I used to be a huge fan of C. S. Lewis' apologetic arguments, but today I have my doubts (ht: Tyler Vela)

C. S. Lewis

I was a huge C. S. Lewis fan, read all of his Christian writings, but also read Beversliusʼ book on C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion and wrote my own criticisms of Lewisʼ arguments:

  1. C. S. Lewis: Provocative, Poignant & Profound Words

  2. C. S. Lewis Resources: Pro and Con

  3. My journey and the role C. S. Lewis played in it

  4. C.S. Lewis & Josh McDowell

  5. Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason

  6. C. S. Lewis and the Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

  7. Edited Collection of C. S. Lewisʼ final letters (with a bit of Hitchen on Lewis at the end)

  8. C. S. Lewisʼs “Man or Rabbit?” and Eric Hofferʼs “The True Believer”

  9. Moral Objectivity, C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert, Edward T. Babinski

  10. The Gospel of John and C. S. Lewis

    C. S. Lewisʼ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”

    Some Reflections on C. S. Lewisʼ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”

  11. Literary Criticism and Historical Accuracy of the Gospels — C. S. Lewis, Jesus, Boswellʼs Johnson, and the Usefulness/Uselessness of Literary Criticism to Nail Down Historical Truth

  12. Did the historical Jesus speak about the necessity of being “born again?” Questions raised by Bart Ehrman and David Friedrich Strauss

  13. Scent from heaven? Who nose? Do tales of Jesusʼ anointing, resurrection & bodily ascension, bear the aroma of truth?

The Christian “Insider/Outsider” Way of Looking at the World Questioned

Christian "Insider/Outsider" Way of Looking at the World Questioned
  • One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”

    Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”

    — Zen Koan

  • He drew a circle that shut me out-
    Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle and took him In!

    — Edwin Markham, from the poem “Outwitted

  • I suddenly thought, “Is there really that much difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’?”
    I had always accepted the qualitative difference between the “saved” and the “unsaved.” Until that moment, it was as if I and my fellow-seminarians had been sitting in a “no-damnation” section of an otherwise “unsaved” restaurant. Then, in a flash, we were all just people.

    — Robert M. Price, “Testimony Time,” Beyond Born Again

  • Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men.

    By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.

    — William James, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”

  • In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mournerʼs bench”—asked for prayers of the faithful—had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences—how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become.

    They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ʽem both, in a great measure.”

    Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring.

    I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.

    — Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”

  • I had what I consider a “spiritual epiphany” regarding “evangelicalism” in high school when a group of friends and I drove to an evangelistic rally and heard the preacher rail on and on against the evils of drinking, smoking, and other things. The evangelist was a spectacular showman and implored the audience to take heed, come forward, let go of any liquor bottles or packs of cigarettes in their possession, repent, and sin no more with Godʼs power. Each word of the evangelist blazed with the certainty that God would heal His peopleʼs sinful ways and a choir was singing with trumpets blaring and the audience grew very excited. My friends all deposited their packs of cigarettes on the growing pile in the center of the rally and prayed with the ushers and pleaded with me to do so as well for the good of my soul.

    I refused.

    No sooner had the emotion-filled rally ended, no sooner had we traveled a few blocks in our car, than my friends bummed cigarettes off me.

    — Dr. Charles Brewer, Professor of Psychology (as told to ETB 7/18/06)

  • An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it…), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddyʼs clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”

    There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.

    If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of oneʼs head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I donʼt go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?

    — Robert Anton Wilson

  • There is an old story of a missionary trying to convert an Indian. The Indian made a little circle in the sand and said, “That is what the Indian knows.” Then he made another circle a little larger and said, “That is what missionary knows, but outside there the Indian knows just as much as missionary.”

    — as told by Robert Ingersoll

  • There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who think thereʼs only two kinds of people in the world, and, all the rest.

    Toleration was born of lengthy experience and reasoning, not divine revelation. Divine revelation taught men to both hate and love “with a vengeance.” So naturally, many Bible believers for centuries abundantly loved all “insiders” (or those whom they were hoping to lead “inside”), and viewed all “outsiders” with suspicion or derision.

    One consequence of literally believing the Bible involves psychologically projecting what one knows is worst about oneself onto “outsiders,” (and blinding oneself to the existence of genuine goodness in “outsiders”). It also involves projecting what one knows is best about oneself onto “insiders” (and blinding oneself to the existence of evil in fellow “insiders”).

    One biblical belief in particular creates and magnifies the force of such “projections.” Namely that, “Insiders are all going to heaven, while outsiders are all going to hell.” So there canʼt be anything essentially wrong with “us” (we are “born again,” we are “sanctified,” we are “baptized in the Holy Ghost,” we have the “correct faith,” we are the “elect” and so on), while there must be something essentially wrong with “them” (otherwise they would not be “eternally damned,” which they “obviously” are-just look at what they believe).

    But, as Joseph Campbell pointed out concerning the growing human population and our increasingly fragile natural and political environments:

    “We can no longer hold our loves at home and project our aggressions elsewhere; for on this spaceship Earth there is no ‘elsewhere’ any more. And no mythology that continues to speak or to teach of ‘elsewheres’ and ‘outsiders’ meets the requirements of this hour.”

R. Joseph Hoffmann does not like lowbrow humor, mere insults, or The Blasphemy Challenge. We agree in many ways, but I have still responded to his piece, The Moral Apathy of Atheism: Leaving it to the Snake, rjosephhoffmann

Moral Apathy

I disagree with Hoffman without being diametrically opposed to everything he wrote in his piece here. For instance, the famous “blasphemers” he mentioned in his piece indulged in anti-clerical humor, not necessarily “atheist humor.” Anti-clerics (people who poke fun at the behavior of priests or practices of a religion) have been around since the days of the pre-Socratics.

But until the late 1800s there remained anti-blasphemy and anti-heresy laws on the books of Christian nations, though decreasingly enforced. Christian Roman Emperors Theodosius and Justinian, condemned “heretics” such as “anti-Trinitarians,” and in their law books called them “demented, insane,” and worthy of being judged by the full force of the state. And so the argument went for centuries, with popes, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, all arguing and agreeing that rulers must persecute heretics and blasphemers.


So Iʼm in favor of a day to commemorate the movement away from anti-blasphemy/anti-heresy laws. People ought to be reminded of just how strongly both Catholics and Protestants argued in favor of such laws. And how strongly some Islamic groups still do.

I also agree with Voltaire and Twain that religion could stand to be satirized. Though I would agree with Hoffman if heʼs merely saying that atheists should do more than just call religionists “stupid.” Thereʼs certainly no wit in doing merely that.

I also understand where Hoffman is coming from. Like Kurtz before him, Hoffman craves serious discussions between atheists and theists, and also wishes to forge alliances between humanistic atheists and theists of all religions. Neither imagine religious belief and practices will end soon. They are interested in Christians, Muslims, atheists, all being the best and brightest they can be—to help maintain the bonds of civil society and civilization.

On the other hand… People, especially younger folks, tend to be less well controlled, more highly excitable, less predictable than Hoffman at his age. Neither are atheism and atheists all alike, neither does Hoffman explain why they should be. One even doubts whether there ever was a completely “new atheism” as some journalist claimed by inventing the phrase.

Neither are all atheists interested in nothing but serious dialogue any more than all Christians are. At heart weʼre all still primates who want alpha males to do the work of leading us, shepherding us, heroes we can point to, whom we can claim “win debates,” or authorities we can cite. So we can feel like “winners,” like we “know things beyond a doubt.” So we can feel empowered. Thatʼs often why people join mass movements, to attach their fragile individual egos to something greater or more enduring than their own individual lives. Read Hoffer.

As for Kurtz himself, Iʼve read some of his works, and met him. He was a serious individual, hard working, and also liked to drink. (I prefer total sobriety.) He invited me to a conference after Prometheus Books published my book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. But I found the jokes and chatting in the bar more entertaining and interesting than the lectures at the conference. But then, I was never much of a fan of mass movements, pep rallies, spectator sporting events, etc. I liked to be left alone to read books, especially about peopleʼs unique individual intellectual and spiritual journeys, and share written dialogues with others, and pluck on my guitar.

On the Christian apologetic “Argument for God's Existence Based on Morality / Moral Duties” (hat tip: Matthew Flannagan at MandM )

God's Existence Based on Morality

The Christian apologistʼs “argument from moral duties” as seen here is merely a twist on the “argument for God based on morality.” But there is no validity to either argument once you consider that even in a cosmos “with God” all pain-inducing acts of nature on humans (as well as humans on humans) remain possible just as in a cosmos “without God.” So the “argument” reflects the Christian apologistʼs fear that we live in a wild and wooly cosmos and their hope that peopleʼs behaviors can be controlled if we all agreed to their particular philosophical/religious views including their unproven assertion that a list of human behavioral likes and dislikes comes “from God.”

But does such a list of likes/dislikes come from God? Humans are prone to constructing top ten lists of what they like or dislike on any subject under the sun, we spend loads of time rating and comparing things inside our heads, and many items on such lists no doubt overlap, especially in the sense of “I donʼt like even the thought of some other person in reality taking away my life or belongings based on that other personʼs whims. Neither do I like the psychological displeasure of being called insulting names, etc.” Those particular dislikes are found on a vast number of peopleʼs inner lists and incorporated into a vast number of holy books, dramas, novels and books of practical moral philosophy spanning ages, not just “in the Bible.” Apologists who want to play at proving God via the “moral argument” should also consider how many large-brained mammals like being part of a society of other large-brained mammals, and engage in peacemaking behaviors so as to remain a part of that society. They should also consider that many animals, especially those with large mammalian brains share not only loads of pain receptors but mirror neurons. And lastly they should consider the brain-mindʼs ability to foresee how pain can come round again to the person who inflicts it if pain or social disorder is allowed to continue and expand. Those make at least as much explanatory sense as the assertion that “God did it,” but without necessarily disproving God, nor affirming the existence of God.

Also, apologists should consider that when human societies were tribal and smaller in number everyone could learn each otherʼs behavior patterns and could together shun a person that had high pain-inducing behaviors, or employ feuds and vendettas on rival tribes. Neither was there much to lose in the way of all the benefits of modern civilization if one lived back in tribal times and oneʼs reed or mud hut was burned to the ground, compared with say, blowing up a modern day metropolis and destroying an enormously complicated infra-structure of food production, storage, and a thousand different inter-connected business establishments. In the case of the tribesmen, they just need to build another reed hut, which they might be able to do with natural materials growing not far from them.

But as human societies grew, everyone could no longer know each other personally and act together to shun those whom they all knew to practice the most pain-inducing behaviors, therefore abstract generalizations and laws and peace-keeping tactics grew in importance.

Today we are connected more globally than ever before, with videos of people from different places showing their aggressive as well as day-to-day, and peace-making practices in their societies, and we see more of ourselves in outsiders than ever before. While computers continue to break down language barriers, and, movies, novels, and other materials are shared and distributed worldwide, which means we are all learning to recognize how much we share rather than lacking direct vision of outsiders and their lives in all their fullness and diversity.

Today we also live relatively peacefully in enormous cities packed with millions of us (something other primates probably could never do), and amuse ourselves in a wider variety of non-murderous ways than ever before. So today the problems we face together on this planet appear to be the enormous amounts of energy and other products made from nature to support such a huge interconnected worldwide population, and if our infrastructure grows too polluted or our energy supply is cut off, civilization could revert to barbarism and a billion or more people could suffer. That appears to be the danger today, not the problem of how many people are going to hell because they donʼt believe like certain Christian apologists assure us we all must believe.

Speaking of which, I wonder if Christian apologists have considered how many people will die and wake up in heaven who knew little to nothing about Christianity while on earth? What kind of a Divine Plan is it that includes such facts as these:

  • Half of all human zygotes naturally perish before the develop to the point of being born, as even admitted by a pro-life doctor.

  • About 20-30 percent of zygotes undergo a twinning after which one of the twins is reabsorbed into the womb or the remaining zygote.

  • Until the 18th century half of all children born died before reaching the age of eight years old due to many natural diseases and infections they are prone to.

  • Natural disasters have killed large populations indiscriminately for tens of thousands of years. Not to mention that according to estimates by a renowned population bureau, seven billion human beings had lived and died on earth before Jesus was born.

  • Christianity is spread via human beings, which leaves much of the world unevangelized and/or told confusing information or wrong information, and even many who heed the call to become Christians wind up nominal ones, leading to many people who know little to nothing about "true" Christianity as "evangelicals" define it.

My Point Is That

IF “God forgives and saves” all those dead zygotes, and all those children who died from 1-8 years old, and the 7 billion people who died before Jesus was born, as well as those who have not heard the Gospel or heard a confused message or the wrong message,

THEN heaven will be filled to overflowing with people who arrived there knowing little to nothing about Christianity. Great Divine plan. (While those of us, who do know something about Christianity, are damned?)

Makes sense I guess (if you happen to be someone like yourself).

Reminds me of the old joke involving the missionary and the Eskimo. An Eskimo hunter asked the local missionary priest, “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”

“No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.”

“Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?”

Of all the failures of which we have any history or knowledge, the missionary effort is the most conspicuous. The whole question has been decided here, in our own country, and conclusively settled. We have nearly exterminated the Indians, but we have converted few.

There is an old story of a missionary trying to convert an Indian. The Indian made a little circle in the sand and said, “That is what the Indian knows.” Then he made another circle a little larger and said, “That is what missionary knows, but outside there the Indian knows just as much as missionary.”

Great minds in evangelical seminaries across the country continue to dispute among themselves as to what is to become of the heathen who fortunately died before meeting any missionary from their institutions.

Robert Ingersoll

Did the historical Jesus speak about the necessity of being "born again?" Questions raised by David A. Croteau, Bart Ehrman & David Friedrich Strauss

Born Again

Major historical Jesus scholar, James D. G. Dunn (who is very moderate but not liberal) doubts that Jesus spoke a word attributed to him in Johnʼs Gospel. Even conservative Christian scholars of New Testament and Greek like David A. Croteau of Columbia International University (Columbia, South Carolina) claim that the words attributed to Jesus in the fourth Gospel are unlikely to be the literal words Jesus used, but more like the author relaying the spirit of Jesusʼs teachings. Reasons for doubt in the case of John 3:16 seem obvious enough…

Letʼt start with what Dr. Croteau says in Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions (pub. 2015), and then add Ehrmanʼs and Straussʼs comments.

According to Croteau, it is a Christian “urban myth” that “Jesus spoke the most famous Bible verse in John 3:16. This myth holds that the red letters in modern Bibles indicate that Jesus spoke John 3:16. But it is unlikely Jesus spoke these words that editors of different Bibles chose to highlight with red letters, because the language is more typical of the author of the Gospel of John, and 3:16 would be redundant for Jesus to speak just after he spoke 3:15. Also, 3:16 speaks of Jesus dying in the past which makes it more likely for the author of that Gospel to have spoken it rather than Jesus himself.” But in the end, itʼs still a thumbs up verse for Croteau, “it doesnʼt matter who spoke the words, they are equally inspired.”

The above is an Evangelicalʼs admission. But letʼs delve deeper, because when you read Ehrman and Strauss you soon find commonsense reasons to question whether the entire conversation in John chapter 3 between Jesus and Nicodemus ever took place.

Here is the conversation:

John 3 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

  1. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;

  2. this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

  3. Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [Greek, “anathon”] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

  4. Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his motherʼs womb and be born, can he?”

  5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

  6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

  7. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again [Greek, ‘anathon’].”

  8. The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

  9. Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”

  10. Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?

  11. Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.

  12. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

  13. No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

  14. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;

  15. so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

  16. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

  17. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

  18. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

  19. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

  20. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

  21. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

After reading the above note that the Gospel of John was composed in Greek, yet Jews in Jesusʼ day spoke Aramaic, so two Jews holding a conversation, such as Nicodemus and Jesus in the Jewish city of Jerusalem, would most likely have been speaking Aramaic rather than Greek to one another. And that means Nicodemus would not have been confused as to the double-meaning of the Greek word “anathon,” which could mean either “again” or “from above,” and which Nicodemus heard as “Ye must be born AGAIN” but which Jesus used in the sense of “Ye must be born FROM ABOVE.” Neither is there any word in Aramaic with such a double meaning according to Bart Ehrman, who told me that the Aramaic word for “again” does not also mean “from above,” nor does the Aramaic word for “from above” mean “again.” So why was Nicodemus confused? Probably because the conversation was invented by a Greek speaking storyteller or perhaps by the author of the Gospel of John himself.

In an email recʼd 9/4/11, Ehrman added:

The conversation makes much better sense as hinging on a mistaken double entendre, as happens, in fact, in the very next chapter where the woman thinks that Jesusʼ reference to “living water” means “running water” (since that is how it is normally described in Greek), when in fact he means “water that gives life.” Both conversations proceed by a double entendre, misunderstood, leading to a re-explanation. That works only if there is in fact a double entendre, possible in Greek but not Aramaic.

Furthermore, the author of the Gospel of John utilizes certain dualistic ideas and characteristic phrases which first appear in the authorʼs lengthy prologue as well as in the mouth of John the Baptist, as well as in the mouth of Jesus such dualisms include:

“earthly and heavenly things”

“flesh and spirit”

“darkness and light”

“truth and lies”

“eternal life and death”

and the conversation in John 3 is no exception. It appears like the author of the fourth Gospel invented this conversation as one more of his dualistic sermons about things earthly and heavenly, and so he employed the Greek word, anothen, with its dual meaning, as well as the Greek word pneuma with its dual meaning since pneuma could refer to either “wind” or “spirit,” and a third dualistic phrase as well, all in the same “dialogue with Nicodemus.”

Now read John, chapter 3, below with the above in mind:

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again/from above.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked [picking up on the “again” meaning of anothen, but ignoring the “from above” meaning]. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their motherʼs womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again/from above.’

Jesus continues by applying another double meaning:

The wind [=pneuma, the same Greek word for spirit] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit [=pneuma, spirit/wind in Greek]. “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

Nicodemus is confused a second time by the authorʼs use of a Greek word with a dual meaning that applies both to earthly and heavenly things, “wind,” and “spirit,” but unlike the previous case the word pneuma had the same dual meaning in Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew, meaning both “wind” and “spirit” in all three languages, since the wind appeared invisible and mysterious/spiritual to all ancient cultures (viz., the “spirit/wind, or even breath” [of life]).

Jesus continues by applying a third double meaning:

“You are Israelʼs teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? [my emphasis] No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up [the same Greek word for lifted up also means exalted] the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [the same Greek word for “lifted up” also means “exalted,” a third play on words], that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” [end of John 3:3-15]

The author continues in that same chapter in dualistic fashion by teaching that you either,

“believe in the name of Godʼs one and only Son,” or,

you are “condemned already,”


you either “love the light” or,

you “love the darkness.”

This is not the Jesus of the synoptics who taught that oneʼs deeds mattered more than what one believed about Jesus, and who said people could be forgiven even if they blasphemed the son of man.

John 3:16-21, the tagline one might say to the conversation with Nicodemus, but note that in the NIV there are no quotation marks around this paragraph, so not even the editors of the NIV assume that Jesus spoke these words, rather these words appear to be the authorʼs—his tagline to the story of Jesusʼ conversation with Nicodemus, just like the lengthy prologue to his Gospel which also were the authorʼs words, not Jesusʼ:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of Godʼs one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Further Questions Related to the Fictional Nature of the Dialogue Between Jesus & Nicodemus in the Fourth Gospel

The biblical scholar David Friedrich Strauss examined the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus and like Ehrman found the historicity of such a dialogue questionable for a variety of reasons.

Conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus by David Friedrich Strauss

The first considerable specimen which the fourth gospel gives of the teaching of Jesus, is his conversation with Nicodemus (3.1-21). In the previous chapter (23-25) it is narrated, that during the first Passover attended by Jesus after his entrance on his public ministry, he had won many to faith in him by the miracles which he performed, but that he did not commit himself to them because he saw through them: he was aware, that is, of the uncertainty and impurity of their faith. Then follows in our present chapter, as an example, not only of the adherents whom Jesus had found even thus early, but also of the wariness with which he tested and received them, a more detailed account how Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee, applied to him, and how he was treated by Jesus.

It is through the Gospel of John alone that we learn anything of this Nicodemus, who in 7.50f. appears as the advocate of Jesus, so far as to protest against his being condemned without a hearing, and in 19.39 as the partaker with Joseph of Arimathea of the care of interring Jesus. Modern criticism, with reason, considers it surprising that in all three synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, there is no mention of the name of this remarkable adherent of Jesus, and that we have to gather all our knowledge of him from the fourth gospel (John); since the peculiar relation in which Nicodemus stood to Jesus, and his participation in the care of his interment, must have been as well known to Matthew a.s to John. This difficulty has been numbered among the arguments which are thought to prove that the first gospel was not written by the Apostle Matthew, but was the product of a tradition considerably more remote from the time and locality of Jesus. But the fact is that the common fund of tradition on which all three synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) drew had preserved no notice of this Nicodemus. With touching piety the Christian legend has recorded in the tablets of her memory, the names of all the others who helped to render the last honors to their murdered master of Joseph of Arimathea and the two Marys (Matt 27.57-61 with parallels in other Gospels); why then was Nicodemus the only neglected one he who was especially distinguished among those who tended the remains of Jesus, by his nocturnal interview with the teacher sent from God, and by his advocacy of him among the chief priests and Pharisees? It is so difficult to conceive that the name of this man, if he had really assumed such a position, would have vanished from the popular evangelical tradition without leaving a single trace, that one is induced to inquire whether the contrary supposition be not more capable of explanation: namely, that such a relation between Nicodemus and Jesus might have been fabricated by tradition, and adopted by the author of the fourth gospel without having really subsisted.

John 12.42, it is expressly said that many among the chief rulers believed on Jesus, but concealed their faith from dread of excommunication by the Pharisees, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. That towards the end of his career many people of rank believed in Jesus, even in secret only, is not very probable, since no indication of it appears in the Acts of the Apostles ; for that the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5.34 ff.) did not originate in a positively favorable disposition towards the cause of Jesus, seems to be sufficiently demonstrated by the spirit of his disciple Saul. Moreover the synoptists make Jesus declare in plain terms that the secret of his Messiahship had been revealed only to babes, and hidden from the wise and prudent (Matt. 11.25; Luke 10.21), and Joseph of Arimathea is the only individual of the ruling class whom they mention as an adherent of Jesus.

How, then, if Jesus did not really attach to himself any from the upper ranks, came the case to be represented differently at a later period? In John 7.48f we read that the Pharisees sought to disparage Jesus by the remark that none of the rulers or of the Pharisees, but only the ignorant populace, believed on him; and even later adversaries of Christianity, for example, Celsus, laid great stress on the circumstance that Jesus had had as his disciples. This reproach was a thorn in the side of the early church, and though as long as her members were drawn only from the people, she might reflect with satisfaction on the declarations of Jesus, in which he had pronounced the poor, and simple, blessed : yet so soon as she was joined by men of rank and education, these would lean to the idea that converts like themselves had not been wanting to Jesus during his life. But, it would be objected, nothing had been hitherto known of such converts. Naturally enough, it might be answered ; since fear of their equals would induce them to conceal their relations with Jesus. Thus a door was opened for the admission of any number of secret adherents among the higher class (John 12.42f). But, it would be further urged, how could they have intercourse with Jesus unobserved ? Under the veil of the night, would be the answer ; and thus the scene was laid for the interviews of such men with Jesus (19.39). This, however, would not suffice ; a representative of this class must actually appear on the scene : Joseph of Arimathea might have been chosen, his name being still extant in the synoptical tradition ; but the idea of him was too definite, and it was the interest of the legend to name more than one eminent friend of Jesus. Hence a new personage was devised, whose Greek name (Nicodemus) seems to point him out significantly as the representative of the dominant class. That this development of the legend is confined to the fourth gospel, is to be explained, partly by the generally admitted lateness of its origin, and partly on the ground that in the evidently more cultivated circle in which it arose, the limitation of the adherents of Jesus to the Common people would be more offensive, than in the circle in which the synoptical tradition was formed. Thus the reproach which modern criticism has cast on the first gospel, on the score of its silence respecting Nicodemus, is turned upon the fourth, on the score of its information on the same subject.

These considerations, however, should not create any prejudice against the ensuing conversation, which is the proper object of our investigations. This may still be in the main genuine; Jesus may have held such a conversation with one of [his adherents, and our Evangelist may have embellished it no further than by making this interlocutor a man of rank. Neither will we, with the author of the Probabilia, take umbrage at the opening address of Nicodemus, nor complain, with him, that there is a want of connexion between that address and the answer of Jesus. The requisition of a new birth, as a condition of entrance into the kingdom of heaven, does not differ essentially from the summons with which Jesus opens his ministry in the synoptical gospels, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. New birth, or new creation, was a current image among the Jews, especially as denoting the conversion of an idolater into a worshiper of Jehovah. It was customary to say of Abraham, that when, according to the Jewish supposition, he renounced idolatry for the worship of the true God, he became a new creature. The proselyte, too, in allusion to his relinquishing all his previous associations, was compared to a new-born child. That such phraseology was common among the Jews at that period, is shown by the confidence with which Paul applies, as if it required no explanation, the term new creation, to those truly converted to Christ. Now, if Jesus required, even from the Jews, as a condition of entrance into the messianic kingdom, the new birth which they ascribed to their heathen proselytes, Nicodemus might naturally wonder at the requisition, since the Israelite thought himself, as such, unconditionally entitled to that kingdom : and this is the construction which has been put upon his question 5.4. But Nicodemus does not ask, How canst thou say that a Jew, or a child of Abraham, must be born again? His ground of wonder is that Jesus appears to suppose it possible for a man to be born again, and that when he is old. It does not, therefore, astonish him that spiritual new birth should be expected in a Jew, but corporeal new birth in a man. How an oriental, to whom figurative speech in general how a Jew, to whom the image of the new birth in particular must have been familiar how especially a master of Israel, in whom the misconstruction of figurative phrases cannot, as in the apostles (e.g. Matt. 15.15f; 16.7), be ascribed to want of education could understand this expression literally, has been matter of extreme surprise to expositors of all parties, as well as to Jesus (5.10). Hence some have supposed that the Pharisee really understood Jesus, and only intended by his question to test the ability of Jesus to interpret his figurative expression into a simple proposition: but Jesus does not treat him as a hypocrite, as in that case he must have done he continues to instruct him, as one really ignorant(5.10). Others give the question the following turn : This cannot be meant in a physical sense, how then otherwise? But the true drift of the question is rather the contrary : By these words I can only understand physical new birth, but how is this possible? Our wonder at the ignorance of the Jewish doctor, therefore, returns upon us; and it is heightened when, after the copious explanation of Jesus (5.5-8), that the new birth which he required was a spiritual birth, Nicodemus has made no advance in comprehension, but asks with the same obtuseness as before (5.9), How can these things be? By this last difficulty one apologist who tries to argue for the historicity of the tale is so destitute of excuses, that, contrary to his ordinary exegetical tact, he refers the continued amazement of Nicodemus—as other expositors had referred his original question—to the circumstance that Jesus maintained the necessity of new birth even for Israelites. But, in that case, Nicodemus would have inquired concerning the necessity, not the possibility, of that birth; instead of asking, How can these things be? he would have asked, Why must these things be? This inconceivable mistake in a Jewish doctor is not then to be explained away, and our surprise must become strong suspicion so soon as it can be shown, that legend or the Evangelist had inducements to represent this individual as more simple than he really was. First, then, it must occur to us, that in all descriptions and recitals, contrasts are eagerly exhibited; hence in the representation of a colloquy in which one party is the teacher, the other the taught, there is a strong temptation to create a contrast to the wisdom of the former by exaggerating the simplicity of the latter. Further, we must remember the satisfaction it must give to a Christian mind of that age, to place a master of Israel in the position of an unintelligent person, by the side of the Master of the Christians. Lastly, it is, as we shall presently see more clearly, the constant method of the fourth Evangelist in detailing the conversations of Jesus, to form the knot and the progress of the discussion, by making the interlocutors understand literally what Jesus intended figuratively.

In reply to the second query of Nicodemus, Jesus takes entirely the tone of the fourth Evangelistʼs prologue (5.11-13). The question hence arises, whether the Evangelist borrowed from Jesus, or lent to him his own style. A previous investigation has decided in favor of the latter alternative. But this inquiry referred merely to the form of the discourses; in relation to their matter, its analogy with the ideas of Philo, does not authorize us at once to conclude that the writer here puts his Alexandrian doctrine of the Logos into the mouth of Jesus; because the expressions, “We speak that we do know,” etc., and, “No man hath ascended up to heaven,” etc., have an analogy with Matt. 11.27; and the idea of the pre-existence of the Messiah which is here propounded, is, as we have seen, not foreign to the Apostle Paul.

In chapter 5.14 & 15 Jesus proceeds from the more simple things of the earth, the communications concerning the new birth, to the more difficult things of heaven, the announcement of the destination of the Messiah to a vicarious death. The Son of Man, he says, must be lifted up (which, in Johnʼs phraseology, signifies crucifixion, with an allusion to a glorifying exaltation), in the same way, and with the same effect, as the brazen serpent in Num. 21.8,9. Here many questions press upon us. Is it credible, that Jesus already, at the very commencement of his public ministry, foresaw his death, and in the specific form of crucifixion? and that long before he instructed his disciples on this point, he made a communication on the subject to a Pharisee? Can it be held consistent with the wisdom of Jesus as a teacher, that he should impart such knowledge to Nicodemus? Even a conservative theologian like Lucke puts the question why, when Nicodemus had not understood the more obvious doctrine, Jesus tormented him with the more recondite, and especially with the secret of the Messiahʼs death, which was then so remote? Luckeʼs ingenious proposal to try and explain such away such a question is to propose that ‘it accords perfectly with the wisdom of Jesus as a teacher, that he should reveal the sufferings appointed for him by God as early as possible, because no instruction was better adapted to cast down false worldly hopes;’ or to say it another way, the more remote the idea of the Messiahʼs death from the conceptions of his contemporaries, owing to the worldliness of their expectations, the more impressively and unequivocally must Jesus express that idea, if he wished to promulgate it; not in an enigmatical form which he could not be sure that Nicodemus would understand. Lucke continues: “Nicodemus was a man open to instruction; one of whom good might be expected. But in this very conversation, his dullness of comprehension in earthly things, had evinced that he must have still less capacity for heavenly things; and, according to 5.12, Jesus himself despaired of enlightening him with respect to them. Lucke, however, observes, that it was a practice with Jesus to follow up easy doctrine which had not been comprehended, by difficult doctrine which was of course less comprehensible; that he purposed thus to give a spur to the minds of his hearers, and by straining their attention, engage them to reflect. But the examples that Lucke adduces of such proceeding on the part of Jesus, are all drawn from the fourth gospel. Now the very point in question is, whether that gospel correctly represents the teaching of Jesus; consequently Lucke argues in a circle. We have seen a similar procedure ascribed to Jesus in his conversation with the woman of Samaria, and we have already declared our opinion that such an overburdening of weak faculties with enigma on enigma, does not accord with the wise rule as to the communication of doctrine, which the same gospel puts into the mouth of Jesus, 16.12. It would not stimulate, but confuse, the mind of the hearer, who persisted in a misapprehension of the well-known figure of the new birth, to present to him the novel comparison of the Messiah and his death, to the brazen serpent and its effects; a comparison quite incongruous with his Jewish ideas. In the first three Gospels Jesus pursues an entirely different course. In these, where a misconstruction betrays itself on the part of the disciples, Jesus (except where he breaks off altogether, or where it is evident that the Evangelist unhistorically associates a number of metaphorical discourses) applies himself with the assiduity of an earnest teacher to the thorough explanation of the difficulty, and not until he has effected this does he proceed, step by step, to convey further instruction (e.g. Matt. 13.10 ff, 36 ff, 15.16, 16.8 ff.). This is the method of a wise teacher; on the contrary, to leap from one subject to another, to overburden and strain the mind of the hearer, a mode of instruction which the fourth Evangelist attributes to Jesus, is wholly inconsistent with that character. To explain this inconsistency, we must suppose that the writer of the fourth gospel thought to heighten in the most effective manner the contrast which appears from the first, between the wisdom of the one party and the incapacity of the other, by representing the teacher as overwhelming the pupil, who put unintelligent questions on the most elementary doctrine, with lofty and difficult themes, beneath which his faculties are laid prostrate.

From 5.16, even those commentators who pretend to some ability in this department, lose all hope of showing that the remainder of the discourse may have been spoken by Jesus. Not only does Paulus make this confession, but even Olshausen, with a concise statement of his reasons. At the above verse, any special reference to Nicodemus vanishes, and there is commenced an entirely general discourse on the destination of the Son of God, to confer a blessing on the world, and on the manner in which unbelief forfeits this blessing. Moreover, these ideas are expressed in a form, which at one moment appears to be a reminiscence of the Evangelistʼs introduction, and at another has a striking similarity with passages in the first Epistle of John. In particular, the expression, the only begotten Son, which is repeatedly (5.16 & 18) attributed to Jesus as a designation of his own person, is nowhere else found in his mouth, even in the fourth gospel; this circumstance, however, marks it still more positively as a favorite phrase of the Evangelist (1.14-18), and of the writer of the Epistles (1 John 4.9).

Further, many things are spoken of as past, which at the supposed period of this conversation with Nicodemus were yet future. For even if the words, he gave, refer not to the giving over to death, but to the sending of the Messiah into the world; the expressions, “men loved darkness,” and, “their deeds were evil,” (5.19), as Lucke also remarks, could only be used after the triumph of darkness had been achieved in the rejection and execution of Jesus: they belong then to the Evangelistʼs point of view at the time when he wrote, not to that of Jesus when on the threshold of his public ministry.

In general the whole of this discourse attributed to Jesus, with its constant use of the third person to designate the supposed speaker; with its dogmatical terms, “only begotten,” “light,” and the like, applied to Jesus; with its comprehensive view of the crisis and its results, which the appearance of Jesus produced, is far too objective for us to believe that it came from the lips of Jesus. Jesus could not speak thus of himself, but the evangelist might speak thus of Jesus. Hence the same expedient has been adopted by some conservative theologians, as in the case of the Baptistʼs discourse already considered, and it has been supposed that Jesus is the speaker down to 5.16, but that from that point the Evangelist appends his own dogmatic reflections. But there is again here no intimation of such a transition in the text; rather, the connecting word “for,” yap (5.16), seems to indicate a continuation of the same discourse. No writer, and least of all the fourth Evangelist (comp. 7.39, 11.51 f., 12.16, 33.37 ff.), would scatter his own observations thus undistinguishingly, unless he wished to create a misapprehension.

If then it be established that the evangelist, from 5.16 to the end of the discourse, means to represent Jesus as the speaker, while Jesus can never have so spoken, we cannot rest satisfied with the half measure adopted by Lucke, when he maintains that it is really Jesus who continues to speak from the above passage, but that the Evangelist has woven in his own explanations and amplifications more liberally than before. For this admission undermines all certainty as to how far the discourse belongs to Jesus, and how far to the Evangelist ; besides, as the discourse is distinguished by the closest uniformity of thought and style, it must be ascribed either wholly to Jesus or wholly to the Evangelist. Of these two alternatives the former is, according to the above considerations, impossible ; we are therefore restricted to the latter, which we have observed to be entirely consistent with the manner of the fourth Evangelist.

But not only on the passage 5.16-21 must we pass this judgment: 5.14 has appeared to us out of keeping with the position of Jesus ; and the behaviour of Nicodemus, 5.4 & 9, altogether inconceivable. Thus in the very first sample, when compared with the observations which we have already made on John 3.22 ff., 4.1 ff, the fourth gospel presents to us all the peculiarities which characterize its mode of reporting the discourses of Jesus. They are usually commenced in the form of dialogue, and so far as this extends, the lever that propels the conversation is the striking contrast between the spiritual sense and the carnal interpretation of the language of Jesus ; generally, however, the dialogue is merged into an uninterrupted discourse, in which the writer blends the person of Jesus with his own, and makes the former use concerning himself, language which could only be used by John concerning Jesus.

Recently Straussʼ work has been made available in audio format free online,

  • HERE,
  • HERE.
    For Straussʼ questions regarding the historicity of Nicodemus in particular see, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Part 2 - History of the Public Life of Jesus Chapter 7 - Discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel §80 Conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, click HERE and listen, or download to a device.
  • Straussʼ printed work is also available online to download and read on any device.

The Gospel of John consists of “anti-language” say Social Scientists. It is not a Gospel about “loving one's neighbor/enemies,” but about indoctrination, or in the idiom of cults, “love bombing,” and maintaining in-group thinking

Gospel of John

There is no command in the fourth Gospel [the Gospel of John] to love neighbors or enemies. Instead, it states, “He who believes not is condemned already” (John 3). The fourth Gospel more so than the earlier three teaches that one is either Godʼs friend or Godʼs foe, one must “believe” rightly, 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. Additional passages in the fourth Gospel state…

  • No one is able to come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me attracts and draws him and gives him the desire to come to Me, and [then] I will raise him up [from the dead] at the last day.
    John 6:44

  • You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.
    John 10:26

  • My command is this [spoken to his sheep, not spoken to “the world”]: Love EACH OTHER as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down oneʼs life for oneʼs friends. [not for oneʼs neighbor or enemy]… You are my friends if you do what I command [love EACH OTHER]… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you… This is my command: Love EACH OTHER.
    John 15:14,16-17

This is “in-group” speech as Malina and Rohrbaugh point out in their Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John. Love other members of oneʼs in-group. The discourse even states it is being spoken to the in-group, not to a crowd, since it explains in John 13: “[Now] before the Passover Feast began, Jesus knew the time had come for Him to leave this world and return to the Father. And as He had loved THOSE WHO WERE HIS OWN in the world, He loved them to the last and to the highest degree.” The in-group speech begins there and runs several chapters. God gives certain people to Jesus, even before Jesus has died on the cross: “To all whom Thou [God] has given him (Jesus), He may give eternal life” (John 17:2). Those are the ones Jesus loves, the true believers, and they are commanded to love one another. Nonbelievers are “already condemned,” or they do not abide in the True Vine and their “branches will be cut off and thrown into the fire.”

Jesusʼ discourse to his true-believing followers winds down with John 17:22-23 where Jesus prays, “That they may be one [even] as We are one: I in them and You in Me, in order that they may become one and perfectly united, that the world may know and [definitely] recognize that You sent Me.” (But if it takes Christians loving one another in “perfect unity,” so that the world can “know” that “God sent Jesus,” then doesnʼt that mean the world has little chance of “knowing” for sure that “God sent Jesus,” because churches, sects, denominations have continued to splinter ever since Jesusʼ day just as they have in other major religions?)

A passage in the fourth Gospel that Universalists cite is John 12:32, “And I, if and when I am lifted up from the earth [on the cross], will draw and attract all men [Gentiles as well as Jews] to Myself.” The Amplified Bible editors added the statement in brackets, suggesting that this passage is not about universalism. Whether the bracketed interpretation is correct or not, it does appear like the author of the fourth Gospel has made it clear that God has only given Jesus “some” but not all of “mankind”. The rest are “damned already” because they “do not believe” (John 3) or, “You do not believe because you are not of my sheep” (John 10).

Malina and Rohrbaugh in their Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John,

“show that the Christian community of Johnʼs Gospel was an ‘anti-society,’ which in social science speak is a consciously alternative society consisting of exiles, rebels, or ostracized deviants. They note parallels between different anti-societies, such as reform-school students in Poland, members of the underworld in India, and vagabonds in Elizabethan England. Like other anti-societies, the folks who penned the fourth Gospel had acquired their own unique ‘anti-language,’ that is, a resistance language used to maintain their anti-societyʼs highly sectarian religious reality. This accounts for many of the strange expressions found in the fourth gospel. For instance, the Christians refer to outsiders as people of ‘this world,’ or, ‘the world.’ They believed that members of wider society — especially ‘the Jews’ — lay outside the scope of redemption and were completely beyond the pale if they didnʼt “believe” rightly. Like all anti-societies, they overlexicalized their language, which basically means that they used redundant euphemisms. Thus, ‘believing into Jesus,’ ‘abiding in him,’ ‘loving him,’ ‘keeping his word,’ ‘receiving him,’ ‘having him,’ and ‘seeing him’ all meant the same thing. Likewise, ‘bread,’ ‘light,’ ‘door,’ ‘life,’ ‘way,’ and ‘vine’ were all redundant metaphors for Jesus himself. These redundant euphemisms formed an anti-language outside of “the worldʼs,” and served to maintain inner solidarity in the face of pressures (or perhaps even persecutions) from society. Unlike the religious language found in the Synoptic Gospels or Paulʼs letters, Johnʼs language would have been meaningless in the context of wider Judeo-Christian society (‘this world’). Understanding this social background is crucial for interpreting the gospel as a whole and controversial passages in particular.”

In short, the fourth Gospel contains a greater number of specialized theological terms not seen in any of the earlier Gospels, all terms that would be meaningful particularly to an in-group seeking to maintain a strong cohesion including condemnation of outsiders, like members of an exclusive religious cult or even like members of an exclusive gang.

So the reason the fourth Gospel does not include Jesusʼ teaching that one must love oneʼs neighbor/enemy (and also does not include the teaching found in Matthewʼs Sermon on the Mount about how “loving oneʼs neighbor is the law and the prophets”) is that your neighbor might not share your “beliefs” about Jesus, so heʼs “damned already,” and the most important thing according to the author(s) of the fourth Gospel is to “believe” the right things about who Jesus was… or else one is “damned already,” one has “no life within you,” one is “cut off and thrown into the fire.” It is a lesson the author of the fourth Gospel repeats ad nauseam, “Anyone who does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (a verse that came in handy during the Inquisition). “Those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” You must even believe the right liturgical things concerning the Lordʼs Supper, because “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Speaking of right belief, the Gospel says it was composed “that ye may believe,” and starts off telling everyone what to believe about Jesus, and has the disciples call Jesus the messiah and much more the instant they meet him, and even has John the Baptist declare what one must believe about Jesus (a line found in no other Gospel), namely that Jesus is “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” something one “must” believe per John 3.

Looking Forward To Your Physically Resurrected Body?

Resurrection Mortal Flesh

Itʼs obvious God wants us to have physical bodies that can fly back and forth from a “new earth” to heaven and back again. After all, we are going to be raised physically and “meet Jesus in the air.” AND we are going to live on a “new earth”—as Paul and Revelation state. So, there will be at least a little flying and landing with our new resurrection bodies.

But I have trouble with whether we will be able to conceive babies on the “new earth,” because if we live forever it will get crowded. Look at the earth now, with death. Now imagine a deathless population eternally begetting babies.

Also, if babies are born on a “new earth” they will have an unfair advantage over the those born on a fallen earth who risked eternal damnation, because on the “new earth” there probably wonʼt be any chance of THAT happening.

So letʼs say “no” to babies on the new earth.

But if we have physical bodies with genitalia that canʼt conceive, can we still have sexual intercourse? On a “new earth” that would be without risk of conception or disease. Sounds like a Penthouse editorʼs wet dream. Sex without consequences. Of course if itʼs just sex with one other person for eternity, might be boring, but what about people who were married more than once on earth and divorced each time, or who never married at all? Can those folks date other folks on the “new earth” and have sex on their first date?

If parts of the Bible are right, God isnʼt that big a fan of sexual intercourse, aside from it being needed to fill the earth. But the earth is overfilled now, and we still canʼt stop rutting long enough to get this “food, air, garbage” thing worked out. So I imagine the urge to have sex with other perfectly healthy physical bodies on a new earth will be just as great if not greater than the urge today.

So hereʼs the options, weʼll either be having sex without risk of pregnancy or disease, or weʼll be conceiving perfectly saved babies that will live eternally with us in infinitely extended families on an infinitely expanding earth. OR… God will delete all sexual urges such that our physically resurrected bodies with their genitalia (with its extra-sensitive nerve endings packed tightly together), and all those baby-making parts, will simply be hanging there “for show” for eternity. Funny. Very Funny, God.

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 starting with earlier Gospels and ending with the fourth Gospel.

Jesus commands the dead to come back to life

One canʼt help but notice a trajectory in stories about Jesus commanding the dead to come back to life, from Mark to Matthew, Luke and John. The stories grow less secretive, more public, more impressive and play a more important role in the story when you read them starting with earlier Gospels and ending with the fourth Gospel. Starting with Mark…

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl in the Earliest Gospel, Mark, chapter 5

…one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and… pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him… some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Donʼt be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the childʼs father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this.

Mark has the girl be near death when Jesus is asked to come see her, and the resurrection takes place only in front of a few people inside the personʼs home, and Jesus says to tell no one about what he did.

Matthew tells the same tale, but has the girl already dead when Jesus is asked to come see her, she is no longer merely “near death.” As in Mark the resurrection takes place inside the home in front of only a few people, but Matthew nixes the command to keep it a secret what he Jesus has done instead adds, “News of this spread through all that region” [presumably, Galilee]. (Speaking of resurrection stories, Matthew also adds a brief note about the “raising of many saints” at Jesusʼ death, but itʼs not a resurrection story in which Jesus commands the dead to live but an apocalyptic add-on to make Jesusʼ death more impressive. Still, it is an additional resurrection miracle compared with the Markan story.)

Luke follows the Markan story of the raising of the daughter including the command to keep it a secret. But Luke adds a second resurrection story to his Gospel, more spectacular than the resurrection tale found in the earlier two Gospels, since in this case the child is not still at home lying in bed but it is being carried on the way to burial, and the miracle takes place in full public view, and not merely in far off Galilee but in Judea, and, “The news spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” Interestingly it is a widowʼs son who is dead in this case, and this Gospel as well as Acts is also known for its focus on “widows” much moreso than earlier Gospels:

Jesus Raises a Widowʼs Son

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Donʼt cry.” Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

The fourth Gospel features the most spectacular resurrection tale of all, that of a man who is already dead, and has already been carried to his tomb, and remains dead for four days and “stinks,” and this takes place in Judea rather than far off Galilee, and the news of this resurrection miracle is portrayed as the REASON why the Pharisees sought to have Jesus crucified. I am speaking of the tale of the raising of Lazarus:

  • John 11:45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

  • 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. …

  • 48 “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

  • 49 Then… Caiaphas… spoke up, …

  • 50 “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”…

  • 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his [Jesusʼ] life.

Hence, 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 starting with earlier Gospels and ending with the fourth Gospel.

Questions Raised by Stories of Jesus' Infancy in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

Stories of Jesus' Infancy in the Gospels

Jonathan Pearce has composed a book titled, The Nativity: A Critical Examination in which he asks questions like these (to which I have added comments):

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

  • Special plead that the virgin birth story found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is true while every other virgin birth stories concocted for hundreds of years before or after that one are mere shades of the true Christian story.

  • Deny that “virgin” in Isaiah is a mistranslation (Translators of Isaiah have disagreed for ages over whether the word refers literally to a “virgin” or a “young woman” whom I grant is presumably young enough to be a virgin, though some uncertainty remains given that we are dealing with nothing but a single word with no other qualifiers given in the Isa. story. The point that I take away when I read the original prophecy in Isaiah is that it was speaking about a perfectly normal act of “conception” of a young woman of virginal age, perhaps during her first time having sex. There is no overshadowing of divine light, no announcement that the child is conceived directly by God with no manʼs assistance. And the sign to Ahaz involves not the manner of the childʼs conception but the state in which nearby kingdoms will be when the child grows to a certain age. So the author of the Gospels is lifting only a tiny fraction out of the story in Isa, and stretching it into a story about a “virgin birth.” That is stretching things a bit Iʼd say.--ETB)

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

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

  • Believe that the genealogies are bona fide and not just tools to try to prove Jesusʼ Davidic and Messianic prophecy-fulfilling heritage.

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

  • Somehow be able to contrive an explanation whereby Herod and Quirinius could be alive concurrently, despite all the evidence contrary to this point.

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

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

  • Give a probable explanation as to how a Galilean man was needed at a census in another judicial area, Judea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Believe that the magi werenʼt also merely a mechanism to supply Herod with an opportunity to get involved in the story and thus fulfill even more prophecies.

  • Believe that the magi were also not a reinterpretation of the Balaam narrative from the Old Testament, despite there being clear evidence to the contrary.

  • Believe that a star could lead some magi from the East to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem where it rested over an individual house (and only a couple of magi followed it, not Herod, or his men, or any of the inhabitants of Jerusalem took to following this amazing moving star that lay so low in the sky it could rest over a particular house? Would have made things rather easy for Herodʼs men to follow such a star and kill the baby Jesus early on, or at least try to do so.--ETB)

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

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

  • Believe that, despite an absence of evidence and the realization that it is clearly a remodeling of an Old Testament narrative, Mosesʼ birth tale, the Massacre of the Innocents actually happened.

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

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

  • Believe that the Flight to and from Egypt was not just a remodeling of an Old Testament narrative in order to give Jesus theological gravitas, a second Moses.

  • Give a plausible explanation as to why the two accounts contradict each other so obviously as to where Jesus and family went after his birth.

  • Explain the disappearance of the shepherds and magi, who had seen the most incredible sights of their lives, and why they are never heard from again despite being the perfect spokespeople for this newfound religion.

  • Provide a plausible explanation as to why Jesusʼ own family do not think he is the Messiah in Mark, given the events of the nativity accounts in later Gospels like Matthew and Luke.

Firstly, there is a serious lack of mention of Bethlehem in any other writing in the New Testament. Although absence of evidence is often claimed (by Christians) as not being evidence of absence, it is hard to deny the force of the lack of mention of Bethlehem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are the only places in which it is mentioned. Neither Mark, John, and importantly, nor Paul corroborate the claims of the other two. It gets slightly more problematic for those who are pro- Bethlehem in that it seems that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Paul is often understood to be writing, in his letters, to people very interested in the Jewishness of Jesus. If he knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and of the Davidic line, you would have thought this would have been a superb mechanism in which Paul could have argued this. Sadly, this evidence is lacking.

The Gospel of Mark seems to indicate that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Mark makes no mention, other than Jesus being from Nazareth, of any other place that Jesus could be associated with in the whole of his Gospel. Mark 1:9 declares, “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Throughout the Gospel, when visiting elsewhere, such as Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28), he is referred to as Jesus of Nazareth. More damaging, perhaps, is the idea in Mark 6 where he returns to Nazareth and this is referred to as his “hometown” (6:1). This is compounded as later in that same episode Mark has Jesus himself saying (6:4), “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” There seems to be little dispute in Markʼs writing that Jesus hailed from Nazareth. In common vernacular and biblical terms, it is no coincidence that Jesus is known famously as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and not ‘Jesus of Bethlehem’! It seems to me that it is more probable that Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth before the Gospels were written so that this title could not realistically be dropped. But since the writers needed Jesus to be born in Bethlehem it was a case of either getting him (i.e. Joseph and Mary) from there to Bethlehem and back again or living in Bethlehem at the birth and then moving to Nazareth.

Luckily, the Gospels have both options. Nothing like covering all the bases! And this leads us onto another issue: Luke and Matthew differ on where Joseph and Mary lived before the birth of Jesus. As Luke 2:3-5 says:

  • And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

Clearly, Luke has Jesus living in Nazareth and having to go to Bethlehem as a result of it being “his own city” (more on this later) and having to attend a census (more on this later, too!). Matthew, on the other hand, has this to say (Matthew 1-2):

  • Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows:… Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…

So, although there is no explicit explanation of where they lived, it is implied by the manner in which the account is given. However, the admission that they had not lived in Nazareth before comes in Matthew 3:21-23 after the family have lived in Egypt for what was probably a couple of years:

  • So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

This spells out a clear contradiction between Matthew and Luke — they could not agree on where Joseph and Mary lived before the birth. Both writers had to harmonize two points: that Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem, and that he had to live in Nazareth. And they both do this in completely different ways. Luke uses a census and a need to go to the town of oneʼs ancestors, whilst Matthew uses an escape to Egypt and the notion that Bethlehem was too dangerous to live in, and the need to fulfill the ‘Nazarene’ prophecy. This is one of those contradictions that, to me, is fairly terminal for the narratives as a whole. Such a fundamental difference, and such dichotomous mechanisms for getting Jesus from A to B, shows at least one, and probably both, accounts to be indefensibly spurious. As Foster, (2007, p. 60) says:

  • The discrepancies [between Luke and Matthew] are real and dramatic. That means that it cannot be argued with a straight face that Matthew and Luke collaborated or had a common source.

This implies that many apologists donʼt argue their harmonizations with a straight face. With the mounting evidence, I can see why. Apologists do, however, use various methods to get themselves out of this corner.

To begin with, apologists will tackle the absence of evidence claim (from the writings of John, Mark and Paul) as not proving anything, per se. Furthermore, it is claimed that Paul would be trying to play down the Jewishness of Jesus in dealing with the many Gentiles in the growing religion. The absence from the other two Gospels is often put down to the notion that writers simply did not have the same source(s) as Matthew and Luke, or themselves did not want to play to Jesusʼ Jewishness. 1 Foster (2007) p. 60

Another tack is that just because Bethlehem offers itself as a very important theological device in validating Jesusʼ authentic Davidic and Messianic qualities does not mean that it is not true that he was born there. Maybe that theological detail isnʼt true, or maybe it is, but that does not, by default, make the claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem false. Well, no, but on balance of evidence, the probability is very low. Taking into account the many inconsistencies between the Gospels, and the places in which there is at least one of the accounts telling a falsity, it does push the evidence towards the improbable end of the spectrum.

Foster analogizes a liberal approach to Matthewʼs use of prophecy fulfillment by using Matthew 21. In this account, since the prophet Zechariah in the Old Testament had prophesied that the king enter Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt, Matthew sees that this must be fulfilled by Jesus, and as a result (Matthew 21:6-7):

  • The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats.

However, Mark and Luke see this as nonsense and have him only riding on a donkey. Foster argues that it is obvious that Matthew is factually wrong here, since Jesus wouldnʼt have been riding two animals at once, but does it mean he didnʼt enter Jerusalem at all? Foster says a resounding no (p. 61-62).

The problem with his analogy is this. Firstly, he shows corroborating evidence that Matthewʼs factual claims (at least of prophecy fulfillment) are simply wrong. They didnʼt happen as was claimed. Matthew is playing fast and loose with facts here; as mentioned before, where else is he doing this where it is not so obvious? Secondly, and more importantly, it is a false analogy. The point is not to say whether Jesus was born at all (as in, entered Jerusalem in Matthew 21), but to say he was not born in the way claimed (as in, he did not enter Jerusalem in the way claimed).

Thus Foster fails in defending the birth narratives in the way intended. What Matthewʼs inconsistent writing does seem to evidence is that Jesus was not born in the way claimed by Matthew (and Luke). It seems Jesus was not born a virgin, did not have a genealogy routed through David, was not born in Bethlehem and so on. What we could have left is this: Jesus was born. But many proponents of the narratives of Jesusʼ birth (narratives) appear to be oblivious to this.

Other attempts to harmonize the problematic accounts include claiming that Matthew didnʼt explicitly say that Bethlehem was always their home, and that they could have lived elsewhere before. This is possible to grant, but the fact that they then decided to move to Nazareth after Egypt clearly shows that they hadnʼt lived in Nazareth before. So the contradiction with Luke remains unanswered.

For more, Click here to read the book!

On the Creativity of the Author of Matthew's Gospel, Especially When it Comes to Tales of Jesus' Infancy

The Infancy Narratives Of Jesus In The Gospels Of Matthew And Luke

There are several ways to view the infancy stories (stories that only appear in two out of four NT gospels, not in Paul, nor in the ostensibly earliest Gospel, Mark). Among the different ways to view the stories there are…

  1. Attempts to harmonize them. But if a lawyer in courtroom responded with possible ways to try and harmonize every discrepancy between witnesses, claiming that every witness he called to the stand was giving inerrant/inspired testimony, who would take such a scenario seriously?

  2. Stressing what points both stories share. Not an inerrantist approach but seeking commonalities between stories. A reasonable method, but in the case of comparing Gospel stories we are dealing with ancient documents rather than first-person flesh and blood witnesses who can be cross examined. So we have to begin by asking where such stories originated. From oral sources? Were the oral sources sharing eyewitness testimony or hypotheses and attempts to aggrandize a cult-hero, i.e. stories crafted to answer questions raised by pious believers in a pious manner, or in a manner that could claim one-up-manship over Roman tales involving their own divine emperor, or even one-up-man-ship over Israelite heroes and miracle-working prophets of the past, so as to attract more followers in either case? And how can we trace possible changes in such tales during their oral period of transmission? How many people were telling such stories, exchanging them, before the stories reached the ear of the Gospel writer? And what might the Gospel writer himself have changed, added or subtracted? How many separate stories from how many people might have been combined to form the ones in Matthew and/or Luke? Itʼs also possible that conscious or unconscious exaggerations could have been involved, as well as spiritual insights being relayed and concretizing in story form (midrash), as well as new interpretations of OT passages being used to color or even generate aspects of a story (pesher). In the case of the Gospels we have only the written product, we donʼt know what went on before the writing or even during it.

    But judging by the Gospel of Matthew it appears like the author was taking Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses]…”) even more seriously than Mark had, especially by adding a nativity story that involved the following parallels between Jesus and Moses:

    • Just as Pharaoh (the King of Egypt ca. 1300 BC) killed all the male babies of the Hebrews, and only Moses was saved (Exod 1:22-2:10), so also Herod (the King of Israel at the birth of Jesus) killed all the male babies in Bethlehem, and only Jesus was saved (Matt 2:13-18).

    • When Mosesʼ life was in danger he fled from Egypt to Israel, but returned to Egypt after many years (Exod 2:15; 7:6-7); when Jesusʼ life was in danger, his parents took the reverse itinerary: from Israel to Egypt and years later returned to Israel (Matt 2:13-21). And that was not merely a reverse itinerary, but it also enabled the author to fit in another parallel between Jesus and Moses: Just as the Old Testament Joseph went to Egypt to free/save his people, the father of Jesus, also named Joseph, went to Egypt to keep Jesus safe, so that Jesus could “come out of Egypt” like Moses had with his people. In both cases this led to peopleʼs freedom/salvation, as depicted by the authors of both the Moses and the Jesus story.

    • Also interesting, we do not read in earlier works like the Pauline letters or the Gospel of Mark the name of Jesusʼ father. The Gospel of Mark only mentions a “Joseph” who buried Jesus. So the name of Jesusʼ father first appears in the Gospel of Matthew, a Gospel soaked in parallels to Moses and the Exodus story. The Gospel of Matthew even says that Josephʼs father was Jacob (Heli in Lukeʼs Gospel) just as the Old Testament Josephʼs father was Jacob, again pointing to a possibly exaggerated emphasis found in the Gospel of Matthew more than all the rest, that the life of Jesus paralleled that of Moses.

    • Also only in Matthew is Jesus depicted delivering a long sermon “on the mount.” Just as Moses goes up to a mountain to receive the Law (incl. the Ten Commandments) from God (Exod 19:3), so also Jesus goes up to a mountain to give a new Law (incl. the Nine Beatitudes) to the people (Matt 5:1).

    • Just as Moses was thought to have written the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Gen, Exod, Lev, Num, Deut), so also the teaching of Jesus is contained in five speeches or extended “discourses” in Matthew (ch. 5–7, 10, 13, 18, 23–25).

    • The Matthean Jesus also explicitly upholds the law of Moses, rather than abolishing it (5:17-20; 22:35-40; etc.)

    • See R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art. Gundry is an Evangelical who was voted out of the Evangelical Theological Society for suggesting that the nativity stories in Matthew were inspired midrash rather than inerrant history, but who was later invited back to speak at ETS events. Gundry has composed interesting works of theology and biblical studies besides his commentary. Also see, Dale C. Allison, Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), more on that below in the ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section.

      But getting back to the topic at hand, which is “How does one view Matthewʼs nativity story?” If itʼs true that Matthew was attempting to write a Gospel that specifically emphasized parallels between Jesus and Moses (emphasizing such parallels to a greater extent than the author of Mark, Luke or John did), then it is interesting that the six parallels above are found first in Matthew, or only in Matthew, including major elements of such parallels being found in Matthewʼs nativity story. Are those elements historical? How could one be certain they were when it appears to be this particular Gospel authorʼs intent precisely to demonstrate such parallels?

  3. Granted that one can find points of overlap between the Matthean and Lukan nativity stories, one cannot help but notice that Matthew and Luke also diverge most from each other in exactly those places where neither could follow the Markan outline, which was precisely in their nativity and post-resurrection sightings stories, both of which Mark lacked. How much historical memory remains in the nativity stories and post-resurrection-sighting stories if those are among the stories that diverge the most between Matthew and Luke? Doesnʼt that recognition raise questions?

  4. One might add that the stories at both the beginning and the end of Matthewʼs Gospel have raised eyebrows even among conservative Evangelicals like Gundry and Licona. Licona pointed out that there are good historical critical reasons to doubt the historicity of the tale found only in Matthew of the “raising of many saints.”

  5. The biblical scholar Mark Goodacre suggests that perhaps the Gospel stories grew over time in a linear fashion with Mark being the earliest, then Matthew, and then Luke which contains re-edits and new material in its retelling of both the nativity and post-resurrection sightings. Goodacre suggests reasons why the Lukan author might have decided not to go with the Mathean “magi” and the “child slaughter” story and “trip to Egypt,” and also why the Lukan author might have decided not to go with the first post-resurrection sighting being in Galilee as Matthew stated. Goodacre discusses such things in his works and in his wonderful free podcast, NTPod.

Additional Information

  • Mark Goodacreʼs NTPod shows dealing with the birth narratives.

  • The Case Against Q website

  • Professor Philip A. Harland and his podcast, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, Podcast 2.4: Matthewʼs portrait of Jesus - New Moses (part 1)

  • Dale C. Allison, Jr. supports the idea of Jesus as a Moses figure in his book The New Moses: A Matthean Typology, asserting that Matthew uses special words and even particular grammatical patterns found in Mosesʼ books, including a narrative structure that is reflective of Exodus. Of course, as Allison points out, most great figures in Jewish history were compared to Moses at some point and in some way, but Matthew seems to do it at great length. In addition to the above examples, Allison cites the narratives of Jesusʼ birth and infancy, his temptation by Satan, his transfiguration and the appointment of his successor as places in the Gospel where the similarities between the two emerge. An example of a place where he feels a direct parallel to Moses is the infancy story, where Jesus narrowly escapes death from a madman ruler named Herod (Matt. 2:12-16), just as Moses also barely escaped imminent death himself when Pharoh ordered all Hebrew children to be killed (Ex. 1:22 - 2:3).

    Detractors have pointed out that many of Matthewʼs references to Moses have in fact come from Mark and Q, but details and changes to these texts made by Matthew are indicative of his intentions. While the Sermon on the Mount is clearly from Q (as it is a set of sayings, most of which also appear in Luke), Lukeʼs version is the Sermon on the Plain. Itʼs a small change that Matthew has made, but a telling one that he has made it on a mountain, in order to parallel the aforementioned story of Moses bringing the Commandments down from the mountain (Ex. 34:29). [Though if Goodacre is right and there is no Q that would also explain how a Christian pro-Torah author of the Gospel of Matthew came to put together sermons that loosely paralleled teachings of Moses.]

Jesus as Moses and More

Another Device Employed by the Author of Matthew to Portray Jesus as Israel

Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthewʼs Gospel by Peter J. Leithart

Matthew, in contrast to the other synoptics, gathers Jesusʼ teaching into large “blocks” of teaching… That this was a deliberate device [employed by the author of the Gospel of Matthew] is evident from the repetition of the concluding (or “transitional”) formula (7:28-29; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1-2). Repetition as a structuring device is common in the Old Testament,15 and given Matthewʼs evident immersion in the Hebrew Scriptures it is entirely plausible that he would have borrowed this literary device, just as he cites Old Testament texts as prophetic types of Jesus. That Matthew employed this formula five times to mark off five sections of teaching also provides evidence that Matthew intended the structure of his gospel to underscore his theme that Jesus is the fulfillment of Torah (and of all the Scriptures).16 The value of Baconʼs five-discourse structure is most evident when integrated with Matthewʼs typological hermeneutic, as examined in Dale Allisonʼs richly detailed, deeply researched, and theoretically sophisticated study, The New Moses. Allisonʼs book is not only stimulating, but utterly compelling. Typology is clearly central to Matthewʼs presentation of Jesus…

Allison finds allusions to various passages in Deuteronomy in the closing section of the Sermon on the Mount,21 suggests that the “transitional formula” first used in 7:28-29 echoes Deut 31:1, 24; 32:45,22 and notes verbal and conceptual links between Matt 9:35-38 and Num 27:15-17 (“sheep without a shepherd”) that point to connections between Jesusʼ commissioning of the twelve and Mosesʼ commissioning of Joshua (Matt 10:1-3 with Num 27:18).23 Matthew 10:1-3 in fact conflates Num 27:18 with Num 13:1. From the latter it borrows “sending” (αποστελον in both the LXX and Matthew), while from the former it borrows conferral of authority (LXX: δοξα; Matthew: εξουσια). The twelve disciples-made-apostles are “spies” who see that the land can be conquered despite Satanʼs presence and mastery; they are also “Joshuas” in their authority and faithfulness.

These hints suggest the possibility that the “Pentateuchal” section of Matthewʼs gospel concludes somewhere near chapter 10, and from that point we move from a Moses/Exodus typology into a Joshua/conquest typology. Given the fact that Joshua is himself typologically compared to Moses,24 it is not surprising that traces of Mosaic typology continue into chapter 10, but these traces become faint because Matthew has brought another typology to the forefront and allowed the Mosaic typology to recede to the background.25 As Matthewʼs story moves on, he makes similar transitions at various points, moving sequentially through the history of Israel with the five discourses, and the surrounding narrative, marking out major periods of Israelʼs history.26 This suggestion may not mark an epochal advance in Matthean studies, but it accounts more fully for the structure of Matthew than any alternative proposals yet made.27

The early chapters of Matthew provide prima facie evidence of the plausibility of this scheme. First, the sequence of events in Matthew 1-7 closely mimics the sequence of the Pentateuch. Matthew begins his gospel with an overt quotation from the LXX of Genesis: He is writing the βιβλοσ γενεσεωσ of Jesus, just as Genesis records the βιβλοσ γενεσεωσ of heaven and earth (Gen 2:4) and of Adam (5:1). Matthew follows with a genealogy, like the numerous genealogies of Genesis (4:16-26; 5:1-32; 10:1-32; 11:10-32; 36:1-43),28 recounts a miraculous birth (cf. Isaac, Jacob) to a dreamer named Joseph.29 Israel has become an Egypt, her king the child-slaying Herod, and Jesus has to escape “by night” (cf. Exod 12:30) to safety, an event that Matthew sees as a fulfillment of a passage from Hosea that speaks of the exodus (Matt 2:15; Hos. 11:1). After his watercrossing in baptism (3:13-17), He is tempted in the wilderness for forty days, where He quotes from passages referring to Israelʼs forty-year sojourn (4:1-11). Ascending a mountain, He instructs His disciples in the righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5-7), laying before Israel the choice between life and prosperity, death and disaster, a choice between maintaining their “house” and seeing it dismantled by a rising “river” (cf. Isa 8).30

Schematically, the opening chapters of Matthew follow the first two Books of Moses as follows:

  • 1:1: Book of genesis = Gen 2:4; 5:1

  • 1:1-17: son of Abraham = Gen 12-26

  • 1:18-25: Joseph the dreamer = Gen 37

  • 2:1-12: Magi = Nations to Egypt for Joseph; promise to Abe

  • 2:13-15: Herod kills children = Exod 1-2: Pharaoh kills children

  • 2:14: Jesus rescued, flees = Exod 2: Moses rescued, flees

  • 2:19-23: Jesus returns to Israel = Exod 3-4: Moses returns to Egypt

  • 3:1-12: John announces judgment = Exod 5-12: Moses/Aaron bring judgment

  • 3:13-17: Jesus passes through waters = Exod 16: exodus

  • 4:1-11: temptation in wilderness = Exod 17-19: travel to Sinai

  • 4:18-22: Jesus calls disciples = Exod 18: Moses appoints rulers chs. 5-7 Sinai and the giving of Torah

Much of this is old hat, and so self-evident that even scholars who resist typological interpretation have a hard time ignoring it. What is often missed, however, is what this implies about the logic of Matthewʼs typology. Though there are certainly “Mosaic” dimensions to the typology throughout these chapters, the typological thread that provides the continuity is overwhelmingly Jesus-as-Israel.31 Matthew 1:1-17 does not mention Moses, and its allusions to Genesis draw on the pre-Mosaic history of the people. Jesus is “son of Abraham” (1:1), who is the father of Israel (Rom. 4:1) and not the father of Moses. Though Allison is probably right to discern some hints of Mosaic typology in Matthewʼs birth narrative, the emphasis on Josephʼs role keeps the later chapters of Genesis firmly in mind. Mosaic typology becomes stronger in chapter 2, but even here Jesus is as much Israel as Moses — He does not lead a people out of Egypt-Israel, but is an infant taken, like the surviving firstborn sons of Israel, out of the land.32 All Israel is baptized in the sea (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-4), and all Israel is tempted in the wilderness. When He teaches from the mountain, He is surely a Mosaic figure, but He is also much more, for He does not deliver words from Yahweh but speaks with an apparently underived authority (7:29).

Not only does Matthew repeatedly treat Jesus as the embodiment of the nation, but the sequence of Matthewʼs narrative is following the order of Old Testament history quite exactly. A few pericopes, to be sure, have are more loosely connected to this typological sequence (e.g., Johnʼs ministry, 3:1-13), but all the sections that are evidently typological are arranged in the same order they are found in the Old Testament. Matthew 1-7 is the most obviously typological section of his gospel, and if in this section Matthew follows a Jesus-as-Israel typology that is, in its general outlines, chronologically arranged, it is plausible that he would continue that typology straight through.

For Footnotes & More, See

Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthewʼs Gospel
Peter J. Leithart

Bishop Spong discusses how Matthew divided his work into 5 books “in a deliberate attempt to model the form of the 5 books of the Jewish Torah,” thus employing “the rabbinical device of numbers in his teaching,” which is seen elsewhere in Matthew as well:

  • 3 temptations (Matt. 4)
  • 3 examples of righteousness (Matt. 6:1-18)
  • 3 prohibitions (6:19; 7:6)
  • 3 injunctions (7:7-20)
  • 3 healings together (8:1-15)
  • 3 miracles demonstrating the authority of Jesus (8:23; 9:8)
  • 3 restorations (9:18-24)
  • 3 ‘fear nots’ (10:26, 28, 31)
  • 3 types of persons unworthy of Jesus (10:37, 38)
  • 3 sayings about little ones (18:6, 10, 14)
  • 3 questions in the Passion Narrative (22:15-40)
  • 3 prayers in Gethsemane (26:36-46)
  • 3 denials of Peter (26:57-75)
  • 3 questions of Pilate (27:15-26)
  • 7 woes (23:13)
  • 7 demons could repossess an exorcised man (12:43-45)
  • Asked a 70 times 7 fold pardon (18:21-22)
  • referred to 7 brethren (22:25)
  • 7 loaves (15:34)
  • 7 baskets of fragments (15:37)

Spong adds that zeal appears to have overwhelmed the rationality of the author of the Gospel of Matthew:

[I]n Matthewʼs eagerness to fashion his story to his Jewish audience, he violated the meaning of his Hebrew text time after time. The enigmatic text in Isa. 11:1, for instance, that referred to a branch out of Jesse could hardly be used to undergird the fact that Jesus went to live in Nazareth, yet that appears to be the way Matthew used it… The details of the crucifixion and burial were not predicted by Psalm 22 so much as they were deliberately shaped by that psalm. The servant passage of Isaiah, the son of man passages of Ezekiel and Daniel, the triumphant passage from Zechariah, the shepherd and Bethlehem passage from Micah all became vital and valuable tools for understanding and interpreting Jesus in the Jewish context. In each instance Matthew altered the original meanings of these texts to suit his own needs. His zeal overwhelmed his rationality. (p. 164)

A greater than Moses …

Thus, explains Spong, Moses, Solomon, the Temple and Jonah became models of the story, also.

If Jews believed Moses had been the greatest religious leader in history, then Jesus must be portrayed as one greater than Moses. This was the guide to the narrating of the Sermon on the Mount.

If Jews believed Solomon had been the wisest man in history, then Jesusʼ wisdom needed to be greater than Solomonʼs. (Matt. 12:42)

If the Temple was believed to have been the place where God made his divine presence known to mankind, then Jesus had to be portrayed in terms of the Temple. One greater than the Temple had come. (Matt. 12:6)

If Jonah stood in Jewish folklore as one who had died and come to life again through the innards of a fish, then the story of Jesus who entered death and conquered it must be told in terms of Jonah. One greater than Jonah had come. (Matt. 12:41)

Thus concludes some of the evidence that the Gospel of Matthew might be the product of greater creativity than conservative Evangelicals are wont to admit.