Getting past the first few paragraphs of Phil Parsons' "The Evidence of the Christ" we can see that he finally begins defending Christianity from a historical perspective.
“God has arranged history (His story) around His Son.”
Unfortunately, he starts this line of reasoning with another play on words. As we saw with Son and Sun, the words “his story” and “history” are not etymologically related. Once again, it is disingenuous to put forth this type of creative word association as evidence of anything.
Next we get a long paragraph of biblical references that are intended to sound impressive. However, the logic seems to be “The Bible is true and I can show you in the Bible where it says so”. Every religious book in the history of mankind makes similar claims. Internal claims (even when said claims seem to be logically consistent) is not a good measure of historical accuracy. If it was then we could use any work of fiction as a foundation of belief for the events described therein.
Christians often use this same form of skepticism when evaluating the likelihood of earnestly held beliefs by fringe science and conspiracy groups like Bigfoot hunters and UFO watchers. It would be quite easy to gather a collection of written accounts from witnesses that claim to have seen Bigfoot. Then you could easily pick and choose from hundreds of those stories to form a very convincing and internally consistent Bigfoot “Bible”. However, the mere existence of such a collection lends no credence whatsoever to the claims made by Bigfoot hunters. Most reasonable Christians would wholeheartedly agree, yet they fail to see where this same reasoning presents issues for their own beliefs. Again, there is a difference between "claims" and "evidence that supports a claim".
All that being said, we still cannot completely dismiss the claims themselves. Witness testimony (quite literally in the case of the biblical "Testaments") is a method for passing information from one person to another. Witness testimony is used in court. Unfortunately, witness testimony is certifiably one of the least reliable forms of evidence that there is.
What Parsons fails to mention here is that even the earliest written book of the New Testament is estimated to have been written decades after Jesus died. This is the scholarly consensus given by the same legitimate historians that Parsons appeals to. Even worse, we don’t actually have the first written copies of the New Testament. The earliest manuscripts that we have discovered are tiny fragments (a few paragraphs at best) estimated to have been copied during the second century (101 CE – 200 CE). And the earliest complete manuscripts that we have discovered are estimated to come from around the fourth century.
Once you get past these inconvenient truths you are then faced with the fact that we will likely never uncover exactly what the original texts actually said due to the high number of textual variants among those earliest manuscripts. These variants were errors, or perhaps even purposeful alterations, made by scribes who were copying the texts by hand (this was long before the invention of the printing press after all). If God wanted us to hear “his story”, why wouldn’t he do a better job of preserving it? Why rely on the frail human passage of information at all? Was it outside his power to create an unchanging, indestructible text that could be read in any language?
Perhaps the most interesting fact about the Gospels is that they share entire swaths of text literally word-for-word as you can see in the image below. Rather than giving their own honest accounts of all events, the Gospel authors (which, according to historians, were unlikely to be the ascribed authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) simply copied each other or previous undiscovered sources for entire portions of their testimony. The value of a witness testimony as evidence is only as reliable as the testimony itself, and the Bible is far from being a reliable source.
Finally Parsons gets to his only piece of extra-biblical evidence.
“If you want to go outside the Bible, check out Josephus’s Antiquities… Josephus was just like Luke in the sense that he was someone who was reporting historical facts of Jesus as they played out before thousands and thousands of people.”
Josephus is an interesting historical figure and entire papers have been written about individual words taken from the quote Parsons uses in his article. And it is important to point out that the authenticity of this writing is still up for debate. In fact, the consensus is that a large percentage of this testimony is a fourth century forgery. Parsons continues this historical context line of reasoning by comparing Jesus to Caesar.
“I always find it interesting that no one doubts the existence of Ceasar, but people doubt the existence of Jesus. Both lived at the same time, and the evidence of Jesus and his miracles are equal if not greater than Caesar (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sources-for-caesar-and-jesus-compared).”
First of all, very few nonbelievers doubt the existence of Jesus. Parsons doesn’t claim that all of them do, but it is an important point to note. Even most secular biblical scholars agree that there is reasonable Biblical evidence to confidently say that a radical Jewish preacher named Jesus lived about 2,000 years ago and was crucified. Most nonbelievers simply doubt that Jesus did the things that the Bible claims he did. Specifically, supernatural miracles. Even most Christians would doubt someone if they came up to them today and told them they just saw someone physically transform water into wine. So why should nonbelievers be expected to believe the same claim made in an ancient, error-ridden, non-contemporary, inherently biased source? The testimonies found in the Bible are wild, supernatural claims with no supporting physical evidence.
But maybe the Bible has an answer to this...
Matthew 14:31 says: Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
According to the Bible, if you doubt something you have little faith. Lack of evidence should be no problem for you.
Hebrews 11:1 says: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
2 Corinthians 5:7 says: We live by faith, not by sight.
According to the Bible, faith is believing without seeing. Evidence you can see is unimportant and we should literally prioritize wishful thinking.
1 Corinthians 2:5 says: … so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
According to the Bible, knowledge and wisdom are not synonymous with faith. To even seek out evidence would be to undermine God’s power.
So, knowing what the Bible has to say about faith vs. evidence, why does Parsons even attempt to satiate the demands of nonbelievers who want evidence? If God wanted them to rest their belief upon the quality and quantity of evidence why wouldn’t he just provide more of it?
According to Parsons:
“…faith in Jesus is built upon a mountain of evidence.”
But nonbelievers will need more than what has been presented here.