I am a Christian in the UK. There are a couple of best selling books in
the UK at the moment that deny the existence of God and the truth of
Christianity. On is “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and the other is
“Tricks of the Mind” by Derren Brown. The latter is written by an ex
pentecostal Christian (now a very successful hypnotist and illusionist)
and states, very mattter of factly, that it is very easy to see from
evidence external to the Bible that Christianity is not true. Essentially
accounts of Jesus were written 200 years after the death of Jesus and
developed over most of the first millenia. Most “serious” academics
support this view, the problem is that Christians are rarely encouraged to
look at the evidence and when they do they tend to remember the bits that
support their view and ignore the “overwhelming” evidence that does not.
Have you got any comment to make on this?

The statement by this author is absolutely irresponsible. Either he is
almost completely misinformed about the facts of the matter or he is a
extremely biased, bordering on deceitful commentator. To say that the
accounts of Jesus were written two hundred years after his death is so far
from being supported by scholarly study as to be ludicrous. I use this
word with caution, but in this case it applies. We have manuscripts of
the gospels from as early as AD 125 (the Rylands Papyrus of a fragment of
John). We have a number of manuscripts from the late second century, such
as the Washington Manuscript and the Chester Beaty papyrus. These make
the claim that most of the record of Jesus is from two hundred years later
a lie or a mark of extremely poor scholarship. In addition, we have
quotes from early Christian writers, describing the life of Jesus and
quoting extensively from the four gospels from the very late first century
(Clement of Rome) and from the very early second century (Ignatius,
Polycarp, the writer of the Epistle of Barnabus, the Didache, and several
others). These parallel letters both prove that the story of Jesus was
circulated widely within sixty years of his death and provide solid proof
that the four gospels were written in the first century. I know of not a
single serious scholar who will support the claim that the gospels were
written after the first century. The most common opinion, even of Bible
critics, place Matthew and Mark before AD 70, Luke in the 60’s or 70’s and
John before AD 100. Such claims as you have found from Dawkins and more
particularly Derren Brown are a sign of bias and (in my opinion)
irrational anger toward Christianity and are certainly not a sign of good
scholarship. It is ironic that Brown is now a professional illusionist.

It is a sad truth that many or possible even most Christians are not
encouraged to study carefully the evidence and the writings of the critics
of Christianity. Christians have not focused sufficiently on training
believers to think critically about the evidence for the Bible and for
Christianity. Believers should do their best to make this indictment
become untrue of those who follow Jesus. We need to work on encouraging
believers to test the legitimacy of their beliefs by looking at the
evidence, both pro and con. I believe that if they do so, their faith
will be increased and the accusations of the critics will be less
legitimate in this area. The fact that this accusation has some truth is
not evidence against the truth and reliability of the Bible, but it should
be a challenge to Christians.

John Oakes, PhD

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