CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

A new movie on the debate between evolutionism and intelligent design has recently been released in limited circulation entitled A Flock of Dodos. The website for the movie, which features a preview of the film, shows the film to be a light-hearted look at this issue that has become a key part of the culture wars.

Now, I personally don't mind seeing films that take a light-hearted view of things I view seriously. I personally loved the movie Monty Python's Life of Brian even though the movie was an obviously irreverent, thinly-disguised slap at Christian belief. Thus, the fact that the movie takes a lighter view of the discussion is actually quite interesting, and I look forward to seeing the film if I get the opportunity.

Having said that, it seems fairly apparent that the film is not going to give a fair shake to intelligent design. The filmmaker is an evolutionary biologist, Randy Olson, and it is apparent from his interview at NPR that he doesn't think that the real problem with evolution is its failure to explain intelligent design to the public. In other words, he doesn't think that the problems pointed out by ID advocates are really legitimate concerns, but rather the problem is that the poor ignorant people who doubt evolution simply don't understand the issue.

He does seem to acknowledge that he is somewhat favorable towards Intelligent Design as people who have good personality skills who are more easy-going. Meanwhile, the evolutionists, he notes, are coming across as bad people by their condescending attitude. He agrees with the interviewer that the evolutionists are "winning on points" but losing the debate. In other words, he sees the problem not as a real issue with science, but as merely a failure to properly market evolution to the public in a way that they can understand it.

According to Sigemund at The Design Paradigm who has seen the film, it is not a fair assessment of the ID movement. In a post entitled "Of Dodos and Filmmakers – a Reflection on Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos", he makes the following comment:

However, the film is not the impartial assessment of the ID debate as it is sometimes billed. Whether by simply reflecting the filmmaker’s own leanings (he was a tenured professor of evolutionary marine ecology at the University of New Hampshire before turning to filmmaking) or through an intentional desire to do so, the film conveys both explicit and subtle messages that seek to steer viewers at an emotive level against the ID position. I am no expert in ID, having only recently begun to read on the subject. But I have seen enough to conclude that, for whatever reason, FOD mischaracterizes or omits pertinent issues in the ID debate. Some were evident during the film and subsequent audience interaction with Olson; others become more apparent on reflection.

Sigemund then proceeds to note several of the problems that he sees with the movie including problems of straw man, poisoning the well, and intolerance. Thus, while the movie looks entertaining, I hardly suppose that anyone should accept this movie as an unpartisan effort to show the debate in an equal light.

Instead of explaining the abortion question asked in yesterday's Question of the Day, I will simply answer it. The pregnant lady mentioned in the moral dilemma is a famous mother. She gave birth to a very talented child who changed the face of aesthetics forever. Who is she and what is the name of her child?

If you chose to abort this baby based on the situation of the mother, you would have killed the world renouned Beethoven. Most of you were thinking that his mother truly had a difficult decision to make with her ninth child, Beethoven. However, during the time which Beethoven was born society knew of the value of human life, despite the current circumstances of the outside world.

The truth is that human life is precious. But that's the question that no one asks these days. Is it a human? If so, are we still justified in taking it's life? Every abortion that happens takes the innocent life of a human child who could have produced incredible music such as Beethoven, or helped lend a hand in the cure on Aids. We ought not refrain from abortion for the simple fact of their potential contributions to society. But because they are simply valuable in light of the very thing they are, human beings.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

Yesterday the National Review published the story of the imminent killing of Andrea Clarke by St. Luke's, an Episcopalian hospital in Houston Texas. Unlike the Terri Shiavo case, Ms. Clarke is both conscious, and has personally requested that her treatment continue, as have all of the members of her family. A very moving plea was offered by one of Ms. Clarke's sisters as a liberal web site, and her posts can be read here and here. The story is nothing short of incredible... and very, very frightening.

From the story in the National Review:

The bioethics committee at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston, Texas has decreed that Andrea Clarke should die. Indeed, after a closed-door hearing, it ordered all further medical efforts to sustain her life while at St. Luke's to cease. As a consequence, Clarke's life support, required because of a heart condition and bleeding on the brain, is to be removed unilaterally even though she is not unconscious and her family wants treatment to continue.

Andrea Clarke may become an early victim of one of the biggest agendas in bioethics: Futile-care theory, a.k.a., medical futility. The idea behind futile-care theory goes something like this: In order to honor personal autonomy, if a patient refuses life-sustaining treatment, that wish is sacrosanct. But if a patient signed an advance medical directive instructing care to continue — indeed, even if the patient can communicate that he or she wants life-sustaining treatment — it can be withheld anyway if the doctors and/or the ethics committee believes that the quality of the patient's life renders it not worth living...

...Illustrating the level of hardball some hospitals play against patients and families, the Clarke family's lawyer Jerri Ward told me that St. Luke's agreed to pay the $14,806 transportation costs to transfer Clarke to a hospital in Illinois — more than 1,000 miles away — if the decision to transfer is made on Thursday (4/27). If the family doesn't decide until Friday, the hospital will pay only one-half of the cost of transportation. Thereafter, it would pay nothing.
So now we have moved from killing people who cannot speak out to defend themselves (as in the case of abortion, as well as the killing of the severely disabled), but even those that have expressed, and continue to express, the wish to live, all with the support of their family.

As her sister tells us in her post of April 25:

You're fighting for your life. But the insurance company is still paying and getting mean about it. They start pressuring the hospital, which starts pressuring the doctor. The doctor had a patient who he could pull from the arms of death with surgery and he almost did it, but then these complications occurred. Things are not looking that rosy anymore. Pressure is mounting from the insurance company.

The doctor, caving to pressure from the hospital, which caved in to pressure from the insurance company, finally gets with the family to ask them for permission to pull the plug. But the family talked to you and you didn't want to give up the fight.

The doctor convenes a meeting with other doctors and they decide to medicate you into unconsciousness so that you can't say what you want anymore. Once they do that, they have another meeting, with other doctors and make the decision that they can unplug you, with or without your or your family's permission.

These people, the insurance company that you gave your money to, in the expectation that they would pay for your medical bills; the doctor, who you trusted in and believed in, to have your best interests at heart--these are the people who are bringing about your death, just when you are fighting for your life the hardest you've ever had to fight.

Isn't that one heck of a deal, guys? These are the people whose hands you put your life into and they are going to kill you. That's the Texas Futile Care Law. And my sister is going to die because of it.
I could find nothing on this story on, or even, though it has been spreading like wild fire on the Internet. I am astonished at the lack of coverage by major media outlets, especially since this story answers all of the objections raised by those who said that Terri Shiavo needed to die. This woman can express her current wishes to live, has done so in a signed document, and her family is fighting desperately, and unanimously to keep her alive.

The Houston Chronicle reported this morning that Ms. Clarke would be moved to Chicago, but today reports that the move will not take place. From that story:

...In any case, on Tuesday (May 2), the hospital has a meeting scheduled about Andrea and the one sliver of good news is that the family says they have a doctor with privileges at St. Luke's who is willing to go in and argue that Melanie is not medically futile. Whether that will make a difference is impossible to say at this point.

The bottom line here is that according to Andrea Clark's family, St. Luke's has not lived up to their end of the bargain and has only agreed in writing to extend Andrea's life one day beyond the old deadline of Sunday (May 7).
Time is short.

To contact St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital:
St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital
6720 Bertner Ave.,
Houston, TX 77030
PH: 832-355-1000

If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind,one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion?

Post your answers here and find out the point of the question tomorrow. It's a tricky one.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

Today, Newsweek magazine posted an article by Rabbi Marc Gellman entitled "Trying to Understand Angry Atheists: Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by the idea of God?" In the article, Rabbi Gellman makes the following point:

So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.

This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don't mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help. Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us.

Personally, I have experienced a great deal of incivility from skeptics on the Internet. They seem to enjoy the idea of tweaking Christians however possible from the way that they refer to Christians to the extremely condescending attitude that they hold. Of course, I am not so blind as to think that the condescension does not also come from us Christians. However, my own personal feelings and experiences are that the majority of the hostility does come, by and large, from the skeptical side of the debate.

For example, just take a look at the way that Beyond Belief Media uses inflammatory language about Christianity in the press release in their recent (apparently failed) ridiculous war on Easter. The website says things like "People go to churches to hide from the truth" and "Christian leaders are indoctrinating children with 2000-year-old fairy tales" and "Christians believe that beating a man to a pulp and nailing him to a cross somehow solves all the world's problems". In the FAQ section, Beyond Belief Media says things like Christianity is a "backward and deranged theology" and that it is "devoid of reason." Language like that, which is plainly over-the-top and designed to incite does not make me have any faith that atheists are going to be fair to me.

Now, given that the majority of this country still identifies themselves as Christians, how do you suppose that the majority of Christians react to this kind of drivel? Personally, I think that people read this nonsense and recognize that skeptics are, for the most part, talking without understanding. If you can readily identify that some of their statements are nonsense, then why trust anything that they say at all? In fact, apparently, most people think that atheists aren't trustworthy according to an article entitled "Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study". The article notes:

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

* * * Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.

Now, I am not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that all skeptics share these traits that are so mistrusted. But my personal experience is that many of the skeptics posting on the Internet and maintaining their silly little websites can certainly lay claim to being rampant materialists and cultural elitists. I would add that they are also rude, crude and obstinate.

Let me give you fine skeptics advice: if you really want to convert Christians to your viewpoint, stop being inflammatory. You need to be more tolerant of the views of others, you need to stop thinking that you know it all, and you need to stop belittling everything you disagree with. If you are not of that type, then you should be standing up and denouncing what these loudmouths skeptics are saying as wrong! (At the Christian CADRE, we do denounce Christian groups that are like this -- for example, Fred Phelps "God Hates Fags" church -- I think I speak for every member of the CADRE when we say such over-the-top claims are both Biblically wrong and uncivil and Pastor Phelps should be quiet!) But for those of you who have websites like Beyond Belief Media's rhetorically nonsensical "War on Easter", I'm suggesting that you do something that does not come naturally in your world -- act civilly.

In The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Richard Carrier attempts to argue that Paul espouses a view of the resurrection of Jesus, in which he receives an entirely new resurrection body, leaving the old body behind to decompose. This serves Carrier’s apologetic agenda well as it would serve to lay the foundation for the empty tomb as a later legend. Carrier seeks to increase the plausibility of his “two body” resurrection theory by citing several passages in Josephus which are alleged to espouse just such a view. As we will see, he leaves out essential background evidence regarding Josephus’ authorial tendencies, and fails to bring forth anything from Josephus that is incompatible with the standard view in which the resurrection is a transformation of the previous body of the deceased.

1. Josephus is perfectly compatible with the widely-attested two-stage resurrection view.

Carrier’s exegesis of the relevant passages in Josephus amounts to simply quoting a few passages, giving us an expanded definition of a Greek word here and there, and confidently assuming that his “plain reading” interpretation leaps right off the page at us. On p. 112, Carrier first quotes from The Wars of the Jews 2.163:

"Though every soul is incorruptible, only that of good men crosses over into another body, while that of bad men is punished by eternal retribution.”

Carrier tells us that his “two body” theory of resurrection, in which the former body remains in the grave and an entirely new body is created for an individual, could not have been stated any clearer in this passage (The Empty Tomb, p. 112). Of course, it could be much clearer. Josephus could have said “while their old body rots in the grave, their new body will be created in heaven” or any number of things that would clearly conform to Carrier’s theory. This passage, though, is entirely compatible with the two-stage resurrection espoused by Wright and others, in which the soul returns to what is indeed a new body, transformed from that which formerly lied in the dust. Wright, in his discussion of resurrection in the apocalyptic texts of post-biblical Judaism, says that the righteous individual hopes for “a newly embodied, and probably significantly transformed, existence.” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.162). Indeed, Wright says that the martyrs of 2 Maccabees, which he thinks “provides far and away the clearest picture of the promise of resurrection anywhere in the period” (Ibid., p. 150), will be “given new bodies” (Ibid., p. 152). Gundry interprets “another body” in the passage cited by Carrier as probably referring to “a renewed body rather than a brand new one.” (Jesus’ Resurrection: Factor Figment?, p. 118 fn. 16) Whether the resurrection body is considered to be “another”, “new”, or “renewed” body, this passage in Josephus simply does not explicitly address whether or not it will be a transformation of the body that has previously died, and it is quite compatible with the notion.

On p. 113, Carrier then quotes from The Wars of the Jews 3.372, 374-375:

“The bodies of all men are indeed mortal, and are created out of corruptible matter, but the soul is forever immortal, and is a part of God that inhabits our bodies.... Don’t you know that those who exist this life according the law of nature, and pay that debt received from God, when he that gave it wants it back again…then the souls that remain pure and obedient obtain from God the holiest place in heaven, and from there, after the completion of the ages, they are instead sent again into undefiled bodies.”

Carrier tells us that Josephus means to say that these undefiled bodies will be “brand new”. But his treatment of the Greek seems to only lead us to believe that the new bodies will be “pure, chaste, holy” or “unpolluted” as he says. Again, there is nothing in any of this that works against the “undefiled” bodies that the souls of the righteous will be “sent into” being a transformation of the former deceased body. Even if Josephus had said the resurrection body will be “brand new” as Carrier interprets him, barring Josephus explicitly telling us that it will not be continuous with the old body (in the sense that the old body transforms into the “brand new”), we could never rule this option out.

Carrier then goes on to quote Against Apion 2.218 to the effect that the righteous will be “created again and get a better life…” (in fn. 49 on p.203, Carrier renders genesthai te palin literally as “come into existence again”, Whiston’s translation has “come into being again”, and Wright’s translation is “given ... a renewed existence”). Josephus here is simply referring to the whole individual being brought into a new mode of existence which is not at all incompatible with the old body being transformed into a new body. Even if we thought the best translation was “created again”, since we know the souls of the righteous will not be recreated but reinserted, Josephus obviously need not be referring to an entirely new creation. In other words, for Josephus, “created again” can and does absolutely encompass some form of continuity between one entity and another. There is simply nothing here that argues against the continuity of the old body transforming into the new.

2. In the passages cited by Carrier, most scholars believe that Josephus is expressing resurrection in Greek philosophical terms – even that Josephus is being intentionally ambiguous about his meaning. So not only must we approach these passages with caution, but even if they express the views Carrier claims they do, we cannot accept them as accurately representing the views of the Pharisees or other Jews.

Josephus, throughout his writings, always has it in mind to explain and exalt the antiquity and legitimacy of Jewish practice and belief to the Romans. In the course of this, he often made certain facets of Judaism conform to Greco-Roman values and categories. All of the major figures of Judaism live philosophical lives. As the ideal philosopher-king in Plato ought to possess great beauty (Plato Rep. 7.535), it was Joseph’s handsomeness that won him favor with his father, Moses’ beauty as an infant which lures in Pharoah’s daughter, and special attention is called to the beauty of David, Saul, and Absalom as well. Josephus, being aware of the importance of the virtue of temperance to the Greeks, praises Moses for his self-control (Ant 4.318-29), omits mention of Elisha cursing the children who mock him, and tells us that Jehu, whom the Bible says drove his chariot like a madman on a certain occasion (2 Kings 9:20), is said to drive it “slowly and in good order” (Ant. 9.117). Throughout his works, Josephus invents, rewrites, and omits numerous Biblical episodes to emphasize virtues particularly appealing to Greeks such as humanity, hospitality, humility, piety, and gratefulness (for more on this see L.H. Feldman, “Josephus: Interpretive Methods and Tendencies” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, p. 590-595). D. P. Nystrom tells us that, Josephus, as “an apologist for his people and for himself”, “cited hubris to explain human behavior, noted parallels between the Pharisees and the Stoics”, and “applied the four cardinal Hellenistic virtues to biblical figures”, all in an effort to “appeal to Roman sensibilities” (“Josephus” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament, p. 599). In Antiquities, Josephus “pictures Jewish leaders in terms reminiscent of Plato’s philosopher-king and all but ignores the covenant.” (Ibid., p. 600)

Wright lists Josephus’ “description of Jewish parties as philosophical schools” as one of the many lines of “evidence, in Josephus and elsewhere, that he and others did ‘translate’ Jewish ideas into Greek ones” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 176 fn. 200). According to Wright, “When ... Josephus is describing the official positions of the ‘schools’ or ‘philosophies’, he does his best to make them correspond to the three major schools of Greco-roman thought, the Stoic, the Epicurean and the Pythagorean”(Ibid., p. 177).

Other scholars agree. Particularly regarding beliefs about resurrection and the afterlife, Eric Eve warns that Josephus “must be read with caution”, because “he seems to be dressing up Jewish ideas as Greek philosophies in order to impress a Graeco-Roman audience.” [“Life after Death in the New Testament”, ]

Alan Segal writes that “All his writings were meant to explain Judaism to the educated Roman audience.... Josephus used philosophical terminology in a more popular way to make Jewish notions of the afterlife understandable to his educated pagan Roman audience” (Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, p. 375). Segal even goes so far as to say that “Because Josephus was involved in a very tricky hermeneutical process in explaining Jewish beliefs for a sophisticated, philosophical pagan audience, whose notions of the afterlife were deeply affected by Greek philosophy, exactly what the Pharisees believed is not recoverable from him”(Ibid., p. 381).

Bauckham writes that “Josephus expresses his own beliefs in thoroughly Greek ways. And he even – evidently for the benefit of his Gentile readers – reports the views of other Jews in much more Greek terms than they themselves would have used. So, for example, when he claims that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation (Jewish War 2.164), he should be seen as translating their expectation of bodily resurrection – a belief that non-Jews in the Greco-Roman world found very strange – into a form that was familiar to Gentile readers” (Life in the Face of Death: The Resurrection Message of the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker, p. 90).

In the passages cited by Carrier, Wright states that “Josephus is referring to the doctrine of bodily resurrection, even though using language which by itself would be capable of connoting other views – understandable enough when seeking to communicate with non-Jews, whose age-old disbelief in resurrection Josephus would know well enough. It was not part of his purpose, at this point at least, to make the leading Jewish sect look ridiculous to his readers” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 177-178). And elsewhere, “He did not want them [his pagan audience] to mock either him or those Jewish ‘schools’ of thought he was anxious to commend. That is why the description of the Pharisees’ viewpoint sounds from time to time more like some version of transmigration, a variant on a known pagan possibility, rather than a shocking Jewish innovation” (Ibid., p. 181). In Ant 18.14, Josephus further accommodates pagan thought by claiming that rewards and punishments are meted out “under the earth”, though he has earlier supposed that the righteous go right to heaven to be with God (Ibid., p. 178). On pages 324-327 of his The New Testament and the People of God, Wright points out that Josephus seems to be much more ambiguous about the afterlife in his later works, and if we did not have the earlier War 3.372-375 as an interpretive key, we might not know that Josephus is talking about resurrection at all, and suppose him to be talking about transmigration of the soul, or mere immortality of the soul. This type of audience accommodation on the part of Josephus also makes good sense of the fact that he fails to use the word “resurrection” at all in any of these passages.

Now all of the above is generally common knowledge amongst scholars. Even if Carrier were ignorant of these issues, how he can leave discussion of these interpretive difficulties out and take Josephus at face-value, given that they are discussed in many of the sources Carrier himself interacts with, is puzzling to say the least. If Josephus has a motive to be ambiguous or even misleading in regards to resurrection belief, especially regarding the Pharisees, whose conceived role as ideal representatives of Judaism and mediators with Rome he would do nothing to jeopardize, then we ought not to be surprised that Carrier can read non-Jewish views into his descriptions of Pharisaic resurrection belief. This indeed is the aim of Josephus. But as we have seen, probably more in line with what Josephus and the Pharisees actually believed, the standard two-stage resurrection belief, that is already a precedent in 2nd Temple Judaism, coheres quite well with what Josephus writes anyway.

In conclusion, Carrier’s assertion to the effect that “It…cannot be doubted that a two-body doctrine was feasible and even attractive to some first-century Jews, even Pharisees” (p. 113) is without foundation. We find no evidence for the doctrine here (or anywhere else for that matter – as we will continue to demonstrate). The apologetic and accommodating language of Josephus, in appealing to his Roman audience, can ably explain the ambiguity in his language, and were it his intent to portray the body of the deceased decomposing in the grave, given his audience, it is indeed unlikely that he would not have made this explicit. This, coupled with the fact that this “two body” doctrine doesn’t surface anywhere else in the world of 2nd Temple Judaism, especially in the trajectory of the Pharisaic Rabbinic writings, though the two-stage view of scholars like Wright is well-attested and entirely compatible with the passages in Josephus, makes his interpretation unlikely.

Occasionally, the title of a story makes me take a second look and say "what?" So it was with a recently published article from the Washington Times (April 17, 2006) and published in the World Peace Herald entitled "Cana excavation aims to unearth miracle of Jesus" by Jay Bushinsky. According to the article, excavations are taking place in the ancient village of Cana where Jesus changed water into wine.

Now, what is interesting about the headline is that it contradicted by the article itself. The headline suggests that the archaeologists conducting the excavation somehow believe that they will unearth archaeological evidence that will either prove or disprove the miracle recorded in John 2: 1-10. But the article shows that the archaeologists conducting the excavation don't have that as a goal, and largely acknowledge that such proof or disproof of miracles is not possible using archaeology.

Yardenna Alexandre, a British-trained Israeli archaeologist, has been excavating a site she associates with the Roman-era village in which the miracle is said to have occurred.

* * *

Miss Alexandre emphasized that her scientific work was not inspired or motivated by the miracle associated with Cana.

"Archaeology cannot prove or disprove miracles," she said. "But it can provide a realistic background of the biblical narrative. ...

"My vision is that the rest of the site will be excavated and become visible and accessible to pilgrims and tourists from all over the world who are interested in seeing Cana as it was at the time of Jesus," Miss Alexandre said.

Now, I have often told skeptics that it is not possible to use archaeology to prove or disprove the existence of miracles. Usually, I ask the question: what do you expect archaeologists to find? The remains of breadcrumbs from the feeding of the 5,000? Footprints from when Jesus walked on water? Miracles are not the type of things that archaeology can prove or disprove. I find Ms. Alexandre's statement confirming that belief comforting.

However, there is certainly room for archaeology to provide the background for the area in which the events took place. So it was in this case because the archaeologists found 11 large clay storage jars stashed in underground hide-outs hewn out of the bedrock by the village's Jewish inhabitants, apparently to evade the Roman legions of the future emperor Vespasian. The fact that the pots were made of poor materials may suggest why the wine ran short.

Many of Cana's houses contained ritual baths and stone vessels indicating its inhabitants were Galilean Jews at the time of the miracle described in the Gospel of John. No imported or glass vessels were found, a factor that attests to its Jewish identity and economically modest circumstances.

That may explain why the wine ran short there after the first three days of a weeklong Jewish wedding mentioned in the biblical narrative.

While there is no reason to believe that any of the stone or clay jars found in Cana were the ones that held the water that Jesus turned into wine, there certainly is no reason to conclude that they could not have been the very same jars. Yet, while archaeology cannot confirm whether these were the same jars, it does provide more information about Cana that can help enrich our understanding of the area where Jesus did, in fact, perform his miracles.

Christianity Today has a rather interesting article about the state of the evolution and Intelligent Design debate entitled "Science in Wonderland" by John Wilson which seeks to get "some perspective (250 million years' worth) on the evolution controversy."

He points out (rightly, in my opinion) that the kefuffle about the teaching of Intelligent Design has largely been put to rest for the time being since every time someone suggests that there may be room for the teaching of the perfectly reasonable idea that the universe that we are witnessing may not be the result of purely naturalistic causes, the "purely-materialistic/naturalism-is-the-only-way-to-do-science" crowd comes out of the woodwark decrying the end to legitimate science and a return the Medievil times. These claims are always backed up by local news programs who, when they discuss intelligent design at all, always link it directly to religion. (My own hometown news television station showed a stained-glass window in the background as they talked about ID -- not too subtle of a connection being drawn there.)

Of course, the biggest argument against ID is that it isn't science because it isn't testable. Take, for example, this statement from the website for the National Center for Science Education in an essay entitled "Scott replies to Dembski" by Eugenie Scott:

ID can make empirically or logically or statistically testable claims (that certain structures are irreducibly complex; by using probability arguments like the "design filter" one can detect design) but the foundational claim that a supernatural "intelligence" is behind it all is not a scientifically testable statement. (And please, let's be grownups here: we're not talking about a disembodied, vague "intelligence" that *might* be material, we're talking about God, an intelligent agent that can do things that, according to ID, mortals and natural processes like natural selection cannot. Not for nothing does Dembski say that ID is the bridge between science and theology.)

(I included the parenthetical to show that the argument being advanced by people like the NCSE must, necessarily, argue that the intelligent designer must be God in order to paint it as "religion" when ID does not make that claim. Certainly, it is true that the designer may be God, but ID certainly does not claim that the designer must be God.)

So, the argument against ID is that the foundational claim that a supernatural intelligence is "behind it all" cannot be tested. Well, as John Wilson points out, String Theory is considered "science" but it is equally untestable. Writing in a sometimes tongue-in-cheek fashion, but always with a purpose, Mr. Wilson notes:

The contempt that many scientists have expressed for Intelligent Design knows no bounds, but it can be summarized in a single dismissive sentence: "It's not science." Now string theory—that's another matter. String theory generates articles and grants and symposia. String theory has charismatic spokesmen like Brian Greene. (What is string theory? Ah, the universe is . . . made up of these . . . strings. Best if you read Greene's book, The Elegant Universe, or watch the accompanying DVD. You still won't understand it, but your ignorance, like mine, will be better informed.)

The man who is sometimes referred to as the father of string theory is Leonard Susskind, who is Felix Bloch Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stanford University and who recently published a book called The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. You might wonder what a theoretical physicist is doing messing with questions of Intelligent Design. Isn't that a job for biologists?

Well, do you remember talk a few years back about the extreme improbability of all the conditions required for life as we know it evolving just so? The reaction of the science establishment was to huff and puff and hint darkly about stealth creationism. But many cosmologists took the question seriously—so seriously, in fact, that some of them began to argue that our universe is but one of an unimaginable number of universes, say [10 to the 500th power], in which case the features of any one universe (ours, for instance) are unremarkable.

This theory has not met with, shall we say, universal approbation, not least because it can't be empirically tested. You could even say it's not science, and some have said that, but they don't hiss the way they do when they talk about Intelligent Design.

And here is an interesting footnote. At the end of an interview in New Scientist, Leonard Susskind, a very engaging character, is asked—-if his theory is ultimately not borne out—-"Are we stuck with Intelligent Design?" And Susskind gives a candid answer that no doubt provoked wrath among many of his colleagues:

I doubt that physicists will see it that way. … I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now, we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature's fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that a hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.

Susskind was really very naughty to say that, and you can sense that he knew it. You can almost hear the alarm bells ringing. Get me Damage Control, quick!

I was recently lectured by a scientifically knowledgeable skeptic about my views about the beginning of the universe and how it seems to be uniquely prepared to support life. This skeptic pointed me to many theories about where the universe may have come from including a theory he liked (the name of which I don't recall) where there is some type of cosmic pool that bubbles up universes and we are just one of the million, billion universes in existence. Of course, this type of theory seems tailored to support the view that the universe leaped into existence poised to support life using a purely naturalistic/materialistic explanation. Of course it's possible that he's right, but there is no reason to believe that he is right because he had absolutely no evidence whatsoever that either the pool or any of the other million, billion universes exist.

And he, of course, is considered the rational skeptic. Amazing. has published a review of Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why entitled "The Gospel according to Bart" by Daniel Wallace. The piece is authored by Daniel J. Wallace, Th.M., Ph.D., who presently teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary. To say that this article is not particularly flattering to Bart Ehrman is an understatement. Early on in the article, Dr. Wallace notes:

Why all the hoopla? Well, for one thing, Jesus sells. But not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus that sells is the one that is palatable to postmodern man. And with a book entitled Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, a ready audience was created via the hope that there would be fresh evidence that the biblical Jesus is a figment. Ironically, almost none of the variants that Ehrman discusses involve sayings of Jesus. The book simply doesn’t deliver what the title promises. Ehrman preferred Lost in Transmission, but the publisher thought such a book might be perceived by the Barnes and Noble crowd as dealing with stock car racing! Even though Ehrman did not choose his resultant title, it has been a publishing coup.

More importantly, this book sells because it appeals to the skeptic who wants reasons not to believe, who considers the Bible a book of myths. It’s one thing to say that the stories in the Bible are legend; it’s quite another to say that many of them were added centuries later. Although Ehrman does not quite say this, he leaves the impression that the original form of the NT was rather different from what the manuscripts now read.

The review is very good and takes Dr. Ehrman to task on a number of his claims and presuppositions in a detailed way. I found it a very enjoyable and informative read.

From 'Da Vinci Code' rattles some Christians by Alexandra Alter, Contra Costa Times, Saturday April 22, 2006:

. . . The Da Vinci Code may be having an even more profound cultural impact. Resurrecting arguments that date to the second century, the novel has provoked a public debate about the origins of Christianity, clandestine schools of Christian mysticism and the role of women in the church.

Da Vinci fans argue Brown unearthed evidence that Christianity once took a variety of forms, including mystical practices involving goddess worship. Critics say such ideas were rightly disposed of in the second century as heresy.

"To see a global bestseller claiming that people of faith have got it all wrong is disconcerting, to say the least," Robert Hodgson, dean of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at the American Bible Society. "This book is ultimately a travesty for people of faith."

Christians today are suddenly seeing the foundations of their faith under fire. The classic version of the Good News has been challenged by newly translated texts such as "The Gospel of Judas" and ""The Jesus Papers,"" a new book that argues the crucifixion and resurrection were faked. Christian leaders are responding by organizing a massive campaign complete with pamphlets, DVDs, Web sites and study groups aimed at countering the book's claims.

Why such fuss over a work of fiction?

Christian leaders and theologians point to the "fact" page at the book's opening, where Brown notes that references to the Priory of Sion, a secret religious society, the Roman Catholic group Opus Dei, which has 85,000 lay and clergy members, and the descriptions of art, architecture and rituals are accurate.

According to the Barna Group, a Christian research and polling agency, 53 percent of adults who read The Da Vinci Code report that the book has helped their "personal spiritual growth and understanding."

"An amazing number of people were reading it as this exciting guide to church history," said Carl Olson, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in the Da Vinci Code. "A lot of Christians have been thrown by the novel."

Brown's plot-twister isn't close to outselling the Bible. But it has led scholars, theologians and lay people to ask questions that might sound familiar to anyone who attended the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., when church leaders first codified the orthodox Christian creed. Among them: Was Jesus fully human or divine? Which gospels are the true gospels?

The Da Vinci Code has clearly touched a cultural nerve.

I have mixed emotions about this article. First, to a certain extent I find it unnerving that Christians should find The Da Vinci Code helpful to their spiritual growth and understanding. In many mainline churches where the truth of the Gospels seems to have been abandoned in favor of the all-encompassing view of God as the non-judgmental God of love, this is somewhat understandable. After all, if the Gospels are not trustworthy and contain only stories fabricated by the early church to make Jesus divine, then why not believe the Gospel of Judas as being equally accurate as Mark, Matthew, John and Luke? My concern is that I have had very committed Christians ask me if The Da Vinci Code is accurate history. I have tried to set them straight by pointing out that there is no reliable evidence that supports the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, but the mere fact that I need to try to straighten this matter out is somewhat troubling.

But then, as a second emotion, I find myself saying, "Good! The church needs to have this discussion!" In other words, too many Christians are stumbling through life without any idea as to why we trust that the four Gospels are the four reliable accounts of the life of Jesus and why late-second century Gnostic writings like the Gospel of Judas are dismissed as "garbage" (as recently affirmed by the Archbishop of Santa Fe). Until Christians get a better understanding of the solidity of the Gospels as the accepted canon of the church from well before the Council of Nicea, we will continue to be surprised and unable to answer claims that the Council of Nicea picked and chose the books to be in the Gospel from a group of equally viable candidates. Let me counter that claim right here:

The notion that the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Thomas were equally accepted by Christians as inspired works prior to the Council of Nicea has no basis in fact whatsoever. The website The Development of the Canon of the New Testament has a very nice Cross Reference Table: Writings and Authorities which catalogues the opinions of the early church fathers on the various Gospels and Epistles. The table clearly shows that with the exception of two church fathers, Ignatius of Antioch and Marcion -- the latter of which had views that were widely rejected in the early church -- every church father viewed the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as being "accepted; true; scriptural; or quoted from very approvingly".

By comparison, how does the Gospel of Thomas fair with these early church fathers? The Gospel of Thomas is apparently not even mentioned until Origen and Eusebius -- both of whom wrote in the 3rd Century B.C. -- and both shared the view that the Gospel of Thomas was "false; heretical; heterodox; quoted from very disapprovingly".

While the Gospel of Judas is not listed on this chart, the earliest reference to it appears to be from Iraneus who wrote around 180 A.D. and made it clear that the Gospel of Judas was not accurate when he wrote that Gnostics "produce fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas."

One could look at it this way: when the Council of Nicea got together, it was already settled that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were "accepted; true; scriptural" because no one voiced concerns to the contrary. It was the typical "no-brainer" whether to include them in the canon. It appears that there were no other Gospels that were seriously considered for inclusion in the New Testament canon because none of the other "gospels" had any type of widespread support from the early church. There may have been some individuals at the council who were making a case for one or more additional writings to be included, but it seems as the task of excluding works that were not consistent with the Christian teachings was made much easier by the fact that the vast core of the New Testament was already settled by the time the Council met (only James, II Peter, II and III John, Jude and Revelation appearing to have mixed support).

Do I think that The Da Vinci Code has anything "spiritual" to say? No, not at all. The sum of what is "of God" can be determined by comparing it to the teachings contained in the Bible which were "once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) To the extent that the Brown novel suggests a different Jesus or a Jesus inconsistent with the Jesus described in the New Testament, then it is not "of God" and has no business in my Sunday School class -- except for teaching about heresies.

From Jeff Downs' very fine Counter-cult Apologetics:

This Thursday on the Countercult Apologetics Hour, my guest will be Dr. Gary Habermas. "Gary Habermas has dedicated his professional life to the examination of the relevant historical, philosophical, and theological issues surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus."

You might ask, "What does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with the Cults?" Well, for starters the Jehovah's Witnesses deny this doctrine. Don't get me wrong, they say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but as you know most cults redefined Christian terminology. The JWs deny the Jesus rose from the dead - physically.

Join us as look at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and then specifically, the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The show will air 8-9 EST on Thursday April 27. The link for the live feed is or go to the homepage of Unchained Radio. We will be taking your calls live at 1-800-466-1873.

The Christian practice of holding regular services on Sunday is so widespread that the few Christian denominations that observe the Jewish Sabbath, which falls on Saturday, are a distinct minority. Why do Christians worship corporately on Sunday rather than the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday?

The answer is simple and obvious. Christians gathered together on the first day of the week instead of the last day of the week because it was on that day that Jesus was raised from the dead. Christians were not bound by Jewish law to observe the Sabbath, so they gathered on what they called “the Lord’s Day.” Contrary to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, this had nothing to do with sun worship or pagan practice. Rather, it focused on the timing of the defining event of Christianity – Jesus’ resurrection. Also contrary to Dan Brown, this was not a later development imposed on Christianity by Constantine, but regular Christian practice hundreds of years before Constantine became emperor in 306 AD. Indeed, the practice of Christian worship on Sunday begins at the beginning. Acts and Paul himself records that early Christians were regularly meeting on the first day of the week.

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.

Acts 20:7

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

1 Corinthians 16:2

This practice soon became known as meeting on “the Lord’s Day.” Revelation is the earliest reference to this being called “the Lord’s Day.” It was on that day that John received his revelation, “On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Revelation 1:10

Beyond the New Testament, widespread and early Christian writers attest that it was regular Christian practice to worship together on “the Lord’s Day,” the first day of the week. Many of these same writers explained why Christians did not honor the Jewish Sabbath.

The Didache, written in the latter part of the first or early second centuries AD, was a kind of manual for Church practice. It records how Christians gathered together “every Lord’s Day” for feasting and thanksgiving:

But every Lord’s Day, gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, so that your sacrifice may be pure.

Didache 7.381. You can read the document for yourself, here.

Another very early Christian writing is the Letter of Barnabas, written around 100 AD. Although the author is unknown, he attests to Christian worship on Sunday, which he calls "the eighth day."

We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.

Barnabas 15:6-8. You can read the document for yourself, here.

Next we have the testimony of Ignatius, a Christian leader of the first century AD. Ignatius wrote a number of letters around 110 AD while being transported to Rome to be executed. One of those letters, to the Magnesians, reports that Christians expressly rejected worshipping on the Jewish Sabbath, and instead chose to worship on “the Lord’s Day” because that was the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

If, therefore, they who were under the older dispensation came into a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord's day, on which day also our life rose through him and through his death, which certain deny, through which mystery we have received faith (and through this abide, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher).

Letter to the Magnesians, 9.1. You can read the letter for yourself online, here.

Then there is Justin Martyr, a church leader in Rome who wrote around 150-60 AD. He explains at length the Christian practice of worship on Sunday and the reason for it:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

You can read Justin Martyr for yourself, here.

Tertullian seems to argue directly with Dan Brown. Tertullian was a Christian leader who wrote around 197 AD. He distinguishes Christian practice on Sunday from that of the pagans. He was well aware that some pagans also worshipped on Sunday:

Others . . . suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is well-known that we regard Sunday as a day of joy.

To the Nations 1: 133.

But Tertullian also knew that Christians had their own, non-pagan, reasons for worshipping on Sunday.

We devote Sunday to rejoicing for a far different reason than sun worship.

Apology Chap. 16.

Tertullian also explains that Christians do not practice the Jewish Sabbath:

It follows, accordingly, that, in so far as the abolition of carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated at its specific times, so also the observance of the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.

An Answer to the Jews, Chap. 4. See also An Answer to the Jews, Chap. 2; On Idolatry, Chap. 14.

Many other early Christian leaders attest to Christian worship on Sunday rather than the Jewish Sabbath: Clement of Alexandria, 195 AD (speaking of “keeping the Lord’s Day” by “glorifying the Lord’s resurrection”); Origen, 248 AD (describing how Christians observe certain days, including “the Lord’s Day”); Anatolious, 270 AD (saying it should not be lawful to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on any day “but on the Lord’s Day”); Victorinus, 280 AD (writing that Christians fast on Saturday but break bread and give thanksgiving on “the Lord’s Day”); Peter of Alexandria, 310 AD (“We Celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy. For on it, He rose again”).

Clearly, therefore, the contemporary Christian practice of worshipping corporately on Sundays was enacted hundreds of years before Constantine, starting as it did with the early Christians. Moreover, the reason for the Christian practice of meeting on Sunday was to honor “the Lord’s Day,” the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It had nothing to do with pagan sun worship.

Basic Instinct 2, a new "erotic thriller" starring Sharon Stone, was released a few weekends ago, and to the surprise of almost no one it tanked at the box office. After three weeks at the theatres, the movie has grossed less than $6,000,000. Now, having a movie crash and burn is not that unusual, but what is unusual about this film is that Paul Verhoeven, "director of the first "Basic Instinct" (which scored $353 million worldwide) as well as the widely ridiculed "Showgirls" (now regarded as something of a camp classic), attributes [erotic thrillers'] demise to the current American political climate." According to "Erotic thrillers lose steam at box office" from Reuters (April 3, 2006):

"Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States," said the Dutch native [Verhoeven]. "Look at the people at the top (of the government). We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends."

Ignoring for the moment the fact that it is simply untrue that "anything that is erotic" has been banned, the idea that the government is responsible for people not watching a particular erotic thriller shows the alternate universe that these filmmakers inhabit. Still, there are a couple of different aspects to this story that I think deserve comment but which I haven't heard discussed much.

First, it is worth noting that Paul Verhoeven is, in fact, an "active participant" at the Weststar Institute which means, according to the Westar Institute's website, that Mr. Verhoeven "has been or [is] currently involved in the work of the Westar Institute." Now, for those for whom the name "Weststar Institute" has no meaning, the Weststar Institute is the organization behind the Jesus Seminar -- the group of glory-seeking scholars who claim that there goal is to find the historical Jesus, but who I think are actively working to undermine the Christian faith. The fact that one of their fellows should be making comments adverse to Christianity (or, at least, conservative Christianity) should surprise no one familiar with this group's efforts to portray Jesus not as savior, but as a man who has been deified by Christianity.

Second, Christianity does not hate sex. Only someone ignorant of Christian belief and values would hold such a view. Back in January 2005, I wrote about the Biblical view of sex here and pointed out that 1 Cor. 7:4-5 absolutely clears up any misconceptions that Christians should abstain from sex. Sex is a gift from God, and we are called upon to enjoy the gift responsibly, i.e., in the context of a committed marriage relationship.

The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.

The Biblical admonitions against sex goes to perversions of the marital relationship intended by God because such perversions fall into the broad teachings about keeping oneself spiritually pure.

Third, these claims from the erotic movie industry come right before the release of a new study which speaks volumes about the concerns being voiced by conservative Christians. In an article entitled "Teen Exposure to Sex in Media Leads to Intercourse, Study Says" (a headline that speaks volumes), reports:

Adolescents who get a heavy diet of music, television, magazines and movies are more likely to have sex at the ages of 14 to 16 years than those who have minimal exposure, said a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

White 12- to 14-year-olds exposed to sex through the media were 2.2 times more likely to participate in early sexual activity than their peers who reported the lowest exposure to media, said the study in the April issue. Black teens, however, were more influenced by their parents' expectations and their friends' sexual behavior.

To me, this study has at least one ramification that is crucial vis-a-vis the view of Mr. Verhoeven: The problem here is that conservative Christians and the erotic-thriller filmmakers have a difference of opinion as to what constitutes good. To the conservative Christian, protecting our children is an issue of great importance. Speaking as a conservative Christian, I don't want my children becoming involved with sex any sooner than necessary for several reasons. First, sex is to be reserved for the marital relationship as I have previously noted. Second, sex brings up relationships and difficulties with which children ought not be required to deal. Films that are erotic don't help promote this vision of protecting our children because they encourage sex, and this study helps prove what every parent who cares about this issue knows instinctively.

People like Mr. Verhoeven value artistic freedom above everything else. A world in which someone would have the gall to suggest that the open portrayal of sex in the movies could have a detrimintal effect on young people is not a world that promotes good, but stagnation. He would probably hold that movies are the expression of the filmmakers and it is wrong to limit that expression in any way regardless of the consequences.

While I don't know if Mr. Verhoeven himself would hold to what I am about to say, I think that a lot of the people trying to peddle their films to the salacious side of our characters don't see the sexualization of children as being a problem. The idea that I would want to protect my children from too much exposure to sex is seen by such people as being a bad thing -- prudish, in fact. To some, children should be brought up to recognize that they are sexual beings and be able to experience their sexuality earlier and earlier in life. To them, that is good. I have known people who hid nothing from their children from an early age for that very reason.

These people argue that it is enough that they place restrictions on who sees the movies by putting a R-rating on the film. In other words, I am really worried about nothing because children aren't seeing these erotic thrillers. Now, I don't know about you, but when I have gone to the occasional R-rated movie (and I don't see many because most are really bad) I have been stunned by how many parents bring their children -- very young children -- to see an "R" rated movie. When I went to see The Matrix with my wife for a 10:00 p.m. showing one Saturday night a few years ago, the theatre was half-filled with children under the age of 12. I am sure that many of the children were under the age of 8!!

Of course, parents are free to take their children to see what they want to see even though it strikes me as odd that parents would want to expose their children to sex and/or violence at that young of age. But what this demonstrated to me most conclusively is that not every parent is concerned about what their children see or how early they see it. In fact, a 2002 study by Brigham Young University showed that only 16 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 are not allowed to watch R-rated films. 16 percent! As the study points out, that means "84 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 have seen R-rated movies" which leads to consequences:

Researchers found that children who were allowed to watch R-rated movies were three times more likely to smoke and drink than those who were not allowed to watch R-rated movies, according to the study.

While this statistic doesn’t prove that one causes the other, it implies that viewing material considered inappropriate for children can have more serious implications. Beginning to smoke and drink while young means increased risks and faster addiction.

The report on the Bringham Young study does not talk about sexual involvement, but certainly it is not unreasonable to assume that if it is true that children who see adults smoking and drinking in R-rated movies are more likely to copy them, then what about sex? This new study seems to fill in the blank -- 84% of children between the ages of 10 and 14 are permitted to go see R-rated movies where they are exposed to erotic material, and seeing this material is making them significantly more likely to engage in sexual conduct at earlier ages. Sex, after all, is a very strong passion which, if the right opportunity arises, is very hard to resist.

Here's the question: are these filmmakers putting this material into movies knowing that 84% of kids between the ages of 10 and 14 are permitted to watch R-rated films for the purpose of making them sexually active at an early age? In my view, while they may not realize the number of kids they are reaching, I certainly wouldn't put it beyond them.

You can read the account of the Battle, here.

So I am reading through Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and, despite all the warnings I have received, I am amazed at the amount of historically erroneous information that is passed off as true background. But wait, you might say, it is just a novel. No one will take it seriously. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The erroneous information is woven throughout the background of the story. Bright and informed "characters in the know" pass it off as true history known by all real academics and historians but kept from the naively faithful -- either by suppression or the naive faithful's willful ignorance. Dan Brown himself has reinforced this by claiming that his background information is true, only the modern day story is fiction. The New York Daily News' review of the book pronounced that its research was "impeccable." Finally, I know people are taking its version of history seriously because readers, Christians even, have asked me about how I deal with the history in The Da Vinci Code.

I am working through the book with a highlighter so as to be able to return to the juicier historical foolishness being foisted on an underinformed audience. Many of the bigger claims of the book -- such as the Council of Nicea's pronouncement on Jesus' divinity and the notion that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene -- are well refuted by online material. Check out the Christian CADRE's The Da Vinci Code page for the links. I also plan on going through more of them as I have time. But the historical foolishness goes beyond the biggies and pervades almost every element of the book. Some are so innane it is hard to believe they are being taken as possibly true. It is to one such example that I turn my attention now.

One of The Da Vinci Code's premises is that Christianity is all messed up because Jesus meant for it to include goddess worship and the Roman Catholic Church has committed all sorts of evils to suppress the "sacred feminine." (Nevermind that the RCC has done a lot -- to the consternation of other branches of Christianity -- to promote the sacredness of the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Mother of God). As a result, the world is dominated by masculine religions that foster war and death and oppression. (Nevermind that the pagan, goddess worshipping Romans, Greeks, and Egytpians were warlike, oppressive, societies that inflicted great evils hundreds and thousands of years prior to Christianity's rise to prominence). One way the Christian Church did this was, according to The Da Vinci Code, to come up with its own creation account that scandalized women.

Sadly, Christian philosophy decided to embezzle the female's creative power by ignoring biological truth and making man the Creator. Genesis tells us that Eve was created from Adam's rib. Woman became an offshoot of man. And a sinful one at that. Genesis was the beginning of the end for the goddess.

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, page 259.

Well, Genesis may well have been the beginning of the end for goddess worship, but it certainly was no invention of "Christian philosophy." Genesis was written hundreds of years before there were any Christians and was already the central book of another . . . um, rather prominent religion known as Judaism. Yes, the first Chritians did accept the existing sacred scriptures of the Jews, but they did not invent them. In fact, it was from just such scriptures that Jesus taught his disciples.

This may seem like a small matter, but it is typical of Brown's approach to religious history. He seems to think the Roman Catholic Church as organized today sprung into existence with the first Christians (once the sexist disciples had sacked Mary Magdalene as Jesus' intended heir) as the exclusive expression of Christianity. Little is said about Protestantism. But more troubling from a historical standpoint is that Brown ignores the Orthodox Church with its deep, ancient roots in the Eastern Churches, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. These churches have claims to antiquity that rival and in some instances and areas may surpass that of the Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, as the above quote shows, little is said about Judaism, except some silly claims about a form of goddess worshipping Judaism that had nothing to do with the Judaism of Jesus and his day.

It is depressing to read such drivel, but more depressing to see people taking it seriously. The hype will no doubt mount with the coming movie. Frankly, this bothers me more as a lay-historian than it does as a Christian. The response of Christian churches and organizations is actually encouraging, as many of them are educating themselves and others about the real history behind the Christian faith and the errors of the The Da Vinci Code. In any event, I will be sharing more of my response to this book, as I like to share my pain.

In an earlier post, I expressed my opinion that Dr. Tabor's book The Jesus Dynasty was seeking to ride the gravy train of the Da Vinci Code movie along with other books like The Jesus Papers. Dr. Tabor was kind enough to respond to the post, and pointed out that his book was scheduled for publication long before he knew when the Da Vinci Code movie would be released. Specifically, he said:

My comment had to do with the "gravy train" remark, now repeated twice, which I think is not only out of place and rude in a civil discussion but slanderous toward a researcher who presents in print a life-long work, as I explained in my original post. Being an apologist is one thing, being nasty is another. The clear implication of that phrase is that I published this book in order to ride some publicity wave and cash in. In point of fact both Baigent's book and the revelation of the Judas Gospel were moved up a week, originally scheduled for Easter weekend, out of fear that my book, coming out April 4th, would preempt these works. My date was set over 18 months ago, with no knowledge of anything coming out at this time, including the DaVinci Code...So the whole attempt to cast me in this light is unfortunate.

I have no reason to doubt Dr. Tabor's word on this, so I acknowledge I was wrong and hereby apologize to Dr. Tabor for the remark. I withdraw my claim that it was published to capitalize on the publicity of the movie. I apparently jumped to a conclusion (wouldn't be the first time), and it was not warranted in this case. So, Dr. Tabor, if you are still reading, I apologize to you, personally.

I still have reservations about his book, and I am looking forward to reading it. But I am curious if Dr. Tabor would care to elaborate on the last sentence of his comment where he says "That you could think I somehow agree in any way with the Jesus Seminar is beyond me...since my thesis is the opposite of theirs, but that is another issue..." I would be truly interested to hear in what way you see your work as differing from theirs since I may be wrong on that issue, too, and I want to make sure I understand your point of view. I hope Dr. Tabor would give a brief response.

With all of the new books coming out about the "historical" Jesus (as they claim), a friend pointed out a video satire which is pretty funny and, in my view, all to accurate in its assessment of many of these current theories. The video is entitled "The Conspiracy Game" and can be viewed by clicking the Consipiracy Game box on the Highway Video website. Through May 18, 2006, the video can be downloaded to your computer for free.

The website describes the video this way:

To help you address the coming cultural tsunami, The Da Vinci Code movie, Highway Video has created The Conspiracy Game! - a humorous but pointed response to the absurdities of the story's spiritual claims.

A game show satire, The Conspiracy Game! spotlights man's repeated attempts to create God in his own image. Each character's conception of god backs up their own prejudices, sin, morality, needs, and agenda.

As I said at the outset, it is pretty funny and the five or so minutes that the video runs is worth the time.

One of the best writers I know has started her own blog, Releasing the Word. She knows the Bible like few other people and ministers encouragement and insight on a regular basis. Oh, she's also my Mom.

The past few weeks have seen an increase on the number of attacks on the historicity of the Gospels and often specific attacks on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels. The Jesus Papers argues that Jesus did not die on the cross but survived the crucifixion in some sense. Quoting Jesus by Ehrman (commented upon here by Layman) tries to present the Bible texts as unreliable because of their allegedly faulty transmission. The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor (commented upon here by Layman) tries to present the idea that Jesus would not have agreed with the religion that bears his names and presents him as simply a preacher and not the Son of God. The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem written by two of the most active of those who seek to destroy Christian faith from the inside, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, present the "social justice Jesus" who didn't die to redeem ths sins of the world, but was more like a modern-day social reformer who practiced civil disobedience over the economic injustice in the world. As stated in the Publisher's notes:

The Last Week depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues.

Of course, as I have commented on repeatedly, this is all part of the effort of these various people to ride on the gravy train of The Da Vinci Code in an effort to make a few fast bucks. After all, if they published their theories at any other time, chances are that their views would recieve some notice and then be relegated to the "that's an interesting viewpoint" bin. But with The Da Vinci Code movie right around the corner, these guys know that people are going to be seeking books about the historical Jesus and they want to be first in line with their theories. Of course, the more far-fetched the idea, the more attractive it is to some people.

But here's the good news: these weird ideas do not appear to be catching on. In an article in the Washington Post entitled "Is Jesus Risen? Literal View Gains Ground" by Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post Staff Writer (Sunday, April 16, 2006). She reports:

In the past two decades, there has been a heightened scrutiny of Scripture, with basic Christian tenets such as the Resurrection challenged by biblical scholars and others in their search for historical facts about Jesus. But in recent years, there has been a rise in the popularity and stature of books that embrace Dickerson's traditional view of Easter, experts say.

* * *

"There seems to be in the past decade a move to embrace the traditional faith of the church, not really in a retrograde way, but in a 'let's take another look at what modernity may have too readily dismissed' sort of way," said Cynthia Lindner, director of ministry studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

The traditional books are part of a general surge in "evidence books." Two that take the opposite tack are "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" by Bart Ehrman and "The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem," by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Last week, they were on the Publishers Weekly top 10 list of religious hardcover books.

Despite such successes, a shift is seen even by some who believe that Jesus was not resurrected in the traditional sense -- and, more importantly, that the point is not essential to being a believing Christian. Ian Markham, dean of the nondenominational Hartford Seminary, said Christians are increasingly turning away from the idea that all life can be explained by science.

"We are just aware that life is much more mysterious and surprising," Markham said. "People are less inclined to dismiss things just because they are unscientific."

This resonates with Gary Habermas, a historian who chairs the Liberty University philosophy and theology department and has written 13 books about the Resurrection. Last year, he released a review of the most recent 2,200 scholarly articles and books about the subject and concluded that about three-quarters of New Testament scholars embrace the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. His research, which some dismiss because he is not a biblical scholar, was published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.

Polling is thin about beliefs among Christians in general about the Resurrection and whether they have changed. The Barna Group, which researches the behavior and beliefs of Christians, found in 2000 that more than 50 percent of Americans disagreed with this statement: "After he was crucified and died, Jesus Christ did not return to life physically." A 2003 Harris poll found that 96 percent said they believed in Jesus's Resurrection. A Scripps Howard poll that year found that 63 percent of Americans were "absolutely certain" Jesus physically rose from the dead.

Thus, it appears that despite these constant attacks on the orthodox Christian claims, the number of people who believe that Jesus did, in fact, die and rise from the dead, is increasing! I attribute this increase partially to the number of legitimate, well-researched and intelligent articles and books that are being written in defense of orthodox Christian beliefs. I also partially attribute it to the rise in popular writings on the Internet by lay apologists who are willing to contribute their time and energy for no monetary return to write articles and contribute on discussion boards defending the orthodox Christian faith. But I primarily attribute the rise in the orthodox views to two things: first, the claim that Jesus lived, was crucified and resurrected is true and people sense it. Second, the Holy Spirit is moving amongst us and opening people's hearts.

He is risen, and you can take that to the bank!

In his chapter in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Richard Carrier argues that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of the body that had died, but in a so-called “resurrection” that involved a brand new body. Thus, Paul believed that Jesus’ body remained in the grave and his soul or spirit was encased in a brand new body provided by God. One problem with this theory is that there is no evidence that anyone – let alone Christians or Jews – held such a belief.

Undaunted, Mr. Carrier argues that a few ancient Jewish writings lend support for his two-body resurrection doctrine. As has been demonstrated in a prior post, his claim that the second-century Assumption of Moses supports his case is erroneous. His section – reviewed here – arguing that the Jewish writer Philo held "just such a view" as his proposed two-body resurrection doctrine is similarly erroneous. As we will see, Philo believed in the opposite of what Mr. Carrier claims. Philo affirmed that the soul of the good escaped the body and existed in a bodiless state, not a second embodied state. Alan Segal, Life After Death, page 370 (“Philo discussed the immortality of the soul without ever broaching the resurrection of the body.”).

First, Philo lends no support to a two-body resurrection doctrine because he has no concept of a resurrection. Hidden away in a footnote is Mr. Carrier’s contention that "Philo does on occasion refer to his theory of salvation as 'resurrection.'" The Empty Tomb, page 202 n. 34. As I demonstrated in a previous post, Mr. Carrier’s argument is contrived and unsupported. As helpfully noted by Alan Segal in a book recommended by Mr. Carrier:

Philo did not use the word anastasis or its derived verb forms which signify ‘resurrection’ in the Septuagint and the New Testament. He did not use any form derived from egeiro to signify postmortem existence, as Paul like to do. He would not have liked the notion of flesh rising from the dead. Instead, he almost exclusively used the Greek term athanasia, immortality, to describe the afterlife.

Alan Segal, Life After Death, page 370.

Second, Philo never mentions the soul entering a second body (soma) upon death. The soul is released from the body and exists separately from it. Segal, op. cit., page 374 (“In most passages … Philo explicitly regarded death as the soul’s liberation from the prison of the body.”); Fred W. Burnett, “Philo on Immortality: A Thematic Study of Philo’s Concept of Paliggenesia,” CBQ 46.2 (Jul 1984), pages 451, 459 (In Philo’s belief, the soul “will ultimately be freed from the body and its influence.”); (“Philo clearly says in Cher. 113-15 that the soul survives the dissolution of the body/soul mixture and proceeds to an incorporeal existence.”).

In Philo’s own words:

  • "What of the soul after death? But then we who are joined to the body, creatures of composition and quality, shall be no more, but shall go forward to our rebirth, to be with the unbodied, without composition and without quality." (Cher. 113).

  • “But the virtuous man in both his lives – in that with the body and in that without the body – enjoys peace, and alone is very good while no one of the foolish is so.” (Qu. Gen. 3.11).

  • “The death of worthy men is the beginning of another life. For life is twofold; one is with corruptible body and the other is without body and incorruptible.” (Qu. Gen. 1.16).

  • “Those who have given themselves to genuine philosophy, who from the first to last study to die to the live in the body, that a higher existence immortal and incorporeal, in the presence of Him who is Himself immortal and uncreated, may be their portion. (Gig. 13-14).

Indeed, the very term that Philo uses to refer to the nature of existence after the rebirth is asomatou, which Liddels’ translates, “unembodied, incorporeal.” It breaks down a = not, somatos = physical. This is literally the opposite of the term Paul repeatedly uses to refer to the resurrection of the soma, the body.

Third, Mr. Carrier’s only real attempt at proving that Philo affirms his two-body resurrection theory is his argument that Philo at one point compares the afterlife existence of human beings to angels – who he claims lead an embodied existence.

At one point Philo does compare angels to soul-reborn humans. But Mr. Carrier is mistaken when he argues that the comparison implies that Philo therefore believes that human souls had a second, embodied state. Indeed, Philo is clear that angels have no bodies, although on exceptional occasions they can assume a bodily form. Here is the relevant text:

[F]or the substance of angels is spiritual; but it occurs every now and then that on emergencies occurring they have imitated the appearance of men, and transformed themselves so as to assume the human shape; as they did on this occasion, when forming connexions with women for the production of giants.

(Qu. Gen. 1.92).

Obviously, the natural state of angels is bodiless. They can transform themselves from their spiritual state into a bodily form so as to interact with the material world when urgent need arises, but that hardly helps Mr. Carrier. When Philo compares humans to angels he does not mean angels in their rare, atypical, “emergency” transformed state. Rather, Philo compares the righteous departed to the perfect, purely spiritual, bodiless form of angels. Later in this passage, Philo reiterates that angels “are incorporeal, as being spirits destitute of any body.” Ibid. Additionally, elsewhere Philo compares surviving human souls to angels by highlighting their incorporeal nature: “When Abraham left his immortal life, he is added to the people of God, in that he inherited incorruption and became equal to the angels, for angels – those unbodied and blessed souls – are the host and people of God.” (Sacr. 5).

Fourth, Philo emphasized that the afterlife state of humans is incorporeal is his description of the abode of the righteous dead. The destination of the soul is God himself, who is "a house, the incorporeal dwelling-place of incorporeal ideas." Ch. 49. As stated by Burnett:

Philo’s first point is that rebirth consists of the soul becoming ‘unbodied’, being ‘without composition,’ and ‘without quality.’ … Philo seems to mean that the soul, which was incorporeal before mixing with the body, will be able to return to the place of incorporeal ideas. Philo defines God as ‘a house, the incorporeal dwelling-place of incorporeal ideas.’ This incorporeal ‘house’ is the ultimate dwelling-place of the incorporeal soul…. Rebirth of the soul is to become pure mind.

Burnett, op. cit., pages 453-54.

There are additional indications in Philo's writings that his belief in the human state after death affirmed an incorporeal, bodiless existence. But the evidence discussed here, as well as the secondary literature, clearly shows that Philo lends no support for Mr. Carrier’s proposed two-body resurrection doctrine.

Previous responses to Mr. Carrier's chapter in The Empty Tomb are available here, here, here, here, and here.

Today is Good Friday, the day that we commemorate Jesus' death. How is this day remembered and why, given the nature of that remembrance, is it called "Good Friday"?

From the Gospel of Luke:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals-- one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man."

Here is how the day is remembered by the Christian sects:

Its origins as a special holy day go back to the development of the Holy Week in Jerusalem in the late fourth century.... It is observed in the Western nations in many ways. For example, in Roman Catholicism the liturgy of the day, used between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., has three parts--readings and prayers, adoration of the cross, and Holy Communion with bread consecrated a day beforehand. The Eucharist is not celebrated on this day. Anglicanism observes the day in a variety of ways, including the use of the Roman liturgy, a three-hour service (noon to 3:00 p.m.), or a simple service of morning or evening prayer. Some Protestant denominations celebrate the Lord's Supper.

P. Toon, "Good Friday," in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 512.

But why is a day filled with such pain, abuse, and death called "Good Friday"?

"Good Friday" is certainly not the only thing we could call this day. In Latin countries, it is called "Holy Friday." In Germany, it is called "Mourning Friday" or "Friday of Mourning." Norway refers to it as "Long Friday" (a reference to the length of the day's services). The Orthodox Churches call it "Holy Friday" and "Great Friday."

All of these names are instructive and understandable. So how did it come to be called "Good Friday" in English-speaking lands? The reality is that we do not know for sure. After scouring the internet and other sources, there appear to be three plausible alternatives.

1. An archaic meaning of "good" is something akin to "holy." Thus, it used to mean "Holy Friday."

2. It was recognized that the evils of that day lead to the greatest good, the salvation of mankind. Thus, despite the bad, the day was truly good.

3. An archaic meaning of "good" is "God," just as "good-bye" means "God be with you." Thus, it used to mean "God's Friday."

Each of these alternatives is apt and instructive. But perhaps the one most relevant to our culture and times is the middle one. Despite the evil of that day, God evoked the greatest good from it. But by good we do not mean happy or a time of celebration per se. As stated well by Chris Armstrong in Christianity Today:

Of course, the church has always understood that the day commemorated on Good Friday was anything but happy. Sadness, mourning, fasting, and prayer have been its focus since the early centuries of the church. A fourth-century church manual, the Apostolic Constitutions, called Good Friday a "day of mourning, not a day of festive Joy." Ambrose, the fourth-century archbishop who befriended the notorious sinner Augustine of Hippo before his conversion, called it the "day of bitterness on which we fast."

Many Christians have historically kept their churches unlit or draped in dark cloths. Processions of penitents have walked in black robes or carried black-robed statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. And worshippers have walked the "Stations of the Cross," praying and singing their way past 14 images representing Jesus' steps along the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha.

Yet, despite—indeed because of—its sadness, Good Friday is truly good. Its sorrow is a godly sorrow. It is like the sadness of the Corinthians who wept over the sharp letter from their dear teacher, Paul, convicted of the sin in their midst. Hearing of their distress, Paul said, "My joy was greater than ever." Why? Because such godly sorrow "brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret" (2 Cor. 7:10).

For me, the day is a somber, reflective one. I focus on all that Jesus gave up and suffered for his Church. The humiliation, pain, and death are a sacrifice on our behalf. Today, we appreciate the price of that sacrifice. At the same time, however, we should not forget the great good that Jesus' sacrifice effected. Afterall, Resurrection Sunday is on the way.

Update: Releasing the Word has additional thoughts on why Good Friday is Good.

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