I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” examining Hitchens’ claim that the New Testament is more evil than Old.
Hitchens first line of attack is to claim the Gospels are unhistorical and that they “cannot agree on anything of importance.” Now it is true that some scholars consider these accounts as mere fabrications, but it is also true that other scholars have examine these accounts, and as D.A. Carson points out in his commentary on Matthew, ” the stories have long been shown to be compatible, even mutually complementary.”
But there is a further and deeper problem behind Hitchens claim, one that rest more with the liberal scholars he relies on then with him. Scholars, in whatever field are assumed to be people who have studied all the relevant material in reaching their scholarly conclusions. Yet when it come to biblical scholars critical of the Bible this is not always the case.
This was noted by another biblical scholar, Craig Blomberg, when he wrote, ” it is strange how often the reliability of the gospels is impugned by scholars who believe them to be hopelessly contradictory yet who have never seriously interacted with the types of solutions proposed here.” (cited in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, pg 150)
As such Hitchens is simple wrong when he argues that “The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament… have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of “metaphor” and “a Christ of faith.” (pg 115) This error is followed immediately by another error, when Hitchens claims “This feebleness derives from the fact that until recently, Christians could simply burn or silence anybody who asked any inconvenient questions.” (pg 115) While vague enough to find some support in history, this statement is really little more than a bigoted slander. But then this, for Hitchens is what passes as rational argument. He makes a claim, and then follow it by a slanderous accusation hoping to silence any reply. It may be an effective debating tactic, but it does not substitute for a rational argument.
From there Hitchens goes to what he calls the other “‘Gospels and narratives of marginal but significant figures” such as Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Judas. (pg 112). His intent seems to be to cast doubt on the New Testament by pointing to the existence of these other writings. He does argue that if these had been consider inspired rather than the four gospels in the Bible Christianity would have been far different. True enough, but as the saying goes, if my grandmother had wheels, she would be a wagon.
This does, however, reveal the different presupposition made by many critics such as Hitchens. They start with the belief that all religions are equally false human creations. Christianity can’t possibly be the result of God intervening into history, but rather, it was one of many religious movements of the period, and it was just luck and chance that it happened to rise to dominance.
Thus Hitchens probably does see the Gospel of Judas, or Thomas, as supporting his assumption and in a small way they do. His view requires many religions, and these other gospels do show that Gnosticism was a competitor to Christianity in the second century. But while a minor support for his view, it is hardly a significant one, since in some of the later books of the New Testament one can see the apostles warning against other religious movements, including what appears to be a very early form of Gnosticism.
There is another key difference between the Gnostic Gospels and the New Testament Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels generally date from the 2nd century long after the apostles died. The New Testament gospels were written in the first century and while there is some disagreement, there are scholars who argue they were written by the those they are named after.
Some of Hitchens arguments are just plain silly, such as his claim that virgin birth was a man made account because “parthenogenesis is not possible for human mammals” Of course it was not possible, that’s what made it a miracle of God. But for Hitchens, by definition everything must be natural or it did not happen. That the virgin birth could have been a miracle of God is not really even an option for him.
Hitchens ends by pointing to Bart Ehrman’s views on the New Testament. Ehrman has gained some notoriety by taking what was already known to anyone who looks at the footnotes in their bible and playing it up as if it were significant. For a more in depth discussion of Ehrman’ views see my review of his book.
Ultimately Hitchens critique of the New Testament is little more than a rehash of long refuted arguments, with a generous sprinkling of invective. Certainly nothing to support his claim that it is evil.