CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


For many years I have been ambivalent about Saturday Night Live. The show has always been slanted against conservative-evangelical types like me, but usually with plenty of funny and mostly harmless material thrown into the mix. One recent politically geared sketch was so completely over-the-top, however, that after 40 years of sporadic SNL viewing I've finally sworn off it for good. The (overly) offensive bit was "God Is a Boob Man," a spoof of the movie God's Not Dead 2.
In it a Christian woman named Beth, played by Vanessa Bayer, is working at a bakery when she is asked to make a wedding cake for a gay couple – an obvious reference to the discrimination case in Colorado a couple of years ago in which a Christian bakery owner was (successfully) sued for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Conflicted, Beth starts to make the cake, but then breaks down and refuses because of her Christian beliefs. This leads to what are supposed to be side-splitting situations, like when she walks into an attorney's office and announces, "I want to deny basic goods and services to gay people."
Hilarious, but now who exactly is supposed to have the persecution complex here? If a Christian has personal religious convictions that make her reluctant to indirectly support gay marriage, it does not follow that she harbors a desire to deny certain people "basic goods and services" (from one of countless gay-friendly bakeries, for example).
The profoundly ironic message this all sends? Christians are paranoid (not to mention grossly hypocritical), because the prejudices and stereotypes they complain about – in universities, public school systems, the courts, and of course, the arts and media – are not real, or at least are terribly exaggerated. How does SNL demonstrate that Christians are not treated unfairly? By singling out Christians for contemptuous ridicule. 
This situation is not simply ironic. It's potentially dangerous. By making Christians the one identity group that society is not only allowed but encouraged to openly disparage (but only because they're spoiled and paranoid, mind you), SNL joins a host of other very powerful and influential voices reinforcing the message that antichristian prejudice is perfectly rational and acceptable. I think this is dangerous because historically this sort of thing is often how real, rights-infringing, violent persecution begins. And that means in turn that Christians are correct in their perceptions, and wise to preemptively defend their rights.
We would do well to recall that the high-flying Nazi propaganda machine of the late thirties initially got off the ground with "humor," specifically anti-Semitic political cartoons in the Der Stürmer newspaper beginning in the mid-twenties. Only later did this op-ed brand of disdain devolve into full-blown state-sponsored propaganda, then complete ostracism, then violence and genocide. (The connection was not lost on the Nuremburg tribunal, which executed Julius Streicher, editor of Der Stürmer, for war crimes despite being a noncombatant.) 
Many centuries before the rise of the Third Reich, Christian apologists like Justin Martyr stood before Roman emperors and refuted public charges that Christians were immoral, disloyal to the state, and (more irony here) atheists. Justin wasn't simply "testing the limits of free speech" or practicing his rhetorical skills. He was arguing for his life and the lives of his Christian brothers and sisters in the church, as history makes clear. "Some years later," notes the Encyclopedia Britannica, "after debating with the cynic Crescens, Justin was denounced to the Roman prefect as subversive and condemned to death. Authentic records of his martyrdom survive."
In many parts of the world Christians are enduring vicious persecution as deadly as anything unleashed by Rome during the first centuries of the church. It would be foolish for us in America to consider ourselves immune to genuine persecution simply because it hasn't happened here yet. The time may come, perhaps sooner than anyone thinks, when Christians will have to make their stand for the truth only under pain of death. A disciple is not above his Master. Jesus said to His disciples simply, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). In that case we can look to the example of Justin's fearless closing remarks to the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the First Apology:
"For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us."

[Edited for clarity 4/29 -- DM] 


This week, I want to share a discussion that has been going on over at the Atheism-Analyzed blog:

They have been having an interesting discussion about the Hartle-Hawking state:

Here is an excerpt from Stan’s article:

The procedure to evaluate anything Hawking et al say is to list all of the serial assumptions which are made and which have to be “the case” in order for his theories to be valid, and then to see at which of the assumptions empirical validation automatically cease, leaving the theory to be a bedtime story for physicist speculators.

This theory is no different.

OK, first off it is not the Wave Theory of the Universe, it is Wave Theory Within an Infinite Multiverse which is both external to our universe, and contains our universe.

Helmutt Koester

This is my contribution to a book Called Defending the Resurrection edited by J.P. Holiding. I urge the reader to buy it as there are many fine arguments made in it. Not all of this article was used. This is its original form it was changed substantially in several ways, such are the needs of editors.


Skeptical machinations are endless, anytime the tide turns toward the apologist the skeptic will take a further step back and seek to change the ground rules in a fundamental way. So it is with the perennial resurrection debate since the tide was shifted by McDowell and then by Craig, years ago. One of the major tactics used by skeptics to change the ground rules has been to uproot all points of the compass so the apologist can’t get his/her bearings as to what events are actually historical and thus defensible. To accomplish this, the skeptic has partly pulled off a resurrection of his own, by resurrecting old ninetieth century clap trap that was dismissed ages ago. One of the major examples is the historical nature of the empty tomb. McDowell then Craig both did fine jobs of demonstrating that if the facts about the tomb are in place the debate goes to the apologist. But then the atheists used the Jesus myth idea, long disproved and discarded, to set up a new round of doubt about the historicity of the tomb. For skeptics today the four Gospels are not even factors, they are totally ignored as though they offer no evidence at all, and all that they proclaim is regarded as pure fiction. It is of paramount importance, therefore, to establish some historical facts about the case and to nail down some of the points of reference. In this department of points of reference pertaining to the narrative there can be no more important point of reference than the issue of when the story of the empty tomb began to circulate. This is a crucial issue for several reasons: (1) it’s the lynch pin upon which is hung all the empty tomb logic arguments of the major apolitical moves of the last fifty years. That means two things: (a) it would mean the writing is too early for the events to allow for development of elaborate myth; (b) it would mean that a large number of eye witnesses were still around, depending of course on how close to the events the writing could be placed. (2) The earlier the date the more it would undermine the Earl Doherty’s Jesus myth theories by distorting their time table. Thus in this article I will be focusing upon the one issue: when did the empty tomb story begin to circulate in writing?

There are a few assumptions that must be discussed up front. Why focus on writing if we can assume it was told orally first? Obviously whatever point at which the writing started, we can assume the material was orally transmitted before that point. Writing gives us a concrete means of pinning down a time frame. There’s no way to trace oral tradition as to when it began except in the most general of terms. But dating a text, however, we can be much more precise as to when the circulation began. The other major assumption that must be understood is that no one single individual wrote the Gospels. There were redactors and they came out of the communities and the communities are regarded as the authors now, not merely individuals. These communities of which I speak are those into which the earliest follows of Jesus began to group after the events which ultimately come to be represented in the Gospels. Each of the Gospels is taken by scholars today as representative of its own community.[1] So there was a Matthew community, a Mark community, a John community, and perhaps a Luke community, although I tend to attribute Luke to the Pauline circle as a whole and to the individual Luke himself. The problem this sets up for the Evangelical apologist is that it may open some other areas of conflict depending upon how deeply committed one is to an inerrant view of the Gospels. I have encountered atheists who just assert that redaction itself is proof enough that “it was all made up.” No serious scholar believes this and it’s simply a matter of understanding the more adult and sophisticated view to dismiss that bit of amateurish thinking. Yet accepting the liberal assumptions may create more problems for apologetics than it solves, this is a major issue that must be solved, and it must be solved it in the most decisive way. I will suggest solutions to the problems that are more evangelical friendly, and I assert these positions for the sake of argument, to show that even granting the assumptions of liberal scholarship the resurrection still enjoys the support of the evidence. Be that as it may my one overriding concern in this article is in proving that the resurrection circulated, in writing, by mid first century period. Therefore, I will be using the assumptions of liberal scholarship and the evidence of liberal scholars. My reason for doing this is to demonstrate that the case can be made not merely with materials from writers skeptics expect to take the conservative side, but with fairly liberal scholars who skeptics would expect to be skeptical.

In order to understand what we need to answer we must first understand the skeptical claim. The major point undermining the historicity of the empty tomb is the argument form silence; the tomb is never mentioned as such in any of the epistles or any other early Christian literature until the middle of the second century. Dale Allison remarks: "Paul did not know about Jesus' grave, and if he did not know about it, then surely no one else before him did either. The story of the empty tomb must, it follows, have originated after Paul."[2] For certain kinds of skeptics that seems like a crushing indictment. It’s actually not as powerful as it seems since it’s only an argument form silence, and argument from silence doesn’t prove anything. The apologist is apt to answer that some of the passages in the Pauline corpus imply the empty tomb, even though they don’t actually speak of it directly. While these are good points, we can do better. There’s some pretty strong evidence that the story of the empty tomb was circulating, in writing, as part of the end to the Passion narrative as early as middle of first century. The great scholar Helmutt Koester argues for a conclusion of textual criticism that can be demonstrated by scholarly methods. The point he’s making is that all four canonical Gospels and the non canonical Gospel of Peter all share mutual connection to an earlier text that included the passion narrative and that ended with the empty tomb. He says:

"Studies of the passion narrative have shown that all gospels were dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. But this account ended with the discovery of the empty tomb.[3]

[and again]

"John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century![4]

He is talking in both cases about the original passion Narrative of “Ur Gospel” that he sees standing behind these five works. Here he tells us that this original work, this “Ur gospel” was circulating at the mid century point and that it contained the story of the empty tomb. Thus, the empty Tomb was part of the Gospel narrative as early as mid century. If we take the conventional accepted dates it was within 20 years after the original events. How does he prove this?

The argument Koester is making comes from another scholar named Jurgen Denker, a textual critic. The basic proof of the argument is the result of textual criticism. Textual criticism is a science. Though many on both sides of the fence, skeptics and apologists find textual criticism assailable, they both assume and use it when it suits them. The atheists who argue for Q as a proof that “it’s all made up” have to accept the validity of textual criticism in order to support the idea of Q. Evangelicals, who quote Josh McDowell talking about how the NT text is 98% reliable, are actually accepted whole sale the validity of textual criticism, because that is how such a figure is arrived at. The evidence of an Ur Gospel in the passion narrative comes from readings in several manuscripts which seem to date from periods much latter than the canonical Gospels. This is deceptive, however, because even though the texts are latter than the canonical gospels, the readings in the texts are much earlier. That sounds contradictory but it is not because the manuscripts (MS) are copied from earlier readings. The earlier readings leave traces of their original sources in the way they read. In other words if we had a book written in 1950 it would probably read like a 1950’s book. The speech, the form of the language, the slang would all be like the 50s. But suppose parts of that book were copied from a book written in Shakespeare’s time. In addition to the fifties slang you would have some parts that would read like Elizabethan English. Those parts would be easy to pick out and we would know that the author was either copying something old or trying to sound old. The situation with these MS is similar. For example one of them called “The Diatessaron” is an attempt by Tatian at making a harmony of the four Gospels. This attempt dates to about 170 AD. But some readings in the Diatessaron seem to from a much earlier time. So we know by this that they are copied form very early copies that were written in a more Jewish style.

There are a couple of other aspects of this copying phenomenon that need to be understood. First of all, one often hears conservatives saying things like “there is no textual evidence for Q.” The reason for that is that when Q was incorporated into the synoptic people stopped copying it and eventually stopped using it, because it was incorporated into a text that seemed more complete. Overtime the copies of Q rotted away and on one bothered to copy it further. Secondly, as to the assumption that redaction (which simply means “editing”) in and of itself is proof that “It was all made up,” this is manifestly wrong. The assumption is based upon the fallacy that no one could purposely combine two holy books without believing that they were not “inspired.” But the reason this is a fallacy in relation to the New Testament is because at the time the process of redaction on the Gospels started the redactors did not imagine that they were editing “the New Testament!” They were not regarded as holy books. While some might think that’s a green light to make things up, its’ also reason why they would not make things up, because while they did not have a concept that they were writing the Bible (thus no need to conjure up the fabricated essence of a new religion) it does not prove in any way that they had no respect for the truth. They were neither making up the Bible nor creating the rudiments of a new religion; they had no idea of either of those things. They were merely producing a sermonic document for the edification of the community. They intended these works to be read by people they were living with and perhaps to spread into a larger circle of those who worshipped with them. But they did not think of themselves as writing “the Bible.” The process is more analogous to a modern preacher writing a sermon for Sunday; he doesn’t want to fabricates thing that aren’t true, but he’s free to change certain aspects of the order, combine different portions of other “sermons” and place ideas in different contexts and create a document that will hold the audience’s attention and teach them things, but in so doing communicate truth and a story they already knew. No intention of “make things up” need be read into it.

This is not to say that the redactors did not have great reverence for the sources they used. They saw the prior sources as testimonies of holy men signifying holy truth, even if they did not see them as scripture. As we move up in time to the post apostolic age they have an ever greater reverence for anything that tells them about the origins of the faith and the words of Christ. Yet that doesn’t mean they thought of themselves as writing the Bible. They were free to quote and blend the quotes in with other quotes from other valuable sources, but not free to “make thing up,” not free to lie or fabricate. Thus we have the creation of the works we know as the canonical Gospels as “patch works” put together out of prior sources. They didn’t see themselves as producing the canonical Gospels, they saw themselves as accurately reflecting truth for the edification of their flocks, and pulling together the great sources of truth left to the church into their own little humble sermonic contributions. In so doing they left traces of early versions and as their products were copied some of those traces hung on and they continue to testify to us of the earliest roots of the faith. Several traces of these early documents, these lost “Ur gospels” show up in the latter works of non canonical gospels, some of which are tainted with Gnosticism. The famous Nag Hammadi find The Gospel of Thomas is such a work. While it is clearly set within a heavily Gnostic framework of the third century, some of the passages prove to be an early core some of which are thought to be authentically spoken by Jesus, some of which have been theorized as making up the Q source. While Thomas is Cleary Gnostic some very anti-Gnostic traces are left. The same process of redaction we see at work in the canonicals is also at work in the non canonical gospels. So we find traces of an earlier age. Of more direct bearing on the resurrection story is the non canonical Gospel of Peter.

Gospel of Peter and the Empty Tomb

The Gospel of Peter (aka “GPet”) was discovered in the ninetieth century at Oxryranchus, Egypt. It was probably written around 200 AD and contains some Gnostic elements, but is basically Orthodox. There are certain basic differences between Gospel of Peter (GPet) and the canonical story, but mainly the two are in agreement. Gpet follows the OT as a means of describing the passion narrative, rather than following Matthew. Jurgen Denker uses this observation to argue that GPet is independent and is based upon an independent source. In addition to Denker, Koester, Raymond Brown, and John Dominick Crossan also agree.[5] It is upon this basis that Crossan constructs his "cross Gospel" which he dates in the middle of the first century, meaning, an independent source upon which all the canonical and GPet draw. But the independence of GPet from all of these sources is also guaranteed by its failure to follow any one of them. Raymond Brown, who built his early reputation on study of GPet, follows the sequence of narrative in GPet and compares it in very close reading with that of the canonical Gospels. He finds that GPet is not dependent upon the canonical, although it is closer in the order of events to Matt/Mark rather than to Luke and John. Many Christian apologists think it’s their duty to show that GPet is dependent upon the canonical gospels, but it is basically a proved fact that it’s not. Such apologists are misguided in understanding the true apologetic gold mine in this fact. The fact that GPet is not dependent enables it to prove common ancestry with the canonicals and that establishes the early date of the circulation of the empty tomb as a part of the Jesus narrative. As documented on the Jesus Puzzle II page, and on Res part I. GPet is neither a copy of the canonical, nor are they a copy of GPet, but both use a common source in the Passion narrative which dates to AD 50 according to Crosson and Koester. Brown follows the flow of the narrative closely and presents a 23 point list in a huge table that illustrates the point just made above. I cannot reproduce the entire table, but just to give a few examples:

Helmutt Koester argues for the “Ur Gosepl” and passion narrative that ends with the empty tomb. He sees GPet as indicative of this ancient source. Again, the argument is not that GPet is older than the Canonicals but that they all five share common ancestry with the Ur source. There is much secondary material in Gpet, meaning, additions that crept in and are not part of the Ur Gospel material; the anti-Jewish propaganda is intensified, for example Hared condemns Jesus rather than Pilate.[6] Koester believes that the epiphanies (sightings of Jesus after the resurrection) are from different sources, while the passion narrative up to the empty tomb is from the Ur Gospel. It is on this latter point that he Differs with Crosson, who believes that the epiphanies were part of the Cross Gospel.[7] GPet was at first thought to be a derivative of the four canonicals but some scholars began to doubt this because it seemed like a collection of snippets from the four and as Brown pointed out, that’s not the way copying is done. Koester points out that Philipp Vielhauer following Martin Dieblius,[8] noticed that in GPet the suffering of Jesus is described in terms of the OT (though literary allusion) and lacked the quotation formulae (such as “he said to him saying” or “as it has been written”) which indicated that it came from an older tradition, since it would not be nature to take those out. Koester also points out that Jurgen Denker argues that GPet is dependent upon traditions of interpretation of the OT rather than it is the four canonicals, it shares these traditions with the canonicals because they all share the same prior source.[9] Crossan uses Denker and takes it further, they both see dependence upon Psalms rather than the canonicals as a sign of being earlier than the canonicals, but Crossan theorizes the date as mid first century. Koester says in describing it, “he argues that this activity resulted in the composition of a literary document at a very early date, in the middle of the first century,” (notice he does not say “around” mid century but “in the middle”).[10] He argues that the earlier source (the Ur Gospel) was used by Mark as well as Matthew and Luke and even John, as well as Gpet.
Koester agrees with Crossan and Denker about the passion narrative (what he calls the Passion Narrative—which includes the empty tomb) circulating early. He disagrees with three specific points none of which negates this basis thesis. The three points are these: (1) Reliability of the text (of Gpet) which comes to us from one latter fragment and could have been influenced by oral traditions and the canonical gospels as read by latter copyists. (2) Crossan believes that all the variations in Gospel tradition came from a core nucleolus of very early writings that form the cross Gospel and that is the basis of the canonical Gospels (combining a saying source (Q) with a narrative Gospel). But Koester believes that the oral tradition was still going up to the early part of the second century,[11]and that it was a fountain of information for various gospel writings all along the way. (3) Crossan holds that the epiphanies (resurrection sightings) were all from the Cross Gospel; Koester holds that they were from various sources. But none of them negates the basic core thesis which all three of them hold to, which is that the Ur Gospel passion Narrative includes the empty tomb and that it circulated early, perhaps mid century. Koester tell us his true opinion when the sates at the end of his list of these three problems:

“The account of the passion of Jesus must have developed quite early because it is one and the same account that was used by Mark (and subsequently by Matthew and Luke) and by John and as will be argued below by the Gospel of Peter, However except for the story of the discovery of the empty tomb, the different stories of the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection in the various Gospels cannot derive from one single source. They are independent of one another. Each of the authors of the extant gospels and of their secondary endings drew these epiphany stories from their own particular tradition, not from a common source.”[12]

What is he saying? First he is not disputing that the story of the empty tomb circulated early, he affirms it. He says “except for the story of the empty tomb” he means that is included with the original material, the other resurrection related sightings came from other sources.[13] Are those other sources fictional? In Koester’s mind they may be, but his conclusions are based upon the logic derived from the texts and the fragments of readings found in them, so they could be fictional or factual. They just don’t happen to be from that one original Ur Gospel; there’s noting in logic that prevents them from being part of other eye witness accounts. When he says the authors got these stories from their “own particular tradition” he means each of the communities that produced the individual canonical gospels has their own tradition sources, so these could well have been eye witness sources. Let’s bracket this for now and get back to it toward the end of the essay.

Koester sets out to demonstrate his first objection to Crossan by showing that the evolution of the gospel traditions were not set in stone and were fed by the oral tradition, I am not conserved with, but in so demonstrating he also illustrates one of the major arguments through which we know that there was an Ur Gospel passion narrative that preceded the canonical gospels. His argument against Crossan on the side point also serves to illustrate the major issue here before us in this essay. By “gospel traditions” he does not mean new fictional material was being made up, he means the way the story is told. By mid century how one told it was just as important as the content. The particular order, and traditions these were still evolving but were shaping up into a style and the style was being codified. That point is alluded to earlier where it is said that reliance on the psalms to describe Jesus suffering is earlier and that lack of certain kinds of quotation allusions are earlier than the canonical writing, that’s saying that telling it a certain way was forming up and when we see that formation not present that is an indication of an early source. When he says that Jesus’ suffering is described in terms of the psalms he is not saying the psalms gave them the idea of making up Jesus’ suffering. This is close to the idea of midrash. The Jews liked to tell things about history in terms of the Scriptures, it was like reinforcing the truth to show that what God is doing today unfolds in ways that allude to earlier acts of God. So they tell the story by making a bunch of literary allusions to the scripture.
Two such examples: the way Pilate speaks corresponds to Psalms and the response of the people to Jesus’ crucifixion is patterned after Deut. 21:8 in guilt of the people is expressed in tones that mock the prayer in the ritual:[14]

Matt 27: 24-25 Ps 26: 25-26
“so when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing….he took water before the crowd saying: ‘I am Innocent of this man’s blood, see to it yourselves.’ I hate the company of evil doers and I will not sit with the wicked, I wash my hands in innocence and go about thy alter, O lord.
“and all the people answered, his blood be upon us and upon our children.” “Set not the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of thy people O Israel.”

In acculturating these points Koester also, without explicitly saying it until latter, shows that no one would copy anything in this way. Ray Brown will make the same point as well and with a much more elaborate chart. Here are elements from one of Koester’s small charts that demonstrate the point; this deal with the mocking of Jesus after the trail before Pilate.

Gpete 3:6-9

And they put him in a purple robe Mark 5:17 they dressed him with a purple robe
Matt 27:28 they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him
Luke 23:11 they put a shining garment on him
John 19:2 and arrayed him in a purple robe
And sat him on the judgment seat and said judge righteously o King of Israel. John 19:13 and he sat down on the judgment seat
And one f them brought a crown of thorns and put it on his head Mark 27:15 /Matt 27-19 and plaiting a crown of thorns John 19:2 and the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns and put it on his head.

And others who stood by spat on his face Mark 14:65 one of the servants standing by struck Jesus with his hand

The supposition most skeptics will make is that the author of Gpete merely copies the existing gospels that were already known, changing a bit here and there to suit his own taste. The problem is there are so many allusions it’ clear the author was copying a tradition, and it’s a tradition a kin to the canonicals in some way, either as the common source they used or the canonicals themselves directly. No one copies in the way that it that it seems to have worked. No one would say “I want to talk about the purple robe so I’ll copy ‘they dressed him with a purple robe’ from Mark but I’ll say ‘put’ rather than dressed like Luke does.” No one copies by breaking down actual sentences from the difference sources and using a word from this and a phrase from that to make nuclear fragments like a sentence all the way thought the whole document. It could be that one would take a chapter from one and chapter from another and wedge in between still another segment from a third source, not for each and every sentence. This is a disproof of the idea that the author of Gpete merely copied the canonicals. No one copies this way. As Raymond Brown states in The Death of the Messiah:

GPet follows the classical flow from trail through crucifixion to burial to tomb presumably with post resurrection appearances to follow. The GPete sequence of individual episodes, however, is not the same as that of any canonical Gospel...When one looks at the overall sequence in the 23 items I listed in table 10, it would take very great imagination to picture the author of GPete studying Matthew carefully, deliberately shifting episodes around and copying in episodes form Luke and John to produce the present sequence. [Brown, Death of the Messiah,[15]

"IN the Canonical Gospel's Passion Narrative we have an example of Matt. working conservatively and Luke working more freely with the Marcan outline and of each adding material: but neither produced an end product so radically diverse from Mark as GPet is from Matt."[16]

Brown proves the tradition that Gpet follows is old and independent. It’s much less likely that the author of Gepet merely copied all his material form the canonicals. One copies an exegetical tradition, and that tradition by the time of Gpet (late second century) was already formed up in one way, and GPet shows examples of another form which should be considered earlier because it’s based upon the Psalms not upon Mark or Matthew. No one would copy in such a way as to instill all four from of the canonicals into the text, but traces of an original might be combined with latter works in that way. The arguments that Brown makes are elaborate, he presents several huge charts (no. 10 mentioned above). I can’t reproduce them here, but the marital is very important. The arguments Koester makes are extremely intricate. I do not have the time or space here to present these arguments because they take up whole books, but suffice to say many scholars, in fact the majority agree with Koester on these points. “Nevertheless, the idea of a pre-Markan passion narrative continues to seem probable to a majority of scholars. One recent study is presented by Gerd Theissen in The Gospels in Context, on which I am dependent for the following observations.”[17]

The issues are enormously complex and due to their complexity they lead to confusion when people try to argue and prove things. May of Koester’s statements have been misinterpreted by skeptics seeking to refute my use of his material merely because they don’t read the book or consider the context. I urge the reader to read Koester’s book, Ancient Christian Gospels, and Brown’s book Death of the Messiah, as Well as Crosson’s Cross Gospel.

"The Gospel of Peter, as a whole, is not dependent upon any of the canonical gospels. It is a composition which is analogous to the Gospel of Mark and John. All three writings, independently of each other, use older passion narrative which is based upon an exegetical tradition that was still alive when these gospels were composed and to which the Gospel of Matthew also had access. All five gospels under consideration, Mark, John, and Peter, as well as Matthew and Luke, concluded their gospels with narratives of the appearances of Jesus on the basis of different epiphany stories that were told in different contexts. However, fragments of the epiphany story of Jesus being raised form the tomb, which the Gospel of Peter has preserved in its entirety, were employed in different literary contexts in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew."[18]

The other major reason for assuming the earlier date for readings in Gpet, aside from the fact that no one would copy the synoptic the way the readings indicate it would have to be copied if it was based upon the synoptic, is that the reliance of these readings upon the OT indicates a stage of transmission prior to the development that would obtain after the synoptic. In other words, as said above, the story comes to be told in a certain way; even historically true stores develop hermeneutical traditions. When a reading demonstrates characteristics prior to that development, we know it was written earlier. The Synoptic do show some reliance on the Psalms. That’s because those are traces hanging on from the Ur Gospel that show up in the synoptic. The four canonical gospels and Gpet all use these readings as they draw from the Ur Gospel but they also use other readings and had Gpet been dependent upon the canonicals exclusively it would not show such total reliance upon the Psalms but would include a great dependence upon the canonicals. Brown’s charts prove this reliance of Gpet upon the Psalms and not upon Matthew or the other canonicals.[19]

Koester shows that the scenes of mocking Jesus were based upon Isaiah 50:6, Zach 12:10 and the scapegoat ritual are also brought into it. One can understand the meaning in drawing parallels between Jesus passion and the scapegoat of atonement for Israel. The robe and the crown of thorns are derived form the scapegoat ritual as well.[20] The Gospel of Peter reveals a close relationship between the mocking to the exegetical scapegoat tradition. He argues that these parallels are closer than those drawn between that tradition and the canonicals. He presents a fairly large chart to prove it. This compares seven examples between the scapegoat tradition, Gpet and all four canonicals.[21]

“It is evident that alone in the Gospel of Peter all three Items form the Isaiah passage appear together while John only includes the first and second (scourge and strikes) and Mark and Matthew only the first and third (scourge and spitting). Moreover, only the Gospel of Peter contains the same Greek terminology for scourging in agreement with Isaiah while Mark and Matthew substitute the common Roman term for this punishment only Isaiah and the Gospel of Peter mention the cheeks explicitly with respect to the strikes.” The piercing with the reed from the scapegoat allegory is preserved only in the Gospel of Peter while John has used this item for the piercing of Jesus’ side after his death; Mark and Matthew misread the tradition and change it to “strikes with a reed.”…the relationship of the Gospel of Peter to the parallel accounts of the canonical gospels cannot be explained by a random compilation of canonical passages. It is evident that the mocking scene in this gospel is a narrative version that it is directly dependent upon the exegetical version of the tradition which is visible in Barnabas.[22]

That tradition he argues is earlier than the canonicals by virtue of his greater adherence to the OT. The date of mid first century fro the circulation of the Ur Gospel with empty tomb is based upon old rule of thumb assumptions that textual critics always work by, ten years for copy time and ten years for travel time. In other words, travel time means the time it took for it to be copied and travel times mean the time it too to circulate to other places. Counting back from the 70, the standard assumption for the Date of Mark, twenty years is about 50 years. That is how Koester explains it.

Part 2


[1]Stephen Neil, The Interpritation of the New Testament 1861-1961. London, NY: Oxford University press, 1964, 239.

[2]Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: “The Earliest Christian Tradition and It’s Interpreters,” Journal for the Sutdy of Pseudepigrapha: supplement. T & T Cllark Publishers (September 30, 2005) 305-6.

[3]Helmutt Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, Their History and Development. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990, 208.

[4] Ibid. 220

[5] Ibid, 218

[6] Ibid. 217

[7] Koester, find

[8] Ibid, 218

[9] Ibid.


[11]That’s based upon Papias reportedly saying he enjoyed hearing the voices of the great men speaking the words more than reading it on paper. That does indicate that there was some use or oral tradition at that time but if Papias was really old then he could have been referring to practice that had died out in his youth.

[12]Ibid, 220

[12] Ibid., 231 fn 3 he again clarifies his position from that of Crossan. Atheists reacting to material on my website where I speak of this habitually quote Koester assuming that the issue between him and Crossan is Koster’s objection to the idea of a pre Mark redaction that includes the empty tomb. That is not it at all. He makes It quite clear he agrees with that. The issue is entirely about how material after the initiation discovery of the tomb cam to be in the account, was it original (Crossan) or latter (Koester).

[14] Ibid, 221

[15]Raymond Brown, Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave, A commentary on the Passionnarratives in the Four Gospels. Volume 2. New York: Dobuleday 1994 1322

[16]Ibid. 1325

[17] Peter Kirby, Early Christian Writings, Website, URL: last visited Jan 3, 2010.

[18] Koester, 240

[19] Brown, find

[20] Koester, 224-25

[21] Ibid, 226

[22] Ibid, 226-227

Imagine two British gentlemen sitting in an English garden engaging in conversation about the Queen's knights. The first makes the assertion, "All of the Queen's knights have been brave."

The second, a more circumspect individual, responds, "But what about Sir Robin? He wasn't brave at all."

"Well," responds the first, "that's because he wasn't a true knight."

What, if anything, is wrong with the response of the first British Gentlemen? Anyone familiar with the ongoing debate between Christians and Atheist/Skeptics on the Internet probably believes that the first of these two gentlemen has committed the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy. If you are unfamiliar with the fallacy, it probably means that you have not been engaging in these types of debates because it is almost never used anywhere else. There is a reason for that: it really isn't much of a fallacy. Perhaps I should say that the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy is No True Fallacy, but that would be a little harsh.

For those unfamiliar, the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy seems to be increasing in popularity over the Internet and is usually raised when a Christian claims that some bad person who has somehow claimed to be a Christian is not really a Christian, e.g., Adolph Hitler. A good, lengthy description of the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy can be found in an article by that same name on a atheist website entitled A less comprehensive but still informative version can be found on a website titled "Logically Fallacious" where the fallacy is given the following description:

Description: When a universal (“all”, “every”, etc.) claim is refuted, rather than conceding the point or meaningfully revising the claim, the claim is altered by going from universal to specific, and failing to give any objective criteria for the specificity.
Logical Form:All X are Y.
(it is clearly refuted that all X are not Y)
Then all true X are Y.
Example #1: In 2011, Christian broadcaster, Harold Camping, (once again) predicted the end of the world via Jesus, and managed to get many Christians to join his alarmist campaign.  During this time, and especially after the Armageddon date had passed,  many Christian groups publicly declared that Camping is not a “true Christian”. 

I still have all of the textbooks from the logic courses I took in college, and nowhere in any of these books do I find a description or even a reference to the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy. As I read through academic articles about logic that are available to me through my college's website, I don't see many philosophers appealing to the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy to make their case. So, where did this fallacy come from? According to an article on, the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy was first conceived by Antony Flew in 1975 (when he was still immersed in his God-denier phase) in a book entitled, "Thinking about Thinking," however, it doesn't seem to be used abundantly since that time. This leads me to conclude that the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy has most likely been given legs over the Internet and has not been seen as particularly helpful by those who are professionally taught to logically consider thought-forms. In other words, while the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy originated with a true philosopher, it appears to have been largely adopted by Atheists/Skeptics championing the fallacy over the Internet because they can use it to make Christians look bad when they don't agree that Hitler was a Christian. You know how it goes:

Christian: Christians wouldn't kill millions of people.
Atheist: What about Hitler? He said he was Christian and was a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Christian: Hitler wasn't a true Christian.
Atheist: Well, you've just committed the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy, which means that you have lost the argument. 

Okay, maybe the Atheist doesn't say it exactly like that, but that's the basic rub. All the Atheist/Skeptic has to do is think of some evil person who isn't like Christians claim and any effort to distinguish the evil person becomes a violation of the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy. Checkmate.

Not quite.

What's wrong with the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy? The problem is that it is a fallacy of equivocation. But it isn't simply the equivocation on the part of the person who is making the assertion that "All X are Y"; rather, it is the equivocation in the term X by both of the parties. Consider my example of the two British Gentlemen, above. Apparently, the first British gentleman is violating the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy, right? Well, he may be violating the fallacy as written, but he is not committing a logical fallacy. 

The problem in the example is that the two British gentlemen actually disagree on the definition of what constitutes one of the Queen's knights. I am certain that both of them would agree that one of the necessary factors to be a knight is to be knighted by the Queen. The second gentleman, however, probably assumes that being knighted by the Queen is the only qualification needed to be a knight. The first gentlemen apparently disagrees. He appears to believe that being knighted by the Queen is not enough to become a "true knight." Instead, he has additional qualifications to make someone a "true" knight that the second British gentlemen is not recognizing. The first British gentlemen believes that being a knight requires that the knight be brave, and it is likely the he has other characteristics in mind when he speaks of a "true knight" such as chivalry.

You see, to the first gentleman, the word "true" has meaning and isn't merely a dodge as the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy asserts. There really isn't a fallacy in the conversation -- only a clarification of terms is taking place. The first knight has additional qualifications to make a knight a "true" knight, whereas the second has only one qualification. Neither is wrong nor has either committed a fallacy -- they have just not spelled out their particular understandings of what constitutes a knight or "true knight" to each of the parties in the discussion.

With a little thought, anyone can think of thousands of examples. Suppose Thomas, a person who clubs baby seals, joins Greenpeace and pays the dues. If it is argued that all members of Greenpeace would never club a baby seal to death, but it turns out that Thomas is discovered in the Arctic clubbing baby seals to death, would the Greenpeace member be wrong in asserting that Thomas is not a true member of Greenpeace? Of course not. Thomas if violating the purpose of the organization.

Suppose that Olivia, a woman who believes that no one should be permitted to own guns, joins the NRA and pays the dues. Isn't it safe to say that I can still assert that all NRA members favor an interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution that allows most people (felons and a few others excluded) to own guns even though someone can point to Olivia as being a member of the NRA who opposes the ownership of guns? I think I could confidently insist that Olivia is not a true member of the NRA. Would it make sense to contend that I was committing the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy and therefore had lost the argument if it means that Olivia should be considered representative of the NRA's positions on gun control?

Note that both of the examples include organizations that stand for something. If the only qualification needed to be a member of the group is simple membership then the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy may work. For example, if I were to say, "No graduate of Centerville High School would ever commit a crime," and you were to point out that Craig, a graduate of CHS, had committed armed robbery, my retort of "Craig isn't a true graduate of CHS" would seem to be "moving the goal posts" and fallacious. So, there is a circumstance where the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy works, but it is really quite limited. The fallacy is not as broad or robust as Atheists contend.

So, is Christianity more like being a member of Greenpeace or is it more like being a graduate of Centerville High School? Even the shallowest of investigations should result in the conclusion that it is more like being a member of Greenpeace. Christianity isn't just about joining a church or claiming to be a Christian. Rather, Christianity is a commitment of one's life to God. Jesus noted that not everyone who claims to follow him is really his disciple. ("Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter." ~ Matthew 7:21) The Bible says that those who are Christian will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. ("But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control." ~ Galatians 5:22-23a)  1 Corinthians 5 instructs Christians to remove the wicked people who dwell among the people of God demonstrating again that not everyone who is in a church is to be automatically understood to be a Christian. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

This leads to the conclusion that a Christian does not commit a logical fallacy when he denies that some wicked person or another is not a true Christian. The word "true" does have meaning, after all.

Knowing that Atheists/Skeptics will continue to try to hammer Christians by applying the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy where it shouldn't be applied, how should Christians respond to this argument? I think that the better way is to be watchful for when the Atheist/Skeptic is trying to set up the fallacy and respond by asking a question about what the Atheist/Skeptic means by asking a question in response that will clarify what it means to be a Christian. An example might look like this:

Christian: No Christian would hate a homosexual.
Atheist: What about Fred Phelps? He and his church picket at funerals claiming that "God hates fags."
Christian (seeing the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy about to be inaccurately applied): So, do you think that Fred Phelps is a Christian?
Atheist: Of course he's a Christian, he's the pastor of a Baptist church.
Christian (now having a clearer understanding of what the Atheist/Skeptic believes to be the definition of Christian): That's interesting, because I think that being a Christian is more than merely being the member or even the Pastor of a Church, don't you? I mean, if you were to decide to join a church but still didn't believe in God, would you automatically be a Christian?

You see, this is a way to work around the claim that one is committing the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy. Not that the Christian would be committing the fallacy by asserting that Fred Phelps isn't a Christian, but it avoids having to convince the Atheist/Skeptic who is distracted by spiking the football that her understanding of the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy isn't accurate.


P.S. Yes, I know that Sir Robin is a fictional character, so let's please have no one accuse me of being ignorant on that basis (I may be ignorant on another basis, and I would welcome that being pointed out, but let's not get nitpicky).


Argument from God Correlate:

 photo hood_zps78f04830.jpg
Dr. Hood, Univ. Tennessee Chattanooga:
Inventor of the 'M Scale"

This article is a summary of my book, the Trace of God by Joseph Hinman (available on Amazon). I recently posted essays showing that the true Christian concept of Supernatural is mystical experience nothing more. Now I show mystical experience is empirical, thus SN is empirical.


We can't demonstrate empirical knowledge of God to others, even if we feel we have it ourselves. But if we can correlate something that is empirical with God, the effects of God in the world then we could know by association between sign and signified that there is divine reality. Just as the fingerprint betrays the presence of the owner of the fingers that made them, or the track in the snow proves the presence of the creature that made it, so RE as the God correlate points to the presence of God in reality is the effect of the divine upon our lives. As a theological example of this principle we can draw upon the works of Schleiermacher. God is the correlate of RE as God is the correlate of the feeling of utter dependence. In Speeches on Religion to it's Cultured Dispersers he seemed to be making the simplistic argument: “I feel emotional when I pray to God so there must be a God to feel emotional about.  [1] By the time He wrote his magnum opus Glaubenslehre (the Christian faith) he had developed a much more sophisticated version. He now understood these religious affections in a particular way, as a feeling of utter dependence. [2] Though critics often interpret the concept of “feeling” as an emotional response the real crux of his argument turns the utter dependence aspect. Rather than merely emotion he's identifying the feeling as indicative of a religious capacity. [3] We could think of it as a “religious instinct,” or more properly a religious consciousness. It is from this sense of consciousness that doctrines derive their meaning, as verbalization of the sense.

This sense of consciousness as part of the basis of religion offers a theoretical framework for connecting the sense of the numinous to the notion of real experience of the divine. Of course it's not a direct unmediated revelatory face to face encounter, but like the track in the snow points to a presence not directly seen.

It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition..He...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned solely by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as Shchleiermacher...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence. [4]

This conclusion might be somewhat deflating for apologists, but there are two of caveats that might make it more palatable: (1) We don't have to reduce religion to just feeling or to consciousness, we don't have toally agree with Schleiermacher, we can understand doctrines and feelings as bound up with the same reaction to reality and the consciousness that obtains from sensing it. (2) we can construe the feeling as a phenomenological approach rather than a definitive commentary upon all of reality. If affections or consciousness based upon affections are primary in belief, this does not mean that arguments are of no value since people rationalize their feelings, and arguments help to clear away the clutter and clarify feelings.

Critics such as John Webster et. al. Attack this notion as a continuation of his mistake from On Religion, that Schleiermacher got the process backwards. [5] It is not feeling that produces doctrine biut doctrines that produce feeling. The deep connection to affections is dismissed as his Moravian upbringing, the mark of the romanic era. “...The feeling of utter dependence, which Schleiermacher thought universal is an expression of the salient Christian virtue of humility with a particularly Protestant emphasis on the utter helplessness of man to save himself.” The argument is that Schleiermacher is just generalizing, the feeling is merely a feeling about the world from which he generalizes based upon his Christian upbringing. “All religions do not simply promote awe and connectedness to it.” [6] To the contrary, thanks to the M scale, we now know that these experiences are universal. The feeling of utter dependence is really about a sense of contingency, the radical contingency of all things, and it's great underlying unity, this equates to the sense of the meniscus and undifferentiated unity one finds in mystical experience. While Schleiermacher's feeling is not exactly mystical experience itself it is very closely related. Thus the universality found in RE supplies an answer to the criticism.

Thus the presence of the sign (the experience) informs us of the presence of the signified (God); like finger prints match the finger and thus reveal the person who made the print. The association between the divine and mystical experience is at least theoretically valid in terms of an anthropological perspective; religious experience forms the foundation upon which organized religions are built. [7] The sense of the numinous is a deep all pervasive since of love. The basic assumption made by those who have the experience is overwhelmingly that they have experience God. How can we know this to be the case without already knowing that God exists and what it is like to sense God's presence? We could set up criteria based upon the nature of religious belief. What conditions would one expectorate to prevail or what aspects would one expect to find in sensing God's presence?    

(1). Life Transforming and vital in a positive life-affirming sense(2) It would give us a sense of the transcendent and the divine.(3) No alternate or naturalistic causality could be provenThese criteria are based upon the nature of religious belief and experience taken from all major world religions. More to the point they are derived from the works of W.T. Stace who argues that in all world religions there are certain claims about certain types of experiences that answer our most basic existential questions  [8] These claims about answering the basic questions and positively affecting our lives constitute some of the most basic truth claims of world religions. If these claims are justified we should see these conditions in the criteria met. Religion in general seems to attempt to make sense of the nature of being human, to construct and then explain the Human problematic, or the human condition.. This knowledge is said to tranform the the lives of those who have such experiences. The content of the experiences themselves include a snese of the Holy, a sense of the sacred, the imparting of noetic content, these are all communicated in the texture of the experience itself. This realization accounts for criteria 1 and 2. It is only reasonable to think that the experience might be an experience of a reality involving the divine, since it indicates the validity truth claims of religion. It is equally reasonable and scientific to assume that if no counter causality found the God based conclusion is warranted. Thus, we have Criterion 3. These criteria are fulfilled by the data, and that allows us to derive the following argument from the criteria.

(1) The affects and effects of mystical experience are real in that they are measurably transformative in a positive sense.

(2)These affects cannot be reduced to naturalistic cause and affect, bogus mental states or epiphenomena
(this will be seen in analysis of skeptical counter causality below).

(3)Since the affects of Mystical consciousness are independent of other explanations and the
effects are real we should assume that they are genuine experiences of something transcendent of our own minds.

(4)Since mystical experience is usually experience of something, the Holy, the sacred, or some sort of greater transcendent reality we should assume that the origin of the experience is rooted in transcendent reality.

(5)Since mystical experience is usually about the divine we can assume a divine origin.
(6) Since religious symbols are culturally bound, and religious affectations are tied to such symbols, the universal nature of mystical experience implies an objective referent.

Justification for P1 “measurably transformative in a positive sense” is reflected in the findings throughout the 50 year period during which the body of researched has been collected. A huge number of studies corroborate these findings, not all of them use the M scale but they all use various measurements. Many of them use standardized measurements already in place for happiness and self actualization and other such affects. I have selected a range of studies that spans the time period. Two of the first scientifically rigorous scientific studies on the topic were Robert Wuthnow (1978) [9] and Kathleen Noble (1987) [10]Summary of their finds are as follows:


*Say their lives are more meaningful,

*think about meaning and purpose

*Know what purpose of life is

Meditate more

*Score higher on self-rated personal talents and capabilities

*Less likely to value material possessions, high pay, job security, fame, and having lots of friends

*Greater value on work for social change, solving social problems, helping needy

*Reflective, self aware



*integration, allocentrism,

*psychological maturity,

*self-acceptance, self-worth,

*autonomy, authenticity, need for solitude,

*increased love and compassion

*Experience productive of psychological health

*Less authoritarian and dogmatic

*More assertive, imaginative, self-sufficient

*intelligent, relaxed

*High ego strength,

*relationships, symbolization, values,

Lukoff and Lu (1988) conducted a literature search reflects many studies demonstrating the transforming effects of religious experience, some of them using the early version of the M scale.[11] For example Finney and Maloneyh (1985) found contemplative prayer was instrumental in improvement in psychotherapy. [12]Hood (1977) found high correlation between mystical experiences and self actualization, persons of relatively high self actualization were more likely to have had mystical experiences. [13] Other studies (not in Lukoff and Lu) include Greeley who, “found no evidence to support the orthodox belief that frequent mystic experiences or psychic experiences stem from deprivation or psychopathology. His 'mystics' were generally better educated, more successful economically, and less racist, and they were rated substantially happier on measures of psychological well-being.”  [14] Sullivan, using a large quantitative base of former mental patients found that 48% identified spiritual practices as crucial to their healing and this was corroborated by those ho cared for them. [15] This is just a small sample of the studies that demonstrate the transformative aspects.

Justification for P2 cannot be reduced to naturalistic cause and effect will be dealt with mainly below in answering the argument on brain chemistry. P3 affects of Mystical consciousness are independent of other explanations and the effects are real we should assume that they are genuine experiences of something transcendent of our own minds. That they are independent of counter causality derived from 2. That they are real is derived from the measurable effects in 1. P4, experience of something: The content of the experience is about the divine, or ultimate reality. Even when the experience is interpreted by the receiver not to be about God the receiver has been known to act in ways that are consistent with belief in God. Moreover, the experiences described tend to match those described as experiences of the divine. Ergo it’s just a matter of interpretation. Secondly, the vast majority of those who have these experiences do believe they are about God. [16]

This final point about the universal nature is of particular interest, When doctrinal explanations and differences of tradition are controlled for, the experiences themselves are the same the world over. Even among atheists, those who have religious experiences respond to them in the same way that religious believers do. This might indicate that these people are all experiencing an objective reality which is external to the human brain. There is a voluminous and ancient tradition of writing about experiences by people from all over the world, who claim to have experienced the divine. Mystics and philosophers have catelogued such writings. Two of the most noteworthy examples are Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, [17] and Teachings of the Mystics by Philosopher W.T. Stace. [18] Many other such writers have included these experiences. Thirdly, grounded in empirical evidence, the universal nature of such experiences implies a source external to the human mind. When I say “external” I mean it originates externally but is experienced internally. This includes human brain structure and brain chemistry as a conduit not that it circumvents natural processes. W.T. Stace shows that, as Ralph Hood Jr. put it, “within and eventually outside of the great faith traditions mysticism has flourished.”  [19]

Stace offers five characteristics that demonstrate the commonalities to mystical experience; these are characteristics that are found universally in all cultures and in all forms of mystical experience:

The contemporary interest in the empirical research of mysticism can be traced to Stace’s (Stace, 1960) demarcation of the phenomenological characteristics of mystical experiences (Hood, 1975). In Stace’s conceptualization, mystical experiences had five characteristics (Hood, 1985, p.176):

1. The mystical experience is noetic. The person having the eerience perceives it as a valid source of knowledge and not just a subjective experience.

2. The mystical experience is ineffable, it cannot simply be described in words.

3. The mystical experience is holy. While this is the religious aspect of the experience it is not necessarily expressed in any particular theological terms.

4. The mystical experience is profound yet enjoyable and characterized by positive affect.

5. The mystical experience is paradoxical. It defies logic. Further analysis of reported mystical experiences suggests that the one essential feature of mysticism is an experience of unity (Hood, 1985). The experience of unity involves a process of ego loss and is generally expressed in one of three ways (Hood, 1 976a). The ego is absorbed into that which transcends it, or an inward process by which the ego gains pure awareness of self, or a combination of the two. [20] 

The other aspect of importance to this work is the universality argument. The universality argument could be taken as a warrant for belief, but I use it here to show that there’s a reason to equate these experiences with Supernature. When Hood took out the name specific to a religious tradition (from the M scale) and just asked general questions about experience, the experiences described were the same. This indicates that what is being experienced is the same for all the people having religious experiences. This is actually the same as saying Stace’s theory was validated. If it wasn’t validated they would not describe the same experiences. The indication is that there is an objective reality all of the mystics experience. The reason is because religion is a cultural construct. If they were just describing a constructed set of expectations resulting form culture, the experiences would be conditioned by culture not transcending it. So that means Iranian Muslims experience what they think of as “Allah” and Baptists in Cleveland experience what they think of as “Jesus” in the same way. This is should not be the case if they are merely experiencing culturally conditioned constructs. The implication is that they may be experiencing an objective reality that both understand through culturally constructed filters. Thus, there is a good indication that some external reality is experienced. One would then be warranted in thinking that this external reality is God, since the content of experience and its result on people's lives correlate with the objections of God belief in general.


[1] Frederick Schleiermacher, Speeches on Religion to it's Cultured Dispersers. New York: Cambridge University Press, Trans. Riichard Crouter,1996, 24-5

[2]  Frederich Achleiermacher, On The Christian Faith. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, Trans. H. R. MacKintosh and J.R.Stewart, 1986, 76-8

[3]  Ibid., 124.

[4]  Robert R. Williams, Schleiermacher the Theologian: Construction of the Doctrine of God. Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1978, 4.

[5]  John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Ian Torrance, ed., Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, Oxfor:Oxford University Press, 2007, 421.

[6]  Ibid.

[7] David Steindl-Rast, “The Mystical Core of Organized Religion,” Copyright © 1989 by David Steindl-Rast. Used by the Council on Spiritual Practices with permission.First appeared in ReVision, Summer 1989 12(1):11-14. Online resource, URL: (accessed 1/2/16)

[8] Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy,, op.cit., 42-44.

[9] Robert, Wuthnow,"Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18 (3), (1978), 59-75.

[10]Kathleen D. Noble, ``Psychological Health and the Experience of Transcendence.'' The Counseling Psychologist, 15 (4),(1987). 601-614.

[11] Lukoff, David & Francis G. Lu (1988). ``Transpersonal psychology research review: Topic: Mystical experiences.'' Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 20 (2), 161-184.

[12]Finney and Maloneyh, “An Empirical Study of Contemplative Prayer as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 13 (4) 284-90.

[13]Ralph Hood Jr., “Differential Triggering of Mysticalo Experiences As A Function O Self Actualization,” Review of Religious Research, 18, 1977, 264-70.

[14]Charles T. Tart, Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm, New York: Dutton, 1977, back in print ed. 2001, 19.

[15]W. Sullivan, “It Helps Mev Be A Wholoe Person: The Role of Spirituality Among The mentally Challeneged.” Psychological Rehabilitation Journal, 16 (1993) 125-134.

[16] Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.” In Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion.  Patrick Mcnamara ed. West Port CT: Prager Publications, 2006, 119-235.

[17]Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A study on the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual consciousness. New York: Dutton, 1911

[18]W.T. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics: Selections from the Greatest Mystics and Mystical Writers of the World. New American Library 1960. A good General overview of Stace’s understanding of mysticism is  Mystical Experience Registry: Mysticism Defined by W.T. Stace. found onine at URL:  

[19]Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.”op. cit., 119-235.

[20]Robert J. Voyle, “The Impact of Mystical Experiences Upon Christian Maturity.” originally published in pdf format:  
Google html version here:  Voyle is quoting Hood in 1985, Hood in return is speakingStace.

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