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Christians admit that difficult questions arise when one attempts to reconcile Christianity and Evolution

Reconciling Christianity and Evolution

From Pete Enns:

‘Evolution is a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death.’

“Evolution claims that the cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, is not viable. That leaves open the questions of where sin and death come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some behaviors Christians have thought of as sinful are understood in an evolutionary scheme as means of ensuring survival—for example, the aggression and dominance associated with ‘survival of the fittest’ and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate oneʼs gene pool. Likewise, in an evolutionary scheme death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolutionʼs ally. So, I repeat my point: evolution cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on, where we can congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This is going to take some work—and a willingness to take theological risk.”
Evangelicalism and Evolution are in Conflict and Thatʼs Fine

“If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.”

From William Van Doodewaard Writing In Books & Culture: A Christian Review

“Karl Giberson aptly notes that ‘many evangelicals … recognize that evolution essentially rules out the possibility that our species consisted of just two people a few thousand years ago. Nevertheless, because St. Paul builds his theology—and his Christology—on the sin of Adam, they are inclined to retain a historical Adam of some sort …. They envision new ‘Adams’ that are often quite different from the Adam in Genesis … to preserve the authority of Paul—who most likely believed in the exact Adam described in Genesis—people are inventing new Adams quite different from the guy in Genesis.’”

“There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, ‘non-literal’ approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adamʼs rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam…”

“For John Walton, Adam functioned as a failed Savior-figure. Death and suffering, which ostensibly had already included thistles, sweat, and pain in childbirth, continued for all as the ‘curse.’ One looks in vain in the Old and New Testament to find such an account: it seems to be a rather creative reconstruction. It also presents questions about Godʼs character. How could such a God be fair, good, and holy in putting such high expectations on an Adam who had been created in what historic Christianity would view as a significantly fallen condition? Where in the text do we find such an Adam—set apart by God from his contemporaries to function as a redeemer? And how could sin be justly imputed to those prior to and contemporary with Adam when they had no part in it by participation or ordinary generation? Why would Scripture be utterly silent on all of this? Where do these new revelations come from?”

“[Furthermore]… if there was no literal Adam or fall, then what is sin? Where did it come from? One can of course merely state a continued adherence to a doctrine of sin—but on what basis?… As Hans Madueme notes, the key prospects now become dualism or monism, both of which lead to an eternality of evil, no reason for confidence in Christ, and no hope of enduring salvation from sin. A third option would be that sin is merely a biological present reality which will fade through evolutionary advancement. But this is no Christian solution either, as Richard Phillips reveals: ‘evolution demands the abandonment of the grand biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption for a narrative of gradual improvement.’”

“Scripture reveals that Christ was the One by whom all things—including Adam—were created. It teaches us with consistent clarity that while Adam, as the first man, brought all humanity under sin and judgment, God had a plan of redemption ready. The literal reading of Genesis provides every ground to recognize that the redemption of fallen men and women will be marked, illustrated, pursued, and confirmed with supernatural activity in history—activity whose nature and timing can only be attributed to God. Passages like Isaiah 35:5-6, where the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, are a glorious prophecy of Godʼs saving re-creation. There is a promised Creator-Redeemer who comes: Christ, the second Adam. He turns water to wine, feeds thousands with loaves and a few fish, heals, restores, raises from the dead, stops wind and waves, and transforms sinners from spiritual death to life. He takes the wrath, the curse for the sin of his people… unto death. The supernatural glory of his resurrection and ascension seal and crown his work as Creator and Redeemer. The first Adam and the second Adam are inseparably connected: when we lose the first, we will lose the second. There is much more to say: I encourage readers to engage with my book The Quest for the Historical Adam (RHB, 2015), and Richard Gaffinʼs recent work, No Adam, No Gospel (P&R, 2015).”

From Jim Stump At BIOLOGOS:

“There is no getting away from some speculation as we try to harmonize natural history and theological history.”

“Perhaps God held Homo species 500,000 years ago responsible for some things; species 200,000 years ago for more; 30,000 years ago even more; and when the law was given to Moses, God held the people accountable in a new way. Perhaps that is an evolutionary reading of Romans 5:13, “sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged to anyoneʼs account where there is no law.” For people before Moses, we might still say the law was “written on their hearts”, but they became gradually and more fully aware of that over time.”

From Terry W. Wardʼs Letter Published In Christian Century, April 22, 2008 [with edits by Edward T. Babinski]

“It is a difficult task fitting evolutionary ideas into the Christian framework, beginning with Paulʼs exposition in Romans 5:12 that ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned’… And what about Paulʼs thoughts on the direct connection of sin with one man and redemption with another in Romans 5:18, ‘Therefore just as one manʼs trespass led to condemnation for all, so one manʼs act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’ Was the trespass that Paul mentions perpetrated by some particularly evil Homo habilus or an especially cunning Homo erectus? The common modern explanation is that Genesis 1-3 is to be interpreted metaphorically. If that is so, why does God require a bloody, horrific, non-metaphorical sacrifice of his Son? This is the difficult task of reconciling evolutionary thought and Christianity… One also has to wonder what it means to live in a ‘fallen’ world where no such fall has occurred [where death, predation, aggression, have always been, long before any species vaguely resembling an ‘Adam’ ever evolved]. So without an historically ‘good’ creation ‘in the beginning,’ and without an historical Adam and Eve or historical fall, the problem of natural evil becomes one of even more stark contrast. The answer to suffering parishoners that we ‘live in a fallen world’ makes less sense if every living thing was cursed with death–and over 90% of every ancient species was cursed with extinction–long before human beings even showed up in this less than Edenic cosmos.”

From Tim Widowfield, Strange Bedfellows — Evolution And Christianity

“Did a separate group of hominids reach a certain point at which their brains could handle a ‘soul?’ And where was the cutoff point? Can you imagine the heartbreak of knowing your mom and dad arenʼt endowed with the image of God? Try this on for size: ‘Grandma and grandpa arenʼt going to heaven — not because they sinned, but because they were animals.’”

From Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Christianity And Evolution

“So long as people believed, as St. Paul himself did, in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years – so long as people thought the stars were satellites of the earth and that animals were there to serve man – there was no difficulty in believing that a single man could have ruined everything, and that another man had saved everything.”

From Edward T. Babinski:

“I am familiar with the accommodationist attempt to equate the creation of Adam and Eve with the arising of human consciousness. In other words, aggression, predation, suffering, death and even extinction were around long before the first successful continuing species of upright large-brained primate — but that primate had slowly evolved to a point where it could recognize such things and how awful they are, including things like nakedness, how shameful. Thus guilt was born. But in such an accommodationist scenario one is stuck with the fact that God made aggressive impulses, predation, suffering, death and extinction, even felt they were necessary in order to squeeze out upright primates in the end. So it looks more like a rise over time than a ‘fall.’ Maybe God was the one slowly evolving a moral sense over time, and the one who should feel most guilty?”

From Edward T. Babinski [simplified versions of arguments found in the book, Evolving Out Of Eden: Christian Responses To Evolution]

Reconciling Christian theology of the Adam and Eve tale with modern science seems a bit of a task. For instance…

Hadnʼt animals been acting both aggressively and cooperatively toward one another for ages before upright primates ever existed? So why would God expect the first upright primate couple to act with far less aggression than all the rest of the animals on earth–and then damn all the children of the first couple to hell when they did? Death, fear, anxiety, quick hormonal fight or flight reactions, including aggressive impulses (as well as cooperative impulses) were all part of the early upright primate genome inherited from its primate cousins. So why damn the first couple to eternal hell? The very evolutionary process that God employed to create the genomes of upright primates ensured a host of problematic behavioral imperfections right from the start.

Put another way, men and women are ‘sinful’ because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species. You wonʼt find many shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to reproduce and survive in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, fear, anxiety, starvation, sickness, death and extinction events, long before the “image of God” arrived. What we inherited from our biological ancestors seems to have been the very traits that allowed them to produce more of their kind, traits often involving selfishness, aggression, unbridled curiosity (as well as traits involving cooperation and forgiveness). Consider the “anger reaction,” aggressive outbursts that we all lapse into from time to time. Those are to be expected evolutionarily speaking, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isnʼt much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce, or a fellow primate is coming at us to keep us away from his food, or his mate, or even his harem in case of Pan chimpanzees (though Bonobos are certainly different in not having harems, and having sex freely with other chimps). Is having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response our “sinful” fault; or is it part of the way our brains evolved to function?

Christian apologists object that such a biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on long evolved biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domningʼs “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologistsʼ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animalʼs lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends. Does such a view make much sense?

Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Maryʼs? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. Thatʼs because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Maryʼs zygote. So letʼs say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Maryʼs chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. Weʼve already gone over that.

From Edward T. Babinski:

A few related question is, What are “sins?” Where do sins exist apart from being past acts? As humans we experience memories of being hurt, but donʼt experience “sins” as distinct entities. Are “sins” the “bad” memories of God? Do such memories “soil” Godʼs mind? And he has to dispose of them? And He canʼt forget/forgive them without blood being shed? What exactly is the connection between shedding blood and Godʼs memories no longer being a bother to him or us? I donʼt get how these things connect. When I forgive someone I simply forgive them, no need to shed blood. Nor can God be harmed by mere humans, but he requires blood being shed before He can truly forgive anyone anything? Is the death of Godʼs son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? How so, since killing Godʼs son has got to be among the numero uno of “sins” humans could commit?

Humans share so many traits with our ancestors what great need is there to introduce concepts like ‘sin’ or some ideal human couple or group who fell from some alleged state of moral neutrality during earlier stages of their evolution, and instead admit that humans have simply retained some of the same aggressive and cohesive/friendly instincts and desires as their ancestors, and as seen in non-human mammals with large complex nervous systems such as elephants, dolphins, and great apes (notably bonobos)? In other words, do we need Christian theology to explain matters that science has already tied to physiological and behavioral studies of primate evolution, ethology, cognitive science, etc.? And if God employed evolutionary means and methods over billions of years of birth and death, suffering and joy, evolution and extinction, doesnʼt that seem like God left things to sort themselves out over those eons? So why is it necessary to introduce such theological concepts as ‘sin’ and ‘fall?’

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The Resurrection of Lazarus, Questions Galore

The Resurrection of Lazarus

The Anointing Stories in the Synoptic Gospels Raise Questions Concerning the Historicity of the Raising of Lazarus Story in the Fourth Gospel

According to the Gospels Jesus was anointed with (or received) perfume numerous times in his life. Are all the tales true? Are any of them symbolic, legendary? At his birth Jesus allegedly received a visit from an unknown number of wealthy star gazers (was it two? three? more than three? Matthew does not say) who traveled far to deliver gifts of “frankincense and myrrh” (not to mention an unknown quantity of “gold”), at least thatʼs what the Gospel of Matthew states, none of the other Gospels happen to mention such a tale.

During his adulthood Jesus encountered expensive perfume again when women began anointing him with it. There is one story of the anointing of the adult Jesus in each Gospel. One was sufficient for the purposes of each Gospel author. To try and combine the anointing stories of all four Gospels into a single “life of Jesus” is to ignore the differences between each, and would add up to three separate tales: One found in Mark and Matthew which are in substantial agreement, another in Luke that disagrees with Mark/Matthew, and a third tale in John that features elements of the tales in Mark and Luke but also disagrees with them, giving us a total of three separate anointing stories. So was Jesus anointed three times? Or did the story change over time?

The failure of attempts to harmonize such stories reminds me of similar attempts made by conservative Christians to harmonize stories of “Peterʼs three denials of Jesus” that are found in all four Gospels (a total of twelve denials). The circumstances of each denial disagree as to where, when, and, in response to whom. Some of the individual denials are easier to harmonize with those in other Gospels, some less easy to harmonize. But disagreements between denials were so blatant in some cases that one conservative Christian insisted Peter must have denied Jesus as many times as there are unharmonizable incidents in all four Gospels. That Christian had convinced himself that Peter may have denied Jesus more than three times, maybe six or more times, so long as he could find a way to retain the historical truth of every divinely inspired detail in his Bible and read the Gospels like a single story—instead of four separate stories, including some that changed over time. He continued to argue that his solution of multiplying the total number of denials was the most reasonable, regardless of the fact that each Gospel by itself agrees with the others that Jesus only mentioned three denials by Peter.

Below are the tales of the anointings of Jesus. The tales in Mark and Matthew are probably the earliest and they parallel each other so closely as to suggest a common literary source. They also agree that perfume was poured on Jesusʼ head:

Mark 14:3,8 (NIV) ‘While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head…to prepare for my burial.’

Matthew 26:6-7,12 (NIV) ‘While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table…to prepare me for burial.‘

By the time Lukeʼs Gospel was composed the story seems to have changed. It is no longer Jesusʼ head that is anointed with expensive perfume but his feet, by a female sinner who first washes them with her tears and wipes them with her hair, and Luke places the anointing in an early chapter of Jesusʼ ministry, so early that Jesus is shown dining with a Pharisee:

Luke 7:36-38 (NIV) ‘When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Phariseeʼs house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Phariseeʼs house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.’

In all three of the earliest Gospels the woman who anoints Jesusʼ head or feet is not named. But by the time the Gospel of John was composed a name had been allocated to the “anointress” (if I may coin a term), “Mary.” The author even says this was the same “Mary” whom Luke had mentioned in his separate tale of the “two sisters,” one of whom “sat” at Jesusʼ feet listening to him (Luke 10:38-42). But in the Gospel of John this Mary is no longer the one in Luke who merely “sat” at Jesusʼ feet and drew sighs from her sister who wished to scold her for sitting inertly on the floor and leaving her sister with all the kitchen work. Instead, the “Mary” in the Gospel of John is active, dramatically so, for she is depicted as anointing Jesusʼ feet and wiping them with her hair, resembling Lukeʼs anointing story about the unnamed female sinner in the home of the Pharisee. The Gospel of John adds that the whole house was filled with the aroma after about a “pint” of perfume was poured on Jesusʼ feet, so I guess there was no skimping on the perfume per John—nor does John skimp on the perfume in yet another anointing episode found only in that Gospel, but before proceeding to that episode here is the story of Johnʼs “Mary”:

John 12:1-3 (NIV) ‘Six days before the Passover [Note: Jesus dies five days later in this Gospel, on the day before Passover], Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesusʼ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard [Note: “pure nard” is an unusual and precise phrase that appears in Markʼs earlier version and some commentators suggest that the author of the Gospel of John was acquainted with the tales in both Mark and Luke, combining elements of both to form a third tale], an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesusʼ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. [Note how this resembles the tale in Luke, but the order in which the perfume is applied and the feet wiped is reversed. In Luke Jesusʼ feet are washed (with tears, something John does not mention) and wiped with hair, and only then is the perfume applied. But in John the perfume is applied and the feet are wiped with hair. So in John, Maryʼs hair is full of perfume, but in Luke the womanʼs hair smelled only of the dirt on Jesusʼ feet. The tale in John differs in this and other respects from earlier anointing tales but also demonstrates some knowledge of the story in Mark and Luke.] And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’

Also, in the Gospel of John not only did the feet of Jesus receive about a pint of perfume, but five days later the same Gospel says Jesusʼ lifeless body was wrapped with “seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes.”

But wait, thereʼs another perfume story I have not mentioned, but we must return to the earliest Gospel, Mark, to find it. That Gospel says that after Jesus died some women “saw” where Jesus had been laid and they returned to the tomb a day and a half later carrying “spice” with which they planned to anoint the body. Probably not “seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes” as in John, and which was not said to have come from those ladies. But comparing Mark with John and attempting to combine the two stories one might wonder how the ladies who saw where Jesus had been laid also failed to note the odor of seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe, an odor that probably followed Jesusʼ body into the tomb or filled the air around it. I would have thought women had better senses of smell, or if they saw Jesusʼ body being hoisted into the tomb they might have at least seen how Jesusʼ body gained 75 pounds of bulky wrappings after he died and that men were straining to maneuver it into the tomb, even on a stretcher, or if the body was not anointed until after it was laid flat in the tomb then perhaps the woman might have seen large jars of spice and wrappings being carried into the tomb. Instead, the early tale in Mark of the hastily buried (and unanointed) body of Jesus, and the tale in John of the heavily anointed body of Jesus simply pass in the night, each going in their own direction without connecting at all.

Of course the differences between the story of Mark and John pose little difficulty once one accepts that the story in Mark is a completely different tale from Johnʼs. Mark imagined Jesus being buried hastily leaving no time for anointing. While John has Jesus laid out in style, seventy five pounds worth of style. The Gospel of Matthew introduces another take on the tale in Mark because in Matthew there is no mention of the women having “spice” and a desire to anoint Jesusʼ body, instead they come to “see” the tomb. Why does Matthew alter the reason why the woman arrive Sunday morning? Because in Matthew the tomb is sealed and guarded (a story found only in Matthew and no where else). So the women would have had no chance of getting near Jesusʼ body let alone “spice” it up, so Matthew says the woman only came to “see” the tomb. Itʼs obvious at this point that different Gospel writers told different stories and changed them to fit with whatever else they wrote.

Returning to the depiction in the Gospel of John, of Jesus having about a pint of perfume poured on his feet by Mary such that the whole house smelled of it, and five days later Jesusʼ body being wrapped with seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe, one might wonder if there is any mention in John of the resurrected Jesus smelling of perfume after having arisen a day and a half later and shown himself to a woman and to the apostles. But there is none.

Nor is there mention of the resurrected Jesus smelling of perfume in any of the earlier Gospels. Of course Mark and Matthew, presumably the earliest two Gospels, feature no “seventy-five pound” anointing of “myrrh and aloes” of Jesusʼ body as in John, and they agree that an announcement was made at the empty tomb that Jesus had gone before the apostles to Galilee (“There you will see him”), so, it would take a while to reach Galilee before the apostles would even be near Jesus. Itʼs only in later Gospels (Luke and John) that there is no long delay before the apostles get to see the resurrected Jesus, for neither of those Gospels mention Jesus going ahead to Galilee to be seen there, but instead they have Jesus appearing in Jerusalem on the same day heʼs allegedly resurrected. So Jesus gets to meet the apostles sooner in Luke and John than in the earlier Gospels, Mark and Matthew. But no mention of the resurrected Jesus smelling of perfume in either Luke or John.

You can also see how the tale of Jesusʼs burial became more aggrandized over time from Mark to Matt, Lk, John:

“When you look at Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the story of the burial of Jesus, knowing that Mark is the basis for Matthew and Luke and that possibly (this is debated in scholarship) they may be the source for John, you watch the bodyʼs burial get steadily better. Itʼs a hasty hurried burial in Mark. By the time Matthew and Luke read Mark and develop the story itʼs a burial in a tomb in which nobody else has been laid and theyʼre explaining to you why Joseph of Arimathea was able to be a counselor for Jesus but not against him on Thursday night as it were. The story is developing, and by the time you get to Johnʼs account the burial of Jesus is – I wouldnʼt even say royal – itʼs transcendental, thereʼs so many spices used they would have filled almost the entire tomb, itʼs a magnificent burial, itʼs the burial of the son of God when you get to John. What happens is that as a historian when I retroject that trajectory of a burial that keeps getting better and better, and ask what was there in the beginning, it doesnʼt look very good. It looks like all they might have had in the beginning was a hope that maybe some pious non-Christian, a Jew, out of respect for the Jewish law of Deuteronomy, would have buried Jesusʼ body (instead of letting the Romans do what they usually did with the people they crucified, which was to toss the bodies in a common grave). But if a Jew asked Pilate for the body and gave it a burial that immediately raises the issue that the writers of the Gospels also must have seen, namely wouldnʼt Joseph also have buried the two robbers, presumably fellow Jews, who were with Jesus? And wouldnʼt there at least be three in the tomb? Would it be a public tomb for criminals? Then how would we know which was Jesusʼ body? And so you can see the Gospel writers, I think, grappling with the difficulties of trying to have Jesus rescued from a common grave — a story whose original I donʼt think is historical and which grew in the telling over time. I think it is their fervent hope, their best hope, that somebody took care of the body of Jesus.”
— John Dominic Crossan as heard on “Jesus and Crucifixion, a Historical View,” Fresh Air from WHYY, Mar. 20, 2008 (with some edits)

Related to the Anointing Story is the Story of the Resurrection of Lazarus

Letʼs look at the story of Lazarus beginning with the story of Lazarusʼs alleged sisters, ‘Mary and Martha,’ and how ‘Mary sat at Jesusʼs feet,’ ‘anointed them’ with perfume, and ‘wiped them with her hair’ in the town of ‘Bethany.’ (John 12) Stories similar to that anointing story are found in the earlier three Gospels:

Mark 14:3 — An unnamed woman anointed Jesusʼs head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper.

Luke 7:37-38 — An unnamed sinner anointed Jesusʼs feet and wiped them with her hair in Nain at the house of a Pharisee.

Luke 10:38-39 — Mary, the sister of Martha, listened at Jesusʼs feet in an unnamed town at her house.

Now consider this: Did you ever get confused about similar events like those listed above? Say, in a Sunday School discussion, you mixed up the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesusʼs ‘head’ with the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesusʼs ‘feet.’ Was it Nain or Bethany? Or you confused the woman who ‘listened’ at Jesusʼs feet with the woman who ‘anointed’ Jesusʼs feet? The unnamed sinner lady in Nain, became, until you looked it up, Mary, sister of Martha? Well, something like that appears to have happened in the minds of Christians before the Gospel of John was composed, the last written of the four Gospels. By that time, similar persons and events from the earlier Gospels had become amalgamated in peopleʼs minds. In John 12:3, Mary, the woman who simply ‘listened’ at Jesusʼs feet is now also anointing them and wiping them with her hair. Thus the unnamed woman of the town of Nain became amalgamated in peopleʼs minds with ‘Mary, Marthaʼs sister.’ And the unnamed town where Mary lived became amalgamated with the town where the woman who anointed Jesusʼs ‘head’ lived, ‘Bethany.’ And Mary used expensive ‘spikenard ointment’ on them, as the lady in Mark (and possibly Luke) did. Only this time is it not at Simon the Leperʼs house, nor at the house of a Pharisee, but at ‘Maryʼs house.’

What does the above discussion have to do with the ‘resurrection of Lazarus’ story? Well, it shows how the Gospel of John amalgamates things from earlier Gospels. And only the Gospel of John depicts Lazarus as a real person. Luke mentions a real Mary and Martha, but says nothing about them having a brother, nor in which town they lived. So the author(s) of the Gospel of John appear to have amalgamated Mary and Martha, the town of Bethany, and the ‘Lazarus’ from a parable in the Gospel of Luke — a parable in which a poor beggar named ‘Lazarus’ dies and goes to ‘Abrahamʼs bosom,’ while a rich man suffering in nearby ‘Hades’ sees Lazarus and pleads with Abraham to ‘send Lazarus to my Fatherʼs house, to warn my brothers, so they may repent [and avoid going to Hades],’ to which the answer was, “nor will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”

Think about it. A ‘Lazarus’ who dies and someone who hopes Lazarus will be ‘raised from the dead’ to ‘persuade others’ ‘to repent.’ But such persuasion is predicted not to work. Where does that appear outside of Luke?

Why in John. Johnʼs ‘Lazarus’ is now a concrete person, the ‘brother’ of Mary and Martha from Luke. (Nor is this Lazarus a poor ‘beggar,’ since heʼs rich enough to have his own tomb and live in a house with his ‘sisters.’) He is ‘raised from the dead’ — a parable come true. And, as predicted in the parable, such a miracle fails to persuade those who refuse to listen to Moses and the prophets, namely the Pharisees: “Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done.” The Pharisees refuse to repent, and even decide, after hearing of this great miracle, to seize Jesus and have him executed. What a coincidence! Two ‘Lazaruses,’ one in Luke and one in John, both die, both illustrate that “even though he be raised from the dead, they will not be persuaded,” in fact, ‘Lazarusʼs resurrection’ in the Gospel of John elicits even a stronger negative response!

Not surprisingly, when you include a miracle found in none of the other Gospels, and make it the focal point for the Phariseesʼs decision to plot to take Jesusʼs life, you have to do something with the overturning of the tables episode which seemed so incendiary in all three synoptic Gospels, along with Jesusʼs subsequent public denunciations against the Pharisees in the temple. Instead, the author(s) of the Gospel of John have Jesus enter Jerusalem for the final time and donʼt mention him overturning tables or publicly preaching against the Pharisees in the temple prior to his arrest and execution, instead they have Jesus enter Jerusalem in chapter 12, and speak and pray with his at length prior to being arrested and executed. In the Gospel of John the table-turning episode appears at the beginning of Jesusʼs ministry rather than at its end, perhaps to emphasize the stunning resurrection of Lazarus miracle found only in John, and make that the incendiary catalyst.

The question remains, did the ‘raising of Lazarus’ actually take place or might the story have been a later invention, based on an amalgamation of information and names found in earlier Gospels? The moving of Jesusʼs ‘table-turning’ episode from the end of the earlier Gospels to the beginning of the Gospel of John adds to the force of such a question, since the author(s) of John seem heavily focused on making the raising of Lazarus (a miracle not found in any other Gospel), the primary reason why the Pharisees plotted to take Jesusʼs life:

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.’

Stories of Jesus Raising People from the Dead Grow more Public and More Impressive from Mark to Matthew and Luke, and Finally John with the Raising of Lazarus, Raised Publicly After Four Days of Being Buried and Stinking

In Mk Jesus is asked to HEAL someoneʼs daughter who is “at the point of dying,” he arrives and people are mourning, saying she has died and Jesus clears the room and raises her in the company of her immediate family and some disciples.

In Matthew the tale is repeated, though when Jesus is first asked to come he is told that the child has ALREADY “died,” not being merely “at the point of dying” as in Mark.

In Luke the tale is repeated, but Luke now adds a second resurrection miracle tale not seen in their Mark or Matthew. The tale of a child who was not merely “raised” inside a private home, such a miracle being seen by only a few, but in this new tale, Jesus raises a child who is on the way to the cemetery, and this child is raised publicly. So this new resurrection miracle is grander than any that appeared in Mk and Mt.

In the fourth Gospel, John, the grandest resurrection miracle is found, someone raised not privately in a house, and not on the way to being buried, but someone already buried, for a few days, and that resurrection is the most public of all, and becomes the reason the Pharisees seek Jesusʼ own death due to how people were reacting to this very public resurrection, which also was apparently near Jerusalem, nearer Jerusalem than the others in the earlier Gospels if I recall.

Note also that Jesusʼs miracles of raising children in Mark/Matthew/Luke, resemble reworked versions of miracles of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, sometimes even copying the exact Greek phrases and settings as one can read when one compares the miracle tales in the Greek O.T. (the Septuagint) with the Gospel miracle tales involving Jesus.

Reasons Scholars Doubt that Jesus Spoke the Lazarus Parable in the Gospel of Luke

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) by Charles W. Hedrick, Professor Emeritus, Missouri State University

There is only one version of this parable: it comes from Lukeʼs special parables tradition. Joachim Jeremias, the distinguished German New Testament scholar, pointed out that of the ninety examples of the Greek historic present1 appearing in Markʼs gospel, Luke has only used one from their shared material (Luke 8:49).2 In Lukeʼs special parables tradition, however, he has used the historic present five times in narrating parables (13:8; 16:7; 19:22), two of which appear in Rich Man and Lazarus (16:23, 29). Jeremias argued from these observations that the contrast in the use of the historic present between Lukeʼs broader gospel narrative and his parables constitutes “clear evidence of an underlying pre-Lucan tradition.”

He further pointed out that the first part of this parable (Luke 16:19-26) reflects well-known folk material deriving from Egyptian traditions (The Journey of Si-Osiris to the Underworld), which was transported to Palestine as the story of the poor scholar and rich Publican, Bar Maʼjan.3 His view is that Jesus made use of the underlying folk narratives to compose his own story. The second part of the parable (Luke 16:27-31) is a new epilogue that Jesus added to the traditional folk material in the first part; hence the emphasis of Jesusʼ parable lies in the second part. Further, the parableʼs title should be the “Parable of the Six Brothers.”

The result of the discussions of this parable by members of the Jesus Seminar concluded that this parable did not originate with Jesus for several reasons: because folk tales about a rich man and a poor man whose fates were reversed in the next world were well known in the ancient Near East; in no other genuine parable of Jesus were characters given names; and that an interest in the plight of the poor is a special interest of the author Luke. The result of the combined vote of the Fellows was that the first part of the parable is questionable as a parable originating with Jesus. The second part, which described the six brothers, concerns the characteristic early Christian theme of the Judean lack of belief in the resurrection. For these reasons ninety percent of the fellows voted against the parable as originating with Jesus.4

Hence, on balance, there are enough questions about the pedigree of this parable to seriously question it as a parable composed by Jesus of Nazareth. Not all agree, however. For example, one critically trained scholar is aware of most of these challenges to the parable as a composition by Jesus, but nevertheless argues the following: “Although the parable in its present wording has clearly been transformed by Christian allegorization, it would seem that a nucleus of the parable can be attributed to Jesus.”5 And he even uses a 12th century painting of Lazarus at the rich manʼs gate on the dust jacket of his hard-back book, in a sense symbolizing all the parables.

Perhaps it is time that critical scholars formulated a history of religions rule for evaluating parables that states: “The more certain it is that a parable reflects themes, plots, values, and traditional religious views of antiquity, the less certain it is that the parable originated with Jesus of Nazareth.” The rationale for the rule is the following: because the parable makes extensive use of well-known traditional material it is far less certain that it might have originated with Jesus. The problem is not that one has thereby disproven its origin in the mind of Jesus, but that one cannot disprove that it originated with the gospel writer or elsewhere in antiquity. In attributing the parable to Jesus one runs the risk of attributing ideas to Jesus that were not his own. And for those reasons it should not be included in a database for determining the characteristic ideas of Jesus.

1 The Greek “historic present” is the use of a present tense where one would have expected a past tense. For example, in telling a story a narrator says: “and he says…” instead of the expected “and he said…” The historic present is a characteristic literary feature of Markʼs gospel, but not of the other two.

2 Jeremias, Parables of Jesus (6th edition), 182-86. See Hawkins, Horae Synopticae,149.

3 Jeremias, Parables, 183, 178-189.

4 Funk and Hoover, Five Gospels, 360-62.

5 Hultgren, Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2000), 115.

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Is the Atheist My Neighbor? a book by Randal Rauser, reviewed by Edward Babinski

Is the Atheist My Neighbor?

Dr Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary and blogs at The Tentative Apologist. In his book, Is the Atheist My Neighbor? Randal denounces the narrow “rebellion thesis,” i.e., that atheists moreso than any other people are in rebellion (often conscious direct rebellion) against the one true God and one true religion.

Randal points out how popular the narrow “rebellion thesis”/ has been, and still is, among conservative Christians, and how simplistic and naive it is when it comes to explaining how and why people actually become atheists. (He also points out some differences in how different atheists view their atheism, along with differences in how they react to the God question and treat God believers.)

Randal also questions the persistent use of a few isolated passages of Scripture used to support the narrow “rebellion thesis.” He argues that the original context of such passages has little to do with modern atheistic ideas and beliefs—especially since there were no true atheists to speak of in either the ancient Israelite world or the Roman world where Christianity took root. For instance, the Old Testament passage, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” wasn't about Israelites becoming atheists or arguing for atheism, but a warning that Yahweh would punish people who foolishly dare to ignore His divine laws or commands and who try to convince themselves in their heart that nothing bad will happen to them as a result.

I applaud Randal's attempt to spare atheists from being negatively stereo-typed by conservative Christians as the most blind, stupid, and vile lot of humanity. (Randal also would like to see Christians not negatively stereo-typed.) Randal invites his fellow Christians to view all people, including atheists, as individuals not as stereo-types (especially not as negative stereo-types) and see atheists treated with as much love and respect as the “neighbors” whom Jesus commanded his followers to love. And Randal cites the parable of the Good Samaritan, changing it to a parable about a good atheist who rescues a Christian who has been beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. I think Randal could have strengthened his discussion of that parable by adding a list of atheist (and agnostic) doctors, agriculturalists, inventors, scientists, musicians, artists, actors, writers, statesmen and stateswomen who have worked to feed, heal, educate, liberate and inspire their fellow humans.

On the other hand, I also found myself disagreeing in part with some of Randal's rosier biblical interpretations.

Let's say we agree with Randal that the narrow “rebellion thesis” aimed so often at atheists today, is flawed for many of the reasons he presents. Should atheists feel better when so many passages remain in the Bible that blame everyone (everyone including atheists) for having a hardened, rebellious, unbelieving heart? There are still plenty of biblical passages that state outright or assume that everyone who refuses to bow down to the Christian God are “rebelling” against the Kingdom of God, and that only Christian beliefs and practices determine who is a true subject/servant/slave of the Lord and His Kingdom. Thus, those “in rebellion” include nearly everyone, from blasphemers, and people of non-Christian religious beliefs—to people of “unorthodox” Christian beliefs, agnostics and atheists.

The irony is that Randal's use of the broad “rebellion thesis” to deflect attention from the narrow “rebellion thesis” doesn't really seem to do atheists much of a favor. Which reminds of the time a famous Southern Baptist decades ago declared that God does not hear/respond to the prayers of a Jew. When challenged by others to explain himself he said he wasn't being anti-Semitic because he also believed that God ignores the prayers of Muslims, Hindus, or anyone else who was not a believing Christian.

Speaking of biblical passages that support the broad “rebellion thesis,” keep in mind that a synonym for “rebelliousness” is “lawlessness.” And one is either a loyal subject of God's kingdom or a lawless rebel. There is no room for “lukewarmness” either per the author of the book of Revelation who warned that Jesus “spew out of his mouth” even lukewarm orthodox Christian believers. While in the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of the sheep and goats is speaking about eternal punishment for those who do not support the worldwide mission to bring more people into the church. It is a parable about what the world owes the church (Google: heavenly extortion scrivenings) While the Gospel of John teaches that those who don't believe are “already damned” (Google: Gospel of John anti-language scrivenings). In short, authors of the New Testament preach Christ and preach against the “spirit of antichrist” in all its forms. The New Testament frequently divides the world and/or its people into Christ or antiChrist, light or darkness, wheat or tare. Either your name is written in the book of life or not. You are either a servant of Christ and of God's kingdom or in favor of lawlessness, a REBEL.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Gospel of Matthew 7:22-23

“Let no one in any way deceive or entrap you, for that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first [that is, the great REBELLION, the abandonment of the faith by professed Christians], and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction [the Antichrist, the one who is destined to be destroyed]
2 Thessalonians 2:3 [Amplified Bible, so are the passages that follow]

“For the mystery of lawlessness [REBELLION against divine authority and the coming reign of lawlessness] is already at work; [but it is restrained] only until he who now restrains it is taken out of the way.”
2 Thessalonians 2:7

“For there are many REBELLIOUS men who are empty talkers [just windbags] and deceivers; especially those of the circumcision [those Jews who insist that Gentile believers must be circumcised and keep the Law in order to be saved].
Titus 1:10

“…understanding the fact that law is not enacted for the righteous person [the one in right standing with God], but for lawless and REBELLIOUS people, for the ungodly and sinful, for the irreverent and profane.”

1 Timothy 1:9 [“irreverent and profane” are broad categories, and I suspect the author of this letter, had he lived to see our day, would have viewed it with a level of concern similar to (if not exceeding)  that of conservative Evangelicals who rail against increases in the nones, in agnosticism, atheism, and non-devoutly minded (historically questioning) works by NT scholars].

“Do not harden your hearts as [your fathers did] in the rebellion [of Israel at Meribah], On the day of testing in the wilderness.”
Hebrews 3:8 [I have heard Evangelicals say more than once that all who refuse the invitation to convert to Christianity have “hardened, rebellious hearts.”]

“So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and harvested the grapevine of the earth, and threw the grapes into the great wine press of the wrath and indignation of God [as judgment of the rebellious world].”
Revelation 14:19

“[ The Coming of Christ the Conqueror ] And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who was riding it is called Faithful and True… He judges and wages war [on the rebellious nations].”
Revelation 19:11

“From His mouth comes a sharp sword (His word) with which He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He will tread the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty [in judgment of the rebellious world].”
Revelation 19:15

“[The Final Rebellion ] And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison (the abyss)…”
Revelation 20:7

Christian preachers and biblical authors have always taken the broad question of “rebellion” against God seriously, both then and now. Therefore Christians who believe every passage In the Bible is inspired will always be able to pluck out passages capable of inspiring divisiveness rather than unity, passages that can even lead to the literal demonization of other people as rebels against God and His kingdom, inspired by the spirit of antiChrist. One must either bow down in trust and obedience to the Christian God as depicted in the Christian Bible, or risk eternal punishment.

Let's also look at Randal's interpretation of this passage in Romans, chapter 1:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

Was Paul even being original in coming up with such ideas? Very similar ideas appear in a non-canonical apocryphal Jewish writing that Paul probably had some knowledge of, i.e., The Wisdom of Solomon, which was popular among Jewish readers during the Hellenistic era when it first appears on the scene. Compare Paul above with these passages from the Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5 & 14:22-31:

“For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.)… Afterward it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace. For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sex perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery. For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil. For their worshipers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury; for because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm. But just penalties will overtake them on two counts: because they thought wickedly of God in devoting themselves to idols, and because in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness. For it is not the power of the things by which men swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.)”

See the similarities between Paul's hyperbolic rant in Romans 1 and the similar rant that most likely preceded it in the Wisdom of Solomon? In both cases the message is that worshiping idols is stupid and insults the invisible creator of all things, who then turns people over to acting like lawless animals. Randal agrees such passages do not apply to modern day atheists who don't worship idols, nor do modern day atheists have a holy book, not even Darwin's Origin. Nor is Paul and the author of The Wisdom of Solomon discussing common ancestry as modern day atheistic evolutionists might. Paul mentions people worshiping birds which aren't even in the line of human descent.

Something I don't recall whether Randal discussed fully but which I hope he will expand on in future works is how conservative Christians, especially new converts, tend to approach the Bible, especially the New Testament. In my experience it appears like they view it as a personal love letter from God to them. That tends to bias them toward finding something “more” in Romans 1 than merely an ancient dismissal of ancient practices of idolatry. If the Bible is a letter written from God to them personally then can one chuck out large sections, especially long loud hyperbolic warnings and condemnations, as only being fit for some ancient time and ancient reader?Therefore conservative Christians are likely to treat Romans 1 as if it must have some teaching or practical modern day application, or at least a deep metaphorical or analogical meaning, and by God they will discover it, whatever they can wring out of it and connect with something current or relevant, otherwise it is a relatively useless long loud rant about stuff that mainly first century Christians, (and Christian missionaries in India—a land still filled with idols) should be concerned with.

Hence, conservative Christians have difficulty imagining why God would have ensured the canonization of every story, teaching, and passage found in the Protestant Bible used by modern day conservative Christians if it wasn't all divinely profitable for study, even more so than any other book ever written? Such a view is also tacitly endorsed by conservative Christian clergy who spend lifetimes straining to squeeze timeless moral, theological or even scientific lessons for modern day believers out of even the most confusing, densest, vaguest or darkest, stories and passages in the Bible. Some long winded sermons even revolve around less well attested meanings or usages of a single phrase, noun or verb in a single Bible passage; or they might even revolve around the tense of an ancient Greek verb in the New Testament with such sermons being wrapped up with a glowing tribute to the authority of Christian Scripture above and beyond any merely earthly authority, lessons, experiments, or teachings.

One can therefore see how and why the conservative Christian finds it more than a little tempting to interpret Romans 1 as being packed with modern day relevance, and interpret it as a rant useful against modern atheism and evolution. Such a mindset is also tempted to view the condemnation in Paul's letter to the Romans of two women burning for each other with the fact that that still happens today. So to their minds Paul might just as well be speaking about modern day atheistic lesbians who are pro-evolution. Unfortunately it doesn't occur to many conservative Christians that same-sex urges have persisted for millennia for reasons other than idolatry or the theory of evolution being taught in school. One might also consider that ancient Israelites banned same-sex encounters with an instant death penalty, which may imply that it takes quite a harsh punishment effort to try and reduce such urges—even among ancient Israelites who were not modern day atheists nor evolutionists.

Conservative Christians are perhaps most tempted to interpret Romans 1 as a condemnation of atheism in the section which states that idolaters actively suppress the self evident truth in themselves that the power and divine nature of God is clearly seen through what has been made, and therefore they are without excuse:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

This idea of Paul's echoes a widespread Old Testament motif in which various aspects of creation are depicted (in the book of Job or Proverbs) as illustrating Yahweh's power and glory to uphold or maintain them, or, creation itself is depicted as singing praises to Yahweh's power and glory. Conservative Christians who defend the narrow “rebellion theses” might then adjust their interpretation and argue that “If idolaters in Paul's day were suppressing such a major truth about what creation is revealing to everyone how much more so might modern day atheists be suppressing such a truth? Atheists appear even more deaf and blind to such a truth than those who worship the sin, moon, stars, or other living things.”

I am not sure how Randal would reply to the adjustment I suggested that conservative Christians make to try and employ Romans 1 as an inspired cudgel with which to beat down modern day atheism. But my own reply to such an argument would be to ask what evidence Old Testament writers actually cited from nature that Yahweh created it and upheld it? They believed Yahweh held the earth in place so that it would not be moved, and that Yahweh guided the constellations through the sky in their season (see the book of Job), but do such statements constitute self evident evidence of any sort? What about the Psalmist praising Yahweh for giving Ravens and lions their food when we know how often birds starve to death in nature, quite often in fact, and how lions eat other creatures, so I guess Yahweh “satisfies the hunger of every animal” by often giving it other animals to eat, including feeding the lowly Staph bacterium human flesh. As for passages about all creation singing praises to Yahweh, what kind of self evident evidence do such passages provide?

Similar boastful claims were made in the ancient world concerning high gods other than Yahweh and their ability to create and maintain the world both structurally and ethically. I cite examples in both the text and endnotes of my chapter in The Christian Delusion, in a chapter titled, “The Cosmology of the Bible,” that features a two page chart of parallel claims.

In short, Paul appears to be boasting in Romans 1 about self evident evidence that never was self evident, not even to ancient Israelites who seem to have merely mimicked the all too common sky high praises being doled out to other high moral gods of surrounding nations. Look up henotheism in the ancient near east on the web (also Google: ancient near east scrivenings).

Lastly, concerning Romans 1 and the parallel passages and ideas found in The Wisdom of Solomon, one should note the hyperbolic negative language used in both writings concerning how willfully blind and full of evil all Gentile idolaters are, and by implication how wonderful the Jewish religion, and/or Christianity is. Such high powered name calling probably owes not a little bit to the fact the Jews resented being conquered so many times, and by mere idolaters who had developed far more impressive in many ways than the culture the Jews themselves had developed. If it wasn't the Babylonians invading Yahweh's people, it was the Greeks, then the Romans, so damn all those idolaters. (Though the Jews did love the Persian emperor Cyrus who allowed Jews exiled by the Babylonians to return to Israel. In fact the Jews called the Persian king a messiah or anointed one, the only non-Jewish messiah mentioned in the Bible. And scholars point out ways the Persian religion most likely impressed the Jews and plausibly led the Jews from henotheism and monolatry toward monotheism, as well as toward a belief in a general bodily resurrection.)

Of course in opposition to the so-called endless evils of idolaters one ought to take a closer look at Judaism's bloody history, the conquests allegedly commanded by Yahweh, or the long list of offenses demanding capital punishments in ancient Judaism, and endless temple sacrifices of animals, and realize that in some respects Judaism was less enlightened than many Greek and Roman philosophical schools of thought and their philosophical approach to the gods. Nor did the allegedly God-blessed Israelites excel at a host of important practices and inventions necessary for civilization that we owe principally to ancient non-Jewish idol-filled cultures.

In summation, I hope more conservative Christians of all denominations get a chance to read and ponder Randal's book, though I suspect that the broad “rebellion thesis” I mentioned above, rather than the narrow one that Randal focuses on in his book, is still something that will continue to divide not only Christians and atheists, but Christians with other Christians whose theologies and Bible interpretations or holy rites and practices differ. Because labeling other people or their ideas as signs of rebelling against God's holy kingdom (or as signs of being inspired by antiChrist) seems guaranteed to raise the bar of interpersonal disagreements rather than lower it. Randal proposes what he calls a stance of hopeful universalism as a calming influence, but I suspect that the apocalyptic “us versus them,” “sheep versus goats,” “early arrivers to the feast versus those who arrive late and are locked out,” “Lazarus versus Dives,” “followers of Jesus versus members of their own earthly family,” “Jesus versus Satan,” “Christ versus antiChrist,” “believers versus those who are damned already,” “eater of the body and blood of Jesus versus non-eater who has no life within them” passages in the Bible are more numerous and more firmly embedded in the New Testament, than Randal is willing to admit, along with the eternal punishment passages. In contrast, universalism passages appear fewer and further between, which has always been a weakness of arguments for Christian universalism.

And Randal is not a universalist himself, he just hopes universalism might be true, and wishes more Christians openly expressed that as their fondest hope as well, while apparently keeping in mind the very real and more orthodox option that eternal damnation is also a very real and dire theological claim. Quite a knife's edge theological position I would say, maintaining hope of universalism but also fear that many will be damned eternally. So one entertains fearsome troubling thoughts, constantly dousing them with a watered down kind of hope rarely mentioned in the Bible, a hope that extinguishes the fire of such fears, but not the many live embers throughout the New Testament (and the inter-testamental book of Daniel, and other inter-testamental Jewish writings though they are non-canonical—but reading them one can trace outlines of where and when the idea of eternal punishment entered Judaism and how Christians adopted and adapted such ideas).

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Tyler Cowen on "Why I Don't Believe in God" and Ross Douthat on "Should Tyler Cowen Believe in God?"

Tyler Cowen

Ross Douthat, the 37 year old Catholic New York Timesʼ wunderkind op ed columnist is on a quest to save intellectual conservatism, and tried to lead prof. Tyler Cowen at George Mason University toward the Christian fold or at least back toward classical theism, because Tyler recently wrote, Why I Donʼt Believe in God.

In response, Ross wrote, Should Tyler Cowen Believe in God?

In so far as famous letter exchanges go (like More-Tyndale, or Burgh-Spinoza) their exchange was light and light-hearted, but if I may interject:

Dear Ross Douthat, Your argument in favor of “anthropomorphism on the surface” seems less than likely to lead Tyler to join the religious fold if only because there are some horrendous anthropomorphically depicted “acts of God” in the Bible. No doubt one can imagine God as something other than a physical man sitting on a physical throne above a solid firmament as in the book of Ezekiel, but to imagine God as drowning human children, pregnant women and animals in a worldwide flood, or imagining God commanding that his followers bloody their swords murdering entire cities and then threatening to wipe his own people off the face of the earth if they donʼt do just that (see Deuteronomy), or imagining angels tossing people against their will into a lake of fire whose smoke rises forever, or God inviting people to a party only to lock them out forever if they arrive late, or God commanding that his enemies be brought before him and be slaughtered before his eyes, or God commanding that the servant who didn't do his master's will should be beaten with many stripes (the latter four examples are from the New Testament, not the Old one), that's the more central problem with a god whose actions appear bloody human in the sense of their vengefulness, jealousy, impatience, anger. For far more extensive reasons why the “anthropomorphism” is not merely “on the surface,” please see see Dr. Jako Gerickeʼs Can God exist if Yahweh doesnʼt?, and Prof. Hector Avalosʼs The Bad Jesus, Love, and the Parochialism of New Testament Ethics.

You invite Tyler to “give religious commitment a slightly longer look.” But there are plenty who gave Christian religious commitment a very long look and left the fold after spending years or decades in the pulpit or monastery, or in Christian radio broadcasting, or Christian politics, or Christian apologetics, or as Old or New Testament scholars. Not to mention cases in which the children of Christian clergy, or children of writers for Christianity Today, or children of Christian apologists raised to early adulthood immersed in Christian family and faith, grew more moderate/liberal than their parents or even left the fold. In short, questions regarding religious beliefs, “special revelation,” as well as the question of how and why beliefs change, appear to be endless. See this sampling of about 300 first hand published testimonies, most of them recent, of ministers and others who gave their Christian religious commitments a long look before entertaining greater doubts and/or leaving the fold, click here. There is also an online piece that replies to the claim some apologists make that the Christian religious experience is “unique.”

Nor need one become an atheist who claims that everyoneʼs religious experiences are false in order to ask, How can God (or whatever is out there) expect us to know what to make of the diversity of religious beliefs and miracle stories? We are presented with a mixed bag of evidence.

As for the credit you give Christianity for the worldʼs ethical advancement, C. S. Lewis admitted: “I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse… Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.” Lewis also admitted that there exists a wealth of practical moral wisdom that has provided moral inspiration for thousands of years that he called “the Tao.” So why not seek the best in every book and every person? In other words, does “Jesus” have to get “all the glory?” Schools need not teach classes in religion in order to teach classes in ethics featuring the world's practical moral wisdom from religious and non-religious sources, both ancient and modern, & our children might be better off. But some might cavil at the thought of having their children taught “heathen ethics” in school, or having Jesus's sayings mentioned in the same breath with “mere moral teachers.” So perhaps it is the religious element that has left schools bereft of vital universal ethical teaching, the same folks who wish everyone else to focus on “the words of God” in one “holy book” alone. Theirs.

You claim that “religiously-infused societies produce better art and architecture.” But such a claim is nebulous if you are claiming something as vague as “religious-infused societies,” which includes everything from ancient ziggurats and Aztec pyramids to Gothic cathedrals; and Egyptian, Greek, Roman temples and statuary to Renaissance artists and Dutch realists—many of whom didnʼt seem particularly religious but who were paid by the religious (look at the case of Leonardo da Vinci). Today, the most collaborative form of art on the planet, and the most visually and aurally arresting, is the art of film-making that envelopes an audience and tugs at their minds and hearts even when the audience's religious beliefs are diverse or completely lacking. People no longer rely primarily on Bible stories to explain the world, or move them. Children no longer are allowed to only play with a Noahʼs Ark toy on Sundays as was the practice in Americaʼs past. The imagination of human beings is now combining and recombining stories and themes from all the worldʼs stories, in a sense, evolving new ones just as evolution did to the genes of all the species on this planet. See The Cultural Divide Between the Ancient Near East and the Wealth of Modern Knowledge/Information — Where Do We Get Our Answers From Today? What Expands Our Minds the Most Today?

You admit the “conformity problem” is universal, but it remains especially acute in the case of your religion which claims it possesses the worldʼs only divinely inspired guide book, and a Holy Spirit to lead them into truth, and new hearts to guide them, and have the prayer of Jesus himself for unity per the fourth Gospel. You must admit that no other group on earth has as much supernatural guidance? Yet the history of Christianity is a history of schisms too numerous to mention over nearly any topic (including the rise of many socially cohesive non-Christian movements that make being a Christian that much tougher—religions that God could have stopped from arising in the first place, such as Islam whose numbers nearly equal and might soon exceed the number of Christians worldwide). If God was concerned with unity and had provided a holy guide book, the Spiritʼs guidance, and new hearts, how did all of those schisms happen, why wouldnʼt God have intervened to at least prevent many Christian schisms from happening? At the very least could easily conclude there has been little evidence of supernatural input when it comes to the way Christianities continued to branch off like a Darwinian tree of life, some branches going extinct, others flourishing over time, and rival trees of religion evolving alongside.

Lastly, might I share this piece on why Christianity raises as many intellectual and historical questions as it claims to answer, if not more

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Christian Comedians Should Leave Satire and Sarcasm to the Experts

Christian Comedians

Fascinating Fact: Perhaps the most famous wit in Catholicism, G. K. Chesterton (whose book The Everlasting Man even had a lot to do with the decision by C. S. Lewis to convert) was friends with leading non-Christian writers and thinkers of his day including George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells even though Chesterton debated them both. Chesterton even wrote a loving letter to his atheist and anti-Catholic friend, H.G. Wells, saying that he would get into heaven not by being one of Chesterton's friends but for all the good he and his works did for humanity. Chesterton's letter where he wrote that to Wells can be by read here.Chesterton even wrote a novel about a Christian and atheist who wanted to duel to the death but later grew to be close friends (The Ball and the Cross).

But leaving aside Chesterton (who was at least a borderline universalist), there do not appear to be many Evangelical Christian humorists or satirists up to say the level of even a Dave Barry, let alone many who could keep up with Voltaire, Twain, Mencken, or the stand up routines of Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Eddie Izzard [his concert titled, Glorious], Rowan Atkinson, George Carlin, or movies by Kevin Smith (Dogma) and Monty Python (The Life of Brian & The Meaning of Life).

I would add that the opposite of fanaticism is not a rival fanatical spirit but simply acknowledging doubts in general and allowing bygones to be bygones, i.e., allowing people to start over, and attempt to get to know each other again.

For such reasons I tend to doubt that beliefs determine ones eternal destiny. Because even interpreting other peopleʼs ideas when communicating with them, people that you know, who live in the same time and era as yourself is fraught with difficulty, let alone “biblical exegesis,” and trying to make “doctrines and dogmas” sound like nothing but pure rationality to other folks.

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Friends and Colleagues