This book takes the usual Lee Strobel approach — which I find very persuasive — of him interviewing a series of experts, in this case to refute the various, most prominent objections to Christianity lately, namely that it was copied from pagan religions, that the early church tampered with texts or rejected texts that were just as reliable as the ones it accepted, and so forth. It appears that the whole book, which is excellent, is available online here [link: http://www.apwin.org/wp-content/uploads/books-misc/Lee%20strobel-the_case_for_the_real_jesus.pdf].
A few notes I made when reading the book: (1) One asks why Jews, of all people, would want to copy pagan myths (cf. page 184); (2) pages 128-33 are good on why the Koran’s treatment of Jesus is unpersuasive; and (3) Appendix B (279) has a helpful list of “Helpful Websites to Investigate the Real Jesus” (Strobel’s own, one by William Lane Craig, etc.).
I copied excerpts from page 167 and from pages 185-86. I especially liked this passage from the latter (footnotes omitted):
[Scholar Ronald H.] Nash summarized seven succinct arguments against Christian dependence on the mystery religions. First, “copycat” proponents often illogically assume that just because two things exist side by side, one of them must have caused the other. Second, many alleged similarities are exaggerated or fabricated. Writers frequently use language borrowed from Christianity to describe pagan rituals, then marvel at the “parallels” they’ve discovered. Third, the chronology is wrong. Writers cite beliefs and practices that postdate the first century in an attempt to argue that they influenced the first-century formation of Christianity. Just because a cult had a belief or practice in the third or fourth century AD doesn’t mean it had the same belief or practice in the first century.
Fourth, Paul would never have consciously borrowed from pagan religions; in fact, he warned against this very thing. Fifth, early Christianity was exclusivistic; any hint of syncretism in the New Testament would have caused immediate controversy. Sixth, unlike the mystery religions, Christianity is grounded in actual historical events. And seventh, what few parallels remain could reflect a Christian influence on pagan beliefs and practices. Pagan attempts to counter the growing influence of Christianity by imitating it are clearly apparent.
Finally, there’s an excellent summary of the whole book at pages 266-67 (footnote omitted):
In the end, none of these seemingly daunting challenges turned out to be close calls. One by one, they were systematically dismantled by scholars who backed up their positions not with verbal sleights of hand or speculation, but with facts, logic, and evidence:
- Are scholars discovering a radically different Jesus in ancient documents just as credible as the four Gospels? No, the alter- native texts that are touted in liberal circles are too late to be historically credible — for instance, the Gospel of Thomas was written after AD 175 and probably closer to 200. According to eminent New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the Thomas gospel has “no significant new light to shed on the historical Jesus.” The Secret Gospel of Mark, with its homoerotic undercurrents, turned out to be an embarrassing hoax that fooled many liberal scholars too eager to buy into bizarre theories about Jesus, while no serious historians give credence to the so-called Jesus Papers. The Gnostic depiction of Jesus as a revealer of hidden knowledge—including the teaching that we all possess the divine light that he embodied—lacks any connection to the historical Jesus.
- Is the Bible’s portrait of Jesus unreliable because of mistakes or deliberate changes by scribes through the centuries? No, there are no new disclosures that have cast any doubt on the essential reliability of the New Testament. Only about one percent of the manuscript variants affect the meaning of the text to any degree, and not a single cardinal doctrine is at stake. Actually, the unrivaled wealth of New Testament manuscripts greatly enhances the credibility of the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus.
- Have new explanations refuted Jesus’ resurrection? No, the truth is that a persuasive case for Jesus rising from the dead can be made by using five facts that are well-evidenced and which the vast majority of today’s scholars on the subject— including skeptical ones — accept as true: [Jesus’] death by crucifixion; his disciples’ belief that he rose and appeared to them; the conversion of the church persecutor Paul; the conversion of the skeptic James, who was Jesus’ half-brother; and Jesus’ empty tomb. All the attempts by skeptics and Muslims to put Jesus back into his tomb utterly fail when subjected to serious analysis, while the overblown and ill-supported claims of the Jesus Tomb documentary and book have been decimated by knowledgeable scholars.
- Were Christian beliefs about Jesus stolen from pagan religions?No, they clearly were not. Allegations that the virgin birth, the resurrection, communion, and baptism came from earlier mythology simply evaporated when the shoddy scholarship of “copycat” theorists was exposed. There are simply no examples of dying and rising gods that preceded Christianity and which have meaningful parallels to Jesus’ resurrection. In short, this is a theory that careful scholars discredited decades ago.
- Was Jesus an imposter who failed to fulfill the messianic proph- ecies? On the contrary, a compelling case can be made that Jesus—and Jesus alone—matches the “fingerprint” of the Messiah. Only Jesus managed to fulfill the prophecies that needed to come to fruition prior to the fall of the Jewish temple in AD 70. Consequently, if Jesus isn’t the predicted Messiah, then there will never be one. What’s more, Jesus’ fulfillment of these prophecies against all odds makes it rational to conclude that he will fulfill the final ones when the time is right.
- Should people be free to pick and choose what they want to believe about Jesus? Obviously, we have the freedom to believe anything we want. But just because the U.S. Constitution pro- vides equal protection for all religions doesn’t mean that all beliefs are equally true. Whatever we believe about Jesus cannot change the reality of who he clearly established himself to be: the unique Son of God. So why cobble together our own make- believe Jesus to try to fulfill our personal prejudices when we can meet and experience the actual Jesus of history and faith?