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Review: The Case for Christ

G Eugene Pichler

Dec 06, 2017

G Eugene Pichler reviews Lee Strobel's film, The Case for Christ.

Jul 31, 2015 12:00

illustration by <em>Anna Godeassi
illustration by Anna Godeassi

The Case for Christ is about Lee Strobel's progression towards religious belief as he progresses in a marriage. The conversion begins with the advent of a marriage to wife, Leslie, who comes from a religious background. As Strobel gets involved with his wife's routines, including attendance at Sunday worship, Strobel reports seeing 'positive changes' in his wife. Strobel never elaborates on the changes in his wife he is referring to.

Strobel introduces the reader to Bill Hybels, a senior pastor at the Willow Creek Community Church, whose services Strobel and Leslie take in. Strobel credits Hybels with educating Strobel in what Christianity is all about.

Strobel claims he was an atheist over the course of the first encounter at the Willow Creek Community Church, meaning he was unpersuaded after hearing the Hybels’ sermon at the Willow Creek Community Church over the course of the first-time encounter.

Strobel indicates a willingness to adopt the teachings as truth, citing the belief system, if true, would have enormous implications on his life. However, Strobel never volunteers what exactly those implications are.

Leslie explains that the words resonate with her differently than Strobel. Whereas Leslie claims she derives her beliefs from experience, she reports that Strobel requires evidence into the existence of God.

Strobel then applies his journalistic expertise to investigate the evidence that corroborates the passages in the four books of the new testament as truth of Christ as the son of God. Strobel interviews religious scholars on behalf of the Chicago Tribune.

Initially Strobel had the intention to expose fallacious thinking behind Christianity. However, Strobel reports that he worked on the topic for two years before he felt he exhausted the matter.

Strobel accepts that the books of the New Testament as historical documents. In other words he accepted the material as factual. Strobel leans heavily on what he refers to as expert witnesses. The people he introduces us to, however, are not witnesses of events that preceded the development of the books of the new testament.

The four books of the new testament were written two generations after the death of Christ by anonymous authors. By the books very nature, the claim that the books were written by biblical figures but not by the actual figures is demonstrative of early deception on the part of the people who spearheaded early Christianity.

As an aside the word, Christ, is derived from the Greek word, Christos, which was introduced on the advent of the follow on codex’s of the original books in approximately 330 A.D. and not before.

Strobel introduces us the J.P. Moreland, Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; Mark Strauss, Bethel Seminary; Craig Blomberg, Professor of the New Testament, Denver Seminary; Craig Evans, Acadia Divinity College and N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, United Kingdom.

Wright reports that as he studied Christians in the first century A.D. he feels he is more connected with the four historical figures, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, though he admits that the historical figures have no hand in writing the material. Insofar as one accepts the books as accurate, Strobel asserts that the books are a biography of Jesus, whose authentic name was Yeshua, which translates in Hebrew to he who helps.

Strobel asserts that Matthew and John give their eye witness account of the historical events of their era in the books that bear their names, respectively. However, the critical link, who actually wrote the text and their respective relationship to the people for which the books are ascribed to is never made.

Strobel next asserts that Mark and Luke give their account of Jesus' life through third party witnesses in the books that bear their names respectively. As the books were not written by the historical figures Mark nor Luke, but rather anonymous authors that extrapolate what can only be hearsay, the claim that these books are accurate is even more of a stretch.

Bishop Wright positions the four books as attempts by first century witnesses into the life of Christ. This contradicts what he first admits, that the books were not written by the eyewitnesses, but rather anonymous authors, having no clear relationship to the alleged witnesses.

Strobel introduces a passage from Luke 1:1-2, dated 330 A.D. or thereabouts that claims that the testimony is handed down to later generations. However, that would suggest that the material is hearsay passed down from generation to generation hundreds of years after the death of Christ. This passage further raises caution as to the truth of the so-called evidence.

Bethel Seminary scholar, Mark Strauss, asserts that the above passage is ‘carefully’ investigated by eye witness accounts of the events as spoken of by Luke, and not the anonymous author purporting to have interviewed people, who spoke to Luke. Strauss admits the passage is written in the Greek language, which was not spoke in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s historical life. The book of Luke from the codex Invictus was likely not written in Jerusalem given it is written in the Greek language.

To add to the confusion Straus reports that the book of Mark was in fact written from the eye witness account of Peter, who allegedly was a disciple of Christ. Strauss concludes that the eye witness accounts as told by the anonymous author, who asserts to the truth of the facts by speaking to third parties, who were allegedly eye witnesses, is ‘proof’ the books are accurate.

Bishop Wright admits that the stories were told and subsequently edited hundreds of years later to bring conventional context to the events during the life of Christ, which would further taint the accuracy of the accounts.

Strobel reports the years of Christ's death as a range from 27 A.D. to 30 A.D. This range underscores the numerous inconsistencies between the four books. If you accept God exists and that God is omniscient, meaning very knowledgeable, and that the books are by the hand of God, then you reach a paradox. How can an omniscient being get it so wrong in book after book, passage after passage?

Strobel later tries to reconcile why the books were written and released to the general public generations after the death of Christ. On this question Strobel suggests that that was consistent with journalistic reporting of the period. Strobel asserts that it simply takes longer to write things down and distribute material without modern equipment. One could understand it would takes years to transcribe material and still more time to distribute the books to the masses, but that it took approximately 60 years to write and publish the book of John is a stretch. In any event the lack of discipline of journalistic reporting does not in and of itself advance the truth of the story of Jesus.

Strobel introduces theory after theory, excuse after excuse for the time lag between the time of Christ’s death, which is never established, and the advent of the books by anonymous authors.

To complicate matters the books are re-translated in various codex' in various languages hundreds of years after the original material was authored on sheets of papyrus. Strobel admits the subsequent versions are not replicas of the originals and thus introduce yet more erroneous material and that the original writings on sheets of papyrus are effectively lost, leaving the reader to question the accuracy of the books, which were anecdotal, third-party accounts at best.

Strauss explains this away by comparing the bible to Homer's Iliad in which the codex of Homer's Iliad were reproduced over one thousand years after the original material was transcribed. Although the bible reproduction may be more reflective of the original material albeit in different languages, the link is not made how the degradation of the Iliad makes the subsequent release of the four books of the new testament accurate. The authenticity of Homer's Iliad bears no relationship to the four books of the new testament.

Strobel introduces the Gnostics of Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels are a collection of 52 texts discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt that include 'secret' gospels poems and myths attributing to Jesus sayings and beliefs which are very different from the New Testament. [Wikipedia] The material, including the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas, was written hundreds of years after the death of Christ. Theologians do not regard these works as having much merit into the life of Christ due to the fact that the material portrays a much different personality of Jesus than that portrayed by the books of the new testament. Yet, as the new testament is a series of copies over the course of hundreds of years of third party accounts passed verbally from person to person an undetermined number of times how does anyone know whether the Gnostics of Gospel are more accurate or less accurate to the actual historical events. Strobel offers no conclusive evidence one way or the other, other than to assert that in the opinion of so-called experts the books of the new testament as transcribed in the fourth century, in 330 A.D. or thereabouts are more accurate than the materials developed in the second century A.D.

The consistent problem with Strobel research is the claim that he is following the so-called evidence, when in fact time and time again he is treating anecdotal opinion as evidence. Effectively, Strobel equates belief and opinion as evidence.

Strobel’s wife, Leslie, is completely driven by her feelings to explain her excitement in the gospel and belief. The more Leslie sees her husband come around and stray from the facts to accepting opinion as fact, the more she is excited her husband is beginning to realize in his own mind what she feels.

The second half of the film explores various scholars’ love of Jesus and the reason they love and feel for this historical figure. The second half also explores the bible—the old testament and new testament—as the good news. Again, the material is treated as fact. However, love and feeling, passages and anecdotal stories alone do not offer any evidence into the existence of God nor proof that Christ is who they assert he is.

That which Strobel and his array of experts want to believe to be true, does not necessarily make it true.

If you were to take sympathetic journalists who had at one time interviewed Lynnette Squeaky Fromme, Sandra Good and Nancy Pittman and had you given credence to their claims that Charles Millis Manson, born November 11, 1934, is the resurrection of Christ, that Charles Millis Manson breathed life back into a dead bird, that the bird once resurrected by Manson had flown away, and then you were to retranslate the story by word of mouth hundreds of years later and contorted the belief system to fit the cultural context of the time, whatever that happens to be, and not hold any of the original pretext to scrutiny or similar discipline, you would have the equivalent of what is now known as Codex Invictus. You would produce a subculture who believes that Charles Millis Manson is undisputedly the resurrection of Christ as told through the book of Squeaky, the book of Good and the book of Nancy.

The unshakable faith in Charles Millis Manson as the son of God on the part of the three women is extremely disturbing. This is what happens when you accept belief without evidence, and in so doing abandon reason.

more information

Paul Henderson's documentary into the Manson Family