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Fracturing the Skeptics

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On a flight to New Mexico last year, the in flight movie was Fracture (2007). It starred Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. Hopkins had killed his wife, and while all the circumstantial evidence pointed to him, there was no actual physical evidence to link him to the murder. The detectives and the prosecutor, played by Gosling, looked at all evidence over and over again and could not figure out how the creepy Hopkins character did it. The prosecutor never considered that the pieces of evidence he needed to solve the case were right in front of him, but with his fixated evidentiary assumptions he could not see them.

The Fracture storyline reminded me of critics of the Bible’s reliability. One of the objections often raised against the truthfulness of the Bible is how different the gospel accounts are in describing historical events. Matthew and Luke seem to be telling different stories about the birth of Jesus. Mark and John don’t say anything about Jesus’ birth. Skeptics see this as evidence that the gospel accounts can’t be trusted as reliable historical sources. They claim that the gospel accounts should agree at every point.

Otto Scott, a former journalist, editor, historian, and author of ten books, was attracted to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life because they didn’t agree on every point. Scott recounts how he became a Christian after reading the gospels: “Well, my wife was Christian and took our daughter to church all the time. I would attend out of courtesy. One night I was reading late and my little girl came out of the bedroom and wanted to know about this business of turning the other cheek. I had no idea where that idea came from but I thought it might be the Bible. I had a Bible in the house, of course, and I picked it up and read the Gospels—all four in one swoop. It was the contradictions [differences] in the testimony of these four different men that convinced me. As a reporter I had interviewed a lot of men, and I was on the crime beat at one point. I knew that if you get four men who tell you the same story they probably are colluding because no four men see the same thing the same way. One sees one significant element; one sees another. Although there was a close resemblance in the reporting of certain incidents in the Gospels, they were not identical. I was instantly convinced. I don’t think a person could have convinced me, but those varying contemporary histories did.”[1]

If the gospel accounts agreed in detail on every point, skeptics would claim, as Scott states, that a redactor had forced agreement among the gospel writers in order to avoid having to explain the differences. Harry Rimmer makes a similar observation: “It must be strictly noted here that there is internal evidence of the lack of collusion between these two men [Matthew and Mark] in the giving of the testimony. Peter, also an eyewitness as was Matthew, tells how he saw the same events. In these two records there is no contradiction, just independent observation and reporting such as any skilled jurist would expect from honest and accurate witnesses. If Matthew and Mark agreed in precise exactitude on every detail of their testimony, collusion would be apparent to any intelligent observer. It is just this minor independence of testimony that lends the most tremendous value to the records of these two men.”[2]

Do evidences convince the unbeliever? Some of them do. But there are others who have their conscious seared. As Bishop Thomas Wilson writes, “Christianity does not profess to convince the perverse and headstrong, to bring irresistible evidence to the daring and profane, to vanquish the proud scorner, and afford evidences from which the careless and perverse cannot possibly escape. This might go to destroy man’s responsibility. All that Christianity professes, is to propose such evidences as may satisfy the meek, the tractable, the candid, the serious inquirer.”[3] It takes the sovereign mercy of God to replace the hard, dead heart with one that is alive. Blind eyes must be replaced with new ways of seeing. Stopped up ears have to be made to hear. 

Footenotes:
[1]
Quoted in James P. Lucier, “Otto Scott Steers by the Compass,” Insight (1999). In the same interview, Scott comments: “On the historical side, each time you look into the background of a certain line of activity, it looks different. The first historical background I did was for the Ashland Oil book. It was an attempt to put the history of the company against the contemporary events of the period through which the company had grown. But my attempt was sort of a tour of the surface—what you get from looking at ordinary accounts of the times beginning in 1918. But the next time I looked at the period, when I was writing the history of Raytheon, the background looked different. I began to go into history in a more serious way.”
[2] Harry Rimmer, The New Testament and the Laws of Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 59.
[3] Quoted in Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, [1874] 1964), 2.

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