CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I have noticed an up-tick in Earl Doherty admiration on the blogs. So, I decided to bring some of the points I made in my articles on the Jesus Myth to the pages of Cadre Comments.

In this post, I examine a passage in Hebrews that proves troublesome to Doherty's theory that the early Christians did not believe that Jesus existed on earth. Hebrews 9:27-28 refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Obviously, a description of an upcoming earthly visitation as a second one clearly requires that Jesus had previously come to earth. Here is the NASV translation of the passage at issue:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.

As discussed more fully below, every other translation refers to Christ appearing a “second” time or “again.” So how does Doherty deal with this clear reference to Jesus Christ having already been on earth? By arguing that every modern translation of this scripture is wrong. Doherty argues that 9:27-28 does not refer to a second coming, but to the first coming that follows Jesus' non-earthly death and offering. Doherty offers two arguments. First, one authority suggests this should be translated "next." Second, any reference to a second coming would be intrusive because of the unspecified purpose of keeping 27 and 28 parallel. Both arguments are complete failures and Doherty ignores overwhelming contrary evidence.

Doherty's Translation is Contrived and Completely Unsupported

The Greek phrase translated “second time” is ek deuterou. According to Doherty, “Before the turn of the century, Vaughan (quoted in The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol.4, page 340) translated verse 28 this way: ‘Christ died once and the next thing before him is the Advent.’" It is telling, however, that the only authority Doherty has been able to point to for his own translation is one commentary from the 1800s. In contrast, every translation I could find interprets this passage as either "second" (RSV, NRSV, TNIV, NIV, NEB, KJV, NKJV, ESV, AMP, ASV, WE, YLT, WYC, DARBY) or, less seldom, "again" (CEV, NLT, LNT). I also reviewed numerous commentaries on Hebrews from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives and found none that translated this passage to mean "next" or "after" as does Doherty.

Even more damaging to Doherty's argument is the clear and overwhelming linguistic attestation that ek deuterou means "second." The root term dueteros is used throughout the New Testament to mean "second" (Matthew 21:30; 22:26, 39; 26:42; Mark 12:21, 31; 14:72, Luke 12:38, 19:18, 20:30; John 3:4, 4:54, 21:16; Acts 7:13; 10:15, 12:10, 13:33; 1 Corinthians 15:47; 2 Corinthians 1:15; 13:2; Titus 3:10; 2 Peter 3:1; Revelation 2:11; 4:7; 6:3; 8:8; 11:14; 16:3: John 3:4; 9:20, 11:9; 19:3). Out of 44 usages in the New Testament, the term deuteros is 38 times used to mean "second" and 3 times to mean "again." As for the author of Hebrews, he uses the term repeatedly and exclusively to mean "second." The term is used four other times by the author of Hebrews. Every time it is used mean to mean "second." (Hebrews 8:7; 9:3; 9:7, 10:9).
As for the exact phrase, ek deuterou, is only used in the New Testament to mean "second." It never has any other meaning:

  • "He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Matthew 26:42.

  • "Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, 'Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.' And he began to weep." Mark 14:72

  • "So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, 'Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.'" John 9:24

  • "Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." Acts 10:15

  • "But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.'" Acts 11:9.

Accordingly, the evidence of usage in early Christian literature and in Hebrews overwhelmingly supports a translation of "second."

The Use of "Second" is Not "Intrusive," but Necessary and Coherent

Doherty also argues that the term "second" is intrusive because "the writer is clearly presenting his readers with some kind of parallel between verses 27 and 28 (note also the "once" in both parts), it seems unlikely he would introduce an element which doesn't fit the parallel." Doherty argues verse 28 is best translated "Christ was offered once, and after that (next) he will appear to bring salvation." According to him, it must be translated this way because it must parallel verse 27, "first men die, and after that (or 'next') they are judged."

I am skeptical that any "analysis" as subjective as this could overcome the overwhelming linguistic attestation described above. In any event, it is clear that Doherty's purported parallel is contrived and unconvincing.

This argument fails because the author of Hebrews specifically chose a different term to indicate a different meaning. The term used in verse 27 to mean "after" is the Greek term meta. If, as Doherty insists, the author meant to indicate the same sequence for Jesus in verse 28 as he did for mean in verse 27, why did he intentionally avoid using the same word, meta? Why not use meta to write, "after being offered once for the sins of many, will appear ____" or "Christ was offered once for the sins of many and after this will appear ____"? I have been unable to find any reason for using a different term other than the obvious one -- the author used a different term because he meant to say something different. Rather than use meta the author uses a word he has elsewhere used to clearly mean "second." There is no ambiguity here. The author's word choice demonstrates that Doherty's argument is contrived.

Second, the context of the passages clearly shows that the author means exactly what he says -- Christ will come a second time. Doherty misses the obvious connection between verse 26 and verse 28. Verse 26 refers to Christ' first coming, verse 28 refers to his second coming:

(v. 26) or then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (v. 27) And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, (v. 28) so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (NRSV)

Note the real focus of the author here. Jesus died once as an offering for sin. So to do men die once. Verse 26 explicitly states that Jesus "appeared" before to die for humanity. Verse 28 clearly refers to him "appearing" a second time to those he saved. The sequence is obvious, verse 26 is the first coming and verse 28 is the second coming. Clearly, the parallel is between both Jesus and man having to die only once.

Doherty's Translation Ignores the Obvious Parallels with the Temple Cult

Doherty completely and inexplicably ignores the obvious symbolism here. Throughout Hebrews its author refers to the temple cult system of sacrifice and contrasts it with Jesus' sacrifice and authority as High Priest. That is why the author focuses so much on Jesus having only died once to effect cleansing whereas the temple cult had to make sacrifices every year. Jesus' is superior because he only had to die once.

In verses 27-28, the author is continuing this comparison and symbolism. The High Priest of the temple cult would appear before the people in front of the Holy of Holies where no one else was allowed to enter. The High Priest would then enter the Holy of Holies with the sacrifice on behalf of the nation. Once inside, the High Priest would make his sacrifice to God. All the while, the people were waiting expectantly outside for the reappearance of the High Priest. Why? Because the mere fact that he survived to leave the Holy of Holies meant that God had accepted the sacrifice and the cleansing was effected.

This is the narrative that the author of Hebrews uses to describe Jesus’ sacrifice and second appearance. Just as the High Priest appeared before the people, so to did Jesus when he came to earth. Just as the High Priest took the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, so to did Jesus through his death and resurrection. Just as the High Priest would reappear to confirm that God had accepted the sacrifice, so to will Jesus appear a second time to his people to show them that God has accepted his sacrifice. Here is how two New Testament scholars describe the parallel of the Priest appearing before the people and then reappearing to confirm the sacrifice was accepted with Jesus’ first visit to earth and then his second coming which confirms that his sacrifice was accepted.

Men and women die once, by divine appointment, and in their case death is followed by judgment. Christ died once, by divine appointment, and his death is followed by salvation for all his people. This is because in his death he bore 'the sins of many,' offering up his life to God as an atonement on their behalf... The Israelites who watched their high priest enter the sanctuary for them waited expectantly for his reappearance; that was a welcome sign that he and the sacrifice which he presented had been accepted by God. His reappearance from the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement was an especially welcome sight.

(Bruce,FF The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised) page 232).

Christ's first coming was as the sinbearer. That task has been finished forever. His priestly work of making sacrifice is done, and His representation of believers in the sanctuary of God's presence is now being accomplished (verse 24). There remains one final action of this high priest. Even as the Jewish priest emerged from the holy of holies, signifying by the very fact of his emergence that his sacrifice had been accepted (otherwise he would have been divinely stricken in the inner chamber), so Christ will also appear a second time. Those who wait him are all true believers, for whom Christ's second coming will mean the consummation of their salvation. All of the blessed results of Christ's sacrifice will be brought to fulfilment. At Christ's second coming, His purpose will be apart from sin, for that was dealt with by His once for all sacrifice when He came the first time. For believers, salvation in its fullest realization will occur as they share God's blessed presence for eternity.

(Homer A. Kent, Jr. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary, page 190)
Accordingly, Hebrews 9:27-28 refers, quite clearly, to the second coming of Christ to earth.

Here are my favorite things from 2005. Most of them were produced or released in 2005, but some are things that only came to my attention this year.

Favorite Biblical Studies Books

1 & 2 Corinthians, by Craig S. Keener

One of the first books of the New Cambridge Bible Commentary series edited by Ben Witherington. Keener writes clearly and even simply without sacrificing analysis or interesting asides. One of my favorite commentaries on the Corinthian correspondence.

Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, by E. Randolph Richards

A fantastic exploration of letter-writing practices during Paul’s time and Paul’s practices in particular. Richards describes the materials involved in drafting letters, how ancient letter writers used sources, the procedure of letter writing, the time involved, the use of secretaries, the detection of interpolations, the use of letter carriers, and the distances and means of travel of those carriers. Richards then draws out the practical effect of this knowledge on the study of Paul’s letters.

Favorite Fictions Books

The Taking, by Dean Koontz

This is one of the most horrific books I have ever read, but one which does not revel in gore to make its point (though the book is not for the squeamish). A terrifying enemy seems bent on exterminating mankind and our heroes, a married couple living in a small mountain town, face the challenge together. Some reviewers enjoyed the first half of the book but hated the fact that it ended with some religious overtones. As I said in my review, Koontz' ending provides the only rational explanation for the horror and evil that has occurred. It is not traditional SciFi or horror to be sure, but if that is what your demand from you fiction then Koontz is not the novelist for you.

Into the Looking Glass, by John Ringo

Ringo is a rising star among the Military Sci-Fi writers. In Into the Looking Glass, an explosion at a research university opens portals to alien worlds. And some of the residents of those alien worlds are bent on conquering earth. It is up to a SEAL team, a brilliant physicist, the National Guard, the 101st Airborne, and the local rednecks from Big Bob’s Bait, Tackle, and Ammunition to save the world.

Favorite Military History

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: 23-26 October 1944, by Thomas J. Cutler

Most of the military history I read this year was average or below average. Thankfully, near the end of the year I stumbled upon this account of the greatest naval confrontation in history. I have read many other accounts of the Battle of Leyte Gulf and this one is by far the best. It is not a massive tome, but narrates the battles more clearly than any other. It also does a much better job of capturing who was making the decisions and why, as well as focusing on the heroism of the captains and their crews.

Favorite Movies

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Finally! Disney did not disappoint and was faithful in adapting C.S. Lewis’ literary masterpiece. The Lion has long legs and continues to perform well at the box office, ensuring quality sequels. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going until all seven books are adapted.

Walk the Line

Yes, I am a Johnny Cash fan. I am also a Joaquin Phoenix (Signs, The Village, and Gladiator) and Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama) fan. They give great performances (even doing their own vocals) and the story is touching and inspirational.

Favorite DVDs

Constantine (2-Disc Deluxe Edition with Comic Book)

Yes, it is cheesy and the “theology” is, umm, strange. But I love this movie, with its exorcisms, Holy Brass Knuckles, oversized silver-bullet shooting cross-shaped revolver, and day-trips to hell.

The Mission (Two-Disc Special Edition)

This movie is as uncheesy as it gets. Fine performances by Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, and Aidan Quinn and phenomenal cinematography of the South American rain forests. This tale of slavery, native populations, and the Church set in the 1700s manages to impart a strong message without simplifying the moral issues involved.

Favorite New Blog

Things My Kids Say by Layman's wife.

Okay, it's about my family so I am not impartial. My wife brings her considerable skills as a photographer and a mother together on her new blog. It is often hilarious and always gauranteed to lighten your day. Check out today's installment, with my oldest son trying out for the Hell's Angels.

Today's Albuquerque Journal published five letters in response to a poorly reasoned editorial entitled ID UNMASKED for What It is— Religion" by Eric C. Toolson, UNM biology professor. The original editorial demonstrated that Prof. Toolson had not read any actual Intelligent Design writings but only the work of people who mischaracterize it when he said, "Intelligent design's adherents start with the assumption that the Bible accurately describes Nature as created by God, and base their entire intellectual construct on that assumption." Nothing could be further from the truth as any reading of the actual writing of ID theoriests such as Michael Behe (not "Hans Behe" as Professor Toolson errantly identifies him -- adding more fuel to the idea that Prof. Toolson hasn't read anything by somehow who actually supports ID) and William Dembski.

Prof. Toolson also states, "Darwin's theory (which deals with how evolution occurs, not whether it occurs) has been consistently supported by the results of numerous scientific experiments, and is thus on a level with other widely accepted theories such as Einstein's Theories of Relativity." That is a really amazing claim. I leave it to the letter to the editor by D. Russel Humphreys, Ph.D., to give a more than adequate response.

As a physicist who used to be an evolutionist, I wonder what Albert Einstein would think of Toolson putting Darwinism on a par with relativity. Relativity has survived literally hundreds of experimental tests; evolutionism hasn't even been subjected to one.

As a grad student 35 years ago, I was astounded to find out that there is no real evidence for Darwinism at all— not in the fossils, not in the wild and not in the lab. All my teachers had told me that evolution had occurred, but I suddenly realized that none of them had given me a shred of real evidence.

Afterward, I found that most people, including most scientists, think evolution occurred not because of evidence, but simply because someone else told them it had occurred. In a 1999 debate at Harvard with a world-class paleontologist, professor Graham Bell of McGill University, I confirmed that he could offer no specific evidence for evolution— not even after the audience joined my challenge to provide just one item. He didn't want to admit that the lack of fossil evidence for evolution is one of the "trade secrets" of paleontology.

"Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" by biochemist Michael Behe might help Toolson see the huge irony in the title of his article— it is not intelligent design, but rather Darwinism that is a religion masquerading as "science."

For those who say that I do not have a scientific background (which I readily admit beyond taking lower level Biology and Physics courses in college), I simply leave it to people such as Dr. Humphreys to point out what seems patently obvious to me as support for the idea that reasonable minds -- including those that are scientifically trained -- can agree that ID is not, as described by the misguided Prof. Toolson, "fundamentalist Christian dogma".

I have not commented on the Dover decision because I have not yet had a chance to read it in its entirety. However, I think that Paul Nelson at ID the Future has written a very interesting piece which seems to be in agreement with my some of my preliminary feelings of what happened in the Dover case entitled La Vie Continue, and Somewhere Cicero is smiling -- Reflections on the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision. I think that Mr. Nelson makes a very interesting point in the essay about the nature of the controversy.

One can readily find similar reactions in the wake of the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision from the Supreme Court. As I commented previously, Stephen Gould said "What else can they do?...It's all over."

But of course it wasn't all over -- see the headlines in your local paper and on the web today, 18 years after Edwards v. Aguillard and 23 after McLean v. Arkansas -- because the debate at hand is not, at bottom, a legal matter. Sure, the federal courts (at all levels) in the United States frequently become entangled with "creationism" and now "intelligent design," but these legal proceedings turn out to be oddly repetitive moving picture shows in a flapping canvas tent. Although the title on the marquee changes, the plot is strangely the same. You have seen this movie before. You know how it ends: the "creationists" lose in the courtroom. And yet the debate about origins continues.

Yup, my intitial reaction is that the decision by the court doesn't solve anything and won't solve anything because the entire Establishment Clause jurisprudence is hopelessly confused. But that is a story for another day.

Can you imagine that the pro-darwinists would have given up if the court ruled against them? If not, then certainly you can see where people who don't see ID in the same light as this judge did would not give up on advocating for ID simply because some small time judge erroneously decided that "ID" equals "creationism" equals "religion." A single judge cannot decide this issue, and it is only because the courts have so fouled up the standards for "Establishment Clause" cases that this matter is even being decided by a judge at all.

In a recent post by Apologia Christi (which was cross-blogged on his own excellent site Apologia Christi), AC made the point that the Christian teaching is that God does not consign people to hell for simply failing to have the right belief system. Your eternal destination is, as Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason so aptly stated, not based on a cosmic pop quiz where if you get the answer wrong you go to hell. I want to spell out my own way of looking at the issue, and point out where people often go wrong.

Christian belief on whether we deserve to go to hell is summed up in Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." So, taking Jesus out of the picture for a moment the question is: who is going to hell? The answer is everyone. Why? Because we have sinned -- every single one of us without exception. But what about Gandhi? Wasn't he a really good person? I'm not old enough to have known Gandhi personally, but everything I read suggests that he was a really good guy. But the fact that Gandhi was, relatively speaking, a better person than the rest of us does not mean that he was without sin, and the standard to get into heaven, according to Christian teaching, is that one must be completely without sin. As nice of a guy as Gandhi may have been, he was not without sin.

Some object that consigning someone to eternal punishment in hell is overkill for the "small sins" that most ordinary "nice" people commit. The argument goes something like, "you mean I am going to be sent to hell for eternal torture because I told a white lie?" There are several problems with this objection. First, it assumes that throughout their life, someone is going to sin only once (a little white lie, in this case). But that is not the case. I suspect that most people cannot go an hour without committing a sin of some type. It is like the old joke where a parishoner walks into his pastor's office and says "Pastor, I have completely given up drinking, gambling, lying, swearing, and every sin imaginable." The pastor says, "You must be very proud of yourself." The parishoner responds, "Yes, I am," not recognizing that pride is identified by Jesus as a sin in Mark 7:21-23. We sin often, not only by what we do, but by what we have left undone.

Second, the argument misunderstands what it means to sin. Sin means "missing the mark." In this case, God is the mark. Living in concert with his will and in communion with him is the only way to live a sinless life. When a person looks to things other than God as the source of what is good, they are living in sin. So, when people try to identify "sin" merely by looking at their actions, they are looking only to the tip of the iceberg of their sins. The real nature of sin lies in the fact that they are separated from God and trying to live their life apart from Him.

Suppose that a person wanted to balance her checkbook but didn't want to use math to do it. How do you think she would fare? The same holds true for a person who tries to live a moral life apart from the standard for determining morality, i.e., God. Trying to live morally without considering the standard of right and wrong as seen in the true moral law giver dooms one to failure because trying to determine right or wrong from our own personal standards "misses the mark".

Third, God's standard is perfection not because He is a mean guy, but because His nature is perfect. Just as one cannot be admitted to the best colleges without the proper credentials, one cannot enter into the presence of God without the proper credentials. In the case of God, the credentials one must have is perfection. One failure may not count for much on a relativistic plane such as earth, but in the presence of a perfect and holy God, perfection is the price of admittance.

So, what does one do with people who don't meet the standard for perfection? The solution seems quite obvious: you don't let them in. It seems to me that hell is nothing more than the place where one is completely excluded from the presence of God stripped of even the "likeness of God" that was given to humanity in Genesis 1. What would it be like to be completely outside of the presence of God? A few analogies may help. If God is seen as the light of the world, to take God away would be to leave someone in utter and complete darkness. If God is seen as the source of all that is good in the world, then to take away God would be to take away all that is good from that person. If God is the joy and delight of existence, then taking away God leaves one joyless and without any delight whatsoever. If God is peace and love, then being apart from God is to be without peace and without love.

You see, hell -- stripped of the Biblical language that seeks to give readers an understanding of the horrible feeling that comes from being there -- is simply existing for eternity apart from God. The farther you have fallen short of the perfect life, the more horrible the continuing existence apart from God is because all you are left with in hell is your own sinful decisions. Hitler is suffering worse than most not because God sends demons to torture him, but because he has to live for all eternity alone with the knowledge of the terrible evil actions that he committed and apart from all goodness, joy, delight, love and peace. Hell is a terrible place for evil people.

But the good news of Jesus Christ is this: You can come before God as if you are perfect because Jesus died for your sins. His blood paid the "wages of sin" for you, and you can spend eternity in perfect goodness, joy, delight, love and peace merely by accepting the free gift He offers -- the gift of salvation. All you have to do is acknowledge the gift. To turn down the gift is, quite simply, the biggest sin of all because it is God's will that all people come to Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4), and if you reject the gift you are continuing to "miss the mark." God doesn't want that. As the old hymn says:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me;
see, on the portals he's waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tary when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me?

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
passing from you and from me;
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
coming for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

O for the wonderful love he has promised,
promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
pardon for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

May everyone who reads this who has not yet acknowledged their own "missing of the mark" and their own need for salvation begin on that road home, today.

For a humorous episode in the family life of Layman, read my wife's post about how "succesful" we have been in imparting our values to our children.

And then check out the rest of her blog. It is humorous and endearing. A great place to lighten the heart during the day.

Recently, I wrote an essay entitled that discussed the research of Associate Professor of History, William Tighe, of Muhlenberg College which he published in an essay entitled "Calculating Christmas". This essay raised a flood of responses that I have seen both privately and on other webpages. The general tone of the objection was as voiced in a comment to my initial post by Ian Thorpe who said, "In fact the Roman midwinter festival, starting on December 17 and going on for up to two weeks, was called SAturnalia."

While it is certainly true that Saturnalia was celebrated by the Romans at least as early as the First Century A.D. (or C.E., for those of you versed in the new, more politically correct method of describing A.D.), the fact that an ancient Roman festival existed at about the same time as the later Christmas holiday does not mean that the latter is based on the former.

First, the real question that needs to be asked is whether the Christians who arrived at the date of the birth of Jesus had an independent reason for choosing to celebrate Christmas on December 25. If they did, then the fact that the date may have coincided with another festival celebrated by other pagan cultures becomes merely coincidental. I think that Professor Tighe has done an admirable job of demonstrating that the December 25 date was chosen for reasons completely independent of any festivals that may have been chosen on that date, and so, it appears, that Christmas' timing vis-a-vis Saturnalia, if it exists at all, is entirely coincidental.

Second, the question arises whether Saturnalia was, in fact, celebrated on December 25? Every source I checked on Saturnalia had the celebration commencing on December 17 -- a full eight days before the date chosen by the early Christians for the celebration of Christmas. Exactly how long did the celebration of Saturnalia continue? The sources conflict on the length of the Saturnalia celebration. According to Wikipedia's entry on Saturnalia (which is of dubious value) and Fundamentals' entry on Saturnalia (which borrowed from which, I don't know), Saturnalia was celebrated originally only on December 17, but "over the years, it expanded to a whole week, up to 23 December." It then notes that it wasn't until 274 A.D. that Emperor Aurelian put the celebration as December 25 -- and this celebration, as pointed out by Professor Tighe, was an effort by the Roman authorities to co-opt Christmas, not the other way around. agrees that the celebration was expanded over time "from the 17th through 23rd of December."

Circle Sanctuary, a pagan resource, also claims that Saturnalia was celebrated from December 17 to December 23.'s article on Saturnalia agrees that Saturnalia was originally celebrated only on December 17 but was later extended for "a week, despite Augustus' efforts to reduce it to three days, and Caligula's, to five." Of course, a week is only seven days which would have ended the celebration on December 23.

A couple of other sources I found placed the holiday from December 17 to December 24. The only source I found that extended Saturnalia beyond December 25 was the History Channel's page on Saturnalia which said that the celebration extended for a month.

Thus, it appears that the majority of sources agree that Saturnalia celebration ended before December 25. In fact, I decided to check on this with Professor Tighe who graciously answered my questions. To paraphrase Professor Tighe, he noted that the source he used for his fine article, T. J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (1986, 1991), agrees that the date for the celebration of Saturnalia did not extend beyond December 24. He then raised the question, appropriately, that if the early hristians were attempting to co-opt Saturnalia, why did they not choose December 17 -- or at least choose a date that fell within the time-frame of Saturnalia? The obvious reason that those dates were not chosen is because the date chosen for the celebration of Jesus' birthday had nothing to do with Saturnalia.

Professor Tighe suggests that the mistaken association of Christmas with Saturnalia arose because of the writings of Epiphanius of Salamis who was very outspoken in his defense of the January 6 date as the appropriate date for the birth of Jesus (a date that Professor Tighe discusses at length in his original article). In defending this date, it was Epiphanius who made the association between Christmas on December 25 and the Roman Saturnalia as a way of characterizing the Western celebration as pagan. It seems clear that Epiphanius' statements were designed to bring disgrace on the celebration of Christmas in the west on December 25 for the purpose of trying to win support for his (minority) view that January 6 should be the real date of celebration. In fact, it appears that Epiphanius was wrong in his belief that Saturnalia fell on December 25.

Thus, it appears that Christmas' association with December 25 had nothing at all to do with Saturnalia. The date was chosen for reasons independent of Saturnalia, the date does not fall during most people's dating of Saturnalia, and the association of Christmas with Saturnalia was based on a polemical writing by a bishop who was seeking to move the celebration of Christmas to the January 6 date. I, for one, am very satisfied that the case is quite strong that the choice of December 25 for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord had nothing to do with Saturnalia.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has given this nation a Christmas present during this Holiday season. In a decision affirming a district court's ruling, the Sixth Circuit upheld Mercer County's right to display in a court house the Ten Commandments along with the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, and the National Motto ("In God We Trust"). This is hardly earth-shaking stuff because the law clearly allows for such displays, especially when the Ten Commandments are displayed with other important cultural/legal influences on American history.

What was refreshing about the opinion was the Court's response to the American Civil Liberties Union's repeated incantions of the "wall of separation" in their legal briefs and oral argument. No paraphrase is necessary:

The ACLU makes repeated references to "the separation of church and state." This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. Our nation's history is replete with acknowledgement and in some cases, accomodation of religion. Afterall, we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being....

We will not presume endorsement from the mere display of the Ten Commandments. If the reasonable observer perceived all government references to the Deity as endorsements, then many of our Nation's cherished traditions would be unconstitutional, including the Declaration of Independence and the national motto. Fortunately, the reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff. Instead, he appreciates the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American legal traditions.

American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky v. Mercer County, No. 03-5412 (6th Cir. December 20, 2005).

The ACLU has grown tiresome. The oft-cited "separation of church and state" argument is recognized as extra-constitutional and erroneous. Americans are a religious people. The U.S. government presupposes the existence of a "Supreme Being." The U.S. government acknowledges the important role religion has played in influencing our legal traditions.

Merry Christmas!

I just finished and added to the Christian Cadre site a new article related to Paul's knowledge of the historical Jesus: Paul's Knowledge of the Garden of Gethsemane Narrative.

From the conclusion:

The evidence that Paul and Mark's narrative of the Garden of Gethsemane are referring to the same event is strong. Both authors are referring to an older, preexisting tradition. The distinctiveness of the phrase, "Abba Father" is so unique that its usage by Paul and Mark is almost certainly not a coincidence. That Paul's reference to the phrase has Jesus’ own crying out to God in mind as its origin is reinforced by the context in which he employs the phrase. The very ability to cry out "Abba Father" is a sign of becoming an adoptive Son of God as Jesus was the Son of God. Not only that, but it is the very Spirit of Jesus that enables us to cry out to God on such a familiar level. The earthly location of Jesus' use of "Abba Father" is attested by Galatians' describing the event just after stating "God sent his Son, Born under the Law, Born of a Woman." Romans associates the scene with Jesus' time of suffering before his resurrection, which certainly fits the Garden of Gethsemane scene.

A number of consequences follow from the strong likelihood that Paul is referring to Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane which is narrated in the Gospel of Mark. First, it provides additional evidence for the authenticity of the Garden of Gethsemane tradition and, with it, the idea that Jesus prayed using a unique form of address stressing his special status with God. Second, it provides yet another detail from the life of Jesus to which Paul refers, further damaging the notion that Paul had no interest in the life of Jesus. Third, the nature of the reference is instructive in that though Paul refers to the life of Jesus he does not do so by repeating the entire narrative. This lends support to the view that Paul’s purported “silence” about the life of Jesus is due to the fact that “he takes knowledge of Jesus’ teaching for granted. . . . Paul did not need to quote from it often because he and his readers have been taught it and know it well.” Wenham, op. cit., page 5. Because Paul had already passed on the narrative of the Garden of Gethsemane to the church in Galatia, he could make a point using the episode and the call to God as “Abba Father” without repeating the entire story. Perhaps more significant is that Paul can assume the Christians in Rome – where he had not founded a church – were just as familiar with the Garden of Gethsemane narrative. If that is true with this story from Jesus’ life, it is most likely true of other “echoes” of Jesus’ life and teachings that can be found throughout Paul’s letters.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

I earlier wrote about the inept Jesus Myth film The God Who Wasn't There in an essay entitled "Reefer Madness and a new Jesus Myth film", where I pointed out that the film's producer, Brian Flemming, was apparently not using a standard version of the Bible in his effort to prove that Paul didn't think that Jesus had ever been on earth. Not surprisingly, I am not alone in my disapproval of the film. Check out these reviews:

Ethics Daily, "MOVIE REVIEW -- 'The God Who Wasn’t There':

Which is worse: willful misrepresentation or incredibly sloppy research? Either way, it’s hard to attach much credibility to the filmmaker, even if he makes a few valid points along the way. Swapping reliability for entertainment has never been and never will be a path to greater illumination … even if you, like Flemming, question the very nature of what lies on the other side.

J.P. Holding's Tectonics, "Great Expectorations -- Or, The Apostate Who Wasn't All There":

"Flemming appears to be a man with serious psychological problems. He has gone from being an Christian who was gullible and ready to believe anything to a Skeptic who is gullible and ready to believe anything."

Mike Lincona, "A Review of Brian Flemming's DVD "The God Who Wasn't There"":

The thesis of the film is that Jesus never existed. The first words that appear on the screen claim that the video is “a documentary.” However, viewers expecting to encounter up-to-date scholarly research will surely be disappointed. With the exception of a telephone interview with Richard Dawkins, who is not a scholar on the historical Jesus and is, therefore, speaking outside of his field, no major or well-known scholars are interviewed. Additionally, Flemming finds it difficult to stay on topic. His video goes back and forth between arguing that Jesus never existed and pointing out atrocities committed in the name of Christ like the Inquisition. This flip-flopping between two theses is distracting, since his second and unstated thesis is unrelated to the first. It is as though Flemming is saying, "Jesus never existed and, oh, by the way, I hate Christianity and all religion."

Susan Verstraete, "A Critical Review of The God Who Wasn't There":

I thought long and hard about not writing this piece so as not to give the movie any free publicity. In the end, we chose to publish so that so that people who had seen the film and wondered about the questions it raised could find a simple defense of the faith and so that our readers might have a synopsis of the teaching of the movie without actually viewing the film. Trust me, you aren't missing anything good.

Has cultural change, especially the emergence of post-modernism, reduced the relevance and usefulness of C.S. Lewis’s work and example? What is the secret of Lewis’s enduring popularity and why is he relevant today? Philip Vander Elst, author of C.S. Lewis: Thinker of our Time, recently lectured on the importance C.S. Lewis brings to the table when critiquing what some might call the "post-Christian" or ever-growing secular culture. Jack, as Lewis liked to be called, not only offered strong apologetic arguments through propositional truth; he also communicated and engaged the imagination through story and infatuation. This diversity and incredible talent translates exceptionally well to a culture of skeptics and cynics for the increase in skepticism brings about a surge in atheists and wondering "spiritual seekers," which can ultimately only be quenched with the Truth, Christianity.

Philip Vander Elst begins his opening remarks by saying, "It is difficult to exaggerate the importance and impact of C.S. Lewis. Although he died in 1963, most of his books are still in print and have sold around 200 million copies in more than thirty languages. During the 1998 C.S. Lewis centenary celebrations, the American magazine, Christianity Today, described Lewis as the Aquinas, the Augustine and the Aesop of contemporary evangelism, whilst the British Post Office – the Royal Mail – issued a special commemorative stamp featuring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the first of Lewis’s Narnia books), as part of its new ‘Magical worlds’ series. According to Professor Adrian Hastings’s classic History of Christianity in England, C.S. Lewis composed almost single-handedly 'the popular religious apologetic of modern Britain.'"

The lecture can be downloaded by clicking here. On the otherhand, if you wish to read the shorthand notes when listening, click here.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

C.S. Lewis was a master apologist. Good apologists recognize that often their task is simply to extend plausibility structures rather than entirely prove their case.

A plausibility structure is the set of ideas of that a person is willing to entertain as possibly true. It is largely a function of the beliefs a person already has.

Lewis demonstrates how to do this in his dialog between the Professor, Susan and Peter in his blockbuster book (now turned movie), The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

I describe the entire dialog in my blog post called Narnian Apologetics.

What I like so much about this conversation is how the Professor, in a gentle but skillful manner, stretches the plausibility structures of Peter and Susan. He does it using the Columbo tactic of asking good questions.

It is an excellent example of conversational apologetics. Who said The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a children's book anyway?

The roots of skepticism are well known. Arising from the common Neo-Platonism of the early church (with the allegorical interpretation of Alexandria, Egypt) and moving through the Renaissance and on through the Enlightenment, skepticism began to foster and grow. The emergence and growth of radical biblical skepticism is simply untenable, especially when it comes to historiography as a whole. Its roots are based more in radical empiricism then honest historical investigations. Its refusal to leave open the mere possibility of miracles is skepticism’s, Achilles’ heel. Moreover, radical biblical skepticism is also a reactionary movement to religion, no less so then with Christianity. The failure of certainty in historical matters (no doubt a Platonic influence) has led many biblical critics (unjustified Kantian epistemological agnosticism) to dismiss evidences for the Christianity. No matter what the evidence is for the empty tomb, for example, it will always be insufficient because of its impossible task; the Platonic task at absolute certainty. This is an historical blunder on the radical skeptic's part. By riding biblical scholarship of its unjustified skeptical tendencies, Christianity is given a fair hearing. The evidence will then be able to speak for itself. For this reason a major historical assessment concerning skepticism's flimsy foundations has been given. Expect this major project to be published on the CADRE website in the coming days. The skeptical (and even atheistic) people out there may just get a better understanding of their philosophical roots and how they originated. It is the hope of the author, yours truly, that this project will delineate skepticism's unjustified assumptions. This isn't to say that those assumptions are wrong, but rather, its philosophical and historical foundations are contrived.

Friend of the CADRE, Tom Tom Graffagnino maintains an excellent site stocked full of poems some of which I have noted from time to time. He sends them to me more regularly than I make reference to them, but I encourage everyone who has a ken for such things to read through some of his poetry which is often quite clever.

In this Christmas season, however, he has written and published a new poem entitled "King Herod's Heart of Darkness"which I think deserves special attention. It examines the fact that it seems as if the baby Jesus is not nearly so offensive to the non-religious as the full grown Jesus. Sure, they try to ban the infant Jesus from being part of Christmas displays in public squares, but can you imagine the outrage if your local department stores started putting up Easter displays that included the risen Jesus exiting the tomb?

Yes, we like our Savior's bleating,
Not returning in the clouds...
No righteous Lion of Judgment,
Can dethrone this Herod-Crowd!

So, we stroke the Baby Jesus
Like a pet we keep around....
This way WE stay High 'n' Mighty!
And Christ?.....
Somewhat less profound.

Friend, just keep him in the stable...
Such a cuddly thing!....My Word!
In the manger He can't harm us...
See The Sign?
'Do Not Disturb!'

We enjoy the infant Jesus...
Truth be known,
He makes our day!
Tiny tots can never judge us...
And we like it just that way!

The poem is profound in its insight, and I have only quoted a portion here. I certainly recommend taking the time to read the entire poem and think about what Tom is saying -- I think he is in many ways right on.

The Bible says that the Father is loving. The New Testament affirms the same about Jesus. But can they really be loving while at the same time sending people to hell? After all, Jesus teaches more about hell than anyone in the entire Bible. Doesn't that contradict his supposed gentle and compassionate character? Agnostic Charles Templeton laments, "How could a loving Heavenly Father create an endless hell and, over the centuries, consign millions of people to it because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs?"

Before I continue, I must admit that I am not at all convinced that God simply casts souls into hell "because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs." Instead, I find it beneficial to discuss what modern people cringe at and consider a quaint anachronism: sin. To do that, look no further than to Research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, D.A. Carson. Carson writes,

"Picture God in the beginning of creation with a man an d woman made in his image. They wake up in the morning and think about God. They love him truly. They delight to do what he wants; it's their whole pleasure. They're rightly related to each other.

"Then, with the entrance of sin and rebellion into the world, these image bearers begin to think that they are at the center of the universe. Not literally, but that's the way they think. And that's the way we think. All the things we call 'social pathologies' - war, rape, bitterness, nurtured envies, secret jealousies, pride, inferiority complexes - are bound up in the first instance with the fact that we're not rightly related with God. The consequence is that people get hurt.

"From God's persepective, that is shockingly disgusting. So what should God do about it? If he says, "Well, I don't give a rip,' he's saying that evil doesn't matter to him. It's a bit like saying, "Oh yeah, the Holocost - I don't care/" Wouldn't we be shocked if we thought God didn't have moral judgements on such matters?

"But in principle, if he's the sort of God who has moral judgements on those matters, he's got to have moral justments on this huge matter of all these divine image bearers shaking their puny fists at his face and singing with Frank Sinatra, 'I did it my way.' That's the real nature of sin.

"Having said that, hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes but just didn't believe the right stuff. They're consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their Maker and want to be at the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isnt gently enough or good enough to let them out. It's filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be at the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion.

"What is God to do? If he says it doesnt' matter to him, God is no longer a God to be admired. He's either amoral or psitively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself.

"...[If] God took his hands off this fallen world so that there were no restraint on human wickedness, we would make hell. Thus if you allow a whole lot of sinners to live somewhere in a confined place where they're not doing damage to anyone but themselves, what do you get but hell? There's a sense in which they're doing it to themselves, and it's what they want because they still don't repent. One of the things that the Bible does insist is that in the end not only will justice be done, but justice will be seen to be done, so that every mouth will be stopped."

To clarify and simple Carson's last statement, on that Last Day no one, in heaven or on earth, will question the fundamental justice in the way God judges the world. No one will be able to complain by saying, "This isn't fair."

--Quote [Modified] and used from The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel, chapter 9, section 2

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

Stephen C. Carlson, of the blog Hypotyposeis, has written a book about the Secret Gospel of Mark (SGM) – The Gospel Hoax, Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark. Though relatively short, it is packed with analysis supporting its central conclusion – that the “discoverer” of SGM, Morton Smith, actually forged the document as a hoax on the academic community. (I have previously discussed one reason why I thought forgery was a possibility).

SGM was supposedly discovered by Morton Smith, then a graduate student at Columbia University, in 1958. SGM was reportedly found by Smith while he was cataloging the manuscripts held by the Mar Saba Monastery. To be clear, what was supposedly found was not a new gospel as we understand them, but a 17th century manuscript which quoted a letter written by Clement in the late second-century which referred to the SGM and quoted parts of it.

SGM stirred controversy because it purports to be an early, secret, version of the Gospel of Mark meant for advanced initiates that includes passages suggesting a more magic-oriented, homoerotic Jesus. Questions about its authenticity have been raised from the beginning, but could not be answered because the manuscript itself was – suspiciously to some – lost before any tests could be run. Only Smith’s description and a set of photographs he took remain.

In The Gospel Hoax, Stephen Carlson seeks to break the logjam on the question of authenticity by examining a number of aspects of SGM, Mr. Smith, and the circumstances of the discovery. In so doing, Carlson attempts to do more than simply settle the issue, he also offers guidance on how to detect other academic frauds. He is successful on both counts, though I have some reservations that I will mention below.

Carlson sets the stage by recounting the discovery of SGM and then spends a chapter discussing how other academic hoaxes have been uncovered and raising some suspicions about SGM. Then he carefully moves through the evidence. First, he convincingly demonstrates that the SGM manuscript (the supposed 17th century writing) is a modern forgery and not an older writing recording an ancient letter. The most convincing argument raised by Carlson is the handwriting analysis, which reveals the SGM manuscript to be forged and raises further suspicions about Smith’s role in the discovery. Other arguments raised by Carlson, which he takes to be hints from Smith about his role in the hoax, are interesting but apart from other evidence would not be necessarily persuasive.

Next, Carlson questions the authenticity of the supposed letter by Clement recorded in the SGM manuscript. Relying on linguistic comparisons between the letter and Clement’s other writings, Carlson concludes it is too good to be true, i.e., it is too much in accord with Clement's style to be from Clement. To Carlson, this suggests inauthenticity. He is openly indebted to the analysis of another and I would want to spend more time researching the issue to trust a determination about something being too much like an author’s style to be by that author. Carlson also finds additional hints from Smith suggesting admissions of a hoax which are again intriguing, but are better evidence of the identify of the hoaxer once one is convinced of the case in chief. On firmer ground is the argument that Smith would have possessed sufficient knowledge of Clement’s writings and linguistic ability to pull off the hoax himself -- which some defenders of SGM have denied.

The following chapter targets the fragments of the supposed Secret Gospel itself and concludes that they are products of the 20th century around the time of the late fifties. The focus on homoerotic portrayals, Carlson argues, would have been meaningless if written in the first or second centuries, but were particularly appropriate for the time period and circumstances in which Smith lived and worked. I did not find the 20th-century appropriateness as “uncanny” as Carlson does, but it is an interesting point and could be a useful tool for discovering other hoaxes. More discussion of attitudes in the first and second centuries would have helped the discussion but may have been too tangential for Carlson's tastes. Additionally, I fear that such a criteria may be overly subjective and would require getting into not just the time period of the suspected hoaxer, but would require a deeper examination of that person's mind and personal circumstances than we are likely to be able to achieve in many cases.

Carlson’s wrap-up is convincing in its conclusion that SGM is a modern hoax perpetrated by Morton Smith. It is also valuable in that it offers approaches and criteria for the uncovering of other academic hoaxes. Though I was not as persuaded as he as to the efficacy of some of those tools, the discussion itself is valuable and The Gospel Hoax effectively offers future debunkers much with which to work. Those are minor quibbles and go, as we lawyers sometimes say, to the weight of some of the evidence rather than its admissibility. Well-written, well-researched, and well-done.

Mark Coppenger, in an article for the Illinois Baptist State Association, shares his views on why apologetics is good for the church.

He writes,

"But it's been my experience that the will is more often the problem than the intellect. Men don't want a Lord, they don't want someone interfering with their agendas. Rather than admit this (to themselves or others), they toss out arguments to lend their indifference or hostility to God an air of sophistication."
I can relate to this in spades, and so can all of the apologists in the Cadre.

Take a look at Coppenger's article. He shares his top 10 reasons why apologetics is good even if the lost won't listen. Some of his reasons resonate with me. Others, less so. How about you?

I wonder what the Cadre's "top 10 reasons apologetics is good for the church" would look like? Maybe I will find out in the comments below.

(Hat tip: The A-Team )

The Christian Cadre website has added a section devoted to defending the historicity of the Resurrection: The Resurrection of Jesus.

This page provides the best defenses of the resurrection of Jesus available. It includes articles by top scholars and well-known internet apologists, as well as several original articles by CADRE members. It also features a developing section responding to the latest skeptic assault on the resurrection, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

Here are the categories of articles available:

*General Defenses of the Resurrection
*Responding to the Skeptical Book The Empty Tomb
*The Resurrection Appearances
*The Empty Tomb
*Paul and the Resurrection
*Harmonizations of the Resurrection Accounts
*Resources on the Resurrection
*Debates on the Resurrection

As with all pages at the Christian Cadre, we will be adding new articles and are happy to review submissions.

That very small minority of people who think that Jesus Christ never even existed contend that Jesus was simply a copy of some pagan myth -- a "god" who was born again like many other gods of ancient times. Of course, to draw this conclusion requires the advocate to stretch the analogy beyond recognition as has been shown by many well-documented articles. The CADRE's own Mark McFall has written a number of excellent essays which respond to these claims on his site In the Word Ministries -- Frontline Apologetics, and many other essays can be found at our own The Historical Jesus page.

While it is good to know that Jesus' life account is not a copycat by comparing the actual myths of ancient times with the accounts of the life of Jesus given in the Bible, it is also important, especially at this time of year, to focus on yet another difference between the Jesus of the Gospels and the other mythological "dying and rising gods" noted by the Jesus Mythers. It has to do with giving and receiving. This, in turn, requires that we recall the account of the fall of humanity given in Genesis 3.

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Eve in two ways. First, he raised questions about the Word of God by saying "Did God really say . . . ?" Eve rightly responded that God had told them that they should not eat of the tree in the midst of the Garden, for it they were to do so, they would surely die. The serpent then played his trump card -- the temptation which has served as the basis for most of mankind's failures ever since -- by saying "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Roughly translated, the serpent was saying "God is lying to you. If you eat from this fruit of the tree of the 'knowledge of good and evil' you will be a god." And that simple temptation -- our desire to be gods -- has collectively been our biggest failing ever since.

In all of the world's religions, save one, spirituality depends on what the follower does. Salvation needs to be earned. In the ancient world religions, the dying and rising gods died and rose for their own purposes. I have never seen another religion like Christianity where the god comes to humanity and offers them a totally free gift -- eternal life. The only requirement is that the gift be received.

Last night, I was reading an essay by Dr. William Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke University entitled "The God We Hardly Knew" in which Dr. Willimon suggests that what makes Christmas so unusual is the way that God, through Jesus, came to us, and the counter-intuitive way that this "gift" is received because of our own secular view of Christmastime.

[C]onsider what we do at Christmas, the so-called season of giving. We enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That’s one reason why everyone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity. The newspaper keeps us posted on how many needy families we have adopted. The Salvation Army kettles enable us to be generous while buying groceries (for ourselves) or gifts (for our families). People we work with who usually balk at the collection to pay for the morning coffee fall over themselves soliciting funds "to make Christmas" for some family.

We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us. Everyone gives on Christmas, even the stingiest among us, even the Ebenezer Scrooges. Charles Dickens’s story of Scrooge’s transformation has probably done more to form our notions of Christmas than St. Luke’s story of the manger. Whereas Luke tells of God’s gift to us, Dickens tells us how we can give to others. A Christmas Carol is more congenial to our favorite images of ourselves. Dickens suggests that down deep, even the worst of us can become generous, giving people.

Yet I suggest that we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people. The Christmas story -- the one according to Luke not Dickens -- is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.

We prefer to think of ourselves as givers -- powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we -- with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities -- had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew.

You see, we want to be our own gods. We want to be the ones in charge. There is an aspect of Christmas, when separated from the connection with the true foundation of the gift that first came from God, that is arrogant. It is about us giving the best gifts. It is about our generosity. It is about our kindness. But that misses the point of Christmas altogether.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special first debuting on television. I once heard an interview with Charles Schultz about the special in which he admitted that it wasn't very good. I recall that he said that neither he nor the producers were satisfied at all with it. (For example, in one scene near the end while the gang is doing the opening to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", Pigpen disappears from the screen for a split second.) So what was his conclusion as to why it was so popular despite its many flaws? He felt it was the great musical score and Linus' quoting from the original Nativity account in Luke as the "true meaning of Christmas."

Skeptics don't get it. They see Christmas as a time of giving, and it is. There is no question that we should all give at Christmas as a means of expressing love to each other. But it is not a time to give to show how generous we are or how loving we are. That type of attitude focuses on "us" instead of "others" which is completly counter to the true meaning of the holiday as first expressed by the baby in the manger 2000 years ago. The true meaning of Christmas is in receiving. We need to first off receive the great gift that God gave to us when Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, came down with the gift of Himself. With that foundation, we will be in the right frame of mind to truly receive all that the Christmas season has to offer.

New poll results demonstrate once again that belief in God is wide and deep in the United States. Performed by Gallup, the poll shows the following:

94% of Americans believe God exists.

8 out of 10 of believers are "convinced" that God exists, demonstrating a high degree of certitude.

5% of Americans believe that God does not exist. But only 1% of Americans are certain there is no God. "Hard" atheism, it would seem, is proportionally much weaker than "hard" theism.

Given these results, which are hardly a deviation from other polls, it seems that America remains a religious country to the extent that belief in God indicates religious belief. Given the high number of "convinced" believers in God, it would seem that faith in God is deep as well as widely held.

Atheists, though zealously activist on the internet, make up a very small portion of the U.S. population.

"Research studies indicate that emotional responses to legally induced abortion are largely positive. They also indicate that emotional problems resulting from abortion are rare and less frequent than those following childbirth (Adler, 1989).

Anti-family planning extremists, however, circulate unfounded claims that a majority of the 29 percent of pregnant American women who choose to terminate their pregnancies (Henshaw & Van Vort, 1990) suffer severe and long-lasting emotional trauma as a result. They call this nonexistent phenomenon 'post-abortion trauma' or 'post-abortion syndrome.' They hope that terms like these will gain wide currency and credibility despite the fact that neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes the existence of these phenomena.

"The truth is that most studies in the last 20 years have found abortion to be a relatively benign procedure in terms of emotional effect — except when pre-abortion emotional problems exist or when a wanted pregnancy is terminated, such as after diagnostic genetic testing (Adler, 1989; Adler et al., 1990; Russo & Denious, 2001). The many studies of the emotional effects of abortion, however, do not measure precisely the same variables in regard to culture, time, demographics, or the socioeconomic and psychological situation of women who seek abortion. Since the results of these studies cannot be combined or 'averaged out,' the following data illustrate, in general, the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of more than 35 of the worldwide studies that have measured the emotional effects of abortion since its legalization in the U.S. in 1973." -- "The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion" by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has for more than 30 years been consistent in its support of the right of women to have an abortion without any type of restriction whatsoever. It opposes any type of information being given to the women that suggest that the "fetus" is a baby, it opposes both spousal and parental consent laws, it opposes notifying the mother of any health-related issues that may arise from abortion, and it opposes providing the woman with any type of information that can give women information about the possible negative consequences to their psychological health. Their reason for opposing this last is set out, fairly succinctly, in their article on the health effects on women, quoted above.

Now, however, a study by the University of Oslo adds evidence to the claims of pro-life counselors that women who undergo abortions have a longer and greater negative reaction than women who lose their baby to a miscarriage. According to the BBC in an article entitled "Abortion 'leaves mental legacy' " (December 12, 2005):

An abortion can cause five years of mental anguish, anxiety, guilt and even shame, a BMC Medicine study suggests. University of Oslo researchers compared 40 women who had had a miscarriage with 80 who chose to have an abortion. Miscarriage was associated with more mental distress in the six months after the loss of a baby - but abortion had a much longer lasting negative effect.

* * *

The Oslo team found that, after 10 days, 47.5% of women who had miscarried suffered from some degree of mental distress compared with 30% of the abortion group. The proportion of women who had a miscarriage suffering distress decreased during the study period, to 22.5% at six months and to just 2.6% at two years and five years. But among the abortion group 25.7% were still experiencing distress after six months, and 20% at five years.

* * *

Richard Warren, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "It has always been considered, and this study also shows, that the decision to terminate may bring with it long-standing feelings of anxiety and guilt. "While most women are able to manage and cope with these feelings, when necessary, the need for ongoing support and counselling should be recognised and appropriate help given."

Anna Pringle, from the anti-abortion charity Life, said: "This confirms years of experience with women who come to us for counselling after abortion. "The emotional suffering can be massive."

Of course, as with most things scientific, it appears that there are several studies on this subject with differing conclusions. The reports cited by Planned Parenthood mostly support their claim that there is no lingering harm to the women. The studies cited by the pro-life community, which now will certainly include this University of Oslo study, say that an abortion can, in many cases, cause women real and profound psychological suffering. Which is right? More importantly, does it matter?

Some states have considered enacting or have enacted laws that require that a woman seeking an abortion give her informed consent prior to the abortion procedure and specifying that these women be given certain information at least 24 hours before an abortion is performed. According to Planned Parenthood, these types of laws are being implemented by "anti-choice" legislators whose sole purpose is to block the right of the woman to have an abortion. The proponents of such legislation, on the other hand, argue that such laws are necessary, at least in part, to make certain that women have all available information to make an informed decision that could affect their physical and psychological health. Planned Parenthood dismisses the idea that women need to be informed of the possible consequences of their decision, saying, "These laws are insulting to women. They assume that women haven't thought about what they want to do with their pregnancy until they walk into the clinic, when most women have been thinking about it since after they missed their period, or longer." "Impact of Abortion Restrictions.

It seems to me that Planned Parenthood misses the mark here. One of the reasons that the Supreme Court initially overruled the Texas state's ban on abortions in Roe v. Wade (1973) was over concerns that keeping a woman from having an abortion could possibly put her health at risk. Justice Blackmon said:

"The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable early in pregnancy may be [involved]. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of brining a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation." (Emphasis added.)

Part of the reason that the court granted the right to an abortion is out of fear that the pregnant woman will be harmed, psychologically and otherwise, from the denial of an abortion. Therefore, if one of the primary motivations for permitting abortions in the first place is the health of the mother, then on what basis should we refuse to give the woman the complete information of all of the possible health risks from that abortion? Planned Parenthood complains that those health risks are fictitious as the result of the studies that they rely upon, but obviously these other studies exist and report to the contrary. Doesn't it make sense that if we are above all else interested in the health of the woman that "responsible physicians" should tell the pregnant woman about all of the potential health risks that have been supported by studies even if that particular physician disagrees with the studies' conclusions?

This study, while not determinative, adds credence to the reasoning behind informed consent laws. An abortion is a medical procedure which may have serious consequences for the woman receiving the abortion (and even more certain dire consequences for the baby being aborted), and it is both good and appropriate that women be given full information about the nature of the procedure, the objections to the procedure, and the risks to their own health before having the abortion. Planned Parenthood's efforts to block such information from being given to women marks them as an irresponsible caregiver.

Leland Ryken, Professor of English at Wheaton College, takes us on a tour of Narnia through the lens of Lewis' own thoughts on literature in his brand new release of A Readers Guide Through the Wardrobe. He has recently given a short twenty-five minute lecture on his book giving, I think, a proper and informative methodology that stays both true to Lewis' original intent and helps illuminate passages within The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. (Listen by clicking here)

Mr. Ryken has also written an article similar to his lecture entitled, "Reading the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with C.S. Lewis." In this piece, Ryken highlights what he describes as "the three most important lessons that I learned from Lewis himself as I interacted with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe during the process of writing a reader's guide to the book."

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

In the November 16, 2005 edition of the Albuquerque Journal, University of New Mexico Law School Professor Sergio Pareja wrote an editorial entitled "ID Adopts Oldest Trick in Lawyers' Book ". Professor Pareja asserts that Intelligent Design is a tactic being used by the "creationists" to move the teaching of creationism into the public schools. Professor Pareja's Op-Ed demonstrates why some law professors should stick to teaching Civil Procedure and not use their degree or position to falsely add a sense of authority to their fallacious reasoning.

Professor Pareja's Op-Ed begins by trying to paint Intelligent Design as an argument from ignorance. He states:

ID takes advantage of the fact that scientists have not proved every detail about how life evolved. Specifically, ID aims to find failings and gaps in evolutionary theory. It asserts that the only explanation for these gaps is some supernatural occurrence or, in other words, an action by God.

Since I have already dealt with this argument in my blog entitled "The Loch Ness Monster, the Appeal to Ignorance and Intelligent Design", I will not comment further on the problems with this portion of Prof. Pareja's argument here other than to say that not only has science not proven "every detail about how life evolved", there is serious doubt that they have made any headway at all in the area or the origin of life itself.

The central premise of Prof. Pareja's Op-Ed is that the advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) are using the "slippery slope trick" to bring the teaching of young earth creationism into the schools. He states:

So what is the legal strategy of the ID proponents? Strict creationists are using the same tactic that lawyers and law professors have used for ages; that is, they are aiming to get society to accept the principle that we have scientific evidence that everything we see may be the result of a series of miracles. This is the slippery slope trick.

After the principal is accepted, even on a very small scale, then they can push people to believe that science supports the view that all creation could be one big six-day miracle.

For example, if high school students accept the "scientific" theory that the creation of the human little toe is a miracle, then it is only a small step to convince them that God could have miraculously placed fossilized dinosaur bones around the world to make the world appear to be billions of years old.

Suddenly, creation four thousand years ago in six 24-hour days is equally as plausible from a "scientific" standpoint as evolution. That goal, I believe, is what is really driving the ID movement.

A person commits the slippery slope fallacy when she argues "If X, then Y will follow" where "Y" is something disfavored. In addition, the slippery slope fallacy requires that there be insufficient reason to believe that "Y" will actually follow from "X". The argument "if you drive drunk then you will go to jail" does not commit this fallacy because, while it is in the form of "if X, then Y will follow", there is sufficient reason to believe that "you will go to jail" if you drive drunk.

Prof. Pareja argues that if we permit the teaching of ID, then the ID proponents will push for a view that "all creation could be a six-day miracle", and then creation in "six twenty-four hour days" becomes acceptable science. What evidence does Prof. Pareja provide for these assertions? None. Moreover, if he had bothered to scan the literature supporting ID, he would have seen that virtually every ID proponent accepts the view that the earth is approximately four and one-half billion years old, and so his argument seems based more on fantasy than fact.

In sum, Prof. Pareja is arguing "If X, then Y will follow", with "Y" being the disfavored view of "strict creationism" while providing no sufficient reason that "Y" will indeed follow from "X". Ironically, Prof. Parejo’s Op-Ed commits the very fallacy that he accuses ID of committing, i.e., the slippery slope. As such, his argument is self-referentially absurd.

There may be reasons that ID should not be taught in schools, but Prof. Pareja's Op-Ed illustrates that not every argument against ID – even those coming from people with law degrees – should be seen as substantive.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.

The much anticipated first intallment of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, opens today. I am a big fan of the Chronicles, having read them in my youth and several times since. There was some concern among Christian fans of the series that the Christian allegory would be diluted. Ultimately, Disney decided to simply be faithful to the book without enhancing or diminishing the religious themes. So now it is finally here and no expense was spared in its production.

For the most part, the critics like the film, though on more of a B+ scale than an A scale. I found this review from the San Francisco Chronicle particularly informative and informed.

Not everyone is so happy. Apparently some are offended that the movie retains the Christian allegory (how it could be avoided is seldom mentioned). This is hard to understand, because great artistic achievements can come from many different places. The Chronicles of Narnia is a literary accomplishment whether it be Christian or secular or pagan. It is interesting in Hollywood that films celebrating other religions, such as The Little Buddha (Buddhism), Robin Hood Princes of Thieves (Islam at the expense of Christianity), Malcom X (Islam), and The 13th Warrior (paganism and Islam), can gain approval or even praise for their treatments, but films that hint at Christianity can be condemned on that basis.

Often the anti-Christian sentiment breeds baseless other attacks since it may still be bad form to attack Christianity per se (though some have warned about the movie on that basis, see here). So, accusations of sexism, racism, and religious intolerance have also been leveled at this children's masterpiece. For an effecitve point by point response which also shows just how ignorant are Lewis' critics, see this article from National Review Online. There is also available at NRO an interesting interview with the director of the movie.

Some other Narnia info:

For a Christian review that believes the film undercuts the Christian allegory, especially the authority of Aslan, see this article in Christianity Today.

Setting aside the allegory, how faithful is the movie to the book? Check here.

Curious which character you most resemble? Take this quiz at For the record, I scored 90 out of 120, failing to be identified with Aslan but not upset to be a Lucy.

For background on how Disney approached the project, read here.

To keep up with the anti-Christian critics of Narnia, follow the article and comments at this blog.

"From before the advent of Christianity right into the nineteenth century, the winter festival now universally known as Christmas owed its existence to pagan festivals marking the arrival of the winter solstice -- the lengthening of days, the return of light and life." -- (Whyte, Kenneth, "Come mall ye faithful", Saturday Night; Dec96, Vol. 111 Issue 10, p15, 2p, 1c)

It is common knowledge that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, isn't it? After all, what possible reason could there be for Christmas to fall on December 25 -- the date of the Winter Solstice on the old Roman calendars -- then for the reason that the early Christians wanted to ride the coattails of the old pagan holiday? Even the Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to celebrate Christmas because of those pagan ties, right? But the question remains, does the "common knowledge" about Christmas' pagan origins comport with reality?

It appears that the "common knowledge" may, once again, be a little less than accurate. Melinda Penner at the Stand to Reason blog (one of my personal favorites) recently pointed out that World Magazine has published an article entitled "Why December 25? -- The origin of Christmas had nothing to do with paganism" by Gene Edward Veith which argues that December 25 was not an adoption of the pagan winter solstice, but rather the pagan winter solstice was trying to ride the coattails of the western Christians celebration of the birth of Jesus.

"William J. Tighe, a history professor at Muhlenberg College, gives a different account in his article 'Calculating Christmas,' published in the December 2003 Touchstone Magazine. He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival.

"True, the Emperor Aurelian, in the five short years of his reign, tried to start one, 'The Birth of the Unconquered Sun,' on Dec. 25, 274. This festival, marking the time of year when the length of daylight began to increase, was designed to breathe new life into a declining paganism. But Aurelian's new festival was instituted after Christians had already been associating that day with the birth of Christ. According to Mr. Tighe, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun 'was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians.' Christians were not imitating the pagans. The pagans were imitating the Christians." (Emphasis added.)

Interesting, eh? This is a far cry from what Mr. Whyte, the author of "Come mall ye faithful", above, suggests in his article highlighting the pagan roots of Christmas. Mr. Whyte says:

"The birth of Jesus played almost no role in the old Christmas, not surprisingly given its pagan roots and the fact that there is no biblical or historical reason to place His birth on December 25. The Church (in the fourth century) chose that date simply because it approximated the solstice. 'In return,' writes [Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday], 'for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Saviors birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church . . . tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been. From the beginning, the Church's hold over Christmas was (and remains still) rather tenuous. There were always people for whom Christmas was a time of pious devotion rather than carnival, but such people were always in the minority.'"

Obviously, we have a difference of opinion here. If the pagan origins of Christmas are a myth, exactly how did the myth arise? Mr. Tighe has an answer in his "Calculating Christmas" article:

The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25th was one of the many "paganizations" of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many "degenerations" that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian's time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

But certainly the Bible does not say exactly when the birth of Jesus occurred, does it? If it is silent on the question, then exactly why was December 25 chosen if not because the date "approximated the solstice"? Interestingly, Mr. Tighe's article answers this question by looking into the debate in the early church over the date of Jesus' death. The Bible is not quite as silent on the date of Jesus' death since the Bible relates that he died on the eve of Passover. The date of Jesus' death was important to the date of Jesus' birth due to an "ancient Jewish belief (not supported in Scripture) that God appointed for the great prophets an 'integral age,' meaning that they died on the same day as either their birth or their conception." If the date of Jesus' death was determined, then, it was argued, using the concept of the "integral age", it was also possible to argue the date of Jesus' conception.

Unfortunately, the exact date of Jesus death cannot be pinpointed by reference to the Scriptures. Moreover, since there was no standard frame of reference of calendars for determining dates, calculating the exact date of death became a tricky business indeed. Moreover, the Christian church of the East and the Christian church of the West, using different calendars, arrived at two different dates.

Greek Christians seem to have wanted to find a date equivalent to 14 Nisan in their own solar calendar, and since Nisan was the month in which the spring equinox occurred, they chose the 14th day of Artemision, the month in which the spring equinox invariably fell in their own calendar. Around A.D. 300, the Greek calendar was superseded by the Roman calendar, and since the dates of the beginnings and endings of the months in these two systems did not coincide, 14 Artemision became April 6th.

In contrast, second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa appear to have desired to establish the historical date on which the Lord Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian they had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. (As an aside, I will note that this is impossible: 25 March 29 was not a Friday, and Passover Eve in A.D. 29 did not fall on a Friday and was not on March 25th, or in March at all.)

So in the East we have April 6th, in the West, March 25th.

Starting with these two dates of April 6 and March 25 and adding nine months, the dates of birth for Jesus (assuming the "integral age" teaching as true) would be either January 6 or December 25. While December 25 is readily recognizable, January 6 is certainly recognizable to Christians who come from a more liturgical background -- it is Epiphany.

"Before there was December 25, there was January 6. As early as the second century, Christians celebrated Jesus' appearance at the Jordan and his baptism by John on January 6. Sometime later they expanded this festival to include Christ's appearance at birth. Christians called it Epiphany, or manifestation. So the meaning of the first Christmas was not pagan; it was a celebration of the Word manifest in flesh." -- Shelly, Bruce, "Is Christmas Pagan?", Christianity Today 12/06/99, Vol. 43 Issue 14, p85.

Even today, Epiphany remains a central part of the Christmas celebration in the West. Epiphany is celebrated as the date that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem. It is also considered the twelfth and final day of Christmas as referenced in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Thus, while December 25 has been overwhelmingly adopted as the day to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus in the Western Christian churches, January 6 remains an important part of the Christmas celebration and its connection with Christmas arises from the same basic calculations that gave us December 25.

The best way to sum up this post is to quote, once again, from Mr. Tighe.

Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ's birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine's time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ's birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ's death.


Addendum (12/21/05): What about Saturnalia? Was the date of December 25 chosen because of the Roman celebration of Saturnalia? I discuss this possibility and why it can be rejected in "Saturnalia: A precursor to Christmas?"

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