Based on the desire to share the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ, I will offer refutations for (1) the claim that Jesus is a myth; (2) the claim that the New Testament has been corrupted; (3) the claim that Quirinius took his first census in 6 A.D., (4) the claim that the birth narratives are conflicting; and (5) the claim that Daniel was written in the second century B.C.
Claiming Jesus is a myth ignores findings from historians globally – and the beliefs of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus who all acknowledge His historicity. Atheists such as Tim O’Neill, who maintains a popular blog site called “History for Atheists” have noted the historicity of Jesus, pointing to Jesus’ existence as the only way to explain (1) the origins of Christianity and (2) the appearance of “embarrassing” stories in the New Testament. I heard Tim on the YouTube channel “Think Club” with Adam Friended. Tim rightly pointed to ancient authors who were hostile to Christianity, such as Tacitus, who supported its origins and originator, whom he referred to as “Chrestus.” Other non-Christians from the first 150 years of Christianity who help to support the historicity of Jesus include Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Lucian, Mara bar Serapion and Thallus.
Tim further identified what could be construed as embarrassing information in the Gospels. Specifically, Tim pointed out that Jesus came from Nazareth – and that the apostle Nathaniel questioned whether anything good comes from Nazareth (John 1:46). Tim claimed that this inclusion was embarrassing since Jesus was prophesied by Micah (5:2) to come from Bethlehem. Tim claimed the Gospel writers of Luke and Matthew added Bethlehem into the birth narratives to fit the prophecy from Micah. Yet this is an obvious contradiction. One on hand, Tim is claiming the Gospel writers including embarrassing truths – and on the other hand, he’s claiming they’re lying by inventing a passage about Bethlehem in the birth narratives. If they were lying, why would they have not simply replaced “Nazareth” with “Bethlehem” and state that Jesus was born and raised in Bethlehem? The truth is the Gospel writers strove for the truth.
Another falsehood atheists often claim is that the Gospels have been corrupted. Bart Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” is an excellent example of a nonbeliever who makes these claims. Yet in the 2nd edition of his book, he ADMITS that the core tenets of Christianity have not been corrupted. He of course omitted this quotation in his third edition.
“Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions—he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not—we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions.If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement—maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.
The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament” (Ehrman, 2005)
Conflicting birth narratives
Tim O’Neill further stated that Jesus’ birth narratives conflict. Yet when one looks at the narratives closely, it becomes obvious that they fit together like pieces in a puzzle when one reads them in this order: Luke 2:1-40 and Matthew 2:1-23.
As is demonstrated in the two accounts, each of the Gospel authors has highlighted different parts of Jesus’ young life. Matthew reported the earliest time in Jesus’ infancy, while Luke reported when he was between infancy and two years old. This assertion is supported when one considers that Herod called for the deaths of all children under 2 years old. Further, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find Jesus, yet the Magi found their way to Jesus by following a star. Jesus could have been in Bethlehem or outside of Bethlehem when they found him. The location of the “house” Jesus was in was not specified when the Magi visited Him.
Some have argued that Luke’s census must have been taken in 6 A.D., because Quirinius was the governor at that time when a census was taken. Yet researchers have also determined that Quirinius was the proconsul of Syria and Cilicia between 11 B.C. and 4 B.C., when Herod died. Quirinius’ name has been discovered on a coin (McRay, 2008) and on the base of a statue erected in Pisidian Antioch (Ramsay, 1914; Wallace, 2017). In other words, the reason Luke noted the census taken by Quirinius was the first census is because it is likely he took a first census during his governorship between 11 and 4 B.C. and a second census in 6 A.D., as recorded by Josephus and in Acts 5:37. Researchers have also estimated that Jesus was born between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C.
Atheists further claim that Herod’s killing of babies under two years old is not supported extra-biblically, so it must have not happened. Yet this reflects an obvious bias about the validity and reliability of the New Testament, along with being an argument from silence, which is a fallacy.
How did the Magi know the Messiah would be born in that time period? Aside from the prophecy that Daniel gave on the date of Jesus’ crucifixion in Daniel 9, one should consider the prevailing Jewish beliefs at that time as recorded in the Talmud:
“The world will exist six thousand years. Two thousand years of desolation [meaning from Adam to Abraham]; two thousand years of Torah [meaning from Abraham to somewhere around the beginning of the Common Era] and two thousand years of the Messianic era [roughly the last two thousand years]; but because our iniquities were many, all this has been lost [i.e., the Messiah did not come at the expected time]” (b. Sanhedrin 97a-b; Brown, 2000, p. 70).
“That is the course that history was to take, but due to our sins that time frame increased. The Messiah did not come after four thousand years passed, and furthermore, the years that elapsed since then, which were to have been the messianic era, have elapsed.” (Sanhedrin 97b).
Dating of Daniel
According to some, such as Josh Bowen, who runs the YouTube channel Digital Hammurabi, the “scholarly consensus” on the book of Daniel is that the book of Daniel was written in the 2nd century B.C. Such a consensus makes me wonder about whether scholarship is controlled by people who are skeptical of the supernatural inferences in Daniel’s prophecies. To accept this notion, one would have to believe that the writer of Daniel was intentionally crafting a false narrative and trying to fool his audience into thinking he wrote the text centuries earlier. The reasoning for rejection is sound. Furthermore, Dr. Bowen commits the ad populum fallacy. If I made the claim that because the world’s biggest religion is Christianity, so Christianity must be true, I would be committing the same fallacy.
The book of Daniel begins in 604 B.C., which is eighteen years prior to the destruction of the first Temple in 586 B.C. Daniel and several other young men (1:4) were deported from Judah to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. The book ends two years after the seventy years of exile in 532 B.C. The book is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic. The Aramaic portion is in Daniel l 2:4 – 7:28. The first six chapters detail historical records of this time period, while chapters seven to twelve detail Daniel’s visions.
In his book Against Christians, Porphyry (285 A.D.) put forth the notion that Daniel was written no earlier than 165 B.C. Porphyry made this assertion based on Daniel 11:21, which he believed was a prophecy about Antiochus Epiphenes IV. Porphyry determined that Daniel must have written the book in hindsight, not in advance. Others in recent times have jumped onto Porphyry’s bandwagon, making similar claims of later dating. These “later dating” scholars are biased by their refusal to acknowledge fulfilled prophecies. If we didn’t have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which scholars believe are dated to around 150 B.C., skeptics would have said Daniel was written after 70 A.D. when the Temple was obliterated, just as he prophesied (9:27)!
We have numerous reasons to believe the book of Daniel was written when Daniel said it was written, between 604 B.C. and 532 B.C. I will list a few of them. For one, Daniel refers to himself in the first person in much of the book and makes the dating claim himself. Second, the languages are written in a way that is consistent with the ancient forms of the languages in those centuries. They were not written in a way consistent with dating around 165 B.C. For example, numerous scholars have identified Old Persian words that were no longer in use in the 2nd century B.C. One example is the word Ashpenaz (in 1:3), which was unknown in the 2nd century and translated as a personal name with an unknown meaning, yet meant “innkeeper.” (Haughwout, 2013). The book of Daniel is linquistically similar to the book of Ezra in that both were written in both Hebrew and Aramaic, which scholars agree was written in the earlier time period. Further, Josephus recorded in Against Apion 1:8 that the canon of the Jewish Scriptures was closed at the reign of Artaxerxes, between 465 and 425 B.C. In Antiquities of the Jews 11:8, Josephus also recounted a visit by Alexander the Great to Jerusalem around 332 B.C. and specifically mentioned the book of Daniel (11:8-15). Ezekiel further mentions Daniel three times. In Ezekiel 28:3, he said, “Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?” In Ezekiel 14:14, he said “even if these three men – Noah, Daniel, and Job – were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.” In Ezekiel 14:20, he said, “as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they cold save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness.” Ezekiel was written between 593 and 565 B.C. Some try to claim that Ezekiel was referring to Danel who appears in “The Tale of Aghat,” an ancient Ugaritic epic, yet Danel in that epic is an idolator. Ezekiel points to a righteous Daniel. I have expanded on these ideas greatly in two prior blogs.
In conclusion, I have provided evidence that an atheist (Tim O’Neill) rejects Jesus mythicism, while an agnostic (Bart Ehrman) rejects the notion the New Testament has been corrupted. Arguments that Jesus’ birth narratives are conflicting are erroneous when simply reading them in the order from Luke to Matthew. Arguments that Quirinius collected his first census in 6 A.D. have been rejected with archaeological evidence. Arguments that Daniel 9 is written in the second century are refuted with examples from ancient history, such as the writings of Josephus. To quote Frank Turek, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.
Brown, M.L. (2000). Answering Jewish objections to Jesus.
Ehrman, B. (2005). Misquoting Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco. pp. 252-253.
Haughwout, M.S. (2013). Dating the Book of Daniel. Retrieved 9/4/2019 at http://markhaughwout.com/Bible/Dating_Daniel.pdf
Josephus. Against Apion. Retrieved 9/4/2019 at http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/apion1.html
McRay, J. (2008) Archaeology and the New Testament. Baker Academic.
Ramsay, W.M. (1914). The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Hodder and Stoughton.
Ramsay, W.M. (unknown). Luke’s Narrative of the Birth of Christ. Accessed December 15, 2018 at https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/expositor/series8/04-385.pdf
Wallace, J.W. (2017). Unbelievable? Is Luke’s Description of Quirinius Historically Inaccurate. Cold Case Christianity. Accessed December 15, 2018 at http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/unbelievable-is-lukes-description-of-quirinius-historically-inaccurate/