My first exposure to Dan Barker was his so called ‘Easter Challenge.’ I had already emerged from my own crisis of faith and had already determined some principles for sorting out alleged Biblical contradictions. The more I read Barker’s writings, the less impressed I was. I put the Challenge to good use, though, having my New Testament courses take up the ‘challenge’ for their spring project.
It never crossed my mind to try to actually correspond with Barker. I assumed the whole thing was just some sort of cheap shot. Having read Kingsley’s book I see that was a mistake. He documents how Barker and other hyper-skeptics really thought they had something here and took the alleged silence of Christians as telling.
I am glad, therefore, to see that Pastor Stephen Kingsley has taken up the ‘challenge.’ According to Kingsley, he has contacted Barker with the ‘answer’ but Barker has demurred and hasn’t yet responded.
Has Kingsley done it? Has Kingsley really and definitively reconciled and harmonized the Easter accounts? Probably not. However, that’s not what Barker’s challenge asked for. Barker’s challenge says:
…without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened. Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative 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.
Does it do that? Does it give a simple chronological narrative of the events that is a plausible account of all of the facts? Absolutely.
As far as the construction of that narrative goes I have minor quibbles here and there. Of course, Kingsley has actually taken the time to meet the challenge so he’s got an advantage over me in those regards. Quite possibly, if you study the question for yourself, you will come up with your own ideas. We must remember the terms of the challenge: a plausible chronological narrative. Kingsley provides just that.
I appreciated Kingsley’s fresh look at passages that I for one haven’t thought too much about. They become part of the background of your thought for the Passion story, the furniture of the mind if you will, but on further reflection they turn out to have more import than previously supposed. In this respect I imagine that Barker’s ‘Challenge’ serves a good use, getting us to reflect on things we otherwise might not have. I disagree to some extent with Kingsley on the merits of the Challenge, though: even if no plausible chronological narrative construction could be made this would not seriously undermine our confidence in the story. Kingsley would agree with me, I think, in pointing out that contradictions and brazen inconsistencies definitely would.
In my view, we simply lack the necessary information to construct a definitive chronological narrative. Nonetheless, we have sufficient information to construct a plausible chronological narrative, and Kingsley does just that.
Mr. Ralph Nielsen, a Barker supporter put an ad in the newspaper daring people to take up the challenge. He didn’t require people to prove that their harmonization was absolutely true. He merely asked people to “List all the events from the Resurrection to the Ascension of Jesus without omitting any detail.” He adds, “If you can do this with no contradictions I will pay you a $1,000 reward.”
Nielsen apparently rejects Kingsley’s narrative on the grounds that he thinks that one translation of a word is better than Kingsley’s offered translation- even though Kingsley’s suggestion is in the lexicon and translators have used it for the very passage in question.
That sound you hear is the goal posts being dug up and moved. Nielsen, like Barker will likely do, has decided that it isn’t enough to have a plausible and consistent account- it must be demonstrable and definitive. That is nonsense.
Mr. Nielsen, you owe Mr. Kingsley $1,000.
Pastor Kingsley’s book is available at www.easteranswer.com