Dialogue w Atheist: Joseph of Arimathea “Contradictions” (??)

Dialogue w Atheist: Joseph of Arimathea “Contradictions” (??) December 12, 2018

Lousy Atheist Exegesis Example #5672

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Words of “DagoodS” words will be in blue.

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If I’ve seen this tendency in atheist “exegesis” once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. I have noted over and over in my critiques of atheism how our non-believing friends cannot for the life of them approach the Bible with fairness and objectivity.

They will see the slightest difference in two texts and assert “contradiction.” They will blithely, with complete arbitrariness, assert later interpolation or mythical, imaginary scenes made up or cynically interjected for partisan/polemical purposes. They will casually claim that a biblical writer was lying through his teeth: without any shred of hard evidence that this is the case. Anything but accept the biblical texts at face value . . .

The following is an absolutely classic example. It come from my friend “DagoodS”: whom I have met twice in person. We get along fine and seem to even like each other. I have nothing against the man personally. But I have much against the way he exegetes the Bible, and the massive illogical progressions he makes in his assumptions, arguments, and conclusions drawn from same. My analysis is not a personal condemnation; it is a logical examination; an exercise of reason and critical scrutiny.

DagoodS plays his favorite “see how the Bible contradicts itself for the thousandth time?” game in a post called “Independent Witness in Gospel of John – Part 2” (11-8-10). He starts out asserting the cynical conclusion he wrongly thinks he has demonstrated in his article:

How does the Gospel of John differ from the other three canonical Gospels?

The simple fact: these accounts contradict each other. They contain different details (including different statements, additional items, and fewer items), as well as a general demonstration of increased mythology. . . . 

These contradictions are instructive on four points: . . . 

The more important the issue, the greater we scrutinize the motive behind the contradiction. 

Alright; so he believes there are contradictions in John, over against the Synoptic Gospels, and he adds the nice editorial touch of “increased mythology” as well. Now, let’s look at the example of Joseph of Arimathea: one that he thinks is evidence for his conclusion of logical “contradiction,” and see how compelling his case is. First, let’s look at the four relevant passages that he brings to bear (RSV):

Matthew 27:57-60 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathe’a, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. [58] He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. [59] And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, [60] and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed.

Mark 15:43-36 Joseph of Arimathe’a, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. [44] And Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. [45] And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. [46] And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Luke 23:50-53 Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathe’a. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, [51] who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. [52] This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. [53] Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid.

John 19:38-42 After this Joseph of Arimathe’a, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body. [39] Nicode’mus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. [40] They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. [41] Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. [42] So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Here is how DagoodS describes the four passages (I’ve added spaces between the passages not in his original):

Mark 15:43 states Joseph of Arimathea was a council member, waiting for the kingdom of God.

Matthew 27:57 demotes Joseph out of the council, making him a “rich man;” but elevates him to a disciple of Jesus.

Luke 23:50-51 places Joseph back on the council, but continues with Mark’s “waiting for the kingdom of god.”

John 19:38 doesn’t speak to Joseph’s income, nor being a council member, but John does go back to Matthew’s position Joseph was a disciple.

Now I shall examine his argument a bit:

Matthew 27:57 demotes Joseph out of the council, making him a “rich man;” but elevates him to a disciple of Jesus.

This is sheer silliness. Even allowing for a certain polemical license of expression, the insinuations he makes are completely absent from the text itself (which is, of course, not exegesis, but eisegesis: reading into the text prior assumptions which aren’t actually there). Matthew isn’t “demoting” anyone; he simply highlights a different fact: that Joseph was a rich man (rather than saying he was a council member: both aspects denoting importance and position in society).

There is no logical criteria that I can imagine that would absolutely require Matthew to mention the fact that Joseph was a council member. But DagoodS for some strange reason thinks he “demotes” Joseph; he does not, just because he didn’t mention that tidbit of information. This is the usual atheist effort to force contradiction into the picture when there clearly is none at all. Matthew hasn’t said one way or the other whether Joseph was a member of the council. He doesn’t have to.

A true contradiction would be, for example, one passage saying that Joseph was a council member and another expressly denying it. This doesn’t occur, so it is plain as day that there is no contradiction with regard to his being a council member; period. Case closed. Two of the passages mention that he is; the other two don’t mention it. They don’t have to in order to satisfy cynical, skeptical atheists that a contradiction isn’t present. The laws of logic themselves take care of that.

He also says that Matthew “elevates” Joseph to the status of disciple of Jesus; implying that this contradicts the other passages. Again, it clearly does not. Matthew isn’t “elevating” Joseph over against the other accounts. John mentions the same thing. The other two Gospel passages note that he was a “good and righteous man” (Luke) who was “looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark and Luke both).

In the New Testament, those who were categorized in such a way were invariably Christians or soon to be (e.g., Acts 11:24, describing Barnabas: “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”). Therefore, all four passages say essentially the same thing; they merely use different terminology. In the overall New Testament worldview and backdrop, this is evident, but when one microanalyzes and eisegetes texts, and does so cynically, to tear down the trustworthiness of the biblical accounts, all of that is missed. DagoodS’ “evidence” is, therefore, an utter non sequitur.

Then he says, “Luke 23:50-51 places Joseph back on the council, . . .” No, Luke (like Mark) mentions that he is on the council; period. It is not in relation to the statements of the other Gospels: as if they would deny this. No one denies the fact; two assert it, the other two are silent. This is very shoddy “reasoning” (not even worthy of the description “reasoning” — in my opinion).

Then DagoodS seems to think it is an egregious error for John not to mention Joseph’s income or status as council member. But one can plausibly argue, I think, that Joseph’s status, at least as a rich person, if not a council member, is strongly implied in John, because he is asking for the body of Jesus. Why?: to bury His body, of course. But one can’t simply bury a body anywhere. In this case, the place was a tomb, hewn out of rock (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and implied in John by the definition of a tomb).

These were private property, generally used by persons of some means, who were able to afford them. It’s no different today: rich people often have elaborate mausoleums of rock, while poorer folks go into the ground with a usually humble marker. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to posit that Joseph owned the tomb in question. In Matthew it states that it is his own tomb, which makes perfect sense.

The entire argument is sheer silliness. To give an analogy, imagine the following four statements about John F. Kennedy, made in April 1960:

1) There came a rich man from Boston, named John F. Kennedy, who was the Democratic nominee for President.

2) John F. Kennedy, a respected member of the Senate, who was the Democratic contender for the Presidency.

3) Now there was a man named John F. Kennedy from New England. He was a member of the Senate, and ran for President.

4) After this John F. Kennedy, who decided to attain to the office of President of the United States . . .

Now, are these four statements contradictory? No, of course not. Would anyone in their right mind even think to claim that they were? No. It would never cross anyone’s mind (including DagoodS’ own mind). Everyone knows they are not because they simply highlight different facts about Kennedy. Two say where he was from (in different terms: city vs. larger area). One said he was rich; two said he was a Senator. All four said he ran for President (just as all four gospel passages indicate that Joseph was a righteous man and/or a Christian).

They don’t have to be identical to not be contradictory or to save the people who wrote them from being accused of fudging facts or manipulating them. This is the usual atheist fallacy in biblical exegesis. The four descriptions can mention different things about him (rich, Bostonian, Senator, Presidential nominee). They can use different terms (ran for, contender, nominee, attain to the office of). They’re all consistent with each other and non-contradictory. I am particularly amused by Dagoods’ assertion of “a general demonstration of increased mythology” in John. The only “mythology” here is fictional, imaginary “contradictions” that do not exist in fact.

Yet when it comes to the Bible and the atheist obsession with tearing it down at all costs, (to justify and rationalize their own disbelief in its inspiration or at least trustworthiness as history) all of this plain common sense and logic goes out the window and all of a sudden “contradictions” are dreamt up and created out of thin air.

But DagoodS goes beyond even these silly, irrelevant assertions. He editorializes with complete arbitrariness:

What we start to see is a pattern where Matthew tends to disagree with Mark. Luke attempts to combine combination of Mark and Matthew. John appears to pick and choose from Matthew and Luke (or both).

At least he is honest enough to candidly admit yet another major hostile presupposition of his:

John’s use of Joseph is a strong indication this story was (at least in part) dependent on another source. Primarily because Joseph is a fictional character created by Mark.

Right. Who could possibly doubt it?

In a combox comment for the same post, DagoodS comes up with one of his innumerable arbitrary theories (this time about Luke’s alleged biases):

[O]ne can see why Luke chose Mark over Matthew here. Luke has a recurring theme throughout his Gospel against being rich. While Mark and Matthew mention polemics against rich people, they do not to the extent Luke does. Luke has nothing good to say about rich people.

This is untrue. It’s unwise to make sweeping statements of this sort unless one is very sure of their truthfulness. DagoodS apparently missed reading the story of Zaccheus, a rich man who is presented quite favorably:

Luke 19:2-10 And there was a man named Zacchae’us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. [3] And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. [4] So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. [5] And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchae’us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” [6] So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. [7] And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” [8] And Zacchae’us stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” [9] And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. [10] For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Further, Luke tends to write against Jews in Gentile cities (see Acts) but is not quite so harsh within Palestine. Luke is the only author to record Pharisees helping Jesus (Luke 13:31) as well as including Gamaliel’s support. Or at least neutrality. (Acts 5:34-40). 

Wrong again. DagoodS is very sloppy in presenting his alleged “facts.” Nicodemus was certainly a friend of Jesus, and he appears in John only. He is described as “a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode’mus, a ruler of the Jews” (Jn 3:1), and a disciple of Jesus: “who had gone to him before, and who was one of them” (Jn 7:50), and also as helping to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (Jn 19:39). Joseph of Arimathea himself was more than likely a Pharisee as well, since the Sanhedrin at that time was dominated by them.

But Nicodemus poses no problem for DagoodS (even if made aware of this objection) because, of course, he always has the “ejector seat” arbitrary solution of rendering anyone a fictional character when it suits his purpose. Hence in another post he wrote:

[T]he various accounts are contradictory . . . We will first complete our discussion regarding the contradictions in John to demonstrate the apologist comes to a point they must choose how John could possibly be historical . . . Myth development, lack of historicity and agenda-driven writing explain these problems easily. Claiming every account is factually and historical accurate causes one whiplash and strained explanations. . . . Christian’s wouldn’t dare make up a story regarding a council member. But…er…what about Nicodemus? Mark, Matthew and Luke forget to mention him. If Mark, Matthew and Luke were compelled to mention Joseph (because the apologist claims it is true) why didn’t they fell the same compulsion with Nicodemus? If Nicodemus is not true, then John made him up. Why couldn’t the others have made up Joseph of Arimethea for the same reasons?

DagoodS also seems blissfully unaware that the early Christians themselves were from within the Pharisaical tradition, which is why Jesus said that their authority was binding even for Christians (Matthew 23:2-3), even though they were too often hypocrites. Jesus followed many Pharisaical traditions Himself, and Paul referred to himself as a Pharisee three times (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5).

For Luke, the trade-off between Mark’s council-member Joseph as compared to Matthew’s rich Joseph resulted in choosing Mark’s account. Interestingly, Luke goes out of his way to emphasize Joseph did not agree with Jesus’ conviction. Luke prefers a neutral or slightly supportive council member over a rich person. 

Since his premises are wrong, (as just shown) the conclusions he draws from them also are wrong.

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If John truly was independent from the Gospels, he may have utilized Nicodemus, but he never would have known to use Joseph. He never would have heard of him! The ONLY way for John to even know about Joseph is through the Synoptics.

Is that so? The “ONLY” way, huh? How about the little inconvenient fact that John was actually present at the cross during the crucifixion (Jn 19:26: “disciple whom he loved”; the description John habitually uses of himself: cf. Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20)? Jesus was talking to John right before He died (19:26-27). Shortly after He died, the body had to be buried, because of the Sabbath. Therefore, John would have seen Joseph himself (19:38 ff.). Yet DagoodS claims that he could “ONLY” know of the man at all by means of the Synoptic Gospels. That is sheer nonsense. DagoodS seems to not even be aware that John was present at the cross. Hence he writes in a second paper (linked below):

. . . making the abandonment of Jesus complete by all persons.

DagoodS always has the convenient “out” of the invention of falsely alleged mythology in the biblical texts, or claiming later interpolation, or deliberate corruption, or denying that John actually wrote the Gospel by that name, etc. There is always an easy out. So he thinks . . . One mustn’t interpret the texts at face value and try to harmonize them. That would never do. That’s a naughty no-no. It’s Rule #1 in Atrocious Atheist Eisegesis.

DagoodS then proceeds to play his same silly game with the four burial accounts:

Mark 15:46 says Joseph laid Jesus in a tomb. Matt. 27:60 says it was Joseph’s new tomb. Luke 23:53 agrees it was new (no one had ever been in it) but retracts from saying it was Joseph’s.John 19:41 follows Luke, saying it was a new tomb, no mention of it being Joseph’s. Again, we have the authors either not completely stating the facts, OR disagreeing with each other. Again, the inerrantist could claim it was “Joseph’s new tomb” but only Matthew provides the full description. Mark (our earliest source) left out the fact it was new and Joseph’s, Luke and John both leave out the fact it was Joseph’s.

The same fallacies are so utterly apparent again in this example, that I need not point out any particulars. It’s self-evident that contradiction is not present. DagoodS goes on to his wrongheaded conclusion, based on wrongheaded illogical progression all the way through his “argument”:

Time and time and time again, we see discrepancies in these accounts. One, two or a few may cause us to scratch our heads. But when it becomes almost every single detail, we question the accuracy for the reasons state above: lack of credibility and reliability.

There was certainly no “discrepancy” in the above accounts. DagoodS trumps them up, but (with all due respect) his attempt badly fails. He thinks this is an example of biblical contradiction. But it is not. It just isn’t. Either DagoodS failed Logic 0101 (I took five philosophy courses in college including logic) or his mind is so severely biased in this instance that logical thought — that he does indeed understand — is completely overwhelmed by the severe bias. The man is no dummy (he’s an attorney). He knows better: way better than this. But his bias blinds him.

DagoodS puts the argument in even more ludicrous terms in an earlier paper (“Women at Empty Tomb” — 2-23-10):

A minor excursion here is helpful to demonstrate how myth development is demonstrated in the gospels. In Mark, Joseph is a council member, “waiting for the Kingdom of God” and puts Jesus in a tomb. Matthew removes Joseph’s status as a Sanhedrin member, refers to him as a rich man, but now Joseph has become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus is laid in Joseph’s personal tomb. (Matthew 27:57-60) Luke reinstates Joseph as a council member, adds he was a “good and just man” as well as indicated Joseph dissented from the conviction of Jesus. Luke states the tomb had never been used. (Luke 23:50-53) John also agrees the tomb has never been used, agrees with Matthew (against Mark and Luke) that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, and adds Nicodemus as a co-conspirator with Joseph. (John 19:38-41).

He proceeds from the ridiculous to the downright laughable and surreal:

In first century Palestine, burials and tombs were family matters. A person would be buried in a family tomb; the family was expected to perform the burial rites. Mark is writing a story of abandonment. Christ has already predicted all will abandon him. (Mark 14:27) Who would be expected to normally bury Jesus? His father, Joseph, and his mother, Mary. Mark is deliberately emphasizing Jesus’ own family abandoning him in the end. In case we are too thick to get it, he introduces “Joseph of Arimathea” to play the part of Jesus’ father Joseph, and two Mary’s to play the part of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Not convinced? What are the chances Joseph, Jesus’ dad, is unavailable and the name of the person who is available also happens to be named Joseph?

The chances of Joseph, Jesus’ father being unavailable are very good, seeing that he was dead at the time! He is never mentioned during the ministry of Jesus, which is why Christian tradition has always held that he was dead by then (he was mentioned when Jesus was twelve, at the Temple, but that was about 21 years earlier).

Dagoods — appropriately, after such a poor performance — drowns in his own “reasoning” again because he himself notes that “burials and tombs were family matters. A person would be buried in a family tomb.” Yes, exactly. But he wants to argue for “abandonment” from the family (not accepting that Joseph was dead). Mary the mother of Jesus was at the cross. She certainly didn’t abandon her Son. Ten disciples (and Judas) did, but not Mary.

So His surviving parent was with Him in His horrible death agony. But she could hardly have been expected to bury Him quickly, with the Sabbath approaching, since the family burial site would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem (about 65 miles away). So with darkness fast approaching after Jesus’ death, would DagoodS expect a grieving mother to transport the body of her Son 65 miles away to the family burial site? What, on a high-speed train? Super-fast camels? Angels, maybe? I guess so; otherwise, why would he protest so loudly in his anti-biblical polemics about the burial process? Why can’t he see the obvious? Does he not know that Jesus was from Nazareth, in Galilee? He knows; he is simply being illogical again in his zeal (we do detect a distinct theme). We know that he knows, because he wrote elsewhere:

[T]ombs were family affairs in the First Century, and if Jesus’ family did have a tomb, it would have been in his home town in Galilee. It would be perfectly natural to use this nearby cave for a temporary tomb (because of the oncoming Sabbath,) . . . 

This being the case, a quick solution was arrived at: Joseph was a rich man and disciple of Jesus, who had his own tomb nearby, and he offered it for use: a thing perfectly sensible, plausible, and understandable (i.e., unless one has a hostile bias against it from the start). This is no more contradictory or unable to be believed as a true historical account than the other so-called discrepancies or contradictions in the descriptions of Joseph of Arimathea.

DagoodS then lays his unfounded biases bare, in his candid admission:

This is a strong example Mark’s author was deliberately modifying facts…making things up…to make a point. Mark loves to use the unexpected—role reversal. We see this theme replete through Mark.

Discrepancies and contradictions are indeed present here, but they are to be found, rather, in the illogical, shoddy thought processes and eisegesis of DagoodS rather than in the biblical texts under consideration.

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See also the follow-up dialogue: Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction” [1-7-11]

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(originally 1-7-11)

Photo credit: Joseph of Arimathea, in the church “Gross St. Martin”, Cologne, Germany. Photograph by Raimond Spekking (9-30-06) [Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0 license]

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