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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The legacy of Reefer Madness

Remember Reefer Madness? Back in 1938, the U.S. Government helped sponsor a propaganda film about drug use which became a cult classic for the absurdity of what it said. The basic elements of the film are detailed at as follows:

Framed as a "documentary," the film is narrated by a high school principal imparting his wisdom and experiences with the demon weed. The bulk of the film focuses on almost slapstick scenes of high school kids smoking pot and quickly going insane, playing "evil" jazz music, being committed, and going on a murder spree. Meant to be an important and affecting cautionary tale, this dated black-and-white film's true value is in its many entertaining moments of unintended hilarity.

Of course, what separated the film from many of its contemporary "documentaries" that have slipped into oblivion was the obvious stupidity of its essential subject. We all know that marijuana will not, in and of itself, cause you to go insane or go on murder sprees. (Of course, there is evidence that beyond the fact that smoking marijuana provides no tangible benefit, many studies report that smoking marijuana leads to "lower test scores and academic abilities", while another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms that marijuana is a "gateway drug" strongly suggesting a link "between marijuana and other drugs like cocaine and heroin". Still, the fact that smoking marijuana is a bad idea does not make the unrealistic portrayal of the dangers of pot smoking any less ridiculous.) Reefer Madness is enjoyed not because it is high cinema, but because it is supposedly a "documentary" while making claims that are patently absurd.

I would have thought that Fahrenheit 911 would be the quintessential phony "documentary" and heir to the Reefer Madness crowd for the early 21st Century, but a friend recently lent me his copy of a "documentary" that is even worse: The God who wasn’t there by Brian Flemming.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film (and I hope that is the vast majority of the world), it is a "Jesus Myth" film, i.e., it tries to take seriously the idea that there never really was a person named Jesus who lived, died and was resurrected in the First Century A.D., but rather that this Jesus was almost entirely a fabrication. I watched the first 20 minutes of the "documentary" The God who wasn’t there last night, and I was more than astounded over the absolute fantasy that I watched being portrayed as "fact." I want to point out one thing that Mr. Flemming did in the film which demonstrates the depths to which he will plumb to try prove his extremely unlikely thesis.

Paul didn’t believe Jesus actually lived on earth?

After claiming that the Gospels were written "probably much later" than 70 A.D. (which certainly is a respectable position to take given that a number of scholars support that position, even though there are also a number of scholars who disagree – see the CADRE Dating the New Testament page for links to articles discussing a dating of the Gospels before 70 A.D.), he launches into an attack on Paul the Apostle. According to Mr. Flemming’s "documentary",

Paul never heard of Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, Herod, John the Baptist. He never heard about any of these miracles. He never quotes anything that Jesus is supposed to have said. He never mentions Jesus having a ministry of any kind at all. He doesn’t know about any entrance into Jerusalem. He never mentions Pontius Pilate or a Jewish mob or any trials at all. Paul doesn’t know any of what we would call the story of Jesus except for these last three events, and even these Paul never places on earth. Just like the other savior gods of the time, Paul’s Christ Jesus died, rose and ascended all in a mythical realm. Paul doesn’t believe that Jesus was ever a human being, he’s not even aware of the idea, and he’s the link between the time frame given for the life of Jesus and the appearance of the first Gospel account of that life.

In support of this position, he flashes a Bible verse on the screen from Hebrews 8:4, which reads (with his emphasis):

Hebrews 8:4: "If Jesus had been on earth, he would not have even been a priest."

Identifying this verse in support of such a ridiculous claim leapt out at me because I am presently studying Hebrews in an adult education class at my church. Several things can be said about this "documentary’s" claim about Paul’s knowledge.

Paul wasn’t writing a biography.

First, silence does not equal ignorance. Paul’s letters are written either to churches that he helped establish throughout the ancient world (like the letters to the Corinthians and Galatians), or to early Christians that he knew (like his letters to Timothy and Titus). They do not represent his preaching to the churches about Jesus’ life and earthly ministry. Rather, they were written to deal with problems that had arisen in these early churches concerning the way that God would have us live. These letters are not intended to act as a Gospel – giving an account of the life of Jesus. In fact, Paul, not having been an eyewitness to the events, should not be the one to recount the details of Jesus’ life in an earthly biography. Paul’s mission was to spread the word of the great gift of salvation to the Gentile world, and the details of the actual teachings of Jesus were being spread primarily by John, Peter and the rest of the Twelve who actually were present in Jesus’ life.

Paul met with the Apostles who approved his teaching.

But the idea that Paul had no knowledge about Jesus’ earthly ministry is absolute nonsense. In Galatians 1:18- 2:10, a letter that which almost universally acclaimed as authentically written by Paul, he reports that he met at least two times with those in Jerusalem who were apostles who had known Jesus Christ, and impliedly shows that what he was teaching was consistent with the Gospel as they understood it.

Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas [Peter], and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) * * *

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. * * * [S]eeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do.

Thus, three years after his Road to Damascus experience, Paul went to stay with Peter. Fourteen years later, he went back to the Apostles and discussed another matter with them of importance to his ministry. The first visit with Peter would have provided Paul with "a wealth of information" about "the life of our Lord—matters about which Paul would have intense interest, just as you and I do." (Was Paul a Man-Pleaser? (Galatians 1:10-2:10) Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.) On the second visit, "The apostles perceived the content of Paul’s preaching to be the same as that which God had given to them, differing only in the audience to whom Christ was proclaimed." (Ibid.)

Paul’s letters reflect knowledge of Jesus’ life and teachings

Moreover, Paul’s knowledge of the Gospel is much more complete than the "documentary" would have you believe. Consider the following from an essay that I just published on the CADRE site entitled "In Defense of the Tomb: A Reply to Jeff Lowder":

Listed below are some of the statements Paul makes that refer or in some cases, allude to Jesus. It should be noted at the out-set that Paul assumes his audience knows of Jesus and his life. His aim isn't to teach history, but deal with pastoral problems and give hope to the early church.

  • Gal. 3:16 -- Jesus was born a Jew

  • Gal. 4:4 -- Jesus lived under Jewish Law

  • Rom. 1:3 -- Jesus was from the house of David

  • 1 Cor. 9:5 -- Jesus had brothers

  • 1 Cor. 15:7 -- One of his brother was James

  • 1 Cor. 15:7 -- Jesus had twelve disciples

  • 2 Cor. 8:9 -- Jesus was poor

  • 1 Cor. 15:7 -- Some of Jesus' disciples had wives

  • Phil. 2:5 -- Jesus was a servant who acted with humility

  • 2 Cor. 10:1 -- Jesus acted with meekness and gentleness

  • Rom. 15:3 -- Jesus didn't act on his own behalf, but was accused by others

  • Rom. 6:6 -- Jesus was crucified

  • Rom. 4:25 -- Paul speaks of Jesus' death

  • 1 Thess 2:14-15 -- Jesus crucifixion was brought on by Jewish instigation

  • 1 Cor. 5:7 -- Paul alludes to the Passion week

  • Rom. 8:34 -- Jesus is at God's right hand

  • Rom. 6:4, 8:29; Col. 2:12 -- Paul talks about the nature of the resurrection, presuming it's physicality. He compares the resurrection to baptism, thus giving implic testimony to the empty tomb.

  • In fact, Paul alludes to many of Jesus' teachings. Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels on pp. 228-229 mentions passages in which Paul alludes to many of Jesus' teachings. Some examples are:

  • 1 Cor. 7:10-11 -- About divorce and remarriage

  • 1 Cor. 9:14 -- Ministers being paid wages

  • Rom. 13:6-7 -- Paying taxes

  • Rom. 13:9 -- We are to love our neighbors as ourselves

  • Rom. 14:14 -- Ceremonial cleanliness

  • 1 Thes. 4:15 -- Paul said to be vigilant in light of Jesus' second coming

  • 1 Thes. 5:2-11 -- The second coming would be like the thief in the night

  • 1 Cor. 7: 10;9:14;11:23-25 -- Paul refers to Jesus' words.

  • As can be seen, Paul was in a position (with the apostles three years after his conversion, using the word historeo, thus being concerned with history) and a place (Jerusalem) to know the facts about Jesus. Paul also may have heard about many of the events listed above before his conversion. After all, as a Jewish zealot he had persecuted Christians and was in Jerusalem. But that would entail Passion week and the events associated with Jesus resurrection. That would include the burial.

    Obviously, the idea that Paul didn’t know anything about Jesus’ life or his teachings requires one to completely close their eyes and cover their ears.

    Paul didn’t write Hebrews 8:4

    The Hebrews verse pointed out by Mr. Flemming as supporting the idea that Paul didn’t even think that Jesus had actually walked on the earth fails for a couple of very simple reasons. First, the Letter to the Hebrews almost certainly was not written by Paul. As noted by Hebrews: Introduction, Argument, and Outline by Daniel B. Wallace, Th.M., Ph.D.:

    "Most modern writers find more difficulty in imagining how this Epistle was ever attributed to Paul than in disposing of the theory." * * *

    The arguments against Pauline authorship, however, are conclusive: (1) this letter is anonymous (or at least lacks the author’s name on the recto side of the papyrus scroll), which goes contrary to the practice in all of Paul’s canonical letters; (2) the style of writing is dramatically better than that of Paul (though an amanuensis could have been used); (3) the logical development is much more tightly woven than is Paul’s (could an amanuensis have altered the core of the argument?); (4) the spiritual eyewitnesses are appealed to, while Paul insisted on no intermediaries for his gospel (cf. Gal. 1:12); and (5) Timothy’s imprisonment (Hebrews 13:23) simply does not seem able to fit within Paul’s lifetime, since he is mentioned repeatedly both in Acts and in Paul’s letters and always as a free man.

    Thus, it is simply error to use a passage from Hebrews to support a view that is being attributed to Paul.

    Hebrews 8:4 does not say Jesus had not been on earth

    Second, even if Paul did write the Epistle to the Hebrews (as some scholars still suggest), it is certainly not the case that Hebrews 8:4 stands for the proposition that the "documentary" suggests. The verse is part of a section where the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus is more important than the priests. It begins by noting that Jesus has gone to be at the right hand of God. Verses 1 and 2 say: "[W]e have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man." This is referencing where Jesus is presently. Verses 3 through 6 then continue:

    For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this {high priest} also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned {by God} when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN." But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

    First, I have quoted the above from the NASB which I consider to be the most accurate translation of the Bible. Note that the NASB does not translate Hebrews 8:4 as "If Jesus had been on earth" like the "documentary" suggests. The change in tense is important because it shows that the author is not saying that Jesus was never on earth (as the film suggests), but is speaking about what would happen if Jesus was on earth at this time.

    Moreover, as the list of translations of Hebrews 8:4 from the Blue Letter Bible shows, none of the versions of Hebrews 8:4 says "had been" on earth like the "documentary" suggests. They all use variances of "if he were here on earth" suggesting strongly that the tense in the original Greek is intended to convey that if he were here on earth at the present time -- not that he was never here on earth.

    I really don’t know where this "documentary" found the translation of the text it uses in the film, but given the near unanimous translation of the verse as "if he were here on earth" instead of "if he had been on earth" in light of the fact that virtually every major translation has a translation of the Greek consistent with the former, it seems that Mr. Flemming had to search for a translation that would meet his purposes. But even if the translation used by Mr. Flemming is accurate, the fact that the verses make it clear that Hebrews 8:4 is discussing what Jesus would do if he "were here" on earth now, it appears that the translation used when read in context does not change the essential meaning of the text.


    I have spent a great deal of time responding to only one of many claims made in this "documentary" that appear to be so baseless or so unlikely that it casts serious doubt on the entire film. Even in the first twenty minutes of the film I saw other claims that are, in my view, simply indefensible. I may yet respond to more of the claims in this "documentary" if this film somehow becomes embraced by more people as "true" in some vague sense. In the meantime, I have better things to do. I hope that this film, if it survives at all, will attain the same type of cult status as Reefer Madness, i.e., a film that everyone recognizes as so bad and so factually wrong that it is comical. I think this "documentary" is in the line of that type of movie.



    I learned two things from your valuable post.

    One, the new movie is bunk.

    Two, you know entirely too much about dope.


    I reserve the right to remain silent . . . . :)

    Your report only strengthens the argument that the movie is making. It shows exactly how Christians are willing to look at the things that support their argument and ignore the rest, as it may bring their faith into question.

    Moreover, your analysis of Paul and his references to Jesus support the documentary's claim that Paul was very vague. And as being the definitive spreader of the good word, one would think that he would have as much knowledge if not more than those who wrote the books of Mark, Luke, John, Matt.

    Don't forget, this documentary is not just one man's opinion. He gathered a well rounded group of theologians and historians to make his case. I think that you are going to have to make a stronger case if you are to debunk this film in its entirety.

    First, as to your last comment, Layman has written an excellent article pointing out that those who advocate that there was no Jesus are not only in the very small minority of scholars, they are practically ridiculed by the mainstream of scholarship. You can find it here:

    What this shows is that the argument that Jesus never existed has been repeatedly trounced throughout the years, and it really is a very weak argument.

    Second, in your comment that Paul's references to Jesus were vague, you apparently either didn't read or didn't accept the premise that Paul's letters weren't written for the purpose of spelling out the biography of Jesus. Oh well . . .

    Watching the movie made me want to see if what the Producer of the Movie was saying is True and Like the Poster of this Blog, Ive found tons of LIES in that movie. Heres something thats Obvious to any Bible Read. Paul does Quote Jesus from the Last Supper.

    Matthew 26: 26-29
    While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

    1 Corinthians 11:23-26
    For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

    Luke 22:17-19
    After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

    The movie had its Funny Moments and it does have some Truth but it was Bias from the start.

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