty also needs to consult Gundry's study on the use of soma. It was never used in ancient Greek of a "spiritual entity."

Next: Doherty is unaware that the Trinity does indeed permit a sense of functional subordination. On hell, see here. Our view renders Doherty's criticisms moot.

On slavery see here.


Not much to say here; Doherty fails to account for Jewish exegetical practices of the first century. On the Ps. 22 "lion" translation see here.

Doherty's denigration of the detailed Daniel prophecy as "apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo" and dismissive late-dating of Daniel, without any critical analysis in either case, and that he dismisses the works of Daniel and Revelation as "grotesque imaginings" speaks for itself and requires no comment.


After this point many of Doherty's arguments are repetitive and will not be addressed again.

On bias in the NT, see here.

Doherty fails to recognize that the literary practice of the Evangelists does not mean that they are inventing history. No one has ever doubted that there is literary practice at work; after all, the Gospels were documents that had to be read aloud to a society that was mostly illiterate. We would expect such literary constructions. Doherty's question, "Did the event really transpire like that?," works in context, perhaps, as a way of suggesting a total lack of historicity; but the question is a non-issue -- perhaps Jesus did get up and go back to pray 1, 2, 4, or 6 times in actuality; that's beside the point. Within the context of a didactic presentation, in an society where oral transmission was the norm, such patterning is to be expected, and is meant to be discerned.

Doherty goes on to wonder whether, after the ordeal of scourging, Jesus could have carried his part of the cross through the city. Of course, we would make the point that he did fail to complete the journey carrying the beam. Admittedly neither I nor many of us has the stamina to endure as much as a 10K run. But Doherty fails to realize that ancient people as a whole, if they survived and wished to continue surviving, had to be much more fit than any of us are today. He has no place for his argument that Jesus could not have carried his crossbeam or spoken from the cross.

Re: See link on how the Roman solider could have distinguished death from "mere fainting."

On the date of the crucifixion see here.

On forgiving sin see here.

"Oral tradition over several decades would hardly have preserved things in exactly the same pattern everywhere they spread, the same plot line to the story of Jesus, the same emphases, the same sequence of events through the passion account, down to small details...."

That is false. Oral transmission was perfectly capable of doing this, but it frequently did not. The Gospels are a good example of what would happen.


Doherty says it is "surprising...that Paul never draws on any historical details surrounding Jesus' death, burial and rising to enrich" the parallels he makes to baptism.

One can only ask what details Doherty supposes would have "enriched" the parallel. The winding of the graveclothes, perhaps? In alluding to death and burial, and raising, Paul has drawn on historical detail for his high-context readers.

With respect to Dr. Craig's arguments about the guards at the tomb: Matthew's polemic would be pointless and useless had the Jews made no such claim about the theft of the body, and it would also be pointless and useless were it not in the context of a series of claims and counterclaims by a significant number of people.

Doherty's question as to why the controversy is not mentioned in the other Gospels or in the epistles has been answered many times before -- only Matthew's main readers, in close proximity to Palestine, would be involved in this series of counterclaims. The audience was large, but did not involve everyone else's readership as well. Paul's readers, for example, would be geographically removed from such a controversy.

In addition, we might point out that the guarded tomb was actually a mark of shame for Jesus, because one likely purpose of the guard was to prevent mourning. The other Gospels hardly need to pile on the shame. See more here at bottom.

Variations in the Gospel accounts is something we have seen covered elsewhere. Doherty's reply to Craig's point about the two stories of Hannibal in the Alps assuems a false, mechanistic view of what is meant by "inspiration." No serious evangelical or scholar maintains such a position.

Regarding the ending of Mark, Craig notes the literary reason for the abrupt ending, and Doherty accuses him of "skirting the issue," and then evades the issue himself by merely saying that the literary issue is "beside the point."

Re the silence of the women in Mark: certainly Mark's account alone makes it obvious that the women must have told somebody of their experiences, otherwise Mark could hardly have recorded it.

Doherty finds it strange that the women would expect to be able to enter the tomb to anoint the body. How so? Have we ever had a beloved one pass on, and kept our rationality intact at all times in that context, and do all around us do likewise? Of course the women failed to think of this point -- but that is beside the point.

Doherty's suggestion that women, after all, did perform such anointings and men did not is not an answer. Mark certainly could have invented a legitimate reason for men -- considered reliable witnesses -- to visit the tomb; indeed, given the women's concerns, how hard would it have been to invent male companions to move the stone (or attempt to) so that the women could do their work, and "reliable" witnesses could be on hand?

Doherty wonders why the disciples weren't visiting the tomb. There is no indication that they might not have at a later time; and certainly someone had to have come first, but the guard would have been there to prevent such visits; women were given more leeway in such matters, but men were not.

"Don't forget that most if not all of the evangelists were probably not Jews themselves, so they may not have shared the usual Jewish prejudices toward women; neither would their readers, if they were part of largely gentile communities."

Gentiles did not show more respect for women as witnesses. And what of the Jewish readers of the Diaspora?

Doherty wonders why the sexist suppression of testimony in the Epistles did not extend into the Gospels. It is because the creeds quoted by Paul are taught to prospective and recent converts, and are by design, summary in nature and would not contain every detail (imagine if one's church's liturgy were that clumsy); the Gospels are for those who are believers already and would have gotten beyond the point where sexism would have properly swayed them or been a stumbling block.


Re primitive verbiage in the Corinthians creed: Doherty answers his own question when he asks why Paul uses "the Twelve" only in this creed in his letters. If this was a primitive phrase, we would not expect Paul to use it in later letters.

Re divorcing "Peter" from "the Twelve" see here. Re: there were only Eleven apostles, see here.

Doherty's arguments concerning "the third day" and "he was raised" do not address the issue; what does "formality" have to do with it, and how are these simple phrases "formal"? The point is the context of the NT and its times, not that they sourced from the OT. And in the context of a creedal formula genre, how could Doherty possibly suggest that they are from a "personally formulated declaration, and thus there is no need to see them as part of a widely established creed"? Hasn't Paul clearly said that this is what the Corinthians were taught before?

"Were Christians' memories so short? Were oral traditions about the resurrection appearances quietly altered, with no objection from anyone? How can this purport to represent a doctrinal statement of what had happened after Jesus’ rose, to provide ‘proof’ that he appeared in flesh, when it bears very little relationship to the Gospel accounts?"

Doherty is not very specific about how this is the case, at first; he mentions the women at the tomb who might object to be excluded from the creed, but one wonders what he thinks they would do, and why, as though they would be demanding their right to be recognized. The Corinthian creed is designed to show that the recognized leaders in the church saw the Risen Jesus, and that the church at large did as well; it did not have the purpose of inserting every gender, race, and denomination.

Doherty decries "expecting that the Corinthians are likely to send a delegation off to Jerusalem, two decades after the fact, to find out if this particular appearance actually took place."

What is wrong with that expectation? And what of that it was members of the 500 as missionaries who would have originally come to Corinth, and would still be active missionaries throughout the Diaspora? The context in any event is that Paul reminds his congregation that they knew these things also in the past; confirmation and discussion with members of this group had already taken place.

Doherty's demands that the creedal statement relate times and places is an arbitrary raising of the bar. The genre of a creed does not require such things; that is background data of the sort that would be related to the Corinthians ten years prior to Paul's letter. It does weaken our own use of the creed as evidence, according to a modern standard, but this hardly implies that the creed is ineffective as evidence completely.

Habermas states, "How long do local stories circulate before they start to die out? So either Josephus didn’t know about it, which is possible, or he chose not to mention it, which would make sense because we know Josephus was not a follower of Jesus."

Doherty says: "Josephus was not a follower of many people whom he reports on in his histories."

What is the point here? Are all of those people religious figures, and did they all stand at the center if such claims as those of Jesus? And did Josephus report such detail about them?

"And if local stories, especially about an executed man who arose from his tomb and appeared to people, die out in a short time, how do later generations preserve anything about the past, even legendary things?"

Habermas is referring to such stories dying out among non-believers, with no interest in preservation, not among believers. .

It is manifest that a creed, by its very nature, is a summary, designed for liturgical and memorial purposes. Habermas' answer about logical versus temporal priority is perfectly sound (and it is a matter of the two priorities being combined, not set against one another; Doherty fails to notice this in his "pride of place" comment regarding James).

That Doherty ends up accusing Habermas of having a vested interest in his interpretation speaks for itself as a tactic. Rather, Doherty needs to consider the genre of the creedal statement. Had he delivered samples of other creeds, and shown that they follow historical order always, fully, and precisely, he might have had something tangible to argue about. He might consider the speeches of Paul and Stephen in Acts in terms of summaries of Jewish history to see how necessary it was thought to be "complete" in recollections.

Doherty wonders why James' appearance experience is not recorded in the Gospels. It is implied in Acts, of course, where James and the family of Jesus are reckoned as converts. But Doherty again imposes his expectations upon genre. No one doubts that the Gospel writers had their message to preach; not pipelines, as Doherty says, but purposes; and for Luke, the appearance to Cleophas and friend likely exemplified his message better than the appearance to James, for example -- it obviously cannot be said, since we do not know what this appearance consisted of.

As an appearance to a leader in the church, we would expect it to go in the creed; but if it was not as "spectacular" as, say, what Luke records, it need not have been in a Gospel record. On the other side, Cleophas' experience hardly fits in the creed, unless we have evidence that he was a major leader in the church. Doherty's remark that creeds "don't have to be only stripped-down essentials" ignores the fact that by definition this is exactly what a creed is.

"Why should only Paul be concerned with demonstrating that Jesus had risen, presumably to return to earth to appear to his followers?"

Doherty forgets again that this would have been accomplished ten years before in missionary preaching; Paul brings it up again only because of the crisis of disbelief in resurrection in Corinth. The need existed. For Peter and James and John, it did not.

Regarding 1 Peter 3:18-20 as a descent into Sheol, see here.

Doherty's comparison of the resurrection appearances to Fatima is rather curious -- was anyone persecuted or killed for the sake of those visions?


Doherty addresses Dr. Moreland's five arguments, the first having to do with the willingness of the disicples to suffer and/or die for their belief in the resurrected Christ. Aside from repeating prior arguments, we have this:

Regarding the conversion of the skeptical James and Paul: "Religious history shows us quite a few examples of people who convert to various religions for reasons other than witnessing something as dramatic as a dead man coming to life."

That may be so, but we want an example where a person was overtly hostile to a religion and came to it because of a concrete historical experience. Does Doherty have an example of this?

The matter of Josephus' testimony is dealt with next. Moreland states, "The historian Josephus tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, who was leader of the Jerusalem church, was stoned to death because of his belief in his brother." Doherty replies that "...Josephus does not tell us that James was stoned to death because of his belief in his brother. In fact, Josephus does not even say that the 'James' he refers to was a Christian leader."

Presumably Mr. Doherty want us to accept that there was some other reason why James was killed, but he offers no alternative, other than hinting that the phrase referring to James is an interpolation, which no Josephan scholar would agree with.

We have already dealt with the matter of Paul; his reference to his "zeal" implicitly indicates that he went as far as persecuting Christians to the point of death

Doherty asks, "What would you do, Dr. Moreland, if you were an observant Jew living in Antioch, or Ephesus, or Rome, how would you react if someone arrived in town and told you that a crucified prophet back in Judea, whom you had never heard of, was really the Son of God and redeemer of the world, that he had walked out of his tomb two days after his crucifixion?"

The reaction of 99% of such people would be immediate scorn and dismissal. However, a small number would take such offense to these claims that they would seek to debunk them -- and it is such people who would investigate and find the truth of the matter.

"...the very radical nature of the claims about a human Jesus, and its incompatibility with everything Jews held dear, would have provoked opposition and challenge among the Jewish establishment, forcing Christian apostles like Paul to justify and explain their outlandish doctrine."

Doherty should consult Segal's work, Two Powers in Heaven -- which shows that that is exactly what Paul was doing in some of his letters. But he is otherwise again missing the genre/purpose of the epistles -- such defenses as he describes did not belong in topical letters ten years after the fact, but would have been addressed in missionary preaching many years before.

"The descent of the dove into Jesus would have provided the perfect parallel to Paul’s belief that at baptism the Holy Spirit descended into the believer."

Indeed? Since the Spirit did not descend into Jesus, nor play the role in Jesus' life that it does in the believer, the parallel would be superficial at best and blasphemous at worst -- as though saying that Jesus needed the Spirit to be regenerated.

"The voice of God welcoming Jesus as his Beloved Son could have served to symbolize Paul’s contention that believers have been adopted as sons of God."

Indeed! And would imply adoptionism as well, which is exactly what Paul would want to avoid; or else hint that the believer, like Jesus, was some divine being that ought to be listened to.

"If Jesus was so clearly resurrected, why was there not a genuine mass conversion of Jews? Why not of prominent religious establishment members?"

Acts does record that there were some from the priestly ranks who converted; but does Doherty think that someone like Caiaphas or Pilate would have given up their power for such a commitment?

Final Word

I make the point in close that Doherty chose a format for his reply to Strobel that hatches an uncanny polemical advantage. The fact is, however, that scholars like Blomberg, Metzger, Yamauchi, McRay, Boyd, and Witherington would not sit stock silent to Doherty's rebuttals.

Doherty makes much of that he invited these scholars to respond on his site, but it is illicit to do so: It is doubtful that any of them consider it worthwhile to give Doherty credibility by answering him from their level.