The Case Against The Case for Christ Book Summary

Title: The Case Against The Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes Lee Strobel
Author: Robert M. Price

TLDR: Price, a former Christian apologist turned skeptic, meticulously dismantles the arguments presented in Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ,” exposing their logical fallacies, historical inaccuracies, and circular reasoning.

Introduction: My Own Investigation

Price opens with his personal journey from ardent Christian apologist to a non-believer who appreciates religion as a cultural phenomenon, albeit a potentially dangerous one when asserting its doctrines as literal truths. He contrasts his own “meetings with remarkable men” – interviews with prominent evangelical thinkers – to Strobel’s, highlighting how his genuine pursuit of truth led him to different conclusions than Strobel’s seemingly predetermined outcome. Price accuses Strobel of relying on the fallacy of Appeal to Authority by showcasing the credentials of his interviewees without engaging with the weaknesses of their arguments. He also criticizes Strobel’s selective interviewing of only conservative apologists, creating a biased presentation rather than a genuine investigation.

Part One: Examining the Wreckage

Chapter One: The Utter Lack of Eyewitness Evidence

Price dives into the core of his argument: the gospels are not biographies based on eyewitness accounts. He criticizes Craig Blomberg’s reliance on early church tradition to establish gospel authorship, arguing that such tradition is selective and often contradictory. Price analyzes the traditional attributions of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, presenting alternative explanations for their association with the gospels, rooted in the dynamics of early Christianity and the formation of the biblical canon.

He challenges the claim that the gospels are written “in a sober and responsible fashion” by pointing to the numerous supernatural elements they contain, arguing that what seems plausible to a believer might be entirely outlandish to an outsider. Price also criticizes the use of ancient biographies of figures like Alexander the Great as evidence for gospel reliability, arguing that even those narratives were riddled with legendary embellishments. Price concludes by arguing that the gospels are not written from a “reporter’s perspective” but from a theological one, seeking to promote a particular view of Jesus rather than provide a factual account of his life.

Chapter Two: Testing the Evidence of the Gospels

Price dissects eight “tests” of gospel reliability offered by Blomberg, exposing the weaknesses and circularity in each. The “Intention Test,” asserting the gospels were intended to record accurate history, is challenged by pointing to other ancient authors like Josephus, whose stated intentions often clash with their actual narratives. Price introduces the “Intentional Fallacy,” arguing that the author’s intention does not determine the text’s meaning.

He then refutes the “Ability Test,” which claims that oral tradition reliably preserved Jesus’ teachings. Price draws parallels with the fabrication of hadith in early Islam, demonstrating how even well-meaning religious figures can create and propagate spurious traditions. He also dismisses the “Character Test,” asserting the evangelists’ honesty, as relying on the circular logic of biblical inerrancy.

Price tackles the “Consistency Test” by highlighting the numerous contradictions between the gospels and within each gospel. He criticizes the apologists’ double game of celebrating contradictions for the sake of “independence” while simultaneously claiming they are only “apparent” and can be harmonized. He dismantles Blomberg’s harmonization of the genealogies of Jesus, exposing its absurdity.

The “Bias Test,” questioning the evangelists’ objectivity as devoted followers, is dismissed by Price as relying on the unfounded assumption that there were no inconvenient truths about Jesus to suppress or spin. He then addresses the “Cover-up Test,” arguing that the evangelists often omitted or rewrote embarrassing material to present a more favorable image of Jesus.

The “Corroboration Test,” asserting confirmation of the gospels through non-Christian sources, is deemed “imaginary.” Price examines the passages in Josephus and Tacitus, demonstrating how they offer no independent corroboration of gospel narratives. Finally, he challenges the “Adverse Witness Test,” arguing that the absence of contemporary critiques of the gospels is due to their late date of composition, after most eyewitnesses were dead.

Chapter Three: The Manuscript Evidence

Price turns his attention to textual criticism, questioning whether the extant manuscripts accurately reflect the evangelists’ original writings. He criticizes Bruce Metzger’s approach to textual criticism as too focused on minor textual variants while ignoring the broader historical and literary issues that call into question the integrity of the New Testament text. Price argues that the abundance of New Testament manuscripts compared to other ancient writings is likely due to the influence of the church, which prioritized scripture while suppressing “pagan” works. He challenges the claim that the New Testament text is 99.5% pure, pointing to the possibility of systematic editing and suppression of variant manuscripts in the early centuries, similar to the standardization of the Qur’an under Caliph Uthman.

Price also criticizes Metzger’s apologetic approach to textual criticism, exemplified by his defense of the Trinity doctrine even after acknowledging the spurious nature of the Trinitarian proof-text in 1 John 5:7b. Price emphasizes the historical development of Trinitarianism, arguing that Metzger’s attempt to find it in early New Testament writings is anachronistic and reflects a fundamentalist bias.

Chapter Four: No Corroborating Evidence

Price delves into the alleged corroboration of the gospels through non-Christian sources, particularly focusing on Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius. He argues that the famous Testimonium Flavianum passage in Josephus is a later interpolation, demonstrably absent in early copies of Josephus’ writings. The Tacitus passage, he asserts, merely reflects the Christian understanding of Jesus’ death and offers no independent historical insight. Price also dismisses the supposed reference to Jesus in Suetonius’ writings as inconclusive.

He criticizes Yamauchi’s argument that the spread of Christianity is improbable unless Jesus was resurrected, pointing to the popularity of other ancient religions with dying and rising gods, despite the lack of historical evidence for their resurrection. Price argues that the “supernatural” element Yamauchi invokes is nothing more than a desperate attempt to explain away the influence of pre-Christian beliefs and practices on the development of Christianity.

Chapter Five: The Stones Keep Mum

Price examines the role of archaeology in biblical scholarship, arguing that the lack of archaeological evidence for key gospel narratives casts doubt on their historical accuracy. He highlights the absence of any archaeological remains of Nazareth dating to the time of Jesus, suggesting that the town only came into existence later, bolstering the critical theory that “Jesus the Nazarene” originally referred to a sectarian label. Price criticizes McRay’s attempts to counter this evidence, arguing that the archaeological data he cites is either misdated or misinterpreted.

He also critiques the use of accurate details about ancient government offices in Acts to establish the book’s overall reliability, arguing that such details are irrelevant to the plausibility of the supernatural events depicted in Acts. Price criticizes Luke’s account of the Roman census that allegedly brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, pointing to the numerous historical and logistical inaccuracies in the narrative. He examines various apologetic attempts to harmonize this account with known Roman practices, demonstrating their inadequacy.

Chapter Six: A Butt Load of Evidence

Price responds to Strobel’s critique of The Jesus Seminar, defending the Seminar’s methodology and its place in mainstream biblical scholarship. He challenges Greg Boyd’s dismissal of the Seminar as “radical-fringe scholars,” pointing to the Seminar’s diverse membership and its grounding in established methods of critical biblical scholarship. Price defends the Seminar’s “seven pillars of scholarly wisdom,” which he argues represent a historically informed approach to gospel interpretation.

He challenges Boyd’s accusation that the Jesus Seminar rules out the supernatural from the beginning, arguing that it is the apologists who smuggle in the alien assumption of biblical inerrancy. Price emphasizes the distinction between “methodological atheism” – the historian’s reliance on observable trends and verifiable data – and “philosophical atheism.” He argues that the historical critic makes no pronouncements about the impossibility of miracles, but simply recognizes that miracles cannot be measured or reckoned with historically.

Price then addresses Boyd’s attempts to minimize the parallels between gospel narratives and other ancient myths, arguing that Boyd’s dismissal of these parallels reflects a fundamentalist bias. He concludes by highlighting the inherent contradiction in Boyd’s call for a personal relationship with Jesus while simultaneously dismissing critical scholarship that challenges the traditional image of Jesus.

Part Two: Using Jesus as a Ventriloquist’s Dummy

Chapter Seven: The Identity Crisis

Price continues his critique of apologetic arguments for Jesus’ divinity, focusing on the assertions of Ben Witherington III. He criticizes Witherington’s reliance on the Gospel of John to demonstrate Jesus’ self-understanding of his divine nature, arguing that John’s portrayal of Jesus is heavily interpreted and reflects the theological perspective of the Johannine community.

Price dismantles Witherington’s arguments for Jesus’ divinity based on his association with the Twelve Disciples, his performance of miracles, his abrogation of certain Old Testament laws, and his use of the term “Abba” in prayer. He argues that Witherington misinterprets these elements, imposing later Christian dogma onto them rather than seeking their original context and meaning. Price concludes by criticizing Witherington’s claim that the enduring popularity of Jesus compared to other first-century figures is proof of his divinity, arguing that this assertion is purely dogmatic and ignores the historical and cultural factors that contributed to the spread of Christianity.

Chapter Eight: The Psychology of Heresy

Price tackles the question of Jesus’ mental health, arguing that the apologetic insistence on Jesus’ divinity opens the door to the suspicion of insanity. He analyzes the Johannine thunderbolt passage (Matthew 11:27/Luke 10:22), the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-9), and Jesus’ use of the phrase “my Father” as evidence for his supposed claim to divinity. However, Price demonstrates that each of these elements is either a later interpolation, an allegorical narrative, or a reflection of evolving Christian belief, not the actual words and beliefs of the historical Jesus.

He criticizes Gary Collins’ apologetic arguments for Jesus’ psychological health, arguing that the absence of blatant signs of insanity in the gospels does not prove anything, as even notorious figures like Jim Jones appeared perfectly normal to outsiders. Price then reexamines the Trilemma argument – that Jesus must be either Lord, liar, or lunatic – arguing that it ironically implies Jesus’ insanity even if he was correct about being God, as no human mind could harbor such a belief without being driven mad. He concludes that the Trilemma argument is ultimately a false dilemma, as there are other possibilities, including that Jesus was a sincere but mistaken prophet.

Chapter Nine: The Piffle Evidence

Price analyzes the arguments of David A. Carson regarding Jesus’ divine nature, exposing their weaknesses and circularity. He criticizes Carson’s reliance on John’s gospel and his tendency to proof-text biblical passages out of context to support his theological agenda.

Price argues that Carson misinterprets Jesus’ forgiveness of sins, his claim to sinlessness, his encounter with the Rich Young Ruler, and his statement “The Father is greater than I” as proof of his divinity. He demonstrates how each of these passages can be understood within a Jewish context without resorting to later Christian dogma.

Price then criticizes Carson’s attempts to rationalize the concept of hell as compatible with a loving God. He argues that the evangelical insistence on the necessity of specific beliefs for salvation amounts to salvation by “cognitive works,” contradicting the claim of salvation by grace. Price concludes by criticizing the apologists’ apologetic stance on slavery, arguing that their attempts to justify Jesus’ silence on this issue are ethically bankrupt and reflect a desire to protect the Bible from criticism rather than confront the moral failings of its protagonists.

Chapter Ten: The Finger-Paint Evidence

Price tackles the issue of messianic prophecy, arguing that the Old Testament passages commonly cited as predictions of Jesus are misinterpreted and ripped from their original context. He analyzes Lapides’ claims about Isaiah 53, Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2, Daniel 9:24-26, Psalm 41:9, Psalm 22, and Psalm 16, demonstrating how each of these texts is either not messianic, does not predict the events attributed to Jesus, or is simply misapplied to Jesus by later Christians.

Price criticizes Lapides’ attempts to counter skeptical arguments about messianic prophecy, arguing that Lapides’ reasoning is naive and reflects an ignorance of critical biblical scholarship. He concludes by highlighting the circularity of Lapides’ assertion that the prophecies “have stood up and shown themselves to be true,” arguing that this claim is based on a prior commitment to biblical inerrancy rather than a genuine examination of the evidence.

Part Three: Rationalizing the Resurrection

Chapter Eleven: Dead Man Walking: The Swoon Theory

Price examines the Swoon Theory, which posits that Jesus did not actually die on the cross but merely fainted and later revived. He explains the theory’s origins in eighteenth-century Protestant Rationalism, highlighting the Rationalists’ attempts to reconcile their belief in biblical inerrancy with a naturalistic worldview. Price argues that, while the Swoon Theory might have made sense within that particular framework, it is inadequate as a historical explanation of the resurrection.

He criticizes Strobel and Metherell’s arguments against the Swoon Theory, arguing that they rely on a literalistic reading of the Passion narratives and ignore the possibility that things might not have happened as typically depicted in Roman crucifixions. Price suggests that the gospels can be read as implying an earlier version of the story in which Jesus escaped death rather than overcoming it. He points to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, Pilate’s surprise at Jesus’ early death, and the parallels with Josephus’ account of rescuing his friends from the cross as evidence supporting this interpretation.

Chapter Twelve: The Evidence of the Empty Argument

Price examines the empty tomb narrative, arguing that it is a late legendary development designed to support the claim of Jesus’ resurrection. He analyzes William Lane Craig’s arguments for the empty tomb, exposing their circularity and reliance on the unfounded assumption of gospel accuracy.

Price challenges Craig’s claim that the 1 Corinthians 15 creed implies the empty tomb, arguing that the text says nothing about an empty tomb and that the early Christians likely understood resurrection in spiritual terms, not requiring a physical, empty tomb. He also criticizes Craig’s defense of the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea, arguing that Joseph might be a fictional character or a later development of the tradition, reflecting the changing dynamics of early Christianity.

Price analyzes the differences between the gospel accounts of the empty tomb, arguing that they reflect editorial embellishment and theological agendas, not independent attestation of the event. He concludes by pointing to the existence of alternative burial traditions of Jesus that make no mention of an empty tomb, suggesting that the canonical narrative is not the original version of the story.

Chapter Thirteen: The Appearance of Evidence

Price tackles the resurrection appearances, arguing that they are riddled with contradictions and implausibilities, ultimately undermining the case for a historical resurrection. He analyzes Gary Habermas’ list of resurrection appearances, demonstrating how each account is problematic, either contradicting other accounts, relying on flimsy evidence, or reflecting later theological interpretations rather than eyewitness testimony.

Price examines the appearance to Mary Magdalene, arguing that it is a Johannine rewrite of the Matthean appearance, ultimately deriving from the apocryphal Tobit. He analyzes the Emmaus Road appearance, suggesting that it is based on the well-known motif of “entertaining angels unaware.” Price argues that the appearances to the disciples in Luke and John are likely doublets, and that the appearance to Thomas in John is a later addition intended to counter the “swoon theory.” He also questions the historicity of the Galilean appearance in John 21, pointing to its internal inconsistency with the other resurrection narratives.

Price concludes by emphasizing the numerous contradictions between the appearance stories, arguing that they cannot all be reconciled historically. He suggests that the best explanation for this messy evidence is not a literal resurrection but rather a combination of rumors, fictional embellishments, borrowing from other myths, and reinterpretations of Jewish scripture.

Chapter Fourteen: The Circumcision Evidence

Price critiques J.P. Moreland’s “circumstantial evidence” for the resurrection, arguing that his arguments are weak, irrelevant, and demonstrably false. He criticizes Moreland’s claim that the disciples wouldn’t have died for their faith if it was false, arguing that this argument presupposes the disciples died as martyrs – something not supported by any early Christian sources.

Price also dismantles Moreland’s assertion that the rapid abandonment of Jewish practices by early Christians is proof of the resurrection, arguing that these changes occurred gradually and over a long period, reflecting the evolving dynamics of the Christian movement. He criticizes Moreland’s simplistic understanding of the origins of Sunday worship and the sacrament of communion, demonstrating how these practices can be explained by the influence of pre-Christian beliefs and practices.

Price concludes by expressing his disappointment with the overall quality of Moreland’s arguments, comparing them to the stale, repetitive jokes on the Benny Hill Show. He argues that Strobel’s willingness to embrace such weak arguments reveals his lack of genuine interest in historical truth, favoring instead any argument, no matter how flimsy, that might serve his apologetic agenda.

Conclusion: The Failure of Apologetics

Price summarizes his case against apologetics for the resurrection, arguing that they ultimately fail to achieve their goal of providing historical evidence for Jesus’ divinity. He acknowledges that his rejection of these arguments might be dismissed as stemming from a lack of faith or a desire to avoid repentance. However, he insists that his conclusions are based on a rigorous and honest examination of the evidence.

Price shares his personal journey from apologist to non-believer, emphasizing that his loss of faith did not lead him to despair as some apologists claim. Rather, it opened him to a wider world of religious and philosophical possibilities, allowing him to appreciate religion as a cultural phenomenon while rejecting its dogmatic claims to absolute truth.

He concludes by arguing that apologetics, far from bolstering faith, actually undermines it by promoting a simplistic and distorted understanding of the Bible and by ignoring the genuine questions and challenges posed by critical biblical scholarship. He encourages readers to engage in their own independent study of the evidence, leaving the ultimate verdict on these matters to their own judgment.

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