To argue about the Gospels effectively, I think it is important for the Atheist to first get straight in their head their view of the Gospels. Otherwise, Atheist speculations on the stories in the Gospels are almost as embarrassing as those of literalist, fundamentalist Christians. For example, which of these is your view of the Gospels?
The Gospels are:
- Total fiction constructed by the church
- Lies the apostles told to get followers
- True saying of a deluded self-proclaimed messiah
- The Gospels are a mixture of the actual sayings of Jesus mixed with the misperceptions of the well intending disciples.
- Distorted teachings of a great teacher and perhaps very moral person
- Stories, modified over time about an Apocalyptic Preacher whose accidental death was eventually deified. The writers were not the disciples of Jesus. The Stories have to be interpreted with a knowledge of that time period, and of the rhetorical methods commonly practiced at that time.
Obviously, I vote for number 6. Let’s go over two example of how ways to approach Gospel stories:
Take this Gospel Story:
Matthew 12:40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
With View 5, you could argue:
- “See how silly Jesus is, can you believe that he was so confused about science and reality — noone can be swallowed by a fish and live after 3 days ! Duhhhh ! “
Sure, you may win a few argument by shaming the naive Christian, but you are not arguing the truth. You are just persuading. Or you could argue with a more accurate understanding of the Gospels:
- “This story is made up both by Luke and Matthew try and make Jesus both predict his own death and relate his story to the stories in the Hebrew Bible to give them credibility.”
It may be hard to convince Christian of this, but this is true. You might have to actually get into understanding the truth about the Gospels which then can help the believer understand how to go further with his reasoning.
Or take this Gospel story::
Matt 21:18-22: Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
You could argue:
- My goodness, here is your Peace-loving Virgin-birth boy killing a poor tree because it is not healthy enough to make fruit. Heck, in other stories he is healing the sick — why not heal the tree. See how crazy he was. Or if his analogy is that he kills or sends to hell those who don’t bear fruit, then that is pretty harsh for an all-loving god.
Yeah, that may work for a few. But again, you are not arguing the truth. Instead you could try:
- Did you know that “fig” was the symbol for Sadducees (Temple Priests), one of the groups which Jesus often criticized. This is a simple story where Jesus if putting down the teachings and practices of the Sadducees. You need to have a better understanding of your own scriptures.
Indeed this may not help your argument at all that Jesus was just crazy or cruel. And indeed, many Christians may already know this explanation of these old texts and if they don’t, you just help sophisticate the Christian. But at least you have not embarrased yourself.
That is enough examples for now, but I think you see my point. Arguing from ignorance may persuade but it gets no one closer to the truth.