"There Was No Jesus, There Is No God": Ansering Raphael Lataster

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-biUrA6VovbE/UiwKvc0VSdI/AAAAAAAAABk/KcEWNXQXYg0/s1600/NJNG+picture.pngRaphael Lataster, the author of There was no Jesus, There is no God wrote an article for the Washington Post recently that, like Kurt Eichenwald's hit piece from Newsweek, makes quite a lot of assertions (you can see my rebbutle to Eichenwald here). Lataster argues that Jesus did not exist, and declares that,
Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved….
The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.
However, there are a number of foundational assumptions being made, presuppositions being exposed, and all without any evidence of historical or credible citation.
"Discussions over whether the figure known as the 'Historical Jesus' actually existed    primarily reflect disagreements among atheists."

It begs the question what Lataster's criterion for Christ actually existing would be? Did the "Socrates of History" actually exist? If he did he left no physical evidence of it. Socrates never wrote anything, and the documents that do reflect his life and teachings were written by others and are dated nearly 1200 years after his supposed death 1.

In fact, under Lataster's reasoning, we cannot truly know if anyone has ever existed in history. Apparently an ancient DNA test and social security number is needed for Lataster to be fully satisfied of anyone, never mind the "Historical Jesus", to have existed.
The "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" are different people.
The biggest issue Lataster has is that he makes no attempt to prove his claims. Assertions are easy to do, making proof statements require a great deal more study and time. Rather, what Lataster does is simply assume that when we talk about the "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" we are talking about two completely separate individuals. Unfortunately, the rest of his article depends on this distinction. Without any proof or proper citation to support his foundation, his argument slowly falls apart.
The "Christ of Faith" is obviously fictional.
My question is why? Much like the previous point, Lataster made no effort to prove that the "Christ of Faith" is a myth, rather, the assumption that he simply couldn't exist is asserted. He rests on the philosophical notions of David Hume, simply presuming that the spiritual and supernatural cannot exist, therefore they do not. Latester's obvious borrowing from Hume, therefore adopting the argument of presumption, I'm afraid does not move me in the least. 

More so, to propose that the "Historical Jesus" could never be the "Christ of Faith" is rather silly when a look into antiquity is taken seriously. Fellow historians of the day like Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, and Pliny the Younger all acknowledge the historical Jesus. Tacitus himself would have no problem proposing that the "Christ of Faith" is the individual whose followers were perceived as the one described in the Gospels; fitting very comfortably into the historical character.

The reality remains that no credible or reputable scholar in this field supports the claims that Jesus never existed. Lataster remains the fringe in both the fields of secular and believing scholarship. Even Bart Ehrman, the leading scholarly critic of the New Testament (who I've addressed in previous posts) acknowledges the folly of denying the existence of Jesus.

Richard Dawkins (by no means a theologian or historian, but a leading critic nonetheless) himself backed down on the claim Lataster makes in his debate with John Lennox.
We can't trust the Gospels because they're about the "Christ of Faith," who was obviously fiction.
Lataster, once again, proceeds to plant his feet firmly in midair. Since he makes no effort to prove that the "Historical Jesus" and the "Christ of Faith" are different people, and no effort to prove that the "Christ of Faith" was a fictional character, he can't logically then use these points to undermine the Gospels. Because the assertion is made, if the "Christ of Faith" was a real person, then Lataster's (nonexistent) foundation pillars crumble.
The Gospels were all compiled decades after the original events, which makes them unreliable.
This is patently false. Collections of New Testament writings were functioning as Scripture as early as the second century (and, to some extent, even in the first). It is something I have addressed in previous posts at length, and is likewise addressed in my response to Eichenwald's Newsweek piece. While a common objection, it is a very bad one. First, Lataster made no attempt to prove the age of the Gospels and their authorship. He leaves this up to the nebulous and ambiguous "decades" argument. The fact remains that there are only four historically validated Gospels that date to the first century, you might have heard of them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John 2. These four books range from AD 50 to AD 90 3, but all fall into the first century for their attestation. In fact, the earliest dated Gospels, Matthew and Mark, can be traced within 20 years of Christ's death and resurrection 4.

Likewise, Lataster made no effort to explain why a historical document is automatically unreliable if it wasn't written immediately. And, in fact, this type of criteria for ancient history would have to discount the entirety of recorded ancient history. 
"The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources - which they also fail to identify."
This type of argumentation has a number of very big problems facing it. First, I doubt Lataster realizes it, but anonymity on the part of the writers of the Gospels is actually merrit to their credibility, not the opposite. Many of the subsequent forgery apocryphal Gospels written in the centuries following, made outlandish claims to their authorship in order to give them the credibility they didn't inherently posses 5.

There are many reasons that scholars have hypothesized why the authors did not name themselves. For one, very shortly after Jesus' death it became illegal to be a Christian and distribute Christian literature. Among other things, persecution was a defining factor for their anonymity. Likewise, the fact that the four biblical Gospels remain anonymous could mean that their authors were not looking for credibility in of themselves, but rather, the stories are meant to convey the truth of Christ. Not wanting to take credit for Christ's work but rather, recording his story out of humility.

Not only that, but the early Church fathers, the disciples of the disciples, gave the now labelled Gospels their names because of the evidence they possessed. Matthew and John were both disciples and eyewitnesses. Their credentials or "qualifications" would have been obvious to the early believers, and the Apostolic Fathers recorded this as such.

According to the Church Fathers, Mark's Gospel is based on Peter the Apostle's testimony 5. Luke was neither a disciple nor an eyewitness, and clearly identifies himself as such at the beginning of his Gospel. But, Luke also identified himself as an interviewer and historian who "carefully investigated everything from the beginning" (Luke 1:3). In the field of ancient historians, Luke fits right in with Plutarch and Xenophon in his method, writing, and recording of histories. Likewise, Luke's Gospel sits in harmony with Matthew and Mark's accounts, which were eyewitness testimony, giving it more credibility.
"The Gospel's fail the criterion of embarrassment, largely because the authors can't be identified."
I am not sure what Lataster's "criterion of embarrassment" consists of. The Gospels are highly embarrassing to the twelve disciples. Often showing them as slow to learn and weak in their faith. Upon Christ's arrest all fled and hid, and Peter proceeded to deny Christ when confronted. Only John returned to stand with the women as Christ was crucified.

After Jesus' death, the disciples were slow to accept His resurrection, in Thomas' case needing the risen Jesus to show physical proof. The fact remains that if Lataster is looking for "criterion of embarrassment" and can't find it in the Gospel's portrayal of the disciples, then he must not be reading the same gospel accounts I am.
We cannot trust the Gospel writers because they clearly "were eager to promote Christianity."
I simply ask the question, is Lataster to be trusted? He is clearly "eager to promote" his atheism, can we trust his interpretation on the documents and his obviously unbiased interpretations behind them? At what point can we trust anything committed to paper?
Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.
This accusation remains fallacious. It is one thing to cling to the philosophical notions of Hume and  Strauss, claiming to not believe in the supernatural claims of the Gospel accounts. However, to accuse them of being "mythical and non-historical" is simply ad hominem at best. It is information that flies not only in the face of reality, but in the face of actual documented history.



I close with the same conclusions I did when I wrote a response to the Newsweek article. That, in a paradoxical fashion, I am thankful for these types of articles. The misrepresentations, misunderstandings, lack of facts, and blinding presuppositions aside, I am thankful because articles like this provide evangelical Bible believing Christians with an opportunity to explain what Christians really believe, and what historical credentials the Bible really has. Article's like that of Lataster and Eichenwald are evidence that most people in the world understand neither of these things. But, with time, study, and correction, hopefully that is changing.

Context is crucial, consistency is key, and ignorance for the thinking Christian is no longer an option in these subjects within the society we live.

1. Socrates' writings and records are recorded by Plato, the earliest attestation of which are dated to 1200 years after Socrates' actual death, and only seven of which remain today. The comparison to other documents of Antiquity (including the New Testament) are seen in the following graph:
















(Chart property of Mark Barry, Copyright 2010)

2. Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon. Illinois: Inter Varsity Press. (2012), pg. 57-59.
3. Strauss, Mark L. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark. Zondervan Publishing (2010), pg. 28. 
4. Thomas Cooper, The Bridge of History Over the Gulf of Time: A Popular View of the Historical Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. London: Hodder and Stoughton. (1871), pg. 74-75; Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2010), pg. 125-127.
5. Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 211, 212; Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2010), pg. 125-127.
6. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2006), pgs. 202-203; Burkett, Delbert. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2002), pgs. 55-56.






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