Debunking Debunking Christianity Christianity

I like reading blogs that challenge rather than reinforce my views (not that I don’t also like someone to agree with me, at least from time to time). One such blog is Debunking Christianity. Atheists like to challenge Christians by pointing out that they are atheists about almost all gods, and atheists just go one god further. That challenge could be reversed. I agree with atheists about a great many things, even in most cases rejecting many of the same idolatrous views of God that are prevalent in the popular religiosity of my own tradition. But I think atheists have gone one God-concept too far in their rejection, and in many instances have thrown the baby out with the bathwater – while I admit completely that the bathwater was in desperate need of changing.

When I disagree with atheists, it is usually because they accept premises and assumptions of religious fundamentalists that I think need to be critically examined and challenged. As cases in point, I wish to draw attention to a few posts that appeared on Debunking Christianity today. First there is a post by Jason Long on the Clergy Letter Project, spearheaded by Michael Zimmerman currently of Butler University, where I also teach. Long says,

I agree with fundamentalist Jefferson Reed that the signers of the petition are Apostates who deviate from the plain reading of the Bible.

Whenever you find yourself agreeing with a fundamentalist, it really ought to raise alarm bells. In this case, I’m willing to bet that Jefferson Reed does not accept the plain reading of Genesis 1 when it says that God places the sun, moon and stars in a solid dome that holds up the waters above. Moreover, Paul the apostle clearly had updated his cosmology, since he mentions a journey to the “third heaven”, which reflects the Ptolemaic view of multiple heavens around the Earth, and thus involves a departure from the cosmology of Genesis 1, in which all the celestial objects are placed in a single “firmament”. And so apparently even the apostle Paul did not accept the plain meaning of Genesis 1, and was (by Reed and Long’s standard) an apostate from rather than an apostle of Christianity. This is one major problem with fundamentalism. Even the original Christians usually were not “really” Christians by their standards. But neither are they themselves, and if there is a major problem in a lot of current discussions about fundamentalism, it is that too many uncritically accept fundamentalists’ claims to believe the whole Bible, and to consistently accept the plain meaning of the Bible where its plain meaning is not poetic or hyperbolic.

In another post, John Loftus praises my doctoral supervisor James Dunn for honestly admitting that Jesus was wrong about the imminent end of the world. Loftus then adds

What I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians). I think anyone with intellectual honesty should jump ship like I have.

The answer is that we’ve come to realize that, if even Jesus could be wrong, then how much more likely is it that I will be seen with the benefit of hindsight to have been wrong, most likely about a far greater number of things? We’ve thus found ourselves challenged to let go of yet another fundamentalist assumption we once shared, namely that being a Christian is about Jesus having been right all the time, and following him in the hope that we can be (or at least believe ourselves to be) right all the time. In other words, we understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty.

Interestingly enough, today in church my pastor quoted something I wrote (he’s been reading my book The Burial of Jesus), something relevant to this topic and the question of what it means to be a Christian. The bit he quoted was from p.137, where I wrote “resurrection faith…does not mean believing without evidence in the resurrection as something that has happened and will happen, but rather means trusting in the God who is capable of rescuing even from death. This should be the heart of resurrection faith: trust and hope in God rather than arrogant self-assuredness”. Of course, I also said in the book that Christianity might be better off without its typically unbalanced overemphasis on afterlife. But that’s a discussion for another time.

In another post at Debunking Christianity today, John Loftus asks why all Biblical scholars should not be critical scholars. The answer is that indeed we should be, and to the extent that we are uncritical we are also failing to be scholars. But one danger of abandoning faith without abandoning the presuppositions of fundamentalist religion is that one simply adopts another viewpoint that one is confident is right, without a deeper and more fundamental (if you’ll excuse the pun) change in worldview, one that is sufficiently critical, including self-critical, that it can follow the evidence wherever it leads, and fully respect those who have shown themselves to be equally critical and yet who find themselves led somewhere else by the same evidence.

The one other post today is the first Debunking Christianity Carnival, inspired by other carnivals around the blogosphere, not least the Biblical Studies Carnival. When it comes down to it, a main reason I read Debunking Christianity is that they often ask painfully blunt questions about the Bible, and that is valuable. Scholars, at our best, try to do the same thing. Those of us who happen to be not only scholars but participants in faith communities are seeking to not just debunk various forms of Christianity that make claims that cry out for debunking, but also to explore what if anything it can mean to live honestly as part of a community of faith in light of that debunking. I suspect that many atheists, even if they no longer have any desire to be part of a Christian community (and in view of the way conservative Christians sometimes treat those who ask certain sorts of questions, I can scarcely blame them), are trying in their own way to do just that, i.e. to figure out what it means to live a meaningful life after many of various older “certainties” one used to look to for meaning have proven to be anything but.

  • Lucian

    I've noticed You being caught up with "The One True God" for quite some time. And I've also seen You mention quite a few times Romania and its inhabitants. So, as a Romanian, I offer You this link, which You might or might not find interesting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11994673962810075076 Nick

    "The answer is that we've come to realize that, if even Jesus could be wrong, then how much more likely is it that I will be seen with the benefit of hindsight to have been wrong, most likely about a far greater number of things? We've thus found ourselves challenged to let go of yet another fundamentalist assumption we once shared, namely that being a Christian is about Jesus having been right all the time, and following him in the hope that we can be (or at least believe ourselves to be) right all the time. In other words, we understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty."Jesus is always right because Jesus is God and Man. If Jesus is wrong about something, than He isn't God, because God is Omniscient; and if Jesus isn't God, than Jesus didn't rise from the dead, and if He didn't rise from the dead, than Christianity is false. And in a sense, being Christian IS about Jesus being right all the time, because Jesus has commanded us to love and He has given us a model of holiness to follow. In regards to Jesus' human knowledge, please remember that He is fully man just as He is fully God, so, while He enjoyed omniscience as God, He only enjoyed the fullness of human mental capacity as man; hence, He had to learn and study. At the same time, because He enjoyed the Beatific Vision as Man because of the union of the Humanity and the Divinity, He knew all things in far as He could, and, since His human mind was completely submissive to the Divinity, He would know certain things at certain times, while, at other times, He did not know certain things – for example, He could read people's hearts and He had to ask "Who touched me?" amongst the crowd. It is similar with His glory as Man, which He enjoyed since the Incarnation, but was suspended until the Resurrection, because He had to earn it by His obedience unto death, similar to how Mary enjoyed her Immaculate Conception even though Jesus had not died yet, let alone been born. Another example of Jesus' human knowledge is that He said the muster seed is the smallest seed. This isn't true. But, one must remember that Jesus was a man and so did enjoy the omnisciene of God – as I said before – and, what is more, He spoke in a way which His listeners could understand, and they certaintly would understand the muster seed to be the smallest seed in the world.As far as Jesus' prophesy of the end of the world, He spoke not of an imminent end but of something else: firstly, the end of His listeners' world, the world they knew and lived in, and, secondly, the destruction of Jerusalem, God's judgment on the hard hearted Jews, who rejected His Messiah. Jesus' words have many layers to them, like an onion.Finally, the idea that Christianity is about a process is complete and utter garbage – so much so that I wonder if you're even qualified to make any statment on Christianity. I say this because every Christian knows that Christianity is the religion of Jesus Christ, and, as such, it is about life in Jesus Christ, life in the Spirit of the Lord, the new life one receives at Baptism, a share in His Baptism, and in His Death and Resurrection, for one dies to the world and rises in the Lord.

  • Zeus

    “The answer is that we've come to realize that, if even Jesus could be wrong, then how much more likely is it that I will be seen with the benefit of hindsight to have been wrong, most likely about a far greater number of things? We've thus found ourselves challenged to let go of yet another fundamentalist assumption we once shared, namely that being a Christian is about Jesus having been right all the time, and following him in the hope that we can be (or at least believe ourselves to be) right all the time. In other words, we understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty.”Yes, you, I, all of us human beings are highly fallible–have been wrong about a lot of things, and will continue to be.Yes, Christianity isn’t about Jesus being right all time. If he shared in our humanity, was truly human, how could he make no mistakes? He was a man the first century, born in a backwater of the empire–why should he know the first thing about geology or astrophysics? He may well have known less about the topology of heaven and earth than did Paul–who got it crazily wrong. So what?But those who know Jesus best–Vermes, Sanders, Allison, Fredriksen–or those of us who read them and Mark, Matthew, Luke and make out Jesus’ message as best we can–what is his message to us? What’s the news? “The time is completed, consummated, brought to realization, carried into effect, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and have faith in this good news.”But how can I do that? How can I believe what I know has not occurred? Jesus told his listeners “you’re having a terrible time of it, but it’s almost over–the world will be turned upside down, and I as God’s agent, God himself will be running things in your behalf. If you just believe God will embrace you, any moment his arms will enfold you.” But instead Jerusalem and the temple was laid waste, tens of thousands fell fighting for Boudica, ten thousand gladiators died under the gaze of Augustus,—instead, the same old you know what.It seems to me evasive and unresponsive to refer to the human propensity to goof up when the question is “how can your faith center on what Jesus asked his followers to have faith in when you know it ain’t so”–ain’t so, if, quite reasonably, we take Jesus to have meant “any time now, with any luck at all, in your lifetime.” We can easily admit we’re often wrong, even admit Jesus was often wrong. But wrong by ~1950 years about when the you know what will end?

  • Antonio Jerez

    James, I honestly think you are doing your best to avoid answering an important question. As far as I know you are not a founder of a religion or claiming to give heavenly revelations to humankind. So it is pretty irrelevant if many of your present beliefs will be shown to be wrong in the furure. Jesus, on the other hand appears to have been a preacher and a prophet who said quite a few things about the present and the future. He appears to have believed that these revelations came from God. Among these revelations appears to have been a belief that the Cosmos was soon going to "end". Jesus later followers developed these ideas and among other things added the belief that Jesus was going to return at the end time. I´ll bet that the author of GMatthew saw himself as a prophet receiving heavenly revelations when he came up with ideas like these. Just like Matthew saw himself as a prophet receiving heavenly revelations when he read all kind of weird things into the OT. So I hardly think it is the same thing if Jesus was wrong about the end of the world as if James F McGrath has problems with mathematics or physics. The belief in the "end" of the world and the parusia is part of the basics that constituted earliest Christianity. I doesn´t even matter if Jesus himself preached those things since Matthew, Luke and the others preached it and the internal evidence in the gospels make it obvious that the had received this information through the holy spirit. The fun thing is that they even ridicule sceptics like me who would have pointed out that there isn´t much of a holy spirit into their weird readings of the OT. So the problem is not that Jesus was may have been ignorant about how to milk a cow, sail a ship or even read or write, the important thing is that he and his followers CLAIMED HIM to be a divinely inpired prophet (and even more than that) who knew things for sure that us other mortals didn´t know. Like the fate of the cosmos and the fate of humanity. The claim about the fate of the cosmos has been proven false a long, long time ago. Just like many other claims made by Jesus and his followers. To tell you the truth James the reasoning you offer reminds me of the kind of apology a modernday mormon could give in face of all the follies that Joseph Smith and his followers have given us: No,no even if our Joseph Smith may have been wrong about the lost tribes of Israel roaming around America or those texts he claimed to be written in ancient egyptian are not in egyptian after all it doesnt really matter. The heck, me are wrong about a lot of things so why do you expect Joseph Smith to be perfect…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12762450398018434571 J. Quinton

    "I agree with fundamentalist Jefferson Reed that the signers of the petition are Apostates who deviate from the plain reading of the Bible."While it's admirable that liberal Christians find things in a plain reading of the Bible to be abhorrent, I actually agree with this comment. If you aren't reading the Bible plainly, then you are basically making up your own religion. Keeping the things about Christianity that you find acceptable in your modern framework, and rejecting the things you find deplorable also due to your modern framework. If you reject the Jesus who said that unbelievers will go to hell (Matt 25:46) with the assumption that Jesus would never say such a thing, what methodology are you using to assume that sort of Jesus? What if Jesus really did believe that unbelievers would be thrown into a "fiery furnace"? If he was wrong about that, what if he was wrong about everything? We don't have anything written by Jesus so everything said by Jesus in the New Testament might have just been his believers putting their thoughts in his mouth.The entire purpose of putting together a "measuring stick" (canon) in the first place was to keep all Christians following one doctrine, which was the problem with Christianity prior to any canon. Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries would do the same things that liberal Christians do today with their Bibles. But instead of interpreting some passages as "allegory" and others as "literal", they would simply change or remove the texts altogether.The atheist point is that if you disregard the canon of scripture, there's no longer a consistent methodology to determine what's Christian and what's not. Would you know that Jesus was the pre-existent "Logos" without a canon? Would you know that he was born of a virgin without a canon? Was the virgin birth or the pre-existent Word literal or allegory? Reinterpreting things in the canon as literal or allegory leaves you with something that resembles Gnosticism: some esoteric knowledge about Jesus. The fundamentalists' arguments are really the same sort of family of arguments the Catholics used against the Gnostics in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    Nick, your point is similar to the one John Loftus originally made: "What I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians). I think anyone with intellectual honesty should jump ship like I have." (The difference, of course, is that you don't think that the conclusions of those scholars are necessarily correct). I'm not sure that professor McGrath has answered the question in a way that I fully understand. You argue that Jesus was omniscient, although lacking in at least some areas of "human knowledge." — not knowing who had touched him, or not knowing what seed is the smallest, and so forth. However, Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as sometimes being ignorant of, or at least uncertain about, about the will of God — which he says is not the same as his own will. What is left of Jesus supposed omniscience if he was lacking both in "human" AND "divine" knowledge? At what point does omniscience cease to be omniscience?

  • Zeus

    Poor Dr. McGrath–first he’s cudgeled from the right, then from the left! “If Jesus is always right because Jesus is God and Man. If Jesus is wrong about something, than He isn't God, because God is Omniscient; and if Jesus isn't God, than Jesus didn't rise from the dead, There are a couple of things wrong here–one is that it’s heretical, and the other that it’s non-Biblical. (First, let me note that Jesus’ not having risen from the dead does not follow from his not being God. Lazurus rose.) The heresy lies in attributing omniscience to Jesus. The creeds have it that Jesus was “actually man,” man is a finite creature of limited intellectual capacity hence to say Jesus was omniscient is to deny the fullness of his humanity–a heresy. And of course no passage in the New Testament ascribes omniscience to Jesus.To deny Jesus taught that the kingdom was at hand is contrary to scripture, starting with Mark 9:1 and I Thessalonians 4:29 and proceeding to dozens of other passages. It belittles the kingdom to imagine that God’s rule could be so small a scale as the mere destruction of a city, let alone that his rule would manifest itself in such an appalling fashion. To say that Christianity is about a process may be a little vacuous. But what isn’t a process? Surely to say that Christianity is about a process one element of which requires that we be humble as to the extent of what we comprehend of God and his salvation–surely that’s not “garbage” but rather a truism. And no less surely, to declare a man steeped in scripture, a man manifestly earnest to seek the Lord’s truth, a man tireless in responding with respect to those who disagree with him–surely such a man as a matter of Christian charity and ordinary politeness should not be told what he’s said is garbage, let alone that he’s disqualified to say it.

  • Antonio Jerez

    I think Zeus has some sensible things to say. But I could add that by the standards James uses practically no religion can be falsified. No matter how wrong the worldview and predictions a founder and his followers may have been you can always find truth in what on the surface of it appears to be untruth since no human is perfect.

  • Anonymous

    You may want to spend more time actually understanding the Bible rather than accepting so many anti-Biblical propositions. Your desire to appear reasonable to the world has the effect of appearing to betray the gospel and actually empowers Christ's enemies.I found your arguments to be very shallow intending to manipulate rather than presenting the truth of God's Word.In your argument, Jesus is wrong about something meaning that he is not the God-Man. In your argument you attack the fundamentals (I suspect you don't like inerrancy which means that the Bible is not the Word of God or it assumes that men will error). In addition, your argument about Paul not taking Genesis literally was shallow and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Word of God. Genesis 1 says, "God created the heaven(s) and the earth." Paul was certainly not going beyond Scripture.I find your lack of insight and your inability to see the Bible as God's Word your greatest challenge to overcome.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11380591042937286155 Talon

    I just love deep thoughts like this:"In regards to Jesus' human knowledge, please remember that He is fully man just as He is fully God, so, while He enjoyed omniscience as God, He only enjoyed the fullness of human mental capacity as man; hence, He had to learn and study."Please remember (was the problem that we forgot?) that Jesus was all of everything — even if those things are contradictory and illogical, even if those things are not in the Bible, nay the opposite of what is in the Bible. The Bible says God alone is immortal."At the same time, because He enjoyed the Beatific Vision as Man because of the union of the Humanity and the Divinity, He knew all things in far as He could, and, since His human mind was completely submissive to the Divinity, He would know certain things at certain times, while, at other times, He did not know certain things – for example, He could read people's hearts and He had to ask "Who touched me?" amongst the crowd."I suppose it is remarkable that a person can string together so many nonsensical concepts in one sentence. Beatific Vision? Human mind submissive to divinity? There is absolutely no real evidence of any of this, and none is even clearly stated in the bible. Jesus was a man born like any other man. He was a charasmatic guy who developed a following in line with a deeply religious sect of his time. He taught the end of the world which did not come. Not because his divine nature was subordinate to his human intellect, but because every other person in the history of the world he wasn't divine at all. Like many outspoken and charasmatic leaders in a world devoid of due process, he came to a bad end. Like Plato, Mohammed and other inspiring figures, his followers created a cult around him after he died.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04272326070593532463 Pseudonym

    deusdiapente:If you aren't reading the Bible plainly, then you are basically making up your own religion.One of the points that James oftne makes (though slightly less succinctly) is that if you think you're "reading the Bible plainly", you probably aren't.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Yes, Pseudonym, Jim does say that a lot but I, for one, am not sure how you should read the scriptures in the absence of their plain sense. Sometimes I think Jim partakes in an agnostic Christianity, one in which one can have the experience of God but not the possibility of certainty concerning His will or expectation. It does seem to work for Jim but mysticism can be a stumbling block to many.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    I am an ex-Christian. When leaving Christianity (but trying to hang on), I was reading people like Thomas Merton and later more liberal Christians, I also wondered:What I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians). What I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians).When you quoted DC in your essay, I was hopeful and waited with bated breath for your next paragraphs to tell me why, but you didn't. All you did was say was, "OK, Jesus makes mistakes, that is OK, now I can make mistakes." Then you say, maybe we can drop an emphasis on an afterlife. But alas, you gave no answer. But I totally agree that Atheist often throw the baby out with the wash. "Community" is the big one — but it seems religion is tribal and tribalism draws humans together. And it is hard to be tribal about a negative belief. Religion also captures self-talk(prayer), moral reflection, inspired readings, group singing, gratitude with meals, and much more.I'd imagine for you, Christianity is following the image you have of Jesus as a great teacher – but why not find other great teachers like the Buddha and such that you can add to your list. Indeed, even after your essay I don't get why Liberal Christians are willing to give up so much, but why not go all the way? But wait, maybe you did say it. I think the answer is, because you know you won't be able to form a group without the myths and you don't want to loose the baby. And I get that !

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I am, as always, greatly encouraged when I get criticism from both sides. If I get it from only one, I'm probably off-balance. ;-)I understand the desire on both sides for a more simply-defined Christianity. It makes it easier to embrace, or refute.Alas, the canon that someone mentioned in the hope of providing that in fact illustrates well why I understand Christianity as I do.The problem of Jesus being wrong about the timing of the end didn't take 2,000 years to arise. New Testament authors have already begun to deal with it. One approach is found in John's Gospel, where the only sort of 'second coming' that is envisaged is a spiritual one. Through the Paraclete, the Son and Father come to dwell with the believers.Luke's approach is different. Luke reworks the material found in Mark 13, on the one hand making it mainly a prediction of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Luke 21:20), on the other hand making predicting the nearness of the end something false prophets do (Luke 21:8; compare both with Luke's source material in Mark 13).Being a fundamentalist is not being a "Biblical Christian". Instead it involves a combination of either unfamiliarity with or dishonesty about the complexity of the Bible's contents, usually coupled with a denigration of those who honor the Bible by familiarizing themselves with its contents as apostates, unbelievers or 'liberals'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04272326070593532463 Pseudonym

    Yes, Pseudonym, Jim does say that a lot but I, for one, am not sure how you should read the scriptures in the absence of their plain sense.Perhaps an analogy would be helpful.The "plain sense" of George Orwell's Animal Farm is that it's a fictional tale about talking animals. But if you stop there, you completely miss that it's actually a satire about the early history of the Soviet Union.The point here is that any work of literature, ancient or modern, needs to be read intelligently and critically, with reference to the language, history, culture and knowledge of the time. What may be plain to you may not have been so plain to the person who wrote it or who they wrote it to. The converse is also true.There is nothing special about the Bible in this regard.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Sabio, we must have been writing our comments at the same time, but I definitely don't want to give the mistaken impression that I ignored what you wrote.You definitely found a baby in the bathwater. I think there may be more than one in there (when the tub gets that dirty, it can be hard to tell!). Mystery and metaphors for transcendence are others. Like the mystics in many traditions, including but not limited to Christianity, I suspect that many of the life-changing experiences that people have had in other traditions may well be the same sort of experience I've had, expressed and experienced through different metaphors. And like many mystics and liberals, I find I have much to learn from others. That too has precedent in the New Testament – the term 'logos' had an interestingly diverse history of use before it was given its distinctively Christian spin in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel. But even there the author acknowledges that the light he sees in Jesus is the light that gives light to every human being (John 1:9).I suppose the main reason I haven't "abandoned ship" (to use John Loftus' metaphor) is because I don't have to. Although this is obviously not true of all specific manifestations of Christianity, the Christian tradition itself has a sufficient breadth and depth to it that there is room (and historical justification) for not only conservatives but also liberals, not only orthodox assenters to creeds but debates about creeds and even revision to earlier ideas. I can think freely and yet benefit from a community that challenges me to grow (in particular by keeping me interacting with those more conservative than me as well as some who are more liberal, or more uncertain), while benefitting from its rich supply of metaphors without which I would have to spend a lot of time inventing my own.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    So far as Jesus being "wrong" about something…I haven't found an instance of that period. I know Ehrman's garbage an a host of other critical positions and none has pointed out anything 'wrong" yet. So what's the question or the statement?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    DEUSDEPIANTEWe don't have anything written by Jesus so everything said by Jesus in the New Testament might have just been his believers putting their thoughts in his mouth.CARRWell, yes.And also into the mouths of Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, the Pharisees etc etc

  • benjdm

    But I think atheists have gone one God-concept too far in their rejectionWhat God concept would that be?John Loftus said: I think anyone with intellectual honesty should jump ship like I have.Apart from labeling, I wonder if Loftus would think that you have jumped ship. (shrug)

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,true that Luke, John and other followers of Jesus had to deal in different ways with the failed predictions of the end time and the parousia. But that in no way takes a way the simple fact that Chrístianity at its root is one of countless religious sects that have managed to survive despite wrong diagnostics about the world and wrong predictions about the future of the world. It is not really in a much better position than looney sects like the Mormons or Twelwer Shia islam. But I have also been enough time in the business of studying religious groups (often at first hand) to know that most people will kling to almost any straw so as not to jump the ship and find a new ship that hopefully can take you into more thruthful waters. I always recall my catholic parish priest here in Goteborg who many years ago confessed that he doesn´t believe in angels, virgin births and many of the other fundamentals of the christian faith. "So why do you go on being a Christian", I asked. "Because I FEEL there must be something right about Christianity" he answered. And I think that answer practically says it all about why many religious people kling on to lost causes despite evidence proving that many of the core beliefs of their religion is pure nonsense. Shia´s are sure the twelth Imam is still hiding in some cave because they FEEL his presence every day just like millions of Christians around the world FEEL the presence of a a heavenly redeemer called Christ who supposedly is going to give them eternal life. And like I have discovered countless times – in the end FEELING wins easily over facts and intellect no matter how much facts and intellect may show that those feelings are just a figment of your imagination

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    benjdm, I actually thought about going back and adding "at least" to that section of the post. Because I don't think there is only one 'correct' concept that intelligent believers can or must adopt. Personally I find the metaphors of panentheism helpful. Some specifically adopt process thought, some deism, some others. It annoys me when Richard Dawkins and others refuse to accept Einstein's pantheism for what he says it is. Instead of calling it 'sexed-up atheism', why doesn't he call atheism 'unsexy, watered-down pantheism'? ;-)But my intent was not to suggest that there is a single specific concept of God that atheists ought not to have rejected, but rather that there are quite a number of concepts, and uses of 'God-talk', that are compatible with a critical, scientific outlook, any one or all of which might be worth hanging on to. Antonio, I certainly do use religious language to express things that I feel or intuit but cannot prove or be certain about. I think what distinguishes critical from uncritical faith is whether one is willing to accept feelings as a basis for factual claims. It sounds like the priest you mentioned was indeed being appropriately critical in his outlook, and Christianity for him was something other than a set of dogmas to be assented to without evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary.There is a long history of defining Christianity in dogmatic terms. As Robin Meyers points out, in the Sermon on the Mount we get a vision of Christianity that is very practice-oriented. When we get to the creeds, the focus has clearly shifted. Some of us think it is possible to recover some of that early emphasis, and wish to gather to affirm '…We believe in going the extra mile, in breaking cycles of violence…' rather than focusing on making affirmations about natures and persons and so on. The dogmatic approach to Christianity is not above critique on the basis of internal considerations within the Christian tradition itself.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Antonio,You said:true that Luke, John and other followers of Jesus had to deal in different ways with the failed predictions of the end time and the parousia.What failed predictions? I am not aware of any failed yet. Be specific, I'd like to see this.You also said:And like I have discovered countless times – in the end FEELING wins easily over facts and intellect no matter how much facts and intellect may show that those feelings are just a figment of your imaginationSo somebody mugs you or even worse harms a defenseless family member, the feelings you have as a result are just "imaginary"…Then at what point are they separated from thoughts…as a point your thoughts and consciousness would have to be imaginary too huh? What type of world do you live in?…Wait a minute I get it you must really live in the matrix…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Would this count as a failed prediction? "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28).

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,I don't think that qualifies in the least bit. IF you believe in a resurrection event ??? and believe that Jesus was referring to Dan. 7:14 as he stated his mission and purpose in response to Caiphas and also further know by his own words that his "kingdom" was not of this world….You would have to conclude that prophecy in no way failed anything. In fact the establishment of his kingdom by way of his authority was witnessed and questioned by the council in Acts 3? Peter says to that same council:Acts 3:14-15~14-"But ye denied the Holy One and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; 15-And killed the Prince of life, who god hat raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses."In 40 or so days one would have to conclude that "some who are standing here" must have been some of those who were also alive when he was condemned to death.So I don't see the connection unless you're reading the text in a literalst/fundamentalist manner and that seems to be the criticism of your article. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don't think readers of Matthew had yet read John's Gospel and its claim that Jesus' kingdom was "not of this world". Nor do I think they had access to Pilate's discussion with Jesus to know precisely what might have been said. It seems to me that having the kingdom not be of this world is precisely one of the ways John modifies and adapts the tradition.In the context of Matthew's use of "Son of Man…coming…kingdom", it seems that this would have been understood by readers of that Gospel to refer to a "second coming", a Parousia. Is there anything within Matthew's Gospel, or prior to it, that would suggest otherwise? I'm not wedded to a particular conclusion on this – I'm just stating where I understand the evidence to point as I understand it, and am open to changing my mind. It wouldn't be the first time!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    "Would this count as a failed prediction? "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28).NO! It would not. Continue reading! The next 3 verses say – "After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus."That was Jesus coming into HIS kingdom! The tranfigurstion! People have misunderstood Matt 16:28 and then they accused Jesus of being wrong! How ludicrous! Give me a break!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    "Coming in his kingdom" means "appearing on a mountain with Moses and Elijah"? Sounds to me like a desperate attempt by those uncomfortable with the plain sense of the text.That's one of the things that bothers me most about people who claim to believe in the Bible's "inerrancy". It doesn't lead them to accept the plain meaning of the text where the text is perfectly intelligible, but to try any and all sorts of less straightforward interpretations so that they don't have to believe Jesus was wrong, or renounce all their possessions, or whatever else the plain meaning might indicate. But I ask you, which approach is actually respecting the text of Scripture? The approach that accepts the text as is even if that means the Bible is wrong, or those who are so concerned for the Bible to be right that they are willing to claim it means something other than what it appears to?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    Coming INTO His Kingdom! His KINGDOM is not here on the earth! It does not say COMING BACK to the earth! It says COMIONG INTO HIS KINGDOM! That IS the plain reading of the text! Jesus said MY KINGDOM is NOT of this world! You people need to go learn waht the Bible MEANS as well as what it says!

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,I just don't see first of all the demand for the late date of John or the copying or ascription of John's account from Matthew or any other account for that matter. The evidence doesn't stand under the weight of scruitiny for plaigerism in particularly.Aside from that fact Jesus insistently preaches the "kingdom of Heaven" and in Matthew alone references it 32 times and the "Kingdom of God" and additional 5 times. In most instances he stated that that it was at hand, present and or to be anticipated. Mt. 25:14 lays out the "Kingdom of heaven" in a sense that parallels the NT church and God's relationship to it…I guess what I'm saying is that the "kingdom" doen't necessarily pin down "final judgemnt". Jesus lays it out in Matthew as being at least the path to that final judgement.Further Luke explains:Lk. 17:20~20-And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21-Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."This is certainly earlier than your acceptance of the late date of John I would say. And probably even earlier would be Paul's understanding of this "kingdom"Rom. 14:17-18~":17-For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18-For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of menI think the early church had a clear understanding that Jesus' "coming Kingdom" was fulfilled as either Tom said or certainly no later than the resurrection. So my argument in no way depends upon a "supposed" late writing or understanding.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28).Wonder how many people Jesus thought would drop dead in that next six days before the Transfiguration. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    The coming into HIS KINGDOM may also refer to the ressurection and ascension. If you know EXACTLY what Jesus meant in Matt 16:28 then please give us a detailed hermeneutical exegesis of this passage.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Tom,I'm with ya my friend…at either rate we KNOW Jesus wasn't wrong and if this is the best that the critic can come up with he's done like a holiday duck!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13565890121197051580 John W. Loftus

    BTW, I agree with Dunn and McGrath that Jesus was wrong about the eschaton. I wrote a whole chapter on the subject for my new book The Christian Delusion.If Jesus got something so important so dead wrong then he should be viewed as nothing more than one of many failed millenarian doomsday prophets, and they are a dime a dozen.Cheers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    My favorite Jesus prophecy is where he is talking to the High Priest at his hearing:Mark14:61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 14:62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.This seems to be a clear reference to the Parousia. Did the High Priest live to see a Parousia that has not happened yet?Was Jesus wrong? Was he misquoted?Inquiring minds would like to know.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    The "COMING IN HIS KINGDOM" – not His coming back to the earth! Those verse were about His ascension into Heaven after the ressurection! You have grealy misrepresented and misinterpreted the scriptures.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    You're an IDIOT dennis collins ie; Dencol but at leasyt you're right on this one…Raving Nut!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    Matt 5:22 "But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother 'Raka!' will be subject to the Council. And whoever says 'You idiot' will be subject to hell fire."So do you REALLY believe in Hell? If so, you are now in danger of Hell fire for calling me an idiot! Now we will see what you REALLY believe!

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    While you LIE about your identity on all these blogs even to atheists and are rude to everyone you meet how can you call a person into question?…What is is TOM, DENCOL, SAVEDBYGRACE, FORSURE, and the list goes on and on…Even cursing to make your IDIOTIC appearance known…What a Jerk…IDIOT and FOOL are nothing but truth's when it comes to you…The TRUTH is to be rewarded not punished…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13565890121197051580 John W. Loftus

    District, we agree about Tom, DenCol etc, etc. Nothing but a troll. Go get'em my friend.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    So "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" has nothing to do with the other references to "the Son of man coming" and references to his throne and whatnot, which are connected with things like the final judgment? Instead, one has to have read Luke or John (both dated relatively late) and understand the kingdom in light of what we read there? What were the earliest readers of Matthew's Gospel supposed to do to avoid this sort of "misunderstanding"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13565890121197051580 John W. Loftus

    James, I suppose this adds nothing to the debate but here's something more that I wrote. I don't mean to offend you. Yes, we've had this discussion before. Cheers.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,I undersand where you're trying to go with that eve if you discount Luke you're still left with the problem of Romans dated 56 to 58 AD (conservatively)Paul understood this "kingdom" to be similar to Luke and John and if so Matthew only references it without greater detail. One can't take that and say that Jesus was wrong about anything. So I see no problem because it seems that only us 2000 years removed from the statements are confused about them but apostolic authority doesn't hint toward any confusion or misunderstandings. This is also in light of the fact of how Paul received what he was preaching as referenced by Bauckham in "Jesus And The Eyewitnesses"

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    One thing I can say is that John and I have very pointed and specific disagreements and I've been setting forth arguments against many of his positions and others for almost 2 years now and I've never been banned. My positions are distinctly in favor of Christianity and the accuracy of scripture and I've never even been threatened to be banned…I've got to believe it's personality and from what I've personally experienced, read and seen…the argument's aren't in your favor Collins. That's all I've got to say about that…

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Walter,You said:This seems to be a clear reference to the Parousia. Did the High Priest live to see a Parousia that has not happened yet?This is what Jesus recited:Dan. 7:13-14~ "13-I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14-And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."Here's a reference toward that specific statement:A biblically illiterate person might well have missed the import of Jesus’ words. Caiaphas and the council, however, did not. They knew that in saying he was “the Son of Man” who would come “on the clouds of heaven” he was making an overt reference to the Son of Man in Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 7:13–14). In doing so, He was not only claiming to be the preexistent Sovereign of the universe but prophesying that He would vindicate His claim by judging the very court that was now condemning Him. Moreover, by combining Daniel’s prophecy with David’s proclamation in Psalm 110, Jesus was claiming that He would sit upon the throne of Israel’s God and share God’s very glory."Further Jesus response was not in response to a question of judgement but in response to who he was. What does it say:Mk. 14:61But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?Jesus confirmed who he was…they already knew based on his answere what that person (the Messiah) would do. The critic applies this passage to a question that isn't even addressed. Jesus states who he is and based on that understanding they all know they would see the Messiah, only Caiphas was confronted wiith the fact that the one judging him would be Jesus…

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    By the way the highlighted portion of my referecne can be found here:http://www.equip.org/articles/did-jesus-claim-to-be-god-That was Hank H.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.Harvey,It is pretty clear to me that Jesus expected the "son of man" to do his thing within the lifetime of his listeners. I am familiar with conservative Christian rationalizations that try to "spin" what Jesus said.To me it is clear that Jesus was either wrong, or he was misquoted. Of course, I believe that Jesus was just a man, so my vote is that he was simply mistaken.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Any comments from this point on which are not on topic will be deleted. The comments that have been on topic have been leading to fruitful discussion, and so I'm not going to let it be hijacked and the conversation spoiled.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    But my intent was not to suggest that there is a single specific concept of God that atheists ought not to have rejected, but rather that there are quite a number of concepts, and uses of 'God-talk', that are compatible with a critical, scientific outlook, any one or all of which might be worth hanging on to.Is "worth hanging on to" logically equivalent to "true"? One of the things that an atheist would say that Jesus was wrong about is, of course, the existence of God.Clearly this discussion begs for some mutually agreeable definition of the word "Christian."Could that word properly be applied to someone who believe that Jesus was not God? For example, are Unitarians Christians?Could the word properly be applied to someone who doesn't believe in the existence of a god of any kind, but who consciously follows what he believes to be the ethical teachings of Jesus? For example could one be a "Christian atheist"?

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Walter,I understand your sentiments regarding that scripture and what you believe it applies to. Have you considered that you could have learned it wrongly? I believe your application is wrong for the following reasons as I answered on my blog in the comments section ofSalvation, Is The Message revealed To Those Who Have Never Heard?":So far as the preterist argument with the words "this generation" in Matt. 24, this can be reconciled any number of ways which includes that Jesus was talking about the generation of the church or the church age.As reference to this Psalms is full of references using the word "generation" that encompass all time and all of humanity. For example:Ps. 14:5 states that "God is in the generation of the righteous" this isn't confined to one time frame or set of reference. The "generation of the righteous" is all of them that call upon him for all time.Ps. 102:18 saying theat the word would be written for the "generation to come and for the people which shall be created shall parise the Lord." Does one confine that the word written would only be for the next set of people that were to live? That would be an absurd understanding.Ps. 112:2 references the seed of them that fear the Lord and delight in his commandments. It says that the "generation of the upright shall be blessed". Once again this reference isn't limiteed to a time frame of individuals. It would cover all men and those that would fear the Lord and honor him by walking uprightly also.My personal favorite is Ps. 24:6 ~ "This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face O Jacob. Selah"Once again this is a reference to me and my generation also. So ther references to "this generation" aren't problematic unless you're expecting all of the events in one time frame or period and I believe there is ample scriptural evidence to do away with that theory.On the other hand, Jesus describes himself as "coming on the clouds" with "great glory". That was a reference to the office of the messiah which he fulfilled and the authority that he had (Dan. 7:14) So that was fulfilled for those that were there as well all of humanity in the last day or the day of judgement.So there's really no problem to be uncovered or discovered in this scripture.August 10, 2009 11:12 AMA second thing is that I believe you make a similar mistake as Ehrman claiming a "misquote". To establish a misquote one would need the "original" to compare it with. Misquote implies that he )Jesus) said it. There is no dispute over that fact. There is also no dispute in the earliest extant evidence that there was somehow a change in wording. I guess of all alternatives "misquote" certainly can't be established under any construct, and I think my review establishes a much better way of understanding the use of "this generation" terminology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    James,Thank you for the long heart-felt reply.I truly get when you say, "I haven't 'abandoned ship'…because … I would have to spend a lot of time inventing my own [rich supply of metaphors]."That was a very honest answer and one I can truly understand. If I had run into folks like you when I was wrestling with Christianity, I may have never left for the same reason. But I was surrounded by conservatives and all my relationships fell apart as I questioned — I was going to Wheaton College. So, what kind of church accepts outliers like you? Also, I recently listened to lectures by Peter Rollins (Dublin) and found him fascinating. Could you typify him for me and tell me where he fits in the scheme of Christians of your ilk?Thanks again mate,Sabio

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    James McGrath wrote: The answer is that we've come to realize that, if even Jesus could be wrong, then how much more likely is it that I will be seen with the benefit of hindsight to have been wrong, most likely about a far greater number of things? James, I'd note Dunn said Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events regarding his royal rule. In other words, Jesus was wrong about the details of a future event. But what does getting the details of a future event wrong imply?As an example, let's say my friend Glenn is coming over this Saturday to help me move to into my new house. Furthermore, Glenn said he had access to a large truck that could transport some of the larger items that will not fit in my SUV. We have a date and time (Saturday the 22nd of August), one or more people who are attending (Glenn), who has particular resource at his disposal (a large truck) and a particular activity (helping me move from my current house into my new house). Clearly, I can have a majority of information about this future event correct, but if just one or two of the details are wrong the outcome could be quite different than I expected. The details are what leads me to expect a particular outcome. In the case of having the wrong date, should Glenn actually be coming over next Saturday, then I'm unable to complete my move on schedule. Should he arrive that Saturday next year, my situation may be completely different. Or perhaps Glenn actually showed up on Saturday, but thought we were watching the game instead of moving. Or perhaps I misunderstood Glenn when he said he access to a large truck and he only has a SUV instead. I might have given Glenn the wrong address. etc. As they say, the devil is in the details. But If Jesus was wrong about the details of a upcoming event, then how do we know he just got the time wrong? God might have some future event planned, but Jesus misinterpreted the details. Or God might not be as capable as Jesus thought or have the same intentions. How do we know he expectations and implied outcome of that future event were correct? Furthermore, of all the future events Jesus might be wrong about, why would it be his return to save mankind, which is the pinnacle of God's plan? And, if Jesus would have knowledge of anything, wouldn't you expect it would be his return as he'd be the one who was supposedly returning. Last, just because Jesus might have had a reason to be wrong, this doesn't explain why something this important remains uncorrected. For example, why didn't Jesus correct himself after he was bodily resurrected? Why didn't God, who would have been clearly aware of the mistake and it's implications, take actions to correct it?In other words, we understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty.Jesus didn't appear to be humble or cautious when he spoke about his return. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom This sort of language is repeated several times in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Should he have had doubt, then why would he have made the specific statements he made? And If Jesus though he was correct about the time of his return, then what else might he have said under a false assumption he was correct?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15279299202657149978 Joshua Jung

    James: If I get it from only one, I'm probably off-balance. ;-)Slightly controversial to all is certainly the sign of holding the truth. Or seeking it. Said slightly tongue in cheek. :)And perhaps, never reaching a conclusion is the sign of holding the truth.In which case, the only wise road is to be an eternal agnostic.In this case, one's faith is in the fallibility of man and the infallibility of God. But what good is this if one can never be fully sure what God is saying?If the only message that the believer attributes to God is "do not trust yourself", then the believer trusts himself that his interpretation of God's message is accurate.Hmmmm…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    Harvey,The plain reading of the text shows Jesus making prophetical statements directly to his listeners. Since we know that Jesus did not return within the lifetime of his contemporaries, conservative trinitarian Christians have to come up with after the fact rationalizations of what Jesus "really" meant.The "plain reading" shows a mistaken Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    To those of you volleying about ideas concerning the verse"I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28).I'd like to ask a question. If among yourselves you arrive at an agreement about what this verse means, have you discovered some profound truth? Will this settle anything at all for tens of thousands of Christianitites? As we all know, the answer is: No. Individual Christian communities, often down to the congregation or even the individual, amuse themselves by settling such issues with doctrinal statements. WE HEREBY DECLARE that this verse means what we say it means. Even if it is then considered to be a matter of doctrinally imposed(settled) "faith," it doesn't speak too well for these "matters of faith" that the church across the street, by a similar declaration, espoused a different "faith." Christianity is overflowing with such examples.This is simply people agreeing to accept, and claim to have faith in, one of possibly many interpretations of the same text. In a similar vein in this thread, we have Harvey foisting his self-imagined wisdom on Walter.I understand your sentiments regarding that scripture and what you believe it applies to. Have you considered that you could have learned it wrongly?Now, realize that Harvey is convinced beyond all doubt that he has himself learned it correctly while he considers other's reading of the text erroroneous. This is simply another case of someone making up their own version of a religion and trying to pass it off as the "true" one, while in reality they possess no more religious legitimacy than anyone else.This thread highlights the absence of a standard for correctness regarding religious matters. Everyone is simply making it up as they go along. Harvey's been making it up for years. Other's here have shared their version of making it up that is different from Harveys. As such it is incoherent and it is certainly not worthy of adhering to as a matter of faith. And it is certainly not worthy of financial support that could be better used to educate one's children or provide for health care.So unnecessary are consistency or coherency to the religious endeavor that any or all of us could simply make up our own. We could even concoct a new and improved version of Christianity to fling onto the ever-growing heap of them. This comment thread underscores that even among Christians the Bible itself does not serve as a reliable reference standard. The word order might be exactly the same, but the various Christianities slap on widely varying semantics. The whole religious enterprise is one great big ever-evolving fable.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Walter,You stated:The plain reading of the text shows Jesus making prophetical statements directly to his listeners.I would only ask do you think that the listeners would have no refernce for his statements? I mean Caiphas got it right away and basically asked do we need anything else to have him killed? he said that was it. The others were certainly familiar with the generational language of the OT. I believe we impose our understanding or lack thereof on the text and read it through that lens. That what I call fundamentalism.If you'll note it, there are very few times when Jesus taught concepts foriegn to what was already laid out within scripture. This is another one of those times.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Russ,you said:Now, realize that Harvey is convinced beyond all doubt that he has himself learned it correctly while he considers other's reading of the text erroroneous.Get off of it Russ. I see you're back to your loonetuneness! All I point out are these facts:1- There was no dispute within the early Christian church over this scripture or what Jesus said. eg: the apostles and early church understood that it wasn't dealing with AD 70 and they were busy teaching, preaching and spreading the Gospel both afterward and before AD70…therefore the question is a modern convention (17 century in fact) and uncompelling if you're looking for a "flaw" in what Jesus said. 2- The scriptures further provides ample evidence as stated that the language "this generation" meant more than the 30 to 40 years that a literalist (such as yourself)counts for a generation. I've laid out ample scriptural references out to that effect. What is your rebuttal on the substance of those scriptures? 3-Jews hearing those same words obviously interpreted them differently than you and most critics. Why? First they knew the OT and the scriptures which would refer to Messiah and understood language both figurative and apocolyptic.(sic) The Chief Priest clearly understood what Jesus calim was and those with him did also. Jesus professed to be the Messiah and took it another step further to claim that he was God indicating that he would sit in Judgement in the future. THEY all knew the implications of HIS words…he didn't answer a question that he wasn't asked. Second, you're from a different culture and the only way both you or I can know these things is by study. Now, so far as that study is concerned, I have given my life to find out and uncover the truth of the statemens whereas you've dedicated yourself to write off the statements no matter what truths there are. So I would expect you to not agree with me but at least have a basis for the disagreement. The basis of my understanding and approach is that I approach this in a much more rational manner than many critics (yourself included). So refute me on the facts of the account and biblical references instead of merely what you think…both of us can think and superimpose our thoughts on the crowd all day but is what we think supportable by the narrative itself? Or do we just make up things as we go? I believe I've set forth a biblically supportable accounting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13036816926421936940 Edward T. Babinski

    Hi James McGrath!Thanks for mentioning the first Debunking Christianity Carnival! I also think you ought to compose a series on the end times expectations of first century (and a little pre and post-first century) Palestine. Dale Allison is a major N.T. scholar whose works deal with the apocalyptic Jesus question in detail. He admits the questions and difficulties such questions raise are not going away. He even points out where N.T. Wright is wrong on this matter. Edward Adams is another N.T. theologian, whose book, The Stars Will Fall, goes into great detail concerning such questions, and again corrects Wright. I myself wrote a piece that includes many verses from the N.T. and notes to various N.T. scholars on this question, titled, "The Lowdown on God's Showdown" [available online]And John Loftus has a chapter in the new book he edited, coming out April 2010 on this same question. Lastly, James, you wrote that you "understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty."That's fine. Admitting one can be wrong is fine. I'm agnostic myself. The part about Christianity being a process however leaves much to ponder. I'm unsure that the early church fathers who composed creeds and doctrines and dogmas would have liked to have had their religion considered in such a "process theology" fashion. Question, do you view the "process" as extending not only to your own development but to that of "the Divine" itself? I heard a Christian process theologian speak at Furman recently on the question of how evolution fits into theology. I was wondering if you were coming at matters from that angle?Also, doesn't a belief in "eternal hellfire" raise the ante so to speak? Two late passages in the Gospels such as 1) the late addition to Mark 16 states, "He who believes not shall be damned," while 2) a verse in John 3 states, "He who does not believe is damned already." Is that too part of the "process" of admitting one can be wrong? Seems like quite a crispy charbroiled process. "And he whose name was not written in the book of lake was cast into the lake of fire." Of course such language is late intertestamental in origin, absorbed by the N.T. in the first century. All part of the process no doubt.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Harvey,You said,I believe I've set forth a biblically supportable accounting.Again, it is you trying to pass off your interpretation of the Bible as the correct one. Note that lots of other Christianities do not agree with you – or each other for that matter – concerning what the Bible means. Fact is, your interpretation is accepted only by a small minority of those calling themselves Christian.When you say All I point out are these facts:I hope you also want to be clear that not only are skeptics like myself not convinced by your Bible, your religion, and your supposed scholarship, but neither are those who take you very seriously like scholars of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hindu. If your claims cannot convince those who deeply study the notions you put forth, why should anyone else be swayed? In particular, I have no reason to take you or other clergy seriously.You said, they were busy teaching, preaching and spreading the Gospel both afterward and before AD70…This is more of your imaginings, Harvey. You do not and cannot know this. All you have to work from are the propaganda texts later called the Bible. There is no independent verfication for your claims. So, what you are saying amounts to more creative interpreting by you to contrive support for your desired end.The Bible does not constitute reliable evidence of anything, Harvey, and I know that you, your Biblical literalist self, reject huge chunks of it, provided you are a sane moral person. No doubt, you will have invented an apologetic to justify why you feel justified in rejecting big parts of the Bible as reliable evidence. You surely reject the Bible concerning dietary rules since you know it's not reliable. You reject the Bible concerning multifabric clothing since you know it's not reliable. You reject the Bible concerning how to deal with menstruation since you know it's not reliable. You reject the Bible concerning working on the Sabbath and killing those who do since you know it's not reliable. You reject the Bible concerning killing drunks, adulterers, thieves, stubborn children, non-virgin brides, and gluttons since you know it's not reliable. You reject the Bible concerning maiming and killing for petty crimes since you know it's not reliable. You reject the Bible concerning the sale of your daughter into slavery since you know it's not reliable. Indeed, as a society we statutorily reject the Bible's moral repugnance as not reliable.Further evidence of how you reject the Bible as unreliable, is the fact that your version of a god explained things so poorly as it inspired the Bible, that you and people like you feel compelled to create vast volumes of apologetics, thousands of times larger than the Bible itself, to extract some message from the Bible's literary chaos. Apologetics have rained down from Christians for nearly two millennia, now, and rather than converging to a point, as one would expect if it was true, the messages continue to veer off in more and more directions.However, Harvey, you reach back into the Old Testament and drag out as reliable useful information, original sin and hatred of homosexuals.Again, Harvey, you're making it up like every other believer. So, don't make statements like, "All I point out are these facts." It's clear that you're cherry picking the Bible to craft a mosaic worldview that fits your preexisting needs, wants, proclivities, hatreds and biases. The Bible is not a factual or reliable document and we know that you recognize that fact by how you pick and choose the bits you like while you reject the rest.I know this is not unique to you, Harvey, but with you it stands out in flashing neon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Edward: I don't subscribe to process theology. Although there is a lot in process thought that I find helpful or insightful, there are elements that I find unpersuasive or untenable (e.g. panpsychism). But the broader stream of thought known as panentheism, of which process thought probably deserves to be considered a subcategory, is one that resonates with me in many ways.I was talking about process in a more general sense (although I'm open to the idea, typical of process theology, that God is in process). There's change taking place over time, and so what "Biblical religion" or "Israelite religion" or "Christianity" is depends on when the sampling is taken. In a sense, one might make a useful comparison to talking about "humans". Clearly there are modern humans, and forerunners, but if we had to draw an absolute dividing line to place the two in hermetically-sealed categories, we'd find ourselves unable to, precisely because one evolved into the other. In the same way, one of the "organisms" that traces its lineage back to earlier forms of Christianity is Liberal or progressive Christianity.My students are often surprised to learn that the idea of afterlife is a latecomer to the Bible. And since the question was about this in relation to process, I don't think that just because something is later or earlier it is better. NOTA: Using the evolutionary example above, I'd suggest that Unitarians and Protestant Fundamentalists and Christian Atheists are all "species" of Christians. I wrote a while back about an atheist who sometimes thinks of himself as a "Christian atheist" precisely because his belief that there is no God doesn't stop him from recognizing all the various ways that his worldview and values have been shaped (positively, he would say) by the Christian heritage. And there's a real sense in which Liberal Christians might be accused of atheism because they don't accept as in any sense literally true the anthropomorphic image of God found in most popular piety; and the early Christians were often accused of "atheism" for not worshipping the traditional gods of Rome. Then again, in a review I wrote of Gretta Vosper's book With Or Without God, I noted that she doesn't seem to represent a "Christian atheism", although she'd class herself as one, since she simply doesn't seem to like Christianity much. And I guess I still expect a least common denominator for inclusion under the rubric "Christian" to be that you find something valuable that you like about the Christian tradition! :)

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Russ,Stupid is stupid DOES and I see that's still you…You're living PROOF that Darwin was wrong, because you're not evolving at all.On the other hand I'm equally as certain that god had nothing to do with the creation of your stupidity.Among all the GARBAGE you said this is one of the one's that stands out as completely laughable:This is more of your imaginings, Harvey. You do not and cannot know this. All you have to work from are the propaganda texts later called the Bible.First of all, how do you know? Who died and left all the information in the world in your corner for you to deceipher? Then you're silly enough to reduce accounts of verifiable history to propaganda. I don't believe you know what the word means and certainly have no idea about historical studies as you present more CRAP than anyone can shake a stick at with this: There is no independent verfication for your claims.So Jewish writings both Talmud and Targums…Josephus, Seutoneus, Pliny and the list goes on aren't independent writings or verification of anything Christian right? You are about as aware of reality as a hippie on LSD at Woodstock…Get REAL! You don't have to believe the bible…it's stupid to post a comment discussing an issue and your whole defense is "I don't believe it anyway"….SO WHAT! If you're going to engage engage on a topic that's being discussed, we're not discussing veracity of the bible or historical facts…It's IDIOTS like you, that make blogging so drawn out…When there's a plug on learning how to get a grip on historical literature then we can talk, until then…talk GARBAGE like you always do…That's EXACTLY what it is…Is your name Oscar by the way? I believe it is!

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Russ-elton,This shows further how completely MORONIC critics like you are You said this:You surely reject the Bible concerning dietary rules since you know it's not reliable.No I accept what Jesus said in Mk. 8 stating that what goes in does not defile me only what comes out. nothings rejected only a better and more complete understanding accepted.You reject the Bible concerning multifabric clothing since you know it's not reliable.No I just understand that my clothing is not used in occult worship. i wear varios colors and the point that god was making by not mixing fabrics is well understood when looking at the purity of Jesus…nothing rejected…BUT YOU!You reject the Bible concerning how to deal with menstruation since you know it's not reliable.Wrong again, "quick-shot-silver", I just understand better about holiness, godliness and cleanliness in not merely a ceremonial way. In fact because of this I don't do what the pagans did and violate my wife on her menstrul cycle. I have respect for her and God…very little for you though.You reject the Bible concerning working on the Sabbath and killing those who do since you know it's not reliable. Well since Jesus is the Lord of the sabbath, and gave a sinner like me REST from my sins, I guess you got that wrong…Since Christian's don't kill…you're shootin' blanks…sorry shooter!You reject the Bible concerning killing drunks, adulterers, thieves, stubborn children, non-virgin brides, and gluttons since you know it's not reliable.No, don't reject a thing…I only learn what GRACE is about in Jesus. I learned that God hasn't dealt with us according to our sins, but has considered our frame…Ps. 104…oops, that's the Old Testament…I forgot. I will pray that God would make an exception to the rule for you if you want me to???You reject the Bible concerning maiming and killing for petty crimes since you know it's not reliable.That's a little way out there soldier…but like I said I reject nothing but ACCEPT GraceYou reject the Bible concerning the sale of your daughter into slavery since you know it's not reliable.Like the other parts of the bible, I fully accept the biblical command to not sell your daughters into slavery…What a QUACK-POT!Indeed, as a society we statutorily reject the Bible's moral repugnance as not reliable.Yea! and in the process why don't we just revert to that good old, atheistic "metaphysical moral necessity" that DOESN'T EXIST for human morality!…Then how about that NATURALLY SELECTED morality that the genome doesn't account for???…or those moral abstracts and human consciousness that comes from rocks…YOU'RE A NUT!Later Russelemon, you're always sooooo fun to talk to…I get my laugh out for weeks at a time with you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Harvey, just a couple of quick questions. First, what in the Targums do you believe provides independent evidence of Christianity? Even in the case of the Talmud, I'm not sure it is "independent", in the sense that the Talmud stems from a time in which Rabbis could have had contact with Christians who had the New Testament (not to mention the later creeds), and so it is far from clear that it provides independent testimony. As for Josephus, I'm sure you know the problems, and I'm inclined to think Josephus did indeed have a mention of Jesus, which was expanded rather than completely inserted by later Christian scribes.The second question is about slavery. Exodus 21:7 seems to imply that selling one's daughter into slavery was an option (it obviously wasn't commanded. You made reference to a prohibition against selling one's daughter into slavery. What verse(s) did you have in mind?This line of conversation was getting a little heated, so I thought I'd ask for some clarification and see if we can keep the discussion as grounded as possible in what the Bible and other cited texts actually say, and so I thought I'd ask which specific passages you had in mind. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    Speaking of the Debunking Christianity site, it has been shut down except for members until Aug 27th. And 3 of his long time contributors left this week!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    I probably should not engage in a purse swinging match here, but I feel like I must say this: 'Orthodox' Christians seem like they are trying to stuff 'square peg' verses into the the 'round hole' of their pre-canned theological beliefs: such as Jesus as the infallible incarnation of Yahweh.How many Christians already have their theological conclusions handed to them in a neat package from their church before they ever even crack a bible open? Is it possible to interpret scripture without any presuppositional bias?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    Walter,Very good point. That is the reason so many leave the church world. It is the churches that are at fault for not teaching people how to research the Bible for themselves. Instead they spoonfeed the flock what THEY believe and what THEY want them to hear. Brainwashing at it's finest. I am a Christian, but I do not go to any churches anymore. I study the Bible for myself. I do not need any man telling me what he thinks it means. I will take his opinion into account, but I wll check it out for myself.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,You asked: First, what in the Targums do you believe provides independent evidence of Christianity?The Targums specifically provide evidence for the OT writings and events as an extra source, by virtue of that they indiectly and unintentially provide evidence for the events of the NT and ultimately Christianity. One noteable way was the geaneological record that is recorded in the Targum concerning Luke’s account being the geneaological record of Mary as it pertains to Heli. Here’s the quote:“In this case Mary, as declared in the Targums {Babylonian Talmud (Chaghigha’ 77 4)}, was the daughter of Heli, and Heli was the grandfather of Jesus. (As stated in #1 of this section) Mary’s name was omitted because “ancient sentiment did not comport with the mention of the mother as the genealogical link.” So we often find in the Old Testament the grandson called the son. This view has this greatly in its favor, that it shows that Jesus was not merely the legal but the actual descendant of David; and it would be very strange that in the gospel accounts, where so much is made of Jesus being the son and heir of David and of his kingdom, his real descent from David should not be given.—Ed.)” ~ William Smith; revised and edited by F.N. and M.A. Peloubet, Smith’s Bible dictionary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997 (Added in parenthesis)Secondly there is evidence for the life and crucifixion of Jesus found in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrian 43a:cf.t.Sanh.10:11;y.Sanh.7:12 Tg. Esther 7:9 which states that Yashu was crucified or “”hanged” on the “eve of Passover”. The same passage certainly not honoring Jesus also affirms his miracles by trying to write them off as works of a magician (b. Sanh. 107b; t. Sabb. 11:55; b. Sabb 104b.; b. Sota 47a)Once again these are sources independent of Christianity which confirm that Christianity exists, had a leader, the leader’s name and how he was put to death. So far as the slavery issue is concerned, I was trying to underscore that God didn’t command anyone to be made slaves and I had in particular reference of Deut. 25 dealing with the virgin’s defilement. As you stated there may have been provision for servitude and selling but certainly no command. I also fail to see how the record of it either way is unreliable as the “quack” stated.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Chris,What 3 left DC?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    The 3 that left are Anthony, Spencer, and Harry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Harvey,The great many distinct interpretations of the same text by those calling themselves Biblical literalists tell us that the Bible is not a reliable source of information and that there exists no "literal" interpretation of the text. Then, if we set aside the so-called literalists and look at the more liberal interpretations, we see a whole new universe of explanations of what the Bible means, further proof that only a fool would suggest that the Bible is reliable. What's more, Christianities exist which throw out the Bible altogether and still others that throw out selected portions like the OT or Revelations. There are Christianities that dump supernaturalism and the Biblical references to it as in the Jefferson Bible. I personally know active Christian clergy who from the pulpit make statements like "I am an atheist because I am an a-theist," and "Supernaturalism is all phoney, baloney."So, Harvey, your Bible is exactly that: your very own personal version of the Bible; the one you've made up; the one that through self-satisfying cherrypicking and interpretation is distinct from the Bible used in other Christianities. The Bible is not a common reference source even among the Christianities.You asked,First of all, how do you know?I know this because as I look over the vast assortment of Christianities, there are no commonalities, no unifying threads, not a god, not a savior, not an afterlife. You will reach for the blanket of "orthodoxy" which you feel will assure you of security in numbers, yet since the Christianities and their pantheon have no standard, even the definitions of "orthodox" given by Christians are a mixed bag. Harvey, you're grasping at smoke.You said, It's IDIOTS like you, that make blogging so drawn out.Perhaps, so. I don't mean to detract from your blogging experience, Harvey, but here as in other places you reason and operate from the flawed assumption that sharing the label "Christian" with someone establishes a common ground. It doesn't. There exists no Christianity-specific statement you can make which is not contradicted in some other Christianity.I'm sure you've invented reasons why you are not a Mormon Christian or a Roman Catholic Christian or a Jehovah's Witness Christian or a Seventh Day Adventist Christian, or even a Reverend Fred Phelps Christian. And, there are reasons you live and breathe "District Supt. Harvey Burnett Christianity."Sometimes, Harvey, you do have great insights. Here you express one, but you fail to take it far enough. You said,nothings rejected only a better and more complete understanding accepted.YES! Harvey, YES! We don't reject that a previous less worthy understanding existed, but when the real world compels us to adopt a "better and more complete understanding," we set aside the old ones and carry on with the new.While you may not admit it, even in your own life, you reach this better understanding through evidence, through testing, through repeatability and through tapping into the established store of reliable knowledge and understanding accumulated by humankind over the centuries. Little, if any, "better and more complete understanding" comes from faith, tradition, revelation, or personal charismatic authority. Your "better and more complete understanding" is why I reject the Bible; why I reject Christianity and other religions; and, why I reject supernaturalism. Your failure to reach "a better and more complete understanding" explains why you remain in "District Supt. Harvey Burnett Christianity" and why you reject science, despite the fact that you and your family are inextricably bound to it; your life and livelihood are owed to the fruits of science. Fact is, Harvey, science provides the richest source of those "miracles" you use to denigrate and debase it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Your own words should become your mantra: a better and more complete understanding. However, you show that you reject that too when you claim that the scribblings of ancient and incredibly superstitious mystics constitute "a better and more complete understanding" than all that mankind has learned since then.You repeatedly expressed the notion that you don't reject anything from the Bible, but you most assuredly do. While you consider yourself bound to language that suggests all the Bible is true, here, for instance you simply invented a euphemism for rejection: a better and more complete understanding. You reject much of the Bible, but being duty-bound not to say it that way, you invent linguistic work-arounds. It's just rejecting without using the word. The way you must live your life if you are to remain unincarcerated and uninstitutionalized means that you must reject lots of what the Bible has to say. No way around that, Harvey.You said, YOU'RE A NUT!but, the fact is that I am not a nut. I have studied the claims, content, and consequences of the Christianities for more than forty years and I remain quite unimpressed. You see Harvey, I truly want "a better and more complete understanding." My explorations have not been restrained by the walls of some particular Christianity's sanctuary, and any reading of the Bible shows that those who wrote it were profoundly ignorant. They were not guided by omniscience or even anything somewhat bright. I've looked it over far and wide and found it wanting, deeply and tortuously wanting.You will retreat into your church and find comfort and solace in the company of people who will claim to think what you think and believe what you believe. Although no two people possess precisely the same knowledge and understanding of the world, and everyone has differing emotional and physical needs, you lead a bunch of people who in seeking to please you and the rest of the congregation willingly profess that they see the world exactly as you do. That's sad. I hope you realize that such dogmatic adherence to lockstep thought and belief comes with a grave price tag: all comers must abandon the search for "a better and more complete understanding," just like you.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    I noticed some others like exapologist, Bart Willruth has been gone for some time and then some time ago they had one named Acharya S (or something like that). I guess people move on like anything else.I must say that I'm worried about you Dr. M. You seem to follow in a quite "liberal" path and I'm really trying to get a hold of your personal committment. I don't mean to be harsh, but your arguments are very similar to the atheistic crowd. Not to say that a religious studies professor has to be a Christian, but I'm not encouraged to delve into your writings at the moment (which I've seen at the christian book store)from a committed Christian point of view. Please know that I meant no harm, but I wanted to make that observation. Maybe I should read a few more articles so I can get a better grip on your biblical views.Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    In one sense, my blog says much more about my personal faith than my academic publications, because I don't understand myself to be playing by different rules (as I said in a recent post) when doing historical study, or linguistic analysis, or whatever else, simply by virtue of the fact that I'm a Christian. If there is a difference, it is that when I reach historical or interpretative conclusions, I then have the additional task of wrestling with what, if anything, I think the relevance is of my conclusions for myself and my wider faith community.As for the reference to the Jerusalem Talmud, even if it straightforwardly said what you claim (it doesn't), I don't see how that can possibly be understood as an independent confirmation of what is in the New Testament, any more than discussions by Christians in the same later era could be so construed. These are, if anything, discussions of the New Testament, not independent confirmations. That doesn't mean they are irrelevant or unimportant – on the contrary! – but their historical value is not that of independent witnesses.At any rate, the quotation you gave seems to me to clearly be an instance of someone trying to deal with the contradictory genealogies by having one be Mary's, even though that contradicts what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke actually say. That's another problem I have with the notion of inerrancy – how often its defenders are willing to deny that the text means what it says in order to have it be "right" on some abstract theological level.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16714212596340205650 Wanting Truth

    James,Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh as John 1:1 and 1:14 say?

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Russelton,You said:Then, if we set aside the so-called literalists and look at the more liberal interpretations, we see a whole new universe of explanations of what the Bible means, further proof that only a fool would suggest that the Bible is reliable.NONE of that suggest unreliability of the bible. It suggests linguistic barriers, understanding and contextual difficulties etc, but not biblical unreliability. This is the problem with you Russelemon, (and i don't mind engaging when you at least address the arguments) however, you seem to make leaps of fancy and appear to be highly unreasonable in your evaluation of information…Your hatred comes across so readily, that's why you (like all of us)need a savior..too mucg GARBAGE in our hearts…in this case one can read it easily.Here's another example of what I call the blind hate argument:Harvey Burnett Christianity" and why you reject science, despite the fact that you and your family are inextricably bound to it; your life and livelihood are owed to the fruits of science. Fact is, Harvey, science provides the richest source of those "miracles" you use to denigrate and debase it.Well I guess you don't know that modern science was birthed out of RELIGION and by PREACHERS in particular christian preachers who were motivated by the bible to seek and study and know more about the world. It began about the time of the reformation and there are huge bodies of work that attest to this. Secondly, you seem to be sleeping. The ever increasing and rising body of SCIENCE is inadvertantly finding greater evidence for a creator (GOD) than ever before. The study of cosmology is one of the fields that have already determined the limits of the universe and the problems associated with self-existent materialism. The evidence coming from that area of discovery by itself suggests a creator and when that evidence is viewed the biblical story stands head and shoulders above anything so far as accuracy and many other criteria. I guess what I say is this, you say you've studied for 40 plus years and don't see anything worth noting. I say there's no way that's possible because one only need look for 5 minutes and se all kinds of thing relevent to the search for truth and the bible is the greaters piece ever found historically that will attest to that fact. I'm not trying to convert you but I don't cower to your assertions and I'm not asking you to cower to mine. Just know that I have a basis for truth and that basis is beyond both of us as described within the word. Anyway…

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,You said:As for the reference to the Jerusalem Talmud, even if it straightforwardly said what you claim (it doesn't), I don't see how that can possibly be understood as an independent confirmation of what is in the New Testament,First of all the scholarship of the article you reference is suspect and I see flaws with it such as this:"The term you ask about translates most simply into "the leaves of onions." The Hebrew words (and there are two words here) are 'alei betzalim. This is admittedly a very odd name, and it may well be a play on some other phrase. (The story itself suggests that something very odd is going on here.) There is nothing obvious that demands that we read this story as referring to Mary [of the New Testament], but it is not impossible." (E-mail correspondence 8/09/01).Nothing obvious but not impossible??? What would there be to even suggest Mary if there was nothing there? I mean when you're eating steak is there anything there to suggest that it's a tomato? This is slight of hand and I don't buy it for a minute. Then the author after going to one for help that wouldn't cofirm his belief offers this:Nevertheless, scholars who have extensively studied the contextual evidence see no connectionIn other words Professor Rabbi Neusner was garbage to begin with as he has not "extensively studied the contextual evidence"…That's garbage!But I at least do like how it ends:While the evidence is not totally conclusive at this point. What has been shown here is the HUGE question mark that is placed over the assertion that "according to received Jewish tradition, Mary was the daughter of Heli/Eli." There are simply to many complications surrounding this Talmudian reference to make such a claim.The poroblem is we already know those problems, but BEST EVIDENCE suggests otherwise and that doesn't uproot the geneaology anyway..now if there is some sort of conspiracy between early Jews and Christians please point it out. If the reference is to Mary of the bible them we have yet ANOTHER independent evidence as I stated. That's in addition to the cricifixion accounts I referenced which you seemed to not have a problem with. In short I think that case is made.There is independent evidence of christianity from Jewish sources who unless you believe in a grand conspiracy confirm such on their own.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    The pursuit of Truth requires us to be open to the possibility that we are or have been wrong in some or all of our assumptions and conclusions.Careful examination of this compilation we call the "Bible" has led me to conclude that my previous stalwart & loyal acceptance of its authority & reliability was mistaken. (Russ says it so well in his summary describing the Bible as 'literary chaos'.What would it take for you to be open-minded enough to consider the possibility that the Bible is nothing more than pious fabrication & this Jesus is an unknowable legend?-evan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis

    But I think atheists have gone one God-concept too far in their rejection, and in many instances have thrown the baby out with the bathwater – while I admit completely that the bathwater was in desperate need of changing.When I disagree with atheists, it is usually because they accept premises and assumptions of religious fundamentalists that I think need to be critically examined and challenged.Personally, I try not to assume I know what the views of any particular religious person are until they tell me. I don't assume fundamentalism is the "right" form of religiosity. I simply examine whatever it is they claim to believe regarding God. And so far, be they conservative Christians, Mormons, Muslims, deists, liberal Christians or whatever else I have yet to see any reason to think there actually IS a baby in the bathwater–not if by "baby" is meant any sort of God that isn't "watered down" (forgive the pun) to the point that no actual claim of any substantive form is being made.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Harvey, I don't have a copy of the Jerusalem Talmud at home, not even an English translation. Can you please quote the full passage if you have access to it? From the quotations I've seen, it refers to someone named Miriam who is being punished in Gehenna. It is far from clear that she is called "daughter of Heli", but even if she is, it is not clear that this Miriam is the mother of Jesus, and even if that were clear, it would not be clear that the Jerusalem Talmud is not at this point responding to Christian claims about Mary rather than providing an independent witness somehow preserved for hundreds if years untainted by contact with Christians or their writings. But even if all of the aforementioned points were demonstrated, then it would either prove that Luke was wrong about Joseph being the son of Heli (Luke 3:23), or that this was a case of incest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Dr. McGrath,Considering that the world community could wind up with a US President at some point who will at least claim to be using the Bible as a guidebook for conducting wars and formulating domestic policy while forgoing reason and evidence, I think it is imperative that we assess its reliability in such matters and make that data known. It certainly seems to me that the reliability of the Bible should have been of sufficient importance long before now that today it should be a settled issue. As I see it, its reliability surely should impact the extent to which one is willing to place their faith in its contents.Observing the members of the Christianities and the extent to which they rely on the Bible, I don't see that any of them use it in a way that suggests that they find useful information there. According to Princeton Theological Seminary, of those identifying themselves as Christian, less than one percent of laymen ever read from it, and it's only slightly more than that for active clergy.Perhaps you can offer some insight into the matter, but I do not see that Christians rely on the the Bible in any sense beyond the trivial sense of its being a physical book, no different than "Tom Sawyer" or the "Iliad." The Bible might form the basis of study groups like any other book, but when critical decisions are needed, the Bible takes a back seat to relevant real world information.In your post you said,Atheists like to challenge Christians by pointing out that they are atheists about almost all gods, and atheists just go one god further. That challenge could be reversed.So, I assume that is it your contention that Christians reject all gods but one, and further that any reasons to justify that preferred choice of a god centers around the belief that the Bible constitutes reliable evidence for its own correctness. I find that rather curious if that's the case.Also, you said,But I think atheists have gone one God-concept too far in their rejection,which suggests to me that you think you're in possession of the one, the true, the right "God-concept," and where the capital indicates that yours is one of the versions of a god popular among the Christianities. If you think yours is right while others are not, how do you arrive at that conclusion? Others, including non-Christians as well as other Christians, reverse that logic to conclude that their version of a god is the right one while finding that yours, and all others are wrong. Frankly, given the variability in god-concepts among the Christianities alone, I find it unlikely that your god-concept is more edifying than any of the others except to you. Some Christians believe their version of god sends people to hell; others believe that their god is too loving to do that. Some Christians believe their god is a modern-day miracle worker; others believe their god's last miracle was creating the universe.Truly, Dr. McGrath, it appears to me that to be a modern day Christian you first decide how you would like things to be – Old Testament, New Agey, a bit of Hellfire(but not too much), heaven, no heaven, souls, no souls, devils, ghouls, witches, ghosts, guardian angels, etc, etc – then, you shop around to find a church that provides those things, or you start your own new Christianity (rather popular these days), or you check out of organized religion and simply profess the traditional "Christian" in polls.In the developed world in most measures of social and personal well-being, those societies come out best wherein religion plays the smallest role like Sweden, Denmark, UK, Canada, Japan, and Australia, while those societies are the worst wherein religion plays the greatest role – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Again, a big surprise given the claims by the religious. It appears to me that if some god exists, it cares more for non-believers than it does for believers.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,I don't have current acess to the passage in question, I'll see if I can get it this evening and post it.The reference was from a Jewish individual who had a dream of the punishment of the damned. He saw in the dream Mary daughter of Heli was being punished in hell or gehenna as you stated. The connection seemed to be simple, because she brought Jesus into the world. So far as the geneology, it really isn't necesary to make the point. The point is made otherwise throught the complete geneology. I've done 2 complete articles GENEOLOGIES VALIDATE JESUS This doesn't even deal with the additional Jewish Targumic references that condemn Mary and Jesus by calling him her "illigitimate son" and a "bastard child".What I'm saying is that arguments against this type of information being independent and having nothing to do with Christianity is ridiculous. If it were a mere repeating of information, I'd give your position some merit, but that's not what any of it is. It's basically the earliest sources of Jewish apologetics against certain Christian teachings that have been preserved.Look, I'm way off topic and this is your blog. Thank you for the space and you've got the final word my friend.Ooh, btw, if I (when) do receive that info, I'll get it to you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Harvey, I'm perfectly happy for a conversation to turn in a new direction. I think we'd both agree that wasn't the issue putting this conversation in peril earlier.I think we may agree about the Targumic material, since it sounds like you too view it was written in response to claims Christians made in, and based on, the New Testament writings.FWIW, I have an article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus on the accusation that Jesus was illegitimate, which touches on the Rabbinic material. Russ, I think you may be attributing to me a view of the Bible I don't actually hold.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Harvey,You said,Your hatred comes across so readily, that's why you (like all of us)need a savior..too mucg GARBAGE in our hearts…in this case one can read it easily.I don't hate you, Harvey. I don't hate Christians. But, I don't believe you and I do not believe any of the babble coming out of the Christianities I've run into all my life. Resorting to wrapping yourself in a persecution complex makes me wonder how you can at the same time claim that you have an omnipotent invisible buddy on your side. In any case, Harvey, while I don't hate you, I do consider you and your religion to be a threat to mankind's future as you seek to confound your congregation's understanding of science and other social issues.You said, NONE of that suggest unreliability of the bible. It suggests linguistic barriers, understanding and contextual difficulties etc, but not biblical unreliability."It suggests linguistic barriers, understanding and contextual difficulties etc?" Really? And the deity that wrote it wants people to understand? Note that professional theologians have jam packed their heads full of this material for centuries, and still, not only is there not a consensus on any of it, but the views head off in an ever-increasing number of directions. I can understand your saying, This is the problem with you Russelemon,(Russelemon being one of your many derogatory terms for me, Pastor), but how might you account for why so many professional theologians arrive in destinations so far from where you are. Perhaps, it's not just me and my atheistic wickedness. Perhaps, there is something fundamentally flawed about the notion of gods in the first place that makes them so easy to invent. Perhaps it is the simple fact that the only constraints for inventing gods, including all the Christian ones, and their associated theologies is the creative limits of the minds inventing them.Harvey, none of those professional theologians who see their Christianity and their Bible as different from yours is likely to ever change their minds to agree with you. So don't contend that it is some flaw in people that they don't see things your way as you've confronted Dr. McGrath here and as you confront others elsewhere. Many Christian theologians disagree with you on matters that impact, at least as you might see it, your or their salvation. Are they going to change? Not likely. Are you going to change? Not likely. Who's right? Most likely none of you.Harvey, you said,Well I guess you don't know that modern science was birthed out of RELIGION and by PREACHERS in particular christian preachers who were motivated by the bible to seek and study and know more about the world.Do you really not understand that all persons in Christianity-ravaged countries have been required to profess Christian beliefs or face death throughout most of Christian history?Science did not arise from Christianity. Science arose in the presence of Christianity without its consent or approval. If Christianity had allowed free inquiry to occur, it is quite likely that we would have been where we are now, scientifically and technologically, several centuries ago. It's worth asking, Harvey, if you are so proud that "modern science was birthed out of RELIGION," why do you reject so much of it? Why reject evolution and the mountains of science that support it? Could it be that ancient superstitions have priority with you and that you don't seek to have a "a better and more complete understanding?"You ended by stating, Just know that I have a basis for truth and that basis is beyond both of us as described within the word.No, Harvey, you don't have a basis for truth. Anything Christian-specific you care to assert will be contradicted by some other Christianity. That's not truth, Harvey. That's relativism in the extreme, but that is the observed state of the modern Christianities. Christianity is whatever you say it is, Harvey, but it's also whatever I say it is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Dr. McGrath,You said, Russ, I think you may be attributing to me a view of the Bible I don't actually hold.I'm making no assertions about your personal version or view of the Bible.You made the statement, I think atheists have gone one God-concept too far in their rejection.I'd be interested in which God-concept it is that you think atheists should not have rejected. In your blog post, you do not say.That you used God and not god in your God-concept suggests to me that the God-concept that you think atheists ought not to reject is one of the God variants from some Christianity. Many Christianities use attributes taken from some Bible to model their God-concept, so I thought you might justify why your God-concept is the correct one, that is, the one atheists should not reject, using a Bible. If that's the case then the reliability of your source Bible is an important concern if we are to adequately grasp your God-concept and know why you think atheists ought not reject it.So, since you suggest that there exists some God-concept that I shouldn't reject along with all the others, I thought you might share what that God-concept is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Actually, I qualified that statement (or at least mentioned ways I thought about going back and modifying what I originally wrote), and mentioned a few specific God-concepts that should not be rejected outright, as they are compatible with a scientific, reasoned approach to knowledge. I find the metaphors offered by panentheism helpful, but my point was not that one God-concept or another is "the right one", but there are some that at times get dismissed in the haste to dismiss one particular concept, namely that of popular theism, with its highly anthropomorphic view of God as a being.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Good post.If it's about conduct, then like Hillel said, 'the rest is commentary'

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,I think we have to distinguish a bit between the dogmas that Jesus himself appear to have propagated (The end time was near…the hungry were going to be fed… etc), the dogmas of his earliest followers (the Parousia, the Resurrection, Satan crushed… etc, and the endless more or less silly dogmas of groups like the Catholic Church. The problem is that many of the FUNDAMENTAL dogmas that Jesus and the first generation of Christians propagated have been proven wrong a long, long time ago. Their worldview was just as wrong then as it is now. Just as much of their recipie for creating a better world was just as wrong then as it is wrong today. One can of course go on being a Christian (like my priest friend and you) based on a feeling that Chistianity is still "true" despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. But I think that can only be done by creating your own set of dogmas, your own redefined vision of God and something many of us who study the sociology of religion would call a new religion. And to go back to that analogy you made about baseball some time ago: it is not fair to change the rules of the game all the time. Specially not when one is into the middle of the game. And it is certainly not fair to change the rules so much (like playing baseball without a ball altogether) and try to convince sceptics that my game is actually baseball despite that crucial ball being absent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Antonio, I think that the New Testament provides evidence of a Christianity already prepared to rewrite the script, as it were, and so if one takes a Protestant approach in which the New Testament provides the "rules", then I can argue that I'm following their rules. Some Christians think we're supposed to do as the New Testament authors said, not as they did, but I disagree. I'm trying to keep my eye on the ball, but have we worked out what the ball is, on this analogy? Is it Jesus? If so, perhaps it is an interesting consequence of the analogy that he gets hit and tossed around alot by the "players"…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    James, It's not that I don't thing there are somethings that are valuable about the Christian tradition. In fact, I think there are many things that are valuable about many different traditions. And in some cases these values lead to very similar "results."However, there are many things about Christianity that require the exclusion of these values as they hold directly opposing views. And there are many aspects about Christianity that I think are not valuable, or their value is founded on dogma – which could be grounded in more practical means. For example, when faced with the possibility that Jesus might have been wrong about a future event, you seem to ignore the possible impact it might have had on his teachings. Instead, you seem to see this as some kind of new, divine insight as to how you might be personally wrong. If taking on human form caused the Son of God to be wrong, then imagine how wrong I might be?As a sceptic, this is nothing new or revolutionary. This is my starting position, which I hold based on experience. Furthermore, we've studied human cognition. We know how it can be biased and we know ways to quantify and quality knowledge. This is based on observation, not revelation.But as a theist, it's as if you see the "wrongness" of humanity as a dirty window that we can somehow magically wipe clean by shear will to see our though to our spiritual "rightness." As such, regardless of how dirty the window is, we ultimately have access to divine "Truth" and will be judged on this truth. As somewhat of a philosophical Buddhist, I think Sam Harris really hit the nail on the head in his 2006 article Killing the Buddha, in which Harris says "The wisdom of the Buddha is currently trapped within the religion of Buddhism." One could say the same thing about Christianity. The wisdom of Christ's teachings are trapped by the dogma of Christianity. The question becomes, can we reach valuable conclusions regarding the foundations of this shared wisdom? Do some foundations give us the better ways to approach and adapt to future situations and discoveries? I think this answer is "Yes."Sam Harris gave a talk about just this subject: Can We Ever Be Right about Right and Wrong?.

  • Zeus

    “The New Testament provides evidence of a Christianity already prepared to rewrite the script,”Presumably, any script written by the Lord should not be subject to rewrite. Arguably Jesus’ script was rewritten overnight, when contrary to his own expectation Jesus died (Mark suggests perhaps in despair) before the coming of the kingdom. Then his followers tied together his return and the kingdom. Then Paul transformed Jesus’ message utterly, offering in its stead faith in a crucifixion with him of our old selves. But Paul at least persisted in a belief in the imminent transformation of this world, of the conquest of sin and death. Then Luke somewhat timidly began to soften that message, and John offered quite another gospel, and Jesus, altogether. Through the course of the second century, the notion of imminence diminished in importance, and faith in the kingdom above began to supplant the kingdom ahead. Is it an intellectual strength of Christianity that in its first two centuries its message was –that the script was totally rewritten at least twice–by Paul, who drops Jesus’ own conception of himself as a sort of viceroy and replaces it with his conception of Jesus’ as one who would return with the kingdom in train, and who even now imparts the Spirit in our breasts in ways that transform our lives here and now. By John and others who replace the human, historical Jesus by an only quasi-human divine figure who tells us whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise, and just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to whomever he wishes, for to him is given all judgment. One might find in these peregrinations not strength but the weakness of patent inconsistency, contortion of the message so that it will sell.Further, in the Protestant way, one might assign priority to the original message, not only because it came first, but because it came from the mouth of the man whose name has been given the religion and who alone of it founders is assigned divine status. If this priority is deserved, it’s troubling even that Paul so radically rewrote the script.But it would be quite mistaken to expect that rewrites would trouble the believer, let alone retard the spread of a religion. Quite the contrary. After describing a few features that actually account for the rise of sects in the past and today–social cohesion, strength without and the like–and of Christianity in its early days (respect for women, caring for fellow believers struck down by the plague) Philip Kitcher observes “that religious doctrines don’t have to be true to be successful. Truth, like Mae West’s goodness, may have nothing to do with it.”If there is no providential god, no religion can offer much of value in the living of our lives. If there is a providential god, no religion can give an accounting of why he provides for so many of us so wretchedly–and it will likely rewrite scripts to attract followers who can get along better without the truth.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M.,I finished this article Sin, Mistakes & Jesus to refute the idea that Jesus could have made any mistakes either in what he receited within and from scripture or predicted.Let me know your thoughts. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    Harvey,Your whole paradigm is a house of cards. It is built on unknown primary documents derived from unknown sources authored by anonymous writers long after the events they claim to document.Can you tell us when the earliest gospel (we call Mark) was first referenced by another author? (The anonymous authors of Matthew & Luke don't count as they merely plagiarized passages from Mark.) (I'll give you a hint-think late second century CE) Apart from an a priori leap of faith that tells you in your heart that you can trust gMark to be an accurate history, what other evidence can you bring to the table to show that we have any reliable information as to the doings & words of this supposedly perfect Son of God?Unless you can show that the Gospels are reliable accounts of what happened, the whole argument is doomed to become mere speculation: one person's wishful thinking pitted against another person's pet theories. The fact that our sources are so suspect & corrupted by their hearsay character should be an indication in and of itself, that a perfect God has had nothing to do with its authorship. (I'll bet you wouldn't have been this sloppy in your documentation of this pivotal moment in history.)To summarize then: To make a case for Jesus' perfection with clearly imperfect documentation is a fool's errand. -evan

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Evan,YADA, YADA, YADA!!!More YANG from blind atheism…What a waste. So little time, ooh so sad!This is what they do, they must argue all of Christianity when they have NO ARGUMENT to begin with. Then they dare not even try to stay on topic.I'm not commenting on this further here. Don't insult the host. Later!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15316459700934662467 Russ

    Harvey, You said,I'm not commenting on this further here. Don't insult the host.My guess is that "the host," Dr. James F. McGrath, is not insulted at all. He himself stated, "I like reading blogs that challenge rather than reinforce my views," and it was also Dr. McGrath who introduced "God-concept" to the discussion.You also said, "Then they dare not even try to stay on topic." If "God-concept" is the topic, then my comments to you concerning Biblical reliability are very much on topic. Further, the fact that both you and Dr. McGrath consider yourselves believing members of Christianities, but you have very different ideas about what is and is not a correct God-concept, makes Biblical reliability even more important in context, since you fashion your god using the Biblical god as a model, while Dr. McGrath's god is evinced through "the metaphors of panentheism," or process thought or deism. His god is not the anthropomorphic god of many of the fundamentalist Christianities. Clearly, he does not accept the Bible, as you read it, as the raw material for his God-concept.If Dr. McGrath calls his interaction with his panentheistic god "worship," then the two of you worship different gods.Harvey, you proudly wave your Christian fundamentalism in people's faces while Dr. McGrath says:Being a fundamentalist is not being a "Biblical Christian". Instead it involves a combination of either unfamiliarity with or dishonesty about the complexity of the Bible's contents, usually coupled with a denigration of those who honor the Bible by familiarizing themselves with its contents as apostates, unbelievers or 'liberals'.Recall that "unfamiliarity with or dishonesty about the complexity of the Bible's contents" is a charge you frequently lay on atheists, yet here is the same claim being made by a Christian believer about other Christian believers, those who are like you.So, not only were the comments made here by non-believers not off-topic, they were highly relevant to both your single correct god-concept and to McGrath's "quite a number of concepts." Whereas you, Harvey, stand behind the absolutist one and only one God-concept modeled after Biblical lore, Dr. McGrath says "I don't think there is only one 'correct' concept that intelligent believers can or must adopt." I, for one, would love to witness the two of you in a bare-knuckled toe to toe bout to settle once and for all the God-concept issue. I'd love to see you come out swinging from your respective corners. I can almost hear the ring announcer: Harvey tries a wicked hellfire jab which James deflects without consequence.When the dust settled, we all know how each of you would carry on. Harvey would continue to tell me that I(along with Dr. McGrath and anyone one else who doesn't agree with his God-concept) am going to hell, I'm immoral and perverse, and, through evolution, I'm responsible for all the world's ills. Dr. McGrath would continue to insist that many God-concepts are "correct" and should not be rejected.My guess is that neither of you would convince the other of anything, and that such an exercise would only reinforce the atheist's idea that the evidence doesn't support the notion of a god, and thus the idea is entirely superfluous. I think this thread already makes it clear that one god is as good as the next, even within the Christianities. Since that appears to be the case, it's safe to say that no gods at all are as good as any.Save me a ringside seat.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Russ,You like to talk a lot. That's not a negative just something to take note of…my goodness…Anyway, all I want to talk to you about is the bankruptcy of materialism. I tried to log into your site and was having some problems, but I'll come over there so we can discuss how terrible your worldview is and how empty it actually is and how the world has already REJECTED your views by rejecting communism and your man Marx. In fact your materialist view has been responsible for far greater horrors than ANY theistic system in history. Historical facts PROVE what I assert, you only have emotions to back you.So that's what I want to talk about with you. And for the last time, F.C. Bauer's "christianities" garbage has been refuted for years! There is no basis for your argument even though people like you and Ehrman want to believe that so you can try to have some sort of "excuse" for your unbelief it's a FARCE! I've done writing on it and debated atheists who were much more biblically and historically literate than you seem to be (at least regarding that issue). Looking at Pre-Nicean Christianities the evidence IS NOT in your favor. Then half of what you call "Christianities" today are only cults who teach about Jesus. Such cults are the Jehova's Witness (NON-CHRISTIAN) and the Mormons (NON-CHRISTIANS) but come and try your hand too. Just PLEASE try to stay on point. I hate it when loosers deviate from the argument to try to prove what else they don't know:"Christianities" Wet Dream Atheism 1"Christianities" Wet Dream Atheism 2"Christianities" Wet Dream Atheism Questions & DebateLater AC Advocate!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    "For example, when faced with the possibility that Jesus might have been wrong about a future event, you seem to ignore the possible impact it might have had on his teachings. Instead, you seem to see this as some kind of new, divine insight as to how you might be personally wrong.If taking on human form caused the Son of God to be wrong, then imagine how wrong I might be?"I think there are a lot of problems with the notion that Jesus was God taking a human form, and that is hardly the least of of them. Not all Christians subscribe to this view, however. The "Saving Jesus" DVD seminar, for example, which is put out by the same people who publish the "Living the Questions" DVDs, is studied and discussed in a lot of progressive churches, and having attended such a seminar myself, I can assure you that there is a great variety of opinions among the people in the pews as to what Jesus's nature really was. Not everyone slavishly adheres to the ostensibly authoritative creedal pronouncements put out by church councils a millennium and a half ago. I remember one sweet very old woman at a "Saving Jesus" church seminar telling me, "I don't think Jesus was God." So there you have it.Personally, I think it makes more sense for Christians to view Jesus as a human being who had a particularly close relationship with the Divine, than as God incarnate. This is pretty much the view of Marcus Borg, who defined Jesus as a "spirit person". This all gets back to the straw man problem that takes place when a lot of atheists criticize Christianity. They often attack a certain version of orthodoxy that is widely rejected by progressive theologians, by the Borgs and the Spongs and others. And given that people like Borg and Spong are studied in church book reading groups and church seminars, and sell a fair number of books, clearly this straw man does not reflect in any comprehensive sense the diversity of thinking that exists within Christianity. I honestly don't know where James falls on the spectrum, whether he sees Jesus as an incarnation of God taking human form or not. But I do not see it that way, and I think that Jesus's message and life become much more interesting and vibrant as a means of going forward when instead he is viewed as a human being, who could be wrong as any human being is, but who showed the way through his close relationship with the divine about overturning religious authority, radical inclusion, nonviolence, and love.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Dr. M,Before I forget, you said"FWIW, I have an article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus on the accusation that Jesus was illegitimate, which touches on the Rabbinic material."How do I go about getting a copy of that? I would be interested in your take and info as I've gone over that area as it relates to the genealogies but not really studied it. So I look forward to looking at that.Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    "… the world has already REJECTED your views by rejecting communism and your man Marx."Um, Supt Burnett, are you equating all materialism with Marxism here?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Here's a link to a summary. The full details are as follows:James F. McGrath. "Was Jesus illegitimate? The evidence of his social interactions" Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 5.1 (2007): 81-100.You might be able to access it through a local public or university library's databases, or they might have a copy of the journal. If you read it, let me know what you think!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    Harvey,Your previous response to my post reminded me of someone with their hands over their ears – shouting LA-LA-LA….I hope this is not too personal but I post this without rancor or hard feeling.I get the impression that you believe that the god you worship values and rewards those who will take a position of faith (i.e. belief in something without evidence)and defend it to the death against any dissenting or contradictory evidence. Compromise or tolerance are dirty words. In your world, tenacity and stubbornness are god-ordained values but open-minded truth-seeking that requires weighing the evidence & potentially changing one's opinion as the data dictates, is a punishable offense. Being sure in the face of uncertainty is the right way for this god. Being open-minded & willing to consider the possibility that one could be mistaken about this Jesus story is such an egregious offense that you think that your god of love is justified in condemning anyone who errs in evaluating this question, to an eternity of hell-fire and sadistic torture. What would it take for you to consider the possibility that you could be wrong? (Perhaps that is not a fair question; because, if you were to answer it honestly (according to your god's rulebook) that in and of itself might place your very soul in peril.I was once like you are. I eventually worked up the courage to question the data with the comforting thought that if god is indeed the god of truth, he surely would not condemn me for seeking just that. To my shame, it took me almost 50 years to get to that point but better late than never.I wonder whether you could muster up that sort of courage?-evan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Mystical Seeker wrote: I think there are a lot of problems with the notion that Jesus was God taking a human form, and that is hardly the least of of them.Agreed.Personally, I think it makes more sense for Christians to view Jesus as a human being who had a particularly close relationship with the Divine, than as God incarnate. This is pretty much the view of Marcus Borg, who defined Jesus as a "spirit person".Interesting. However, if Jesus was a human being, then it's even more unclear how his death accounted for the sins of all mankind, past and future. Or do you hold different views in this area as well?This all gets back to the straw man problem that takes place when a lot of atheists criticize Christianity. They often attack a certain version of orthodoxy that is widely rejected by progressive theologians, by the Borgs and the Spongs and others.You seem to have taken a similar route as Dr. McGrath, but from a different angle. Regardless if he was the Son of God, who's knowledge was clouded by taking human form, or if he was entirely human we still reach the same conclusion: it seems very likely that Jesus was wrong about the details of a future event. This would still have implications regarding Jesus' expectations regarding these events. Furthermore, should Jesus' claims about God's coming kingdom have not come from his close divine relationship with God, where did they come from? Was Jesus aware of that which came from divine revelation vs his own personal conclusions? If so, it's unclear why he would present this information in the mater of fact way depicted in the Bible. If not, then perhaps Jesus couldn't tell the difference. Either way, it seems we lack a reasonably clear way to discern between the two due to the way Jesus' teachings are presented. Should Jesus had falsely predicted the arrival of kingdom of God at some future date from now, it would likely be assumed that Jesus was correct since it could not be proven otherwise. It's only due to the fact that this time has come and passed that we're aware of his mistake. Given the nature of the rest of his supernatural claims, how do we know which, if any, are correct?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Interesting. However, if Jesus was a human being, then it's even more unclear how his death accounted for the sins of all mankind, past and future. Or do you hold different views in this area as well?I do not believe in any sort of doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and I do not believe that "Jesus died for our sins." I am not interested in heaven or hell, or an afterlife, or the idea that anything Jesus did in his life or death had any relationship to God's judgment of our sins. Rather, I think that Jesus died because of our sins. I think you will find that there are progressive Christian theologians who say essentially the same thing.Regardless if he was the Son of God, who's knowledge was clouded by taking human form, or if he was entirely human we still reach the same conclusion: it seems very likely that Jesus was wrong about the details of a future event. This would still have implications regarding Jesus' expectations regarding these events.Furthermore, should Jesus' claims about God's coming kingdom have not come from his close divine relationship with God, where did they come from? Was Jesus aware of that which came from divine revelation vs his own personal conclusions?I think that whatever Jesus happened to have believed about the future was largely irrelevant. Many would argue, and I would agree, that Jesus's view of the Kingdom of God was concerned with realized eschatology, that the Kingdom of God was in in-breaking, that it was in the process of being realized in the present moment. Dominic Crossan writes that Jesus subscribed to "sapiential eschatology", which he describes as announces that God has given all human beings the wisdom to discern how, here and now in this world, one can so live that God's power, rule, and dominion are evidently present to all observers. It involves a way of life for now rather than a hope of life for the future.Given that perspective, I just don't find anything that Jesus had to say about the future particularly interesting. I think that a close relationship with the Divine does not entail having magical powers or ESP or being able to predict the future with clairvoyant accuracy. I think that Jesus was a prophet in the sense that he was a social and religious critic–that is the essence of religious prophecy, not predicting the future. I don't believe in magic or magical powers or Divine-inspired clairvoyance. (In fact, speaking as one would a great deal of interest in process theology, I don't believe that even God has full knowledge of the future.) A close relationship with the Divine means, in my view, simply that Jesus had a relationship with God, Jesus listened to God with a great deal of clarity, and Jesus's own aims and ambitions were very much in tune with God's.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Look, it's plain and simple, God doesn't make mistakes and has all knowledge.Jesus was God who took on the limitations of humanity and veiled his Glory and knowledge at times to accomplish his purpose. Jesus was without sin therefore was not veiled in his understanding or knowledge as only sin does that. Therefore Jesus made no mistakes and had perfect knowledge when he rendered it.If Jesus wasn't God his death is of only moral value and is not salvific in any sense. If he wasn't God we're reduced to the 2 pegs of the trilemma…he's either a liar or a lunatic…So in the Christian worldview there's no room for anything else. Any theologian who thinks otherwise is a radical left winger and isn't worth his/her salt…and most of the Jesus seminarians I ever read are total garbage INCLUDING Crossan…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    Harvey,You are trying to make the texts fit a predetermined conclusion. Try to leave the shackles of dogmatic thinking behind. Second, the "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument is very weak. We can add "Legend or Just Mistaken" to the false trilemma.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Mystic, Thanks for clarifying.. I am not interested in heaven or hell, or an afterlife/Care to elaborate on what you mean by "not interested?" For example, non-theistic Buddhists seem to think God's existence is irrelevant to working out one's own "salvation." Personally, I think the idea is interesting, but extremely unlikely – at least in the form described by mainstream Christianity. However, as a logically possible outcome, I think it's something we need to at least think about enough to reach a reasonable conclusion regarding it's plausibility. While I'd like to see what happens in the future, I don't see the prospect of ceasing to exist after I die as a problem since, well, I wouldn't exist. Rather, I think that Jesus died because of our sins.While I do see the distinction, this doesn't seem to be a either or conclusion, as many non-progressive Christians would agree with this statement. That is, ultimately, they think Jesus died because of our "sin". They just happen to think God knew sin would cause a particular reaction due to Jesus' claims and he used this knowledge to bring about his plan of salvation. Given that perspective, I just don't find anything that Jesus had to say about the future particularly interesting.But why this perspective? Did the disciples or authors of the Bible misinterpret Jesus? Was he unaware that his teachings on future events were wrong?I think that a close relationship with the Divine does not entail having magical powers or ESP or being able to predict the future with clairvoyant accuracy.I do not see revelation of future events as ESP or magic powers. If Jesus was divine, then he knew future events because it was partially his plan, which he would have been personally involved in. If Jesus was a man, then he could have known details about future events through revelation, which is far as I know, is the very foundation of the Bible itself.But if revelation is not accurate, or if Jesus couldn't tell the difference between revelation and personal intuition, then it's unclear how we can discern between the two in regards to Jesus' teachings. Or perhaps Jesus did clarify between the two, but it was lost by the time the Bible was written?A close relationship with the Divine means, in my view, simply that Jesus had a relationship with God, Jesus listened to God with a great deal of clarity, and Jesus's own aims and ambitions were very much in tune with God's.Are you saying that Jesus taught X and we've objectively confirmed that X is beneficial, therefore, X is in tune with God? In other words, I'm not sure how you've reached this conclusion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Harvey wrote: Any theologian who thinks otherwise is a radical left winger and isn't worth his/her salt…and most of the Jesus seminarians I ever read are total garbage INCLUDING Crossan…Harvey, We could say that any "Picassoian" who didn't paint like Picasso isn't worth his or her salt. But this doesn't mean that Picasso knew the only right way to paint. Yes, Mystic and Dr. McGrath do not agree with your definition of Christianity. This is obvious. However, Christianity makes claims about reality. Are these clams accurate? Are only some of them accurate? If so how can you tell which ones?Instead, it seems you're merely interested in keeping the status quo instead of getting closer to the truth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Care to elaborate on what you mean by "not interested?" What I mean by that is that it is irrelevant to my religious beliefs. I am an agnostic about an afterlife. It's fun to speculate about it, but in the final analysis, totally irrelevant. To me, faith is about living the religious life in the here and now. But why this perspective? Did the disciples or authors of the Bible misinterpret Jesus? Was he unaware that his teachings on future events were wrong?I think that the essence of Jesus's teachings and life involved a diagnosis about what was wrong with the world he lived in, and a proposal for a a cure, that involved a radical overturning of religious, political and social assumptions, and that this cur–the Kingdom of God–was already here among us. Any supposed predictions that he made or did not make about any future events doesn't affect that one iota, in my view.I do not see revelation of future events as ESP or magic powers.Really???? Do you know of anyone who has the ability to predict future events? I don't. The idea that someone can be Divinely inspired to predict the future is, in my opinion, nothing but magical thinking.If Jesus was a man, then he could have known details about future events through revelation, which is far as I know, is the very foundation of the Bible itself.What you are relating here is basically a fundamentalist perspective that I do not agree with. I do not see the Bible as containing any divinely revealed predictions of future events, and under no circumstances do I see that as any sort of foundation of the Bible. I view the Bible as a collection of human documents where people try to express their understandings of the Divine–understandings that were conditioned by the culture and times that that lived in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Second, the "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument is very weak. We can add "Legend or Just Mistaken" to the false trilemma.Just to clarify….Legend can't be added because Lewis was only referring to cases of people assuming the existence of an historical person called Jesus who was a "good teacher". Lewis wasn't trying to convince people that Jesus existed with the trilemma.As far as just "being mistaken"….I think that could fall under Liar..or Lunatic. If someone is mistaken about claims to be the Son of God, in John….or a Messianic Son of Man with authority given by God to revise/refine Mosaic Law, in the synoptics….well, then how far off from delusional would such a person be if they actually believed it?And if they didn't actually believe it…then we are right back to Liar.I know….it's not a satisfying argument…but I think there is a point in it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    Just to clarify….Legend can't be added because Lewis was only referring to cases of people assuming the existence of an historical person called Jesus who was a "good teacher". Lewis wasn't trying to convince people that Jesus existed with the trilemma.A historical Jesus could have lived who got completely 'legendized' by later followers. We cannot rule out embellishments.As far as just "being mistaken"….I think that could fall under Liar..or Lunatic. If someone is mistaken about claims to be the Son of God, in John….or a Messianic Son of Man with authority given by God to revise/refine Mosaic Law, in the synoptics….well, then how far off from delusional would such a person be if they actually believed it?I can be mistaken about many things in life; it does not necessarily make me a liar or a lunatic. Many beliefs can be rationally held, yet still be proven to be wrong. I feel the argument is weak, but carries good rhetorical force with believers.Jesus may have rationally believed that he had a divine relationship with Yahweh. People claim it all the time, nowadays. It does not make them lunatics nor liars.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    A historical Jesus could have lived who got completely 'legendized' by later followers. We cannot rule out embellishments.Yes, exactly. Among other problems, the whole "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument assumes that everything attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were actually said by him. In the case of the Gospel of John, in particular, this is highly suspect.Marcus Borg talks about the pre-Easter understanding of Jesus and the post-Easter understanding. The earliest Gospel (Mark) was written maybe 35 years after Jesus died, and John was written much later than that. These stories of Jesus were filtered through layers of oral tradition, and, most importantly, through the post-Easter understanding of Jesus. Legendary accretions were an inevitable part of this process. You can see this process if you read the Gospels in approximate order of when they were written. Jesus became increasingly mythologized with each Gospel. In Mark, there was no birth story or tales of Jesus walking around after resurrection. Luke and Mark have both birth narratives and tales of a resuscitated Jesus walking around, albeit contradictory stories in both cases. And in John we have the whole Logos thing going on.Proponents of the "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument are generally assuming exactly what they are setting out to prove, namely the accuracy of the Gospels. This is simply a case of circular reasoning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Yes…Jesus could certainly have been legendized by his followers.However…he must have made some claims about himself and his authority. Messiahship is not foisted on unwitting subjects who were minding their own business, busily making furniture.Even if one wanted to say that the Jesus we conceive of is not the Jesus that existed, we still have to contend with the idea that something unique happened 2,000 years ago to provide fodder for any so-called "legendizing".I'm not saying the trilemma proves anything to people who think the argument is weak. I was simply pointing out that it had a limited target for its audience in the first place.As far as people claiming a special relationship with Yahweh…..yes people do that nowadays. Many of them, a la Todd Bentley, I would label as lunatics or liars. If someone was just making general claims about feeling as if God is directing them in their personal lives, I wouldn't think of them that way. When someone makes claims that they are God's specific agent in whom they must put their trust and whom they must listen to and follow…..unless they're right….it's hard to concieve how they are not either mentally ill, or purposely deceptive.It's not quite the same thing as being mistaken about a future event, or the weather, or one's ability to lead.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    we still have to contend with the idea that something unique happened 2,000 years ago to provide fodder for any so-called "legendizing".I agree with that statement. Jesus was clearly charismatic, and must have inspired a tremendously loyal following, so much so that he was able to inspire a movement after he died.But we don't need to infer form this that he necessarily made excessively grandiose claims about himself. Interestingly, in the earliest Gospel, Mark, Jesus made a rather un-grandiose, humble remark: "Why do you call me good? No one is good-except God alone." This statement must have seen rather embarrassing to Matthew, who used Mark as a source, because Matthew rewrote that sentence so as to avoid the humble sounding tone of Jesus's response. I think that Jesus's charisma seem clear. The fact that he was loved and admired by his disciples can certainly serve as fodder for legendizing, I think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Terri, Ehrman added the "Legend" option to keep up the aliteration. What he meant is that the information about Jesus supposedly having spoken as one conscious of pre-existence and perhaps even divinity developed later, over time, and thus is "legendary" rather than a reflection of what the historical figure of Jesus actually said. So it isn't about Jesus being a legend rather than a historical figure, but the status of the claims to divinity attributed to him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    Mystical Seeker said:"Jesus was clearly charismatic, and must have inspired a tremendously loyal following, so much so that he was able to inspire a movement after he died."Did Jesus inspire a movement? When did the Sect called "Christians" actually start? No historian of the first century seems to have noticed them at all. Josephus, Philo etc. seem to be oblivious to the existence of this charismatic sect. (The Testimonium Flavium reference to the 'Tribe of Christians' is clearly corrupted and cannot be considered a reliable reference.) The earliest clear mention of this sect by a third party is by Pliny the Younger in his letter to the Emperor (~ 103CE if I recall correctly).So this charismatic messiah figure, who is mentioned by no contemporaneous historians starts a movement that no-one notices until the second century. None of our Canonical Gospel accounts get noticed or referenced either until perhaps mid-second century CE at the earliest.Is there any significance to this pattern? To know who this Jesus was & what he said & did requires more reliable data & information. There is nothing available to us that would support any confident assertions as to who he was or whether he even existed as anything more than a midrash inspired myth.To claim that the precision-freak creator of the Cosmos was actually personally responsible for the poor quality of the documentation of this most significant singular event of history, is even more implausible. Due to this lack of good documentation, I'm afraid that our desire to know more about the 'real Jesus' is condemned to be nothing more than conjecture & an exercise in wishful thinking. -evan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    Addendum,"Did Jesus start a movement?" I meant to add: Did Mithras start a movement? – & yet he had followers.Did Osiris start a movement?… etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Eheffa, I'm not sure if you are denying that Jesus existed, or if you are denying that a movement associated with him existed shortly after he died. The Christian movement had to come from somewhere. We know from Paul's letters (and Paul was not writing narrative stories, but letters to communicate opinions and information) that he knew people who had known Jesus during his lifetime–Peter, for example. The fact that this group of followers didn't get much attention from the rest of the world early in its existence probably owes more to the fact to its numerical insignificance than to the suggestion that it somehow didn't exist at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    James, I understand. I'm just trying to flush out the "Legend"="entirely fictional" that seemed to be in Walter's earlier comment.Mystical Seeker,I am familiar with that verse and the story of the rich young ruler in which it takes place. Jesus frequently is portrayed as answering questions with questions…or probing the people he is conversing with. Is Jesus really saying he is not good? I don't know that that one verse out of context is an obivous and clear refutation.Jesus' atitude towards God and towards teh Jewish leadership is very different than any Old Testament portrayals of prophets and miracle workers. I can think of prophets who argued with God, prophets who feared God, prophets who spoke with fury from God….but I can't hink of one example in which a prophet refers to God as his "father". Am I mistaken? Have I missed something? I seriously can't think of a parallel. One can argue that Jesus never spoke of himself in those terms…but if we think that he never spoke that way of himself….how did the early chrisitans get so completely off-track?Why nor simply view him as an Elijah…or a Moses?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    Mystic…No, I'm not sure that a real flesh and blood Jesus existed.I'm also not sure that we know when Paul wrote his letters but in any case he seems to be unfamiliar with the "Gospel" version of this Jesus and looks to him as some sort of ethereal Spirit god in the heavens. Was Paul's Christianity inspired by the Gospel Jesus or some other sort of Hellenized Judaism looking to the Hebrew scriptures for the Messiah? I would suggest that it is the latter & that we therefore have no need for a Gospel flesh & blood Jesus to account for the existence of a Christian movement in the second century and on.The fact that this can even be entertained as a possibility attests to the poor quality of data we have to formulate any opinions around the true nature of this deity we call Jesus Christ.-evan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Is Jesus really saying he is not good? I don't know that that one verse out of context is an obivous and clear refutation.Apparently Matthew thought the verse was embarrassing enough to reword it so as to remove any disassociation that Jesus was making between himself and God. The reason I bring that verse up is not to use it as any sort of proof text, but rather to illustrate the evolution of theology as you move through the later Gospels from the earlier ones. Jesus became increasingly elevated in status with each gospel.I don't know if other prophets spoke of God as their "father" or not. Perhaps he was unique in thinking of God in that way. This reflects, I think the close relationship with the sacred and the divine that he seemed to exhibit. However, given that he taught his followers to address God as "our father" in the Lord's Prayer (and Christians to this day do exactly that), this isn't so much a reflection of anything special about himself but rather his understanding of who God is to all of us, or at least who God can be–not a harsh distant figure, but a loving and compassionate parent. Many different metaphorical ways of expressing God have been used through the ages; Jesus chose to use one that emphasized God's loving and compassionate relationship to us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    I'm not sure that a real flesh and blood Jesus existed.So you are claiming that Paul made up the stories of his arguments with Peter?I can understand the point that there is a lot we don't know about Jesus or his life, but it just isn't credible to claim that Jesus didn't exist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    However, given that he taught his followers to address God as "our father" in the Lord's Prayer (and Christians to this day do exactly that), this isn't so much a reflection of anything special about himself but rather his understanding of who God is to all of us, or at least who God can be–not a harsh distant figure, but a loving and compassionate parent. Many different metaphorical ways of expressing God have been used through the ages; Jesus chose to use one that emphasized God's loving and compassionate relationship to us.I concur with this analysis. :-)Yet…Jesus sasy he has authority to forgive sins…he describes the institution of communion in terms of his blood and body for the new covenant.These are bold claims which surpass any that I can think of general chrisitans making about themselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    how did the early chrisitans get so completely off-track?That's a really good question. I often ask myself that same question.I think that Dominic Crossan makes a good point when he suggests that some of the early elevation of Jesus's status had a political basis. The same language that was used by Jesus's followers after Jesus died to describe him–Lord and so forth–were used by imperial Roman theology to describe Caesar. Calling Jesus Lord was High Treason. They were aligning themselves with Jesus, against Caesar.And, of course, a lot of people blame Paul for taking the religion off track as well. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    terri said…I understand. I'm just trying to flush out the "Legend"="entirely fictional" that seemed to be in Walter's earlier comment.I already answered that I meant that a historical figure may have been embellished to legendary status. I was not implying a completely mythical construction of Jesus. Although, that is one possible theory.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    terri said…Yet…Jesus sasy he has authority to forgive sins…he describes the institution of communion in terms of his blood and body for the new covenant.You are assuming the absolute reliability of the gospel stories. Maybe, not everything attributed to him was actually said by him? Maybe, none of it is accurate?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I should have read through all the comments in my inbox before I jumped in.Evan, welcome! I thought I'd let you know we've had quite a few discussions of mythicism here, some quite recent. You might want to take a look at those threads and see what's been said so far.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    I'm afraid that a few quick lines of retort will not address your incredulity but the mythicist position is often not taken very seriously enough to be evaluated on the strength of its arguments.If you are unfamiliar with the arguments of those who suggest that the Christian movement could have started with a mythical Christ as the object of their worship I would suggest you do some reading.See: http://www.jesuspuzzle.com/for a more complete argument. Earl Doherty is only one of many who would share this view of an originally spiritual Logos cult Jesus who was only later 'terrestrialized' and brought down to earth.I will leave it at that. -evan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    WalterI'm aguing from the assumption that there is something to the gosspel stories and teachings.Of course someone is free to argue that they are fictional, or greatly embellished. But at the point of removing all references from the Gospels about what Jesus might have said about himself….there is very little left. It's easier to simply jump on the "Jesus as Myth" bandwagon than it is to rtheorize a Jesus who said and did nothing that would have made his followers believe he was the Messiah.That's my threshold anyway. Obviously not everyone sees it that way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Evan, again, if some folks seem to treat the mythicist assumptions you bring as implausible, it's not only because of the fact that almost all historians view them in the same way (although that's true), but because they've been dealt with at length on this blog, including once very recently. I encourage you to do a search for "mythicism" and other related keywords to get a sense of how this issue has been discussed here previously. No point in covering the same ground over and over again!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08597511645534603563 Walter

    Of course someone is free to argue that they are fictional, or greatly embellished. But at the point of removing all references from the Gospels about what Jesus might have said about himself….there is very little left. It's easier to simply jump on the "Jesus as Myth" bandwagon than it is to theorize a Jesus who said and did nothing that would have made his followers believe he was the Messiah.What led me from fundamentalist Christianity to agnosticism is the problem that I could not know for sure if Jesus said or did any of the things attributed to him in the gospel stories. I do lean towards there being an historical person behind the stories, but I am not dogmatic on that position.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06453866415590607675 eheffa

    Hi James,I did not intend to draw this discussion into a Mythicist/ Historicist debate. I was trying to suggest that we can know very little about Jesus in a falsifiable 'for sure' way – to the point that even extreme views such as the mythicist position cannot be refuted by the evidence we have.I am happy to leave it at that.I'll be glad to read the links to your discussions on this.I was not aware that you had recently discussed this topic. I apologize for dragging that dead horse out of the barn for another beating… ;-)-evan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    What led me from fundamentalist Christianity to agnosticism is the problem that I could not know for sure if Jesus said or did any of the things attributed to him in the gospel stories. I do lean towards there being an historical person behind the stories, but I am not dogmatic on that position.I think that one of the problems with fundamentalist Christianity is its insistence on absolute certainty. My own take on it is that the details of what Jesus did or didn't say isn't that important because I don't worship him as God anyway, so I am not going to hang on his every word as reported in the Gospels. What I find more interesting is the overall tone of his message and life, as I interpret it, and since the symbols and traditions of Christianity still resonate within me (I was brought up a conservative Christian myself), I see Christianity as a path for spiritual exploration. Not because I think Jesus "died for my sins", but because I like what I see about his life and message–his radical questioning of established religious, political and social norms, his nonviolence, the example of his close relationship with the divine. Even if it turned out that Jesus never existed, I'd still find those same messages that I have taken away from the Gospels resonating within me. Others may take away other things from the Gospel stories than I do. If they do, then so be it. For me, it is about pointing the way to a deeper and meaningful and purposeful understanding of God and the world. Or, put another way, the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Comments like these are interesting but highly speculative against the evidences:The earliest Gospel (Mark) was written maybe 35 years after Jesus died, and John was written much later than that. These stories of Jesus were filtered through layers of oral tradition, and, most importantly, through the post-Easter understanding of Jesus.First of all, some of Paul's Epistles were generally written before the gospels and Paul stated in 1 Cor. That he had "received" the information he preached both by revelation and from the Apostles. The reveletaion was first as he "conferred not with flesh and blood", but obviously later met with the Apostles to discuss his new faith and beliefs. The word "received" as noted by Bauckham in "Jesus And The Eyewitnesses" clearly indicated how info was transferred or "taught" from a teacher to a student. This cannot just be disregarded.The fact is there was no time for embellishments to occur and well into the second century sources such as Pliny were confirming certain aspects of the Christian belief with reletively no or very small changes from when those beliefs began. I am critical of the atheistic conspiracy theories regarding this as I have not seen one that renders a plausible scenario to account for the data that exists. All I see is conjecture and bias and that not even rooted in a sound historical facts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Paul is a good example what I was talking about. Paul, who preceded Mark, like Mark made no reference to any alleged virgin birth, and he made no references to Jesus walking around in a resuscitated body after his crucifixion. The first New Testament authors to do either of those things were Matthew and Luke, writing half a century or so after Jesus had died. This further illustrates the growing mythologization of Jesus's life that was taking place in the decades after Jesus had died.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Evan, you're welcome to beat the horse if you are so inclined – I just thought I'd mention that there had been prior discussion, so that we can "continue the beating where it last left off". :)Or, as a friend of mine who tends to mix his metaphors might say, "Never beat a dead gift horse in the mouth"…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Mystical Seeker wrote: I am an agnostic about an afterlife. It's fun to speculate about it, but in the final analysis, totally irrelevant. To me, faith is about living the religious life in the here and now.I guess what I'm asking is why is it irrelevant? For example, Buddhism says the existence of God is irrelevant because of it's precept that only we can "save" ourselves. Note: I'm not making a claim one way or the other in this context. I'm noting that the rational behind God's irrelevance is that he would be perceived as being external, and only we can reach "enlightenment" on our own. Any supposed predictions that he made or did not make about any future events doesn't affect that one iota, in my view.It's unclear as to how you can separate these two things as the future eventually becomes the present. Future events consist of details that are a means to fulfill expectations. To clarify, Jesus doesn't just make mater-of-fact predictions about future events, such as it's going to rain next Thursday or there will be an earthquake on the California cost in 2011. These are mere statements about how things will be. But Jesus' teaching describe how things *should* be. In other words, Jesus is making moral and theological statements about how the way things ought to end up, which eventually becomes the present. Really???? Do you know of anyone who has the ability to predict future events? I don't. The idea that someone can be Divinely inspired to predict the future is, in my opinion, nothing but magical thinking.I would agree. Perhaps I can illustrate my question with another question. How do you see God's relationship to the universe? Did it always exist or did God create it? Your answer is ultimately a claim about science, historical fact and the very nature of God, including his abilities. I view the Bible as a collection of human documents where people try to express their understandings of the Divine–understandings that were conditioned by the culture and times that that lived in.Which leads me back to my question regarding how you've determined which teachings reflect God's views. Again, these are ultimately claims about God's nature. Are you saying that Jesus taught X and we've objectively confirmed that X is beneficial, therefore, X is in tune with God? In other words, I'm not sure how you've reached this conclusion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Mystical, I guess I could summarize my question to "Why is the divine relevant?"As a philosophical Buddhist, I think the very notion of the Divine is irrelevant because it is unnecessary and serves as a distraction from the present. Should the divine exist it would be part of nature. We should be able to make observations about it. We should be able to reach a consensus on it. Instead, the notion of the Divine is currently a distraction and even a point of violent conflict.You seem to see Jesus as a man who debunked the OT, but still affirmed the divine. But why stop at the OT?Perhaps the Divine was a necessary stop-gap for us to understand our reality. But why is it still relevant beyond obviously having significance as a stop-gap and a "language" which we still use today?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Scott, I never said that Jesus "debunked the OT". I don't believe that about Jesus. He was a Jew, after all, and the OT was a part of who he was.Should the divine exist it would be part of nature. We should be able to make observations about it. We should be able to reach a consensus on it.I don't share that assumption about God at all. I would argue that anything we can make empircal observations about represents the realm of science, and religion is not science. We cannot achieve consensus about God because God is gets to the heart of meaning, purpose, and values, and these are not subject to empirical analysis. The lack of consensus in the world about God represents human limitations as we try to make sense of these deeper questions. Religions are culturally conditioned, the product of various times and places in which they emerged, and as such are a human product of trying to understand what John Hick calls "the Ultimate". John Hick has definitely influenced my thinking on this, by the way; he is a theologian who promotes a notion of religious pluralism.For me, God is another name for what Hick calls the Ultimate. To say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis is like saying that meaning, purpose, and values are unnecessary.If you are asking me how we can objectively confirm anything about Jesus's relationship to God, my answer is that of course we cannot. God isn't about objectively confirmed data. God is about the poetry that inspires our souls. To expect objective confirmation of God is like objectively determining what makes great poetry.

  • District Supt. Harvey Burnett

    Mystical,You said:The first New Testament authors to do either of those things were Matthew and Luke, writing half a century or so after Jesus had died.Pauls epistles represent some of the first NT writings beginning in 48AD about 14 to 17 years after Jesus death. That's noplace close to a half century. In his writings we see a clear understanding of the life teaching and resurrection of Jesus. If he lived and died it easy tio assume that he was born. If he's speaking to those who are already believers why is he compelled to rehash every detail of the story. That's a ridiculous notion. There are hundreds of sayings and teachings of Paul that parallel the teachings of Jesus. In addition Paul indicates that his understandings weren't developed in the dark, secretly or in isolation. In addition, the NT writings far exceed every historical parallel so far as literary development in the writings being close to the events. This is from what I wrote regarding an ancillary issue:"When contrasted to many of the most popular historical writings which have been taken seriously by modern historians, the bible stands head and shoulders above most if not all writings of antiquity. Some of those writings include writings of historians such as Livy who records events from 59 BC to 17 AD, however MSS’s date from 4th Century (only 27 copies), Tacitus who records events from 56 AD to 120 AD, however MSS’s date from the 9th Century (3 copies many lost volumes) Seutonius who records events from 69 AD to 140 AD, however MSS’s date from 9th Century (200+ copies) Thucydides who records events from 460 BC to 400 BC, however MSS’s date from 1st Century (20 copies) and Herodotus who records events from 484 BC to 425 BC however MSS’s date from 1st Century (75 copies){2} Most of these books are undisputed as providing accurate historical information whereby the past is viewed, and although scant and sometimes lost in their original forms, most are yet supported by diligent historical study. (The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? F.F. Bruce [Inter Varsity Press 5th Ed.] pg. 13)This is from CATDIED at :http://dunamis2.wordpress.com/cat-died/So I understand your assertions as most historians who've looked at it an initially said the same thing, hiowever your assertions and those of richard Carrier and robert Price don't hold serve to the evidence that exists. The NT is not subject to historical embellishments as the critical claim is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Pauls epistles represent some of the first NT writings beginning in 48AD about 14 to 17 years after Jesus death. That's noplace close to a half century.I have no idea what you think you are responding to, but your response bears no relationship to what I wrote.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Mystical Seeker wrote: For me, God is another name for what Hick calls the Ultimate. To say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis is like saying that meaning, purpose, and values are unnecessary.I could call oxygen "God", then claim it's relevant because I need it to breathe. But this is not the question I'm asking. What is the relevance of creating a dualistic view of reality? What is the relevance of assuming the "Ultimate" is sentient and has intentions? Should this ultimate not be sentient or have intentions, then what is the relevance of calling it God?To quote a zen saying… Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got it's very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters. While the path and destination may not be exactly the same for everyone, this is because everyone is unique. Each of us has a different set of experiences and concepts which we hold. This does not prevent a consensus from being reached at the level that would confirm some kind of "Ultimate" reality.The lack of consensus in the world about God represents human limitations as we try to make sense of these deeper questions.Why must our limitations prevent a consensus to be formed about God, should he exist? Communication is a two way street. Why does he not reveal himself to us? If you are asking me how we can objectively confirm anything about Jesus's relationship to God, my answer is that of course we cannot. We must determine God's nature if we are to determine if God exists. Otherwise, we're left with statements like… We cannot achieve consensus about God because God is gets to the heart of meaning, purpose, and values, and these are not subject to empirical analysis.which doesn't appear to say anything. For example, what do you mean by "gets to the heart of"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    To clarify…For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters. Should there be someone about mountains that we might be "missing" or "overlooking" does not mean there is something about mountains that are "divine." This does not follow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    I could call oxygen "God", then claim it's relevant because I need it to breathe. But this is not the question I'm asking. Are you asking me what my understanding of religion is, or are you telling me what you think my understanding of God has to be? I have told you what I think that God means–a way of defining and interpreting and giving ultimate meaning to our values, hopes, and purposes. It is a meta-hypothesis, if you will. All of us with a religious sensibility are trying to do that; for some, there is the preference to go with a theistic approach to what Hick calls the Ultimate; for others, there is a preference for non-theistic interpretation. If you choose not to accept the approach that others have taken, far be it from me to tell you what to believe. I honestly don't care whether you believe in God or not. If you don't understand why some prefer to take a theistic approach, far be it from me to tell you approach to take.We must determine God's nature if we are to determine if God exists.Really? Why do you say that? You want certainty in your religious faith, it seems. You seem to want to "determine" that God exists. You also say we must determine what God's nature is, and yet, interestingly enough, you make a lot of assumptions on your own about what you think God's nature is or what the word means, for example, asserting that if God exists it follows that God would somehow "reveal" himself to us in some magical or miraculous fashion like giant father figure in the sky sending lightning bolts to us or speaking to us in a loud booming voice. I'm not sure how God is supposed to "reveal" himself. If God is not omnipotent (and in my view, the concept of an omnipotent God makes little sense), then the means that God could possibly use to reveal himself in some absolute and certain fashion seems a little questionable.I have a great deal of respect for Buddhism. I think it is a great path for many people to take. I don't tell people that they should not be Buddhists. If you don't "get" the idea of God, then so be it. I have tried to give you a sense of where I am coming from, but I sense you are trying to go the route of proving or disproving something that cannot be proved and of which I consider proof to be irrelevant anyway. For me, God is an expression of the poetic and mythic human imagination, a way of defining at a deeper level the whys and wherefores of reality. If you do not see any value in going with the God hypothesis, then my advice to you is, don't do it. It is really that simple.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193595678064010528 Scott

    Are you asking me what my understanding of religion is, or are you telling me what you think my understanding of God has to be?I'm asking what is the relevance of declaring some things as natural and others as supernatural. What purpose does it serve?I have told you what I think that God means–a way of defining and interpreting and giving ultimate meaning to our values, hopes, and purposes. It is a meta-hypothesis, if you will/Is God a language in which you describe things which are important to you, as when Hawking says a unified theory of everything would we would "know the mind of God"? If not, how is this not a claim about history and science? I honestly don't care whether you believe in God or not. If you don't understand why some prefer to take a theistic approach, far be it from me to tell you approach to takeYou act as if you've expressed a preference for green over blue and I've asked you to justify your choice. Clearly this is not the case. Theism entails the idea of intention and choice. Non-theism does not. It's not as if you're taking the scenic route and I'm taking a more direct route. We do not reach the same destination. However, If by some means of personally redefining theism you mean the same thing as non-theism, then why call it theism? Really? Why do you say that?Because if God is undefined, then to say the undefined exists is meaningless. You want certainty in your religious faith, it seems.Does religious faith results in significant action on your part? If one prefers green over blue, their wardrobe may contain more green than any other color. But in preferring theism, one make claims about reality based on the specific intentions of an being that supposedly exists. You also say we must determine what God's nature is, and yet, interestingly enough, you make a lot of assumptions on your own about what you think God's nature is or what the word means…If this is not your position, then it's unclear why you've chosen the term theism. For example, when I think what people call God is the actually the universe, I don't simply use the word "God" in place of the word "universe." God and the divine have implications that I do not think are warranted and are a distraction. asserting that if God exists it follows that God would somehow "reveal" himself to us in some magical or miraculous fashion like giant father figure in the sky sending lightning bolts to us or speaking to us in a loud booming voice. I'm not sure how God is supposed to "reveal" himself.Mystical, you've said … I am an agnostic about an afterlife. It's fun to speculate about it, but in the final analysis, totally irrelevant. To me, faith is about living the religious life in the here and now. If it's not important to define God's nature and you're not sure how God is supposed to reveal himself to us, then why isn't God and the supernatural "fun to speculate about it, but in the final analysis, totally irrelevant."?Why does seeing a better way to live "life in the here and now." require God or the divine? Do we need a supernatural spokesperson? If not, why use the term God? because you want to? Surely, we can see how the "right" to associate God with a particular definition or intent can cause conflict and even violence.Note: I'm not saying you shouldn't, I'm saying that based on what you've said so far, the expense appears to be greater than the return. I'm looking for the return that apparently you're getting which tips the scales to your position.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Scott, I don't have to justify my religious beliefs to you. I have tried to explain to you my viewpoint, and you only seem to be more interested in arguing with me. I don't see the point in further discussion on this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06073896914688171823 Scott

    Mystical seeker wrote: Scott, I don't have to justify my religious beliefs to you.Agreed. Nor do I have to ask you about them in an attempt to understand them better. I have tried to explain to you my viewpoint, and you only seem to be more interested in arguing with me. I don't see the point in further discussion on this.Mystical, You've told me what you believe, but not why you believe it. Nor is it clear what you mean when you say "God gets to the heart" of values and meaning. If you think God is a way of interpreting things, but if God cannot real his nature to us and cannot actualize specifically what he wants in reality because he is not omnipotent, then I do not see how we can discern God's decisions or intent from what we observe in realty. Perhaps this is why you don't seem to think it's important to define God as it seems impossible to do so given these conditions. So I'm left with the question of why God is relevant, to which you appear to have no clear answer. Perhaps your viewpoint is too complex to express here, which might be unavoidable. But should such a God exist, I don't see how we could know what he wants or what he did or did not do. If that is the case, then I don't see how he is relevant or a how it's not a distraction to an already confusing and volatile situation. Perhaps we are shackled by our existing definitions and need new words to describe our beliefs?I'm a sceptic that has found valuable aspects to some Buddhist teachings, but does not believe in reincarnation or many other of it's supernatural aspects. I think it's practical and reproducible. It's essentially a contemplative science of the mind, which we know produces results. It doesn't require any more faith than starting an exercise regiment or a diet. Nor does it require a supernatural element as part of it's foundation. But, in my opinion, to say God exists opens up a whole can of worms about what God intended or what God wants or what God did – and all the implications this entails. And if there are no implications, then it's unclear why is God's existence relevant.I'm trying to figure out if you think the divine is relevant because of X or merely because "you can." I can't find X, but I'm still open to suggestions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Scott, I think I have made it clear that I reject the premises behind your questions about why one would choose or not choose believe in God, but you continue to ask me these questions based on those assumptions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02019607720201705713 Scott

    Mystical Seeker wrote: Scott, I think I have made it clear that I reject the premises behind your questions about why one would choose or not choose believe in GodSo I'm presenting a false dilemma? What is the X about God's nature that is relevant?You wrote: for example, asserting that if God exists it follows that God would somehow "reveal" himself to us in some magical or miraculous fashion like giant father figure in the sky sending lightning bolts to us or speaking to us in a loud booming voice. I'm not sure how God is supposed to "reveal" himself.Even as mere mortals, we can reveal significant aspects of our existence. If God is unable to do this, you seem to imply that God's very form prevents him from revealing himself to us. What is left of God's nature?Furthermore you wrote: If God is not omnipotent (and in my view, the concept of an omnipotent God makes little sense), then the means that God could possibly use to reveal himself in some absolute and certain fashion seems a little questionable.Here you seem to be presenting a false dilemma in that God must be omnipotent to reveal himself. It's unclear why this would be the case. But if God is nether omnipotent nor exists in a form that can reveal himself to us, then how can he actualize what he wants in reality? God wanted Z but we actually got X instead. God prefers Y, but can't tell us this preference. Should this be the case, it's seems it would be impossible to determine God's nature from what we actually observe. Is there some other way to determine God's nature which I've overlooked?If you say you believe God's nature is X (or that he exists at all) because that's the nature you want him to have, then why can't someone say God's nature is Y because they want to? To exclude some aspect of God's nature, you'd need to know what God is not. Which implies a means to know God's nature. If the divine transcends and supersedes humanity, but we have no means to determine what the divine is, then how can we determine what the divine is not?

  • D Rizdek

    Being among those who routinely visit Debunking Christianity (my appellation is the same here and there), I would just say that I certainly take many of John’s posts with a grain of salt. He’s got agendas, for certain. I infer at least two agendas. He’s trying to help others leave the fold because he thinks it’s a healthier worldview AND he wants to get folks to visit his site…perhaps for emotional/psychological reasons or financial reasons. SO he may overstate on occasion. You may criticize that, but I don’t mind it…it is well and good, as far as I’m concerned. Certainly nothing he posts is new to my past thoughts…it’s a “been there and done that” kind of thing… and probably at a time when even John was just getting ready to study the ministry. So I don’t go there to learn new things. For me, it’s more of a comfort site where I know I can post about anything and not be criticized or challenged in any substantive way. You go there to be challenged. Perhaps I’ll start visiting this web page “to be challenged.” But don’t hold your breath about any conversion on my part. For better or worse at my age (retired), I’m pretty well set.

    The problem is NOT with Biblical interpretation. I read many of your posts and you focus on the need to “understand” where the folks who wrote the Bible were coming from, as if by realizing it’s not all to be taken literally, we should literally accept some of it…if not at face value in some sort of spiritual sense that (you think) could change our lives and makes us better people. Even if I accepted that strategy…which I don’t, it would make little difference.

    I’m not a Christian because I think it’s an unjust doctrine founded on substitutionary sacrifice where someone paid for someone else’s wrong doing. And, as far as I’m concerned, that is simply NOT possible. Not even a god can do that. On top of that, I’m put off by the fact that this substitutionary sacrifice involved something approaching human sacrifice. No god would have to do that just to find a way to “accept” a person’s sincere repentance and desire to live a better life.

    But the real reason I’m an atheist is because I wake up every morning and, when I think about it, I reconfirm that I have no basis to think there is a god. It’s not that there couldn’t be a god. I can think of dozens of “kinds” of gods that could exist that could be consistent with the world I see around me. And it’s certainly not that I’m mad at god or mad at folks who believe in god. It’s just that I don’t have a reason to think there is a god…and generally, I try to depend on reasons to believe in things.

    • Matt Brown

      God didn’t sacrifice his son for us in order for us to have a “better life”.

      • D Rizdek

        But did he “sacrifice his son” for ANY reason?

        • Matt Brown

          For your sin and mine;)

          • D Rizdek

            How does that work…that wouldn’t work if the God that forgives us chose to forgive us without the sacrifice? Exactly what does the sacrifice do? Clearly another person cannot pay for my sins. As I said, not even a God can actually transfer my guilt from me to someone else. If a god is going to just forgive them when they repent, he could do it with or without a sacrifice, couldn’t he/it? Or is that something the Christian God is unable to decide to do?

            • Matt Brown

              The sacrifice makes us right with God since we were seperated before believing in it. God didn’t transfer your guilt to another human being. He took your guilt and my guilt and bore the weight of it through his son on the cross 2000+ years ago. That shows how much he loves you and I.

              • D Rizdek

                How does that work…that wouldn’t have also worked if the God that forgives us chose to forgive us without the sacrifice? What happens that could not happen without the sacrifice, if a God chose to make it happen some other way? I think the idea doesn’t show love, but a barbaric concept of someone somehow paying through pain, torture and death for wrong doing. And we KNOW that isn’t really possible. No amount of pain and suffering undoes wrong doing, whether it is suffered BY the perpetrator OR someone in their place. AND if it is possible for wrong to be undone, a God could undo it in other ways.

                • Matt Brown

                  Because Sin=death, and the only way for God to forgive us is through dying for us. Christ took our wrongdoings on that cross 2000 years ago. How would we know were forgiven, unless God sent himself into the world to forgive us? Your proposition doesn’t really make anysense to me(no offense)

                  • D Rizdek

                    Why does Sin-Death? Isn’t that a choice the God of the Bible made about sin? It could equal…anything… a severe pain in one’s stomach, a tooth ache or a wave of despair or… nothing at all. A God has control over how it allows Sin to affect creation.

                    “How would we know were forgiven, unless God sent himself into the world to forgive us?”

                    How do you know you are forgiven at all? Isn’t it by faith that the death of Jesus on Calvary allows forgiveness. You have no other assurance…do you? That is because you believe that was God’s plan…that the death on Calvary allows forgiveness of sin. And IF the God you believed in provided a plan that allowed forgiveness by some other means…you would have faith that following that plan allowed you to know you are forgiven.

                    And if you do have some other assurance that God provides when one is forgiven…then THAT assurance would be what a God could choose to provide with or without the death of Jesus.

                    “Your proposition doesn’t really make anysense to me(no offense)

                    I am not offended at all. I hope that with time you can expand your thinking a bit.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “Why does Sin-Death? Isn’t that a choice the God of the Bible made about sin? It could equal…anything… a severe pain in one’s stomach, a tooth ache or a wave of despair or… nothing at all. A God has control over how it allows Sin to affect creation.”

                      I think we need to understand what Sin is before we understand the sacrifice that God did for us. Sin is transgressing God’s moral law that he has written on our hearts. You and I are both accountable for our actions. Like standing before a judge, God is going to give us the punishment that we deserve, but because we’re not perfect, God chose to make a way for us through his son(Jesus Christ). Imagine your standing in a courtroom before a judge, and he sends his son to take your punishment that you deserve. All you have to do is trust that he will do it.

                      “How do you know you are forgiven at all? Isn’t it by faith that the death of Jesus on Calvary allows forgiveness. You have no other assurance…do you? That is because you believe that was God’s plan…that the death on Calvary allows forgiveness of sin. And IF the God you believed in provided a plan that allowed forgiveness by some other means…you would have faith that following that plan allowed you to know you are forgiven.when one is forgiven…then THAT assurance would be what a God could choose to provide with or without the death of Jesus.”

                      I’m not sure are follow your argument here. I have assurance because Christ himself, who is God, promised that those who believe and trust in him as their Lord and Savior will have eternal life and never be cast away.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I would encourage you to look into the history of this particular view of the atonement, which is relatively recent in history, as well as other ideas that preceded it. If a judge sent his son to jail and let the guilty go free it would be a terrible injustice!

                      Here is a post of mine on the topic from some years ago: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2007/12/whats-wrong-with-penal-substitution.html

                      There are several others floating around on the blog somewhere.

                    • D Rizdek

                      Good write up. I appreciate that you address many of the intuitive problems I have/had with what you call the recent view that Jesus death on the cross paid it all for me.
                      I grew up with many of the hymns that emphasize that. Jesus paid it all….all to him I owe, my sins are covered by the blood, burdens are lifted at Calvary and I’m so glad he took them all away. This became repulsive thinking to me. And I can see you seriously considered those cognitive problems as well.
                      I am curious why/how you managed to remain interested and a “kind of” believer.
                      What is the appeal to remain involved positively, once you no longer need that removal of guilt by some moral book-keeping or hand-waving? Is it to help those who are mired in the depths of substitutionary sacrifice to escape to a higher way of thinking? That is a good goal. Because to the outsider, so many Christian’s come across as lazy and selfish when they laud the concept of someone else paying for their sins and that their belief is going to win them great rewards while those who can’t muster the “whatever” to also believe the same are going to reap punishment.
                      If I wrong another, I know I am obligated because of that wrong. IF it is recent, I will try to make amends personally…seek forgiveness, pay for the damage, help to reduce the pain of my action. But I may or may not be able to make up for what I’ve done. Many instances are deep in my past and I only NOW have an awareness of what I’ve done. There is no practical way to amend. But those instances DO help me mold my behavior now…avoid those embarrassing and hurtful ways if at all possible. That is as close to atoning for ones sins I can come up with…learning from our mistakes and being sensitive to other’s feelings.
                      There is an interesting movie called “In a Day.” It stars Lorraine Pilkington and Finlay Robertson. If you like movies with an interesting dialogue, no special affects and no murder, violence or sex and (what I consider) a good ending, try it. You might find it is applicable to what I’m talking about.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I don’t think that one has to use terminology like “kind of” a believer. The mystical tradition within Christianity, which is skeptical of dogmatic claims and alleged literalism, and recognizes that any language about the Ultimate is inadequate, is probably as old as Christianity itself (and indeed, considered more broadly, is significantly older). :-)

                    • Matt Brown

                      Thank you for the link Dr.McGrath

                    • D Rizdek

                      You write words that you’ve been taught and you’ve learned them well. But consider.

                      I don’t think it matter what sin IS or how evil it is or how much God hates it or is bothered by it. It all has to do with WHAT, if anything, a God wants to do…chooses to do… ABOUT IT. Does your God have choices? Does your God have free will or is he dictated to by what is written in the Bible? I’m stopping there so you can think about and respond to that question before writing more.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I’m not sure what your argument has to do with God’s sacrifice. If God loves us, and we are the ones who have free will given by him, then we are responsible for our actions. God, out of his sovereignty, decided to step into history and die for us because he loves us.

                      Rizdek, it seems like your argument against God is not on historical grounds but philosophical.

                    • D Rizdek

                      My “argument” against A god is not historical nor philosophical…in fact I have no argument against a god at all. I don’t need one.
                      What I said earlier is that I have no argument FOR a god. And until I have an argument (line of reasoning, way of thinking, observation or sensation that is unequivocal evidence) that compels me to think there is a god, I’ll probably remain an atheist. It isn’t a problem for me…or something you need concern yourself with. YOU are not obligated to prove god to me. You do not have a burden of proof just because you believe there is a god and indeed that that god IS the God that uses Jesus’ death on the cross as a means to forgive people of their sins. I have the burden of proof whether there is enough reason to think there is a god, and so far, I’ve come up short.

                      But, that is entirely different than my thoughts on Christianity. You are right. My concerns with Christianity are, for want of a better word, philosophical…not historical.

                      I have no way of knowing WHAT went on with Jesus or even if there really was a Jesus. But even if I was convinced there was a real Jesus (and it is entirely possible) and he really got himself brutally crucified (entirely possible) on a cross and even if somehow a “God” raised him from the dead (also possible IF I thought there was a god who did such things), I’d still have a problem with the idea of substitutionary sacrifice that opens the way for us to be forgiven for sins by simply believing something and uttering words.
                      A God that can forgive sins BECAUSE someone suffers and dies can also forgive sins without this sacrifice.

                      Think about it…why couldn’t a God decide to use some other means of forgiving humans of their faults and sins?

                      I will end this post with a quote from my previous post:

                      “Does your God have choices? Does your God have free will or is he dictated to by what is written in the Bible? I’m stopping there so you can think about and respond to that question before writing more.”
                      Please try to focus on my last question. I’m certainly NOT trying to talk you out of your beliefs. But I would like to think you’ve seriously considered how you’ve hobbled your God by assuming that a person’s death on a cross is the only way he could forgive sins.

                    • Matt Brown

                      It sounds like your agnostic, so the burden of proof isn’t so much on you. However, to answer your question “Does God have choices? Does God have free will? I would say yes

                    • D Rizdek

                      No, I am an atheist. I am not agnostic because I think that IF there was a God, I’d be aware of it…I’d know it. I do not share the idea that a God would be hidden and that we can never KNOW about a God. I could be wrong, but I’m not going to be{:

                      I don’t see agnostic as an alternative to atheism/theism. One can be an atheist AND an agnostic…I am not.

                      I am a straight up atheist because I don’t think there are any gods.

                      So if God has choices, could he have chosen other means of forgiving our sins besides sacrificing his son?

                    • Matt Brown

                      “No, I am an atheist. I am not agnostic because I think that IF there was a God, I’d be aware of it…I’d know it. I do not share the idea that a God would be hidden and that we can never KNOW about a God. I could be wrong, but I’m not going to be{:

                      I don’t see agnostic as an alternative to atheism/theism. One can be an atheist AND an agnostic…I am not.

                      I am a straight up atheist because I don’t think there are any gods.”

                      Oh okay, I’m sorry for misrepresenting you there;)

                      “So if God has choices, could he have chosen other means of forgiving our sins besides sacrificing his son?”

                      To answer your question, I’m going to cite you William Lane Craig, a Philosopher and NT scholar/Theologian. It’s not that I don’t want to answer, but I just think that WLC explains it better

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDT7uuccR-s

                    • D Rizdek

                      Yes, I know what Craig’s view on the free will of God is and I would imagine most folks have to think of their God as having free will.

                      But that still leaves the question in my mind, IF God had options for how to forgive mankind’s sin, why did he choose the route he did? It seems that if he wanted to, he could have decided to forgive folks their sins without the need for blood shed and death. Sin doesn’t have to equal death…if God has free will and can choose what sin will equal. Perhaps it sets will with you, imagining a God who had many viable options choosing the one that seem quite barbaric if other effective means were available. And a God can make other means effective if he wants to…at least I think so.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Good afternoon Rizdek, I believe you raise some good points, however, I myself am not qualified to answer them. I think though that God’s choice of sending his son into the world to take the punishment for our sin is consistent with his nature. One of God’s attributes is Justice. Sin isn’t just is it? Sin is vile and dirty and filthy. Greed, Lust, Murder, Sexual immorality,etc. All these things deserve punishment. By death, God didn’t just mean a physical, but a spiritual death. Jesus saved me from a spiritual death that I deserve. If Jesus hadn’t taken my place, then God would send me to hell for the sin and punishment that I deserve.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I am guessing you are repeating things you have been told without reflecting on them. If hell is the punishment for sin, why is hell not even mentioned throughout almost the entirety of the Hebrew Bible? And if an eternity in hell is the punishment for sin, then is that what you think Jesus undergoes? And if Jesus does not, in your view, spend an eternity in hell, then isn’t that a clear indication that the idea that sin reqires eternal punishment is dubious?

                    • Matt Brown

                      I guess I just don’t see it that way

                    • D Rizdek

                      Perhaps we’ve explored this as much as we can. Thanks for the discussion.

                    • Matt Brown

                      DRizdek. Thank you for this civil and warming discussion. I know you’re an atheist, but if you need me to pray for you about something, just let me know. Maybe again we can have another discussion like this:)

                    • beau_quilter

                      The reason that Rizdek doesn’t find your argument convincing is that your “assurance” (Christ’s promise) is based on the historical authenticity of 2000 year old texts.

                      To give you an analogy, it was only a few weeks ago that you lied to other commenters on this blog, copying and pasting paragraphs from multiple apologist blogs into your own comments as though they were your own words, and strangely unable to comprehend how such plagiarism is completely unethical when it was pointed out to you.

                      Given that such falsehood is easily and repeatedly perpetrated in writings like yours, even today – why would should we grant credibility to copies of 2000 year old writings that conflict with each other.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “The reason that Rizdek doesn’t find your argument convincing is that your “assurance” (Christ’s promise) is based on the historical authenticity of 2000 year old texts.”

                      Are you saying that the gospels and NT are not authentic because they were written 2000 years ago, when in fact they are verfied by the historical method?

                      “To give you an analogy, it was only a few weeks ago that you lied to other commenters on this blog, copying and pasting paragraphs from multiple apologist blogs into your own comments as though they were your own words, and strangely unable to comprehend how such plagiarism is completely unethical when it was pointed out to you.”

                      First off, I admitted my copying and plagarizing, and I apologized and felt bad about it. You on the other hand kept trying to put me down, when I repeatedly said I didn’t mean to. Second, your a hypocrite because I could tell you copied from Matthew Ferguson’s blog posts when I was debating you on the Resurrection of Christ. Your very rude and mean to me.

                    • D Rizdek

                      “Are you saying that the gospels and NT are not authentic because they were written 2000 years ago, when in fact they are verfied by the historical method?”
                      No, of course not. They could be true…it IS possible.
                      And as to verification by the historical method. ALL history could verify is that a man named Jesus lived, died on the cross and was resurrected. I’m not convinced that history CAN verify that…at most they can provide some sort of probability using whatever methods historicists use applied to whatever documents and archaeological finds they can compile.
                      But lets assume for argument sake that historical methods CAN verify with high probability all the facts of Jesus life.
                      Even then, those methods certainly CAN NOT verify that Jesus’ death on the cross actually makes a difference as to how a god…even the Christian God feels about our sin and whether he is willing and able to forgive us our sins. History cannot prove Jesus was God, God’s son or was even ordained by God TO serve as a sacrifice for sins. THAT is a theological construct. It could be true, but it is something theologians concern themselves with, not historicists.
                      I am sorry that you made a mistake and plagiarized and have been made to feel bad about it. I would hesitate to do that, but there is a subtle point behind that. You admitted it. You felt sorry for it. BUT that’s because you were able to do it in real time and were willing (credit to you) to do it. We, on the other hand…even with historical methods CAN NOT know for sure the mind and intent of the folks that wrote down what has become the content of the Bible. They might have been in error too…we simply can’t tell.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I understand your point, but I would probably disagree with you on one thing, and that is that Jesus did claim or acknowledged his divinity throughout the gospel accounts. The question that we need to ask is, if Jesus claimed to be God or acknowledge that he was the “Son of God”, then he either is or isn’t. If he isn’t, then these facts that happened after his death shouldn’t have happened the way they did.

                    • D Rizdek

                      Well, there are texts that claim Jesus said those things. But they were apparently written down decades after Jesus died. I think historicists, even if they think there is a probability that Jesus lived and died, would hesitate to think they could verify that he was God or a Son of God.
                      I think I have lines of reasoning that satisfy me as to why folks wrote decades later that there were visions of Jesus after his crucifixion. I can’t prove it, but it seems likely that those sightings started out as dreams folks had. They dreamed…for example that Jesus appeared to someone on the road to Damascus. Some dreamed Jesus appeared to some people in a room…walked through the wall if I recall. Someone dreamed that Jesus appeared to a big crowd of people. Whoever wrote Corinthians heard that account and included it as if it really happened. But dreaming that there were 500 witnesses is different than 500 witnesses actually seeing something…but a DREAM account of that will sound the same to the listener. The visions of the tomb…a recurring dream someone had and told/retold. Eventually these “dream accounts” began to be accepted as real accounts OR folks then believed that what happened in dreams WERE real events and they felt justified in telling them as if they really happened. A person hearing a dream and believing it might even be willing to DIE for that belief.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Dreams or hallucinations happen within a person’s own mind. They don’t happen to multiple people, over several days in different places and circumstances. Also, the disciples didn’t die for what they believed, but for what they saw.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Your argument here is circular:

                      You believe that texts such as the book of Acts are reliable because multiple people over several days in different places and circumstances testified to a risen Christ.

                      You believe that multiple people over several days in different places and circumstances testified to a risen Christ because the book of Acts tells you so.

                      It’s quite easy to surmise that writings such as Acts are mixture of history, hearsay, exaggerations over many retellings, and outright inventions. Even with today’s technology, websites like Snopes can’t keep up with the number of urban myths that crop up each year, many of which have a core of truth.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “You believe that texts such as the book of Acts are reliable because multiple people over several days in different places and circumstances testified to a risen Christ.

                      You believe that multiple people over several days in different places and circumstances testified to a risen Christ because the book of Acts tells you so”

                      Actually it’s not, because I never said Acts was true because Acts said it was true. The apperances are true because they can be verified by the historical method.

                      Acts is a very good historical book that is attested by evidence.

                    • beau_quilter

                      No, Matt, the appearances cannot be verified by the historical method.

                      What can be verified is that the place names and geographical information in Acts are largely correct – not surprising, since these names had changed little between the time of the writing and the events it purports to describe (the opposite is true of several OT texts, such as the book of Joshua, in which place names are completely anachronistic, and demonstrate a much later period of writing).

                      But no historian can “verify” the post death appearances of Christ.

                    • D Rizdek

                      Here is the way I see it happening. I can’t prove it, but it makes sense to me.

                       

                      A follower is emotionally distraught that their Jesus died. This emotional stress carries over into their dreams. They have recurring dreams of their Jesus being seen after the resurrection. One might have involved the tomb itself. Peter, for example, after being so depressed that he betrayed his Jesus has dreams of various folks in various ways going to the tomb and finding Jesus gone. He tells those dreams. Some dreams have their Jesus appearing before a few on a road…they report those dreams. Some dreams have Jesus appearing to a multitude. There really wouldn’t have to BE a multitude of witnesses reporting seeing Jesus…just one person reporting that a multitude of witnesses saw Jesus. Which is exactly what we see in Corinthians. If they believed that dream represented some sort of real vision…as folks (Paul)apparently did then, they could honestly report it as a real event. And others hearing the report would accept it as a credible sighting. They might even be willing to die for that. Many think Paul never really saw the physical resurrected Jesus, yet he was imprisoned and beaten for his beliefs. I could be wrong, but I see that as a distinct possiblity.

                       

                      All it takes is person A hearing person B SAY it happened and person A, for whatever reason believing person B is telling the truth or reporting a real event…just like YOU believe the author of Corinthians is telling the truth and reporting a real event The author heard someone else say it and believed THEY were telling the truth.

                       

                      I wouldn’t really know how many disciples actually died BECAUSE they preached that they saw Jesus after he was resurrected. If any were executed, maybe it was for other reasons. And if any were executed for preaching Jesus resurrected, I don’t know whether they recanted or not before they were executed. It is entirely coneivable that they recanted their hearts out and still got killed. Gruesome as it sounds, it doesn’t sound farfetched.

                       

                      Would you be willing to die for your belief that Jesus was resurrected? Would you be willing to die for claiming that someone…many someones…saw Jesus after he was crucified? Don’t answer, just think about it.

                       

                      The men who flew planes into buildings probably believed they were doing the right thing based on their religion. But I imagine many others think they were indoctrinated with false teachings. Yet they gave their lives for their beliefs. One needn’t be right to feel strongly that what they believe is correct. That is why human history is fraught with people fighting and killing over religious beliefs.

                      As I understand it, the great apologist debater, Willian Lane Craig does not claim that historical analysis can prove Jesus was the son of God or even that Jesus was raised from the dead. At most he claims that what IS found in history…the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles and perhpas other historical documents, makes it reasonable that HIS faith…the inner witness he claims to feel…is reasonable. IF you feel you have an innter witness by the Holy Spirit that Jesus death on Calvary provides a way for your sins to be forgiven and you to have a relationship with God, enjoy it. But don’t imagine that historical analysis can prove the theology behind Christ’s death.

                    • Matt Brown

                      What you’re describing is bereavment visions, which is usually the result of a loved one dying and they in turn see visions and appearnces. However, bereavment visions, like hallucinations, only happen within a person’s mind. They don’t happen to multiple people, over multiple days(Remember Jesus appearances were over 40 days), in different circumstances. Also it occured to skeptics (Paul and James). These apperances were unexpected and so vivid and multiply attested; in the gospels and in Acts.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Again, we only have stories about appearances of Jesus over 40 days, written decades later, and we know from common experience that “true” stories can grow and change over time (like fish tales). There are literally thousands of 20th century testimonies about alien abductions, in which the aliens, their probing devices and the waking experiences of the witnesses sound quite similar. If such testimony is credible, then we should be convinced that there are grey aliens circling the earth in their ships, abducting humans for experimentation and returning them to their beds at night.

                      There are also many instances of multiple attestations of catholic miracles, and appearances of the Virgin Mary (such as the vision at Fatimah). One can historically find similar reports to visitations by Hindu gods and pagan oracles.

                      In the case of alien abductions, you can actually track down dozens of living witness, willing to share their stories. In the case of Jesus’ appearances, we only have a few later Christians repeating tales of multiple witnesses.

                      It doesn’t even take a conspiracy for such tales to grow. All that’s needed is a community of highly suggestible people looking for signs (like the pentacostal church I used to attend). I myself have repeated urban myths that I found credible, only to find out later that they were completely false reports.

                    • Matt Brown

                      But you’re still maintaining something that isn’t exactly correct, and that is the fact that because the gospel accounts were written decades after the fact, that they are therefore not reliable enough, in terms of the events(like the post-mortem appearances of Jesus), when in fact, much of ancient historians wrote about a lot of events several years after the fact. The Gospel accounts are written within decades, versus hundreds of years. Remember it takes at least two generations for legendary material to remove the core facts of a story or event.
                      There is no psychology paper or report that involves hallucinations or visions that happened to multiple people, over multiple days, in different situations, and to skeptics and un-believers. You are right in saying that there are conspiracy theories, but those are pretty obvious. In a case like Jesus, the historian doesn’t rule out a conspiracy, but that the apostles had some sort-of experience with Jesus after his death. I’m not saying that historians believe that Jesus was Resurrected from the dead. All I’m saying is that they agree that the disciples had some sort of “encounter” with Jesus and that they believed in him as the risen Christ”

                    • beau_quilter

                      No, Matt, historians do not agree that the disciples had some sort of “encounter” with Jesus after his death. Neither do historians agree that “it takes at least two generations for legendary material to remove the core facts of a story or event.” As other historians have shown, modern experience makes evident (as in alien abduction cases) that legendary material (including “core facts”) can arise within a very short amount of time.

                      And as Matthew Ferguson has pointed out, the miracles performed by the Emperor Vespasian have far better attestation by independent sources recording experiences of crowds of people within a shorter time frame than the gospels.

                      http://celsus.blog.com/2013/03/31/history-probability-and-miracles/

                    • Matt Brown

                      Beau, what if I cite you some of the 95% of historians who do agree, rather than a blogpost by a post-graduate student. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I read one of Matthew Ferguson’s blog post about Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach, and I think even he himself agreed that the disciples had some sort of experience, but he doesn’t believe in the burial of Jesus, however, I could be wrong on what Matt thinks).

                      Paula Fredriksen (Jewish not Christian and Liberal)”The disciples’ conviction that they had seen the Risen Christ . . . [is] historical bedrock, facts known past doubting” (Jesus of Nazareth [New York: Vintage, 1999], 264).

                      Gerd Ludemann(Atheist)”It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”

                      These are just a few examples, but the point is that the apperances of Jesus after his death are historically verifiable.

                    • beau_quilter

                      I’ve got a better idea, Matt. Why don’t you tell me where you got the percentage that 95% of scholars believe that the disciples had an “encounter” with Jesus after his death?

                      Is that a real data point, or did you pull it out of thin air?

                    • Matt Brown

                      Gary Habermas(A NT scholar and historian, not just an apologist as you make him out to be).

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      Habermas . . the chair of Theology at Liberty University . . .

                    • arcseconds

                      You know, every time I hear about this guy, I always think of Jügern Habermas, chair emeritus of sociology and philosophy at Frankfurt university, and do a double-take.

                      (Unless it’s prefaced with ‘Gary’ (thanks Matt), possibly in caps, and maybe a ‘NOTE: NOT JÜRGEN’)

                      I also have problems with Chuck Hagel, current Secretary of Defense for the United States of America, whom I confuse with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, former chair of philosophy at University of Berlin…

                    • Matt Brown

                      Haha! Maybe they’re related jk jk jk

                    • beau_quilter

                      Habermas is most certainly an apologist, as well as an NT scholar and historian. In fact, he is a professor of Apologetics at Liberty Univeristy.

                      And I see where you get your percentage of 95%, Habermas’s questionable “meta-analysis” of literature.

                      Regardless of the legitimacy of Habermas’ analysis (noone has taken a poll to this effect) you are conflating the data. Even those scholars that agree that some early Christians believed that they had post death experiences of Jesus, most see the earliest evidence for this in Paul’s writings and would not concede that Acts presents a reliable account of these experiences.

                      As I’ve already said, the same argument can be made for alien abductions.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Habermas and Craig should consider applying their “minimal facts” approach to the post-death witnesses of Elvis Presley.

                      http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/elvis_lives_investigating_the_legends_and_phenomena/

                      If they apply the same “minimal” standards, I think they should be overwhelmingly convinced that Elvis Lives!

                    • beau_quilter

                      You’re right, I should be more specific about Habermas – he is a professor of Apologetics at Liberty University, where you can also go to take biology classes in Young Earth Creationism.

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      Saying one had an experience is not akin to saying the disciples saw a resurrected corpse from the grave. John Shelby Spong, someone you probably view as a heretic, acknowledges the disciples had an “experience” of the risen Christ (and I don’t believe they had some sort of hallucination experience . . I think skeptics positing that are ironically taking the Gospel accounts too literally)

                      What that experience entails and actually means, though, is not what you seem to be inferring it to mean.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Right, I wasn’t saying that historians agree with the “Resurrection”, but that they agree that the disciples must have had some sort of experience after Jesus’ death.

                      What historians and scholars differ on is the explanation of these apperances to Jesus’ followers and non-believers(Paul and James). Some, like John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg John Dominic Crossan, think that the apperances happened as a result of hallucination or some sort of vision. However, Hallucinations and visions happen in a person’s mind; they don’t happen to multiple people over different regions and underdifferent circumstances.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Of course hallucinations/visions can happen to multiple people over different regions and under different circumstances. What else would you call sightings of Elvis, alien abductions, the virgin Mary, and (in earlier centuries) succubi – not to mention pagan appearances of Zeus and Hermes, which were so prevalent in the first century that you even find a reference to it in the Bible (Acts 14), in which Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for Zeus and Hermes. I doubt the event actually happened, but the writer of Acts was clearly familiar with this common pagan belief and experience.

                      And while scholars might concede that disciples had an “experience” of Jesus post death, as a group, they do not concede that such experiences occurred to “multiple people over different regions and under different circumstances”.

                    • Matt Brown

                      But you’re missing the point: Using Elvis sightings( which were most likely hoaxes) and the virgin mary and other things to somehow flaunt Jesus’ resurrection, isn’t very accurate.

                      Elvis’ body wasn’t missing from his casket, and he never went around proclaiming to be the messiah. Nor, did Elvis have followers and disciples who thought of him as that. Also, it’s more than likely that people saw an impostor of Elvis.

                      Jesus’ tomb was found Empty, and his body was missing. Jesus didn’t have a twin, and it wouldn’t make sense for someone to impersonate Jesus, when he was considered a criminal. Also, most of Jesus’ followers went into hiding during his arrest and execution, so it wouldn’t logically make sense for them to concoct a cover-story about him after his death for fear of their lives.

                      Scholars do think they were by multiple people and different circumstances and different regions because well, they are.

                      If you study and read the accounts, there are at least 6. They all happened to multiple people( Paul, James, the disciples, the women, the 500), and in different locations of Israel( Jerusalem, Galilee, The Sea of Tiberius, Emmaus, Damascus,etc.

                    • beau_quilter

                      No, Matt, scholars do not agree about the “multiple people and different circumstances and different regions” because scholars do not agree about the validity of the source material for those particulars (Acts and the gospels, which were written with very specific agendas). The scholars that agree about what early Christians believed they had experienced, do not agree about which early Christians, how many, and whether the agenda-driven depictions of those appearances in Acts and the gospels are reliable.

                      The differences you describe between the Jesus appearances and other similar stories make no difference to the point at hand, Elvis and the virgin Mary didn’t have identical twins either, and their sightings don’t depend on someone impersonating them. A large number of those who have seen them (not to mention alien abductors) aren’t concocting stories – they seem to be quite sincere in their beliefs.

                      And although my point doesn’t depend upon disciples concocting stories, your depiction of frightened disciples, too scared to come out of hiding (presumably without a miracle) is, again, based on agenda-driven texts whose reliability scholars most certainly do not agree upon.

                      Have you ever heard of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima Portugal?

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun

                    • Matt Brown

                      Why are you citing wikipedia? Why are you denying what scholars believe about the apperances of Jesus, when I gave you quotes and names? The apperances happened in different places. If you can’t agree upon that, then your argument is pure conjecture.

                      What does source material have to do with location of events? The facts are the same. Jesus’ apperances happned in different locations throught Israel over 40 days.

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz9cuRxN4Ug

                      Perphas we should agree to disagree since this discussion isn’t going anywhere. Thanks for your time:)

                    • beau_quilter

                      Matt, wikipedia is as good a news source as any for the “miracle at Fatima” – I’m not referencing if for scholarly consensus on some theological point, as you imply; I referenced it just to give you summary of a relatively recent historical event that I am comparing to the experiences of early Christians. Are you denying the validity of this wikipedia entry? You can verify it through the sources listed at the end of the article.

                      Matt, you don’t seem to realize the problem that scholars have with Craig and Habermas’s “Minimal Facts Approach”. Craig and Habermas take a few “minimal facts” which they argue show scholarly consensus – then they draw conclusions based, not just on these minimal facts, but also based on other supposed “facts” which do not have scholarly consensus.

                      There are several examples, but you keep insisting on a case in point. Scholars may agree that some early Christians believed that they had a post death experience of Jesus; but only conservative Christian scholars would insist that the record of these experiences recorded in the gospels and Acts are factual or reliable. Scholars in general most certainly DO NOT agree on the reliability of the gospels and Acts. They simply find it logical that an early belief in post death experiences is a good explanation for statements by Paul and for stories that later grew into the writing of the gospels and Acts.

                      But the particulars of those appearances, how long they took place, who it happened to and where, are matters that do not have scholarly consensus. What confuses me is that the video you linked to actually confirms this. The scholars differ about the 40 days, and sometimes they discuss what agenda the gospel writers might have had to tell the stories the way they did. The only consensus they seem to have is that the 40 days are a “mystery”, because of how much isn’t known about them. And, of course, you must realize that in this popularized TV version of scholarship, scholars are constantly shown describing biblical stories. They are describing biblical stories because they study them; but when a scholar describes a biblical story, it does not mean that he/she actually believes it to be historical. Some do, of course, (especially those wearing clerical collars), but surely you know that Bart Ehrman doesn’t believe these stories he is describing! Ehrman is interested in the agenda of the writer; he does not assume their historical reliability.

                      The problem, Matt, is that you generalize far too much. You’ll take Habermas’ assertion that a consensus of scholars think that early Christians believed they had a post death experience of Jesus; then conflate it to mean that a consensus of scholars believe in the historical reliability of Acts and the gospels. That is simply not true. Ask James, or any other scholar if you don’t believe me.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Of course to address your first assertion, no. I’m not maintaining that the gospel accounts are unreliable “only” because they were written decades after the fact. I really find gospel accounts of miracles such as resurrections unreliable for the same reason that I find all ancient supernatural stories unreliable: I don’t believe in magic.

                    • Gandolf

                      “the disciples didn’t die for what they believed, but for what they saw.”

                      Today the Taliban will gladly die for what they believe.And in places like Lebanon its still also much the same thing happening.Things like the Jones-town massacre also comes to mind

                      Sometimes people seem to get themselves so psyched up over their belief,they can be more than happy to face their own death

                    • Matt Brown

                      But you’re still helping me prove my point, and that is the fact that people can and will die for a belief. But that’s very different from dying for something that you witnessed and know to be true.

                      Muslim extremists are dying for a belief. They are not dying for something they witnessed happened. The disciples died for witnessing Jesus resurrection

                    • beau_quilter

                      What is your evidence that the disciples died for something they witnessed happened? The traditions of apostolic martyrdom are based on very sketchy noncanon writings that appeared centuries later.

                    • Gandolf

                      Well yes the “story” suggests they witnessed the resurrection.My point is if the physical resurrection was merely a fabricated part of the story.Its still very feasible that these people would have willingly faced death.

                      However Muslims and folks within Lebanon do indeed witness certain things.within their lives, that can cause them to become psyched up enough, to face their own death.Things like poverty and unhappiness for instance,They see and experience things that make them feel persecuted

                    • Matt Brown

                      Your analogy is not quite right. The disciples died for claiming to have witnessed the supernatural(Jesus raised by God from the dead), their testimony is valid, and that would prove that Jesus is God.

                    • Gandolf

                      Ah yes, that’s whats been claimed within the bible.But that isn’t proof that it happened.Its little more valid proof,than what is been recorded of Thomas Preston’s play is “valid” proof, that a cow had actually jumped over the moon.

                      Whats more.If the resurrection had happened. We might have some good reason, to expect, that someone like Tacitus might have also recorded the information about it too.After all , such things would surely indeed be truly amazing news. And even if it happened these days,it would pretty soon become the talk of the whole town,and soon enough, loads and loads of people, would all be talking about it.

                      And if it had happened back in those days.Then there also is no good reason, that we shouldn’t still be seeing the same type miracle still continuing to happen today

                      And like i already pointed out.There is absolutely no need at all, for someone to need be seen to rise from the dead.Before people will become willing to die for their beliefs

                      Because we do know how many people still continue to be more than willing to die for their belief today.Without need,of experiencing any resurrection

                    • Matt Brown

                      “Ah yes, that’s whats been claimed within the bible.But that isn’t proof that it happened.Its little more valid proof,than what is been recorded of Thomas Preston’s play is “valid” proof, that a cow had actually jumped over the moon.”

                      I didnt’ say it happened because the bible mentions it. You’re straw-manning my position. I said it happened because of the evidence that we can verify via the historical method.

                      “Whats more.If the resurrection had happened. We might have some good reason, to expect, that someone like Tacitus might have also recorded the information about it too.After all , such things would surely indeed be truly amazing news. And even if it happened these days,it would pretty soon become the talk of the whole town,and soon enough, loads and loads of people, would all be talking about it.”

                      That’s a non-sequitir, just because Tacitus didn’t record it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. There are other historians who record the movement that Followed afte Jesus’ death(Josephus for example).

                      And if it had happened back in those days.Then there also is no good reason, that we shouldn’t still be seeing the same type miracle still continuing to happen today.”

                      There are miracle and events of people being raised from the dead today.

                      “And like i already pointed out.There is absolutely no need at all, for someone to need be seen to rise from the dead.Before people will become willing to die for their beliefs
                      Because we do know how many people still continue to be more than willing to die for their belief today.Without need,of experiencing any resurrection.”

                      The purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection was a testimony that he was God, and that he died for your sin and my sin too. That shows humch God loves you and I.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Depends upon what you mean by authentic. I think my context is perfectly clear. Historians have great difficulty separating what statements in the gospels were actually made by Jesus and what were merely attributed to him later. When you say the gospels and NT are “in fact verified by the historical method”, that is only true in the broadest possible sense. The gospels are verifiably ancient, though scholars agree they were not written by eye-witnesses, but rather by later Christians with specific agendas in mind. Can historians verify that an apocalyptic rabbi named Yeshua was preaching in the 1st century? Yes, with a high degree of probability. Can historians verify that this man performed supernatural miracles, rose from the dead, and said every thing attributed to him in the gospels? Of course not.

                      I remember you admitting copying and plagiarizing, but you didn’t apologize, and this is the first I’ve heard you “felt bad about it.” You put it down to laziness, and insisted it didn’t make you dishonest. Is this what you call an “apology”? –

                      “I wasn’t passing these arguments as my own. I never once claimed I owned them. I simply defended them, but I in no way claimed to have come up with them myself. And yes, I know it is plagarism. I was just too lazy to paraphrase the arguments myself, but that doesn’t mean the arguments are false, and that doesn’t make me a dishonest person. It means I need to paraphrase and cite my sources next time.”

                      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/03/morality-and-religion.html

                      – You still don’t seem to understand that the word “plagiarism” does not denote laziness; it denotes dishonesty. Calling it laziness, doesn’t change the fact that you sprinkled in whole paragraphs and partial phrases stolen from other writers into your own comments with no attempt to cite, quote, or in any way indicate that the words were not your own. That is dishonest – there’s nothing else you can call it. You seem able to confess laziness, but somehow unable to confess dishonesty.

                      Or perhaps you justify it on the grounds that the gospel writers of Matthew and Luke did the same thing with Mark’s words.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Okay, yes, I was dishonest for plagiarizing. I am sorry for plagiarizing, are you happy?

                      your first statement made it sound as though you were treating the gospels as pure myth becuase they are ancient

                    • beau_quilter

                      My happiness was never the issue.

                      … and no, I never said the gospels are pure myth – but neither are they verifiably accurate. In fact, they are often, clearly, inaccurate, as one can see just by observing how they conflict with each other.

                    • Matt Brown

                      They are accurate enough to tell us certain things about Jesus. Using the argument “They contradict or conflict with each other” is not proof that they aren’t reliable.

                      Eyewitness testimony always contradicts with each other, thus making the event more probable than not.

                    • beau_quilter

                      What do you mean by reliable? “Certain things”? What things can historians verify as accurate in the gospels?

                      The most interesting contradictions in the gospels are those in which it is clear that Matthew and Luke copy parts of Mark verbatim, then change the other parts of individual passages to fulfill their own agendas.

                      Historical scholars will tell you that the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I didnt’ say that they were written by the eyewitnesses. The gospels draw upon eyewitness testimony via oral tradition.

                    • beau_quilter

                      That’s one hypothesis … a favorite of certain apologists … but it is a hypothesis generally applied to certain sections of the gospels – not to the gospel as a whole.

                    • Matt Brown

                      It’s a hypothesis by scholars, not just apologists

                    • beau_quilter

                      Sure, by a few scholars, with the limitations I mentioned – and it is a hypothesis – not what you call verified history.

                    • Matt Brown

                      That’s not necessarily true. It’s a hypothesis that can be tested and verified. Either way, the information we have can be verifiable as a historical datum

                    • beau_quilter

                      “can be tested”? “can be verifiable”?

                      Has it been tested? Has it been verified?

                      The answer is no. That’s why it’s still a hypothesis.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Luke for example uses a Greek narrative to show that he’s getting his info from first hand sources.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Every gospel is written in Greek. Luke claims to get his story from first hand sources, but unlike Plutarch, Herodotus, Suetonius, Tacitus, and many other ancient historians, he never tells us who these sources are.

                      Whatever the writer claims, what we do know about Luke is that almost half the text is copied verbatim from the gospel of Mark.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I’m not sure what your point is here, Just because Luke doesn’t tell us the source name, doesn’t mean it isn’t reliable or false. Tacitus doesn’t tell us his source for writing about Jesus Crucifixion, but we know it’s reliable and authentic and is strong evidence that confirms his existence and Crucifixion, as well as him being the founder of Christianity.

                      There probably was some sort of L

                    • beau_quilter

                      Actually, all Tacitus’ reference tells us is that he’d heard about the origin story of Christianity.

                      Listen, I’m not arguing that the New Testament doesn’t have a basis in some historical events (a crucifixion included). However, I am arguing that the gospels are not reliable as historical texts themselves for a variety of reasons. For one thing the texts are not indepenent; they are copied from each other, and these copies show clear signs of alteration and revision by later parties. For another thing, historians (and most people) routinely toss out supernatural stories from virtually all ancient writings as not only unreliable, but as clear religious propaganda. We do this with Hindu texts, Muslim texts, Buddhist texts, pagan texts, and Christians even do it with “Christian” texts that lie outside the biblical canon. I see no reason to treat the bible differently. There are other reasons, such as the failure of large-scale biblical events, such as the darkness at Jesus Crucifixion, Herod’s massacre of the infants, etc. to find any corroboration from other historical sources.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Tacitus didn’t write from hearsay. If he did, then he would have mentioned it like his previous writings.

                      The darkness does exist as Thallus mentions it. However, I don’t see how you can just throw the baby out with the bathwater and treat the gospel accounts on the same level as the quran or any other religious writing, when in fact they are far more superior and historically verifiable than any other religious document. Yes, they do contain Supernatural elements, but they also contain a historical core which you agree upon.

                    • beau_quilter

                      The truth is, we don’t know where Tacitus got his information on this one line of text, though he often tells us his sources for other information. Even so, I think it’s likely that the crucifixion was an historical event.

                      Apologists make the Thallus claim, but few, if any, historians left would claim Thallus as a legitimate source for the crucifixion darkness. Here’s why:

                      http://www.jgrchj.net/volume8/JGRChJ8-8_Carrier.pdf

                      Why wouldn’t I treat the gospel accounts on the same level with other ancient writings? They are no more superior or historically verifiable than most ancient documents, and far less reliable than many Greek and Roman histories, as Matthew Ferguson explains here:

                      http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/why-scholars-doubt-the-traditional-authors-of-the-gospels/

                    • beau_quilter

                      You “could tell” I copied from Matthew Ferguson’s blog? Certainly not verbatim, but if I shared some ideas from Ferguson’s blog, well, gee, what gave me away? The fact that I mention him by name and link to his site often?

                      Calling someone on their dishonesty is being “rude and mean”? Honesty is not your only problem – I would add basic maturity.

                    • Matt Brown

                      It was the argument you used, but didn’t cite. Anyway, it doesn’t matter right now because your tone with me is a little bit unruly with me.

                      I would just like to know why you keep bringing this “plagarism” up, when that has already been settled and done. I also would like to know why you’re so rude and insulting to me

                    • beau_quilter

                      I am only rude and insulting if calling out plagiarism is rude and insulting. And, as I’ve just pointed out, this is actually the first time you have ever apologized for it (excuses are not apologies).

                    • Matt Brown

                      I’m not suggesting that calling out someone for being plagarizing something is rude and insulting, I’m suggesting that the way you talk to me is rude and insulting.

                      Almost all of your responses to me come off as insults

                    • beau_quilter

                      What, besides explaining to you quite clearly the dishonest nature of your plagiarism, do you find insulting about my comments?

                    • Matt Brown

                      Here are a few examples:

                      “The reason that Rizdek doesn’t find your argument convincing is that your “assurance” (Christ’s promise) is based on the historical authenticity of 2000 year old texts.”

                      “To give you an analogy, it was only a few weeks ago that you lied to other commenters on this blog, copying and pasting paragraphs from multiple apologist blogs into your own comments as though they were your own words, and strangely unable to comprehend how such plagiarism is completely unethical when it was pointed out to you.”

                      Clearly, your statement has nothing to do with the conversation between me and Rizdek. You were just finding a way to but in and bring up the plagarism issue.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Quite the contrary. Your plagiarism serves as an excellent example of how words can be misattributed – just as they often are in the gospels.

                      Honestly, you’re like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, telling the adult they were rude for catching him.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Once again, I didn’t say it was rude for you to call me out for plagiarism. I simply said it is rude for you to bring it up in an unncessary time, especially during a conversation that is totally irrelevant to it.

                      What do you want from me? I already apologized.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Yes, you just now apologized, a few minutes ago for the first time (and I think I’ve already explained the relevance very clearly).

                      No need to apologize again – unless you’d like to post an apology on the blog post where you actually committed plagiarism (readers of that post may never see it).

                    • Matt Brown

                      What do you want from me?

                    • beau_quilter

                      I don’t want anything from you.

                    • Matt Brown

                      So then how come in all your replies or comments to me, you keep bringing up plagarism or sarcasm? Do you have something against me? I mean I never did one thing wrong to you…

                    • beau_quilter

                      I used your plagiarism as a very clear example of how texts can be manipulated and misattributed, even by people who (like yourself) claim to do so with honest intentions.

                      Hmmm … my sarcasm? The clearest example of sarcasm I noticed was yours:

                      “Okay, yes, I was dishonest for plagiarizing. I am sorry for plagiarizing, are you happy?”

                  • Guest

                    “Because Sin=death, and the only way for God to forgive us is through dying for us.”

                    That doesn’t really follow . . . .

                    • Matt Brown

                      Why doesn’t it follow?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Why do you think it follows? Why not accept at face value the Bible’s own statements that God has always been forgiving?

                    • Matt Brown

                      I do accept that God has always been forgiving

                    • D Rizdek

                      I have noted some OT texts suggesting that.

                      Numbers 14:19-21

                      “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.”

                      Micah 7:18-19

                      “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

                      Daniel 9:9

                      “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;”
                      If I was inclined to ever start thinking there was a god again, THAT is the kind of God I might be able to support…someone who accepts that humans fail and is willing to accept their humble repentance.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Yes, that is Jesus:)

                    • D Rizdek

                      But the death on the cross seems to be an arbitrary add on and completely unnecessary. IF Jesus could forgive without having died, as you say here…why not just set up Christianity like that to begin with?

                    • Matt Brown

                      Because he had to take our punishment that we deserve

                    • beau_quilter

                      Why does sin=death (outside of the Bible telling you so); why does God have to die in order to forgive us (outside the Bible telling you so)?

                    • Matt Brown

                      What do you mean outside the bible when the Bible is God’s word?

                    • beau_quilter

                      I don’t make the assumption that the bible is God’s word. There is no evidence of this.

                    • Matt Brown

                      But you did make the assumption that there must be something outside the Bible to confirm what it says about sin.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Actually, no. I don’t make that assumption. On the contrary, I don’t think you can find any evidence that “sin=death”.

            • rustyshucklfeurd

              D Rizdek, of course God can take upon Himself the guilt of our sins if He chooses to do so. He is under no requirement to do so, but according to New Testament theology, He does. How can He do that? I suppose because He’s God. Why would He do that? According to the New Testament, because justice requires payment for the wrongs we do. God says that we do not have the ability to remove the guilt of our wrongdoing on our own – that is why He did it Himself in our behalf.

              Now as to your question, “well, if He can do that, why doesn’t He just grant the forgiveness without the sacrifice?” The only answer, it seems to me, is that you’ll have to ask Him that question. We’re not God and He doesn’t give us all the information. I guess you could also ask Him the following as well – Why is lying and cheating wrong? Why is murder wrong? Why is rape wrong? Why is child sacrifice wrong? Why is there punishment for anything? Why does the universe exist? Why does the universe seem to work according to laws of physics? Why are there atoms? The short answers are – because God says those things are wrong and He created the universe as it is because, well, just because.

              If you choose not to accept that, that’s your decision. You either believe the Bible to be God’s Word, or you don’t. I’m not advocating a “blind leap” of faith. There is evidence that the Bible is reliable in naming historical figures, peoples, places, and events. I realize that there are those who claim contradictions in all these areas, but time has demonstrated that often the critics have been wrong. At one time Biblical critics said there was no such thing as Nebuchadnezzar or Babylon or Hittites or Amorites, or Jebusites, and on an on. All these things have been found or proven to have existed.

              I don’t care to get into a “well what about such and such”, because I’m no expert in archaeology. My point is, ultimately you have to make a decision. You choose not to believe it. I do. One can ask “why” about why that is so, and then why is that so? Like a four year old who keeps on asking why. At some point it becomes just a game on the part of the one asking.

              • D Rizdek

                Rusty,

                “I guess you could also ask Him the following as well – Why is lying and cheating wrong? Why is murder wrong? Why is rape wrong? Why is child sacrifice wrong? … The short answers are – because God says those things are wrong.. ”
                I would hope a god could give me better answer than that. Don’t you think you have better answers for why those things are wrong than just because your god said they were wrong? I think folks can come up with a basis for determining what is right and wrong and then codify what actions are wrong according to that underlying principle. Of course it’s not easy…consider how the judicial system developed and how it continues to evolve. But in general, there doesn’t seem to be much question what we are trying to achieve.
                Rest assured, I have no desire to argue either. I just wanted to 1) see if I could get folks to think and 2) read what folks DO think.
                Thanks for your response.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                The penal substitution interpretation of the cross is not found in the Bible. You cannot shift blame there for that particular theological monstrosity.

                Are you saying that God was immoral to command that Abraham sacrifice his son, and to tell the Israelites to take Canaanite women for themselves as spoils of war?

                • rustyshucklfeurd

                  James, I don’t understand how you can say that the “subsitutionary” view of the cross is “not found in the Bible”. Of course it is, from the example of God providing the ram to Abraham (your own example) as a subsitutionary (vicarious) sacrifice for his son, Isaac, to the prophetic pronouncement in Isaiah 53:4-5, to Paul’s saying in 2 Corninthians 5:21, that “He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf”, to 1 Peter 2:24, to Romans 3:25, to 1 John 2:2, to 1 John 4:10, and on and on.

                  Please explain what you mean by “that particular theological monstrosity.”

                  I also do not understand what you mean by “shifting blame”.

                  No, I’m not saying God was immoral to command that Abraham sacrifice his son – how is what I said in my previous post say any such thing?

                  As to God telling the Israelites to take Canaanite women for themselves as spoils of war, please give me the specific passage where this occurs. I would like to see the context.

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    That Abraham was given the opportunity to offer a ram instead of his son as a sacrifice is not what is normally meant by substitutionary sacrifice. Why do you assume that sacrifice on behalf of means that the sacrifice dies instead of someone? Paul explicitly states in 2 Corinthians his understanding – it is not that Jesus dies instead of those who are “in Christ,” but that he dies so that we may die with him. It is an image of union with Christ, participation in his death to the present age and preliminary participation in the life of the age to come through his resurrection.

                    You said that human sacrifice is always immoral. You said that rape is always immoral. And so presumably God commanding the immoral would be immoral, would it not? Or is your view that whatever God commands is moral? Then the question becomes why you believe that God commanded certain things. But you also end up far from the teaching of Jesus, which teaches a subjective morality based on empathy.

                    Numbers 31:17-18. Please do look at the context. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+31

      • Brandon Roberts

        well it all depends. to the christians he did it so we could have eternal life in heaven. to the atheists and other non-christians he didn’t.

        • Matt Brown

          It doesn’t depend upon what people think. It depends on what the evidence shows.

          • Brandon Roberts

            o.k fair enough. well pretty much every historian agrees he existed. but as for the son of god thing well the closest thing we have to evidence is entirely circumstantial basically his followers and disciples willing to die brutal ways for him and they never found the guys body. and yes you could argue that’s not evidence and there’s no evidence for the miracles well how could there be? all the eyewitnesses died thousands of years ago. and if you want scientific evidence for god than there’s actually tons of resources out there just google scientific evidence for god. have a good day and a happy life:)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I am sorry to hear that you misunderstood where I am coming from. There are lots of ways that one can approach the Bible, only some of which ask about factuality. But I don’t advocate selectively following the Bible any more than pretending to follow all of it. The Bible was written by human beings. Engage them in dialogue, disagree or agree, but do so based on careful reasoning and weighing of arguments.

      You make it sound as though the only options are to accept the very recent dubious idea of substitutionary atonement, or to be an atheist. But obviously there are a range of options, from being a Christian with an older and more historically established view of the atonement, to being a liberal Christian who rejects the notion that there is an anthropomorphic God who requires sacrifice of any sort, to being a pantheist, to being an agnostic, and many other options.

      • D Rizdek

        A couple of points. I admit my post was a bit rushed and some of what I said was probably a lot like how things got written in the Bible. I was thinking one thing and the folks (you, Matt) reading it interpret it differently.

        “careful reasoning and weighing of arguments”

        Hopefully I’ve reasoned carefully. I’ve generally not been persuaded into convictions based on arguments for either Christianity or that there is a God. For better or worse, I’ve not heard new arguments recently and have a response in my head for each one regardless of who writes it or says it.

        “to accept the very recent dubious idea of substitutionary atonement, or to be an atheist.”

        As to what I consider to be the core of Christianity…isn’t it Christ and his death on the cross? The notion among most denominations seems to be that Christ’s death on the cross was necessary for our salvation. The “live a better life” which Matt focused on was a “phrase” intended to capture all the benefits I’ve understood believing in Christ and acknowledging his death on the cross accrued. Didn’t Jesus say that he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly? Whether it be for the

        -propitiation of sins,
        -redemption,
        -paying the price,
        -removal of original sin, or
        -so that we might obtain forgiveness of sins to

        -remove guilt,
        -live holy lives,
        -communicate with God through Jesus,
        -attain salvation and perhaps eternal life and
        -perhaps some other things I can’t remember off the top of my head,

        the brutal death of Jesus seems to be the centerpiece.

        Now I’m sure you and others might have a slightly different slant on things, that’s why there are many forms of Christianity. But unless I could believe the Christian God did not need, plan, highlight, condone or even accept Jesus’ death on the cross for any reason, Christianity seems off my list of acceptable worldviews. No matter how much good Christians have done, no matter how many universities they’ve founded, no matter how many hungry mouths they’ve fed, or uplifting books they’ve written…the underlying premise seems rotten to me.

        But my atheism is totally unrelated to my views on Christianity. I tried to explain that I could imagine many forms of “god” that are not the Biblical God. The reason I am an atheist, by definition, is because, I wake up every morning and, when I think about it, I find that I have no basis to think there is a god. I do not have reasons for believing there is no God other than I have no reason to think there is a God.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          From a perspective informed by historical scholarship, the centrality of the cross is a result of the church trying to make sense of what happened to Jesus, and to figure out not only how he could be the Messiah and yet die, but also why the Messiah would have to die. Scholars (and those who’ve read them) treat words attributed to Jesus which foresee and interpret his death with a high degree of skepticism.

          I suspect that you are using “god” to denote a type of being which might or might not exist among the multitude of existing things. As a liberal Christian, I am likewise persuaded that we have no reason to think such anthropomorphic entities exist. If the term “God” deserves to be used at all, it is for Ultimate Reality, for Being itself, and not idolatrously for anything less, however powerful or important it might seem.

          • D Rizdek

            Yes, being from an older generation, I have to accustom myself to a liberal Christian worldview. It seems as if, today, one could almost be an atheist and still “like” Jesus and call himself a Christian. I’m not being facetious.
            That means theoretically, I could completely reject the whole substitutionary sacrifice thing and still find a way to define myself as a Christian…because, for example, I could think the “Golden Rule” is a good approach to dealing with others.

            • arcseconds

              Highly non-literal approaches to scripture have been in vogue in certain circles for at least the last 200 years.

              Just to reel off some famous examples, Martin Luther King, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hegel, and (I’ve recently learnt) Jefferson all identified as being Christians, but they all had extremly ‘non-traditional’ views on what that meant, and, so far as I’m aware, none of them believed in a literal resurrection, etc.

              So, unless by an older generation you mean you were born in the 1600s or earlier, there certainly have been many people with this kind of understanding of Christianity during your lifetime. :-)

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Wow, my brain actually took what D Rizdek wrote and subconsciously turned it into something that made more sense – that being from an older generation, she or he had to be accustomed to liberal Christianity.

                As for non-literal approaches to the text, they were not new in the 1600s. They too go back as far as we can trace Christianity. Indeed, it is the modernist approach to “literalism” that is the relative latecomer. But we all tend to assume that our experience is normative and has been throughout history.

                • arcseconds

                  OK, so what I said was ‘highly non-literal approaches to scripture’, but what I meant was more a view which dispenses of much or all of the appeals to the supernatural, so that all (or almost all) references to supernatural events, beings, etc. are interpreted non-literally to the point where no laws-of-physics-breaking miracles occurred and the beings either don’t really exist or have an extremely different nature than that depicted in scripture, such as your own panenthiesm, or Hegel’s Absolute (or whatever part of his system he identified with God, I’m not really sure what it was).

                  I appreciate that a few people have always had understandings not unlike this. In fact, one could view the merger of early Christianity with pagan philosophy (which, you know, would include the Trinity) as being a move in this direction — and philosophical approaches (including mainstream traditional theology) do tend to make God into a rather different sort of being than that portrayed in the Tanakh already, but still clearly a supernatural agent of some kind. And certainly mysticism and apophatic approaches deny that God is really a person in anything like the usual sense of the word.

                  But I don’t think (correct me if I’m wrong) that ‘no spooky stuff’ approaches would have been at all common prior to around 1600.

                  Partly because without a modern conception of physical laws, the notion of ‘spooky stuff’ is a lot less clear, and a lot less problematic.

                  • arcseconds

                    Whereas after that date, this kind of approach becomes, if not exactly common, certainly not unheard of.

                    Spinoza is another prominent supporter of this kind of understanding, of course, and also I think Kant counts (he appears to have in mind a pretty traditional view of God as a being that can peer inside people’s hearts and dishes out rewards and punishments and sees to it that everything unfolds according to a Divine Moral Plan, but it’s a moral requirement to believe in such a being, not an epistemological one),

                    In fact, it would not surprise me if there were at least one or two notable promulgators of such a view every generation since then, and of course one could suspect hundreds at least believing something of the sort whose views are not known to us.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Indeed, now that you have clarified your meaning, the date you offered makes perfect sense – sorry for misunderstanding!

                    • arcseconds

                      no problem whatsoever — of course I was initially apoplectically enraged that you’d misunderstood me so badly, but then I read what I wrote and realised that maybe the problem was more that I hadn’t written what I meant, so I calmed down!

              • D Rizdek

                born in the 1600s or earlier…Ha ha.

                That means, as far as you know, that up ’til then, folks did, for the most part all think that Christ literally died on the cross for our sins and that his suffering and death is a necessary part of God’s plan for salvation? I realize up ’til then the RCC interpretation dominated Christianity

                After, say, the 1600s how widespread was it to reject the literal value of Christ’s death on the cross among those calling themselves Christian? When you say “in vogue,” what do you mean?

                I’m not asking whether several folks wrote about their novel interpretations. And I’m not wondering if there weren’t many who harbored doubts about some of the various aspects of Christian doctrines.

                I am aware, for example, of “Jefferson’s Bible” in which he cut out verses he didn’t like or something like that. But I am not aware that Jefferson formed a Church and gathered a religious following. I know MLK was a great leader in civil rights, but did he have a following of folks who adhered to his particular religious beliefs, whatever they were? Did those others you mentioned form a sect, a cult, a denomination, a church or whatever that called themselves Christian AND adopted and held to their novel interpretations?

                I could well believe that there were individuals even earlier than the folks you listed who also had doubts about Christianity. The Jews, apparently rejected it outright. But they didn’t turn around and call themselves Christian just because some might’ve thought Christ taught some interesting things.

                And I’m not just talking about the resurrection…oddly enough, that is the good part, IMHO{: My concern is the odd “substitutionary sacrifice” and the “God forgives us our sins” which seems to be a vital part all the Christian creeds of which I am aware.

                The substitutionary sacrifice makes no sense at all. As I said earlier, it’s just impossible even for a God to somehow transfer my sins to another person and then redeem me. And certainly it makes no sense to think that by hurting THAT other person, the importance of my sins, if I have any, is somehow diminished. It has the ring of the idea that a royal son can have a whipping boy so that, when ever the prince misbehaves, the other boy get’s whipped. Or the folks who “transferred” their sins to a sin eater to relieve a household of their sins. Jesus sounds like a scapegoat…the “goat” on which someone would ritualistically heap sins and then flog it out of their midst to die in the wilderness. It has the ring of the ancient idea that sacrificing living things to a god somehow appeases this god for human faults.

                And unless God is just forgiving us sins that are solely against him, I don’t think a God’s forgiveness has any meaning at all. The only value would be if someone wants to feel better about themselves and thinks a god’s forgiveness is important. Or it might be important if someone thinks it’s all about avoiding hell and gaining heaven. E.G. it makes no difference if a God forgives me when I wrong another. I’m still just as guilty of wronging them as I ever was.

                I have been around for 60+ years and have been in and out of Protestant churches for most of that time. I have never been aware of any churches that were Christian that did not accept and emphasize the idea of Christ’s atoning sacrifice was in large part the way to salvation. Are there Christian denominations that do not think Christ’s death on the cross was a part of God’s plan of salvation? I really don’t know.

                What would be your best guess of the proportion of the folks who call themselves Christian today but reject the idea of substitutionary sacrifice?

                • arcseconds

                  I’m no expert on theories of atonement (or any of this stuff, really, but particularly not on that). But there are certainly other theories of atonement other than penal substitution. For example, Christus Victor and the ransom theory of atonement have been around for centuries. It’d be interesting to know what Catholics and Orthodoxes believe on this score. I’ve had a brief look at New Advent, but the article is rather long and involved. I’ve learnt though that Anselm and Abelard have both been influential on Catholic doctrine. Anselm proposed a theory which is similar to the penal substitution theory, but isn’t the same thing, whereas Abelard (a great figure in traditional theology) had a completely different view, and has roughly the same complaints about Anselm’s theory as you do:

                  To whom was the price of blood paid so that we might be bought back, if not to him in whose power we were–i.e., as has been said, to God himself, who had entrusted us to his tormentor? For it is not tormentors but their masters who collect or receive the price for captives. And in what way did he release those captives on payment of that price, given that he himself previously demanded or instituted that price for the release of his captives? But how cruel and wicked it seems for someone to require the blood of an innocent man as a price.

                  As far as I can work out, the Anglican communion doesn’t take a stand on a partiular theory of atonement, either.

                  So it seems to me at this stage that it’s possible that a very large number of Christians over the centuries have not ascribed to the penal substitution theory, or anything like it, including a great many with quite traditional notions of God, etc. As James says, it’s a modern protestant notion, not a fundamental tenet of all Christianity thoughout the ages which has only recently been rejected by some weirdo hippie atheists-in-cassocks modernists.

                  Also, I think it has to be noted that for most of the last 2000 years, most Christians (as in people who lived in Christian areas, got baptized, buried in churchyards, etc) would not have had the slightest idea about the finer points of theology. They couldn’t read, and it doesn’t seem likely that anyone bothered instructing them in these matters. Some people even think they were basically pagan in their outlook. So I think I’m pretty safe in saying that up until the time when school attendence became more or less expected for everyone, most Christians would not have believed in substitutionary atonement or in fact any aspect of traditional theology whatsoever!

                  As far as churches that officially deny the doctrine, there is of course the Unitarians, who seem to have denied the doctrine and the doctrine of Anselm centuries ago, while still professing to be Christian.

                  You’re asking for the denominations or sects set up by people with ideas at odds with traditional theology. What many of these people have in common is that they, for various reasons, see a lot of value (at least for them, but often also for people in general) in the Christian tradition, and want to continue practising in the tradition they were brought up in. They might, for example, want to see purple altar cloths during Lent, or sing familiar hymns, or use the language of Christ to promote justice. So rather than religion being primarily about having certain beliefs, they (often) see it being as primarily about tradition, practice, or community. For people who value participating in the same tradition, or performing the same practice, as the person in the pew next to them, over believing the same propositions, it would be pointless and possibly counter-productive to create their own churches.

                  (And I think they’re right about the practice over belief. That really seems to be far more the essence of religion than belief. If you think about it, in a modern congregation there will be a big diversity of ideas about what God is, e.g. a big bearded man with robes up in the sky (children especially will be inclined to believe this), some kind of Star-Trek like energy being, something like an energy field that pervades the universe, the ordering principle of the universe, the universe itself, the Platonic Form of the Good etc. There will be this kind of diversity on practically everything — but no-one cares, it’s not important for everyone to have the same picture of God. Sure, there are catechisms and statements of faith and things, but as no-one ever does much to make sure that people mean the same thing by those utterances, the important thing seems to be that you utter them, not that you understand them to mean a particular thing.)

                  It might be instructive to look at the way the Anglican communion operates, particularly the Church of England. They have considerable variety of different religious attitudes and even traditions within their fold: Anglican Catholics who value the traditions going back to before they split from Roman Catholicism, Evangelicals who are much like other evangelical protestants, and ‘modernists’ like Spong (OK, he’s an Episcopalian, but the Church of England is rather infamous for having people who don’t really believe in God in the clergy. There was an entire episode of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ devoted to this). Their unity despite this diversity is important to them, which makes them seem rather odd at times and makes for a lot of heated arguments and strange committee meetings which are unable to decide anything, but I’m not sure this isn’t actually a healthy way for a community to be.

                  So, if you were an Anglican and became convinced that substitutionary atonement is wrong, there’s absolutely no reason to leave and start your own church, as that’s not part of the church’s doctrine anyway. There’s also no particular reason to leave if you decide on a highly liberal theology, as there are already extremely liberal theologians within its ranks.

                  Then there are the people, more than you’d ever expect, who are outright agnostic or even atheist who still continue going to church. Catholic atheists especially are a real phenomenon. As they don’t believe in God, it would be odd if they also believed in the penal substition theory.

                  One thing I will say though, is that I don’t think it’s very clear at all to the average churchgoer that there are other options other than traditional theology, and that many people around them have already opted for other options. And, while I can see that some people would prefer keeping up the pretence that they believe that Christ literally came back to life three days after he was crucified as some kind of poker chip in a divine solitaire game and later blasted off into space without being troubled by someone in the next pew gleefully proclaiming they don’t believe any such nonsense, I think it’s a real problem that all of this seems to be be news to so many people.

              • Andrew Dowling

                Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, the author of the Gospel of John . . it goes on!

                • arcseconds

                  I’m no Bible scholar, and I’m aware there’s dispute about dating the gospels, but I’m pretty sure the Gospel of John was written prior to 1600…

                  • Andrew Dowling

                    Sorry . .didn’t realize the date delineator . .just naming people of antiquity who did not take any sort of literal meaning of Jesus’s death being an atoning sacrifice to satisfy God.

                    • arcseconds

                      I’m much more comfortable with Enlightenment figures, so I can say with considerable confidence that Rousseau and Franklin are not people of antiquity :-)

                      Anyway, note my explanation to James — the tl;dr version being that I didn’t explain myself clearly and what I had in mind was deflationary ‘no spooky stuff’ interpretations of scripture, or views held by people who still considered themselves Christian (well, Spinoza was Jewish).

                      There appears to be the odd sceptic prior to 1600, but they’re rare and isolated. There are obvious issues with making this judgement due to the danger of discussing such views openly at this time, although that does also give us a reason for thinking that such views would be reached in private and therefore would be rarer.

                      My point was really that a modern liberal Christian worldview which is very light on the supernatural has been around for the entire modern period, and while it clearly hasn’t been high-profile as ‘a thing’ (otherwise Rizdek wouldn’t think it’s a new phenomenon), it’s not exactly been some hidden, closed-door mystery cult either.

  • Brandon Roberts

    nice blog. i honestly believe the heathen gods (no offense to people from other religons) may exist as angels or other lower forms.

  • Guest

    Check out this blog which debunks the Trinity:

    http://nomoretrinity.blogspot.com/


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