The Jesus double standard

Posted on 12/18/11 330 Comments

This article was originally published at The Christian Post in 2009 under the title “What does Jesus always get picked on?”

 

How many Shakespeare scholars do you suppose believe Christopher Marlow wrote the great Bard’s plays? Less than one in a hundred, I’m sure. Are Shakespeare scholars fools? That seems a little bit presumptuous I would think. Of course laypeople can always offer their own speculations on how and why they believe Christopher Marlow, or Ben Jonson, or even Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare’s plays. But should we take those speculations seriously? Should they?

Sure, let’s take these speculations seriously. About as seriously as we take the film “National Treasure” or The Da Vinci Code, or the next ex-hippie wearing a sandwich board that reads “The End is Near”. Bottom line, if the majority of Shakespeare scholars firmly believe that Shakespeare wrote his plays, you defer to the experts. Go big or go home.

So why is it that when it comes to Jesus and the history of the early church, all the conspiracy theorists emerge from their fox holes and bomb shelters? While ridiculous speculations on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays would never be taken seriously, suddenly when it comes to Jesus the rules of scholarly deference are thrown out the window. Everybody’s an expert. Every opinion is worth taking seriously. Every hypothesis casts a further pall of doubt.

Let’s speculate then that the resurrection is a legend co-opted from the dying and rising messiah in Greek mystery religions. Or let’s suppose that the early Christians did not believe in a bodily resurrection. Or let’s suggest that Greek terms like “egeiro” and “anastasis” are consistent with the body remaining in the tomb. While we’re at it, let’s raise a doubt or two that Jesus even existed.

How frustrating this all is! Five bad arguments are still five bad arguments. Ten unsubstantiated claims are still ten unsubstantiated claims. Fifteen theses ignored by the experts are still fifteen theses ignored by the experts. Add them up and evidentially their import is still nil. Each and all would be crucified in the peer-review process.

These wild claims are utterly dismissed by people who have spent their careers looking at the issues. Just like the wacky thesis that Marlowe authored Shakespeare’s plays.

What if we grounded our opinions and speculations on the field of actual scholarly discussion? This would have a much higher likelihood of hitting the truth. But on the downside, the responsible route requires people to take a look at the scholarship and tie their opinions evidentially to it. Even more troubling, this opens up the door that Jesus just might have been resurrected after all.

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  • Walter

    What if we grounded our opinions and speculations on the field of actual scholarly discussion? This would have a much higher likelihood of hitting the truth. But on the downside, the responsible route requires people to take a look at the scholarship and tie their opinions evidentially to it. Even more troubling, this opens up the door that Jesus just might have been resurrected after all.

    The problem with appealing to experts in this instance is the bias inherent on this topic. How many of these experts started with a faith commitment to Christianity and simply interpreted the evidence in such a way as to arrive at the conclusion that they already held? I believe that some–perhaps a lot–of our historical knowledge is in error, but I am not supposedly in danger of eternal hell for getting the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays wrong. Jesus is going to come under far more scrutiny than tales of Alexander the Great because my eternal fate is supposedly tied to my acceptance of the Jesus tale.

    And what about the opinion of expert scholars of the New Testament who are agnostic or atheist, should we disregard their opinions concerning the resurrection because they are outliers?

    • randal

      “The problem with appealing to experts in this instance is the bias inherent on this topic.”

      There is a potential bias where there is a vested interest. And any issue in history, science, philosophy or any other area of intellectual enquiry is a nest of potential biases. It is silly and arbitrary to flag one area of discourse, e.g. the history of second temple Judaism, as especially liable to biases in a way that other areas of enquiry are not.

      “How many of these experts started with a faith commitment to Christianity and simply interpreted the evidence in such a way as to arrive at the conclusion that they already held?”

      Walter, you are too sophisticated for a question that facile. For example, does Tom Wright simply interpret the evidence to support pre-conceived conclusions? And if he does then presumably Bart Ehrman does as well? Or is it only scholars who don’t agree with you which have biases?

      • Robert

        Randal, There are many shades of grey but they are not the same shade.

        This is not a fully general counter-argument to your comment. It’s just a reminder that, if we are going to discuss bias in a field, we can at best estimate how much there is. The estimate will come out differently for different groups of people. Economists come to mind – I think most would recognize that pet theories combined with hindsight bias is a real problem, sometimes our intuitions are dead wrong, etc, etc, and so on.

        So… is in-group bias, faith commitment, or some other factor strong enough in Biblical or Historical Jesus studies to discount the consensus by fixed amount? At this point we’d have to drag out something like Bayes’ Theorem.

      • Walter

        Randal, I never said that skeptics are not exhibiting bias as well. Everyone is biased, and especially on this particular topic. Let me state for the record: I could care less who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I defer to the experts because I have no interest in the topic. I would study the topic for myself if I cared. I have been told since the cradle that the Jesus story is the most important event to have ever happened in history, therefore this event demands more scrutiny from me than other areas of historical interest. What I found when studying this for myself does not inspire much confidence in me that events happened as narrated in the gospels. Not being a hard naturalist, I do not discount the *possibility* that every miracle happened as penned, but I tend nowadays to think in terms of plausibility and not whether something is merely possible.

        Let me ask you this Randal, would a consensus of Mormon experts validating the claims found in the Book of Mormon set off your skeptical alarms? Would you cry foul? Think about it.

        • randal

          “Let me ask you this Randal, would a consensus of Mormon experts validating the claims found in the Book of Mormon set off your skeptical alarms? Would you cry foul?”

          I’d be skeptical of the Mormon scholars. But the question is why? It isn’t because I recognize that their enquiry is carried out with certain presuppositions since that is true of every scholar. Rather, we are skeptical because we believe that their doxastic community exercises an undue distorting influence on the kind of scholarship they can undertake. That is the same sort of skepticism I might have toward a Pre-Vatican 2 Catholic Bible scholar or a climatologist on Exxon’s payroll. But the Christian community is much too broad and diverse to warrant a blanket skepticism such as one might hold toward the Mormon scholar, Pre-Vatican 2 Bible scholar or Exxon climatologist.

          • Walter

            Rather, we are skeptical because we believe that their doxastic community exercises an undue distorting influence on the kind of scholarship they can undertake

            I feel much the same way towards scholars who have so very much invested in the Resurrection story being true. Let’s be honest, how we view the world changes entirely depending on whether we accept the claims found in the New Testament, so this topic invites the most extreme forms of bias. Almost no one studies this topic as a disinterested scholar.

            This subject also brings us to Lessing’s Ugly Broad Ditch:

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/loftus/2011/12/15/lessings-ugly-broad-ditch/

            • Frank

              One of the best thorough and scathing critiques of Mormonism comes from evangelican Christian Consevative writer Richard Abanes in his excellent book “One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church”: http://www.amazon.ca/One-Nation-Under-Gods-History/dp/1568582196.

              It is revealing to see that throughout, Abanes raises the ridiculousness of the Mormon faith and unravels its sordid beginnings and early scandals. Yet he fails to see that the Christian faith likely started in much the same way, but has the benefit of an extra 1800 years of time and refinement to hide behind.

              “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

    • randal

      “And what about the opinion of expert scholars of the New Testament who are agnostic or atheist, should we disregard their opinions concerning the resurrection because they are outliers?”

      No, you assess them on the quality of their evidence and argument. But the whole point of this post is to flag double standards, and I think you’re demonstrating exactly those double standards. For instance, the fact that nobody believes salvation is tied to what you believe about Shakespeare does not warrant the conclusion that untutored conspiracy theories about Jesus are okay but ones about Shakespeare are not.

    • http://www.retheology.net Jared

      On the question of biases: here is a great interview with bart Ehrmann and an atheist interviewer.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRx0N4GF0AY

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    I literally have no idea what audience this is supposed to be addressed to.

    “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare” claims get a lot of play in the popular media. Heck, I understand that there’s a movie with that premise coming out, though I don’t intend to go see it.

    The Jesus mythers and “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare” folks may be generally nonoverlapping groups, so maybe you can tell the Jesus mythers they need to accept the scholarly consensus on Jesus as a matter of consistency.

    Still, we don’t have a case of Jesus always getting picked on here. Rather, Jesus sometimes gets picked on a lot, and Shakespeare sometimes gets picked on a lot.

    Anyway, on the substantiative issue: we have good reason to think historical Jesus scholarship is going to be much more badly contaminated by bias than most parts of academia. To a large extent it’s something that goes on in seminaries rather than history departments. Hardly anyone enters the field without being a believing Christian or Jew (Jacques Berlinerblau claims the proportion of atheists in Biblical scholarship is only a couple dozen in a thousand, and most of those will have started out believers). Is it any surprise then, that Biblical scholars generally reach conclusions friendly to Christianity?

    • randal

      “Heck, I understand that there’s a movie with that premise coming out, though I don’t intend to go see it.”

      It came (and went) in October. Apparently many people shared your opinion.

      “Still, we don’t have a case of Jesus always getting picked on here. Rather, Jesus sometimes gets picked on a lot, and Shakespeare sometimes gets picked on a lot.”

      The funny thing is that Jesus often gets picked on by so-called “skeptics” who are hyper-sensitive in other areas (like literary studies, science, etc) to the problem of arm-chair theorists dismissing the broad consensus of experts to spin out their own half-baked speculations.

  • Frank

    This entire blog may have to be renamed falseanalogyblog.com. Although I do not seriously doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays he is credited for, it does not require a suspension of all laws of physics and biology to propose that it was instead Bacon or Marlowe or (my favorite) Edward de Vere. Plus, the same type of textual analysis that evidences Shakespeare’s authenticity also reveals the kluge of versions that form today’s gospels and epistles. Remember, it is apparent that not a single writer in the New Testament ever even met Jesus of Nazareth. The better analogy is not Shakespeare, but John Smith and Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. The only difference there is that we only have to go back centuries or decades, respectively, and not millennia, to see how a new religion is formed.

    • randal

      “Remember, it is apparent that not a single writer in the New Testament ever even met Jesus of Nazareth.”

      Spoken like someone well travelled in the infidel blogosphere of collectively pooled ignorance.

      Try reading Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006).

      • Frank

        No, I learned that from Bart D. Ehrman, American New Testament scholar and professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina.

        But the infidel blogosphere sounds cool.

        • Frank

          Are you actually suggesting that “Mark”, author of the oldest gospel, knew Jesus personally?

          • randal

            Oh wow, amazing isn’t it? Almost as amazing as quantum entanglement.

            In every case you should forgo uninformed incredulity for a careful evaluation of the evidence. That’s what I did with quantum entanglement and doggone it, now I’m convinced. So what say you do the same with the prima facie much less incredible claim that Mark was plausibly an eyewitness?

            • Frank

              “So what say you do the same with the prima facie much less incredible claim that Mark was plausibly an eyewitness?”

              So NOW it’s okay to talk about degrees of credibility (or perhaps credulity)?

              Fine. I will accept that it is more credible that Mark witnessed Jesus, than quantum entanglement, when you accept that it is more plausible that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s works, than a dead guy resurrected after three days.

              Double standard indeed!

              • randal

                “I will accept that it is more credible that Mark witnessed Jesus, than quantum entanglement, when you accept that it is more plausible that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s works, than a dead guy resurrected after three days.”

                Your comment is a mishmash of confusion. There is nothing prima facie incredible about Mark having been an eyewitness of Jesus. There is something prima facie incredible about quantum entanglement. Thus, if you are willing to set aside your incredulity in the latter case and consider the evidence for it how much more in the former case as well?

                • Frank

                  Right! Just what I said! Let me substitute:

                  “There is nothing prima facie incredible about Marlowe having written Shakespeare’s works. There is something prima facie incredible about a 3-day old resurrection. Thus, if you are willing to set aside your incredulity in the latter case and consider the evidence for it how much more in the former case as well?”

                  Therefore, there is no double standard when one area of research is prima facie incredible and the other is not. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

        • randal

          Richard Bauckham is every bit as well credentialed in the field as Bart Ehrman. So I guess you just cherry-pick your experts to satisfy your preconceptions.

          • Walter

            Robert Price once stated that unless a person becomes a scholar in the field, and does all the legwork for themselves, then that is exactly what both believers and unbelievers alike are doing.

            • randal

              As if scholars somehow rise above their confirmation biases?

              • Walter

                Indeed, but that sword cuts both ways.

                Price was stating that unless you do the work for yourself, then all you are really doing is aligning yourself with the group of scholars that are concluding what you think is most likely to have happened based on your own presuppositions.

                • randal

                  “Price was stating that unless you do the work for yourself, then all you are really doing is aligning yourself with the group of scholars that are concluding what you think is most likely to have happened based on your own presuppositions.”

                  If that’s what he actually said then it is a ridiculous claim. That entails that a Jewish person needs to do primary source historical research on the Holocaust or all their beliefs about it are simply “based on their own presuppositions”.

                  • Walter

                    Price was speaking about the resurrection in particular at that time. I can’t find the exact quote at the moment.

                    It is silly IMO to equate Holocaust deniers with resurrection deniers. Historical events are shrouded by the passage of time, and the farther you go back, the thicker the fog. The Holocaust was a fairly recent event.

                    • randal

                      You write: “Historical events are shrouded by the passage of time, and the farther you go back, the thicker the fog.”

                      Perhaps then Price is claiming this: the further back in time a historical event the more likely it is that a person who forms a belief about that event without doing primary historical research will be forming be belief based on their own presuppositions.

                      That’s ridiculous too.

                      What I’m trying to illustrate is that any attempt to formalize Price’s rhetorical quip into a formal principle terminates in an absurd claim.

                    • Robert

                      The Holocaust was in the 1940’s. We have photos, audio recordings and over 4,400 video interviews with witnesses and survivors.

                      Primary source historical research for the Holocaust takes about 3.5 minutes – even less if you click the link above.

                    • randal

                      “Primary source historical research for the Holocaust takes about 3.5 minutes.”

                      That’s not directly relevant to my point though. In fact, it supports my point that the implications of Price’s principle generalized is absurd. After all, it would follow that a person who learned about the holocaust by interviewing a holocaust expert for several hours wouldn’t be able to have an informed opinion but one who did a 3.5 minute search on the internet could. That makes no sense!

                    • Robert

                      It would follow that a person who learned about the holocaust by interviewing a holocaust expert for several hours wouldn’t be able to have an informed opinion but one who did a 3.5 minute search on the internet could. That makes no sense!

                      If one were to spend several hours with a holocaust expert, they would surely be informed of vast and easily accessible primary documentation of the events.

  • Walter

    You write: “Historical events are shrouded by the passage of time, and the farther you go back, the thicker the fog.”

    Perhaps then Price is claiming this: the further back in time a historical event the more likely it is that a person who forms a belief about that event without doing primary historical research will be forming be belief based on their own presuppositions.

    (I truly hate your nested comment system)

    Randal, the problem is that we have scholars/experts that conflict with one another. You feel that we should defer to expert opinion, but what happens when there is a divide on expert opinion? As you noted earlier, Richard Bauckham is as credentialed as Bart Ehrman, yet their respective conclusions are vastly different. This is the particular scenario that Price was addressing. Your view seems to be that we should accept the findings of the majority of NT scholars, and I have already shown why that may be a problem due to excessive bias.

    • randal

      “I truly hate your nested comment system.”

      I promise to look at other options since I’ve had other complaints.

      “As you noted earlier, Richard Bauckham is as credentialed as Bart Ehrman, yet their respective conclusions are vastly different. This is the particular scenario that Price was addressing.”

      But Price’s comment doesn’t address that, does it? After all both Ehrman and Bauckham have done the work and yet they still disagree. So his perplexing comment provides no more clarity than we had before.

      “Your view seems to be that we should accept the findings of the majority of NT scholars, and I have already shown why that may be a problem due to excessive bias.”

      Let me work backwards. You didn’t show that Bauckham’s work suffers from excessive bias. So let’s drop unhelpful attempts to marginalize entire fields of discourse and instead focus on individual scholars. If you can demonstrate a serious bias evident in the way Bauckham approaches his subject matter then I’m interested.

      Now for the first part: I never said we should go ahead and accept the majority opinions of NT scholars. I’m simply arguing that we shouldn’t dismiss that majority opinion based on the fact that the majority happen to have some sort of religious commitment to the text as well. Again, you need to demonstrate that this commitment to the text has affected the scholarship somehow.

      To be sure, there are good examples where it has. As you know Thom Stark has adeptly shown how the doctrine of inerrancy skews the way many scholars approach the text. That’s the kind of critique I’m interested in. And if you can show that same kind of bias in the work of Bauckham or Wright or Raymond Brown or John Meier or Edwin Yamauchi or Darrell Bock then well and good.

      • Walter

        I cannot demonstrate bias in these scholars, but this is what bothers me:

        I Corinthians

        15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
        15:15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
        15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
        15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
        15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
        15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

        The experts on the New Testament have most likely heard these verses their entire lives before deciding in a career studying Christian claims, and I am as skeptical of their findings as surely as you would be of the findings of a group of Mormon or Muslim scholars researching something that is so dear to them.

        Here is a quote from Alan Segal, Professor of Religion and Jewish Studies at Columbia University in New York:

        To be part of a rational and historical community of historians, one has to be willing to admit to disconfirmation as well as confirmation.. . . How could they (resurrection scholars) admit to disconfirmation without disconfirming their faith? This suggests to me that there is a actually a small group of scholars made up entirely of the faithful trying to impose their faith in the form of an academic argument on the general academic community.

        Segal also states:

        The resurrection is neither probable nor improbable; it is impossible to confirm historically. This is particularly important theoretically: a problem is neither improbable nor probable if it is neither confirmable nor disconfirmable. . .

        • randal

          There are many problems with Segal’s claim. Here are some of them.

          First, insofar as a problem exists it isn’t unique to Christians. Every doxastic community includes certain pressures of conformity which can negatively affect scholarship, and it is naive or disingenuous (or both?) to suggest otherwise.

          Second, the language of “confirmation” and “disconfirmation” is too blunt for historical study where you’re always dealing with provisional reconstructions.

          Third, many Christian NT historians are able to separate their historical enquiry from their faith. Luke Timothy Johnson is a great example. He doesn’t believe the doctrinal claims about Christ that he accepts as a Catholic based on the adequacy of his historical reconstructions. (See his book The Real Jesus.) This distinction between the Jesus of historical reconstruction and the independently known Christ of faith was famously argued in Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

          Fourth, the final statement about the resurrection being “impossible” to confirm historically is an empty piece of dogma. History proceeds through a process of inference to the best explanation, and unless you’re history is constrained by some kind of philosohical dogma, you should be open to the possibility that Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the best reconstruction of all the available data.

          Finally, this is simply a red herring. You don’t engage with Bauckham or Wright’s work by casting general aspersions on a community of scholars without any evidence beyond your suspicions. Rather, you engage their research critically. So I don’t think quoting Segal is any substitute for reading the scholars in question.

          • Walter

            This goes both ways, Randal. Have you read the works of skeptical scholars, or do you simply dismiss them out of hand because you are already convinced by Wright and Bauckham? Can you *show* that skeptical scholars are wrong and where they go wrong, or do you just appeal to your favorite pro-resurrection scholars. You see, this gets us nowhere. I am not an expert on the NT and neither are you. Each of us is doing exactly what Price has stated: we are aligning with the scholars who best reflect what each of us chooses to believe.

            • randal

              “This goes both ways, Randal.”

              Yes and no.

              You’ve been trying to slight one set of scholars as being controlled by biases. If I were playing your game I’d be merely slapping your set of scholars with the same brush of bias. I’m not doing that. My view is that reasonable people can, on a purely historical investigation, reach different conclusions about where the evidence points. That’s true about the resurrection as it is about countless other matters of historical reconstruction.

              • Walter

                You’ve been trying to slight one set of scholars as being controlled by biases.

                I have stated repeatedly that there exists bias on both sides.

                Let me lay it out. I am not a professional historian, nor am I interested in becoming a scholar on the New Testament in an attempt to affirm or debunk a remarkable story that is claimed to have happened a couple of thousand years ago. And here is why: Any god that will only reveal “himself” in the ancient past should not be surprised nor upset that large numbers of people simply don’t believe in him today. As Gotthold Lessing said, “Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles…[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.” “Or is it invariably the case, that what I read in reputable historians is just as certain for me as what I myself experience?”

                • randal

                  There is a long list of replies to Lessing. I already noted two of them including perhaps the most influential of them all: Kierkegaard.

  • pete

    According to Michael Licona, all credible historical Jesus scholars (athest to conservative), the following 3 minimal facts are universally held:

    1) Jesus died by crucifixion

    2) The apostles believed they saw Jesus risen from the dead

    3) Paul, formerly persecutor of the church, converted upon believing he saw the risen Christ in a vision, and became an apostle.

    Licona’s prolegomena is quite extensive (17% of the book)

    Alot of Ehrman, Pagels, James Dunn, and others are quoted and embraced for their scholarship on the topic.

    It’s a good read.

  • pete

    According to Michael Licona, all credible historical Jesus scholars (athest to conservative), the following 3 minimal facts are universally held:

    1) Jesus died by crucifixion

    2) The apostles believed they saw Jesus risen from the dead

    3) Paul, formerly persecutor of the church, converted upon believing he saw the risen Christ in a vision, and became an apostle.

    Licona’s prolegomena is quite extensive (17% of the book)

    Ehrman, Pagels, James Dunn, N.T. Wright, Gary Habermas and others are quoted and embraced for their scholarship on the topic.

    It’s a good read.

  • http://leadme.org Jeff

    Love you Randal, but this type of argument rubs me the wrong way, and I’m finding myself quite sympathetic to what Walter and other “skeptics” have argued here.

    [Full disclosure (if I haven't already disclosed this here): I'm a committed Christian, though my "orthodox" credentials certainly aren't impeccable. But I don't want to get too far off on that tangent. My point is simply that I'm fairly agnostic about many of the supposedly "core doctrines" of Christianity, and therefore that I don't think I have much of a horse in this particular race.]

    The Robert Price quote seems fairly sensible to me. To equate denial of the orthodox interpretation of resurrection with Holocaust denial strikes me as crude. Besides the huge disparity between the elapsed times (as Walter has already pointed out), there’s at least one other huge problem with this comparison: Are there any reputable historians in the field of Holocaust studies who take the position of Holocaust denial?

    If anything, I’d be more inclined toward the orthodox interpretation of resurrection than against it, but then it starts to strike me as fishy and very unattractive that so many orthodox Christians feel the need to bludgeon others over the head with this.

    Not even sure what I’m trying to say. Just venting a bit of frustration, perhaps. Randal I realize, by the way, that you’re not an exclusivist, so I appreciate that the whole affirm-doctrine-x-or-go-to-hell thing isn’t coming into play here.

    • randal

      I don’t get where the resistence is. I said you can’t marginalize one side as biased. You need to evaluate their arguments on their own merits. I also admitted that the way Christians treat the issues is sometimes constrained by external factors including ideological commitments, institutional demands, etc. Moreover, I pointed out that this is a ubiquitous phenomenon, not just with Christians. Finally, I recognized that reasonable historians can offer contradictory accounts of the data concerning the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus. Those were all my core arguments. Is there something in there that you disagreed with? If not then I think we’re doin’ okay.

      • http://leadme.org Jeff

        Well, for starters, would you be willing to withdraw the Holocaust denial comparison?

        • randal

          First of all, I never mentioned Holocaust denial. Walter did. Here’s what I wrote: “[Price's principle] entails that a Jewish person needs to do primary source historical research on the Holocaust or all their beliefs about it are simply “based on their own presuppositions”.” In other words, Price’s principle, if applied generally, would oblige a Jewish person to do primary historical research before they could have any opinion at all on the holocaust. So again, I never mentioned holocaust denial.

          Second, the point I made was a reductio ad absurdum, showing that if we applied Price’s principle consistently it would have absurd consequences. So not only did I not appeal to holocaust denial, I wasn’t actually comparing two or more things. Rather, I was showing the absurd consequences of Price’s principle.

          • http://leadme.org Jeff

            Well, alright. If nothing else, I’ll just say that it looks like a failed reductio to me (for reasons already mentioned), and I’m afraid it poisons the well.

            • randal

              Unfortunately it looks like it did “poison the well”. People obviously have a lot invested emotionally and otherwise in holocaust references. I wasn’t meaning to take on any of that baggage. The example could have just as well focused on historical knowledge of the Mustang’s launch in 1964, and in retrospect I’m sorta wishin’ it had.

      • http://leadme.org Jeff

        I guess my basic grievance is this (and I realize I’m getting slightly off topic here):

        If Christianity stands or falls on an affirmation of the literalness of a singular, supernatural event some 2000 years ago, then I’m not that interested in Christianity.

        I don’t really care about Wright, Bauckham, et al. The only way I, personally, would feel adequately justified in resolutely affirming the orthodox interpretation of resurrection is if I (as Price suggests) chose to do the hard scholarly work myself. Needless to say, I’ve got other priorities.

        You might criticize this as a naive epistemology, but so be it.

        • pete

          Christianity does stand or fall on the resurrection.

          That’s exactly what Walter quoted Paul as saying in 1 Corinthians 15.

          • http://leadme.org Jeff

            “Christianity does stand or fall on the resurrection.”

            That’s not really what I was saying. As I suspect Randal is alluding to in the comment immediately below, affirming the resurrection does not necessarily entail that one affirm one particular (orthodox) ontology of resurrection. At least not in my opinion, or in the much more considered opinion of Marcus Borg, et al.

            In a lot of ways, this whole issue strikes me as very similar to the old (largely dead now) argument over the ontology of the Eucharist.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Jeff,

              One thing worth pointing out in this regard (though I apologize if you thought it was so obvious that it did not need stating) is that is it not the resurrection as an independent event that is so all important to the gospel of Christ but that, as Paul was saying in 1 Cor 15, it was “according to the Scriptures.” In other words, it’s not as though people believe in Jesus of Nazareth solely because He had followers who said He was raised from the dead, but rather that they said He was raised from the dead and that it all happened according to the multitude of prophecies from Israel’s prophets. That is, there was massive documentation of the event produced centuries in advance, in addition to the documents produced by the eyewitnesses more contemporaneously. Without the Hebrew Bible, the resurrection would much harder to believe and much harder to understand. It would just be an isolated miracle – an extraordinary event without extraordinary evidence. As it is, there is not only extraordinary evidence, the majority of that evidence was presented long before the fact. The resurrection really cannot be appreciated apart from the massive and unusual literary attestation that preceded it.

              • Frank

                “That is, there was massive documentation of the event produced centuries in advance…”

                Like what?

                • Robert

                  I was thinking the same thing … Like the fact that the Sabbath was instituted as a lasting covenant and eternal sign?

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  The Hebrew Bible (or, if you prefer, the Old Testament).

                  • Robert

                    The snake strikes the heal and Jesus crushes its head, the virgin will be with child, suffering servant, etc, etc.

                    Which passages do you think are especially good predictive prophesy of Jesus’ life? Also, what probability would you assign the truth of this statement: “The gospels embellished the life of Jesus with Hebrew scriptures in mind.”?

                    • Frank

                      Hosea 11

                      1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. 2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.

                      Matthew 2

                      13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

                      Luke 2

                      22 And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

                      Luke missed the escape to Egypt altogether. Matthew clearly made it up to match a supposed prophecy, which was no prophecy at all but a history of the Jews freed from Egyptian slavery (which, by the way, also clearly never happened).

                      Is this part of the massive documentation referred to?

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      Mike, I would tend to side with Frank and Robert on this one. Take Isaiah 7:14 (as Robert mentioned), for example. In its actual context, it’s tremendously implausible to read this as any sort of Messianic prophecy, let alone as a prophecy specifically about Jesus.

                      The prophetic evidence just isn’t very strong at all, I’m afraid, unless one simply assumes inerrancy (or some other robust doctrine of biblical inspiration), which I certainly do not.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Robert,

                      “Which passages do you think are especially good predictive prophesy of Jesus’ life?”

                      It’s not so much that any one individual prophecy stands out, but that the totality of them could be fulfilled in the life of any one individual person that makes the attestation so amazing.

                      “Also, what probability would you assign the truth of this statement: ‘The gospels embellished the life of Jesus with Hebrew scriptures in mind.’?”

                      Practically nil. The reports of Jesus circulated orally for years before they were written in the gospels we have (scholars across the conservative-liberal spectrum are in near universal agreement about this). Therefore, any written gospel which contradicted the known account would never have been venerated. The gospels were like a book written about the Holocaust in the lifetime of Holocaust survivors – it would have had to pass muster with a uniquely knowledgeable audience to have been accepted.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Frank,

                      “Is this part of the massive documentation referred to?”

                      Yes.

                      “Luke missed the escape to Egypt altogether.”

                      Jesus did so much, and the prophecies that bore witness in advance to Him said so much, that neither one gospel nor even all four gospels together could cover it all (John 21:24-25). I would imagine that no single book about the Holocaust could describe every event which was part of it as well.

                      “Matthew clearly made it up to match a supposed prophecy, which was no prophecy at all but a history of the Jews freed from Egyptian slavery (which, by the way, also clearly never happened).”

                      I’ll forego asking you what proof you have that Matthew made it up or that Jewish history is a fabrication, and simply ask what possible motive do you think Matthew had for making this up? If your scenario is true, he would be undercutting his own credibility and the credibility of the story he was reporting. Given the otherwise obscure nature of the reference, it seems the only plausible motive was that he deemed it true and relevant.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Jeff,

                      You, Frank, and Robert do not seem to appreciate the nature of Hebrew prophecy. It’s not as though the Amazing Kreskin wrote down a bunch of predictions and put them in a time capsule to be opened at some future date for comparison to the newspaper. Rather, the prophets wrote of their own times and experiences. In doing so, certain recurring patterns emerged. In Christ, all these patterns were fulfilled and consummated.

                      For example, in Deuteronomy 18 Moses said, “God will raise up a prophet like me from among your brethren and to him you shall give heed in everything he says to you.” This was immediately fulfilled in Joshua. It was also fulfilled every time a true prophet arose in Israel – including Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and so on. There was a long line of them. But when Christ came, He fulfilled the prophecy with a fullness that no predecessor could match. He was literally “raised up.” The time of giving heed to Him has never ceased. He was even named Joshua by the angel before He was born to further punctuate the point.

                      Similarly, the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy had meaning in its own time when it applied to “a young woman” would give birth to a child, which would demonstrate God’s presence among His people and reinforce their hope for God’s deliverance. Mary was certainly a young woman when she gave birth to Jesus and thus fulfilled that prophecy or pattern. That Jesus was conceived without involvement of a human father certainly punctuated the pattern, and the original Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible seemed to anticipate something like this when it used a word for “young woman” that more clearly meant “virgin.” However, if one becomes myopically focused on the question of virgin birth or not he misses the broader and more important point that Isaiah 7:14 was part of a large and variegated complex of prophetic brushstrokes that came together in an amazingly colorful and detailed portrait of Israel’s Messiah. He truly was “God with us” and thus deserved the title “Emmanuel” infinitely more than the original Israelite infant to whom it was assigned.

                      Thus to your original point, you are quite right that it’s possible to view any one of the individual messianic prophecies in context and see them merely as applying to their own times. When you open your heart to our Creator, however, and beseech Him, “If you show me the truth I won’t shrink from it,” you will begin see these individual prophecies lighting up across the board of the Old Testament as portraying Jesus of Nazareth, raised from the dead, Savior of the world.

                      He is the ultimate Melchizek who is king of righteousness and peace, He is the ultimate Enoch who walked with God, He is the ultimate Noah who delivers us from a flood of ills, He is the ultimate Moses who leads His people out of bondage, He is the ultimate Passover who is our protection and hiding place, He is the ultimate tent of meeting in which we meet with God, He is the ultimate first fruits of harvest, He is the ultimate ladder of Jacob, He is the ultimate son of Abraham, He is the ultimate word of God, and on and on and on and on. No one could cover in one book all the ways in which the Hebrew Bible prophesied Christ. And it is the resurrection of Christ that catalyzed these prophecies into a single coherent message – which brings us full circle to the point about which I originally wrote you above.

                      That is, the truth of Christ does indeed “stand or fall on an affirmation of the literalness of a singular, supernatural event some 2000 years ago,” – but not an event that occurred in isolation. Rather it was an event copiously attested to in the governing documents of a nation whose existence in antiquity is unquestioned by scholars of every stripe – and whose said documents have survived to this day. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pivotal point of all human history, and we have more than ample witness to its reality and its meaning.

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      Mike, you said:

                      “Thus to your original point, you are quite right that it’s possible to view any one of the individual messianic prophecies in context and see them merely as applying to their own times.”

                      Not only is this a possible way to read the prophecies, I would say that in most cases it’s the only plausible way to read them. As I see it, the only reason someone might consider Isaiah 7:14 to be a Messianic/Jesus prophecy is if one is committed to the idea that the Holy Spirit himself inspired Matthew to appropriate the Isaian text as such. I’m certainly not committed to that idea.

                      As for you comment that, “When you open your heart to our Creator, however, and beseech Him, ‘If you show me the truth I won’t shrink from it,'” this is precisely what led me to reject my former evangelicalism.

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      Mike, you said:

                      “What possible motive do you think Matthew had for making this up?”

                      Quite a few scholars argue that one of Matthew’s goals with his gospel–among many other goals–was to present Jesus as the new and greater Moses. Hence, the Egypt narrative. Matthew wasn’t trying to give a false history of Jesus so much as he was trying to paint a theological portrait of him.

                      As for the motivations of Matthew and Luke for the virgin birth narratives in general: As Walter points out below (via Raymond Brown), there was scandal associated with Jesus’ birth, as the gospels themselves make clear. Also, the gospel writers were trying to paint a portrait of Jesus as God’s Son, and these narratives were a device chosen by Matthew and Luke to help accomplish that. A two-birds-with-one-stone kind of thing.

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      I should add: A number of scholars argue that the Lukan birth narrative (and perhaps the Matthean birth narrative as well? can’t remember off the top of my head) is not authentic, but rather a later insertion into Luke’s gospel.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Jeff,

                      “Not only is this a possible way to read the prophecies, I would say that in most cases it’s the only plausible way to read them. As I see it, the only reason someone might consider Isaiah 7:14 to be a Messianic/Jesus prophecy is if one is committed to the idea that the Holy Spirit himself inspired Matthew to appropriate the Isaian text as such. I’m certainly not committed to that idea.”

                      Since there are so very many of these prophecies, that statement may be numerically true. For example, probably few Jews were looking for another Melchizedek, another Noah, a personification of the Feasts of Passover and First Fruits, etc. However, that ignores some individual prophecies which clearly called for a future figure, which would include Ps 110:1, Mic 5:2, and even Is 9:6-7. Both because of these individual prophecies as well as the broad and massive complex of the totality of them, messianic expectation among the Jews was great as the birth of Jesus approached. This expectation is testified to not just by the New Testament but also by other documents from the era as well. Thus to say that one could only read Is 7:14 and see a messianic or Jesus prophecy if one brought that presupposition to the text is ignoring a lot of history.

                      “As for you comment that, “When you open your heart to our Creator, however, and beseech Him, ‘If you show me the truth I won’t shrink from it,'” this is precisely what led me to reject my former evangelicalism.”

                      I would readily agree that there are many things about evangelicalism that deserve to be rejected, but Christ and the Scriptures are not among them.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Jeff,

                      “Quite a few scholars argue that one of Matthew’s goals with his gospel–among many other goals–was to present Jesus as the new and greater Moses. Hence, the Egypt narrative. Matthew wasn’t trying to give a false history of Jesus so much as he was trying to paint a theological portrait of him.”

                      That Matthew would present Jesus as the new and greater Moses makes a lot of sense, especially when you read what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. But Hosea 11 is not the most straightforward way to make that case. It is much more plausible to think that Matthew included Hosea 11 because he knew Jesus was the new and greater Moses, and the childhood flight to Egypt thus took on Mosaic significance for him. It’s not likely that he would have fabricated a flight account, especially since some of Jesus’ family members would still be living when he wrote and would have questioned it.

                      That Luke didn’t include it could be attributed to the fact that he had a slightly different purpose in his writing than Matthew. Moreover, he didn’t include Herod’s slaughter of the potential infant messiahs so there was no need to include the flight. Of course, John testified that the world could not contain all the writing of the deeds of Jesus – there were just too many. Each gospel writer had to be economical. So, that Matthew was drawing a theological portrait makes sense, but that he would trouble himself to fabricate an oblique reference toward that end when there were so many more straightforward parallels he could use requires something other than reason to believe.

                      As for your point about editorial additions to Luke or Matthew, I am aware that there are scholars who formulate such theories but they fly in the face of the way people treat venerated documents.

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      Mike, would you say that Jesus’ disciples clung to him primarily because they recognized the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy in the details of his life? Or rather, would it make more sense to say that in Jesus, they experienced in a very tangible and undeniable way the presence of God among them?

                      Jesus shattered their preconceived Messianic expectations, in just about every detail of his life and death. The gospels are early Christian attempts, upon decades of reflection, to paint Jesus’ life with shades and images of Hebrew prophecy. It seems to me that the gospels (especially John’s) are much better understood as impressionistic portraits of Jesus (with many accurate historical details, no doubt) rather than as straightforward history.

                      “I would readily agree that there are many things about evangelicalism that deserve to be rejected, but Christ and the Scriptures are not among them.”

                      Though you may see it differently, I certainly don’t think it’s accurate to say that I have rejected Christ and the scriptures. Would you say that Thom Stark has rejected the scriptures? As I see it, he (among many others) has helped to open my eyes to understand and value the scriptures on their own terms, rather than in terms of the false and constraining inerrantist framework that had been obscuring my vision.

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      About the flight narrative, there’s no evidence external to Matthew’s narrative (to my knowledge at least) substantiating Herod’s massacre of the innocents. While that doesn’t necessarily disprove the historicity of the massacre, it casts serious doubt on it. Was Matthew “fabricating” a story? Or was he, again, painting a portrait of Jesus as the new and greater Moses? (Who, likewise, purportedly escaped a massacre of innocents, and eventually came up from Egypt.)

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Jeff,

                      “Mike, would you say that Jesus’ disciples clung to him primarily because they recognized the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy in the details of his life? Or rather, would it make more sense to say that in Jesus, they experienced in a very tangible and undeniable way the presence of God among them?”

                      I think the answer to your question changes depending on the stage of their lives at which you’re asking. Early in Jesus’ ministry, they seemed to regard Him as a man of God, a prophet of Israel. Later on, His messianic identity became apparent to some of them – though even then He told them to keep mum about it. Only after the resurrection did He instruct them to proclaim that He was the Messiah, and even then they weren’t to do it until after His ascension into heaven and the granting of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

                      “Jesus shattered their preconceived Messianic expectations, in just about every detail of his life and death. The gospels are early Christian attempts, upon decades of reflection, to paint Jesus’ life with shades and images of Hebrew prophecy. It seems to me that the gospels (especially John’s) are much better understood as impressionistic portraits of Jesus (with many accurate historical details, no doubt) rather than as straightforward history.”

                      I agree with you that the gospels are not straightforward history but rather history through the lens of prophetic scripture. We see Jesus giving them this scriptural perspective on His life in Luke 24:25-27, 44-48, and for the forty days following. What an eye-opening Bible study for them! (John 12:16)

                      “Though you may see it differently, I certainly don’t think it’s accurate to say that I have rejected Christ and the scriptures.”

                      I didn’t mean to suggest that you had. I was only expressing the hope that you hadn’t – or that if you had, that you’d reconsider.

                      “Would you say that Thom Stark has rejected the scriptures? As I see it, he (among many others) has helped to open my eyes to understand and value the scriptures on their own terms, rather than in terms of the false and constraining inerrantist framework that had been obscuring my vision.”

                      Thom has clearly not rejected the Scriptures, but he has rejected that they can be accepted as the word of God. Thom and I have interacted. I wrote a 12-part review of his “The Faces of God” in which I took a dim view of his thesis. He, in turn, took a dim view of my dim view.

                      I agree with Thom that the doctrine of inerrancy as defined by the CSBI is unhelpful. Where I disagree with Thom is when he says that 1) Christ was wrong, and 2) the Scriptures are not the word of God. I also think he puts too much faith in Christians and not enough faith in Christ. I think Thom’s view is only a short step away from agnosticism.

                      I think the second biggest problem with the doctrine of inerrancy is that, as taught and practiced, it ends up having a lot of interpretation in it and therefore has become about much more than an absence of error. It tends to allow only one particular way of allowing God to speak through the Bible. It says in effect, “You have to believe that the Bible is without error and that it is saying X, Y, Z.” The biggest problem with the doctrine of inerrancy however is that it misses the point. The point is not the that the Scriptures are without error – the point is that they are the word of God. And the word of God is about Christ. As Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you believe that in them you will find eternal life, and it is these that bear witness of Me – and you are unwilling to come to Me!” What’s the point of arguing over the Bible if we don’t find Christ?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Jeff,

                      “About the flight narrative, there’s no evidence external to Matthew’s narrative (to my knowledge at least) substantiating Herod’s massacre of the innocents. While that doesn’t necessarily disprove the historicity of the massacre, it casts serious doubt on it.”

                      I don’t know why it would.

                      “Was Matthew ‘fabricating’ a story?

                      I don’t see why he would.

                      “Or was he, again, painting a portrait of Jesus as the new and greater Moses? (Who, likewise, purportedly escaped a massacre of innocents, and eventually came up from Egypt.)”

                      In Matthew (as in the other apostles) I see a man who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry and who reported what he saw…and reported it along with the scriptural parallels that the Holy Spirit (if not Jesus Himself before His ascension) showed him.

                      I don’t see any mutual exclusivity between painting a portrait of Jesus as the new and greater Moses on the one hand and wanting to tell the truth about what you saw with the other. Your story would simply be an account of the points at which you saw those two lines converging. There was so much material that I don’t even see a basis for him to be tempted to fabricate. What need was there?

                    • http://leadme.org Jeff

                      Mike, it looks to me like we’re probably not going to get too much further with this particular strand of the discussion, but I have appreciated your gracious interactions here.

        • randal

          I talk about the relationship between a historical resurrection and Christianity in chapter six of You’re not as Crazy as I Think, titled “Not all liberal Christians are heretics”. In that chapter I argue that the relationship between doctrine and Christian identity than Christians often recognize.

  • Jag Levak

    “Let’s speculate then that the resurrection is a legend …Or let’s suppose that the early Christians did not believe in a bodily resurrection… let’s raise a doubt or two that Jesus even existed. … How frustrating this all is! Five bad arguments are still five bad arguments…. Add them up and evidentially their import is still nil. Each and all would be crucified in the peer-review process.”

    When I left the church, I still believed the Bible stories were based on a real guy named Jesus who led multitudes, kicked up a political ruckus, and got himself executed, pretty much as recounted in the Bible, and I believed as much based, largely, on the assurance I had received from one of my ministers that the secular documentation alone, witnessing, recording and attesting to this Jesus “could fill libraries” as he put it. It wasn’t until years later that I found out what a staggering and overreaching exaggeration that was.

    I was embarrassed that I had uncritically continued to accept something told to me by someone I had already concluded was unreliable. So after that, I came at it from the other direction. My basic question was this: Is there anything to suggest the Jesus story is not just an ordinary myth, developed in one of the ways myths commonly come about? To test a question like that, yes, you start with various myth origin suppositions, such as you mention above, and then you have a look to see if the evidence we currently have is reasonably consistent with any or all of those hypotheses. (some of that abductive reasoning you like) If the evidence could have come about without a physical Jesus, that is not, itself, a form of evidence that there was no physical Jesus. It just means that Jesus as ordinary myth remains a viable alternative. But even if the evidence were evenly divided between a magical miracle story, and a just another routine case of humans making stuff up, I’m not going to give those two options equal odds of being the right one. I’m going to heavily favor the hum-drum account over the miracle tale because it is simpler, it requires no reshaping of my entire view of reality, and just looking at their respective track records, it’s like zillions to zip in favor of the hum-drum.

    Just playing the odds, I think there were probably people back then named Jesus, or Yeshua, or something like that. I expect some of them could have gotten into trouble with the law, and some of them might have been dragged before Pilate. (I think Josephus mentions a “woe to Jerusalem” Jesus being dragged before Pilate, if I’m remembering that right.) There were probably traveling preachers, and faith healers, and carpenters, and any number of them could have been named some variant of Joe. So I think the non-magical biographical bits of the Jesus story could easily have correspondence to one or more physical people by that, or a similar, name. It doesn’t matter to me whether there was a meat and sweat basis for the stories, or the wholesale adoption of prior myths, or some mix. The parts that matter are the miracle bits, and I see no reason to believe those were real. Even if you produce an array of books and believing scholars attesting to the reality of the miracles, I’m always going to find it easier to accept that humans are creative, fallible, and sometimes dishonest, than accept that the laws of physics were, on particular occasions long ago, suspended by God.

    • randal

      “My basic question was this: Is there anything to suggest the Jesus story is not just an ordinary myth, developed in one of the ways myths commonly come about?”

      Yes. There is no doubt among historians that Jesus was a historical person not a mythic one like Hercules. The more nuanced question is whether there may be mythic accretions to the narratives about Jesus. A person could concede the prescence of some embellishments here and there without conceding that such embellishment would undermine the general reliability of the narrative. When three eyewitnesses say a red sportscar hit the pedestrian but they differ in describing it (one witness says it was a Corvette, the other says it was “definitely Japanese”, the third is not sure) the police don’t say “They disagree on the make. So let’s throw out all the testimony.”

      There are two main problems with the mythic thesis. First, belief in Jesus’ resurrection is temporally proximate with the purported event, i.e. at least within a few years according to the documentary evidence of 1 Cor. 15 in particular. Second, this belief arose not in a distant area but right in Jerusalem.

      • Jag Levak

        “There is no doubt among historians that Jesus was a historical person”

        Is there general agreement about what that means? I believe there were people by that name back then, and accept that some number of them could easily have been carpenters and/or preachers. Is that enough to qualify as acceptance of a historical Jesus?

        And while there is some appeal to arguments from authority, I also recognize they do not add to the body of evidence but only offer an interpretive framework for the evidence. And it isn’t unheard of for popular interpretive frameworks to lose popularity. I gather it used to be widely accepted that William Tell was a real person, but I hear that view has lost its previous dominance. The consideration should be the reasonableness of the interpretive framework, not its popularity at a given time.

        “A person could concede the presence of some embellishments here and there without conceding that such embellishment would undermine the general reliability of the narrative.”

        True, but the rational person would still want to know which parts are reliable, and how that reliability was established.

        “There are two main problems with the mythic thesis. First, belief in Jesus’ resurrection is temporally proximate with the purported event, i.e. at least within a few years according to the documentary evidence of 1 Cor. 15 in particular.”

        So, letters written 20 or more years after the supposed death of Jesus by someone who never met the physical Jesus count as some of the strongest surviving evidence for a physical Jesus. And that doesn’t sound at all lame to you as some of the best evidence we have that an actual god was on this planet?

        “Second, this belief arose not in a distant area but right in Jerusalem.”

        I lived in Tulsa when, the story goes, Oral Roberts received a visit from 900 ft. Jesus. To this day, there are people who believe that really happened. But for me, the fact that the story had a local origin did nothing to improve its credibility (and that was back when I believed Jesus was real).

        I don’t know how common it is for myths and tall tales to have a local setting, but even if it happens in a minority of cases, I know of no reason why local origin would be inherently incompatible with myth formation. And if the rarity argument tends to discredit the myth hypothesis, then how much moreso would the rarity argument discredit the real resurrection hypothesis. When it comes down to evaluating the relative odds, I would still have to give more weight to a possibly unusual instance of story creation over the “god-man returns from the dead” possibility.

    • randal

      “I believed as much based, largely, on the assurance I had received from one of my ministers that the secular documentation alone, witnessing, recording and attesting to this Jesus “could fill libraries” as he put it.”

      One large print run of Strobel’s The Case for Christ could fill libraries, but I suspect that’s not what you and your pastor were thinking.

      This is a classic case of hyperbolic irresponsiblity setting up a faith to fail. Conservative Christians have a real unhealthy tendency to do that as I illustrate in “Learning in a time of (cultural) War”: http://randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Learning-in-Wartime.pdf

  • pete

    “My basic question was this: Is there anything to suggest the Jesus story is not just an ordinary myth, developed in one of the ways myths commonly come about? To test a question like that, yes, you start with various myth origin suppositions, such as you mention above, and then you have a look to see if the evidence we currently have is reasonably consistent with any or all of those hypotheses.”

    But that isn’t a historical endeavor.

    Your hypothesis fails if the event actually happened.

    You can’t do an investigation based on similarity with myth. You need to present evidence for your claim that either Jesus was not resurrected and/or the resurrection account is a myth

    • Jag Levak

      “But that isn’t a historical endeavor.”

      Correct. The purpose of that sort of reasoning is not to establish what did happen. It is only part of an evaluation of the likelihood that a claimed account did happen.

      “Your hypothesis fails if the event actually happened.”

      The hypothesis (one might call it the dull hypothesis, functioning something like the null hypothesis in science) fails if it is sufficiently inconsistent with the evidence to make it more remarkable than the remarkable claim under consideration. If there is no incompatible evidence, the dull hypothesis stands as a viable possibility. The remarkable claim could still be true, but merely lacking in evidence, so the dull hypothesis is not presumed true, it is merely presumed reasonably possible.

      “You can’t do an investigation based on similarity with myth.”

      If you are talking about investigating the occurrences which were claimed to have happened in a remarkable story, then that’s right. But in assessing the reasonableness of accepting a remarkable story, it is entirely sensible to consider unremarkable alternative possibilities–things that we know actually do happen–which could produce the same body of evidence.

      “You need to present evidence for your claim that either Jesus was not resurrected and/or the resurrection account is a myth”

      That is not how the rational, skeptical mind deals with remarkable claims. Otherwise, we’d all have a similar burden of providing evidence against alien abductions, body thetans, chakras, chupacabras, leprechauns, the angel Moroni, centaurs, telekenesis, and a zillion other extraordinary stories for which we are lacking the type or body of evidence which would be sufficient to overturn the dull hypothesis. It is only after there is enough distinctive evidence to overturn the dull hypothesis that the burden shifts to the other side. You may think that burden has already shifted based on the number of Bible scholars who think the Jesus stories are real, and the number of books to that effect written by Jesus believers, and by fulfillment in some of the Bible stories of supposed prophesies made elsewhere in the Bible stories, and by the scale and durability of the Jesus religion, and maybe even by some feelings of confirmatory direct revelation from God. But all the skeptic has to do is look at other religions and see the same phenomena at work in order to conclude that the dull hypothesis has not been overturned, and the burden has not shifted.

      That said, there are indications that the Jesus stories are myths. Things are recounted for which there would have been no witness–Jesus in Gesthemane, or the conversation which took place between Jesus and the Devil, for example. Events are recounted with peculiar levels of specificity. What was said during the transfiguration is presented verbatim, but where this actually happened, nobody can remember. Jesus is portrayed as having international fame, but we can’t find where anyone jotted down a note about him at the time. Jesus’s followers are portrayed as extremely fickle, Pilate is portrayed in a manner utterly inconsistent with what we know about him from other sources, the supposed trial is bizarre, and if the Jesus stories were real, it seems odd that his devoted followers preserved no artifacts, wrote down none of his words at the time, or bothered to remember when or where he was born, when he died, or even the location of the all-important tomb. And worst of all, the Jesus story en toto makes no sense. What was his mission, what did he accomplish, and is that account really what we would expect if our planet had actually been visited by the Creator of the Universe? Those aren’t proof that the stories are false, but they add more layers of remarkable oddity which again tend to weigh in favor of the dull hypothesis of ordinary mythicism.

      • pete

        Jag:

        On the one hand you make “dull hypothesis” the baseline, but then invoke lack of multiple attestation for Gethsemane, the Temptation in the wilderness, et. al.

        You are holding a double standard.

        Secondly, Angel Moroni, Loch Ness Monster et. al can all be investigated, and when there is a paucity of data, can be rejected.

        Thirdly (and I repeat ad nauseum), court cases do not proceed the way that you approach your methodology. It is highly improbable (qualitatively) that the person accused of murder is the person who actually comitted the murder…. 1 out of 7 Billion.

        However, when the evidence is weighed, a person may be convicted on the evidence, or the case may be dismissed due to lack of evidence.

        Cases can’t be dismissed or affirmed based on speculative reasonings based on hypothetical scenarios…. they are based on fact and testimony.

        Jesus has crucifixion, the genuine belief of the disciples that he was resurrected, and Paul’s conversion as a fact.

        He has 15 centuries of prior prophecy, the apostolic testimony, patristic testimony, and personal accounts of supernatural intervention as testimony.

        The overwhelming balance of fact and testimony is in Jesus’ favour.

        If you want to tout the “myth” hypothesis, please attempt to disprove the genre of “bioi” in which the Gospels were written. That would be a starting point.

        For reference “bioi” is the genre of Greco-Roman Biography. The authors were concerned with reporting the truth, with some licence for hyperbole, but not so much as to fabricate evidence.

        To posit myth, you would need to show that the gospels fall into the sort of genre as ancient near east “myth” genre….. like Genesis has been thought to exude.

        The Gospels are not myth, and Paul isn’t even close.

        To put in perspective, would you assign any credibility to scientists who deny evolution, or historians who deny the Holocaust?

        Just the same, it isn’t reasonable to assign any credibility to the claim that the resurrection is myth. Either it happened (fact and testimony in favour) or it didn’t (Jewish claim that the disciples “stole” the body from armed Roman guards, and a 1 ton rock), and the evidence needs to be weighed on its own merits.

        • Robert

          To put in perspective, would you assign any credibility to scientists who deny evolution, or historians who deny the Holocaust?

          Here we go again. The evidence for the resurrection might be sufficient, but it’s not anywhere near as good as the evidence for evolution or the holocaust.

          • pete

            Thank you for conceding that the evidence for the resurrection is sufficient.

            And yes, I recognize that we happen to have the benefit of the living testimony from Holocaust surviors in our favour.

            But we won’t in another 100 years.

            I was merely commenting on the claim that the Gospels et. al are myth.

            In light of the evidence being tilted against the “myth” claim, the “mythologist” needs to present a plausible explanation with explanatory scope, and devoid of ad hoc or forced structures.

            If people want to cling to their myth hypothesis, so be it.

            However, they are ignoring the volume of a theologically heterogeneous (atheist to conservative) spectrum of scholarly consensus against the myth hypothesis, with a paucity of credible scholars in support of it.

            Hence my contrast of a historian who denies the holocaust and the scientist who denies evolution, with a historian who denies the minimal facts surrounding the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is both valid and sustained.

            • pete

              In the words of Mike Licona, “what-ifs” must be supported by evidence and argumentation.

        • Jag Levak

          “On the one hand you make “dull hypothesis” the baseline, but then invoke lack of multiple attestation for Gethsemane, the Temptation in the wilderness, et. al. You are holding a double standard.”

          I don’t understand the conflict you see there. The problem isn’t lack of multiple attestations. The problem is how the stories can attest to dialog which took place away from any witnesses.

          “Secondly, Angel Moroni, Loch Ness Monster et. al can all be investigated, and when there is a paucity of data, can be rejected.”

          Lack of evidence is only a form of evidence itself in cases where we can reasonably expect there should be evidence. Otherwise, the remarkable hypothesis remains a possibility, even if it is very unlikely.

          “Thirdly (and I repeat ad nauseum), court cases do not proceed the way that you approach your methodology.”

          Fortunately, I’m not trying to mount a court case. Even so, in criminal cases, there is a default null hypothesis which we call the presumption of innocence.

          “However, when the evidence is weighed, a person may be convicted on the evidence”

          At which point the null hypothesis is rejected.

          “Cases can’t be dismissed or affirmed based on speculative reasonings based on hypothetical scenarios…”

          Actually, it’s quite common for the defense to construct a plausible alternate scenario which can equally account for the evidence, in order to sustain reasonable doubt. And so long as reasonable doubt persists, that is entirely sufficient reason to withhold conviction.

          “Jesus has crucifixion, the genuine belief of the disciples that he was resurrected, and Paul’s conversion as a fact.”

          I don’t have direct access to whatever the facts may have been. What I have as evidence is a body of remarkable stories. What I’m looking for is something which makes the idea that the stories could have been made up somehow more remarkable than the content of the stories themselves. And I have not seen that.

          “If you want to tout the “myth” hypothesis, please attempt to disprove the genre of “bioi” in which the Gospels were written.”

          There is no need to argue for the dull hypothesis. It is, by default, a viable possibility, and remains so until it is overturned.

          “To put in perspective, would you assign any credibility to scientists who deny evolution, or historians who deny the Holocaust?”

          The idea of evolution came about when we figured out that sequential layers of fossils could be read in much the same manner as a record or transcript of life, and what we found in the record was a succession of similar but changing life forms. The mundane explanation is that the sequence of fossils simply is what it looks like. The remarkable explanation is that the fossil record isn’t what it looks like. So the burden is to overturn the mundane explanation. If a scientist wishes to do that, it has to be done with evidence and a theory that has greater explanatory and predictive power than the seemingly simpler hypothesis.

          “Just the same, it isn’t reasonable to assign any credibility to the claim that the resurrection is myth.”

          For the dull hypothesis to do its job, it doesn’t have to be believed. It only has to be seen as plausible.

          “Just the same, it isn’t reasonable to assign any credibility to the claim that the resurrection is myth. Either it happened (fact and testimony in favour) or it didn’t (Jewish claim that the disciples “stole” the body from armed Roman guards, and a 1 ton rock), and the evidence needs to be weighed on its own merits.”

          The evidence for the truth of a story cannot come entirely from the contents of the story. If the resurrection story is made up, then the guards and the rock are just made-up story elements as well.

          • pete

            unless you are stating subjectively that “the dull hypothesis” doesn’t have to be proven/is the baseline/is the default/is the presumption of innocence, and you like it that way, then that is your personal choice.

            Objectively, the “dull hypothesis” is simply that: Dull. It is an intellectually lazy (which I know you are not) position to hold stating: “well x is plausible, so I don’t have to be concerned with y until you prove that x is false”.

            I could just as easilly, yet just as intellectually lazy say “no actually y is plausible (and has more worldwide adherents), so I don’t have to be concerned with your minority x position until you show me that y is false AND has less subscribers than x”

            If you take issue with my “majority” position, recongize that it is just as intellectually lazy a criterion as the “dull hypothesis”.

            It’s kind of like covering your eyes, and asserting, “I can’t see you so you don’t exist”.

            However, you mention that “you don’t have access to what the facts may have been”

            That begs the question: in your worldview, with such importance riding on the line, do you care to know what those facts are?

            You do actually have access to the facts if you look.

            And as for the “equally plausible alternative explanation”, it also needs explanatory power, explanatory scope, and is less ad hoc.

            If you really think that Jesus was NOT raised from the dead by God, put forth your best alternate explanation to the resurrection hypothesis, allow it to be cross-examined, honestly defend it if you deem it to be the truth, and let the best explanation win.

            • Jag Levak

              “[If] you are stating subjectively that “the dull hypothesis” doesn’t have to be proven/is the baseline/is the default/is the presumption of innocence, and you like it that way, then that is your personal choice.”

              What I chose was to take what appears to be the most rational and best performing approach to managing vulnerability to error–borrowing liberally from the approach used in science. If I encounter a better approach to managing error, I will probably switch to that.

              “It is an intellectually lazy … position to hold stating: “well x is plausible, so I don’t have to be concerned with y until you prove that x is false”.”

              Avoidance of unnecessary work and complication might be considered laziness by some, but efficiency by others. And is your usual approach really so different? Let’s say we meet Joe, who tells us about how he was abducted by space aliens while he was asleep last night, and he was taken aboard their ship for a probing examination of him, and then the next thing he knew, he was waking up back in his own bed. If the entirety of his evidence is the testimony of his experience, I’m going to first look at all the ways he could have been sincerely mistaken (dream, drugs, medical problem, etc.) and then at the reasons he might have for being dishonest (prank, scam, desire for attention, coercion, etc.). I don’t leap first to the most remarkable account, and my feeling is that I’m not very unusual in that. In considering Joe’s tale, wouldn’t you want to consider the ordinary possibilities before you would accept the alien abduction possibility?

              “I could just as easily, yet just as intellectually lazy say “no actually y is plausible (and has more worldwide adherents), so I don’t have to be concerned with your minority x position until you show me that y is false AND has less subscribers than x””

              Actually, you don’t even have to offer any terms or qualifications. It is entirely your prerogative to say “I believe y through faith alone and my conviction is unshakable.” You are only constrained by considerations of reason if you want your position to be based on reason–or at least want it to look that way.

              “If you take issue with my “majority” position, recognize that it is just as intellectually lazy a criterion as the “dull hypothesis”.”

              Appeal to popularity is considered a fallacy because it increases vulnerability to error. I don’t see how withholding conviction in a remarkable account so long as there is a viable mundane possibility could have the same effect of increasing vulnerability to error.

              “you mention that “you don’t have access to what the facts may have been”… in your worldview, with such importance riding on the line, do you care to know what those facts are?”

              If a god came to this planet, that is definitely something I would like to know. And likewise for alien abductions, Loch Ness monsters, and leprechauns. There are a very large number of remarkable things that I would like to know about if they are true.

              “You do actually have access to the facts if you look.”

              It is a foundational principle of science that we have no direct and infallible conduit to facts beyond ourselves. What we have is evidence and probabilities. With careful application of rational error management, our beliefs can have good odds of being aligned with the facts, but whether they are in fact aligned with the facts is another fact we don’t have direct access to.

              “And as for the “equally plausible alternative explanation”, it also needs explanatory power, explanatory scope, and is less ad hoc.”

              If a mundane alternative fails to account for the evidence, then it simply fails as a mundane alternative.

              “If you really think that Jesus was NOT raised from the dead by God, put forth your best alternate explanation to the resurrection hypothesis, allow it to be cross-examined, honestly defend it if you deem it to be the truth, and let the best explanation win.”

              I’m not clear what would need explaining. There is no evidence beyond the Jesus stories themselves that I know of, but it’s not hard to suggest how remarkable stories might come about. To me, it seems most likely that the miracle parts of the Jesus stories have the same origin, basis and status as the flood fable, the rainbow fable, the Babel fable, the Sun-stopping / Sun-reversing fable, the donkey-talk fable, and other Biblical tall tales now widely regarded as “un-literal”. It’s nothing mysterious. Humans just like to make stuff up.

              • pete

                “What I chose was to take what appears to be the most rational and best performing approach to managing vulnerability to error–borrowing liberally from the approach used in science. If I encounter a better approach to managing error, I will probably switch to that.”

                Dude… you are way to smart, or must think that I am way to stupid, to think that your quote in any way resembles how science is done.

                You are better off saying:

                “I don’t want there to be any evidence for God, or the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I would be happier if his existence was myth. While I am at it, I will dismiss any evidence in opposition to my desire to be rid of the constraints that God or Christ can impose on ME. I will offer recycled defunct speculative denials of Christian evidence, but I WILL jump all over any superficial inconsistency in the biblical accounts. I DONT WANT TO BELIVE, AND YOU CANT MAKE ME”

                I don’t mean to single you out, but this is the resounding chorus offered to the academic and historical evidences for the resurrection from too many smart people people who willingly impose such a learning deficit upon themselves.

                It’s like seeing a drug addiction to ignorance that needs an intellectual intervention.

                • Jag Levak

                  “Dude… you are way too smart, or must think that I am way too stupid, to think that your quote in any way resembles how science is done.”

                  I’ll admit, it doesn’t much resemble Popper’s model of how the scientific method operates (if that’s what you had in mind) but there are some who think Popper’s formula is too narrow and rigid and doesn’t really reflect the actual process of science. (Henry Bauer’s book “Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method” presents one of the more readable and sensible alternative models I’ve run across – despite Bauer’s incongruous narrow mindedness in other areas) And it wasn’t so much the methodology of science I borrowed from as it was the principles of error management–avoiding unnecessary complication in hypotheses, trying to hold the assumptions needed to a minimum, preference for the known over the unknown, looking for integration with existing robust models, and so on.

                  “You are better off saying: “I don’t want there to be any evidence for God, or the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I would be happier if his existence was myth.”

                  I no more wanted to lose my belief in God than I wanted to lose my belief in Santa, many years before. But now that I am an atheist, I am an equal opportunity non-believer when it comes to all the gods of humanity. I will grant that there are some gods I would not want to exist, but I see no reason why all gods would have to be detestable, and even if I’m not sure I share Randal’s enthusiasm for the god he describes in his screeds against antitheism, I can surely grant in principle that it should be possible to have some god formulation which I would very much like.

                  But whether I might prefer that a given god exist, or not exist, my preference doesn’t have any effect on what is true, either way.

                  “While I am at it, I will dismiss any evidence in opposition to my desire to be rid of the constraints that God or Christ can impose on ME.”

                  I don’t have a problem with constraints per se. As a physical being, I of course live within a large number of physical constraints. And then on top of that, I’ve committed myself to ethical and rational constraints, so I plainly view some constraints as good.

                  “I will offer recycled defunct speculative denials of Christian evidence,”

                  Just to clarify here, when we are talking about evidence which attests to the truth of the Bible stories concerning the resurrection, does that evidence consist of anything other than the Bible stories themselves?

                  “but I WILL jump all over any superficial inconsistency in the biblical accounts.”

                  Have I done that? I understand that discrepancies don’t refute both–conflict only establishes one must be wrong, while the remaining one may or may not be. But it does point to areas which will need to be established independently.

                  “I DONT WANT TO BELIEVE, AND YOU CANT MAKE ME””

                  I don’t want to believe something if it happens to be false, and I generally consider it worse to commit to something false than to delay in committing to something that is true. Yes, I can’t be convinced by force or compulsion. But I think that’s true of most people.

                  “I don’t mean to single you out, but this is the resounding chorus offered to the academic and historical evidences for the resurrection from too many smart people people who willingly impose such a learning deficit upon themselves.”

                  A disciplined mind is, certainly, a mind which operates under self-imposed constraints. But the constraints are not there to impede all learning, but to preferentially impede unsound learning.

                  “It’s like seeing a drug addiction to ignorance that needs an intellectual intervention.”

                  I will always have areas of ignorance, and I think there is no shame in saying “I don’t know”. The shame would be pretending to know when I don’t.

  • MGT2

    And I thought that by all accounts, historians and the profession of histriography has largely settled on the fact that the Jesus of the Bible was indeed an historical person.

    Did they say otherwise? Recently?

  • http://leadme.org Jeff

    Randal, of those scholars who affirm the orthodox position on resurrection, do you have any rough guess as to what percentage of those scholars also affirm the historicity of the virgin birth?

    Because I feel reasonably confident in my belief that the virgin birth is not literal history. (Incidentally, that has less to do with any “philosophical dogma” on my part and more to do with the biblical evidence pointing away from literal history and toward legendary accretion). And although this may not be an entirely fair litmus test, I’m going to be rather suspicious of the biases of any scholar who affirms the historicity of the virgin birth.

    • randal

      I have no idea. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary Habermas has a statistic on that somewhere. One thing I tell my students is that the doctrine of the virgin birth is not a central dogma like incarnation and atonement but rather a supplementary doctrine which serves as a protective hedge for the doctrine of the incarnation. For this reason the repudiation of the doctrine by theologians like Pannenberg and Brunner, while aberrant, was not explicitly heretical.

      • http://leadme.org Jeff

        I should be a bit more specific. Tom Wright, for example, doesn’t merely affirm the virgin birth. He explicitly argues for it on historical grounds, in much the same way that he argues for the orthodox position on resurrection. Granted, he has invested much more of his energy on the issue of resurrection, and ascribes to it far greater doctrinal weight than he does to the virgin birth. Granted, further, that I’ve only read his summary of his position on the virgin birth rather than a full exposition. But I was left feeling very underwhelmed, and (whether fairly or not) this negatively colors my opinion of his scholarly work on the resurrection.

  • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

    Randal,

    You might be interested in this blog post of mine: http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com/2011/06/new-rule.html

    By the way, I agree that since the general consensus among historians is that there was an historical Jesus, we ought to side with them unless we have good reasons not to. In other words, I agree that the scholarly consensus offers us prima facie good reason to think there was an historical Jesus.

    Richard Carrier will be arguing against the scholarly consensus in his forthcoming two-volume work on the topic. I suspect he’ll be making at least a plausible case against the scholarly consensus, but we’ll see soon enough I guess.

    • randal

      Thanks for the link. Let me give some comments here.

      You write: “New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman will soon be writing a book against mythicism, so apparently he thinks it’s worth considering the view for more than two minutes.”

      The problem here is that it isn’t clear why Ehrman thinks it is worthy considering. That is, is it worth discussion for its intrinsic merits as a historical claim, or is it only worth discussing for its sociological ramifications? Young earth creationism is definitely worth more than 2 minutes for the latter reason but not the former.

      “Yet for all of the lack of credibility on Carrier’s part on the basis of being a mythicist (which is just crazy according to Christian apologists), I’m afraid that Craig has no room to speak here. He believes that after Jesus’ death, he was resurrected in an immortal supernatural body, and he lives on to this day. That is no less crazy than the view that Jesus never existed, as far as I can tell.”

      I don’t know about this. If we’re going to use the imprecise term “crazy” we need to be clear what we mean. Craig believes that the hypothesis that Jesus never existed is “crazy” relative to the data we have for his existence. For your charge against Craig to hold water, it would seem that his view of Jesus would also have to be “crazy” with respect to some set of data. But that’s where the problem arises because while Carrier adheres to his “crazy” claim as the best explanation of a set of data, Craig is of the view that he holds to his set of “crazy” claims as properly basic beliefs rooted in the testimony of the Spirit and not for their explanatory value relative to a set of data.

      • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

        Randal,

        Okay, Carrier’s view is “crazy” because it (apparently) contradicts the mountains of evidence to think there was no historical Jesus. Craig’s view is “crazy” because he believes that a magical man died for a weekend two thousand years ago and came back to life, and he still lives to this day, and he believes that because he thinks God told him in his heart that it was true.

        • randal

          Your comment on Craig’s craziness leads me to conclude that you have a powerful argument against Alvin Plantinga’s proper function account of warrant. (Craig is on board as affirming Plantinga’s epistemology, if not exactly Plantinga’s view of epistemic deontology with respect to defeaters.) So please share your account as to why Plantinga’s account of warrant (and rationality) fails, leading to the charge that Craig is crazy.

          • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

            Eeek! Did I say Craig was crazy for believing that a magical man died for a weekend two thousand years ago before coming back to life in an immortal and indestructible body and living on to this day–all because he thinks God tells him in his heart that it’s true?

            Sorry, what I meant to say is that Craig’s cognitive processes all seem to be functioning properly.

            :)

            • Frank

              “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.” – Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

              And with that I bid you all adieu for 2011. Too much to do between now and Christmas!

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Adieu, Frank, and bear in mind as you go that by that definition atheism is a religion.

              • randal

                Have an enjoyable winter solstice Frank. ;)

            • randal

              Landon,

              One calls Carrier “crazy” relative to a particular epistemology of history, i.e. one that views history as the construction of the best theoretical account of the available data. Since the available data strongly supports the existence of Jesus, Carrier’s denial of that is, on this view, “crazy”.

              You claimed that there is parity between this and Craig. But to call Craig crazy for his metaphysical/religious beliefs is to make a judgment relative to a particular epistemology of religion. Unfortunately for you there is no widely established epistemology of religion relative to which Craig could be called crazy in a way that parallels calling Carrier crazy for his eccentric historical theory relative to established methods of historiography or epistemology of history.

              I certainly don’t think Carrier is “crazy”. But even if Craig does, that doesn’t mean he is hoist with his own petard as you suggest.

              • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

                Randal,

                I get your point. Problem is, Craig thinks his view is also borne out by the evidence. In other words, he thinks, relative to the available evidence, the view that Jesus never existed is crazy, and the view that Jesus was a magical man who came back from the dead is warranted–indeed, he thinks its the “best explanation” of the data.

                You know, that’s why he debates the resurrection of Jesus without appealing to the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.

                • randal

                  I’m no Craig expert, but as I recall he starts off Reasonable Faith by establishing the difference between knowing Christianity is true and being able to show it is true. Craig believes he knows it is true because of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, not historical enquiry. The historical investigation may, in his view, show that Jesus rose but that is not how Craig knows Jesus rose from the dead.

                  As for the internal testimony of the Spirit, that actually has often been part of his debates, usually as the fifth argument (though Craig specifies that it is not an argument in the conventional sense).

                  So if you’re going to argue that Craig is crazy in a way analogous to Carrier you have to show that he is relative to a widely held epistemological standard which parallels that which obtains in historiography which Carrier seems to violate.

                  • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

                    Randal,

                    Your recollections are correct regarding the beginning of Reasonable Faith. He does indeed make the distinction between knowing Christianity is true and showing it’s true.

                    But are you claiming that Craig doesn’t also think we can know it’s true based on the evidence? In that case, perhaps you better go back and watch some of his debates about the resurrection of Jesus. (You’re right that he talks about the testimony of the Holy Spirit in some of his debates–namely, debates about the existence of God.)

                    In his debate with Carrier, for example, he argues that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of the data. This means he thinks you can know it to be true based on the actual, historical evidence–which he appeals to in making his case.

                    So Craig thinks that when we look at the actual (publicly-available) evidence, Carrier’s view is crazy, whereas his own view is well-justified. The religious epistemology stuff is set aside for the purposes of such a debate.

                    Thus, I don’t think your objection to my point is getting any traction here.

                    • randal

                      “But are you claiming that Craig doesn’t also think we can know it’s true based on the evidence?”

                      Landon, whether Craig believes the evidence is so strong that the only reasonable explanation is that Christ was raised by God is not really relevant because historians have all sorts of assessments on the likelihood of a given hypothesis being true which may differ from the assessment of other historians. So what? That doesn’t automatically warrant a crazy charge.

                      Anyway, that’s beside the point. This is what you originally wrote: “I’m afraid that Craig has no room to speak here. He believes that after Jesus’ death, he was resurrected in an immortal supernatural body, and he lives on to this day. That is no less crazy than the view that Jesus never existed, as far as I can tell.”

                      Your charge of inconsistency here is not rooted in Craig’s belief about the resurrection as a historical hypothesis. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that he believes several things which are implausible relative to the plausibility structures of some other people. But as I said, that pushes us back to the question of religious epistemology. Look at the specific beliefs you mentioned, for example, an “immortal supernatural body”. Where did Craig ever argue that as part of his historical argument? That’s a theological claim which he believes due to the testimony of the Holy Spirit (so he believes anyway). So if you are going to maintain the argument you have to argue against his religious epistemology which you haven’t done.

                      Finally, look at your opening: “If you believe that Jesus walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, raised people from the dead, and was himself resurrected from the dead, then you don’t get to dismiss the “Jesus never existed” theory as too silly or crazy to take seriously.”

                      Again, this is a claim broadly directed at what Christians believe which begs for a treatment of the underlying epistemology behind these beliefs.

                      For these reasons your argument, as stated, does indeed fail. I got traction all right. My mudders are tearing up your pristine wetland as we speak.

                    • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

                      Randal, whether Carrier believes the evidence is so strong that the only reasonable explanation is that Jesus never existed is not really relevant because historians have all sorts of assessments on the likelihood of a given hypothesis being true which may differ from the assessment of other historians. So what? That doesn’t automatically warrant a crazy charge.

                      (See what I did there? My point in doing that is to show that, if that’s your line of defense for Craig, then it applies equally well to Carrier. In which case Craig’s original complaint still doesn’t have any traction.)

                      Now, to address the rest of your comment. Your complaint boils down to the following: Craig can justifiably complain about Carrier’s belief because Carrier is positing an historical hypothesis which he takes to be justified by the historical evidence, when in fact the historical hypothesis is decidedly not justified by the historical evidence.

                      On the other hand, one cannot complain about Craig’s historical hypothesis on those grounds, because Craig is positing the historical hypothesis which he takes to be justified by the fact that God tells him it’s true deep in his heart. In other words, Craig isn’t offering the historical hypothesis with the claim that it’s justified by the historical evidence (when it is decidedly not). So the two cases aren’t equivalent. In order to complain about Craig’s view being crazy, one first have to refute Plantinga’s proper function account of warrant.

                      That, I take it, is the thrust of your objection here. But let me make a few comments:

                      (1) The mere fact that Craig thinks God told him it’s true does not prevent it from being crazy. A lot of people who claim to get information directly from God are indeed crazy for believing what they believe on the basis of the “testimony.”

                      (2) In any case, Craig does think the historical evidence warrants his view that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” This is why, as I said, he defends the historicity of the resurrection event on historical grounds. But it’s not clear to me why, given the historical evidence, it’s a lot more crazy to think that there was no historical Jesus than it is to think that Jesus was a magical man who came back to life.

                      (3) Moreover, if you want to claim that Craig’s bizarre epistemology saves him from the “crazy” charge, I wonder if you’d be willing to concede the same for Carrier. Look, maybe it’s “crazy” to think that there was no historical Jesus if you’re operating within the constraints of historical methodology. But as long as Carrier claims to get the information from some being who’s in a position to know, the “crazy” charge evaporates.

                      In that case, I guess we’d be saying: Look, it’s crazy for Carrier to believe what he does if he’s operating as an historian. But suppose he claims to have the testimony of Zorg deep in his heart, and Zorg tells him that there was no historical Jesus. (And do what you will with “Zorg” to make this adequate to fit a proper functioning account of warrant.) So, in summary: Carrier is crazy to believe this particular historical hypothesis if he’s operating as an historian, but not crazy to believe this particular historical hypothesis if he’s operating as a witness to the testimony of Zorg, who told him in his heart (while he read the New Testament) that there was no historical Jesus.

  • Frank

    Mike: “Jeff, You, Frank, and Robert do not seem to appreciate the nature of Hebrew prophecy.”

    Don’t forget, all of the Jews clearly also do not understand Hebrew prophecy, or they would agree with you.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Frank,

      “Don’t forget, all of the Jews clearly also do not understand Hebrew prophecy, or they would agree with you.”

      On the contrary, Jews not only understood it, but were the ones who taught it to the Gentiles. Jews wrote practically all of the New Testament – and its one presumably Gentile author relied on Jewish sources for his material. The original eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection was almost exclusively from among Jews.

      This reveals yet another of the well-attested recurring patterns in the Hebrew Bible – that prophets were polarizing figures and often created more antagonists than believers. Many of them were killed for their message, which usually was a call for repentance. Typically, succeeding generations would then embrace and venerate the martyred prophet (similar to the way our politicians lose their opponents and become lionized after death) and that’s how writings like Isaiah, Zechariah, and others came to be included in the Scriptures even though they were rejected in their own time. Jesus, however, as the ultimate prophet received the ultimate rejection in that any accounts of His life were barred from inclusion in the records, and all prophetic references to Him were recast with alternative explanations.

      Even so, there are still Jews today who come to acknowledge Jesus in the Scriptures, just as there are Gentiles who do so. The key, as I said earlier, is to be able to look God in the eye and say something like, “I am willing to embrace the truth if you will show it to me.” There is no amount of education in Hebrew prophecy, or in any other subject, that will lead a person to see the reality of the resurrection of Christ if that person is unwilling to see it.

      Therefore, if you are unwilling to see Christ, do not fear that Randal might one day offer some argument that is so compelling that you will not have the ability to resist. Your will is more powerful than the most finely constructed logic. And you have actually been demonstrating this to those of us who have watched your interactions with him.

      Every single one of us has more than ample reason to acknowledge the Christ who is in our midst, and humble our hearts before Him, living as morally as we know how, for the glory of Him who created us…and died for us…and was raised for us.

      • pete

        amen

  • Walter

    Because I feel reasonably confident in my belief that the virgin birth is not literal history. (Incidentally, that has less to do with any “philosophical dogma” on my part and more to do with the biblical evidence pointing away from literal history and toward legendary accretion). And although this may not be an entirely fair litmus test, I’m going to be rather suspicious of the biases of any scholar who affirms the historicity of the virgin birth.

    Jeff, you might like Raymond Brown’s work. Brown was a Catholic and thus was pretty much required, under pain of excommunication, to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but this is what he had to say on the Nativity stories:

    Brown cautions that “we should not underestimate the adverse pedagogical impact on the understanding of divine sonship if the virginal conception is denied.”[13] On the other hand, admits Brown, “The virginal conception under its creedal title of ‘virgin birth’ is not primarily a biological statement.”[14] He stresses that Christian writings about virginal conception intend to reveal spiritual insights rather that physical facts. Because record of the virginal conception appears only in two Gospels, and there only in the infancy narratives (which Brown suspects are largely fictional), the Catholic theologian tactfully concludes that “biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved.”[15]

    Brown mentions the possibility that “early Christians” might have imported a mythology about virginal conception from “pagan or [other] world religions,”[16] but never intended that that mythology be taken literally. “Virginal conception was a well-known religious symbol for divine origins,” explains Brown, citing such stories in Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Greco-Roman and ancient Egyptian theologies.[17] He proposes that early Christians “used an imagery of virginal conception whose symbolic origins were forgotten as it was disseminated among various Christian communities and recorded by evangelists.”[18]

    Alternatively, Brown also considers the possibility that Christianity’s founders intended to create the impression that an actual virginal conception took place. Early Christians needed just such a myth, Brown notes, since Mary was widely known to have delivered Jesus too early: “Unfortunately, the historical alternative to the virginal conception has not been a conception in wedlock; it has been illegitimacy.”[19] Brown writes that:

    Some sophisticated Christians could live with the alternative of illegitimacy; they would see this as the ultimate stage in Jesus’ emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant, and would insist, quite rightly, that an irregular begetting involves no sin by Jesus himself. But illegitimacy would destroy the images of sanctity and purity with which Matthew and Luke surround Jesus’ origins and would negate the theology that Jesus came from the pious Anawim of Israel. For many less sophisticated believers, illegitimacy would be an offense that would challenge the plausibility of the Christian mystery.[20]

    In summary, Brown leans towards a less miraculous explanation of Jesus’ early birth

    Above is excerpted from http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christian_Credibility.htm.

    • http://leadme.org Jeff

      Walter, I haven’t read Raymond Brown on this subject, but I have read John Spong’s Born of a Woman, for which he drew heavily upon Brown’s work. Thanks for the tip!

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Hi Walter,

      There are a few problems with your post referencing Raymond Brown and the very misleading article from which you obtained your information.

      You said, “Jeff, you might like Raymond Brown’s work. Brown was a Catholic and thus was pretty much required, under pain of excommunication, to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but this is what he had to say on the Nativity stories:”

      Brown was a Catholic, and one who confessed Jesus risen from the dead, not under pain of excommunication, but from deep and heart-felt conviction. To suggest that he would have thought otherwise is slanderous.

      You quote the article as saying, ” ‘The virginal conception under its creedal title of ‘virgin birth’ is not primarily a biological statement.’[14] He stresses that Christian writings about virginal conception intend to reveal spiritual insights rather that physical facts.” This article’s quotation from Brown and the following interpretation are very misleading. Note that even in the quotation, Brown says that the creedal statements of the church about the virginal conception are not PRIMARILY biological statements. They are, to be sure, far more than that, but they are not less than that. On the same page, Brown says of Matthew and Luke, that they “presuppose a biological virginity.”

      You quote the article as saying, “Because record of the virginal conception appears only in two Gospels, and there only in the infancy narratives (which Brown suspects are largely fictional), the Catholic theologian tactfully concludes that ‘biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved.’ ”[15]. The article implies that Brown is trying to steer a course between what the church teaches and what he himself actually believes. A fuller quote of what Brown actually says is as follows, “In my book on the virginal conception, written before I did this commentary, I came to the conclusion that the SCIENTIFICALLY CONTROLLABLE biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved. The resurvey of the evidence necessitated by the commentary leaves me even more convinced of that.” Brown was not trying to be tactful. He rather forcefully states that the historicity of the virginal conception cannot be resolved in any kind of “scientifically controllable” way. This is not in any way a denial of Brown’s own belief in the virginal conception, which, as we’ll see later, he definitely held.

      You quote the article as saying, “Brown mentions the possibility that ‘early Christians’ might have imported a mythology about virginal conception from “pagan or [other] world religions,”[16] but never intended that that mythology be taken literally.” Yes, Brown mentions that possibility, but he then goes on to deny the plausibility of that construction. Yes, he does call attention to other ancient accounts of virginal conceptions, but he then goes on to note how strikingly dissimilar they are to the biblical virginal conception narratives. When the article goes on to say that Brown, “proposes that early Christians “used an imagery of virginal conception whose symbolic origins were forgotten as it was disseminated among various Christian communities and recorded by evangelists.”[18], this is laughably misleading. Brown does not propose this; the article leaves out Brown’s introductory words to this quotation: “According to the theory”! Brown does not propose this; rather he simply note that it has been proposed. After surveying attempts to argue that the first Christians were influenced by these pagan apparent parallels, Brown then actually concludes, “In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.” This is directly opposite to what the article you are quoting suggests. The article borders on blatant dishonesty at this point.

      These examples should be sufficient to disabuse anyone of the notion that the article in any way fairly represents Brown. But I’ll give one last one. You quote the article as saying, “In summary, Brown leans towards a less miraculous explanation of Jesus’ early birth.” Here is a paragraph from Brown that shows this understanding to be extremely fallacious:

      “THE VIRGINAL CONCEPTION WAS A MIRACLE, even though the evangelists do not spotlight its marvelous character. Since the time of Origen (Against Celsus I 37) there have been attempts in the opposite direction to make it more acceptable by comparing it to natural phenomena, e.g., instances of parthenogenesis in animals, or, in modern times, to the results of cloning and experimental embryology. These attempts, though often well-intentioned, represent a misunderstanding of what Christian tradition intended by the virginal conception. IT WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY ACTION OF GOD’S CREATIVE POWER, AS UNIQUE AS THE INITIAL CREATION ITSELF (and that is why all natural science objections to it are irrelevant, e.g., that not having a human father, Jesus’ genetic structure would be abnormal). IT WAS NOT A PHENOMENON OF NATURE; AND TO REDUCE IT TO ONE, HOWEVER UNUSUAL, WOULD BE AS SERIOUS A CHALLENGE AS TO DENY IT ALTOGETHER.” (my emphasis).

      I trust that you yourself are innocently quoting from this article. The author(s) of the article is not so innocent.

      Blessings,

      Jerry

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Hi Walter, or anyone,

        As a postscript to my response to Walter, I thought I would mention as well that in the preface to his massive 2-volume work, The Death of the Messiah, written some time after he had completed The Birth of the Messiah, he has as memorable a paragraph as I have ever read in a preface:

        “A surprising number of people have asked if I plan a trilogy to conclude with The Resurrection of the Messiah. Responding with mock indignation that I have written two books on the resurrection (a response that conveniently ignores the fact that neither is truly a commentary), I tell them emphatically that I have no such plans, I would rather explore that area ‘face to face’.”

        Blessings,

        Jerry

      • Walter

        You said, “Jeff, you might like Raymond Brown’s work. Brown was a Catholic and thus was pretty much required, under pain of excommunication, to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but this is what he had to say on the Nativity stories:”

        Brown was a Catholic, and one who confessed Jesus risen from the dead, not under pain of excommunication, but from deep and heart-felt conviction. To suggest that he would have thought otherwise is slanderous.

        My response to Jeff was not meant to imply that Brown was not a true believer. I threw in that little snark about excommunication because I–and Jeff too, I suspect– have a distrust of scholarship that starts with a foregone conclusion, then works backwards to ensure that the “facts” fit.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          HI Walter,

          I’ll accept your explanation; but at the same time, you have to admit that the force of the comments seems to be: “Brown couldn’t let his scholarship deny the historicity of the resurrection, but he felt he could be a bit bolder with regards to the virginal conception, and ended up denying its historicity” — neither of which is, in fact, the case.

          Blessings,

          Jerry

          • Walter

            Brown couldn’t let his scholarship deny the historicity of the resurrection, but he felt he could be a bit bolder with regards to the virginal conception…

            That is pretty much the way I see it. I am not surprised that Brown retained his “orthodox” views on these tenets of his faith, but Brown seems more even-handed than Wright in his evaluation of the historical evidence wrt the virginal conception. Jeff, a liberal Christian, was disillusioned with scholars like Wright who seem to push stronger claims that the virginal conception can be proven on historical grounds. I agree with Jeff that any scholar who makes that claim is simply grinding an ideological axe versus objectively pursuing the truth.

            • Jerry Shepherd

              Hi Walter,

              I understand this is the way you see it; but I believe the non-manipulated quotes I produced from Brown’s writings shows that yours and the article’s construal of Brown’s stance is seriously flawed.

              Blessings,

              Jerry

              • Walter

                This Catholic apologist seems to disagree with you, Jerry. It appears from quotes found in the link below that several Christians feel like Brown weakened the historical case for the supernatural conception of Jesus. So it does not matter whether Brown still believed it at the end of the day. What matters is whether or not there exists good evidence for a supernatural conception, and Brown basically answered with a “no.”

                http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2009/04/was-fr-raymond-brown-liberal-modernist.html

                • Jerry Shepherd

                  Hi Walter,

                  Yes, he does seem to disagree with me, and he’s wrong. The post you referred me to was just a pastiche of quotes gleaned from anti-Brown authors, and very little from Brown himself. It is neither scholarly, nor cogent, nor Christian to argue in this way. Yes, I do think Brown gave away too much ground in his historical investigations. And there are scores of points where I would disagree with him. But, and please pay attention, in Brown’s own words, and I have quoted these to you, he definitely declares his belief in the virginal conception.

                  Then there are your last two sentences: “So it does not matter whether Brown still believed it at the end of the day. What matters is whether or not there exists good evidence for a supernatural conception, and Brown basically answered with a ‘no.'” First of all, yes it does matter, because you were suggesting that Brown confessed his belief in the virginal conception only grudgingly to satisfy church authorities. From his own words, that does not appear to be the case. And, second, no, Brown’s answer to whether there exists good evidence for a supernatural conception was not “no,” but rather, “unresolved,” as I have already quoted to you from Brown’s own words. If we’re going to discuss Brown’s theology and biblical-critical work, maybe we should do it at a scholarly level, relying on primary sources, i.e., Brown’s own writings, rather than secondary sources writing about Brown. So far you’ve used two of these, and neither one was scholarly or accurate. The research skills seem to be lacking.

                  Blessings,

                  Jerry

                  • Walter

                    Yes, he does seem to disagree with me, and he’s wrong. The post you referred me to was just a pastiche of quotes gleaned from anti-Brown authors, and very little from Brown himself. It is neither scholarly, nor cogent, nor Christian to argue in this way.

                    I am a blue collar worker, not a scholar. Oh, and I am neither Christian nor atheist.

                    Yes, I do think Brown gave away too much ground in his historical investigations. And there are scores of points where I would disagree with him. But, and please pay attention, in Brown’s own words, and I have quoted these to you, he definitely declares his belief in the virginal conception.

                    Yes he does. I already stated that I have little doubt that he continued to affirm all the required dogmas of orthodox Catholic belief, in spite of the weakness of the actual evidence. I see that quite a lot.

                    • pete

                      “I am a blue collar worker, not a scholar. Oh, and I am neither Christian nor atheist.”

                      Appreciated, but would you give me charity if I gave evolution a big dismissal and said, “I’m not a biologist, oh and neither am I a young earth creationist”

                      Its okay to admit you are wrong sometimes.

                  • Walter

                    And, second, no, Brown’s answer to whether there exists good evidence for a supernatural conception was not “no,” but rather, “unresolved”

                    Hair splitting at its finest. Unresolved seems pretty much the same thing as there being no good positive evidence.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Walter,

                      It isn’t hair splitting at all. If two teams are playing baseball, and at the end of nine innings, they are tied 3-3. Well, the game is unresolved, but you can’t say of one team that they scored no runs. Brown does present evidence for and against historicity, and he goes on to say, “it is easier to explain the NT evidence by positing historical basis than by positing pure theological creation.” This is a far cry from saying there was “no good positive evidence.” (You might want to think twice if you are ever asked to keep score at any Little League games)

                      Blessings,

                      Jerry

                    • Walter

                      Jerry,

                      All of this started with Jeff’s wish to read the work of a scholar that did not try to prove the virginal conception on historical grounds. From what I have read, Brown fit that bill nicely, so I recommended Brown. I am not a Christian and therefore I believe that all Pro-Resurrection scholars are wrong, so to put it bluntly: I don’t much care what either liberal Raymond Brown or conservative N.T. Wright believes. If you feel like taking on a fellow Christian over the virginal conception then scroll on down to the bottom of this comment thread and engage with Jeff. He just listed quite a few very good reasons why the virginal conception is likely ahistorical.

                      Cheers

              • Walter

                Here is another quote for you:

                But despite countless honors and accolades — Brown received 24 honorary degrees, many from Protestant institutions — Fr. Brown drew sharp criticism from the late Lawrence Cardinal Shehan and others for his pioneering role “in a new Catholic theology founded on modern exegesis” that cast doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith.

                These articles of faith, proclaimed by Popes and believed by the faithful over the centuries, include Jesus’ physical Resurrection; the Transfiguration; the fact that Jesus founded the one, true Catholic Church and instituted the priesthood and the episcopacy; the fact that 12 Apostles were missionaries and bishops; and the truth that Jesus was not “ignorant” on a number of matters.

                Not least, though, was Fr. Brown’s exegesis concerning the infancy narratives of Saints Matthew and Luke that calls into question the virginal conception of Jesus and the accounts of our Lord’s birth and childhood.

                Excerpted from here:

                http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=525

                • Jerry Shepherd

                  Hi Walter,

                  Ah, another non-primary, secondary, tendentious, dubious, misinformative source.

                  How was it Randal started off this discussion? Oh, yes. I’ll keep the train going. Three dubious, secondary source, misinformative websites are still three dubious, secondary source, misinformative websites.

                  Blessings,

                  Jerry

                  • randal

                    “How was it Randal started off this discussion? Oh, yes. I’ll keep the train going. ”

                    I’ll shovel some coal in the firebox if need be but you seem to be doing allright for now.

                • Jerry Shepherd

                  Hi Walter,

                  The embedded level doesn’t allow a reply right under your last post; so I’ll have to quote you and then reply.

                  You said, “All of this started with Jeff’s wish to read the work of a scholar that did not try to prove the virginal conception on historical grounds. From what I have read, Brown fit that bill nicely, so I recommended Brown. I am not a Christian and therefore I believe that all Pro-Resurrection scholars are wrong, so to put it bluntly: I don’t much care what either liberal Raymond Brown or conservative N.T. Wright believes. If you feel like taking on a fellow Christian over the virginal conception then scroll on down to the bottom of this comment thread and engage with Jeff. He just listed quite a few very good reasons why the virginal conception is likely ahistorical.”

                  My concern was not over the virginal conception — I’ll let Pete and Jeff hash that one out unless they think they’d like my two cents worth. My only concern was misrepresenatve remarks you made about Brown on the slenderest of evidence from misleading internet sites, without ever looking at any of his actual work, which I then quoted to you and you still ignore. Very unscholarly, and very unkind, regardless of what color collar you wear.

                  Blessings,

                  Jerry

                  • Walter

                    My only concern was misrepresenatve remarks you made about Brown on the slenderest of evidence from misleading internet sites, without ever looking at any of his actual work, which I then quoted to you and you still ignore. Very unscholarly, and very unkind, regardless of what color collar you wear.

                    Is reading comprehension not your strong suit? I have REPEATEDLY stated that I agree that Brown affirmed orthodox dogmas until his dying day. What exactly are you claiming that I am ignoring? Brown CLEARLY makes far weaker claims concerning the historical evidence for the virginal conception than Wright does, and this was what Jeff was looking for. Jeff claimed that he was familiar with J.S. Spong’s book “Born of a Woman” where Spong cites Brown’s work as an inspiration. Apparently, a large number of people do tend to think of Brown as weak on historical evidence, including yourself, so again, what is the problem? Never mind. I don’t really care.

                    I don’t know why you have such a bee in your bonnet about my comments? Shouldn’t you and Randal be busy squabbling over the Calvinism/Arminian debate in the other thread?

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Walter,

                      You are the one who introduced Brown by making, by your own admission, a “snark” remark about Brown having to defend the resurrection under threat of ecclesiastical censure; and then try to disingenuously declare you don’t really care.

                      You are the one who tried to make yourself look scholarly by citing three suspect websites with regard to Brown’s historical investigation — and yet never citing Brown himself.

                      You are the one who tried to turn Brown’s verdict of “inconclusive” evidence into “no” evidence at all.

                      You are the one who said “Never mind. I don’t really care” — and then kept on talking. The last resort of those who get tired of losing and decide to take their ball and go home.

                      I do get a bee in my bonnet when I see a scholar of whatever stripe unfairly misreprented by someone who has not taken the time to read any of that scholar’s work, and whose only research tool seems to be the Google button.

                      Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, and Blessings,

                      Jerry

                    • Walter

                      You are the one who tried to turn Brown’s verdict of “inconclusive” evidence into “no” evidence at all.

                      There is no historical evidence beyond two wildly contradictory infancy narratives.

                      And that is fact, Jerry

                      Blessings right back at ya

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Walter,

                      You keep trying to shift the dicussion. My posts to you have not been about the historicity of the infancy narratives. They have been about your misrepresentation of Brown’s historical investigation of these narratives. And those are the facts.

                      Blessings,

                      Jerry

  • pete

    If you guys wanna keep trotting out doubts about the virgin birth as a defeater to faith, so be it.

    Let the speculation abound.

    However, if you were to honestly engage with the academic evidence for the resurrection, you may see that the virgin birth, much like the origin of all creation, isn’t too too much for God to tackle.

    • http://leadme.org Jeff

      Hi Pete,

      I’ve never said anything about the apparent non-historicity of the virgin birth being a defeater to faith. As I said, I am a committed Christian, though perhaps not by the standards of most evangelicals.

      And my objection to the virgin birth isn’t that it’s too much for God to tackle. Rather, as I mentioned, that the biblical evidence itself (along with external historical evidence) points toward those narratives as legendary accretion rather than as literal history.

      • pete

        Jeff: How does the biblical evidence, and external evicence, point to the virgin birth as being legendary?

        (sorry I know this is a bit off the topic of this post)

        Walter: I extend my apologies if this was meant to be a side discussion. However, all to often, if one point of faith (resurrection) is adequately defended, other “weak spots” (virgin birth?) get picked on.

        I was meaning to show that if the resurrection stands as history, unless there is proven evidence to the contrary (we have a piece of Jesus’ DNA that matches with Joseph), or the nativity narrative matches the literary genre of greco-roman mythology, then there is no good reason to doubt the virgin birth apart from an over-naturalistic pre-supposition.

        I didn’t mean it as a pointed attack, or to suggest you haven’t done your research on the topic.

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          Pete, you said:

          “Jeff: How does the biblical evidence, and external evicence, point to the virgin birth as being legendary?”

          Sorry, I am meaning to get back to you about this as soon as I get a chance. As you might guess, it will take a bit of time and work for me to summarize.

          “(sorry I know this is a bit off the topic of this post)”

          Yeah, somewhat. Although the original post wasn’t limited to resurrection but opened the door to Jesus scholarship in general, so I think the virgin birth is fair game here. And just to reiterate, my reason for introducing the topic of the virgin birth was not to pick away at the credibility of the gospels, but rather as it relates to potential biases affecting the work of orthodox resurrection scholars. See my note about Tom Wright above.

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          Pete, one other quick point for now:

          “I was meaning to show that if the resurrection stands as history, unless there is proven evidence to the contrary (we have a piece of Jesus’ DNA that matches with Joseph), or the nativity narrative matches the literary genre of greco-roman mythology, then there is no good reason to doubt the virgin birth apart from an over-naturalistic pre-supposition.”

          I don’t see how this follows at all. As I see it, Jesus’ resurrection (whatever exactly, ontologically, it was) was the defining event that re-constituted Jesus’ scattered disciples, gave them boldness in the face of persecution, and caused them to see clearly that in Jesus, they had met God. The birth narratives are of secondary (or tertiary?…) importance and none of the new testament writers were eye witnesses to the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, whatever those events may have been.

          There’s no reason whatsoever to think that the resurrection and virgin birth must stand or fall with one another. Unless one has an inerrantist, all-or-nothing theology.

          • http://leadme.org Jeff

            PS:

            I didn’t mean to imply that you were taking the all-or-nothing position on this. But one can affirm the resurrection without therefore taking the position that the birth narratives ought to be innocent until proven guilty.

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          Alright, Pete, sorry for the slow response on this. Busy time of year and all. You asked:

          “How does the biblical evidence, and external evicence, point to the virgin birth as being legendary?”

          I’ll try to summarize the high points as I see them, as quickly and concisely as reasonably possible (to be sure, though, it’s a bit bigger a topic than would normally be fitting for a blog comment). And just a note, right off the bat, that I’m not trying to disprove the virginal conception (as if such a thing were possible), but rather to demonstrate that it isn’t plausible as literal history. Also a note that I’ll break this up over several comments, to make for easier reading.

          [continued below...]

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          [...continued]

          1) The VC is mentioned nowhere in the New Testament corpus, until relatively late in the game. No mention in Paul, no mention in Mark. Nothing until Matthew and then Luke. True, this is an argument from silence, but with so remarkable an event as this, one might reasonably expect some earlier mention. Certainly a rather strange omission from Mark, as he was presenting a Jesus portrait. And although one could argue that it wasn’t really of direct concern to Paul for his particular writings, he certainly had a pretty good opportunity to mention it (the “born of a woman” selection in Galatians 4).

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          [...continued]

          2) Not only is there no mention in Mark, but Mark includes a detail that severely undermines the plausibility of the VC. Mark 3:21 reads (NIV): “When [Jesus'] family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” Several verses later in Mark 3:31, we read that Mary herself was among Jesus’ family members who thought he was “out of his mind” and who came to “take charge of him.” This episode, near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, illustrates that Jesus’ own family didn’t perceive his Messianic role, at least initially. Not even Mary his mother, who purportedly had conceived him as a virgin, and who purportedly had been visited by the angel Gabriel and told by Gabriel that Jesus would be “the Son of the Most High” and conceived by the “power of the Most High.”

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          [...continued]

          3) The Lukan and Matthean birth narratives are notoriously difficult to reconcile with one another, without doing violence to one narrative or the other. One could try to marshal this as some sort of backhanded support for the VC (independent double attestation), but several of the historical details just don’t fly and cast serious doubt on the literalness of both narratives. There are serious discrepancies between the genealogies (they don’t even agree on who Joseph’s father was). Herod’s slaughter of the innocents has no historical attestation external to Matthew’s account. Again, an argument from silence, but it casts serious doubt on the historicity of the Matthean narrative. The Lukan census suffers from a number of historical implausibilities (Herod the Great was the relevant ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth, not Quirinius; no attestation of this census external to Luke’s account; there was no known Roman practice of requiring people to return to an ancestral city for a census; Mary purportedly traveled some 70-80 miles to Bethlehem (on a donkey?) while she was “great with child,” which as one feminist commentator (can’t remember a name or exact quote here) quipped: only someone who has never given birth could come up with such a narrative).

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          [...continued]

          4) The Isaiah 7:14 prophecy (the *virgin*–or rather “young woman”–shall be with child), from which Matthew presumably drew his inspiration (and then Luke from Matthew?) cannot plausibly function as any sort of Messianic prophecy, let alone as a prophecy specifically about Jesus. This point has already been touched on earlier in this thread so I won’t here elaborate any further.

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          [...continued]

          5) As also has been previously touched on in this thread, the early Christians had several compelling motivations for constructing such an account of Jesus’ origins. First, the scandal associated with Jesus’ birth, as the gospels themselves make plain. Second, the desire to paint a portrait of Jesus as God’s Son. Incidentally, John doesn’t seem to have much need for a VC narrative because he takes the developing NT Christology to the next level by suggesting that Jesus was God’s eternal logos (though this is still not, it seems to me, as developed a Christology as the Nicene one). Another motive may have been to up the ante on previous miraculous conception narratives in the OT (eg, Isaac), thereby painting Jesus as greater than any OT figure. Yet another motive may have been to subvert Roman imperial ideology (Julius Caesar and Augustus were both purported to have been born of virgins).

        • http://leadme.org Jeff

          [...continued]

          Those are the main, most relevant high points, as I see it. On purely historical grounds, the weight of the evidence renders the VC as decidedly implausible. Furthermore, the VC itself renders the accounts as very highly implausible, since virginal conceptions do not normally (ever?) occur. Take note, by the way, that that isn’t the case due to a naturalist bias per se. Orthodox Jews, for example, (most of whom share the same general supernaturalist outlook as do most orthodox Christians) have just as strong a reason as do naturalist atheists to consider the VC as very highly implausible on this account.

          So in summary, I’d be more willing to give someone like Tom Wright a pass if he affirmed the VC primarily in terms of faith and tradition. But Wright severely undermines his scholarly credibility by explicitly arguing for the historical plausibility of the VC. His methodology appears to me to be that the orthodox position is to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and he appears to assume a very high burden of (dis)proof.

          • pete

            Jeff:

            Thanks for the thoughtful response.

            Based on the evidence you provided, a rating of “underdetermined” might be more academically honest.

            Remember, all you have provided is an argument from silence. You may doubt the historicity, but devoid of any evidence to the contrary, the plausibility remains inctact, unless one adheres to purely naturalistic presuppositions.

            There is one text you mentioned which undermines your position, namely Jesus’ argument with the Jews over his identity.

            As a retort to Christ’s rebuke for doing the works of Satan, the Jews counter with, “We are not illegitimate children”

            I admit that this is my reading of the text, and I will consult with scholars on the matter in the coming weeks, but this seems plain response to “questions” surrounding Christ’s birth, and the identity of his father.

            This seems to fulfill the criterion of embarassment, if nothing else.

            While you so far have only arguments from silence and no evidence in your favour, I may have the criterion of embarassment, and multiple attestation.

            VC is winning so far.

            • pete

              Sorry Jeff:

              The above citation is John 8:41.

              Now theologically a non-virgin birth is heretical, apart from the denial of the plenary inspiriation of scripture.

              Namely, it would be an incoherent revelation of the Ontological Trinity if Jesus’ had a biological father.

              Jesus came as fulfillment to the Jewish Law, and breaking the 5th commandment would be no way to go about such a task.

              If this father was Joseph, the husband of Mary, then Jesus was blatantly dishonoring him by claiming that God, and not Joseph was his father. In a Jewish patriarchal system under the Torah, this would be a huge offence.

              If this father was not Joseph, Mary was an adulteress. Now how comfortable does anyone feel about calling the “Theokotos” a whore?

              In addition to the blatant heresy this entails, (not to mention if someone accused my mom of stepping out…. knuckles would be chucked…. multiply by infinite for God)…. priesthood was a right of hereditary succession. Priests were also forbidden from marrying non-virgins.

              To institute the high priesthood in the order of Melchizidek, the heir of hereditary succession had to be born of a woman who was not defiled by a man. Since Jesus is the Son of God, his mother could not have known a man, since Jesus was inhereting this priesthood from his father…. God.

              And despite the “virgin”/”young woman” debate of Isaiah 7:14, even if the text said “young woman” it is understood that a young woman…. not a married woman…. in this Hebrew context, is a defacto virgin.

              In short, you can make a statement that the virgin conception is historically implausible if you are wedded to naturalistic presuppositions. However, there is more evidence in favour of VC than not. It has the criterion of embarassment and multiple attestation in its favour. It is also recorded very early, and is included in all the early manuscripts. It also boasts prophetic prediction.

              However, and most importantly, it is a second order fact in support of the messianic idenity of Christ…. which was not thought in Jewish terms of being divine.

              The Death and Resurrection of Christ are the first order evidences of who Jesus was, and is, and is to come.

              • http://leadme.org Jeff

                Two more quick notes as well: You’re largely relying on an assumption of Christian orthodoxy to try to make your case for you. You can’t do that, if you’re trying to argue for the historical plausibility of the VC. And the “purely naturalistic presuppositions” is a red herring that I’ve already addressed.

                As Jerry Shepherd kindly says, “Blessings.” I’m certainly not trying to attack your faith, Pete. Again, I am a Christian myself. A mature faith must not only face the facts, but rather must embrace the facts and learn and grow from them! If you still find my argument unconvincing, then fine. But just know that I am certainly not trying to attack you or your faith.

            • http://leadme.org Jeff

              Sorry once again, Pete, for the slow response.

              “All you have provided is an argument from silence.”

              Really?! I’m tempted to ask whether you read everything I wrote, but of course I won’t ask that!

              I think rather than trying to re-argue every point, I’m going to go with one argument in particular and press a bit further with it. And that is my argument #2, which I’ll repeat here before continuing:

              Not only is there no mention of the VC in Mark, but Mark includes a detail that severely undermines the plausibility of the VC. Mark 3:21 reads (NIV): “When [Jesus'] family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Several verses later in Mark 3:31, we read that Mary herself was among Jesus’ family members who thought he was “out of his mind” and who came to “take charge of him.” This episode, near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, illustrates that Jesus’ own family didn’t perceive his Messianic role, at least initially. Not even Mary his mother, who purportedly had conceived him as a virgin, and who purportedly had been visited by the angel Gabriel and told by Gabriel that Jesus would be “the Son of the Most High” and conceived by the “power of the Most High.”

              So to continue this argument:

              Pete, do you have any plausible way to understand this episode, if indeed Mary had conceived Jesus as a virgin and had been visited by Gabriel? It seems highly unlikely that Mary would have ever thought Jesus was out of his mind, if indeed the VC and related events were historical occurrences. I suppose one could try to argue that since this was near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, some 30 years after the birth events, Jesus’ initial ministerial actions caught even Mary by surprise, hence her seemingly odd reaction. But I find that to be a very implausible explanation (after all, the events of Jesus’ birth are purported to have been truly remarkable, and hadn’t Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”?) And in any event, John’s gospel destroys whatever slender plausibility that explanation may have had. Mary herself is supposed to have forced Jesus’ hand at the outset of his ministry, at the wedding of Cana (the water into wine episode).

              So if the orthodox position is true (namely: VC as literal history, the “out of his mind” and water into wine accounts as literal history), we have a truly bizarre series of events: Mary conceives Jesus as a virgin and is visited by Gabriel. At the wedding of Cana–before Jesus had commenced his ministry (“Dear woman…my time has not yet come”)–Mary herself forces Jesus’ hand and catapults him into his ministry, by prodding him to perform a miracle. Then, inexplicably, soon thereafter she thinks he is out of his mind and comes to take him away. This just isn’t plausible!

              Alternately, let’s assume for a minute that the VC was a legendary accretion, and see where that gets us: Jesus’ conception and birth were biologically unremarkable (though they were marked by some sort of scandal). No visit by Gabriel. Mary has no particular reason to suspect the future course of her son’s life. At roughly the age of 30, he starts gathering a cadre of disciples into a John-the-Baptist-style outcast movement (locusts and wild honey and all that). Very soon he’s butting heads with the religious authorities (Mark 2:18-22). Likewise, very soon he is claiming authority to heal the sick and crippled (Mark 1 & 2) and even to drive out demons! (Mark 1:21-28). At this point, his family–including Mary herself–thinks he’s gone off the deep end, and comes to take him away and bring him back to reality. Hmm, makes pretty good sense.

              Incidentally, the details in Mark 3:21 & 31 certainly seem to be historical, since they definitely have the criterion of embarrassment going for them. And these details certainly were embarrassing. Check out Luke’s parallel account (Luke 8:19-21) and note how he excised the damning details. Also note John’s corroboration of the initial friction between Jesus and his family (John 7:5). As for the wedding of Cana episode, many scholars consider it to be a legendary or an allegorical account, and it’s not attested in any of the synoptics.

              One last (unrelated) note about your argument that John 8:41 fulfills the criterion of embarrassment in favor of the VC. I don’t see that at all. Sure, it may support the historicity of the exchange between Jesus and the pharisees in John 8, but that’s it. No support for the VC. Rather, it is simply yet more evidence that Jesus’ birth was widely and publicly considered to have involved some sort of scandal (I certainly wouldn’t call Mary a “whore”–I have no idea what the details of Jesus’ conception may have been). Hence the need for an apologetic device such as the VC to deflect the scandal.

            • http://leadme.org Jeff

              Two more quick notes as well: You’re largely relying on an assumption of Christian orthodoxy to try to make your case for you. You can’t do that, if you’re trying to argue for the historical plausibility of the VC. And the “purely naturalistic presuppositions” is a red herring that I’ve already addressed.

              As Jerry Shepherd kindly says, “Blessings.” I’m certainly not trying to attack your faith, Pete. Again, I am a Christian myself. A mature faith must not only face the facts, but rather must embrace the facts and learn and grow from them! If you still find my argument unconvincing, then fine. But just know that I am certainly not trying to attack you or your faith.

    • Walter

      However, if you were to honestly engage with the academic evidence for the resurrection…

      “Honestly” engage?

      Am I being dishonest simply because I do not agree with the conclusions of Wright?

      I have not read every single pro-resurrection tome that exists because I have other things to do in life besides reading apologetics, but I daresay that I have studied the evidence sufficiently, and I feel that I have done my due diligence on the subject.

  • Robert

    This is relevant, not to the original post, but to some of the discussions we’ve been having.

    http://ntwrong.wordpress.com/2008/09/24/resurrection-of-jesus-as-mass-hallucination/

  • pete

    Robert,

    I like how your blogger calls himself “N.T. Wrong”….. halarious

    There is so much wrong with has anecdotes that it is not halarious.

    For some 3rd hand education (talk to psychiatrists and/or psychologists if you like), a hallucination is a sensory experience devoid of a sensory source.

    Schizophrenics sometimes have experience of seeing and hearing things that are not real, yet it is a personal sensory experience…. kind of like having a dream.

    So to say that the disciples, 500 other people at various times, James the brother of Jesus, and Paul all had a “mass hallucination” is a load of garbage.

    Cleopas and the other disciple are said to have seen Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. The 12 saw him in an inner room. Those would have to be two different hallucinations.

    To quote Mike Licona, Psychoanalysis is tough enough when a person is sitting on the couch in front of the doctor. Forensic psychoanalysis of persons deceased for approximately 2000 years, with no credible biographical data and no symptoms/pathology/evidence is pretty lame.

    The problem with the hallucination theory is too huge to mention in its entirety, but I’ll focus on “climate of expectancy”

    Nobody expected Jesus to be alive or raise from the dead. The disciples actually would have more reason to feel betrayed, duped, let down that Jesus was not the messiah between the time of his death and resurrection.

    And there are far too many natural explanations as to why the armies of Constantine and Ashiburnapal might not have spoken up against erroneous claims of experiencing a mass miracle…..

    “Off with your head” seems to come to mind at first glance.

    And those weren’t reported as hallucinations, but a shared observation of an event, reported as true.

    Mass hallucination is bunk.

  • pete

    Not to mention that I have not seen any of these so-called “hallucination pundits” offer any scrap of credentials for professional psychological training which may qualify them to render a verdict of “mass hallucination”.

    Lets apply this logic to the current scandal in the RCMP over the harassment of female police officers.

    Maybe senior management can say, “they mass hallucinated it”

    Would that fly?

    Can we put the intellectual junk that is the “hallucination hypothesis” out to the curb for transport to Ghenna already?

    If not, can someone defend it without resorting to academically dubious material?

    Much appreciated

    • Robert

      NT Wrong seems to agree with your assessment of mass hallucinations and I do too: They are very implausible.

      The argument he makes is that reports of visions were often recorded with the addition of more witnesses and therefore the reference to 500 makes is some evidence that we are being handed an embellished report. The vision itself would have been an individual experience, but the report and oral tradition it generated could include references to a group.

      He gives examples of this happening in other ancient (and presumably relevant) texts.

      • pete

        I’m glad you agree that mass hallucination is bunk, and I appreciate your willingness to say so.

        The problem with casting the “500+” account in Jesus’ case in the same light as Ashiburnapal and Constantine, is that it comes from Paul, who was opposed to the church, until something REALLY REALLY DISCOMFIRMATORY occurred.

        1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is generally accepted to be written in AD 51 or 52, and holds unanimous acceptance that Paul is the author.

        The corpus of the text shows it to be a doctrinal/creedal formula which points back to being held by the Jerusalem apostles.

        Paul really really did not personally benefit from his testimony…. see 2nd Corinthians 11:24.

        Said eyewitness (apostles), and secondary sources (Luke, Mark…. Mark possibly a witness to the risen Christ himself) record the same thing.

        Here we have multiple, independent attestation, which Ashiburnapal and Constantine do not enjoy.

        Secondly, it is one thing to make a statement that Ashiburnapal and Constantine record a mass witness of a phenomena. It is quite another thing to have multiple sources make primary recordings of the event.

        For instance, we have contradictory reports with Lactantius and Eusebius, and no reports of any soldiers or captains. I am unaware of anything similar in Ashiburnapal.

        In addition, the mere recording of the army events did not require life altering change, as did the faithful testimony to Jesus.

        These witnesses, who were in a position to know if the event was true or false, AND NOW THAT WE HAVE DISMISSED MASS HALLUCINATION, willingly endured ridicule, torture, and martyrdom (HISTORICAL) for their faith.

        Thus the testimony of the historical resurrection, and the hypothesis itself, is far superior to any alternate explanation or hypothesis regarding the same.

        • Walter

          1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is generally accepted to be written in AD 51 or 52, and holds unanimous acceptance that Paul is the author.

          The corpus of the text shows it to be a doctrinal/creedal formula which points back to being held by the Jerusalem apostles.

          Assuming that this creedal formula is not a later interpolation in the text, then at best we have something that was passed on to Paul by an unknown third party. We do not have ANY testimony from these alleged 500 witnesses about what they saw, where they saw this person, and how they knew it was Jesus.

          What we have in actual evidence is the letters of Paul, who had a vision of Jesus, and who never met Jesus in the flesh. And we have four canonized gospel stories which are of unknown provenance, and whose authors apparently did not sign their work. These authors make some contradictory claims about where and when the disciples saw the resurrected body of Jesus (was it Jerusalem or Galilee?), and none of these four stories makes any explicit reference to 500 witnesses seeing Jesus “all at once.”

          As far as the claim that the disciples were all ridiculed, tortured, and martyred, I think you will find those tales more legendary than historical. Even though some may have been executed, we can’t know for sure the charges against them or whether they had any chance to recant.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Walter,

            I was so grieved when I read this. Pontius “What is truth?” Pilate couldn’t have said it better himself.

            • pete

              Mike:

              I love it

          • pete

            Let the double-standards abound:

            You have no proof that 1 Cor 15:3-8 is a later interpolation. It is in all the early and late manuscripts. Feel free to look it up for yourself.

            On the Gospels (and New Testament), over 95% is quoted in the patristic writings alone. Even liberal scholars date the writings earlier that the patristic sources which quote.

            There is nothing legendary about Paul’s sufferings, and everything historical about the martyrdoms of Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus. Since I think you aren’t a fan of Christian testimony, see Josephus on the martyrdom of James.

            Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. You present a young earth creationist with every and all reason for belief in evolution….. and like the stubborn donkey on “Family Guy” who says “Kevin Bacon wasn’t the star of Footloose”….. the young earther says…. “nuh uh…… its in the Bible….see, and if you don’t believe it, you’re going to hell”.

            You are just the same. So attached to your naturalistic presuppositions, that you rail against the miraculous to the point that “dull hypothesis”, “mass hallucinations”, and “the legendary nature of suffering” gets passed off as something intelligent, while brushing off the ocean of academic and historical certifiable material in support of the resurrection.

            C’mon man. You wouldn’t like it if the young earther took this approach with you.

            Please do unto others as you would have done unto you.

            • Walter

              You have no proof that 1 Cor 15:3-8 is a later interpolation. It is in all the early and late manuscripts. Feel free to look it up for yourself.

              I said "if" it is not an interpolation. Our earliest manuscripts for Paul are from the late second century. Lot of time unacounted for.

              On the Gospels (and New Testament), over 95% is quoted in the patristic writings alone. Even liberal scholars date the writings earlier that the patristic sources which quote.

              Not sure what that has to do with the veracity of the originals? I’m not claiming that our copies are flawed, I’m claiming that we don’t have good reason to trust the originals.

              There is nothing legendary about Paul’s sufferings, and everything historical about the martyrdoms of Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus. Since I think you aren’t a fan of Christian testimony, see Josephus on the martyrdom of James.

              Tell me exactly when each was martyred and what the charges were against them. And tell me where you sourced this information.

              • pete

                1) Paul and Peter in the 14th year of Nero = A.D. 67 or 68 —- Eusebius of Caesarea “Church History”. He relied on other sources in his compilation, as any historian would. He was sometimes uncritical of his patron, Constantine. And I know he gets ragged on as biased.

                The funny thing though, is that his bias does not pertain to being uncritical of the history of the church, but of the life and deeds of Constantine…. “Life of Constantine”

                The other funny thing, is that Eusebius was a heretic. He was a supporter of Arian Christianity (modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses).

                He was operating within Christendom, after the Edict of Milan, and after the Council of Nicaea. And there was no such thing as “atheism”. He didn’t have to prove Christ rose from the dead. Every Christian, Orthodox or Arian believed that anyways. He also did not collect his works to support either Arianism or Orthodoxy.

                James —– early 60’s A.D. — Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1.

                Instead of telling you my paraphrase of the texts, go educate yourself by reading them yourself. Then you will be in a better position to continue discussion on the matter, with something original to say.

                Most likely, under the persecution of Christians by Nero after the great fire of 64, Peter and Paul would simply have been singled out and killed for being Chrisitian. The historical evidence indicates at “formal trials” Christians would be given an opportunity to recant. Regrettably some did. However, Tacitus reports that Nero was so cruel, that he killed Christians for sport, and set them ablaze to light his gardens.

                A.D. 64 was pretty early, dontcha think? How about A.D. 51 and 52 for Paul in 1 Corinthians? How about A.D. 48/49 for 1 Thessalonians? How about A.D. 36ish for the Damascus Road event?

                How about the excommunication of Christians from Jewish synagogues in A.D. 89/90?

                And you seem miffed that we only have manuscripts from A.D. 200. Before I get into an apologetic about manuscripts, please do a little research into other ancient documents that you consider historical, and see what the time period between the event itself, the first recording of the event, and earliest extant
                manuscript is.

                I trust that the accounts I have cited are devoid of mythical quality, and seem to report the bare facts. For this reason I did not inlcude Hegesippus’ account of James martyrdom, although it can be easily reconciled to Josephus.

                But it is better if you read it for yourself.

                http://www.ccel.org

                • pete

                  Walter:

                  And you say “‘if’ it’s an interpolation” and continue on talking saying “that’s quite a long time”

                  I repeat: You won’t get anywhere in discourse, rhetorical or academic, by resorting to see through leaky tactics.

                  Don’t suck and blow. Do you think 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is a later interpolation?

                  If yes, back it up with FACTS and agumentation based on FACTS.

                  If no, accept it and move on.

                  • Walter

                    I realize that many Christians won’t accept the possibility of interpolation without manuscript evidence, but Robert Price does make a case for interpolation here:

                    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/apocrypha.html

                    For the record, I will say that I doubt that it is an interpolation. I stand by my original statement that at best we have a case of Paul passing a creedal formula that he received from an unknown third party; and the gospel authors themselves seemed unaware of this group of 500 witnesses, seeing as how they did not record the event.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails…”

                      Walter, you shall have your day.

                    • pete

                      Walter:

                      Thank you for agreeing that 1 Cor 15:3-8 is not a later interpolation.

                      However, Mike Licona does some great work to show that this passage goes back to what the Jerusalem apostles were teaching. Paul records his concordance with the apostles in Galatians 1:18-2:10. Here in an undoubted Pauline text, we have his affirmation of fellowship with the Jerusalem community. In addition to his Damascus Road experience, he gets the straight goods from Peter, James, and John.

                      We should now reject any silly notion that Paul “magically made up or heard” unsubstantiated reports.

                      Furthermore, 1 Corinthians, like Paul’s other letters, is a letter to a group of people where Paul usually founded a chuch (except for Romans). The 500 people mentioned in the text is not so easy to dismiss.

                      He asserts that many of those people are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. As we see shortly in the future in 2 Corinthians, Paul’s authority was being challenged (criteria of embarassment) by the “super apostles”.

                      If Paul was making up the comment about the 500, many of whom were still alive to either confirm or deny the post-resurrection experiences, this could be verified.

                      The other question it begs is with respect to best plausible explanation for the rapid rise of Christianity.

                      Now that we’ve dismissed mass hallucinations, later interpolations, and the dubious origins of 1 Cor 15:3-8, and have much greater evidence in support of the concordance of Paul`s teaching (earliest), with the Canonical gospels, this text should be understood as an early authentic teaching of the truth of the Risen Lord, by the eyewitnesses themselves.

                • Walter

                  James was killed for being a “lawbreaker.” Nothing in Josephus about James dying because his brother was a resurrecting demigod.

                  I feel that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Peter and Paul were executed, but the details are quite murky as to exactly where and why. How about the remaining disciples? Apologists try to paint a picture of them all dying a martyr’s death, so where is your evidence?

                  • pete

                    What do you think “lawbreaker“ meant in a subordinated theocratic society as first century Jewish Palestine…. (sorry my computer is funny, and won`t let me put a question mark)

                    It might have had the same connotation as why Jesus was put to death…. blasphemer

                    Not to mention that Josephus records this event as an illegal lynching.

                    And as for Peter and Paul, do you seriously doubt that the two pillars of the church were killed for anything other than Christianity(q)….. after Nero is recorded by Tacitus as blaming the Great Fire of 64 on Christians, who he then sought out to execute in the most cruel and exotic fashion(q)

                    However, what we have of the fates of the rest of the disciples is circumstantial evidence found in tradition… but for what it is worth, the tradition is pretty strong.

                    http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CN500APOSTLES%20FATE.htm

                    The above linke gives you a starting point for conducting your own inquiry on the matter.

                    While these are 2nd order facts in support of the veracity of these men`s claims, the martyrdoms of Peter, Paul, and James should give you a strong hint that they died for their faith in Jesus, to whom they were eyewitnesses…. and certainly did not reap any worldly benefit for their efforts.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

                    Paul tells us in Galatians that he went out preaching for three years before he even met the apostles in Jerusalem. His sources were clearly not Peter and James.

                    • pete

                      In the same book, he also confirms receiving instruction from the Jerusalem apostles on the life, death, resurrection of Christ, thus confirming his own experience even further.

                      But taking your comment at face value, there’s a difference between preaching what he experienced and preaching the life, death, and resurrection, as known by the Jerusalem apostles.

                      The kerygma (1 Cor.15:3-8) is a doctrinal formula which includes the mention of Peter and James.

                      It would be pretty tough to preach the names of people you assert weren’t his sources, had they not been his sources.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

                      Pete,

                      On the contrary, Paul says quite clearly that “they added nothing to my message.” Gal. 2:6. It is not unreasonable to suppose that he learned things when he visited Peter and James, but in no way does Paul credit them with instructing him.

                      During the time that Paul was persecuting the church, he no doubt learned that appearances of the risen Christ were part of their beliefs and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he learned at that time the identities of those who were claimed as witness to those appearances.

                      BTW, if Peter and Paul died in Nero’s persecution, they were not put to death for their Christianity. They were put to death for arson as they were being framed for starting the fire for which Nero himself was responsible. The fact that Christians were unpopular made them convenient scapegoats but belief in Christ was not the charge brought against them.

  • Walter

    “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails…”

    Walter, you shall have your day.

    I really hope so, Mike.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Walter, I’m glad to hear that.

  • Pingback: Whatever Became of the Apostles? | Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God()

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

    How many historical Jesus scholars are required to adhere to a faith commitment by the institutions at which they work? How many can lose their jobs for publishing conclusions that are contrary to their employer’s beliefs in inerrancy or inspiration?

    • pete

      Vinny:

      You say that like all historical Jesus scholars are committed Christians. Clearly, that is not the case.

      Is your beef with Paul on this point a subtle attempt to cast doubt on what Paul and/or the disciples understood “the resurrection” to be? Do you think one or both parties thought the resurrection to be non-corporeal, and spiritual in nature?

      On your previous comment regarding Paul and Galatians 2:6, it is contextually quite clear that “those held in high esteem” is a reference to Judiazers who were pushing circumcision on new converts.

      Was this just a quick glance through on your part, hence your clear mistake?

      Next, it is highly dubious to think that Paul was brought up to speed by those he persecuted, as opposed to Cephas and James he met on his initial visit to Jerusalem after 3 years, or the fellowship extended to him when he went to Jerusalem with Barnabas after 15 years.

      Would you be so kind as to present some case for your belief on this point, as opposed to half-hearted doubt cultivation?

      The thrust of your comments seem to be a bit of muck-slinging against the historical resurrection.

      If you have good reason to think that Jesus’ corpse is still in the ground, I’m all ears.

      • pete

        And as per the arson comment, you are correct in asserting that Nero blamed Christians for the fire initially to shift suspicion that he set the fire himself, and persecution was initiated.

        However, to press your conclusion to its logical consequence, you would have us believe that the wildly innovative and cruel propigation of execution and torture was a result of the suspicion of “fire starter”.

        It would entail that Nero continued, over four years, to commit such horror because he thought the Christians were arsonist.

        He did it because he hated them, and it was a convenient method of deflecting suspicion for the fire from himself.

        Its like saying that the Jews were killed in the Holocaust because they were subverting the German economy and patriotism….. it may have been the excuse, but it was it the reason?

        NO….. Hitler actually killed Jews because he was an evil maniac who hated Jews.

        Just like Nero killed Christians because he was an evil maniac who hated Christians.

        Thus, Peter and Paul were martyred for their faith.

        Next.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

        Pete,

        Since Galatians 2:9 refers to James, Cephas and John, as “those esteemed as pillars,” and Galatians 2:4 refers to the Judaizers as “false brethren,” even a more extended perusal leads me to the conclusion that “those who were held in high esteem” in Galatians 2:6 is referring to James, Cephas, and John rather than the Judaizers.

        Paul must have known something of the early Christians beliefs or he wouldn’t have bothered to persecute them. Since Paul doesn’t even go to see the apostles in Jerusalem for three years and he doesn’t present his gospel to them for another fourteen years after than, I’m not sure where you get the idea that Paul felt any need to be “brought up to speed” on anything.

        To the best of my knowledge and experience, the overwhelming majority of supernatural stories are the product of some combination of ignorance, gullibility, wishful thinking, superstition and want of critical thinking rather than the product of actual supernatural events. Also to the best of my knowledge and experience, people who die invariably stay dead. I think this gives me more than sufficient reason to think much more likely than not that Jesus’ corpse remained in the ground.

        I do not think that all historical Jesus scholars are committed Christians. However, I think the existence of institutions which expressly require the scholars they employ to defend a particular position creates a source of bias that is likely to skew the consensus.

        I am not sure that Nero’s attitude towards the early Christians is comparable to Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. However, Hitler killed Jews regardless of their specific religious beliefs. He did not care whether they were agnostic, devout or converts to Christianity. By the same token, I think that it is doubtful that Nero was terribly concerned about what Christians believed.

        • pete

          Your interpretations on Paul’s theology and Nero’s persecution are not impausible, but for the sake of this thread I simply disagree that you make a convincing case, as I’m sure you will disagree with my conclusions which I have already stated.

          On the issue of the Resurrection,granted that some institutions excercise an undue bias on their employee’s research, either for a given hypothesis, or against anything that threatens the status quo.

          And granted that naturalistic presuppositions have the added benefit of trespassing into over-credulity on anything labelled as a “miricale”, “anomaly”, or otherwise.

          However, you are making a metaphysical claim which you exclude the possibility of the miraculous.

          Naturalism cannot account for the “first cause”, “prime mover”, et al, of all that we experience (laws of nature included) in this universe.

          You are entitled to your world view, however recognize that your assertion that the cause of the universe a priori CANNOT raise Jesus from the dead is a metaphysical leap of faith.

          In fact, it is such a leap of faith that it rejects a long list of genuine miracle claims over thousands of years, and namely the Resurrection of Jesus, which has great historical backing.

          I agree with you 100% that we should not be methodologically credulous on such matters of importance.

          However, undue skepticism can lead to exclusion of valid evidence.

          For that reason, we should be methodologically neutral with respect to the Resurrection Hypothesis, and go where the evidence leads us.

          Anyhow, thanks for the discussion and engagement…. I’m off for Christmas Dinner.

          Blessings to you Vinny!

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I make no assertion that God cannot raise someone from the dead. My problem is that I don’t know of any criteria by which it is possible to distinguish a supernatural story that is the product of an actual supernatural event from one that is the product of common human foibles.

            In order for evidence to lead me somewhere, I need to be able to rely on the natural processes of cause and effect that I observe in the world. The reason I think that fingerprints on a gun constitute evidence of who handled it is that I understand the processes by which the patterns found on human fingers come to appear on other objects and I believe that those processes act consistently. If I thought that fingerprints appeared on objects randomly or by divine fiat, then fingerprints on a gun wouldn’t be evidence of anything.

            Because I know nothing of the processes by which miracles occur, I have no basis to conclude that any particular evidence I might observe is more likely to be the product of a supernatural event rather than a natural one.

            My problem with miracles is epistemological, not metaphysical.

            • Walter

              My problem with miracles is epistemological, not metaphysical

              My thoughts exactly.

              Even if Jesus really did heal the sick, multiply loaves of bread, raise the dead, walk on water, resurrect and fly off to a remote heaven, I have no good way of knowing if what I am reading is legitimate or not. Any “revelation” from God that comes to me through a human medium is suspect.

              • pete

                Walter:

                You have access to historical sources.

                • Walter

                  I you think history can prove miracle claims, you obviously are no historian.

                  • pete

                    I think history recorded a miraculous event.

                    Your blinders prevent you from even looking at the evidence

                    • Walter

                      That’s a lot of bluster, Pete.

                      Since my deconversion several years ago I have read almost every apologetic argument for the resurrection that I can get my hands on. It just chaps you and Mike that not everyone sees the same overwhelming evidence that you see. I don’t consider it an impossibility that Jesus resurrected, I consider it to be an implausible event, and every Christian should agree that resurrections are implausible events (they don’t happen every week). The question is: is the available evidence we have strong enough to persuade us that the event really happened despite the prior implausibility of a man walking again a day and a half after his death? The answer is: the evidence will be sufficient for some but not others. We can say the same when it comes to evidence for bigfoot, alien abductions, crop circles, ESP, and a host of other paranormal claims.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Walter,

                      We should consider Randal’s blog a chap-free zone.

                      As for resurrection, I think of it as rare rather than implausible. And I say what follows for informative, not argumentative, purposes: When I think of events like resurrection my mind goes to things like seasons, a solar or lunar eclipse, conception and birth, and so on. I do not think of it as a “paranormal” event like “bigfoot, alien abductions, crop circles, and ESP.” For me, the category to which resurrection belongs is of normal, even if rare, events; the second is abnormal, weird events. That is, resurrection seems to me to be in the normal course of the creation I see, even if one has not yet occurred, even if, thereby, it is an not yet precedented extension of that normal order. The other things, by contrast, seem strange aberrations of creation order – if they exist at all. I don’t know exactly what to think of this difference between us (i.e. resurrection showing up in one category in my mind but in a completely different one in your mind), but there it is. (And, by the way, I think I would have said this even when I was an agnostic, for I would only have said I could not know whether the resurrection of Jesus Christ had actually occurred as reported; I would not have said such an event – had it occurred – was paranormal. On the contrary, it would be as normal as a apple seed dying in the ground and becoming an apple tree, or a caterpillar entering a cocoon to become a butterfly.)

  • Jag Levak

    [pete wrote] “I do not think that all historical Jesus scholars are committed Christians.”
    “we should be methodologically neutral with respect to the Resurrection Hypothesis, and go where the evidence leads us.”

    Are there any non-Christian Jesus scholars who hold that the resurrection was historical?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Jag Levak,

      Are there any non-Laker basketball fans who hold that the Lakers are their favorite team?

      • randal

        heh heh heh

    • randal

      Your question is ambiguous. It could mean: (1) Are there any non-Christian Jesus scholars who who hold that the resurrection was historical whilst remaining non-Christian? or (2) Are there any non-Christian Jesus scholars who came to hold that the resurrection is historical and thereby became Christian?

      The one famous answer to the first question is Pinchas Lapide.

      As for the second question, I don’t know any Jesus scholars who would fit that description. (But neither have I ever investigated the matter.) Anyways, the more interesting form of the second question is whether there are any non-Christians who became persuaded of the historicity of the resurrection based on sound historical argumentation. And there are many cases that fit that description.

      • http://leadme.org Jeff

        I’m not familiar with Lapide, but a quick google search turned up this quote from him (commenting on Jesus’ bodily resurrection):

        “I would not exclude such a resurrection as within the range of possibility.”

        Hardly a ringing affirmation. Or is that a quote from earlier in his academic career, and later he came to positively affirm the bodily resurrection?

      • Jag Levak

        “Your question is ambiguous.”

        And amusing, it would seem, though I thought it was a fairly natural question given the premises that not all Jesus scholars are Christians, and that we should go where the evidence leads us regarding the historicity of the resurrection.

        “It could mean: (1) Are there any non-Christian Jesus scholars who who hold that the resurrection was historical whilst remaining non-Christian?”

        I gather there are Hindus who don’t have a problem with the idea of Jesus being the avatar of a particular god, while nonetheless remaining polytheistic non-Christians. Even among Christians, there are some who believe in the historicity of cemetary-loads of people coming back from the dead without even being curious who these people were, much less thinking they might be deserving of worship merely for having returned from the dead, so presumably it is possible to believe in resurrections, but also to have an interpretive framework which renders some resurrections unimportant, or at least not deserving of worship.

        or (2) Are there any non-Christian Jesus scholars who came to hold that the resurrection is historical and thereby became Christian?

        I’ve heard numerous Christians claim that they became Christians as a result of a fair and objective evaluation of the evidence, but 1) such stories are evangelically self-serving, and I know many Christians embrace the idea of the noble lie, and 2) the part that always seems to be missing from such stories is the actual evidence they found so compelling (or even explaining how evidence can overcome the improbability of a miracle). But a current non-Christian scholar who believes in the historical resurrection of Jesus would be a much more interesting case and would lend a great deal of credibility to the idea that such a conclusion could be based on an unbiased analysis of the evidence.

        “The one famous answer to the first question is Pinchas Lapide.”

        The quote I see most frequently attributed to him related to this point is “I would not exclude such a resurrection as within the range of possibility.” But even I would agree with that, and there is nothing in it which entails holding that the resurrection was, in fact, historical. And I’m guessing if he had any quote which was a more full-throated endorsement of the historicity of the resurrection, that’s the quote people would be plastering the web with.

        “As for the second question, I don’t know any Jesus scholars who would fit that description. (But neither have I ever investigated the matter.)”

        And it’s probably not worth investigating, unless you can find one who actually remembers how the evidence fairly and impartially led to that conclusion.

        “Anyways, the more interesting form of the second question is whether there are any non-Christians who became persuaded of the historicity of the resurrection based on sound historical argumentation. And there are many cases that fit that description.”

        I’m not clear how that is more interesting. Mostly, it looks like you dropped the scholarly attribute. And this sound historical argumentation, I assume that would include the the Bible narrative, and the views of Christian scholars that at least some parts of the narrative are true. Would it include anything beyond that?

        • pete

          Paul’s early conversion is historical bedrock. I believe the evidence points to his conversion being due to seeing the risen Christ. Do you have a better explanation?

          The disciples had genuine belief, for which they died, bcause they truly believed they saw and touched the risen Christ. I say believe the evidence more than strongly points to the veracity of the actual testimony. Do you have a better explanation?

          And since it is historical bedrock that Jesus was executed, very strong historical likelihood that the tomb was empty, the only implausible explanation offered is that “the disciples stole his body”. In addition to the apostles and Paul’s testimony, there were people called Christians in Rome… not Jerusalem… in the mid-sixties A.D. who were notable enough a presence to be persecuted and killed for their faith.

          I believe that the historical bedrock, biblical narrative, Pauline Epistles, conversion of James, martyrdoms, patristic writings, and rise of Christianity within such a non-legendary context confirms the historical fact:

          That Jesus rose from the dead.

          Unless you can provide a more cogent, plausible account for the evidences in a manner that substantiates the potential non-historicity of the resurrection, you are deluded in a continued metaphysical, epistemological, or naturalistic rejection of the evidence and its conclusion.

          Such rejection seems more or less a current day fulfillment of “they hated me without cause” (John 15:25)

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

            Pete,

            I don’t think there is any historical bedrock. All we have are more or less reasonable guesses based on highly problematic evidence which consists of ancient supernatural stories whose authorship is for the most part uncertain, whose sources are unknown, that were recorded decades after the events they purport to describe, and that were written from the perspective of fervent religious belief. Any attempt to determine the actual events that gave rise to the composition of these stories is inherently speculative and conjectural.

            Imagine trying to write the history of Joseph Smith and the founding of the Mormon church with your only sources being the accounts written by Smith’s most devoted followers twenty-five years after the events. You might be able to put together a general timeline of the Mormons’ journey from upstate New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and finally to Utah, but unless you treated your sources with the utmost skepticism you would likely wind up with a story that was wrong in all sorts of important points. You might think that there were more than a dozen people who saw the Golden Plates. You wouldn’t know about the bank fraud or the Mountain Meadows massacre. You might even think that Smith was a devoted a faithful husband to a single wife.

            The only reason we can write a reasonably reliable history of the first fifty years of the Mormon church is because we have contemporaneous accounts from outsiders, i.e., non-Mormons who dealt with the church and ex-Mormons who left the fold. This is precisely what we are lacking for the first fifty to one hundred years of Christianity and why nothing that we know rises to the level of historical bedrock. Everything we know about the propensity of human beings to believe in supernatural stories without evidence and to re-imagine events for propaganda purposes should cause us to be very wary about taking the New Testament accounts at face value.

            • pete

              Vinny,

              Spoken like someone who is not a historian nor has objective interest in history.

              Non-Christians such as Elaine Pagels, and avowed atheists such as Luedemann would disagree with you.

              The sources for Jesus death by crucifixion, the disciples belief, and Paul’s conversion is historical bedrock.

              Your “I don’t think’s” rooted in subjectivism cast any doubt on the historicity of the above, except to the uninformed who don’t care to or stubbornly refuse to engage the literature.

            • pete

              Vinny,

              Spoken like someone who is not a historian nor has objective interest in history.

              Non-Christians such as Elaine Pagels, and avowed atheists such as Luedemann would disagree with you.

              The sources for Jesus death by crucifixion, the disciples belief, and Paul’s conversion is historical bedrock.

              Your “I don’t think’s” rooted in subjectivism fail to cast doubt on the historicity of the above, except to the uninformed who don’t care to or stubbornly refuse to engage the literature.

          • Jag Levak

            “Paul’s early conversion is historical bedrock. I believe the evidence points to his conversion being due to seeing the risen Christ. Do you have a better explanation?”

            As I understand it, what we have is Paul’s report of his conversion, apparently prompted by a vision. Oral Roberts reports having had a vision encounter with a 900 ft. tall Jesus. Visions abound in other religions as well. I’m not convinced visions are a reliable source of information.

            “The disciples had genuine belief, for which they died, because they truly believed they saw and touched the risen Christ.”

            I gather most of the stories of their deaths derive from church tradition. Even if the deaths occurred as described, there have clearly been people who were willing to die for beliefs which most people would consider mistaken. (eg, Heaven’s Gate) It also seems curious to me that there were supposedly people with Jesus at the time of the transfiguration, and when he walked on water, and when he raised the dead, but that wasn’t enough to inspire a single one of his followers to sit watch at his grave?

            There have been cases of people proving difficult to kill (eg. Rasputin) and people coming back after others mistakenly thought them dead, so I would have thought the appearance and personal endorsement of Moses, Elijah, and God himself, or even the water-walking trick should have been a lot more impressive, but apparently his disciples didn’t see it that way, which is odd.

            “I say believe the evidence more than strongly points to the veracity of the actual testimony. Do you have a better explanation?”

            What I have are the many ordinary ways humans can arrive and have arrived at incorrect beliefs. What I lack is a good reason to consider those possibilities less likely than the miracles of Jesus.

            “And since it is historical bedrock that Jesus was executed,”

            I think it is highly probable that people by that name were executed. Whether any of them were recognizably similar to Bible Jesus is another matter. I do, however, think it unlikely Pilate ever behaved as described in the supposed trial of Jesus.

            “very strong historical likelihood that the tomb was empty, the only (implausible) explanation offered is that “the disciples stole his body”.”

            Even if the tomb story is largely accepted, there are many more possibilities than that. Even very unlikely naturalistic possibilities, such as removal by space aliens, would still be less remarkable than the back-from-the-dead god-man hypothesis.

            But there is a lot about the tomb story which is contentious and suspect, so it isn’t clear what, if anything, about it warrants acceptance. At the end of the day, we don’t have the evidence of the empty tomb, what we have is a strange and questionable story about an empty tomb. Because somehow, Christians managed to lose track of the site of one of the most important miracles in the entire Christian narrative. This was the miracle that supposedly so impressed his followers that even threat of death could not shake their conviction after that, but the very location of this miracle was apparently a matter of utter indifference to them. If any site merited reverence as a holy site, seems like that one should have been pretty much at the top of the list — if it ever existed.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    To vinnyjh and others who doubt the resurrection of Christ,

    One of the crucial deficiencies in your approach to the the resurrection of Jesus that I continue to see in addition to an inadequate appreciation of the ample evidence of it we have of it through New Testament sources, many of whom gave all that they had in life including the last full measure of devotion to bear witness to this truth, is an inadequate appreciation of the myriad prophecies of Messiah’s resurrection the Old Testament, including the fact that much of the Old Testament does not make sense without it. For example, Jesus points out a great riddle in Psalm 110 when He asks the Pharisees (in Matt 22), “Whose son is the Messiah?” When they respond, “David’s,” He says, “How then does David call him ‘Lord’?” This left the Pharisees completely stumped. The explanation of the riddle, of course, was revealed when Jesus was raised from the dead. That is, David could call the Messiah “Son” until the resurrection when he began to call Him “Lord.” Without the resurrection, the riddle remains unsolved. Neither Joseph Smith nor Muhammad nor any other would-be Messiah has such an autobiographical account written in advance. Therefore, reject the resurrection if you will, but do not do so under the illusion that it is no more well-attested than any other supernatural claim. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is attested to by the Old Testament as well as the New Testament – and each testament is, of course, itself a collection of multiple witnesses. The attestation of Christ’s resurrection is thus the most unique of any event in human history.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Pete,

      The unfortunate problem for your theory is that the gospels were written by men who believed Jesus to be be the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. This of course raised the possibility that the stories were intentionally written to conform to the prophecies.

      I have no doubt that you can point to many ways in which the resurrection stories are different from all other supernatural stories. What I do doubt is that you can establish any empirical basis for thinking that those particular differences are more likely to be the product of an actual supernatural event than the product of human foibles.

      • pete

        The problem of your theory of my theory is that you naively think that people just up and believed 12 illiterate Jewish farmers…. and … poof….. Christianity appeared.

        I am a little more salient on points such as Paul, The Old Testament, the corpus of the New Testament, non-canonical gospels, the development of the early church, persecution and patristic writings.

        If the gospels, which were not the earliest sources of the Resurrection Hypothesis, were my only source, then you may have an argument from silence.

        However, all you have is a close your eyes approach to the vast sums of literature, claiming, “I don’t see you so you don’t exist”.

        Show me credible evidence in support of whatever theory you are putting forth (what is your theory by the way), and I’ll engage with it.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Pete,

          I don’t know what happened. I think the original events are probably irretrievable but there is nothing strange about that when it comes to ancient history.

          • pete

            the ancient reports are not irretrievable……. they are preserved quite well……. and they beat out any other ancient events, in depth/breadth/veracity/proximity by a long shot!!

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

              I do not claim that the reports are irretrievable.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Pete,

          People just up and believed Joseph Smith when he told them that an angel had given him Golden Plates which nobody else could see. What makes you think that 1st century Jews and gentiles were any less gullible than 19th century Americans?

          Smith’s followers endured lots of hardships as well and there are 14 million Mormons today after less than two hundred years. Does that make any of it true?

          • pete

            Well the fact that Mormonism posits a 13th tribe of Israel in the Americas, devoid of any semetic DNA found in said Americas makes it suspect.

            If you have read the Book of Mormon (and the King James version of the Bible), you would recognize a fertile imagination on the part of Smith.

            Josiah + Moses = Mosiah…..

            Joseph Smith made contradicted prophecy, had dubious witnesses, did not perform a single miracle, and was a man of disrepute.

            He was not reported to have risen from the dead under the power of God.

            Now if I understand your argument, are you complaining that there are just too many truth claims out there which makes coming to the truth too tough for critical thought?

            I agree that we should critically assess truth claims that are being made. However, 10 falsities do not lessen the truth of the truth.

            Neither do 100 fasities, nor do 1000 falsities.

            There is much more evidence for the resurrection than the gospels, which are not even the earliest sources.

            If you want to defend Mormon truth claims, be my guest. I will pick them apart until the cows come home.

            However, you are either unaware of the material for the resurrection which I cite, or you deliberately refuse to engage in it.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

              I didn’t say that the apostles didn’t think that Jesus was the risen Messiah. I said I think that it could have been later believers who shaped the narratives of Jesus’ life to fit the Old Testament prophecies. I know that it came to be accepted that Jesus was the risen Messiah but I’m not sure how that belief evolved.

              • pete

                Okay…. for the sake of your “could have been”…. how late are you asserting the later interpolations to be?

                All synoptics prophesy the fall of Jerusalem, but no fall is mentioned.

                The author of Hebrews also prophecies the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, but still states that the Old Covenant has not yet passed.

                Paul, again, is the earliest source we have. 1 Thessalonians in 48/49 A.D., and 1 Corinthians in 51/52 A.D. Romans was written before Paul’s death in 64-68 A.D., and most likely in the late 50’s.

                Romans is an undisputed Pauline text, and is chalk full of messianic interpretation of Old Testament scripture. Hebrews is also full of Messianic clarification not only of OT text, but OT institutions such as the Tabernacle and the Sacrificial system

                (for these reasons and others, I am one of few people who don’t dismiss Pauline authorship of Hebrews)

                Further defeat of your suspicion is evident in the early patristic writings which quote Paul’s letters.

                While it is not central in any way to the Ressurection Hypothesis, your sidetrack into questioning Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophecy, vis-a-vis a purported later interpolation of Christian understanding of Jesus to fulfill OT prophecy, does not hold up under scrutiny.

                If you have any evidence to defend your suspicion, or refute my position, please feel free to correct me.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

              Pete,

              My argument is that the history of Joseph Smith and the Mormons shows that people will accept supernatural claims without the slightest evidence whatsoever and they will undergo severe hardships and risks for the sake of their belief in those claims and they will convince themselves that they witnessed events that substantiate those claims. Therefore, the fact that early Christians became convinced that supernatural events had occurred and the fact that Christianity spread the way that it did are not sufficient to show that there is in fact any historical truth to any of its supernatural claims.

              • pete

                Vinny,

                You are correct in observing that peopple illogically follow religion/superstition/in-group mentality without critical or moral thought.

                Some Chrisitians are also guilty of the same.

                However, what differentiates the eye-witnesses of the resurrection, to Joseph Smith who was killed in jail, and Muslim suicide bombers who are looking for their consorts and hang-over-free booze, is that the eye-witnesses were in a position to confirm or deny their own resurrection experiences.

                Mike Gnatt more than adequately exposited the ridiculousness of the disciples making up the resurrection accounts, and you and I both agree on the dubiousness of Mormon Origins.

                Mormonism’s historical weaknesses do not belong to Christianity.

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

                  Pete,

                  If we were talking about the prophecies of any other religion, the fact that the gospels accurately predict the fall of Jerusalem would be considered compelling, if not overwhelming, evidence that they were written after the occurrence of that event.

                  As Jag Levak correctly points out, the stories about the apostles dying for their beliefs derive from church tradition, most of which is first found long after the events. One of the objections to the resurrection stories is that they are recorded decades after the fact. As corroboration, you offer stories that are recorded in some cases centuries after the fact. Moreover, the sources of these traditions are often in apocryphal works which the church deemed to be unreliable and/or heretical.

                  I have no doubt that eyewitnesses would be able to confirm or deny their own experiences, but we don’t know whether what we have are eyewitness accounts or not. We don’t know how many times removed these stories are from the original events. We cannot establish that the apostles were eyewitnesses to the resurrection without first assuming that they were eyewitnesses to the resurrection.

                  Joseph Smith was certainly in a position to know whether or not he really saw the Golden Plates. Smith had more than ample opportunity to avoid arrest and more than ample reason to believe that his life was in danger if he submitted to arrest. I think the evidence that Smith willingly died for something he had every reason to know was a lie is much stronger than the evidence that any of the apostles willingly died for something whose falsity they knew or could have known.

                  The Book of Mormon records that a dozen people saw the Golden Plates. Do you believe that they really did or do you think that these stories were invented long after the fact in order to bolster Smith’s claims? I think it was the latter and because I do, I believe that there may have been many fewer people who originally claimed to witness appearances of the risen Christ than eventually came to be recorded in the New Testament.

                  • pete

                    Jag incorrectly points the martrydom issue out.

                    Josephus records James death contemporary to the event.

                    If you don’t want to believe the evidences I and others have pointed out, for your own reference, that is your right.

                    Even the best formed arguments can’t dissuade someone who really really wants to hand onto a given belief

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

                      Pete,

                      Josephus does not indicate that James was a Christian or that his death had anything to do with Christianity.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    The notion that the apostles did not witness a resurrection but instead fabricated a story that would fit the Old Testament prophecies is a supposition that makes sense only to those who have not thought it through. It is much easier to believe the fact of the resurrection than to believe that a bunch of disillusioned followers of an executed messiah had the genius and to dream it up, the chuztpah to spread the lie, and the stupidity to die for it.

    • pete

      See Vinny….. Mike takes your argument from silence, and assesses the consequence of your train of thought.

      A ridiculous conclusion indeed.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Pete,

      It is because I have read the history of the Mormons that I know the way in which stories get reinvented and re-imagined over time. When it comes to assessing probability, something that has been known to happen before has to be assessed as more likely than something that has never happened before.

      • pete

        I agree with you that Mormonism is highly dubious, and that you are correct in your assessment of the historical development of the religion.

        However, I am quite familiar with Christian History/Church History, and can assure you that this is not the case with Christianity.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Mike,

      I don’t think that it was disillusioned apostles who did it. I think it was later converts who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. If you know by faith that Jesus is the Messiah, then you know by faith that he must have fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament and you can figure out what things he must have done during his time on earth. I’m sure they didn’t think that they were fabricating anything. They were simply recording things that they were sure were true.

      • pete

        Vinny,

        So you don’t think the apostles of Jesus thought Jesus was the risen Messiah? Can you back this up?

        Who were these later believers? Can you identify their names, where they lived, what they believed, what they stood to gain, why they did this?

        Can you give any evidence for the aspersions you cast?

      • pete

        Many people believe in Jesus from the New Testament accounts and tradition alone.

        Many people are not familiar with the Old Testament, nor Jewish prophecy, nor Judaism.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Pete,

    Don’t wear yourself out with these guys (and I say that with all due respect to “these guys”). There’s only so much water that can be poured into cups with lids on them. Maybe they’ll remove the lids at some point. But until they do, no amount of facts or reasoning will make a difference. The human will can restrict the contents of the human mind.

    P.S. You have very good proof points and the case you lay out is thoroughly reasonable and comprehensive. It’s a far greater leap of faith to believe a conspiracy theory about the resurrection than to believe the resurrection.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Mike,

      Since I have not seen anyone propose a conspiracy, whether or not that is more probable than a resurrection seems irrelevant. However, since the occurrence of conspiracies is in fact confirmed by knowledge and experience whereas supernatural resuscitation is empirically unprecedented, by any rational standard of probability assessment, resurrection would still be the greater leap . . . by far.

    • MGT2

      Pete,

      I have been following the discussion and I agree with Mike.

      You have done a yeoman’s job and I think that vinnyjh, Jag, et al must recognize that their objections are on really shaky ground, but just do not want to accept it.

      • pete

        Thanks man. Much appreciated. However, Mike Licona has to take the credit.

        With 13% of his book dedicated to his historical prolegomena, and 27% of the book dedicated to his sources alone, I think he did an incredible job in expositing the evidences in a fair and balanced manner.

        Anybody can read this book, and feel free to respond to it.

        However, he mentions that there is currently a lack of scholarly attention given to the “dying gods” myths that are often compared to Jesus’ resurrection.

        I think I may take a look at that aspect of objection, and see if there are similarities and/or differences.

        I promise right now I will be fair, even if the evidence leads to a conclusion I don’t expect.

    • Jag Levak

      “There’s only so much water that can be poured into cups with lids on them.”

      I expect it looks like sheer and perverse recalcitrance to you when skeptics look for any naturalistic alternate explanation for virtually every piece of evidence you put forward for the God/Jesus hypothesis. But looking for simpler and less remarkable possibilities in practically any other context would just be plain common sense, so before I set aside my critical filters with regard to this particular remarkable story, I would need to see why it should be treated differently from all the other remarkable stories humans have had.

      “The human will can restrict the contents of the human mind.”

      More to the point, it can restrict the operation of the human mind. That is in the nature of having a disciplined mind.

      “It’s a far greater leap of faith to believe a conspiracy theory about the resurrection than to believe the resurrection.”

      That depends on where you are leaping from. If you have already made a number of leaps (acceptance of supernaturalism, acceptance of God, acceptance of Jesus as the physical manifestation of this God, acceptance of Jesus’s ability to perform miracles) then from your position, it might be a small leap.

      And yes, if the only conspiracy theory being considered is one where only Jesus is subtracted from the Bible stories, and all the other characters in the story got together and made him up, then I would agree that seems far fetched–especially considering how it sounds like the very early Christian church was highly disorganized, and shot through with rifts and disagreeing factions and conflicting accounts. But there are other conspiracy possibilities, and humans also have other common ways of arriving at error which do not involve conspiracy at all. It also sounds like one of the early factions was able to link itself with state patronage and used that to consolidate its power, eliminate competing factions, and destroy writings contrary to their official and approved version of the story. That could have produced the same effect as a conspiracy, even if it isn’t a conspiracy in the classical sense.

      But I think you may have a misunderstanding about what we are trying to establish when we propose plausible alternate explanations. The point is typically not to establish that these alternate scenarios did happen, and that they should be believed (though there is nothing to prevent a skeptic from taking on that burden if he/she wishes). The point is to propose that they could have happened, and that all the elements of these scenarios are unremarkable and consist of things we know can happen because in other settings they have happened. That is not a disproof of the miracle account, and it does not address acceptance by faith. It is only to show that a rational and evidentiary basis for belief appears to be insufficient, and not yet fully established.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Jag Levak,

        Thanks for the thoughtful and measured response. You and Walter and vinnyjh are menschen for sure.

        With regard to your closing paragraph, I accept the nuance you are drawing out – and it is an important one. Yet it does not escape my original point, which is that the mind seeking to avoid belief can always find reasons for doing so. In this world there is no army of evidence so great that it can successfully storm the barricades of human will. To use your specific example, it is not even necessary to show that alternative explanations are more probable – only that they are possible. Thus you can say, “With unbelief, all things are possible!”

        Jesus Christ is looking for faith. He won’t take it from you, for then it would not be faith. My message is not that we are living without faith but that we are putting our faith in all sorts of places other than Christ: in naturalism, in church, and elsewhere. And this is a downfall for Christians as well as non-Christians. I ask every person: Who are you trusting as you live life today? Truly trusting. No one owes me an answer, but Christ is looking for what each person will say to Him.

        • Jag Levak

          “it does not escape my original point, which is that the mind seeking to avoid belief can always find reasons for doing so.”

          There are a great many things I believe, so I don’t seek to avoid belief in toto, but it is true I do seek to avoid erroneous belief. The problem, of course, is that I don’t have a direct conduit to the truth value of external propositions, so I work the odds instead.

          “In this world there is no army of evidence so great that it can successfully storm the barricades of human will.”

          For things that don’t matter, I normally have a pretty low threshhold of acceptable support. If a guy introduces himself as Joe, and I don’t have any reason to suppose that’s a lie, then I don’t require photo I.D. before I’ll call him Joe. But when the stakes go up, so does the amount of support I require. Same when a proposition appears to be suspect or contested.

          “To use your specific example, it is not even necessary to show that alternative explanations are more probable – only that they are possible.”

          The amount of doubt that a less probable alternative could create would depend a great deal on how much less probable it is. If it is just barely less probable, that’s going to merit more weight and consideration than something extremely unlikely.

          “Thus you can say, “With unbelief, all things are possible!””

          Catchy, but it takes some implied qualifications and limitations to make it work. (Obviously, there are some things I think are impossible. But I do think that all things should be presumed logically possible until we can see why they are impossible.)

          “Jesus Christ is looking for faith.”

          Do you have a theory as to why? Does he need it? Or crave it?

          “He won’t take it from you, for then it would not be faith.”

          There is a school of thought that God is, or was, an omniscient planner god. By this view, God perfectly foresaw all the logically possible universes he could have created before he chose to create this one. Do you think that’s wrong? If you think that’s right, do you suppose God could have chosen to create one of the possible universes in which he perfectly foresaw that I would believe he exists?

          I used to believe in God and Jesus, but now I don’t think I ever had actual faith. I started out believing because I was brought up to believe, and I trusted that adults knew best. I later trusted that people a lot smarter than me had looked into the matter and decided in favor of belief. And then for a while, I believed because when I talked to God, I sometimes felt like I could sense him there with me, and if I looked really hard for signs and confirmations, I could usually find something, however subtle. But I don’t think I’ve ever experienced belief as an act of sheer will, and I don’t know how I would go about doing it even if I wanted to. If there is a JesusGod that faults me for that failing, he might just as well condemn me for not breathing through my ears. I don’t think I’m built that way.

          “My message is not that we are living without faith but that we are putting our faith in all sorts of places other than Christ: in naturalism, in church, and elsewhere.”

          There are axioms I accept because I don’t see a practical alternative. I exist. A reality external to me exists. I have some sense of this reality. I can map concepts onto this reality. The concepts have meanings and implications. And so on. If that is what you are referring to as faith, then I don’t know how to use that same approach to support or arrive at a belief in God and Jesus.

          “I ask every person: Who are you trusting as you live life today?”

          If you are angling for the JesusGod answer, that’s a bootstrap problem for me. I can’t use trust as the basis for belief that someone is there because without the belief someone is there, there is no one for me to invest that trust in.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Jag Levak,

            “I used to believe in God and Jesus, but now I don’t think I ever had actual faith. I started out believing because I was brought up to believe, and I trusted that adults knew best. I later trusted that people a lot smarter than me had looked into the matter and decided in favor of belief. And then for a while, I believed because when I talked to God, I sometimes felt like I could sense him there with me, and if I looked really hard for signs and confirmations, I could usually find something, however subtle. But I don’t think I’ve ever experienced belief as an act of sheer will, and I don’t know how I would go about doing it even if I wanted to. If there is a JesusGod that faults me for that failing, he might just as well condemn me for not breathing through my ears. I don’t think I’m built that way.”

            This paragraph of yours, I think, gets to the heart of the issue. You grew up with your faith more in other people’s faith than in God. Let me update a folktale: The investigative reporter went to a church, cornered Mr. Smith privately, and asked him under oath why he believed in God and he said “Because Mr. Johnson does.” Subsequently, the reporter did the same with Mr. Johnson and he said, “Because Mr. Smith does.”

            When I read the stories of evangelicals turned atheists or angostics – such as Bart Ehrman, Luke Muehlhauser, or John Loftus – this is the dynamic I tend to think was at work in their childhood churches. When such people reach the age where they go away to school, or otherwise come into contact with people whose opinions will become more important than previous peer groups, then “faith” is affected. Such an emerging adult just trades Smith’s and Johnson’s. He trades his faith in evangelicals for his faith in atheists. God is involved here and there, but the “faith” at the center of all this is more social than spiritual.

            True faith, by contrast, deals with unseen realities. It acknowledges those realities. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling; it is a conscious and simple decision of the will. On the network morning news shows, people wave at the camera pointed at them because they believe they will be seen by the folks back home. That’s faith. When you have faith in God you believing He is watching you, and that what you think, say, and do matters to Him.

            What is He like and what sort of things make a favorable impression on Him? Consider Jesus Christ – the expression of God’s nature and the ideal human life. Live life according to Him instead of according to Smith or Johnson and you will be living by faith.

            To focus on Jesus Christ, you need to go back to the Bible and its basic message. Churches today have wandered so far from it that you’d be much better off reading it than going to a church to hear it. This is especially practical for someone like you who is familiar with the Bible.

            If you struggle with the resurrection, go back to the life of Jesus – there is much less contention about that. History almost universally testifies that He was a 1st-century Jew crucified by the Romans. Examine anew the New Testament documents and listen to the people who knew Him best. God chose that we should learn about Jesus through them – and not through that generation’s equivalent of CNN (Acts 10:39-42). Ask yourself if the words of these witnesses carry the ring of truth. Ask yourself if you have sin issue that needs a solution. You don’t have to ask yourself if you have a death issue because everyone does. Even Christopher Hitchens acknowledged that it was something for which he wished he had a solution. I encourage you to ask the God you admittedly don’t know, “What is the truth?” I am sure you will find it in Jesus Christ – and in none of us.

            • Jag Levak

              “You grew up with your faith more in other people’s faith than in God.”

              I grew up trusting what adults told me. (I suspect I’m not unusual in that.) But I don’t know that trust is the same thing as faith.

              “When such people reach the age where they…come into contact with people whose opinions will become more important than previous peer groups, then “faith” is affected.”

              I grew up in the Bible belt, and many of my friends actually became more zealous as they got older. I knew what atheists were, but as far as I knew, I’d never met one. My case was not one of falling in with people who led me out of the fold. I fell out all by myself.

              “True faith, by contrast, deals with unseen realities. …it is a conscious and simple decision of the will.”

              Yes, that is very much the impression I have of what faith means. But like I said, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that. I don’t know how I could do it. And I don’t know why I would do it. To me, that looks like belief without regard to truth–which seems like a recipe for error.

              “On the network morning news shows, people wave at the camera pointed at them because they believe they will be seen by the folks back home. That’s faith.”

              If I were in that situation, it would not be faith, but rather an understanding of what television cameras do. It might be faith for other people, but I have no direct access to their internal experience to understand what that is like for them.

              “When you have faith in God you believing He is watching you, and that what you think, say, and do matters to Him.”

              I did have that belief, but that belief rested on acceptance of what I was told, which in turn rested on trust in those who told me that.

              “To focus on Jesus Christ, you need to go back to the Bible and its basic message.”

              For me, getting serious about reading the Bible is where it all really started to fall apart. Some parts seemed vague, ambiguous, or confusing. Some parts seemed pointless, bizarre, or nonsensical. Some parts seemed to contradict other parts. Some parts were apparently allegorical or metaphorical. Some parts were clearly fable. And some parts just seemed wrong.

              “Ask yourself if the words of these witnesses carry the ring of truth.”

              Now that’s something I have experience with. I know the feeling of confidence that comes when a model is performing well. Everything clicks and makes sense, distinctive predictions based on testable implications come through reliably, all the adjacent pieces dovetail nicely, and nothing else is even a contender for explaining as much. It just feels right. And If that’s the feeling the Bible gives you, then I suspect your leap of faith was really quite small, since it would be easy to believe something that gave me that feeling because it was working so well. But everything about my reading of the Bible tended to give me the opposite feeling. My leap would have had to have been over a chasm.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Jag Levak,

                Perhaps some of the difference in our respective understandings is semantic. Let me map some of my internal dictionary to yours:

                I don’t know how to distinguish between faith and trust as you do. They mean the same thing to me.

                Your definition of faith as “belief without regard to truth” is foreign to me. Faith, belief, and trust are all the same thing, and when applied to God are equally applied to truth. As you would know, Jesus said, “I am the truth.” I have found this expression to be highly relevant. To wit: those times in my life when I have sought truth, regardless of where it would lead me, I have ultimately found more of Jesus. So desirous have I been of truth that I’ve been willing to leave Jesus to find it – yet that search has invariably led back to Him.

                When you describe your approach to the television cameras I identify with your description of it as “an understanding of what television cameras do” – and for me that understanding is synonymous with faith, belief, and trust.

                I cannot identify with your experience reading of the Bible, though I recognize it is true for many people. I have read books all my life and love the experience, yet I have never read a book – or more precisely, a set of books – like the Bible. The themes of these books do come together like a model, but my understanding of the model continues to grow. My understanding has been a progressive one and the completion of my understanding is not in sight. Yet, the understanding I have comforts me, leads me, and encourages me.

                The prophets and apostles who wrote the documents we call the Bible speak to my mind. They do not bypass my understanding – rather, they reach for it. That they laid down their lives to write their messages impresses me deeply. In fact, I regard the Bible in the light of their nobility before I get to the conviction that it is the word of God.

                The Bible speaks to what is inarguably mankind’s biggest problem: death. Hardly any other books, relatively speaking, address it in a productive way, much less provide a solution to it. The Bible also deals with what is arguably mankind’s second biggest problem: sin. If I forsake Jesus Christ and the Bible, who will help me with my sin? (I’m not talking about getting forgiven so I can go to heaven, I’m talking about getting forgiven so I can live more morally today. I believe the Bible teaches that everyone is going to heaven.)

                I don’t always understand the Bible. In fact, here is my experience: When I read the Bible, I sometimes understand parts of it. But the parts that I understand are enough to guide my thinking and behavior one day at a time – even when I don’t have every answer I would like to have. I pray that the Bible would make more sense to you. If it is not making sense to you, given your familiarity with it, I don’t know how I could.

                • Robert

                  Hi Mike,

                  Do you enjoy reading the Bible or do you only believe you should? Looking back now, I can’t remember any positive feelings toward reading the Bible. The dissonance pushed me into reading more about the Bible that the Bible itself – C.S. Lewis, Chuck Swindoll, etc.

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    Robert,

                    Strange as it may sound, I enjoy reading and re-reading the Bible immensely. I love reading, but no set of books has rewarded my reading like the Bible has. And it’s not just reading straight through, but comparing one part with another part and see how such comparisons enlighten the understanding of the whole. I am so sorry that it has seemed a chore to you.

                  • randal

                    Sadly, the infrequency with which many Christians read the Bible suggests that your experience is wider than many would like to admit.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Not sure what “wider” means in this context.

                      In any case, re-reading my last sentence to Robert led me to think that someone might think I was being sarcastic, but I certainly was not and a person should take that statement at face value.

                      I will further say that reading the Bible is an acquired or cultivated taste. That is, the more I have read and studied it, the more I have enjoyed reading and studying it. And a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance has been my constant companion – allowing me to search for themes that transcend individual books and individual writers. Conversely, I think that reading books about the Bible more than the Bible itself inhibits the cultivation of taste I am describing.

                      There is something unique about someone who writes “in the name of the Lord” as the prophets and apostles did. Great writers since – such as an N.T. Wright or a C.S. Lewis or a John Calvin or even an Augustine – even at their most profound practically never say, “Thus saith the Lord.” This is a distinction which seems to be commonly overlooked, yet, if you stop and think about it, is absolutely crucial – and accounts for some of the difference in one’s appetite and palate for reading the two categories.

                    • randal

                      “I think that reading books about the Bible more than the Bible itself inhibits the cultivation of taste I am describing.”

                      Potentially so. But a good book can open new horizons in understanding the Bible.

                      I’ve noticed a disturbing trend (no doubt you have too) of small groups in church doing book studiees of everyday books rather than the Bible. I had this own dilemma with my book Finding God in the Shack. Many groups have used it for small group study, and while I’m happy they’re reading the book, I shudder to think that they may be studying it at the expense of studying scripture.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      randal,

                      “But a good book can open new horizons in understanding the Bible.”

                      Yes, of course. And I have written a couple with just that hope:

                      The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven (http://wp.me/PNthc-i6)

                      and

                      Whatever Became of Jesus Christ: The Biblical Case for an Accomplished Second Coming (http://wp.me/PNthc-q3)

                    • randal

                      You should make your books available on Amazon kindle format for a nominal fee.

                • Jag Levak

                  “Perhaps some of the difference in our respective understandings is semantic.”

                  I’ve rarely been in an involved discussion where that was not a factor.

                  “Your definition of faith as “belief without regard to truth” is foreign to me. Faith, belief, and trust are all the same thing,”

                  Yeah, big difference here. For me belief is the acceptance of a proposition as true. As I see it, belief can be axiomatic (I exist, time passes, causality is real, etc.), it can be based on evidence and reason (life on Earth experienced descent with modification), it can be self-apparent (I believe that I don’t believe in Thor), it can be grounded in some brain disorder (the Tri-Lateral Commission is beaming mind control waves into my head), and it can be based on faith. To me, faith (at least what we speak of as religious faith) appears to be a voluntary commitment of will to the truth of a proposition. Admittedly, that’s a second-hand notion based on things I have heard about faith, since I don’t know what it’s like myself. And then trust is the act of placing oneself in a position of reliance upon the integrity, reliability, and/or efficacy of a person or thing. (So trust needs a person or thing on which to rely, whereas faith does not.)

                  “The Bible speaks to what is inarguably mankind’s biggest problem: death.”

                  I’m not sure I know what problem you are referring to.

                  “The Bible also deals with what is arguably mankind’s second biggest problem: sin.”

                  Does sin have any meaning apart from being that which is contrary to the preferences of God? Because that kind of presupposes God, so without God, it wouldn’t exist.

                  “I pray that the Bible would make more sense to you.”

                  Maybe a more logical place to start would be to pray that Christians find some consensus about what the various parts of the Bible mean.

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    Jag Levak,

                    I appreciate your distinctions between faith, belief, and trust – but I will stick with generally equating them, at least as they relate to God.

                    “I’m not sure I know what problem you are referring to.”

                    When I said that death is inarguably mankind’s biggest problem I thought I was stating something self-evident. Even Christopher Hitchens agreed that it is a problem. Only exceptional circumtances make a human being embrace it.

                    “Does sin have any meaning apart from being that which is contrary to the preferences of God? Because that kind of presupposes God, so without God, it wouldn’t exist.”

                    I regard sin as that which ought not to be, that which is wrong, unfair, unjust, etc. I get this understanding from the Bible, so I’m not suggesting it is original with me. Nor do I know any atheists who think it’s okay for others to steal their stuff, falsely accuse them, or break in line. Theists (and I am among them) tend to think that atheists don’t have an objective basis for morality, but many atheists disagree and consider all sorts of things sins – though they hardly ever use that specific term.

                    “Maybe a more logical place to start would be to pray that Christians find some consensus about what the various parts of the Bible mean.”

                    I pray for all people to come to a consensus about what the Bible means…and that they will stop distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians. God pays attention to our morality, not what social badge we choose to wear.

                    • Jag Levak

                      “When I said that death is inarguably mankind’s biggest problem I thought I was stating something self-evident.”

                      The process of dying can certainly be unpleasant, but from my perspective, I expect my state of not existing in the time after I die to be no more a problem for me than was my state of not existing before I was conceived. But for mankind collectively, we would not even be here were it not for the many billions of preceding deaths which accommodated the line of descent which led to us. And right now, unrestrained population growth is probably a greater challenge to mankind collectively than death is

                      “Theists (and I am among them) tend to think that atheists don’t have an objective basis for morality, but many atheists disagree and consider all sorts of things sins – though they hardly ever use that specific term.”

                      I think most atheists regard sin as carrying the connotation (or actually, denotation, in several of my dictionaries) of violating directives from God. As for whether morality is objective, I would say it may be something like the question of whether the color blue is objective. There is no blueness inherent in radiant energy having a wavelength of roughly 470 nanometers. Blue is a sensation created in our brains in response to a particular stimulus pattern of neural firings, and your internal sensation of blue may be utterly different from mine. But in practical terms, we can treat blue as something objective because it has the same role in our common, human, frame of reference.

                      There are many things about us which most humans share. That gives us a foundation of commonality which can function like something objective (ie. something real, apparent, and existing independently of the observer). We each have a sense of it, and we can use it as a basis for reasoning, even if the sense isn’t originating from outside of us.

                      In my experience, theists resist the idea that the seemingly objective quality of morality could be grounded in nothing more than our common experience, but I have not seen them offer a better alternative. Some say it is objective only to theists, but there appears to be even less agreement among theists as to what the contents of this moral standard might be than there is with the cooperative and deliberative system of moral reasoning available to non-theists. Your theological disagreements have no objective solution, otherwise you would have been able to resolve them by now. At least with atheistic moral reasoning, we can appeal to sense and mutual human experience to arrive at consensus.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Given the choice, I would rather exist than not exist. You seem to be saying that you’re indifferent to, and perhaps even welcoming of, non-existence. If we think that differently about something so profound and pervasive, I am not surprised that we disagree on other subjects as well.

                      As for morality, I believe every human being has a God-given conscience and that this accounts for those times when our views of morality coincide. We also have freedom to think and make choices, and this accounts for those times when our views of morality do not coincide.

    • pete

      Amen brother.

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’m taking a break for now :)

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    vinnyjh,

    I used the term “conspiracy” of your view because I don’t know what else to label a theory whereby terms like “eyewitness” and equivalents are used (Luke 1:1-4; John 12:16; 21:24; 1 Cor 15:1-8; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 1:1) when no eyewitnesses existed.

    As for your probability comparison, it’s not conspiracies versus resurrections that matters; rather, it’s the probability of this particular conspiracy versus that of this particular resurrection. If you will spend the time to actually compare them, you will find that the supporting evidence for each, and therefore their relative probabilities, are the reverse of what you think they are when you examine at a distance and with a half-closed eye.

    • Walter

      The probability that each of us assigns to the resurrection story is based on a complex web of background beliefs and presuppositions about the nature of the universe. For some folks the evidence for the physical resurrection is overwhelming, others not so much. Historical research combined with apologetic arguments may help to raise the plausibility of resurrection to folks that are open to supernatural explanations, but historical research will never be able to prove it happened short of an actual time machine. This is why Christianity stresses the importance of faith–historical research can only take you so far. No matter how strong or weak the evidence, a leap is required.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Mike,

      How about “mistake”? When I went to Catholic grade school in the 1960’s, the nuns used to tell me about how the Virgin Mary had appeared to thousands of people at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. It turns out that only a few people actually claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary while tens of thousands were reputed to have seen the “Miracle of the Sun.” Nevertheless, “conspiracy” is the last word which would occur to me to describe the nuns’ stories. I believe they were both sincere and mistaken.

      Unfortunately, the only way I can assess the probability of what you choose to label a “conspiracy” is by comparison to other documented instances in which supernatural events came to be accepted even though there were no actual and/or credible eyewitnesses and/or evidence. By the same token, the only way I can assess the probability that an actual supernatural event took place is by comparison to other documented instances of actual supernatural events (a data set which is unfortunately much smaller than I might wish).

      It seems that Christian apologists would always prefer that I forget everything I know about man’s propensities and the way the world works in order that I might examine a cherry picked few data points to which they apply labels like “minimal facts” or “historical bedrock.” If I did so, I might well assess the probability of an actual resurrection higher than the probability of the stories being the product of some combination of ignorance, gullibility, wishful thinking, prevarication, imagination, and want of critical thought. Unfortunately, the apologists are never able to provide me for any justification for applying a methodology that I would never use anywhere else (and which they would never use when considering the supernatural claims of any other religion).

      What I find particularly interesting is that Christians seem to have no problem believing that countless other skeptics and I have willfully deluded ourselves into disregarding evidence that is obvious and convincing, but the notion that early Christians might have been sincerely mistaken about the evidence that was available to them strains all boundaries of credulity. On the other hand, I can well believe that most early Christians were both sincere and mistaken just as I believe Mike and Pete are.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        vinnyjh,

        I, too, heard from the nuns about Fatima (though for me it was in the 1950’s). Given that they were merely relaying what they heard, I, too, would consider them mistaken. However, were I to learn that these nuns had been involved in the production of documents which claimed to have been written by eyewitnesses of said event, I would not hesitate to label them conspirators.

        For me, it is the New Testament documents themselves – more than any apologist – which carry authenticity. I, too, have lived long enough to be familiar with “man’s propensities and the way the world works.” I have experienced “ignorance, gullibility, wishful thinking, prevarication, imagination, and want of critical thought,” and I find these attributes absent from the New Testament documents. By contrast, Fatima is probably closer to Roswell than to Jerusalem.

        No point in my re-arguing with you the case for the resurrection that Pete has argued so well. As I suggested earlier, your failure to believe him has to do with something other than paucity of evidence and logic. I’d only add that 1) your implicit suggestion that a greater number of documented resurrections would make you more likely to believe in Jesus’ resurrection seems strange (as in “My belief that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon is dependent on how many other people are documented to have crossed the Rubicon”), and 2) your notion that the New Testament documents could have been produced by sincere and mistaken people is even more far-fetched than that they were the product of conspiracy – and such a notion would seem to sit much more comfortably in the mind of someone much less wise in the ways of the world as you seem to be.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Mike,

          If the nuns cooperated to produce such documents, they would be conspirators. However, if a nun composed a letter by herself which purported to be a first hand account of an appearance at Fatima, she would be a liar, not a conspirator. However, none of the gospels are written in the first person and the epistles are extremely vague about what it is the authors are claiming to have seen so I think that my skepticism about them does not necessitate a belief in a conspiracy. I suspect that there were some liars in the bunch simply because there are always liars among us, but for them most part I suspect that the writers passed along stories that they believed to be true.

          If I had a data set composed of documented supernatural events I might be able to identify the characteristics of a story that is based on an actual supernatural event in order to distinguish it from a story that is a product of human foibles. That might give me some objective basis to conclude that any particular story is more or less likely to be true. Absent that, I am compelled to regard your assessment of the probability that the miracle stories in the New Testament are true (as opposed to some natural explanation) as purely subjective. I think that there are many objective reasons to think that the story of Caesar crossing the Rubicon is more likely true than not.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Walter,

    The point of my recent communication to vinnyjh was that a leap (if that’s what you want to call it) is required for either conclusion – and, specifically, that the leap to conspiracy is a longer one than the leap to fact.

    Did OJ do it? Whether you think he did or didn’t requires reasoning, and what you would call a leap. Fortunately, agnosticism on that issue does not deprive us of the blessings of intimacy with God.

    • Walter

      Fortunately, agnosticism on that issue does not deprive us of the blessings of intimacy with God.

      What blessings would those be, Mike?

      Agnosticism concerning the resurrection story deprives us of nothing either, as far as I can tell. I can still respect many of Jesus’ teachings even if I am unsure about what happened on Easter Sunday.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Walter,

    “What blessings would those be, Mike?”

    The ones of which Paul spoke so highly in Philippians 3:8-11 – the ones you yourself will not be able avoid experiencing should you give yourself over to practicing whole-heartedly that which you have already embraced partially (“I can still respect many of Jesus’ teachings…”)

    Based on my memory of things you have said here before, Walter, I think you have gone about as far as any of us can take you. You know enough to engage Jesus directly, and if you do so, in the privacy of your heart, for the morality His teaching will bring into your thinking and behavior, He Himself will bear witness to your heart that He is not dead.

    • Walter

      Mike, I was a believer for many decades and I did not experience any particularly noticeable warm fuzzy feelings stemming from my religious beliefs. I know the evangelicals here will see this as proof positive that I was never really a *true* Christian, but there you have it. Even as an evangelical I never felt that I had any kind of two-way relationship going on with any kind of spirit, Holy or otherwise.

      Put simply, some of us just don’t experience warm fuzzies regardless of what we believe. And since you do not argue that belief in the resurrection is a requirement to salvation, then I see no reason to leap from my perch of agnostic uncertainty to one of dogmatic assurance fueled by faith.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Walter,

    I am not interested in your becoming – or becoming once again – an evangelical Christian, folks whose behavior is often indistinguishable from other folks, including uncertain agnostics. Besides, most Christians I have observed are practicing a faith in Christians, not in God.

    What I do urge, by contrast, is faith in, and obedience to, Jesus Christ, because it is the only right and truly productive thing to do in a world darkened by sin, pleasure, and self-seeking.

    You profess to be self-satisfied, but I know of no beatitudes for the self-satisfied. On the contrary, it is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness who become truly satisfied. On the other hand, were you truly satisfied with your state I cannot imagine a stranger pastime than frequenting a blog like this. Therefore, I trust my words are not wasted with you.

    • Walter

      On the other hand, were you truly satisfied with your state I cannot imagine a stranger pastime than frequenting a blog like this.

      I enjoy the discussion–plain as that. I am always in search of truth and am suspicious of those who claim to infallibly know the truth. We’re all seeing through a glass darkly.

      • randal

        I know many many Christians who frequent atheist/secular/infidel blogs for much the same reason. They enjoy the conversation.

    • Jag Levak

      “were you truly satisfied with your state I cannot imagine a stranger pastime than frequenting a blog like this”

      That kind of assumes that satisfaction with one’s position includes no interest in seeing if there are any defects in one’s position, no desire to see if someone else has a better position, and no feeling that it matters whether one is right or wrong, either way. There are a lot of religions I don’t bother with because they are dead, or distant, or so innocuous that, right or wrong, they have no implications which affect me or matter much to me. That is not the case with Christianity. If it is right, that matters. But if it is wrong, that matters too.

      There seems to be two main schools of thought regarding Christian belief. Some view it as attainable only through faith, not through the wisdom of this world. Others think it is not only rational, but more reasonable than any alternative (which means that people who feel otherwise are suffering from some defect or deficiency of reason or information). I don’t have an answer for the faith view, except to note that faith beliefs all have equal epistemic value, and should be given no more weight than expressions of taste in matters of public policy and scientific investigation. It is the putative reasonable Christianity position which I think is potentially the more pernicious. If Christianity is ultimately rational, then that not only gives it a place of prominence over other religions, it legitimizes the inclusion of Christianity into secular enterprises which are (or should be) based on reason–which would be a good thing if Christianity is true, but bad if it is not.

      So I read and comment here, with particular attention to theories of reason, in large part to see if my position can hold up. If my arguments stand, then that’s something undecided readers of this blog can take into consideration. If my arguments don’t hold up, that information is very much to my benefit (and any who think like me), so long as reasonable error management remains a high priority for me (us). And I pick on this blog more than most others for three reasons. 1) Randal actually has a sense of reason which is fairly accessible and not too different from my own, which gives me a lot of common ground to work with.
      2) Unlike some partisan sites (on both sides) Randal actually allows dissenting posters to comment freely on his blog, and
      3) Randal has set a tone for his site which tends to engender more thoughtfulness and less acrimony than one usually finds in exchanges between Christians and skeptics. Even if nothing ever gets resolved here, setting that kind of model for discussion on this topic can only be a good thing for society at large, I think.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Jag Levak,

        Though you lose me a bit in the middle paragraph I largely agree with the rest, and certainly as respects the civility – and therefore productivity – of the kind of discourse Randal promotes.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    vinnyjh,

    Regarding your first paragraph, I don’t think I can improve on what Pete has already said.

    Regarding your second paragraph, the problem with God increasing the frequency of supernatural events in order to make them more believable is that human beings find yet new ways to dismiss them as being supernatural in origin. For example, if the sun rose and set only once it would probably have been considered a miracle in times past if not in our day, given the wonder that it truly is. Familiarity indeed breeds contempt. I could say the same thing about the four seasons, the germination of a seed, and the process of human, or even animal, reproduction. When God does something infrequently, unbelieving man says the odds are too small that it ever happened at all. And when He does them frequently, unbelieving man says the odds are too small that God was the one who did them. Oy vey!

    Do not, however, lose hope. For in our day, at a time when scientific knowledge is great and still expanding, consider this: We are currently situated on the side of a tilted ball that is spinning around at 1,000 mph, while it circles the sun at 66,000 mph, which is part of a solar system which is traveling at 432,000 mph through the Milky Way, which itself is moving, and so on…and yet we’re not flying off the ball, our lips are not getting chapped, and my coffee is not even spilling out of its cup. If you don’t have any problem believing that all this is the result of some mindless, not-given-to-irony, entirely naturalistic evolutionary process then you should have no problem believing that such a process could also raise someone from the dead.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Mike,

      Given the available evidence, I don’t think it likely that there are any better arguments than the one Pete made either.

      The problem isn’t whether I believe that God could raise someone from the dead. The problem is in determining whether in fact God did raise someone from the dead. For that I am limited by the available evidence and the reasonable inferences that I can draw from that evidence based on the natural processes of cause and effect that I observe around me. If God chooses not to perform miracles at a rate that permits me to draw inferences about the likelihood of any particular miracle story being true, I will just have to make do.

      I have no doubt that God has a very good reason for performing miracles with the frequency He does. On the other hand, I am more than a little skeptical that you know what that reason is. So until He chooses to communicate His reasons to me directly, I will use the gift of reason that He has given me to the best of my abilities.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        vinnyjh,

        Not that it needs to be said, but for the record: God does many things I do not understand. I try to live my life based on the ones I do. It sounds like we are agreed on that much.

  • Jim

    Seems to me that a key issue is being ingored. Maybe someone mentioned it, but I missed it.

    No one bases their entire worldview on Shakespeare. No one paints “Macbeth 3:16″ on their face. If someone tried to pass laws based on what was in “The Tempest”, he would certainly be locked up. Shall we apply that same standard to the bible?

    The reason no one argues about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays or the historical accuracy of Tacitus is that because it doesn’t matter. It might be an interesting topic over coffee, but when the coffee is finished, no one cares. Wars are not started over whether Hamlet actually said “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well”.

    Just like in court, you have a different requirement in a civil and in a criminal case. For Shakespeare, it is like a civil case and it is simply a matter of preponderance of evidence. In the case of the Bible, the sateks are higher, so it is like a criminal court and thus at the level of beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if you claim the historical evidence for both the authorship of the NT and Shakespeare is equal, the NT looses because the requirement is much higher.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Jim,

      I don’t think that it was mentioned here, but it is an important point.

      I consider my lawnmower engine reliable if it starts by the fifth or sixth pull and doesn’t die more than five times while I’m cutting the grass. When it comes to my snow blower, my standard of reliability is somewhat higher because of the possibility of missing work or throwing out my back while shoveling. For my car engine, my standard of reliability is higher still because I don’t want my wife stuck on a deserted road or in a bad neighborhood late at night. My standard of reliability for an airplane engine would be so much higher as to scarcely be comparable. The use to which the engine is being put determines the standard to be applied. Different uses make different standards appropriate.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Jim and vinnyjh,

        It’s sounds as if you both consider the Bible as failing to meet the higher standard you require of it. May I ask whom or what you are trusting in its place? That is, what source or standard of truth do you use in its place?

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Mike,

          I think you have missed the point. I don’t require any particular higher standard of the Bible than I do of any other ancient writing because I don’t put it to any different use than I put any other ancient writing. However, if someone were to come to me and insist that American foreign policy in the Middle East should depend on something that Alexander the Great said, I would expect them to first establish with a high degree of certainty that Alexander really said it. I would expect the evidence to be better than the evidence I have that George Washington said “I cannot tell a lie.” If public policy regarding sexual orientation were going to be made to depend on who wrote The Merchant of Venice rather than on the best peer reviewed research in psychology and sociology, I would want very persuasive evidence of authorship. If high school science curricula were going to be determined by the writings of Homer rather than the conclusions of the top scientists at the top universities, I would want much better evidence of what Homer wrote. The standard of reliability is based on the use to which the information is being put.

          • Jim

            I couldn’t have said it better myself, although I have said similar things in other forums. ;-)

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

              Maybe that’s where I first ran across it!

      • Jim

        vinnyjh,

        In my mind, Shakespeare is like the lawn mower and the bible is the airplane. If the lawnmower engine fails, you go get yourself a beer and pull out the old push-mower. If you evidence that the airplane engine is not reliable, you drive or take a train. You would be foolish to get in with evidence that it is unrealiable.

  • Jim

    “Truth” for what? Truth about what? The “truth” about the diversity of life on earth? The “truth” about right an wrong? The “truth” about the historicity of Jesus? The word is the same, but they have very different meanings.

    It seems to me your question presupposes that there is or even “must be” some kind of ultimate truth. While certainly there is a cause for the diversity of life and there is a truth about whether 2000 years ago there was an itinerant preacher who was executed for sedition, whether there is an ultimate truth about right and wrong is a different issue entirely.

    In my opinion, an all powerful, omniscient, loving God would not create a situation where his rules could be misinterpreted.If he inspired the original writing, it is absurd to claim he would not also inspire the people copying it to ensure they copied it correctly. So, the fact that the bible can be, has been and is interpreted in thousands of different ways is a pretty clear indicator it does not come from an all powerful, omniscient, loving God. As for the actual standard of proof, it would not be accepted in a court as evidence, despite what Simon Greenleaf would claim, and most certainly does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of its claims.

    It is reasonable not to accept the claims in the bible. Even ultra-apologist William Lane Craig says “The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.”

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Jim and vinnyjh,

    Thanks for your response – though you each could have simply said “me” and saved yourself a lot of typing.

    • Jim

      I might be missing your point, but it seems that you are implying that either we only trust ourselves. That is, “me” is what we trust in place of the bible. I can’t speak for Vinny, but I trust a lot more than just myself. As William Craig points out, if you only use reason, you end up either an athiest or agnostic. However, there are things I have faith in, without reason. Admittedly, I don’t trust something to dictate how I should lead my life or how I treat others that is demonstrably unreliable, particularly when it has been the cause of so much evil in the world.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Mike,

      Or you needn’t have bothered to ask the question in the first place since you were going to read “me” into any answer we gave anyway.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        No, I wasn’t. My question was to gain understanding – not to achieve a rhetorical purpose. I had hopes for something more edifying than the answers you gave, and responded accordingly.

        I would only add, and this is in part a response to Jim’s last comment as well, that I admire a man who heeds his conscience over an interpretation of Scripture for it is never wise to violate conscience. Nevertheless, the Scripture was given for the ever-present strengthening of our consciences…as well as to inform us of the great promises of God for this life and the next. Thus to disregard the Bible is a great loss.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Mike,

          I’m sorry that you didn’t find my answer edifying, but that doesn’t justify reading into it an answer that isn’t there.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            I’m interested in being corrected if I’ve misunderstood you.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

              Mike,

              How you interpreted my answer bears so little relationship to what I actually wrote that I wouldn’t know where to begin.

        • Jim

          What kind of answer were you looking for? That I “trust” Bart Ehrman? I sure do. However, I also trust Daniel Wallace, Craig Evans and Raymond Brown. When I read or hear something from any of them, I initally take it at face value until I know otherwise. On the other hand, I don’t trust Strobel, Habermans, Licona or WLC. When they say something, experience has taught me that it is usually disingenuous, misleading and in many cases downright dishonest.

          Do I trust the bible? Certainly not as a play-by-play description of what happened 2000 years ago. I think it irrational to believe documents written by religious zealots with an obvious religious motivation are 100% historical accurate or even theologically accurate. Every attempt to try and prove it inerrant, even here, is an exercise in begging the question. Even ultra-apologists like John Ankerberg admit that the gospel writers chose to include or omit certain things based on their particular goals (read: they were biased). Wallace and Darrel Bock have admitted that things were added for religious reasons. Since these people are the epitome of evangelical fundamentalism, I have no reason to disbelieve an argument that obviously weakens their position. Plus, I can see it for myself. Wallace also admits that the majority of biblical scholars believe 2 Peter was *not* written by Peter. However, it claims to be an thus is an obvious forgery. Then there are the pastoral epistles, which most scholars agree where not written by Paul, although they claim to be. Yet more examples of forgery. Further, if you read Metzger and others, it is clear that the early church chose to include texts based on their own interpretation and not handed down on stone tablets. With all of this evidence, it is ludicrous to believe that the New Testament is inerrant.

          However, I do trust that there are certain truths in the bible, such as the greatest commandment. Still, what I see is god (or God) is most certainly not the modern christian idea that god is sitting at a control panel in heaven pressing the “smite” button whenever someone displeases him, but happens to be out getting coffee when a 7-year-old boy is getting raped by his “christian” boy scout leader. “There is no crime for those who have Christ” has taken a whole new dimension in evangelical christianity and is most certainly not what Jesus would have wanted, divine or otherwise. It is pathetic to see how adamant evangelicals are about forcing creationism and other mythology into the classroom, while at the same time ignoring homeless and starving children. They spend millions to stop two people who love each other from making that committment official, but heaven forbid we give out one dime to a poor child who is dying from a *cureable* disease. Perhaps, you know the bible better than I do, so do tell us what verse says that this kind of behaviour is correct. Since it seems to be the standard, there must be some biblical support, wouldn’t you say? BTW, what have *you* done recently to show your belief in the greatest commandment?

          And PLEASE don’t go off on the nonsense that that is all part of the “fall” or “original sin” or some other lame excuse. If the power of God through the holy spirit is really all that powerful, these kinds of things shouldn’t be happening, yet they do. It is simply one more piece of evidence that god is not the god of the bible. Well, at least not the way he is presented by modern evangelicals. God is dead. He was murdered by the evangelicals.

          Does that answer your question?

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Yes, Jim, that answers my question, though it does not alter what you said before. Nonetheless, I appreciated the elaboration.

            You may trust in whom you wish. I trust in Jesus Christ. I do not trust in evangelicals, or any other social group or individual. I trust in Jesus Christ our Lord – “our” meaning yours, mine, and everyone else’s.

          • randal

            Since I know Bill Craig and Mike Licona I’d be interested to hear some documented examples where you’ve seen them be misleading, disingenuous, and “in many cases downright dishonest”.

            • Jim

              I could say that any time WLC opens his mouth he’s being disingenuous, but that doesn’t really answer the question. There are a few examples that come to mind for Craig. One is the way he presents himself as an expert in cosmology although he does not even have a undergraduate degree in any science, while at the same time rebuking Dawkins’ or Harris’ philosophy as “inept” although they both have degrees in philosophy. (Dawkins has a PhD) Craig went so far as to claim philosophers of science “recognize” that for an explanation to be valid you do not need an explanation. He repeated the term “recognize”, which has a very specific meaning. He did not say, “believe” or “are of the opinion”, but “recognize”. That claim is comparable to me saying Christians do not believe in the trinity. Yes, there are a few, but they are only very small minority. Using that claim somehow as proof Dawkins argument is inept is at least disingenuous. It makes things worse when Craig (a non-scientist) is making absurd claims trying to refute a scientist.

              I was trained as an army interrogator and have done a lot of personal research on lying and detecting lies. That particular interview with Craig fits at least a half dozen criteria for someone who is lying.

              Then, there is claim by Craig that Apollonios was “made up” by a rival group to the Christians and that he was based on or was simply a copy of Jesus. He ignores the differences between the two when making the claim Apollonios was made up, however, the differences become a key part of his argument that Jesus was *not* based on other myths. He is being hypocritical in his conditions, so his claims are disingenuous.

              Then there is his absurd Bayesian probability for the resurrection where he claims Ehrman was “confused”. (The debate is on YouTube) Craig missed a HUGE part of the Bayesian probability by ignoring the probability that the Gospels are not 100% accurate accounts. Either Craig is confused himself and thus disingenuous or he *knows* that he should have referenced the probability the Gospels are not accurate and is thus being intentionally deceitful.

              As for Licona, the first thing that pops into mind is a quote from him in Strobel’s “The Case for the Real Jesus”. He talks about two different explanations for something by two non-beleivers (I do not recall what the issue was). He makes a snide comment about they (non-believers) not being able to agree among themselves. This is an obvious attempt to portray arguments against Christianity as being in disagreement, thus implying that the arguments in favor of Christianity are in agreement. Is Licona so inept that he does not realize that Christianity is one huge disagreement? Christians cannot even agree on the issues like theology, doctrine or whether books in the new testament where actually written by the people who they claim to be written by. Since I doubt that Licona is so ignorant that he is unaware of all of these disagreements in Christianity, I can only call his statement disingenuous. While it is possible that Strobel lied about what Licona said (I wouldn’t put it past him), I am taking it at face value because it fits other experience I have with Licona. Do you think Strobel lied? If so, then I would be willing to withdraw my argument in this case.

              I saw a video on YouTube (maybe Licona’s own website) where is he talking about the reliability of the bible, particularly because it was “eyewitness” testimony. He was describing the “eyewitness” testimony of the crucifixion, from the last supper to the discovery of the tomb to the alleged appearances afterwards. I cannot believe that Licona is so ignorant of what is actually in the bible that he does not know there were no eyewitnesses to the trial? Neither Mark not Luke were at the crucifixion, for certain, and according the bible itself, neither Matthew nor John were, because they ran away. Claiming something is eyewitness testimony, when it is demonstrably not is at best disingenuous, at worst deceitful.

      • Jim

        I have always believed that if more than one person interprets your behaviour in a certain way, there is a certain validity to that interpretation. I also intepreted Mike’s comments to be that he had already inserted “me” into our text.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Validity, or truth, is not determined by the number of people who hold a view. Jesus demonstrates this. And dramatically so.

          • Jim

            So you are claiming that your behaviour is comparable to Jesus’ and we should simply trust what you say because you claim it is true?

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              I am saying that you should simply trust what He says because His claims are true.

              • Jim

                More precisely: “We should simply trust what He says because anonymous people decades after his death claim his claims are true.”

                If you were sitting on a jury and a witness claimed that 20 years ago he heard from some guy who claims he saw the crime and said that the defendant did it, would you believe him enough to send the defedant to prison? Seems that is exactly what you are saying.

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  The evidence for Jesus Christ and His claims are far greater than your analogy implies.

                  Not only is the scriptural evidence weightier than you portray, there is also His Holy Spirit bearing witness in your heart that Christ is true. Love that great could not have been imagined by humanity.

                  • Jim

                    “scriptural evidence”? You mean 2000-year-old texts written by religious zealots who were obviously biased and were changed repeatedly by other religious zealots?

                    “Holy Spirit bearing witness in your heart”?
                    That’s not the holy spirit, that’s the Tao. Keep the facts straight.

                    “Love that great could not have been imagined by humanity.”
                    And what exactly is your reason for believing that? You can think about it enough to write it down. Seems pretty clear that a human *can* imagine it. People sacrifice their lives for others all of the time, even for strangers. If Jesus is god, he sacrificed his life for his children. This is nothing extraordinary. Besides, being God, he *knew* he would rise again. He even said he would come back in three days. It was *not* a sacrifice because he *knew* it was not permanent. Who wouldn’t suffer for a few hours for a guarentee of eternal life? On the other hand, the person who risks his live to save a drowning stranger, not *that* is something special.

                    • MGT2

                      Interesting conversation

                      Jim, you say: ”That’s not the [Holy Spirit], that’s the Tao. Keep the facts straight.”

                      How is that more factual than what Mike said? Upon what authority are you resting your confidence?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Jim, you said:

                      “You mean 2000-year-old texts written by religious zealots who were obviously biased and were changed repeatedly by other religious zealots?”

                      You would find the New Testament documents more compelling had they be written by people who were not convinced that Jesus was the Son of God and worthy of devotion? Alas, any such people available for the task were probably daunted by the danger incurred by anyone affiliated with Him.

                      As for me, I’d believe a Jew’s account of the Holocaust a lot quicker than I’d believe a Nazi’s account of it.

                      As for the allegation of the NT documents being “changed repeatedly” you are simply repeating a falsehood. The early widespread distribution of the documents made material changes practically impossible. Only if they had been published by a single controlling source would your scenario be possible.

                      “Seems pretty clear that a human *can* imagine [love that great].”

                      Yet it’s a fact that no one did, else the Jewish leaders would not have delivered Jesus to the Romans for crucifixion. They were intent on doing nothing that would make Him look good to people. Everyone who’s imagining that kind of love now is doing so after the fact.

                      “People sacrifice their lives for others all of the time, even for strangers.”

                      How about for their sworn enemies?

                      “Who wouldn’t suffer for a few hours for a guarantee of eternal life?”

                      Apparently, you. That is, you don’t even sound like you’re willing to be inconvenienced for it, much less suffer for it.

                      “This is nothing extraordinary.”

                      No one ever stooped from so high a place to serve in so low a place as Jesus Christ. His is the most extraordinary act in all of history, and it is an act of love from beginning to end. It shall never be forgotten in all of eternity.

        • randal

          “I have always believed that if more than one person interprets your behaviour in a certain way, there is a certain validity to that interpretation.”

          If two neo-Nazis say that you’re a mealy-mouthed liberal does that give you pause?

          • Jim

            That’s a valid point. However, seem to be ingoring the fact that by putting the label “neo-Nazis”, on them, you have already made a judgement about them. Further, like Jesus, I *am* a liberal.

            On the other hand, if I saw too young men in long black coats, with pierced ears and tatoos who said I was impolite, yes, it *would* give me pause.

  • Jim

    The evidence for the Tao is self-evident. All you need is an open mind and it will bear witness in your heart. The Tao Te Ching is several centuries older than the New Testament and it’s sources are even older than the Old Testament. It contains no errors and no one has been able to refute it, unlike the Christian texts.

    • randal

      Which claims in the Tao Te Ching are historically falsifiable?

      • Jim

        Excuse me?!?!? Where did I claim it was “historically falsifiable”? It is obvious I said “no one has been able to refute it”.

        • randal

          The point is that the Tao is a set of principles that you either accept or you don’t. It is not a set of historical (and thus falsifiable) claims. You were writing as if it could be “refuted”. So how would one go about refuting it?

          • Jim

            “So how would one go about refuting it?”
            Ask Lee Strobel. I got it from one of his books. He lumps it with other religions that need to be refuted to prove Christianity is the “one true religion”®.

            You are absolutely right, Tao is a set of principles and there is no reason why one cannot be both Taoist and a Christian.

    • MGT2

      The Tao Te Ching is not a text with historical groundings and so is not comparable to the Bible in that respect. Tao is a metaphysical concept that is highly subjective; it is primarily a philosophy of life based upon the views a single individual. Yet from that single person’s view you get “The evidence for the Tao is self-evident.”

      “To each his own.”

      To you I’ll say, all you need is a receptive heart, and the Holy Spirit will bear witness to your mind that Jesus is the Son of God.

      • Jim

        Agreed. The Tao Te Ching is not a history. However, depending on who you ask, neither is the New Testament. Ask three scholars and you will get five different answers.

        Your assessment of the Tao is pretty accurate, although with the Tao, the closer you get to putting a lable on it, the further away you get. If you actually read the Tao Te Ching, you will see that it teaches a lot of hte same things Jesus did and there is really no problem being both a Christian and a Taoist. I think the world would be a better place if people followed Jesus’ teachings and not the perversion of the american evangelicals.

        As for a receptive heart, I was an evangelical for at least a decade. My guess is that you are now going to make the absurd claim I wasn’t trully a believer. However, like so most former evangelicals by reading the bible it became obvious that the bible is certainly not inerrant and I think that anyone with an open mind can see it. That’s why I like talking with Catholics, non-American protestant even some of American protestants so long as they do not adhere to the irrational claim the bible is inerrant. These people have an open mind and are willing to accept the evidence, then use their god-given intellect to come to the obvious conclusion the bible is not 100% inerrant. As I mentioned before, even Craig admits that if you simply use reason, you end up either an atheist or agnostic.

        • MGT2

          Jim, now you are pre-judging.

          The Bible teaches that there are those who believe then turn away, apostates, so I accept your word that you were once an evangelical. (Btw, I am not an evangelical).

          I am very comfortable with holding to the Bible as being the inerrant Word of God. The question of inerrancy comes down to how one defines it. In my experience, many non-inerrantists ask more of the Bible than what it intends – and that in the most unrealistic terms. Yet it has demonstrated over the centuries its ability to withstand such criticisms with the advances in research and in the historical and archeological sciences. It seems the more evidence that is uncovered, the more the Bible is confirmed. Overall, the scale is tipping in its favor, not against. That is, when the evidence is allowed to lead to its natural conclusion.

          As for Craig, you neglect to mention that his statement comes with the backdrop that the witness of the Holy Spirit supersedes mere reasoning so that even those unskilled in formal logics can still know that Christianity is true. So his point is more that reasoning alone is insufficient to illumine one’s mind to the truth of the reality of God.

          • Jim

            “Jim, now you are pre-judging.”
            I stand corrected.

            “It seems the more evidence that is uncovered, the more the Bible is confirmed.”
            Then you are reading the wrong sources, or none at all. My suggestion is to read “The Bible Unearthed” or other books by professional archaeologists. The recent archaeological evidence shows things like the timeline in the OT cannot be as described, such as Jericho was not inhabited when it was claimed to be in the OT, Edom(?) was not a kingdom when the OT claims. Further, it is implausible that there were as many Israelites as the bible claims, with so many (2 million?) it is implausible that they wondered the desert for 40 years, leaving absolutely absolutely no trace. Thus your claim “Overall, the scale is tipping in its favor, not against” is patently false. The “natural conclusion” is that it is improbable that the bible is 100% accurate. But, as you said, you listen to the holy spirit first and then consider the evidence that supports your beliefs. (“the Holy Spirit supersedes mere reasoning”)

            BTW, just how do you define “inerrant”. I say that one mistake, either historical or scientific, means it is NOT inerrant. God is perfect, the bible is the word of God, therefore you cannot have even one single error and still have it be inerrant. The only way you can achieve it is by absurd, implausible explanations. (“well it could have happened that way”) That is understandable with the “believe first, check facts later” attitude. You will have a hard time convincing me that this is acceptable reasoning when there are so many conflicting beliefs that base themselves on the premise that they are right because the holy spirit told them. Further, you will have a hard time convincing me that God wants us to avoid correctly using his gifts (e.g. our brain).

            • MGT2

              One can choose which book to read in support of one’s views. There is no point arguing this, except to say that there are professional and academic standards to uphold.

              I define inerrant as being error free in every claim that is made. The task for us is to know the claim.

              (“well it could have happened that way”) Who says that? Keep this away from the flames; straws are very combustible.

              “Further, you will have a hard time convincing me that God wants us to avoid correctly using his gifts (e.g. our brain).” Now this canard. I thought you were an evangelical for almost a decade. Didn’t you read the bible all that time?

              Don’t you know that God invites us to “reason” with Him? To learn from observation (the ants)? To get wisdom?

              Finally, since God is omniscient, what is wrong with trusting what the Holy Spirit says rather than our own understanding?

        • MGT2

          As for the NT documents, by what measure are they considered non-historical? And which “scholar” says they are not? Surely not Bart Ehrman; he knows better.

          • Jim

            Seems you clicked the wrong reply button. I never made the claim they were “considered non-historical”.

            • MGT2

              “The Tao Te Ching is not a history. However, depending on who you ask, neither is the New Testament. Ask three scholars and you will get five different answers.”

              You did say that, didn’t you? What is your implication if not that the NT documents have no historical currency?

              • Jim

                I’m implying what I said.”Ask three scholars and you will get five different answers.” Why is that so hard to understand?

                • MGT2

                  It seems you are trying to make an argument without committing to your propositions.

                  • Jim

                    Well, then let’s make it simply. Tell me part of what I said you don’t you understand and I will attempt to explain it in simpler terms. What parts do you not agree with? Are you claiming there is a concensus among historians as to what the New Testament is. Are you claiming 2 Peter and Acts represent the same genre? That they are both equally historically accurate? If you do, then …facepalm… If not, then th meaning of my comment should be obvious.

                    Seems to me you are trying to force something into what I said that is simply not there. Is it that you simply like to argue? Are you a Tellerite?

                    • MGT2

                      This is what will help: Do you think that the NT documents are in fact historical documents when compared to the Tao Te Ching?

  • Lee

    Writing a play and rising from the dead are two very different historical claims. It doesn’t really matter who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, the work itself is, by it’s own merits, beautiful and appreciable. The same with architecture, music, and, even to a large extent, argumentation. A piece of architecture is majestic, a sheet of music sublime, and a piece of reasoning cogent, independent of the architect, composer, or thinker.

    This is not so with the miraculous claims about Jesus. You are comparing apples with oranges.

    Lee.

  • MGT2

    Jim,

    Earlier Randal asked, based upon your clear implication that there are claims in the Tao Te Ching that are somehow historically falsifiable, to demonstrate this, and you replied with obfuscation.

    You are doing the same here. You take pot shots and hide; that is obvious. So I’ll repeat where I should have stopped: “to each his own.”

    • Jim

      Your claim, “You take pot shots and hide; that is obvious” demonstrates that you don’t pay attention, or perhaps it is your intention to simply attack without a real argument.

      MGT2 (do you know him?) said, “The Tao Te Ching is not a text with historical groundings and so is not comparable to the Bible in that respect.”

      To which I responded (to MGT2), “Agreed. The Tao Te Ching is not a history.” Maybe you should read my exchange with MGT2. Oh, what a minute, that’s YOU!!!!

      Your argument is based on using different terms than what I use and attacking the argument based on the words *you* have chosen and not mine. For example “by what measure are they considered non-historical?” Obviously, to everyone reading (perhaps not you) that is not what I said. Creating an argument with the claim that this is the other person’s argument is then refuting the argument *you* made up is called a strawman. That is a logical fallacy. Historians recognize that any ancient document, be a biography or shopping list is an “historical document” and has historical value. I was very clear not to use words that claim or even imply I believe they were “non-historical”. That was YOUR word. (read: strawman)

      I never made the claim that the Tao Te Ching was “historically falsifiable”. Yes, that is what Randal maintained, but, assuming one knows what the English word “refute” means, it is absurd to claim it was a “clear implication that there are claims in the Tao Te Ching that are somehow historically falsifiable”. A person makes a claim about Christian doctrine, for example, which is refuted (same word I used) by pointing to certain passages in the bible. What aspect of that has anything to do with being “historically falsifiable”? None! I was talking about refutability, not historicity. It seems pretty obvious there is NO “clear implication” it has anything at all to do with being “historically falsifiable”, as you seem to maintain.

      Further, had you read the posts, you will see that I responded to Randal’s question “So how would one go about refuting it?” I agreed with Randal, pointing to Strobel as being the one who insists it needs to be refuted, and then I responded “You are absolutely right, Tao is a set of principles and there is no reason why one cannot be both Taoist and a Christian.” (it’s right there in front of you!)

      Now your turn. Please tell me why, when the exact text of the exchange, including all of the exact words I posted right in front of your eyes, you pretend something completely different? My conclusion is that you are either incapable of seeing these posts or are unwilling. Perhaps your browser won’t let you scroll to the previous post. However, my responses are there.

      On the other hand, I asked you at least three specific, non-ambiguous questions about your belief related to the content and historicity of the New Testament. Your only response was to ask a question that I already answered. (see the quotes in what I just posted) Seems pretty clear YOU are the one taking pot shots and then hiding. I answered the questions as we all can see. Now it is your turn!

      I posted, “Ask three scholars and you will get five different answers”. You asked, “What is your implication if not that the NT documents have no historical currency?”

      My fault. I assumed too much. I assumed the people here had at least a passing knowledge of modern biblical scholarship and understood how the various books of the New Testament are classified. In that context, your comment “It seems you are trying to make an argument without committing to your propositions” is understandable. I am of the opinion that the controversy concerning what genre to call the Gospels and the differences in genre among the books of the New Testament is common knowledge. My assumption was that anyone posting to Randal’s articles knew at least the basics. My apologies for this assumption.

      The first four books are called “Gospels”, this means “good news” in old English, which is a more or less direct translation of the greek “??????????”, which means “good message”. Note, however, that the gospels themselves do not refer to themselves as such. The term was added at the same time the names were attached (i.e “The Gospel according to Mark”)

      There has been debate among scholars for centuries whether the Gospels should be classified as history, biography, novels, myths or what. Some historians, (Bultmann?) content the authors had no intention of writing a history or even a biography. If memory serves me right, this is a minority view. From my experience most modern scholars see the gospels as a biography. However, one must keep the 1st-century context in mind when considering them as biography. The intent was always to present the subject in a particular light. (See Jodi Magnese or Michael Grant, to name two) Further, it is clear that there is bias in 1st century biographies. As already mentioned, ultra-evangelicals like Ankerberg and Burroughs acknowledge the fact the gospels writers selected specific events based on their personal goals in writing. (read: bias) Even Daniel Wallace has admitted that things were added to the Gospels for religious purposes. My understanding is that the current tendency is to create a new classification/genre simply called “gospel”.

      Following the gospels is Acts, this could (should?) more likely be classified as a history, despite being the apparent second volume to the work start in the gospel attributed to Luke. Even so, the only things that can be verified by extra-biblical sources are the locations, titles, and a few names. This certainly does not make Luke a “first-class” historian as Ramsay maintains.

      Following this are the epistles, or letters, from various authors. I ever never read a single historian or new testament scholar or even heard of one who claims these were intended as history. Some people (e.g G. Habermas) attempt to date certain events based on descriptions in Paul’s letters, (e.g using 1 Corinthians) but I have never heard him claim the letters were intended as a history. It is obvious they are intended for religious motivation, clarification of doctrine, sermons, etc but not as a history.

      The last book, Revelation (not “Revelations” plural) is an “apocalypse”, which comes from the Greek which actually means “revelation” (or “uncovering”). While one might twist the meaning to claim this is a “history of what is to come”, that is an absurd abuse of the word.

      So with this knowledge, you can hopefully see that it is pretty clear that if you “Ask three scholars and you will get five different answers”. There is no consensus about how to classify the Gospels and most certainly the New Testament is not considered a history.

      Again, my apologies for assuming too much.

      • MGT2

        “There is no consensus about how to classify the Gospels and most certainly the New Testament is not considered a history.”

        Thanks, it took a lot of words, but that is what I thought you were implying.

        That view is obviously not based upon scholarly, professional, academic consesus; there are too many materials available confirming the historical currency of the NT documents to take your claim seriously. But like I implied, you can hold any view you want.

        So long.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          That view is obviously not based upon scholarly, professional, academic consesus; there are too many materials available confirming the historical currency of the NT documents to take your claim seriously. But like I implied, you can hold any view you want.

          MGT2,

          That’s a neat trick. I’m sure no one will notice that Jim said the New Testament is not “a history” and you responded by claiming that it had “historical currency.” If that is the best you’ve got after Jim’s long comment debunking your intellectual sleight of hand, let’s hope your “So long” was sincere.

          I might say that you can attack any view you want, but if it’s not the view that someone actually maintains or expresses, it’s a straw man.

          • MGT2

            vinnyjh

            I noticed his use of the non-committing and somewhat prosaic phrase “the New Testament is not a history”, thus my use of “historical currency”; for in doing so, I am not saying it is “a history”, but simply pointing out the value of the NT documents to historians and the science of historiography. This is in stark contrast to the Tao Te Ching. And it directly relates to the standard he is using to value the Tao Te Ching above the Bible saying that “The evidence for the Tao is self-evident” while admitting that his preferred text is primarily the view of a single individual.

            He placed the Tao Te Ching in the class of historically falsifiable documents by saying in the same context that “no one has been able to refute it”. This prompted a response from Randal who eventually said “You were writing as if it could be “refuted”. So how would one go about refuting it?” His response was to appeal to Lee Strobel. What we want to know is what HE thinks. This seems reasonable because he puts so much faith in the book. What standards is he applying? Isn’t his approach tantamount to a double standard?

            It is precisely because I recognized the tendency for Jim to obfuscate in order to “protect” his arguments that I responded as I did. But one would like to see a commitment.

            • Jim

              ‘I noticed his use of the non-committing and somewhat prosaic phrase “the New Testament is not a history”’
              …facepalm….
              Again, this simply demonstrates a lack of understanding of the basics of historiography in this context. How could it be “non-committing” when it is the opinion of many scholars, including fundamentalists? Saying ““the New Testament is not a history” is a definitive statement and I am obviously “committing” to the claim that “the New Testament is not a history”. Either you do not understand “the new testament” or “is not” or “a history”. Which is it? That is the only explanation for your claim that what I said is “non-committing”.
              I showed you why it was not a history. (Read my other post fo the details.) Now it is up to you to come up with some facts other than the demonstrabley false claim “That view is obviously not based upon scholarly, professional, academic consesus”.
              “This is in stark contrast to the Tao Te Ching.”
              …and you choose to ingore the previous post, where I agree what Randal said about it. Tell us why you are chosing to ignore the posts? Do you feel that is the only way you can win arguments?
              “And it directly relates to the standard he is using to value the Tao Te Ching above the Bible ”
              Man, oh, man! Are you really *that* desperate? I flat out said ““The Tao Te Ching is not a history. ” (exact quote) I agreed with Randal that the “Tao is a set of principles” (also exact quote) Now you are being completely dishonest by your claim that I am using it as a standard “above the bible”. You are simply making things up.
              Exactly what standard am I using? How about some exact quotes (**after** what I responding to Randal!)
              So, do tells us what aspect of the Tao do **YOU** feel is not “self-evident”? My guess is you have done no investigation into Taoism so you have no clue about it. Thus any claims you assert are made up! Many consider the Tao and God to the the same, are you claiming that the existance of God is not “self.-evident”?
              “preferred text”??? Excuse me? Just where did I say I prefered the Tao Te Ching over the bible or over any text, for that matter? You sure like making things up, don’t you? As has already been pointed out to you, making something up and claiming it is the other person’s argument is called a strawman. Seems that is your favorite pastime in this forum.
              ‘He placed the Tao Te Ching in the class of historically falsifiable documents by saying in the same context that “no one has been able to refute it”.’
              Bzzzzt! I sorry, that answer is incorrect. Next contestant please! As I already pointed out and everyone can see (and you obviously chose to ingore), talking about “refuting” something most certainly does not imply “historically falsifiable documents”, history or anything related. Yet another strawman!!! I am by no means placing the “Tao Te Ching in the class of historically falsifiable documents”. Read the posts! I even point out an example of something you can refute that has nothing to do with “historically falsifiable documents”. Still, you make up the false claim about “class of historically falsifiable documents”.
              ‘This prompted a response from Randal who eventually said “You were writing as if it could be “refuted”. So how would one go about refuting it?” His response was to appeal to Lee Strobel.’
              Uh, no. If you read the text you will see that I said “pointing to Strobel as being the one who insists it needs to be refuted.” I was pointing to Strobel as the one who *claims* it needs to be refuted. Naturally it was an “appeal” to Strobel because, as I said, he is the one making the claim it needs to be refuted? Is it clear now?

              “What we want to know is what HE thinks.”
              Then read what I posted.

              “This seems reasonable because he puts so much faith in the book.”
              Based on what? As I already posted (and everyone can see) I agreed with Randal that the Tao Te Ching represents a set of principles. Perhaps in that regards I might be willing to say *myself* that it can’t be refuted, because it is a set of principles after all. You might be able to argue against it (as a principles), but refute it? It is ludicrous to try to refute a philosophy or set of principles as it all boils down to opinion.
              Faith? Again you force words into the discussion that I never used. Then that word because essential to your argument. Yet another strawman! You are being exceptionally dishonest.
              “Isn’t his approach tantamount to a double standard?”
              Obviously not, because as was already pointed out even before your last post, I agree that Taoism is “is a set of principles that you either accept or you don’t. ” (quote from Randal) Apparently you are afraid to look at the previous posts as you will see what I posted, as the only “standard” I am applying is agreeing with Randal that it is a “set of principles”. In that that description does not apply to the New Testament, naturally you *must* your a different standard, because they are different things!
              “It is precisely because I recognized the tendency for Jim to obfuscate in order to “protect” his arguments that I responded as I did. ”
              Now that is a pretty pathetic argument. As I already pointed out, I asked specific directed questions to **YOU** and you have yet to answer these specific questions. Still, you have the audacity to say I obfuscate? I made specific statement, pointed you to them, yet you continue to ingore them and spout out strawmen arguments. What **specifically** do you claim is an obfuscation?
              “But one would like to see a commitment.”
              Then how how reading my posts?
              Once, just one single time, how about addressing my arguments with the words I use myself and not your typical strawman, ok?

        • Jim

          “That view is obviously not based upon scholarly, professional, academic consesus; there are too many materials available confirming the historical currency of the NT documents to take your claim seriously”.

          Howls of derisive laughter, Bruce! That comment demonstrates three important things: 1) You are ignorant of the basics of historiography. 2) You are ingorant of current biblical scholarship 3) You love playing word games and twisting meanings, because that is all you have. You can’t argue the facts or current scholarship because they are all against you. As everyone can clearly see, I never questioned the “historical currency” of the New Testament. I simply maintain that there is no consensus among scholars as to what genre the Gospels belong and that the NT is not a history. Or perhaps to be clearer, it was not *intented* to be a history, but it is difficult to conclusively determine someones intent 2000 years later.

          “The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies” edited by J.W. Rogerson and Judith M. Lieu, Oxford University Press, 2006, in chapter 26, the author (Richard A. Burridge, the Dean of King’s College London) writes a whole chapter on the gospels as biographies, NOT histories. (“Like other ancient biographies…”) Burridge also wrote an entire book entitled “What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels”.

          If you have been paying attention, “Oxford University Press” and “King’s College” should ring a bell for you. Randal’s book “Theology in Search of Foundations” was published by OU Press and Randal got his PhD from King’s College. Other people who contributed to this work include Craig Evans and James D.G. Dunn. This isn’t some mass market trash like what Strobel writes. This is a scholarly work written by respected professionals.

          Dr. Judith Diehl, who had Larry Hurtado as her doctoral advisor, wrote a paper in which she said, “The challenge of clearly identifying the ‘Gospel genre’ continues, as scholars try to understand the nature of both canonical and non-canonical stories of Jesus.”

          Simply google “gospel genre” and you find hundreds, if not thousands, of papers and articles on this issue. Most of the ones I have read classify them as biographies. However, fundies often like to call them histories in a vain attempt to give them more credibility. Biographies in the 1st century tended to be more baised than straight histories in the 1st century, but as I mentioned before, even ultra-fundies like Ankerberg admit the gospel writers were biased. In any event, even a cursory investigation of the available scholarly work will tell you “There is no consensus about how to classify the Gospels”.

          Next is my assertion that “New Testament is not considered a history.” Well, first, as demonstrated, scholars call the Gospels biographies, not histories. (you do know how to use google, don’t you?) Second, the epistles are just that “epistles” or “letters”. Historians look at them as letters, not as histories. As mentioned, Revelation is not a history, but a “revelation” or “uncovering”. That leaves only Acts. As I said, it would be reasonable to consider that a history. However, you cannot label a collection of writings using a term that only applies to less than 15% of that collection. It would be more honost to call the NT a collection of letters or a collection of biographies. Certainly not a history.

          Note that I said “a history” and not simply “history”. I am pointing this out to prevent you from playing more word games. Within this context, there is a very specific meaning when you refer to something as “a history” as opposed to simply “history”. I can recommend several good books on historiography, if you want. Some of them I am sure would be recommend by Willaim Lane Craig as he has referenced them in several debates, lectures and books.

          BTW, why don’t you tell us what *you* mean by “historical currency”. I am willing to bet that it will be cause for another good laugh.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    If I make the point that Abraham Lincoln’s letters are not “a history” even though they have “historical currency” have I said anything important?

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

      Mike,

      I don’t know, but scholars spend a lot of time talking about the implications of genre so it easy for me to imagine contexts in which the distinction is relevant.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        vinnyjh,

        I agree that recognizing letters as letters sounds like a smart thing to do. I don’t see, however, how doing so would diminish their historical value. On the contrary, it would only seem to enhance it.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Mike,

          Nobody is claiming that a letter’s historical value is diminished when we recognize that it is a letter.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            vinnyjh,

            Good to hear. Lots of valuable history can be gleaned from those letters – most notable of all that there were lots of folks in lots of cities from Jerusalem all the way to Rome who believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead in their generation (the uncontested letters of Paul having been written 50-60, Jesus having died during Pilate’s administration of Judea 26-36). The question that leaves us with is, “Did they do so with good reason?”

    • Jim

      The question indicates to me you have little experience with historiography, particularly in the context of the new testament.

      Letters are often very valuable documents, even if they do not mention important historical events, as they give us insight to how people thought, their daily lives, and so forth. It would “diminish their historical value” over a history in the sense that the purpose of the document is different. With a letter, you are trying to get a particular message across. While this happened frequently in “histories” in the 1st century (the were often written as “entertainment”), it is natural to look at a letter differently than a history, biography, and so forth. That is why the definition of what a gospel is is very important in this context.

      Further, the term “diminish” is vague, almost to the point of being meaningless. A letter written by a roman senator telling his true feelings about Caesar has a different historical value than a history commished by Caesar himself. Even the term “value” is somewhat vague, but I am not using it ordinally, but simply saying the value is “different”.

      While letters, such as the pauline epistles do have historical value, they were written by someone who had obviously objectives. It is ludicrous to assume that Paul was not biased in his writing. He alledgedly believed what he was writing and within that context, is his obviously biased. As has been pointed out here repeatedly, by yourself included, you believe first and ask questions later, so anything you write he is obviously biased. While 1st century histories are known to be very biased, the extent to which they are baised is subject to constant debate.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        So, should I pass the word to Lincoln buffs that they’re wasting their time with those letters of his? After all, Lincoln is known to have had objectives, and it it ludicrous to assume that he was not biased in his writing.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

          Mike,

          Once again. Nobody is claiming that a letter loses its historical value when we recognize that it is a letter.

          Do you not understand that or are you being purposely obtuse?

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            vinnyjh,

            You said “Once again…” three minutes after you said it the first time. Give a fella a chance to respond before calling him obtuse for not answering you the first time.

            By the way, I just put my answer under your question above where you asked it the first time.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh

              Mike,

              I didn’t call you obtuse. I asked you whether you were being obtuse or whether you understood that we weren’t claiming that a letter has no historical value by virtue of being a letter.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                vinnyjh,

                Jim seemed to be denigrating the historical value of the New Testament documents. I was defending it. As I’ve said elsewhere, if you guys ascribe historical value to the New Testament documents and only differ about which genre applies to which document, then I’m glad to hear it and have no argument with you.

                As for obtuseness, and to satisfy any lingering curiosity, whenever I am obtuse it is always unintentional.

        • Jim

          Mike, you arguments are trully pathetically absurd. You jump from the fact that historians look at personal documents like letters differently from histories and biographies, to the extremely assinine claim the lincoln buffs are “wasting their time”. You do understand that your posts can be read by millions of people, don’t you?

          …facepalm…

          • Jim

            Vinny, I think it is simple desperation. He is running out of arguments (as if he ever had any valid ones) so he has jumped to the “appeal to ridicule” fallacy. Next comes what I call the “reductio ad prayerum” fallacy. (reduction to prayer, yes I know it is not real Latin) Once they start with fallacies like appeal to ridicule, it is just a couple of post before they say “I will pray for you”.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              If you think that the New Testament documents are historically reliable, then there is no argument between us.

              • Jim

                “historically reliable”
                I want to be extremely careful with phrases like that, Mike. As I have already found in this thread, the core of some people’s argument it to take what someone posts and twist it around. I am willing to agree that the New Testament documents are “historically reliable”, but only in as far as other documents from the same period are “historically reliable”. However, that most certainly does not mean I believe them to be inerrant. No matter what genre we assign the books of the NT to, it was almost universal that the 1st century stories like you find in the NT were embellished. I could name a least half a dozen books on historiography that agrees with this. There was even a post-modern movement among historians that maintained we can not be certain about anything in the past. Arguing against this is part of the motivation for Richard Evans’ book “In Defence of History”.

                I have actually argued *for* the historicity of Jesus against dogmatic atheists, as well as the value of the NT documents as historical sources. However, that is a far cry from saying they are inerrant. I would even go so far as to say that I believe there are many truths in the New Testament, even if the stories that tell us these truths never actually happened. Does that make sense?

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  Sure.

                  My life was turned completely around simply by reading the New Testament documents as I would any other documents from antiquity, and learning through them that Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t think someone’s position on inerrancy is nearly so important as one’s position on Jesus. He is the truth.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            You seemed to be speaking derogatorily about the historical value of the New Testament documents. I was taking issue with that view.

            • Jim

              OK, I can accept that. I often use sacrasm. I interpreted that as your argument (i.e. an appeal to ridicule). I most certainly accept the historical value of the entire bible, not just the gospels or NT. However, I think it absurd, evem irrational to think it inerrant .

              • MGT2

                Then forget everything else that was said. That is all I wanted to hear from you.

                I can accept that we see inerrancy differently.

  • MGT2

    Jim,

    Perhaps we should step back and define “historical documents” because that is where this really began. Historical documents give information about people, places, things, dates and events that can be falsified (even though you should know this, being an expert on historiography). Every epistle and Gospel in the NT meets that standard; they ARE historical documents (even though you should know this, being an expert on current biblical scholarship). For what I mean by historical currency see my response to vinnyjh.

    Name dropping does not validate an argument. Can you provide a verifiable quote of any scholar who denies that the NT documents are indeed historical documents? I am not talking about “histories” even though Acts certainly meets that qualification.

    Bear in mind – lest we slip down another rabbit hole – that we are talking about the double standard that is applied by those who diminish the value of the Bible (Jesus). Especially in your case since you seem to think the Tao Te Ching is so much more reliable.

    • Jim

      “Especially in your case since you seem to think the Tao Te Ching is so much more reliable.”

      You are certainly a specimen. How many times I have posted a response to your absurd claims and you *still* make comments like that?!?!?

      …facepalm…

      All I can say is Jesus knows what is really in your heart, doesn’t he?