Yet another response to an article I read...
Christianity, the World's Most Falsifiable Religion by C. Michael Patton on his blog, Credo House
Every once in a while I come across an article that I should be happy to support, but in reading it I find that there are problems which cause me to declare a caveat to others who might read it. This article claims that Christianity is the ONLY religion in the world that is falsifiable—that is, that it has events that can be tested empirically.
First, I would say that the author is stretching the use of the term falsifiability in this case, because not all the affirmations of Christianity are falsifiable. Some of them most certainly are: Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, He grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, He lived an extraordinary life, and He was crucified by Pontius Pilate on April 7, 30 A.D. After His death, His followers asserted that He was resurrected from the dead, and gave their lives believing so. These are facts. They are falsifiable. But the evidences of His resurrection, the miracles He performed that were written about in the Gospels, and His ascension into heaven cannot be proven empirically and so they do not fit this category. The witnesses for these are compelling and reasonable, and the testimony of His followers is so great, so fully disclosed, and so thorough that they would convince a jury—and I believe them all. But they are not falsifiable until Jesus returns bodily as He promised to do. I fully believe He will—but these points are not falsifiable until then.
I think the reason why Christianity is not 100% falsifiable as of yet is because it requires us to depend on God—to seek Him out—to cry out in the middle of our storm and await the answer. The reality of our experience comes when He actually meets us there. While Christianity is empirically sound enough to provide a launching pad for our faith, it is in the miracle and the rub of our relationship with God that makes us different; otherwise, we have no advantage over Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Islam—save perhaps the ethical values our faith proclaims.
Secondly, the author is only talking about the core declarations of the Gospel story in his article upon which Evangelical Protestants hang their hats; there is a larger secondary body of claims belonging to the Christian religious system that, while historical, is not defensible, let alone falsifiable. Many of the Orthodox and Catholic traditions surrounding the Virgin Mary, sainthood, the priesthood and papacy, the Eucharist, the Mass, and church holidays—including the date assigned to the birth of Jesus—are either total fabrications or are taken directly from various pagan religions and amalgamated into the faith.
These two issues are not what gives me the greatest pause, however. The author makes a completely silent omission which serves as an example to prove one of the most significant points of my teaching over the past three years. Judaism is ALSO historical, defensible, and archaeologically so. It serves as the foundation and context for Christianity; if it were not true, neither would Christianity be. Apart from polytheistic pagan fertility religions, Judaism is the most ancient, historically rooted, falsifiable religious system in the world still in existence today.
Whether the slight was intentional or not is not the issue: if it was deliberate, it is because the Christian Church purposely divorced itself from its Jewish roots in the 4th century A.D. and has not looked back. The prevailing attitude toward Judaism since that time is that the Church has replaced the Jewish people as the 'new' Israel—and unfortunately, many Christians are still happy to adopt this position, despite the Biblical admonitions against it (Genesis 12:3 and Romans 11 among many others)—not to mention that Jesus and His disciples never suggested any intention of leaving Judaism to start another religion: Jesus came to inaugurate the New Covenant within Judaism.
Even if the oversight was completely benign (as I hope it is, and I will give the author the benefit of the doubt), this article is indicative of the masterful job that the 4th-century imperial establishment did in erasing the Jewish foundation from the Christian consciousness. Christians are taught, for all practical application, that Christianity has swallowed up Judaism: in the mind of the average Jay Q. Christian, Father Abraham had many sons, and they all were good little white boys who went to church on Sunday and sang, "Jesus loves me, this I know..." I will go out on a limb and say the author omitted Judaism from his comments because most Christians believe the Jewish 'Old Testament heroes' were actually Christian, rather than seeing Christianity as a continuation of the relationship between God and the Jewish people while widening His family to include the rest of the world.
The disconnect is so great that even non-believers are confused: this rather ignorant and ridiculous Internet meme is an illustration...
Over the past 100 years, we have dumbed down the Gospel and made it so 'relevant' to our very non-Jewish culture that it no longer makes sense—to us, or to the outside world. Among such values within the church as the clergy/laity boundary and the Protestants' singular focus on 'saying a sinner's prayer', the Church has failed to translate the actual Biblical story. Most people in the Western world are unfamiliar with the basic tenets of Christianity, let alone the connection between Judaism and Christianity; but even within the Church, if they are taught about the Judaism of Biblical characters at all, little Christian boys and girls are taught the Jewish identity of Jesus and His followers simply as a footnote—that Jesus fulfilled all 'that Jewish stuff' Christians don't pay attention to in the 'Old Testament' with His life, death and resurrection—and then we all moved on. Why don't we ever show the origin in its true Jewish context? Even though it's a simple thing, in response to the doltish meme, here is how we got to names like Jesus, James, John, Peter, and Andrew from the originals:
|Transliterated Hebrew/Aramaic names and how they got to their English counterparts|
|Yeshua||transliterated to Greek||Iesous||→||transliterated to English||Jesus|
|Yeshua||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Joshua|
|Shimon||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Simon|
|Kefa||transliterated to Greek||Petra||→||transliterated to English||Peter|
|Adam||translated to Greek||Andreas||→||transliterated to English||Andrew|
|Yochanan||transliterated to Greek||Ioannes||→||transliterated to English||John|
|Ya'akov||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Jacob|
|Ya'akov||transliterated to Greek||Iakobos||translated to Gaelic||Seamus||transliterated to English||James|
|Mattityahu||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Matthew, Matthias (variant)|
|Natani'el||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Nathaniel, Nathan|
|Bar-Tal'mai||transliterated to Greek||Bartholomaeus||→||transliterated to English||Bartholomew|
|Yehuda||translated to Greek||Thaddaeus||→||imported directly into English||Thaddaeus|
|Yehuda||transliterated to Greek||Ioudas||→||translated to English||Jude|
|Sha'ul||transliterated to Greek||Saoul/Paulos||→||transliterated to English||Saul/Paul|
|Bar-Nabas||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Barnabas|
|Tau'ma||→||→||directly transliterated to English||Thomas|
|possibly Pinchas*||substituted in Greek||Philippos||→||transliterated to English||Philip|
*The name Philip is the only one of the original apostles chosen by Jesus to bear a name of Greek origin in the Scriptures (some of the companions of Paul bore Greek names, however). This could be either because Philip's Hebrew name is untranslatable in Greek, and so people chose a phonetic equivalent (in which case his true name was most likely Pinchas), or translated from Hebrew (this would mean his name was Parash--but this would be uncommon), or that he was a Hellenistic Jew or even a Greek convert to Judaism--though this is not brought out in the New Covenant text.
Sometimes, even a small change in perspective can open up a new world. The vast majority of Jews who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah report that before their acceptance of Him, they didn't even realize Jesus and His followers were Jewish; when they came to see the Jewishness of the 'New Testament' and its relation to the Jewish story chronicled in the Tanakh (the 'Old Testament'), everything clicked—they finally understood God's plan of redemption through Him. But, as I have said before in many other writings, how can we expect Jews to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah when we portray Him as having died to replace Judaism, then celebrate His resurrection by a festival named for a foreign fertility goddess (Easter)—on which we consume the most unclean animal we can find (from a Jewish perspective)? Take the present traditions of Christianity and match them to the Biblical example. Do we find a falsifiable, unbroken history? I think not.
Lest you believe I am saying that Judaism is pure as the driven snow with regard to maintaining an unbroken history, even the Jewish Encyclopedia agrees that the Rabbinical Orthodox Judaism of today is directly taken from the teachings of the Pharisees, who became the dominant influence in Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. Several deviations from Biblical Judaism have resulted from this shift; but Christianity has farther to go in returning to the Biblical center than does Judaism.
So, it can truly be said that Judaism is actually the MOST falsifiable religion in the world, followed by the core Gospel story of Christianity as an extension. This true portion of Christianity is Jewish in origin, but Judaism is NOT what Christianity has become. This article is a symptom highlighting the need to bring the story back to its original Biblical Jewish context—only then is it truly defensible to a questioning world.