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May 19, 2021

Reformed Belgic Confession (1561) and Second Helvetic Confession (1566)

[Taken from Chapter Ten of the above volume (see book and purchase information), completed in June 2002]

Belgic Confession (1561)
[Words from the Belgic Confession will be in blue]

Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God,

Who is to discern? The individual? Seems like it to me.

What is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.” We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.” The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;

What is the gospel? What is “pure preaching” of it? How many errors are allowed? For example, Luther’s baptismal regeneration is anathema to the Reformed, so is his gospel not a pure one; thus Lutherans — and many Anglicans and Methodists, etc. — are not in the “true church”; therefore not Christians? What about the Reformed Baptists who don’t baptize infants — some or many of whom would even deny that baptism is a sacrament at all?

If the gospel is defined as the Calvinist TULIP or suchlike, then this is circular reasoning (the gospel is merely what these folks say it is, on the basis of their own unproven and unsupported axioms). The Bible, which is supposedly the criteria of truthfulness here, does
no such thing. It defines the gospel as the birth (incarnation), life (with all its miracles and teaching), death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, not as some technical theory of soteriology and justification. One can certainly deduce some theory of soteriology from it, but my point is that this is not what the Bible describes as “the gospel.”

it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;

How did Christ institute them? We have seen the differences concerning baptism above. So are Lutherans and Reformed Baptists and other sorts of Baptists out of the fold? As to the Eucharist, similarly serious differences arise. Lutherans believe in consubstantiation; so their belief here is not “pure.” And of course, if we look to the early Church Fathers, they unanimously accepted the Real Presence, so that one must believe that the
apostasy of the early Church on this score was well-nigh universal, and that only in the 16th-century was true eucharistic belief restored, and even then not by Luther (or for that matter, Zwingli), but by Calvin.

Now, what authority does he have? Certainly not apostolic authority, nor the prestige of passed-down apostolic Tradition, as his view is a novelty and an innovation. So there are a host of difficulties in almost every sentence here. The words may sound great, but they conceal myriad historical and biblical problems and contradictions, as clearly seen in this merely brief, cursory treatment.

it practices church discipline for correcting faults.

Sure, then when someone disagrees, he simply goes to another sect, on the basis of his own judgment as to what the pure church is, based on the Word of God (first sentence above). He applies the same criteria stated here to go somewhere else, because the final authority must reside in the individual, due to unresolvable difficulties and contradictions among the various sects. These appeared at the beginning of the Protestant Revolt
(inevitably) and will always remain, because of this flawed principle of how one determines theological truth. If in fact there had always been one Protestant Church and one only, then these axioms might hold at least some water, but as this has never been the case, the system is burdened by self-contradiction and an inability to consistently apply these standards to the real world.

In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.

This sounds noble and glorious, but it is not nearly this simple, because there were and are foundational differences on almost every issue where Protestantism is to be distinguished from Catholicism in the first place. Until these can be resolved, then such talk within the Protestant paradigm is a pipe dream of the most illusory sort.

By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church — and no one ought to be separated from it.

The only self-consistent, historically demonstrable way to establish this is by apostolic succession and an examination of history (as the Fathers taught). No Protestant sect can pass this test. But even using their own stated criteria of authenticity above, no one can figure out which sect is the true one, because the doctrinal disagreements run too deep and are too serious.

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith,

What is faith? Protestants disagree on this, too. How does regeneration and election relate to personal faith? How is one assured of saving faith? Can one lose that and fall away?, etc.

and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

This sounds great, too, but it has never occurred in an entire group. Since sin is present in all professed Christian groups, the absence of it can hardly be the “proof” of the authenticity of one sect over another.

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

Virtually all Christian groups would adhere to this notion, so it is of no help for our task, either.

As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ;

What does this mean?

it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases;

The problems in this statement were already discussed. One can either appeal to the constant Tradition throughout the ages and apostolic succession, or else choose one of a host of Protestant options, all themselves ultimately arbitrary and man-centered and unable to be supported by Church history.

it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ;

No Christian system is more man-centered than Protestantism, where a single man’s word (Calvin, Luther, Fox et al) has the greatest authority, far greater than any pope ever dreamt of. Any local pastor has far more influence or effect on the lives of his congregation than the pope has on a Catholic, in a practical, everyday sense. That’s why Protestant congregations often split in two merely because a popular pastor might feel called to move on to another assembly.

it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

The sin argument resolves nothing. Protestants were at least as intolerant in the 16th century as Catholics — arguably far more, especially in light of their supposed principles of tolerance and supremacy of the individual conscience.

These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

Not quite. Until Protestants can answer the difficulties I raised above, and many more brought about by their utter inability to resolve their own internal squabbles, any claim to a true Church in their ranks, of whatever character, visible or invisible, institutional, creedal, confessional, or metaphysical, over against the Catholic Church, is self-defeating, upon close scrutiny.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
[Words in green]

Chapter 2 – Of Interpreting the Holy Scriptures; and of
Fathers, Councils, and Traditions [complete]

The True Interpretation of Scripture. The apostle Peter has said that the Holy Scriptures are not of private interpretation (II Peter 1:20), and thus we do not allow all possible interpretations.

How many are allowed then? Which ones, and why?

Nor consequently do we acknowledge as the true or genuine interpretation of the Scriptures what is called the conception of the Roman Church, that is, what the defenders of the Roman Church plainly maintain should be thrust upon all for acceptance.

Obviously not, having enthroned private judgment of individuals and traditions of men in its place . . .

But we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages) and which agree with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the glory of
God and man’s salvation.

More high-sounding, pious, noble language with little concrete or particular content. This assumes (quite absurdly) that Protestants are in sole possession of these hermeneutical tools, and that one “true” teaching on any topic will appear and be evident to all true followers of Christ. These are pipe dreams.

Interpretations of the Holy Fathers. Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures;

Who decides where they agree or disagree, and by what criteria? There are a host of doctrines where the Fathers contradict Reformed Christianity en masse.

but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures.

Who decides what the Scriptures teach? A panel of venerable, grey-bearded Reformed worthies, assembled in 1566?

Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.

Yes, as judged by the apostolic Church and its authoritative Councils, and its popes, not by individuals eight, nine, or ten centuries later who count the noses of their comrades in some given sect and conclude that the majority opinion is therefore the “biblical” one.

Councils. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils. Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much less by received customs, or by the large number who share the same opinion, or by the prescription of a long time. Who is the judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided.

But of course! God will settle all the issues! Who could argue with that? But as we are not God, but mere men — and prophets are a relatively rare occurrence –, there must be some human Christian authority as well — binding in some sense; to some degree. One can, then, either believe that God promised to guide His Church and preserve it free from error, under a properly unified authority, with councils and bishops and a gift of
infallibility (as Catholics believe) or that individuals ultimately decide what is or what is not true, dissenting from councils, Tradition, the Fathers, and apostolic succession alike if needs be. These are given lip service above and elsewhere in similar Protestant statements, but it is obvious that the individual retains the right to dissent from all of this ecclesiastical authority, since his conscience is supreme. It all began with Luther at Worms.

So we do assent to the judgments of spiritual men which are drawn from the Word of God. Certainly Jeremiah and other prophets vehemently condemned the assemblies of priests which were set up against the law of God; and diligently admonished us that we should not listen to the
fathers, or tread in their path who, walking in their own inventions, swerved from the law of God.

This is a large reason why I became a Catholic: because Protestant innovations were merely the inventions of men. They had no pedigree in Church history, and thus, no reason to be accepted. The Catholic believes that just as the Holy Spirit can teach people today, that He could do so in the past — that Christian history of thought means something. G.K. Chesterton insightfully described Tradition as “the democracy of the dead.”

Traditions of Men. Likewise we reject human traditions, even if they be adorned with high-sounding titles, as though they were divine and apostolical, delivered to the Church by the living voice of the apostles, and, as it were, through the hands of apostolical men to succeeding
bishops which, when compared with the Scriptures, disagree with them; and by their disagreement show that they are not apostolic at all. For as the apostles did not contradict themselves in doctrine, so the apostolic men did not set forth things contrary to the apostles. On the contrary, it would be wicked to assert that the apostles by a living voice delivered anything contrary to their writings. Paul affirms expressly that he taught the same things in all churches (1 Cor. 4:17). And, again, “For we write you nothing but what you can read and understand.” (2 Cor. 1:13). Also, in another place, he testifies that he and his disciples–that is, apostolic men–walked in the same way, and jointly by the same Spirit did all things (2 Cor. 12:18). Moreover, the Jews in former times had the traditions of their elders; but these traditions were severely rejected by the Lord, indicating that the keeping of them hinders God’s law, and that God is worshipped in vain by such traditions (Matt. 15:1ff.; Mark 7:1 ff.).

Who determines which teachings are “traditions of men” and how? And why should we value their opinions or heed their authority more so than the venerable Fathers of the Church?

***

Summary: I interact with two 16th century Protestant confessions: particularly their treatment of ecclesiology and private judgment. I ask the hard questions that these confessions ignore.

***

May 6, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Michael Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #115 Omissions Detailing the Ascension

There is no explicit account of the Ascension in the oldest Christian sources: the writings of Paul. (p. 701)

Alter will likely appeal to his use of the disclaimer “explicit” but there is at least some sort of mention in Paul:

1 Timothy 3:16 . . . taken up in glory.

Ephesians 4:8-10 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

This is reminiscent of what was written about God in the Hebrew Bible:

Proverbs 30:4-5 Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! [5] Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Paul’s words in Ephesians are arguably at least as “explicit” as the Gospel of Luke, which simply says that He “was carried up into heaven” (24:51) and Luke’s description in Acts: “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (1:9).

Matthew (see chapter 28), who church tradition declares to have been an apostle and a witness of Jesus’s ascension, failed to report this event. (p. 702)

. . . which is not, of course, a “contradiction.” Marco Polo never mentioned the Great Wall of China. Using the usual hyper-critical, irrational methodology applied to the Bible, this would prove that the Great Wall doesn’t exist, or that Marco Polo never visited China. Christians say that not every book has to have everything about the Christian faith in it. What we needed to know and believe, God saw fit to include somewhere in the New Testament. Other things are also found only or primarily in oral tradition (just as with mainstream pharisaic and rabbinical Judaism).

John, the author of the last gospel, a person who church tradition declared to have been an apostle and a witness of Jesus’s ascension, also did not report this event. (p. 702)

In fact he does mention it, three times:

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.

John 6:62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Only Luke provided an exclusive description of Jesus’s ascension, although here there is much to doubt regarding the authenticity of this narrative. (p. 702)

This is false, as just shown. And as usual, Alter is skeptical of a text that he doesn’t personally care for, while rarely if  ever presenting hard evidence that all these passages he claims aren’t authentic, or are contrived, made up, etc. 

***

ADDENDUM: Clarifying Note on My Methodology

With this reply I have concluded my critique of Michael Alter’s book. In closing I want to clarify one thing about my methodology throughout. Alter made a comment in one of my comboxes, but seems not to have read my response. Here is the main part of my counter-reply (with his words in green):

You imply that I am being deliberately disingenuous again in this reply:

Unfortunately, Dave has deliberately decided not to inform his readers about SPECULATION #144 Reasons for Judas’s Betrayal (pp. 453-455). The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry offers eight speculations plus seven more from Fr. Raymond Brown. Therefore, fifteen speculations are shown to the reader. . . . Question for Dave, are fifteen speculations sufficient . . .?

You appear to have missed the method I have been employing throughout my replies. I laid it out very clearly from the beginning (no secrets or mysteries here!): I would respond to accusations of contradictions in the NT, and do all I could to show that they are unfounded. This was quite obvious in my first “59 Replies” paper and throughout my current replies. I look through your book specifically to find instances of where you allege a contradiction. I utilize the same exact methodology in my replies to atheists when they, too, suggest “contradictions” in the Bible (and yes, I have defended your — and my — Hebrew Bible many many times, too, along with the New Testament).

I do this not only based on my methodology of “defeating the defeaters” but also because I figured that if I started tackling your many “Speculations” and “Issues” [titles of sections] that you would very likely come back and say, “well, hey, I was only speculating, as I said!” Therefore, I have stuck to the sections in your book that have “Contradictions” in the title of the subsections. You can’t deny that you are asserting contradictions in those portions.

Because of this I didn’t read the section you reference in the first place.

Here is what I wrote in my first installment, making it clear that I would be focusing on specific allegations of NT contradictions, as opposed to his entire book:

You’ll soon discover that I have particular interests and am uninterested in other things. That will be true with regard to your book. I am primarily interested in demonstrating that alleged NT contradictions really aren’t so, or “defeating the defeaters”: as Protestant philosopher Alvin Plantinga likes to say. The idea is to question whether internal contradictions are present, and to refute each one that is alleged. That’s what I did so far in my 59 replies to your book: based on what I could read of it. So you already see what I will mostly be doing as I proceed.

It’s a “negative” sort of evidence for NT trustworthiness and internal consistency and cohesion. It doesn’t prove inspiration, but it is consistent with it; that is, inspired revelation would not and could not contain real contradictions. And it’s an objective enterprise: one of logic. . . . 
This will give you an idea of how I approach these things, and where my main interest in your book lies. I will still have a lot to respond to, because you allege many contradictions.

I would like to thank Mike Alter again for the opportunity to make all these critiques (made possible because he sent me a PDF file of his book) and to amiably discuss them with him. It’s been an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating challenge, and I learned a lot, as I always do whenever I set out to study and/or defend the Bible. As usual, we don’t seem to have changed each other’s mind about anything major, but it’s still nevertheless worthwhile to engage on these topics if only to understand other viewpoints better and to entertain sincere and honest objections to our own. Communication is always good. We both agree to let readers make the final judgment regarding our efforts.

I wish him all the best in life and pray that God showers him with blessings.

***

Photo credit: moritz320 (8-17-18) [PixabayPixabay License]

Summary: Michael Alter argued for a supposed absence of the Ascension in St. Paul (not explicitly); then claimed that the Gospel of John didn’t mention it, either. I prove the falsity of both contentions.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, supposed absence of the ascension, ascension of Jesus

May 5, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Michael Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #99 Initial Contradictory Responses of Jesus to His Disciples

Mark 16:14 reported that Jesus verbally rebuked his disciples for their disbelief and hardness of heart: “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven
as they sat at meat and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”

Matthew did not describe an initial response in Jerusalem. Neither did Matthew record Jesus’s initial response to the disciples’ lack of faith when it was reported that some doubted while meeting him in the Galilee.

In direct contradiction to Mark, Luke has Jesus attempting to reassure his disciples by demonstrating that he was really a physical and fully materialized person. This he tried to accomplish by showing his hands and feet and by eating.

Similar to Luke, in John, Jesus seemingly tried to allay and dispel any thought that he was not physically risen from the dead. Here, too, he showed the disciples his hands. However, Jesus did not offer to show his feet. Instead, he offered to show his side. (p. 578)

It’s no contradiction at all. Jesus had all along rebuked His disciples for being slow to believe. Thus, Mark expresses something that was rather “old hat” by that time. Jesus had told His disciples many times that He would suffer, be killed, and rise again after three days. But they just didn’t “get it” till it actually happened. And we can understand that because these are no ordinary events.

Matthew happens not to mention this motif in his description of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, but not mentioning something is not a contradiction, as I have reiterated over and over. It’s not like Matthew never talks about unbelief in his Gospel. He certainly does:

Matthew 13:58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 16:1-4 And the Pharisees and Sad’ducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. [2] He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ [3] And in the morning, `It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. [4] An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” . . . (cf. 12:38-42; Mk 8:11-12)

Matthew 16:21-23 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [22] And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” [23] But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” [this is right after Jesus renamed Peter “Rock” and made him the head of His Church (i.e., the first pope) that He was to establish]

Alter noted that Matthew did state that “some” of the “eleven  disciples” who saw the risen Jesus “doubted” (28:16-17). He simply doesn’t provide the details of how they verbally doubted and what Jesus said in reply. He is under no obligation to do so. God in His providence, in inspiring the supernatural revelation of the NT,  saw that this was incorporated into other accounts. But so far, Mark and Matthew don’t contradict in the slightest.

Alter claims that the Gospel of Luke contradicts Mark because it describes Jesus eating and showing His pierced hands (i.e., empirical evidence that He was physically — not just “immaterially” — resurrected). But no one can say that Mark (and Matthew) denied this. They simply didn’t include it. Nor does Luke in his Gospel omit all rebukes of Jesus for lack of faith simply through hearing:

Luke 11:29-32 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. [30] For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nin’eveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. [31] The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. [32] The men of Nin’eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Luke 16:27-31 And he said, `Then I beg you, father [Abraham], to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'” [story told by Jesus, thus revealing His views about “necessary” (?) empirical evidence]

Moreover, in Luke, right before Jesus ate with His disciples and showed them His physical hands and feet, He also said:

Luke 24:25-27 “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [26] Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” [27] And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Then Alter acts as if John has a different, contradictory view. He doesn’t. He has Jesus disdaining the demand for signs as well:

John 2:18-21 The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body.

John 4:48 Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

In the Gospel of John, we have the famous episode of Doubting Thomas, who refused to believe until He touched the risen Jesus. So Jesus, in His mercy for those who are slower than others, appeared to and for Thomas, knowing that he would believe if this evidence were provided. And indeed, Thomas did; even calling Jesus “Lord” and “God” as a result (Jn 20:28). But note what Jesus said right after that:

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Jesus’ behavior and the four Gospel descriptions of it are utterly consistent throughout His ministry: He was reluctant to, or outright refused to do miracles and signs when He knew (in His divine omniscience) it was to no avail; that those who opposed Him would not be swayed by them. They would simply say He was possessed or did miracles through a diabolical rather than divine power. Nothing was good enough for them.

But when He was, on the other hand, with those He knew would believe and be positively affected by His miracles (like Thomas the disciple), He would perform miracles, and appear after He rose. This is the key to understanding what Alter doesn’t understand, thus leading him to (what else?) his usual misguided, misinformed cry of “contradiction!”. Well, atheists and skeptics like Alter are in good company: the disciples were also clueless until they themselves saw the risen Jesus. It’s only by the grace of God that any of us come to believe in God and in Jesus as the incarnate God.

***

Photo credit: Selva Rasalingam as Jesus in the The Gospel of Luke (2016, Netflix USA) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]

Summary: Michael Alter claimed that Jesus & the Gospels were contradictory with regard to Jesus’ view of unbelief & evidence. They were not at all, as I explain. It’s more “pseudo-contradictions.”

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Jesus’ view of unbelief & evidence

May 4, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Michael Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #93 The Number of Disciples Who Saw Jesus

Church tradition contradicts itself as to whether or not Jesus appeared before eleven disciples or twelve disciples. Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15:5, states unequivocally that after Cephas, Jesus was witnessed by the Twelve: “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.” Similarly, Mark 16:14 reported: “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:”

In direct contradiction, Luke 24:33 states that following Jesus’s postresurrection he appeared to “the eleven” in Jerusalem: “And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them.” Therefore, this appearance occurs on Easter Sunday evening.

Luke’s narrative provides information that someone was missing, but who? Based on Matthew 27 and Acts 1, one would naturally think that it

is Judas because he had already supposedly hanged himself after repenting his treason against Jesus or he died as a consequence of a fall. . . . 

John 20:24 states that the missing disciple is Thomas: “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.”
Therefore, the question remains, was Jesus appearance witnessed by eleven disciples or twelve disciples?

One rationale challenging the view of Christian apologists is that this “group of Twelve” had to have included Judas because Acts 1:26 records
that it was not until after the Ascension, some forty-plus days after Jesus’s crucifixion, that another person, Mathias, was voted in to replace Judas. (This topic is also discussed later.) “And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Mathias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” However, this Christian apologetic is meaningless because Judas could not have been one of “the eleven” if he was already supposedly dead, according to Matthew 27:5. (pp. 562-564)

Protestant apologist Eric Lyons provides the rebuttal:

Numerous alleged Bible discrepancies arise because skeptics frequently interpret figurative language in a literal fashion. They treat God’s Word as if it were a dissertation on the Pythagorean theorem rather than a book written using ordinary language. . . . The simple solution to this numbering “problem” is that “the twelve” to which Paul referred was not a literal number, but the designation of an office. This term is used merely “to point out the society of the apostles, who, though at this time they were only eleven, were still called the twelve, because this was their original number, and a number which was afterward filled up” (Clarke, 1996). Gordon Fee stated that Paul’s use of the term “twelve” in 1 Corinthians 15:5 “is a clear indication that in the early going this was a title given to the special group of twelve whom Jesus called to ‘be with him’ (Mark 3:14).

This figurative use of numbers is just as common in English vernacular as it was in the ancient languages. In certain collegiate sports, one can refer to the Big Ten conference, which consists of 14 teams, or the Atlantic Ten conference, which is also made up of 14 teams. At one time, these conferences only had ten teams, but when they exceeded that number, they kept their original conference “names.” Their names are a designation for a particular conference, not a literal number.

In 1884, the term “two-by-four” was coined to refer to a piece of lumber two-by-four inches. Interestingly, a two-by-four still is called a two-by-four, even though today it is trimmed to slightly smaller dimensions (1 5/8 by 3 5/8). Again, the numbers are more of a designation than a literal number.

Biblical use of “the twelve” as a designation for the original disciples is strongly indicated in many Gospel passages. Jesus Himself did this: “Did I not choose you, the twelve . . .?” (Jn 6:70). He didn’t say, “did I not choose you twelve men?” By saying, “the twelve” in the way He did, it’s proven that it was a [not always literal] title for the group. Hence, John refers to “Thomas, one of the twelve” after Judas departed, and before he was replaced by Matthias (Jn 20:24). Paul simply continues the same practice. It was also used because “twelve” was an important number in biblical thinking (40 and 70 are two other such numbers). For a plain and undeniable example of this, see Revelation 21:12, 14, 21.

Mark always uses “the twelve” specifically like a title. Every time he refers to “twelve” (nine times), he says “the twelve”; never “the twelve disciples” or “twelve apostles”. As for Mark 16:14, Alter makes a mistake. The KJV that he uses for his book has “eleven” and not “twelve.” So do (it looks like) all other translations. On a “parallel Bible” page for this verse I couldn’t find a single translation that has “twelve.” So even though Mark used “the twelve” like a title, he was still being literal, since he switched to “eleven” after Judas departed in infamy.

Luke follows Mark’s practice exactly, by using the phrase “the twelve” six times, then switching to “the eleven” in Luke 24:9, 33. So he, too, was also being literal.

Matthew is interesting, because in five uses before Judas’ departure, he uses “the twelve” twice (26:14, 47), “the twelve disciples” twice (20:17; 26:20), and “the twelve apostles” once (10:2). He, too, uses “eleven” after Judas’ betrayal: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them” (28:16). Once again, then (like Mark and Luke), he is being literal as well about the number of Jesus’ original disciples / apostles.

John, in four usages, always says “the twelve” (6:67, 70-71; 20:24). In the last instance, Judas had left the group, so it was an instance of the non-literal use of the title, as in Paul (as explained above). John never uses “eleven.”

In the book of Acts, Luke follows his literal use. When a vote was taken for an apostle to replace Judas, Luke wrote: “And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi’as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles” (1:26). In 2:14 (i.e., after Matthias has joined the ranks) he states: “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, . . .” And in 6:2: “And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples . . .”

So we see no contradiction at all here. The Synoptic Gospels + Luke in Acts all refer to the group of disciples / apostles in a literal way, whether using “the twelve” as a title or not. John is literal three times and non-literal once. Paul is also non-literal on one occasion. In those two instances, it’s quite sufficiently explained by apologist Eric Lyons above (and I think, bolstered by my further observations and documentation). We use the same non-literal technique today (as he noted) by referring to the Big Ten and Atlantic Ten conferences in college sports (both conferences actually having 14 teams), and “two by four” for lumber (when the actual size is 1 5/8 by 3 5/8).

Much ado about nothing again, but Alter can apparently never concede even a single example of a botched supposed “contradiction” because he appears to think that the New Testament always has to contradict itself if there is the slightest perceived difficulty in interpreting it. When called on it, as I have been doing, he objects to the lack of simplicity in the explanation, by repeating the same canned boilerplate in my comboxes over and over. Here he is again utilizing this silly technique and (as almost always) refusing to actually interact point-by-point with my specific arguments, on 5-3-21 on my blog:

Dave’s position and those of other apologists is simple: Instead of letting the text speak for itself, Dave and other apologists are saying, “Let me explain to you what the author meant to say.” Dave and other apologists strongly imply that they, as guardians of the truth, are the only ones capable of explaining what the original authors of the text meant to say . . .. The final decision belongs to the reader. Your intellectual and common sense is respected.

Readers, this writer will implore you to use your brains. What does the text mean to any average person after any sensible hearing or reading (possibly one or two languages removed from the original)? In no uncertain words, Dave implies that as a guardian of the truth, he and other apologists are the ones capable of explaining what the original authors of the text meant to say.

Nothing personal here against Michael, of course. I have enjoyed our cordial relations. This is notad hominem.” I am objecting to his arguments and also to some extent, his technique in argumentation, which are things separate from him as a person.

It’s precisely because God expects us to use our brains and not be gullible advocates of blind faith (another charge Alter has leveled again and again at the NT writers and other Christians), that we can use our noggins and figure out what is going on here with the use of numbers. Alter seems to prefer to keep it on a “simpleton’s” level, where something appears to be a contradiction but actually isn’t when we actually think and rationally analyze and use our brains in closely examining it. That fits his anti-New Testament “agenda” quite nicely. He’s always railing about the “theological agenda” of the NT writers, as if it is an inherently dishonest and shameful thing to believe in a particular theology and inevitably hostile to accuracy and factuality and historicity.

But he wouldn’t dream of applying this cynical, simplistic technique to the interpretation of his Hebrew Bible, which is the basis of his own religious practice (which I greatly respect) of piously adhering to the restrictions of the Sabbath every week. Historic Judaism certainly doesn’t take such an approach. Anyone can read the Talmud to see thousands of examples of a robust thinking interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and also the oral law delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai (that I firmly believe in as a Christian). It wasn’t a “simple matter” to those rabbis; nor is NT interpretation the domain of simpletons and uneducated people. Christianity is a thinking man’s religion, just as Judaism is.

People (usually atheists) tear down the Hebrew Bible all the time, as immoral and self-contradictory (complete with mockery of God: or what is caricatured as “God”), just as they go after the New Testament with a hatchet and a buzz saw. I defend both, because I believe in faith (with abundant reason and not “blind faith”) that both documents are inspired and infallible revelation from God to us.

But when it comes to the New Testament, Alter has decided to be quite hostile and impervious to any reason that resolves what he wrongly insists is a “contradiction.” This goes beyond simply not being a Christian and honest, sincere theological disputes. I’m not talking about that. What I am referring to is an extraordinary level of bias and irrational prejudice against the NT texts: whether or not NT theology is rejected. This leads to the weak and feeble arguments that I have been refuting over and over (only to have my arguments ignored at least 90% of the time).

The sky wouldn’t fall down if Michael Alter admitted that he was mistaken and in error regarding this alleged “contradiction” and many others. He wouldn’t have to forsake his Judaism (however he construes it) or become a Christian. The stakes aren’t that high. These are questions having to do with logic and reason, and only indirectly theological. He can always revise his book and admit that he blew some of his arguments; that he accepted correction here and there (maybe on five out of 913 pages?). People would only respect him for that. He would lose nothing.

I’m merely calling for an objective, educated, informed analysis of the New Testament texts without the extreme bias and hostility (that was documented in my previous reply). It seems to me that if Alter is an objective thinker, and assuming he is an honest one (as I do) and open-minded, that it stands to reason that he could and would admit that one or two of his 120 or so proposed “contradictions” fail and have been refuted by myself or someone else. I don’t think he regards himself as infallible and incapable of error.

***

Photo credit: Selva Rasalingam as Jesus in the The Gospel of Luke (2016, Netflix USA) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]

Summary: Michael Alter submits supposed “contradictions” regarding “twelve” or eleven disciples (before & after Judas’ departure). In fact, the numerical usage is mostly literal but sometimes not.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, “twelve” or eleven disciples?

May 4, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

In this installment, I document the views of Michael Alter regarding the motives and ethical standards of the writers of the New Testament; showing how he is indeed a very hostile witness when it comes to these writings, and engages not infrequently in ad hominem attacks. The biases that we all have in one way or another affect our reasoning and the premises we accept, as well as the conclusions that we arrive at, based on those premises. Thus, these false presuppositions adversely affect Alter’s reasoning all throughout his book.

Alter reiterated the gist of his many statements documented below, today (5-3-21) in a comment on my blog: “Throughout John’s Gospel, he has made up additional fictional elements.”

After now 24 replies to his book and also significant personal correspondence, I have never stated, nor implied, that Michael Alter is deliberately dishonest, deceptive, insincere, disingenuous, or a liar (or even a purely ignorant, unassuming, innocent mythmaker). I do not do so now. I think he is wrong about many things, because he has adopted false premises and built false conclusions upon them. I believe that he sincerely believes these things, and the demands of rudimentary Christian charity requires me to extend that benefit of the doubt in the first place. He simply sincerely believes what I firmly believe to be erroneous, untrue things. I hope to dissuade him of these falsehoods through the use of reason and explanation of the meanings of New Testament texts, as best I can ascertain them (with the guidance of Christian — and sometimes also Jewish — tradition).

All bolding is my own; italics are his own.

[I]t is, in fact, possible that the author of one of the gospels (or other portions of the Christian scriptures) was writing what he considered were actual facts and in so doing he was correcting and thus contradicting the earlier narratives . . . (p. 26)

Luke rejected Matthew’s historical narratives many times. (p. 120)

Perhaps Luke’s omission, in fact, confirms that the event is an invention of Matthew. (p. 146)

Why then did Luke omit such an important event that coincided with Jesus’s death? Perhaps his omission is, in fact, a deletion and confirms that the earthquake event is an invention, that is a “myth” developed by Matthew. Moreover, here too there is no historical verification from even one external source for this remarkable event. This omission from sources other than Mark, Luke, or even John should raise the proverbial red flag. (pp. 147-148)

Perhaps Luke’s omission is a deletion that confirmed that the event (i.e., “myth”) is an invention of Matthew. (p. 160)

Either the information in John was unknown to the synoptic authors, deliberately omitted, or a later fabrication. (p. 175)

[subtitle] John’s Invented Dubious Details and Theology (p. 182)

Luke’s omission suggests that either the event was invented by John after Luke had finished his narrative or that he was verifying the narratives of Mark and Matthew that no such event occurred. (p. 185)

Perhaps his omission, in fact, confirms that the event was an invention of John. (p. 238)

Nicodemus appears only in the Fourth Gospel. This remarkable absence casts doubt as to his historical existence. (p. 238)

A more probable explanation is that the synoptic authors did not record this detail because John invented it. (p. 267)

Of course, in addition, these speculations presume that the burial episode is historical. (p. 273)

The entire Joseph of Arimathea personality may be an invention. (p. 279)

It is speculated that Matthew employed unusual wording in 27:62 to deliberately obscure the fact that he would have the Jewish leadership violating the Sabbath. (p. 292)

Nonetheless, according to Christian apologists, members of the Sanhedrin, perhaps all of them, are now going to order non-Jews to work on the Sabbath in direct violation of God’s instruction and in full public view. Such a blatant and deliberate violation of the Torah in public refutes the historicity of this legendary episode [the story of the Roman guards at the tomb]. (p. 294)

[I]t makes perfect sense that Luke deliberately omits this event as a part of his narrative if, in fact, he doubts Matthew’s sources. (p. 295)

One of the foremost objectives of the Gospel of Matthew is to prove Jesus’s resurrection. In order to fulfill this objective its author invented the

episode of the guard at the tomb. Matthew 27:64 narrates that the purpose of the guard is to secure the tomb “least his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people. He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.” However, this uniquely written episode is nothing more than a clever façade of the author.

Having a guard at the tomb suggests that Jesus’s body could not have been stolen. Given that the body has not been stolen or the tomb mistaken
for another, there is one explanation for it being empty: Jesus’s miraculous resurrection from the dead. The presence of the guard is irrelevant. The issue of concern for Matthew is to create a fail-proof set of circumstances to prove that Jesus resurrected from the tomb. (pp. 297-298)

. . . the writing of this legendary episode [the Roman guards at the tomb] . . . (p. 298)

Yet another explanation is that the gospel writers were writing a legendary account. Gundry (1994, 623-40) has termed these legendary accounts [of the women visitors to Jesus’ tomb] as “Midrash.” (p. 318)

Obviously the three following gospel authors deliberately changed the text of Mark because they understood the inappropriateness between the women’s intention to anoint Jesus’s body and their initial oblivion to the problem of moving the large stone. (p. 326)

Matthew’s legendary earthquake probably occurred between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. (p. 329)

Undoubtedly, without the empty tomb there could not be a resurrection legend. (p. 333)

[T]he writer did an excellent job not writing a lie but narrating a legendary account to further his theological agenda based on the Hebrew Bible. Specifically, Matthew creatively and skillfully weaves a legendary account incorporating passages from Joshua 10 and Daniel 6 that are supposedly fulfilled by Jesus. (p. 342)

The episode of the guards at the tomb is, in part, artificially created to serve a dual agenda: as an apologetic and as an ad hominem against the Jewish leaderships. (p. 344)

If the guards had made an accusation that they knew it was Jesus’s disciples who carried off his body, they would have had to make some arrests.
Yet there are no arrests or trial for this supposed crime. Furthermore, the guard would have needed some false witnesses to convict the accused body snatchers. Since these events never happened, it demonstrates that Matthew made up the entire episode. (p. 348)

There are several practical problems that challenge the assumed authenticity and historicity of Luke’s narration with the women entering the tomb. (p. 359)

[T]hese writers have omitted at least one other possibility: the entire episode was a fabrication and invention by its author or final redactors. (p. 384)

Later, of course, an unknown redactor of Mark added the final eleven verses not found in the original to cover up the discrepancy of Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9, which had the women going forth to tell the disciples. (p. 385)

The evolution of the clothes is apparent: (1) from no clothes (Mark and Matthew), (2) to clothes lying about (Luke), and finally (3) to clothes orderly arranged (John). Thus, the Gospels are clearly and unmistakably embellished. A second possibility advocated by detractors is that the entire burial and Resurrection narratives are ahistoric and written for evangelical and theological reasons. (p. 396)

There are several practical problems that challenge the authenticity and historicity of Peter and the other disciple entering the tomb (similar to the women) on Easter Sunday. (p. 405)

In conclusion, it is dubious that Peter was (1) told before by Jesus that he was going to be arrested, crucified, and resurrected multiple times (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19; Lk 9:22; 18:31-33 and perhaps 24:6 by the women) and (2) Jesus performed multiple supernatural and miraculous events in Peter’s presence on almost a daily occurrence, and yet he did not believe. Rather than being historical, these events were written to serve a theological intent to demonstrate that faith was more important than seeing or witnessing miracles and signs. (p. 409)

[T]he gospel narrators probably lied in the modern sense of the word. When a witness in a court of law deliberately excludes, includes, or rearranges material according to his purposes, he is committing perjury. The authors and final redactors of the gospel narratives were liars in a modern sense. (p. 447)

John 12:1-8 substantially embellishes the text, making Judas appear progressively more heinous and odious than the synoptic narratives: . . . (p. 448)

For several reasons John’s addition that Judas was a one-time thief seems like an artificial embellishment. First, this highly significant fact that Judas was a thief is omitted from the earlier gospels. Second, this information has the ring of a literary design to entertain the reader by making Judas a more contemptible and despicable person. Third, this fact is dubious, . . . (p. 451)

Only Judas would ultimately know why he betrayed Jesus, assuming that this episode is historical. (p. 455)

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles present an ever-increasing evolution and embellishment of Judas’s life. (p. 458)

The significant embellishment of Luke was that Judas had now become a Satan-inspired character. (p. 463)

Matthew embellishes Mark in several ways. Matthew’s narrative contained 43 extra words and Jesus speaks 83 extra words (i.e., AV
translation). (p. 468)

This gospel embellished the synoptic Gospels by have the arresting party withdraw backward and falling to the ground. (p. 470)

After being apprehended, John further embellished the synoptic Gospels that not only Jesus was taken but that they also “bound him.” In no previous gospel was Jesus described as being bound. (p. 470)

[T]he Gospels and Acts present an obviously ever increasing evolution and embellishment of Judas’s life that portrayed him in an ever growing negative light. (p. 471)

By understanding this verse, it will be unequivocally apparent that Matthew’s citation is either erroneous or a deliberate embellishment to serve as a proof that the Hebrew Bible foreshadowed (typology) Judas’s heinous crime. (p. 473)

[T]he Judas episode was a legendary development that evolved many years after the events were reported to have occurred. (p. 525)

Assuming that there was an historical Judas . . . (p. 525)

The Judas episodes in the Gospels and Acts do not reflect historicity. (p. 530)

In other words, the narrative [the story of the disciples walking to Emmaus] is theological, not historical! (p. 538)

[A] practical explanation is that the story is Luke’s invention to serve his theological agenda. (p. 544)

Another subject that challenges the historicity and reliability of the Christian scriptures relates to the Emmaus narrative and the Passover. (p. 544)

This listing assumes that Paul is writing historicity [sic] and not theology. (p. 552)

The pertinent question is whether or not the Christian scriptures permit pious fraud to achieve this goal. Writing approximately twenty to thirty years prior to the synoptic Gospels, none other than the apostle Paul unequivocally declares that it was permissible to employ virtually any method to win converts and gain souls:

• Rom 3:7-8 For if the truth of God hath more abounded though my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather,
(as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

• 1 Cor 9:20-23 And unto the Jews I become as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak become I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might partaker thereof with you. (Refuted by Brown 2000, 14-15)

• Phil 1:18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

This last reading is awkward and somewhat arcane. However, this verse is much easier to understand in the NIV rendering: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Unequivocally, the Christian scriptures advocate and promote pious fraud. Given that the gospel narrators had access to Paul’s epistles, it is speculated that they followed the advice of Paul and employed pious fraud, that is, they incorporated ahistorical portions in their gospels to fulfill their theological agendas. (pp. 553-554)

[O]ne purpose of John’s narratives in 20:20 and 20:27 was to corroborate itself with details which seemingly created an illusion that the side-piercing episode was historical. . . . Here, history was being replaced with theology. (p. 579)

The historicity of Jesus’s response to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening in Jerusalem is questioned on three grounds. (p. 579)

The eating episodes [involving the risen Jesus] appear to be legendary embellishments that served a theological agenda. (p. 583)

[T]he Doubting Thomas episode was written to fulfill a theological agenda. In this episode of the Christian scriptures, there is no historicity. (p. 600)

John’s agenda was to write a missionary and theological text, not one that was historical. This agenda is clearly delineated in John 20:31: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” . . . To recap, the deliberate agenda of John was both missionary and theological. One such agenda was promoting blind faith in a risen Jesus.
Although there may be “grains of truth” (historicity) within his gospel, many of the signs were nonhistorical and definitely unconfirmed. (p. 604)

It is speculated that the historicity of the call to the lake is doubtfulInstead of being a real historical event it is posited that this episode, recorded only in John 21, was really a larger call. . . . John’s call to the lake served as a theological metaphor. (p. 605)

[A] speculated alternative is that this episode [of Peter catching 153 fish] was a legendary account written to promote Peter over the other apostles. (p. 609)

[I]t is possible that this entire episode was a literary invention with a hidden symbolic or theological agenda. (p. 609)

[I]t must be remembered that the Christian scriptures approve of pious fraud when they support the spread of Christianity. (p. 628)

John, being the last of the Gospels, embellished and aggrandized the postresurrection appearances. (p. 632)

If Paul, in fact, lied [about there being 500 witnesses of the risen Jesus] and the lie was in fact discovered, he still would have gotten away with his deceit by claiming that it must have had something to do with a conspiracy against him. Such a potential argument is found in 2 Corinthians 11:2: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” and in Thessalonians 2:2: “That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” Similarly, those who denied Paul’s claims could simply have been accused of being false teachers. 

Rom 16:17-18 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them [[false teachers]] which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. . . .

Furthermore, there is ample reason to believe that Paul’s claim was nothing more than a facade, knowing full well that his assertion could not have been successfully disproved. (pp. 673-674)

Perhaps his omission was, in fact, a deletion and Luke was, in fact, challenging the historicity of Paul’s claim. (p. 685)

Only Luke provided an exclusive description of Jesus’s ascension, although here there is much to doubt regarding the authenticity of this narrative. (p. 702)

Barnes’s apologetic that the differing accounts confirm that the two writers [Luke and Paul]: . . . (2) . . . are honest men is bogus. (p. 723)

It is the position of doubters and skeptics that the events recorded in Matthew and Luke were embellishments or legendary texts incorporated to fulfill a theological agenda. (p. 724)

On a prima facie level the episodes detailed in Acts [about Paul’s conversion] are historically dubious. (p. 731)

[T]here is a stronger argument that can be raised about Jesus employing this Greek proverb, an argument that raises doubt regarding the
historicity of the incident. . . . it seems highly dubious that Jesus would choose to quote a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic even if the proverb was well-known. (p. 732)

Collectively, these and other differences in the three readings raise doubt to the historicity of this episode. (p. 733)

***

Photo credit: Selva Rasalingam as Jesus in the The Gospel of Luke (2016, Netflix USA) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]

Summary: I document Michael Alter’s many contentions in his book that the New Testament writers sought to produce ahistorical legends, fables, myths, & pure inventions of fictional accounts.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, NT writers: unethical mythmakers?, New Testament writers, the four evangelists, skeptical claims regarding biblical writers 

May 3, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Alter wrote:

Matthew’s narrative states that after Judas hanged himself the “chief priests” took the silver he left behind at the Temple and bought with it a
potter’s field to bury strangers. Matthew concludes that this event fulfilled what the prophet Jeremiah spoke. In contrast, Acts records that “Judas himself ” purchased the field. Here, there is an incontrovertible contradiction.

CONTRADICTION #86 Acts 1:18 Contradicts Matthew 27:7 Regarding the Action Taken by Judas

Acts 1:18-19 contradicts Matthew’s 27:3 report of the action taken by Judas concerning his money. Matthew had a remorseful Judas returning the thirty pieces of silver whereas the author of Acts had Judas himself purchasing the field with his “reward of iniquity” (i.e., blood money that he received for the betrayal of Jesus). Did Judas return his silver or use his silver to purchase the potter’s field? Without a doubt, the texts read at face value contradict each other. (p. 518)

CONTRADICTION #87 Acts 1:18 Contradicts Matthew 27:7 Regarding Who Purchased the Field

Acts 1:18 contradicts Matthew 27:7. Matthew, the earlier of the two accounts, straightforwardly reports that it was the chief priests (i.e., they; them = plural) who purchased the field with money: “And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.” In contradiction, Acts 1:18 unequivocally declared that it was Judas (i.e., this man = in singular) who bought the field with his bounty money: “Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.” Therefore, it must be asked, Who purchased the field, one person or several people, Judas or the chief priests? Here, there is an incontestable contradiction. (p. 519)

Christian apologist J. P. Holding provides very insightful and excellent commentary and explanation:

Matthew says the priests bought the field, but Acts says that Judas did. So who did it?

. . . There are a few factors here — one linguistic, the others sociological.

The word used by Matthew for “bought” is agorazo — a general term meaning, “to go to market.” It means to purchase, but also to redeem. It is a verb that refers to the transaction of business. Note how Luke uses it in opposition to another word:

Luke 22:36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell (poleo) his garment, and buy (agorazo) one.

Poleo can mean “sell” but it’s primary meaning has to do with trading and bartering. Therefore the translation of “buy” (and “sell”) is made according to context.

How does this mean anything with regard to Judas?

First, note the word Luke uses. It is ktaomai, which means to “get, acquire, obtain, possess, provide, purchase.” This word has the connotations of ownership that agorazo does not. Matthew says that the priests transacted business for the obtaining of the field, but they did not thereby have possession of the field. The money they used was Judas’ and the field was bought in his name; the field was technically and legally his. (A reader notes that this makes sense because Levites were technically not allowed to own property, so they had to make someone else owner of the field.)

And that leads to another question no one has yet raised, but which I will:

It seems too much of a coincidence, that the priests managed to buy the exact same field that Judas died in.

Not at all. Once Judas died in the field, the land became defiled by his corpse. Hence it would become perfectly suited to become a full-time cemetery. In this ancient collectivist society, the gossip would readily get around as to where and how Judas died and it would not be a burden for the decision to be made to purchase the field in Judas’ name (see below) to turn into a cemetery. [Dave: it was indeed used as a burial ground up till the 19th century]

If Judas threw the money away, it wasn’t his anymore, it belonged to the priests.

This is where our social factor comes into play. Note that the money cannot be put in the treasury — it cannot be made to belong to the temple again — because it is blood money. Keener observes in his Matthean commentary [657-8]:

Ancient Eastern peoples regarded very seriously the guilt of innocent blood, sometimes viewed in terms of corporate responsibility. Like Pilate the priestly officials wanted nothing further to do with the situation, and likewise understand that the blood was innocent…The money was profaned and tainted by the way it was used. By ancient thinking, it was ritually unclean (link 2 below) — though even today a charity may refuse money if it is gained by ill-gotten means.

Now it follows that when they transacted the business of the field for the temple, to avoid association with ritual uncleanness, the priests would have to have bought it in the name of Judas Iscariot, the one whose blood money it was. The property and transaction records available to the public and probably consulted by Luke would reflect that Judas bought the field — or else Luke is indeed aware of what transpired and is using just the right verb to make the point.

***

Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]

Summary: Michael Alter argues that Matthew & Acts contradict in the matter of Judas & the potter’s field; i.e., who bought it: Judas or the Jewish rulers who conspired with Judas to arrest Jesus.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, Judas & the potter’s field

May 3, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Alter wrote:

Acts omits any explicit details how Judas specifically died. (p. 505)

Acts states: “falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). But the explanation I agree with below holds that this occurred after he died, so it is not information about how he died (which was suicide by hanging).

Not only does the author of Acts omit discussion of a suicide but he also failed to hint, imply, or even insinuate anything about a means of death. In direct contradiction to Matthew, Acts 1:18 implies that Judas died by an act of GodThat is, Judas’s death was a result of God’s wrath and fury is a fulfillment of scripture, God’s word. This fulfillment of God’s wrath is graphically detailed with Judas’s bowels bursting out. (p. 505)

It does not assert that it was a direct “act of God.” If the writer intended that, he would have made it very clear, like other passages which do detail a direct action of God resulting in death:

Genesis 19:24-25 Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; [25] and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

Numbers 16:25-35 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abi’ram; and the elders of Israel followed him. [26] And he said to the congregation, “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” [27] So they got away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abi’ram; and Dathan and Abi’ram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. [28] And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. [29] If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. [30] But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” [31] And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; [32] and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. [33] So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. [34] And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” [35] And fire came forth from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.

Numbers 16:46 . . . wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun.

Numbers 33:4 while the Egyptians were burying all their first-born, whom the LORD had struck down among them; upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.

1 Samuel 25:38 And about ten days later the LORD smote Nabal; and he died.

2 Chronicles 13:20 Jerobo’am did not recover his power in the days of Abi’jah; and the LORD smote him, and he died.

2 Chronicles 21:18-19 And after all this the LORD smote him [Jehoram] in his bowels with an incurable disease. [19] In course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony.

2 Chronicles 24:18 And they forsook the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Ashe’rim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt.

2 Chronicles 32:25 But Hezeki’ah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.

Acts 5:1-6 But a man named Anani’as with his wife Sapphi’ra sold a piece of property, [2] and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. [3] But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? [4] While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” [5] When Anani’as heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. [6] The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

Acts 12:21-23 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and made an oration to them. [22] And the people shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of man!” [23] Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died.

Nothing like that is remotely present in Acts 1 with regard to Judas’ death (I provided two other passages in Acts where God does directly judge and smite). Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament make it very clear if and when God is exercising wrath and judging someone unto death. The suicide of Judas was an example of what St. Paul wrote about:

Romans 6:12-16 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. [13] Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. [14] For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. [15] What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! [16] Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Acts 1:16-20 presents five significant details omitted from Matthew’s narrative: . . . 

2. Judas died but not from a suicide, (p. 505)

Acts 1 doesn’t deny that it was a suicide. It simply provides some of the gruesome details of what happened to Judas. It’s merely yet another of Alter’s innumerable “manufactured” pseudo-“contradictions.” Moreover, Acts 1:18 doesn’t say that Judas died from this fall it describes. If it had done so, it would have been an “incontrovertible” contradiction with Matthew. But because it didn’t, the account is perfectly harmonious with Judas having hanged himself, with this “bowel” incident occurring after he died, to his corpse. The New Testament is always internally harmonious: as we would expect of an inspired revelation.

In conclusion, Acts directly contradicts Matthew. . . . Acts also has no indication that Judas committed suicide by hanging. (p. 507)

This is a clear example of two NT books complementing each other: each one providing details the other doesn’t include, yet without contradiction. The death of Judas is one of the classic “chestnuts” of the atheist / Bible skeptic “the Bible has a zillion contradictions” mentality. Let’s examine how the two accounts are completely harmonious. The following theory is both plausible and entirely possible, and it incorporates both Judas’ hanging himself (Matthew), and his bowels gushing out (Luke’s Acts). Apologist J. Warner Wallace describes it:

But what about the manner of Judas’ death? Did he stumble to his death on that field or go off somewhere and hang himself? This aspect of the accounts can be reconciled if you know something about human anatomy and post-mortem bloating. Let me explain. . . .

[W]hy does Luke’s account say he fell headlong in this field? Note an important distinction here: Luke does not say Judas tripped or stumbled to his death. These words were available to Luke, but he described the event differently. Judas fell. This description makes sense if his body fell to the ground sometime after he successfully hanged himself. In fact, the additional gruesome description in which Luke says Judas “burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out” is also consistent with this reasonable inference. Unfortunately, I’ve had to respond to a number of suicides and death investigations in the many years I’ve investigated homicides. These investigations taught me a number of disturbing truths about what happens to the human body after death. I’ve described, for example, the Mortis Triad in prior posts related to the Resurrection of Jesus. When we die and our heart stops pumping, four things begin to happen. First we begin to cool (a condition known as “algor mortis”). We also become rigid (“rigor mortis”) and begin to show signs of blood pooling (“livor mortis”).

In addition to these changes, dead bodies begin to decompose, particularly if undiscovered for a period of time. As bodies decompose, they begin to experience post mortem “bloating”. Dead bodies swell as bacteria within the body cavity begins to ingest the post mortem tissues and organs. This bacterial activity produces decomposition gasses which inflate the body disproportionately. . . .

If Judas hanged himself in the Potter’s Field and remained undiscovered for a period of time, he would most likely experience such post-mortem bloating, especially if gasses couldn’t escape as the result of his ligature. If the rope eventually broke, his bloating body would fall to the ground and break open in the one area most distended by post-mortem bloating: his abdomen. If this was the case, he would have “burst open in the middle” and “all his intestines” would have “gushed out”. Luke wasn’t being overly dramatic in his description, and although this may at first appear unlikely to those unfamiliar with death scenes, post mortem bloating would result in precisely such a condition.

Judas committed suicide by hanging; therefore, his head and upper torso would have been closest to the tree limb that he was hanging from and his feet nearest to the ground. Consequently, from a hanging position, Judas would be falling feet first. Yet Acts reports that Judas fell head first without any mention of a hanging. It would seem that Judas would need to be hanging from a substantial height for his body to have adequate time to rotate or tumble into a head first position. (p. 509)

He could have hanged himself from a tree by a cliff. The field of blood where Judas killed himself is thought to be near the intersection of the Valley of Hinnom and the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. These are both (by definition) places with many rocky cliffs. I walked the entirety of the latter when I visited Israel in 2014. There are at least two other conceivable scenarios that would explain “headlong.” The corpse of Judas, in a hypothetical scenario where the rope broke, could have been intercepted by a lower branch, which could have resulted in his head being on the bottom as the corpse fell. Or it could have hit a rocky outcrop on the way down, resulting in the same thing. Either scenario is entirely possible.

Even if Judas were assumed to be falling head first, he would have presumably split open his head, not his guts. (p. 509)

This doesn’t follow if the corpse was already bloated, per the scenario detailed above. The belly would split open upon falling, whether the head also did or not. But a head would bloat much less, since it has so much bone. The body could also have landed on some pointed rock in the area of the belly on the way down (if it was falling at any angle other than “straight down”). It’s obviously all speculation. The apologetic point is that none of these hypothetical scenarios are impossible; and they are sufficiently plausible to be brought up as possible explanations.

***

Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]

Summary: Michael Alter offers the classic supposed “contradiction” re: “how did Judas die?” Did he hang himself, or fall, with the result being that his intestines gushed out? Well, both, as I explain.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, how did Judas die?, Judas’ death, Judas’ suicide

May 2, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #85 Acts Contradicts Matthew—Judas’s Repentance

The account of Judas’s nonrepentance reported in Acts directly contradicts Matthew. This narration is perhaps one of the simplest and yet strongest arguments supporting the thesis that their respective authors wrote completely different stories. Unequivocally, these two stories demonstrate no resemblance to each other. . . .

Matthew 27:3-5 reports that after Jesus was arrested: “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” . . . Judas repented (i.e., felt remorseful) . . . A careful analysis of Matthew’s Judas reveals a repentant and remorseful Judas. . . . Judas was so remorseful that he wanted nothing to do with the money that he had received for betraying Jesus. . . . 

Contrary to Matthew, in Acts there is no repentance, no remorse, and no sense of guilt. (pp. 503-504, 507)

In Matthew 27:3-4, it says in RSV that Judas “repented” and said “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Acts 1:16-20, in mentioning Judas’ suicide, simply doesn’t say one way or the other whether he repented or not. So it’s an argument from silence, from which nothing can be determined, as to alleged contradiction. But there is also a linguistic consideration (the following sources are all commenting on Matthew 27:3):

The Greek word is not that commonly used for “repentance,” as involving a change of mind and heart, but is rather regret,” a simple change of feeling. (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

A different Greek word from that used, ch. Matthew 3:2; it implies no change of heart or life, but merely remorse or regret. See note ch. Matthew 21:29Matthew 21:32. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

Repented himself (μεταμεληθείς). This word (differing from μετανοέω, which expresses change of heart) denotes only a change of feeling, a desire that what has been done could be undone; this is not repentance in the Scripture sense; it springs not from love of God, it has not that character which calls for pardon. (Pulpit Commentary)

Repented himself (μεταμελητεις — metamelētheis). Probably Judas saw Jesus led away to Pilate and thus knew that the condemnation had taken place. This verb (first aorist passive participle of μεταμελομαι — metamelomai) really means to be sorry afterwards like the English word repent from the Latin repoenitet, to have pain again or afterwards. See the same verb μεταμελητεις — metamelētheis in Matthew 21:30 of the boy who became sorry and changed to obedience. The word does not have an evil sense in itself. Paul uses it of his sorrow for his sharp letter to the Corinthians, a sorrow that ceased when good came of the letter (2 Corinthians 7:8). But mere sorrow avails nothing unless it leads to change of mind and life (μετανοια — metanoia), the sorrow according to God (2 Corinthians 7:9). This sorrow Peter had when he wept bitterly. It led Peter back to Christ. But Judas had only remorse that led to suicide. (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament)

Repented ( μεταμεληθεὶς )

This is a different word from that in Matthew 3:2Matthew 4:17μετανοεῖτε , Repent ye. Though it is fairly claimed that the word here implies all that is implied in the other word, the New Testament writers evidently recognize a distinction, since the noun which corresponds to the verb in this passage ( μεταμέλεια ) is not used at all in the New Testament, and the verb itself only five times; and, in every case except the two in this passage (see Matthew 21:32), with a meaning quite foreign to repentance in the ordinary gospel sense. Thus it is used of Judas, when he brought back the thirty pieces (Matthew 27:3); of Paul’s not regretting his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:8); and of God (Hebrews 7:21). On the other hand, μετανοέω , repent, used by John and Jesus in their summons to repentance (Matthew 3:2Matthew 4:17), occurs thirty-four times, and the noun μετάνοια repentance (Matthew 3:8Matthew 3:11), twenty-four times, and in every case with reference to that change of heart and life wrought by the Spirit of God, to which remission of sins and salvation are promised. It is not impossible, therefore, that the word in this passage may have been intended to carry a different shade of meaning, now lost to us. Μεταμέλομαι , as its etymology indicates ( μετά after, and μέλω , to be an object of care), implies an after-care, as contrasted with the change of mind denoted by μετάνοια . Not sorrow for moral obliquity and sin against God, but annoyance at the consequences of an act or course of acts, and chagrin at not having known better. “It may be simply what our fathers were wont to call hadiwist (had-I-wist, or known better, I should have acted otherwise)” (Trench). Μεταμέλεια refers chiefly to single acts; μετάνοια denotes the repentance which affects the whole life. Hence the latter is often found in the imperative: Repent ye (Matthew 3:2Matthew 4:17Acts 2:38Acts 3:19); the former never. Paul’s recognition of the distinction (2 Corinthians 7:10) is noteworthy. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance ( μετάνοιαν ) unto salvation,” a salvation or repentance “which bringeth no regret on thinking of it afterwards” ( ἀμεταμέλητον )There is no occasion for one ever to think better of either his repentance or the salvation in which it issued. (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament)

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. [10] For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.

Nathan Millican from the Theology Along the Way website, commented insightfully on Judas and this issue of his repentance (or lack thereof):

A worldly sorrow brings regret that leads to death, whereas a godly sorrow does not bring regret and leads to salvation. Barnett in his Second Corinthians Commentary writes, “the structure of Paul’s verse is: For the grief that is according to God works repentance [that] leads to salvation, [which] is without regret. But the grief that is of the world works death.”[1] Thus, there is a truth inferred here that is important for the discussion at hand, which is the “grief that is of the world works [unrepentance, which leads to] death [and is with regret].”[2] . . .

This type of sorrow as evidenced in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians is not a sorrow that leads to salvation, but rather brings with it death. Judas regretted his actions or showed remorse or sorrow for his actions because of their consequences “not necessarily because they were wrong as sins against a holy God.”[5] What did Judas lack? He lacked a godly sorrow that brings no regrets that leads to salvation. His remorse was not commensurate with a remorse that God says is a prerequisite to salvation. And what was the end result of his remorse? He ended his life. “He was sorry for his sin, but instead of taking his sorrow to God, he despaired. He turned inward, not Godward, and his remorse became self-condemnation.”[6] (“Why wasn’t Judas’ repentance a repentance that leads to eternal life?”)

“A Tragic End for Judas” (Ligonier Ministries) adds:

Matthew’s juxtaposition of Peter’s denial and Judas’ death invites us to compare the state of their souls. Like Peter, Judas is remorseful after the fact, changing his mind about the wisdom of his deed after seeing Jesus condemned (Matt. 27:3–4). . . .  Judas does not really try to stop what he has started and will not testify of Christ’s innocence before Pilate. John Calvin writes, “True repentance is displeasure at sin, arising out of fear and reverence for God, and producing, at the same time, a love and desire of righteousness.” Were Judas repentant, justice and righteousness would move him to intervene on Jesus’ behalf. Godly sorrow leads people to run to God, but Judas’ despair makes him run into the arms of death (v. 5).

Since Acts mentions no repentance or even remorse at all, and the remorse felt by Judas as described in Matthew 27:3 is by no means the normative New Testament repentance with grace-enabled profound reform of one’s life and joy accompanying, the alleged contradiction is refuted. Judas didn’t “repent” in the full NT sense in either passage.

***

Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]

Summary: Michael Alter, dealing with the question of “did Judas repent or not?” tries to argue that Matthew records a true repentance, while Acts does not at all (hence, a contradiction: so he claims).

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, motives of Judas, Judas’ repentance, repentance of Judas, did Judas repent?

May 1, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #81 Contradictory Chronology When Judas Concocted His Plan

John’s chronology contradicts the synoptic narratives as to when Judas formed or first conceived his plan to betray Jesus. (p. 447)

It does not at all, as has been shown in Reply #19 and Reply #20, and will continue to be shown in this present installment.

Matthew thus states that Judas designed his plan immediately after the incident which took place in the house of Simon the leper at Bethany.

The episode of Simon the leper anointing Jesus while he was in Bethany is recorded in Matthew 26:6-13. This event occurred on Tuesday, two days before the Passover meal preparation. . . . It was now, immediately after this rebuking incident recorded in verses 14 and 15 that Matthew states that Judas went to the chief priests and asked what he would receive in exchange for delivering Jesus. Therefore, Matthew had Judas concocting his plan to betray Jesus before the Last Supper. (p. 448)

So far, we have no disagreement. But they’re never far away!

Mark 14:3-9 records the same incident. However, Mark differs from Matthew in several details: (1) the ointment was identified as spikenard, (p. 448)

It “differs” in that it offers details that Matthew doesn’t include. It’s not contradictory. Matthew has “very expensive ointment” (26:7), while Mark describes it as “ointment of pure nard, very costly” (14:3). That’s like one person saying he bought his wife a gift of “very expensive perfume” and his wife telling her girlfriends the brand name of the perfume. Are the two contradictory? No. Both are true and in harmony with each other.

(2) some of the disciples were described as indignant, (p. 448)

This isn’t even a difference from Matthew, which also describes “the disciples” as “indignant” and additionally saying (similarly to Mark), “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor” (Mt 26:8-9). Again: differing detail and no contradiction.

and (3) the value of the ointment was declared to be “more than three hundred pence.” (p. 448)

Great and “so what!” But at least this is an actual difference (though of course not a contradiction).

After Jesus spoke to the disciples, Mark 14:10 substantiates Matthew’s text: “And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.” Therefore, Mark 14:10-11 also has Judas arranging to betray Jesus on Tuesday, two days before the Last Supper. (p. 448)

Thus, on the issue of timing of Judas’ consultation with the Jewish authorities, Alter agrees that Matthew and Mark are in agreement. It was two days before the Last Supper.

Luke 22:3-6 also records that Judas’s arrangement to betray Jesus occurred on Tuesday. (p. 448)

Cool. So Alter agrees that all three Synoptic Gospels concur on this.

John 12:1-8 substantially embellishes the text, making Judas appear progressively more heinous and odious than the synoptic narratives: (p. 448)

In light of Alter’s view that the evangelists are deceiving liars, we can interpret “embellishes” as adding untrue, made-up additional fictional elements. But as always, this is sheer arbitrary speculation from a hostile observer, with no hard evidence. What John adds is not contradictory to the Synoptics.

(1) he had Judas being the solitary disciple who challenged the anointment with three hundred pences worth of spikenard, . . . (p. 448)

If indeed John had specified that Judas was the “solitary” disciple protesting, then it would actually be a contradiction (!!!) of Mark’s and Matthew’s parallel accounts. But of course he doesn’t do that. He simply states “Judas Iscariot. . . said, . . .” (12:4). We see nothing there about “only Judas” or “Judas alone” or “Judas was the solitary disciple who said . . .” or “Judas and no other disciple” said . . ”

(2) he editorialized that Judas’s opposition to the anointing by Mary was not by any love for the poor but because he was at one time a thief and the purse bearer of the society, which had gathered around Jesus. In addition, John 11:1 and 12:3 identifies the previous anonymous anointer as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. (p. 448)

All of which elaborates upon the other accounts without contradicting them . . .

Then, John 13:2 declares: “And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” (p. 448)

As explained in Reply #20, this expression of a present tense is an outdated inaccurate rendering of the KJV. Virtually all modern translations indicate this intention to have been a past event, which is, of course, harmonious with the data from the Synoptic Gospels, summarized above.

Up to this exact moment John’s Judas had not held a conference with the chief priests and the Pharisees. (p. 449)

This is untrue. John doesn’t specifically mention it, but he doesn’t deny it, either (which would be one scenario that would establish a contradiction). What he does is allude to the fact that Judas had by then fully intended to betray Him (13:2). As we find out from the information provided by the Synoptics, this had occurred two days earlier.

As a matter of fact, John 13:27-30 narrates that it was none other than Jesus who told Judas during this meal to go and buy some things for the feast or that he should give something to the poor: 

Jn 13:27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.

Jn 13:28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.

Jn 13:29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.

Jn 13:30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. (p. 449)

Alter completely botches the plain meaning of this text. Jesus, in saying “do [it] quickly” (Jn 13:37) is referring to Judas’ actual betrayal, which was to occur within a matter of hours.  John 13:28-29 describes the disciples’ misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying to Judas (13:28: “no one at the table knew why he said this to him”). Further preceding context, additionally, proves beyond doubt what Jesus meant. He was referring to Judas going out to do his dirty deed:

John 13:21-27 When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” [22] The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. [23] One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; [24] so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” [25] So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” [26] Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. [27] Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

Finally, John unequivocally demonstrates that his gospel contradicted the Synoptics. John 18:28-29 narrated that the arrested Jesus was brought before Pilate. Presumably, as a matter of civility or consideration, Pilate left the judgment hall to meet the Jewish leadership and Jesus. John explains the reason that the Jewish leadership would not enter the judgment hall: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” In other words, if the Jewish leadership entered the judgment hall, they would have been defiled (i.e., made themselves ritually unclean) and would not be able to partake of the passover. It makes no sense that the Jewish leadership would have been concerned about becoming ritually unclean and consequently disqualified from eating the passover if the Passover meal had already occurred. (p. 449)

Without getting into the many theories about the Last Supper as related to Passover, I merely note that the fear of defilement in Gentile houses went beyond just Passover. Thus (contrary to Alter’s final sentence) it does “make sense” that the Jews would have refused to enter the praetorium apart from the consideration of Passover alone:

Bengel’s GnomenJohn 18:28Αὐτοὶthey themselves.—ἳνα μὴ μιανθῶσινlest they should be defiled) as Pilate’s house was not cleared out of leavenDeuteronomy 16:4, “There shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coasts seven days.”—φάγωσι τὸ πάσχαthat they might eat the Passover) So 2 Chronicles 30:22ויאכלו המועד, “They ate the feast seven days.”

Pulpit Commentary: This defilement by entrance into the house of a Gentile was not an enactment of the Law, but was a purely rabbinic observance (Delitzsch, ‘Talmudische Studien,’ 14. (1874); ‘Zeitschrift fur die gesammte Luth. Theol.’). We find it operative in Acts 10:28, . . .

I found what looks like just the thing to understand this issue of ritual purity and defilement in first-century Judaism, in relation to the Romans and Gentiles in general: “Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism” (Jonathan Klawans, Journal of the Association for Jewish StudiesVolume 20 Issue 2 , November 1995 , pp. 285 – 312). Unfortunately, I couldn’t access all of it for free, but the references are present. One of them reads:

Another important New Testament verse to consider is John 18:28, which states that there were Jews who refused to enter the praetorium lest they be denied and not be able to eat the Passover sacrifice. It should be noted that according to John 18, Matt. 27, and Mark 15, the praetorium is where Jesus was beaten. One can assume that any number of bloody activities took place there, and that there would have been a fear of contracting corpse impurity.

***

Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]

Summary: Michael Alter sought contradictions in the NT’s portrayal of the chronology of Judas’ evil plans in vain. Perhaps if he keeps observing the logical fallacies in his arguments, he’ll be more cautious. 

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, motives of Judas, chronology of Judas’ evil plans

April 30, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.

*****

Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #80 Satan Being Judas’s Motivation for Betraying Jesus

The gospel narratives present contradictory information regarding Judas’s motivation for betraying Jesus. Mark 14:10 reads: “And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.” Consequently, Mark provides no explanation as to why Judas betrayed Jesus. Instead, Mark 14:11 declares that upon receiving Judas’s offer to betray Jesus, then and only then did the chief priests promise to give him money for his action: “And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.” Consequently, a plain reading of the text reveals that Judas did not go to the chief priests with the forethought of receiving money. (p. 445)

Of course, Alter will go on to claim that this is somehow contradictory compared to one or more of the other Gospels, and I will contend that he is incorrect in his cynical interpretation (his hostility and ad hominem attacks against the evangelists being blatantly obvious in this section). Alter simply can’t rule out money being Judas’ motivation, based on this text. It may have been, for example, that Judas said to the chief priests, “if you give me money, I’ll betray Jesus”: whereas the text says that he “went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them” (Mk 14:10).

We don’t know all that was said, since we only have Mark’s summary of what Judas proposed. But what I proposed as a possibility is perfectly plausible and sensible (before we even look at the data in the other Gospels). Whatever he said (and he must have said something), the chief priests were “glad, and promised to give him money” (14:11). Nothing in the text makes it impossible for filthy lucre to have been Judas’ motivation.

There are only so many reasons and motives for immoral people to do what they do. Usually they come down to very few (pride, envy, revenge, financial gain, etc.). Alter can’t logically claim what he claims, in flat-out denying that Judas’ motivation was money (“Judas did not go to the chief priests with the forethought of receiving money”: his italics). It’s one of his many unwarranted “universal negative”-types of statements. 

Matthew 26:14-15 presents important details omitted in Mark: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.” Therefore, unlike Mark, Matthew had Judas specifically going to the chief priests and bargaining for how much they would pay him to deliver Jesus. The amount agreed upon was thirty pieces of silver. As a result, Matthew reports that Judas’s motivation was money (i.e., perhaps covetousness). (p. 445)

This is not a contradiction. Mark simply omits the detail of motive. But as I think I showed, it’s common sense to posit what the motivation was. What is reasonably theorized about Mark’s account (“reading in-between the lines”) is flat-out stated in Matthew’s. Thus, we readily see how the Gospels complement (as opposed to contradict) each other.

Contrary to Mark and Matthew, Luke 22:3 reports that the rationale for Judas’s action was that Satan had entered into him before the Last Supper: “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.” Significantly, Luke omits any preconceived notion of Judas desiring money to betray Jesus or expecting to receive compensation for his deed. The action was seemingly the result of Satan entering Judas. (p. 445)

Both things can be true: 1) Satan entering into Judas, to provoke or encourage him to 2) choose to do wicked things (for which he remains responsible before God): one of which was immoral financial motive (usually when we sin, we think we will “gain something” from it), to betray his master. None of the  Gospels are obliged to mention every single thing that others may have mentioned, in order to prevent people like Alter coming around and seeing a “contradiction!” under every rock. Possibly (it seems perfectly sensible to me), Matthew and Mark didn’t mention the aspect of the devil because, as I said, in Christian theology, we are all responsible for our own actions, whether we are tempted by Satan or not.

Expanding Luke’s narrative, John 13:26-27 has Satan entering into the heart of Judas during the Last Supper. (p. 446)

In fact, according to the NT, Satan had already entered into Judas in a serious sense of profound influence before the time of the Last Supper. John is harmonious with Luke, who also teaches (assuming his passage is intended chronologically in our modern sense) that this happened before the Last Supper. Alter contends that this happened “during” the Last Supper presumably in part because of the KJV rendering of John 13:2: “And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (which he cites on p. 448 in a second section). The unfortunate rendering there is the word “now.” Modern translations (KJV derives from 1611) agree almost unanimously that the event had happened earlier:

RSV And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

NIV . . . the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.

ESV . . . the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas . . . 

NASB . . . the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot . . . 

Amplified . . . the devil had already put [the thought of] betraying Jesus into the heart of Judas . . . 

CEV Even before the evening meal started, the devil had made Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, decide to betray Jesus

Good News (TEV) . . . The Devil had already put into the heart of Judas . . . 

ASV. . . the devil having already put into the heart of Judas . . . 

Young’s Literal Translation . . . the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas . . . 

Confraternity . . . having already put . . . 

Moffatt . . . the devil had suggested . . . 

NEB and REB The devil had already put it into the mind of Judas . . . 

NRSV The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas . . . 

Barclay . . . the devil had already put the decision to betray Jesus into the heart of Judas . . . 

NAB The devil had already induced Judas . . . So during supper,

Kleist & Lilly . . . the devil had by now firmly fixed in the heart of Judas . . . 

Phillips By suppertime, the devil had already put the thought of betraying Jesus into the mind of Judas . . . 

Williams . . . the devil had suggested to Judas . . .

Beck The devil had already put the idea of betraying Jesus into the mind of Judas . . .  

Jerusalem . . . the devil had already put it into the mind . . . 

Wuest . . . the devil having already hurled into the heart of Judas . . . 

Goodspeed . . . the devil having by this time put the thought . . .

 

Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, comments on this passage:

The devil having already put (του διαβολου ηδη βεβληκοτος — tou diabolou ēdē beblēkotos). Another genitive absolute without a connective (asyndeton), perfect active participle of βαλλω — ballō to cast, to put. Luke (Luke 22:3) says that Satan entered Judas when he offered to betray Jesus. Hence John‘s “already” (ηδη — ēdē) is pertinent. John repeats his statement in John 13:27.

John 13:27 Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

Satan “entered into him” in the sense of a deliberate decision to go tell the authorities where Jesus could be found (the literal act of betrayal), so that He could be apprehended. This parallels Luke 22:3 (“Satan entered into Judas”), which is strongly expressing the thought that Satan directly influenced his decision to offer himself as a betrayer to the Jewish chief priests and scribes. In other words, when we sin in such a wicked  way, the devil is always ultimately our inspiration and influence, and he rejoices.

I don’t believe that the notion of Satan “entering” a person is restricted to a one-time occurrence. We see, after all, multiple possessions by demons of a person in this passage from Jesus:

Luke 11:24-26 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.’ [25] And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. [26] Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

Thus, by analogy, Satan could do the same. Luke shows one satanic “entering” at Judas’ decision to betray (the resolve), and John describes a second, much more evil “entering”: at the time of the actual betrayal (the actual act). In any event, Satan was influencing Judas in a way akin to what Jesus described elsewhere:

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Matthew and Mark don’t mention the devil’s nefarious ends (which is not contradictory), Luke does, in a time frame before the Last Supper, and John also declares that the decision to betray had already occurred before the Last Supper. Thus, the texts are still seen to be clearly non-contradictory. 

Of course, we also know from John that Judas had been a thief long since (thus offering more insight as to why he would be open to being paid to betray Jesus):

John 12:3-6 Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. [4] But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.

Jesus also says: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (Jn 6:70)

Alter doesn’t accept any of this, and so he lays it all out and expresses his extreme anti-New Testament bias evident (I do thank him for his transparency):

[T]he gospel narrators probably lied in the modern sense of the word. When a witness in a court of law deliberately excludes, includes, or rearranges material according to his purposes, he is committing perjury. The authors and final redactors of the gospel narratives were liars in a modern sense. (p. 447)

This whole series of replies is intended to show objective, fair-minded, inquiring readers that the Gospels and the New Testament are entirely trustworthy, accurate, and non-contradictory: traits that don’t absolutely prove, but are entirely consistent with, or suggestive of the inspiration of the same books.

In other words, we would fully expect a possibly inspired document not to be self-contradictory and logically chaotic and incoherent. And on the other hand we would expect a non-inspired, non-infallible set of four books about the same general subject matter to contain innumerable actual contradictions.

The problem is not that the four evangelists are “liars”; it is that Alter and skeptics like him are invariably uninformed or misinformed about various important factors of language, genre, history, exegesis, scriptural cross-referencing, hermeneutics, literary techniques (such as compression, hyperbole, ellipsis, and idiom), and different Hebrew  ways of thinking, etc., that I have been bringing up.

Because skeptics are ignorant of those, and often seem to reflexively interpret the Bible with an abysmally wooden hyper-literalism, they arrive at the wrong conclusions, which in turn, confirm them in their errors all the more and lead to yet more mistakes and false conclusions in their analyses (Proverbs 26:11 likens this to “a dog that returns to his vomit”).

However resistant to persuasion and unmoved Michael Alter is or may be, I’m quite confident that many readers of this series will be convinced of the higher level of plausibility of my arguments: in turn either bolstering their existing faith, their confidence in biblical inspiration in particular (hence in the God Who enabled and produced it), or leading them along the road to a conversion to Christianity, if they are of some other belief-system. 

***

Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]

Summary: Michael Alter again attempts to demonstrate various contradictions where they don’t exist; in this instance, the motives of Judas in betraying Jesus, and when Satan entered into him.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, motives of Judas




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