Not too long ago I posted a review of Stephen Kingsley’s The Easter Answer (Amazon– www.easteranswer.com) and at that time Barker had not yet issued his response. And no wonder: not to be outdone in any respect, Barker issued forth a 69 page answer to a book that was only 82 pages in the first place. I am glad for Barker’s exhaustive treatment as it exposes a whole heap of flaws in Barker’s ‘Challenge’ and most importantly gives us explicit insight into how Barker analyzes potential answers.
Probably the fundamental issue exposed by Barker’s reply is that Barker has set himself up as judge, jury, and executioner as far as deciding whether or not his challenge has been met. Personally, I believe in the future, Mr. Kingsley or any other would-be answerer should insist that an impartial panel be the judge. You’ll get an idea why by the end of this post…
1. Barker’s Challenge explicitly says: “…without omitting a single detail…write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension… [it] does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture- it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. … The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted.”
Who among us is surprised to hear that by ‘plausible’ Barker basically means ‘naturalistic explanations’? Even I, I mean, even I, was shocked to hear Barker dismiss the plausibility of Kingsley’s chronology because, well, one must adopt a naturalistic perspective of what counts as ‘plausible’! Unbelievable! Consider this exchange leading into Part 2:
Dan: Yes. But we’re not there yet. In order for your evidence to be admissible, you have to produce a coherent, noncontradictory, plausible version of it.
Elizabeth: And that is the point of your Easter Challenge. I understand. So the only way for us to proceed is to assume that we are both naturalists, simply looking at the details of the stories themselves, on their own merits.
Dan: Yes. That’s all I was trying to say.
By ‘on their own merits’ Dan means ‘in naturalistic terms.’ Wow. So, it isn’t enough to put the encounters with ‘angels’ into chronological order. You have to also recast them in naturalistic terms. That isn’t one of his examples but that is clearly what such a thing must mean. It is evident that such thinking lies in the back of most of Barker’s rebuttal. That seems mighty odd, to me, since I didn’t realize that a ‘plausible, chronological account’ also means ‘plausible as believed by hard core atheists when they consider any supernatural account.’
2. Barker’s concept of ‘plausibility’ is shown to be truly irrational and unfair when he insists that the person who answers his challenge no only put things into chronological order but explain why different accounts mention different things and not others. From a fictional dialog in his Part 1 (pg 17):
Elizabeth: Matthew tells us: “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” (Matthew 28:2) So, yes, we have to keep the earthquake.
Dan: Why didn’t any of the other gospel writers mention this “great earthquake”?
Elizabeth: I don’t know, but that’s irrelevant to your challenge. Maybe they didn’t think it was important. Or perhaps only Matthew knew about the earthquake.
Dan: It’s irrelevant to “telling the story,” but it is not irrelevant to “telling a plausible story.” You think the earthquake was so “great” that it caused a tomb to open, and nobody but Matthew felt it? The NIV translates it “violent earthquake.” No other historian, author or other gospel writer mentions this earth-shaking event.
I mean, wow. So you see, not only does one have to find a plausible place to put the earthquake chronologically, one has to explain why nobody but Matthew reported it. I say ‘reported’ it because of course Barker’s insinuation above that since only Matthew reported it only Matthew felt it is a wholly unjustified assumption. But that is besides the point. We discover here that one of the ‘biblical facts’ that must be plausibly accounted for is why it was only reported in one of the accounts. So much for asking for a mere harmonization.
Lest you think I’m making more of it than Barker did, Barker in fact harps on it for another 2-3 pages.
3. This is not by any means the only time he requires such outrageous demands for the would be answerer. On page 58 he says:
The story in Matthew 28:11–15 (reported on page 55) of the chief priests bribing the Roman soldiers to lie about the body is not plausible. On their face, before you attempt any harmonization, some stories in the New Testament sound like flimsily manufactured alibis. … This story is simply not plausible.
Mr. Kingsley, in attempting to provide a plausible chronological harmonization that doesn’t omit any biblical fact, should not have to also justify why we should also believe why those facts actually happened. The answerer is not asked to defend the veracity of any of the facts in the original challenge, only arrange them in a certain fashion. But we find when Mr. Barker gets out the red pen, one has to also prove that the events themselves could ‘plausibly’ have happened.
Again, lest you think this is random, Barker provides numerous other such instances. For example, he spends a fair bit of time pointing out that the chronology contradicts Jesus’ statement that he would be in the belly of the earth for ‘three days and three nights.’ (Page 49) Of course, Jesus did not make this statement within the passages the Challenge encompasses. I guess nuances like that are unimportant to Mr. Barker.
Granted, a great deal of these come in Barker’s Part 3 which he says is less important commentary, but we are supposed to believe that somehow they tie in with Kingsley’s failure to meet the challenge: “…below I will show instances where you also failed to integrate elements into a single narrative, but I think you agree that all I need is to produce at least one example…” (pg 46).
4. It takes nearly 50 pages before he finally gets around to what I perceive to be the really weak point in Kingsley’s attempt, which is the idea that Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalene once before she joined the rest of the women on the way to yet another visit to the tomb.
5. There are so many ridiculous things in this rebuttal that I really don’t have time to get to them all. There are also numerous assertions of fact of highly dubious quality. They come out of the skeptical playbook and get a lot of traction among the hyper-skeptics but not much anywhere else. At this point, I’m not going to treat them for the same reason Barker should have not said them (besides being inaccurate): they are irrelevant to his challenge.
I have deliberately left out an assessment of the ‘at least one example’ that he says is all that is needed in order to show the answer to be a failure. This is his insistence that Matthew 28:1-8 must be taken as a single ‘element.’ You thought this was a harmonization, which meant by definition splicing passages together from all the Gospels, but in fact it means adopting Barker’s views as to what constitutes discrete ‘elements’ that other passages/elements must work around. This demand is flawed, and is a good example of the dangers of letting Mr. Barker be judge, jury, and executioner.
I will at some point nonetheless address this, and also his strange reading of the emphasis on Jesus’ command to the disciples to meet him in Galilee. But this is enough for now.