6.21.2018

Shortsighted Zealotry Hurts the Gospel

I was surprised to see a post about Dan Wallace, that someone had shared on Facebook - it was an apology.  For those of you who don't know him, Dan Wallace is a NT scholar, and the man who wrote the textbook on intermediate Greek grammar - quite literally.

Wallace was apologizing for an assertion he made in a popular debate with agnostic Bible scholar Bart Ehrman. In this debate Wallace had claimed that he had on good authority that a first century fragment of the Gospel of Mark had been found Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5345 - now popularly known as First Century Mark (FCM). Such a discovery would, go a long way to prove, that the Gospels (and consequently their claims about Jesus,) could be traced back to Jesus' first disciples. Ehrman would have to reconsider much of what he now believes about the Gospels.



However, since this claim had not been published yet, it just stood as a compelling, yet unrealized conclusion to the debate. For supporters, Wallace seemed to have made a slam dunk, while Ehrman supporters were free to remain skeptical until the proof was in. Wallace had in good faith, just put his credibility on the line - for the Gospel, he thought.

This teaser, it turns out, did exactly what it was intended to do.  News of the Papyrus spread throughout the Evangelical community, invigorating the faithful, and giving a extra boost of confidence to apologists. Unless you are someone who is actively involved in defending the Christian faith - you may not have heard about this - but its really a big deal. Imagine that your family had always told you that you that you were descended from someone famous like Cleopatra or Napoleon. Everyone in your family accepted it as true, but most people assumed you were a crack pot. Now you have the proof. DNA evidence that, you are told, has markers which prove your ancestry. Now this reality which has informed so much of your personal beliefs about who you are can be proven. You now have the power to silence the skeptics. That's what something like First Century Mark would mean.

Well, as it turned out, further research done on FCM has proven that the fragment is not from the first century. Wallace's source, had passed along an unsubstantiated claim as if it were supported, for him to use as leverage in his debate with Ehrman. The source remains anonymous.

I hate to see a respected scholar like Dan Wallace manipulated like this - well I hate to see anyone manipulated really. 

It sounds conspiratorial, but a number of incidents like this that I've noticed lead me to believe there are a number of people within Evangelicalism who believe that they can further the influence of the Church in our culture through spurious claims (if not outright deception). 

I pointed out one such manipulation done by James Dobson before the 2016 presidential election, who claimed Donald Trump had been converted to Christianity. Another was Franklin Graham during the inauguration, he boldly proclaimed that the rain that fell as Trump took to the stage was a sign of God's blessing. Follow the links if you want to read what I had to say about these incidents. Most white Evangelicals assume that Christianity would fare better under a Republican administration. This is certainly true of its spokespersons like Dobson and Franklin - they are free to believe this. What they should not be free to do is distort the truth and manipulate people in order to make it happen.

Such shortsighted zealotry may be intended to gain a cultural or political advantage for Christianity, but when the lie is uncovered, these people ultimately end up doing more harm to the church than any of its outward opponents.

"Someone might argue, 'If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?' Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—'Let us do evil that good may result'? Their condemnation is just!" - Romans 3:8-9






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