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transfigurationStruans made some most interesting comments on one of my recent posts on Purgatory. As so often with his comments, there is a wider application which merits further discussion.

He says:

As someone who rather likes the historical critical approach, I sense that the tone of C451s comments that I quote below seems to betray an erroneous preconception of this:
“We now have scholars who claim that the whole of Christianity is a man-made myth, and can provide evidence which satisfied them and many.”
“Those who preach moral relativism did not start off by finding the existing status quo good and then changed their minds under the evidence; they started off with a dissatisfaction with it and then found evidence which backed up their views.”

Which is a fair representation of what I wrote. He goes on:

So what if the scholars are right ? I think that they probably are, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no Christian truth in the myth. Myth is a mode of communication.
Christianity can still be true, as I believe it is. I sense that C451 thinks otherwise.

Myth is certainly a means of communication, but we should not fall into the not uncommon academic trap of using a word with a commonly-understood meaning. I am not sure what meaning Struans attaches to it. His friend, and the author of that splendid book Martyred ChurchDavid Wilmshurst, has a view which accords with the common understanding of the word myth (note, I am not saying this is Sruans’ view):

I just don’t happen to believe that the Christian faith is true. I believe that the disciples falsely claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as the chief priests and Pharisees said that they would (Matthew 27:64). This verse seems to me to be a crucial contemporary testimony that the disciples were prepared to found the Christian faith on a lie. We might think it strange that they were prepared to court martyrdom in the service of a lie, but their contemporaries believed that they would do just that. As a historian, I find it easier to believe that Christianity was invented by Peter and the other disciples than to believe that a dead man came back to life.

As another historian, I read that verse in precisely the opposite sense. The Evangelist reported the rumour because it was there, not because it was true.  St Paul goes to great pains to emphasise the number of witnesses to the Risen Christ; this was clearly a matter of some importance to him. We cannot have it both ways. Either lots of people agreed with the Pharisees and all the evidence has vanished, except from the NT, or Paul was doing what any contemporary would do, telling people to go talk to the witnesses, confident in their testimony; as St John labours the same point, for me the evidence points in that direction. Men do not commonly martyr themseves for what they know to be a lie.

That the Apostles come off as pretty bone-headed, and that Peter hardly emerges from the pre Resurrection narratives as a hero, are also, to my historian’s sense, significant. I cannot call to mind any founding document of a faith which does this, If you are crafting a lie, why go to the trouble of making your heroes look like a bunch of bumpkins, cowards and even traitors?  That would be an odd thing to do. If you know you are making it up, the least you would do would be to go on at some length about the heroism and courage of your founders.  After all, who would willingly follow a bunch of cads like the Apostles?

I am with St Paul: ‘And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.’