Book Plunge: Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught Part 7

Can we pull a rabbit out of a hat? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

And for his next trick, Madison is going to try to convince us that Jesus taught we can do magic. Well, of course we can! I mean, it takes years of practice and learning how to trick people but get a wand and a hat and a book of tricks and….wait…you mean it’s not that kind of magic? Oh! You mean he thinks miracles and things like that are automatically magic!

Sorry. I forget evangelistic atheists are just ignorant and like to use the word magic as if that discredits everything.

Now you’re not going to find anything here like a reasoned case against miracles. I mean, at least throw out David Hume or something like that. But hey, when you’re arguing from his position, who needs to make a case for his worldview? It’s just those nutty Christians that have to defend theirs.

So let’s get to something he says about the Lord’s Supper.

The familiar words we know from Mark’s gospel, “this is my body…this is my blood of the new covenant,” are missing from John’s account of the Last Supper. Instead, much earlier in the story, in the 6th chapter of John, after Jesus had fed the 5,000, we find these words—and no matter how familiar you may be with communion—how can they not be disturbing?

 

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. (John 6:53-57, NRSV)

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 51-52). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Let’s agree on one point. These words should be very disturbing indeed! They were so disturbing that a majority of the people who had just witnessed a miracle and were ready to proclaim Jesus to be king turned and walked away. Jesus went straight from hero to zero in their eyes. They were at one moment ready to trust Him as king and the next they gave up any trust in Him.

So for a point, let’s consider Madison is right. We need to really take these words seriously.

Do I think Jesus is talking about the Eucharist here? No. I think instead that Jesus is pointing to the Wilderness wanderings and saying “Just as the manna was their sustenance in the wilderness, so it is that I must be your sustenance in all things.” Now you could say “And that takes place in the Eucharist” if you’re of that persuasion, but it is not a necessity.

Now moving on, we get this little gem:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14:13-14, NRSV) Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. (John 16:23-24, NRSV)

I suspect many Christians know these texts are falsified by their own prayer experiences. I urge you to think long and hard about prayer. How can it not be classified as a form of magical thinking? In many cases, even an attempt at conjuring?

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 53). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

There’s a rule of interpretation that is to try to avoid making what your opponent say look as stupid as possible. If you think your opponent is saying something that is manifestly false, you need to check to see if you have misunderstood Him. Unfortunately, Madison has not done that.

For one thing, it should be blatantly obvious Jesus is not offering a blank check because any prayer that would come back unanswered would immediately disprove that. What is He offering then? He is offering that if you are fully in line with the will of God, you will get what you want, and very few people will be in such a place and if they are, they are not going to be asking for selfish things.

Not only that, but ancient Jews spoke in terms of hyperbole. When Salome dances for Herod, he offers her half of his kingdom. She could have just asked for the one that gave her authority to execute John the Baptist and got him executed and a kingdom then. Everyone knew he couldn’t give that literally. He himself knew it. They also knew what the gesture meant.

Madison doesn’t because he doesn’t understand any culture but his own.

But Madison isn’t done with prayer.

But how do the thoughts inside our heads—trapped there by our skulls—escape to be perceived by God? There are no known mechanisms by which that would work, just as there are no known ways by which the popular spells in the Harry Potter stories would work. Nobody even tries to explain how the Fairy God Mother in Cinderella, waving a wand, changes a pumpkin into a carriage—because that’s fantasy. Does prayer amount to waving a wand in our minds? The efficacy of prayer should not be off-limits for legitimate inquiry. Indeed, scientific studies of prayer have not yielded hoped-for results.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 53-54). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

I am sitting here and typing out a response and I am telling my hands through my brain to type. How does that work? I have no idea. Do I conclude then that I am not doing it because I do not know the mechanism by which this works? Not at all. How does God know what I am praying? As a Thomist, I contend He knows all things by knowing Himself, but even if I don’t understand that, a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing I am sure knows what I am thinking.

Madison dismisses prayer studies. I am skeptical of them as well, but then there are researchers like Candy Gunther-Brown and others who have observed miracles after prayer in certain settings. Of course, if Madison were being fair, he would research those, but we all know he won’t.

The last thing I plan to cover is he says there are two things that are troubling about prayer.

The concept of prayer brings us face-to-face, again, with the grim specter of totalitarian monotheism, that is to say, God monitors our very thoughts—the ultimate invasion of privacy for every person on earth. Doesn’t that make God a nosy busybody? Aside from the fact that there is no verifiable evidence to back up this idea—our feelings about prayer instilled since childhood are not the kind of hard evidence required—it’s simply a terrible idea.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 54). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

A terrible idea, therefore wrong. Got it. Besides that nonsense, why should I think I have a right to privacy from God? I owe everything to Him, including my very being. Also, if there is evidence that God exists, and there is, and that He’s all-knowing, and there is, then Madison’s claim is false. God knows what I am thinking. Yes, that should concern me, but knowing He is forgiving should also relieve me and I should seek to get my own thought life under control. Does Madison seriously have a problem with me wanting to have a good thought life?

It is incredibly implausible that a God who manages the cosmos, that is, who has hundreds of billions of galaxies, and trillions of planets under management, would be interested in monitoring the thoughts of more than seven billion human beings—as a way of keeping track of their sinful inclinations, their need for a parking space, or recovery from an ailment. Such an attentive God might have made sense long ago when the earth was regarded as the center of his attention, and when God was thought to reside in the realm above the clouds.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 54-55). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

This is just an appeal to incredulity. First off, the Christians never made the Earth the center of everything. God has always been. Second, God does not have limited resources or strength such that He has to use energy monitoring trillions of planets and everything else.

So alas, Madison again really gives us nothing.

We’ll continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

 

Book Plunge: Still Unbelievable Part 6

Did Jesus rise from the dead? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter is about the resurrection and it is written by Ed Atkinson. He and I had a few debates on the Unbelievable Facebook page when I was there. It was kind of reliving the past to go through this chapter. Let’s look at an early part right off.

First, let’s step back for a moment. How can we know, with even remote certainty, what happened 2,000 years ago? Let’s imagine the parallel idea from Derren Brown that Justin quoted, and expanded here with my imagination. In about 1940, in an African outpost under the control of the British Empire, a new sect emerged. It was claimed that their leader had come back from the dead after being killed in the War serving the Axis Powers. Furthermore, it seems that he had apparently appeared and even had meals with some of his followers before vanishing permanently. Unfortunately, we have no records from the time but there is an authentic letter by a follower who was close to the original witnesses. This letter, stamped 1965, briefly lists the leader’s appearances1. Then there is silence until the 1980s, at which point, religious tracts about the affair start to be published in London. These now describe a missing body as well as post-death appearances but there are large discrepancies in their description of the events. The first outsider to write about it that we know of was a specialist historian2 who was native to that country – he was born in the 1940s, left for London in 1980 and wrote about it in the 2000s but there is good reason to think his words have been corrupted by sect members. That story roughly matches what we have as source documents for the resurrection, but with a change of geographical setting and with the dates moved from 30AD to 1940.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

This might sound similar to some people, but it’s hardly an analogy seeing as we are talking about different types of cultures. The 1940’s is a post-Gutenberg time and the 40’s would have some basic abilities with cameras and even some video cameras. Nothing sophisticated, but certainly far different from the time of Jesus.

Jesus lived in an oral culture and what we get is within the first century, four biographies about His life, a historiography written as a continuation of one biography, and numerous epistles. We have far less for figures that we don’t really doubt at all and most ancient historians would be thrilled to have something like this.

Historians of the classical world don’t even make a tentative conclusion when the evidence is as weak as this. One example is the death of Nero’s mother Agrippina. There are surviving stories by respected Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius who wrote 60 to 70 years later, which is equivalent to the time gap between the resurrection and the last of the New Testament gospels, John. However, modern historians consider the circumstances of Agrippina’s death as largely unknown because the accounts contradict each other, are generally fantastical and display anti-Nero bias.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

Unfortunately, these historians are not named and we are talking about one incident in one person’s life as opposed to a whole account of the life. Our biographies of Alexander the Great come centuries later and they are based on accounts that we don’t have access too and yet, they are considered reliable. Again, most historians would love to have four biographies like this of any figure in the ancient world within at the most two generations. The dating of someone like John A.T. Robinson in Redating the New Testament has not been answered.

Atkinson goes on to write about Gary Habermas’s data for the minimal facts saying:

Meanwhile Gary’s website says “there is approximately a 3:1 ratio of works that fall into the category that we have dubbed the moderate conservative position, as compared to more skeptical treatments.” So 75% of scholars are conservative Christians and 25% are everyone else: non-conservative Christians, agnostics and unbelievers.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

I emailed Gary about this who referred to this as a bad reading of his work. There are non-conservative Christians who hold to the Empty Tomb and a strong view of the resurrection. There is also a confusion between moderate and conservative. With Habermas’s works being published on this book by book, we can expect there will be more coming. (I do have a copy of the first book and will start it after finishing the Larry Hurtado one I’m reading.)

Atkinson talks about the creed in 1 Cor. 15 and says

Paul is probably quoting a creed which implies that it should be dated well before the approximate 55AD date of this letter, but I don’t see why that means ‘the very inception of the church’ as Justin claims.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

Well, let’s see if there are any historians that disagree with this and think it goes back to a very early time.

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

 

The answer is no. Because there is no refutation of this claim—other than “maybe possibly it originated later,” which is the logical fallacy of possibiliter ergo probabiliter (“it’s possible, therefore it’s probable,” see Proving History, index). In fact the evidence for this creed dating to the very origin of the religion is amply strong; and there is no reasonable basis for claiming otherwise.”- Atheist apologist Richard Carrier. https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11069?fbclid=IwAR117qqt7FpRYjhse2w4Gf3R7foF26MVFPfJeMIoEP4FtP0hnNM-WayuXAY

None of these are Christians. James Dunn even says it comes within a few months of the Easter event.

When Atkinson gets to his explanation of the appearances, it’s to no surprise, hallucinations.

I will nail my colours to the mast and use the scientific term ‘hallucination’ for a vivid vision of Jesus. The first thing to say is that hallucinations are common: about 15% percent of the global population experiences them. They are more likely to occur with increasing age, which seems not to apply here, but they are also associated with factors such as stress, grief, trauma and anguish which do. The two most frequent types of hallucination are of a recently deceased loved one (usually a spouse after a long marriage) and of a respected religious figure.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

Except hallucinations like this don’t lead to the belief that the person is alive. They more lead to the belief that the person is dead. Besides this, it’s usually shortly after that unless a person is in an advanced state of dementia, they know they had a hallucination. We knew my great aunt was in such a state when she kept insisting she had four cats that she saw when she only had one.

Research by resurrection proponents such as N T Wright has shown that first century Jews, like the disciples, generally had a physical understanding of resurrection, and so a ghostly vision is probably not sufficient. But hallucinations are not mere ghostly visions. The American Psychiatric Association’s well-known manual, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, describes hallucinations as ‘a sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality of a true perception but that occurs without external stimulation’. (Note that sensory perception includes all of the senses, not just vision.) And here is a quote from ‘Tara’, a contributor to the discussions on the Unbelievable? show’s website, she wrote after the October 2015 episode on the resurrection: “I’ve had two new patients just this week that have told me about their ‘visiting’ spouses. By the way, no one yet has talked about them as appearing ghostly ……. and I’ve heard dozens of accounts. Instead, they describe them as seeming very lifelike, as if the spouse is there in complete physicality.”14

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

But did Tara talk about anyone going to dig up the coffin and see the dead person was no longer there? No one is doubting hallucinations happen. What is being doubted is that they are capable of explaining the data.

Hallucinations are only individual experiences and group hallucinations with the same content are not reported in the scientific literature. But the key,1 Corinthians 15 creed mentions at least one group experience and the passage it sits within has two more group experiences, one of which is an appearance to more than 500 people. Even if the appearance to the Twelve means one by one, it is seriously implausible that they each had a hallucination of Jesus. This is the reason Justin gives for completely dismissing hallucinations as an explanation. To me the best explanation is that the first individual experiences of ‘the risen Jesus’ would prime the others. I use ‘priming’ here partly because it is a jargon term from psychology, where it refers to how our behaviour or judgements can be changed by subtle stimuli including the behaviour of others.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

Except Atkinson has it backwards. The first data we have here is the largest number of appearances and yet when we get to the Gospels, the number of people seeing Jesus doesn’t get larger, but rather it gets smaller. If the “legend” was being built over time, why would it be this way?

There are many potential examples in recent history, such as appearances of the Virgin Mary to crowds of believers. Once the expectation is set up that Mary will appear, then the slightest stimulus will be interpreted as an appearance and reported as such to others. That is just human nature.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

But here, Atkinson can be arguing what he wants to demonstrate. Let’s take a Marian apparition. It is up to Atkinson to demonstrate absolutely nothing was seen. Can he do that? Even a Protestant like myself could say something was seen. Perhaps it was a demon even. That still would be something that would be seen. I can’t speak for any one vision. I would have to see them on a case-by-case basis.

Of course, no skeptical account would be complete without those two favorite words that skeptics love to use.

There is another possible factor to throw in the pot here: Cognitive Dissonance. It can be summarised: “A key tenet of cognitive dissonance theory is that those who have heavily invested in a position may, when confronted with disconfirming evidence, go to greater lengths to justify their position.”24. The study of cognitive dissonance began with Leon Festinger’s 1956 book, “When Prophecy Fails”25. Leon and fellow researchers heard of a cult led by a Chicago housewife. The cult believed that they had received messages from a planet named Clarion, and these messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954, and also that a UFO would rescue the group of true believers. Festinger and his colleagues joined the group. Then the appointed time came ……….. and …………. passed without incident. The cult members faced acute cognitive dissonance: had they been the victims of a hoax? Had they donated their worldly possessions in vain? Most members chose to believe something less dissonant in order to resolve their inner tension: they believed that the aliens had given Earth a second chance and that the group was now empowered to spread the word that Earth-spoiling must stop. The group dramatically, and immediately, increased their proselytising as a direct response to the failed prophecy.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

Well, I have read When Prophecy Fails, which is the account of this event. Unfortunately, it was hardly a valid study in some ways because the researchers actually actively interfered in the events. That is not to say the theory is not without any credibility, but this is not the best instance. Not only that, but normally when this happens, the group doesn’t grow beyond its number at the start. The exact opposite happened with Christianity.

As for Paul:

However, there is still the need to explain Paul’s experience. We can assume that there were many early opponents of Christianity, all of whom were exposed to the preaching, hope and fearlessness of the apostles. And people do convert. So it should not be a surprise that one of the opponents converted. Paul himself seemed to be prone to visions: he was later “caught up to the third heaven” in a visionary experience, so his conversion being prompted by a vision is not so remarkable. An alternative, more cynical take, is that both Paul and his ‘biographer’ in Acts, needed to emphasise his credentials as a leading apostle and being an eyewitness of the risen Christ was one key criterion.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

But what could we assume this based on? How do we know there were many early opponents doing what Paul was doing? We have no record of them at all. If such was actively going on regularly, why would Pliny write years later unsure of what to do about these people instead of just following regular protocol?

As for a vision, why would Paul have this vision of Jesus? A guilt complex is not fitting in the ancient society of Jesus. Our idea of a guilty conscience would not be understood by the people of the time. Paul also had nothing to gain and everything to lose.

There is material on the empty tomb. Unfortunately, like Bart Ehrman’s work in How Jesus Became God, there is no interaction with scholars in the field on this. Ehrman doesn’t cite any scholars specializing in Jewish burial practices at the time. Neither does Atkinson. I will not play that game.

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

“When every argument has been considered and weighed, the only conclusion acceptable to the historian must be that the opinions of the orthodox, the liberal sympathizer and the critical agnostic alike—and even perhaps of the disciples themselves—are simply interpretations of the one disconcerting fact: namely that the women who set out to pay their last respects to Jesus found to their consternation, not a body, but an empty tomb.”
-Geza Vermes Jesus the Jew 41

There is also the idea that Arimathea means best disciple town. The Greek word for disciple is mathetes, but that is as far as this idea goes. The idea has never really caught on with Greek scholars and Atkinson gives no sources for this claim.

In conclusion, I remain unconvinced by Atkinson.

Next time, we shall return to Sophie who continues her testimony.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Plunge: Atheist Universe Part 8

Did Schweitzer deny that Jesus existed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is going to be a sidebar. Throughout the book, Mills has snippets from other people throughout history making brief statements in favor of his atheism/skepticism. This is a common one from Albert Schweitzer that many people misuse.

“There is nothing more
negative than the result
of the critical study of the
life of Jesus. The Jesus
of Nazareth who came
forward publicly as the
Messiah, who preached the
Kingdom of God, who
founded the Kingdom of
Heaven upon earth, and
died to give his work its
final consecration, never
had any existence.” —ALBERT SCHWEITZER
(1875-1965), French physician,
philosopher and humanitarian,
in The Quest of the
Historical Jesus

Mills, David. Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (p. 143). Ulysses Press. Kindle Edition.

As it turns out though, this is what he says:

THOSE WHO ARE FOND OF TALKING ABOUT NEGATIVE THEOLOGY CAN FIND their account here. There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus (p. 259). Kindle Edition.

The problem is if anyone ever bothers to read the book, they will find Schweitzer is not saying Jesus never existed. He is saying that a Jesus like this is a Jesus of imagination as the historical Jesus was not like this at all. Schweitzer will often speak of the historical Jesus as opposed to Jesus as seen by many of his time.

What we can learn from this overall is that Mills, like too many atheists, has just taken a snippet of something, presumed it means what he thinks it means, and ran with it. He did not bother to go and check and see what Schweitzer said in the text. There are too many Christians that simply believe everything that is told to them as long as it agrees with them. There are conservatives who do this in politics. There are leftists who do this in politics.

Also, atheists are quite prone to do this as well. This is not something that is a problem of any one belief system. This is a human problem. Hence, I encourage you to question what disagrees with you definitely, but also question what does agree with you. Try to verify everything that you can. If you are unsure, it is acceptable I think to go on Facebook and share it with the disclaimer that you have not verified it and if anyone knows more, please let you know. In this case, you are not sharing it as a fact, but as a quesiton.

If you will search this blog you will find many posts where I have taken down false claims made against people that I disagree with such as here and here and here. Truth should matter to all of us. We should not only care that our views are presented right, but we should make sure our opponents are treated right as well and not misrepresented. To take down a false view is to take down a straw man.

Mills is someone who does not do research at all. He is someone who balks at “creationists” who don’t understand science commenting on it, but he comments on numerous things he doesn’t understand. If it is his area that he cares about, it is wrong, but if it is areas he thinks are nonsense, it is okay.

Don’t be like Mills. Be a thinking person.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

Book Plunge: Atheist Universe Part 2

Did Jesus exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book sells itself as a thinking person’s response. Right now, I’m wondering when the thinking person is going to start responding. Mills’s book is full of cliches and straw men that should be seen as an embarrassment to the atheist community.

So let’s get back into it and brace ourselves for what’s coming.

So how about the simple question of if Jesus even existed:

Probably not. If He did actually live, then He was almost certainly illiterate, since He left no writings of his own—at least none that we know about. At the time that He supposedly lived, however, most people were illiterate, so I don’t mean to be critical of Him on this point. I too would have been illiterate. But it is curious to ponder an illiterate God.

Mills, David. Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (p. 35). Ulysses Press. Kindle Edition.

If the answer to if he was illiterate is “Most people were” then you might as well say everyone was illiterate. Was Socrates illiterate? He didn’t write anything, but most people were so he probably was. Was Seneca illiterate? Well, we have some writings of him, but most people were illiterate so he probably was and these were by someone else. Why not?

Fortunately, for once, the interviewer had a pushback that was decent. What about secular references to Jesus?

And as per usual, Mills gave a reply that shows his ignorance on the topic.

You’re correct that there are secular historical references to Jesus. For example, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Seutonius, Pliny, and Justin Martyr all make reference to “Christ” or “Jesus Christ” in their historical accounts. But there is one monumental flaw in this argument: Not one of these secular writers was born until decades after Jesus’ alleged crucifixion. Thus, none of these writers could possibly provide firsthand knowledge of anything having to do with the life of Jesus. Their historical references to Jesus do provide evidence that the Christ legend was extant during the period in which they wrote. But that’s about it. Moreover, many of these secular sources who allude, decades afterward, to the life of Jesus also detail the lives and folklore of numerous other “miracle workers” completely apart from Jesus. Tales of mystical hocus-pocus were widespread in the ancient world and were incorporated into the holy books of many different religions. Such credulity naturally provided fertile ground for the acceptance and growth of Christianity as well.

Mills, David. Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (pp. 35-36). Ulysses Press. Kindle Edition.

Don’t tell Mills that the overwhelming majority in the ancient world if not everything was written “decades after” the events took place. The majority of biographies of great people could even be written well over a century after they lived and are still considered valid. As for miracle-workers, Mills doesn’t give us any names. Note that many such miracle-workers would have been looked at with disdain by the elites of the time. Naturally, this leads to the idea of ancient people were stupid.

Reading Mills’s book, it looks like more modern people actually are.

The interviewer asks about contemporary references.

There is not a single reference to a “Jesus” or to “Jesus Christ” written by any secular source who lived during the years in which Christ supposedly walked the earth. To me, this fact is very revealing, since these years represent one of the most thoroughly documented periods of antiquity. Wouldn’t Jesus’ miracles have drawn the attention of hundreds of contemporary writers and record-keepers? Why is there no mention at all of Jesus’ existence? Why is there no historical record of Herod’s alleged Slaughter of the Innocents [plagiarized directly from Exodus] or of Matthew’s assertion that, following Jesus’ death, living corpses from nearby cemeteries were strolling the streets of Jerusalem? Were these “facts” too humdrum to be noted by historians of the day? To summarize my position on the “historical” Jesus, I once wrote a poem:

Today some say that Jesus died,

And still remains quite dead.

But these who speak have surely lied.

The real truth is, instead, T

hat Jesus Christ, Whose blood was spilled,

Is no corpse, I insist!

For how could someone have been killed,

Who never did exist?

Mills, David. Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (pp. 36-37). Ulysses Press. Kindle Edition.

Somehow, I doubt there will soon be poetry seminars for Mills’s work.

As I have said in an earlier post, contrary to Mills’s thinking, Jesus was not worth talking about in His time. Mills says this is the most documented time, but gives no basis for that. I’m not saying he’s wrong, but he gives me no reason to think he’s right. The slaughter of the innocents would likely kill a dozen infants at most, hardly the most telling instance of Herod’s life. As for the rising of the saints, even if taken literally, it would likely be dismissed by anyone who wasn’t there.

At this point, even the interviewer doesn’t think he’s being fair and asks about someone like George Washington’s existence. Hardly a good parallel. Washington lived in a time where literacy was far more common and writing was less expensive. Better parallels could be people like Hannibal or Queen Boudica. Mills is right to point out the far better resources we have for Washington, but then he also says Washington has no miracles to his name. Naturally, this comes out. Dismiss all ancient claims of miracles and then say miracles have never happened. Really easy to do.

The interviewer then asks who moved the stone from Jesus’s tomb, which seems to me like a profoundly ignorant question to ask if the person you are talking to says He never even existed, to which Mills lists all the events he doesn’t believe in involving Jesus. Not really much new to cover.

And with that, we will be done as the historical Jesus is not the theme from now on, and we are still just in the first chapter.

I would like to say the worst is behind us, but with atheist books, you never know.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

 

 

 

Can Jesus Be Non-Miraculous?

Is it really possible to remove the miraculous element from Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jesus is the figure that stands out in all of history. It’s really hard at times to find someone who has a bad word to say about Jesus, even from a non-Christian persepctive. Such does exist, but even a negative word is still there in an abundance of praises for his teachings and character.

However, is there any reason these should stand out? Jesus was a great moral teacher. As Lewis said, we have had enough of those. We didn’t listen to them. Why listen to Jesus? Our world right now shows us that we are not.

New Testament scholars often seek to go through the New Testament and separate the fact from the fiction. What is true about Jesus in this? Can we move past all this miraculous stuff such as the miracles that He did and the idea that He was God or some divine being of some kind? Surely that stuff got added on later.

The moment you say this, you have to ask why it was added on. First off, why was He crucified? I find many a New Testament scholar who presents a case for how Jesus lived gives me no reason to think He would ever be crucified. Their Jesus is more akin to a Mr. Rogers figure. Adolf Harnack used to say Jesus was teaching about ideas like the brotherhood of all men. Okay. Why would this Jesus be a threat to anyone? Not only is He not a threat, He’s not someone you would give the worst death sentence of all to.

The disciples were convinced He rose from the dead? Why? Even assuming He had risen from the dead, is there any reason for them to say “Jesus rose from the dead! He is the Son of God, Messiah, and God Himself!?” No one ever thought that before in Judaism about anyone they thought came back from the dead. Even if the Jews were convinced Moses came back from the dead, would they say such a thing about him?

There is a simple explanation for why they believed such things. Jesus said and indicated such about Himself. Of course, this is the claim the liberal New Testament scholar does not want to admit at all. It wouldn’t be rational to think something like that after all!

So the attempt is made to remove those miraculous elements again and yet even still, Jesus is hard to escape. Jesus makes grandiose claims about Himself. In the Q document, which has never been found and is purely hypothetical, you can still see Jesus speaking about the house built on the rock. Where does this put His view of Himself? “If you hear my words and obey them, you are a wise man.” Nothing about God in there. The very Sermon on the Mount is filled with this high view. Jesus speaks of what we call the Old Testament quoting it and then saying “But I say to you.” These are the Ten Commandments sometimes, the ones written by the finger of God, and Jesus is attempting by His own authority to speak even stronger than they are? Who does He think He is?

Despite this, we look at these claims that Jesus makes about Himself and say “Isn’t He the picture of humility?” If what He says about Himself is true, then He can be, but if it isn’t, Jesus is certainly suffering from delusions of grandeur. Jesus is the greatest narcissist who ever lived in that case. There is a real condition known as Jerusalem Syndrome where someone goes to Israel and becomes convinced they’re the Messiah. We know immediately such people are insane to that extent at least. Do we think that about Jesus? There are many ideas of who the historical Jesus was. I have not seen a New Testament scholar arguing for “Insane lunatic.”

Not only this, but we have the ethical teachings of Jesus and these are not the teachings of someone who is insane. Most everything about Jesus shows a well-balanced individual. At the same time, this individual never asks for help, never apologizes, never admits a wrong, etc. Some of you may recognize shades of Tom Gilson’s Too Good To Be False in here, which is influential, but I’m also talking about the miracle aspect as well. I definitely urge you to read that book on the character of Jesus.

Assuming this figure is somehow made up as the mythicists would like us to think, who did this making up? This puts us in an even more difficult position in many ways. People who foisted a lie on the world also gave an immensely brilliant ethical system if not the greatest one of all?

Some could say it’s not that hard to create a Jesus, such as Lewis’s Aslan as an example, but the difference is Lewis had a model to work with. That is the Jesus who is already in the New Testament. Anyone who did this originally did not have such a model. Whoever could create this figure would be someone practically worthy of worship himself or themselves.

Notice in all of this, I have not once argued that the text we have is perfectly reliable or accurate. I have no need to. I am asking even to go with the data that will be granted by skeptical scholars. If we take all of this still, can we present a coherent picture of Jesus? Can we explain His teaching, His crucifixion, what claims did He make about Himself, and why the belief He rose again?

I seriously urge skeptics of Christianity to try to do so.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Jesus and the Centurion

How did Jesus treat the centurion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had said I would do some talking on Jesus and the crowds. I wish to now speak a little bit more on the story of Jesus and the centurion in Matthew. To begin with, we need to try to see this from the perspective of a Jewish person living in Israel.

This centurion is said to be a good man as he paid for a synagogue for the people, but even today, in a similar situation we would be suspicious. “Of course that politician paid to get a new hospital put up! Look at how much press coverage he gets over it!” This centurion could have very well been noble in what he did, but some people will look with suspicion. Some won’t, but some will.

What was inescapable however was that this centurion is a reminder that the Israelites don’t own their own land. Who provided the synagogue? An outsider. What outsider? One that represents the ruling power in the world that hopefully, the Messiah will deliver us from.

Even if this guy has done a lot of good, Israel would by and large prefer to not have him around. They would prefer to have the land to themselves. They were still waiting on the deliverance of God.

So now here comes Jesus and how many could already be wondering if this guy is the Messiah? If so, well surely He’s going to deal with this centurion. He’s going to tell him he’s an intruder and needs to get off the land. Those who think in such a way will be highly disappointed.

This centurion has a simple request. He wants one servant healed. When he asks, he tells Jesus that Jesus doesn’t even have to enter his house. This centurion, a man or honor and prestige in Rome, is not worthy to have Jesus in his house. All Jesus has to do is say the word. The centurion illustrates this by explaining how he says a word to a servant and they do it.

This centurion is understanding that as he has authority over the realm of his servants, Jesus has authority over the realm of at least sickness. Who knows for sure how far this goes? Keep in mind this is a pagan gentile giving this statement. (He could have been a God-fearer, but we have no explicit data showing otherwise. Either way, he would have been seen as outside of the covenant.)

After the healing, Jesus turns to the crowd of people and what does He do? The exact opposite of I’m sure of what many people were expecting. He tells them He hasn’t seen a faith like this in all of Israel. Sorry guys, but this gentile here has you beat!

Not only this, but he pulls this over to the next world. He says that many will come from all over the world to join the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but many of the Jews themselves in Israel will be cast out and not entering. If you are a Jew in the audience sick of Rome and wanted to see Jesus lay down the law on these guys, you got the exact opposite of what you wanted.

This is not a good day for you.

Something we can think about here is that Jesus did not say something to please the crowd. If anything, He said something extremely offensive to the crowd. Jesus in all His talks never apologizes. He never takes back anything that He says. He says it and it’s out there and that’s it. If you don’t like it, He’s not responsible for your feelings.

I am not saying we need to be needlessly offensive, but if Jesus was not afraid of offending His audience with the truth, why should we? A huge problem in our Western society today is that offensive statements are deemed unallowable because someone’s feelings could be hurt. Everyone’s feelings will get hurt sometime and the more we coddle this, the more we make it that we can’t handle anything. As a pastor I was talking to yesterday said, “The early church was willing to face death for Jesus Christ and we breakdown if our air conditioning goes out.”

Not only this, but Jesus is considered one of the greatest personalities and speakers of all time as well as one of the holiest and best men who ever lived. Now as a Christian, I think he’s the best of all time period, but even non-Christians can praise the life of Jesus in these areas and often do. Aside from the crazy position of mythicism, most everyone would tend to agree that Jesus is a figure that is admirable in many ways.

Jesus did not sway to popular opinion.

Perhaps we should be the same way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Jesus and the Crowds

How did Jesus respond to the people? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m considering doing some research on the question of Jesus and the crowds. I started thinking about this because I was thinking more about the question of who Jesus is and not just the theological answer, but the more personal answer. What was Jesus like in His behavior? What is His personality like?

I have been going through the Sermon on the Mount in my nightly reading. I go through slowly, reading one verse every night and just thinking about it, so I decided to go right after that account to see how Jesus treated a leper. There’s something that’s easy to overlook.

Matthew 8:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Did you notice it?

Great crowds follow Jesus, but when the leper comes forward, the crowds are nowhere to be seen. Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge them. All He cares about is the leper. The crowds could likely have been aghast that a leper would even approach Jesus. One can hardly imagine what they think when Jesus actually touches him.

Yet when do we see this crowd again? Immediately after this, we get the healing of the centurion’s servant. Here a Gentile comes forward wanting a servant to be healed and gives a great statement in the authority of Jesus. Jesus turns to the crowd, which consists not mostly if not entirely of Jews, and tells them that he has not seen such great faith in all of Israel.

Jesus doesn’t seem to care about winning over the crowds or what they think of Him.

I was intrigued and went back further. This crowd, or rather these crowds, start to follow Jesus in Matthew 4 after He does multiple healings. Then He climbs up on a mountain and gives a sermon that is one of the greatest messages of ethics the world has ever heard and yet one of the most difficult ones for anyone to follow. Jesus is not making it easy on the audience.

Naturally, I wanted to see if anyone had done anything on this that I could see. I went to Amazon and put in Jesus and crowds. Nothing. Now this doesn’t mean no one has written anything, but it means I couldn’t find anything specific. Perhaps if I look at this, it will be some of the first research done on this topic.

I still also do not want to lose sight of Jesus and divorce. Yes. That question still affects me every single day and every single day has a degree of pain to it because of that event. I was talking to my therapist about it today even and talking about some problems I have had lately and I have thought it could be boredom, but he said that could also be stemming from depression. I am sure some of that is still there.

I do find this question interesting. Jesus doesn’t seem to be a crowd-pleaser and He seems to care more about the individual in these matters instead of the people at a large who He doesn’t think are truly committed to the cause. There are sociological implications to this, but also as a Christian in daily living, gives me some thoughts on how Jesus sees us on an individual level.

Stay tuned. We’ll see what happens.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Sharing My Debate

Where can you find a debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just wanting to quickly plug this debate I did for today’s blog. You can watch it here. Please leave a comment on the video as well and I appreciate any feedback.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Why Are They Not Fasting?

Should the disciples stay in joy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

After the events described in Matthew 9 concerning the calling of Matthew, Jesus is asked why He and His disciples don’t fast. This is not really a hostile question seeing as it comes from the disciples of John the Baptist. It’s a valid question to ask. Shouldn’t good Jewish boys be observing the fast?

Jesus’s answer is highly eschatological. How is it that His disciples can enter a time of fasting normally attributed to mourning and sorrow when the bridegroom is there with them? Wedding language is normally used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship of God and His people and the same happens in the New to describe Jesus and the church.

When the wedding is going on, there is to be joy and celebration. You don’t fast, but instead you feast. Jesus is saying that with His coming, the time of the marriage is at hand. The people are all there to celebrate.

This was typical for weddings in the time of Jesus. They would normally last a long time in the sense of the celebrations. The people gathered would celebrate the marrying of the couple and then the consummation of their marriage. To get an idea of that, just imagine spending your honeymoon with all your family right there and knowing what happened on the wedding night and celebrating that openly.

But Jesus does say there will be a time of mourning later. Here, He hints that His visit is just that, a visit, and He will not be there forever. We have no indication in the text that His disciples asked Him about this. We know a number of times they wondered about what He said without asking Him.

For now though, the celebration was on. Jesus was with His people, and not just His disciples but Israel. What is the good news about Jesus’s coming? That will be discussed more in the life of Christ as we continue later on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The Calling of Matthew

Why does Jesus hang out with tax collectors? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a gameshow junkie. I sadly think gameshows are going to pass away with the advent of streaming, but I can still talk on and on about mainly older gameshows. As a teenager, I got a wish to come true when Gameshow Network went on the air. I was curious when I started seeing older ones from the 50’s and 60’s like What’s My Line?

In this game, a panel got to ask a contestant yes or no questions. Every no gave the contestant $5 for a maximum of $50 if he stumped the panel and they were told no ten times. The question every time was to guess what the person’s job was.

Normally, this would be met with applause, but I remember one time specifically where the applause had some boos thrown in. The panel noticed it too which led to the conclusion this must not be a well-liked job. What was it? IRS tax agent.

No one likes taxes. They and death are the two great inevitables in the world. If you rank right up there with death, you have to be pretty unpopular. Jews are no exception to this and the past is no exception. Jews of the past particularly hated tax collectors. They not only took the money, but they were seen as betraying their people by aligning with Rome and normally, they would also line their pockets with a little bit extra.

So when Jesus calls Matthew, it’s a shock to everyone, and no doubt Matthew as well. Keep in mind also that Jesus’s entourage also included at least one zealot so that must have been fun to have someone who was extremely pro-Israel and anti-Rome and someone seen as a collaborator in the same group.

Jesus is asked about this, and understandably so, though prostitutes are also included the mix. Jesus points out that it is the sick who need to see a doctor. He has come to call the sinners and not the righteous. Let’s look at that point of Jesus saying “I have come.”

First, there are shades of pre-existence here. It’s not a slam dunk by any means, but there is evidence of it here. If that is what is going on, this certainly is a high Christology going on and coming from the lips of Jesus Himself.

However, Jesus certainly has a view of Himself as a man on a mission. He is here for a specific reason. He has come to call the sinners. He also doesn’t speak of fellow sinners. He never indicates any need on His part. It is also as if He can provide righteousness.

With anyone else also, we would get concerned. Imagine if you heard your pastor had had a meal with several prostitutes, and this not even at a restaurant but at someone’s house. “Sure pastor. I’m sure that’s all you had. Say. What was served for dessert?”

Similar could have been said of Jesus. This was the scandal that the man Jesus was and still is. Yet we look at Jesus as not only hanging out with prostitutes, but leading a celibate lifestyle. It’s worth pointing out that when Jesus walked this Earth, he freely forsook one of the greatest joys He had created.

We’re not wrong in being suspicious of a pastor doing this necessarily. I know there are some guys who can actually do ministry in places like strip clubs. More power to them. I don’t want to risk it. However, even as I say that, some of you might be thinking that you’re sure they’re doing “ministry.”

Yet when God comes before us, who does He go to? Not the best of the best, but the lowest of the low. He goes to the ones who are cast out and the ones who see themselves as hopeless. We are told elsewhere that prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom due to repentance. Prostitutes certainly don’t stay prostitutes, but Jesus has a heart for these women who are trapped in the sexual trade either willingly or unwillingly.

Jesus was a scandal then.

He still is today.

And we’re meant to show His love today, even to those tax collectors and prostitutes.

Maybe it would be better to pray for that What’s My Line contestant instead of booing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)