On Pluralism In Western Culture

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I am currently reading a book on apologetics from my Logos library. The opening chapters of the text are littered  with quotes from D.S. Carson. CArson is an intellectual heavyweight in the area of Biblical scholarship and Christianity. I learned a great deal from his books while I was in seminary. The following are a few of the quotes I lifted from the text. These are all Carson quotes from God and Culture.

In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism … has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

Pluralism has managed to set in place certain “rules” for playing the game of religion—rules that transcend any single religion. These rules are judged to be axiomatic. They include the following: religiously based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance. The list could easily be expanded.

Those who are committed to the proposition that all views are equally valid have eliminated the possibility that one or more of those opinions has a special claim to being true or valid. They have foreclosed on open-mindedness in the same breath by which they extol the virtues of open-mindedness; they are dogmatic about pluralism.…

Both the irony and the tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance. It is not “liberal education” in the best sense; it is not pluralism in the best sense. It is fundamentalistic dogmatism in the worse sense.…

Defending the Resurrection: Part 5- The Accuracy of the Texts

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20110817-022728.jpgOne of the most frequent issues raised by skeptics when discussing the validity of the Gospel accounts is the veracity of the documents. Claims generally center on the idea that the books were heavily edited by leaders within the church or by the Catholic authorities in order to present a certain message that the church thought was desirous. The less sophisticated version of this argument is the: “what if some guy just made it all up” question. This installment of the defending the faith series will look at how accurate the original texts are to the original writers’ intent.

In order to understand the texts properly, we must begin with understanding where they come from and how they were distributed. The texts themselves were originally hand written and hand copied documents, printed on vellum or papyrus. Both were fairly expensive medium. Documents had to be copied by hand and were shared from church to church. By the end of the second century, most of the documents that are in the Bible we use today had been spread to all of the churches in the world. This is no small feat considering the fact that these documents had to be hand copied and hand delivered during a time when travel could be dangerous and Christians were not always that popular.

Hand Copying-

20110817-022652.jpgIt is frequently suggested that hand copying documents is not a very reliable method. Skeptics further suggest that the hand copying results in significant changes in the texts themselves. While it may be the case that hand copying was less reliable than photocopying, hand copying has proven to be remarkably reliable in the ancient world. This is particularly the case amongst the Jewish scribes. In the ancient world, people who professionally hand copied documents were called scribes. This was a profession of some prestige. Scribes were frequently experts in the law and were well educated. They took their jobs very seriously, because they feared God. One example of this fear is the fact that Jewish scribes would not write the name of God for fear of committing blasphemy. They would only write part of the name and they would dispose of the pen when they were done for fear of offending God with their using a pen that wrote His name to write anything else. It was this fear and reverence that was brought to the table by the copyists.

The beginning of understanding why the texts of the Bible were accurately copied is understanding the rigor that went into the copying process. After the text was copied, the letters in both the original and copied documents were counted. If there was variation between the number of letters the copy was destroyed. The scribe then compared the middle letter of each document. If the middle letter was different in either, the copy was destroyed. This was repeated with the letters in the middle of the first and second halves. Here again, variations resulted in the destruction of the copied documents. This level of professional rigor testifies to the seriousness of the professional scribe, particularly in light of the fact that the paper they were writing on was quite expensive.

It is worth noting that this was not a foolproof system of checking documents. Copies of New Testament books exist with misspelled words, changed phrasing and other variations. In addition, some scribes did alter texts. However, the amount of variation in the New Testament manuscripts is fairly minute and the vast majority of variations relate to the misspelling of words and other clearly typographical errors. However, the hand copying of texts has provided us with over 5,000 copies of each manuscript, though some are newer than others. The manner that those manuscripts were copied and distributed is illustrated in the above diagram. Again, this is very simplified. An original text was copied several times. Those copies were copied and so forth. Errors can be attributes to specific “families” of documents. In the diagram, I use the example of a misspelled word. Translators backtrack through the manuscripts and identify which copies belonged to which group. This helps them to identify variations and determine which variant is most accurate. This tracing of variations is called “textual criticism.” It has provided us with very accurate copies of the original documents. If you are interested in understand how minute most of these variations are, take the time to read the bottom page of a Bible. You will find the word variations noted there.

The widespread distribution of texts has other advantages. The biggest is that it prevented any one person from dramatically altering the books. We see this fairly early in church history. In 140 AD, a man named Marcion attended a meeting with all of the leaders of the church from all of the churches in the world. (This was called a council. It seems to have been a practice from as early as the church in Acts.) Marcion had assembled a Bible. In his book were several heavily edited copies of the book of Luke and Paul’s letters. The church leaders immediately recognized the changes in the books and called Marcion to task. He was unable to foist his altered books on the church because they all already had copies of the books. After the first few years of Christianity, it would have been impossible to alter the books through copying. Further, the entire Bible wasn’t assembled until a couple of hundred years later. This means that in order to truly alter the message of Christianity, a person would need to change not just one book, but 27 books that had been distributed all over the world. The task would be utterly impossible because of the distribution of the books.

The Early Church Fathers reenter the story at this point. The 50-volume set of writings from the early leaders of the church provides the next layer of protection against tampering with the documents. The early church leaders quoted the original books of the Bible extensively. This begins with the earliest of the writings from the church fathers. Using the works of the church fathers, we can piece together almost the entire New Testament. Therefore, if there had been dramatic alteration to the texts, we would be able to detect it through the variations with the early fathers.

Early manuscripts and fragments are another source for evidence regarding the distribution and some of the wording for ancient biblical texts. Scraps and fragments of the original documents are sometimes found by archeologists. These scraps indicate the distribution of texts and can occasionally provide small segments of text. The most notable chache of manuscripts and fragments discovered in recent history is the dead sea scrolls. The documents included 9 fragments of New Testament documents. However, these are not the only examples of early manuscripts. These sorts of items are important because they augment the arguments for the ancient texts by demonstrating age, how widespread the documents were distributed and some portions of the texts themselves.

The preceding arguments are enough to easily answer accusations that the Catholic Church or other early church leaders altered the books. The manuscripts were far too spread out for this to happen and scholars have a plethora of manuscripts to check for consistency in the texts. Further, most of the variations are minimal. Those variations that are more significant than misspelled words don’t relate to any major doctrines of the faith. The New Testament is very well preserved. In fact, we have a more complete picture of the New Testament than we do for any other ancient text.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 4 External Evidence

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The previous installment of this series dealt with the various eyewitnesses to the resurrection. All of the eyewitness accounts of the event are contained in the Bible. This has been a point of contention between believers and skeptics, because it is often claimed that the all of the supporting evidence is contained in the Bible. The lack of outside confirming sources is considered by some to be a weakness to the historicity of the scriptures. The outside evidence that supports the resurrection narrative will be the focus of this post.
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For starters, the argument that the lack of extra-Biblical eyewitnesses weakens the case for the resurrection is a bit of a non-starter. To understand why, it is important to know that the various accounts were not written as components of a larger collection. In fact, the authors had no idea that the books would eventually be assembled into the Bible. The original texts were written as letters and testimonies meant to transmit instructions or to attest to the life of Christ. The effort of assembling a collection didn’t begin until around 140 AD, but more on that in a later post. The exact collection of books was finally settled on in 367 AD. During the course of 200ish years, the assemblers of the Bible sought out and verified the texts that eventually became the Bible. All of the verifiable documents were included in the Bible. All of the texts that could not be verified did not make the final cut. This includes texts written by individuals who clearly did not know Christ or see his resurrection and books that were clearly pseudoepigraphical (written under a fake name claiming to be someone important like Paul, Peter, Judas, etc.). Otherwise, all of the accounts of Christ were included in the Bible itself. Most of the skeptics who encountered Jesus after the resurrection would likely have become his followers, as is the case for James, Jude and Paul. Believers who wrote books that attested to Jesus as having been risen would ultimately have had their books added to the canon. There is a natural lack of books that confirm Christ’s resurrection through eyewitness in the secular realm because the skeptics who saw Jesus alive ceased to be skeptics. One need only reflect on the words of Thomas that he needed to ‘put his finger in the holes in Christ’s hands before he would believe’ to find a mirror of the skeptics demand for still more proof.

However, that does not mean that there is no external evidence to be found or that there is no other evidence related to the documents themselves that can be considered. We will begin by looking at the external sources that offer information related to the resurrection.

Josephus: The most popular extra-Biblical source that relates to Christ is Jewish Antiquities by Josephus. Josephus was a Pharisee/priest turned traitor to the Jewish people, who aided the Romans in their (re)conquering of Israel around 70 AD. His book is a history of the Jews, and it mentions both Jesus and John the Baptist. Most scholars generally accept the Jesus quote as authentic or partially authentic as all available manuscripts feature at least some variation of this passage. The John quote is almost universally accepted as genuine. Here are the two passages in question:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.”

“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him.”

The reason these are important is that they are sources from outside the Bible that support the existence of two major figures from the Biblical texts. Josephus also supports several basic facts of the resurrection story: (1) the crucifixion and death under Pilate and (2) the continued devotion of his followers. If Christ were a fictional person, it is unlikely that external sources would support his existence, much less confirm the crucifixion narrative. This support is very important when defending the resurrection as historical because it trumps claims that there was no Jesus or that the crucifixion did happen.

Talmud: The next source worth considering is the Talmud. The Talmud is the Jewish collection of teaching and commentary on the Old Testament scriptures. They are notoriously difficult to interpret properly and are so expansive that it is difficult to deal with them as a layperson. The issue with dealing with the Talmud is that it is a trickier source for supporting claims about Christ. There is much debate and disagreement regarding whether or not Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud as we posses it today. This debate includes suggestions that Christians are grasping at straws in trying to find Jesus in the texts, accusations of editing the Talmud to remove Christ, difficulties related to interpreting texts, etc. That having been said, there are scholars who believe that Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud and that the texts support his existence and some of the details of his life, including the crucifixion. Of particular note is the work of Peter Schafer, Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton. His book, Jesus in the Talmud, addresses the matter of editing in the Ancient texts. He argues that references to Jesus were edited out entirely and references to Christ completely expunged. It is important to note that the Jewish people were quite hostile to Christians during the era of the early church, as illustrated by the addition of prayers hostile to Christians in synagogue services during the second century. Christianity was a rival religion to the Jewish faith, which makes expunging of records a reasonable possibility. Please note that the expunged texts are fairly graphic and not for polite conversation. Nonetheless, the existence of these texts lends support for the existence of Christ from an early source.

Various Roman Historians: Tacitus, a roman historian, mentions Christ by the name “Christus” and describes his arrest and crucifixion for advancing a dangerous superstition. The reference is associated with Tacitus’ account of Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians in the mid to late 60’s. Julius Africanus, yet another historian, references the darkness that fell over all of the empire during the crucifixion, which is referenced in the Biblical account. Suetonius, another historian, references Christians in relation to a banishing from Rome that took place under Emperor Claudius. This particular reference is important because it confirms the reference in the Bible to the same event. Ultimately, this is important because it supports the scriptures, not so much because it recounts the resurrection. There are other references to Christians, but these do not really help as evidence because they only refer to Christians and we know that Christians existed. The issue we are addressing is the resurrection.

Textual Issues that Argue for Authenticity: The Biblical texts contain several oddities that argue against them being fraudulent. For example: according to the text, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. This may not seem like a big deal, but at the time women were not allowed to act as witnesses in court. This makes the opening testimony inadmissible to anyone who was from that day and age. Unless it was true, it would be as stupid opening argument. Another support from within the text is the surplus specifics featured in the story. This includes names of people who were present. If a writer were coming up with a lie they would be wise to avoid including names of people who can confirm or deny the story. Vagueness is the mark of a good lie. It is also important to note that the main characters, aside from Jesus, wind up looking pretty silly. If the texts were falsified, why make the authors look so bad? A final point of consideration is the unusual nature of the message. The scriptures offer a religious message that is quite unique to the era. The Jews found the incarnation and crucifixion totally offensive. The Greeks found resurrection to be ridiculous. The proponents of the mystery religions tried to alter Christianity to make it conform to their ideas of what ought to be true of a religion (see the gnostic gospels). There is no other faith in the ancient era like Christianity. If it were a lie, why generate the LEAST palatable story possible?

The Prophets: The final area of consideration regarding the crucifixion that argues for the truthfulness of the resurrection is the glut of prophetic writing pointing to its occurrence. These supports will not sway an ardently anti-supernatural skeptic, but are quite compelling to an open minded individual. One need only read Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 to find the clear story of Christ’s death and resurrection. The trick is that Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus was even born and Psalms even farther back. The Old Testament is rife with specific prophecies that are fulfilled by Christ’s death and resurrection. For a list of these prophesies type “Jesus crucifixion resurrection prophecies” into Google. Spend time reading them. Still more can be found by looking into his whole life. There are literally hundreds of them. Most folks, including a lot of Christians, don’t have any idea how specific the details are in the Old Testament. This, unfortunately does not gird the argument for the historic nature of the resurrection, however it does offer strength to the validity of the text itself.

The early church fathers: There is a collection of books consisting of roughly 50 volumes entitled “The Early Church Fathers.” These books contain the collected writings of the early scholars and leaders of the church. These texts include the work of Polykarp, who was a student of John, the disciple. Polykarp confirms the resurrection as well. Admittedly, this is hearsay, but it is a first hand source recounting what the disciple John taught regarding Christ. It is as close of a connection as we have to Socrates, the Greek philosopher. With Plato writing about Socrates and Aristotle writing as Plato’s student. We find the same with John as Jesus’ student and Polykarp as John’s student. Interestingly, almost no one questions Socrates as a historical figure, despite having fewer than half the number of eyewitnesses and almost no external witnesses. By the standards applied to every other historical figure, Christ undisputedly walked the earth, was crucified under Pilate and rose again. The only hindrance to the general acceptance of the claim is the supernatural elements of the story.

The next post will focus on the Bible texts themselves and how we can know if they are accurate to what was originally written.

Response to a comment on Part 3 of Defending the Faith Series

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Yesterday, while I was at work Random Ntryrgg posted a comment on Part 3 of my Defending the Faith series. After checking out the post, I set out to write a response. However, the initial comment was vague and so a lot of material needed to be covered to respond properly. The longer it got, the more it became clear that I would need to post a blog covering the material. This is good though, because the point of the series is to help believers respond to skeptics. This is a sort of principles in action example. It was also fun to do. So, here is the original comment:

Random Ntrygg posted:

well, the reason that secular thinkers don’t accept the evidence, is because there isn’t anythe bible gospels were not written by the so called witnesses – they were written decades after and are not eye witness accounts.

none of the historians of the day wrote about Jesus – there aren’t Roman records either, which, there would be if he was such an important figure as claimed.

the only accounts of him are the bible texts, which cannot be deemed as their own evidence – they are not corroborated with any records and do not match the actual known historical events.

King Herod was dead before Jesus was born, Nazareth didn’t exist until the 3rd century and it was a Roman village – Jews were never slaves in Egypt – so the bible stories start to fall apart in several places very rapidly.
Egyptians left detailed records of their daily lives at many social levels – the pyramid builders were paid free men, not slaves.

My Response:
Well, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist camp! I don’t know where to start! I will address all of your statements in turn. Though, first I will make the point that you are making broad statements without reference to any sources that support your positions. Its easy to attack when you don’t have to cite sources, just make unfounded claims. Also, this will be kinda long, because I will try to be more specific. Generalities tend to hide a lack of real thought and information.First, scholars do use the bible as a source. Both historians and archeologists frequently use the Biblical accounts as a point of reference because they have proven to be amazingly accurate regarding the details of ancient history, geography and the details of ancient life. By “scholars”, I assume you mean skeptics.

Let’s start with the obvious ones: The pyramids aren’t mentioned in the scriptures at all, much less in connection with the Jews as slaves in Egypt. Further, it has very little to do with the story of Christ. But, for arguments sake let’  s look at the claim. The pyramids were built in the 1600s BC, whereas the timeline for the scriptural account has the Exodus taking place in the 1440s (depending on whether or not you go with the Old theory or New Theory on the Exodus) either way… the whole pyramids thing is a straw man attack. That’s without discussing the Hebrew slave settlements that archeologists have recently uncovered in Egypt dating back to the time of the Exodus. Whoever sold you this bill of goods was pretty ignorant of the texts he was attacking.

I don’t know if you did this on purpose or not, but the Gospel texts do reference Nazareth. They do so before 70 AD (we have texts that reference it from pretty early on). You accuse the writers of the Gospels as having written the texts “decades” after the events. Then you indicate that Nazareth was a Roman town founded in the 300s. Christianity was illegal in the 300s. So, how did the writers come up with a town before it came about? You even acknowledge that it was referenced in text before the town was founded. Then, why did the Romans accommodate the Bible text by forming a town that fixed the backstory of the texts BEFORE Christianity was legal? These guys were still feeding Christians to lions at the time. Your argument falls apart upon further investigation. Let’s look deeper at the claim. This would mean that the authors came up with a town, wrote about it in their texts, and distributed their writings  IN Israel before the town existed. These guys would need to be idiots of the highest order. It’d be like me saying: Hey guys, we are going to Crazy Town! It’s a little town south of Chicago! Let’s go. To which everyone responds: “Where? You made that up!” You can’t lie to people who live directly in a community about the place they live. In addition, why would the Romans name a town with such a clearly Jewish name? They had long since exported the Jews and made the religion illegal in Palestine. Why gave it a Jewish flavored name? Further, can you site a source for this claim? I research a bit when I read your response, but it’s not a common point of knowledge. I’d love to read about it.

The lack of historians mentioning Jesus is a non-starter as well. The next post I will be putting up deals with this matter more directly, but for the sake of conversation let’ s look at the issue here briefly. Josephus is the obvious first guy to mention. Josephus is a historian who is well known, read and quoted. He references Jesus, John the Baptist and James, the author of the book of James. His mention of Jesus includes reference to the arrest and crucifixion. Even if you buy into the dubious claims regarding the texts of Josephus having been edited, very few historians believe that it was entirely added and no manuscripts exist that are completely missing the lines about Jesus. After Josephus, there is Cornelius Tacitus, who mentions Jesus by name and includes details of his execution by Pilate, who he refers to in a familiar manner. Tacitus was not a Christian, mind you, so he had no reason to generate a false report. Seutonius mentions Christ, though his name is Latinized in the text. He specifically references Christ in relation to followers who were banished from Rome during the reign of Claudius. This particular account confirms mention to the same event in the scriptures. Pliney the Younger references Christ in a letter to Emperor Trajan. Not the smallest mention is the Talmud. Now, an ounce of search engine work will produce arguments against the Talmud’s mentions of Jesus. However, I’d suggest you check out Peter Schafer’s book: “Jesus and the Talmud.” Schafer is a professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton and is an expert in Jewish mysticism, ancient Jewish history and Rabbinic Judaism. His book brings forward portions of the Talmud, which had been edited to remove references to Christ. He demonstrates that Jesus was extensively written about in the Talmud and that he was the topic of much discussion amongst the rabbis. Here again we see an external source referencing Jesus and claims regarding his life. The suggestion that there is no external historical reference to Christ is simply not true. This may seem like a lean collection of references, but Israel was a backwater nowhere country. The fact that anyone from the country is mentioned at all is amazing. The fact that Jesus is mentioned several times is fairly impressive considering the fact that he was a peasant whose public life lasted a scant 3-years and that he never left his backwater country to travel to anywhere important.

The suggestion that Herod was dead before Christ was born is based on incorrect assumptions regarding the date of Herod’s death. If we go by Josephus’ reference to an eclipse that took place before the death of Herod and that Passover followed shortly thereafter, we can pin the date of his death to between March 12th and April 11th 4 BC. This date is well within the potential dates for the birth of Christ, particularly based on the census that is referenced in the Gospels. There is record of a census in 6 BC that was organized by Quirinius. If Christ was born during the census, as the texts claim, it was YEARS before the death of Herod. Now, I assume you didn’t come up with this theory based on the idea that the birth of Jesus happened in 0 AD, as this was a date approximated by monks centuries later.

Now for the bigger topic. The texts as eyewitness accounts. I am guessing you didn’t bother to read my post thoroughly, because you really didn’t look at any of the arguments, but let’s start with the obvious stuff. The Bible is a single unit now, but was not assembled in that way until much later. For the purpose of testimony, the New Testament represents 7 separate accounts of varying specificity and strength. It may not be able to self verify, but we can compare the 7 accounts and determine their truthfulness based on consistency in the accounts given. Further, if folks watched Jesus being murdered then saw Him alive again, then their account would specifically mention that they saw him alive. This makes them religious documents by your standard, and therefore, unacceptable sources. So, regardless of whether or not Paul confirms Matthew, they are both religious documents, and therefore, not acceptable. All of the 7 available witness are collected into the New Testament and were collected as such by design because part of the intent of the Bible was to present the best possible case for the life and resurrection of Jesus. However, your standard eliminates the presented evidence because it has been assembled by ancient scholars in an effort to present the best possible case.

Now, you reference the Gospels as unreliable, but the Gospels aren’t the only accounts of the resurrection in the texts. Paul clearly indicates that he saw the risen Christ. All of his books are letters. It’s one thing to manufacture a biographical account, but Paul was generating correspondence to churches he had already planted. Thus, the dating is not particularly important because regardless of 1 year or 10 years worth of time passing between writing and occurrence, he was writing a piece of material that represented a particular interest at the moment. So, Paul is a fairly strong witness. He confirms Luke as his companion, thus offering support for Luke’s work. Luke was not an eyewitness. He clearly states that he is doing the job of a historian by researching and writing based on his research. His research includes interviewing witnesses! Luke isn’t Jewish and he isn’t from Israel. He was later executed for the things he professed to believe based on the eyewitness accounts he collected. Further, Luke was no one in particular. If he were generating a false report, why pick a nobody or indicate that he was interviewing witnesses? If he was lying, it would have made more sense to go with one of the prominent disciples in order to bolster his claims. As for the death of Paul, we have the work of Clement that confirms his execution for claiming that he saw Christ risen.

John was the only disciple to die of natural causes and to live to a ripe old age. He did so in Greece, where he led a church. He wrote his Gospel account in his old age along with several other works. This is a guy who knew Jesus personally. Further, we have the testimony of Ignatius and Polykarp, who both knew him and were his students. They offer strength to the idea that John wrote the Gospel of John as an eyewitness. Here again, the later date of writing doesn’t add much to the argument against John having written the text because outside witnesses confirm it. Within the text, we have John hiding his identity as being present. He doesn’t use his name, but rather refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. If the author of John were fabricating the text, why take on the persona of John, then hide it? That goes against the pattern of pseudoepigraphs from the ancient world. The reason you use a pen name is to give notoriety, not try to hide your identity.

As for Mark, we know it’s not an eyewitness account. Mark wrote what Peter told him. Peter was an eyewitness. We can connect Peter to Mark through Peter’s own writing, again in a letter. Mark is attributed as the author of Mark by Polykarp and the tradition of the early church. Luke’s history indicates that Mark met Peter decades after the resurrection. So, it’s unlikely that Mark could write Peter’s account earlier. This doesn’t negate the writing he did. Again, we have confirmation from outside sources that Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter’s testimony.

Matthew was the first Gospel text written. Some scholars attribute it to a date as early as 40 AD, though some time in the 50s seems more likely. One interesting supporting argument for the position is that Matthew doesn’t reference the destruction of the Temple, but does include prophecies of it happening. An anti-supernatural bias would dictate it’s writing after 70 AD based on the references to the destruction of the temple. However, the same logic would require Isaiah to have been written after Jesus because he displays knowledge of Jesus’ life 700 years before Christ was born. An objective perspective would argue that Matthew’s prophetic references to the destruction of the temple ought to be accompanied by pointing out that the temple had been destroyed! Or that Matthew’s pattern of subjects as presented in the Sermon on the Mount were reflected in the work of Paul and James. Both Paul and James were dead by 65 AD, thus dictating that they referenced Matthew’s work before they actually died, mainly because it’d be a real trick to pull off after being beheaded. Ultimately, your accusation at Matthew was written decades later is weak at best. On the long end, it was a little over a decade later, on the short end it was a couple of years. However, proximity of writing doesn’t equal authorship proof, as I have demonstrated with the previous 3 Gospels. I would argue that every early source points to Matthew as the author of the text, particularly Polykarp (who hung out with John). This is FAR more proof as to the authorship of Matthew than can be offered for an anonymous author. Ultimately, this theory didn’t show up until the uber-liberal German rationalists came along in the 1800’s. They offered NO proof from history to support their claims. All they had was guesses base on leaps of logic from suppositions grounded in speculation resting on a foundation of skepticism.

Now, let’s look at the broader problem with your accusations. How exactly did Christianity get rolling without any eyewitnesses? In particular, this took place where Jesus actually lived and taught. If it was all made up, how did they garner such success in the town where it all began? Wouldn’t the locals simply indicate that it was all made up? I could see if they did it in Greece exclusively, but in the capital of Israel where Jesus was crucified and resurrected!? Also, how did the authors of the 4 Gospels manage to generate accounts consistent on the major details, but spread out all over the world and written by guys with no direct connections to the event? If they colluded, how did they mess up minor details? Further, if Biblical Christianity was an invention of individuals decades after the fact, how did Christianity become so widely spread that by the 60s Nero was able to target a large community of Christians for persecution? Or Claudius a decade before? There had to have been a solid teaching about Jesus to distribute from early on. The most obvious option is Matthew, because of his influence on Paul and James. This requires a very early authorship of his book. It also accounts for the widespread usage of his book and the broad consensus regarding it’s origins. If another book had been the source of information regarding Jesus, it would certainly have survived antiquity.

I would also welcome you to have a look at the proximity of the writing of the scriptures to ANY other ancient account of events. The New Testament accounts were generally written very close to the events they refer to by ancient standards. Further, there are more manuscripts that date closer to the original documents than with any other ancient texts. By your standards most of ancient history is in question.

Also, the councils that assembled the full Bible, did so after extensive research. They set about creating the canon in 140 AD. They then researched the origins of the texts for 200 years. This research had the advantage of being much closer to the events of the scriptures and therefore it had resources we don’t. They were able to go the the churches and ask where they got their manuscripts and were able to prove that some ancient texts were psuedononymous. The assemblers of the canon demonstrated great care and high standards in dealing with the texts to ensure the apostolic authorship of the books and their authenticity. Books were carefully removed based on questionable authorship and inaccuracies to history. But hey, those guys believed what they were doing was a big deal and that doing it wrong put them in danger of hell, so naturally they would have falsified the documents to forward a fake message. Oh wait… that doesn’t seem right. That might work as an incentive to do it legitimately. Heck, they even excommunicated guys they discovered to have generated texts under false pretenses. I assume you discount their research because they believed in stuff.

I welcome responses. Please use sources next time, so it’s not like yer making it up off the top of your head. Thanks for responding as well! This was fun!!

Defending the Resurrection: Part 3 The Witnesses

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​The historical evidence supporting the resurrection is plentiful. If any other event in history enjoyed the degree of evidence as can be forwarded to support the resurrection, it would be accepted as true without reservation. However, the secular bias of many in the intellectual community dictates that any testimony to the resurrection be treated as null. This having been said, it is well worth the effort to be knowledgeable on the specifics of the resurrection evidence in order to properly gird the believer against the bias and skepticism of detractors. Mind you, this is not dogma. It is documented history.

​The strongest category of evidence for the resurrection is the eyewitness accounts of what took place. There are seven individuals who acknowledge the resurrection and were witnesses. The strongest accounts are the four gospels. Each of these texts offers detailed accounts of the life, trial, death and resurrection of Christ. For the purpose of this post, each will be examined individually.

Matthew: The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew (also known as Levi) one of the 12 disciples. According to tradition, Matthew was the first of the eyewitness accounts of the life of Christ to be written. Matthew was probably written fairly early, because it is clearly used as source material for both Luke and Mark. Matthew was a well-known eyewitness of the events of the life of Christ, his trial execution and resurrection. Tradition holds that Matthew was martyred by sword or spear (it’s not clear which) in Ethiopia. He died preaching the gospel and was executed for teaching people about what he saw and heard.

John: John, brother of James, wrote the Gospel of John fairly late in the first century. John was an eyewitness of the trial and execution of Jesus, as well as his execution. John died of natural causes, though external sources tell us that he was banished to a prison island (Patmos). Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that he was released from prison toward the end of his life. Here again, John was persecuted (and according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs may have been tortured). He endured these things still teaching that he saw what he saw.

Peter: Peter, the famous headstrong disciple of Christ, is featured 3 times in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark is based on Peter’s testimony of the events of Christ’s life. Further, two letters from Peter are preserved in the New Testament. Both of the letters acknowledge the resurrection and Peter’s status as an eyewitness. Peter’s acknowledgement of the factuality of the resurrection is well reinforced by the available texts. Peter suffered persecution, torture, fled for his life from his home and was ultimately crucified (upside down) for saying he saw what he saw. In addition, we see a dramatic change in Peter from the end of the Gospels to the beginning of Acts. Peter is transformed from a man who flees in the face of danger and struggles with the right words to speak, to an evangelist that converts 5000 in one day through a sermon on Pentecost.

Paul: Paul was, by his own words, an eyewitness to the resurrection. His words are recorded in the Epistles. He endured hardship, torture, prison and death claiming that he saw what he saw. What makes Paul’s considerably more impressive as a witness is the dramatic shift he goes through. He begins as a persecutor of the church, only to become the most vocal and aggressive advocate for Christianity. Before encountering the risen Jesus, Paul officiates the illegal execution of Steven. He does this despite the fact that Gamaliel, his teacher, argues that the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) ought not persecute the church. In ancient Jewish culture, to go against your teacher was unheard of. Paul is virulently opposed to the church, only to then become their most strident supporter. It’s a little like Hitler becoming a rabbi that leads the Jews back to Israel. This change supports the validity of Paul’s claims. Paul encountered something dramatic that changed him dramatically. He directly points to his encounter with the risen Christ as the changing factor.

James: James is the brother of Christ and wrote the book of James. He is not initially a follower of Christ during his earthly ministry. We know this because the Gospels record Mary and Jesus’ brothers coming to collect up Jesus, claiming that he was out of his mind. James, though he does not directly acknowledge the resurrection in his book, does acknowledge Christ’s Lordship. Further, the book of Acts details his shift to the position of leader of the church after Peter fled for his life from Jerusalem. James upholds the resurrection as a teaching of the church. 1 Corinthians acknowledges James as an eyewitness. According to Josephus, James was stoned to death during a power shift in Jerusalem. He died for claiming to have seen what he saw.

Jude: Jude is a shadier figure and is not the strongest of witnesses. However, there is a case to be made that he was a witness of the resurrection and his Epistles essentially acknowledges the traditional teachings of the church. He identifies himself as the brother of James. Thus, he was the brother of Christ. We see where Jude is listed in the Gospels as a skeptic of Christ’s claims during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. We also see where several of Christ’s brothers were amongst the disciples at Pentecost, having become believers. This is certainly a reference to James, but the use of brothers in the plural indicates that more than one brother was present. Jude being one of the few brothers mentioned, it is reasonable to assume that Jude was present at Pentecost and was likely among those who saw Christ raised. This is furthered by his repeated references to Jesus as Lord. He supports the orthodox teaching of the church at the time, thus it is fair to point to Jude as a witness of the resurrection.

Luke: Luke was not an eyewitness to the resurrection. However, he begins his first book by indicating that he undertakes the effort of researching and compiling the testimonies of eyewitnesses. This accounts for some of the Mary-heavy accounts of the early life of Jesus. He clearly interviewed her and possibly her sister regarding the events surrounding the birth of Christ. He offers a clear account of the resurrection of Christ, again based on the testimony of witnesses. Luke offers us several accounts that are unique to his Gospel, including the road to Emmaus story. This is a product of interviewing and recording the events in his book. Luke also wrote the book of Acts, which details his travels with Paul andgand the growth of the early church and when he would likely have interviewed witnesses. Luke was executed under Nero, again not retracting his statements regarding what he learned from witnesses.

It is important to note that in addition to these eyewitness accounts included in the Bible, significant external evidence exists that points to the fact that the 11 disciples all faced torture and execution swearing that they saw the risen Christ. This is significant because they did so all over the world, while living in poverty. These are not the actions of people who made up what they saw. These accounts can be found in early Christian and non-Christian texts.

Addressing the accounts: The various accounts of the resurrection alone stand as strong supports for the historic factuality of the resurrection event. Some effort has be made to impugn the accounts. Most of the accusations center around two primary areas: the integrity of the texts (are the books trustworthy as accurate representations of their original content) and the collection of apparent contradictions between the various accounts of the resurrection. A later essay will look at the issue of the integrity of the books.
​When addressing apparent discontinuity of the resurrection accounts, there are two major veins that are worth following:

1. Harmony of the Gospels: I will not be doing an exhaustive account of the resurrection narratives in this essay. However, I will argue that alleged contradictions are typically easily explained. One example of this is the seeming discontinuity between the account of the women at the tomb in Matthew 28 and the account in Luke 24. One of the accounts features Mary and Mary, while the other includes a woman named Joanne and several other women. The argument is that because one includes more characters, they contradict. This is easily explained by pointing to the fact that the one simply doesn’t mention the extra women. This is an omission, not a contradiction. Exhaustive efforts have been put in to explain these issues. I would argue that while knowledge of this is edifying and may occasionally be useful, it is typically not the sort of accusation you encounter from a skeptic. Usually, this sort of accusation does not deal with specifics primarily because most accusers make blanket statments regarding the Gospel accounts. Therefore, I will not be looking any deeper into the topic. Information on the harmony of the texts is easily found online.

2. Similarities as signs of a lack of collusion: Despite alleged variations in the texts, the central facts are consistent in the Gospel accounts. The resurrection occurred on the Sunday following the crucifixion. The large stone was rolled away. Women, particularly Mary and Mary were the first to discover the empty tomb and speak to the risen Lord. Jesus ate and spoke with the disciples. Several include accounts of the showing of the holes from the piercing at the crucifixion. The consistency amongst the major details of the witnesses points to their validity. Further, variation amongst eyewitnesses is totally normal. If 15 people in a bank witness a robbery, there will be 15 variations of the event. However, the major details will generally remain the same. Several guys, guns, “everyone on the floor”, etc. are all example of major details. Minor details typically vary: Shotguns or rifles, no reference to the shoes being worn vs. a detailed account of the robber’s footwear, which register was emptied first. Perfect mirrors in details point to collusion. The Gospel accounts do not reflect this sort of planning.

In considering the validity of the accounts, it is also worth noting that none of the disciples comes out looking particularly good in the Gospels. For the most part, they present as clueless. If the disciples were making up the whole story, why would they make up stories that make them look so bad? Again, this is counterintuitive. The unflattering portrayal of the disciples adds a ring of truth to the accounts.

The various eyewitness accounts of the resurrection are not all of the evidence that is available. However, they are a strong opening argument. The next essay will look at the rest of the evidence that will be presented in this series.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 1- Responding to the church of the flying spaghetti monster

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First things first: Yes, there is a church of the flying spaghetti monster. It sprouted up as a response to a comment by new atheist author/speaker Richard Dawkins. The idea took root, not as a religion, so much as a sarcastic stab at the idea of believing in God. Thus the church of the flying spaghetti monster came to life. The church itself is a joke. It is not something that really needs to be dealt with. What ought to be addressed, and what I aim to address the in the following series of essays is the amazing degree of willfully blind ignorance and arrogance with which the privileged intellectual elitist new atheist movement dismisses any notion of God. This arrogance/ignorance have trickled down through classrooms and the media to the a growing segment of the general population that rejects truth in Christianity based on spurious arguments and fallacious reasoning. Rather than discuss ideas and honestly debate, the growing tendency is to resort to mockery, sarcasm and attack. Which is pretty amazing because mockery and sarcasm represent the weakest approaches in argumentation. I would argue that this is because the intellectual engine that drives this form of skepticism is more accustomed to arguing with straw men and ill-equipped believers. All too often, arguments aiming to refute the existence of God or any sort of creator are easily summed up in the following way: “there is no proof and everyone who dares suggest there is any proof is stupid to the point that we shouldn’t even discuss what they are saying.” This is usually followed by plugging fingers in the ears and yelling: “You are stupid! I am not listening to you!” when retort is offered up. The weird irony that cannot be missed by any objective observer is the excessive quantity of scholarship and intellectual pursuit that has gone into Christianity over the millennia, or that modern science is a product of Judeo-Christian assumptions regarding the world. All too often Christianity is caricatured as intellectually inferior and a crutch for the ignorant. Such caricatures are usually dripping with contempt and venom that render objective intelligent discussion impossible.

In the following series of essays I will address some of the basic proofs that support the claims of Christianity and I will speak to some of the more wrongheaded attacks raised against the faith. Very little of this will be original material. It doesn’t have to be. I will stand on the shoulders of centuries of brilliant men who have made these arguments before me. The first 5 or so of these essays will focus on the historical claims of Christianity, claims that are frequently attacked from a place of total and startling ignorance. The major objective isn’t for people to read this and realize the error of their ways or to offer a definitive defense of the faith. The goal is to equip the reader to answer some of the tougher questions leveled against Christianity. This ought to be fun. Please feel free to email me about these essays.

Interlude: Sola Scriptura

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One of my favorite memories from my adolescent years is of arguing with my dad. Seems odd, right? I became a Christian when I was in Jr. High School and was excited to learn. One of the first Christian books I read was Luther’s Catechism. I read it because I wanted to know everything about God that I could possibly learn. I read and studied and absorbed. My father blessed me tremendously by pushing me to think about what I believed. His challenges to my thinking forced me to read the scriptures as a meter stick for my beliefs. Since then I have tried to practice this discipline in relation to my faith. When I read seminary texts, I try to check the scriptures to determine if the Bible supports the claims being made. When I read books from popular theologians, I read the Bible to determine the veracity of the claims. When I listen to sermons, I work to do the same thing. Measure, test and discern using the scriptures as the source for ultimate truth. Debating Bible with my father gave me this gift. At times, clever philosophies and theologies have come along only to be measured against the Word and judged accordingly. Let there be no doubt, at times I wanted them to be true, while at other times, I wanted to find them false. But my desires must always be subordinate to the will and truth of the God I serve. Paul pointed to the Berean church in Acts 17:10-12, referring to it as particularly noble because they tested everything he taught against the scriptures. Paul was happy that they questioned him and checked his teachings against the scriptures. Paul lived in a time rife with deceivers and false teachers, not unlike what we face today. In the wake of his ministry, Paul constantly battled false teachings, prompting him to say amazingly stern things to the effect of: if anyone teaches any gospel other than the one I taught, let them be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9) What is taught in the church matters. We must measure and test. I don’t have time to write the next installment of my love wins review. I will probably write it next week. However, I wanted to take a moment to comment on my observations of the discourse thus far. After all, the debate ought to be part of how we measure and test. That having been said, I have been reading blogs and articles, listening to podcasts and having conversations. The bluster, incredulity, name calling and condemnation has been more distasteful than anything else. Now, I have read a few great articles and discussions from a variety of sources. I have also read some dump and mindless articles. One of the more discouraging trends that I have encountered time and again is scant discussion of the scriptures and facts. I suspect this is a product of the appalling degree of Biblical and theological illiteracy in the church. We have so much freedom and so many available resources that they have lost all value. In the end, if we are going to discuss the matter, the only thing of importance is the scriptures. Period. Sure, it is difficult to think that people may go to hell. Its a sad possibility, but that isn’t enough to make the scripture supporting the existence of hell null and void. Only God can decide the truth of the existence of eternal punishment or salvation by faith in Christ. God gives us the truth in the scriptures and only they can act as the arbiters of truth. If we are to debate, let us do so with the scriptures. This makes it tough because it’s easy to love Rob Bell. We want to defend Bell because we love him. Others want to attack him because they loathe him. It doesn’t matter either way. We can only look to the scriptures for truth. Love him or hate him, measure the truth of all teachings against the word of God. I rather like Bell, but I will not choose any teaching over the plain message the scriptures. Don’t argue about the other guy’s argumentation style, argue their scriptures. Nothing else matters. The most important lesson I learned from arguing with my dad is that the best way to learn is to study and read in pursuit of the truth. If this debate has caught your attention and gotten your blood boiling… Read the scriptures and study. Then the goal ceases to be defeating the evil heretic or the stiff necked evangelical and becomes about learning who our God is so that we can take a closer walk with him.