Sometimes Christians whom earnestly desire to contend for the Faith fool themselves or are fooled into believing that the perfect answer to a charge against the Bible are facts and figures.
No doubt, those are acceptable and highly recommended methods of defense. Yet limiting oneself to those types of answers exclusively is a trap that many well-known Christian apologists have unwittingly popularized.
An example of this can be found within the first pages of Lee Strobel’s book, In Defense of Jesus. Whilst informing the reader of some of the most famous attacks leveled against the Bible’s historicity and reliability, Strobel makes mention of the intentionally misnomered Jesus Seminar and the increasing popularity of the Gnostic or “Alternative” Gospels, such as the so called Gospel of Thomas and Secret Gospel of Mark.
Said texts grew in popularity in the 1990s because virulent anti-Christianists like Elaine Pagels, Michael Baigent and Karen King promoted them as proof positive that there was more to Jesus’ life than what the Gospel writers wrote.
For example, Pagels states about the Gospel of Thomas,
“The Gospel of Thomas contains teachings venerated by ‘Thomas Christians’, apparently an early group that…thrived during the early first century…We now begin to see that what we call Christianity…actually represents only a small selection of specific sources chosen from among dozens of others…Why were these writings banned as ‘heresy’? What made them so dangerous?” [Pagels, Beyond Belief, pg. 35; Gnostic Gospels xxxv]
Immediately after quoting these passages from Pagels’ books, Strobel declares,
“That’s a good question. Were these alternative depictions of Jesus censored – even burned – because they dared to deviate from what was becoming the ‘orthodox’ view of him? Was the first century a maelstrom of clashing doctrines and practices – all equally valid – with one dominant viewpoint eventually elbowing its way to prominence and brutally squelching the others? …All of this has profound implications for my personal quest to discover the real Jesus. Is it possible that my earlier conclusions about him have been unduly colored by the New Testament accounts that in reality were only one perspective among many?” [pg. 28]
To be clear, Strobel dedicates the rest of the work to the defense of the New Testament Jesus – as the book’s title infers (albeit, some of what he asserts is Biblically challengeable). However, not all questions are equal.
Consider that Strobel states that Pagels’ question is a “good” one. I would highly dispute that charge due to the fact that her questions are, in fact, disguised statements – highly presumptuous, at that.
What makes Pagels so sure that such writings were “banned” as she asserts? Why does she attempt to inject into the reader’s mind that New Testament Christians intentionally eliminated all writings that contradicted the Gospels because they found them “dangerous”?
In truth, Pagels uses questions in order to imply certain things. Chiefly, she suggests that New Testament Christianity is a ruse because, according to her, first century Christians sought to destroy other records that could undermine their false narrative of Jesus.
In other words, early Christians supposedly wanted the Gnostic texts destroyed and that, in and of itself, is proof that the contents of the Gospels are false. Furthermore, she infers that by their existence alone, the Gnostic texts discredit the Gospels as an accurate and therefore reliable witness to Christ’s life.
Notice that Pagels’ conclusions are illogical, as well as disprovable conjecture. Yet, instead of asking the questions we’ve asked in order to demonstrate that Pagels uses the diversionary and devious tactic of using a question to make a statement, Strobel classifies her questions as “good”. Therefore, he gives the impression that her pretentious rhetoric is somehow valid instead of what it is, absurd.
Since he didn’t or couldn’t demonstrate the fallaciousness of her declarations by the rhetoric she employs, now he must spend the time attempting to disprove what is already a disprovable notion by a simple analysis of her line of questioning.
As we’ve noted, on occasion all it takes to demonstrate the ridiculousness of a belief is another question that exposes the belief for what it is.