Monday, August 03, 2015

Skeptical Myths About The Church Fathers

I want to provide a collection of links to articles I've written over the years addressing common skeptical objections to the patristic evidence for Christianity. In some cases, I agree with the objection to some extent, but reject the degree to which skeptics apply it or some other aspect of how they use it. The titles below are just brief summaries. You'll have to read the material I'm linking for a fuller explanation. Some of the titles are worded awkwardly, since I was trying to keep them in alphabetical order and make them easier to navigate. And you can use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to find what you're looking for.

I'll probably add to this list over time, so you may want to check back for updates. I'll try to remember to add a comment to the comments section below to notify readers each time I update the list.

For some suggestions on how to go about studying the church fathers, see here.

And here are the skeptical myths:

Abortion wasn't condemned by the earliest Christians. Christian opposition to abortion was a later development.

All or almost all of the witnesses of Jesus' resurrection and other early Christian miracles died long before the church fathers began writing.

Anti-Semitism was widespread or universal among the church fathers.

Apostolic succession involved an appeal to authority without regard for evidence.

Athanasius was the first extant source to advocate the twenty-seven-book New Testament canon.

Canonical judgments by the early Christians were untrustworthy.

Canons other than the twenty-seven-book New Testament canon were widespread in early Christianity and show how unreliable the traditional canon is.

Celsus and Origen agreed that Christians were ignorant and undiscerning.

Celsus denied that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Celsus, Porphyry, and other early critics made a good case against Christianity. (See pages 351-406.)

Celsus said that Christians altered the New Testament text.

Clement of Rome didn't write First Clement, or at least there's insufficient reason to conclude that he wrote it.

Clement of Rome was gullible. (See the comments section of the thread.)

Clement of Rome wasn't a disciple of Paul or Peter.

Crucifixion and resurrection weren't objectionable to ancient non-Christians to any significant extent. There wasn't much difficulty involved in convincing people to accept such concepts.

December 25 as a date for Christmas was borrowed from paganism.

Disunity was rampant among the early Christians. There wasn't much of significance that they had in common. (See, also, here and footnote 77 on page 70 here.)

Eusebius was a liar.

Every Christian or a large majority was Roman Catholic or part of some other worldwide denomination with centralized authority.

Fragmented remains of a church father's writings are unreliable. We can't trust the passages attributed to writers like Papias and Quadratus, because of the fragmented nature of those passages. We also can't trust what Christians tell us about what non-Christians supposedly said or did. (See page 68 and note 75 on the same page.)

Gentile opponents of Christianity didn't comment on the historicity of the empty tomb.

Gullibility was a problem with ancient people or ancient Christians in general.

History wasn't much of a concern to the early Christians. Documents like the gospels were written in a non-historical genre and were taken that way by the earliest interpreters. (See, also, here and here.)

Homosexuality may or may not be condemned by scripture. The evidence is ambiguous. There's no Christian reason to oppose homosexuality.

Ignatius' letters are spurious.

Inerrancy of scripture is a modern notion.

Irenaeus' claims about Polycarp aren't reliable.

Irenaeus' error on the age of Jesus demonstrates that his other appeals to tradition are unreliable.

Irenaeus was the first source to name the gospel authors.

Irenaeus used bad reasoning to justify his gospel canon.

John the Elder was a different person than the apostle John.

Justin Martyr acknowledged that Christian accounts about Jesus are just like pagan accounts about their gods. (See pages 35-6, including the footnotes.)

Justin Martyr and other early sources suggested that many Christians rejected the virgin birth.

Justin Martyr shows no awareness of Paul's letters.

Marcion and others who rejected the pastorals had good reason to do so. (See the comments section of the thread.)

Marcion initiated the process of New Testament canonization.

Marcion's version of Luke is the original one.

Martyrdom claims about the apostles are unreliable.

Moral standards among the ancient Christians were low.

New Testament documents were the only written sources Christians had about their religion prior to the late first century.

Nicaea, some other council, or a Pope gave us the New Testament canon.

Only Christian sources supported what Christians claimed on controversial subjects like the empty tomb and gospel authorship.

Origen was a heretic by Christian standards.

Papias and other early sources were referring to a different document associated with Mark instead of the gospel of Mark we have today. Other documents they refer to that seem to be our gospels are, instead, different documents that have been mistaken for our gospels. (See my post at 11:18 P.M. on 9/19/06 in the comments section of the thread.)

Papias didn't express a view on the authorship of Matthew or John.

Papias' fragments don't suggest that he made any reference to the gospel of John. (See my post at 11:18 P.M. on 9/19/06 in the comments section of the thread.)

Papias preferred oral tradition over written sources.

Papias was gullible.

Papias wasn't a disciple of the apostle John.

Papias was the only source some, most, or all Christians relied on for their information on issues like gospel authorship.

Polycarp and other early sources didn't influence later Biblical authorship attributions.

Polycarp's letter to the Philippians is a forgery.

Polycarp wasn't a disciple of the apostle John.

Polygamy is supported by the Bible. There's no Christian reason to oppose it. Instead, Christians should accept it.

Porphyry was right to reject the traditional dating and authorship of Daniel. His judgment about the book has withstood the test of time.

Pseudonymity was commonly accepted during the patristic era.

Quirinius is only associated with one census in the patristic sources, so there isn't any patristic basis for distinguishing between a census in 6 A.D. and an earlier one.

Reason and evidence weren't of much concern to the early Christians. (See pages 36-42.)

Suppression of evidence against their religion was a widespread practice among ancient Christians. (See the comments section of the thread, as well as the comments section here.)

Tertullian was anti-intellectual.

Transmission of the New Testament text was unreliable.

Trypho denied Jesus' existence. (See here as well.)


  1. Jason, this is very helpful. Thanks.