Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 11. September 6, 1951
A Belief in Miracles — Necessary for the Historian
A Belief in Miracles
Necessary for the Historian
The controversy touched off by Dr. Munz in his address to the S.C.M. and continued in Salient did not die away without murmur. Dr. Flanagan recently addressed a meeting of students on the historicity of the Gospels.
About fifty students were present and Dr. Munz took up the cudgels at the end of the meeting.
The fundamental issue in Dr. Flanagan's opinion, and also in that of C. S. Lewis ("Screwtape Letters") whom he quoted in support of the view, is miracles. Christianity stands or falls on miracles and any critic of the New Testament must first state his attitude to this philosophical problem. Alfred Loisy himself believes this to be a basic issue. "Only when you hold that miracles are possible does the historical evidence concerning Christian origins present a coherent picture."
Two divisions appeared in the address: (1) the evidence presented; (2) a survey of the schools of thought in Biblical criticism in the last 150 years.
Evidence from History
Three types of historical evidence presented themselves: Jewish, Pagan and Christian.
The Jewish evidence is to be found in the Talmud and Josephus who wrote about 37 A.D. and has been claimed as authentic by Klausner.
References to Christ in Pagan writers are numerous but can be found in Pliny's Epistles, Tacitus, Suetonius. These writers seem quite certain that Christ lived, was crucified, founded a religious movement and was regarded by his followers as divine.
Christian writers are numerous in the first two centuries A.D. and are fully sot out in the Kinsopp-Lake Edition of the Apostolic Fathers.
The New Testament is one of the best attested documents in existence. "There is no ancient document or collection of documents which can compare with the New Testament for antiquity and number of extant copies—the next best is the Old Testament."
Earliest Virgil 350 years after his death; Livy 500 years; Plato 1300, but the earliest existing fragment of the New Testament goes back to within 100 years of its composition.
It is more important to note that original sense remains doubtful in scarcely one thousandth part of the text, fifteen of these are important, and not one involves a religious truth.
"To cast doubt," said Klausner in 1926, "on Coptic Gospels becomes more impossible."
The Interpreting Schools
D. G. Strauss, an eminent scholar in this field, says that the miraculous cannot be eliminated once historicity is admitted.
Nearly every school of critics from the Deists of the 18th Century to the modem Comparative Religionists face this difficulty.
In every case the soundness and the type of their philosophy is relevant to their approach.
Munz v. Flanagan
After a lecture with no historical presumptions, and including a wealth of fact, source and relevant quotation the discussion continued on a reasonable plane.
Dr. Munz made the point that continuous disagreement between scholars did not disprove their case. Dr. Flanagan agreed but pointed out that the disagreement was such as to point to that conclusion.
Further discussion arose from the writings of St. Paul. Dr. Munz doubts their historicity. Dr. Flanagan said they were not essential, but made it clear that this was a question requiring separate treatment.
After Dr. Munz's claim that there are equally well attested claims for other divinities and his refusal to go further with that contention, the meeting ended amicably.
According to Dr. Munz: "It all depends on one's Faith"; no said Dr. Flanagan: "It all depends on one's philosophy."
Mr. D. E. Hurley, President of the Catholic Students' Guild which arranged the meeting thanked the speaker and the audience.