Great post Gabriel and welcome to the forum.
You have covered a lot of ground in your post and I’m looking forward to others responses too.
So to summarise the areas of interest we have
1/ A question if prophecy can be explained explained away by probabilities? I’m afraid I’m not a mathematician so don’t understand your probabilities calculations.
Do you have any sources for the number of prophecies being 3268, and the explanation of the probabilities that we can have a look at?
2/ how can we be sure that prophecies are 100% fulfilled, given the different interpretations?
good question; will leave unanswered for others to add to…
3/ reliability of the original texts, and thus our translations?
Lennox in his book ‘Can science explain everything?’ touches briefly on this in chapter 7 : Can we trust what we read?
Before we look at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, we need to ask about the reliability of the documents in which it is mainly contained—the New Testament. Popular opinion about the New Testament varies wildly. For instance, it never ceases to amaze me how many people will casually deny the existence of the historical figure of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. The real experts on such matters are the ancient historians, and, in the interests of fairness, we need to listen to them. Among them, whether they are Christians or not, there is a remarkable consensus regarding the existence of Jesus and the things that he did.For example, Oxford scholar Christopher Tuckett, author of a Cambridge University text on the historical Jesus, says of the evidence:
All this does at least render highly implausible any far-fetched theories that even Jesus’ very existence was a Christian invention. The fact that Jesus existed, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate (for whatever reason) and that he had a band of followers who continued to support his cause, seems to be part of the bedrock of historical tradition. If nothing else, the non-Christian evidence can provide us with certainty on that score.
As for the New Testament, many people’s opinions seem to be based on wild conspiracy theories, and they seem unaware of how overwhelmingly strong the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament text actually is. The common views that the New Testament text is untrustworthy, or is invented much later than it claims to be, or is simply a fake, simply do not stand up to any serious examination.
Lennox, John. Can Science Explain Everything? . The Good Book Company. Kindle Edition.
He goes onto mention
- 6000+ partial or complete New Testament manuscripts
- “over 18,000 in early translations into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and other languages. Added to this, there are thousands of quotations of the New Testament by the early Church Fathers, who wrote between the 2nd and 4th centuries. If, then, we lost all the New Testament manuscripts, from these quotations alone we could reconstruct a large proportion of the New Testament.”
In order to get some idea of the weight of this manuscript evidence, one needs only to compare it with the documentary evidence available for other famous ancient texts. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote The Annals of Imperial Rome around AD 116. The first six books of The Annals survive in only one manuscript, which was copied in about AD 850. While books 7 to 10 do not survive, there are 35 manuscripts of books 11 to 16, the earliest of which is dated to the 11th century. The manuscript evidence is, therefore, very sparse, and the time gap between original compilation and the earliest manuscripts is over 700 years.
By contrast, the documentary evidence for the History of Rome, written by another Roman historian, Livy, around 20 BC, consists of nearly 500 manuscripts, the earliest of which is dated to the 4th century AD. The ancient secular work with the most documentary support is Homer’s Iliad (written around 800 BC), of which there are over 1,900 manuscript copies, dating from around 415 BC. For both Homer’s and Livy’s work, the time gap between the original and the earliest surviving manuscripts is around 400 years.[The main point to be made here is that scholars treat these documents as authentic representations of the originals in spite of the scarcity of the manuscripts and their late dates. In comparison with these, the New Testament is the best-attested document from the ancient world by far. We have noted that the time lapse between the date of some well-known ancient manuscripts and the originals of which they are copies is considerable. By contrast, some of the New Testament manuscripts are of a very great age. The Bodmer Papyri (in the Bodmer Collection, Cologny, Switzerland) contain about two-thirds of the Gospel of John in one papyrus, dated as early as AD 200. Another 3rd-century papyrus has parts of Luke and John. Perhaps the most important manuscripts are the Chester Beatty Papyri, which were discovered around 1930 and are now housed in the Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin, Ireland. Papyrus 1 comes from the 3rd century, and contains parts of the four Gospels and Acts. Papyrus 2 contains substantial portions of eight of Paul’s letters, plus parts of the letter to the Hebrews, and is dated to around AD 200. Papyrus 3 has a large part of the book of Revelation and is dated to the 3rd century. The dating of such documents is made by the most advanced scientific techniques.
Lennox, John. Can Science Explain Everything? . The Good Book Company. Kindle Edition.
Lennox goes onto address the question of copying errors. It’s well worth the time to read this book also; and you might find it a good tool to give away to friends who are interested in Christianity. https://www.amazon.com/Science-Explain-Everything-John-Lennox/dp/1784984116
and also there are several free videos on the topic as well; which might be of interest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0AKUTHcI04 and also a debate with Peter Aitkens here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSYwCaFkYno
you also make some other interesting comments which are worth exploring
It’s good to explore apologetic claims and sort out which are reliable or not; at the end of the day; the Christian faith all comes down to the question “Is Jesus Who he claimed to be?”. The more I explore, the more I’m convinced that my faith rests on the Person of Jesus Christ and finished work of Christ on the cross on my behalf, and His resurrection.
I would suggest it’s not enough to debunk the competing belief system. It’s very easy to question other’s positions at a distance, but it’s much harder to question our own beliefs.
I’m sure you’ve heard it already from Ravi, but there are 4 big questions that make up a worldview; and we all must answer them. We can learn from others and ask them questions. If we can ask questions in even just one of these areas with a person this might be something that makes them think about spiritual things and take one more step to exploring Christianity and who Jesus actually is.
How do you think the universe came into existence?
How do you think human life began?
What is the purpose of human life?
How do you determine good and bad?
What will happen at the end (at death)?
yes some people say this; because there is not enough evidence I will not believe anything. The problem is people have to live, so do they refuse to trust anything at all?
Everyone must make decisions on the evidence that is there. We did a book study a while ago on the forum for Andy Bannisters’s book ‘The atheist that didn’t exist’.
https://connect.rzim.org/tag/atheist-who-didnt-exist It’s a mixture of humor and apologetics and you might enjoy it… This is from chapter 2.
“I don’t believe that Sweden exists!” my friend suddenly announced from across the coffee-shop table. “There! I’ve finally said it.” He took a long sip of espresso and stared fiercely at me, clearly daring me to respond. I paused for a moment to think, my cinnamon roll halfway to my mouth as I digested what he’d just said.
“Sweden doesn’t exist. I am a Scandinavian scoffer, a Nordic nullifidian, a Sverigeinian sceptic …” “And clearly the possessor of quite some thesaurus. But, seriously, you don’t believe in Sweden?”
“That’s right. It’s obvious when you think about it: Sweden is just a political conspiracy, invented to motivate other European citizens to work harder. All that talk of the best healthcare system, the highest standard of living, tall, svelte, and beautiful people. Come on, it sounds more and more like a myth every time you hear it. But I’m not fooled. I do not believe in Sweden.”
I stared at my friend silently, allowing the sounds of the coffee shop to drift over us for a few seconds while I pondered. In the background, the radio began playing “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. “
You’re insane,” I said. “What do you mean, you don’t believe in Sweden? That’s ridiculous. If Sweden doesn’t exist, how do you explain IKEA furniture, or the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show, or what glues Norway to Finland. That’s a staggering claim! What’s your evidence?” “Evidence?” my friend asked. “Yes, evidence. You surely have more than just a hunch and a bunch of prejudices, and must have some pretty impressive evidence for your belief. I realize that Sweden has only 9.5 million inhabitants and more moose than men, but you can’t simply deny outright that it exists.” “Ah,” said my friend, knowingly, “I see your problem.” “My problem?” “Yes, your problem. In fact, your confusion. You think that my denial of Sweden is an actual claim of some kind, that it’s a belief. But it isn’t. It’s a non-belief. There’s nothing I need to explain – rather, I’m talking about something I lack, namely a belief in Sweden, so I don’t need to give any evidence for it.” “Come again?” I said. “Yes,” he continued, warming to his theme, “I don’t have to provide evidence for my non-belief in Atlantis, El Dorado, Shangri-La or the Customer Support Department at American Airlines, and nor need I for my non-belief
in Sweden. I’m not making a claim of any kind – in fact, quite the opposite: I’m claiming nothing. I’m merely rejecting one of your beliefs, your belief in Sweden. Now, quit arguing and pass me another slice of Prinsesstårta.”
While that dialogue was, unsurprisingly, entirely fictional, the response from my friend concerning the reasons (or rather the absence thereof) for his doubts about Sweden have some real-world parallels, especially in the way that some atheists like to describe their non-belief in God. The argument goes this way: atheism is a disbelief in God, and therefore one does not need to give reasons for it. The idea lying behind this is that atheism is purely negative, the mere absence of belief, and it is only positive beliefs for which we need to provide reasons. For instance, should I claim that my bathtub is presently occupied by two magnificent hippos who are at this very moment engaged in a hearty duet of “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!” (one singing, one accompanying on the kazoo), then of course I can be asked to provide evidence. On the other hand, should I announce: “My bathroom is entirely devoid of any examples of hippopotamus amphibius”, I need not go any further to justify myself. (continues)
Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (p. 32). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.
I think we need to be clear about the difference between a legend and a historical account. William Lane Craig wrote a book which I’ve read a short time ago called ‘The Risen Son: Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus’. It’s excellent and well worth a read; after all ‘if Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain’. 1 Corinthians 15:14
The Gospel accounts are not legends about eye-witnesses, but rather eye-witness accounts.
Craig, in his book, says of the Legend Theory:
Since the time of D. F. Strauss, the prevailing theory in denial of the resurrection has been that the accounts themselves are legendary. Strauss saw that it was hopeless to grant the facts and then try to cook up some natural explanation for them. Once the skeptic granted the basic historical reliability of the gospel accounts, his case was lost. Strauss therefore denied the apostolic authorship
of the gospels and rejected their accounts as unhistorical legends.11 There never was an empty tomb, nor was there ever any guard around it. These are legendary stories that built up over the years. Similarly, the stories of Jesus’ appearances in the gospels are just legends. Strauss did admit that the disciples must have seen something (otherwise the list of witnesses to the appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 cannot be explained), but he dismisses these as hallucinations on the part of the disciples. Strauss believed that after Jesus’ death, the disciples went back to Galilee. By reading the Old Testament, they became convinced that the Messiah would die and rise from the dead. Since they believed Jesus was the Messiah, they thought he would surely rise. So eventually they had hallucinations of him. Much later they returned to Jerusalem to preach the resurrection, and by that time the location of Jesus’ tomb had apparently been forgotten. The gospel accounts that we have were written much later and are unhistorical legends that accumulated over the years.
This then is the real issue in contemporary scholarship. The position of the most influential New Testament critic of this century, Rudolf Bultmann, with regard to the resurrection is virtually indistinguishable from that of Strauss. Modern critics who deny the resurrection have followed Strauss in arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is a legend.
In summary, then, we have seen that the history of the debate over the resurrection of Jesus has produced several dead ends in the attempt to explain away the evidence of the resurrection. The conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the wrong tomb theory, and their variations have all proved inadequate
as plausible alternative explanations for the resurrection. This is of great help to us because it clears the ground for a consideration of the really crucial issue facing us today. This is Strauss’s alternative: that the resurrection of Jesus is a legend. Modern critics who deny the resurrection have stuck on Strauss’s position. If it fails, then the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection can no longer be denied. In the next three chapters, therefore, we shall conduct a searching examination of this position through a critical sifting of the positive evidence for the resurrection.
Craig, William L… The Son Rises: Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (p. 43). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
but I do understand what you are saying about the eye-witnesses being unwavering in their commitment; even under persecution and death. Why would anybody die for a lie? Craig also covers this in his book in detail.
Anyway, you have covered a lot of ground with your post; and I hope some of this is helpful starting points. I look forward to others clarifying and correcting me where I’ve been unclear. I’ve also not answered any of your prophetic questions as well so looking forward to more discussion from others