August 8, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s 12th podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Luke 9:59-62, Jesus’ rude retort, ‘Let the dead bury their dead’ “. Here is the passage:

Luke 9:59-62 (RSV) To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” [60] But he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” [61] Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” [62] Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

The negatives about Jesus in the Gospels are ignored. . . . The Gospel writers . . . were cult propagandists. . . . Of course, cults don’t want you to say farewell to your family. That would indicate divided loyalty. We can be sure that this Jesus script was invented by Luke because it’s not found in Matthew’s version of the story.

The same thought is found in Matthew:

Matthew 8:19-22 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” [20] And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” [21] Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” [22] But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” 

Does that mean that now it isn’t “invented” because Matthew has it, too?

Even when I was a kid, I thought [this] was a terrible thing to say. . . . Why aren’t Christians bothered — I mean, really upset — by such nasty words? C’mon! It’s really mean to say, let someone else bury your father. . . . Are the good things good enough to cancel out all the bad stuff he’s said, or that the Gospel writers invented?

Dr. Madison seems to think this is some sort of silver bullet, since he has now done some variation of the [supposed] “hostility to family and wife” polemic now four times (installments one, four, five, and twelve [this current one] ). It takes up fully a third of his series thus far. He loves to insinuate that this is all fanatic cult-like behavior: to separate initiates from their previous strongest allegiance of family. People who do that are wacko, extremist nuts — so Dr. Madison reasons — ; therefore, Jesus is also a nut (or those who supposedly invented Him). I’ve thoroughly answered the charge, and it is seen over and over that there is nothing to it (it’s simply non-literal literary devices), but we’ll provide a bit more now, at no extra charge.

Catholic apologist Phillip Campbell writes on his Unam Sanctam Catholicam site (7-30-18):

The issue revolves around the Jewish practice of “second burial” common in Palestine in Jesus’ time. In Jesus’ time, after a Jewish person had died, he would be immediately interred in the family burial cave or plot. The immediate period of mourning was seven days (shi’va), followed by a less intense mourning period of 30 days, called shloshim. However, the mourning period was not totally concluded until all the flesh had rotted off the body. This process usually took a year. At that time, the bones would be gathered and re-internment, or “second burial” (likkut aẓamot) would take place. The bones would be gathered together, placed in an ossuary (small chest-like container) and re-interred.

If the phrase “let me first go and bury my father” refers to this custom, then the man is asking Jesus for time to wait for the year-long likkut azamot mourning period to end so he can re-inter his father. Jesus essentially tells him, “You have already buried your father in the family tomb and honored him. There are others who can see to technicality of the re-internment.” . . . 

[This] view has the benefit of taking into account Jewish burial customs has practiced in Jesus’ own day. It makes sense of Jesus’ objection; I noted above Jesus’ objection doesn’t make a lot of sense if the man is only asking for a few hours. But if the passage is referring to second burial, he could be asking for as much as 12 months leave, in which case it makes a lot more sense why Christ would object. The father is already buried in the family tomb with the remains of all the other family members; when Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” he’s essentially making a joke, saying, “Your dad’s bones aren’t going anywhere. They are safe in the family tomb with all your other ancestors. I’m sure they’ll keep him company”; in other words, “Let the dead (your other ancestors in the family tomb) take care of your father’s bones until someone else in the family shows up to bury them.” 

Gordon Franz (Archaeology and Biblical Research 5/2 [1992] 54-58) examines and exegetes the text in even greater detail, along the same lines; mentioning relevant scholarly articles and related Bible passages:

In the first century, when a person died, they normally were taken and buried immediately in the family burial cave that had been hewn out of bedrock. [For the archaeology of Jewish tombs during the New Testament period, see Rahmani 1958, 1961, 1982a].  This custom is based on the injunction found in the Mosaic Law, not to leave the corpse on an executed person on the tree overnight (Deut. 21:22-23).  Two examples of immediate burials are found in the New Testament: Jesus (John 19:31) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:6-10).

Immediately after the burial, the family would separate itself and mourn for seven days.  This mourning period was called shiv’ah.  It would have been impossible for the disciples to make their request if their father had just died.  If they were the eldest sons, they were obligated by custom to immediately bury their fathers.  . . . the disciples would have been acting contrary to normal first-century Jewish burial practices.

An Interpretation Based on First-Century Jewish Burial Practices

McCane suggests an interpretation that is consistent with first-century Jewish burial practices (1990:40-41).  After a body was placed in a burial cave, it was left to decompose.  The family mourned for seven days.  This initial mourning period was followed by a less intense 30-day period of mourning, called shloshim.  However, the entire mourning period was not fully over until the flesh of the deceased had decomposed, usually about a year later.  The Jerusalem Talmud states: When the flesh had wasted away, the bones were collected and placed in chests (ossuaries).  On that day (the son) mourned, but the following day he was glad, because his forebears rested from judgment (Moed Qatan 1:5).

The final act of mourning, the gathering of the bones into a bone box called an ossuary, was called “ossilegium,” or “secondary burial.”  It is this act, I believe, that is in view in our Lord’s response.  [For a good discussion of secondary burials, see Meyers 1971; Rahmani 1981.  On ossuaries, see Rahmani 1982b].  The disciples’ request and Jesus’ response makes good sense in light of the Jewish custom of secondary burial.  When the disciples requested time to bury their fathers they were actually asking for time to finish the rite of secondary burial.  Their father had died, been placed in the family burial cave, and the sons had sat shiv’ah and most likely shloshim.  They had requested anywhere from a few weeks to up to 11 months to finish the ritual of ossilegium before they returned to Jesus.

Jesus’ sharp answer also fits well with secondary burial.  The fathers had been buried in the family burial caves and their bodies were slowly decomposing.  In the tombs, along with the fathers, were other family members who had died, some awaiting secondary burial, others already placed in ossuaries.  When Jesus stated: “Let the dead bury their own dead,” He was referring to two different kinds of dead in the tomb: the bones of the deceased which had already been neatly placed in ossuaries and the fathers who had yet to be reburied.  The phrase “own dead” indicates that the fathers were included among the dead.

[. . .]

The Reason for Jesus’ Response

Why would Jesus respond in a seemingly harsh manner?  The purpose of His response may have been twofold.  The first purpose was to encourage the disciples to faithfully follow Him.  The second purpose and perhaps more importantly, was to teach correct theology.

The concept of gathering the bones of one’s ancestors is deeply embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures and reflected in Israelite burial practices (Gen. 49:29; Judges 2:10; 16:31; I Kings 11:21, 43, etc.).  However, by New Testament times, the concept had taken on a new meaning.  According to the Rabbinic sources, the decomposition of the flesh atoned for the sins of the dead person (a kind of purgatory) and the final stage of this process was gathering the bones and placing them in an ossuary (Meyers 1971: 80-85).  Jesus confronts this contrary theology.  Only faith in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross can atone for sin, not rotting flesh or any other work or merit of our own (Heb. 9:22, 26; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8, 9).  Jesus may have rebuked these two disciples rather harshly because they were following the corrupted practice of secondary burial.

Conclusion

An amplified (interpretive) rendering of this statement might be: Look, you have already honored your father by giving him a proper burial in the family sepulcher.  Now, instead of waiting for the flesh to decompose, this can never atone for sin, go and preach the Kingdom of God and tell of the only true means of atonement, faith alone in Christ.  Let the bones of you dead father’s ancestors gather his bones and place them in an ossuary.  You follow me!  This interpretation allows for Jesus to have upheld the fifth commandment, takes the text at face value, and does justice to the Jewish burial practices of the first century.  The interpretation is therefore consistent theologically, Biblically, and historically, and answers the critics accurately.

Bibiography

McCane, B.

1990 “Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead”: Secondary Burial and Matt. 8:21-22.  Harvard Theological Review 83:31-43.

Meyers, Eric

1971   Jewish Ossuaries: Reburial and Rebirth.  Rome: Biblical Institute.

Rahmani, Levi

1958   A Jewish Tomb on Shahin Hill, Jerusalem.  Israel Exploration Journal 8: 101-105.

1961   Jewish Rock-Cut Tombs in Jerusalem. Atiqot 3: 93-120.

1981   Ancient Jerusalem’s Funerary Customs and Tombs: Part One.  Biblical Archaeologist 44: 171-177.

1982a Ancient Jerusalem’s Funerary Customs and Tombs: Part Three.  Biblical Archaeologist 45: 43-53.

1982b Ancient Jerusalem’s Funerary Customs and Tombs: Part Four.  Biblical Archaeologist 45: 109-119.

***

Photo credit: Ian Scott (5-21-09). First-century CE Jewish ossuaries at the Dominus Flevit church on the Mount of Olives. . . . An ossuary is a stone box that would hold the bones of a deceased person after they had been in a tomb long enough that the flesh had decayed. . . . During the Hellenistic and Roman periods [there was a] secondary burial in individual ossuaries that would be placed in any available corners around the tomb. [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]

***

 

August 8, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s 11th podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus came to bring a sword, and to set family members against one another”. Here is the passage:

Matthew 10:34-39 (RSV) “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; [36] and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. [37] He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; [38] and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. 

This quote is among those that really drags Jesus down and disqualifies him as a great moral teacher. . . . Why don’t Christians say, “Maybe we’ve made a mistake, worshiping this guy”? . . . People who love the colossal ego of Jesus as portrayed in John’s Gospel won’t be bothered by the arrogant Jesus on display here in Matthew 10. . . . Can we stop talking about Jesus as the Prince of Peace? And just think of the damage that this text has done in fueling Christian fanaticism. “We’re carrying the sword of Jesus,” said the Crusaders and the persecutors of the Inquisition. . . . C’mon! This is really despicable. There is  no way to spin this to make Jesus look like a good guy. . . . Cults preach like this. . . . These words put Jesus firmly in the tradition of cult fanatics, who want undiluted devotion to themselves. . . . This is unhealthy religion, that damages people. It’s bad theology.

Matthew 10:37 provides the key to this whole passage, and in fact, helped to explain the issue dealt with in Podcast #1: Jesus supposedly telling His followers to hate their families. The point is that they are to love Him the most (the absence of which in the Bible is the sin of idolatry). And he informs them that there will be great costs involved in being His disciple (10:38), though these will result in ultimate fulfillment and reward (10:39). Jesus seems to virtually be citing Micah 7:6

for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

He utilizes a literary device described below and His discourse is partly a prophecy that Christianity was in fact to cause a division in society and in the world ever since: i.e., many people didn’t like it then, just as they don’t today, which is why there is more persecution of Christians now, than at any time in history (according to even a secular magazine like Newsweek).

Sometimes, families are split, and there have been even civil wars over religious matters. Try to be openly, publicly Christian in, for example, Saudi Arabia or Iran today, and see how well things go for you. Why is it that churches are being attacked in alarmingly great numbers all over Europe? According to one article:

Countries like France and Germany have seen a spike in violent vandalism, desecrating cherished churches and Christian symbols in recent months and years.

According to the German news site PI-News, every day in France, two churches are desecrated. They report 1,063 attacks on Christian churches or symbols like crucifixes, icons, and statues in France in 2018, marking a 17 percent increase from the year before.

It’s because there has been opposition to Christianity from the start. Christianity severely critiques the world-system, and the world doesn’t like it one bit. It’s not rocket science, then, to understand what Jesus was expressing here. It’s only the literary genre that is confusing folks like Dr. Madison. What He was driving at is made perfectly clear in the larger context (which Dr. Madison — like virtually all atheist “exegetes” habitually do — completely ignores):

Matthew 24:16-18, 21-25, 28 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. [17] Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, [18] and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. . . . [21] Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; [22] and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. [23] When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes. [24] “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; [25] it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Be-el’zebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. . . . [28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

This is the backdrop, and this explains Jesus’ meaning:

1) The world has hated Me, and so they will hate you also, as My followers.

2) This hatred will extend even to families, where non-Christian families may persecute Christians in the family.

3) If your family hates you, you have to choose between it and your ultimate allegiance to God [and I am God].

Jesus doesn’t desire or will or endorse or sanction any of this, which is Dr. Madison’s central and utterly erroneous point (as is quite obvious, I think, in 24:16-28 above). He is simply stating it in a typically pungent Hebraic / Semitic style. And he is using a literary technique, which has a name: Metonymy (or, Change of Name / Noun).

In my Installment #1, I mentioned Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger, who described and explained “over 200 distinct figures [in the Bible], several of them with from 30 to 40 varieties.” His 1104-page tome is called, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). It’s available for free, online. Bullinger devotes no less than 75 pages to Metonymy (pp. 538-612) [see the entire section in a nice format online]. He defines it as follows:

The Change of one Noun for another Related Noun.

. . .  Metonymy is a figure by which one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation.

The change is in the noun, and only in a verb as connected with the action proceeding from it. . . . 

Thus it will be seen that Metonymy is not founded on resemblance, but on relation.

When we say that a person writes ” a bad hand,” we do not mean a hand, but we use the noun ” hand ” for the characters which it writes.

Metonymy is of four kinds: viz., of the Cause, of the Effect, of the Subject, and of the Adjunct.

I. Metonymy of the Cause is when the cause is put for the effect: i.e., when the doer is put for the thing done; or, the instrument for that which is effected; or, where the action is put for the effect produced by the action. (p. 538)

Metonymy of the Cause is the kind that occurs in our disputed passage, which Bullinger cites under his examples (p. 548). He comments on Matthew 10:34: “That is to say, the object of His coming was peace, but the effect of it was war.” In other words, Jesus’ technique (rather common in prophetic-type utterance in the Old Testament) was to speak poetically, as if He directly caused or willed what He only directly “caused” by being the object of the displeasure and disagreement of those who would reject Him and His followers.  So He says:

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.

This is poetic expression, utilizing Metonymy of the Cause, where “the cause is put for the effect”. But His literal meaning may be paraphrased as follows: 

I came to bring peace, but the effect is, rather [in some cases], a sword [serious conflict]. The [undesired] result of my coming [in extreme cases] will be a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . [If it tragically gets to this point] He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me [which love would be idolatry].

I’ve seen war movies, where a commander of so many soldiers said to another commander, “I killed 14 of my men.” OI remember being jolted by that when I first heard it. Then, after a moment’s reflection, I “got” it. This is the same sort of non-literal language. Of course, literally, his soldiers were killed by the enemy; they were the cause, not the commander, who did not desire this outcome. But he put it that way because he was trying to express, in his understandable human feeling and compassion: “if I had not sent these men into battle, onto the front lines, they would still be alive [i.e., I ‘killed’ them].” 

That is true, but it’s not direct cause. Likewise, Jesus is talking in this same way, saying in effect: “If I had not come and taught what I teach, then we wouldn’t have families being divided as a result.” In that sense only, He caused it, but not directly. Hence, “I bring a sword.” The division is directly caused by those who choose to engage in it, and to persecute folks for following Jesus.

Robert H. Stein wrote a very helpful article entitled, “Jesus’ Use of Figurative Language.” He states:

Jesus evidently prepared his teaching, putting it into literary forms using the metaphorical, exaggerating, impressionistic language of a culture that loved to tell stories. This helped his listeners remember easily what he taught. . . . Jesus thought his hearers were capable of understanding figurative language and he expected them to do so, . . . 

He goes on to list (with many examples) many of the literary forms Jesus used: simile, metaphor, poetry, proverb, hyperbole, puns, paradox, a fortiori, use of [Socratic] questioning (I have written about that, myself), irony, synecdoche, personification, paranomasia, and anthropomorphism (that I have also described at length).

Pulpit Commentary, for Matthew 10:35, sagely states: “Christ would leave in his hearers’ minds no room for thinking that he was ignorant of what the immediate result of his coming would be.” 

***

Photo credit: The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 7, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s tenth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Mark 11:22-24, Jesus gets demerits for saying this about prayer.” Here is the latest “outrageous” saying of Jesus (or, oops, the fanatical cultist evangelists who supposedly made up His words):

Mark 11:22-24 (RSV) And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. [23] Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. [24] Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

This is a shallow, silly promise, and Jesus gets major demerits for this. . . . Jesus was wrong. . . . How much damage has this teaching caused? How many very devout people have prayed with all their might for a sick child to be cured, but the child dies? And then — far from blaming God for not delivering — they beat up on themselves for not having (you guessed it) enough faith. This damages people. This is harmful religion. . . . Jesus sounds like countless other cult fanatics that have come and gone in human history. . . . Why aren’t Christians themselves shocked by the cheap gimmickry? . . . baloney that Jesus has taught about prayer . . . 

First of all, of course this — especially the “mountain” reference — is a use of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), which we have thoroughly dealt with in installment one of this series of twelve rebuttals, and so need not reiterate here. It’s simply exaggeration, to make the literal point: “you can do some truly extraordinary things through faith and prayer.”

And (equally obvious) we all speak like this today, all the time. We observe people who are rather confident in their abilities in various areas, who will say, “I can do anything!” No one takes it literally. Or one can think of married couples who truly believe that their love can “conquer all”, or a parent telling a child who is now a young man or woman, considering a career: “you can do anything you want with your life. The sky’s the limit!”

These things are common because exaggeration or hyperbole is present in all languages and cultures. The problem is that a double standard is often applied to the Bible and Jesus: as if the ordinary complex aspects of language somehow don’t apply in those cases. They do; and this double standard or miscomprehension is the cause of countless atheist errors and fallacies in their endless polemical attacks.

Ironically, in this very podcast, Dr. Madison was discussing the parable of the fig tree, that occurs earlier in the same chapter, and states: “seeing the story in the context of this chapter, it seems to be Mark’s metaphor for the destruction of the Jerusalem temple . . . it is a literary device.”

Great! This is truly progress, as Dr. Madison has now recognized the perfectly obvious fact that the Bible contains literary devices and various genres, which include things like metaphor, exaggeration, anthropomorphism, and various non-literal poetic specimens. Yet he can’t see this when it comes to the text we are presently examining. And he — more often than not –, misses them altogether.

He does make a good point that there are many Christians (who interpret the passage as he is doing: as if Jesus intended it absolutely literally) who read this and think that God answers absolutely every prayer and heals absolutely everyone, just for the asking, and/or with enough faith in the person praying or the one afflicted.

This is indeed an actual and serious problem among far too many Christians, and a legitimate concern. But it comes from ignorance and stupidity in Bible interpretation (precisely the same error Dr. Madison is committing in every podcast in this series). These folks are taking things literally that were never intended to be so.

Again, I have dealt with both these errors in other papers, and so will cite them here. I addressed the “unanswered prayer ‘problem'” in my article, “No Conditional Prayer in Scripture?”: one of my 35 refutations of atheist Bob Seidensticker, which he has utterly ignored and left unreplied-to. Here are two instances, where the Bible shows that not all prayers are or should be answered:

Prayer is conditional upon being consistent with God’s will. So if we pray (to use an extreme example) for a difficult neighbor to be struck down and not able to talk or walk, that wouldn’t be in God’s will and God wouldn’t answer it.

1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Even something not immediately immoral or amoral wouldn’t necessarily be in God’s will, because He knows everything and can see where things might lead; thus may refuse some requests. When Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” etc., it’s in a familiar Hebrew proverbial sense, which means that it is “generally true, but admits of exceptions.”

Moreover, St. Paul’s petitionary prayer request for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (thought by many Bible scholars to be an eye disease) was expressly turned down by God (2 Cor 12:7-9). I gave a few other examples in that paper:

The prophet Jonah prayed to God to die (Jonah 4:3): “Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (cf. 4:8-9). God obviously didn’t fulfill the request, and chided Jonah or his anger (4:4, 9). The prophet Ezekiel did the same: “O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kgs 19:4). God had other plans, as the entire passage shows. If we pray something stupidly, God won’t answer. He knows better than we do.

Jesus also tells the story (not a parable, which don’t have proper names) in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man, in which two petitionary requests (in effect, prayers: 16:24, 27-28, 30) to Abraham are turned down (16:25-26, 29, 31). Since Jesus is teaching theological principles or truths, by means of the story, then it follows that it’s His own opinion as well: that prayers are not always answered. They have to be according to God’s will.

But wait! Bob says, after all: “The Bible has no qualifiers” and “No limitations or delays are mentioned [for prayer].” Really? It’s sort of obvious, by now, ain’t it?: that Bob often is quite ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. He displays his biblical illiteracy and ignorance rather spectacularly . . . 

Now, one might say that, “okay, some of these are obvious examples where God wouldn’t answer, because someone would be harmed. But why wouldn’t God answer all prayers for healing, because that is a good thing, and He has the desire and power to do so, if He is an all-loving and omnipotent Being?”

And that leads to the large, complex area of healing, as taught in the Bible and Christianity. The fact is that the Bible does not teach that everyone would or should be healed for the asking, or with enough faith. It’s not nearly that simple. I have already provided the example above of the Apostle Paul, who certainly had enough faith and holiness. It simply wasn’t God’s will to heal him. We don’t know all the ins and outs of why God heals in some instances and not in others.

We don’t know everything and can’t figure out everything God does. We should never logically expect to, given other truths expressed in the inspired revelation that all Christians accept, since He is omniscient and our knowledge is very limited. But I’m here to inform anyone who will listen what the actual biblical teaching about healing is. I documented it at great length in my paper, “Divine Healing: Is It God’s Will to Heal in Every Case?”

Sometimes people are supernaturally healed; most times they are not, or are healed through natural means that came from thinking and brains and medical science, by means of the abilities to learn that God gave us. And sometimes prayers are unanswered, per the reasons above.

There is nothing whatsoever in this passage — correctly understood — that isshallow, silly, wrong, harmful religion, sound[ing] like countless other cult fanatics, cheap gimmickry, baloney . . .” It’s Dr. Madison (in his ludicrous felt superiority to our Lord Jesus) who has been shown to be “silly” and “wrong”: as throughout these ten installments. There are many people who have a hard time properly interpreting the Bible, and he is assuredly one of ’em.

***

Photo credit: Healing of the Blind Man (1871), by Carl Bloch (1834-1890) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

August 7, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s ninth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Matthew 10:14-15, towns that reject the message of the Kingdom of God will be destroyed.” Here is the “offending” passage:

Matthew 10:14-15 (RSV) And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor’rah than for that town. 

. . . two brutal verses . . . if you turned them away, would you deserve destruction on the day of judgment? . . . sounds vindictive and petty, no? . . . Doesn’t this sound like typical cult fanaticism, [that] we’ve heard from religious cranks forever? “If you don’t believe me, you’ll be sorry’ you’ll be damned.” And Jesus is supposed to be all about love and compassion, right? . . . Don’t be so confident that Jesus was a good guy, and that he was a great moral teacher. These verses undercut that.

Dr. Madison apparently doesn’t grasp or comprehend (agree or disagree) the notion of ultimate justice and God as Judge at all. It’s not that complicated. I tackled this general area in a reply to another atheist, entitled, “God’s Judgment of Sin: Analogies for an Atheist Inquirer” (9-6-18). Here are some excerpts (slightly abridged):

God as the Creator has the “prerogative” to judge His creation when they have gone astray.

We have earthly judges (by analogy) who do the same thing. A criminal commits a crime. He is given a fair trial, found guilty, and is then judged, if deemed guilty. 

But it’s inconceivable that God is the Cosmic Judge?

Imagine if everyone on earth were like an SS agent (think, Heinrich Himmler). We took out people like that in World War II and everyone thought it was quite moral. But if God does it, suddenly it’s immoral.

Well, with the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, that’s what the Bible says took place: the level of immorality was virtually universal and beyond repair. So God judged. I don’t have the slightest problem with it. I think it’s exactly what we would expect in a God Who is both perfectly loving and a just judge.

In a blanket judgment by God there will be children who are killed as well. But they are not necessarily condemned to hell. God judges each soul individually. So yes, they may have to die young as a result of being in a hyper-corrupt culture (below the age of reason and guilt, as we Catholic say), but they have an eternal life in front of them and God will judge them justly in that respect.

In the atheist view, on the other hand, there is no ultimate justice at all. Since we are doing Nazi analogies, it would be as if the Nazis had won World War II and were ruling the world right now, doing all the evil they did while they were in power. In a world without God, there would be no ultimate justice. These Nazis would die and cease to exist. They would pay no penalty for their great evils (not even in this life if they aren’t defeated). Their victims would die and cease to exist as well, and never receive any good things. All they had was an earthy life which was a living hell under Nazi rule.

There is no justice or meaning or “happy ending” in that scenario. Many people in the world have a terrible life: and very often because of despotic rulers or bad social or religious systems. In the Christian worldview the unrepentant bad guys are judged for their evil (and will end up in hell). People who accept God’s grace spend eternity with God in heaven, in great bliss and joy, with no more suffering.

That is meaningful and just.

 I also wrote in a similar article, “Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist” (10-30-17):

The Bible says that God is Love and the life of Jesus illustrates that rather dramatically. The Bible also teaches that He is the judge of the world. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t say that human judges are wicked and evil because they pass sentence (following jury verdicts) for someone to go to jail. We recognize that as due punishment for crimes.

God judges, as the Creator. He desires that none perish, but He does judge folks for the sins that they willingly commit. He doesn’t cause anyone to sin, but He judges them for their sins.

And in another paper of mine, “Dialogue w Atheists on Hell & Whether God is Just” (12-5-06; originally posted at Debunking Christianity), I argued by analogy:

When a criminal rebels against the laws of a society and is caught, convicted, and imprisoned for life, we don’t say that the “cause” of his imprisonment was the laws of the state that he violated, and rail against the very notion of law as the horrible, unjust cause of this guy’s suffering! He brought about his own demise by going astray. Likewise, with human beings, God, and hell.

The penalty for very serious crime in a civil sense is life imprisonment. That’s just how it is. Law itself is not to be blamed.

The penalty for very serious sin and rebellion against God in spiritual reality is eternal torment in hell. That’s just how it is. God (the ground of moral law) is not to be blamed for that. . . . 

Because God is Creator He also has the prerogative to judge. This is analogous to our experience. Society takes it upon itself to judge the criminal and punish him if he supersedes the “just” laws that govern the society, in order to prevent chaos and suffering. If that is true of human society (one man to another), it is all the more of God, because He is ontologically above us (Creator and created).

So it is perfectly sensible and moral to posit (apart from the data of revelation) a notion of God judging both individuals and nations. God’s omniscience is such that He can determine if an entire nation has gone bad (“beyond repair,” so to speak) and should be punished. And He did so. Now, even in a wicked nation there may be individuals who are exceptions to the rule. So some innocent people will be killed. But this is like our human experience as well. In wartime, we go to war against an entire nation. In so doing, even if it is unintentional, some innocent non-combatants will be killed. . . . 

Again, the societal analogy is perfectly apt. If someone rebels at every turn against every societal norm and law and appropriate behavior and so forth, is society to be blamed? Say someone grows up thinking that serial rape is fine and dandy and shouldn’t be prevented at all. So he goes and does this. Eventually, the legal system catches up with him and he gets his punishment. He rebelled against what most people think is wrong, and more than deserved his punishment.

We don’t say that there should be no punishment. We don’t blame society for his suffering in prison. We don’t deny that society has a right to judge such persons. So if mere human beings can judge each other, why cannot God judge His creation, and (particularly) those of His creation that have rebelled against Him at every turn? What is so incomprehensible about that? One may not believe it, but there is no radical incoherence or inconsistency or monstrous injustice or immorality in this Christian (and Jewish) viewpoint (which is what is always claimed by the critics).

An analogy I’ve used many times is to compare God to a Governor of a state. He or she have the power to pardon criminals. But the criminal has to accept the pardon. They can refuse it. People who choose to go to hell, do so of their own accord. It never had to happen. God, like the Governor, offers them free grace and salvation if they will but repent and accept it.  But many choose to reject this free offer of salvation, which is universal (unlike Governors’ pardons).

It’s as absurd to judge God because people rebel against Him and end up in hell, as it would be to blame a Governor because a prisoner ludicrously refuses to be pardoned.

***

Photo credit: Jesus casting out the money changers at the temple, by Carl Bloch (1834-1890) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

August 7, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s eighth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On John 6:53-57, eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood are the key to eternal life”. Here is the passage:

John 6:53-57 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; [54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. [57] As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.

It’s hard to come up with a better example of magical thinking. How in the world could eating flesh and blood, even if it belonged to a God, bestow eternal life? . . . These verses in John’s Gospel are grotesque magic . . . eating a God to live forever is not real world thinking. It’s magical thinking. It’s bad religion; it’s bad theology. . . . What an embarrassment that this text ended up in the New Testament.

Dr. Madison makes two major points about this text. First he argues that it echoes elements in other mystery religions before or during the time of Jesus; therefore, it is immediately suspect, and was simply yet another deceitful technique used by cult propagandists Mark, Luke, and now John (or whoever he thinks put the Gospel that bears his name together), to put onto the lips of Jesus. He sees this as a disproof of the claim that Jesus even said what He did in John 6.

But it’s by no means certain that when an idea has some aspects within it that were previously present elsewhere, that in and of itself, it disproves the later idea. Why would anyone think that? Yet this is common playbook / talking-points of both atheists and dissident theological liberals, when approaching historic Christianity and the Bible. Let me provide three analogies or word-pictures to reveal the blatant fallacy involved here:

1) Modern astronomy and the theory of gravity both contain ideas which were present in the prior field of astrology; namely: distant bodies have an influence on the earth. Does it follow that, therefore, gravitation is untrue, simply because of this fact? No, of course not. Astrology had hit upon some truths, while also espousing many falsehoods. And in fact, Isaac Newton was neck-deep in the antiquated pseudo-science of alchemy and other occultic beliefs, at the same time he did legitimate, ground-breaking science; and early astronomers like Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler, were equally enthralled with astrology, even while they made their momentous contributions to modern astronomy and physics. By the way, St. Thomas Aquinas 300-400 years earlier, and St. Augustine 1100-1200 years earlier, both rejected astrology. Historical truth is much more interesting than revisionist historical fiction.

2) It’s often noted that there is a Deluge account in the Epic of Gilgamesh; therefore, this casts doubt on the story of Noah’s Flood. But why would it? Is it not more plausible to assert that if in fact (for the sake of argument) such a major Flood had occurred, that other cultures besides Hebrew culture would more likely know about it, rather than not? Say for the sake of argument that the Bible had mentioned Halley’s Comet. We now know that it passes by the earth every 76 years. No doubt many cultures have some written record of observing it. But if the Bible had happened to mention it, it would immediately be suspect because non-Hebrews also wrote about it? Clearly not.

3) Several cultures for centuries used mold in order to help people heal. Later it was discovered that the antibiotic penicillin was derived from mold. Is it therefore to be rejected as a result? Nope. This is shoddy reasoning. The Wikipedia article. “History of penicillin” noted:

Many ancient cultures, including those in Egypt, Greece, and India, independently discovered the useful properties of fungi and plants in treating infection. These treatments often worked because many organisms, including many species of mold, naturally produce antibiotic substances. However, ancient practitioners could not precisely identify or isolate the active components in these organisms.

A similar argument can be made regarding aspirin. The Wikipedia article notes: “A precursor to aspirin found in leaves from the willow tree has been used for its health effects for at least 2,400 years.” My own family has taken white willow bark for many years to treat pain.

In fact, Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton, in his masterpiece, The Everlasting Man, argued that it is precisely to be expected, and is an argument in favor of Christianity, that there are many precursors to it: especially in the paganism that flourished in the previous 500 years or so. Anglican apologist C. S. Lewis, in his book, The Abolition of Man, has a section at the end (“Illustrations of the Tao”) in which he shows (and rejoices in) many similarities of world religions.

Young Lewis (very much like myself in my teen years) was enthralled with Norse mythology and Wagner’s operas, etc., and was an atheist. He became a theist after a discussion with J. R. R. Tolkien, in which the latter noted that “Christianity was a true myth.” It had never occurred to Lewis that there could be such a thing as a myth that actually happened. I have written about supposed “pagan elements” in Catholicism: which is a charge that anti-Catholic Protestants often make. It’s fascinating to now see an atheist former Methodist minister use the same fallacious tactic:

*
*
The second argument Dr. Madison makes (if we can even call it that), is that this eucharistic discourse is merely a species of “magic” (and of a grotesque sort at that). What he calls “magic” (and ironically again, this is an old talking-point of anti-Catholic Protestant fundamentalism as well) is simply sacramentalism. Briefly defined, the word means; “use of matter to convey grace.”
*
I don’t intend to write a mini-treatise on sacramentalism in this reply. Readers may consult my articles for that purpose (just as they can read about the exegesis of John 6 and eucharistic theology on that web page of mine: including extensive exegetical arguments in favor of the literal interpretation). Suffice it to say that it is a very common theme or motif in the Bible:
*
Heartfelt Sacramentalism (Not Mere Charms) [1996]Why do Catholics Believe that Sacraments are Necessary? [2002]

Sacraments & the Moral Responsibility of Their Recipients [8-26-06]

Are Relics & Sacraments Mere Magical Charms? [2007]

Dialogue on Sacramentalism, Holy Objects, and Relics [2-26-09]

 

Bible on Physical Objects as Aids in Worship [4-7-09]

Sacraments: Bible & Church Fathers (vs. Calvin #34) [9-25-09]

The Biblical Understanding of Holy Places and Things [National Catholic Register, 4-11-17]

 

Biblical Evidence for Sacramentalism [National Catholic Register, 8-29-17]

Obviously, Dr. Madison is not likely at all to be persuaded of a full Catholic eucharistic theology (or any theology at all). He’s a hostile apostate. But I think perhaps he could be made to see at least (and many others can grasp) that it is not mere “grotesque magic.” He asks,How in the world could eating flesh and blood, even if it belonged to a God, bestow eternal life?” Well, it can because an omnipotent God decreed it to be so, just as the Bible also teaches regeneration and salvation by means of water baptism.

If one thinks that it is weird to eat Jesus’ body (even in the “eucharistic manner” that we believe in, as opposed to literal cannibalism), then maybe an analogy would help. Jesus made it Himself in the passage under consideration. First He stated:
John 6:31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 
Here Jesus starts to make the analogy between food for physical nutrition and “special food” for spiritual nourishment. He had just miraculously fed the five thousand in the passage preceding this discourse. This is a common technique in the Bible. Likewise, a parallel is made in 1 Peter 3:20-21 between Noah’s Ark saving him and his family from drowning; preserving their physical lives, and being saved spiritually through water of baptism. Then Jesus started saying that He was the bread of life:
John 6:35 . . . “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
*
John 6:48-51 “I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [50] This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever . . .”
Then He made it clear that He was not merely speaking metaphorically, but literally about His real, substantial, bodily presence in the Holy Eucharist:
John 6:51b-52  “. . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [52] The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” [followed by the text that Dr. Madison cites]
Then Jesus ties it all together, to make sure that no one misses the analogy:
John 6:58 “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

Jesus makes a similar parallel with the woman at the well:

John 4:9-14 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. [10] Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” [11] The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? [12] Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” [13] 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 7:37-38 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. [38] He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” 

Revelation 21:6 . . . To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. 

This is biblical sacramentalism. It’s nothing unusual at all. It’s what the Bible teaches. Whether one rejects it, is another matter, but the Bible does unmistakably teach it. In this case,  it make perfect internal sense: just as physical food gives biological nourishment, eucharistic “food” gives spiritual nourishment and grace.

Sacramentalism exists in the first place because God knew that human beings could relate a lot better to physical, concrete things that conveyed grace, rather than purely abstract grace. And He knew that they could grasp analogies, parables, and parallelism.

***

Photo credit: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (c. 1585), by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) and his workshop [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 6, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s seventh podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Mark 4:11-12: Jesus taught in parables to keep people from repenting and being forgiven”. Here is the passage:

Mark 4:11-12 (RSV) And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; [12] so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” 

Bizarre Jesus quote . . . Jesus teaches in parables so that people won’t turn and be forgiven. . . . It clearly doesn’t make sense at all. Is Jesus serious? Parables are meant to fool people, to keep them in the dark?

Mark 4:11-12 is a common scriptural / Hebraic way of expressing God’s judgment and His providence (while not denying that ultimately men decide their own eternal fates, by either accepting or rejecting God’s grace). Romans 1 explains it:

Romans 1:18-25 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] 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. So they are without excuse; [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.

Note that the onus lies upon the people who “suppress the truth” and are engaged in “all ungodliness and wickedness” (1:18). They choose in their own free will to disobey God, then the text says that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24). In other words, He didn’t cause their rebellion; He only allowed them in their free choices, to rebel.

The same dynamic is seen in the juxtaposition between Pharaoh freely hardening his heart, which is then applied to God (in a limited sense) doing it (which means that He allowed it, in His providence; He didn’t ordain it). I explain this at length, in two papers.

A fourth similar example occurs in the book of Job. Satan comes to God and challenges Him to allow him to torment Job. God responds, “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life” (2:6; cf. 1:12). So it is clear that Satan is behind the direct persecution of Job. But later, the text refers to “all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (42:11); that is (properly interpreted, with knowledge of the multitude of Hebrew literary devices), allowed in His providence. Then it is reported (now literally) that God “restored the fortunes of Job, . . . and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before” (42:10) and “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (42:12).

2 Thessalonians (written by St. Paul, as was Romans) is a fifth example, and it expresses precisely the same dynamic as we see in Romans 1 and the other three examples above. Men rebel in their wickedness (“they refused to love the truth and so be saved”: 2:10). Then it is stated (as a forceful hyperbolic manifestation of God’s providence and His permissive will) that “God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2:11-12).

It’s not a contradiction. This way of speaking is common in the Bible. When Paul talks about wicked men, he is being literal; but when He talks about God, it is hyperbolic and a form of sarcasm. 2:10 makes it quite clear what caused their damnation: “those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth.” Even 2:12 again reiterates that man’s rebellion was the cause of the demise of the damned: not because God willed and ordained it from all eternity. The Gospel of John teaches the same thing:

John 12:37-40 Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; [38] it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” [39] Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, [40] “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.”

Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible, in its treatment of the Old Testament passage cited in John 12 (Isaiah 6:9-10) states:

What is prophesied in this passage is the judicial hardening of Israel in their rebellion against God. The prophecy is stated in different forms. Here it appears imperatively; but in other places the prophecy is referred to as self-accomplished as in Acts 28:27, or as having occurred passively as in Matthew 13:13-15. Here, as Dummelow pointed out, “The result of Isaiah’s preaching is spoken of as if it were the purpose of it.” . . .

The classical example from the Bible is that of Pharaoh, of whom it is stated ten times that “Pharaoh hardened his heart …” after which it is said that, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” God never hardened anyone’s heart who had not already hardened his own heart many times. Thus it was said of this prophecy that Israel had themselves shut their ears, closed their eyes, and hardened their hearts.

Thus we may say that God hardened Israel, that Israel hardened themselves, and further, that Satan hardened their hearts. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The “blinding” of this passage and the “strong delusion” of 2 Thessalonians 2:11 KJV, and the “working of error” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, ASV) are all designations of exactly the same condition described here as “hardening.”

The key to understanding lies in the parallel passage of Acts 28:27, which the commentary above describes as “self-accomplished” rebellion. This shows the same dynamic as the “hardened hearts” passages. In the overall context of Acts 28, we don’t see the language of God deliberately blinding them, etc. We see their own choices causing these things. Hence, we see references to “others disbelieved” (28:24); then the Isaiah passage is cited, but in a milder fashion, followed by “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (28:28). In other words, these hearers would not listen. It was their fault; they were rebellious. God didn’t cause that.

Likewise, here is how Jesus put it in Matthew 13:13, 16: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. . . . their eyes they have closed . . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” If one looks at the larger context of John 12:37-40, one can also see that it is man’s rebellion, not God’s foreordination, that causes the disbelief and wickedness:

John 12:37, 47-48  Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; . . . [47] [Jesus] If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. [48] He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.

***

Photo credit: The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 6, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s sixth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Mark 12:30, Jesus’ command to love God at the all-all-all level.” Here is the passage in question:

Mark 12:30 (RSV)  and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Our ever-wise critic of God and all things biblical and Christian, Dr. Madison, pontificates about this as follows:

We are dealing with a colossal case of cosmic narcissism. God expects, God demands, God gets off on human adoration? . . . How does this possibly make sense? . . . This makes God seem like an insecure monarch . . . Here’s Jesus trying to make us love God. No thank you. A God who is top-heavy with ego . . . this is bad theology; this is bad religion. . . . mindless cult fanaticism. . . . The God of the Bible is a horrible God: so much anger and wrath.

The Bible teaches that God is in need of nothing:

Acts 17:24-25 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.

I basically dealt with this issue in my paper, “Why Do We Worship God? Dialogue with an Atheist” (5-11-18). I wrote:

If we’re talking about the supreme being of the universe, then the respect, leading up to worship and praise, is all that much more to be expected, and the natural state of things.

God “needs” no worship whatever because in Christian theology, He needs nothing. He’s completely all-sufficient and self-sufficient. It’s for our sake that we “render unto God’s what is rightfully God’s.”

I cited my friend, Deacon Steven D. Greydanus in this paper. He explained it very eloquently:

[N]othing that happens, nothing we do, can diminish or increase God or his beatitude in any way. We say metaphorically that our sins anger or grieve God and that our virtues delight him, but this is analogical language. He cannot become any happier or sadder than the infinite beatitude he enjoys necessarily and absolutely. . . .

Worship is not something we offer to God to make him happy. Rather, in worship we grow closer to God to our benefit. Worship, like virtue, knowledge of truth, and appreciation of beauty, is for our good.

I added:

I searched “demand worship” in my online RSV Bible and it never appears. God does say in the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me. . . . you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex 20:3, 5). It is the purpose and nature of such worship that [atheists] are not grasping. As I have explained, it’s for our good, not God’s. Why does God give His commands, which include monotheism and worship of Him alone?:

Deuteronomy 4:40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God gives you for ever.

Deuteronomy 5:33 You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land which you shall possess.

Deuteronomy 6:18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, . . .

Deuteronomy 12:28 Be careful to heed all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you for ever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 28:1 And if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. [all the blessings God will give them are then listed in 28:2-14; then 28:15 states, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” This is followed by a list of calamities in 28:16-67.]

It’s always the same, and this is the story of the Old Testament and the ancient Jews. God tells them to follow His laws and commands and everything will be wonderful for them. They will have manifold blessings. Then they decide not to and to rebel against God and it goes terribly, just as God said it would. And then these same men (and atheists today who think like them) blame God rather than their own stupidity and stubbornness. But if we sum up what God wants, as expressed in the Bible, here it is:

1 Timothy 2:3-4 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Atheists are simply projecting human emotions onto God, as if He is some sort of high maintenance drama queen who needs constant attention.Ironically, this is what fundamentalists often do, too (hence they tend to reject anthropopathism and anthropomorphism, which entail non-literal concepts). They are both unsophisticated, improperly thought-through views (i.e., referring to this one topic of worship). And [atheists] want to make Him a despot and tyrant, which is not at all how the Bible presents Him. . . .

We don’t worship God because He needs it (He needs nothing and is entirely self-sufficient), but because we need it, as a fundamental attribute of a human being, who came ultimately from God in creation and through parents in procreation. God made it that way because He knows that we are most happy and fulfilled living as He intended it to be: in as close of a union with Him as possible. Likewise, the parent knows that children will be happier if they accept both the love and correction of the parents. If they reject both, they will likely have problems in their lives. . . .

We’re saying that God is inherently infinitely greater than we are. He created the universe. He gave us life (as parents also do in a lesser sense). He loves us and blesses us in so many ways. So we praise Him and worship Him for Who He is.

Another partial analogy would be how we act towards those we are in love with. Look at any love poems and you find rapturous praise, lavish, over-the-top compliments, placing this loved one at the very center of our existence and the meaningfulness of our life and indeed our happiness and fulfillment. So we praise and compliment in the most extravagant ways.

Yet when it comes to God (even trying to imagine the Christian God for a second: that you reject or deny) you can’t comprehend that we praise and worship Him because of what we believe His loving, all-benevolent nature is; because He created us and fulfills us when we serve Him, and due to all the wonderful things He has done or made possible to do. What is so mysterious or difficult to understand about that, truly baffles me. I don’t have a clue.

But if you redefine what God is like (the ubiquitous arbitrary, capricious tyrant of the atheist imagination), then yes, I can see why you couldn’t comprehend worship of a Being like that.

The RationalChristianity.Net site offers some further insight on the question:

Some people object that God doesn’t merely accept worship, he demands it. They picture God as an egotistical or even insecure tyrant who insists that everyone tell him how great he is. This is not an accurate portrayal, for God’s command to us is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Dt 6:5), not “Tell me five times a day how wonderful I am.” Worship is included as part of God’s command to love him, for it’s a proper expression of our love for someone who is perfect and so much above us in every way. If it’s fitting for us to praise our friends and family when they do well, how much more appropriate it is for us to praise a perfect God! When we love God and realize how awesome he is, worship and praise are natural results.

God’s instruction to worship him is only a demand in the sense that God’s other moral laws are demands. God doesn’t command us not to murder because he’s a dictator, but because it’s morally right (and therefore ultimately in our best interests). Similarly, God tells us to worship him because it’s the proper way for us to relate to him and because it’s to our benefit to do so (see above).

Something else to consider: If God were vain, one would think that he would want pictures and statues of him everywhere, yet he commanded that no one make images of him. Instead, he told the Israelites to keep copies of his commands everywhere (Dt 6:6-9), so that they would remember them and obey them and receive blessings as a result (Dt 6:18).

I would add that God is also eager to share His glory (hardly a quality of a “narcissist”), as I have documented. And God also praises human beings:

Romans 2:29 . . . His praise is not from men but from God.

1 Corinthians 4:5 . . . Then every man will receive his commendation from God.

The Christian attitude is: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love (which we can reject, because He gives us that freedom) is very tender, and is compared to a mother hen and her chicks:

Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

Scripture is chock-full of passages detailing God’s intense love for human beings.

Apologist Glenn Miller has offered eloquent and wise thoughts on this topic, as usual, with which I shall close:

I had by this time discovered that a person’s happiness, well-being, and personal actualization was bound up with the number and intensity of “healthy” relationships maintained–with family, with other people, with authority, with secondary groups, with institutions, with self, with ‘nature’, with God. Defining ‘healthiness’ within a relationship typically involved ‘working within the structures that inherently defined the relationship’. For example, if I were a child, it was healthy to respect my parents. If I was a parent, it was healthy to encourage and urge my children to develop. If I was a citizen, it was healthy to be “conforming” but still “dissenting” enough to make a contribution to the development, goals, and effectiveness of the institutions.

So, if one of my primary (if not THE primary) relationships in life was that of my relationship to the God of the Universe, then my happiness/well-being/actualization would be adversely affected by an improper, dysfunctional, or ignored relationship with the Living God. It is ultimately restrictive/destructive for a person to have healthy relationships in only a few of the major areas–we generally must have at least a ‘working’ relationship with ALL of the relationships (that we are members of). And too, if a person is ‘doing well’ in all of the relationships, but IGNORING/FIGHTING God, their internal health is not at the highest level it should be.

If the ‘structures of the relationship’ with God involves an awareness of His qualitative and quantitative differences from me (suitable to encourage me to honesty with, and dependence on, Him), then for God to seek for me to admit these differences was a matter no longer of just intellectual honesty, but now was a matter of seeking after my happiness, well-being, and actualization. It was now to my benefit (given the very definition of what I was as a creature!) to do this. And, accordingly, it didn’t look quite as ‘pathological’ for God to desire this!

***

Photo credit: [Max Pixel CC0 public domain license]

***

August 5, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s fifth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Mark 10:29-30, on Jesus’ promise of a hundred-fold return if people give up families and houses.” Here is that passage:

Mark 10:29-30 (RSV) Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, [30] who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 

All the Gospel writers were propagandists for the early Jesus cult. They wanted followers who would be loyal to nothing but the cult. Not even family should matter. . . . This is what cult fanatics do and say. They make outrageous promises . . . Christianity has specialized in this deception, as has so many other cults throughout the ages. . . . This Jesus quote is utterly mindless . . . Now Jesus enthusiasts, Jesus defenders may say that this is just exaggeration to make a point. But it falls into the pattern of cult leaders making wild promises to sucker people in. This is religion at its worst: right there in the Gospel.

Protestant apologist Glenn Miller responds to this sort of charge in his article, “Jesus versus Family Values?” (1994):

  1. This is not an ‘updated’ set at all…the OT is replete with similar passages in which one’s commitment to God must supercede all other relationships (so Deut 13, where family entices someone to violate the covenant with Yahweh, or I Samuel 2, where the priest Eli is judged by God for ‘honoring his sons more than Me’–with the attendant de-moralization of the nation). If one’s relationship with God is the primal and ultimate relationship in one’s existence, then from the relationship will develop the strength, commitment, and wisdom to grow healthy relationships with family…the biblical witness is consistent in this throughout…
  2. Also, in the times of Jesus, as he is inaugurating the New Covenant, there were some calls to radical forms of discipleship. The apostles were called to ‘abnormal service’, but were never free to neglect their responsibilities to their families…For example, Peter brought Jesus to his sick mother-in-law (Matt 8) and most of the apostles traveled with their wives during their itinerant ministries (I Cor 9.5)…if someone had to ‘leave’ it was typically due to radical disagreement over basic values–but we are not given the option of not providing for the needs of those left behind.
  3. In some cases, people whose lives were touched by Jesus wanted to leave family and travel with him, but he instructed them to go back and minister to their families (e.g. Mrk 5.19)
  4. But for all these qualifications, it still must be maintained that God must form the core priority over all priorities (for the balance and strength needed to be able to meet all priorities)

Catholics would say that this refers to what we call the “evangelical counsels.” Jesus is not making this scenario mandatory for all followers. He simply cites the fact regarding certain highly devoted Christians: “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake.” Parallel verse Luke 18:29 phrases it as “there is no man who has left” while the corresponding Matthew 19:29 reads “every one who has left”. This is the language of voluntary heroic renunciation, not universal requirement. It’s a vast difference. And it demolishes Dr. Madison’s present insinuation.

And that puts the lie to the derogatory references to Christianity as a “cult” repeatedly made by Dr. Madison in his podcasts. If the intention of either a real Jesus or the supposed evangelist-“propagandists” for an imaginary “Jesus” was to require this extreme sacrificial renunciation of everyone, then the text would have plainly stated and required that. What would have prevented a bunch of lying deceivers from doing that?

But it doesn’t, and one should note also that Jesus said this in direct response to his leading disciple, Peter, having said, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” He didn’t completely forsake his entire family, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15). To hear Dr. Madison tell it, Jesus should have said, “why do you mention and bring Me to your sick mother-in-law? Did I not tell you to hate your families and utterly forget about them [see my first reply], in order to follow Me?” But He didn’t do that, did He? He healed her.

And this is consistent with other passages having to do with the evangelical counsels (see a great explanation in the Catholic Encyclopedia). For example, Jesus said:

Matthew 19:9-12 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” [10] The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” [11] But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. [12] For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” 

The Apostle Paul teaches the same thing: marriage is the usual norm, but in some cases, it is good to sacrifice good and holy marriage for the sake of Christian service:

Marriage

1 Corinthians 7:2 But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 

1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. 

1 Corinthians 7:28 But if you marry, you do not sin, . . . 

1 Corinthians 7:36 If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin.

1 Corinthians 7:38 So that he who marries his betrothed does well; . . . 

1 Corinthians 9:5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles . . . ?

Voluntary and Heroic Celibacy

1 Corinthians 7:7-8 I wish that all were as I myself am [single / celibate]. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. [8] To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.

1 Corinthians 7:32, 35 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; . . . [35] I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 

1 Corinthians 7:38 . . . he who refrains from marriage will do better. 

1 Corinthians 9:15 . . . I have made no use of any of these rights . . . 

Freedom to Follow One’s Own Life Choices and Callings

1 Corinthians 7:17 Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. . . . 

This is the furthest thing from mandatory requirements, forcing every Christian to give up the pleasures of family and married life. To find that, one must look to the ancient Gnostics, who taught that sex was literally evil. That has never been mainstream Christian (and especially not Catholic) teaching. One could note fringe sects like the Shakers, who required celibacy of all members. Of course, that was a view destined to render them extinct, as they pretty much are today. At its height in the mid-19th century, it only had 6,000 adherents. Today there is exactly one remaining community in Maine. It has two members.

Dr. Madison seems to think that Mark and Luke came up with this tyrannical requirement that every Christian ought to utterly forsake his or her family. That would (if it had ever actually obtained) have reduced Christianity to the status of the tiny Shaker sect, which is historically ridiculous, just as this entire podcast and what it insinuates is beyond ludicrous.

***

Photo credit: The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-law, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

 

August 5, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s fourth podcast is entitled: “On Mark 10:9, Jesus’ disastrous teaching about divorce.” Here is the “offending” passage:

Mark 10:6-9 (RSV) But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.’ [7] `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, [8] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. [9] What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” 

He starts out with a dig at evangelicals, who (according to a study he is drawing from) have a higher divorce rate than the general public, and higher than atheists as well. We see where he is going with this. That may be true, but if so, has to be closely examined. I have seen, myself, several social studies (and my major was sociology), indicating that couples who test high on religious piety and observance, have more successful marriages than their colleagues who lack such qualities.

He cites a study from Baylor University, which I located online. It, in turn, cites a more detailed report of the studies undertaken. In its section on marriage, the latter states:

Religion is popularly thought of as a social institution that encourages marriage and family growth, and conservative religious traditions are especially supportive of “traditional” family forms and values. But there are some interesting and not always predictable variations among and within different religious groups. . . . 

Thus the common conservative argument that strong religion leads to strong families does not hold up. Some have argued that evangelical Protestantism (the typical example of “strong religion”) is correlated with low socioeconomic status, and that this explains the increased risk of divorce. However, new research by Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak suggests that evangelical Protestants’ cultural encouragement of early marriage and discouragement of birth control and higher education attainment explain the higher divorce rate in counties with a larger proportion of evangelical Protestants.

What the same article also states, however, is the following:

Overall, couples who have higher levels of religious service attendance, especially if the couple attends together, have lower rates of divorce.

The “new research” cited in this article, from Glass and Levchak, was published in the American Journal of Sociology (February 2014). But it’s a lot more nuanced than these “triumphant” evangelical-bashing summaries would suggest. Charles E. Stokes explains:

[T]here is more to the story. Below I suggest a few additional considerations that are in order before rushing to declare conservative Protestants unwitting enemies of marriage.

. . . a few intriguing findings in the article are likely to get buried in mass media coverage of the main storyline. Early in the article, Glass and Levchak point out that “the average county would double its divorce rate as its proportion conservative Protestant moved from 0 to 100%,” but then they note “this effect is much smaller than the unaffiliated effect which is almost three times larger [emphasis mine].” The evidence from this article does not suggest that marriages would be better off in non-religious contexts but actually points in the opposite direction.

. . . it is important to note the comparison group throughout this study. Conservative Protestants are compared not to the non-religious (who, as noted earlier, are more divorce prone by comparison) but to all other major Christian groups.

. . . According to the logic of the article, it is the regularly involved conservative Protestants who should be most invested in promoting the “pro-marriage” norms that are paradoxically putting their marriages (and others’) at risk. But new data discussed below suggest just the opposite.

Figure 1 shows the proportion of ever-divorced young adults by religious affiliation and participation. These data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study of young Americans who were first surveyed as teens in 1994 and most recently surveyed again as young adults in 2008. . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) Waves III and IV.
*Statistically significant difference at the .05 level from Other Christian: Active in logistic regression models.
^Statistically significant difference at the .05 level from Non-Religious in logistic regression models.

The comparison groups in Figure 1 are designed to mirror those of the Glass and Levchak study, but they are divided into active (attending religious services two or more times a month) and nominal (attending less than two times a month) subgroups. As the figure shows, active conservative Protestants are statistically no more likely to have divorced in the first few years of marriage than their active peers from other Christian denominations, and both groups who attend church frequently are significantly less likely to have divorced than their non-religious peers. The group that stands out in Figure 1 is the nominal conservative Protestants, the most likely group to have divorced. Thus, in the exact group (early-marrying conservative Protestants) whose marriages Glass and Levchak would expect to falter, active conservative Protestants are above average in marital stability early in marriage, while nominal conservative Protestants fare worse than the non-religious.

This hardly confirms Dr. Madison’s point. It’s a disconfirmation. One simply had to look deeply enough into the study cited, to see the more specific relevant data.

Dr. Madison then changes his approach and goes directly after Mark 10:9, stating: “Here Jesus seems to imply that every marriage is designed by God.” Well, not exactly. Jesus is saying that marriage is a divinely instituted sacrament, that ought not be broken. That’s far different from claiming that every specific marriage in fact was divinely ordained: as if there is no human free will involved (including the usual range of possible human mistakes, folly, immaturity, haste and lack of preparation and planning, possibly excessive lust, etc.). These human mistakes (and sins, where applicable) are not God’s fault, and it’s beyond silly to blame Him for them. And among the human free will actions or beliefs that can help cause an unsuccessful marriage are religious nominalism and cohabitation.

Dr. Madison stumbles into the truth, by asserting: “it doesn’t follow at all that God has engineered every marriage or put His seal on every marriage.” Exactly right. Lots of people get married who have no business doing so. He continues: “Just think of all the bad marriages that have happened since the beginning. People have been forced to marry for all sorts of wrong reasons: money: family pressures and expectations, political alliances, . . . people miserable in bad marriages.” Bingo again! This sort of human error and bad judgment has caused untold misery, but it’s absurd to blame God for it.

In fact, we have data in the Bible regarding God advising the ancient Jews not to enter into certain unwise marriages: with foreign women who followed contrary religious practices (Ezra 10:2-3; cf. Dt 17:17; Neh 13:23-28). Therefore, it can’t be that “every [particular] marriage is designed by God.” The institution was designed and sanctioned by Him, and as we know, any and every institution can be corrupted and abused. These men were actually commanded to “put away” or “send away” foreign women who worshiped false gods (Ezra 10:4-19, 44; cf. 9:1-2, 14-15). In my own apologetics I have used these examples as biblical analogies for the Catholic practice of annulment, which is the most sensible way to deal with marriages that were “wrong” from the beginning.

Thus, God approved and approves of ending an ostensible marriage: the very opposite of Dr. Madison’s claims that God ordains each and every human marriage forever, no matter how bad the situation is. There are many instances of God not approving of particular marriages:

Leviticus 21:7, 14 They shall not marry a harlot or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband . . . [14] A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, 

Nehemiah 13:27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?

Ezekiel 44:22 They shall not marry a widow, or a divorced woman, but only a virgin of the stock of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.

Tobit 4:12 . . . First of all take a wife from among the descendants of your fathers and do not marry a foreign woman, who is not of your father’s tribe; for we are the sons of the prophets. Remember, my son, that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our fathers of old, all took wives from among their brethren. . . . 

Mark 10:11-12 [Jesus] And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; [12] and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 

Jesus taught that a valid marriage was indissoluble, and that divorce in these circumstances constituted adultery. But of course the key question is what constitutes a valid marriage. Dr. Madison himself notes several factors that would be prime instances of grounds for Catholic annulment: “People have been forced to marry for . . . money: family pressures and expectations, political alliances.” Thus, Catholic theology has a very practical and compassionate way to help people trapped in such circumstances, while not undermining the institution of marriage itself, or promoting an unbiblical divorce, because an annulment is a declaration (one that exists even in secular civil law) that marriage never actually existed from the beginning.

It’s the Protestants and the Orthodox (lacking annulments) who labor under such difficulties: but they do not represent all of Christianity. Catholicism is by far the largest portion. But Dr. Madison continues with unwarranted caricatures and juvenile swipes at God: “But hey, God designed them all, God brought all these folks to the altar, or if they just ended up there against their will, God still added His seal of approval; no escape ever. God did all that joining. . . . How could God be so incompetent?”

No, He does not approve of every ill-advised marriage that people enter into, and it’s ludicrous to assert that He does. But that’s what atheists do: they always want to irrationally and unjustly blame God for the mistakes and sins of human beings. It’s always His fault (whether He exists or not, is the comic element in it all).

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Photo credit: Houkouki (10-26-18) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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August 3, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

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Dr. Madison’s third podcast is entitled, “On Matthew 24:37-39, on Jesus’ prediction of suffering—as at the time of Noah—when the Son of Man comes.” Here is the text:

Matthew 24:37-39 (RSV) As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. [38] For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, [39] and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.

Eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, are all that bad?

Of course they’re not bad at all. Dr. Madison completely misses the point. No one is judged for doing those things. Jesus is simply saying that people were going about their daily business and doing all the usual things of life, not expecting judgment, and yet all of a sudden it swept upon them. Hence, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

The things mentioned here denote attention to the affairs of this life rather than to what was coming on them. It does not mean that these things were wrong, but only that such was their actual employment, and that they were regardless of what was coming upon them.

And, Expositor’s Greek Testament: “The idea rather seems to be that all things went on as usual, as if nothing were going to happen.’

Jesus may have had the somewhat sarcastic and cynical Ecclesiastes 8:15 in mind:

And I commend enjoyment, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink, and enjoy himself, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of life which God gives him under the sun.

The notion of the Second Coming being sudden and unexpected is repeatedly reinforced in context:

Matthew 24:36 . . . of that day and hour no one knows . . .

Matthew 24:42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Matthew 24:44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Matthew 24:50  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know,

The Bible never teaches that eating and drinking and marrying per se are bad. Its ridiculous to believe otherwise, and to think these words imply the contrary. They do not.

This is comic book religion. A hero flying from the sky, to make everything better? Really? . . . But this is silly theology. It’s bad theology.

Why would the very notion of a Second Coming, where the wicked are judged and the righteous rewarded be either “comic book” or “silly” or “bad”? Atheists always say they want God to appear and make things right (since they seem to blame Him for anything bad in the world). Dr. Madison complains in the podcast that God should have done this before now and mocks him ads a “procrastinator.”

It’s rather inconsistent and unfair to state on the one hand that God ought to have tangibly appeared in the past, and then turn around and say that if indeed God appears in the future, that it is, on the other hand, “comic book” or “silly” or “bad”. If it was right thing to do in the past, likewise, it is in the future. He can’t have it both ways. His beef is simply with God’s timing.

This thoroughly undermines the concept of the good Jesus, doesn’t it? In Matthew, Jesus has promised that most of the human race will be killed off when he arrives. He compares it to the time of Noah. Noah is the story of genocide.

What Dr. Madison calls “genocide” Christians call judgment. God is the judge of the world and will judge every human being, based on what they have believed and done. If — again — the very notion of righteous judgment and justice is such a terrible thing, then why doesn’t Dr. Madison endorse anarchy? For, after all, we have human judges and laws, which, if broken, cause penalties to be given to human beings. If one human being can do that to another, and we proclaim it “just” and “good” why is it so incomprehensible that God, the Creator of all men, would judge them? It’s not.

This is what Jesus will do? Have everyone but the folks in the Jesus cult be killed off?

But that’s not what He said. He didn’t say, “As were the days of Noah, everyone but eight people will be killed [or damned].” This is a figment of Dr. Madison’s imagination. Jesus wasn’t comparing the extent of judgment, but rather, the unexpected suddenness of it in both cases. This is quite clear in context, as I showed above. Jesus said, “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man”: as opposed to “so will be the judgment of the Son of man.”

In the next chapter we have the great scene of the separation of the sheep and goats at the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus never says that the sheep are just eight people out of the entire earth (or any similar such small number). No indication in this text is given of relative numbers of the saved and the damned. In two of His parables nearby, however, He does give indication. And it is assuredly not as Dr. Madison foolishly asserts.

In the parable of the ten maidens with lamps (Matthew 25:1-13), five were foolish and were damned (“the door was shut . . . I do not know you”: 25:10, 12) and five were wise and received eternal life (“went in with him to the marriage feast”: 25:10). That’s hardly a 99.99999999% damned scenario, is it? It’s a 50-50 proposition.

The parable of the talents follows (25:14-30). Here, there are three servants, who are given five talents, two talents, and one talent [a form of money], respectively. The ones who are saved are the first two (“enter into the joy of your master”: 25:21, 23), while the servant with one talent, who did nothing with it, was damned (“cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness”: 25:30).

So this parable suggests a 67% rate of final salvation and a 33% rate of damnation. That’s even further away from a 99.99999999% damned scenario. Thus, the very thing that Dr. Madison brings to the table in an effort to condemn Jesus as a cruel taskmaster, wanting to send virtually everyone to hell, blows up in his face. Could he not read the next chapter, to see the fuller context? Would that have put him out?

Both Paul and Jesus were wrong. They were dead wrong. These predictions were not fulfilled. . . . Paul was quite confident he was gonna be among those who would meet Jesus in the sky.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [15] For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; [17] then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Paul was referring to the people alive when the Second Coming occurred. He did not teach when it would occur, since Jesus had instructed His disciples in a post-Resurrection appearance that they can’t and shouldn’t know when this momentous event would happen:

Acts 1:6-7 [written by Luke] So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [7] He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.

The Apostle Paul reflects this “eschatological agnosticism” in his next chapter:

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. [2] For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. [3] When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges thus comments on 1 Thessalonians 4:15:

that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord] This should be: we that are alive, that remain (or surviveunto the coming of the Lord. The second designation qualifies the first,—“those (I mean) who survive till the Lord comes.” St Paul did not count on any very near approach of the second Advent: comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. At the same time, his language implies the possibility of the great event taking place within his lifetime, or that of the present generation. This remained an open question, or rather a matter on which questioning was forbidden (see Acts 1:7Matthew 24:36). “Concerning the times and seasons” nothing was definitely known (ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:1, see note). The Apostles “knew in part” and “prophesied in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12); and until further light came, it was natural for the Church, ever sighing “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly!” to speak as St Paul does here. The same “we” occurs in this connection in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

Matthew 24:34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place.

Mark 13:1-4 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” [2] And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” [3] And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, [4] “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?”

Jesus said it would happen “before this generation passes away.”

This is an old chestnut of anti-theist atheist polemics. A plausible explanation (where Jesus would be referring both to His hearers’ generation and the end times) is explicated by Glenn Miller at the wonderful Christian Thinktank site:

[W]hen we notice the structure of the ending in Matthew and Mark, we see how some of the items lay out.

The ending has four points:

    1. The lesson of the fig tree (Mt 24.32-33; Mk 13.28-29; Lk 21.29-31) [e.g. “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”]
    2. The “this generation” saying (Mt 24.34; Mk 13.30; Lk 21.32)
    3. The “heaven and earth will pass away” saying (Mt 24.35; Mk 13.31; Lk 21.33)
    4. The “no one knows the hour” saying (Mt 24.36; Mk 13.31; not in Luke)

Now, the Lesson of the fig tree (Point 1) can only be a reference to the destruction of the Temple/City. It draws a distinction between “all these things” and “it is near”–all these things cannot logically then contain the 2nd Advent [which is the “it” in “it is near”-cf. D.A.Carson, EBC, in. loc.; and William Lane in NICNT (Mark):478: “They (all these things) cannot refer to the celestial upheavals described in verses 24-25 which are inseparable from the parousia (verse 26) and the gathering of the elect (verse 27). These events represent the end and cannot constitute a preliminary sign of something else.”]

With this “end” of the end-time continuum being identified in Point 1 (as the “these things” question of the disciples), Jesus then solemnly announces WHEN this ‘beginning of the end-times’ will occur–within that generation (Point 2). With this, He has answered the initial question of the ‘these things’–the immediate historical context of the question of the destruction of the temple.

He then turns (in point 3 above) to describe the “other end” of the end-times continuum–the destruction of the universe (cf. 2 Peter 2.10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.). Here Jesus is pointing back to those descriptions of the very end, as in Mt 24.29: “Immediately after the distress of those days “`the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ and Lk 21.25f: On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. He points out that the Great End will be certain, as the continuance of His word is certain (yes!).

And then we have Point 4–the comment that no one but the Father knows the time of the Very-End. [The subsequent parables by Matt in 24.42ff and Luke in 12.39ff, which use the ‘thief’ image, connect this piece–via the 2 Peter quote above–with the Great-End, and NOT with the destruction of the Temple.]

So we have a reasonable structure for the ending sequence-(Point 1) pay attention to the beginning of signs; (Point 2) some of you will definitely see these beginnings; (Point 3) the Big-End pointed to by these signs will surely come; and (Point 4) but none of you can know when (with the implications that are immediately drawn in several of the texts to watchfulness, faithfulness, and industry.)

Thus, [F.F.] Bruce summarizes the same conclusion reached here . . .:

Jesus, as in Mark, foretells how not one stone of the temple will be left standing on another, and the disciples say, ‘Tell us, (a) when will these things be, and (b) what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?’ (Matt. 24:3). Then, at the end of the following discourse, Jesus answers their twofold question by saying that (a) ‘this generation will not pass away till all these things take place (Mtt 24.34) while, (b) with regard to his coming and ‘the close of the age’, he tells them that ‘of that day and hour no one knows…’ [Hard Sayings of Jesus, IVP, 1983, 229-230]

This would yield a very nice Hebraic parallelism:

 (A) Pay attention to my words–they come before (pre-announce) these things–the beginning of the end-times (destruction of Temple)
(B) When will it occur?–You know when, within your generation
(A’) Pay attention to my words–they outlast that day–the ending of the end-times
(B’) When will it occur?–No one knows when (except the Father)

(“On…was Jesus mistaken about this 2nd Coming?”: 10-22-96)

For related in-depth analysis of this general subject matter, see my papers:

Debate with an Agnostic on the Meaning of “Last Days” and Whether the Author of Hebrews Was a False Prophet.

“The Last Days”: Meaning in Hebrew, Biblical Thought

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Photo credit: geralt (9-3-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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