“Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament” by Jonathan Bernier

New Testament scholarship has plenty of quacks. Not only from Christian apologists who argue that everything in the Bible is literal and true, but also from atheists who argue that Paul pulled the entirety of Christianity and Jesus out of his ass. Some argue that there’s no harm in arguing for such outrageous claims (which usually rely on mere conjecture) but that’s simply bad scholarship.

And bad scholarship is just that: bad scholarship. (And honestly, atheists, of which I consider myself, should know better)

Unfortunately there’s just too many holes in New Testament history, and given the nature of its study, it’s understandable that people are going to have some strong opinions. Moreover, new evidence is few and far in between, so scholars sometimes let their imaginations run wild with what scant data there is.

Nevertheless, MOST academics, ranging from the secular to the devoutly fundamental, can agree on a few things: 1st Thessalonians is probably the first Pauline epistle (likely written in 52AD) and the Gospel of Mark is the oldest gospel (likely written just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD). In fact, I’d argue, from the perspective of academia, these dates could almost be deemed ironclad.

Few, if any, from the hardline atheist side (especially the “mythicist” school) would move these dates forward, largely to put as much distance between the (“alleged”) death of Jesus and the first written accounts. In fact, from this perspective, only the most ardent apologist would attempt to do so.

Then there’s Jonathon Bernier’s Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament.

The book was released this year, so I don’t know what it’s academic reception is. But a few armchair scholars are already labeling it a work of apologetics. And that’s a bit too harsh, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, when one pushes the dates of the gospels up by nearly 30 years, it should raise a few eyebrows. Much of this argument hinges on the dates of Luke (and by extension, the Book of Acts), which is largely agreed to be the last synoptic gospel written. I agree with Bernier that the “we” passages in Acts have been a difficult thing for scholars to explain, especially if we want to date Luke/Acts post 90AD. Additionally, Bernier makes a compelling (although not fully convincing) argument that the ending to Acts wouldn’t quite make sense to readers had it been completed sometime after Paul’s death.

Yes, Bernier is a professor at a theology school attached to the University of Toronto (but honestly, those are the only places you can find a job teaching about history of early Christianity and the New Testament). But he certainly doesn’t rely on “apologetics” to make his arguments. You may not find it compelling, but I think the importance of Bernier’s work is to highlight that an earlier dating for the New Testament is not entirely unfounded.

This book may not be a “paradigm shift” in New Testament studies, but the author does ask important questions and the knee jerk reaction shouldn’t be to label it apologetics.

Besides, doubt in god and Christianity shouldn’t hinge on Jesus’s existence or the dating of the New Testament. That’s a weird argument to make. So atheists, particularly ones like myself who can appreciate the New Testament for its historical and (at times) artistic value (as opposed to misusing it by believing it to be some holy document), should be open to reading Jonathon Bernier’s work.

The ‘atheist experience’ guide to looking like an asshole

People are shocked to hear this when I say it, but I genuinely do NOT care about question of God’s existence.

When I hear people arguing this question, it’s like listening to nerds getting into a heated argument over which fictional spaceship is faster: the Millenium Falcon or the Enterprise D?

It’s a nonsensical argument and I treat nonsense in the only sensical way: I ignore it.

Which leads me the ‘Atheist Experience’.

For the record, I agree with 99.99% with what this asshat, Matt Dillahunty, is saying. His logic holds up. But this is the #1 thing that drives me bonkers about YouTube atheists: logic is fetishized.

I’ll concede: maybe this is a ‘me’ problem. Perhaps I view logic, reasoning, science, and philosophy…and perhaps religion too…as a vehicle, not a destination. That may be too “Buddhist”, for a lack of a better word, way of thinking of these things but it has helped me “keep an eye on the ball” and not get hung up on the small stuff.

I mean, this is the purpose of life, right? To find meaning in a chaotic world? To love life, to enjoy company of others, to pass on our wisdom to the next generation? Life is about the sublime moments. When I’m trying to enjoy my short existence on this earth, I don’t really care what vehicle I drive to get to work.

I’ll always have respect for someone that channels their beliefs in a transformative way….way more than somebody that demands you follow the rules of logic. That being said, some atheists don’t need belief in a higher power to enjoy life to the fullest. I guess I’m one of them (I’m more agnostic. Or, more precisely, apathetic).

Matt Dillahunty is, however, just an asshole.

YouTube atheists aren’t alone in this phenomenon. Everyone is complicit is this internet “dunking” culture, where we try to make our perceived enemies look like idiots. It’s disgusting.

Dillahunty clearly had some bad experience with religion and is bitter because of it. I get it. This happened to me too. I’m sure it happened to all of us. But what are you trying to prove?

I think if the experience of the last few years have showed us anything, it’s that showing facts and logic is totally not persuasive. I mean, it CAN be…over time. But that absolutely cannot be done in a debate style format…especially when one of the participants is being a complete fucking dick.

I’m sure we’ve all been in a position where we find ourselves in a heated political argument where we know that we’re right, and THEY know that you’re right, yet strangely our interlocutor never says “you know, you’re right…you’ve changed my mind.” If this has happened to you then you’re a fucking liar.

There’s something deeply hidden in the human psyche that makes us believe things that are so patently false and absurd, that we just believe them. I think there’s a Latin phrase for it. I’m sure if we interrogate our own beliefs enough, we’ll find one. And when people call bullshit on it, we believe them even harder.

I think a helpful skill to learn, that when you find yourself in a heated argument over religion or politics…and you have your opponent on the ropes…make sure the joke’s on you. Don’t be so far up your own ass that you can’t make fun of yourself. In that case, you might’ve won the debate but you lost the war.

People’s minds don’t change over night.

What Dillahunty did was take his bad experience and project it onto ‘Brandon’. Now Brandon probably believes whatever nonsense he believes in that much harder. Nothing got solved.

Besides, what is an “Atheist Experience’?

Isn’t that just ‘Experience’?