I said in my post here that I might blog about Gilbert West and George Littleton this week. West and Littleton were two eighteenth century thinkers whom my pastor talked about in his sermon last Sunday. West and Littleton attempted to disprove Christianity: West would disprove Jesus’ resurrection, and Littleton would disprove the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (or Paul). But West and Littleton became Christians as a result of their study. I wanted to read their writings, which I found online, to see how they sought to justify Christianity.
I probably won’t get their books read and blogged through this week, since they are long books. West’s book about the resurrection is over 400 pages! Granted, the print is pretty big on each page, but 400 pages is still a lot! I got through 50 pages last night. I’ll probably play by ear how (or even whether) I’ll read their books and blog about them. I was hoping to find summaries of their arguments on the Internet. Unfortunately, it appears that the apologists and preachers I came across in my Internet searches are more interested in the fact that two intellectuals converted to Christ after trying to disprove Christianity, than they are in the substance of what these two intellectuals actually argued.
Just giving you my impressions so far, what I read last night of West’s book surprised me, somewhat. Thus far in my reading, West is attempting to demonstrate that the resurrection stories in the four Gospels do not contradict each other, even if they do tell the story differently. I’m not sure why a person wanting to argue that Jesus’ resurrection happened would start there. My impression is that people who try to harmonize the resurrection stories do so because they already have a Christian faith. I have a hard time believing that a skeptic would read the resurrection stories and become a believer because he thought that they could be harmonized. My hunch is that he would conclude that the resurrection stories happened for other reasons, then he would try to harmonize them. But I could be mistaken. There are apologists who argue that the differences among the resurrection stories actually attest to their historicity, for the differences show that there was not collusion among Christians, plus authentic eyewitnesses accounts tend to differ, in areas.
Something else that interested me was West’s beliefs about the Gospels. West says that Matthew was written soon after Jesus’ ascension (though I’m not sure how soon West thinks that was—-modern scholars believe it was written decades after the historical Jesus), and it was for Jewish converts to Christianity. Mark’s Gospel came later, as a condensed version of Matthew’s Gospel, and Mark’s Gospel was for Gentiles (either in Egypt or Rome). According to West, Mark has details that Matthew lacks because Mark has to explain things to his Gentile audience: Matthew does not have to say explicitly that women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, since his Jewish audience would already assume that was the case. Mark, however, does say that explicitly because his Gentile audience would lack that familiarity with the Jewish custom of anointing a dead body.
Another item that intrigued me was how West characterized the Gospel authors. West is struggling to understand where Mary Magdalene was during the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. Was she with the other women when a young man told them that Jesus was risen, after the women came to anoint Jesus’ body, as some of the stories seem to indicate? Or was she alone at Jesus’ empty tomb, baffled at where Jesus’ missing body could be, until Jesus comes to her as a gardener, which is what we see in John’s Gospel? The impression that I’m getting—-and I’m open to correction on this—-is that West thinks that the women went to the tomb at different times, rather than all at once. But West makes this interesting statement, on pages 24-25 (and I have altered the spelling and punctuation to make it more readable for modern readers): “But let it at the same time be remembered, that the greatest part of the evangelical writers were illiterate men, not skilled in the rules of eloquence, or grammatical niceties, against the laws of which it is easy to point out many faults in the writings of most of them.” West may not buy into a notion that the Gospel stories about Jesus’ resurrection contain God’s direct and perfect words; but he may believe that early Christians had a genuine experience, and that they conveyed that in their different, flawed, human ways.
We’ll see how this book plays out!