These dialogues aren’t meant to cover every aspect of, or every objection to, each issue discussed. There’s more that could be said, obviously.
Instead, they’re meant to be a fun and intellectually stimulating introduction to Christian beliefs that can sometimes be hard to understand.
Also, I’ve tried to make it a reasonably fair exchange between AJ (the atheist) and Lucy (the Christian), but I haven’t tried that hard.
The goal here is to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian position, something that couldn’t be done in the space I’ve done it in if I were to launch every skeptical objection to the issues discussed.
Cool? I don’t think atheists are cotton-headed ninny muggins’s. Promise.
Enjoy, and please give me your feedback below
AJ: Even if you could convince me God exists, you’d still have to prove that your Jesus—and not Zeus, Osiris, or the flying spaghetti monster—is God.
Lucy: That’s right. But one step at a time. What would you think of someone who tried to explain advanced algebra to someone who denied basic arithmetic?
AJ: Atheists are too stupid to handle an argument for Jesus?
Lucy: That’s not at all what I meant. But way to be defensive!
AJ: Might it be that you’re avoiding the question because you know it’s a lot easier to trot out a syllogism for a first cause than to make the case for Jesus’ divinity?
Lucy: I’m going to stick with the reason I gave. Trying to explain the hypostatic union, for example, to an atheist is like trying to teach someone, as I said, algebra who denies basic arithmetic.
AJ: But if Jesus is who you say he is, why don’t you argue for that? If you’re successful and convince me that Jesus is God, it would follow, obviously, that God exists after all! Two birds with one stone.
Lucy: Fine. We can talk about that. The Jesus we encounter in the New Testament made some radical claims about himself. When we consider these claims I think we have three options: 1) He’s either a liar . . .
AJ: Oh, dear.
AJ: He’s either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. I can’t believe you’re trotting that old argument out.
Lucy: Why does the validity of an argument have to do with how long it’s been around?
AJ: It doesn’t
Lucy: All men are mortal. Socrates was a man . . .
AJ: Okay, it’s not that it’s old, it’s that it doesn’t work.
Lucy: Show me how.
Fourth Alternative: Jesus Never Existed
AJ: Here’s the main problem I see with Lewis’ argument. His trilemma is a false one. There’s another option. Maybe Jesus never existed, or, if he did exist, perhaps so much legend had built up around him that we can’t trust the gospels. If that’s true, then the argument falls apart.
Lucy: Okay. That’s a fair point. Then what about this. If Jesus is not the Lord, as I think the New Testament clearly shows, we have three options:
- He was a liar, a religious fraud who knowingly made false claims.
- He was a lunatic, someone who was sincere but deluded.
- He was a mere legend and didn’t exist at all.
AJ: . . .
AJ: I’m thinking. Let me get a pen. Okay. I’m okay with this. Those do look like the only options. But, you’re presuming something that I’m not convinced of.
Lucy: What’s that?
Jesus Claimed to be Divine?
AJ: That Jesus actually claimed to be God. Or that, as you say, the New Testament “clearly shows” he’s God. If that’s true. And if you can show me that the New Testament is reliable, then I’ll agree we have two options left. That he’s a liar, or that he’s insane.
Lucy: Well, let’s take a look at a few of the passages where Jesus claims to be more than just a wise teacher, more than human. In Matthew 11:27 Jesus claims to have an absolute and unique relationship with the Father. He says, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
In John 8:58 he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Not only does he claim to have lived before Abraham, who lived thousands of years before him, but he attributes to himself the divine name, I AM. What do the Jewish leaders do in response? Try to stone him. They knew exactly what he meant.
AJ: Anything else?
Lucy: So much more. We don’t have time to get into all of them if you want to look at those three options we spoke about. So what would you like to do. Focus on this point, or move on? I have to get to class in about an hour and a half.
AJ: Okay, well let’s move to those three options then. Perhaps Jesus never existed, or, if he did and claimed to be God the only other two options are 1) he’s a liar or 2) insane.
The Reliability of the New Testament
Lucy: Let’s talk first about the reliability of the New Testament.
Lucy: The New Testament was written within the first generation after the death of Christ, while the eye witnesses were still alive. We therefore have better sources for Jesus than we do for most of the major figures of history. Our earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch, 400 years after his death, but historians don’t doubt that Alexander the Great existed or that we have a basic knowledge of his life.
AJ: You’ve done your home work!
Lucy: I’m a theology major.
AJ: Oh, are you minoring in unemployment?
Lucy: Not as long as there are people like you to convert.
AJ: Hashtag Burn! You talk about Alexander the Great and others who historians accept as having actually lived, but the difference between those people and your Jesus is that they didn’t claim to be God! Maybe little evidence is sufficient to establish their historicity, but much more is needed to establish some carpenter dude who apparently raised the dead.
Lucy: We’re not yet asking the question, was Jesus God? We’re simply considering whether the New Testament is basically reliable. Perhaps it’s reliable and wrong! Right? But one step at a time. Another thing worth taking into account is that the New Testament documents are better attested than any other works of antiquity.
AJ: Better attested?
Lucy: We have them early, and we have more of them than any other ancient work. For example, we have five hundred manuscripts that are dated earlier than a.d. 500. The next best attested ancient text we have is Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, of which we have only fifty copies that date within 500 years of its origin. And the multiplicity of New Testament manuscripts that we have enable us to check them against each other and ensure that they have been reliably transmitted to us, with very few variant readings. This means that they reliably communicate their original message and are not a conglomeration of legends that built up slowly over time.
Non-Biblical References to Jesus
AJ: That’s a lot of information. Of course the thing is these authors were religiously motivated, right? What about sources outside the Bible? Anything?
Lucy: You’re right, that is a lot of information, and you dismissing it with a “but that’s the Bible” is just arrogant, honestly.
AJ: Arrogant huh?
Lucy: And pig headed. Look, every historian is motivated by something, every historian wrote from a particular point of view. Think about Jewish historians, right? When they write about the Holocaust, they have a point they’re trying to make—and to defend against neo-Nazis who are equally as passionate on their take on what happened—But to dismiss their work as unhistorical because they’re biased would be simply unfair. Similarly, to dismiss the authors of the New Testament because they were trying to convey something they were convinced about is just to display an unfair prejudice against the New Testament.
AJ: Okay, fair enough then. But is that a no? Did non-Christians write about Jesus around the first and second century?
Lucy: Yes, as a matter of fact. You can read about Jesus of Nazareth, Pontius Pilate, and even John the Baptist from non-Biblical sources of the period, such as the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37-c. 100). Other early authors who make reference to Jesus and the early Christian community include the Roman official Pliny the Younger (AD 61 – c. AD 112) and the Roman historians Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117), and Suetonius (AD c. 69 –c. 122).
AJ: Wow. Okay. didn’t know that.
Lucy: Look at you admitting you didn’t know something. I’m impressed.
AJ: Like I keep telling you, Lucy, I’m an open-minded guy. Okay. Another question for you. Let’s say you’re right.
The Witness of the Apostles
AJ: Not finished. Let’s say you’re right about Jesus claiming to be God and the New Testament documents being reliable. Still it could be false, right? I mean, I’m a Green Lantern fan. See this graphic novel? I can give you an air-tight argument for how it came about, why we have good reasons for thinking the text hasn’t been changed since it was first penned . . . but it’s not true. Hal Jordan is a fictional character. Maybe the apostles started spreading the story of this Jesus because they had nothing better to do. Maybe this explain why other non-Christian historians heard about him and mistakenly believed that he actually existed.
Lucy: Why would the apostles, or anyone for that matter, make up a story like this. You’ve already said boredom—which I think’s a little insulting, but that’s okay. What else?
AJ: They wanted power! They wanted people to listen to them; fame, riches, the typical stuff.
Lucy: Yeah, see the problem with this is that when you read about the first followers of Jesus in the New Testament, you read about people who were weak, stupid, and cowardly. The chief apostle get’s called Satan (Mt. 16:23); they constantly misunderstood Jesus (eg. Jn 4:31-34); they all abandoned him when he was arrested and crucified (Mk 14:50). Hardly what you’d expect them to convey if they were after power and fame.
Further more, to say the apostles made up the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you must also be willing to say that they endured horribly painful deaths, including being flayed alive, crucified, stoned, and beheaded for what they knew to be a myth.
These, and many other reasons, make it clear why, according to eminent historian Michael Grant, “no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus’—or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.”
AJ: Okay, let’s say you’re right. Let’s say the New Testament is reliable, and Jesus did claim to be God. Show me why he wasn’t a liar or insane. Those are the only options left, right? And honestly, both sound more plausible than what you believe.
Lucy: Unfortunately I have to run. Same time tomorrow?
AJ: see you then.