ON THE HISTORICAL RELIABILITY OF THE GOSPEL BOOKS: A Response to Ijaz Ahmad’s Comments on the John Tors-Shabir Ally Debate

ON THE HISTORICAL RELIABILITY OF THE GOSPEL BOOKS: A Response to Ijaz Ahmad’s Comments on the John Tors-Shabir Ally Debate

© 2020, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

On January 11 of this year, I debated Muslim scholar Dr. Shabir Ally; the debate topic was “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?”  Subsequently, the video of the debate was posted on YouTube,[1] and it elicited various comments from both Muslims and Christians.  The lengthiest and most detailed were posted by one “Br. Ijaz” under the rubric “Calling Christians.”  A quick investigation showed this to be Ijaz Ahmad, whose website is https://callingchristians.com/.

While we did post a response to his first comment on the YouTube video, it is high time to issue a detailed response to his comments.  To facilitate this, I have posted a summary of my arguments from my opening statement in the debate (See Appendix 1), which can be verified by watching my opening statement on the video.  Thus, we will be able to see whether Ahmad have responded with intellectual honesty or not.

NOTE: Ahmad more than once cries crocodile tears about my supposed insults against him, though he adds that he graciously forgives me.  For the record, I do not insult him.  According to Merriam-Webster, to insult is defined as a transitive verb meaning “to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt.”[2]  I do no such thing.  It is not an “insult” to call out a man who repeatedly demonstrates intellectual dishonesty and/or a woeful failure to understand important issues for these things; these are simple statements of fact and require no apology, but rather repentance on the part of the one practising such things.  So let us let the reader decide who is in the wrong here.

My Response to Ijaz Ahmad’s First Comment[3]

I would be happy to engage you in detailed discussions if I thought you were interested in intellectually honest debate, but your comment allows for very little confidence that that is the case.  Your comment is rife with untruths and clumsy errors.  And, since by your own admission you were there for the entire debate, there is really no excuse for this.

First, you say,

Mr. Tors thought that just quoting the Bible meant for him that he was quoting evidence. Which would not be sensible given his position at the start of the debate that we can’t have any assumptions or presuppositions, yet he assumed and presupposed that the New Testament’s mentioning of eyewitnesses should be taken at face value, almost axiomatically.

That is not even remotely true.  What I did was not quote the Bible as evidence and assume they should be believed; I treated them as what they undoubtedly are, ancient historical documents claiming to tell about what happened, and I subjected them to the same standard tests as all ancient historical documents (e.g. how many accounts, were the people in a position to know, did they have reason to lie), and showed that by these tests – backed up by the testimony of other writers in a position to know – the Gospel books are indeed reliable, and the death and resurrection of Jesus better attested than any other fact from ancient history (for which I showed what we typically have in the way of documentation for events from the ancient world).  Were you perhaps asleep for my presentation?  It seems difficult otherwise to understand your risible claim that you “spent [your] time asking, ‘what evidence’? … I saw no actual evidence presented that their [sic] were eyewitnesses.

In light of the preceding, your claim that “What we got from Mr. Tors was the claim, ‘The New Testament says Jesus rose from the dead, therefore Jesus rose from the dead’, which is a circular argument and therefore fallacious” is flat-out untrue.  Had I said that, it would indeed be problematic, but I did not; I established the reliability of the Gospel books by standard historiographical methods.  Dishonest, too, then, is your claim that

he’s only appealing to those ‘eyewitnesses’ because they are mentioned in the New Testament.

Here is what I don’t understand, Ijaz; you posted this comment on YouTube, as a comment on the VIDEO, and since the video is right there, anyone can view it and see immediately that your claims are false.  How did you think you could get away with that?

Furthermore, you seem to be woefully ignorant of basic facts in historical studies.  You say,

He provided no evidence that the Gospels or Acts were early, he only referenced one scholar in that regard, based on stylistic grounds and not on extant manuscript evidences (in any capacity).

Again, anyone who was in attendance at the debate or who views the video knows that this is more blatant falsehood.  The evidence for the dates of the Gospel books comprised internal evidence, the Family-35 colophons, and the testimony of the ancient church historian Eusebius.  Did you perhaps sleep through all this, too?  If not, why do say something so blatantly and clearly false?  (And I did not attempt to prove anything by referencing scholars; without actual evidence, such references prove nothing.  That is why I repeatedly asked Shabir to provide the evidence on which the scholars he referenced based their claims, but he never did provide any.  This is not surprising, since there is nothing that can count as evidence for their claims; he even cited Borg and Lüdemann – after I showed from their own writings that they merely “assume” and “presuppose” their claims.  Were you perhaps asleep at that point, too, Ijaz?

And you actually say,

I found to be disturbing his methodology. For example, he argued that because the Qur’an is ‘later’ than the New Testament, that it can’t be trusted, but later on had no issue with (according to him) the earliest manuscript of the NT mentioning the crucifixion and resurrection to be 100 – 200.)

Wow.  NO autograph remains of ancient historical writings; for ALL of them all we have are copies of copies.  How early and numerous these are is used to determine whether we have preserved the original text accurately, but the dates of the manuscripts do not determine the dates at which the original writings were made.  The Gospel books are, as I showed, eyewitness testimony, so, no, the Qur’an, which came almost 600 years later, cannot overturn what the Gospel books says.

The errors just keep on coming.  You say,

given that he believes in the Byzantine Priority position, then he is arguing for a theological preservation of the New Testament’s anonymous documents, which is a presuppositional argument and not evidence based.[4]

Wrong; if you’d bother to check my website, you will find I hold to the Majority Text position on the basis of statistical analysis, not on the basis of “theological preservation.”  And, given that Muslims do hold to the “theological preservation” of the Qur’an, you are showing the logical fallacy of double standard here, as well as of circular reasoning, with a soupçon of hypocrisy thrown in.  And you stultify yourself by continuing to claim that the Gospel books are anonymous and denying the date range I gave for P66 – without offering any evidence for your claims and simply pretending I did not already disprove your claim.

In sum, then, there doesn’t seem to much point in engaging you, Ijaz.  I was happy to debate Shabir because I think that he is at heart an honourable man.  I get no such impression from you.  It seems to me that you are all about the taqiyya, and you are not very good at it.  Again, posting such howlers as comments on the debate video, which instantly proves your claims false, is really not very bright, is it?

My Response to Ijaz Ahmad’s Second Comment[5]

Ahmad’s second response is simply more of the same: making a bevy of bald assertions and deliberately ignoring the evidence.  If anything, his bluffs become more fatuous this time.

Ahmad begins by “forgiving me” for accusing him of dishonesty, but that in itself is dishonest.  I never accused him of dishonesty but said that one of his arguments is dishonest – and that was a matter of fact.  One does not need forgiveness for speaking the truth.

Next, he strangely claims that I said that

there were 4 accounts, the authors were disciples and two contemporaries of Paul.

No, I said that there were four accounts, two written by apostles (who were direct eyewitnesses), a third that was the eyewitness testimony of Peter written by his agent Mark, and a fourth written by a man who was not an eyewitness himself but states that he received his information directly from eyewitnesses.  Their temporal relationship with Paul is irrelevant.

Ahmad then asks,

How does that mean you proved they were accurate and historically valid? It doesn’t, these are just basic details that we already know from Christian tradition not based on historiography.

Was this meant to be a serious claim?  It means that three of the accounts are direct eyewitness testimony, which is the most certain evidence we can have for any events and inasmuch as they are mutually corroborative, they must certainly be considered accurate and historically valid.  That is how historiography works, something with which Ahmad does seem familiar; otherwise, he would know that eyewitness testimony is most certainly not “tradition.

Ahmad demonstrates his lack of knowledge of historiography by saying

Historians differ between myth-making (of a tradition) and the historicity of the tradition itself, while you spoke on the former, you provided zero analysis for the latter.

Indeed, there can be myth-making of traditions through time (consider, for example, what happened with the traditions surrounding Alexander the Great, Buddha, and, yes, Muhammad), but that does not apply at the point of eyewitness testimony, which precedes any possible myth-making at a later date.

It should be noted here that Ahmad is resorting to the same intellectual dishonesty as liberal scholars in trying to shift the burden of proof.  The eyewitnesses have given their testimony in the Gospel books; if Ahmad wishes to claim that these have undergone myth-making, the burden of proof is on him to show that.  Of course, he makes no attempt to do so, nor can he do so.  Therefore, this is an intellectually dishonest bluff from start to finish.  And he risibly asserts that I have “provided zero analysis for [historicity],” when I went into detail to explain what historians look for and why the Gospel books pass these tests with flying colours.  It is becoming exceedingly difficult to take this fellow seriously.

Next, Ahmad shows his ignorance of the significance of manuscript attestation, which consists of two factors: the number of extant manuscripts (which Ahmad mentions) and the dates of the manuscripts relative to the date of the original writing.  The value of manuscript attestation is only to establish how confident we can be that what we have is what the author originally wrote; it is not a means of assessing the accuracy of the writing itself, so Ahmad is making a category error here.

It also seems he does not understand statistical analysis, or he would not make the fatuous claim that the Majority Text is less well attested than a supposed “text of the earliest Christians.”  His assertion, then, that “if that were the case [i.e. manuscript attestation proves accuracy] you’d give up the MT for the better attested text of the earliest Christians, that you don’t is a suitable proof by contradiction and hence a sufficient rebuttal,” is a smorgasbord of errors that demonstrate again that Ahmad has no idea what he is talking about.  (Regarding the claim that there is a “better attested text” than the Majority Text, we shall deal with that issue when Ahmad returns to it.)

Ahmad goes on say that

Repeating what tradition says is not proving anything and nothing in your presentation offered anything beyond that, which was my point to begin with.

We have already shown that this statement is both fatuous and flat-out wrong.  We are repeating what eyewitnesses say, not what tradition says.  (This is in sharp contrast to Islam, which has only traditions to rely on.  This does not seem to bother Ahmad, so we see a blatant double standard from him.)

Interestingly, at this point I reminded him that I had indeed demonstrated the reliability of the Gospel books via standard historiographical methods, yet Ahmad huffs,

Standard historiographical methods, I would have loved if you had actually done so.

I did so; look again.  He then says,

So let’s see, when did you provide a terminus post quem and a terminus ante quem[6] for any text? The first time would have been in response to my question and even then you cited an out-dated range which contradicts multiple comparanda analyses.

Does he even know what those terms mean?  I ask, because I did give the terminus ante quem for the Gospel books even in my original presentation, so how can Ahmad ask such a thing?  The terminus post quem is so obvious it does not need to be mentioned: AD 33, the year of the last event recorded in the books, viz. the ascension of Jesus.  Once again, Ahmad embarrasses himself.  And the date range I gave is, as I have shown, what the actual evidence establishes; appealing to unspecified “multiple comparanda analyses” is another vain bluff.

Ahmad continues to go into meltdown, asking,

When did you establish a genealogical tree for the transmission of the information?

There is no “genealogical tree” for eyewitness testimony; it comes straight from the eyewitness.  That should be obvious.

As for the claim that “you just repeated that some Christian authors more than a century later attributed it to these identities without qualification,” no, some of them were not nearly “a century later” and some of them actually knew apostles personally and others studied under people who knew apostles personally.  That puts these people in a position to know whereof they speak, and that is why what  they say constitutes evidence.  Ahmad is welcome to try to provide countervailing evidence if he can, but of course he does not and cannot.  Looking at actual evidence and wailing, “That’s not evidence” is asinine and not to be taken seriously even for a moment.  Yet that is all he and the liberal scholars can do.

More ignorance from Ahmad:

So when exactly did you perform the basics of historiography? Maybe a timestamp can help. I am sure you can provide this if you did indeed do as you claimed.

If by “timestamp” Ahmad means where in the debate I performed the basics of historiography, it was throughout, as can be seen from the summary I provide in Appendix 1, and by watching the debate.  But if, perhaps, he means the dates of publication of the Gospel books, perhaps Ahmad can show us for how many ancient writings we can provide timestamps, so that we can know that this is necessary for establishing historicity.  He will discover that there are few if any for which we can do this – and these include the Gospel books, for which we have given “timestamps.”  Again, one wonders how he missed this.

I did point out that Ahmad commented on the video, so anyone reading his comment can see the actual debate and realize that none of what Ahmad said is remotely true.  Ahmad responds by saying,

Well considering that no one who read this comment and no one who read my full review on my website agrees with you that what I said is false in any capacity, you may be the one in error.

Now, folks, let’s pay careful attention to this, as this truly shows what sort of person Ahmad is when it comes to intellectual honesty.  Note what he says:

Well considering that no one who read this comment and no one who read my full review on my website agrees with you that what I said is false in any capacity, you may be the one in error.

Wow, no one who has read this comment or his full review on his website agrees with me that Ahmad is in error, eh?  Let’s see.

Regarding “this comment” on the debate, as of the date of this writing, almost half a year after the debate was posted online, there are exactly sixteen responses to Ahmad’s comment.  Twelve of the sixteen are by Ahmad himself!  Three are opposed to Islam, though they do not address the contents of the debate itself, and one is by myself.

Regarding his “full review” on his website, he actually posted two reviews, one on January 11[7] and the other on January 22[8].  The January 11 review received eleven comments, four of them by Ahmad.  There were three challenges to have Shabir Ally debate one Christian Prince with three expressions of willingness to do so by Ahmad, and there was a date correction to Ahmad and his response acknowledging it.  Other than that there was one comment slagging Christian Prince, and two (from the same commentator) attacking a defence of the resurrection that I never used.  (It is not a good argument, though not for the reason the commentator says.)  These latter were also filled with bald assertions.

The January 22 review received two comments, one asking for book recommendations and the other saying, “ther”.  (Perhaps Ahmad takes “ther” as a ringing endorsement of his views.)

So in total, there were twenty-nine comments, sixteen of them by Ahmad himself.  One was by me. Of the other twelve, not one expressed agreement with Ahmad or disagreement with me; they did not even comment on the debate itself!  Yet Ahmad wants us to think that the comments should make me think that I am the one in error!  I think this tells us all we need to know about his intellectual honesty.[9]

The Grand Guignol continues.  Ahmad now claims that

The only internal evidence you provided was the use of the term [sic], ‘beloved disciple’ and that is a stylistic argument, that you refer to me as woefully ignorant and then proceed to affirm exactly what I said is very problematic.

That comment unfortunately reaffirms Ahmad’s woeful ignorance; I never mentioned the “term, ‘beloved disciple’”!  The internal evidence I provided was based on the fact that certain events that should have been mentioned had they already happened were not mentioned, and that sets a terminus ante quem for the Gospel books.  So how did Ahmad fail to notice the actual internal evidence I adduced, and how did he ascribe to me claims about the use of term “beloved disciple” which I never made?[10]

Ahmad then says,

f35 indeed was appealed to, but again you are arguing based on stylistic grounds that the colophons are accurate.

No, I never made any arguments on “stylistic grounds,” but merely pointed out they are there; Ahmad needs to look up the definition of “stylistic,” one would think.  And, yes, the extant f35 manuscripts come from the 12th century and later, but just as their contents come from much earlier, so can the information in the colophons.  To have them spread so widely in so many manuscripts does indicate an ancient origin to the information.  Furthermore, the information for Matthew and Mark dovetail perfectly with what Eusebius says, and Eusebius had access to many earlier writings that are no longer available to us.  There is absolutely no reason to think he made the dates up, nor is there any reason to think earlier Christians did not know the dates.  The fact that none mentioned a specific date before Eusebius is neither here nor there, as Eusebius was the first to build a timeline.  Dates of composition were simply off-topic in the earlier writings that have come down to us.  So Ahmad’s claim that “You’re not answering questions, you’re just creating more problems with your claims” is obvious rubbish.

Now, it should be noted that the Gospel books were written by the eyewitnesses Matthew, Peter (via his agent Mark), and John, and Luke who got his information straight from eyewitnesses, which makes them authoritative.  The precise dates of publication are interesting but not essential.

On the other hand, one of the knottiest issues in Qur’anic hermeneutics is determining the order in which the surahs were revealed to Muhammad, something that is of crucial importance in light of the doctrine of “abrogation and replacement” (i.e. later revelations on the same topic abrogate and replace earlier ones).  Ahmad believes that the people around Muhammad believed he was receiving revelations from God, yet somehow no one bothered to record the dates at which the different revelations were given or even the order, so that even today no one knows the precise order, regardless of its obvious importance. Yet Ahmad accepts this without question while attacking the putative fact that we do not know the precise dates of publication of the Gospel books.  To his other sins we can add this, therefore: he is a hypocrite of the first water.

Ahmad now turns his attention to textual criticism and the errors just keep on coming.  I pointed out the obvious fact that “how early and numerous [the extant manuscripts] are is used to determine whether we have preserved the original text accurately, but the dates of the manuscripts do not determine the dates at which the original writings were made,” and I pointed out the other obvious fact that “the Qur’an, which came almost 600 years later, cannot overturn what the Gospel books says.”

Ahmad shows his ignorance of textual criticism, saying,

your position textual-critically has you foregoing the earliest and most numerous manuscripts until the mid-medieval period.

No; the Majority Text position takes into account all manuscripts.  What we do not do is slavishly follow a small number of demonstrably corrupt manuscripts (most of whose provenance we know that were torn up and thrown out by their Christian owners) to the exclusion of all else.  If Ahmad wants to know why this is the correct way to go, he should check out these:

However, trying to educate Ahmad on the topic of textual criticism is beyond the scope of this article, as it does not directly address the issue at hand.  What we want to look at is this howler:

How does one demonstrate that an ancient document is based on eyewitness testimony? We look at the earliest manuscripts.

No, Ahmad, the date of the extant manuscripts cannot tell you anything about whether a writing is eyewitness testimony or not; that is so obvious it should not even need to be said.  Eyewitness testimony is such because it was written by someone who witnessed the events he described, even if there are no extant manuscripts until much later.  Julius Caesar wrote The Gallic Wars in the 1st century BC, yet we have no extant manuscript of it before the 9th century AD.

Muddling these two, Ahmad makes the absurd statements that

The Qur’an does not come 600 years later, if we count the Uncials, it comes roughly only 200 years after some form of the New Testament text, plus the Qur’an pre-dates the current NT by roughly 1441 years, moreso it pre-dates the Byzantine type texts you appealed to.

First, the New Testament was written in the 1st century AD and the Qur’an supposedly in the 7th century AD, so, yes, the Qur’an came about six hundred years after the New Testament.  It cannot overturn the eyewitness testimony of the New Testament.

Second, Ahmad’s claim that “the Qur’an pre-dates the current NT by roughly 1441 years” is completely deranged.  Does he think the “current” New Testament was composed in 2020?  And if were, his claim would mean that Qur’an was written in AD 579 – when Muhammad, according to tradition, was nine years old!  This is not rational.  And the Byzantine text is the original form of the New Testament, but even if one wants to listen to the liberal scholars, Codex Washingtonianus (late 4th century) and Codex Alexandrinus (ca. AD 400) were both copied in part from Byzantine exemplars, so there is no question but that the Byzantine text predates the Qur’an.

Ahmad then goes down another intellectually dishonest road, asking,

Is your claim here based on historical or theological grounds? Historically, you have to assume the lack of a supernatural force, but one of your ‘evidences’ that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses was to appeal to John 14:26, that’s a theological not a historical claim.

Now, I did not appeal to John 14:26.  We do believe that the Bible writers were indeed divinely inspired, just as Muslims such as Ahmad believe that Muhammad’s revelations came from God.  However, although I did put John 14:26 on one slide, I explicitly stated that we cannot appeal to theological views to settle the matter and can rely only on historiographical evidence in the debate – and I adhered to that rigorously.  In light of that, Ahmad’s flippant question, “So your appeal to John 14:26 was based on statistical analysis?” is just plain dumb and, frankly, reprehensible.

And at the risk of having to school Ahmad on textual criticism again, my choice of the Majority Text position is based on hard evidence and scientific data handling – the latter of which, unfortunately, is beyond the skills set of most textual critics.  It is not “theologically based.”  Again, read the articles I linked and learn; and then you may understand why I do not “accept a diplomatic [sic] text of the Uncials.

And then Ahmad plays the hypocrite again.  In response to my pointing out that “given that Muslims do hold to the ‘theological preservation’ of the Qur’an, you are showing the logical fallacy of double standard here, as well as of circular reasoning, with a soupçon of hypocrisy thrown in,” he says that

I didn’t know that I only held to a theological view of preservation. All those articles and videos on manuscript evidence must have been missed by you.

Notice his use of the word “only” here.  It’s okay, apparently, for him to hold to the preservation of the Qur’an for theological reasons as long as he also gives manuscript evidence, but somehow it’s wrong from me to include John 14:26 on a slide even though all of my actual arguments were based on manuscript and historical evidence; that one listing of John 14:26 makes my argument all “theological.”  Truly, this man cannot be taken seriously.

Regarding the date range of P66, I am aware of the arguments of Nongbri et al., and also of Herbert Hunger et al.  There are some rather considerable problems with Nongbri’s work,[11] so a simplistic acceptance of his claims is unacceptable.  However, it is a moot point here, since the date of a particular manuscript is not relevant to the issue of Gospel authorship and dates of publication.

Conclusions

In my opening statement of the debate, I presented the historical evidence proving that the Gospel books are reliable witnesses to the events they describe.  I showed via standard tests of historiography that they are direct eyewitness testimony written by the apostles Matthew, Peter (via his agent Mark), and John; a fourth was written by a man, Luke, who tells us he received his information directly from eyewitnesses.

It was shown that these witnesses testify that Jesus Christ was killed on the cross and appeared alive on the third day after and showed himself alive by many infallible proofs.  We showed various corroborative evidence, including Paul’s mention that the majority of more than five hundred witnesses to the risen Jesus were still alive at the time of his writing, who could verify the truth of the resurrection.

After posting the video of the debate on YouTube, one Ijaz Ahmad challenged what I presented, as he must do as a Muslim.  What we saw from him, however, was disappointing.  In best Gromyko fashion, he asserted “No!” to everything I said, as if a bald denial meant anything.  He tried (but failed) to discredit my evidence, but, in common with liberal scholars, he offered absolutely no countervailing evidence for his own views.  In the process, he engaged in intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, and hypocrisy.  If this is all skeptics have, we should consider the resurrection of Jesus to be proven beyond any reasonable doubt.


APPENDIX 1 – A Summary of My Arguments in My Opening Statement

The following is a summary of my arguments (as can be confirmed by watching the debate):

  • Because Christianity affirms the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and Islam denies it, the resurrection is the crucial test case between the two faiths

  • We cannot simply appeal to our holy books to settle the matter; we need to look at actual evidence.

  • Bald assertions are not evidence, so simply quoting bald assertions from scholars does not constitute evidence. This is the fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam (“appeal to authority”).

  • The only evidence we have for events from ancient times is documentary evidence, and the gold standard of this is eyewitness testimony.

  • The primary evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel books, which are certainly 1st-century documents purporting to relate events that happened in real history.

  • Accordingly, we must judge their reliability by the standards of ancient historiography. We do not assume they are God-breathed Scripture, but assess them according to the same tests applied to any other ancient writings.

  • Liberal scholars do not do this. They deny the supernatural (and thereby the resurrection) by presupposing that such things cannot happen.  We posted quotes from liberal scholars in which they explicitly admit this.

  • Regarding evidence of authorship, we noted that the names of the authors are in the titles of the Gospel books. They are present in every extant manuscript of the beginning of a Gospel book, and there is no evidence for the claim that they were originally circulated anonymously.  Furthermore, there are many early Christian writers who were in a position to know who testify to this authorship.

  • John and Peter (whose testimony is recorded in the Gospel According to Mark) explicitly state that they were eyewitnesses.

  • Regarding the supposed discrepancies in the Gospel books, we showed by comparison with four reports of a modern event that the sort of discrepancies (which are not contradictions) we find in the Gospel books are exactly those we find in four genuine reports of historical events.

  • The Gospel According to Luke (and the book of Acts) has withstood the many challenges levied against their historical accuracy, and Luke has always been proven correct in the end; he is by far the finest and most accurate historian from the ancient world.

  • The Gospel According to John differs in scope from the other three because it was written as an evangelistic tract to unbelievers, whereas the other three were written to believers.

  • Regarding evidence of the dates of authorship, there are three independent lines of evidence: the failure to mention events that should have been mentioned had they already happened at the time of writing (the destruction of the temple, the deaths of Peter and Paul and James the brother of Jesus, the persecution under Nero) fix the date of Acts at AD 62 and the Gospel of Luke earlier than that, Mark’s earlier still, and Matthew’s earlier than that. Eusebius dates Matthew’s in the third year of Caligula (AD 40-41) and Mark’s to the third year of Claudius (AD 42-43), and the Family-35 colophons found in about one hundred and fifty manuscripts date Matthew’s to “eight years after the ascension of Christ” (AD 40-41), Mark’s to “ten years after the ascension of Christ” (AD 42-43), Luke’s to “fifteen years after the ascension of Christ” (AD 48-49), and John’s to “thirty-two years after the ascension of Christ” (AD 64-65).  Thus, three independent lines of evidence converge on these early dates.  By contrast, liberal scholars offer no evidence for the late dates they claim.

  • A comparison of the written documentation for the career and deeds of Jesus with those for three other famous ancient personages – Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus and Tiberius (the two Roman emperors who reigned during the earthly ministry of Jesus) – shows that the documentation for Jesus is far better than that for even famous people.

  • The apostles tell us that Jesus certainly died and certainly appeared alive to them again afterwards.

  • The apostles did not merely see fleeting glimpses of the risen Jesus but talked with Him, touched Him, ate with Him, and saw “many infallible proofs” across forty days. His resurrection was the core element of the subsequent apostolic preaching.

  • Since preaching the resurrection gained no material benefits for the apostles but rather persecution and death, it is not reasonable to think they lied about it.

  • There have been more than fifty people throughout history who claimed they were the Jewish messiah. None of them is followed today, because those who died and stayed dead proved themselves to be false.  Only Jesus is followed today.

  • Paul told his readers (in 1 Corinthians 15) that the majority of over five hundred witnesses to the risen Jesus were still alive. Some would certainly have verified Paul’s claims with these, and had they not verified the resurrection, Christianity would have died immediately.  Yet here it is today.

  • Claims that the resurrection accounts in the four Gospel books cannot be reconciled is false, as we showed by presenting a reconciliation that includes everything written in all four accounts, without any contradictions.

  • The description of Jesus’ death, combined with modern medical knowledge, obviates any possibility that Jesus survived the crucifixion and was placed into the tomb alive. This rules out any sort of “swoon theory.”  The only valid conclusion possible is that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.

APPENDIX 2 – Ijaz Ahmad’s First Comment

Generally a poor debate by Mr. Tors.

I liked that he began the debate by saying we should not begin with assumptions or presuppositions, but rather we must bring the evidence itself. I usually say the same, but I add as well that evidence must be brought alongside a consistent, coherent and objective methodology. How we process the “what” of evidence matters just as much as the evidence itself.

Having said that, Mr. Tors repeatedly asserted that he had presented evidence to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. As a Muslim, I was there for the entire debate and spent my time asking, “what evidence”? As it turns out, it would appear that Mr. Tors thought that just quoting the Bible meant for him that he was quoting evidence. Which would not be sensible given his position at the start of the debate that we can’t have any assumptions or presuppositions, yet he assumed and presupposed that the New Testament’s mentioning of eyewitnesses should be taken at face value, almost axiomatically.

I saw no actual evidence presented that their were eyewitnesses. I found to be disturbing his methodology. For example, he argued that because the Qur’an is “later” than the New Testament, that it can’t be trusted, but later on had no issue with (according to him) the earliest manuscript of the NT mentioning the crucifixion and resurrection to be 100 – 200 (his date range is wrong for both the terminus post quem and terminus ante quem and his claim was uncited) years after Jesus. In fact given that he believes in the Byzantine Priority position, then he is arguing for a theological preservation of the New Testament’s anonymous documents, which is a presuppositional argument and not evidence based. Therefore at the first application of his own criteria to his own statements, I find them to be totally and absolutely non-sequitur.

What we got from Mr. Tors was the claim, “The New Testament says Jesus rose from the dead, therefore Jesus rose from the dead”, which is a circular argument and therefore fallacious. He abstracted this logic many times by claiming he was referencing the eyewitnesses behind those claims, but that just further throws him into the same fallacy, as he’s only appealing to those “eyewitnesses” because they are mentioned in the New Testament. He provided no evidence that the Gospels or Acts were early, he only referenced one scholar in that regard, based on stylistic grounds and not on extant manuscript evidences (in any capacity).

The Muslims who attended the debate were not only less impressed with the arguments made, but were surprised at the lack of depth to the arguments that were raised. If possible, I would prefer to respond to Mr. Tors if he is the one responding in the comments. He does not need anyone to aid him, please let him speak for himself, as I would love to hear him engage with what I’ve said.

Kind Regards,

Br. Ijaz.

APPENDIX 3 – Ijaz Ahmad’s Second Comment

Hi Mr. Tors, thanks for replying.

[[That is not even remotely true.  What I did was not quote the Bible as evidence and assume they should be believed; I treated them as what they undoubtedly are, ancient historical documents claiming to tell about what happened, and I subjected them to the same standard tests as all ancient historical documents (e.g. how many accounts, were the people in a position to know, did they have reason to lie), and showed that by these tests – backed up by the testimony of other writers in a position to know – the Gospel books are indeed reliable, and the death and resurrection of Jesus better attested than any other fact from ancient history (for which I showed what we typically have in the way of documentation for events from the ancient world).]]

It’s okay to accuse me of dishonesty and with grace, I forgive you for that statement. We all fall short sometimes, don’t we? It’ll be okay. Very nice paragraph, but it doesn’t respond to what I said. Let’s see what your comment says you did: that there were 4 accounts, the authors were disciples and two contemporaries of Paul. How does that mean you proved they were accurate and historically valid? It doesn’t, these are just basic details that we already know from Christian tradition not based on historiography. Historians differ between myth-making (of a tradition) and the historicity of the tradition itself, while you spoke on the former, you provided zero analysis for the latter. Being better attested (in terms of the number of surviving manuscripts) does not mean more accurate, if that were the case you’d give up the MT for the better attested text of the earliest Christians, that you don’t is a suitable proof by contradiction and hence a sufficient rebuttal.

[[Were you perhaps asleep for my presentation?  It seems difficult otherwise to understand your risible claim that you “spent [your] time asking, ‘what evidence’? …. I saw no actual evidence presented that their [sic] were eyewitnesses.”]]

Repeating what tradition says is not proving anything and nothing in your presentation offered anything beyond that, which was my point to begin with.

[[Had I said that, it would indeed be problematic, but I did not; I established the reliability of the Gospel books by standard historiographical methods.  Dishonest, too, then, is your claim that “he’s only appealing to those ‘eyewitnesses’ because they are mentioned in the New Testament.”]]

Standard historiographical methods, I would have loved if you had actually done so. So let’s see, when did you provide a terminus post quem and a terminus ante quem for any text? The first time would have been in response to my question and even then you cited an out-dated range which contradicts multiple comparanda analyses. When did you establish a genealogical tree for the transmission of the information? You didn’t, you just repeated that some Christian authors more than a century later attributed it to these identities without qualification. So when exactly did you perform the basics of historiography? Maybe a timestamp can help. I am sure you can provide this if you did indeed do as you claimed.

[[Here is what I don’t understand, Ijaz; you posted this comment on Youtube, as a comment on the VIDEO, and since the video is right there, anyone can view it and see immediately that your claims are false.  How did you think you could get away with that?]]

Well considering that no one who read this comment and no one who read my full review on my website agrees with you that what I said is false in any capacity, you may be the one in error. If anything, and I am willing to show you this, I had text conversations with Christians in the room who agree with my points, which were written while I was there! You should be able to find at least one person willing to say I misunderstood you, but then every Muslim who attended with me, also agreed on these points and best of all, they’re willing to say this to you. So it seems like you’re the one in error, but I will not call you a liar, I have a bit more maturity than to react emotionally to a critical review. Please let me know how the Muslims attended can contact you to affirm what I have said. We would love to provide our feedback, though I hope you don’t react so negatively for said feedback, humility is a good thing even if you disagree with what is said.

[[Furthermore, you seem to be woefully ignorant of basic facts in historical studies.  You say, “He provided no evidence that the Gospels or Acts were early, he only referenced one scholar in that regard, based on stylistic grounds and not on extant manuscript evidences (in any capacity).”  Again, anyone who was in attendance at the debate or who views the video knows that this is more blatant falsehood.  The evidence for the dates of the Gospel books comprised internal evidence, the Family-35 colophons, and the testimony of the ancient church historian Eusebius.]]

The only internal evidence you provided was the use of the term, “beloved disciple” and that is a stylistic argument, that you refer to me as woefully ignorant and then proceed to affirm exactly what I said is very problematic. f35 indeed was appealed to, but again you are arguing based on stylistic grounds that the colophons are accurate, their extant dates put them into the 12th century and beyond. If only Eusebius had f35 existent at his time, or Iraeneus and even Ignatius, then they could have given us these precise dates. At what point do you ask yourself, why did no Christian historian up to Eusebius mention such specific dates? Your argument is that they would’ve had access to these dates and names in the colophons, so their absence (with the very specific dates) in the works of Eusebius and everyone prior to him is absent? You’re not answering questions, you’re just creating more problems with your claims.

[[Did you perhaps sleep through all this, too?  If not, why do say something so blatantly and clearly false?  (And I did not attempt to prove anything by referencing scholars; without actual evidence, such references prove nothing.  That is why I repeatedly asked Shabir to provide the evidence on which the scholars he referenced based their claims, but he never did provide any.  This is not surprising, since there is nothing that can count as evidence for their claims; he even cited Borg and Lüdemann – after I showed from their own writings that they merely “assume” and “presuppose” their claims.  Where you perhaps asleep at that point, too, Ijaz?]]

I don’t mind you accusing me of being asleep, normally I would wait sometime for a belligerent person to calm down before I continue replying, but given that I want you to know what the Muslims took from the debate, I rather suffer at the hands of your ad hominem so that we all can learn. I refuse to insult you, I forgive you and I pray that one day you can have the temperament to respond to critical comments in grace. Notably, I did mention to both Muslims and Christians that you were both speaking past each other, I offered critical reviews of you both. Though only you seem to have taken my disagreements so personally.

[[Wow.  NO autograph remains of ancient historical writings; for ALL of them all we have are copies of copies.  How early and numerous these are is used to determine whether we have preserved the original text accurately, but the dates of the manuscripts do not determine the dates at which the original writings were made.  The Gospel books are, as I showed, eyewitness testimony, so, no, the Qur’an, which came almost 600 years later, cannot overturn what the Gospel books says.]]

Mind you, your position textual-critically has you foregoing the earliest and most numerous manuscripts until the mid-medieval period, so while I appreciate that you mention this now, in light of your claims it simply does not help you. You have not shown that the Gospels are eyewitness testimony. I think here you’re speaking past me and maybe I am to blame, so allow me to simplify what we (the Muslims) gleamed from your statements. How does one demonstrate that an ancient document is based on eyewitness testimony? We look at the earliest manuscripts, at what point in your opening statement did you mention the dates of the earliest manuscripts and which manuscripts did you mention? The answer is that you did not and so your claim that you did provide such information is indeed incorrect. The Qur’an does not come 600 years later, if we count the Uncials, it comes roughly only 200 years after some form of the New Testament text, plus the Qur’an pre-dates the current NT by roughly 1441 years, moreso it pre-dates the Byzantine type texts you appealed to. Is your claim here based on historical or theological grounds? Historically, you have to assume the lack of a supernatural force, but one of your “evidences” that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses was to appeal to John 14:26, that’s a theological not a historical claim.

[[The errors just keep on coming.  You say, “given that he believes in the Byzantine Priority position, then he is arguing for a theological preservation of the New Testament’s anonymous documents, which is a presuppositional argument and not evidence based.”  Wrong; if you’d bother to check my website, you will find I hold to the Majority Text position on the basis of statistical analysis, not on the basis of “theological preservation.”]]

So your appeal to John 14:26 was based on statistical analysis? As pointed out to you in your debate with Dr. Costa and others, the position you hold is a theological one. This is not a new claim, in fact you would have to accuse me of conspiring with your brothers in Christ to level such an argument against you and that is absurd. If your claim is not theologically based, why not accept a diplomatic text of the Uncials? Why ignore the other text clusters for a text extant only to the mid-medieval period?

[[And, given that Muslims do hold to the “theological preservation” of the Qur’an, you are showing the logical fallacy of double standard here, as well as of circular reasoning, with a soupcon of hypocrisy thrown in.]]

I am more than willing to engage with you on the preservation of the Qur’an, I didn’t know that I only held to a theological view of preservation. All those articles and videos on manuscript evidence must have been missed by you, but having said that, I forgive you. We all make mistakes sometime and I won’t hold it against you.

[[And you stultify yourself by continuing to claim that the Gospel books are anonymous and denying the date range I gave for P66 – without offering any evidence for your claims and simply pretending I did not already disprove your claim.]]

It’s a YouTube comment, I was hoping that you would’ve been willing to ask for my references and I would have followed up with them via email or some other reliable form of communication before writing 10, 000 word comments on YouTube. The proof is on my website, I am not sure if I am allowed to post links in comments but I would advise you read Dr. Nongbri, Dr. Orsini and Dr. Hurtado’s comments (before he died) on the new date ranges.

[[In sum, then, there doesn’t seem to much point in engaging you, Ijaz.  I was happy to debate Shabir because I think that he is at heart an honourable man.  I get no such impression from you.  It seems to me that you are all about the taqiyya, and you are not very good at it.  Again, posting such howlers as comments on the debate video, which instantly proves your claims false, is really not very bright, is it?]]

I don’t mind your put downs and insults, I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to attack you in such a manner. There’s no demand that you engage with me and I don’t expect you to follow up on what I’ve said. Though I am only trying to be fair as I’ve done a critical review and I found it best to publicly have you respond to me so that others can benefit. I do not doubt that I must’ve misspoken somewhere (for all things are possible), and I felt that should you do respond publicly then perhaps others can gain from my mistake. Now, having read your reply I have not found where I have misspoken, but I do agree we can have two different understandings of what transpired and for that I am grateful for our brief but meaningful exchange.

Kind Regards!


Endnotes

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=14&v=tG8xlzVMQuc&feature=emb_title

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/insult

[3] For the convenience of the reader, Ahmad’s first comment is supplied in Appendix 2.

[4] For details on the “Byzantine text,” see Tors, John.  “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism (in Manageable, Bite-Sized Chunks)” at https://truthinmydays.com/a-primer-on-new-testament-textual-criticism-in-manageable-bite-sized-chunks/ (See especially “The Fifth Bite”.)

[5] For the convenience of the reader, Ahmad’s second comment is supplied in Appendix 3.

[6] Terminus post quem is point after which i.e. the earliest possible date for a writing, and terminus ante quem is point before which i.e. the latest possible date for a writing.

[7] Posted at https://callingchristians.com/2020/01/11/debate-did-jesus-rise-from-the-dead-dr-shabir-ally-john-tors/

[8] https://callingchristians.com/2020/01/22/debate-review-did-jesus-rise-from-the-dead-dr-shabir-ally-mr-john-tors/

[9] Ahmad’s claim that he “had text conversations with Christians in the room who agree with my points, which were written while I was there” can be safely ignored.  Even it he did have such conversations, it would be meaningless.  There are certainly professing Christians who have been sucked into liberal paradigm assumptions on one or more of the issues that came up, but unless they can produce countervailing evidence to what I’ve said, their claims bear no weight.  And they have never done so.  The fact that Muslims agree with Ahmad is neither surprising nor relevant; this is not a popularity contest, so unless they can produce the countervailing evidence that Ahmad has failed to produce, their agreement with him signifies nothing.

[10] The reference to the beloved disciple may be stylistic, but he can be identified by cross-referencing the events at which he was present with the same events in the other Gospel books.

[11] For example, he suggests that the appearance of staurogram (a cruciform image) would be more “in place” in a century manuscript than a 2nd or 3rd century manuscript, whereas the historical evidence shows it to be equally “in place” in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  See Mitchell, Timothy N. P. “Bodmer II (P66), and the Staurogram.” Posted at https://thetextualmechanic.blogspot.com/2016/01/p-bodmer-ii-p66-and-staurogram.html.  For other problems, see Mitchell, Timothy N. “The Limitations of Assigning Dates to Christian Codices.” Posted at https://thetextualmechanic.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-limitations-of-assigning-dates-to.html.

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