Loading

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Response to David Bentley Hart, author of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Yale University Press, 2009


Mr David Bentley Hart is listed online as an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator. Besides his book deriding "atheist delusions," he writes articles for the Christian publication, First Things. In one he summed up his defense of Christianity and disdain for non-theism, titled, "Believe It Or Not."

I would like Mr. Hart to be more specific concerning the nature of the "social catastrophe" that he claims is occurring due to changing patterns in belief (or lack thereof), and exactly why the thought of such a "social catastrophe" makes him so much more wordy and volatile than the thought of other catastrophes humanity faces as a whole (or will probably continue to face in the future), like population growth outpacing economic growth in many places, or pollution continuing to build up in the environment, or economic inequality continuing to rise, or educational inequality and the need for everyone on earth to receive a good general education (a religious education alone is not going to help prevent politicians and others from making poor choices concerning humnaity's future), not to mention other catastrophes like water shortages, natural disasters, etc.

Mr. Hart focuses at the end of his review on the thought of a broken human figure being connected with God, but he does not ask why humans weep at the sight of a broken human figure at all, or at a hurt animal. I suspect there is something more basic than "religion" going on, something more universal than "Christianity."

Why does Hart not also mention that humans have a wealth of sayings on practical moral wisdom that can and have inspired other humans for thousands of years, including lines from great novelists and historians. Why not seek the best in every book and every person? In other words, does "Jesus" have to get "all the glory?" I also suspect that public schools in U.S. could teach classes in ethics, featuring all of the world's greatest practical moral wisdom, and our children might be better off, but that there are so many people who believe that "Jesus must be treated as more than just a great moral teacher" who would cavil at the thought of having their children taught "heathen ethics" in school. So it appears to be the religious element that has left the public school system in the U.S. bereft of ethical teaching. At least that's my current hypothesis. That, and the fact that so many people are barbaric in the sense of not even knowing much about the world's practical moral wisdom from all the world's sacred writings and philosophical writings and novelists, etc., and such people do not have much room in their minds to appreciate anything except "the words of God" in the only "holy book" they were taught to revere.

Secondly, does Mr. Hart assume there is only a single "Jesus" and a single "Christianity?" They are legion, and historians continue to debate a variety of views concerning the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. While "Christi-anities" continue to split off from one another like branches of an evolutionary tree, as do Muslim-anities, Hindu-anities, Buddhist-anities, etc.

Mr. Hart in his review sounds a bit like Kenneth Scott Latourette who extolled "Jesus' wide and profound effect upon humanity, especially "in the past three or four generations... Through him millions of individuals have been transformed and have begun to live the kind of life which He exemplified... Through Him movements have been set in motion... Measured by His influence, Jesus is central in the human story."

But exactly how many of society's "influences" can be traced back to "Jesus?" Jesus didn't seem especially fond of earthly families when compared with the necessity of joining his particular "in group" of believers.

And how much do we owe to ancient Near Eastern culture? The Sumerians/Babylonians, who lived long before Jesus, taught in their Councils of Wisdom, "Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy." In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. More recently, see David P. Wright's, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (London: Oxford University Press, 2009). There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And, a three volume series, The Context of Scripture. Not to mention the book, Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions by William W. Hallo who lists the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more.

Keeping such information in mind, Latourette can not reasonably assert that "Measured by his influence, Jesus is central in the human story." The "human story" encompasses every civilization on earth over a very long period of time. "Jesus" was not "born" into the "human story" until a mere two thousand years ago. And after his birth it took ten to fifteen hundred years before the first Christian missionaries reached China and the Americas. (During that same period, Islam challenged Christianity and "won" the Eastern Half of the Christian Roman Empire, Christian North Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Russia, parts of India, and parts of Indonesia, to become the most widespread non-Christian religion on earth. Also, Communism's expansion was more explosive than either Christianity's or Islam's, and even after the decline of communist influence, it has left behind billions of "practical atheists" when it comes to religion. And Europe, once the home and center of Christian civilization, the continent that evangelized the world, was blessed with the plague and ceaseless wars between Christian rules and between Christian peoples, including as of last century, two World Wars (I guess Europe didn't have enough churches or Christian influence for enough centuries to prevent those from occurring), and Europe has enjoyed it's most prolonged period of great relative peace only during these past 70 years since the end of the second World War, in fact that's more peace than Europe has EVER seen before when it was so enthusiastically "Christian.")

I would agree with Hart and with Latourette if they had merely claimed that "Jesus" was known at least by name by billions. (But of those billions, how many different interpretations of "Jesus" exist?) I would also agree if he had merely claimed that the human story had been influenced to varying degrees by different interpretations of "Jesus." But to brashly claim that "Measured by his influence, Jesus is central to the human story" demonstrates a lack of commitment to historical truth and accuracy. The "human story" is old and brimming over with "influences" stretching back to ancient civilizations both East and West. In Western civilization alone there were ancient Near Eastern influences as mentioned above, as well as Greek/Roman politics, art, architecture, law, science and philosophy; Islamic mathematics, astronomy, philosophy. Other major influences include "guns, germs, and steel" (see the book of the same name); the Renaissance; the Enlightenment; modern day socialist, humanist and feminist influences and ideals.

Speaking of the crucial influence that the Enlightenment exerted upon Christianity, theologian Albert Schweitzer pointed out the following:
For centuries Christianity treasured the great commandment of love and mercy as traditional truth without recognizing it as a reason for opposing slavery, witch burning and all the other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity. It was only when Christianity experienced the influence of the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment that it was stirred into entering the struggle for humanity. The remembrance of this ought to preserve it forever from assuming any air of superiority in comparison with thought.
Pulitzer prize-winning political scientist, Francis Fukuyama put it this way:
There was a time when religion played an all-powerful role in European politics with Protestants and Catholics organizing themselves into political factions and squandering the wealth of Europe on sectarian wars. [Like the "Thirty Year's War" that began in 1618 when Protestant leaders threw two Catholic emissaries out of a Prague window, and which turned central Europe into a wasteland of misery, leading to the deaths of more than a quarter of Europe's population. - ED.] English liberalism emerged in direct reaction to the religious fanaticism of the English Civil War. Contrary to those who at the time believed that religion was a necessary and permanent feature of the political landscape, liberalism vanquished religion in Europe. After a centuries-long confrontation with liberalism, religion was taught to be tolerant. In the sixteenth century, it would have seemed strange to most Europeans not to use political power to enforce belief in their particular sectarian faith. Today, the idea that the practice of religion other than one's own should injure one's own faith seems bizarre, even to the most pious churchmen. Religion has been relegated to the sphere of private life - exiled, it would seem, more or less permanently from European political life except on certain narrow issues like abortion... Religion per se did not create free societies; Christianity in a certain sense had to abolish itself through a secularization of its goals before liberalism could emerge...Political liberalism in England ended the religious wars between Protestant and Catholic that had nearly destroyed that country during the seventeenth century: with its advent, religion was defanged by being made tolerant.
Even Robert Wuthnow, an evangelical Christian writer, admitted in Books & Culture (a newsletter produced by the editors of Christianity Today):
Framers of modern democratic theory in eighteenth century Europe [and colonial America - ED.] were profoundly influenced by the religious wars that had dominated the previous century and a half. Locke's emphasis on tolerance and Rousseau's idea of a social contract were efforts to find unifying agreements that would discourage religious groups from appealing absolutely to a higher source of authority. The idea of civil society emerged as a way of saying that people who disagree with each other about such vital matters as religion could nevertheless live together in harmony.
But let us return to Hart's and Latourette's praise of individuals in the "past three or four generations" whose lives "have been transformed and have begun to live the kind of life which He [Jesus] exemplified." A few that stand out in my mind are Mohandas K. Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer, though Gandhi believed in focusing on whatever was best in each religion rather than trying to convert people from one religion to another. And Schweitzer was a noted theologian who rejected "the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics." He later became a medical "missionary" in Africa because he held a liberal Christian philosophy based on a "reverence for life."

And what about Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross? Or Florence Nightingale, the woman who made nursing a legitimate profession for women and revolutionized hospital care (even encouraging hospitals to no longer be purely sectarian, but to allow ill people whichever clergy they preferred)? Or Jane Addams who launched the American settlement-house movement and modern utilitarian and pragmatic ideas of social welfare with the establishment of Hull-House, a place where residents of the surrounding slums could learn English, find affordable childcare, and receive social services; eventually Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in social justice. Nightingale, Dunant, and Addams, all helped revolutionize charity, and all three were into social service, and universalistic views of religion, lying far from the exclusivist views held by many in their day. Furthermore, Dunant was gay and after he died his family burned his love letters written to another man. Addams lived with a woman whom she told "I am yours 'til death." They viewed each other as a married couple. And Nightingale also mentioned her burning love of another woman in some strongly worded prose. Today people of all religions or none work in hospitals, and work for the betterment of mankind via agricultural science and medical science.

There are innumerable charitable organizations today; from international peace-seeking (and hunger-fighting) organizations to a multitude of national and local charities. In the U.S. such charities as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association are supported by donations to The United Way, which helps raise contributions for thousands of other national and local charitable organizations few of which are connected with religion or a particular religious denomination. And there are plenty of other charities seeking to help others like the Will Rogers Institute and Comic Relief. More food is given away each year by secular organizations and governments than by "Christians." Such work has more to do with a simple wish to help others than with "Jesus" per se.

Speaking of "Jesus' influence" on nations today, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and most other nations of northern Europe contain relatively low percentages of "Christians," yet their human rights records, their generosity, their average education levels, their quality of life, lengthy life spans, low crime rates, and low poverty rates, put the rest of the world to shame, including the far more "Christian" United States. Scandinavians also have the lowest rates of unplanned pregnancies in the world. They instituted comprehensive teaching in birth control in their schools, and it worked. The leaders of Scandinavia have a long record of working for world peace. Swedes have been in Bosnia far longer than Americans removing land mines. The leaders of Norway initiated the peace talks between the PLO and Israel.

Japan is another industrialized nation whose people have longer average life spans, higher average education levels, less poverty, lower crime rates, a lower percentage of their population in prison, and lower abortion rates than the United States, and yet 56% of Japanese "do not believe in God or a Universal Spirit or were uncertain." Compare that with the 90% of the U.S. population who "believe in God." (Countries that have as high a percentage of "believers in God" as the U.S. include Northern Ireland and Iran, and the country with the highest percentage of believers in God is Nigeria. Check out how blessed Nigeria is.)

Hart admits of course that many movements and organizations throughout history that have emphasized "Jesus" have also wound up promoting suspicion, fear, divisiveness, inequality, intolerance, bigotry, hatred, subjugation, persecution, slavery, torture, terrorism, and war. And I fully appreciate what Hart wrote in the midst of his review, namely that
"Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties."
Thank you Mr. Hart, and also thank you for sending me that personal email response informing me that you were "not religious." I think your readers ought to know that fact, and you also owe them perhaps a statement concerning what you DO believe and how you came to that belief.

Sincerely, Edward T. Babinski, editor of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (paperback published 2003).

Greg Bahnsen, presuppositional Christian apologist, Reconstructionist, Theonomist, as mentioned in a section of a new book on Christian Reconstruction by Assoc. Prof. of Religion, Michael J. McVicar

Click here to peek inside the book.

Greg Bahnsen

Soon after a young Greg Bahnsen met R. J. Rushdoony at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church gathering Greg decided to become a minister, but not just any minister. Bahnsen became a presuppositionalist Chrisitan apologist like Rushdoony, who urged that there could be no neutrality between the Reformed Christian view and all other views whether they be rival Christian or non-Christian views. He, like R. J. Rushdoony, attempted to defend principles of biblical law that he was certain had been revealed to Moses as the most divinely pleasing laws of all, laws that would also ensure God's blessing for any nation whose rulers enforced them or at least avoid God's curses settling on that nation.

The Institutes of Biblical Law (published 1973) was Rushdoony's three-volume work on how Christians (after they gained leadership roles in government) ought to implement laws including stoning and burning at the stake for adultery, homosexuality, and idolatry, and the legalization of Biblical slavery. To quote Rushdoony, "Since unbelievers are by nature slaves, they could be held as life-long slaves" without piercing the ear to indicate their voluntary servitude (Lev. 25:44-46). This passage in Leviticus says that pagans could be permanent slaves and could be bequeathed to the children of the Hebrews," adding, "The (Biblical) Law here is humane and also unsentimental. It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so. It both requires that they be dealt with in a godly manner and also that the slave recognizes his position and accepts it with grace." Neither is such a view dead today. 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee apparently endorses Christian Reconstructionist ideas, see here.

Bahnsen, like Rushdoony, cited Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Bahsen believed that that statement attested to the "abiding validity of the law [of the Old Testament] in exhausting detail," that Bahsen defended in his mammoth book that appeared in 1977, Theonomy in Christian Ethics.

When his book was published Bahnsen was a junior professor of apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson, Mississippi. One critic of Bahnsen at RTS mentioned that Bahnsen had a tendency to speak "first, third, and last on all issues" in faculty meetings. And some charged that he encouraged his supportive students to attack the positions of other faculty members. When the RTS faculty called on Bahnsen to defend his reading of Matthew 5 as justifying the re-implementation of Mosaic laws and punishments Bahnsen aggressively defended himself and insulted several of the faculty during the impromptu meeting. Afterwards, faculty members hostile to Bahnsen cracked down on his disruptive students. And officials in the wider RTS system delayed implementing curriculum changes that Bahnsen had developed. His job was on the line. In retaliation Bahnsen attempted to combat the faculty by seeking support for his views from faculty members at RTS Atlanta and from leaders and ministers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

During this heated period Rushdoony offered counsel to Bahnsen and his students. He told Bahsen's students that their professor had led them poorly, adding that Bahsen had also encouraged them to act lawlessly. Rushdoony explained that their duty as students was to complete their training, not defend a specific faculty member, and that they should rejoice at the progress reconstructionism was making. In short, work hard, keep your mouths shut, and remain theonomists/reconstructionists without trying to resolve all problems within the church overnight. "Greg," Rushdoony wrote, "you must place yourself under authority." In particularly harsh words, Rushdoony called Bahnsen a "big baby, determined to get your own way," adding, "Please stop writing letters [to faculty in other Reformed seminaries and to OTC church-men, asking for them to defend him]. Leave it to the Lord. You have a great future! Don't get in your own way!" [letter from Rushdoony to Bahnsen, 9/20/1978]

Nearly a decade later, James B. Jordan, one of Bahnsen's most supportive and influential students, wrote an open letter to the RTS Jackson faculty in which he apologized for siding with Bahnsen, who he now recognized as being "vocal and belligerent" during the controversy. Jordan insisted that he and other students tried to restrain Bahnsen in his dealings with faculty and students, many of whom Bhansen apparently regularly abused in class. "Had the faculty addressed Bahnsen primarily on the question of his personal deportment," wrote Jordan, "who could have defended him? Unfortunately, the faculty chose to debate the theological question of 'theonomy,' and this put me (and others) in the position of standing with Bahnsen in that respect. As the debate heated up, I confess that I wound up involved in the theological debate."

The end result was that the seminary refused to renew Bahnsen's contract in 1978. And he wound up with a job as a church pastor and a high school teacher at a private Christian academy, though he gained some notoriety for his public debates with Catholics, with rival Protestants who rejected his Reconstructionist point of view, and with atheists. Throughout the 1970s and 80s many theses and dissertations were composed by Christians students from Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and dozens of other Christian institutions who were critical of Bahnsen's presuppositional apologetic approach, theonomic interpretation of Old Testament laws, or his postmillennial view of the millennium. Christianity Today even published on Feb. 20, 1987, an expose of Christian Reconstruction that featured caricatures of Rushdoony, Gary North and Greg Bahnsen.

During the short time Bahnsen was a junior professor at the aforementioned Reformed seminary he influenced a few students who would later become major activists, speakers and writers in the Reconstructionist movement, such as Kenneth Gentry, James B. Jordan, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, and even, Paul Jennings Hill (who shot the pro-abortion surgeon Dr. John Britton in the head with a shotgun, also killing Britton's escort and wounding Britton's wife). During the 1980s Hill had become active in the anti-abortion movement. Bahnsen's theonomic perspective convinced Hill that murdering abortionists was a revolutionary act justified under biblical law. In 2003 the Washington Post reported that Hill exclaimed, “I expect to get a great reward in heaven. I am looking forward to glory.”

Bahnsen was a postmillennialist. Christians remain at odds over their interpretations of the "millennium" in the Bible as demonstrated in, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Zondervan's Counterpoint series) which features a debate between postmillennialist Kenneth Gundry, Jr. (Bahnsen Theological Seminary, Placentia, Calif.), amillennialist Robert Strimple (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia), and premillennialist Craig Blaising (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.).

Greg Bahnsen, one of the leaders of the Christian Reconstruction school of thought, died tragically December 11, 1996, at the relatively young age of 47 after complications resulting from an artificial heart valve implant. One of his students who became a well known Reconstructionist under his tutelage also died young, David Chilton, of a heart attack at 46.
_____________________

Bahsen began his debate with atheist Gordon Stein with the rhetorical flourish, "Just look at the stars and the over 500 witnesses to Jesus' resurrection!" How can one not believe in the Christian God?

Stein in response ought to have noted that the witnesses were all listed as "brethren" to begin with. Apparently Jesus was shy when it came to appearing to anyone except those who had already been following him. And Jesus is even shyer when it comes to appearing to people these past 2000 years. Judging by Catholic figures Mary has made more appearances to more people than Jesus during the past 2000 years, though that apparently would not be enough to convince Bahnsen to convert to Catholicism. As for Bahnsen's argument that nothing makes any sense without God, the Christian God to be exact, even the conservative Reformed Christian God, I would disagree. I have read the Bible. Anyone who claims it makes perfect sense can't deny all the questions it provokes, even in believers who have to chalk up such plain questions to "apparent" discrepancies or "apparent" contradictions, i.e., of one part of the Bible with another, or of the Bible with science, or of certain bloody parts of the Bible with more broadly recognized moral intuitions, etc. So when it is convenient, when the inspiration or inerrancy of the Bible is at stake, believers go all out to argue that "appearances" can also be deceiving.

Also see my piece on Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason as well as Complexity is how the Cosmos flows. Mathematical Models of Reality and the Fine-Tuning Argument do not constitute proof of the kind that Intelligent Design advocates insist they do.
_____________________

VIDEO, The True Origins of Presuppositional Apologetics
_____________________

Some Christians try to accept the presuppositionalist apologetic stance of a Cornelius Van Til, a Rushdoony or a Bahnsen while not accepting their interpretations of the Bible which led those same men to proclaim the necessity for Christians to return to Mosaic laws and punishments, including their idiosynractic views concerning economics, and their literal interpretations of the first eleven chapters of Genesis (the stories about creation, fall, flood, tower of Babel--stories that many Evangelicals are more hesitant today to declare to be authentic history).

But Christians who just wish to accept the presuppositionalists' claim to the "foundation of all knowledge," then must grant that such a claim seems to have granted the founders of presuppositionalism no perceptible advantage when it came to actually GAINING KNOWLEDGE--their apologetic approach does not appear to have granted them superior powers of interpretations of God's revelation, not in terms of law, economics, biology or even ancient Near Eastern studies.
_____________________


Complexity is how the Cosmos flows. Mathematical Models of Reality and the Fine-Tuning Argument do not constitute proof of the kind that Intelligent Design advocates insist they do. (ADDED BONUS: "The Dexter of Parasites")

Look at the way a river becomes thousands of separate tributaries as it nears the sea, a neat visual analogy for complexity--a single river that breaks off into multiple branches without direct application of intelligence being involved because that's what water and land do together. That is an increase in complexity that illustrates how basic and inherent in nature complexity is.
Lena River Delta, Russia

The island complex at the north end of Spring Lake, Pool 2, in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area shows a variety of floodplain forests, wetlands, and aquatic vegetation

The Yukon River Delta, Alaska

Changes in the connectivity of the channel network structure on the Wax Lake Delta reflect its growth. The Wax Lake Delta is the only portion of the greater Mississippi River Delta complex that is growing over time.

Mathematical models have been produced to help explain the formation of such complex intricate formations on earth. There are models based on detailed computational fluid dynamics as well as competing models such as rule-based cellular morphodynamic models. As we will see, the formation of such complex intricate non-living formations does not lend distinction to the ideas of Intelligent Design advocates at the Discovery Institute.

To understand how complexity arises from relative simplicity, let's start at the beginning...

Our cosmos had to cool down for the first sub-atomic particles to congeal out of the unbelievably high energies and temperatures at our cosmos's birth. As it began to cool the first subatomic particles congealed into atoms, and then due to the force of gravity (the basic attraction of masses to other masses) those simple atoms congealed into stars. The pressure of gravity pushed those simple atoms together until atoms with more protons and electrons began to arise. Then many stars eventually exploded and heavier even more complex atoms were formed by the force of such explosions including carbon, nitrogen, oxygen up to uranium and beyond. Then as planets and asteroids cooled down, along with the insides of comets, the carbon and other atoms in space began to bond together forming longer chains of atoms.

Simply by virtue of the process of the cosmos COOLING DOWN, and also by virtue of MASSES ATTRACTING OTHER MASSES, complexity arose.

The earliest most violent energies of the cosmos cooled down and congealed into subatomic particles that congealed into simple atoms that were attracted to one another by gravity that formed stars that formed the whole range of more complex atoms that began to congeal into molecules, some of which congealed into longer self replicating molecules.

So the second law of thermodynamics and the attraction of mass to other masses brought forth ever more complexity.

Consider this further analogy, you take a bottle of ink and throw it at a wall. Smash! The ink spreads forth. In the middle, it's dense. But out on the edge, little droplets of ink get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns. In the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. You and I, sitting here in this room, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the little curlicues on the furthest edges of the ink. So we define ourselves as being only that... as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. But billions of years ago is when everything including "you" began. You don't feel that you're still the big bang. But you are... You're not just something that's a result of the big bang. You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are a moving embodiment of a process that has remained in motion since the big bang.

But we've learned to define ourselves as separate from it. Some people even view the intelligibility of the cosmos and humanity's intellect as something separate from the cosmos. But we are the cosmos, embodied, which is why it is perfectly reasonable that it is intelligible to us.

But getting back to the river and all those tributaries that multiply and divide and subdivide in increasing complexity, the river of life appears to function in a similar fashion, and involves genes that get duplicated and mutated, which happens all the time. And whatever proteins these genes code for don't have to be 100 efficient. As more genes get duplicated they get added to ever growing cascades full of similar gene and hence similar protein complexes. Life's Ratchet and similar works listed here, here explain how the development of ever more complex processes proceeds by one process building on another, branches continuing to form, like all those tributaries of the river I mentioned. Each step in gene mutation and new protein formation leads to both new possibilities as well as new restrictions as to where future mutated branches as a whole may lead. This is not a sign of organisms being directed with a vast amount of forethought, but it is evidence that complexity is a natural ratcheting process inherent to the cosmos.

As for what nature and the cosmos is in essence, that remains a mystery about which all one can say is that the cosmos is constantly in motion and the evolution of life goes hand in hand with death and extinction. We live in a cosmos as fine-tuned for rainbows and sunny days as it is for floods, droughts--as fine-tuned for the evolution of replicating life forms as it is for their death and extinction--as fine-tuned for zygotes as it is for tumors--as fine-tuned for predators as it is for prey--and as fine-tuned for parasites as it is for parasites that live on those parasites that live on those parasites that live on those parasites, etc., up to five levels deep according to the latest examples known, right down to strands of genomic material parasitizing other strands of genomic material--see, "The Dexter of Parasites" here.

Speaking of the cosmos as a whole, nobody knows exactly what the cosmos is in essence, nor how it functions on every level. It functions in locally observable instances via feedback of one one part to another--but feedback is inherent in nature, the simplest sort being the mutual attraction of two masses for one another, and later the way whole molecules attracted other molecules, and later, the way some larger molecules attracted smaller molecules and started replicating themselves (as even a single strand of RNA can do in a test tube with raw materials, or as a strand of viral RNA does inside a living cell, or as other strands of parasitical genomic material do inside living cells).

On some level physicists argue that the cosmos as a whole might even function via feedback from all parts to all parts, without centralized sovereignty, like the Internet, which is to say it is not necessary to imagine the cosmos as having to function in the style of a human despot, an American corporation, or Christian theology. It may function via decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback, both local and universal feedback loops. That is also how the brain-mind system appears to function, via a constant feedback process.

How does the human ability to develop and use mathematical equations fit into the picture? Humans are pattern seekers, and when a mathematical equation can be used to model the curve of some observable measurable squiggly line in nature, we take note, just as we take note when a cloud looks like a human face.

As for purely theoretical mathematics, it is a vast enterprise with many different schools, and most of it does not resemble anything in nature, but it follows the axioms of whatever school of mathematics it is related to, and axiomatically speaking 1 = 1, which is no great mystery. Rats, pigeons, raccoons, and chimpanzees--can perform simple mathematical calculations, and human infants also have a rudimentary number sense.

But, do mathematical models equal reality? How can they, when it is plain that no word equals the thing in itself, no map equals the territory in itself, and no model of reality equals reality in itself, not even mathematical models.

Math is a model of reality, not reality itself. Newtonian equations define gravity at one level, via one perspective, but you need different, Einsteinian light-bending equations to model the effects of gravity on vaster levels. As soon as we discover new interactions that bend energies in new directions we need more equations to model those reactions. But reality itself is beyond math.

Some wonder if there is a mathematical basis to the cosmos that is nearer the essence of the cosmos than anything else we see, hear, or feel. But as I said, no word equals the thing in itself, no map equals the territory in itself, and even mathematical models are models of reality, not reality itself in its multi-faceted fullness.

Each field of mathematics is like the game Candyland. You accept certain axioms to begin with. You have a pre-set board and pieces, then you shuffle the cards and deal them out one by one following the directions on each card according to the rules of the game, but the game is determined by the axiomatic rules you agreed to start with, and it unfolds as you play it and move in different directions, whereby you discover your path through Candyland. In similar fashion each field of math unfolds based on the axiomatic rules one starts with, so new "discoveries" in math are not necessarily of things that exist in some Platonic realm of perfect math, nor "in the mind of God the mathematician." Instead, mathematical discoveries unfold as you play each game by the axiomatic rules you agreed to start with in the first place.

Speaking of axioms, how do we know that 1 is not 2, or as in the case of symbolic logic, A is not B? Well, animals, even single-celled animals such as amoeba can tell the differences between things. They can detect and chase prey, they can tell when things are different and when they are similar, and they learn to react according. In similar fashion, mathematicians and poets with far more than just the single-celled capabilities of an amoeba, but instead with 100 billion cells in their brains connected via a trillion electro-chemical synapses, tend to notice far more astutely than your average amoeba when things are different or when they are similar or analogous to one another, such as when clouds look like faces or mathematical equations look like curves measured in nature, hence the faculty of noticing "differences" and "sameness" is rife in nature, and obviously comes in handy whenever equations from different fields of math or physics resemble one another or contain elements that overlap with one another.

So, on the topic of the discoverability of the cosmos, discoverability is inherent in us because we are children of the cosmos. We did not come into this cosmos, we came out of it. As for the essence of what a "cosmos" is, that remains a great question -- we only have limited hypotheses concerning this cosmos's origin, as well as limitations concerning our knowledge of its size since telescopes can only see so far, and if the cosmos expanded faster than the speed-of-light early on then most of it still remains invisible to our telescopes since the light from those most distant parts has not yet even reached our telescopes. Even if our telescopes could see to the end of our cosmos this might not be the only cosmos there could be cosmoses outside our own. This cosmos might also begin anew or sprout other cosmoses. Our knowledge in all such cases consists of multiple possible hypotheses, along with our limited knowledge of the cosmoses smallest and largest dimensions, or even the number of dimensions in our cosmos. What IS a cosmos, what can it or can't it do?

As for the claim that the cosmos is "fine-tuned," one can only ask, "fine-tuned" for what exactly? Fine-tuned such that life and evolution are merely in equilibrium with death and extinction?

We see a cosmos that is fine-tuned merely to the extent that there is

life/death

evolution/extinction

hosts/parasites

predators/prey

calmness/emotional tsunamis

clarity/confusion

happiness/sorrow

pleasure/suffering

beauty/ugliness

And our species' hard won knowledge and wisdom (that took ages to acquire) is merely in equilibrium with ignorance and easily acquired cultural prejudices picked up by each newborn.

Civilization seems to evolve like organisms do, via a lengthy ratchet process, acquiring knowledge slowly and painfully, generation after generation, and the ratcheting isn't guaranteed as one can see from history's many pratfalls along the way, kind of like the way so many subspecies or cousin species become extinct for every species that flourishes.

One also cannot help but notice that there are hermit species and social species, herbivores and carnivores, animals that mate for life, others that live to mate... and some that eat their mates. In nature there's also mothers who eat their sons and daughters, fathers who kill other father's children, daughters who eat their mothers, sons that mate with their mothers, and brothers and sisters who kill and/or devour each other in the womb. For examples see here.
____________________
ADDENDUM BY LANCE EMIL

Ed wrote, "Feedback is inherent in nature, the simplest sort being the mutual attraction of two masses for one another."

In all factuality there are probably a great many more subtle things going on beneath that attraction than you or I or maybe any human will ever know (re. Higgs field which gives mass to things, search for gravitons, etc); when one studies matter and the universe at a quantum level weird things start to happen: the universe seems to be studying you (or at the very least, interacting strangely with you - like it "wants" what you expect it to do while you're watching, but when you look away, not so much; hand-in-the-cookie-jar style).

I think the problem with looking for "intelligent design" in anything is semantic: I know dolphins speak, but their language is beyond my comprehension; dolphins know something I DON'T AND PERHAPS NEVER WILL. And for the present, they don't seem all that inclined to teach me how. If there is an "intelligence" reflected in the way the universe acts with respect to me, and I don't have the intellectual fortitude to understand the language of a species of mammal living on my own planet, how am I supposed to understand that intelligence's language? As you so succinctly point out above, complexity becomes form seemingly all on its own. To me - trying hard to avoid purely mystical thinking along the way - this sure looks "intelligent." But then, so do dolphins.
____________________

The Inevitability of Life's Origin?
Snowflakes, sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds, and lightning are just a few examples of order coming from disorder in nature; none require an intelligent program to achieve that order. In any nontrivial system with lots of energy flowing through it, you are almost certain to find order arising somewhere in the system. If order from disorder is supposed to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, why is it ubiquitous in nature?

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab.

“He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.” Click here for more info.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Biblical scholars, including those who are Evangelical Christians, generally agree in viewing the sayings of Jesus in the fourth Gospel (the Gospel of John) with greater suspicion than sayings in the other three Gospels

Why are Jesus' sayings and doings in the Gospel of John viewed with greater suspicion that those in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke? Because...

1) The Gospel of John, starts with the author's claims ABOUT Jesus. Its lengthy theological introduction contains the words and praises of the author, not Jesus. And you find words and phrases similar to the author's put into the mouths of John the Baptist and Jesus in the first few chapters. Not high evidence favoring their authenticity. More likely the author's own creation, including the dialogues of the Baptist and Jesus in chapters 2-3.

2) Scholars suspect that Jesus never said "Ye must be born again," and with plenty of good reasons for doing so. See here.

3) The story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, sister of Lazarus, as well as the tale of Lazarus' resurrection are tales that seem to have arisen via combining earlier Gospel tales about individual women who anointed Jesus, where they lived, how they anointed Jesus, and then adding a figure from a Lukan parable, a begger, named "Lazarus," turning him into a wealthy person with "two sisters" (taken from Luke who never mentions "Lazarus" as an historical person). You can easily see how the fourth Gospel writer could have plucked all the information for his tale from Mark and Luke, reusing information from their Gospels to create a new tale about Jesus, indeed a new marvelous miracle never heard before. See here.

4) Nor does the Gospel of John hesitate to have plenty of characters recognize Jesus as the Messiah right in its first chapter. Compare the synoptic gospels, especially in Mark (1:11, 25, 34, 441 9:9, etc.), where Jesus refrains from announcing his Messiahship in public, and Peter is the lone apostle to mention it out loud, and only later in the story. In fact in Matthew multitudes hail Jesus merely as a prophet (Matthew 21:10). But in GJohn Jesus is recognized by his disciples as the Messiah right in chapter one as soon as they hear about him, and the Baptist declares Jesus' whole mission in a nutshell, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" from the very beginning of his ministry. Jesus spends all of his other discourses talking about himself (John 1:16,29-34,41,45,49,51; 2:11,18; 3:13-30; 4:25-26,42; 5:18-47; 6:25-69; 7:28-29; 9:37; 10:25-26,30-36). He doesn't teach the people in parables about the kingdom of God, he's constantly talking about himself.

5) Note also how Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23 agree that John the Baptist wavers in faith in Jesus as Messiah; but in the Fourth Gospel (1:16, 29-34 and 3:27-30) there's no mention of such wavering. John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as Messiah from first to last--even calling him “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" soon after his baptism.

6) The Synoptics date Jesus’ crucifixion on the day of the Passover (Matthew 26:171 Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7), whereas John places it on the day before the Passover, and at a different hour of the day (John 13:1,29; 18:28; 19:14,31,42). Scholars suspect that the reason for changing the day and hour of Jesus’ death in the last written Gospel was to suit the theological notion of its author that Jesus was “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” putting such an announcement into the mouth of John the Baptist--and wishing to bring it up again at the moment of Jesus’ death. Therefore he altered Jesus’ day and hour of execution so it would coincide with the day and hour the "Passover lambs" were being slain. (Unfortunately, having altered the day (and hour) to try and make a theological point, the Johnnine author never concerned himself with the fact that Passover lambs were not slain for “sin.” The animal in the Hebrew Bible that did have the “sins of the people” placed on it was not a lamb at all, but a goat--neither was the goat slain but kept alive in order to carry away the sins of the people into the wilderness, i.e., the “scape goat.”)

7) And though the account of Jesus’ baptism in one of the earlier Gospels, Mark 1:9 (cf. 1:4 and 10:18), leaves open the suspicion that John the Baptist was greater than Jesus and that Jesus was sinful, the fourth Gospel (John 1:29-34 and 3:26) eliminates such suspicions.

8) Jesus’ concern for Israel as depicted in the earlier gospel, Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:24 is unknown to the Jesus in John 5:45-471 8:31-47. Instead, more than sixty times the word(s) “Jews” and/or “The Jews,” are used in GJohn to depict Jesus’ enemies, even by Jesus himself. (Since Jesus himself was a “Jew” the repeated use of such a broad term makes greater sense if it was not spoken by the historical Jesus, but was a phrase that began cropping up more often after a rift had continued to grow wider between Christian communities and “The Jews.”)

9) In the synoptic Gospels Jesus is under the Law (Matthew 5:17-20) and observes the Passover Meal (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7), whereas Jesus in John is not under the Law and therefore does not partake in the Passover Meal (John 13:1). Accordingly, John’s Jesus refers to “your Law” (John 8:17; 10:34; cf. 7:19; 18:31) and “their Law” (15:25).

10) Preaching about the coming kingdom was central to the synoptics and mentioned 17 times in GMark, starting with Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Matthew changes it to "kingdom of heaven") Matthew and Luke mention "kingdom of heaven/God" and/or "kingdom" 30 times or more, each). But "kingdom of God" only appears twice in the fourth Gospel and "kingdom" two times. That's because the fourth Gospel is a later creation and has distanced itself from the apocalyptic Jesus and is busy trying to institutionalize Christianity and Christian sacramental views.

11) Jesus of the synoptic gospels is a charismatic healer-exorcist and end-time Suffering Servant who speaks as though a Son of Man will soon arrive to inaugurate the final judgment and bring on the supernatural kingdom of God (Matthew 10:23; Mark 10:18), whereas in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is the Logos incarnate on earth, a God-Man who exorcises no demons but who proclaims a sacramental, mystical, physical, churchly, doctrine of redemption. It's a later version of Jesus. It a later “sacramental” tale, because baptism and the Lord’s Supper ("you must eat my flesh and drink my blood or you have NO life within you") are aligned with the message about the necessity of a “new birth;” it’s “mystical” because these sacraments produce “union” with God and Christ (“we shall be one”); it’s “physical” because these sacraments are physical means that produce a physical effect, the glorification of the flesh to make the flesh capable of resurrection; it’s “churchly” because these sacraments must be administered by the church, for only in the church can the Spirit unite with the elements to produce salvation and/or ensure the resurrection of the flesh.

12) In the synoptic Gospels Jesus spoke openly during the day to whomever asked him “how to inherit eternal life,” and placed commands of obedience, such as honoring one’s parents, and not stealing from other people, or even giving away one's money to the poor, high on the list of “how to inherit eternal life.” Only in the fourth Gospel does Jesus answer how to inherit eternal life based on the singular necessity of being “born again,” and that singular message was not even taught in public but to a single person “at night,” yet everyone who doubts it is “damned already.” The fourth Gospel more so than the earlier three teaches that one must "believe" or, be "damned." "Eat the flesh and drink the blood," or you "have no life within you." It does not say people will be judged according to their "works" as in Matthew, instead the fourth Gospel states, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

13) The fourth Gospel is filled with "anti-language" according to social scientists. It is not a gospel about "loving one's neighbor/enemies," neither of which are commanded nor even mentioned in the fourth Gospel, but instead it is about focusing on loving fellow believers and maintaining one's indoctrination, or in the idiom of cults, "love bombing," and maintaining in-group thinking, while everyone else can go to hell. See here.

To reiterate points 2) and 3) above, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that John 3 is something the historical Jesus said. See here. And there are plenty of reasons to doubt that the Gospel of John’s tale about the raising of Lazarus (and Jesus’ anointing by a “sister” of “Lazarus”) is something that happened. See here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The apostle Paul, fanaticus extremus, all the symptoms of your typical religious fanatic rolled into one (Part 2 of a 2 Part Series)

What kind of person was Paul really? How many religious people throughout history would you not consider to be fanatics for judging and cursing everyone for believing differently, commanding their flock that it was best not to touch a woman, and it was best for married couples to live like they were celibates, and predicting that the Lord was coming soon? Why is Paul the only one we are supposed to take seriously? Based on statements in his own letters he comes off like the trifecta of fanatics.

We can get some knowledge of Paul based on statements he made in his letters, though there's precious little we can count on when it comes to knowing much about Peter or James, including whether the Greek epistles attributed to them were actually written by Aramaic speaking fishermen--and just two short epistles attributed to Peter and one short epistles attributed to James are in the Christian Bible. That's all from the pillars of the church. While Paul's letters crowd those questionable epistles out by far--even though it is believed that Peter and James walked with a flesh and blood Jesus for a year or more. Sounds fishy to me that so few and questionable first hand letters survive from the pillars.

Note Paul's humility when it comes to assessing his contributions:
"I was not a whit behind the chiefest apostles. But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge." 2 Cor 11:5-6

"For in nothing am I behind the chiefest apostles" 2 Cor 12:11
Paul "glories" in the Lord and other things in over twenty instances in his letters, but the Greek word he used, 'kauchaomai,' translated 'glorying,' actually means 'boasting,' and 'vaunting.' The proper Greek word for 'glorying' would be 'doxa.' That Paul elected not to use that word in lieu of the Greek word for 'boasting,' has been cleverly obscured by many translators. While in 1 and 2 Cor. in about ten places Paul stresses the importance of being a "fool" for the Gospel and denying the wisdom of this world. If you were to remove all the high sounding rhetoric (metaphors and analogies prove nothing), all the praise of foolishness, all the self-deprecation, the praises, curses and threats in Paul's letters, I doubt there would be much left. His letters read like the notes found in the margin of a preacher's Sunday sermon, "Point weak here, TALK LOUDER."

Paul also stresses the need to become all things to all men, to the Jew he becomes a Jew, to the weak, he becomes weak, becoming all things to all men, for the Gospel's sake, anything one can say or do to get people to believe like himself. 1 Cor 9:20-23; 10:33 Adding, "But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say" Rom. 3:5 And, "[if] the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why am I also judged as a sinner?" Rom 3:7. And, "nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you in [to the church] with guile." 2 Cor 12:16. And "what then... every way, whether in pretence, or truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice" Philip 1:18 To Paul there was little that "does not edify" 1 Cor 10:23. "Approving ourselves as the ministers of God... by dishonor and honor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true." 2 Cor 6:8.

Paul even outlines a program of tongues speaking and prophesying in 1 Cor 14:22-32 that sounds like it was designed to attract "unbelievers," "and there come in those that are... unbelievers," but he had to ask that believers tone it down a bit, so they didn't appear quite so "mad" to unbelievers by speaking in tongues all at once. He suggested they prophesy more, which sounds like condemning sin via Old Testament sounding phrases, "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." 1 Cor 14:24-25 "For whether we be besides ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause." 2 Cor 5:13 The Greek 'existemi' translated 'beside ourselves,' actually means 'insane,' 'witless,' 'bewitched,' and 'make astounded.' The same word, 'existemi' is also used to describe Jesus himself in "his friends went to lay hold on him; for they said, Jesus is beside himself" (Mk 3:21--and the Greek word 'ho para' translated as 'friends,' also means 'family').

As for Paul's sense of outrage and controlling nature...
"Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord." 1 Cor 5:5

"If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed/anathema [devoted to destruction]." 1 Cor 16:22

"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete." 2 Cor 10:5-6

"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse!" Gal 1:8

Referring to Judaizing Christians who preached that followers of Jesus should be circumcised, Paul wrote, "Of those that trouble you, I would they were even cut off [Gk. apokopto, literally, 'castrated']." Gal 5:11-12

Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord... For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself... FOR THIS CAUSE many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [have died]... For... we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord. 1 Cor 11:27-32
Note how Paul tossed individuals out of church with "curses" or "turned them over to Satan," and even claimed that illnesses and deaths of many who remained in church were due to God's "judgment." Sounds like a more fanatical interpretation than most ministers would be willing to employ today, instead they would be more likely to check on the sanitation of objects used for sharing the Lord's supper. It also makes one wonder how Paul might have reacted if many at a church picnic began heaving up egg salad that had gone bad, would Paul claim God was judging them? What if children attended the same religious day care or Sunday school classes and illnesses began to spread among them? Another chastening from the deity? Paul implanted in people's minds that bad things happened because God was punishing believers for not falling in line with the one true belief system, i.e., Paul's. But that's how religious fanaticism tends to work.

Paul also wallows in self-castigation, or as psychologists point out, self-castigation is often an excuse to feel more proud of your particular religious beliefs. It's the old paradox of the fragile or dissatisfied ego that attaches itself like a barnacle to something it imagines to be far greater than itself, thus becoming hyper-inflated with the feeling that they are "nothing" but this new truth or doctrine they have come to believe or practice is the one and only truth and must be spread at all cost. "For I know that in me dwelleth no good thing... but the evil which I would not, that I do... O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Rom 7:18-24 "I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung [Greek, 'skubalon,' excrement], that I may win Christ." Philip 3:8

And when you compared Paul's writings with later ones in the New Testament, you see that Paul speaks about humans being resurrected in a "spiritual body" without claiming it is "flesh and bone" (only in writings later than Paul, such as the Gospel of Luke, do you find tales of the resurrected Jesus in which he denies being a "spirit" at all, and claims he is "flesh and bone," and eats a piece of fish as demonstration. You don't find that in Paul. Instead you get Paul's notion of a "spiritual body," along with Paul's statements that "Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God," and, "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them" 1 Cor 6:13 & 15:50. See also here. Paul's "spiritual body" view certainly seems less "flesh and bone"-like than what appears in later New Testament writings concerning Jesus' resurrection. It also fits with the way Paul despised the "flesh" throughout his writings, just as he despised whenever people "burned" for one another, instead teaching them that, "it is better to marry than to burn," a passage rarely quoted at Christian weddings. Paul even tells married couples in 1 Cor. that it's better for them to live as if they are celibate so they can concentrate on "serving the Lord" rather than each other. The only form of marriage Paul endorses unequivocally is the church's marriage to its heavenly bridegroom, the Lord--the marriage of believer with their beliefs, specifically with Paul's beliefs about the Lord. All others be cursed. Paul's "spiritual body" view also fits with his mention of Christians being taken up to heaven and remaining there with Jesus.

Keep in mind that the Pauline idea about a "spiritual body" and living in "heaven" rather than on a recreated earth is the earliest formulation of the "resurrection" according to the earliest documents we possess:
1 Thess 4:13-18, "We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."
Paul seems to indicate not just in that verse but in others that the Kingdom of God will be in heaven:
2 Cor 5:1 “… we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven …”

Philip 3:20a “But our citizenship is in heaven. …”

Gal 4:26a “… the Jerusalem which is above is free …”

Also paradise is in the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4).

That’s where the Christian elect will wind up in their "spiritual bodies," to be in the company of Christ (1 Thes 5:9-10).
Also, in ‘Hebrews 12 Christians are expected to be live in the heavenly Jerusalem, with no mention of it coming down to a new earth. In fact the author of Hebrews mentions that the patriarchs are "foreigners and strangers on earth." Heb. 11

Paul's view resembles Philo of Alexandria's, who also put heaven as the destination of the righteous after death. According to Philo: “And the proselyte … has received as a most appropriate reward a firm and sure habitation in heaven” (On reward and punishment”, ch. XXVI, 152) “looking upon the heavenly country in which they have the rights of citizens …” (On the confusion of tongues, ch. XVII).

Also consider the way Paul used every rhetorical method at his disposal, reasonable or not, to try and convert people, which included stretching the meaning of Old Testament words and stories, even utilizing odd readings of the Old Testament in inter-testamental works like the late apocryphal work titled, The Wisdom of Solomon--not to be confused with the Book of Proverbs, but instead, a late non-canonical apocryphal work attributed to “Solomon” that contained some odd ideas:
Romans 1:19-23 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5)

Romans 1:24-23 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 14:22-31)

Romans 5:12-21 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24)

Romans 9:19-23 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 12:12-18 and 15:7)

Romans 13:10 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 6:18)

1 Corinthians 2:9 (compare the non-canonical Ascension of Isaiah 11:34; also note that the early church father Origin said this verse in 1 Cor. was from the non-canonical, Apocalypse of Elijah–-Origen, Commentary on Matthew 27.9. Origin’s idea was bitterly disputed by Jerome (Letter 57 [to Pammachius] §9 [NPNF, 2nd series, vol. 6, p. 117]), who claimed the verse was taken from Isaiah 64:3-4 “according to the Hebrew text.” In fact, however, the Hebrew is only a very rough approximation of Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 2:9, so Jerome may well have been wrong on this point. So, compare the Ascension of Isaiah 11:34 as originally noted.)

1 Corinthians 6:2 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 3:8)

1 Corinthians 10:4 (Jewish tradition)

2 Corinthians 11:14 (Life of Adam and Eve)

Galatians 3:19 (Jewish tradition; cf. also Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53, and Hebrews 2:2)

Ephesians 5:14 (Apocalypse of Elijah–So identified by Epiphanius, Against Heresies 1.3.42; see also Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians 3.5.15.)

Ephesians 6:11-17 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20)

The apostle Paul, fanaticus extremus, all the symptoms of your typical religious fanatic rolled into one (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

Paul's predictions have proven as false as those of the Christian below

Did the apostle Paul predict Jesus' imminent return like many other religious fanatics over the centuries? Let's look at what he wrote to the believers at Corinth:
'The rulers of this age... are passing away ["will not last much longer" - Today's English Version]... Do not go on passing judgment before the time [i.e., "before the time" of final judgment which he predicted was near at hand], but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts... The time has been shortened so that from now on both those who have wives should be as though they had none [i.e., Paul preached that the time was so "short" that married Christian couples "from now on" would be better off to consider celibacy so they could serve the Lord full time]; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it [i.e., this was not the time for marriage or buying or selling, it was best to serve the Lord full time, like Paul was doing, while awaiting his soon return, or as Paul also said, "it is good for a man not to touch a woman," and, "I wish all men were as I am" (celibate) 1 Cor 7]; for the form of this world is passing away ["This world, as it is now, will not last much longer" - Today's English Version]... ...These things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come...
Since Paul tells his first century readers that the "ends of the ages have come" upon them, let's note how Jesus, according to the gospel of Matthew, defined "the end of the age":
...The harvest is the end of the age...at the end of the age...the Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. [Matthew 13:40-41 - based on the description of "the end of the age" found in Daniel 12]
Paul continues in the same letter:
Proclaim the Lord's death until he comes [i.e., Paul did not say, "Proclaim the Lord's death until the day you die," but rather, "until he comes," which means that he considered Christ's coming to be nearer than the time when the believers he was writing to would all be dead]. We [Paul and the first century believers being addressed] shall not all sleep... At the last trumpet... the dead will be raised... and we shall be changed. Maranatha [="Come Lord"]'1 Cor 2:6; 4:5; 7:29-31; 10:11; 11:26; 15:51-52; 16:22
Or consider what Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica:
...How you turned to God from idols...to wait for His Son from heaven [Compare 1 Cor 1:7, "...awaiting eagerly the revelation (revealing) of our Lord Jesus Christ"]... For who is our... crown... Is it not even you [the first century Christians being addressed], in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?... May establish your hearts... before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we [Paul and the first century Christians being addressed] who are alive and remain [notice how Paul included himself as one who will still be alive] until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep...the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air... May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thes 1:9,10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:23]
Keep in mind to whom Paul wrote the above letters, and also that Paul claimed that he was repeating a "word" that he had received directly from "the Lord." What marvelous truth was revealed to Paul in this astonishing revelation? Namely, that "we" [the first century Christians who "remained alive" at the time this letter was written, including Paul, its author] "shall be caught up...in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air!" For Paul there was no doubt that Jesus would arrive before he and the believers he addressed would all be dead. "We," including himself, "shall not all sleep" [1 Cor 15:51]. Yet all of those to whom Paul once wrote, including Paul, now "sleep" - the "word of the Lord" notwithstanding. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul remained just as certain that Jesus would return shortly:
...It is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution...these will pay the penalty...when He comes... [2 Thes 1:6-10]
That is to say, Jesus would be revealed from heaven "with his mighty angles in flaming fire" soon enough to "relieve" the afflictions of the Thessalonians, and Paul, and other first century Christians!

Or take these passages from Paul's letter to the believers at Philippi:
...He who began a good work in you [the first century Christians being addressed] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus [i.e., rather than saying, "until the day you die," which he assumed was not going to happen to all of them, since, as Paul pointed out in 1 Cor, "we shall not all sleep!"]... ...In order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ [Compare 1 Tim 6:14, "Keep the commandment...until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ."]... ...We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ... ...Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. [Philip 1:6,10; 3:20; 4:5]
What about Paul's famous letter to the Christians at Rome?
...The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is soon [mello] to be revealed to us... The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now... We...groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body... Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed! The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand... The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. [Rom 8:18,22-23; 13:11-12; 16:20]
What "things" had to occur before Christ could return?

1) The Anti-Christ must first be revealed. But Paul taught:
The mystery of lawlessness is already at work... Pray... that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly... [2 Thes 2:7; 3:1]
2) The Gospel had to be preached to the "whole world." But Paul taught that the gospel had already been preached to "the whole world," i.e., the Roman Empire, from Spain to Jerusalem. Therefore nothing prevented Jesus from returning "shortly":
Their voice [of first century Christian preachers] has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world... The revelation of the mystery... now is manifested and... According to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations. [Rom 10:18; 16:25-26]

...The gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing... ...The gospel...which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. [Col 1:5-6,23]
Back then the Roman Empire was recognized as the "whole world," i.e., Lk 2:1, "Caeser took a census of the whole world," and Acts 11:28, "...a great famine all over the world... took place in the reign of Claudius." Naturally, this conception influenced the belief in how "soon" the Son of Man would return, since Jesus predicted: "...this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come." [Mat 24:14]. If the "whole world" according to the New Testament itself, referred to the Roman Empire, the "end" must have been expected very soon indeed! I wonder why God inspired the authors of the New Testament with such an archaic notion of the "whole world?" Even second century Christian fathers made the same identification of the Roman Empire with the "whole world." Irenaeus (125-202 A.D.), one of the earliest Fathers of the Church, wrote in his book, Revolution and Overthrow of False Knowledge (or Against Heresies), circa 180 A.D.:
Now the Church, spread throughout all the world even to the ends of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples her belief... [1.10.1]

...the Church has carefully preserved it [its kerygma and faith], as though dwelling in a single house, even though she has been spread over the entire world. [1.10.2]

Anyone who wishes to see the truth can observe the apostle's traditions made manifest in every church throughout the whole world. [3.3.1-2]
Augustine was another Church Father who was aware of Paul's belief that the Gospel "had" already been preached to the "whole world." Paul wrote in Romans, "Their line has gone out through all the world, and their words to the ends of the earth." Augustine dwelt with great force on the fact that St. Paul based one of his most powerful arguments upon this declaration regarding the earliest preachers of the gospel (Rom. 10:18), and that, as those preachers did not go to the opposite side of the earth to preach the gospel, no people must exist there; hence those who believe such things, "give the lie direct to King David and to St. Paul, and therefore to the Holy Ghost." Thus the great bishop of Hippo taught the whole world for over a thousand years that, as there was no preaching of the gospel on the opposite side of the earth, there could be no human beings there. [A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. 1] If I may be forgiven for injecting levity there's a quotation by Mark Twain that also strikes me as relevant: "The Biblical prophets wrote book after book and epistle after epistle, yet never once hinted at the existence of a great continent on our side of the water; yet they must have known it was there, I should think." As for the argument that the apostles must have known that people existed beyond the boundaries of the "world" of the Roman Empire, yes, certainly, as "heathens" living outside of civilization (and for whom provision was made in Paul's letter to the Romans, chapters 1-2), so Rome remained the "whole world" to Paul who prayed that "the word" might spread "rapidly," from Jerusalem to Spain, before the day of final judgment.

__________________________________

FOR FURTHER FALSE PREDICTIONS IN THE BIBLE SEE THELOWDOWN ON GOD'S SHOWDOWN

Some Christians like the above article, they are called preterists, who believe that some or all of the biblical prophecies concerning the Last Days refer to events that took place in the first century after Christ's birth, especially associated with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. However, preterism is no better than pre-millennialism. Both are involve excuses that were invented to make the Bible appear inerrant when it is filled with false prophecies about the Son of Man's or the Lord's soon return in final judgment.

Speaking of the preterist view that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem a generation before it happened, most scholars agree that the earliest Gospel, "the Gospel of Mark," was composed near the time of Jerusalem's destruction or a little after it. So, did Jesus speak about the soon coming destruction of Jerusalem and/or the Temple in Mark 13, or was that prophecy (or parts of it) added or edited by the author to make it appear like Jesus said such a thing? We can't be sure. The earliest version in Mark 13 is not as explicit as the later versions in Matthew and Luke. So it all hinges on the question of Mark and his sources or edits, and he was writing either very soon before such things happened or during or soon after them happening. There were certainly prophets before Jesus who preached doom on Jerusalem and/or the Temple, so Jesus could have picked up the idea from them. The first century was a time of apocalyptic ideas such as those found in the Dead Sea Scrolls whose sectarian writings are filled with expectation of a soon coming final judgment, and who even predicted a final battle b/w sons of light and darkness that centered on Jerusalem. The fear that Romans would destroy Jerusalem and/or desecrate or destroy the Temple seems to have been on a lot of people's minds. Josephus mentions some other fellow prophesying the doom of Jerusalem soon before it occurred, but it wasn't Jesus.



Friday, June 05, 2015

Inspired Writings that Cite Non-inspired Writings for Inspiration (Paul, other New Testament writers)

The apostle Paul–in both his speeches and writings–made extensive use of the late apocryphal work known as The Wisdom of Solomon--not to be confused with the Book of Proverbs, but instead, a late non-canonical apocryphal work attributed to “Solomon” that contained some odd ideas:

Romans 1:19-23 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5)

Romans 1:24-23 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 14:22-31)

Romans 5:12-21 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24)

Romans 9:19-23 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 12:12-18 and 15:7)

Romans 13:10 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 6:18)

1 Corinthians 2:9 (compare the non-canonical Ascension of Isaiah 11:34; also note that the early church father Origin said this verse in 1 Cor. was from the non-canonical, Apocalypse of Elijah–-Origen, Commentary on Matthew 27.9. Origin’s idea was bitterly disputed by Jerome (Letter 57 [to Pammachius] §9 [NPNF, 2nd series, vol. 6, p. 117]), who claimed the verse was taken from Isaiah 64:3-4 “according to the Hebrew text.” In fact, however, the Hebrew is only a very rough approximation of Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 2:9, so Jerome may well have been wrong on this point. So, compare the Ascension of Isaiah 11:34 as originally noted.)

1 Corinthians 6:2 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 3:8)

1 Corinthians 10:4 (Jewish tradition)

2 Corinthians 11:14 (Life of Adam and Eve)

Galatians 3:19 (Jewish tradition; cf. also Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53, and Hebrews 2:2)

Ephesians 5:14 (Apocalypse of Elijah–So identified by Epiphanius, Against Heresies 1.3.42; see also Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians 3.5.15.)

Ephesians 6:11-17 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20)


The authors of the New Testament employed—and even appealed to the authority of—non-canonical ideas, oral traditions, deuterocanonical, extracanonical writings, and varying textual recensions (like the Greek Septuagint Bible where it said something different from the Hebrew Bible):

Matthew 2:23 (unknown prophecy)

Matthew 23:2-3 (rabbinic tradition)

Matthew 27:24 (“Story of Susanna” = Daniel 13:46 LXX)

Mark 10:19 (“do not defraud” = Sirach 4:1 LXX)

Luke 11:49 (unknown scripture)

John 7:38 (unknown Scripture)

Acts 7:14 (vs. Exodus 1:5)

Acts 7:16 (cf. Genesis 50:12-14, Joshua 24:32)

Acts 7:20-30 (Jewish traditions about the early life of Moses)

Acts 7:36 (Testament of Moses)

Acts 17:27 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 13:6)

Acts 17:30 (compare Wisdom of Solomon 11:23)

2 Timothy 3:8 (Book of Jannes and Jambres),

Hebrews 1:6 (Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls),

Hebrews 10:5-6 (Septuagint),

Hebrews 11:4–5 (Book of Enoch),

Hebrews 11:35-37 (2 Maccabees 6-7, Martyrdom of Isaiah),

2 Peter 2:4 (Book of Enoch),

James 1:19 ( = Sirach 5:13),

James 4:5 (unknown Scripture),

Jude 9 (Assumption of Moses),

Jude 14-15 (Book of Enoch),

Revelation 15:3-4 (the Song of the Lamb--Note also that John 10:22 places Jesus at the Temple during the Feast of Dedication (i.e., Hanukkah), a religious celebration whose only scriptural justification is in the Books of Maccabees. [1 Maccabees 4:36-59; 2 Maccabees 1:18-2:19, 10:1-8])


Also, the structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 most likely was familiar to many Jews in the first century BCE, since they were already evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls before Jesus' day:

“[Blessed is he who walks] with a pure heart” (Dead Sea Scroll 4Q525 2:1); compare, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt 5:8)

“Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her” (Dead Sea Scroll 4Q525 2:2); compare “Blessed are you when men revile you... rejoice and be glad” (Matt 5:11–12)

Blessed is the man who... in the distress [or ‘meekness’] of his soul, does not despise her” (Dead Sea Scroll 4Q525 2:3–6), and, “In the meekness [or ‘meekness’] of righteousness bring forth [your] words...” (4Q525 4:20); compare “Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:5).


Of course there's also the book of Enoch, mentioned by Jude and passages of which are cited by the author of Revelation. In fact recently scholars are acknowledging that the "Son of Man" figure mentioned in Enoch probably influenced early Gospel authors: http://www.amazon.com/Parables-Enoch-Paradigm-Jewish-Christian/dp/0567657108/ref=sr_1_1 And the Dead Sea Scrolls even mention a fascinating "Melchizadek" figure https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/11Q13 who is to "judge the holy ones of God, executing judgement."

Monday, June 01, 2015

Christianity raises as many intellectual and historical questions as it claims to answer, if not more...

Are there major miracle-working prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, or Jesus today? Wouldn't you agree it's been two thousand years since the last one? And wouldn't you agree that the time was far shorter from Moses to Elijah/Elisha, as well from Elijah/Elisha to Jesus, when compared with the long length of time from Jesus until today? And still no major miracle-working prophet of their stature has arrived to further expound or clarify God's words for us with authority and power? Nor does it increase my confidence that the time between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament was merely a century or two while it's been almost two thousand years since the last book of the New Testament was written with no additional canonical words of God, no definitive words clarifying the older words either, just endless rival interpretations lying along a spectrum of conservative-moderate-liberal.

Why did only "brethren" see the risen Jesus instead of everyone? Why don't we have any of the "brethren's" first hand accounts of seeing the bodily resurrected Jesus? The only first-hand words in writing concerning an encounter with a risen Jesus are found in Paul's letters, and those words are very few, namely, "He appeared to me," and if Luke-Acts is correct that Jesus' resurrected body rose up to heaven before Pauls' day, then Paul did not an encounter a bodily resurrected Jesus. Furthermore the tale in Acts that describes Paul's conversion is later than Paul's letters, and even if there is some truth in it it looks like a case of "snapping," a phenomenon that psychologists have observed in others who have undergone radical reversals in belief. The conversion tale of Paul in Acts might even have been constructed along the lines of an earlier tale found in an inter-testamental Jewish work.

After Jesus "appeared" to his apostles why didn't he show himself to Pilate, the soldiers who crucified him, the crowds who cried for him to be crucified, etc., and speak to them some words of forgiveness and hope? If they tried to crucify him again, he could demonstrate that that was impossible now. He could even transfigure in front of them. Or rise up into the air in full view of a city full of people. Or even descend from the sky above Rome and be seen by many who would probably rush to see where he'd landed, and then preach there.

Because God concentrated so many of his prophets and miracle workers in a small circle of the ancient Near East it took 1400 years before Christians reached the New World and began preaching the Gospel there, and longer still to reach Japan, Australia, the far northern and southern hemispheres. Speaking of waiting...

Acts says the apostles waited seven weeks before preaching that Jesus was raised. Why wait seven weeks if "many risen saints" had climbed out of their opened graves (per Matt) right after Jesus' resurrection and "showed themselves to many in the holy city" (presumably Jerusalem)?

Why did the resurrected Jesus have to leave the earth? Couldn't he remain on earth, traveling, preaching, teaching, or return from time to time to correct misinterpretations of his words or prevent schisms? Or prevent the founding of rival religions like Islam? After all, in the fourth Gospel it was Jesus' fervent prayer that his followers would remain as one in perfect unity as evidence of the truth, the implication being that without perfect unity the truth comes into question, just as it has. Even with the Holy Spirit allegedly leading Christians into truth as promised in a NT letter the history of Christianity consists of disagreements, heresy-hunts, and schisms too numerous to mention.

(Some apologists reply that Jesus had to leave the earth before the Holy Spirit could be sent, but according to the earliest two Gospels the Holy Spirit could descend like a dove to earth even when Jesus was still there. Also after the Holy Spirit was sent, Jesus could still pop down and appear to Paul. So why has Jesus popped down so infrequently since then?)

Why were some of Jesus' most spectacular nature miracles only seen by a few (unlike Moses' alleged miracle of dividing an entire sea which would have been viewed by the multitudes)? Jesus' nature miracles include the stilling of the storm and the walking on water allegedly seen only by some people in a boat. While only three apostles apparently saw Jesus' transfiguration on an unidentified "mountain." Quite a miracle, Jesus shining bright as the sun and speaking with Moses and Elijah. But only for the eyes of three people? As for the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, I doubt that large groups of people would go out to the "wilderness" (an unidentified "wilderness" in the first two Gospels) to hear either the Baptist or Jesus speak without also taking some food like bread or dried fish. There's also no indication in the earliest telling of the story in Mark that anyone saw a miracle taking place, nobody says anything about being awestruck, nor is any miracle described such as extra fish appearing out of thin air or the flesh on the fish being instantly replaced as soon as one piece was torn off. The apostles also are depicted a little later as still worrying over where their next meal was going to come from, and rebuked for not understanding concerning the multitude being fed. But instead of Jesus mentioning how they saw fish coming out of thin air, or any other miracle they allegedly would have seen taking place, he points them to the baskets of leftovers. By the time of the fourth Gospel the people do proclaim it as a miracle taking place, but still no description as to how it occurred, and in the fourth Gospel it is Jesus himself handing out the food.

Why did the three towns in Galilee in which Jesus performed most of his Gospel miracles reject him? Jesus allegedly performed most of his miracles in or around those three towns, what scholars call "the Evangelical Triangle" (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum), and Jesus says those towns will be judged more than Sodom and Gomorrah for having rejected him. Also, there is no record of Jesus performing miracles in large cities in the same region such as Sepphoris which was located near Nazareth, nor did he perform miracles in other large cities like Caesarea Philippi, Tiberius, Hippos (the last two being on the shores of the Lake of Galilee), nor any miracles performed in the large city of his final destination, Jerusalem, at least none that the earliest Gospels mentions, aside from the resurrection which in Mark is merely an empty tomb tale, because no one sees the miracle of Jesus exiting the tomb, and the young man in the tomb says "He has gone before you to Galilee, there you will see him." In other words the earliest Gospel has the risen Jesus not appearing in Jerusalem at all.

The Lukan version is different from Mark or Matthew's in that the message at the tomb has undergone changes so that it no longer says Jesus has gone on before them to Galilee to be seen there. Instead, the message at the tomb simply says, "remember when Jesus spoke to you in Galilee saying he would be resurrected?" So there's no longer anything about Jesus going before them to Galilee to be seen there. Instead, Jesus appears in Luke and tells them to "remain in Jerusalem." And he demonstrates he is not a spirit at all, but has flesh and bone, and escorts them (in a non-spirit but bodily state) out of Jerusalem, through the streets all the way to Bethany, "he led them to Bethany." Imagine being escorted by a flesh and bone resurrected Jesus out of the city of Jerusalem, through its streets, and to a nearby city, but no Hosannas, no cries of He is risen! No knocking on Pilate's or Ciaphas's doors. It's like Jesus tiptoed with his apostles out of the big city.

Even the story of the "empty tomb" is acknowledged by Evangelicals like Michael Licona to be questioned by many historical Jesus scholars because in its earliest telling in the Gospel of Mark that Gospel ends with women fleeing the empty tomb and "telling no one" what they saw. The Greek is very emphatic involving the doubling of a word for emphasis, hence they did not tell anyone anything. But if no one was told then we do not know when the tale about an "empty tomb" first began to circulate.

In light of the above questions what are we expected to believe? Is God being straight with us?

Nor does anyone with such questions have to claim that everyone's personal religious or supernatural experiences are false in order to ask the question, How can God expect us to know what to make of the diversity of miracle stories and visions and NDEs from people since we are presented with such a mixed bag of evidence? See here.

And speaking of crucial writings we lack from the first century...

We do not have anything written directly by Jesus himself or any of his original disciples (I think even Michael Licona admits that the evidence that Jesus' earliest apostles penned any of the Gospels remains questionable, nor have Bauckham's arguments for apostolic authorship based on "inclusio" taken the scholarly world by storm. His scholarly reviewers have pointed out all the questions he is still begging). Nor do we have anything written by the Apostle Paul before he converted telling us about the church he was persecuting, nor anything written by the Jewish leaders of that time about Jesus or Paul, nor anything by the Romans that mentions Jesus, the content of his preaching, why he was killed, or what they thought about claims he had resurrected. This means we have no written responses to Jesus from the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or teachers of the law. Nor do we have any testimonies from Ananias, Caiaphas, Herod or Pilate about the events we find in the gospels.

Nor do we have a single casual letter from anyone mentioning their first hand experience of having gone to see and hear Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus always had the last word over his opponents in the gospel accounts. His victory in debate is assured since his followers are writing such tales, like when Plato wrote Socrates' dialogues. But genuine debates in religion usually do not end so neatly with the opposite side having no further reply. It would be nice to know what his first century opponents said in response to Jesus, in their own words.

The Jews of Jesus' day believed in Yahweh and that he does miracles, and they knew their Old Testament prophecies, and yet the overwhelming numbers of them did not believe Jesus was the Messiah or anointed one, nor that he was raised from the dead by Yahweh. So Christianity didn't take by storm the very land where Jesus was seen and heard directly by people, but instead it had to reach out to the Greco-Roman world for converts. Even Paul's missions to Jews in the Greco-Roman world didn't raise as many converts as among Hellenists. So why should we believe if many of his fellow Jews who saw Jesus and heard him preach didn't? The city of Jerusalem was not converted. Christianity remained a small Jewish sect, one of many, until such tales reached the ears of Greco-Romans.

There are other things we don't have but would like to. We don't have the correspondence from Chloe's household in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11) telling us of their church disputes, especially concerning the resurrection that Paul responded to. Nor do we have their response to Paul's first letter which forced him to defend his apostleship, since they questioned it afterward (2 Corinthians). Nor do we know what Paul meant when he said some of the Corinthians and Galatians had accepted a "Jesus other than the Jesus we preached" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) or a "different gospel" (Galatians 1:6-8). What we do know is that the sectarian side that wins a debate writes the history of that debate and chooses which books to include in their sacred writings. We don't even have one legitimate Old Testament prophecy that specifically refers to Jesus' resurrection. Nor do we have any convincing present day confirmations that God works miracles like virgin births or resurrections in today's world, something that would be of critical importance to historians when assessing these claims.

What we have at best are second-hand or more testimonies filtered through the gospel writers. With the possible exception of Paul who claimed to have experienced the resurrected Jesus in what is surely a visionary experience (so we read in Acts 26:19, cf. II Cor. 12:1-6; Rev. 1:10-3:21--although he didn't actually see Jesus, Acts 9:4-8; 22:7-11; 26:13-14), everything else we're told comes second hand.

And considering WHAT WRITINGS WE DO POSSESS (dare I saw what "God" has preserved for us) FROM THE FIRST CENTURY (as if God could not preserve writings any more confounding for your average Christian apologist), those INCLUDE the Dead Sea Scrolls which raise questions as to orthodox Christian interpretations of Jesus' motivation and mission, since the Dead Sea Scrolls composed by that scribal community prove they were a community of apocalyptic cultists preparing for the world's final judgment. The Dead Sea Scrolls include OT writings, but also inter-testamental writings like the book of Enoch, as well as books written by the scroll community such as the Book of the Wars of Sons of Light and Darkness (about the world's final battle and supernatural judgment), the Melchizadek Scroll (about a divinely appointed figure that would appear in the heavens soon to judge the earth), and commentaries on OT writings in which the members of that community found clues to the soon coming final judgment. Even their community laws and ascetic practices were meant to keep them pure in preparation for the soon coming supernatural judgment of the people of earth, which only adds credence to the view that Jesus of Nazareth may very well have been the leader of an apocalyptic movement with similar failed expectations.

Even merely comparing the Gospel of John with the three synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, increases suspicions as to how stories tend to grow and/or change over time. Mainstream biblical scholarship generally agrees in viewing the sayings of Jesus in the fourth Gospel (the Gospel of John) with greater suspicion than sayings in the earlier three Gospels. Why? Because...

1) The Gospel of John, starts with the author's claims ABOUT Jesus. Its lengthy theological introduction contains the words and praises of the author, not Jesus. And you find words and phrases similar to the author's put into the mouths of John the Baptist and Jesus in the first few chapters. Not high evidence favoring their authenticity. More likely the author's own creation, including the dialogues of the Baptist and Jesus in chapters 2-3.

2) Scholars suspect that Jesus never said "Ye must be born again," and with plenty of good reasons for doing so. See here.

3) The story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, sister of Lazarus, as well as the tale of Lazarus' resurrection are tales that seem to have arisen via combining earlier Gospel tales about individual women who anointed Jesus, where they lived, how they anointed Jesus, and then adding a figure from a Lukan parable, a begger, named "Lazarus," turning him into a wealthy person with "two sisters" (taken from Luke who never mentions "Lazarus" as an historical person). You can easily see how the fourth Gospel writer could have plucked all the information for his tale from Mark and Luke, reusing information from their Gospels to create a new tale about Jesus, indeed a new marvelous miracle never heard before. See here.

4) Nor does the Gospel of John hesitate to have plenty of characters recognize Jesus as the Messiah right in its first chapter. Compare the synoptic gospels, especially in Mark (1:11, 25, 34, 441 9:9, etc.), where Jesus refrains from announcing his Messiahship in public, and Peter is the lone apostle to mention it out loud, and only later in the story. In fact in Matthew multitudes hail Jesus merely as a prophet (Matthew 21:10). But in GJohn Jesus is recognized by his disciples as the Messiah right in chapter one as soon as they hear about him, and the Baptist declares Jesus' whole mission in a nutshell, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" from the very beginning of his ministry. Jesus spends all of his other discourses talking about himself (John 1:16,29-34,41,45,49,51; 2:11,18; 3:13-30; 4:25-26,42; 5:18-47; 6:25-69; 7:28-29; 9:37; 10:25-26,30-36). He doesn't teach the people in parables about the kingdom of God, he's constantly talking about himself.

5) Note also how Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23 agree that John the Baptist wavers in faith in Jesus as Messiah; but in the Fourth Gospel (1:16, 29-34 and 3:27-30) there's no mention of such wavering. John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as Messiah from first to last--even calling him “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" soon after his baptism.

6) The Synoptics date Jesus’ crucifixion on the day of the Passover (Matthew 26:171 Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7), whereas John places it on the day before the Passover, and at a different hour of the day (John 13:1,29; 18:28; 19:14,31,42). Scholars suspect that the reason for changing the day and hour of Jesus’ death in the last written Gospel was to suit the theological notion of its author that Jesus was “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” putting such an announcement into the mouth of John the Baptist--and wishing to bring it up again at the moment of Jesus’ death. Therefore he altered Jesus’ day and hour of execution so it would coincide with the day and hour the "Passover lambs" were being slain. (Unfortunately, having altered the day (and hour) to try and make a theological point, the Johnnine author never concerned himself with the fact that Passover lambs were not slain for “sin.” The animal in the Hebrew Bible that did have the “sins of the people” placed on it was not a lamb at all, but a goat--neither was the goat slain but kept alive in order to carry away the sins of the people into the wilderness, i.e., the “scape goat.”)

7) And though the account of Jesus’ baptism in one of the earlier Gospels, Mark 1:9 (cf. 1:4 and 10:18), leaves open the suspicion that John the Baptist was greater than Jesus and that Jesus was sinful, the fourth Gospel (John 1:29-34 and 3:26) eliminates such suspicions.

8) Jesus’ concern for Israel as depicted in the earlier gospel, Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:24 is unknown to the Jesus in John 5:45-471 8:31-47. Instead, more than sixty times the word(s) “Jews” and/or “The Jews,” are used in GJohn to depict Jesus’ enemies, even by Jesus himself. (Since Jesus himself was a “Jew” the repeated use of such a broad term makes greater sense if it was not spoken by the historical Jesus, but was a phrase that began cropping up more often after a rift had continued to grow wider between Christian communities and “The Jews.”)

9) In the synoptic Gospels Jesus is under the Law (Matthew 5:17-20) and observes the Passover Meal (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7), whereas Jesus in John is not under the Law and therefore does not partake in the Passover Meal (John 13:1). Accordingly, John’s Jesus refers to “your Law” (John 8:17; 10:34; cf. 7:19; 18:31) and “their Law” (15:25).

10) Preaching about the coming kingdom was central to the synoptics and mentioned 17 times in GMark, starting with Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Matthew changes it to "kingdom of heaven") Matthew and Luke mention "kingdom of heaven/God" and/or "kingdom" 30 times or more, each). But "kingdom of God" only appears twice in the fourth Gospel and "kingdom" two times. That's because the fourth Gospel is a later creation and has distanced itself from the apocalyptic Jesus and is busy trying to institutionalize Christianity and Christian sacramental views.

11) Jesus of the synoptic gospels is a charismatic healer-exorcist and end-time Suffering Servant who speaks as though a Son of Man will soon arrive to inaugurate the final judgment and bring on the supernatural kingdom of God (Matthew 10:23; Mark 10:18), whereas in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is the Logos incarnate on earth, a God-Man who exorcises no demons but who proclaims a sacramental, mystical, physical, churchly, doctrine of redemption. It's a later version of Jesus. It a later “sacramental” tale, because baptism and the Lord’s Supper ("you must eat my flesh and drink my blood or you have NO life within you") are aligned with the message about the necessity of a “new birth;” it’s “mystical” because these sacraments produce “union” with God and Christ (“we shall be one”); it’s “physical” because these sacraments are physical means that produce a physical effect, the glorification of the flesh to make the flesh capable of resurrection; it’s “churchly” because these sacraments must be administered by the church, for only in the church can the Spirit unite with the elements to produce salvation and/or ensure the resurrection of the flesh.

12) In the synoptic Gospels Jesus spoke openly during the day to whomever asked him “how to inherit eternal life,” and placed commands of obedience, such as honoring one’s parents, and not stealing from other people, or even giving away one's money to the poor, high on the list of “how to inherit eternal life.” Only in the fourth Gospel does Jesus answer how to inherit eternal life based on the singular necessity of being “born again,” and that singular message was not even taught in public but to a single person “at night,” yet everyone who doubts it is “damned already.” The fourth Gospel more so than the earlier three teaches that one must "believe" or, be "damned." "Eat the flesh and drink the blood," or you "have no life within you." It does not say people will be judged according to their "works" as in Matthew. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

13) The fourth Gospel is filled with "anti-language" according to social scientists. It is not a gospel about "loving one's neighbor/enemies," neither of which are commanded nor even mentioned in the fourth Gospel, but instead it is about focusing on loving fellow believers and maintaining one's indoctrination, or in the idiom of cults, "love bombing," and maintaining in-group thinking, while everyone else can go to hell: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-gospel-of-john-consists-of-anti.html

To reiterate points 2) and 3) above, there are plenty of commonsense reasons to doubt that John 3 is something the historical Jesus said. See here.

There are also plenty of commonsense reasons to doubt that the Gospel of John’s tales about the raising of Lazarus (and Jesus’ anointing by a “sister” of “Lazarus”) is something that happened. See here.

PERSONAL INFO...

I was born again in my mid-teens, elected president of my Christian campus group. I read all of Lewis' apologetic and fantasy works. All of Charles Williams' novels and his two works of theology, as well George MacDonald's two novels, Phantastes and Lilith that Lewis suggested, and many of MacDonald's sermons and children's tales. And I read Chesterton, boy did I read Chesterton (all his Christian works, plus books of essays, plays, autobiography and several biographies). Did you know that The Everlasting Man was written partially in rebuttal to H. G. Wells' The Outline of History which was a huge bestseller in its day? Chesterton and Wells were also good friends even though Wells wrote a book specifically denouncing Catholicism. In fact when Wells was very ill they exchanged letters in which Chesterton told Wells that he would get into heaven not as G.K.'s friend, but as a friend of man. Of all apologists one cannot but help enjoy G.K.'s posture and wit. Though I disagree with his conclusions regarding how wonderfully joyful the average medieval Christians was compared with people of other beliefs and times, or how idyllic and sane life would be if everyone thought as much of "orthodoxy" as he did, and also perhaps genuflected toward Rome a bit more.

Today I am what one might call an agnostic though I dislike labels. I have more questions than answers. Philosophy and theology are filled with more questions than plain undeniable answers. Meanwhile, scientists have yet to agree concerning how the cosmos began, how it will end, or what it "is" in essence, or what its limitations are, or whether other types of cosmoses exist or impinge on ours, or if our cosmos might give rise to others. Not knowing so much about the cosmos, yet claiming to know so much about "God" and the teensy little region of earth in which He revealed himself in the ancient Near East, a tiny circle where all of His "official" miracles are supposed to have occurred according to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim "holy" writings, strikes me as exclusivistic folly. I'd rather have all children on earth taught about the practical moral wisdom (and lessons of the importance of love) from all times and cultures, starting at a very young age, so that the people of earth might discover that they have more in common and might be able to think in terms of global ethics rather than trying to convert everyone to their own "one true faith." Even then, one can only hope that the right technology arises to ensure the globe will not grow warmer, and that electric grids will not fail as power usage increases worldwide, and that the oceans and lakes and streams can be cleared of their pollutants. That may be too much to hope for. Though I was heartened to hear that some Evangelicals in the U.S. are now defending the theory of evolution (see the BIOLOGOS website), and also explaining to fellow Evangelicals that the ancient Israelites assumed the cosmos was flat, just like their neighbors assumed (see the works of John Walton). While other Evangelicals are even admitting that trying to defend the idea of "biblical inerrancy" isn't worth it (see the works of Peter Enns and Kenton L. Sparks).

Let me add a few more links:

People who don't know me often call me an atheist. But in all honesty... the scientific and NT questions simply run too deep for me to recite with both head and heart any of the creeds of Christianity

How reliable are the criteria for historical authenticity employed by historical Jesus scholars, and what questions has historical research raised for Christian scholars like James D. G. Dunn, Robert Gundry, and Michael Licona? Not to mention Barbara Brown Taylor's questioning of her vocation...

New Testament Questions Galore From a Wide Range of Christian and Non-Christian Biblical Scholars

Gospel Trajectories & the Resurrection (questions as well as sources to read or listen to)

Carnival of Questions for Resurrection Apologists

Looking Forward To Your Physically Resurrected Body?

The stories in which Jesus commands the dead to come back to life, grow less secretive, more public, more impressive, and play a more important role in the story when you read them beginning with Mark then Matthew then Luke and ending with the fourth Gospel

The Word About the Growing Number of Words Allegedly Spoken by the Resurrected Jesus from Mark to Matthew to Luke-Acts and John