Assessing the probability of miracle claims
This is the first part of a response to Michael Martin's article, "Why the Resurrection is Initially Improbable," Philo, 1, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1998): 63-73. Mr. Martin's article is being reprinted this spring in a book by Prometheus Press. For those interested in reading the remainder of the response to Martin, further installments will be published on this blog. The entire response is also available here.
In his introduction Mr. Martin outlines an argument which begins plausibly enough: that a miracle claim is initially improbable, and in light of this, miracle claims should be disbelieved unless the evidence is strong. I agree that miracles of that kind are not events we see every day and that miracle claims should be met with skepticism at first. But are all miracles equally unlikely? Mr. Martin acknowledges that miracle claims should be assessed relative to our background knowledge and to the probability of alternative explanations.
Probability and Background Knowledge
Let's look at assessing the probability of a miracle claim in light of background knowledge. For example, who would believe that I could perform a miracle myself? In my case, some important background knowledge is that I have never done a miracle, never claimed to have done a miracle, and have never had anyone say that anything I did was something supernatural. It is right to conclude that the probability that I would do a miracle is very, very small; negligible, really. But what about another example, such as a leader at any of the various touring ministries that claim to do miracles? On the view that an assessment of probability depends partially on our background knowledge, the first thing we should do is look at that background knowledge. Who can say they actually saw a miracle? Where is their account of what happened, and are they willing to swear to its truthfulness? If people were healed, then who knew the people involved beforehand, and whether they were really sick or disabled in the first place? Where are they now, and have they really recovered? What are their names and where do they live? Were there any hostile witnesses, and what do they say? Were any of the miracles investigated? If past miracles done by a person could be solidly supported, this would increase the plausibility of the claim of a future miracle associated with the same person.
In the case of Jesus, some of his healings are recorded as taking place in crowd settings or while traveling, so that the people recording the miracles may not have known the exact identities of the people who were healed. But other miracles involved people who were known. One person raised from the dead was the twelve-year old daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler. One blind man who received his sight was Bartimaeus from Jericho. One of the sick healed was Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Another person raised from the dead was Lazarus from Bethany. Other healings either took place with hostile witnesses present or prompted an investigation from those hostile to Jesus. A man with a crippled hand was healed in a synagogue on the Sabbath in front of hostile witnesses. One of the blind men healed in Jerusalem was a well-known beggar; his healing on the Sabbath resulted in an investigation on the charge of Sabbath-breaking. We know the view of those who followed Jesus; the New Testament records that for us. But what did Jesus’ enemies make of all this? The Talmud records that official charges against Jesus included practicing sorcery (Sanhedrin 43a) – that is to say, performing supernatural acts. Even his enemies were not able to dismiss the evidence that these supernatural things had actually occurred even with access to the people involved; yet because of their opposition to Jesus they construed these healings as somehow evil. As for the later availability of the people who benefited from Jesus’ miracles, the early Christian writer Quadratus mentions their continuing witness value: "Our Savior’s works were always there to see, for they were true – the people who had been cured and those raised from the dead, who had not merely been seen at the moment when they were cured or raised, but were always there to see, not only when the Savior was among us, but for a long time after his departure; in fact some of them survived right up to my own time." (quote preserved in Eusebius’ History 4.3). When we assess the background knowledge for whether a future miracle claim involving a person is plausible, we find that Jesus is already surrounded by miracle claims that are far stronger than the average miracle claim. Unless claims of similar strength could be made for "miracles" which did not actually happen, we must consider at least the possibility that the reason for the unique strength of these claims is that they are true. I will comment on relationships between Jesus’ earlier miracle claims and the resurrection in another post (available when viewing this article as a whole), in the section specifically on Jesus' resurrection rather than miracles in general.
Some skeptics try to brush off the issue of Jesus’ miracles by saying that the people belonged to such an unenlightened time and such a superstitious age that their reports simply cannot be believed. Yet no matter what their state of advancement, they still knew the difference between blind and sighted, crippled and whole, dead and alive. If someone blind from birth received sight without medical intervention, even in our modern age we would likely consider the possibility of a miracle; the state of advancement of society has not changed our evaluation of that. It is also important to remember that there were people present in that day who were hostile to Jesus and who were motivated to dismiss any evidence which made Jesus appear unique. The opponents of Jesus who were his contemporaries did not manage to refute the miracle claims and ended by conceding that supernatural things had happened, reinterpreting the miracles as evil acts of sorcery (see Sanedrin 43a); Jesus’ modern opponents lack comparative credibility in trying to maintain that such things never happened when their predecessors who lived in Jesus’ day could not do the same. One factor that causes miracles in general to be considered improbable is that solid claims are in fact so rare; on the other hand, a history of solid claims changes the probability. In light of the strength of evidence for Jesus’ earlier miracle claims, which is part of our background knowledge for assessing the probability of the resurrection, further miracle claims associated with Jesus of Nazareth are not initially improbable. The previous miracle claims had such strength that when people came to see Jesus, they often came expecting a miracle.
The Irrationality of Hume's Argument
When discussing the probability of miracles, Hume’s argument against miracles is often mentioned. Martin himself does not subscribe to Hume’s argument, but he does cover it in passing; I will do the same here. Martin mentions different ways of understanding Hume’s argument against miracles, and considers the right understanding of it to be this: that for any possibly-miraculous event, some other explanation is always more likely than a miracle; so that while a miracle is not impossible, belief in a miracle is always irrational. Looking at that view of miracles, is that view itself rational? To classify belief in something as irrational when the thing itself is not impossible is a misclassification. Such a view would necessarily result in the non-recognition of the possible when it occurs. It necessarily results in a willful denial of evidence or distortion of facts when what is possible – a miracle – does in fact happen. Someone who cannot see this inconsistency does not have much credibility trying to instruct others on what is rational. Please note that I am not here referring to Mr. Martin, who mentions that he does not subscribe to that view himself and goes on to contrast his own view with Hume’s. I am referring only to this interpretation of Hume’s argument, and those who do not see how affirming a thing’s possibility but denying the rationality of believing it, is itself irrational. I would also disagree with Hume on whether some other explanation is always more likely than a miracle. An exception would occur when no other explanation of the events is possible without resorting to the distortion of facts which, as noted above, is an inherent risk in this somewhat irrational anti-miracle view. If a proposed alternative explanation distorts the facts, it lacks full validity as an alternative explanation of those facts and cannot be given the same consideration as a view which accounts for the facts without distortion. The view that a miracle occurred is more reasonable than a distortion of the established facts; or, from the other side, when any alternative explanation requires distortion of established facts, that is the point at which it becomes increasingly rational to believe a miracle and increasingly irrational to disbelieve it.
The response to Mr. Martin will be continued here. For those interested in reading the remainder of the response to Martin at this time, the entire response is also available here.
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Assessing the probability of miracle claims
National Geographic Gives Fairer Review of Intelligent Design
A couple of months ago, National Geographic Magazine ran an article on Darwinian Evolution entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" (available on-line only in abstract) that basically took the position that Darwinian Evolution was a proven fact. In fact the first word of the article was answering the title with a large "No." At that time, I commented in a short essay entitled "Some Scientists Support Textbook Disclaimers" that the Natinoal Geographic article:
. . . proceeds to give the usual Darwinian evidence supporting evolution by natural selection, including conversations by the author, David Quammen, with a couple of scientists who are devotees of the present scientific paradigm.
Of course, there is no counter to this article. There is no article by scientists who disagree with the Darwinian paradigm. There is no discussion in the article itself of the views of these scientists or discussions with these scientists allowing them to state the contrary point of view. It seems that National Geographic beleives that Darwinian evolution is so well established that there is no need to present an alternative point of view. After all, such a view is held only by nutcases who don't have a scientific education, right?
Well, I guess I spoke too soon. It appears that Intelligent Design is given at least a fair introduction in this month's issue of National Geographic. A new article entitled "Does 'Intelligent Design' Threaten the Definition of Science?" by John Roach actually tries to look at the issue with some objectivity.
Most career evolutionary biologists delight in the unexplained (for one thing, it means they'll have jobs for at least a while longer as they search for answers). More and more people, though, are gravitating towards an alternative explanation: intelligent design.
Intelligent-design theory states that certain features of the natural world are of such complexity that the most plausible explanation is that they are products of an intelligent cause rather than random mutation and natural selection. Supporters of the theory say the nature of the intelligent cause is outside the scope of the theory.
Yes! The article is a much fairer, more balanced approach to the question of Intelligent Design. John West, author of the blog Evolution News and Views from the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, who is quoted in the article, calls the article fair and balanced, and notes that Mr. Roach, the author, actually quotes him "correctly and accurately" (which is all too often not the case). I encourage everyone to read it quickly before it goes into "available only in abstract" mode.
One thought on a quote in the article:
The movement's success comes from the way it "appeals to peoples' sense of unease about science and technology," said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Miller is a defender of evolution who has taken a seat against advocates of intelligent design in the struggle over how evolution should be taught in U.S. public schools.
I find this to be insulting. Personally, I am a Christian who has no "unease about science and technology." Science is the study of what God has created and technology is the use of what we learn about God's creation which mostly works out for good. I would expect that on occasion technology creates more problems than it solves, but that appears to me to be very rare. Do you know any Christian (outside of the Amish) who have "unease about science and technology" and therefore turn to Intelligent Design in response? I know I don't.
Dr. Miller is basically saying that the reason that people like me support Intelligent Design is because we are afraid of the truth that science teaches. Dr. Miller is trying to come up with a psychological motivation for people to disbelieve Darwinian Evolution. But as I have noted previously, it is improper to seek for psychological, sociological or economic reasons for people to believe erroneous information until it is first shown that their beliefs are erroneous (or, as I said earlier, "until it has been shown that I am believing something that is untrue or extremely unlikely, then it is inappropriate to dream up psychological reasons for my continuing to believe in something untrue"). Dr. Miller is trying to make a case for Darwinian Evolution, but the jury is still out on this issue. Dr. Miller needs to understand that the reason that people are turning to Intelligent Design as a basis for understanding our universe (despite a rather unfair and relentless attack from popularizers of naturalistic science and Internet skeptics which improperly label Intelligent Design as "creationism in disguise" and call ID advocates "IDiots") is because it makes more sense to them than Darwinian Evolution in light of the evidence.
Darwinists: please make your case based upon the evidence. If Darwinian Evolution is true, then it will become clear over time. But until you do make your case more airtight, it is hardly the time to start psychoanalyzing me or other people who think that ID makes more sense in light of the evidence.
NBC's Revelations opened to strong ratings. I also gave a somewhat positive review of the first installment, here. Unfortunately, the last two episodes focused less on questions of faith and skepticism, and more on Satanists and the sexual tension between the Nun and the Skeptical Scientist. Frankly, I do not think that Satanists pose all that much threat to the civilized world. Nor do I think it is Satanists who will usher in the "end times." And when the Skeptical Scientist suggests that the Nun change into something less conspicuous to avoid their pursuers, does it have to be a "sexy" red dress? That's all that was available in all of Rome?
And the use of scripture by the Nun and other religous characters to prove we are in the end times is less than convincing. There is the old "war and rumors of war" bit. And the Skeptical Scientist meekly seems unable to point out that there have always been wars and rumors of wars? Yet the Nun makes no reference to Biblical prophecy regarding the creation of the State of Israel. Now, wars have been around forever, but Israel was created only 50 or so years ago. In fact, this is one of the core arguments of modern end-times literature.
Or how about this one:
7The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. 9They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.
Does that sound like attack helicopters? Armored like horses prepared for battle? The pilot's helmuts being like "crowns of gold?" The pilot inside the helicopter being the "faces" that "resembled human faces?" The blades on top and/or back being like "women's hair?" The breastplates of iron seems self-explanatory. The sound of their wings like the thundering of chariots remind anyone of the deep thump-thump-thump-thump of a military chopper? The tails being the aft section of the helicopter? Perhaps chemical weapons sprayers?
Now I do not know if attack helicopters is what is described in Rev. 9. I am not much into end-times prophecy. But if you are going to make a show purporting to be about the Book of Revelation and the end times, why not use some of the prophecies that end-time focused Christians actually use? They are at least somewhat more convincing than what we see in Revelations.
As I said in my first review of the show, I do not expect it to be a mouthpiece for Christian end-times theology. But I would like to see it have the end-time Christians in the show act more the part. Ultimately, however, the show seems to have settled on being nothing more than a horror-mystery that uses religion as a loose explanation for its supernatural elements. It started as more of an exploration of the nature of faith and skepticism; which is why I enjoyed it. With two more episodes under its belt, however, Revelations is fast losing my interest. The nature of God, faith, religion, Satan, good, evil, and doubt are not really explored. The show has a religious advisor, but for the life of me I cannot see what she is doing to earn her money.
I do hope the show turns back around. It has three more episodes left in the miniseries.
UPDATE: BTW, Revelations is being rebroadcast like crazy. It is impossible to miss. In addition to NBC, USA Network and Bravo will be showing the latest episode again. Also, I have seen it rebroadcast on the SciFi channel.
Inspiration of Scripture: Christ as the Key
This post is a continuation of previous discussions of different views of inspiration.
What I look for in "inspiration" is that the text is a carrier of God's Spirit, capable of making us born again of the Spirit. As Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life." I know there are all kinds of things to be said about whether this or that part of any given text was original, and they're useful conversations in their ways. But we don't worship a book. There are several places where the Bible names its own main point. The point is never itself, but Christ. The information is useful, but it is also the means to conveying God's Spirit and new life. This conveying of new life only works because the content is Christ crucified and risen.
"He (Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, this is what it says: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke, recap of dinner the night of Jesus' resurrection)
All the ink and electrons that have been spilt on people claiming to have some sort of secret decoder-ring to understand Scriptures. But Jesus says the meaning plain as day: it's him and his redemption for the life of the world. Or like Jesus said elsewhere,
"You diligently search the Scriptures because you think by *them* you have life. These are they that testify of *me*, yet you refuse to come to *me* and have life."
If Scripture testifies of Jesus, it has done its job successfully. Not just being "God-breathed", but like God in the account of Eden or like Jesus in John's resurrection accounts, breathing life into us, which is Jesus. "He who has the Son has life." (John's first letter)
People may say some work or another is "inspiring" -- and by that they may mean it makes them feel very good or that they found it encouraging. But Scripture is "inspiring" in the more profound sense: through it, God breathes his spirit and his life into us.
The Deciphering of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and their Impact on Christianity
National Geographic has an article out entitled "Papyrus Reveals New Clues to Ancient World" which details how some ancient papyri found in a dump in Egypt is being read thanks to new techonology.
Classical Greek and Roman literature is being read for the first time in 2,000 years thanks to new technology. The previously illegible texts are among a hoard of papyrus manuscripts. Scholars say the rediscovered writings will provide a fascinating new window into the ancient world.
Salvaged from an ancient garbage dump in Egypt, the collection is kept at Oxford University in England. Known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the collection includes writings by great classical Greek authors such as Homer, Sophocles, and Euripides.
Using a technique called multi-spectral imaging, researchers have uncovered texts that include
• parts of a lost tragedy by Sophocles, the 5th-century B.C. Athenian playwright;
• sections of a long-vanished novel by Lucian, the second-century Greek writer; and
• an epic poem by Archilochos, which describes events that led to the Trojan War.
Christopher Pelling, regius professor of Greek at Oxford University, said the works are "central texts which scholars have been speculating about for centuries."
Researchers hope to rediscover examples of lost Christian gospels which didn't make it into the New Testament, along with other important classical writings.
I was with the author until the last paragraph. Why, exactly, are researchers "hoping to rediscover examples of lost Christian gospels"? The article suggests that there may be such gospels in the mix of papers, but it is pretty sparce in its description of exactly what these gospels may be.
Similarly, Biblical scholars can expect valuable new material to emerge as some gospels that weren't included in the New Testament didn't survive. "The texts that are in the Bible were selected out of a much larger body of work that once circulated," Obbink said. "We have samples of that material here."
It is my understanding that this is not a particularly accurate statement. Sure there were other gospels, but most of them were not produced in the first century like the four Gospels found in the New Testament, and certainly, none of these other gospels bore the near unanimous approval of the early church as authentic and authoritative like the four gospels in the New Testament.
What these papyri reveal should be interesting in terms of historical data on ancient writings, and may have some appeal to Christians to learn how other non-Christian sects such as the gnostics wrote gospels to try to lure Christians to their non-Christian viewpoints. Similar gospels like these already exist, such as the Gospel of Thomas. But I don't expect any "lost Christian gospels" in the sense of any gospels with enough credibility or authenticity to provide any new information about Jesus that will challenge in any way the view of Jesus as presented in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Many "Crimes" of Christianity Refuted
CADRE member Bede, a historian, has blogged on his site about the alleged crimes of Christianity. As many people know, Christianity is blamed for a number of the ills that have fallen humanity ranging from the dark ages to the repression of women to sponsoring or approving of slavery. In an essay by Kyle J. Gerkin entitled "Objection #7: Church History Is Littered with Oppression and Violence (2001)", he discusses these crimes beginning his essay stating: "This objection is a statement of fact, which cannot be avoided."
Well, Bede does a great job of "avoiding" the question by listing ten crimes and errors addressed by Mr. Gerkin and posting links to responses refuting each and every one. Bede's blog posts links to refutations for each of the following alleged "crimes" of Christianity:
1. Christianity has opposed the rise of science. Refuting article:"The Mythical Conflict between Science and Religion".
2. The Crusades were uniquely destructive religious wars. Refuting article:"The Real History of the Crusades".
3. Christianity caused the Dark Ages. Refuting article:"The Early Middle Ages -- (450 to 1050)".
4. The inquisition killed hundreds of thousands. Refuting article:"Frequently Asked Questions about the Inquisition".
5. Millions of witches were executed. Refuting article:"Who Burned the Witches?
6. Hitler was a Christian. Refuting article:"Hitler and Christianity".
7. Jesus never existed. Refuting article:"Refuting the myth that Jesus never existed".
8. Jesus married Mary Magdalene. Refuting article:"Dismantling The Da Vinci Code".
9. Christians destroyed most ancient literature (refuted) and the Library of Alexandria. Refuting articles:"The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria" and "Christianity and Pagan Literature".
10. Christianity is supportive of slavery. Refuting article:"The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery".
Since Bede does not have a system where I can link to a particular post, I have taken the liberty of linking to each of his links, above. Bede has more to say, and I encourage you to go directly to his site and read his comments in full.
I highly recommend reading through Bede's list of refutations since it will prepare you to respond to some of these same tired objections that, like most objections, have some basis in fact but are overblown to the point of being undeniably false. I also recommend looking over the Christian CADRE main webpages where we have linked to a number of good articles on several of these subjects (search engine for both the CADRE site and the sites of some of our members is included). With respect to the question of Hitler's supposed Christianity, we have a page entitled Hitler: Was He The Product of Christianity? which contains several essays on this topic. Essays on issues relating to the historical Jesus can be found on both our Historical Jesus: Copy Cat Savior? page and our Answering the Skeptics page.
Addendum as of July 1, 2005:
I recently recieved an e-mail from Kyle J. Gerkin noting that I have misrepresented what he said because Bede at Bede's Library misrepresented it. Mr. Gerkin says:
As always, I am pleased and humbled when people take the time to comment on what I have written, whether they agree with me or not. However, Bede misrepresented my article. He says, "But time is short so I have contented myself with debunking Gerkin's misconceptions." And then he goes on to list "great myths of Christian history". The problem is, I don't make over half the claims he lists, either in the linked article or eleswhere.
* * *
I have contacted Bede about this, and he explained (as I suspected) that he originally intended to respond to my article specifically, but then got onto another track about "Christian myths" in general. Thus, he admitted the way it is written is misleading (even if unintentionally so) in implying that I make all the claims that he proposes to refute. He graciously edited the original post and then posted a corrective here: http://www.bede.org.uk/2005/06/apology.html.
Having noted that error, I stand by the position that Bede has responded to each of the so-called "crimes" of Christianity, but I certainly acknowledge that if Bede was wrong in his statement that Mr. Gerkin listed them in his article (as is apparently the case) then our statement that Mr. Gerkin made the claims (which relied upon Bede's statement) is also wrong. I apologize to Mr. Gerkin for the unintentional misrepresentation of his position.
More than 700 people joined religious leaders and Democratic politicians at two rallies yesterday to denounce Christian conservatives' use of a Louisville church as a platform to advocate prohibiting filibusters against judicial nominees.
Speakers called both the assault on filibusters and the injection of religion into politics "un-American" threats to religious freedom and to constitutional checks and balances.
The larger of the two rallies, designed to counter a telecast from Highview Baptist Church last night, took place at Central Presbyterian Church near downtown Louisville. More than 600 people came to hear Baptist, Episcopal, Jewish and ecumenical leaders from around the country criticize what they described as an effort to paint dissidents as anti-religion.
Did it occur to any of these people either setting up or attending the rally that holding a political rally in a church protesting using churches for political rallies might be seen as hypocritical? The newspaper makes no mention of it (in fact, the Courier-Journal article doesn't even give any opposing view of the event). I guess liberal media bias is alive and well in Louisville.
Oh, and this opinion is part of the article:
The Rev. Emilee Whitehurst, director of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries in Texas, said "Christians of good conscience" can disagree on matters of import.
"We are not likely to ever fully agree on anything, and if you don't believe me, just ask Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who had four different versions of Jesus," said Whitehurst, a Presbyterian.
Remind me not to attend Rev. Whitehurst's church. Are you kidding me? Rev. Whitehurst must be one of those people who cannot see the forest for the trees because she is overlooking the overwhelming amount of material in those Gospels that show a very consistent image of Jesus in favor of a few that show differing aspects of His character. I would love to hear Rev. Whitehurst elaborate on exactly how the "versions of Jesus" presented in the Gospel differ in any significant respect.
Ribbons and Bows
On the way to work this morning, I was listening to my copy of Mr. Buechner's Dream by Daniel Amos, when the song "Ribbons and Bows" came on. It has something to say to those who are actively engaged in apologetics -- especially those of us blogging:
Love is a question mark
Life's in a shadow box
God hides himself sometimes
Inside a paradox
And there may not ever be
Anything new here to say
But I'm fond of finding words
That say it in a different way
Does everybody want it nicely
Lined up in little neat rows?
Does anybody know precisely
Just where the wild wind blows?
I can hand it to you brightly
Wrapped up in ribbons and bows
In a sense, this is exactly what those of us who engage in the art of trying to present God in a logical way do on a regular basis. There is much about God that is hidden. We cannot fully grasp God and his ways, but we attempt to make sense of His truth based upon what He has chosen to reveal to us within the limits of our human reason. We are trying to wrap up the Gospel in "ribbons and bows", but we don't know precisely which way "the wild wind blows". Thus, a lot of apologetics is taking the same truths that have been known for centuries and presenting them to the world but in a different way.
Do we understand every little aspect of God? Of course not. God is infinite while we are finite. God is otherwise while we are worldly. God very nature is different than ours. Yet God has given us enough evidence of the truth of His being that the Bible calls those who reject it foolish. And it is this evidence that we seek to present to the world in new and different ways in hopes that we will reach everyone for Christ.
Is it Necessarily True that Mark 16:9-20 is an Interpolation?
Last night, I read a question from a friend concerning the relationship between the last few verses of Mark and the idea of inspiration. As any good study Bible will point out, the part of Mark that scholars are confident was in the original only extends to Mark 16:8. At that point, my Bible reports: "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient sources do not have Mark 16:9-20." My friend's question asked how the idea that Mark 16:9-20 may have been added fits into the idea of inerrancy. After all, if God was inspiring the Bible, how is it that any portion would need to be added? Couldn't God have simply inspired the later-added verses when He inspired the writing of the rest of the Gospel?
This is an excellent question. There are several ways to approach it, but I want to focus on one: the assumption that because the earliest manuscripts do not contain it, verses 9-20 were added later by another editor or writer. Quite simply, I don't think that the assumption is necessarily true.
First, I want to be clear that the number of instances where scholars suspect that there may have been insertions of material into the original Gospel texts are extraordinarily limited. As stated Sir Frederick Kenyon in Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1958, Harper and Row):
The long passages which appear in our English Bibles as Mark xvi. 9-20 and John vii. 53-viii. 11 are absent from the oldest MSS. of the New Testment. In the former, our oldest and best MSS. end at Mark xvi. 8, and what follows is an attempt, based on the traditions found in Luke and John, to round off the story. John vii. 53-viii. 11 is also omitted by the oldest MSS., while in others it is found after vii. 36, or at the end of the Gospel, or after Luke xxi. 38, and was certainly a piece of 'floating' tradition which was inserted into the New Testament text at an early date. There is, however, no reason to suppose that additions of this kind have been made in any except very few cases. The evidence for our Bible text is too great and of too varied a description to allow us to suppose that passages have been interpolated without any sign of it being visible. The intentional alterations of scribes are, for the most part, verbal, not substantial, such as the modifications of a phrase in one Evangelist to suit the narrative of another, or the combination of two reports of some utterance into one; and errors of this kind can generally be detected on a comparison of several different manuscripts, in some of which the alteration will not have been made.
While there is evidence that our earliest manuscripts of Mark did not contain the ending, I think that it is quite obvious that Mark did not end at Mark 16:8 because that verse leaves us hanging as to exactly what happened after the women, who were trembling and afraid and "said nothing to anyone," were told that Jesus had risen. It seems apparent that the ending of the Gospel is missing if the longer version contained in a number of the ancient manuscripts is missing.
Regardless, just because the earliest manuscripts do not contain these verses does not mean that later manuscripts containing Mark 16:9-20 do not have the actual, original ending, does it?
Look at it this way, suppose that you are a cook and you send out copies of your 2 page recipe for lemon chicken to three friends. Friends one and two put your recipe aside for awhile, but friend three decides to forward it onto ten of his friends. However, he loses the second page of the recipe. He decides to send on what he has (only page one) rather than not send anything at all. The recipe then gets circulated without the second page. If that were to happen, we might think that the recipe ended at page one -- at least until friends one and two, after sitting on the recipe for awhile, decide to send their two-page recipes to their friends. Then we would have two recipes: one without a second page and one with a second page. Now supposing all three of the people who originally received the two-page recipe lost the original recipes (the autographs) that you had sent to them. If the autographs which you sent to the three friends were lost and you had to reconstruct the recipe based upon the secondary copies, you might conclude that the recipe didn't really have a second page but rather that the second page was added later based upon the dates of the copies of the recipes that we have.
The same certainly could have happened here. Mark may have written his Gospel (based on the teachings of Peter) and had copies made that were circulated. Perhaps one group lost the final page was more enthusiastic about making copies than the others, and proceeded to make copies without the final page because they wanted the Gospel circulated. The other copies remained in the possession of groups who were more centralized or spread the Gospel orally and did not need or desire to make copies of their manuscript. Only later (perhaps 100 years or more) did they start making and circulating copies of the Gospel itself in writing. These copies would be later in time, but would actually be more complete and accurate than the copies being circulated earlier.
Is it possible that the last page could have been lost to one group? Yes, because the Gospel of Mark may have been transmitted in a form known as a codex -- much like the typical church bulletin, i.e., single sheets of paper (papyri or vellum) folded in half and stacked one on top of the other. As described by Sir Kenyon:
. . . certainly from the second century and probably as early as the first the Christian community was using the material in a different way -- that, namely, which is known as the codex-form. This is in fact our modern form of book with leaves arranged in quires or gatherings. In the simplest form of quire a single sheet of papyrus if folded down the middle, so producing two leaves of four pages, and a codex could be formed of a number of such quires sewn together. Or a number of such sheets, calculated to be sufficient for the whole of the text to be written, would be laid one on top of another and the whole folded so as to produce a codex consisting of a single enormous quire.
Suppose that Mark was originally circulated in just such a form. Is it difficult to imagine that the bottom most sheet that would contain the very last few verses of Mark's Gospel (perhaps the first few verses as well -- which would explain the lack of a Nativity story and the sudden start with John the Baptist's cry in the wilderness) could be torn off and lost on a journey to another city in ancient times?
Thus, it is my view that just because the text suggests that the earliest manuscript evidence did not contain Mark 16: 9-20, that is not conclusive evidence that the supposedly interpolated parts were not in the original.
The Post-Resurrection Appearance to the Five Hundred
The Bible reports that following his resurrection, Jesus made appearances to many people. A non-exclusive list of post-resurrection appearances can be found in 1 Corinthians 15: 5-8, which reads:
. . . He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Apologists make great capital of this statement in 1 Corinthians because of of the lack of dispute over the authenticy and the dating of the Epistle. The authorities, with the exception of a few on the fringes of historical Biblical scholarship who doubt everything in the Bible as having any authenticity whatsoever, acknowledge that the author of this Epistle was Paul and that it was written around 55 A.D. As noted by J.P. Moreland in his book Scaling the Secular City:
In the last one hundred years or so, almost all critics have accepted Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. Today the situation is even more conservative. It is safe to say that a standard liberal view of Paul's letters accepts at least seven to nine as authentic, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus being excluded (some would add Colossians and 2 Thessalonians).
Keeping in mind that this is the "standard liberal view," it seems clear that most scholars would accept 1 Corinthians as authentically Pauline, and most date it around 55 A.D.
What is interesting about this language is that many scholars see 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 as a recitation of a creed that Paul learned, rather than as language originating with Paul. In other words, many scholars believe that this part of 1 Corinthians is simply Paul's incorporation of a creed of the early church that he learned when he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem (as testified in Galatians 1: 18-19 -- another Epistle largely acknowledged as being authentically Pauline). This means that Paul learned this early on, i.e., probably within 15 years after Jesus' death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. In Scaling the Secular City, Moreland states that the creed was probably learned by Paul three to eight years after the resurrection.
Now, consider this: Paul took this creed and placed it in a letter he wrote about 55 A.D. -- about 22 years after Jesus' death. He believed that the creed was valid at that time, and did not see any need to change the language to say anything to the extent of "too bad all of the five hundred are dead so you cannot check on the accuracy of what I am telling you." No, he believed that while some had fallen asleep, that the remainder of the five hundred were alive and available for confirmation of what he was saying. All of 1 Corinthians 15 is an appeal to the faithful of Corinth to believe in the bodily resurrection because they know that Jesus has been resurrected due to the testimony of those who saw the resurrected Christ. The chapter is practically an invitation to go ask those who saw him resurrected -- ending with Paul himself -- in an appeal to have them believe in the resurrection of each of us.
The non-exclusive listing found in 1 Corinthians is powerful evidence for the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.
The Inclusiveness of Christ
Many times I have read and heard people talk about the "inclusiveness of Christ," usually connected with an argument in favour of having Christians accept within the Church those that engage in activities that are often viewed as sinful. Specifically this argument is put forward especially in favour of accepting active homosexuals within the Church, and even for permitting the "blessing" of their unions, if not outright marriage, as well as the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests and ministers. To quote one such advocate, Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopalean Church in Los Angeles (when speaking in defence of the ordination of gay and lesbian priests):
"Jesus loved us unconditionally. He had an unconditional love of all humanity, allowing for no outcast in this community as he built the true religion, a religion of inclusion and wisdom."
Louie Crew, in an article called Changing the Church: Lessons Learned in the Struggle to Reduce Institutional Heterosexism in the Episcopal Church expands on this theme:
"In the church, however, lesbigays are driven instead by the Gospel imperative, the profound faith that God loves absolutely everybody. Our ministry is less about who we are than Whose we are. I attribute any success that we have to the authenticity of this calling. I believe that God is present in our world with a marvelous sense of humor, using lesbians and gays to evangelize the Church and bring it back to its first principle, name the boundless love of God and its absolute inclusiveness."
This need for "absolute inclusiveness" is driven by a belief that this is how Jesus behaved during His ministry here on earth. Without question He loves all human beings unconditionally, and equally, and was often found to be in the company of "tax collectors," and other "sinners" (Matt. 9:10-11; Mark 2:15, Luke 15:1). Equally of note is Christ’s willingness to forgive and accept the adulteress in the story of John 8 where He famously tells the crowd “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). Needless to say, none of them met the standard, and they knew it. Finally, there is the story of the “woman who had lived a sinful life” (traditionally read as one who was a prostitute) who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfumes and even wiped her tears from them with her hair (Luke 7:37-38). The reaction of the Pharisee, in whose house this takes place, and Jesus’ response, is meant as a warning to those who would “exclude” her because of her sinfulness.
Luke 7:39, 44-46 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”
Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
Clearly the woman has acted in a more holy manner than did the Pharisee, and the message is that we should act like Jesus did in this situation, accepting the woman, and “including” her in our company without disapproval.
This is the message of those who argue for “inclusiveness.” But what is missing is a full examination of what it meant to be “inclusive” and forgiving for Jesus, since this is the context within which all of the Gospel stories take place. Jesus certainly loves everyone. In fact, it is for the sins of the whole world that He died (John 1:29, 3:17, 12:47), reconciling God to all (Colossians 1:19-20). He wants all to be His children, and to come to Him in love, acceptance, and obedience.
It is this “obedience” that is most often left out of the argument for “inclusiveness” put forward by defenders of active gays and lesbians within the Christian community. Christ is loving. He is forgiving and merciful. But He does not accept that we can continue to live sinful lives as we wish, and at the same time presume upon His love for us. In fact, Christ calls all of us to a life of holiness, purity, and sinlessness, demanding that we be totally and completely remade as children of God.
Let us look at the context of the stories appealed to by the defenders of inclusiveness.
Matthew 9:10-11 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
How does Jesus respond?
Matthew 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
So the tax collectors and the sinners are “the sick” in need of a doctor. As a good doctor He would then be expected not to leave them sick, but would cure them of their sinfulness. Likewise, in the story of the adulteress about to be stoned in John 8:
John 8:4-7 “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And what happened after everyone had departed?
John 8:10-11 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Likewise, in the story of the woman who anointed Christ's feet (luke 7) we are told:
Luke 7:47-48 :Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
These women were not condemned for their sins, but Jesus did not deny that they had, in fact sinned. Moreover, He affirmed that they were in need both of forgiveness and for penance (namely, that they had to "leave" their lives of sin). In fact, that is Christ’s command to all of us.
Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
And how important is it to follow Christ's command to "leave" our lives of sin, and to "be perfect"?
John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Now, it is understood that no human being can be perfect without the help of God. In fact, we are told in Scripture that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). This is understood by everyone who follows Jesus, both at the time of His ministry here on earth, and today. In fact, conscious of our sinfullness, we might, like Peter, say:
Luke 5:8b “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
But Jesus does not abandon us. In fact, He promises expressly not to do so (John 14:18), and that He will send us the Holy Spirit to teach us, and to live within us, and to convict us of our sins, calling us to righteousness through repentence.
John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16:8 When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment...
As we can see, Christ's inclusiveness was based on love and mercy, but it came with a demand that we become better than we are. That we be more than sinful beings, and look to Him not only for forgiveness, but also for holiness. We are indeed all sinners, but we cannot come to Christ celebrating our sinfulness, but, rather, in a spirit of penance and contrition, seeking His forgiveness, and asking for His help to make us as He would have us be, perfected in love, a holy people of God.
1 John 3:1-3 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
We are to be purified, made pure, just as God is pure. We do this to show our appreciation to God for the love that He has lavished upon us, and for His forgiveness of our sins. We do not serve Him, nor return His love by instead remaining in (and even celebrating) our sins, and insisting that our sins are no longer sins.
1 John 5:2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
Loving God, and belonging to Him cannot be separated from the need to obey Him. We will, of course, often fail and continue to sin (1 John 1:8), but each time we must come to God for forgiveness. This is how He calls us to holiness. This is how He purifies us. This is how He transforms us.
It does no good to appeal to God's inclusiveness as part of a demand to be accepted as we are without also promising to allow God to change us, to work His will upon us,, and to make us as He would have us be, rather than permitting us to continue living in our own sinful natures.
Historical Jesus: The Talmud on the Era Preceding the Fall of the Temple
The Temple Miracles
In Jesus’ day, the Temple in Jerusalem still stood. According to the Talmud, there were several signs and miracles that people had come to expect at the Temple. One miracle was that, on the Day of Atonement, a certain scarlet-colored thread or strap would turn white in signal that the peoples’ sins had been forgiven and that the sacrifice of atonement had been accepted. Other traditional signs of God’s favor, though perhaps not properly “miracles”, were still seen to indicate God’s favor or presence. One such sign was that, on the Day of Atonement, the lots cast for the sacrifices would come up so that the lot “For The Lord” was in the right hand – it was considered a good sign indicating God’s favor. Also, the western light at the Temple would remain lit (while the others would not) even though it was given the same amount of oil to remain burning. This was seen as a sign that showed that the Shechinah (the presence of God) was over Israel.
The Talmud records the miracles and lesser signs that people looked for in the Temple:
‘R. Nahman b. Isaac said it was the tongue of scarlet, as it has been taught: ‘Originally they used to fasten the thread of scarlet on the door of the [Temple] court on the outside. If it turned white the people used to rejoice, and if it did not turn white they were sad. – Rosh HaShanah 31b.
Our Rabbis taught: Throughout the forty years that Simeon the Righteous ministered, the lot [‘For the Lord’] would always come up in the right hand; from that time on, it would come up now in the right hand, now in the left. And [during the same time] the crimson-coloured strapwould become white. From that time on it would at times become white, at others not. Also: Throughout those forty years the westernmost light was shining, from that time on, it was now shining, now failing; – Yoma 39a.
But it is a testimony to mankind that the Divine Presence rests in Israel. What is the testimony? Rab said, It was the western lamp [of the candlestick] into which the same quantity of oil was poured as into the others, yet he kindled the others from it and ended with it. – Menachoth 86b
Jesus’ Trial and Execution
The Talmud also records some things in connection with Jesus of Nazareth. While the records in the Talmud are scant, they tend to support the New Testament records. First, the Talmud records that there was in fact a long-standing plot on the part of Jewish leaders to take Jesus’ life:
For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! – Sanhedrin 43a (emphasis added)
The Talmud mentions that the public declarations of intent to kill Jesus began forty days beforehand – the traditional length of time for which Christians ever since have observed the Lenten Fast preceding Good Friday. It also puts into perspective the strength of the resolve which was needed for Jesus to walk into Jerusalem under the circumstances. Notice that the Talmud also here supports the Biblical accounts that the Jewish leaders had interpreted Jesus’ miracles as something evil: “he practiced sorcery” says the Talmud, or as the records of Jesus’ followers put it, the Jews accused him of performing his miracles by being in league with demons.
General Hostility towards Jesus’ followers
The Talmud also supports New Testament records of the continuing persecution of Jesus’ followers. Note that this first excerpt seems to have been told as humor, not as historical record:
Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought [before the court] he said to them [the judges], Shall Matthai be executed? Is it not written, Matthai [when] shall I come and appear before God? Thereupon they retorted; Yes, Matthai shall be executed, since it is written, When Matthai [when] shall [he] die and his name perish. When Nakai was brought in he said to them; Shall Nakai be executed? It is not written, Naki [the innocent] and the righteous slay thou not? Yes, was the answer, Nakai shall be executed, since it is written, in secret places does Naki, [the innocent] slay. When Nezer was brought in, he said; Shall Nezer be executed? Is it not written, And Nezer [a twig] shall grow forth out of his roots. Yes, they said, Nezer shall be executed, since it is written, But thou art cast forth away from thy grave like Nezer [an abhorred offshoot]. When Buni was brought in, he said: Shall Buni be executed? Is it not written, Beni [my son], my first born? Yes, they said, Buni shall be executed, since it is written, Behold I will slay Bine-ka [thy son] thy first born. And when Todah was brought in, he said to them; Shall Todah be executed? Is it not written, A psalm for Todah [thanksgiving]? Yes, they answered, Todah shall be executed, since it is written, Whoso offereth the sacrifice of Todah [thanksgiving] honoured me. – Sanhedrin 43a
The preceding account has the names of Jesus’ disciples arranged not for historical accuracy but for the convenience of puns in the language in which it was written: it is a joke. Still, where jokes are told of the rulers killing Jesus’ followers, that reflects an environment in which Jesus’ followers were not safe.
The Talmud also reflects a general hostility towards Christians (often called simply “Minim” or heretics). Note that “Minim” can also refer to any group that the ruling Jewish groups considered heretical, but in some passages it refers specifically to Christians. The passage below shows the rabbis at Jamneh arranging the composition of the traditional eighteen “blessings” or “benedictions” – to which one more “benediction” is added, the “benediction” of the Minim which then became part of the traditional Jewish prayers. Since the “benediction” itself includes the prayer “May there be no hope for the Minim”, in the case of the Minim “benediction” is a euphemism for a curse:
Our Rabbis taught: Simeon ha-Pakuli arranged the eighteen benedictions in order before Rabban Gamaliel in Jabneh. Said Rabban Gamaliel to the Sages: Can any one among you frame a benediction relating to the Minim? Samuel the Lesser arose and composed it. The next year he forgot it and he tried for two or three hours to recall it, and they did not remove him. Why did they not remove him seeing that Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: If a reader made a mistake in any of the other benedictions, they do not remove him, but if in the benediction of the Minim, he is removed, because we suspect him of being a Min? – Samuel the Lesser is different, because he composed it. But is there not a fear that he may have recanted? — Abaye said: We have a tradition that a good man does not become bad. – Berachoth 28b to Berachoth 29a
Notice that there is also mention above that the “blessing” against the Minim was also used as a litmus-test to determine if someone reciting the blessings in the synagogue was a Jewish-Christian, in which case he could be removed.
Another record in the Talmud of general hostility towards “Minim” runs as follows:
It was stated in the text: The blank spaces and the Books of the Minim, we may not save them from a fire. R. Jose said: On weekdays one must cut out the Divine Names which they contain, hide them, and burn the rest. R. Tarfon said: May I bury my son if I would not burn them together with their Divine Names if they came to my hand. – Shabbath 116a
R. Meir called it (the Gospel) ‘Awen Gilyon [the falsehood of blank paper]; R. Johanan called it ‘Awon Gilyon, [the sin of etc]. – Sanhedrin 116a
Notice the puns in the text above on “evangelion” (Greek evangelion = gospel). This passage is found in uncensored texts of the Talmud.
In this historical context, it is easy to see why the writers of the New Testament occasionally mention Jesus’ followers hiding in fear of their safety. Against this background, the New Testament records of various of Jesus’ followers suffering officially-ordered floggings and even death seem fairly probable.
At this point, simple responsibility requires that I mention a few things. First, the days when the Jews were the ruling power and the Christians the persecuted minority are long gone. Second, it is not much to our credit that some who claim the name Christian have repaid the ancient enmities in turn by persecuting Jews. Third, for any true followers of Jesus, the right response to enmity and even persecution is taught by Jesus: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) and again “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:27-28) While we look at the enmity Jews have directed at Christians through the centuries, it is important that we remember that this is not a true part of Judaism, just in the same way that Christians persecuting Jews is not a true part of Christianity. A person who paid any notice to what Jesus said would never do such a thing. There are some who might argue that we should never mention the ancient enmity of Jews towards Christians, but I disagree on the simple basis that it is a historical fact; it is brought up here only to mention that, historically, the accounts in the Talmud agree on that point with the accounts in the New Testament. The valid concern is whether we handle this knowledge responsibly.
The Temple Miracles Cease
The Talmud acknowledges that there was a drastic change in the signs and miracles associated with the Temple beginning forty years before the destruction of the Temple. Readers may remember that scholars give different possible dates to Jesus’ ministry, some saying that Jesus began his ministry 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, others saying that Jesus died 40 years before the destruction of the Temple.
Here the Talmud records the following in regards to the traditional signs and miracles of the Temple:
For forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but it remained red – Rosh HaShanah 31b
Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. – Yoma 39b
Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the customary signs associated with God’s favor, God’s presence, and God’s forgiveness based on Temple sacrifice – all ceased. The rest, as they say, is history.
Empty Churches in Europe -- The Result of Relativistic Ideas?
Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "'The Cube and the Cathedral': Why Europe's great churches are empty by Brian M. Carney. Here are a couple of excerpts:
At Mass last Sunday, Amiens's gothic cathedral, the largest in France, was virtually empty. Not just sparsely filled--it was, except for a handful of tourists, vacant. Mass was being conducted in a side chapel fit for the couple dozen worshipers who showed up for it (I among them).
Amiens is hardly the exception. Europe's largest churches are often unused these days, reduced to monuments for tourists to admire. And there is a reason for this neglect. In "The Cube and the Cathedral," George Weigel describes a European culture that has become not only increasingly secular but in many cases downright hostile to Christianity. The cathedral in his title is Notre Dame, now overshadowed in cultural importance by the Arc de la Defense, the ultramodernist "cube" that dominates an office complex outside Paris. "European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular," Mr. Weigel writes. "That conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe's contemporary crisis of civilizational morale."
* * *
Practicing Christianity in Europe today enjoys a status not dissimilar to smoking marijuana or engaging in unorthodox sexual activities--few people mind if you do so in private, but you are expected not to talk about it or ask others whether they do it too. Christianity is considered retrograde and atavistic in a "progressive" society devoted to the good life--long holidays, short work hours and generous government benefits.
What is the deeper source of European antipathy to religion? For Mr. Weigel, the problem goes all the way back to the 14th century, when scholastics like William of Ockham argued for "nominalism." According to their philosophy, universals--concepts such as "justice" or "freedom" and qualities such as "white" or "good"--do not exist in the abstract but are merely words that denote instances of what they describe. A current of thought was set into motion, Mr. Weigel believes, that pulled European man away from transcendent truths. One casualty was a fixed idea of human nature.
"If there is no such thing as human nature," Mr. Weigel argues, "then there are no universal moral principles that can be read from human nature." If there are no universal moral truths, then religion, positing them, is merely a form of oppression or myth, one from which Europe's elites see themselves as liberated.
Ideas do have consequences. Is the present state of secular dominance in Europe a result of the misguided efforts of Christian philosophers like William of Ockham? Good question.
Faith is not "blind faith" or "wishful thinking"
In a previous comment by Nomad, he discussed the need for Christians to be careful in their use of language when discussing Christianity with skeptics. As part of his paragraph, he noted:
'Faith' always means 'blind faith' to the skeptic, and it never means simply 'belief,' or lesser still, 'trust.'
Nomad is absolutely right. In my view, this is one of the biggest problems in discussing Christianity not only with skeptics but within the Christian church itself. "Faith" is seen as closing your eyes and hoping for the best despite what the evidence may tell you. To those outside of the church (and to many within the church) if you have "faith" in something, it means that you will believe it regardless of the evidence.
You have probably seen this idea of "faith" played out in movies or in books. Perhaps the plot has the hero/heroine accused of a crime and it looks bad for him/her because the evidence appears overwhelmingly against them. Alternatively, the hero/heroine is asked to perform an impossible task which most anyone would recognize immediately as a suicide mission. But the hero/heroine's girlfriend/boyfriend says words to the effect of "I don't care what the evidence says, I have faith in you." Yup, that's the idea: faith comes in when the facts are against you.
But that is not the Biblical definition of faith. For that definition, go to Hebrews 11:1 where the Bible says: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Assurance is not a term of wishful thinking. The Greek word for "assurance" is "hupostasis" which has the following definition:
1) a setting or placing under
. . . a) thing put under, substructure, foundation
2) that which has foundation, is firm
. . . a) that which has actual existence
. . . . . . . 1) a substance, real being
. . . b) the substantial quality, nature, of a person or thing
. . . c) the steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution
. . . . . . . 1) confidence, firm trust, assurance
I believe that the second definition is the more consistent with the use. Note that it references that the foundation is firm. The meaning is inescapable: Biblical faith is based on a firm foundation. What is that firm foundation? A knowledge that Jesus actually, really, truly was God and was died and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins. Faith, in this sense, is not merely a blind, unreasoning hope.
So, how do we communicate this to the skeptic? Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason suggests that we use the word "trust" instead of "faith" when discussing Christianity with skeptics. In other words, when dealing with non-Christians, we should say (for example) that we trust that Jesus is God. That takes the "wishful thinking" aspect out of it, and allows us to explain why we trust that Jesus is God without the skeptic initially concluding that we are exercising "blind faith" against the evidence. I think he's right.
Thinking about C.S. Lewis
The recent posts from Layman (God in the Dock: Great Stuff from C.S. Lewis) and Metacrock (A Very Respectful Little Essay...) got me reading my C.S. Lewis again. As is the case with many Christians, Lewis was one of the influential thinkers who helped bring me to Christianity, and though I do not read him much any longer, I own (and have read multiple times), most of his books. My personal favourites, should I be forced to choose, would have to be The Great Divorce and Screwtape Letters (the latter being the first of Lewis' books I ever read, the former was the last, and theologically most influential to me personally, though that story will have to wait, I suppose, for another post).
But what linked Layman's and Meta's posts, in my mind, was the title essay Lewis wrote in God in the Dock. Two points were especially compelling to me (because I have experienced it many times myself). The first was how Lewis noted the difficulty one has in communicating with the non-Christian based entirely on the fact that when the Christian apologist uses a word, it contains a very different meaning from that of the non-Christian reader, and much confusion results. The second was the general level of historical scepticism non-Christians had, and not just about Christianity, but about all history (excepting, ironically enough, prehistoric history). In Lewis' words:
"...I learned from the RAF (Royal Air Force) that the English Proletariat is sceptical about History to a degree which academically educated persons can hardly imagine... It seems to me (Lewis) that they did not really believe that we have any reliable knowledge of historic man."
_God in the Dock_, C.S. Lewis, Chapter 12, "God in the Dock", London, England: Fount Paperbacks, 1998, pg. 89
Coupled with this extreme scepticism about historical man, was the great gap in vocabulary. This, I think, was the issue Meta was especially driving at, but at least Lewis demonstrates for us that the problem goes back quite some way.
"...The man who wishes to speak to the uneducated in English must learn their language. It is not enough that he should abstain from using what he regards as 'hard words.' He must discover empirically what words exist in the language of his audience and what they mean in that language...
The popular English language, then, simply has to be learned by him who would preach to the English: just as a missionary learns Bantu before preaching to the Bantus. This is the more necessary because once the lecture or discussion has begun, digressions on the meaning of words tend to bore uneducated audiences and even to awaken distrust. There is no subject in which they are less interested than Philology. Our problem is often simply one of translation. Every examination for ordinands ought to include a passage from some standard theological work for translation into the vernacular. The work is laborious but it is immediately rewarded. By trying to translate our doctrines into vulgar speech we discover how much we understand them ourselves. Our failure to translate may sometimes be due to our ignorance of the vernacular; much more often it exposes the fact that we do not exactly know what we mean."
(Ibid, pg. 91-92)
Lewis provides a list of word examples to demonstrate his point, some of which remain apt. 'Creature,' for example, means 'animal' both to Lewis' listeners, and to those whom I have spoken with personally. It is never applied to humans. Likewise, the Immaculate Conception means the 'Virgin Birth' of Jesus, both then, and in my experience, now. To this list I would make some additions, as it appears that Lewis had not yet encountered these altered definitions.
'Faith' always means 'blind faith' to the sceptic, and it never means simply 'belief,' or lesser still, 'trust.' 'Charity' means 'donations to a good cause', rather than 'love'. 'Love' means either 'erotic love' or 'tolerance', and even sometimes 'acceptance', of everything done by another, even when one might personally disapprove. It almost never, in the mind of the sceptic, means the 'love of one's neighbour as one loves oneself' that is found in the Bible, and means that we must view every single human being as equally sacred and important no matter what. 'Scandal' means a political or public scandal (usually involving some sort of improper sexual activity, or the taking of money in some dishonest fashion). It never means behaviour that causes others to fall into sin (the traditional definition found in Christianity). And finally, the 'apologist' is not a 'defender' (at least not of anything worth defending), but is, rather, a clever (but probably dishonest) person who tries to confuse issues and make elaborate arguments intent only on building a tour de force.
Lewis tells us that it is no use trying to force the listener to accept our definition of a word. We must meet him on his ground, and understand his language. Period. Here, though I would like to argue with him, I am compelled to agree. I understand Meta's frustration, for example, with the sceptic that claims the doctrine of the Trinity is an abuse of the idea of the 'person'. Meta is right, of course, that the entire concept of the person arose from the debates, and early struggles, to understand the nature of the Christian God, but it hardly does any good to argue this point, thereby winning the battle, and yet losing the apologetical war. We must instead look for language that the sceptic will accept and understand since communication is, very simply, the means by which the exchange of ideas between two or more individuals takes place. If the language serves to impede the communication, then it must be altered. The argument would be self evident if we were talking about Bantus, yet it is something that we (like Lewis) must keep in mind constantly when discussing Christianity with English speaking sceptics.
Did the Author of Acts Use Sources? If So, What Kind and From Where?
In an earlier post I noted that Luke’s tendency to make his sources linguistically in his own impairs our search for his use of sources in the Acts of the Apostles. For unlike his gospel, we do not have any “synoptic” traditions with which to compare Acts. Nevertheless, one obvious use of a source in Acts is the we passages, which I take to represent the author’s own involvement in his narrative. Indeed, the sheer amount of detail and accurate references to Paul’s ministry in the we passages adds weight to the argument for authorial participation:
The we-sections are disproportionately lengthy and detailed, in comparison with the rest of Acts, which, in narrative, is usually brisk and succinct. The fact that the we-sections have not been cut to a suitable length strongly suggests that they are extended personal reminiscence in which eyewitnesses sometimes indulge.
J.M. Gilchrist, “The Historicity of Paul’s Shipwreck,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, page 37.
But even if we assume that Luke’s own experiences constituted one of his sources, the we passages do not even constitute half of the narrative of Acts. Of course, Luke’s proximity to Paul and his associates would have given him access to excellent sources of information about Paul and his missionary activities, but that still leaves us with questions about the sources – if any – Luke used for the first half of the Acts narrative (chapters 1-15). The first part of Acts focuses on Peter, John, and the Jerusalem Church. As John Polhill asks, “[e]ven if he were present on a large part of Paul’s missionary activity, what was the basis of his account for the history of the early Jerusalem Church, the mission of Philip, the conversion of Cornelius, the apostolic conference in Jerusalem, and the many other events of Acts 1-15?” Acts, The New American Commentary, page 38.
The question is unlikely to be answered by textual analysis, though that may provide some clues. Luke simply smoothed out the Greek of his sources so much that we cannot assume he left obvious traces of his use of sources. Nevertheless, it seems likely that he did use sources. The pattern he established in the Gospel of Luke certainly suggests that Luke used sources and used them relatively faithfully. That he relied on his own experiences for part of his narrative does not count against his use of sources earlier, for it was customary among ancient historians to impart their personal involvement in the narrative and use sources. In fact, Luke’s “smooth” use of his sources is just what we would expect from an ancient historian who collected notes or sources, drafted them, and then finalized them into his narrative.
Luke could have learned some of the material he used in Acts 1-15 second hand from Paul, who met with Peter and James and undoubtedly would have learned some facts about the early Jerusalem Church. Much the same is true for Luke’s contact with companions of Paul. Moreover, Luke himself traveled to Jerusalem with Paul and would have had access to plenty of information about the early Jerusalem Church from its own members; though this would have been several years after the events recounted in Acts 1-15. See Acts 21:17-18 (“When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present.”).
Complementing and supplementing Luke’s access to early sources of information is the fact that the early Church valued, formulated, and passed on traditions about the apostles, the Jerusalem Church, and other early churches. Indeed, these traditions could have been a source of information for Acts 1-15 irrespective of whether he was a companion of Paul.
Many scholars used to assume that “there were no traditions concerning the apostles.” W. Ward Gasque, “Did Luke Have Access to Traditions About the Apostles and the Early Churches?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17.01 (Winter 1974), page 46. However, as Gasque -- relying on an article in German by Jacob Jervell – demonstrates, Paul’s own letters prove that the early Christian churches developed and shared traditions about each other. For example, though Paul had nothing to do with founding the Roman church and had yet to even visit it, he wrote to them, “thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” Romans 1:8. Paul uses the verb katangelletai for proclaimed, which “is always used in a kerygmatic sense and is similar in meaning to kerysso and eveangelizomai (cf. I Cor. 2:1; 9:14; 11:26; Phil. 1:17-18; Col. 1:28). This makes it clear that he regards the faith of the Roman church (i.e. the story of their conversion and present Christian experience) as constituting an element in the kerygma.” Ibid. Such references are found elsewhere in Paul’s letters, including regarding the Thessalonian church, which “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (Thess. 1:2-8) and the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 3:1-3).
Paul also passes along stories about events in other churches. In 2 Corinthians 8 he refers to “the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” 2 Cor. 8:1-2. Similar stories (some about Paul himself) are found in 2 Cor. 9:1-4; Romans 16:17-29; 1 Thess. 1:5-; 2 Thess. 3:7; Phil 3:17; and 1 Cor. 4:17; 11:1.
Most important for our purpose here is that the Jerusalem Church occupies a prominent role as the primary example for other Christian churches. Again and again Paul emphasizes the importance of the faith of the Jerusalem Church. See 1 Thess. 2:14; Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 14:36; 1 Cor. 16:1; and, 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12. Also important is Cor. 15:3-8, “where the gospel—in a form which probably stems from the Jerusalem Church itself—contains not only the report of Jesus’ death and resurrection but also the report of the appearance of Jesus to Peter and the twelve, to a host of other (Jerusalem?) brethren, to James, and to other apostles. Added to this is the vast amount of data in the Corinthian epistles and in Galatians (especially chs. 1 and 2) which is unintelligible apart from the fact that the life of the Jerusalem church was well-known to all the other churches and vice versa.” Ibid., page 48.
From this data it is clear that the early Christian movement was not a loose collection of isolated churches with little or no contact and information about each other. Indeed, the missionary experiences of the apostles and the early churches were part of the preaching of the early Christians. This is particularly true of the Jerusalem Church. “[A] considerable amount of information concerning the life of the Jerusalem Church was available, and this was important to all the churches.” Ibid. Clearly, therefore, given Luke’s access to so many of the early churches, and especially his time in Jerusalem, he would have obtained plenty of material upon which to base Acts 1-15. Indeed, even if Acts was not written by a companion of Paul, there is nothing at all improbable about him having learned of the widespread and important traditions about the early Jerusalem Church.
God is Omniscient -- but then He already knew that
Three of God's characteristics are described with "omni" words: omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (present everywhere) and omniscient (all-knowing). Of these three, it seems to me that the idea that God would be omniscient is the most easy to defend. Of course, About.com's atheism page disagrees (". . . the concept of omniscience is so badly flawed that it casts serious doubt upon the validity of traditional god-concepts which have made use of it as a characteristic"), but then the About.com page rarely gets anything right.
In tonight's episode of Faith Under Fire (Saturday nights on PAX TV at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time and 9:00 Central and Mountain Times in the United States) the question of God's omniscience is going to be discussed together with segments which have questions about gay clergy and whether gay people can become straight. While each of the segments are important issues in the church, it seems to me that the question of God's omniscience -- which goes to one of the central questions about God's attributes or characteristics -- will be the most interesting. Here is the byline:
Omniscient. This is a long-acknowledged attribute of God. And if God is all knowing, shouldn't that include knowing about the future? Yet "open theism" is challenging the Reformed doctrines of God's sovereignty, foreknowledge, and providence. So if God is not omniscient, are his other assumed attributes also in question? Dr. Bruce Ware, senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of God's Lesser Glory, discusses these matters with Dr. Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, founder of Christus Victor Ministries, and author of Letters from a Skeptic.
For those of you not familiar with open theism, it is an understanding of the Bible that holds that God perfectly knows all things that are, but he does not know the future perfectly because the future is not fixed. This view is easiest to understand when contrasting the point of view of Christianity that holds that the future is fixed and predetermined. In this view, God knows everything -- past, present and future -- with the future being fixed and preordained. Open theism would agree that God knows everything past and present, but because the future is not fixed, God does not know the future.
Does this mean that God has no knowledge of the future? No, open theism would certainly acknowledge that God knows that Jesus will come again because God is the one who will cause it to happen. But (if my understanding is accurate) in His interactions with us, there is a give-and-take that allows us to participate in what the future will be, and even God does not fully know which course that will take. As stated by Dr. William Hasker, a proponent of open theism, in his on-line article "The Openness of God":
If God is not all-determining, as the Calvinists think, if he does not possess middle knowledge, as urged by the Molinists, if he does not possess "simple foreknowledge" of the actual future, and if, like us, he experiences the passage of time moment by moment and not all at once in the "eternal now," then it follows ineluctably that God's knowledge of the future, incomparably greater though it is than any knowledge we could possess, is not the complete, certain, and infinitely detailed knowledge posited by most of the theological tradition."
Personally, I believe the Molinist approach to God's omniscience makes the most sense. Adopting the definition set out by Dr. Hasker, Molinism "holds a special view about the nature of divine foreknowledge. God, according to Molinism, not only knows beforehand all the actual decisions that will be made by his free creatures; he also knows what any such creature would have done in any possible situation with which she might have been confronted, even if the choice is never actually made. (The statements describing these hypothetical free choices are nowadays referred to as 'counterfactuals of freedom.')" Dr. Hasker than rejects Molinism far too easily:
Right from the very beginning, this theory struck me as being entirely implausible. When a person makes a free choice, it seemed (and still seems) to me, there is nothing whatever either in the circumstances involved or in the nature and character of the chooser that determines in advance the decision that will be made. So if God knows such a choice, it is the actual choosing itself that he knows, and nothing else. But if the choice is never in fact made, then there is no "actual choosing," and thus nothing for God to know. And this perspective has remained with me ever since, through all my later study and criticism of the theory.
Personally, I don't see the big problem that Dr. Hasker has with the Molinist approach. If you are left to make a decision, there are only a finite number of decisions you can make. And anything finite is certainly knowable by an omniscient being.
For example, dealing with a relatively trivial matter, suppose you need dinner. You have only a limited number of choices as to how you will get your food: You can eat food already in your home, you can get food at a restaurant, you can buy food at a store, you can go to a friend's for the food, you can hunt and kill your own food, you can farm your own food, you can rummage through a dumpster, or you can steal your food. There may be other possibilities, but I doubt that there are ten (let alone one hundred) more. Can an omniscient being know all of the possibilities as to how you can get your food? If the answer is yes, then it seems to me that Molinism is plausible. Molinism would also hold that God not only knows that you will make one of the finite number of choices, He also knows what will result from each of these choices because how you respond to the decision also results in a finite decision, e.g., if you decide to go out to eat, where will you go and how you will get there is goverened by a finite number of options). While it is beyond our ability to know all of these possibilities and to track them all, God -- being omniscient and therefore infinitely more intelligent than us -- can do so.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the experts on the panel approach this question. I know that Dr. Boyd is well-spoken on the side of open theism, and I hope that Dr. Ware (author of God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism and Their God Is Too Small) is equally well-spoken against open theism, because if he is, it will make a lively and important debate.
NBC's New Show "Revelations"
Always interested in how Hollywood views Christianity, I made a point of watching NBC's new miniseries, Revelations, last night. The show stars Bill Pullman as a skeptical scientist whose daughter was murdered by satanists and Natascha McElhone (from Solaris), as a Nun searching for (and finding) evidence that the world is heading into the "Last Days." This is no Left Behind. It is not a "Christian" show, but it is a show about Christianity. Or, at least, about a hollywoodish spin on the Book of Revelation.
And what does Christianity mean to hollywood? Catholicism, apparently. It's kind of odd that although the "end times" fervor in American Christianity is located mostly in Protestant sects, the only Christians in the show seem to be Catholics (certainly the only clergy that matters are Catholic). Maybe Hal Lindsey will make a guest experience later.
I thought the first episode was pretty good. It was a little slow, but the acting was well done and most of the dialogue worked; the exception being the Nun's occasional outbursts of scriptures as explaining recent events. It's not that the scriptures are irrelevant, but she sometimes treats them as self-explanatory. Nevertheless, the show treats Christianity with respect. The skeptical scientist is kind of hard headed, but he's obviously distraught over the loss of his daughter (and perhaps a little made at that God he doubts exists).
I was impressed with NBC's website for the show. It has a pretty good introduction to the real Book of Revelation, as well as a Resources page with links to scholarly, Christian apologetic, and skeptical sites.
Although I am skeptical that the Book of Revelation predicts anything like the events portrayed in Revelations (I tend to agree with a pastor I had who said that he had interepreted the Book of Revelation the night before . . . . . for the 19th time), it is still an interesting look at the matter. And what could be more dramatic than God v. Satan over the fate of humanity at the end of the world?
Update: Just noticed that the first episode of Revelations is going to be rebroadcast tonight on the SciFi Channel.
The Ultimate Intelligent Design Blog
For those readers who cannot get enough Intelligent Design, here is the mother of all ID blogs. Starting just this month, contributors include William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells. Quite a line up. Looks well done, too.