19 September 2007

NT Christology (i.e. Jesus): mythical? made up?

by Dan Phillips



Tuesday's post was the second in the "Hello, Out There" series. As the comments tapered off, one came in which I think worthy of a more full (— Talbot grads don't say "f*ller"; to us, it is "the f-word") reply. To wit:

ShyGuy said...

Speaking of unspoken premises, Dan, there's one thing that I simply can't get over, and it's the core assumption in both of your "Hello, Out There" discussions. Your assumption is "the Bible is true." The more I read on the topic, the more I try to get my faith back, the more I see the faultlines in the Bible. It just seems to make to much sense to examine Christology as a sort of mythological emergence; nothing was even really written about him for some 40 or 50 years after his death (a date I base on the current earliest known scrap of New Testament writing). It makes sense to me that the apostles, for reasons of their own, took a few unexplained things around Christ's life, magnified them, added many stories of their own, and built a mythology, a sort of rallying figure that might hold out promise to the fracturing Jewish nation. How can you believe all that as the divine revelation of God? I don't mean this arrogantly, it's just my biggest stumbling block right now (in fact, it has destroyed my faith; I no longer consider myself a believer). How can we believe that the Bible is true?

1:34 AM, September 19, 2007


First
, I'm glad you asked.

Second, you're absolutely right. I don't write everything in every post. It's actually a temptation I have to fight — the temptation to try to say everything in every sermon, and write everything in every post. For me it takes discipline to try to pick one thing and focus on it alone. That's why this is a series. Lord willing, other things at other times.

Third, I have written at a bit more length about why I believe what I believe about Jesus and the Bible in an essay called Why I Am (Still) a Christian. Check it out.

Fourth, I wonder what study you've done on this subject. Taking you at your word, it seems to me that you've given up an awful lot for no reason at all. Let's take this apart a bit.

"Nothing"? You say, "nothing was even really written about [Jesus] for some 40 or 50 years after his death (a date I base on the current earliest known scrap of New Testament writing)."

This is simply a naked assertion. Not only does it have no supportive evidence, but it is contrary to a huge pile of evidence. The New Testament Epistles write about Jesus, and they were written as early as twenty years after Jesus' resurrection. Luke was almost certainly written before the mid-sixties (thus within 30-35 years of that event), and he refers to earlier written accounts (Luke 1:1-4). Thus, your premise is incorrect.

Nihilism? But let's put that aside for a moment. Have you thought this through at all? Your assumption is, "We cannot know anything about something documented 40-50 years after the event." Do you realize that no remotely credible historian alive would agree with you? Do you realize that this would lead to total historical nihilism?

Put it another way. When you read David McCullough on, say, John Adams or George Washington, or 1776, do you reject the whole as bosh because it is written more than two centuries after the events? Or when you read of the Pharaohs, or the Battle of Carchemish, do you shrug and say "Whatever" because everything is written millennia after the occurrences? Not likely.

Do you realize that most historians would (metaphorically, I trust) kill to have the sorts of resources, the staggering wealth of early manuscript evidence, that the NT historian has about the life of Jesus?

Plus (just in passing), you speak as if these documents came from a vacuum, and dropped into a vacuum. Christianity took hold when vast throngs of eyewitnesses still lived. It gripped people with its truth to the extent that they were willing to die, and often did die, for the proposition that its central tenets were historical.

How much is enough? Again, taking you at your word that this is the reason you class Jesus as a liar: how early would the documents have to be for you to believe? You say 40-50 years is too much of a gap. How about 39 years? But you're already there; Mark may well have been written within a couple of decades of the resurrection; Luke's sources certainly were written within three. 35 years? Already there. 30? Probably already there, in my judgment. What is your cut-off for historical certainty, how did you arrive at it, and on what basis?

To take that slightly differently, given that this was your stated reason for not being a Christian, and given that I've shown you that you were incorrect, will you believe in Jesus now? (BTW, a lot more documentation and reasoning is given in a book I reviewed last year.)

You see, I'll just be very candid with you. In a few decades of talking to people who say they've left Christ, I have found a common factor. The reason they give is never the real reason. They say "error in the Bible, Christians are mean, I hate church, God didn't obey one of my prayer-orders," or a dozen other things. And I'm sure those things feel, emotionally, very real to them.

But they're always red herrings. The real reason always comes from the world, the flesh, and/or the devil. Always it's really that they wanted to think, be, or do something they knew was wrong, and they'd feel a lot better about it if there were no living God such as Jesus reveals. They wanted to have sex with someone (or something) they knew they shouldn't, they wanted to take or become or do something they knew they shouldn't, and the only thing standing in the way was God. So they just attempt intellectual deicide, come up with an alibi, and try to move on.

Dead giveaway #1. The first dead giveaway is that the alibi almost invariably evaporates under the most basic examination.

I'm not saying that's you. I'm just saying that, so far, the stats in my experience are pretty high.

Dead giveaway #2. The second dead giveaway is that Real Central Unanswerable Challenge A, when it is knocked over, is immediately replaced by Real Central Unanswerable Challenge B ("Oh yeah? Well... well... where did Cain get his wife? Huh? Huh?") And Real Central Unanswerable Challenge B, demolished, is immediately replaced by Real Central Unanswerable Challenge C, and then D, and then E, and on and on.

Because the presenting issue is never the real issue.

As different as you and I may be, we share the same real issue; and that is something that I did talk about in the previous post. Our issue is that our desires are contrary to the will and nature of God. He stands between us and what we want, because what we want is to "be as God"; we want "thy will be done" to be addressed to us. So whatever we tell ourselves and others, we really don't want such a God as Jesus reveals. And that is why we characteristically suppress the truth that God offers us (Romans 1:18).

But that is why Jesus came. He came as the first man ever not to rebel, the first man ever perfectly to fulfill His Father's law in thought, word and deed. He fulfilled an intricate labyrinth of prophecy, lived a life marked off by the touch of God from first to last. He died under God's wrath, as a substitute, bearing the guilt of innumerable rebels, so that He might reconcile them to God.

The reason His death was of such infinite value is that He was God incarnate, as the Old Testament had said He would be (cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). God the Son lived a perfect life empowered by God the Holy Spirit, made the perfect sacrifice to appease God's wrath; and God the Father signaled His acceptance of that sacrifice by raising Christ bodily from the dead.

So the great good news, Shyguy, is that whatever particular issues you may feel you have, your real issues and mine are dealt with in Christ. Agree with God about His Son, rest your faith on Him as your Lord and your Savior.

Now there's a rock you can build on.

(For more about how and why to know God, read here.)

Dan Phillips's signature

61 comments:

Mike Riccardi said...

Grace and Truth again, brother. It's always such a pleasure to read. I hope I catch this from reading your stuff.

Lamblion said...

Good reparte, and good reasoning. (Also, though off topic, once again I commend you for your bluntness on the BW forum).

For the record, (and no, I can't back it up with evidence, but then, nobody can refute it with evidence either), it's just my personal belief that the Gospels were written within mere years of the resurrection, and I suspect that at least portions of them were written within mere weeks, and that the Epistles in general were also written much earlier than is generally allowed.

We know that shorthand was in use during Jesus' day, and I feel confident that much of what Jesus said was taken down on the spot by Matthew and others.

I can't defend these beliefs with hard evidence; they just happen to be what I believe.

I also remember reading somewhere about Matthew and his shorthand, but where I read that completely escapes me at the moment.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Shyguy wrote:

"It makes sense to me that the apostles, for reasons of their own, took a few unexplained things around Christ's life, magnified them, added many stories of their own, and built a mythology, a sort of rallying figure that might hold out promise to the fracturing Jewish nation.""

This makes absolutely NO sense to me. There are so many things wrong with this "conspiracy" theory, such as, Why didn't they ALL the details EXACTLY the same? (BTW, these are harmonious differences, but that's another story).

More important, why persist in this lie to the point of martyrdom? With not one recantation?

The resurrection story could have easily been disproved if, indeed, Jesus' body was still in a tomb. Why wasn't it?

No, I just can't make sense of any conspiracy theory here.

I do, however, sympathize with honest doubts about the Bible. I had them, too. But things changed for me when I accepted inerrancy on faith. Power happened.

Robert said...

This was a well done post, Bravo!

And you are so correct to point out that the reason people disbelieve is not a lack of understanding or evidence...it's sin...they love sin.

How do I know that? Well, first and foremost; the bible states it...but also, I was that way before God saved me. I also talk to many many unsaved people on a weekly basis and it always comes down to the same thing...I'm loving my sin...

Sewing said...

Shyguy:

After I went through a period of youthful, exuberant reading of the Bible (Hexateuch, Job, the Gospels) "at face value" (though without understanding the underlying Christology, especially in the Gospels), I came to a period in my life when I believed what you believe. Spong, the Jesus Seminar, Joseph Campbell, and Friedman (Who Wrote the Bible?) took away my faith in God. Familiar only with liberal Christian scholarship and distrustful of "fundamentalists" who take Scripture at its word, I had no resource to turn to put me back on the straight and narrow path. (In the end, God had to do it all on His own!) Anyhow, as one who had been raised as an atheist, humanistic deconstructions of the Bible ultimately made more sense to me—it was the "default hermeneutic" for a skeptical materialist such as myself. As a result, like you, I had no basis on which to believe anything in the Bible. I knew that God exists, that He is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and that His name is Yahweh—which was a start, thanks solely to His grace—and I liked some of the poetry in the book of Job—but beyond that, I doubted everything, from about Genesis 1:2 onwards.

But now I don't see it that way. Being born anew in the Holy Spirit was a key step (!), though at the moment I was saved, I still didn't know how much of the Gospel I should believe. Providentially, the "Jesus Tomb" nonsense came out just a couple of weeks after I was saved, which drove me to explore the evidentiary apologetics of William Lane Craig and Simon Greenleaf. I know that evidentiary apologetics is unfashionable around here, and since I was led to the discipline only after I was born again, it's impossible to say whether those gentlemen's arguments would have had any effect on me when I was still unsaved. Nevertheless, I would recommend reading some of the evidentialists to an inquirer such as yourself. In their mode of scholarly inquiry and taking the arguments of skeptics head-on, they reassure the curious reader that there are Christians who really have considered and weighed these questions, and have been affirmed in their faith.

DJP said...

Mike RI hope I catch this from reading your stuff

You just nailed one of the reasons I hang around Phil and Frank!

aussy said...

"The reason they give is never the real reason".

Excellent point! I think that whole sentence should be in bold print.

"Not only does it have no supportive evidence, but it is contrary to a huge pile of evidence".

Another excellent point! I think Spurgeon would agree...

"If you believe a thing you want evidence, and before you doubt a thing you ought to have evidence too. To believe without evidence is to be credulous, and to doubt
without evidence is to be foolish".

Charles Spurgeon


Nice post Dan!

Daryl said...

To add to the pile...

Great post, so clear, so well written. If some of that clarity could rub off on me as well.

Your writing evidences hours and hours of study and hard thought.

Well done.

centuri0n said...

Wow -- the Gospel and apologetics?

THAT'S CRAZY BABY!

Happy Calvinist said...

Dan,

I just started reading your "Why I (still) believe" article. I just finished the introduction on Philosophy, and for the first time, someone has put into words that for which I couldn't even find the words.

[that last sentence was either masterful or horrible grammar. I'm not sure]

Anyway, I don't have the time to finish it now, but I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it later.

Don't ever forget that people are reading what you write on this blog. God is using your words to work in people's lives. Continue to take this charge seriously.

Thanks again for what you are doing.

Sewing said...

Happy Calvinist: that grammatical specimen was masterful and not horrible.

Dan: I read your "Why I am (Still) a Christian" a few months ago, and benefitted greatly from it. Thank you. I second what HC wrote. Your stuff (yours specifically, but also y'all's generally) resonates.

Qjay said...

"intellectual deicide"

I love it. I thought I may have to become SpellCheck Man again, and relized that I am in the presence of a master.

I felt too many times the truth of what you are saying. My take on the whole thing is this: God must provide understanding, if you do not understand, that is no reason to turn away from God, but rather a cause to humble and chasten yourself before God. Dan 10:12 rings in my head.

SolaMeanie said...

Sewing,

I think too much gets made over the "evidential" vs. "presuppositional." There are elements of both that get used in everyday, trench warfare apologetics. I have always considered myself on the evidentialist end of things, but when I began studying the presuppositionalist side, I can understand where they're coming from and even agree with elements of their thought. However, that doesn't stop me from talking about evidences. I think that's perfectly biblical to do.

Dan (Phillips),

Great response. As an aside, if the number of Dans posting here continue to grow, you might have to take up a pen name like Frank. If he's a centurion, what would you be? A maximus? Perhaps a praetorian?

Sewing said...

Solameanie:

Thanks. I see value in both approaches, too.

DJP said...

Solameanieif the number of Dans posting here continue to grow, you might have to take up a pen name like Frank. If he's a centurion, what would you be? A maximus? Perhaps a praetorian?

Maybe a pedestrian.

centuri0n said...

Septuagenarian.

[ducks]

DJP said...

That's someone who believes in the Seventy Hebdomads of Daniel?

Guilty!

Rita Martinez said...

"The reason they give is never the real reason".

Absolutely right, I too realized that everyone I have ever talked to, at least in my classroom, all have the same excuses. "The bible is filled with mistakes", "Christians are a bunch of Hypocrites", "I don't have to convert to be a christian, cause i'm a catholic", "I don't like religion", "It's too difficult for me", "I can't leave my lifestyle" these are all different I know, but after careful observation of their daily lives, their conversations, their true worries, I realized that none of these excuses were real, they're just a mask covering up the real reason, which is: they love sin. Period. I was like that as well, whenever I thought of the life of a christian I thought of MY lifestyle...the thought of giving up my sinful life was out of the question! Thank the LORD! He showed me what a life worth living is really like, He broke me into little bits and pieces and made me whole. Praise the Lord!!

God Bless!!

Sewing said...

We should be careful to point out that WE love sin, too. The only difference between the lost and the saved is that God in His grace has given us eyes to see just how much He abhors sin and what the only solution is that is available to us, by which God has paid the price for our sins.

Isaac said...

That was HOT!!!

nice work Dan

Grace said...

Excellent edifying post. Shockingly, I can sympathize with Shyguy. I understand his struggle.

Comprehending how God could use human hands and human minds to create our Bible is difficult. I went through the same inner debate when I took a Synoptic Gospels course in college. If I really wanted to, I could explain away Jesus and the Gospels. I could commit intellectual deicide, as you so aptly put it. I've watched many of my college friends do just that.

But I didn't want to explain it all away. I was honest with myself, recognizing that it would be easier to get rid of Jesus than follow Him. Total depravity is a tough foe to contend with.

Instead of deicide, I asked for peace and the help of the Holy Spirit. He restored my faith when I asked, and He can do that for anyone. I hope ShyGuy will ask Him too.

CD-Host said...

I don't normally debate atheism but Shyguy seems to have dropped the ball pretty badly on the mythicist case.

1) The New Testament Epistles write about Jesus, and they were written as early as twenty years after Jesus' resurrection
The age of the epistles is not in question. Robertson, Wells, Doherty, along with everyone else agrees on when the epistles were written. What is disputed is whether the epistle writers ever talk about Jesus as a historical entity or as a mythically entity. As Wells pointed out you can see quasi-Jewish gospel stories about Sophia/Wisdom being incarnate and suffering for sin from about 100 BCE.

2) Luke was almost certainly written before the mid-sixties
Your evidence for this is what? There is almost nothing that is dateable which contains gospel references until about 120.

3) Christianity took hold when vast throngs of eyewitnesses still lived
Your comments about historical witnesses run into a major problem. They didn't agree they witnessed those things. Early second century Christians clearly saw the idea of a historical human Jesus acting in time as an innovation (as even the orthodox demonstrate). The people that rejected that innovation were called docetic christians, and there were many of those.
There aren't any people who deny the humanity and historical existence of William Taft or Tzar Nicholas (to update the spread).

4) It gripped people with its truth to the extent that they were willing to die, and often did die, for the proposition that its central tenets were historical.
And your evidence for this is what? What evidence do we have of any persecution (much less one resulting in deaths) over the issue of the historicity of Jesus?

I don't disagree with your comments regarding how definitive it would be if we had well recorded historical information from a generation after the "life" of Jesus. But a mythicist would reject that you have such information.

ShyGuy said...

It's like this, Pastor Dan; I used to think that the Bible was the telegraphed word of God, straight from the Big Man's mouth into my hands. Then I started examining things, and realized that they were really written by men. Paul speaks of "being all things to all men" and if you start to examine the NT, these early believers certainly were; each of the Gospels is aimed at a different audience. Most believers I know tend to view the Gospels as a composite sketch of Christ, but if you take the "divine inspiration" bit out, then it's simply another example of multiple interpretations of a single thing. The NT is definitely made up of faded bits of snapshots from the early church; how can this ad-hoc collection of memoirs (I use the term metaphorically) be the inspired word of an omnipotent God?

I have to admit this isn't well reasoned; I'm still trying to examine things, to put things together to see what I really think, and I'm trying to do it in a way that is only seeking truth, not seeking some selfish end (i.e. "getting to do what I want") or seeking some prideful end (i.e. "golly I'm smart, I outwitted Pastor Dan" . . . that kind of intellectual arrogance is a bit of a pitfall that I can fall into). I'll try to say more on your blog, but I'm afraid it has been a busy day, so I haven't had the free time to really get into it. Anyway, thank you for your response; I certainly appreciate it.

ShyGuy said...

Errr . . . thanks CD Host. Like I said, I wasn't really going for a knock-down argument, I wasn't even really going for strong argumentation; I'm still feeling things out. The whole Barabas pardon thing is what started me down this road, and I've been rather busy and unable to look into it recently.

Benjamin Nitu said...

“The mind of man is not veiled divinity. Transcendent divine revelation, not human reasoning, is the source of truth; publicly shared reason is a divinely gifted instrument for recognizing truth ” (Carl Henry).

In other words, if someone does not even accept the idea that God has revealed Himself, then trying to prove such a thing is useless.

G. K. Chesterton said once that “the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried."

This is what God had to say about Himself: ”And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord ” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

His promise is still true today. Jesus reminds us that "if any man have ears to hear, let him hear!"
So, don't shut your ears.

Jon Nunley said...

This was well written... with a heart of passion. To God ALONE be the glory for these words.

(Lisa)

aussy said...

Nathan Busenitz has been doing a series over at Pulpit entitled:

"Ten reasons we believe the New Testament gospels are historically reliable".

Thought it might be of some use here.

Mike Riccardi said...

Benjamin,

Can you give me the sources for the Henry and Chesterton quotes? I thought they were awesome.

Billy Rhythm said...

I've been lurking here for a little bit, and commenting now and then. Sometimes I find the postings here not very conducive to the "blog" format. I want to get in, read, move along. The postings, while good, are just too long for me to read on screen; they seem more suited to print.

This post, though, was not one of those. Good job!

The opinions expressed here are my own. Past performance is not indicative of future results. People can, and do, lose money. Your mileage may vary.

Benjamin Nitu said...

The first one is page 106:
Henry, Carl F.H. God, Revelation and Authority Volume I God Who Speaks and Shows.Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1999

I took Chesterton's quote from Ravi Zacharias' "The Real face of Atheism"
(Page 117)

Kristine said...

Thanks, Dan.

DJP said...

Shyguy — I appreciate your tone, but see, here we go.

Under the last post, Real Central Unanswerable Challenge A was that the Jesus of the NT was mythological, made up by a conspiratorial committee.

So I respond to that at some length.

Now you're back — for which I'm glad — and do you interact with the answer to Real Central Unanswerable Challenge A?

Nope.

Instead, you bring up Real Central Unanswerable Challenge B.

Now, that one would knock down just as easily as the first. Easier, in fact. It's only been studied and written about well and at length for about 150 years.

My suspicion is growing, however, that Real Central Unanswerable Challenge B would immediately be replaced by Real Central Unanswerable Challenge C.

So, I'd just like to ask you to re-read this essay more closely, interact with all of it, and let's see if we get anywhere.

DJP said...

cd-host — you seem to be brand-new to the blog and to NT studies. Welcome to both.

The short answer to all your questions is: "The last 100 years of NT/archeological studies."

Another short answer would be that I referred to a book, in the post, that gives more documentation, and rebuts some of the silly deflections you try.

As an example of the latter, you refer to "quasi-Jewish gospel stories about Sophia/Wisdom being incarnate and suffering for sin from about 100 BCE."

Really? In what city was Sophia/Wisdom born? During whose rule? In what cities did it travel? What interaction did it have with what historical personages? What is the manuscript and historical tradition supporting the historicity of this incarnation? Who died giving testimony to its truth? What are some of the telling historical details in the narative?

As to your questions about Luke: the Gospel of Luke is the first volume of a two-volume series (Acts 1:1f.). The second volume ends its narrative before the mid-sixties. Hence the first antedates it, and depends on still earlier writings (Luke 1:1-4). It isn't rocket science; just a respectful and attentive reading of a thoroughly well-attested text.

As to Shyguy dropping the "ball," some balls really should be dropped, particularly in exchange for an infinitely better one.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"The NT is definitely made up of faded bits of snapshots from the early church; how can this ad-hoc collection of memoirs (I use the term metaphorically) be the inspired word of an omnipotent God?"

Isn't this just a HUGE assumption of the I-wouldn't-have-done-it-this-way-if-I-were-God variety?

Many people make that mistake. If I were God I wouldn't allow evil; If I were God I wouldn't have made the Panda's thumb, etc. etc.

It becomes an authority and trust issue.

TBE said...

I'd recommend Craig Blomberg's fine book, On the Historical Reliability of the Gospels. In particular, Blomberg notes Paul's use of already-extant Christian creedal statements that point to a VERY high Christology even in the earliest years of the church.

In particular, he discusses 1 Corinthians 15:3ff at length and offers (what I feel to be) very compelling evidence that this passage (which clearly describes Jesus' death and resurrection as God's Atonement for our sins) can be dated very reliably to within 2-3 years of the crucifixion.

In other words, within 2-3 years of His death, Jesus' followers in Jerusalem were proclaiming a bodily resurrection and the death of a sinless Savior to atone for sin.

But even discounting this, Dan is right--even your dating of the Gospels at 50 years post-crucifixion (which I don't think is tenable at all) rules out legendary accretion. There just wouldn't be enough time for legends of that sort to have developed and found a credulous audience.

CD-Host said...

djp --

you seem to be brand-new to the blog and to NT studies. Welcome to both.

Well thank you. What is NT studies?

Again, I'm having to pick up Shyguy's ball here and argue someone else's case. But this should be fun.

The short answer to all your questions is: "The last 100 years of NT/archeological studies."

Good. So please cite the article in NT or archaeological studies that has a persecution for the historicity of Jesus.

Another short answer would be that I referred to a book, in the post, that gives more documentation, and rebuts some of the silly deflections you try.

I'm familiar with the anti DaVinci literature. DaVinci was useful in that it exposed people to ideas, it wasn't so good on accuracy. Given that we both reject DaVinci and I cited Robertson, Wells and Doherty rather than Dan Brown can we not use straw men?

As an example of the latter, you refer to "quasi-Jewish gospel stories about Sophia/Wisdom being incarnate and suffering for sin from about 100 BCE."

Really? In what city was Sophia/Wisdom born? During whose rule? In what cities did it travel?
What interaction did it have with what historical personages?


All very excellent, and all answered with none. Now from the epistles alone (not the gospels) lets ask the same questions.

In what city was Jesus born?

hmmm. Notice the problem?

Of course there is John 7:42 which says we know where he was born from scripture.

During whose rule did Jesus live?

No reference to that at all. Well not worry by the 2nd century we have lots of references to Pilate. Yet again evidence consistent with Wells, Robertson, Doherty for late dating of the Gospels.


In what cities did Jesus travel?

Hmmmm. Gosh same problem. Worse yet there are no records of holy sites and pieces of the cross or other such relics till the 4th century.

What interaction did it have with what historical personages?

Well here Jesus does show up. He's a vision who interacts with the writers. Other people have evidentally seen the vision. He exist before time. He exist at the end of time. Scripture talks him extensively. And finally he is crucified in heaven by demons to redeam us from sin.

So you still want to assert his interactions (again epistles only) don't sound anything like a mythical figure?

Now I think you list is excellent. Exactly the kind of list, or the kinds of questions one should ask to determine if someone is writing about a historical figure or a myth. So what's the diagnosis about Paul and Hebrews and....?

What is the manuscript and historical tradition supporting the historicity of this incarnation?

Now we finally are getting some where. There is no 2nd century tradition about the Wisdom incarnation being a historical event. That contrasts strongly with Jesus of whom a very strong 2nd century tradition emerges.

Who died giving testimony to its truth?

Which truth did people die giving testimony too and when? You still owe me a specific persecution.

What are some of the telling historical details in the narative?

There is no narrative. Just a vague legend. Sophia the savior's story never develops as far.

As to your questions about Luke: the Gospel of Luke is the first volume of a two-volume series (Acts 1:1f.). The second volume ends its narrative before the mid-sixties. Hence the first antedates it, and depends on still earlier writings (Luke 1:1-4). It isn't rocket science; just a respectful and attentive reading of a thoroughly well-attested text.

OK so decline and fall of the Roman empire was written just slightly after 1590? Its a multi volume set and that's the last event.... (NB: for people unfamiliar this is sarcastic, last volume is written 1789).

When I ask for evidence we are talking real evidence. Datable materials or events which discuss the existence of a book. For example if Ignatius cited one of them (in one his 7 epistles) that gives us a date at or before 107. Internal attestation is worthless. I can write a book that claims its from the middle ages. The bible can't date the bible anymore than any other book can date itself.

We can stop the debate if you would like BTW. I was mainly jumping in because an important theory was getting attacked on a heavily read board and being defended really badly. I didn't like the strawman approach. (Shyguy I know you just starting off learnign this theory so don't take the above personally). My interest is church discipline not atheism.

If we do continue, I'd also wouldn't mind to a slight shift from all the epistles to the 7 authentic Pauline ones
* Romans
* Philippians
* Galatians
* Philemon
* First Corinthians
* Second Corinthians
* First Thessalonians
plus Hebrews. Certain points about origins get less subtle if I can be assured the documents we are dealing with before 70 rather than including all the pseudo-Pauline stuff.

threegirldad said...

Mike Riccardi,

The original source of the Chesterton quote is a book of his titled What's Wrong With the World.

Sewing said...

cd-host: If you want contemporary scholarship that is not a response to Dan Brown, various contemporary sources have already been mentioned in this very comment thread.

Online, pretty much anything by William Lane Craig, including (for starters) "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ." Offline, another commenter already mentioned Craig L. Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Another scholarly work that has just come out is The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, the introduction to which can be viewed online (PDF).

This paper argues that the passage in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (from an epistle you concede to be authentic) is an ancient formula that Paul heard not later than AD 35 (that even the Jesus Seminar dates to not later than AD 33!) and that in the verb used to describe Jesus' being raised after burial, attests to a bodily resurrection, meaning that the whole edifice of Christianity is not merely the fevered imaginings of one Paul of Tarsus.

In the 19th century—well after skeptical rationalism had already begun manifesting itself in source criticism and the Deist musings of Thomas Jefferson—Simon Greenleaf, "one of the principal founders of Harvard Law School" attempted to disprove the Gospels on the weight of their alleged internal inconsistencies, and came to a very different conclusion. You may read his work here.

Sewing said...

If you want more, here is a recent essay that addresses liberal scholarship on questions of the reliability of the Gospels (were they mere fictional fabrications, or something more?), with individual essays on the dating and authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Don't be fooled: it's not as if we're a bunch of wilfully blind schmucks who are stuck in our primitive beliefs. Rather than having unexamined beliefs, many of us write with such conviction precisely because we have gone through the wringer in examining, questioning, doubting, abandoning, and reexamining our beliefs. Some of us even started out as atheists, like me. Many of us used to have highly skeptical views of the Bible, seduced by the confidence of liberal scholars that conservative Christians (who couldn't possibly have an intellectual bone in their body, I thought) have no answer for the challenges of modernism.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and the sad joke is on Biblical scholars whose faith in God is so weak that they can't even entertain the possibility that taking the Bible at face value just might be a tenable option.

CD-Host said...

Sewing --

OK nice response. The Kirk MacGregor paper doesn't seem to address the mythicist case at all. It argues against the idea of a spiritual resurrection of a physical Jesus. By way of analogy you are proving that Lois Lane really does believe that superman came from kyrpton. When shyguy's position has already conceded that not only Lois believes that but even more-so superman "really is" from kyrpton in every way that superman can really be from anywhere. So the article doesn't address the argument.

I couldn't find a single argument of Craig's on the mythicist case. Could you be more specific here? I don't find anything contemporary in his apologetic, most of those arguments are centuries old.

Greenleaf fall apart quickly. Lets take a sample: The present design, however, is not to enter upon any general examination of the evidences upon any general examination of the evidences of Christianity, but to confine the inquiry to the testimony of the Four Evangelists, bringing their narratives to the tests to which other evidence is subjected in human tribunals. The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact--the fact of the birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection by the Evangelists as having actually occurred, within their own personal knowledge. Our religion, then, rests on the credit due to these witnesses. Are they worthy of implicit belief, in the matters which they relate? This is the question, in all human tribunals, in regard to persons testifying before them; and we propose to test the veracity of these witnesses, by the same rules and means which are there employed.

So lets look at the assumptions (note none of these proved) in this case:

1) That this is testimony rather than another literary form, and moreover a narrative.

2) That these documents are constructed by 4 individuals rather than layered with tradition

3) That there are events which could be witnessed.

4) That these individuals are witnesses to the events they related in a material sense (as Greenleaf is using the terms).

And the next few sentences are the same, and those after that. The case is embedded in the assumptions. He sneaks the case in, by scrambling the pieces. Its a nice argument till you see through the technique.

Sewing it seems like you actually want an argument on the topic of liberal scholarship not mythicism. I can switch from defending the Doherty, Wells, Robertson position to arguing Bultmann, Sanders, Crossen.... I'd rather do that in a different thread so that things don't get confused. Das Evangelium des Johannes is the greatest Christian book of the 20th century I've read, that's the book that taught me how to really read a text. It changed my life. And while it appears that Bultmann's Christianity is a historical dead end, and Jaspers was right that there is no Christianity outside of myth. I can't help but feel some regret at the death of demythologized Christianity.

It's not as if we're a bunch of wilfully blind schmucks

Ah I don't think I've ever said anything like that. This blog is well respected for good reason. I'm shocked that none of the emerging church people have responded to the critique here.

That being said I do think you all were setting up a straw man for the mythicist case. Wells and Robertson are dead, Phil Johnson (and certainly MacArthur) are big enough names that I'd assume Doherty would debate them in a heartbeat ( Dan please don't take offense, this is my ignorance in judging, I just don't know your non internet persona)

I also don't think you've read the more serious critics, and I think that's unfortunate. This is the sort of place where I think dialogue might be possible.

CD-Host said...

Sewing --

As an aside, your last set of links were to J.P. Holding. While his counter arguments are weak, he has quite a bit on Doherty and a small exchange with Wells (Shattering the Christ-Myth , reply by wells, Wells without water a "rebuttal".

As far as I know he has nothing on Robertson. A kissing cousin of these guys who Holden also discusses is Acharya S but she is more fun than scholarly (in some ways an atheist version of pyromaniacs :-) ) so I don't want to add her to this thread.

aussy said...

Year 2007:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

or...

Robertson, Wells and/or Doherty

Does anyone have a quarter?


Year 4007

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

or...

Who, who and/or who?

Does anyone have...Oh, nevermind!



Matthew 18:4

Sewing said...

cd-host: Thanks for the follow-up, as I was going to mention that the Tektonics site had some of the specific stuff you were looking for.

Keep in mind, however, that any arguments for the historicity of the Gospels are also directly or indirectly addressing the hypotheses that either:
(a) Jesus is a purely mythical figure; or
(b) Jesus is a historical figure, but the Gospels represent mythical accretions.

I don't wish to get into a long, drawn-out debate, but I wish you well in reading over this material. The two books, by the way, look to be excellent resources, but alas, one has to pay money and purchase them to read them!

Johnny Dialectic said...

cd-host, I just wanted to respond to part of your post. I find your dismissal of Greenleaf less than persuasive. You have done nothing other than attempt to shift the burden of proof on sub-issues you have designed. Greenleaf's work is solid on what he has addressed. You're criticizing a book he didn't write.

If you want to try to make the case for each of your propositions, you're free to do so. But it appears to me that a couple of them are irrelevant (e.g., whether there are "layers of tradition" [how many? How do you identify them?] or not does nothing to disestablish a personal source for the the traditions), and the others are a matter of academic debate. Greenleaf was not dealing with any of that, but subsequent scholarship, in my view, actually supports his case.

IOW, there's simply way too much YOU have assumed and tossed out. Dealing with it would take a lot more time and tangents than, I think, fit this box.

Your criticism reminds me a bit of the Darwinists. They can find ANY human trait (most recently, the moral sense) and claim that there had to be some "adaptive advantage" millions of years ago that explains it. They can then imagine any number of scenarios, which of course cannot be verified. At base it is the naturalistic presupposition that controls.

The same with the liberal side of the ledger in biblical scholarship, IMO.

Blomberg, cited by sewing, is an excellent source for the other side. He and Greenleaf would have made excellent co-counsel.

Sewing said...

To be fair, tbe cited Blomberg first.

CD-Host said...

Johnny --

You have done nothing other than attempt to shift the burden of proof on sub-issues you have designed. Greenleaf's work is solid on what he has addressed. You're criticizing a book he didn't write.

Not at all. Greenleaf claims to be be writing an article which assumes almost nothing and progresses by virtue of reason. My point was that the argument works by hiding the assumptions which amount to the conclusion.

And yes the burdon of proof is on Greenleaf to prove the assumptions he needs. He's asserts for a positive case.

couple of them are irrelevant (e.g., whether there are "layers of tradition" [how many? How do you identify them?] or not does nothing to disestablish a personal source for the the traditions)

Of course it does. Eye witness testimony doesn't contain layers. Retellings do. When I tell stories about things that happened to my wife that I wasn't present for, their is a layer that appears in the text of my story. When I tell stories about things that happened to my wife that I was present for that layer isn't there. I.E. the existence of the layer disproves my being present. That is explicitly the claims being made about apostolic authorship for Matthew and John.

IOW, there's simply way too much YOU have assumed and tossed out.

Really like what? And on which particular positive claims?

At base it is the naturalistic presupposition that controls.

I don't believe I made use of naturalism. One could for example believe in Stoicism, Animism, Hinduism or Judaism and support every aspect of the mythicist argument I've made so far.

Moreover, even if that were true I'm not sure that's a problem. Mythicism does not claim to be an apologetic to prove atheism. Rather what it does is offer an explanation for the development of scripture and Christianity within atheist assumptions consistent with the entire historical record. As such its an apologetic for atheism but not by itself a complete argument for that worldview.

It doesn't make heavy use of atheism even though its major proponents are atheists.

Blomberg, cited by sewing, is an excellent source for the other side. He and Greenleaf would have made excellent co-counsel.

Bloomberg for the other side of what? Which specific point of Wells, Robertson or Doherty is he refuting first?

Gummby said...

Shyguy:

In 2 Peter 1, Peter makes an audacious statement. Listen:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21, ESV)

He starts off by saying that he and the other apostles they didn't follow cleverly devised myths. He says, "Hey, this isn't a made up story." "We've seen," he says (v.16), "and we've heard" (v.18). Because of his experience, he was sure of what he said.

But then he goes on to make an amazing claim. You might think he'd spend more time talking about his own experience, into more depth as to how it made him sure. Instead, he says that there is something even "more sure," and that something is "the prophetic word." And lest there be any confusion, that's referring to Scripture (cf. v.20).

I've often wondered myself whether I might have a stronger faith if I were to travel back to Jesus' day and see things with my own eyes. But the Bible says otherwise; both in the passage mentioned above and in other places, we find that Scripture is sufficient and complete.

So let me present this challenge to you. If someone who was there with Jesus said that he valued the written testimony of God over the things he had actually experienced, what more do you need? What else are you seeking to know the truth?

Gummby said...

CD-Host said: So lets look at the assumptions (note none of these proved) in this case:

Of course, these arguments are stated in such a way that we can restate the contra-assumption:

1) That this is literary form, rather than testimony & narrative.

2) That these documents are layered with tradition instead of constructed by 4 individuals

3) That there weren't events which could be witnessed.

4) That these individuals weren't witnesses to the events they related in a material sense

There are bold assertions. Do you have any evidence that you're willing to share? I'm looking for specific statements, not "check so-and-so's book," which may be definitive, but can also be used as a cop out to actually avoid making any real points (with all due respect to you, and Dan, but I've seen it too often, and time is too limited to "go read such-and-so book and come back when you're done.")

Internal attestation is worthless. I can write a book that claims its from the middle ages. The bible can't date the bible anymore than any other book can date itself.

Here's why this statement doesn't hold water. If you were to write a book claiming to be from the middle ages, it would be pretty obvious when you printed it out on a laser printer or posted it to your blog that it wasn't from the middle ages. So we wouldn't have to even bother with internal attestation, because we'd have a problem with the external attestation.

But let's say you go down to the local taxidermist, and get yourself a nice piece of vellum (or better yet, steal one from a museum, and then scrape it, so it really would look authentic), and find a calligrapher, mix the right ink, etctera and so on. Chances are you wouldn't get everything right. You'd probably misspell words, or use ones that weren't invented yet. It would be pretty clear pretty quickly that you'd made a forgery.

This kind of evidence is overwhelmingly in the favor of the Biblical documents. And it is worth pointing out (again) that if the kind of skepticism the Bible enjoys were applied to the rest of historical world literature, we would have no history. The benefit must always go to the document, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary. And I haven't seen you give any evidence to the contrary.

I would just add that in my experience, the ultimate disbelief of Scripture comes not from problems with the documents themselves, but from the content. The typical atheist line of reasoning that "There's no such thing as the supernatural, therefore the Bible and Christianity are false" is actually an argument from worldview, and has nothing to do with the documents themselves.

Finally, I have to admit that there's a certain brilliance in the mythical argument. I saw it during the whole War on Easter campaign. The "Jesus never existed" line of reasoning is a complete presupposition, and allows someone using it to ignore or explain away any and all the evidence. You see the exact same thing with those that deny the Holocaust. It isn't because of lack of evidence; rather, it is a complete disregard for any and all evidence.

Dan: great post--particularly the part about the behind-the-scenes stuff, the "issue behind the issue." We all need to watch out for that, because it can happen to any of us. It's a good thing to keep in mind.

Keep up the good work. Oh, and if you ever get an answer to "what kind of evidence would be sufficient to incite you to believe?" please let me know. I've never gotten a straight answer on that one.

CD-Host said...

gummby --

1) See my response Johnny regarding the assumptions. You are pulling them a bit out of context.

But I can put together a positive case.

That these documents are layered with tradition instead of constructed by 4 individuals

That these individuals weren't witnesses to the events they related in a material sense


The way that Luke and Matthew quote Mark seems to indicate dependency. Similarly with Q (and yes I'm going to assume Q for this discussion along with all the rest of higher criticism. I'm using the same methods I'd use for any other ancient book as per your statements). Those methods get a different debate that have nothing to do with mythicism at all). so that knocks those two out (on the other hand Luke doesn't claim internally to be a direct witness).

John is obviously internally layered, which means the gospel we have today had more than one author .... "John" may have written Signs but he did not write "John". Bultmann proved this beyond a reasonable doubt (The Gospel of John) by being able to extract layers directly from the greek. This isn't part of the mythicist case at all so I don't see how it is on topic.

That leaves Mark. Mark is virtually structured as "prophecy" throughout the entire book. link gives an example with the cult and the donkey.


That there weren't events which could be witnessed.

Well actually your previous quote does a pretty good job here. You have "Peter" (not that I buy the first century data for 2Peter but in this case it doesn't matter) asserting

we made known to you (gnoridzo = imparting a divine mystery)

eyewitnesses (Epoptai = eyewitnesses but is also used in Greek literature to for initiates who had experienced theophanies, the perceived presence of the god)

and when you translate that way it makes sense. At verse 19 Peter has the scriptures held higher than his vision. But if you don't translate it this way is it really sensible that Peter would be saying (as Doherty puts it, "eyewitnessed glorification of Jesus of Nazareth into his divine persona, the very voice of God out of heaven acknowledging him as his Son, serves merely to support scripture?").

That this is literary form, rather than testimony & narrative.

Yes. These books all have themes in them. Collections of simple testimony don't have deep themes. With the exception of Mark they all have deep structure....

This kind of evidence is overwhelmingly in the favor of the Biblical documents.

(This is in reply to my rejection of Luke at 60). Good then give me a single statement datable to the 1st century which mentions Luke.

And it is worth pointing out (again) that if the kind of skepticism the Bible enjoys were applied to the rest of historical world literature, we would have no history. The benefit must always go to the document, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary. And I haven't seen you give any evidence to the contrary.

Which document are you talking about? I'm assuming the bible but you are being quite unclear. First off there is no "bible" this early. At best these are the the various books (unless you want to make a claim for the existence of the bible as a whole in which case standard Christian history of the development of the Canon is my counter evidence). As for the compelling evidence,

1) we have dateable materials from church fathers.

2) Those materials reference various early texts.

3) We simply assert that a text exist at time X if it is quoted by a dateable source at or before time X.

4) Those texts that are not quoted are suspect but may exist

That's it. Not a very complex case. And those are the assumptions that are made with every other historical document. Documents aren't given, "benefit must always go to the document, in the absence of compelling evidence" whose standard is that?

So when Dan wants to say Luke exist in the year 60 he needs something dateable that has Luke at 60. Otherwise Luke's first dateable references are that proto-Luke shows up as the Gospel of the Lord around 130, and something similar to canonical Luke around 140. Conversely Clement is dateable to the first century and Clement quotes Paul hence Paul (7 epistles) gets a first century date.

CD-Host said...

It occurs to me my read of 2 Peter may seem like it is coming out of nowhere. The whole core of the mythicist case (which we aren't debating because of getting stuck arguing preliminaries like that fisherman don't write books with 3 levels of conflicting theology and grammar and chop their own sentences).

The actual core of the case is fairly simple. That if one reads the epistles they talk about a heavenly being not a person. Even where they seem to talk about physical events they use bizarre language which is not at all consistent with what you would expect to see if they were simply recounting facts.

Why does Peter choose gnoridzo?

Can Peter really assert that the purpose of the incarnation was to confirm scripture of should we choose the alternate translation?

And if we do choose the alternate translation then the word epoptai probably means what it usually does in these contexts.

______________

So here are some less complex examples:

1: Assume for a moment that someone believed that Jesus had lived hundreds of years before Paul, but that people had only recently learned of Jesus and his importance (i.e. the divine mystery Rom 16:25-27, same idea in Titus 1:2-3). Try and find any references in Paul to anything that would disprove this.

2: When you read 1Cor 15 Paul makes a complex theological argument that resurrection is possible. Why? Where's Lazarus? Worse yet it seems that Paul is arguing that believing in Jesus's resurrection is a matter of faith and he rhetorically denies it 4 times. Why this very odd way to treat a historical event?

3: Paul who spent most of his life preaching about the resurrections comments (Phil 3:10) that he went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter a little. Where is Calvary? In fact where is any mention of any holy place at all in Paul?

4: In 1Cor 12:28 Paul talks about how God appointed apostles. 1Col 1:25 he makes a similar comment about himself. Eph 1:1, Eph 3:7, Cor 1:1, 1 Thes 2:4, 2 Cor 3:6, Gal 2:8 its God who appointed Paul (not Jesus). Worse yet in Gal 1:16 its God who told Paul about Jesus. Why wouldn't he have mentioned the road to Damascus?

5: Interesting thing about Baptism for Paul. Paul considers it the primary ritual by which men die to sin and our reborn. He talks about it Romans 6-8 for 3 chapters. Where is Jesus's baptism? Why didn't he mention it?

Gummby said...

CD-Host:

1) Dude, can you run that 2 Peter argument by me again? I'm guessing that you're saying you disagree with the translation I chose, but I don't really get what you're disagreeing with, so I can't really respond to anything. Maybe that was your goal, but I'm hoping you were trying to be clear, and somehow the process (either on your end or on mine) got muddled.

2) Re: the five "less complex examples"...of what? Are you trying to make the Elaine Pagels "Paul is a gnostic" case? I get that you don't agree with Dan or anyone else that Christ really existed, but beyond that, I don't really follow the thrust of your thinking.

CD-Host said...

Gummby --

1) Dude, can you run that 2 Peter argument by me again? I'm guessing that you're saying you disagree with the translation I chose, but I don't really get what you're disagreeing with, so I can't really respond to anything. Maybe that was your goal, but I'm hoping you were trying to be clear, and somehow the process (either on your end or on mine) got muddled.

No I wasn't trying to be vague, but after I read it I realized my debate tactic while cute was perhaps a bit too contextual.

1) You had asked for a positive case for the fact that there were no events to be witnessed.

2) The mythicists argue the positive case comes from simply reading the epistles in and of themselves.

3) In the post above you had used a quote from Peter. Being cute I decided to show you how that very same passage would have been read if you were reading other piece of greek literature. The author of 2Peter is using standard mystery religion terms to describe his particular savior deity. The evidence for this was the use of the word gnoridzo .

4) In that context you wouldn't have assumed they were talking about an actual event. And thus you wouldn't have used eyewitness for epoptai . Instead you end up with the whole passage being 2Peter talking about spiritual vision and metaphorical initiation.

5) This translation makes verse 19 much more sensible. That is if you assume Peter means "eyewitness" by epoptai you have him saying something rather odd.

6) You don't read it in the natural way (that is you ignore the mystery religion term that is in the text) because the gospels teach that Peter actually met Jesus in a very physical sense so you end up with a twisted translation.

But as I indicated in my next post. Regardless of how cool the judo was here in taking your example and reversing it this was a more complex example then I should have started with. So then I did 5 easier ones.

Re: the five "less complex examples"...of what? Are you trying to make the Elaine Pagels "Paul is a gnostic" case? I get that you don't agree with Dan or anyone else that Christ really existed, but beyond that, I don't really follow the thrust of your thinking.

The mythicist case is:

1) The 1st century literature speaks of a mythical / heavenly being called "Jesus Christ". What is key to the case is not that I don't think he existed its that Paul and the writer of Hebrews doesn't think he actually existed.

2) The 2nd century Christian literature (which includes the gospels) shows obvious signs of a transition period as belief in an incarnation develops. By the mid 3rd century among the Christian community and by the late 2nd century this belief is universal.

Everything else is details and evidence for the above.

What's complicating the case is 3 things:

1) Language preliminaries. Among Christians it is common to speak of the bible (a 4th century collection of 1st and 2nd century literature) as if it existed in the 1st century. There is no serious debate on this point but it keeps getting in the way.

2) A desire to go off topic. While not all of academic biblical scholarship is needed (Robertson predated Bultmann for example) the core ideas should be assumed in discussing mythicism. If there was some Matthew following a real Jesus around who then later composed a gospel then mythicism is false. Assuming anything like this occurred is simply begging the question.
One can discuss Matthew's relationship to Mark and Q without having to take any position on Paul's theology. It is a separate argument and has nothing to do with Shyguy's question.
So the logical starting place would be to simply utilize Q and Mark (as midrash) and then the question is whether the historical elements are traceable back to the Jesus Christ of Paul or not.

3) The use of standard apologetic arguments. Apologetics are designed to avoid understanding not promote it. For example the claim about my "naturalistic assumptions" is a standard apologetic technique. When as I pointed out any Jew, Hindu, animist or stoic could be making the same argument you didn't object because I wasn't actually using any naturalistic assumptions. Its a distractor designed to undermine an argument. The more of those you use the less you will be able to actually converse.

As an aside, Pagels doesn't assert that Paul is a gnostic. What she teaches in Gnostic Exegesis is how to read Paul the way the gnostics read him. That is she is teaching hermeneutics not theology. Regarding a skill / understanding that was lost until recently.

Be well,
CD-Host

Gummby said...

CD-Host:

There's no way that I can respond to all of what you've brought in here. We're obviously dealing with two completely divergent approaches to Scripture which cannot be reconciled. Nevertheless, I'll throw these random bits out there for the (hopeful) edification of anyone still reading this thread.

You don't read it in the natural way (that is you ignore the mystery religion term that is in the text) because the gospels teach that Peter actually met Jesus in a very physical sense so you end up with a twisted translation.

I finally figured out what you're saying here.

But as you yourself point out, you have to read 2 Peter without acknowledging anything that preceded it. Of course, you must also ignore the fact that those reading the letter would know of Peter and Jesus, and would themselves impute some of the things that are supposedly only added by the Gospels.

More than that, you must ignore not only the gospels, but Peter's first letter, Paul's epistles, Acts, and the testimony of the Old Testament (which was certainly codified by this point in history) regarding the Messiah. In other words, the whole of Scripture must be set aside and in its place a completely different context must be imputed to the text. For myself, I'll side with scripture over "mystery" any day of the week.

1) The 1st century literature speaks of a mythical / heavenly being called "Jesus Christ". What is key to the case is not that I don't think he existed its that Paul and the writer of Hebrews doesn't think he actually existed.

The idea that Paul and whomever wrote Hebrews didn't believe in an incarnational Jesus is ridiculous. If someone is reading of these parts of Scripture is so shallow that this is what they get, only God can help them.

2) The 2nd century Christian literature (which includes the gospels) shows obvious signs of a transition period as belief in an incarnation develops. By the mid 3rd century among the Christian community and by the late 2nd century this belief is universal.

(I'm assuming that your last sentence should read 4th century--otherwise I'm missing something.)

When do you date the gospels? It seems that in order for this assertion to be tenable, you must late date the gospels, and must believe in Q (which to me seems far more mystical that anything Jesus did or said). Since I don't do either one, this may be why I consider the suggestion that early Christians didn't consider Christ to be human to be completely without merit.

As an aside, Pagels doesn't assert that Paul is a gnostic. What she teaches in Gnostic Exegesis is how to read Paul the way the gnostics read him. That is she is teaching hermeneutics not theology. Regarding a skill / understanding that was lost until recently.

There are many others on this list better qualified to tackle this point, and perhaps I should take a lesson from their silence. But if what you say above is true, the only thing Ms. Pagels is teaching is eisegesis. More than that, the line you've drawn here between hermenuetics and theology is a distinction without a difference. Whether you say Paul is a gnostic, or merely read him as one, you are teaching theology--a gospel that Paul himself would call anathema, in fact. To say otherwise borders on self-deception.

May God through His Spirit grant us both eyes to see the truth, and to set aside any error in our views.

Grace and peace to you.

CD-Host said...

Gummby I think its a pity that it the end you couldn't get away from apologetics long enough to actually discuss something. I'll respond to your points (for lurkers) since I think I've achieved my original objective of pointing out to people that the version of the mythicist case being originally addressed by Dan was a straw man. I think having a real evangelical / mythicist dialog about biblical interpretation and history where people could have seen both sides presented fully would have been a useful resource.

But as you yourself point out, you have to read 2 Peter without acknowledging anything that preceded it.

I never said that. I never said anything remotely like that. In fact I said the exact opposite of that. I consistently mentioned the earlier writings (Paul) I mentioned in my comments to Dan materials from 175 years before 2Peter which came from (possibly) a proto-Christian community. I spoke often of early church fathers. If this dialog had continued I would have mentioned a great deal of literature like Philo, early Sethian literature, middle platonic literature, the writings of the cynics. A whole host of jewish, greek and roman literature that preceded 2Peter.

I even am willing to include materials written after 2Peter. What I'm not willing to do is to treat materials that came after 2Peter as if they came before it, but because the events described happened earlier.

Of course, you must also ignore the fact that those reading the letter would know of Peter and Jesus, and would themselves impute some of the things that are supposedly only added by the Gospels.

And here again (see above) I'd ask for evidence and be ignored.

More than that, you must ignore not only the gospels, but Peter's first letter, Paul's epistles,

This of course is a lie. I actually said the opposite regarding Paul and my 5 questions all addressed Paul.

Acts,

I don't ignore Acts at all. We just didn't get to Acts yet. Acts is a mid second century apologetic designed to address issues in that period. Rather than ignore it, it bolsters the case when read in a political context (deconstructed if you will).

and the testimony of the Old Testament (which was certainly codified by this point in history) regarding the Messiah.

First off it wasn't codified by "this point". The earliest that anyone suggested anything like the current Jewish canon was about 60 C.E. We have records of debates in the Mishnah on this topic and we suspect 218 or slightly before is when there finally was almost universal acceptance within the Jewish community.

The Christianity community however rejected the Jewish canon and utilized a much more inclusive canon until Luther. Luther considered books not found in the Jewish Tanakh to be more questionable (i.e. he agreed with Jerome's position from 405) and created a separate section. The British Bible society in 1826 finally refused to distribute bibles with an Apocrypha section. So arguable the Protestant debate debate on "codification" the old testament didn't end until 1826, and I would argue that the Christian one isn't over today.

So no it wasn't finished by that period.

In other words, the whole of Scripture must be set aside and in its place a completely different context must be imputed to the text. For myself, I'll side with scripture over "mystery" any day of the week.

Keep telling yourself that's what you are doing.

The idea that Paul and whomever wrote Hebrews didn't believe in an incarnational Jesus is ridiculous.

Things that are ridiculous are things that are easy to refute.

When do you date the gospels? It seems that in order for this assertion to be tenable, you must late date the gospels,

No, I'm within the skeptical mainstream. Gospels very close to our current gospels are in circulation by 120-140 and are widely accepted by 180. Parts of Q, Mark and Signs might be much earlier.

The final versions are the 4th century but between 130 and the 4th century there are no important changes for this debate.

and must believe in Q (which to me seems far more mystical that anything Jesus did or said).

If you reject Q, you are correct we have nothing to discuss. Everything else in this argument is going to be far weaker than the case for Q.

Rejecting Q amounts to essentially raising Eusebius' claims for authorship of the gospels to the level of irrefutable fact even when the book is obvious propaganda. The case for Q comes entirely from within scripture. Which one of us is rejecting scripture?


There are many others on this list better qualified to tackle this point [regaring pagels], and perhaps I should take a lesson from their silence. But if what you say above is true, the only thing Ms. Pagels is teaching is eisegesis.

First off Pagels is a postmodernist. She would argue that all exegesis is eisegesis. But even if you are modernist, she is teaching literary history not eisegesis.

More than that, the line you've drawn here between hermenuetics and theology is a distinction without a difference.

No, its a huge difference. Pagels has never written about what Paul believes but rather what people like Valentinus believed. I don't see any evidence in 2 decades of her writings that she asserts that Paul actually held these beliefs. Moreover in her historical works (like the Origin of Satan) she takes the opposite position and argues that there was substantial development of both Orthodox Christian and Christian Gnostic thought between 70 and 130.

Whether you say Paul is a gnostic, or merely read him as one, you are teaching theology

No, Valentinus (et al) is teaching theology. Pagels is teaching Valentinus. While Pagels is Christian and active in Church, I'm not sure she believes there is a god to teach theology about. I certainly can't think of anything in her writings that I would consider an assertion about the nature of god.

a gospel that Paul himself would call anathema, in fact.

Lets not forget Valentinus was a student of Theudas (not the one from Acts) who was a student of Paul. While I happen to agree that Paul is not a gnostic, Valentinus has a much better claim to knowing what Paul would or wouldn't do than you do. You and I never met the man, Theudas studied under him for years. Some humility may be in order.


Hopefully next time this turns out better.

JoshuaC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gummby said...

Head Pyro Phil Johnson preached a group of sermons called A Survey of Heresies a few years back. It's available for listening or download here.

JoshuaC said...

Hi DJP,

I've been reading your apologetics posts recently, and I've got a question.

You wrote:

"The real reason [that someone leaves Christ] always comes from the world, the flesh, and/or the devil. Always it's really that they wanted to think, be, or do something they knew was wrong, and they'd feel a lot better about it if there were no living God such as Jesus reveals."

My question is, do you believe this is a conscious or unconscious decision? I'd welcome any answers from any of the other Christians who post here, too.

Thanks.

Jen said...

JoshuaC asks if Christians believe that someone who leaves Christ because of the world, the flesh, or the devil, does so from a conscious or unconscious decision?

JoshuaC, I would think you would ask that question of those who have left Christ, not of Christians. How are we to determine someone else’s motives, their hearts in the matter?

JoshuaC said...

Jen,
Thanks for your reply. I agree with you, no one can know another's motives.

I should clarify: I'm not asking to know people's motives, but asking for a clarification from Dan, who claimed to know them: "always... the world, the flesh, and/or the devil... they wanted to think, be or do something they knew was wrong..."

Other Christians said similar things in their comments, such as robert: "...the reason people disbelieve is not a lack of understanding or evidence...it's sin...they love sin", so I ask other Christians as well.

I ask to understand their claims more deeply, rather than to understand the actual motives of those who leave Christ.

Gummby said...

I'm pretty sure Dan's basis is the Bible, which says that sin is at the root of unbelief, and that men's hearts are naturally turned toward sin.

JoshuaC said...

Thanks Gummby,
As someone who believes this, what's your point of view - Conscious decision? Unconscious? Can't say?