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April 17, 2021

. . . Including the Analogy of Historical Skepticism Against Many Renowned Persons from the Hebrew Bible

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 sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review, and has committed himself to counter-response as well: a very rare trait these days. All of this is, I think, mightily impressive.

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 eagerly enjoy the dialogue and debate. This is a rare opportunity these days and I am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

His words will be in blue.

*****

Michael Alter devotes 18 pages (pp. 31-48) to the date that Jesus was killed. I contend that it’s all to no avail in the end because the New Testament (like the Hebrew Bible) exhibits virtually no concern for actual dates and precise, exact chronology. That sort of thinking is largely inherited from Roman culture. On page 34, Alter announces CONTRADICTION #1: The Year Jesus Was Crucified.” But it’s not a biblical contradiction at all because the date is never asserted. Therefore, what he is describing as a “contradiction” is only the usual, inevitable differences and disputes among historians, archaeologists, and various sorts of Bible scholars. That can hardly even be called a “contradiction” since it’s one of thousands of disagreements that scholars have amongst themselves. Alter states precisely that:

Theologians, New Testament scholars, historians, standard reference sources, evangelicals, and even evangelical organizations are divided regarding the exact “year” Jesus was crucified and resurrected. (p. 34)

To which I say: “ho hum” and “so what?”

Alter — in his usual excruciating and impressive detail (he read about 5,000 books and articles in the course of his research) — goes through all the various theories for different dates, summarizing their rationales. Most of the “eleven selected years” (p. 34) have one or only a few advocates: at least judging by the ones he references in his book. Three dates have quite a few more listed proponents: AD 29, 30, and 33. But Alter opines about the year 29:

The year 29 can absolutely be eliminated because in that year the Passover occurred at the beginning of the week. In addition, the date assumes a one year ministry. Consequently, this cannot be reconciled with any of the other evidence. The Passover cannot occur that early. (p. 40)

Prima facie, this sounds good enough for me. So that leaves two likely years, according to Alter’s survey of many scholars. He cites (on p. 41) a bunch of scholars who opt for AD 30. Finally, he concludes about AD 33: “Perhaps AD 33 is one of the most often cited years for Jesus’s death” (p. 43). Then he states in the objections section: “Others argue that year 33, with a Friday crucifixion does not provide for a literal seventy-two hours in the tomb” (p. 44). But 72 hours aren’t required to fulfill the saying, “three days and three nights”: according to how the ancient Jews construed time and these sorts of statements (as I have written about). In other words, it’ not a literal 72 hours being referred to. That’s our modern, precise Greek- and Roman- influenced thinking about time and sequence: not Hebraic thought.

In his Conclusion for the chapter he observes:

It must be remembered that Christian apologists . . . maintain that the year Jesus died and was resurrected is the most important and significant event in the history of mankind. (p. 47)

Sure; but again we must remember that it is not the exact year that is important; it’s the event. The above sentence ought to read (I submit): “Christian apologists maintain that Jesus’ death and Resurrection are the most important and significant events in the history of mankind.”

Alter then contrasts (on p. 47) this uncertainty with several events of known dates, such as the deaths of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, Caesar Augustus, and Caligula, and the birth dates of Julius Caesar, Tiberias, etc. Most of the people and events mentioned were Roman. They kept precise dates. And this is my point. They thought like the Greeks, because they emulated them in many respects. But the Hebrews did not follow Greek thought. They had been Hellenized, it’s true, but they maintained key aspects of their culture and ways of thinking through the New Testament period.

Since Alter provided us with this chart of 16 precise dates, I’d like to share a lot of imprecise dates (even among the Greeks themselves), in order to show that this particular aspect of the debate is quite a mixed bag:

1) Strabo, Greek geographer and historian, died at some unknown date after AD 20.

2) Herodotus, the Greek “father of history” died around 408 BC.

3) Xenophon, Greek historian, died around 359 BC.

4) Aristophanes, Greek comic poet, died around 380 BC.

5) Thales, Greek philosopher, died around 546 BC.

6) Pythagoras, Greek philosopher and Mathematician, died around 495 BC.

When it comes to founders of some other religions, it gets far more inaccurate:

7) Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), according to Wikipedia, is said to have been born in “c. 563 BCE or 480 BCE” and died “c. 483 BCE or 400 BCE.”

8) About Lao-Tze or Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, it is stated in Wikipedia: “A semi-legendary figure, Lao Tzu was usually portrayed as a 6th-century BC contemporary of Confucius, but some modern historians consider him to have lived during the Warring States period of the 4th century BC.”

9) As for Zoroaster or Zarathustra: founder of Zoroastrianism, Wikipedia pitifully declares:

There is no scholarly consensus on when he lived. Some scholars, using linguistic and socio-cultural evidence, suggest a dating to somewhere in the second millennium BCE. Other scholars date him in the 7th and 6th century BCE . . . By any modern standard of historiography, no evidence can place him into a fixed period and the historicization surrounding him may be a part of a trend from before the 10th century CE that historicizes legends and myths.

How about the famous and influential figures in the Hebrew Bible and Judaism? How much do historians agree about them?:

10) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: if Jonathan wants to rely on historians for his arguments, and regard them as the “last word” when it comes to Christianity, let’s see how these three patriarchs of Judaism fare. Wikipedia (“Abraham”) summarizes:

In the early and middle 20th century, leading archaeologists such as William F. Albright and biblical scholars such as Albrecht Alt believed that the patriarchs and matriarchs were either real individuals or believable composites of people who lived in the “patriarchal age“, the 2nd millennium BCE. But, in the 1970s, new arguments concerning Israel’s past and the biblical texts challenged these views; these arguments can be found in Thomas L. Thompson‘s The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974), and John Van Seters‘ Abraham in History and Tradition (1975). Thompson, a literary scholar, based his argument on archaeology and ancient texts. His thesis centered on the lack of compelling evidence that the patriarchs lived in the 2nd millennium BCE, and noted how certain biblical texts reflected first millennium conditions and concerns. Van Seters examined the patriarchal stories and argued that their names, social milieu, and messages strongly suggested that they were Iron Age creations. By the beginning of the 21st century, archaeologists had given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac or Jacob credible historical figures.

There we go. If modern scholarship is the “hill we want to die on” then we have to die on it across the board. I don’t accept the research of the more skeptical historians and archaeologists (Albright being the quintessential “non-skeptical” example), because it’s based on erroneous premises. I stood in Israel in the place where Abraham is said to have met Melchizedek (according to our guide). I stood as close as I could get to the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac: where the first temple (and perhaps the later temples) stood. I’ve also written about possible archaeological evidences for Sodom and Gomorrah.

11) Moses: it’s the same as with Abraham: so declares Wikipedia (maybe even worse):

The modern scholarly consensus is that the biblical person of Moses is a mythical figure while also holding that “a Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C.” and that archeology is unable to confirm either way. Even though his name is Egyptian, no references to Moses appear in any Egyptian sources prior to the fourth century BCE, long after he is believed to have lived. No contemporary Egyptian sources mention Moses or the events of Exodus–Deuteronomy, nor has any archaeological evidence been discovered in Egypt or the Sinai wilderness to support the story in which he is the central figure.

I have argued that archaeology has not disproven the Exodus, as part of my apologetics replies to atheists, and I have also presented stunning archaeological evidence for Joshua’s altar on Mt. Ebal.

12) Joseph: let’s follow the scholars and “higher critics” to see what they think of this great biblical figure. Wikipedia summarizes:

The historicity of the Joseph narrative cannot be demonstrated. [footnote: “The majority of current scholars believe that the historicity of the Egyptian sojourn, exodus, and wilderness wandering that the Bible remembers cannot be demonstrated by historical methods.”] . . .

Hermann GunkelHugo Gressmann and Gerhard von Rad identified the story of Joseph as a literary composition, in the genre of romance, or the novella. As a novella, it is read as reworking legends and myths, in particular the motifs of his reburial in Canaan, associated with the Egyptian god Osiris. Others compare the burial of his bones at Shechem, with the disposal of Dionysus‘s bones at Delphi. For Schenke, the tradition of Joseph’s burial at Shechem is understood as a secondary, Israelitic historical interpretation woven around a more ancient Canaanite shrine in that area.

13) King David is barely considered as historical, and even when he is, for most of these “skeptical” / ultra-“critical” scholars neither he nor events related to him are anything like what the Bible describes; that is, if we are “gullible” enough to believe that they ever happened at all (see Wikipedia for the gory details).

Christians like myself, on the other hand, fully believe that he reigned over a significant kingdom starting around 1000 BC. I visited my namesake’s original city in 2014 when I visited Jerusalem. I walked beside the hill where ancient Jerusalem was and kept looking up at it in awe. I saw where David battled Goliath and collected stones from where he would have gotten them (souvenirs for my kids). I visited Khirbet Qeiyafa: a town from his time, and collected pottery there that may be 3,000 years old. So I believe it, because I believe the Bible, which has been shown to be historically accurate times without number. But the bulk of scholars apparently don’t (so we are now told).

Mr. Alter (here’s the thing) can’t have it both ways: accept the Hebrew Bible and Judaism in some semblance of traditional fashion, and at the same time the “word” of a head count of scholars, which he recruits for the purpose of skepticism towards the New Testament accounts of Jesus. The two don’t mix very well. If he wants to enlist them to question events in Jesus’ life, then all the more will they also take “down and out” pivotal events and people in Judaism.

14) Daniel: Wikipedia: “The consensus of modern scholars is that Daniel never existed, . . .”

All of this is going on with these skeptical, anti-biblical scholars and Michael Alter thinks it is significant and a “contradiction” that the bulk of scholars have basically concluded that Jesus died in either 30 or 33 AD? Seriously?

The uncertain dates extend well into the current era also. For example, I have compiled three books of quotations from the Church fathers: eminent men and teachers from the first to the eighth centuries. Oftentimes, the dates of their deaths and/or births are not known with certainty. I list 52 in one of my books. Out of those, 45 (an astonishing 87%) have dates of death or birth that are uncertain. Here they are:

Pope Clement of Rome (d. c. 101)

Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110)

Theophilus (fl. 185-191)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)

Hippolytus (d.c. 236)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)

Dionysius of Alexandria (d.c. 264)

Lactantius (c. 240-c. 320)

Eusebius of Caesaria [Church historian] (c. 265-c. 340)

Aphraates (c. 280-c. 345)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)

Athanasius (c. 297-373)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)

Optatus of Milevis (c. 320-c. 385)

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-387)

Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330-c. 390)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 394)

Ambrose (c. 336-397)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)

Jerome (c. 343-420)

Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428)

John Cassian (c. 360-c. 435)

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444)

Theodotus (d.c. 445)

Sozomen [Church historian] (c. 375-c. 447)

Socrates Scholasticus [Church historian] (c. 379-c. 450)

Vincent of Lerins (d.c. 450)

Peter Chrysologus (c. 405-450)

Prosper of Aquitane (d.c. 455)

Patrick (c. 390-c. 460)

Pope Leo the Great (c. 400-461)

Theodoret of Cyr (c. 393-c. 466)

Caesar of Arles (c. 470-542)

Gregory of Tours (538-c. 594)

Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604)

Augustine of Canterbury (d. c. 605)

Sophronius of Jerusalem (c. 560-638)

Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662)

Germanus of Constantinople (c. 634-c. 733)

Venerable Bede (c. 673-735)

Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740)

John Damascene (c. 645-c. 749)

Nor does it stop there. I wrote in one of my articles about 23 Catholic “proto-scientists” of the 12th and 13th centuries. Again, we find the same lack of precision: with uncertain birth or death dates or both for 17 of the 23 (74% ): including many men who are quite famous (e.g., St. Albert the Great and Roger Bacon). I could find many more historical examples, but I trust that my point is adequately made by now.

Alter states:

In fact, the precise year that Jesus died as well as the date or day of his birth is not known. Obviously the date of these occurrences should be
the most knowable events of the history of mankind, yet how is it possible that the dates of . . . the supreme events in the history of our world are totally unknown? . . . 

From this issue it is clear that nobody has the faintest idea when Jesus died! The year of Jesus’s crucifixion is unknown, . . . (p. 48)

Not the “faintest” idea? Is this not quite a bit of rhetorical exaggeration? Good ol’ Wikipedia informs us, after all, that, regarding the date of Jesus’ birth, “a majority of scholars assume a date between 6 BC and 4 BC.” So we have (even among our blessed scholars) a range of three years and two likely and plausible dates for His death  (30 or 33) and a range of three years for His birth. In light of everything else we have seen above, that’s very good.

And since the Bible never asserted either date as such, and doesn’t “care” about such things generally speaking, I contend that it is a non-issue altogether. We know enough. Yes, Christians indeed regard the events of His life as “supreme events in the history of our world” but it doesn’t follow at all (not in the slightest) that we must know the exact dates when they occurred in order to rationally believe them. We know more than enough, and according to biblical thinking the things themselves are far more important than exactly when they happened.

The analogy of Judaism is again instructive. Observant Jews for over 3,000 years have devoutly celebrated Passover every year. It commemorates an actual event (and a supernatural one at that), that occurred about the time of the Exodus. Yet the “consensus” of historians is that we have no evidence of the Exodus or that (even more strongly) it never happened at all, and they (and we) don’t know exactly when Moses was born or died.

Needless to say, these same historians would mock and deny the notion of Moses going up to a holy mountain, talking to God and receiving tablets with the Ten Commandments written by God Himself; as well as receiving also a great deal of oral tradition from God, to be passed down for thousands of years, as it has turned out. They would laugh about and deride what they consider foolish notions such as a parting of the Red Sea, the several plague miracles in Egypt, pillars of smoke and fire leading the Hebrews through the desert, manna falling from the sky, and Moses going up to Mt. Nebo and being buried by God. Nor would they believe that God was specially present above the ark of the covenant, between the wings of the golden cherubim. It’s all nonsense and mythology to them.

Does this historical skepticism stop Jews from observing Passover and the more traditional ones from continuing to painstakingly keep all 613 commandments of the Law of Moses: assuming all the while that both things are based on real history and a real person: Moses, who had a unique relationship with God? No. Why, then, is a date discrepancy (in opinions) of two or three years for Jesus’ birth and death supposedly an “issue” or a “contradiction”? I confess that I cannot for the life of me comprehend such an argument.

I believe all these things recorded in the Hebrew Bible, and it matters not a whit to me whether a bunch of hyper-critical, anti-supernaturalist, sometimes secular or atheist historians (and even less traditional adherents of Judaism), operating on a host of false and unsubstantiated (and often downright hostile) premises disbelieve all of them or not. There are also historians and archaeologists who do not deny these things, or at least take a neutral / non-hostile approach. It all depends on the premises that one chooses to accept and assume, in doing historiographical research.

Likewise, Jews celebrate Hannukah, or Chanuka every year, which commemorates a miracle when the temple was rededicated: most likely in 164 BC. It’s precisely the miraculous [historical] event that occurred, which is recalled and celebrated. The Talmud states:

For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest), but which contained sufficient [oil] for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein, and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

Yet the Wikipedia article on this Jewish holy day informs us that “The miracle of the oil is widely regarded as a legend and its authenticity has been questioned since the Middle Ages.” Once again, then, Judaism finds itself clashing with the all-knowing, unquestionable skeptical historians. Which is to be believed? I go with the reported miracle and Jewish religious belief and practice.

But back to Jesus: the view that He never existed is still considered fringe and extreme and is held by very few historians, though (oblivious to such trifles) atheists are currently becoming increasingly enthralled with this ultra-ludicrous mythology. It’s also obvious to one and all that we basically know when Jesus was born, too, because our entire system of determining what year it is (the “BC” and “AD” system) is derived from His life (specifically, the approximate year of His birth). The very terminology of “CVE” and “BCE” was designed to extricate itself from the historical connection to Jesus. As Wikipedia explains:

The term “Common Era” . . . became more widely used in the mid-19th century by Jewish religious scholars. Since the later 20th century, CE and BCE are popular in academic and scientific publications as culturally neutral terms. They are used by others who wish to be sensitive to non-Christians by not explicitly referring to Jesus as “Christ” nor as Dominus (“Lord”) through use of the other abbreviations.

I say that monotheists need to stick together and defend the Hebrew Bible against the atheists and radical secularists who only wish to tear it (along with the faith of traditional religious people) down. Abraham is regarded as a “father” by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Are they all supposed to believe (because a bunch of pointy-headed historians “concluded”) that Abraham (along with many other notable biblical figures) was a mere mythical or legendary figure: akin to Odysseus, Hercules, Thor, Odin, or King Arthur? Do we really want to go down that road? The whole point of him being a father and patriarch is that he actually existed.

This is what Michael Alter is left with (by logical reduction and consistent logic across the board) if he insists on the “magisterium of the head count of scholars.” Given all of the massive skepticism outlined above, dates of Jesus’ birth and death within a range of just three or four years for both are almost literally “nothing” in comparison. I’ve scarcely given it a moment’s thought and I dare say that is probably true of 99.999% of all Christians who have ever lived.

In the same manner, every devout Jew observes Passover, without knowing what date the Exodus occurred, or the dates of Moses’ birth and death. All they care about is that the Passover miracle and the glorious Exodus actually happened in history, and were wrought by the hand of God. The lack of knowledge of exact dates are neither essentially important, nor any kind of “contradiction” against or disproof of Jewish religious belief in the actuality of this person and these events.

This is why I have no plans to write a book called, The Passover [or, Abraham or Moses, etc.]: A Critical Inquiry. But if I were, hypothetically, to write such a book, then I could use precisely the same “counting the heads of scholars” method that Mr. Alter uses to critique Christianity. And that ought to give him great pause, because it also demolishes any of his own Jewish beliefs (whatever the particulars of those may be) that claim to be based on historical events.

I would strongly contend that the historical component is altogether essential to Judaism — in any of its variant forms — and can’t possibly be removed from it, anymore than it can be removed from Christianity. Judaism minus the traditionally believed history is no longer Judaism at all, just as the New Testament ceased to be itself when Thomas Jefferson (a Unitarian) ridiculously took the scissors to it and removed all the miracles. A non-miraculous Christianity is no longer Christianity at all because (above all) if Jesus’ Resurrection is removed (as Michael Alter agrees), it is deprived of its essence. The same is true of a hollowed-out “Judaism” without the historical Exodus, God’s giving of the law specifically to the ancient Hebrews (in time and history), and historical persons Abraham and Moses.

***

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: In “Resurrection Debate #2” Michael Alter makes an issue out of the inexact date of Jesus’ death. I retort that the Bible is indifferent and do a reductio ad absurdum of skeptical scholars and what they think of the historicity of figures from the Hebrew Bible.

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

***

March 18, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” 

Jonathan wrote a paper entitled, “The Double Standards Involved with Doubting Thomas” (3-16-21). I replied with Pearce’s Potshots #17: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God (3-16-21). I also responded at length to two other atheists in his forum, on the same topic: Debate w Atheists: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God (3-17-21). Jonathan has now counter-responded with Doubting Thomas: A Response to Catholic Dave Armstrong (3-17-21), to which I now reply. His words will be in blue.

*****

I will leave aside the dubious historicity of this pericope, especially given that it is merely a response to the Pauline theology of a spiritual resurrection (each successive Gospel renounces the Pauline theology more and more, with John having Thomas prove that Jesus is not just resurrected spiritually, but very much bodily too).

What else is new? The atheist of course has to doubt the genuine nature of anything in Scripture (on inadequate grounds) and has to (by some immutable law of the universe) engage in worthless speculation about origins and purpose (with no supporting evidence presented, let alone plausible evidence), including a flat-out falsehood about St. Paul supposedly teaching a “spiritual resurrection only, and not a bodily one.

I dealt with this latter question, not just once, but twice, in engaging atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker, who has chosen to utterly ignore 72 of my critiques. With this baggage (three major false premises), Jonathan proceeds to provide some sort of cogent, coherent analysis of the passage.

Instead, let me return to my original point, which is just a corollary of this asserted incident: that the great St Thomas only ended up believing in Jesus’ resurrection when presented with first-hand sensory experience of it (such that the apparent eyewitness testimony of his fellow disciples was not enough).

That’s no kind of “point”; it’s merely the assertion of a self-evident fact.

Yet, for an awful lot of modern potential and actual Christians (and all people throughout time, from Amazonian tribespeople to someone born in Riyadh in the 1600s), there is a completely unfair distribution of evidence. Thomas is afforded far more evidence so that he eventually believes (and becomes a saint, no less) than I can ever hope for or reasonably expect. If the end result of judgement (and heaven or hell) is based on my belief decision (or in Amazonians’ cases, there is no Christian option in their “decision”), then this seems even more unfair.

And I have thoroughly replied to this charge twice. We’ll see if Jonathan actually interacts with my arguments.

Dave Armstrong, a fellow Patheoser, though on the Catholic channel, often baits me to respond, and this time I have accepted. He replied to my short piece, saying on my own thread:

Perhaps some folks will have the intellectual courage, and/or curiosity, and/or open-mindedness to actually rationally interact with my argument this time, rather than engage in crazed, mindless personal attacks, such as massively, obsessively took place in two recent threads. One person already has, which is wonderful.

“Bait” has a decidedly negative connotation. It doesn’t describe how I have acted towards Jonathan at all. Merriam-Webster online defines it as:

to persecute or exasperate with unjust, malicious, or persistent attacks

to try to make angry with criticism or insults

Jonathan has replied to some five or six of my critiques in the past. Then he just stopped. I complained a bit (which was not “baiting”: but simply inquiring as to why he stopped). He explained in a long post that he was very busy and had some health problems, too. I fully accepted that, appreciated the clarification, and wished him the best. Since then I have simply informed him out of courtesy that I have replied to one of his articles. If he wishes me to cease doing that, too (and/or leave his forum if I upset the apple cart too much), I’ll be happy to comply.

My words above were not directed to Jonathan (because he doesn’t engage in such personal attacks), but to many other people on his forum who can do nothing but insult when it comes to me. I was registering my strong protest against that. Jonathan apparently has no problem with such personal attacks at all and allows any conceivable personal attack to be aired on his forum. So I rebuked it in no uncertain terms.

I’m looking for intelligent, probing, challenging discussion, not mud pie fights and urinating matches. The personal attacks from others against me continue full force on his blog, in several comboxes. I ignore them, block the people who do it, and once in a while make a protesting statement such as the above. I am certainly entitled to express indignation at such nonsense (like virtually any other human being would also do).

To give just one example of hundreds, Steven Watson, underneath this latest article from Jonathan, stated: “Armstrong is in the grip of an irrational delusion, he is a loony.” You get the idea. This is the sort of comment Jonathan has no problem permitting on his site. On my blog, on the other hand, if someone made a ridiculous comment like that about a particular atheist, he would be immediately banned. So we have vastly different opinions as to the nature of constructive and civil discussion.

So — nice try Jonathan — now we get back to the actual topic at hand.

This is ironic since he has, as you shall see, failed to interact with my actual points.

Nonsense. I responded by attacking Jonathan’s false premises. This is what socratics always do (and I am a socratic). Then the charge comes back that this is not a response. It certainly is: just on a deeper level than the person critiqued wants to deal with. In my other debate with two of Jonathan’s friends on the same topic (linked above) I go into, much more depth. Blanket statements like this that are untrue, do not help the debate proceed forward. But Jonathan does interact with my arguments to some extent.

His defences of this are as follows:

“Because you have seen Me, have you now believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Did you notice the last verse there? The Thomas incident was not regarded by Jesus as normative, but rather, a special act of mercy that was not “epistemologically required.” Jesus thought it wasn’t necessary, and criticized Thomas at the end for his undue doubt. He did it because He loved Thomas, and we all do many things that aren’t required for our loved ones.

Irrespective of whether Thomas was somewhat chastised here, the point remains entirely the same: Thomas was afforded far more evidence, and went on to be a foundational member of the church and have some kind (one is pretty sure) of union with God, which appears to be one of the goals that God has set for humanity.

This still doesn’t establish that:

1) empirical evidence is the be-all and end-all regarding evidences for God’s existence,

or that

2) all human beings must receive the same sort of visitation from Jesus, lest it is “unfair” that they received less verification, which is “required” for them to properly decide the “God question”,

or that

3) God hasn’t provided sufficient evidence of His existence to each person in many different ways (not just empirical).

It is the many unspoken premises lying beneath this charge that I attack as false.

I still don’t remotely get to cross or even approach that evidentiary threshold or benchmark. All I get is a bunch of people telling me a particular book is true, amongst a whole collection of holy books and revelations from other people and cultures and religions around the world, and the assertion that this one alone is the one.

And that’s it.

That’s not “it” at all. There are all kinds of Christian arguments. These have a cumulative effect.

I cannot be convinced by personal revelation, since Muslims and Hindus have them too.

This is considered some sort of “argument”? Obviously, one has to consider the Christian arguments for why the Bible is a uniquely inspired document, and indeed, God’s revelation. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. One way to show that it is plausible to believe that the Bible is inspired is to shoot down alleged “contradictions” in its pages. I recently did that with 59 alleged “contradictions” regarding Jesus’ Resurrection, in response to one of Jonathan’s articles. When a point of view is that consistently wrong, it shows that something is seriously awry.  No one took it upon themselves to make any sort of direct reply. Instead, I received an avalanche of personal insults.

And philosophical arguments can only really get you to atheism, or deism or theism, as large umbrellas. The Bible is what gets you to Christianity.

Correct. And that’s why I devote my time in atheist venues mostly to defending the Bible: understanding this very thinking, and knowing that going round and round with philosophy accomplishes virtually nothing. Jonathan (like many atheists) insists on taking his shots at the Bible, and I reply with counter-arguments. He’s now playing on my field when he does that. If that’s what he wants to do, more power to him. I’m here. Bring it on.

And that is very poor evidence indeed. Unknown authors, writing in unknown times and places that we can only guess at, with unknown sources, unverified and unverifiable, writing with evangelising agendas ex post facto, with no historiographical pedigree.

It’s shockingly poor evidence.

These are just blanket hostile statements, not arguments, and as such, deserve no further consideration.

And I can supposedly go to hell on the back of whether I choose to believe that very low-level evidence (let’s call it 5%) and St Thomas (the Apostle) gets to stroll through the pearly gates, one assumes, on the back of not believing (assuming the Gospels are true here) with a level of, say, 90%, and Jesus then reversing this unbelief (in the Resurrection, and thus Jesus’ divinity, and thus the atonement – not that he actually would have understood this at the time, I wager) by getting Thomas to poke him, and raising the evidential threshold to 95%!! (I am somewhat making these figures up to illustrate my point).

This is just a more colorful way of reiterating the original assertion, which is shot-through with demonstrably false premises. It’s simplistic thinking. He does (thank God for small favors!) eventually start dealing with my actual arguments.

Armstrong claims my position is based on three premises that he refutes:

1) The notion that empiricism is the only way to verify or prove anything, as if there are no other ways of knowing.

2) The denial that God is already known by observing the universe, as Romans 1 states.

3) The idea that every atheist would immediately believe (and respond exactly as Thomas did) if only they had the “100% sure!” experience of Thomas: with the risen Jesus standing there, bodily, so that he could touch Him.

Thanks for putting these words into my mouth, but the first two doesn’t really apply to Thomas – or at least all equally get him to Judaism, or some theism.

At any rate, the first two are either nonsense or straw men, or both.

Hogwash. The entire issue as atheists see it, is the alleged “unfairness” of Thomas receiving such a crystal-clear evidence of the risen Jesus, thus allowing him to more easily believe that Jesus is God, and (obviously) that God does exist. This is empirical evidence through-and-through, entailing the evidence of senses and the experience of touching a physical, alive-again Jesus Who had just been killed. So atheists complain about how this is so terribly “unfair!” God is such a meanie and a brute, to be so absurdly unjust in how He presents evidence for Himself.

My denial that empirical evidence is the only evidence or any way to reliably know anything undercuts this whole notion, because then it’s not the only way God can reveal Himself. That’s the false premise. Jonathan needs to prove first of all that empiricism is the cat’s meow, epistemologically speaking. Instead, he chooses to ignore that (the elephant in the room) and merely assert that my brining it up is “nonsense or [a] straw [man]”. I then get into willful rejection, another factor that Jonathan ignored in his presentation, as if will plays no part in the choices all human beings make on a variety of issues.

(3) is a false analogy since Thomas was not an atheist. Thomas has just been in godmanspirit’s ministry. Either he already believed Jesus was God (almost certainly not the case) or that he was a Messiah (much more likely, though it must be remembered that this whole event recorded here almost certainly never happened). Then, after all the crazy stuff that supposedly happened, and all the claims of his fellow disciples that this would have entailed, he still didn’t believe. (It is worth reinforcing here that the theology of this piece is not primarily about epistemology, but about the form of Jesus’ resurrection to fight off the theology we see Paul discussing with the Corinthians).

Whether he’s an atheist or not, his example is being used to assert that God is “unfair” and that God ought to make similar appearances to atheists en masse.

Thomas was, according to the Gospel, afforded a level of evidence I will never get, and nor will (or has) any other human, I would argue, in the history of Christianity.

Exactly. This is the point I just made (I am replying as I read).

Thomas got to be in Jesus’ gang, and then touch his resurrected body whilst conversing with him (God).

Yep.

I’ll ignore the long tirade of articles Armstrong offers to attack my apparent sole reliance on empiricism (as if, as a philosopher arguing all day long about all sorts of things, that empiricism is my single only route to epistemological conclusions).

Scholars offer footnotes for further reading: if anyone desires to do so. I offer my own articles. Somehow this is objectionable and Jonathan describes a collection of related links as a “tirade.” It’s laughable. The argument that was made was entirely of an empirical nature. An utterly empirical experience (Thomas’s) is used to try to indict God for unfairness and “double standards.” That requires a prior analysis of empiricism and noting that it’s not the sum total of all knowledge. Many many atheists think that it is. If Jonathan doesn’t (welcome to the club) then he needs to formulate non-empirical arguments with regard to Doubting Thomas and atheist unbelief.

His claims about point (2) are pretty naive:

Romans 1:19-20 (RSV) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. . . .

 Not only is this just asserted nonsense that also gets you to every other religion, but it has nothing to do with the point in hand: Doubting Thomas and the varied apportioning of evidence for the Christian god to all humans throughout time.

So I will ignore this and his defence of it.

I explained this in my related dialogue, linked above:

I was presenting how the Bible itself views this issue of God being “fair”; and how it views evidence and how God is known. The critique in the OP is of the Bible. If Jonathan didn’t want it to be [at least partially] a biblical discussion then he shouldn’t and wouldn’t have ever introduced the Doubting Thomas story into it. Since he did, I explain why it doesn’t fly (from our Christian perspective).

If I critique atheism, then you can explain your view (that I don’t accept, just as you don’t accept ours). If you claim the Christian view is unjust or insufficient or incoherent / inconsistent in some way, then the Christian quite logically responds by showing how this isn’t (internally) the case.

I’m not citing the Bible to try to convince atheists of anything: only to explain why the atheist critique of Christianity in this instance doesn’t succeed (being based on insufficient understanding of what the biblical teaching is in the first place).

It’s Jonathan who exercises double standards. He reserves the prerogative to enter into the territory of biblical interpretation by giving his two cents’ about Doubting Thomas and the implications of the story for atheists, but if I come back and attempt to explain it from a Christian perspective (getting into the wider area of unbelief), then he wants no part of it. In effect, then, he seems to think that an atheist can comment on the Bible, but if a Christian does, it’s “naive” and “nonsense” and only fit to be ignored.

To which I reply: if you’re gonna bring up the Bible, don’t be surprised that a Christian will 1) defend the Bible, and 2) comment upon related passages in it that are relevant to the point. Jonathan thinks God is unfair, and this passage is evidence (he thinks) of that. We show how it is not and show how the biblical Christian outlook, rightly understood, is not an unfair system at all. That’s completely relevant to the discussion. But Jonathan has this double standard whereby only atheists can do biblical exegesis. If the Christian apologist (who obviously knows nothing about the Bible) deigns to do the same thing, it’s “naive” and “nonsense”. It’s just dumb. Unless atheists are called on these unsavory and illogical techniques of “argument” they will keep doing it.

His defence of point (3):

As for #3, many atheists — if not necessarily Jonathan — casually assume that pretty much every atheist and skeptic would respond as Thomas did. Jesus thought quite otherwise…

He misses my point. I am not really bothered whether I would react the same or differently to Thomas. My general point is that all sorts of people react differently to the same level of evidence, and all sorts of people get different levels of evidence. It’s all a bit of an unfair mess.

How is it unfair? Jonathan has to establish that there is no other kind of evidence that people receive (Christians assert that there are hundreds of such evidences, of widely different sorts). And he has to establish that all atheists are completely objective, impartial, rational machines, in which there is no slightest shred of resistance to truth or evidence when presented; no bias, no willful rejection, no irrational emotionalism, etc., etc. ad infinitum.

All of these factors and more have to be discussed in order to plausibly make this grand charge of UNFAIRNESS of that wascally wascal: God. In other words, it’s a vastly more complex issue than he makes out. But atheists are masters at simplistic, one-millimeter- deep arguments against the Bible and Christianity.

Imagine I have a class of 30 children to whom I give a test. All 30 children have different brains, knowledges, abilities and thresholds, etc. I give them a test of 100 questions, and declare that the children who fail to get 70/100 will get detention. Children who get 70 will get a special treat.

I then give them a test.

Except, I also give out different cheat sheets to everyone ranging from 0 points of help to 90 points. Each child either gets no extra help or gets some kind of leg up to getting closer to that 70 point success. Some people, like little Thomas, get a cheat sheet with answers worth 95 points. Lucky him.

Poor Alice, who is not very clever (due to her genetics and troublesome environment) gets a cheat sheet with 0 points of help, and gets 16/100 and detention.

We could actually make this more accurate: some children are given trickster cheat sheets, like our Saudi student, Mo, who gets a sheet that actually tells him wrong answers, and leaves him with 35 points less than he would have got. He gets 50, and receives a detention.

This is my analogy to explain the point.

All of this assumes what it needs to prove: that the empirical evidence of the Thomas incident is somehow the whole ball of wax as to proofs for God. It’s simply not. The fact that the analogy has Thomas receiving 95 points out of a 100 on his cheat sheet, absolutely illustrates that Jonathan thinks such an empirical proof comprises at least 95% of the evidence or proof of God. Thanks for making my point for me, Jonathan! It still remains to be proved that, somehow, empirical evidence is 95% of all the evidence that can be mustered up in theistic proofs.

And, in my previous piece, this was my potential theistic wriggle:

Perhaps, as a teacher, I actually take in the answers, don’t announce to anyone the results until the end of the school day whereby, after plugging their results into a matrix that calculates an outcome based on (1) abilities, (2) environment, (3) cheat sheets, and (4) their results and spits out their end mark, I enforce on them a detention or a reward.

That would need some unpicking and looks rather like some kind of deterministic algorithm, the results of which, as a teacher, I knew in advance anyway. In other words, creating the test is pointless. What it would actually look like is everyone getting the same marks since the algorithm would have to be fair: there would be no child who would have their environment, genetics, cheat sheet or anything else over which they have no control giving them an advantage or disadvantage.

The only fair option for an OmniGod designing and creating all humanity from nothing is to give everyone the same chance; and when we control for causal circumstances, this translates to the same score.

Again, this is circular reasoning. An empirical-only epistemology is assumed from the outset (without proof and seeming oblivious unawareness of the massive amount of reasoning against such a naive epistemology). It’s assumed that there is no other form of evidence that can be used to prove the existence of God and offer a way salvation to all, etc. This (surprise!) leads to the conclusion already preordained from the outset by false and hostile premises: God is unfair.

Yeah: the straw-man “God” set up in such a silly mind game is what is unfair, because the whole thing is rigged from the outset with stupid, false premises. In my “tirade” of links that Jonathan blew off, I explain how and why it is a false premise, for all who are interested in hearing the reasons why. It’s not just me saying it (which I wouldn’t use as a basis for any claim). The literally logically absurd views of empiricism-only and logical positivism were destroyed philosophically by the early 50s at the latest by philosophers like Michael Polanyi and others. I’m surprised it took that long, or that these silly views ever took hold among serious thinkers in the first place.

Armstrong doesn’t get all of this, it seems; he is happy merely taking the opportunity to have some pop shots:

Jonathan, like most atheists, completely overlooks the prideful, stubborn and irrationally defiant aspect of atheism (and indeed of the human race, generally speaking). St. Paul wrote about that, too…

But lest atheists (or anyone) think that therefore no atheist can be saved, this is not Paul’s position, either, as he clarifies in the next chapter:

Therefore, an atheist can possibly be saved, and there is a big biblical distinction between the not-convinced seeker after truth and the outright rejecter of God. But they can’t be saved if they know God exists (are conscious of that belief) and reject Him and His free offer of grace and salvation. How much one “knows” is obviously the key. And only God knows that for any given person. It’s not for other persons to judge that or to condemn people to hell. They don’t have nearly even knowledge to make that determination.

Lovely, but almost nothing to do with the point at hand.

It has everything to do with the topic at hand: which is the alleged unfairness of God. I took pains to show that in the biblical, Christian view, God is not unfair at all (and even he indirectly acknowledges this by saying “Lovely”). Atheists routinely assume that the Bible and all Christians teach that all atheists (and indeed all non-Christians) go to hell and that they are uniformly wicked. I explain that both things are false and that God is infinitely more merciful and “fair” and just than the caricature that typically floats around in atheist circles.

But Jonathan is blinded in his Ultra-Empiricism as the be-all and end-all of (I guess) everything in the universe; every philosophical or theological proposed “difficulty.”

Thomas decided not to believe; he rejected God. But God gave him special treatment. Why can’t he do that for everyone else?

This again assumes what it is trying to prove: empirical proofs are all there is; therefore, since Thomas “got” this one; all others must, too, lest God be an unfair moron and arbitrary tyrannical monster. But if the premise is false, so is Jonathan’s conclusion. He hasn’t shown the slightest inclination to  more deeply analyze or scrutinize his premises. I know, it’s scary and intimidating to do so, but this is the duty of thinkers.

This is not about what it would take to make any given person believe, but about that some people throughout history are supposedly afforded huge amounts of evidence, whilst others suffer terribly from divine hiddenness, perhaps being brought up in Saudi Arabia or the Australian outback in the 1500s. Some get those cheat sheets with 50 extra points, others are set back -30.

This is incoherent. To say that Thomas (and others like him) receive “huge amounts of [empirical] evidence” is necessarily also asserting that those who didn’t receive “Thomas-like” evidence were treated shabbily. Therefore, such assertions are indeed also dealing with “what it would take to make any given person believe.” The very claim of “unfairness” presupposes this.

I should think that at some point atheists would tire of their own viciously circular arguments with utterly unexamined premises. These may satisfy and titillate those in the choir and echo chamber, but they certainly don’t impress anyone outside of it.

Armstrong finishes off with:

Lastly, atheists manage to believe many extraordinary things without much proof (or even understanding) at all.

Whaaaaat? Examples please. Otherwise what can be asserted without evidence can be summarily dismissed without any.

Of course I proceeded to explain what I meant, with examples and a link (which Jonathan cited, so I have no idea why he thinks I didn’t do so.

Why should they place the existence of God in a category all its own? For example, I have written about how atheists in effect “worship” the atom (this paper raised such a huge ruckus that I had to do a follow-up paper to explain the nature of the satire), and attribute to it virtually every characteristic that Christians believe God possesses: it supposedly came from nothing (this one not a trait of God), managed to have the inherent capability to evolve and create and bring about everything we see in the universe, including consciousness, life, the galaxies, etc.

This is what Jonathan cited from my reply, that he just claimed I didn’t explain. If you can figure out this chain of reasoning, please let me know.

Nothing to do with the point at hand. 

It has everything to do with the point at hand. It’s claimed that God must provide ironclad “evidence” (of course as atheists define the term) of everything related to God and Christianity, lest He be brutally “unfair.” We say that He does, but in ways in addition to those atheists concentrate on. My point here is one of “epistemological hypocrisy.” That is: atheists certainly don’t apply such a “strong” criterion to everything they believe.

And so (to provide an example) I mentioned my notorious “atomism” paper: that ruffled the feathers of scores and scores of atheists: with nary a single one at the time even understanding the nature of the satirical points I made in the article. This is what happens when one is deeply entrenched in the bubble of groupthink. If one doesn’t interact with outside critiques, they get to the point where they literally can’t even comprehend any other view. This is what atheism often does to otherwise sound minds.

I won’t get sidetracked onto why there is something rather than nothing. Why is God as a brute fact any more reasonable than the universe as a brute fact? God + universe fails Ockham’s Razor compared to the universe alone as brute fact.

He should, at some point, for his own (intellectual and spiritual) good.

These are extraordinary attributes. And why do atheists believe in them? Well, they have few ultimate reasons to explain it, but it’s the only alternative they think they have to admitting that God exists and that He created, designed, and upholds the universe. If you want to reject God: concerning Whom there are many evidences and arguments that have been rationally and seriously discussed for thousands of years, then you go instead to a blind faith position: the atom (and a larger materialism) can do anything: including creating itself from nothing (a self-evidently absurd position that science has long since rejected).

G. K. Chesterton observed”: “if men reject Christianity, it’s not that he believes in nothing, but that he believes in anything.”

Drivel and nothing to do with my point.

It relates to it in a way that I have explained, in my original reply and now.

All told, my point still stands and it would be nice to see Dave actually address it.

[EDIT: which he only decided to do, a little bit, in another comment on my thread, which I will address next.

EDIT 2: It seems like Geoff Benson came to the same conclusion.]

I have addressed his “point” and argument in the greatest depth, analyzing it from every which way, including the premises beneath it. This is now my third time doing the same thing. Eric’s arguments in Jonathan’s combox were more in-depth and of a constructive nature in terms of progressing in dialogue, in my opinion. I replied to him and Geoff in my other related dialogue. But Jonathan has essentially simply put his head in the sand and plugged his ears about the glaring faults of his own argument, and ignored virtually all of my counter-argument. This won’t do. But it’ll impress his echo chamber (as it always does).

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Photo credit: wilhei (4-13-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: This is now my third go-around, discussing the same issue: whether God was “unfair” to give Doubting Thomas so much more “evidence” than almost everyone else. False PREMISES . . .

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March 16, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

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I am replying to Jonathan’s paper, “The Double Standards Involved with Doubting Thomas” (3-16-21).

God saw fit to convince Doubting Thomas, who – after all – knew ~Jesus and saw him do his miracles. He was a disciple – one of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet even he didn’t believe in the Resurrection, attested to by his friends and eyewitnesses, until he had Jesus standing in front of him until Jesus made him touch the wounds.

Some people are slow. One can find the entire range of types of people in any group. Thomas is a certain “hard-nosed” type, but he’s not in the same category as most atheists, as I will contend below.

As John 20 relays:

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called [e]Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

26 [f]Eight days later His disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been [g]shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be to you.” 27 Then He *said to Thomas, “Place your finger here, and see My hands; and take your hand and put it into My side; and do not continue in disbelief, but be a believer.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you now believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Did you notice the last verse there? The Thomas incident was not regarded by Jesus as normative, but rather, a special act of mercy that was not “epistemologically required.” Jesus thought it wasn’t necessary, and criticized Thomas at the end for his undue doubt. He did it because He loved Thomas, and we all do many things that aren’t required for our loved ones.

And yet almost the entirety of the rest of humanity is not remotely afforded this level of evidence and is expected to believe, arguably on pain of hell.

Thomas got to poke Jesus, bodily resurrected in front of him, in the hands. He got to feel the skin of the real and resurrected God, and only then did he believe.

He’s now a Saint.

This is completely unfair and terrible double standards.

God is not fair.

Therefore, God is not perfect or omnibenevolent.

It’s only “unfair” and a supposed massive disproof of God’s perfection and benevolence if we accept Jonathan’s prior premises. I do not. Nor does the Bible. I reject three of them (off the top of my head) in particular:

1) The notion that empiricism is the only way to verify or prove anything, as if there are no other ways of knowing.

2) The denial that God is already known by observing the universe, as Romans 1 states.

3) The idea that every atheist would immediately believe (and respond exactly as Thomas did) if only they had the “100% sure!” experience of Thomas: with the risen Jesus standing there, bodily, so that he could touch Him.

Empiricism (#1 above) is not the only way of knowing anything. That is a myth and a fallacy. I’ve written about it many times:

Is Christianity Unfalsifiable? Is Empiricism the Only True Knowledge? [5-6-17]

Must Christianity be Empirically Falsifiable?: in Order to be Rationally Held? Positivist Myths and Fallacies Debunked by Philosophers and Mathematicians [7-14-10]

Science, Logic, & Math Start with Unfalsifiable Axioms [1-6-18]

Seidensticker Folly #13: God Hasta Prove He Exists! [8-29-18]

Theistic Argument from Longing or Beauty, & Einstein [3-27-08; rev. 3-14-19]

Atheist Demands for a Miracle to “Prove” God (Dialogue) [2-22-19]

Atheist Desire for Amazing Divine Miracles / Incorruptibles [2-23-19]

God’s Proof of Himself Via Miracles (vs. an Atheist) [3-6-19]

Dialogue w Agnostic on Proof for Miracles (Lourdes) [9-9-18]

Dialogue with an Agnostic: God as a “Properly Basic Belief” [10-5-15]

Non-Empirical “Basic” Warrant for Theism & Christianity [10-15-15]

Atheist Demands for “Empirical” Proofs of God [10-27-15]

Implicit (Extra-Empirical) Faith, According to John Henry Newman [12-18-15]

The biblical position is the opposite of #2:

Romans 1:19-20 (RSV) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. . . .

Now, of course, the atheist says, “who cares about that? It’s just the Bible saying what we would expect it to say; but it’s circular reasoning to cite the Bible to prove the Bible . . .” For my part, I’m not trying to prove the point at the moment, so I’m not engaged in circular reasoning or begging the question. I’m simply reporting (sociologically and theologically) what the Bible teaches

How we would flesh out Romans 1 philosophically would be to utilize the teleological and cosmological arguments. But is it true that a thinking person can simply view the universe and the marvels of science and have a rational basis for thinking that it suggests God or some sort of Higher Power (either personal or impersonal) or “organizing / creative principle” (or whatever way one would like to describe it)? I submit that some very great minds (and not Christian minds) have indeed had that reaction.

Philosopher David Hume was a deist (not an atheist: as is wrongly assumed by many). It is thought that he dismantled the teleological argument. But many good Hume scholars maintain that he disposed of merely one form of it: not all forms. He appears to offer support for my contention, from Romans 1, that the observable world bears witness to God’s existence:

The order of the universe proves an omnipotent mind. (Treatise, 633n)

Wherever I see order, I infer from experience that there, there hath been Design and Contrivance . . . the same principle obliges me to infer an infinitely perfect Architect from the Infinite Art and Contrivance which is displayed in the whole fabric of the  universe. (Letters, 25-26)

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion . . . (Natural History of Religion, 1757, edited by H. E. Root, London: 1956, 21, 26)

As my second corroborating example, I submit Albert Einstein, who was some sort of pantheist (“God is everything”) or panentheist (“God is in everything”) — assuredly not an atheist –, but who backs up to a significant degree, the thought that Paul expresses in Romans 1 and that Christians believe (in faith, but backed up by philosophy). I’ve collected many of his statements concerning religion and the marvels of the universe. Here are several of those (further detailed source information is provided in that paper):

My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. (1927)

I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. (1930)

Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres. (1941)

In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. (c. 1941)

As for #3, many atheists — if not necessarily Jonathan — casually assume that pretty much every atheist and skeptic would respond as Thomas did. Jesus thought quite otherwise:

Luke 16:19-31 There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. [20] And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz’arus, full of sores, [21] who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. [22] The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; [23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom. [24] And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ [25] But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. [26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ [27] And he said, `Then I beg you, father, 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.'”

Jonathan, like most atheists, completely overlooks the prideful, stubborn and irrationally defiant aspect of atheism (and indeed of the human race, generally speaking). St. Paul wrote about that, too:

Romans 1:18, 21-25 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. . . . [21] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. [24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, [25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

But lest atheists (or anyone) think that therefore no atheist can be saved, this is not Paul’s position, either, as he clarifies in the next chapter:

Romans 2:6-16 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. [9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. [11] For God shows no partiality. [12] All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. [13] For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Therefore, an atheist can possibly be saved, and there is a big biblical distinction between the not-convinced seeker after truth and the outright rejecter of God. But they can’t be saved if they know God exists (are conscious of that belief) and reject Him and His free offer of grace and salvation. How much one “knows” is obviously the key. And only God knows that for any given person. It’s not for other persons to judge that or to condemn people to hell. They don’t have nearly even knowledge to make that determination.

Lastly, atheists manage to believe many extraordinary things without much proof (or even understanding) at all. Why should they place the existence of God in a category all its own? For example, I have written about how atheists in effect “worship” the atom (this paper raised such a huge ruckus that I had to do a follow-up paper to explain the nature of the satire), and attribute to it virtually every characteristic that Christians believe God possesses: it supposedly came from nothing (this one not a trait of God), managed to have the inherent capability to evolve and create and bring about everything we see in the universe, including consciousness, life, the galaxies, etc.

These are extraordinary attributes. And why do atheists believe in them? Well, they have few ultimate reasons to explain it, but it’s the only alternative they think they have to admitting that God exists and that He created, designed, and upholds the universe. If you want to reject God: concerning Whom there are many evidences and arguments that have been rationally and seriously discussed for thousands of years, then you go instead to a blind faith position: the atom (and a larger materialism) can do anything: including creating itself from nothing (a self-evidently absurd position that science has long since rejected).

G. K. Chesterton observed”: “if men reject Christianity, it’s not that he believes in nothing, but that he believes in anything.”

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Related Reading

God the Designer?: Dialogue with an Atheist [8-27-20]

“Quantum Entanglement” & the “Upholding” Power of God [10-20-20]

Seidensticker Folly #71: Spirit-God “Magic”; 68% Dark Energy Isn’t? [2-2-21]

Seidensticker Folly #38: Eternal Universe vs. an Eternal God [4-16-20]

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Summary: Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce argues that God was unfair, insofar as Jesus extraordinarily proved Himself in person to Doubting Thomas. But three of his prior premises can easily be denied.

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Photo credit: The Incredulity of Thomas (1622), by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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February 4, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” .

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I am replying to the post on Jonathan’s site, “Contradictions in the Resurrection of Jesus Accounts” (1-31-21): a guest-post written by one David Austin. This is my second reply. The first dealt with the 18-point chart. Now I tackle the text after it. David Austin’s words will be in blue.

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Paul has no mention of an empty tomb; Just Jesus was “buried”.

Acts 13:28-37 (RSV) Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. [29] And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. [30] But God raised him from the dead; [31] and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. [32] And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, [33] this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, `Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.’ [34] And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way, `I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ [35] Therefore he says also in another psalm, `Thou wilt not let thy Holy One see corruption.’ [36] For David, after he had served the counsel of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers, and saw corruption; [37] but he whom God raised up saw no corruption.

[“tomb” was mentioned in 13:29, then Paul says Jesus was “raised him from the dead.” That’s an “empty tomb” is it not?: by straightforward logical deduction. Jesus wasn’t there anymore, and “for many days he appeared” (13:31). Inexorable conclusion: empty tomb!] There are many many more references to Jesus’ Resurrection in Paul:

Acts 17:2-3 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, [3] explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Acts 17:30-31 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 26:22-23 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: [23] that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.”

Romans 1:4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Romans 4:24 . . . It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,

[see also: Rom 4:24-25; 6:4-5, 9; 7:4; 8:11, 34; 10:9; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:3-8, 12-17, 20; 2 Cor 4:14; 5:15; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Phil 3:10; Col 2:12; 1 Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 2:8]

Normal practice with crucified victims was for their bodies to rot on the cross, and then thrown into a mass grave.

It’s pretty impossible to argue that there could be no conceivable exceptions to this “normal practice” ever. So it’s much ado about nothing. But Protestant apologist Timothy Paul Jones offers an excellent rebuttal to this argument (fashionable among atheists and skeptics): “Is it Possible That Jesus’ Body Was Left on the Cross?” (4-6-12).

According to Paul, if the Resurrection had not occurred, then Christians’ faith is in vain. One would, therefore, expect the Resurrection to be the best corroborated event in the NT, but, as you can see, in the above chart, this is NOT the case. If there are contradictions, this means at least one account  (& maybe more) is incorrect. 

That’s why I wrote this paper and the one before it. I believe I refuted all 18 alleged contradictions, so there is nothing to the charge. And if indeed contradictions aren’t demonstrable, as I contend, then it means that the atheists coming up with such bogus nonsense have a serious problem with 1) logic and [possibly] 2) reading comprehension. They certainly don’t — on the whole — have a clue about biblical exegesis. I’ve shown that over and over in my refutations of atheist “exegetes”: who approach the Bible (as I always say) like a butcher approaches a hog.

The four Gospels are anonymous; The “authorship” of these writings was a 2nd Century addition and was merely speculation by the early Church. The gospels were written in Greek, but it is generally agreed that Jesus & the Disciples spoke Aramaic and were “unlettered”.

Tax collectors for the Romans were in fact, literate and well-educated. Thus, Matthew very likely would have known Greek and Latin. We learn from Colossians 4:14 that Luke was a medical doctor. Wyatt Graham observed:

Consider for example the testimony of a bishop named Papias [c. 60-c. 130 AD] who lived while some disciples of Jesus still lived. For example, he had access to John the elder and Ariston, who were disciples of Jesus. He also knew of the daughters of Phillip who lived nearby to him (Acts 21:8–9). And Papias records the words of one of Jesus’ disciples by the name of John the Elder regarding Mark’s Gospel:

And the elder used to say this: “Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For [Mark] neither heard the Lord nor [accompanied] him, but afterward, as I said, [accompanied] Peter. (Frag. Pap. 3.15; I modified slightly Holmes’ translation) . . .

Papias also records that Matthew wrote the Gospel according to Matthew (Frag. Pap. 3.16). So, Papias lived while disciples of Jesus still lived, and he also lived when the Gospels were being written (or was born around this period). And it is Papias who affirms that Peter committed his preaching to words through Mark’s hand (through the testimony of John). And it is Papias who affirms that Matthew, an apostle of Jesus, wrote the Gospel according to Matthew.

As for Luke as the author of the book bearing his name, see: “Who Wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts” by Brian Chilton (7-2-17), and by the same writer: “Who Wrote the Gospel of John?” (9-3-17). Chilton thinks that John dictated his Gospel.

Matthew & Mark have the women being instructed for the Disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.

So what? Unless they say something like “this is the only time they saw the risen Jesus” there is no contradiction. It gets very tiresome having to reiterate elementary logic over and over.

Matthew has the Disciples’ one & only sighting of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee.

This is an absolutely classic and “textbook” example of the dumbfounded and intellectually dishonest methodology of atheist Bible-bashers: seeing “contradictions” under every rock. Nothing in the text of Matthew even remotely hints at this being the “one & only sighting of Jesus.” That’s simply a groundless, completely arbitrary extrapolation from David Austin’s brain with nothing to back it up.

The original manuscripts of Mark end at Chapter 16 verse 8 (Frightened women run from the tomb and tell no-one). . . . Since the women, in Mark, don’t tell the Disciples about what they were told, we can only speculate whether they ever met Jesus at all.

I dealt with this claim concerning the supposed non-canonicity of Mark 16:9-20 in the previous paper. But even if one accepts the shorter version of Mark 16, I wrote about 16:8 in another paper on this same topic:

1) The last clause gives no indication of how long they “said nothing.” It may not have been very long at all. We can only guess or speculate. 2)  “Said nothing” with no indication of how long the silence was, is not the same thing as saying that they never mentioned it to anyone, ever.

Luke & John contradict Matthew. Luke has two Jesus meetings with the Disciples, prior to a locked room meeting, (ie. With two Disciples on the road to Emmaus, and a meeting with Peter {time & location unspecified}) followed by a meeting with all Eleven Disciples in a room in Jerusalem. At this meeting, Jesus specifically tells them NOT to leave Jerusalem until “clothed in power from on high” (ie Pentecost). No 2nd meeting in Jerusalem or Galilee meeting.

Unlike Luke, John has the 1st sighting of Jesus by Ten Disciples in a locked room in Jerusalem, followed by two more appearances to them; 2nd in Jerusalem to Eleven and 3rd at the Sea of Tiberias to seven (This appearance specifically noted as the 3rd, hence NO prior visit to Galilee, “Road to Emmaus” or separate meeting with Peter). . . .  Paul’s Corinthians 15:3 states that the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus was to Cephas (Peter), but according to the Gospel accounts the first witness(es) would be Mary Magdalene & the other Mary, Mary Magdalene alone, or Cleopas & another un-named Disciple, not Peter. 

For a quite sufficient explanation, see the article, “To Galilee or Jerusalem?” by Eric Lyons, at the excellent Apologetics Press website. Here is the heart of his argument:

The truth is, Jesus met with His disciples in both places, but He did so at different times. One of the reasons so many people allege that two or more Bible passages are contradictory is because they fail to recognize that mere differences do not necessitate a contradiction. For there to be a bona fide contradiction, not only must one be referring to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense, but the same time period must be under consideration. . . .

Similarly, Jesus met with His disciples both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, but at different times. On the day of His resurrection, He met with all of the apostles (except Thomas) in Jerusalem just as both Luke and John recorded (Luke 24:33-43; John 20:19-25). Since Jesus was on the Earth for only forty days following His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), sometime between this meeting with His apostles in Jerusalem and His ascension more than five weeks later, Jesus met with seven of His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee (John 21:1-14), and later with all eleven of the apostles on a mountain in Galilee that Jesus earlier had appointed for them (Matthew 28:16).

Sometime following these meetings in Galilee, Jesus and His disciples traveled back to Judea, where He ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12). None of the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances contradicts another. Rather, each writer supplemented what a different writer left out. . . .

Still, one may ask, “Why did Jesus command His apostles to ‘tarry in the city of Jerusalem’ on the day of His resurrection until they were ‘endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), if He really wanted them to meet Him in Galilee?” Actually, it is an assumption to assert that Jesus made the above statement on the same day that He arose from the grave. One thing we must keep in mind as we study the Bible is that it normally is not as concerned about chronology as modern-day writings.

Frequently (especially in the gospel accounts), writers went from one subject to the next without giving the actual time or the exact order in which something was done or taught (cf. Luke 4:1-3; Matthew 4:1-11). In Luke 24, the writer omitted the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Galilee (mentioned by both Matthew and John). However, notice that he never stated that Jesus remained only in Jerusalem from the day He rose from the grave until the day He ascended up into heaven.

See also an article from the always superb Christian Think Tank site, by Glenn Miller, entitled, “Do the Resurrection accounts HOPELESSLY contradict one another?” He includes the following summary of  Protestant theologian and exegete Murray Harris’ chronological schema of post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus: 

1. Mary Magdalene followed Peter and John to the tomb, saw two angels inside, and then met Jesus (John 20: 11-17; cf Mark 16:9).

2. Mary (the mother of James and Joses) and Salome met Jesus and were directed to tell his brethren to go to Galilee (Matt. 28:9-10).

3. During the afternoon Jesus appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus. They then returned to Jerusalem to report the appearance to the Eleven and others (Luke 24:13-35; c£ Mark 16:12-13).

4. Jesus appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15 :5).

5. That evening Jesus appeared to the Eleven and others (Luke 24:33), Thomas being absent (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23; 1 Cor. 15:5; cf Mark 16:14).

6. One week later Jesus appeared to the Eleven, Thomas being present (John 20:26-29) .

7. Seven disciples had an encounter with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee (John 21: 1-22).

8. The Eleven met Jesus on a mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20; cf Mark 16:15-18).

9. Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people (Luke 24:44-49; 1 Cor. 15:6).

10. He appeared to James (1 Cor. 15 :7) .

11. Immediately before his ascension, Jesus appeared to the Eleven near Bethany (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:6-11; 1 Cor. 15:7; cf Mark 16: 19-20).

Assuming the women had gone to anoint the body, how did they expect to gain access to the body with the stone in position, and guards barring the entrance? (Note: Only Matthew mentions guards at the tomb) Protestant apologist William Lane Craig adequately refutes this:

Would that have kept the women away? Well, maybe so, but only if they knew of the guard. But did they know? When you read Mark and Matthew’s accounts of the women’s observation of Jesus’ interment (Mark 15.46-47; Matthew 27.57-61), what you find is that the guard was not posted on Friday when the women watched Joseph inter the body in the tomb. The guard was something of an afterthought on the part of the Jewish authorities, who went to Pilate on the following day (Saturday) to ask that the tomb be sealed and a guard posted before it.

Saturday was, of course, the Jewish Sabbath, and Luke records of the women that “On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23.56). Like the male disciples, they may have remained in seclusion all that day (cf. John 20.19). So there’s no reason at all to think that when the women set out for the tomb at early dawn on Sunday morning, they expected to find that the tomb was guarded and sealed. That’s why “they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?’” (Mark 16.3). They didn’t know if anybody would be there. So I see no problem in affirming the compatibility of Matthew’s guard story with the women’s intent to anoint Jesus’ corpse.

As to the stone, Fr. Charles Grondin proposes two possible solutions to the proposed “difficulty”:

The women had seen where Jesus had been placed (Mark 15:47) but might not have stayed long enough to see the stone rolled in front of the tomb, and they asked the question recorded in Mark 16:3 only once they saw the stone from a distance. . . .

The woman expected to encounter other people either along the way or in the vicinity who could roll it back for them—for example, the gardener (John 20:15).

Why was stone rolled away if Jesus could enter locked rooms? Maybe for some-one to remove the body?

Orthodox Christian Network answers this:

There can hardly be any Christian believer who doesn’t know that an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone from the entry to the tomb where the Creator of life lay dead, without breath. Very few, however really know why the stone was rolled away. Most people confuse two things which are independent of each other: the Lord’s exit from the tomb and the rolling away of the stone.

In other words, they think that the angel came down and rolled away the stone so that the Lord could emerge, that when He did so there was an earthquake which terrified the guards to such an extent that they ‘became as if dead’. This is not only what ordinary Christians believe, but even what some of those who preach the Gospel think. In many icons of the Resurrection, in fact, both Byzantine and Western, we see the angel taking away the stone and the Lord emerging from the tomb, while the guards, terrified at the sight of Him, fall down as if dead.

This is historically inaccurate! If you study the Gospel of Matthew carefully, you’ll see that the Lord had emerged from the tomb before the descent of the angel, the rolling away of the stone, and the earthquake which occurred at the same time. The stone was rolled away, not so that the Lord could emerge, but to demonstrate that He’d already done so.

If Mary’s tomb visit (in John) was earlier than the visit in Matthew, why did she not encounter any guards?

Because, as John 20:1 states, she “saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” An angel had already removed the stone and as a result, “the guards trembled and became like dead men” (Mt 28:4). Presumably they also fled as a result (likely for fear of their lives, for the penalty for not properly guarding something was death in Roman law); therefore, Mary didn’t see them.

Matthew & John say the women/woman met Jesus at the tomb, but Mark & Luke says there was NO such meeting.

Where do Mark and Luke say there was no such meeting? They don’t. So this is just another non-contradiction that atheists somehow conjure up as an authentic one. To not mention something is logically not the same as denying the same thing. The latter would have been a contradiction if Mark and Luke actually did it.  But they didn’t, so it isn’t. But it’s another classic example of atheist special pleading.

The women in Luke see two men inside the tomb BEFORE Peter inspects the empty tomb, but John says that Mary Magdalene saw two angels inside the tomb AFTER Peter & Beloved Disciple had inspected the tomb.

So what? Angels could have been there both times.

The ascension of Jesus is only mentioned in Luke, apparently on the same day as his resurrection (contradicted in Acts [supposedly also written by “Luke”] which says Jesus remained on earth for forty days).

I answer that in this paper: Seidensticker Folly #15: Jesus’ Ascension: One or 40 Days? [9-10-18]

How did the chief priests and Pharisees know that Jesus would be resurrected after 3 days when the Disciples didn’t seem to understand this?

Two Bible commentaries (writing about Matthew 27:63) provide answers:

It appears, then, that though they had deliberately stirred up the passions of the people by representing the mysterious words of John 2:14 as threatening a literal destruction of the Temple (Matthew 26:61Matthew 27:40), they themselves had understood, wholly or in part, their true meaning. We are, perhaps, surprised that they should in this respect have been more clear-sighted than the disciples, but in such a matter sorrow and disappointment confuse, and suspicion sharpens the intellect. (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

after three days I will rise again: now, though he said to his to his disciples privately, Matthew 16:21, yet not clearly and expressly to the Scribes and Pharisees; wherefore they must either have it from Judas, and lied in saying they remembered it: or they gathered it either from what he said concerning the sign of the prophet Jonas, Matthew 12:40, or rather from his words in John 2:19, and if so, they acted a most wicked part, in admitting a charge against him, as having a design upon their temple, to destroy it, and then rebuild it in three days; when they knew those words were spoken by him concerning his death, and resurrection from the dead: they remembered this, when the disciples did not: bad men have sometimes good memories, and good men bad ones; so that memory is no sign of grace, (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

Who witnessed this meeting when guards were sent to secure the tomb? Who witnessed the meeting between the guards and the chief priests when a bribe was suggested?

Simply because we can’t determine either thing from the texts alone, doesn’t mean or logically follow that there were none, or that this person or persons could not have communicated it to Matthew. Matthew may have also received it by direct revelation from God (under the Christian view that the Bible is inspired writing and God’s revelation to mankind). In any event, this is not a “contradiction”; only an unknown (two different things). But certainly plausible hypotheses exist.

Paul says Jesus appeared to “The Twelve” but if Judas Iscariot was no longer a Disciple, there would be only eleven of them left for Jesus to appear to, not twelve.

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.

Luke contradicts himself in 3 places during this Resurrection account :- a) Early text states the women meet 2 men inside the tomb, but later says the women met 2 angels there. b) Early text has “only” Peter inspecting the empty tomb, but later text has “some” Disciples going to the tomb.

These two are simply not contradictions, as shown last time.

Early text has Jesus’ body being wrapped in a cloth, but later, the Disciples see cloths in the empty tomb. Matthew, Mark & Luke say Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in “a clean linen cloth” (ie one cloth), but John says “linen cloths, as per Jewish tradition. John has the Disciples, when inspecting the empty tomb, seeing a separate cloth that covered Jesus’ head, & Luke mentions the Disciples seeing cloths

Ethan R. Longhenry explains:

[O]ne particular detail is associated with Peter and John’s visitation to the tomb in John 20:4-7 . . . : the othonion, the linen cloths, were lying on the ground, and the soudarion, normally a handkerchief but also used to cover the head of a corpse (cf. Luke 19:20John 11:44Acts 19:12), was in its own place and rolled up. They were the only things left in the otherwise empty tomb.

Today we tend to dress up the dead in their best clothing or in some sort of clothing most special to them. In first century Judea it was customary to wrap the dead body in strips of linen cloths (othonion) and covering the face with the soudarion.

So this is two different things (apples and oranges). It’s not a “contradiction” (as I have by now explained umpteen times) because the head napkin is not mentioned by all accounts. The latter’s existence is not expressly denied (which would be a contradiction). It would be like the time I wore a suit and also my fedora to a wedding. Someone might say, “Dave was dressed up in his nicest suit” and another could say, “Dave was wearing his ‘gangster’ pinstriped suit and also a cool hat.” Both are true, and they are not contradictory. I was wearing a [pinstriped] suit, and I was wearing a hat, and I was wearing both.

When will anti-theist atheists hellbent on opposing the Bible at every turn, ever comprehend these elementary things? This is far from rocket science. Dumbfounded atheist attempted biblical “exegesis” — besides often being hysterically funny —  seems to be an ongoing proof of Romans 1:21-22 (RSV): “. . . they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools,”

NB: Mark has Joseph of Arimathea buying a linen cloth. How could he buy this cloth when all shops were closed for Passover?

Theology Web hosted a discussion on this non-issue (“Joseph of Arimathea Buying Linen On Passover?”) in which one of the commenters shredded this “gotcha” question:

The imagined issue here is that it was illegal to work and to buy or sell goods on Passover per the following passages: [cites Ex 12:16; Lev 23:6-7; Neh 10:31]

Joseph, who was prominent on the council, would appear to be publicly breaking Jewish law by buying linen on Passover, and he couldn’t do it on the Sabbath (which was the next day) either. There appear to be a number of solutions to this issue though. So, starting with NT scholar Harold Hoehner, “The purchases of Joseph of Arimathea were proper for necessities could be obtained on the Sabbath (and on a feast day).” His source for this is Mishnah Shabbath 23.4[:] “One may await the dusk at the limits of the techoom, to furnish what is necessary for a bride and for a corpse, and to bring a coffin and shrouds for the latter.” “By ‘techoom’ is meant the distance of 2,000 ells [7,500 feet] which a man may traverse on the Sabbath, and refers to the limits of that distance.”

Hoehner also cites Gustaf Dalman’s Jesus – Jeshua: Studies in the Gospels (1929), where Dalman points out that these were extenuating circumstances. A criminal who had been hung (crucifixion was a type of hanging) had to be buried by nightfall to prevent the land from being defiled and burial on the Sabbath was likely not permitted. The body couldn’t lay out in the hot Judean environment for two days. It had to be buried,

See related papers:

Dialogue w Atheist on Post-Resurrection “Contradictions” [1-26-11]

Seidensticker Folly #18: Resurrection “Contradictions”? [9-17-18]

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Photo credit: geralt (1-23-21) [PixabayPixabay License]

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February 2, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” .

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I am replying to Jonathan’s paper, “Contradictions in the Resurrection of Jesus Accounts” (1-31-21), which is apparently actually written by one David Austin, but in any event, wholly endorsed by Jonathan. It starts out with the usual laundry list of 18 alleged contradictions in the biblical accounts, in a neat little chart. This stuff makes the anti-theist atheist Bible bashers drool. They love it.

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Most of these sorts of “alleged contradictions” are simply recycled from some prior standard “playbook” atheist volume, which may even be a few hundred years old. I highly doubt that most atheists actually sit reading the Bible, to come up with these bogus “contradictions.” That’s why most of these things never cross most Christians’ minds (including my own): because you have to work very hard to notice them in the first place.

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Atheists most assuredly do not love it, however, when Christians refute their bogus biblical claims. I have done so scores of times, and it’s almost always so easy — usually involving the simplest of logical errors — that I have come to enjoy these challenges quite a bit; gives me something fun to do. Answering all 18 points in the chart only took me a few hours. Readers can view the chart at the link above. I shall respond to each point by number below.

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1) “Women at Tomb“: Not contradictory because in questions of numbers of people said to do something or be somewhere, etc., an actual logical contradiction requires exclusionary clauses such as “only x, y, and z were there and no one else” or “only three people witnessed incident a.” None of the Gospel texts do that here; hence, no demonstrable contradiction (see Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1-10; Jn 20:1). Some atheists who concede this logical shortcoming will nonetheless (rather desperately) go on to argue that it is still a “contradiction” in some sense because, after all, the texts don’t all say exactly the same thing

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Unfortunately, that’s not how logic works, and it is ridiculous and downright unrealistic to “demand” that four separate accounts written by as many people must report what was seen in identical fashion; otherwise, the ubiquitous atheist cry of “contradiction!” will raise its ugly and obnoxious head.

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2) “Guards at the tomb“: Not a contradiction merely because Matthew mentions this and the other three Gospels don’t. Arguments from silence prove nothing. A true contradiction would require one or more of the other three to say something like “the tomb was unguarded.” That‘s a direct contradiction. It would be nice if once in a while atheists could actually produce one of those. As it is, they make fools of themselves all the time with these pseudo-“contradictions” that aren’t at all. It’s embarrassing.

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One would think that logic (like fresh air, cute puppies, and the joy of ice cream) is something where Christians and atheists could readily agree with each other. But sadly, that’s not the case: at least not in the “1001 biblical contradictions” sub-group of anti-theist atheists. They wouldn’t know a real contradiction from a hole in the ground.

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3) “Time of women’s visit“: the descriptions in RSV are “toward the dawn . . . [they] went to see the sepulchre” (Mt 28:1) [David Austin describes it as “day was dawning”], “very early . . . they went to the tomb when the sun had risen” (Mk 16:2), “at early dawn, they went to the tomb” (Lk 24:1) — clearly no contradiction so far — “; then we have: “Mary Mag’dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark” (Jn 20:1). A plausible resolution is to posit that John describes an earlier visit of Mary Magdalene only. She then would have gone back with other women (since she is mentioned in all four accounts — as the chart notes in #1 –, but alone only in John 20:1).

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The inevitable atheist objection might then be: “well, then why didn’t the text say it was an earlier visit?” Because it doesn’t have to. It’s a silly demand. They would simply be describing different visits to the tomb. It would be like my saying, “my daughter got up and ate breakfast” [and shortly after I went off to work], and my wife [stay-at-home mom] saying [referring to the same morning], “my daughter and her brother ate brunch together.”

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Though the two accounts don’t reference each other, they don’t contradict at all.  Our daughter ate two meals; one being alone and the other not. But in fact, in the Gospel of John the text does show Mary visiting alone (20:1), then running to tell the disciples the tomb was empty (20:2), and then after “the disciples went back to their homes” (20:10), being outside the tomb again, weeping (20:11) and then seeing the risen Jesus (20:14-17) and then going to the disciples and telling them she saw Jesus risen (20:18).

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4) “Reason for visit“: Matthew says two women “went to see the sepulchre”; that is, they wanted to see if it was left as it was when Jesus was laid there: in order to apply burial spices. What other reason would there be? Mark and Luke mention the intent to anoint Jesus’ body.  Matthew doesn’t contradict that. It simply (arguably) describes it in different terms. John gives no reason, but again, the logical thing is to assume it is referring to anointing of the body. They wanted to get it done as soon as the sun came up. It was Jewish ritual. In April 2019 I refuted atheist Bob Seidensticker (one of 71 unanswered times) regarding Jewish burial spices. I made a humorous (but quite apt) analogy in that paper, relevant to this section:

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First of all, just because John does not state the reason why Mary went to the tomb, it doesn’t follow that no reason existed. This is not a contradiction. . . . One might say, by the same token: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Bob Seidensticker went to the bathroom”. Did he go there for “no reason” too? Or is it reasonable to assume that he must have had some reason, which was not stated in this particular description, but also is not that difficult to surmise? Maybe an additional account (say, Bob’s diary) could conceivably inform us that he went to empty his bladder, comb his hair, and brush his teeth (and perhaps also to spend a minute admiring a sophist in the mirror).

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Austin noted twice that John stated that the body was already anointed. But it’s plausible to hold that the women thought it was hastily or insufficiently done after the crucifixion, for lack of time, since it was getting dark. So they went again (after the Sabbath day was over). It’s just another trumped-up faux-“contradiction” that is not at all.  One wearies of this. Believe me, as an apologist who deals with this all the time, it’s far beyond frustrating by now. On the other hand, I’m delighted to have these golden opportunities to demonstrate the bankruptcy of anti-theist attempts to tear down the Bible and Christianity.

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5) “Stone rolled away“: Matthew seems to mention it as occurring in the women’s presence; the other three Gospels portray it as having already happened when they got there. Catholic apologist Karlo Broussard ably tackles this one:

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Once again, the objection makes a false assumption—namely, that Matthew is intending to assert that the women witnessed the angel rolling away the stone. But a close examination of the text proves otherwise. First, as A. Jones argues in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, the entire passage concerning the angel, the stone, and the guards who “trembled and became like dead men” (Matt. 28:2-4) seems to be a parenthetical statement. It’s unlikely that the women would have conversed with the angel while the guards laid there as if dead.

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Furthermore, the details concerning the angel and the stone are introduced with the Greek conjunction gar: “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for [Greek, gar] an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it” (28:2, emphasis added). Such an explanatory conjunction is used to introduce a clarification of a previous part of the sentence. For Matthew, the angel rolling away the stone is his explanation for the earthquake, not to assert that the women witnessed a stone-moving spectacle.

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This answer could be further supported by Matthew’s use of an indicative mood in the aorist verb tense of ginomai: “And behold, there was [Greek, egeneto] a great earthquake” (28:2, emphasis added). The aorist verb tense in the indicative mood usually denotes the simple past. So a possible translation is “an earthquake had occurred,” implying the women didn’t witness it. Even the angel’s descent can be described as having already occurred, since the aorist participle katabas (“descended”) can be translated with the English past perfect: “for an angel of the Lord had descended” (28:2; ISV, emphasis added). (“Biblical Resurrection Reports Are Not ‘Hopelessly Contradictory’ “, Catholic Answers, 7-11-17)

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6) “Earthquake“: Only Matthew mentions it, but this is explained in the explanation provided for #5 above. It was a past incident.

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7) “Angels/men seen at the tomb“: Again, the explanation in #5 accounts for the uniqueness of Matthew’s account (angel sitting on a rolled-away stone). The various reports of angels’ actions are not necessarily contradictory at all. Angels are (in the biblical view: believe it or not), extraordinary supernatural creatures, and they do lots of appearing and disappearing. Austin makes an issue out of Matthew and John referring to “angels” but Mark and Luke calling them “men.” But he notes that in Luke they were later referred to as “angels” (24:23).

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And that’s because both terms are used for angels. In Genesis 19, for example, “two angels” visit Lot (19:1), but in the same passage they are also called “men” twice (19:10, 12) and then “angels” again (19:15) and “men” again (19:16). In Judges 13, this interchangeability is striking, with reference to an “angel”  (13:3, 6, 9, 13, 15-18, 20-21) and “man” (13:6, 10-11): referring to the same being.

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8) “Did women/woman enter tomb?“: Mark and Luke say they did. Matthew and John don’t. But to contradict the other two reports, they would have to outright deny that it happened. And of course they don’t do that, so (sorry, guys!), no contradiction is present. Matthew strongly implies that they did, however, because the angel says to them, “Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead . . .” (28:6-7).

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9) “Did disciple[s] visit tomb?“: John says Peter and John (“the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved”: John’s humble terminology to refer to himself); Luke says “Some of those who were with us [i.e., apostles: 24:10, 13] went to the tomb” [24:24]. It doesn’t specify Peter, as Austin claims, but it might be taken as strongly implied by “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (24:34). No contradiction so far (by the same logical criteria I have repeatedly explained, here, and many times to atheists in the past).

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Matthew doesn’t specifically say, but it says that the women “ran to tell his disciples” (28:8). Now what would you do if you were Jesus’ disciples — in despair over His crucifixion — and were told that He had risen from the dead? Of course, you would run to the tomb to see, which is exactly what Luke and John report, and which Matthew surely strongly insinuates. Austin presupposes the view that Mark 16:9-20 is not actually part of the Gospel. For a great refutation of that, see Dave Miller: “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Apologetics Press, 2005 [link] ). But either way, Mark 16 (long or short) doesn’t specifically say that a disciple went to the tomb. But it doesn’t deny it, either, so it is the good ol’ notorious argument from silence again. So: no problem in the final analysis.

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10) “Did disciple[s] enter tomb?“: John says Peter and John did; the others say nothing (argument of silence and thus, no contradiction). To not mention something is not the same as a denial. If I don’t mention that the sun came up this morning, it doesn’t follow that I denied it. If I forget to say “I love you” to my wife one day, I highly doubt that she will conclude that I don’t, based only on that. This kind of “reasoning” is just dumb. It’s unworthy of any thinking person.

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11) “What did disciple[s] see?“: Luke and John saw “linen” cloths in the tomb. Matthew and Mark are silent; so no contradiction. Atheists seem to not realize that the four Gospels are obviously complementary to one another. No single one of them is required to report every jot and tittle of an event. They differ (but don’t contradict) just as any four witnesses of a crime usually will report or emphasize different aspects of the truth of what occurred, and perhaps miss some details that other witnesses saw. All of them together, if consistent, verify each other’s claims.

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Likewise, what one Gospel doesn’t mention is usually mentioned by another. In fact, this silly chart bears strong witness to that, even in its dumbfounded opposition to biblical inspiration and harmony. I’m sitting here (as always) having my faith in biblical inspiration strengthened, because the critical objections are so ridiculously weak and non-substantial. This is the blessing of apologetics.

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12) “Did women/woman meet Jesus?“: Since Mark and Luke are silent on this aspect, they can’t contradict. Austin attempts to make hay out of the women grabbing Jesus’ feet and worshiping Him in Matthew, but Mary Magdalene later being told “not to touch” Jesus in John 20:17. A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament explains this:

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Touch me not (mh mou aptou). Present middle imperative in prohibition with genitive case, meaning “cease clinging to me” rather than “Do not touch me.” Jesus allowed the women to take hold of his feet (ekrathsan) and worship (prosekunhsan) as we read in Matthew 28:9 . The prohibition here reminds Mary that the previous personal fellowship by sight, sound, and touch no longer exists and that the final state of glory was not yet begun. Jesus checks Mary’s impulsive eagerness (A T Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, John 20:17).

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Almost all more recent English translations reflect this more specific (prolonged, more intense) sense of touch: *

RSV: hold

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TEV / NIV / NRSV / Beck: hold on to

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NAB: holding on to

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ESV / NKJV / Weymouth / Barclay / Goodspeed / NEB / REB / Jerusalem / Knox / Amplified: cling

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NASB / Williams / Wuest / Moffatt: clinging

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So (guess what?), no contradiction again.

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13) “What did Jesus say to the women/woman?“: Mark and Luke are silent; Matthew and John say two different, but not contradictory things. So to be contradictory, one or both would have to say, Jesus said only [whatever]. But they don’t.

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14) “Where was 1st Jesus appearance to Disciples?” Mark doesn’t say. The others don’t indicate that their account was the “first” appearance (Austin baldly assumes this to be the case), so different harmonious chronologies are entirely possible to construct (and a “contradiction” impossible to undeniably construct).

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15) “Where was 2nd Jesus appearance to Disciples?” Matthew and Mark are silent, and so irrelevant. John doesn’t specify that there were no visits in-between the two he mentions, and “first and second” can only apply to his version itself (not to the other Gospels), even if we assume that the two mentioned are directly chronological. The same factors apply to Luke’s account.

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16) “Where was 3rd Jesus appearance to Disciples?” Only John mentions a third in his own account, but this doesn’t prove that it is the third time, period. My replies to #14-15 apply here too. These challenges get easier the more they continue! It’s pretty tough to come up with 18 fake biblical “contradictions”; not even one having any validity or force. Whoever devised this list surely flunked logic (assuming he even took it: and that’s a huge assumption).

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17) “When did the Disciples receive the ‘Holy Spirit’?“: Matthew, Mark, and Luke are silent. But as Austin notes, Acts [2] places it 50 days later (and most Christians believe Luke wrote Acts). John 20:22 has Jesus visiting ten disciples (minus Thomas and the fallen Judas) and bestowing on them (“receive“) the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 is a completely different public event, with tongues of fire and speaking in tongues. There is no contradiction present. Here they (disciples and any others, too) are described as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). Apples and oranges. An apple doesn’t “contradict” an orange.

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18) “When & where did Ascension happen?“: only one mentions it, so how can it be a contradiction? Acts appears at first glance to conflict with Luke (which would be a self-contradiction), but there are adequate explanations for this. I have already dealt with this topic. *    

[to be continued]

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Photo credit: geralt (8-18-16) [PixabayPixabay License

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January 19, 2021

Atheist author and polemicist John W. Loftus wrote an article entitled, “The Evidential Value of Conversion/Deconversion Stories. Reviewing Mittelberg’s “Confident Christianity” Part 7″ (2-22-18). I will be responding to his arguments regarding atheist deconversion stories (which tell of how and why one left the Christian faith). His words will be in blue.

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I want to digress a bit for this post to discuss the value of personal conversion/deconversion stories. [Nomenclature: A conversion story is one which an atheist or nonbeliever becomes a Christian. A deconversion story is one in which a Christian becomes a non-believer or atheist.] . . . 

Mittelberg never tells any Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories. He just tells atheist-to-Christian conversion stories (plus Antony Flew’s story). Should we fault him for not telling any deconversion stories? Yes, I think so! For it means he’s not offering readers any evidence to consider, but rather trying to persuade them to believe based on the conclusions others reached. His faulty line of reasoning goes this: since atheist person X became a Christian, you should too. Why should that matter? He had asked readers to follow the evidence for themselves. But by putting forth several stories of skeptic/atheist conversions to Christianity he’s not actually presenting any objective evidence for the readers to consider. Instead, he’s presenting the conclusions of others about the evidence, which is arguing by authority, the very thing he questions later. He had also asked readers to follow logic. But by adopting the conclusion of others just because they adopted it is not logical. Why not just present the evidence? The stories are a propaganda technique designed purposefully to persuade.

In any case, if Mittelberg considers atheist-to-Christian conversion stories as some kind of evidence, he needs to share a few Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories, or else, explain why the later deconversion stories have very little, or no evidential weight to them! If he’s honest that is. If nothing else, he should provide an Endnote acknowledging this additional issue with a reference for readers to look up. But then, who said apologetics was an honest enterprise? Not me. Not from what I see.

This is absolutely fascinating. I say that specifically because I have my own history of interaction with John Loftus, and of dealing with many atheists, whose deconversion stories I have critiqued. I’ve done quite a few of these through the years (including John’s). One can check out the section “Atheist ‘Deconversions'” on my Atheism web page, plus other critiques of atheists to whom I’ve devoted sections on that page.

I can testify (no pun intended!) that absolutely nothing makes an atheist (at least of the anti-theist variety) more angry than having some Christian critique their deconversion. They especially hate and despise any insinuation at all that they may have left Christianity out of ignorance and false premises, rather than the claimed massive increase in knowledge and rationality.

Anthony Toohey is one of the few atheists who has ever troubled himself to reply back to one of my critiques (twice; I link to his second counter-reply). And of course, he is very personally hostile (the virtually universal response to my critiques). First, he refers to me as “simply a self-educated Catholic schlemiel with a blog,” then pours out the inevitable avalanche of personal insults:

Dave is just being the aforementioned jerk . . . habit of inserting the worst assumptions into every gap he can find rather than make an honest attempt . . .  offensive and puerile tactics of belittling the writer because of what he imagines in the spaces rather than respond to what he actually reads in the words . . . Dave’s dishonesty . . .

Then he concludes:

The main takeaway is that Dave is reading a deconversion story, and is mystified that in 2,701 words he can’t find a book full of arguments as to why Christianity is not to be believed. And he trashes John [Loftus] for it. John calls him stupid. I don’t think he’s far from the mark there, if we’re being honest. John’s challenge is for Dave to put his money where his mouth is and actually read the damn book. Dave won’t.

Believe me, this is absolutely typical of responses to critiques such as those I have offered. Most won’t write an entire counter-response, but there will be snipes in comboxes, and then feeding frenzies, where a bunch of atheists decide to go on the attack and anything goes. Note, however, how Anthony claims that I supposedly “won’t” read John Loftus’ book about his deconversion. Therein lies a tale, and is the main focus of this paper.

I first critiqued one online version of Loftus’ deconversion way back on 10-15-06. This is how Loftus responded:

You are an idiot! You never critiqued my whole deconversion story. Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. Other than that, you can critique a few brief paragraphs or a brief testimony, if you want to, but that says very little about why someone left the faith. You walk away thinking you have completely analysed someone’s story. But from where I sit, that’s just stupid. That’s S-T-U-P-I-D! If you truly want to critique a deconversion story, then critique mine in my book. I wrote a complete story there.

Dave, I can only tolerate stupidity so long.

I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. It’s a complete story. A whole story. It’s mine.

Do you accept my challenge?

At the time I declined. Here is an abridged version of my explanation why:

1) First of all, why would you even want to have your book critiqued by someone whom you routinely call an “idiot,” an “arrogant idiot,” a “joke,” a “know-it-all,” and so forth? I’ve never understood this.

2) It is a hyper-ludicrous implication to maintain that deconversion stories are immune to all criticism simply because they are not exhaustive. It’s embarrassing to even have to point this out, but there it is.

3) I have already long since taken up your “challenge.” I said many weeks ago that if you sent me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. I actually try to comprehensively answer opposing arguments, not just talk about them or do a mutual monologue. You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

4) One wonders, however, with your manifest “gnashing teeth” attitude towards me, what would be accomplished by such a critique? You’ve already shown that you can’t or won’t offer any rational counter-reply when I analyze any of your arguments. 

Loftus, around this time, made a challenge to a Protestant who had critiqued his shorter deconversion story:

Again, are you going to read it [his book, Why I Am an Atheist] and critique it for yourself? Hey, I dare you! I bet you think you’re that smart, don’t ya, or that your faith is that strong – that you can read something like my book and not have it affect your faith.

If Christianity is true, then you have nothing to fear. But if Christianity is false, then you owe it to yourself to get the book. Either way you win.

And even if you blast my book after reading it here on this Blog, I’ll know that you read it, and just like poison takes time to work, all I have to do from then on is to wait for a personal crisis to kill your faith.

Want to give it a go? The way I see you reason here makes me think it’ll make your head spin with so many unanswerable questions that you won’t know what to do.

But that’s just me. I couldn’t answer these questions, so if you can, you’re a smarter man than I am, and that could well be. Are you? I think not, but that’s just me.

Yet one of Loftus’ droning complaints about me is that I am way too confident! I never claimed that someone would inevitably become a Christian or a Catholic Christian upon reading any of my books or many online papers! Then he sent his potshots my way again:

You’re a joke. I’m surprised you have an audience. . . . To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don’t know me. It’s a defensive mechanism you have with people like me. . . . It’s called respecting people as people, and Dave’s Christianity does not do that with people who don’t agree with him. . . . I’m just tired of pompous asses on the internet who go around claiming they are superior to me in terms of intelligence and faith. Such arrogance makes me vomit. . . . self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I. (all on 10-16-06)

Six weeks later (11-30-06) he railed against me again:

You are ignorant

you present your uninformed arguments as if everyone should agree with you

Any educated person would not state the things you do with such arrogance.

with you there is no discussion to be had for any topic you write about.

You are the answer man. Everyone else is ignoring the obvious. And that’s the hallmark of an ignorant and uneducated man.

I am annoyed by people like you, . . . pompous self-righteous know-it-all’s

Now you are attempting to defend the arrogant way you argue.

You’re just right about everything, or, at least you always come across that way.

you are an uneducated, ignorant, arrogant know-it-all.

So, anyway, this is how John Loftus: the Great Unvanquishable Christianity-Killer and Self-Proclaimed Very Important Atheist Author replied in this fashion to my critique of his story. Does that strike anyone as confident and assured that he was on the right side of the debate and had the better arguments? Yeah, that was my impression, too.

It was in June 2019 that Loftus friend Anthony Toohey confidently proclaimed that I “won’t” touch Loftus’s book, Why I Became An Atheist (the implication being, of course, that was scared and/or unable to do so). I explained why I didn’t. The main reason was that Loftus refused to send me a free PDF copy of the book, so I could deal with it point-by-point without having to type War and Peace.

But I changed my mind on 9-1-19, writing on Facebook:

I Will be Doing an In-Depth Series of Replies to Atheist John Loftus’ Self-Described “Magnum Opus,” “Why I Became an Atheist.”
I’ve been asking Loftus since 2006 [13 years!] to send me an ebook of his for free to review (while offering him any number of my books for free). He has always refused. I didn’t want to spend any money to buy one.
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I did a critique of one online version of his deconversion story in 2006. He kept insisting that to properly do such a critique, I had to order his book, where it appeared in its fullness.
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Lately, he has again acted like such an insufferable, pompous ass, as he has towards me these past 13 years (most recently censoring even bare links of mine to my replies to material on his website), that I decided tonight to purchase this book (revised version).
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I got it for $7.52 on Amazon, including shipping, for a used / very good condition copy. That won’t put me out. He’s been challenging and insulting me, so very well: I shall now devote my energies to replying to this book.
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If he is so momentously famous and important as he modestly claims he is, then my replies should get a ton of attention. That would be fine for my purposes, but as always, I’m not in this for the money. I’m simply providing rational replies to objections to Christianity. Whoever reads them, reads them. That’s not up to me. It’s not my concern. My job is to do the best job I can do, according to my capabilities.
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So of course, Loftus (full of vim and vigor and supremely confident of his beliefs) would certainly respond to such a vigorous critique, right?: since, after all, he had challenged me and others to do this very thing, and since he had written about a year-and-a-half earlier, regarding another Christian apologist:
[H]e needs to share a few Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories, or else, explain why the later deconversion stories have very little, or no evidential weight to them! If he’s honest that is. If nothing else, he should provide an Endnote acknowledging this additional issue with a reference for readers to look up. But then, who said apologetics was an honest enterprise? Not me.
Alrightey! So he made an honest man of me, and I have attained to the sublime levels of honesty and self-confidence that Jittery John Loftus has attained. So he will certainly defend himself now, right? Wrong! Here it is a year and four months later and I still haven’t heard a peep back from him. He’ still running and insulting, as always with me (these past 13 years). On 1-6-21 on his blog, he wrote about me: “I’ve had dealings with him. He’s obnoxious to the core whether it’s here or on his site. He’s unworthy of our time.” That’s anti-theist atheist-speak for “Man, I don’t know how to rationally overthrow his arguments so I better come up with a personal insult quick and pretend that that my critic’s profound ignorance and jerkhood is why I don’t reply!”
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Meanwhile, over the past two years and a few months I’ve also been systematically refuting his associate, Dr. David Madison, a former Methodist pastor who is the dominant writer on Loftus’ blog, Debunking Christianity. He’s been refuted no less than 44 times, with not a single word in reply. Instead, he issued the following jeremiad against me on 9-6-19 (not naming me, but it was clear who he meant, after 35 of my critiques):
This is a time of distress for Christian apologists. These are the die-hards who brag that they are devotees—in a professional capacity, no less—of the ancient Jesus mystery cult. They feel compelled to defend it at whatever cost. But times are changing, and they face challenges unknown to earlier apologists. . . .
So the burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked.
The five stages of Bible grief provide opportunities to initiate dialogue. I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.
So once again, his comrade isn’t following Loftus’ advice, either. Why should he, since Loftus himself doesn’t? The game is to act all confident and triumphant and to challenge some of those ignorant Christians out there to take up the challenge of the deconversion story or the Bible-bashing obsession of a man like Dr. Madison. When someone takes up the challenge, both of ’em do absolutely everything they can to avoid any interaction.
Ten days earlier, on 8-28-19, Loftus himself had changed the rules of engagement for his forum, so as to deal with the huge “crisis” that my actually taking up his own challenge posed:
Some angry Catholic apologist has been tagging our posts with his angry long-winded responses. I know of no other blog, Christian or atheist, that allows for arguments by links, especially to plug one’s failing blog or site. I’ve allowed it for about a month with this guy but no more. He’s not banned. He can still come here to comment. It’s just that we don’t allow responses in the comments longer than the blog post itself, or near that. If any respectful person has a counter-argument or some counter-evidence then bring it. State your case in as few words as possible and then engage our commenters in a discussion. But arguments by links or long comments are disallowed. I talked with David Madison who has been the target of these links and he’s in agreement with this decision. He’s planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future [he has yet to do so, now almost 17 months later]. So here’s how our readers can help. I’ve deleted a few of these arguments by link. There are others I’ve missed. If you see some apologist arguing by link flag it. Then I’ll be alerted where it is to delete it. What’s curious to me are the current posts he’s neglecting, like this one on horrific suffering. If he tackles that one I’ll allow him a link back.
Can’t be too careful if you get a Christian who is actually refuting your arguments! He must be silenced and mocked and dismissed in whatever way it takes: insults, ignoring, feeding frenzies in echo chamber comboxes, removing links informing your readers that he has refuted your right-hand man now for the 35th time . . .
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This is how Loftus and his anti-theist buddy Dr. David Madison actually act! So in light of this revealing background information, let’s get back to Loftus’ post that I was addressing at the top:
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What are these conversion stories evidence for? That people change their minds. We already knew this. But it’s worse than that. For as soon as Mittelberg uses conversion stories to bolster his case, it means he has to allow atheists to use their own deconversion stories to persuade people. When he does, it will provoke a debate over which side has the advantage, and Mittelberg will lose the advantage. All by themselves then, the fact that people change their minds provides no evidential weight in and of itself. But upon considering all other relevant things, ex-Christian deconversion stories have the evidential advantage.
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Yeah, that’s obviously the case, ain’t it, which must be the reason why Loftus has ignored ten critiques of his book-length deconversion, why his loudmouthed associate David Madison has ignored 44 rebuttals of his relentless Bible-bashing, and why fellow anti-theist atheist Bob Seidensticker (who directly challenged me to take up the burden of answering his charges) has now absolutely ignored no less than a remarkable 69 critiques of mine.
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Who could fail to be impressed by this confident performance?: three of the most vocal and influential atheists online have now ignored a total of 123 of my critiques!
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There are many Christian-turned-atheist deconversion stories, like those of authors Dan Barker, Hector Avalos, David Madison, David Chumney, Bart Ehrman, Valerie Tarico, Robert Price, Richard C. Miller, Marlene Winell, Edwin Suominen, Joe E. Holman, Stephen Uhl, William Lobdell, Jason Long, Charles Templeton, Kenneth Daniels, Bruce Gerencser, and myself to name a few off the top of my head (apologies to the many others I failed to mention).
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Perhaps Mr. John “You’re an idiot!” Loftus can be kind enough to let me know which of these will 1) not become furious if I critique their story, and 2) will actually respond and be willing to engage in written debate? I did critique Joe E. Holman’s story, right before I critiqued Loftus’ own, in October 2006.
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To highlight one of the less conspicuous deconversions is Dustin Lawson, a former protege of Christian apologist Josh McDowell. McDowell goes around to churches telling them to try to disprove Christianity. Well, Dustin listened to him and followed his advice! Guess what happened? ;-) Here’s a picture of us together, the apostates that apologists William Lane Craig and Josh McDowell would like to forget!
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Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to seek out this guy and see if he has more intellectual courage than Loftus, Madison, Seidensticker et al.
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Loftus then provides links to three sites that specialize in posting deconversion stories. I have bookmarked them and will be sure to check them out after the kind encouragement of Jittery John. Certainly, all these confident, oh-so-smart and superior atheists will warmly welcome any such challenge to their stories from a lowly Christian ignoramus like me, right?
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Our stories are not just personal feel good stuffs. We have the arguments too.
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Yeah, they have arguments all right. It’s just that they are terribly weak and I’ve never had any trouble exposing them for how fallacious, fact-challenged, and unconvincing they are. One is never more convinced of Christianity than after one sees how very flimsy and insubstantial the opposing arguments are, and how misinformed so many ex-Christians were of their faith (including Loftus himself) before they made the fateful decision to leave Christianity.
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Photo credit: cover of John Loftus’ 2012 book from its Amazon page.
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January 11, 2021

Biblical View of Astronomy, Laws of Nature, and the Natural World

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

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I am replying to the following portion of Jonathan’s article, “Frank Tipler refuted on his Star of Bethlehem thesis by Aaron Adair” (8-10-12), and a related comment on another of his posts as well (all bolding added presently):

[Y]ou should consider the possibility that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernatural phenomenon. As such, it may have been visible to the Magi only – which would explain why nobody else saw it. We don’t know. But in that case, there would be nothing to prevent it from resting over a house. . . . I don’t know why Christians bother with trying to find naturalistic explanations for something so clearly supernaturalist. The Bible is full of supernaturalism – why plead this is naturalistic and then look for an incredibly ad hoc and uncorroborated naturalistic explanation! [two typos corrected]

Now, if the star is naturalistic, then the whole world could have seen it, and could have interpreted its indicative nature. Why only three or so Eastern Magi did is bizarre. That no one from Jerusalem follows the star with these people is odd. Even if the Jerusalemites were unanimously skeptical (imagine the probability of THAT!) . . . that not a single person ventured three hours south to verify or falsify the claims of the chief priests and scribes is utterly intelligible. So, really, the star must have been supernatural and only appeared to the vision of the Magi. Nothing else is particularly coherent. (12-22-14)

Jonathan has this notion in his head that the star of Bethlehem described in the Bible must have been supernatural.” Any natural explanation is, in his opinion, “incredibly ad hoc and uncorroborated” and not “particularly coherent.”  

Why he thinks this way (what presupposition — who knows what? — allegedly requires it) is anybody’s guess. Atheists have this very odd trait of always seeming to think that they know the Bible much much better than those gullible, ignorant Christians who waste their entire lives studying and being devoted to the Bible (believing to be God’s infallible revelation to mankind). In my case, I’ve done so for over 40 years: the last forty as a Christian apologist, and the last nineteen as an apologist by profession / occupation.

In any event, Jonathan magisterially and dogmatically pontificates that the explanation can only be “supernatural” and that nothing else will do, and that this is, indeed, obvious to any rational person. In fact, Christian scholars and commentators and exegetes have come down on both sides of the question, and have offered both supernatural and natural explanations. That being the case, each interpreter can only provide their own reasons for why they believe as they do, in an effort to persuade others. This is how it is for many Bible passages, that allow for differing interpretations. 

I shall argue here that the natural explanation is not ruled out at all, and is quite plausible, based on the analogy of how the Bible treats natural phenomena: particularly astronomical ones. The Bible expresses an acquaintance with the stars by the ancient Hebrews:

Saturn is no less certainly represented by the star Kaiwan, adored by the reprobate Israelites in the desert (Amos 5:26) [RSV: “You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves;”]. The same word (interpreted to mean “steadfast”) frequently designates, in the Babylonian inscriptions, the slowest-moving planet; while Sakkuth, the divinity associated with the star by the prophet, is an alternative appellation for Ninib, who, as a Babylonian planet-god, was merged with Saturn. The ancient Syrians and Arabs, too, called Saturn Kaiwan, the corresponding terms in the Zoroastrian Bundahish being Kevan. . . . Gad and Meni (Isaias, lxv, 11 [Isaiah 65:11]) are, no doubt, the “greater and the lesser Fortune” typified throughout the East by Jupiter and Venus; Neba, the tutelary deity of Borsippa (Isaias xlvi, 1 [Isaiah 46:1]), shone in the sky as Mercury, and Nergal, transplanted from Assyria to Kutha (2 Kings 17:30), as Mars. . . .

In a striking passage the Prophet Amos (v, 8 [RSV: “He who made the Plei’ades and Orion . . .”) glorifies the Creator as “Him that made Kimah and Kesil“, . . . The word, which occurs twice in the Book of Job (ix, 9; xxxviii, 31) [9:9, RSV: “who made the Bear and Orion, the Plei’ades and the chambers of the south;” / 38:31: “Can you bind the chains of the Plei’ades, or loose the cords of Orion?”], is treated in the Septuagint version as equivalent to Pleiades. This, also, is the meaning given to it in the Talmud and throughout Syrian literature; it is supported by etymological evidences, the Hebrew term being obviously related to the Arabic root kum (accumulate), and the Assyrian kamu (to bind); while the “chains of Kimah”, referred to in the sacred text, not inaptly figure the coercive power imparting unity to a multiple object. The associated constellation Kesil is doubtless no other than our Orion. . . . We may then safely admit that Kimah and Kesil did actually designate the Pleiades and Orion. (Catholic Encyclopedia [1907], “Astronomy in the Bible”; “Astronomical allusions in the Old Testament”)

The Old Testament refers to “constellations” (RSV) four times (2 Kgs 23:5; Is 13:10; Wisdom 7:19, 29). The word in Isaiah 13:10 (“constellations” also in KJV) is the Hebrew Kesil (already noted above; Strong’s word #3685), meaning “a heavenly constellation.” It appears also in Job 9:9; 38:31, and Amos 5:8: translated as “Orion” in the KJV). 2 Kings 2:35 in the KJV renders as “planets” the Hebrew mazzaloth (Strong’s word #4208), which means “constellations, perhaps signs of the zodiac.”

Thus, we find that the ancient Hebrews (Job usually being considered the oldest book of the Old Testament), were quite aware of both planets and constellations, as natural heavenly bodies, created by God.

The Bible (KJV) refers to the “ordinances” of the heavens and the stars. The Hebrew word is chuqqah (Strong’s word #2708), meaning “something prescribed, an enactment, statute.” Just as statutes were part of Mosaic law, chuqqah as applied to the stars and astronomy referred to their natural course across the sky, or, in other words, the “statutes of nature” / laws of nature as applied to the stars in the sky, in these three passages:

Job 38:33 (RSV) Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?

Jeremiah 31:35 Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar . . .

Jeremiah 33:25 Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth,

Hence, other translations have renderings like “laws of the heavens” (NIV and Goodspeed) and “rules that govern the heavens . . . laws of nature on earth” (NEB) for Job 38:33, and “fixed patterns of heaven and earth” (NASB) or “laws of heaven and earth” (NIV) for Jeremiah 33:25. The idea is clearly the laws of nature or scientific laws governing the movement of celestial bodies. The stars have “courses” (Judges 5:20). In other words, it’s a primitive way of expressing a “proto-scientific” understanding in the categories that would be comprehensible to ancient Hebrews. Even so, they came very close to the mark indeed (and of course to the Christian this suggests a divine guiding hand in the authors).

Job 38:32 . . . can you guide the Bear with its children? (cf. 9:9 noted and cited above)

The reference is to the constellation Arcturus, or Ursa Major, in the northern sky. The “sons” referred to are the stars that accompany it, probably the stars that are now called the “tail of the bear.” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible)

Most people in America know these stars by another name:

The Big Dipper (US, Canada) or the Plough (UK, Ireland) is a large asterism consisting of seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major; . . . Four define a “bowl” or “body” and three define a “handle” or “head”. It is recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures. . . .

The constellation of Ursa Major (Latin: Greater Bear) has been seen as a bear, a wagon, or a ladle. (Wikipedia: “Big Dipper”)

The Bible — very clearly, and in the opinion of most commentators — refers to both solar and lunar eclipses:

Isaiah 13:10 . . . the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.

Joel 2:10 . . . The sun and the moon are darkened, . . .

Joel 2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, . . . (cf. Acts 2:19-20)

Amos 8:9 . . . I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.

Revelation 6:12 . . . the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood

The ancient Hebrews, like the ancient Greeks, noted the phenomenon of the “morning star”:

Such a first appearance of a star was termed by the Greek astronomers its “heliacal” rising, and the mention in Scripture of “morning stars,” or “stars of the twilight” (Job 38:73:9), shows that the Hebrews like the Greeks were familiar with this feature of the ordinances of heaven, and noted the progress of the year by observation of the apparent changes of the celestial host. One star would herald the beginning of spring, another the coming of winter; the time to plow, the time to sow, the time of the rains would all be indicated by successive “morning stars” as they appeared. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915, “Astronomy, I”)

St. Augustine in the 5th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, both rejected astrology long before modern science, while even the most prominent modern scientists in the 16th-17th centuries, such as GalileoTycho Brahe, and Kepler firmly believed in it.

The above shall suffice as a crash course in biblical astronomy. For related papers on the Bible and science, see:

Biblical Flat Earth (?) Cosmology: Dialogue w Atheist (vs. Matthew Green) [9-11-06]

Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski) [9-17-06]

Demonic Possession or Epilepsy? (Bible & Science) [2015]

Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism (vs. Kevin Rice) [5-25-04; many defunct links removed and new ones added: 5-10-17]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Loftus Atheist Error #9: Bible Espouses Mythical Animals? [9-10-19]

Seidensticker Folly #42: Creation “Ex Nihilo” [8-28-20]

“Quantum Entanglement” & the “Upholding” Power of God [10-20-20]

Seidensticker Folly #59: Medieval Hospitals & Medicine [11-3-20]

I’d like to highlight two additional areas where the Bible and the ancient Hebrew worldview was quite empirical and practical, rather than prone to quick supernatural, non-scientific, or so-called “snake oil” explanations.

Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. Nor did medical science until the 19th century. But the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses. The Bible Ask site has an article, “Did the Bible teach the germs theory?” (5-30-16):

The Bible writers did not write a medical textbook. However, there are numerous rules for sanitation, quarantine, and other medical procedures (found in the first 5 book of the OT) . . . Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), who was a Hungarian physician, . . . proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 . . . He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Despite various publications of his successful results, Semmelweis’s suggestions were not accepted by the medical community of his time.

Why was Semmelweis research rejected? Because germs were virtually a foreign concept for the Europeans in the middle-19th-century. . . .

Had the medical community paid attention to God’s instructions that were given 3000 years before, many lives would have been saved. The Lord gave the Israelites hygienic principles against the contamination of germs and taught the necessity to quarantine the sick (Numbers 19:11-12). And the book of Leviticus lists a host of diseases and ways where a person would come in contact with germs (Leviticus 13:46).

Germs were no new discovery in 1847. And for this fact, Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease” (1985, pp. 77-78).

Some other interesting facts regarding the Bible and germ theory:

1. The Bible contained instructions for the Israelites to wash their bodies and clothes in running water if they had a discharge, came in contact with someone else’s discharge, or had touched a dead body. They were also instructed about objects that had come into contact with dead things, and about purifying items with an unknown history with either fire or running water. They were also taught to bury human waste outside the camp, and to burn animal waste (Num 19:3-22;Lev. 11:1-4715:1-33;Deut 23:12).

2. Leviticus 13 and 14 mention leprosy on walls and on garments. Leprosy is a bacterial disease, and can survive for three weeks or longer apart from the human body. Thus, God commanded that the garments of leprosy victims should be burned (Lev 13:52).

3. It was not until 1873 that leprosy was shown to be an infectious disease rather than hereditary. Of course, the laws of Moses already were aware of that (Lev 13, 14, 22; Num 19:20). It contains instructions about quarantine and about quarantined persons needing to thoroughly shave and wash. Priests who cared for them also were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly. The Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the 19th century, when medical advances discovered the biblical medical principles and practices.

4. Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” (born 460 BC) didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. He thought it was “bad air” from swampy areas. (See also: “Old Testament Laws About Infectious Diseases”)

Moreover, since Jesus observed Mosaic Law, including ritual washings, etc., He tacitly accepted (by His example of following it) the aspects of it that anticipated and “understood” germ theory. The knowledge was already in existence.

The entry on “Health” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology reveals that ordinary medicinal remedies (my second topic) were widely practiced in Bible times. There wasn’t solely a belief that sin or demons caused all disease. There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding:

Ordinary means of healing were of most diverse kinds. Balm ( Gen 37:25 ) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient ( Isa 1:6 ), and was sometimes used for wounds with cleansing wine ( Luke 10:34 ). Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil ( 38:21 ); healing springs and saliva were thought effectual ( Mark 8:23 ; John 5 ; 9:6-7 ). Medicine is mentioned ( Prov 17:22 ) and defended as “sensible” ( Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative ( Mark 15:23 ); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion ( Matt 23:23 ); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders. Most food rules had both ritual and dietary purposes, while raisins, pomegranates, milk, and honey were believed to assist restoration. . . .

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended for Timothy’s weak stomach, eye-salve for the Thyatiran church’s blindness (metaphorical, but significant).

Doctors today often note how the patient’s disposition and attitude has a strong effect on his health or recovery. The mind definitely influences the body. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

Now, all of the above is an elaborate “presuppositional background” to the issue and topic I brought up at the beginning: atheist “biblical expert” Jonathan Pearce’s insistence that the explanation for the star of Bethlehem only makes sense in a biblical context if it is supernatural and not natural. The above suggests quite otherwise: especially the data about biblical astronomy.

I would say that the overwhelming likelihood, given all this related, relevant evidence, is that biblical references (based on sheer volume) to stars and particularly the star of Bethlehem are very likely to be to natural phenomena. With that in mind, let’s briefly examine the narrative about the star of Bethlehem:

Matthew 2:2 . . . we have seen his star in the East . . .

There is nothing at all here that demands a supernatural-only explanation or interpretation of this “star.” It’s all the more unlikely in light of the fact that we know that the Magi (wise men) were highly trained in astronomy and/or some variant of astrology (likely not the “horoscope” nonsense of today). They were not likely to immediately jump to a “supernatural / miraculous” explanation. It simply meant that they interpreted it as having something to do with a king and Jerusalem, — as I have explained in other papers –, based on the symbolism of constellations and individual stars (Jupiter being the “king planet” etc.).

The text doesn’t claim that they followed this star the entire way. That’s merely the artistic license of Christmas cards. I have argued that they simply determined that it was a sign that they should journey west in search of a very noteworthy newborn king. The significant city due west of them in northwest Persia was Jerusalem. They then followed well-established, ancient  routes around the desert to get there.

Matthew 2:9 . . . the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.

This passage refers only to the six-mile journey between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and I have contended that all it means is that a bright star (I believe, Jupiter, in my scenario, backed up by astronomical charts of what was in the sky and where) was at the time in the direction of Bethlehem (that is, over it) from Jerusalem. It would not have “moved” in the perception of the wise men, over a journey of six miles, just as we could say we were traveling west, following the setting sun. It would always “go before us” as we traveled.

It’s phenomenological language, which is habitually used by Bible writers. We use it even to this day by referring to the “sun rising” or “sun going down” etc. Literally (as we understand) it is the earth rotating, thus making the sun appear to move. But we still refer to it in the non-literal way. So does the Bible, about a lot of things.

The other aspect is the clause “it came to rest over the place where the child was.” First of all, the text does not say that this means it shone specifically onto a “house.” Matthew 2:11 (i.e., two verses later) simply says they went “into a house”: not that the star was shining on it, identifying it. We have to get it straight: what exactly any given text under consideration actually asserts and does not assert.

Let’s examine the actual biblical text a little more closely. The Greek “adverb of place” in Matthew 2:9 is hou (Strong’s word #3757). In RSV hou is translated by “the place where” (in KJV, simply “where”). It applies to a wide range of meanings beyond something as specific as a house. In other passages in RSV it refers to a mountain (Mt 28:16), Nazareth (Lk 4:16), a village (Lk 24:28), the land of Midian (Acts 7:29), Puteoli (Pozzuoli): a sizeable city in Italy (Acts 28:14), and the vast wilderness that Moses and the Hebrews traveled through (Heb 3:9). Thus it can easily, plausibly refer to “Bethlehem” in Matthew 2:9.

In RSV (Mt 2:9), hou is translated by the italicized words: “it came to rest over the place where the child was.” So the question is: what does it mean by “place” in this instance? What is the star said to be “over”? And then I noted other uses of the same word, which referred to a variety of larger areas. The text does not specifically say that “it stood over a house.” Yet many atheists (and many able and sincere, but in my opinion mistaken, Christian commentators) seem to think it does.

This is an important point because it goes to the issue of supernatural or natural. A “star” (whatever it is) shining a beam down on one house would be (I agree) supernatural; not any kind of “star” we know of in the natural world. But a star shining on an area; in the direction of an area (which a bright Jupiter was to Bethlehem in my scenario: at 68 degrees in the sky) can be a perfectly natural event.

Matthew 2:9 is similar to how we say in English: “where I was, I could see the conjunction very well.” “Where” obviously refers to a place. And one’s place is many things simultaneously. Thus, when I saw the “star of Bethlehem”-like conjunction in December [2020], I was in a field, near my house (in my neighborhood), in my town (Tecumseh), in my county (Lenawee), in my state (Michigan), and in my country (United States). This is my point about “place” in Matthew 2:9. It can mean larger areas, beyond just “house.” If the text doesn’t say specifically, “the star shone on the house” then we can’t say for sure that this is what the text meant.

I never claimed that hou was a “noun” in my original wording. I was noting that it was referring to place: as indeed it did in Matthew 2:9, since the translation of it in RSV is “the place where.” Therefore “place” is a translation of hou in this instance.

I have found 18 other English Bible translations of Matthew 2:9 that also have “the place where” (Weymouth, Moffatt, Confraternity, Knox, NEB, REB, NRSV, Lamsa, Amplified, Phillips, TEV, NIV, Jerusalem, Williams, Beck, NAB, Kleist & Lilly, and Goodspeed). In all these cases, they are translating hou: literally meaning “where” but at the same time implying place (which is the “where” referred to). The Living Bible (a very modern paraphrase) has “standing over Bethlehem”: which of course, bolsters my argument as well (because it didn’t say “house”).

All these things being understood, all the text in question plausibly meant is that the bright star was shining down on Bethlehem, just as we have all seen the moon or some bright star shining on a mountain in the distance or tall building or some other landmark. A man might see the light from the harvest moon romantically shining on his girlfriend or wife’s face. It need not necessarily mean that this is all they are shining on. It simply looks that way from our particular vantage-point.

All of this is in my opinion, more plausible and straightforward and in line with biblical thinking than positing a supernatural “star.” It’s true that many reputable and observant Christian biblical commentators exist who do argue for that interpretation, and I don’t disparage them. Theirs are honest efforts just as this paper is. Reasonable people can and do disagree. I can only present the reasons for why I hold to my opinion, and for why Jonathan’s assertions of a necessary or exclusively plausible supernatural nature of the star of Bethlehem are less reasonable and likely than my scenario. I have argued it in detail in the following papers:

Star of Bethlehem, Astronomy, Wise Men, & Josephus (Amazing Astronomically Verified Data in Relation to the Journey of the Wise Men  & Jesus’ Birth & Infancy) [12-14-20]

Timeline: Star of Bethlehem, Herod’s Death, & Jesus’ Birth (Chronology of Harmonious Data from History, Archaeology, the Bible, and Astronomy) [12-15-20]

Star of Bethlehem: Refuting Silly Atheist Objections [12-26-20]

Route Taken by the Magi: Educated Guess [12-28-20]

Star of Bethlehem: More Silly Atheist “Objections” [12-29-20]

Pearce’s Potshots #12: Supernatural Star of Bethlehem? (Biblical View of Astronomy, Laws of Nature, and the Natural World) [1-11-21]

Star of Bethlehem: Natural or Supernatural? [1-13-21]

Bible Commentaries & Matthew 2:9 (Star of Bethlehem) [1-13-21]

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Photo credit: mskathrynne (9-14-18) [PixabayPixabay License]

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January 9, 2021

Featuring Confirmatory Historical Tidbits About the Magi and Herod the Great

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce’s “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

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I am replying to Jonathan’s article, “Mental Contortions Required of Christians to Believe the Nativity Accounts” (12-23-19). Although he likely has made each argument in his book on the Nativity and elsewhere, nevertheless, this particular article is in the form of a “gish gallop”: an unsavory argumentative technique or strategy often decried by atheists. Wikipedia explains:

The Gish gallop is a term for an eristic technique in which a debater attempts to overwhelm an opponent by excessive number of arguments, without regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott; . . . It is similar to a methodology used in formal debate called spreading. . . .

During a Gish gallop, a debater confronts an opponent with a rapid series of many specious arguments, half-truths, and misrepresentations in a short space of time, which makes it impossible for the opponent to refute all of them within the format of a formal debate. In practice, each point raised by the “Gish galloper” takes considerably more time to refute or fact-check than it did to state in the first place.

This is not a formal debate, with timing and structure, etc., so I can take all the time I like to refute each point, but the technique itself remains dubious. It was disparaged on Jonathan’s blog by fellow blogger there, Aaron Adair (3-8-13):

. . . putting out a large number of statements in quick succession that his opponent almost certainly could not refute in the time allotted. This has become known as the Gish Gallop, and it has been noted as a technique used by others in a debate: throw out many arguments, your opponents will be able to deal with only so many and not adequately, and you can claim one of your un-refuted arguments stands and that means you are right.

So — again — this is not a formal debate, and Jonathan has written about this stuff elsewhere and can theoretically defend any of those arguments against criticism (I’m not denying that he has done so or that he would be willing to do so). But this paper of his uses the technique. If a Christian did this in any major atheist forum we would be laughed to scorn and mocked (we always are anyway in those places).

I should note, however, that the delightful, informative RationalWiki page, “Gish Gallop” by no means confines the tactic to oral, formal debate. It refers to readers and written exchanges several times, and even includes an entire section called “in written debate”.

Jonathan throws out no less than 28 objections to the biblical Nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke: most only one-sentence long. I’ll play along and make (mostly) short replies (as my time is not unlimited) or provide a relevant link: as I have written quite a bit about Christmas controversies with atheists as well.

As I write, there are still three of my recent papers in reply to Jonathan that he has chosen thus far not to reply to:

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Jesus the “Nazarene” Redux (vs. Jonathan M. S. Pearce) [12-19-20]

I think there are several older critiques of mine from 2017 that he has not replied to, either. I have offered ten critiques of his material altogether, not including this one. I hope he has not now decided to take the “flee for the hills” / “hear no evil” approach of his fellow anti-theist atheists Dr. David Madison (whom I’ve refuted 44 times with no reply), Bob Seidensticker (69 times without any peep back), and John Loftus (10 critiques of his “magnum opus” book, which he has utterly ignored). If he decides to go this route, I will continue critiquing his material, as I desire. No skin off my back. His choice . . .

Suffice to say that, in order for the Christian to harmoniously believe the Nativity accounts, they have to jump through some seriously demanding hoops. In my humble opinion, there is no satisfactory way that they can coherently harmonise these contradictory accounts found in only two of the Gospels.
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The situation is this. I maintain that, to hold to the notion that the accounts are historical, one has to mentally gerrymander to the extreme. . . . 

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In my book,The Nativity: A Critical Examination, I think I give ample evidence that allows one to conclude that the historicity of the nativity accounts is sorely and surely challenged. All of the aspects and claims, that is. There are problems, for sure, if one accepts that some claims are false but others are true. But the simple fact of the matter is that all of the claims are highly questionable.

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Here are the hoops that a Christian must jump through. They are flaming hoops, and the Christian can do nothing to avoid being burnt, it seems.

[in my replies below, I have added numbers to his gish gallop claims. His original words didn’t have the numbers; it had bullet points]

In order for the Christian who believes that both accounts are factually true to uphold that faithful decree, the following steps must take place. The believer must:

1) Special plead that the virgin birth motif is actually true for Christianity but is false for all other religions and myths that claim similarly.

This is true, but it is neither special pleading nor, I contend, controversial at all. Exclusive claims that logically rule out other competing contradictory claims are made in all belief-systems. It’s foolish and irrelevant to single out Christianity for doing this, as if it is objectionable in and of itself. For example, the current consensus in scientific cosmology / astronomy is that the universe had a beginning and that it is not eternal or without a beginning. There were scientists who resisted this for decades (even Einstein did for a time), until the Big Bang Theory became consensus in the 1960s (or 70s at the latest).

There are atheists who resist it today, and argue for a cyclical universe or “multiverse” (minus any compelling evidence). And there are various religious beliefs as to how the universe began. Of course, the Christian view is completely harmonious with the Big Bang. The universe began out of nothing, or ex nihilo, as the old theological phrase had it. Current science and Christianity teach this (though we add God in there as the cause of the Big Bang and science precludes that in its current methodological naturalism). So much the worse for those who disagree (as far as the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe). They’re wrong.

2) Deny that “virgin” is a mistranslation.

It’s not. I have dealt with this issue twice: both in response to Jonathan. He hasn’t replied to the second paper yet:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Mistranslation” of “Virgin”? (Isaiah 7:14) (with Glenn Miller) [7-26-17]

Dual Fulfillment of Prophecy & the Virgin Birth (vs. JMS Pearce) [12-18-20]

3) Give a plausible explanation of from whence the male genome of Jesus came from and how this allowed him to be “fully man”.

It was (obviously, in Christian belief) a miraculous intervention of God. It can’t be explained naturally, by the nature of the case. Now, of course, for an atheist who denies that both God and miracles exist, it’ll be implausible (what else is new?). But that doesn’t prove that it’s untrue. If one offers rational evidences for God’s existence and also of miracles, then it’s entirely possible and able to be believed in by rational thinkers, as an actual event, as God’s revelation claims.

4) Be able to render the two genealogies fully coherent without the explanation being contrived or ad hoc.

I did that, 3 1/2 years ago:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Contradictory” Genealogies of Christ? [7-27-17]

Atheists are fond of saying that everything we offer by way of evidence is “ridiculous” (on a kind day), or “ad hoc” or “implausible” or “special pleading.” And they do because of what I mentioned above: they deny the necessary presuppositions of God’s existence and (flowing from that) therefore the possibility and/or factuality of miracles and the supernatural. Once having denied the possibility or actuality of those two things, then of course they will immediately dismiss all Christian explanations as ad hoc or “implausible” etc.

It’s a way of trying to look impressive without offering any further arguments. But they have to deny such things, according to their atheist dogmas that literally disallow them from believing in anything that is inconsistent with atheism, or even to entertain a theoretical possibility.

5) Believe that the genealogies are bona fide and not just tools to try to prove Jesus’ Davidic and Messianic prophecy-fulfilling heritage.

This cynical sentiment simply flows from atheist hostility and bigotry against the Bible, Bible-writers, and Christians. Christians aren’t obliged to factor that into any of our apologetics or beliefs. We take the Bible at face value, just as we would any other such literature, rather than starting out inveterately hostile to it. That’s not an objective, scholarly approach. Besides, the Bible has had a mountain of evidence from history and archaeology that shows again and again that it is trustworthy in the details that it provides; therefore, can be trusted as a source. Those sots of independent verifications bolster our faith that the Bible is God’s revelation to humankind.

6) Be able to explain the inconsistency of the two accounts in contradicting each other as to where Joseph lived before the birth (without the explanation being contrived or ad hoc).

See:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Bethlehem & Nazareth “Contradictions” (Including Extensive Exegetical Analysis of Micah 5:2) [7-28-17]

7) Believe that a client kingdom under Herod could and would order a census under Roman diktat. This would be the only time in history this would have happened.

8) Find it plausible that people would return, and find precedent for other occurrences of people returning, to their ancestral homes for a census (at an arbitrary number of generations before: 41).

9) Give a probable explanation as to how a Galilean man was needed at a census in another judicial area.

10) Give a plausible reason as to why Mary was required at the census (by the censors or by Joseph).

11) Give a plausible explanation as to why Mary would make that 80 mile journey on donkey or on foot whilst heavily pregnant, and why Joseph would be happy to let her do that.

See:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History [2-3-11]

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Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Herod’s Death & Alleged “Contradictions” (with Jimmy Akin) [7-25-17]

12) Believe that Joseph could afford to take anywhere from a month to two years off work.

This is a foolish query. If necessary, he could save up for “off” months just as virtually all farmers and teachers do. Is that so inconceivable? Or, as a carpenter and likely stone mason as well, he had a skill that was “portable”: so that he could pick up odd jobs while traveling. This is the kind of stuff which vanishes as a supposed “difficulty” with just a moment or two of unbiased, objective thought.

13) Believe that, despite archaeological evidence, Nazareth existed as a proper settlement at the time of Jesus’ birth.

I don’t know what “archaeological evidence” Jonathan is referring to, but there is more than enough to establish the existence of Nazareth as a town during the time of Jesus’ birth and infancy. I already recounted it in a recent reply to Jonathan:

[T]he archaeological investigation revealed that in Nazareth itself, in the middle of the first century AD, anti-Roman rebels created a sizeable network of underground hiding places and tunnels underneath the town – big enough to shelter at least 100 people. . . .

The new archaeological investigation – the largest ever carried out into Roman period Nazareth – has revealed that Jesus’s hometown is likely to have been considerably bigger than previously thought. It probably had a population of up to 1,000 (rather than just being a small-to-medium sized village of 100-500, as previously thought).

“Our new investigation has transformed archaeological knowledge of Roman Nazareth,” said Dr Dark, who has just published the results of his research in a new book Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland. . . .

The newly emerging picture of Roman-period Nazareth as a place of substantial religiosity does, however, resonate not only with the emergence of its most famous son, Jesus, but also with the fact that, in the mid-first or second century, it was chosen as the official residence of one of the high priests of the by-then-destroyed Temple in Jerusalem, when all 24 of those Jewish religious leaders were driven into exile in Galilee. (“New archaeological evidence from Nazareth reveals religious and political environment in era of Jesus”, David Keys, Independent, 4-17-20)

See also: “Did First-Century Nazareth Exist?” (Bryan Windle, Bible Archaeology Report, 8-9-18; cf. several related articles from a Google search). Did it exist before Jesus’ time? It looks like it did:

The Franciscan priest Bellarmino Bagatti, “Director of Christian Archaeology”, carried out extensive excavation of this “Venerated Area” from 1955 to 1965. Fr. Bagatti uncovered pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1500 BC) and ceramics, silos and grinding mills from the Iron Age (1500 to 586 BC) which indicated substantial settlement in the Nazareth basin at that time. (Wikipedia, “Nazareth”)

That’s science. Jonathan has to grapple with the actual findings and not just sit back and deny that there are any such. As it is, that was from one of my reply-papers that he has not found time to reply to these past 19 days (while replying to many others). Maybe he will in due course, since it was during the holidays.

14) Believe that the prophecies referred to Nazareth and not something else.

They do, but they were not from the Old Testament. See:

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15) Believe that the magi were not simply a theological tool derived from the Book of Daniel.

This is a variation of the undue cynicism which I skewered in my reply to #5 above. As such, it can be dismissed as a non sequitur. That said (in principled protest), the factuality of these accounts is completely plausible based on what we know from secular historiography: that there was a group called the Magi, who were were originally a Median (northwest Persian) tribe (Herodotus [Hist.] i.101). They performed priestly functions, perhaps due to Zoroaster possibly having belonged to the tribe (or belief that he did), and studied astronomy and astrology: in part likely learned from Babylon.

Historians note that in Yemen, for example, there were kings who adhered to Judaism from about 120 B.C. to the sixth century A.D. Possibly, then, the wise men were Jewish or at least were strongly influenced by Jews.

If Jonathan or those who think like he does don’t want to take my word for it, then perhaps they will be persuaded by the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Magus, plural Magi, member of an ancient Persian clan specializing in cultic activities. The name is the Latinized form of magoi (e.g., in Herodotus 1:101), the ancient Greek transliteration of the Iranian original. From it the word magic is derived.

It is disputed whether the magi were from the beginning followers of Zoroaster and his first propagandists. They do not appear as such in the trilingual inscription of Bīsitūn, in which Darius the Great describes his speedy and final triumph over the magi who had revolted against his rule (522 BC). Rather it appears that they constituted a priesthood serving several religions. The magi were a priestly caste during the Seleucid [312-63 BC], Parthian [247 BC-224 AD], and Sāsānian [224-651 AD] periods; later parts of the Avesta, such as the ritualistic sections of the Vidēvdāt (Vendidad), probably derive from them. From the 1st century AD onward the word in its Syriac form (magusai) was applied to magicians and soothsayers, chiefly from Babylonia, with a reputation for the most varied forms of wisdom. As long as the Persian empire lasted there was always a distinction between the Persian magi, who were credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge, and the Babylonian magi, who were often considered to be outright imposters. (“Magus: Persian priesthood”)

A visit by such men to the west, based on astrological-type beliefs and star-gazing, using the route through the Fertile Crescent around the Arabian and Syrian deserts that has been taken for many centuries by the Royal Road and the King’s Highway and the Silk Road (as I have recently written about, not in reply to Jonathan) is completely plausible. There is no good reason to doubt the biblical account. Nothing in it (rightly understood in light of the many biblical genres) rings immediately untrue or questionable. Jonathan mentions the book of Daniel. Yeah: that’s accurate, too, as we know that the Magi were in Babylonia at that time as well, as the cited encyclopedia entry above alludes to.

16) Believe that Herod (and his scribes and priests) was not acting entirely out of character and implausibly in not knowing the prophecies predicting Jesus, and not accompanying the magi three hours down the road.

The second thing we can only speculate about, but if the Bible shows itself trustworthy again and again in a host of ways: confirmed by secular archaeology and historiography, then we can trust it regarding such an obscure item that it casually refers to. As to the first question: is it impossible that Herod might not know the prophecy of Micah 5:2? Not at all. He was a very secularized Jew, as a Jewish scholarly article noted:

In his recent book The Herodian Dynasty, Nikos Kokkinos portrayed Herod as  Hellenized Phoenician whose Jewishness was superficial, resulting from the conversion of Idumaea by John Hyrcanus . . . Herod’s departure form the Jewish ethos is manifested by his own deeds contrary to Jewish laws and customs as well as his strong cultural inclination toward Rome. . . .

This impression is nurtured mainly by Josephus’s accounts. (“Herod’s Jewish Ideology Facing Romanization: On Intermarriage, Ritual Baths, and Speeches”, Eyal Regev, The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 100, No. 2, Spring 2010)

That doesn’t strike me (to put it mildly) as the type of Jew who would be all that familiar with a messianic prophecy like Micah 5:2. Maybe he was. But if so, this has to be shown by some convincing argument. The above — as far as it goes (I couldn’t access the entire article) — certainly doesn’t suggest a high likelihood that he would have been. Matthew 2:4 (RSV) states: “assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”
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In light of the above information, I don’t find it implausible at all that he didn’t know this. And not knowing it, he did the logical thing a secular Jew would do: ask the religious Jews (priests) in his court circle about it (just as irreligious Jews today would ask a rabbi about some point of Judaism). It’s completely plausible. Yet Jonathan assumes it isn’t. I wonder why? Maybe because he “has to” be skeptical about everything in Scripture, even when there is no clear reason to be?
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17) Believe that the magi weren’t also merely a mechanism to supply Herod with an opportunity to get involved in the story and thus fulfil even more prophecies.
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18) Believe that the magi were also not a reinterpretation of the Balaam narrative from the Old Testament, despite there being clear evidence to the contrary.
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These two represent more of the merely assumed bald speculation and silly undue cynicism against the biblical text (see my answers to #5 and #15 above). It deserves no more serious consideration. I refuse to play these games with atheists. The burden of proof for such hyper-skeptical / hostile claims is on them, not us.
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19) Believe that a star could lead some magi from the East to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem where it rested over an individual house and not be noted by anyone else in the world.

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I delved into all this in great detail in the last three weeks:

Star of Bethlehem, Astronomy, Wise Men, & Josephus (Amazing Astronomically Verified Data in Relation to the Journey of the Wise Men  & Jesus’ Birth & Infancy) [12-14-20]

Timeline: Star of Bethlehem, Herod’s Death, & Jesus’ Birth (Chronology of Harmonious Data from History, Archaeology, the Bible, and Astronomy) [12-15-20]

Star of Bethlehem: Refuting Silly Atheist Objections [12-26-20]

Route Taken by the Magi: Educated Guess [12-28-20]

Star of Bethlehem: More Silly Atheist “Objections” [12-29-20]

How Do We Understand the Star of Bethlehem Coming to “Rest Over the Place Where the Child Was”? [Facebook, 12-29-20]

20) Believe that the shepherds were not merely midrashic and theological tools used by Luke.

Yet more higher critical hogwash. See my replies to #5, #15, and #18 above. There is no solid reason to doubt this story, either. I recently wrote about one related question: the time of the year with regard to shepherding sheep near Bethlehem:

Jesus’ December Birth & Grazing Sheep in Bethlehem (Is a December 25th Birthdate of Jesus Impossible or Unlikely Because Sheep Can’t Take the Cold?) [12-26-20]

21) Believe that there is (and provide it) a reasonable explanation as to why each Gospel provides different first witnesses (shepherds and magi) without any mention of the other witnesses.

Because I know of no such literary requirement (let alone logical or moral obligation) for each narrator of roughly the same story to include every and all details that the other narrators may have included. The fact that they emphasize different things and omit details that the others include is strong confirmation of authenticity from all four sources.

But there is a factual error here, too: Jesus was a toddler when the wise men visited (based on the Greek word used to describe Him). This didn’t occur at the same time as the birth and the visit of the shepherds. This is what Christians believe, based on the biblical text (which is one reason why our feast of epiphany is on a different day from Christmas: usually on or around January 6th).

Therefore, the wise men are not possible “first witnesses” and there is no conflict in the first place. The text doesn’t claim they were the first to visit Jesus. It’s simply another manufactured pseudo-“contradiction” from our friends, the atheists, who seem to make it their life’s goal to violate (or not comprehend?) elementary-level logic as often as they can.

22) Believe that, despite an absence of evidence and the realisation that it is clearly a remodelling of an Old Testament narrative, the Massacre of the Innocents actually happened.

See my replies to #5, #15, #18, and #20 above.

23) Believe that Herod would care enough about his rule long after his death to chase after a baby and murder many other innocent babies, a notion that runs contrary to evidence.

It’s perfectly in character for a tyrant who murdered two possible royal rivals (see the citation below). Herod was no choirboy. According to one secular source:

The first 12 years of Herod’s reign (37-25 BCE) saw the consolidation of his power. He built fortifications in Jerusalem, Samaria and at Masada, silenced all opposition to his rule and eliminated his Hasmonean rivals, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus II, the brother and the grandfather of his second wife, Mariamme. The former drowned in an arranged swimming pool accident and the latter was strangled.
Mariamme met a bitter end as well, and was executed (a la Anne Boleyn, for “adultery”) in 29 BC. So could Herod conceivably kill a bunch of young infants, out of jealousy over a possible kingly rival? Yes; it’s totally in character. No problem!
The above information was drawn from the record of two prominent historians:
Our chief informant is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100CE), who devoted most of Book I of his Jewish War and Books XIV to XVII of Jewish Antiquities to the life and times of Herod. Josephus uses as his main source the universal history of Nicolaus of Damascus, the well-informed teacher, adviser and ambassador of Herod.

24) Believe that God would allow other innocent babies to die as a result of the birth of Jesus.

This is not the place to enter into a full-fledged Christian explanation of the problem of evil. God grants free will. Otherwise we would be robots (and then this dialogue wouldn’t exist, because in that scenario God simply wouldn’t allow dumbfounded, groundless atheist opinions, and Jonathan would be a Christian because God willed and predestined it to be so, wholly apart from Jonathan’s free will which, of course, wouldn’t exist).

Most evil that human beings commit can at least be partially stopped by other human beings. But we refuse to do so before it’s too late.  One man, Winston Churchill, warned for years in the 1930s about the German build-up of military might. No one listened to him. If they had, World War II (at least in Europe) could very well have been prevented.
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Instead, it happened out of human irresponsibility and a head-in-the-sand mentality (President Kennedy wrote about this in his book, Why England Slept). And then after it did, one of the most popular arguments from atheists was: “why did God allow the Holocaust?” He allowed it, because He doesn’t control us like puppets, but it’s not His fault. It’s the fault of human beings who could have prevented it, but were too naive and stupid and negligent to do so. And so, when human beings fail miserably, what do they do? Blame other human beings or blame God . . . That’s the fool’s way out every time.

25) Believe that the Flight to and from Egypt was not just a remodelling of an Old Testament narrative in order to give Jesus theological gravitas.

See my replies to #5, #15, #18, #20, and #22 above.
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26) Give a plausible explanation as to why the two accounts contradict each other so obviously as to where Jesus and family went after his birth.

Did that:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History [2-3-11]

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27) Explain the disappearance of the shepherds and magi, who had seen the most incredible sights of their lives, and why they are never heard from again despite being the perfect spokespeople for this newfound religion.
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Why should they necessarily be heard from again? On what grounds? The Magi in particular simply returned to their distant home shortly afterwards (Mt 12:12). What were they supposed to do? Make a phone call? Have a Zoom conference to communicate their thoughts on the whole thing? It’s simply a trumped-up difficulty that is none at all. And it deserves no more consideration than to state its essential silliness (with some flabbergasted humor).

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28) Provide a plausible explanation as to why Jesus’ own family did not think he was the Messiah, given the events of the nativity accounts.

There is no reason to believe that Mary and Joseph didn’t know this all along. As for His extended family, see:

Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers”? (Jason also claims that “Mary believed in Jesus,” but wavered, and had a “sort of inconsistent faith”) (vs. Jason Engwer) [5-27-20]

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Once the believer in the accuracy of these accounts can do all of the above, in a plausible and probable manner, then they can rationally hold that belief.

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I’ve done so, and so I can rationally hold that belief (i.e., by the criterion of Jonathan’s internally contradictory and incoherent standards).

I would contest that it is rationally possible to ever hold such a belief.

I would contend that my (and many others’) replies to his objections render them null and void and of no impact or import. If Jonathan disagrees, then let him counter-reply.

. . . it has been shown that every single claim can be soundly doubted under critical examination . . .

Hogwash!

[W]e have no real evidence for the claims that Jesus is the Messiah and is derived from Messianic and Davidic heritage.
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The Messiah: Jewish / Old Testament Conceptions [1982; revised somewhat on 2-19-00]
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Isaiah 53: Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Is the “Servant” the Messiah (Jesus) or Collective Israel? (vs. Ari G. [Orthodox] ) [9-14-01, with incorporation of much research from 1982]
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Photo credit: cocoparisienne (9-15-16) [PixabayPixabay License]
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December 30, 2020

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  I have replied to his videos or articles 43 times as of this writing. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to 12-29-20). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, the atheist author, polemicist, and extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the ultra-insulting Debunking Christianity blog. Dr. Madison made his cramped, insulated mentality clear in a comment from 9-6-19:

[T]he burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked. . . . I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.

John “you are an idiot!” Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, so that he and Dr. Madison could avoid replying to yours truly, or even see notices of my replies (er, sorry, rants, rather). Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue.

Presently, I am replying to his article, “Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 4: The perils of comparing the gospels” (10-16-20).

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The Gish gallop is a term for an eristic technique in which a debater attempts to overwhelm an opponent by excessive number of arguments, without regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott; . . . It is similar to a methodology used in formal debate called spreading. During a Gish gallop, a debater confronts an opponent with a rapid series of many specious arguments, half-truths, and misrepresentations in a short space of time, which makes it impossible for the opponent to refute all of them within the format of a formal debate. In practice, each point raised by the “Gish galloper” takes considerably more time to refute or fact-check than it did to state in the first place. The technique wastes an opponent’s time and may cast doubt on the opponent’s debating ability for an audience unfamiliar with the technique, especially if no independent fact-checking is involved or if the audience has limited knowledge of the topics. (Wikipedia, “Gish gallop”)

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes out of nowhere to be baptized in the Jordan River, . . . 

Mark simply chose to start the story from the vantage-point of the average Jew at that time, observing that this man named Jesus had appeared on the scene after being unknown. Dr. Madison wants to make an issue of this: as if it is a supposed contradiction with other Gospels. It’s not. The four evangelists offer stories and accounts of the same overall events from different perspectives: emphasizing selected things as they choose and please.

Many atheists seem to possess this goofy, silly notion that all four of them must be exactly the same, or else (if not!) they are allegedly endlessly “contradictory.” Well, that’s a dumb and groundless presupposition in the first place, and in fact the Gospels do not contradict, as I have demonstrated innumerable times, as have many other Christian apologists and theologians. And in fact, almost all of the alleged “contradictions” brought up by anti-theist atheist polemicists are simply not contradictions, from the criteria of logic itself.

Here Jesus is portrayed as an apocalyptic prophet . . .

Yes; as He is in all four Gospels. But there are, as I said, different emphases, so this is a relatively minor point.

he promises those at his trial that they will see him coming on the clouds of heaven.

Yep, just as He does in Matthew 24:30 and 26:64 and, in effect, Luke 22:69, where the clause, “Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (RSV) is obviously the same reference as Mt 26:64: “Son of man seated at the right hand of Power”: just without the added mention of the “clouds.” All three passages clearly allude to Daniel 9:12-14: one of the most famous messianic passages. There is no rule or requirement that every Gospel writer must cite complete prophecies and can never cite part of them.

And (need I mention it?), such selective citation does not mean there is logical contradiction, merely as a result of differential citation. It’s like people citing different portions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. They don’t contradict. Anyone even slightly familiar with American history knows what’s being cited. That’s how it was with messianic prophecies.  Jesus in the Gospel of John expresses the same notion (both the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His Second Coming) but in a different, more personal way (expressed to His twelve disciples only, at the Last Supper): 

John 16:5, 10  But now I am going to him who sent me . . . [10] . . . I go to the Father . . . [i.e., “at the right hand of the power of God”] (cf. Jn 7:33; 8:21; 14:2-4, 12, 28; 16:7, 17; 17:11, 13)

John 14:18, 28 I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. . . . [28]. . . I will come to you . . . 

Mark also portrays Jesus as an exorcist.

So do the other two Synoptic Gospels. Mark mentions (in RSV) “demon[s]” or “demoniac” etc. 17 times, but Matthew mentions these words 19 times, and Luke, 24 times.  But there is also the description of “unclean spirit”: which Mark references 13 times, Luke 5 times, and Matthew twice. Luke also uses “evil spirit” twice (and four more times in Acts 19, but we won’t count those). So the grand total, including all three terms are:

Luke: 31

Mark: 30

Matthew: 21

Thus, we can say that Mark emphasizes this element a bit more — being much shorter than Luke (which is fine and dandy), but it’s certainly no “contradiction” compared to Matthew and Luke.

Moreover, he puts far less emphasis on Jesus’ teaching role; Mark says that people were astounded by his message, but little of the content is provided.

This is untrue, and it’s amazing that Dr. Madison could claim that it is. We can observe the term “astounded” used once in Mark (6:51), “astonished” (five times), and “amazed” (eight  times). In all but three of the 14 cases, or 79% of the time in Mark, preceding context makes it clear what they were amazed / astonished / astounded at. Jesus taught them either by word or by deed (miracles send quite a “message” too!):

Mark 1:22: unspecified

Mark 1:27: Jesus had cast out a demon (1:23-26)

Mark 2:12: Jesus had forgiven the sins of a paralytic and healed him (2:3-11)

Mark 6:2: unspecified

Mark 6:51: Jesus has just walked on the water and stilled the wind (6:48-51)

Mark 7:37: Jesus had just healed a deaf man with a speech impediment (7:32-36)

Mark 9:15: unspecified

Mark 10:24: Jesus had just taught about the relation of riches to serving God, in his encounter with the rich young ruler (10:17-23)

Mark 10:26: this is the same reaction as in 10:24, for the same reason. He had added: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (10:24-25)

Mark 10:32: Jesus had said to them specifically that they would “receive a hundredfold . . . and in the age to come eternal life” as a reward for their great sacrifices in being His disciples (10:27-31)

Mark 11:18: Jesus had just cleared the temple of the moneychangers and explained that the temple was for “prayer” rather than “robbers” (11:15-17)

Mark 12:17: Jesus had just taught about paying taxes and “rendering unto Caesar” (12:13-17)

Mark 16:5: the dead Jesus was no longer in His tomb (16:5), then the angels says, “do not be amazed” (16:6) 

How odd, then, that Dr. Madison thinks “little of the content is provided.” Granted, it’s another fairly minor point, but it does illustrate Dr. Madison’s relentless quest to find supposed “contradictions” where there are none, and how he is consistently wrong, even on smaller issues. No one (except an apologist like myself) would have neither time nor desire to “check” him on this matter (which is precisely the desired result of the unsavory Gish gallop method of “argumentation”). But this is why I do what I do. I have both time and desire to deal with all of these things, so that others, reading, can get on with far more important matters, and not let Dr. Madison’s nonsense be a stumbling-block to them.

By some estimates, its story of Jesus could have taken place in just two or three weeks . . . 

By comparing it to the other Gospels, it becomes clear that this isn’t the case.

Matthew, indeed, proved to be a master of invention. Other cults felt that virgin-birth was an appropriate credential for their sons of god, so Matthew decided to add that to Jesus; he goofed when he used a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 to slip virgin birth into his story.

I dealt with and disposed of this objection:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Mistranslation” of “Virgin”? (Isaiah 7:14) (with Glenn Miller) [7-26-17]

Dual Fulfillment of Prophecy & the Virgin Birth (vs. JMS Pearce) [12-18-20]

But Matthew added troubling Jesus-script (10: 37), unknown to Mark; how does this rank on any scale of moral teaching? “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” We can infer from this that, by Matthew’s time, cult fanaticism was trending in the Jesus sect. As we shall see, Luke made this text worse. . . .  Moreover, he [Luke] felt that Matthew 10:37, was too mild, i.e., “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” He changed Jesus’ words to: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (14:26) You have to hate your own life. 

This is classic cult fanaticism; today we recommend deprogramming for people who get suckered in.  The devout are rightly shocked by Luke 14:26 and assume that surely it’s a misquote. But this verse provides insight into Luke’s agenda: he didn’t want people in the Jesus cult who had divided loyalties. Of course, this text has been a challenge to professional defenders of the faith: How to tone it down? The editors of the English Standard Version use the heading, “The Cost of Discipleship,” for this section, instead of, say, “Jesus the Cult Fanatic.” Most decent Christians would reject hatred of family as a “cost” of discipleship. 

Dealt with already:

Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family? [8-1-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #5: Cultlike Forsaking of Family? [8-5-19]

When Luke got to work on his gospel, he knew that Matthew had to be corrected as much as Mark did. 

Right. Now, I dare to ask (sorry for being rational and logical): how could anyone possibly “know” such a thing, unless Luke expressly stated it? This is, of course, the fallacy of the argument from silence.

What a dumb idea—he must have thought—having Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Egypt, so he deleted that from his birth narrative.

See my previous paragraph. This is the “dumb idea” here: not what the Bible describes about Jesus’ infancy.

But he had the even dumber idea of an empire-wide census that required people to travel to the home of their ancestors to sign up. No other historian of the time mentions any such thing; major chaos would have resulted from such a decree. 

Dealt with here:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts [2-3-11]

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Herod’s Death & Alleged “Contradictions” (with Jimmy Akin) [7-25-17]

Luke did include the Sermon on the Mount, but he shortened it, broke it up, altered the wording—and said it took place on a plain.

Dealt with:

Sermon on the Mount: Striking Topographical Facts (9-16-15)

His Jesus had been present at Creation, so he [John] left out the virgin birth; . . . 

This is beyond idiotic. All four Gospels teach the divinity / Godhood of Jesus (the incarnation). They all teach that He is eternal, and the Creator. The virgin birth doesn’t contradict the deity of Jesus. It’s simply the way that God became man. See:

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Deity of Jesus: Called Lord/Kurios & God/Theos [10-24-11]

Seidensticker Folly #55: Godhood of Jesus in the Synoptics [9-12-20]

Mark had claimed that Jesus taught only in parables (4:34), but John has no parables.

But Jesus does talk (as recorded in the Gospel of John) in many metaphorical or proverbial (non-literal) ways that bear resemblance to the synoptic parables. For example:

John 2:19-21 (RSV) 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 3:8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.

John 4:13-14 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (see also 10:1-10, 12-18, including Jesus calling Himself “the door” three times)

John 11:12-14 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” [11] Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Laz’arus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Laz’arus is dead;”

But before we even get to that, one must properly understand Mark 4:34: “he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” This does not teachthat Jesus [all the time] taught only in parables.” And it doesn’t because we have to understand whether the statement was referring only to the immediate context or to all of Jesus’ teachings whatever. It’s patently obvious by reading the Gospels, that Jesus did not always teach in parables. So that isn’t even in question. Only a totally biased skeptic and apostate like Dr. Madison could even think that it is. He must twist his mind into a pretzel to believe such a ridiculous thing.

Secondly, even when Jesus used parables a lot, it doesn’t follow that He could never use other teaching methods (it’s not a mutually exclusive situation). Mark 4:34 could simply mean, “Jesus often included a parable when He taught.” The Bible uses a lot of hyperbole as well. Even in this passage, it says, “privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” But that’s not literally true, either. It’s only broadly true. So, for example, Jesus said to His disciples: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12). In another instance, when Jesus started explaining that He was to be killed, and that this was God’s plan, Peter didn’t understand, and disagreed. Jesus rebuked him, but didn’t further  explain:

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.” (cf. Mk 8:31-33)

Here’s another similar example:

Luke 9:44-45 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” [45] But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

This was not a parable, but rather, a literal a prophetic statement about what was to happen, and Jesus did not explain it to His disciples.

There is no Eucharist in John’s; instead he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. 

It’s not stated, but we know that it took place, because this was the Last Supper, which was the Jewish Passover (a meal), incorporated into the new understanding of the Eucharist, instituted by Jesus. Since the three Synoptic Gospels mentioned the institution of the Eucharist, John didn’t necessarily have to. He concentrates on other things Jesus said during the last Supper. What Dr. Madison seems to think is a “contradiction” and a big concern, is none at all.

John also left out the Sermon on the Mount, . . . 

Technically, he didn’t “leave out” anything. He wrote exactly what he wanted to write in his account. If three accounts of something already exist, why have a fourth? Sometimes John also records events from the Synoptics, but he is under no obligation to do any of that. Only atheists seem to have this ludicrous idea that all four evangelists must always write exactly the same about everything, lest it is one of their endless pseudo-“contradictions.” Because of this warped, illogical, irrational mentality, Dr. Madison can write a ridiculous statement such as this, in conclusion:

With these examples, I’ve just scratched the surface. A careful study of the gospels—especially using a gospel parallels version—shows that, right from the start, the authors of the Jesus story couldn’t get the story straight, and it was a blunder to publish the four conflicting accounts side-by-side. Given this mess—so many different ideas from which to pick and choose—it’s hardly a surprise that Christians are so deeply divided. The bigger blunder, of course, was conferring “Word of God” status on these ancient novels. That’s an added layer of magical thinking.

The Bible truly describes people like Dr. Madison:

Proverbs 15:2 . . . the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Proverbs 15:14 The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

Proverbs 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to himself.

Ecclesiastes 10:13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is wicked madness.

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Photo credit: netkids (3-22-16) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]

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December 12, 2019

And did Jesus minister exclusively to Jews and not Gentiles at all (an alleged Gospel inconsistency)?

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  You can see (by the number in the title) how many times I have replied to his videos or articles. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to this date). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, the atheist author, polemicist, and extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the ultra-insulting Debunking Christianity blog. Dr. Madison made his cramped, insulated mentality clear in a comment from 9-6-19:

[T]he burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked. . . . I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.

John “you are an idiot!” Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, so that he and Dr. Madison could avoid replying to yours truly, or even see notices of my replies (er, sorry, rants, rather).

This is one of the replies to Dr. Madison’s series, “Things we Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (podcast episodes 13-25). I have already replied to every previous episode. He states in his introduction to this second series:

[A]pologists (preachers and priests) who explain away—well, they try—the nasty and often grim message in many of the sayings attributed to Jesus. Indeed, the gospels are a minefield; many negatives about Jesus are in full view.

I am replying to episode 13, entitled, “Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus calls a Gentile woman a dog” (7-23-19).  Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue, and those of other atheists in purple, green, and brown.

*****

Matthew 15:22-28 (RSV) And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” [23] But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” [24] He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [25] But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” [26] And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [27] She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [28] Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In this installment, Dr. Madison trots out what is apparently a big favorite of anti-theist atheist polemicists. This is my fourth time dealing with it, so it’s nothing new. One atheist who goes by the nick “BeeryUSA” stated that this very thing ( a complete misunderstanding on his part) made him cease to be a Christian:

I recall the precise passage that I was reading when I realized that Jesus was actually a xenophobic nationalist . . . and therefore could not be any kind of god I could worship:

Matthew 15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

So this psycho Jesus refuses to treat a woman’s daughter simply because she was a Canaanite. All of a sudden, my desire to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt melted away and, with my new-found skepticism, it didn’t take long from there for all the rest of it to unravel.

Likewise, Bible-Basher Bob Seidensticker (whom I have refuted 35 times with no reply whatsoever), opined:

At the end of the gospel story, Jesus has risen and is giving the disciples their final instructions.

Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

This is the familiar Great Commission, and it’s a lot more generous than what has been called the lesser commission that appears earlier in the same gospel:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5–6)

This was not a universal message. We see it again in his encounter with the Canaanite woman:

[Jesus rejected her plea to heal her daughter, saying] “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24–6)

You might say that a ministry with limited resources had to prioritize, but that doesn’t apply here. Don’t forget that Jesus was omnipotent. . . . 

Let’s revisit the fact that Matthew is contradictory when it says both “Make disciples of all nations” and “Do not go among the Gentiles [but only] to the lost sheep of Israel.” There are no early papyrus copies of Matthew 28 (the “Make disciples of all nations” chapter), and the earliest copies of this chapter are in the codices copied in the mid-300s. That’s almost three centuries of silence from original to our best copies, a lot of opportunity for the Great Commission to get “improved” by copyists. I’m not saying it was, of course; I’m simply offering one explanation for why the gospel in Matthew has Jesus change so fundamental a tenet as who he came to save.

Dr. Madison’s buddy, John Loftus also chimed in, along the same lines, in his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages). I have now critiqued it ten times without (you guessed it!) any counter-reply from him. In it, he  wrote:

[H]e also called a Syrophoenician woman part of a race of “dogs” and only begrudgingly helped her (Mark 7:24-30). (p. 123)

Now, Dr. David Madison comes along in his podcast and makes these claims:

But guess what? In Matthew 28, at the end of the Gospel, verse 19, the resurrected Jesus says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” . . . this Jesus quote was probably added to the story then [50 years after Jesus’ death] and it certainly does not match, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Gospel writer didn’t notice much, contradictions, sometimes. . . . what a nasty thing to say: “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” . . . The ideal Jesus that people adore is punctured by this Jesus, quote: this insult, calling her a dog.

Apologists Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt thoroughly dispense of this “objection” concerning Jesus’ use of the word “dog” (complete with a good dose of sorely needed humor) in their article, “Was Jesus Unkind to the Syrophoenician Woman?”:

To our 21st-century ears, the idea that Jesus would refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” has the potential to sound belittling and unkind. When we consider how we often use animal terms in illustrative or idiomatic ways, however, Jesus’ comments are much more benign. For instance, suppose a particular lawyer exhibits unyielding tenacity. We might say he is a “bulldog” when he deals with the evidence. Or we might say that a person is “as cute as a puppy” or has “puppy-dog eyes.” If someone has a lucky day, we might say something like “every dog has its day.” Or if an adult refuses to learn to use new technology, we might say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In addition, one might say that a person “works like a dog,” is the “top dog” at the office, or is “dog tired.” Obviously, to call someone “top dog” would convey no derogatory connotation.

For Jesus’ statement to be construed as unkind or wrong in some way, a person would be forced to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” must be taken in a derogatory fashion. Such cannot be proved. In fact, the term Jesus used for “little dogs” could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any type of unkind insinuation. In his commentary on Mark, renowned commentator R.C.H. Lenski translated the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as “little pet dogs.” . . . Lenski goes on to write concerning Jesus’ statement: “All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews…. Any share of Gentile individuals in any of these blessings can only be incidental during Jesus’ ministry in Israel” . . .

Consider that Matthew had earlier recorded how a Roman centurion approached Jesus on behalf of his paralyzed servant. Jesus did not respond in that instance as He did with the Syrophoenician woman. He simply stated: “I will come and heal him” (8:7). After witnessing the centurion’s refreshing humility and great faith (pleading for Christ to “only speak a word” and his servant would be healed—vss. 8-9), Jesus responded: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (vs. 10, emp. added). . . .

What many people miss in this story is what is so evident in other parts of Scripture: Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman, while at the same time teaching His disciples how the tenderhearted respond to possibly offensive truths. . . .

Before people “dog” Jesus for the way He used an animal illustration, they might need to reconsider that “their bark is much worse than their bite” when it comes to insinuating that Jesus was unkind and intolerant. In truth, they are simply “barking up the wrong tree” by attempting to call Jesus’ character into question. They need to “call off the dogs” on this one and “let sleeping dogs lie.”

As to the groundless charge of internal contradiction (sent to Israel only / disciples evangelize Israel only “vs.” evangelizing the whole world), here is my reply:

First of all, being sent to Israel doesn’t also mean that He would ignore all non-Israelis. This is untrue. The woman at the well was a Samaritan. He told the story about the good Samaritan who helped the guy who had been beaten, and concluded that he was a better neighbor than a Jew who didn’t do these things. He healed the Roman centurion’s servant, and commended his faith as better than most Jews. The Bible says that He healed this woman’s daughter (and highly commended her mother for her faith).

In the whole passage (blessed context), we readily see that Jesus was merely asking (as He often did) a rhetorical question. In effect He was asking her, “why should I heal your daughter?” She gave a great answer, and He (knowing all along that she would say what she did) did heal her.

I fail to see how this passage proves that Jesus didn’t give a fig about non-Jews. He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter! How does that prove what atheists contend? Jesus heals a Canaanite girl (after being asked to by her mother), and that “proves” that He only healed and preached to Jews; hence it is a “contradiction”? Surely, this is a form of “logic” that no one’s ever seen before.

Another example, even more famous, is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-29). He shares the Gospel very explicitly with her, stating that He is the source of eternal life (4:14), and that He is the Jewish Messiah (4:25-26): a thing that she later proclaimed in the city (4:28-29, 39-42).

The text even notes that — normally — Jews avoided Samaritans: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar’ia?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (4:9; RSV).

A third instance of Jesus’ outreach beyond the Jews is His interaction with the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Note how Jesus not only readily healed the Roman centurion’s servant (8:7, 13), but also “marveled” at his faith and commended it as superior to the faith of anyone “in Israel” (8:10). And that led Him to observe that many Gentiles will be saved, whereas many Jews will not be saved (8:11-12). But there is much more:

A fourth example is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The whole point of it was to show that Samaritans were truly neighbors to Jews if they helped them, as the man did in the parable. I drove on the road (from Jerusalem to Jericho) which was the setting of this parable.

A fifth example is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

A sixth example is the common motif of Jesus saying that He came to save not just Jews, but the world (Jn 6:33, 51; 8:12 [“I am the light of the world”]; 9:5; 12:46 [“I have come as light into the world . . .”]; 12:47 [“to save the world”]; ). The Evangelists in the Gospels, and John the Baptist state the same (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17, 19).

A seventh example is Jesus praying for His disciples in their missionary efforts: “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

An eighth example is the parable of the weeds, which showed a universal mission field fifteen chapters before Matthew 28: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; . . .” (13:37-38).

A ninth example is Jesus’ statements that “all men” can potentially be saved (Jn 12:32; 13:35).

The book of Acts recounts St. Peter and St. Paul massively reaching out to Gentiles. I need not spend any time documenting that.

As anyone can see, the evidence in the Bible against this ridiculous atheist critique is abundant and undeniable. Jesus never says (nor does the entire New Testament ever say) that He came to “save Israel” or be the “savior of Israel.” Anyone who doesn’t believe me can do a word search (here’s the tool to do it). Verify it yourself. He only claims to be the “Messiah” of Israel (Jn 4:25-26): which is a different thing. When Jesus says who it is that He came to save (i.e., provided they are willing), He states explicitly that He came “to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and “to save the world” (Jn 12:47).

Likewise, St. Paul states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Last I checked, sinful human beings were not confined solely to the class of Jews or Israelis.

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Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
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My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2600 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
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See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: apologistdave@gmail.com). Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.
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Photo credit: The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ (1784, by Jean Germain Drouais (1763-1788) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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