One common argument of Christian apologists — both lay and scholarly — in favour of the Gospel accounts being based on “authentic” historical traditions and written by authors motivated by, or limited to, telling “the truth” as they understood it, is that the miracles of Jesus are told “plainly”, “matter-of-factly”, without any garish flourish. Miracles of Jesus in the much later “apocryphal gospels”, on the other hand, are rightly said to be told quite differently and with much embellishment that serves to impress readers with the wonder and awesomeness of Jesus’ power.
The difference, we are often told, is testimony to the historical basis of the Gospel record.
I used to respond to this challenge with a dot-point list of miracle types. What? Are you really suggesting that walking on water or stilling a storm or rising from the dead are not “fanciful” acts?
But I was trying to kid myself to some extent. Of course they are fanciful, but being fanciful in that sense is the very definition of a miracle, however it is told.
The point the apologist makes is not that miracles are indeed miraculous, but that the Bible relates them most simply and matter-of-factly quite unlike the presentations of miracles we read in the apocryphal gospels.
Read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and one quickly comes face to face with an infant from a horror movie. A child strikes mockers dead on the spot for mocking. His art-work steps out into reality and disbelievers are struck dead or blinded with no thought of asking questions later.
And the Gospel of Peter knows how to narrate a resurrection. None of this “Joseph sealed the tomb and they all went off to keep the sabbath and by the time Sunday-morning came around . . . .”. Nope. Let’s have Jesus emerge from the tomb with guards being awakened and rushing to call their commander to witness the spectacle, and great angels descending and re-ascending with their charge fastened between them and his head exalted through the clouds, all accompanied by a great voice from heaven and responses from below . . . . Now that’s a resurrection scene!
There is a difference in tone between the miracles of Jesus in the canonical gospels and those found in their apocryphal counterparts.
The apologist — even the scholarly one as I mentioned above — jumps on this difference as evidence that the “plain and simple” narration of the gospels is evidence of intent to convey downright facts.
Unfortunately, this conclusion is evidence of nothing more profound than the propensity of the faithful to fall into the fallacy of “the false dichotomy“. Continue reading “Why were Jesus’ miracles told “plainly” in the Bible but “fancifully” in the Apocryphal Gospels?”