CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I ran across a comment by Vridar/Neilgodfrey over at’s discussion board in yet another thread about the lost cause of Jesus Mythicism.

We do not know who wrote the gospels, when or where or for whom. Yet "biblical historians" treat their narratives as sources of historical data. I know of no other historical studies that would ever contemplate using such "unsourced" documents as evidence in this way.

Neil suggests that only “biblical historians” use ancient documents like the Gospels, whose provenance is purportedly unknown. In fact 1) the provenance of the Gospels and Acts is better than Neil acknowledges, 2) leading historians who are not “biblical historians” in fact rely on the Gospels and Acts as sources of historical data, and 3) classical historians use as sources of historical data ancient documents with less provenance support than the Gospels and Acts.

1. Disputed Does Not Mean “Unsourced”

Many scholars dispute Neil’s assessment about the lack of provenance for the Gospels and Acts. As do I. In fact, there is ample evidence of the authorship of the Gospels, especially for Luke-Acts, Mark, and John. I admit that the authorship of Matthew is a more disputed affair even among traditional circles. I understand Neil disagrees with this assessment, as do many scholars, but historians rely on disputed source regularly in historical studies.

I also do not think the dates are all that unknown, even if we accept broad ranges of between 60-100 or even 120 AD. They are, in essence, mid-to-late first century documents. Even fringe scholarship does not put the Gospels very far into the second century. They obviously arise out of a Mediterranean milieu, written by Christians for Christians, and were substantially influenced by the Judaism of that time period. The writings themselves tell us more about each author, including literary ability, theological perspectives, and other factors. There are also traditions about where the gospels were written and internal evidence, such as the Latinisms in Mark, that are examined to determine provenance. Finally, the Gospels relatively quickly reached a broader audience and were widely circulated within the Christian community.

Even if the traditions are ultimately determined to be inaccurate, it is not as if the Gospels and Acts appeared out of nowhere with no possible indication of the cultural context, genre, reliability, purpose, or nature of sources used and/or available. There is a long history of how the Gospels were used and interpreted in the early Christian community and definitive dates of earliest and latest possible authorship.

2. Classical Historians Use the Gospels and Acts as Historical Sources

Nevertheless, is Neil correct that “real” historians would not even consider using documents such as the gospels as sources of historical data? No. Not only do historians use ancient documents of equal or lesser provenance -- as discussed below -- they use the Gospels and Acts as important historical sources. Michael Grant, a leading classical historian in his day, took the Gospels seriously as historical sources. Although he rejected traditional authorship, Grant viewed the Gospels as historical sources, concluding that from them “the main lines of [Jesus’] career and thinking and teaching can to some considerable extent be reconstructed.” Grant, The History of Rome, page 337. Grant also discusses Acts, stating that while it is not as reliable as Paul’s letters, “facts can also be derived from the Acts of the Apostles” and “the rest of the book contains a good deal of by no means unreliable historical material.” Ibid., page 344.

Grant also wrote a book entitled Jesus, An Historian's Review of the Gospels. It is an interesting insight into how a respected classical historian treated the Gospels. While Grant finds reason to doubt some details in the Gospel narratives, he accepts them as useful historical sources about the historical Jesus. Ibid., page 199-200. He had scorn for the Jesus Myth idea, writing, "if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned."

Moreover, some of Grant's conclusions are supportive of Christianity's most important claim. For example, Grant accepts the historicity of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb: "If we apply the same criteria that we would apply to other ancient literary sources, the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty." Ibid., page 176. Finally, Grant found that much of contemporary Jesus studies was too skeptical of the gospel sources, saying that such scholarship “is too extreme a viewpoint and would not be applied in other fields.” Ibid., page 201.

Two other leading classicists also viewed the Gospels and Acts as useful historical sources: Robin L. Fox and A.N. Sherwin White. Fox, perhaps most famous for his book Pagans & Christians, is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and University Reader in Ancient History. An avowed atheist, Fox wrote a book about the Bible called The Unauthorized Version. Although critical of what he perceives as fundamentalist views of the Bible, Fox reaches some quite conservative conclusions, such as that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness and that Luke-Acts was written by a companion of Paul. Indeed, Fox accepts much of Acts as historical, and states, “I regard it as certain, therefore, that he knew Paul and followed parts of his journey.... He had no written sources, but in Acts he himself was a primary source for a part of the story. He wrote the rest of Acts from what individuals told him and he himself had witnessed, as did Herodotus and Thucydides....” Ibid., page 210. So not only does Fox disagree with his fellow atheist Neil’s conclusions about provenance but values the Gospels and Acts as historical sources.

Sherwin-White was an eminent Roman historian at Oxford and member of the British Academy. One of his books, Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament, focuses on the earliest Christian documents’ relationship with the broader Roman context. Again and again he finds the New Testament documents to be worthy of a high level of trust. When it comes to Acts, for example, Sherwin-White states, "For Acts the confirmation of history is overwhelming" and that "any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted." Ibid., page 189.

As to the gospels, Sherwin-White determined that it is unlikely that the Gospels were predominantly legendary, though he does think they must be read as written with agendas and for polemical purposes:

The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time.... Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, [showing that] even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core.

Ibid., pages 189-190.

As with Grant, Sherwin-White found contemporary biblical studies to be unduly skeptical:

So, it is astonishing that while Greco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism... that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious.

Ibid., page 187.

Sherwin-White’s statements about most classicists having faith in the New Testament documents receives further support from the reviews of his own book and by the works of other classicists. John Crook reviewed Roman Society and Roman Laws for Classical Review and agreed that Acts is “an historical source talking about exactly the same world as Tacitus and Suetonius.” He thought that Sherwin-White’s work “support the authenticity in detail of Acts.” Classical Review 14 (1964): 198-200; another reviewer, J. J. Nicholls, agreed with Sherwin-White that the Gospels and Acts “are to be treated as equally serious and valuable evidence” as other ancient historians, such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Tacitus. Journal of Religious History (1964): 92-95.

Other classical historians have used the Gospels and Acts as sources of historical data. A.H.M. Jones (1904-1970) was a prominent 20th century historian of classical antiquity and one-time chair of Ancient History at University College, London. In his Studies in Roman Government and Law, he uses Acts as a source when discussing a Roman citizen’s right of appeal to Caesar; Fergus Millar, Camden Chair of Ancient History at the Univ. of Oxford (recently retired), “likewise integrated (though again never uncritically) Acts and other Graeco-Roman evidence in a variety of contexts.” "What Do Ancient Historians Make of the New Testament," by Alanna Nobbs, TB, 57.2, page 288 (2006). The most notable such use was in The Emperor in Roman World (31 BC-AD 337); and Stephen Mitchell, whose book examining the geography and history of Anatolia draws on Acts as basic historical sources. Ibid.

Revised to Add: Another example: Martin Goodman, Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford who specializes in Jewish and Roman history, relies on Acts in his conclusion that "a Roman citizen could appeal to the emperor, as did Paul in c. 60 before the Roman governor of Judaea, Festus, when the latter wanted to send him to Jerusalem to be tried by the Jewish authorities." His only cite for the statement is Acts 25:10-12. Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem, page 73.

Goodman also states that Paul "came from Cilicia." Ibid., page 101. The source for this is Acts 21:39/22:3/23:34. Additionally, Goodman uses Acts' description of Paul being a Roman citizen as an example that someone could be both Jewish and Roman. He cites Acts 22:23-26 as an example, noting that "The relationship between Rome and Jerusalem was complicated by the fact that a Roman could be Jewish and Roman...." Ibid., page 155. He observes that "a few skeptics have doubted the story" but concludes that their doubts are "without justification." Ibid.

3. Other “Unsourced” Documents Relied on by Classicists

Not only do classical historians as well as “biblical historians” rely on the Gospels and Acts as sources of historical data, they rely on other ancient documents of disputed provenance. Two obvious examples that immediately occurred to me are First and Second Maccabees. Unlike the Gospels and Acts -- for which we have preserved traditions regarding authorship within 40-50 years of authorship -- we have no idea who wrote First and Second Maccabees, other than that the authors were Jewish and had certain perspectives. Moreover, we do not even have texts of 1 Maccabees in its original language. Although Greek versions of the document have survived, it was likely written in Hebrew and no Hebrew version has survived. Possible dates of authorship are broader than for the Gospels and Acts and the textual tradition is much less than what we have for the Gospels and Acts, as measured by quantity, quality, and date. For example, the earliest manuscript for 2 Maccabees dates from at least 500 years after the date of authorship.

Despite all these shortcoming, 1 and 2 Maccabees are considered vital historical sources. “The two first Books of the Maccabees, which could be dated at the turn of the second and the first centuries, claim a special place in this literature as notable historical sources.... The two reports, which differ in many respects, contain one of the most important sections of the history of the Jewish sacerdotal state.” Albin Lesky, A History of Greek Literature, page 800. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia describes Second Maccabees as “an important historical source containing authentic documents and describing the events leading up to the Hasmonean rising.” Page 615.

Next, we have the Epistles of Plato. There are thirteen received letters in the Platonic corpus and scholarly consensus over their authenticity has ebbed and flowed, back and forth, over time. Some of the letters have no defenders, all of the letters have those who reject authenticity. Despite the depth of doubt about these letters, some classical historians consider some of them useful, even important, sources of historical data.

The other important autobiographical text of the fourth century is the remarkable Seventh Letter of Plato. (This letter is regarded sometimes as genuine, sometimes as a fabrication by Plato’s school soon after his death. I follow Misch and Momigliano in regarding it as genuine.) It is the greatest autobiographical letter of antiquity.

Ronald Mellor, The Roman Historians, Chapter 7. Despite the fact that many of the top classicists reject the authenticity of the letter, other leading classicists use it as a historical source; note that Mellor refers to it as the “greatest autobiographical letter of antiquity.” Another leading classicist, Albin Lesky, thinks the letter is likely genuine, but notes that even if its a forgery, it is still historically valuable. “Even if this letter should not be genuine, it would still have great value as a source, since it was certainly written with a precise knowledge of the conditions.” Lesky, A History of Greek Literature, page 507.

Finally, there is the Augustan History. This is an ancient document with a terrible reputation, much worse than any of the Gospels or Acts. It is a collection of more than two dozen Roman biographies that purports to be by six different authors and cite hundreds of sources, but is likely is the result of one author. As to the supposed cited sources, Mellor notes that the documents referenced “range from the suspicious to the outrageously false.” Chapter 6. Despite the big question marks about authorship and date and reliability, Mellor treats the document seriously, noting that “the earlier lives, [] contain more reliable material against other sources.” Ibid. He is not naive, but understands that even sources of highly dubious provenance cannot simply be dismissed as “off limits” and may provide historical data. As Mellor puts it, “historians cannot afford to cast aside any substantial source, [so] it is necessary to analyze the lives carefully to see what may come from reliable earlier sources.” Ibid.

Classical, non-"biblical," historians not only use sources of disputed or unknown provenance -- including some of more disputed or unknown origins than the Gospels and Acts -- as important sources of historical data, but use the Gospels and Acts themselves as important sources of historical data.

 In this essay, which is a chapter from the new book I'm now working on, I'm moving toward defining what I think Tillich means exactly by being itself. It's a long journey but an important one.
What does Tillich actually mean by “being itself?” Does he mean the same things as other theologians who use the phrase? It’s a mysterious sounding phrase and Tillich never actually comes out and says what he means by it. As I will show there is a reason for this, and I will show what I think that reason in is. In the mean time the task of this chapter is to deduce exactly what Tillich actually means by this phrase. There are three basic possibilities:

Three alternatives as to meaning

(1) The basic fact that things exist is all that the concept of “God” amounts to.

(2) There is a special quality to being, an impersonal aspect” ground of being” or “being itself” and that quality constitutes ‘the divine.’ This possibility excludes God as “king of the universe.”

(3) God is beyond our understanding, we can’t explain God but God is on a higher metaphysical level, and is not a thing to be classed with other things in creation; God is foundational to creation and to all things; God is “on the order of being itself; this might include but is not limited to a consciousness, or something like a Platonic form.

The first alternative can be ruled out immediately. If this were the case it would make Tillich an out and out atheist, with no belief in “God” to any real extent, and a very cynical atheist (more so than most) because he would be an atheist who can’t openly own up to his atheism. This is not really realistic possibility and this becomes clear as one reads Tillich. He’s clearly talking about something that is real and that is distinguished form just the mere fact that things exist. In fact he ruled this out himself in speaking of being “having depth” and excluding the possibility of atheism on the grounds that “being has depth” and that if one is aware of this one cannot be an atheist.

The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not.[i]

This one quote is very important because it gives us several clues as to the meaning of the phrase as well as how to understand the reality of God as the Ground of Being. We will come back to this phrase. For the moment the important point to realize is that since he distinguishes between being as having depth, and “surface level of things” presumably the mere fact of existence, it seems clear he’s saying God is more than just the fact that things exist. This still doesn’t let him off the hook, however, in the eyes of some theological groups because it does not allay the Evangelical fears that what he really means is still un impersonal source of life rather than a God with a will and plan for your life. I will argue eventually that he does mean a God with will and a plan for your life, although the “plan” may not be as overt as we would like, the will may be harder to discern than we would like.

The second alternative, a special aspect of being, is no doubt part of what he means. I set up the second alternative to raise the issue raised by one of my former professors from Perkins school of Theology (SMU) that Tillich is merely reducing God below the level of the cognitive will to avoid coping with the moral aspects of God’s commands. [ii] The issue of consciousness and personhood of God will be discussed in a subsequent chapter, and must be bracketed for the moment. On the other hand, to the extent that third alternative implies a stronger connection to the personal or the conscious than does the first I must tip my hand already and say that I will argue for the third alternative. Tillich does say that God is not “a person” (because he’s not a thing among other things in creation—not a contingency) but is “the personal itself.” This implies that God does contain an aspect of the conscious in some sense, specifically the structure that gives rise to consciousness as a whole. He speaks of being’s self affirmation.[iii] This might lead us to think that he really did hold out of a “personal God,” and yet what is the “personal itself?” We are back at square one wondering what this “itself” thing is about. If the third alternative is not what Tillich had in mind, which I argue it is, it is what I have in mind anyway. Nevertheless, one clue we have is the distinction between possibility 2 and possibility 3, and what Tillich is doing with the concept of God in speaking this way. There is a more important distinction between option 2 and 3 than just the personal dimension; that of the distinction between God as just an aspect of being alongside other aspects, vs God as the basis of all reality, which the term “ground of being” might imply. The issue here is independent of the personal dimension, but no less important. The major point that Tillich is trying to make in speaking of God as “being itself” rather than “as aspect of being” is that God is not just another part of being; God is the basis of all being. The way of approaching the topic and the way speaking about God is Tillich’s attempt to guard the mystery of God without trying to explain things that are beyond our understanding, while communicating enough to tease one into seeking deeper realization.

We can see this method at work in the way Tillich writes about other great Christian theologians. One such example is his take on Luther. Luther was one of his heroes, he was Lutheran, so it’s only natural that he would seek to spot one of his pet issues in Luther’s work. I am sure that he’s reading it in, or rather, I am prepared to find that he’s reading it in. If one were to argue “he’s only reading his own hobby horse into Luther,” I would be content to go along with that take. On the other hand, there must be element of this view in Luther that allow him to read it in (if that’s what he’s doing) and more importantly, it does show us what Tillich believed, whether or not it shows us what Luther thought. Tillich believed that Luther had one of the most profound conceptions of God in human history. [iv] Tillich quotes Luther:

Luther Denies everything which could make God finite, or a being beside others. ‘Nothing is so small, God is even smaller. Nothing is so Large God is even larger.’ ‘He is an unspeakable being, above and outside everything we can name and think. Who knows what this is, which is called-- God?’ ‘It is beyond body, beyond spirit, beyond everything we can see, hear and think.’ He makes the great statement that God is nearer to all creatures then they are to themselves.
Tillich quotes Luther:
‘God has found a way that his own divine essence can be completely in all creatures, and in everyone especially, deeper, more internally, more present than the creature is to itself an at the same time and at the same time no where and can’t be comprehended by anyone so that he embraces all things and is within them. God is at the same time in every piece of sand totally, and nevertheless in all above all and out of all creatures.’

Tillich continues:

In these formulae the only conflict between theistic and pantheistic tendencies is solved; they show the greatness of God, the inescapability of his presence, and at the same time his absolute transcendence. I would say very dogmatically that any doctrine of God that leaves out one of these elements does not really speak of God but of something less than God.[v] (emphasis mine).

This is a very important concept and the key to the whole issue of understanding the notion of God as being itself; that is this idea that God is not a being alongside other beings in the universe, or in creation. God is the basis of all being. In fact Tillich does not speak of God as “a being” he leaves out the “a” but simply says that God is “being itself” not “a being itself.”

Leaving out the “a” is essential to understanding the concept. This is essential because the whole concept turns upon the idea that God is above the level things, above contingency, in a category by itself. True to the mystical concept Tillich understands that God is beyond our comprehension. God blows away all of our easy preconceived categories that we have taken for granted since we first learned to talk. Yet though God is beyond everything we name, think, or understand, he is beyond these things in a metaphysical sense; yet “God does not sit beside the world looking at it from outside but he is acting in everything in every moment.”[vi] Tillich understands omnipotence not as talk about what God can and cannot do but as “creative power.” It’s this sense of God as a dynamic reality working actively in concert with the natural world that endears him to the process theologians. [vii]

Of course none of this will satisfy the “new atheist” fundamentalists. The atheist fundies want only hard facts. This is all a phantasmagoria of made up crap. But, to get to the point where we can talk about the “facts” we have to be certain of what we are talking about. It’s very important to understand the concepts clearly. Some of the atheists with whom I have tried to discuss these things for years, still do not get the “not a being” aspect of it. Because they don’t understand this their arguments never apply. They are constantly arguing “there can be no such thing as a necessary being.” But their argument applies to a big man in the sky, a localized individual being who is like others, one of many, and who functions in a very similar way to biological humanity. They can’t for the life of them seem to understand the concept that eternal necessary being doesn’t mean “an eternal necessary being” but “being itself” the thing that being is, the begin ness of being so to speak, rather an individual being. Dawkins argument that God is improbable (The God Delusion) is based upon these same assumptions. Thus the argument he makes would not apply to any Christians view because it assumes God is a big biological organism, but it applies even less to Tillich’s view because it assumed on top of that that God is an individual manifestation of being and thus subject to being. Anything using the indefinite article assumes one of many. A penny assumes there is more than one penny, and this particular penny is an example of the many pennies that there are. A being is one of many, it is an example of one of the many beings that there are. But God is not a single individual being. That doesn’t mean there’s more than one God, it means that God transcends the easily understood category that we take for granted. In New Testament God is “The God” (‘0 Theos). This is a way of speaking of the quality of divinity itself. Literally John 1: 1 says “The God.” “The word was with the God.” One could translate the word was with deity, or as “the word was divine.”

This is the sort of reason for which Tillich loses the “a” in “being.” God is not one of many but is on a higher level and belongs to a higher class. God is not a product of being. God is not subject to being, conversely God cannot cease being. This is part of what Tillich means by “depth.” If we know being has depth we can’t be atheists. Why would that be? Because the situation in regard to being is not what it seems on the surface? The easily taken for granted situation that appears on the surface is not what is, and what is, is not what seems to be. We look at the surface we assume things exist, all that exists must be tangible and must be one of the many things in the world, the huge list of ships and strings and sealing wax, cabbages and kings; yet God does not belong on the list. God is not one of these things but is the basis of these things. God is the foundation of their existence, the basis upon which they are allowed to cohere; the ground of their being. Thus God is above the list. The divine cannot be represented with the indefinite article because there can only be one ground of being. There can’t be a pantheon, they would all cancel each other out; which one is the ground of the other’s being? If there is one being in all of existence, then that one being is the ground of all being. If there is not one they all cancel each other out because they are all the ground of being then there is no ground of being. One could argue “its existence by a committee” but what’s the ground of the committee? If each member of the committee is “a being” then how can the committee itself be “the ground of being?” Atheists pondering that will probably think in terms of a committee of very powerful beings could so make all the objects in the universe and thus be the creators of the universe. Sure they could but that’s not really the point. That would just be moving problem back one stage because you have to ask “what is the ground of being for this committee. It’s an eternal committee of individual’s beings that are not the ground of being but as a committee they are the ground of being? The problematic nature here is obvious. It’s much more elegant to propose a single ground of all being that is eternal, necessary, self sustaining and that transcends any particular list of articles in the universe by virtue of the fact that it is the maker of list. This is an example of what Tillich means by this enigmatic phrase “if you know being has depth you can’t be an atheist.” But of course to move to the point where it’s more than just a concept we need to say more. What does Tillich really mean by the phrase “ground of being,” what does that tell us about the nature of God? Tillich is fond of saying that God is the power of being.

God – power of being

Tillich speaks of God as the “Power of being,” and in his Systematic Theology (vol. II) He groups this phrase with ground of being and being itself as epithets of the divine. In volume II he explains what he means by the power of being and he does so in the context of answering an argument leveled at this concept by the nominalists. This is an example of what has been said above about Tillich’s concern for the philosophical controversies of the middle ages; the period was still living in Tillich’s mind. Yet this is not merely an example of a musty out of date thinker raking up ideas form the past no one understands or holds to, or reliving battles of the past long forgotten. When we read the term “nominalistis” in his writings we should read “modern scientific reductionists” as well as from Tillich’s time “postivisits.” The analogy is perfect and it was very real for Tillich. The same criticism made by the nominalists is made by modern reductionsits and scientism buffs. This very argument that Tillich answers in his Systematic Theology volume II has been made against my discussion of God as being itself by modern reductionistic atheists on the internet. This is a very long passage but it is well worth reading because it speaks volumes. Note in this passage the link between ground of being and power of being:

When a doctrine of God is initiated by defining God as being itself, the philosophical concept of being is introduced into systematic theology. This was so in the earliest period of Christian theology and has been so in the whole history of Christian thought. It appears in the present system [meaning in his systematic theology] in three places, in the doctrine of God where God is called being as being or the ground and the power of being; in the doctrine of man…and in the doctrine of Christ where he is called manifestation of New Being…In spite of the fact that classical theology has always used the concept of “being” the term has been criticized from the standpoint of nominalistic philosophy and that of personalistic theology. Considering the prominent role which the concept plays in the system it is necessary to reply to the criticisms and at the same time to clarify the way in which the term is used in its different applications.

The criticism of the nominalists and their positivistic decedents to the present day is based upon the assumption that the concept of being represents the highest possible abstraction. It is understood as the gneus to which all other genera are subordinated with respect to universality and with respect to the degree of abstraction. If this were the way in which the concept of being is reached, nominalism could interpret it as it interprets all universals, namely, as communicative notions which point to particulars but have no reality of their own. Only the completely particular, the thing here and now, has reality. Universals are means of communication without any power of being. Being, as such, therefore, does not designate anything real. God, if he exists, exists as a particular and could be called the most individual of all beings.

The answer to this argument is that the concept of being does not have the character that nominalism attributed to it. It is not the highest abstraction, although it demands the ability of radical abstraction. It is the expression of the experience of being over against non-being. Therefore, it can be described as the power of being which resists non being. For this reason the medieval philosophers called being the basic transcendetntale, beyond the universal and the particular. In this sense was understood alike by such people as Parmenides in Greece and Shankara in India. In this sense its significance has been rediscovered by contemporary existentialists such as Heidegger and Marcle. The idea of being lies beyond the conflict of nominalism and realism. The same word, the emptiest of all concepts when taken as an abstraction, becomes the most meaningful of all concepts when it is understood as the power of being in everything that has being.[viii]

Tillich tells us that the notion of God as being itself is old; it can be taken back to the pre-Socratics. It has been used throughout the history of the church. The two major criticisms are the idea that it is nothing but an empty abstraction and that is means an impersonal view of God. As will be seen both criticisms are false. The criticism that it is an empty abstraction is basically a reductionist criticism, going all the way back to the nominalists. In its modern incarnation it is a reductionist criticism. In refuting this argument Tillich implicitly denies that his concept of God is anything like an atheistic concept. He denies that his view is that the fact of existing things is God, or God is nothing more than the sheer fact of existence. The alternative to mere abstraction that Tillich offers is the “power of being.” By that he means being as an active force that resist nothingness. He almost makes it sound like nothingness is an active force, or like gravity, pulls us to the center of mass, or like water draining out of a sink. We are being sucked down the drain to the sewer of nothingness except the drain stopper of being prevents this. The transcendental transcends both universal and particular according to Tillich. In Platonic analogy that would give being itself the role of “the one” as the form of the forms. That’s probably somehow analogous to the role the idea played in Tillich’s understanding. What he says about the same word can be either the emptiest or the most meaningful of terms depending upon one’s assumptions, is actually a good fleshing out of what he means by being having depth. Not only is he saying that things are not as they seem on the surface, but one way in which they are not the same is that there’s a power to being that resists nothingness. Being is “on,” by that I mean it’s a positive force; it is the most basic thing aside from nothingness.

The quotation given above continues:

No philosophy can suppress the notion of being in this latter sense. It be hidden under presuppositions and reductive formulas, but it nevertheless underlies the basic concepts of philosophizing. For “being” remains the content, the mystery and the eternal aporia of thinking. No theology can suppress the notion of being as the power of being. One cannot separate them. In the moment in which one says that God is or that he has being, the question arises as to how his relation to being is understood. The only possible answer seems to be that God is being itself, the sense of the power of being, or of the power to conquer non being.[ix]

At this point the terminology gets sloppy and hazy. Is God the power of being? Is being itself the power of being? Is being the power of being? If being is the “power of being.” This is a redundant phrase. What does “being is the power of being” tell us about what being is? Of course we can always sort it out in our own way and hope we are on the same page with Tillich. God is the power of being, but that would mean that God is also something other than being which furnishes being its power. Unless we want to say that Being is power. What is being? Power. What is power, being? What in the heck are we saying? The answer is that Tillich says himself this phase “God is being itself” is a metaphorical way of speaking. It’s a symbol, it’s not meant to be a literal and precise formation tracing the essence of the divine. We might also note that John MacQuarrie makes a distinction between Being and “the beings.” Contingent beings are “the beings” and they cohere in reality because they participate in Being as creatures of the Being itself.[x] Being is the power to resist nothingness, the power to be. Thus we can say God is the basis upon which all that is coheres and has its being. God is the basis upon which “the beings” (all existing things) have their being. The power of being is its nature to generate becoming. Just as existentialism presupposes an essential to play off of, so becoming presupposes state of Being to develop from. Yet, these statements must be taken as metaphors, as Tillich himself says. We cannot understand these terms as scientific style terms which accurately tell us the physical make up and dimensions of a given object. These are not ways to promote a scientific understanding of God, or could hey be nor should they be.


(sorry I can't make the end notes transfer and preserve the numbers)

[i] Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948.

[ii] This was raised in a private discussion when one of my former professors was told I was working on this project.

[iii] Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. London and Glasgow: Collins, the Fontana Library, 1952-74.175

[iv] Tillich, History, 247

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid

[vii] That is according to my friend Scott Gross who studied process theology at Claremont with Hartshorne, D.Z. Phillips.

[viii] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology volume II, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957, 10-11.

[ix] Ibid

[x] John MacQuarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, op cit (find where he says being and the beings)


This will be in several parts, an introduction and a couple of explaintory installments then some arguments.

Paul Tillich (1866-1965) was one of the most influential Christian theologians of the twentieth century. Tillich spoke to the times. He was painfully aware of the collapse of modernity (the beginning of which he traced from the enlightenment), and tried to formulate a concept of Christian theology for the dawning Postmodern era.  In so setting up the dialogue with post modernity he forged the central concept with which this essay will concern itself: God as being itself, or The Ground of Being. Tillich was not the first theologian to think of this idea, nor the last to embrace it, he was probably its most famous supporter. He was born in Strazeddel, Brandenburg (Germany—now part of Poland). His father was a Lutheran minister and the family moved to Berlin in 1900. He studied at three universities, Berlin, Tübingen and Breslau, taking his doctorate in philosophy from the latter in 1911. He was ordained as a Lutheran minister in the following year. He served as Army Chaplin in World War I, after which he spent several years lecturing at several major universities in Germany.  In 1933 he came to America to escape the Nazi movement. Reinhold Neibuhr, another major theologian of the century, had met Tillich in Germany and offered him a post at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He also moved to Harvard in 1954 and to University of Chicago in 1962, where he remained until his death.  

Tillich was a modern thinker, aware of the breaking down of modernity into Post modernity. He was concerned with translating the Gospel into modern terms, and he felt keenly the issues of the mid   twentieth century concerning socialism, cold war, existentialism, the growth of science and the shrinking of faith. He was engaged with secular society and the interplay between the Church and the world. This modernist cosmopolitan nature of Tillich’s gave him the reputation and image of a radical, an invocative speculative theologian. He put things in terms of the existentialist concerns of the era; he doesn’t talk about “God,” when he can talk about, “the object of ultimate concern.” He doesn’t talk about “that which nothing greater than can be conceived” when he can talk about “the ground of being,“ or better yet, “being itself.” For this reason it’s easy to overlook Tillich’s Orthodox nature.  It’s easy to be carried away with the radical image of a theologian who contributed to the “death of God movement” (although without meaning to) and to assume he is shedding everything of the Christian past. It’s easy to hear him speak of “the God beyond God” and assume that that means he’s an atheist, and then to overlook the fact that Tillich never lost concern for the debates of the Christian Middle Ages. He was always influenced by Augustine, his concern over “ground of being” was a continuation of his Augustinian based neo Platonist assumptions and his concern for the break down of Augustinian synthesis after the onslaught of Thomism.   “The key to an understanding of Tillich’s handling of the tradition is his fundamental proposition that every interpretation is a creative union of the interpreter and the interpreted in a third beyond both of them.”   He called “questionable” the idea of an impartial reading of “just the facts” yielding a clean unambiguous or unbiased “objective truth.” Tillich was too Hegelian and too Marxist to think that one could, as Carl Braaten puts it “survey the past in cool detachment.” 

Such was the perspective that Tillich brought to History. He was not interested in history as a string of facts, or merely as an “objective” recitation of “what happened.” He saw history as a interpretation of where humanity has been and what humanity has understood. He saw that interpretation as a synthesis. Tillich transcended “church” history and “sacred history” he saw human history as happening together to all people, beyond the boarders of the church. He also saw the Spirit working beyond the boarders of the church, he saw God working beyond the boundaries of “sacred history” so that all of history was united. In this regard one of his interests was the use of the Logos in the church fathers. He was taken with Justin Martyr’s understanding of the Logos as working outside the church in all of humanity.

The common ground for both Tillich and Justin was the presence of the Logos beyond the boundaries of the church, making it possible for men in all religions to have a partial grasp of the truth, a love of beauty and a moral sensitivity. Tillich could stand ‘on the boundary’ between theology and philosophy, church and society, religion and culture, because the Logos who became flesh was the same Logos who was universally at work in the structures of human existence. Tillich’s apologetic writing demonstrates how he shared the conviction of the apologists that Christians by no means have a monopoly on the truth, and that truth, wherever it may be found, essentially belongs to us Christians.

Thus the Logos influence gives Tillich a seeming universalism but it’s easy to miss the fact that he is coming from a totally Orthodox Christian perceptive in the traditional apologists. The modern secular thought categories he employs make him seem radical and unconcerned with the Christian belief of the past, whereas in reality he is really concerned with translating into those categories the doctrines of the church both reformed and primitive which he held sacred implicitly. The Christian thought categories were his true mode of thought, so much so that the middle ages were alive for him. It’s from this perspective and out the concern for the truth of the Gospel that he sought to translate those Christian ideas into modern secular categories.

One of Tillich’s major signature moves is to translate the Gospel into categories that summarize the secular nature of society and speak to its relationship to God. He does this in the Tillichian terminology: autonomy, heteronomy, and Theonomy. Autonomy is the independence of modern society from God. The enlightenment, the rise of modern science, LaPlace’s statement “I have no need of that [God] hypothesis,” these are all examples of the autonomous nature of modern humans. The term applies specifically to forms of culture. Tillich’s concern for the role of Spirit in the Creation of culture came to him from his study with Ernst Troeltsch;  Examples of this historical autonomy the era of Greek Philosophy, The Renaissance, The Enlightenment and modern secularism. Bonehoeffer spelled it out well enough in his phrase “man come of age.” Heteronomy is an imposed alien sense forced upon the masses. This is a view point that in Postmodern parlance is called “totalizing,” the view of the dreaded “metanarrative.” That is to say, a “totalizing view” is an overarching view that overshadows all else, an ideology. Heteronomy can be religious and often has been religious. Heteronomy the attempt of humans to take the place of the divine, it comes right out of the Augustinian concerns of Tillich. Augustine said that the City of Man can never be the City of God. No aspect of temporal power can ever claim to be the expressions of divine will, no human construct can ever claim to be the City of God. These two cities, that of God and that of “man” have different origins and different ends and though they live one inside the other, they can never claim to be the same or to subsume each others functions. Though Tillich was concerned with the secular though he did see the Logos as working beyond the boundaries of the church, he did not become confused and think that the church could impose the logos or that the state could subsume the divine will.  In fact he remained ever vigilant against the proud claims of others toward heteronomy. Theonomy was the culture in which “inner potentialities of man are being  fulfilled through the diving presence of the Spirit, giving powers, meaning and direction to the autonomous forms of life.”  Tillich was adamant that a true situation of theonomy could never really be achieved. Theonomy does seem to be so much a matter of a theistic society as a society in which the Logos is at work and is allowed to freely interact with culture. The attempt to force this interaction would be heteronomy.

In the working out of these idioms we see a very Orthodox set of concepts, a very Christian set of concepts. These concepts are probably closer to the reformed movement but are not exclusive of the Orthodox of the East or the Roman Catholic. The three aspects of culture, autonomy, heteronomy, and theonomy are basically related to the Gospel. We see fall, the attempt of humanity to impose an answer in the type of priest craft, and  in spirte the human institution, redemption through the spirit. This tripartite understanding of culture is Augustinian to the extent that we have the city of God and the City of man in relation to each other. The City of man is autonomous, the city of God is theonomy in that it allows the Spirit to move out and affect culture (autonomy) without trying to impose it’s own will or bend the City of Man to the ends of the City of God. The Divine city is located in the human city. The attempt to take over the human city and bend its ends and means to the purpose of the divine is the heteronominous or an er zots city of God. Thus Tillich’s seeming secularism, his radical nature, his Marxism, are actually means to the end of interpretation, they are the tools with which Tillich hoped to translate the Reformed understanding of the Gospel into modern categories of thought. When I say “Reformed” I am aware that Tillich was not Calvinist but Lutheran. I am using this term to mean “Reformational—of the Reformation” in a general sense. In so doing his aim was not to change the Gospel but to relate to modern people. He understood the changing of the maze ways and he sought to give the church a map with which it could following the shifting of the maze ways and to give secular society a means of continuity with the Christian tradition. In this sense he was striving to enable modern society to open to the possibility of theonomy.  This same concern leads him into his definition of God as “being itself” or “the ground of being. These are terms that tie in specifically with issues that were important in the mid twentieth century. One thinks of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, as well as its influence in Heidegger  This terminology is coming right of modern mid twentieth century existentialism and yet at the same time it is also coming out of a much more ancient tradition of the church stretching back to the seventh century. At one and the same time Tillich both speaks the concept of “God” into modernity and gives it a currency of that day, and also in so doing connects it to the tradition of the church and brings back a concept the church had basically vacated.

Tillich is often mistaken for an atheist but it’s really his own fault. He seemed to have cultivated and cherished the confusing image of a radical innovator who purposely (so it seems) obscured his orthodox ideas and motives lurking underneath the surface. One of his most confusing moves was to state that “God does not exist.” It seems pretty obvious on a surface level that he was an atheist. But only the unwary who are not steeped in Tillich buy his statements at face value. Of course he does not mean there is no God. He’s using the term “exist” in a highly technical sense one that could be misleading. To understand this statement we have to plug in the second half of it: “God does not exist, he is being itself.”  This seems contradictory, God doesn’t exist but God is being. So he’s juxtaposing being and existence. The meaning of that move is rooted in a whole systemic way of thinking that is pure Tillichian, which John MacQuarrie calls “Tillich’s Existential Ontology. “    One cannot understand Tillich without understanding his ontology. For Tillich existence (as a term) is for contingency. “Existing things” are contingent things. The term “Being” he reserves for necessary things. Here both ontologically as well as logically necessary are implied. Being itself is necessary in the modal sense, it is not dependent upon prior conditions, nor can it cease or fail. Thus, when he says “God does not exist” he Is not saying there is no God. He’s actually saying that God is not classified among existing things in creation. God is not a thing in creation along side other things. We can’t say “the universe contains rocks, trees, air, automobiles, penguins, sandwiches, junk yards, can openers, tooth brushes, swizzle sticks, and God.” God is a priori at a higher level, in a class by “him/herself.” God is the foundation of all that is. This is the meaning of the term “ground of being.” God is the basis of all that is and as such is not on a par with existing things, because existence is the level of contingent things. God is necessary in the sense of modal logic, and not contingent. The distinction between being and existence goes back to the distinction that Tillich draws between essence and existence. Essence is the potential of a thing, or the basis upon that thing rests and toward which is seeks to fulfill. Existence is its actuality. It is necessary for Tillich to make this kind of distinction between existence and essence, if God was on the level of existing things he would be subject to being, he would be just another thing in creation.


version with end notes here

A helpful, concise discussion about determining the genre of literary works is A Preface to Mark, by Christopher Bryan. Genre is, of course, an important first step in properly understanding the purpose and meaning of any ancient document. The strength of Bryan’s discussion about determining genre is the concise two points he makes about the nature of genre and his use of contemporary as well as classical examples.

First, “genre involves a cluster of elements. So striking are these elements that we can entirely understand why one might be tempted to regard them as ‘rules.’ Yet they are not precisely ‘rules,’ for they need not all be present in one example. The genre of a particular work is established by the presence of enough generic motifs in sufficient force to dominate.” A Preface to Mark, page 13.

Second, “a work of one genre may contain motifs from another. This means that in establishing genre we need to identify the dominant cluster of motifs: just one or two will not do.” Ibid.

Bryan uses the classic western movie genre as an example. There are several common motifs in the classical western: “big skies and open country” vistas, the good man alone (or with a few chosen companions) fighting for justice, the bad men terrorizing the town, the saloon girl with a heart of gold, the town drunk, and the final shoot out. Additionally, the geographic and time setting are, of course, powerful genre indicators.

High Noon is one of the most lauded of classic westerns. It has the right geographic and time setting, as well as the lone good man and final shootout, but it lacks the town drunk. Thus, we have a cluster of elements indicating that High Noon is a classic western although it lacks some motifs common to that genre. Further, High Noon contains a more sophisticated romantic relationship than is typical of westerns. The presence of this element, which is central to romantic dramas, does not convert High Noon into a romantic drama. There are not enough romantic drama elements to make this a dominant cluster that would outweigh the classic western elements. Nevertheless, the inclusion of this element of romantic drama, set in an incontrovertibly western genre, has contributed to the high esteem in which High Noon has been held.

An example from classical literature is Tacitus’ Agricola (my own example rather than Bryan’s). Agricola focuses on Tacitus’ father-in-law, who was a successful Roman general and politician. It follows his career through the conquest of Britain and other dramatic events. Given the introduction, its subject, focus on that subject, length, and other factors, Agricola is best classified as an ancient biography. However, it is notable in that it contains significant elements of other genres, such as ethnography – more common in ancient historiography – and traditional funeral orations. The dominant cluster establishes Agricola as an ancient biography, despite the presence of elements from other genres. Although one cannot fully appreciate Agricola without understanding the non-biographical elements, one would gain an even more distorted picture of the writing if one ignored its biographical nature. In other words, the presence of elements of another genre should not be allowed to swallow the dominant genre attested by a stronger cluster of other elements.

Bryan uses a subgenre of classic westerns – the “U.S. cavalry type” – to make another point. Although typically in cavalry westerns, the heroic leader and his regiment survive the movie -- albeit sometimes with significant losses – in They Died With Their Boots On, we see the heroic leader – George Custer - and his troop wiped out to the last man. The reason for the departure is that even Hollywood was constrained by the tradition with which they were working. In fact, Custer and his regiment were wiped out and defeated, so no other ending was possible. Sometimes, the tradition with which a biographer or historian or author of some other type of work was constrained by the tradition with which they were working. Such considerations should be evaluated as part of the analysis of the cluster of genre elements.

Although it is beyond the scope of this post to make a comprehensive analysis of Mark’s genre, I would be remiss not to at least summarize Bryan’s conclusions. He concludes that the dominant cluster of elements – 8 out of 11 major features – establish the Gospel of Mark as an ancient Hellenistic biography. He also finds it significant that in two of the three outlying features, Mark was constrained from utilizing the typical biographical features by the tradition he had received about Jesus.

McGrath's Blog on the second article linked by J.D. "Microexistence vs. Macroexistence." I am just selecting a few comments that I think are interesting. I urge the reader to read the original because are many interesting comments I'm not reflecting here. There's an intereseting discussion between McGrath, Vinny, and several others on criteria and the limits of criteria for establishing valid evidence of historical existence (or the even the desirability thereof).

This first one is from Vinny, a former member of the CADRE.

Dr. McGrath, Suppose that Paul’s Jesus was mythological or suppose that Paul’s understanding and preaching of Jesus was based entirely on the visionary experience he had of the risen Christ and had nothing to do with anything that an actual person said or did. Further suppose that some of the things described in Mark’s gospel happened to actual people or were said by actual people, and that Mark attributed these sayings and events to Paul’s Jesus. Would that make the Jesus of the gospels historical or mythological? I am troubled by the argument that the mythicist position fails “[i]f even one saying of Jesus, or action by him, or something done to him such as the crucifixion, is clearly more likely to represent authentic historical information rather than something invented.” As a matter of probability, it seems likely to me that something described somewhere in the gospels happened to an actual historical human being who may even have been named “Jesus.” On the other hand, it also seems possible to me that the Christian movement sprang from the ecstatic visions experienced by the members of a cult in first century Jerusalem and that it was only coincidentally related to any actual historical person. If it could be shown that there was an actual historical person named Arthur Pendragon, wouldn’t we still think of King Arthur of Camelot as a myth?

Those are interesting possibilities but it doesn't seem likely that Paul's view has nothing to do with what he heard from the Church in Damascus and Jerusalem, not to mention Peter. But it's obvious that his own experiences were the primary guide. He adapts credial statements and recites slogans and sayings and make reference to others so was aware of them. Helmutt Koester, in Ancient Christian Gospels theorizes that Paul had a saying source of Jesus' from which he took the teachings of Jesus to which he alludes, he may also have had a narrative Gospel. If not he clearly learned man of the stories because he alludes to synoptic and other stories from the canonical Gospels. I have made a chart of the passage to which Koester refers.

It seems to me that the mythicitist position is one of a series of bait and switches. First they start with the premise that Jesus is a big copy cat, we disprove the copy cat approach so they reboot and do another approach, the mystery cult approach. We beat up on that one so they retrench into the "reasonable historian" approach and just rely upon the idea that some aspects are mythical some may not be but we have much information and we don't know. We accept that position becuase its reasonable then they snap back to the original position, we don't have much info so therefore he didn't exist.

Anthony Flew (when he was an atheist) once observed that "the death of a fine brash hypothesis comes by a thousand qualifications." That's true and with that he pretended to kill the gardener parable. But the problem is the myther view should be dying that death of a thousand qualifications but they cheat. When they make their thousand qualifications they then act like that dismisses the cirticisms that caused them to qualify it and they are back in business with the original premise. It seems the myther position is a will-of-the-wisp. it's here, it's there, it means now one thing now another, you can't pin it down to a true meaning.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Another fine post. I suppose an important is being satisfied that the usual criteria for assessing the authenticity of Jesus's sayings do not themselves beg the question of Jesus's existence. Can we be satisfied that they do not?

I think he's blurring the distinction between the presumption of historical "fact" and criteria for determining truth. There are no historical criteria for deciding if people existed. In graduate school in history programs they don't have any course with title's like "detecting existing people 101." The historians I worked for as a TA were not Christians. The older one who had the big name in Persian studies was a nominal Christian but not real concerned about it's truth content. He was a Brit from Cambridge and he wasn't real concerned with what one might call Spiritual truth but was content to accept religious affiliation as a means of social stability. He argued that the reasons Jesus myth people give for rejecting Jesus existence could be extended to any figure in history. There is no way really to guarantee that we know any particular person existed. We know because people wrote things or because other attest to their existence. But Homer was thought to have exist and have written something and there have been crtitics of Homer's existence for the last couple of centuries. Shakespeare wrote some very important works he's at the center of English literature and there's better than average evidence that he didn't exist, or that if he did he didn't write much of what we take to be his works. We have questioned the existence of Robin Hood and King Arther for centuries, now it looks like it really a case for those two of both "yes,they did actually exist, but no not really." How can you exist and not exist at the same time. There is  a way, we like Robin Hood or King Arther who may have existed in some form but not the form that their stories claim for them.

That puts us back with Jesus, becasue the Jesus myth position winds up being a bait a switch when it comes on as a confident and cocky assertion that Jesus did not exist and winds up being an admission that maybe he did but not as literally or clearly as the Evangelicals would have us believe. The evidence that Jesus existed as a Jewish Rabbi or teacher, prophet of the first century who may have made claims or was taken by his people to have made claims of being Messiah, was existed by the Romans and claimed to have risen by his followers, that evidence is much stronger an the evidence for Arther or Robin.

The thing is criteria doesn't always help. When there's not enough information it doesn't matter how strong your criteria. The problem in this issue of Jesus of Nazareth and his historicity is not that the criteria beg the question, or that they aren't strong enough, there's no problem with criteria at all, the problem is we don't have enough information. What we do have is much stronger for most historical figures of the era. But it's not as strong as that for George Washington or Marie Antoinette, obviously. Pontias Pilate was doubted to exist at tone time by most historians. We found two extra biblical references to him and zap, like magic now he exists. Jesus has a lot more going for his existence than just two extra Biblical mentions. Those two references can be gotten through Josephus ( who can be deafened well) and the Celsus/the Talmud, which count as one source because they are linked. You have to scoll to Celsus on both pages. Then there are other arguments that can be made for extra Biblical back up on Jesus' existence. The strength of it far outweighs that of Pilate but it doesn't equal the strength of George Washington. We need more information and we always will, but we do have enough to rule out the kind of claims made by the mythers. We can't make the kind of case we could for a figure like Washington but we can make a better case than the mythers are willing to accept.


I must admit that I had not considered the significance of the phrase “as to one abnormally born.” I agree that Paul seems to be highlighting some difference between himself and the others who encountered the risen Christ, but is that difference that the others had known Jesus during his earthly ministry? Isn’t the difference that Paul had been a persecutor of the church when Jesus appeared to him as Paul points out in the next verse?

I take that phrase to be a mark of humility. He's saying "I am not as worthy as Peter or John because I wasn't there at the right time, but I still make it in because of the grace of God."

Anonymous Vincent said...
(I'm not really sure who said this)

Let's bring out into the open the fact that it is not a requirement for NT PhD candidates to investigate the mythicist case. It is universally accepted that other religions deities such as the Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Roman and more are mythical, and there are scholars who specialize in them. Only when it comes to Jesus do scholars fall over themselves to claim he must have existed, all the while even Christian NT scholars can't agree on what credible evidence to base their beliefs on. The whole thing smells of an absurd double-standard rooted in cultural biases and prejudice.
This approach is just confussing several different aspects at once.

(1) He's to turn the fact that Jesus is taken as a true figure in history (a "historical fact" in other words) into a liability and he's trying to say that the assumption of facticity is a prpori a falsehood, when he still has nothing more to base that upon except the usual lack of total absolute evidence. So they are unwillling to accept the verdict of the academy or the verdict that all histoirans have accepted for 2000 years and they try to turn into a libabilty for the histoiran.

(2) The pretense that there is some kind of criteria that's going to prove it (of course guess which side has that criteria?).

(3) Historians just aren't trained right because they being taught that Jesus didn't exist, that would be one proper criterion.

(4) In not accepting a prori that any notion of a divine human be a mythological figure, not automatically making the assertion that Jesus is a myth the historians are being inadequately trained. that's why they need amateurs to show them how to think.

The argument is often made that "no NT scholar with a PhD says that Jesus is a myth." In the first place, that generalization is false, as there certainly have been biblical scholars who have had the honesty to question whether or not Christ is myth. Secondly, it seems you cannot be a respected NT scholar unless you tow the Christian party line by at least accepting a historical Jesus a priori.
look he speaks of those who say "Jesus is a myth" then says no one says this because they aren't honest enough to ask, as though to ask the question is to automatically conclude that he is. Of course if you think about it and don't come to that conclusion then you are not being honest! As to his last comment, what sort of Christian would believe that Jesus didn't exist? One can work in a seminary and believe Jesus  didn't exist, these guy are just ignorant of seminaries if they think otherwise. But I assume there's a difference in being Christian who is a historian and being  "a historian of Christianity." This guy is carping because the professionals wont let the armatures lead them and because people insist upon taking their beliefs seriously. Everyone knows we should take our beliefs likely and take that guy's beliefs seriously!

Attempting to compare mythicists with creationists only demonstrates that point. Academia should be thoroughly embarrassed by its utter ignorance of the profound arguments on the side of mythicism. But a serious inquiry into the case for mythicism is obviously against their own interests - as it has been for centuries.

That's just special pleading. You are just saying you should allow us to commit fallacies you don't allow others to commit becasue we are spherical, we have good arrangements, To me the mysticists position is no stronger than creationism is. In fact that's once you can figure out what exactly the position is, if it ever stops  vacillating between just saying we don't know much so the Christian view of Jesus is mythical and saying Jesus himself didn't exist. All these guys are rebelling against being compared to creationists but their abhorrence is not based upon the logic of the comparison but the ideology of not liking the creationists.

Even though few scholars therefore know much about the mythicist position - and there is a HUGE body of literature on this subject - mythicism is heckled, ridiculed, smeared and distorted right out of the gate - and this is just by the NT scholars. From their writings, it is obvious that the bulk of NT scholars know next to nothing about this subject - this serious FIELD OF STUDY - and are thus not experts on it to be making any claims. HJers are apparently very afraid of the mythicist position, evidently because it so clearly reveals that their "historical Jesus" is made of straw.

My profs were not Christians, the once who said "why are you wasting your time arguing with idiots?" the one who actually said that was an atheist! The other one wished he had said but his attitude toward them was the same. This kind bravado is what is so annoying. He wants to pretend that his position is stronger becuase real historians make fund of it. So he turns historical abhorrence into a liability for historians rather than for his position. He also pretends that it's only Christian historians who act that way when in reality that's not the case. Carrier, who needs to build a career, may well be the Jeff Maldrum of Jesus mythers, (Of Jeff Maldrum is the Richard Carrier of Saskquchery). But this guy has to assume that to make fun of his positoin only proves it's true. The fact that historians ignore it is only proof that Historians have something to hide. It often proves to be the case with such fringe hobby horse rangers that the best evidence for their position is the lack of evidence of agaisnt it. This spawns my old dictum, the best evidence is none at all.

The Mythicist Position

Evemerist vs. Mythicist Position

"There are two simple principles to keep in mind when it comes to the mythicist position:

"1. When the mythological layers of the story are removed, there is no core to the onion.

"2. A composite of 20 people is no one.

"Mythicism represents the perspective that many gods, goddesses and other heroes and legendary figures said to possess extraordinary and/or supernatural attributes are not “real people” but are in fact mythological characters. Along with this view comes the recognition that many of these figures personify or symbolize natural phenomena, such as the sun, moon, stars, planets, constellations, etc., constituting what is called “astromythology” or “astrotheology.” As a major example of the mythicist position, it is determined that various biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, King David, Solomon and Jesus Christ, among other entities, in reality represent mythological figures along the same lines as the Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian, Greek, Roman and other godmen, who are all presently accepted as myths, rather than historical figures."

- Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection by D.M. Murdock page 12

* Christ in Egypt: Reviewed by Dr. Robert M. Price
An exercise in begging the question. This guy has bought into what the mythers want to sell, that the frenge elements who were considered crack pots in their day ware not sold as major academics of the past when in reality they were never accepted or admired, but thier crack pot hallucinations are just accepted as fact becuase those touting them assert it and those buying it wish it were so. Jesus is not put in that class any real historian. But these guys know better than all those uninitiated historians who aren't in the know as they are.

Vincent, (responding to the guy above)

“A composite of 20 people is no one” might reasonably be called a principle. “When the mythological layers of the story are removed, there is no core to the onion” isn’t a principle; it’s a conclusion. Moreover, it is a conclusion upon which reasonable minds might differ.

Rich Griese said...

I've been asking people for any scholars that have rebutted the Doherty argument, as outlined in his book, or here, and so far I have not found a single person who has been able to give even one scholar who has.


First. let me tell you why that is. Then I will contradict your claim.

That is not becuase he's so right and so great and so well argued that even professional academics can't refute him. the follow anecdote explains the reason. When I was a TA (UT Dallas history of ideas, Ph.D. Candidate) I ask the guy I worked for (who was a big name in the study of Persian history) what he thought of Doherty. He said "why are you wasting your time on idiots?" that's just what he said I promise you he did. He is not a Christian.

I asked my dissertation Chairman what he thought of Doherty. I had to explain who he was and what he said. My Charmian said "why are wasting your time arguing with idiots?" He was an atheist.

Of course I know you will write that off as bias, professional arrogance, Well that may be. But it does explain, it's not because Doherty is irrefutable, but because arguing with him is deemed beneath the expertise of the academic historian. I am not trying to call Doherty names. I debated Doherty on an old email list that's gone now, but that was disrupted and we didn't Finish. But I would not call him an idiot, he's very bright. I would call him arrogant and well sold on his own knowledge (that is certainly not a flaw unknown in the halls of the academy). He is not an idiot. But I tell you this to demonstrate why academic historians do not refuted him.

Secondly, this is not my field. I was trained as a historian, but in history of ideas. So that means I did modern and early modern thought not ancinet world. I was a scholar,I published a scholarly journal and presented articles at professional conferences, and taught university classes, I was unable to finish my Ph.D. (family tragedies not bad grades) and am not working as a scholar making a living in academia. So I wont feel badly if you say I don't count. But I do have a Maters degree in theological studies (history of doctrine) and am ABD on Ph.D. in history of ideas.

I have refuted Dohterty, for what it's worth.

I did a short thing on his little 12 part summary of the Jesus Puzzle website.

Jesus Puzzle

I have several part response to his evolution of Jesus thing:

Evolution of Jesus (7 parts)

all of my mythological Jesus pages

Prof. James McGrath has been posting recently on Jesus-mythicism. His opening salvo is one of the most concise yet effective rebuttals of the Jesus-myth I have ever seen. He has continued his criticism in a series of posts, and has attracted quite a firestorm of comments, which are interesting both for what the commentators say and what the comments say about them. I think McGrath is a little too liberal in some areas, but he is for the most part an honest, rigorous scholar, and he rightly takes mythicists to task for so casually dismissing the scholarly mainstream. Check out his posts and see what you think:

Mythicist Misunderstanding
Mythicism: Microexistence vs. Macroexistence?
Accusations and Assumptions: Another Mythicist-Creationist Parallel
More Mythicist-Creationist Parallels

Charles Hartshorne 1897-2000
Modern Champion of the modal argument

What follows is one of the most challenging subjects you will ever hear about. It is the best way to get a head ache, but I think it proves the existence of God. The problem is it requires a very specialized background to understand it. First you have to understand modal logic.

Modal Logic is so called because it turns upon the use of so called "modal operators." It's called "modal" because it is the logic of modes of being. "modes" as in what type of existnce something exits in, weather it is dependent upon other things, weather it can cease or fail to exist and so forth. The modal operators are "necessity," "contingency" "impossibly," "possibility."

Necessity and contingency lie at the base of our modern understanding of cause and effect. They come from scholastic notions of logic, but the distinction between the notion our modern notions of c/e and the shcoalstic ones in the middle ages is not that great. The  scholastics had more levels of cause, efficient cause, final cause and several others. But one could everything we have done in modern science using the scholastic ideas of c/e.

Necessity doesn't mean has to exist. It doesn't mean God is necessary to the existence of the world (except in so far as if God exists then of closure God is necessary to the world as creator--without God there would be no world).The modal arguemnt does not begin with the assumption that God has to exist. It begins with the assumption that there is a valid distinction between necessity and contingency, which there must be.It proceeds along the lines of hypothetical consequence that obtain from different scenarios of God's existence. It concludes that is necessary. But by "necessary" it means not contingent, or not dependent upon something else for its' existence.

This is often misconstrued by atheists and taken to mean the argument proceeds from God's existence as an assumed first premise. This is not the case, the first premise is either/or. Either God's existence is necessary or it is impossible. This allows for the possibility that there is no God. So the argument does not begin by "defining God into existence."

Necessity means either non dependent or cannot cease or fail. By "fail" I mean there could not not be a God. That is the conclusion of the argument, not the premise.

Contingent means the opposite: that a thing is dependent upon a prior thing for existence, or that it could cease or fail to exist.

Impossible means logically impossible, something in the structure of the idea contradictions, such as square circles.

one of the sore spots that atheists get stuck on is the idea that God cannot be contingent. They will always leap to the conclusion that this is defining God into existence, because they don't understand the concept of God. God, by the nature of the concept, carriers certain parameters just as the existence of any human assumes humanity, or the existence of any tree assumes that the tree in question is a plant. To have to define that God is not contingent should not even come into it. The idea of God is that of eternal creator of all things. Thus God cannot cease to exits and cannot be dependent upon anything (or he wouldn't be the creator of all things). Atheists usually assume that all knowledge has to be empirical. they will argue this is defining God into existence. maybe God is contingent.

Maybe there is a begin like the one we talk about but he's not eternal or the creator of all things, but that means he's not the God we are talking about.

Hartshorne's version goes like this:

1) God can be analytically conceived without contradiction.
2) Therefore God is not impossible.
3) By definition God cannot be contingent.
4) Therefore God is either necessary or impossible.
5) God is not impossible (from 2) therefore, God is necessary.
6) Whatever is necessary by the force of Becker's modal theorum must necessarily exist.

Argument:my version

1) God can be analytically conceived, as eternal necessary being, without contradiction.

2) Therefore God is not impossible,(because no contradiction).

3) By definition God cannot be contingent (becasue God is eteral).

4) Therefore if God exists, God's existence is necessary, if God does not exist, it is because God is impossible.

5) God is not impossible (from 2) therefore, God is necessary.

6) Whatever is necessary by the force of Becker's modal theorum must necessarily exist.

A. The logic of the argument:

This argument is analytical, it proceeds from the basis in logic to argue that the concept of God is such that if we understood the meaning of the terms we would have to conclude that God must exist. Naturally that is a very controversial position. Many Christians and other theists reject the ontological argument on the grounds knowledge must be somewhat empirical. Nevertheless the argument has been used for a long time, and despite its many apparent deaths, it keeps returning in one form or another. Perhaps the best book on the subject is The Many Faced Argument by John Hick. Somehow the ontological argument just wont die. I feel that this is not so much because the argument itself is true as a proof, but because it gets at something deeper than proof, something to do with the way to think about God, and it strikes a deep cord in our consciousness, even though as a proof it may fail. For this reason alone it is important to know, if only to know the concept itself.

1) God can be analytically conceived without contradiction.
2) Therefore God is not impossible.
3) By definition God cannot be contingent.
4) Therefore God is either necessary or impossible.
5) God is not impossible (from 2) therefore, God is necessary.
6) Whatever is necessary by the force of Becker's modal theorum must necessarily exist.

(This is actually my re-statement of what Hartshorne is saying).

Hartshorne's actual modal logic looks like this:

The OA: an assessment:

by Ed Stoebenau Hartshorne's ontological argument is based on Anselm's second argument and claims that God's existence is logically necessary. Hartshorne's argument is given here, where "N(A)" means "it is logically necessary that A," "~A" means "it is not the case that A," "-->" is strict implication, "v" means "or," and "g" means "God exists":

g --> N(g)
N(g) v ~N(g)
~N(g) --> N(~N(g))
N(g) v N(~N(g))
N(~N(g)) --> N(~g)
N(g) v N(~g)
N(g) --> g

This argument is valid. Furthermore, given an Anselmian conception of God, premises one and five are sound. Premise two is just the law of the excluded middle, and premise three is a law of the modal logic S5. Premise nine is obviously sound, so this leaves premise seven as the only premise to question. Premise seven says that it is logically possible that God exists.

Yes, those funny lines, "g-->N(g)" are the argument, those are the formal symbols used in modal logic.

B. God's Possibility vs. Impossibility.

The argument turns on the distinction between necessity and contingency, and upon the distinction between mere possibility and the nature of necessary being as not mere possible. In other words, God is either necessary or impossible. If God exists than he is ontologically necessary, because he is logically necessary by definition. But if he does not exist than it is ontologically impossible that he exists, or could come to exist. This is because God cannot be contingent, by definition. A contingency is just not God. So if God is possible, he can't be "merely possible" and thus is not impossible, which means he must be necessary.

God is conceivable in analytic terms without contradiction:
The universe without God is not concievable in analytical terms; it is dependent upon principles which are themselves contingent. Nothing can come from a possibility of total nothingness; the existenceo of singularities and density of matter depend upon empiracal observations and extrapolation form it. By definition these things are not analytical and do depend upon causes higher up the chain than their being (note that the skeptic at this point probably denies the validity of analytic proofs but to reverse the arguement must accept such proof).

Since the concept is coherent nad not contradictory and is derived from analytic terms, to reverse the argument the atheist must show that God is impossible since the burden of proof is now on the one arguing that a contingent state of affirs could produce a universe in which being has to be.

D. Answering Objections:

1) The argument can be reversed

Atheists have tried to reverse the argument merely by saying:

1) either God exists or he doesn't
2) God is either necessary or impossilbe. Necessary if he eixists, impossible if he does not
3) God is impossible
4) Therefore God does not exist.

But of course this is merely stipulation. They assume that what the argument is doing is just stipulating everything that has been said about God, but on the "Modes of Being" page I show that each of these modalities of existence are logical deductions.Either a thing exists or it does not. One can equivocate about the meaning the term "existence," but here I clearly mean concete actual existence in the "real" world. If a thing does not exist it is either that it could, but just doesn't happen to exist, or that it cannot exist because it is a conceptual contradiction, such as square circles, or round triangles and so on. Therefore, if it does exist, it is either that it exists contingently or that it is not contingent but exists necessaryily (that is it could not fail to exist without contradiction). These are the four most basic modes of being and cannot be denied. They could be subdivded, for example fictional contingency, such as Sueprman or Dick Tracy, that which would be contingent if it had real concete actuality, but is merely a fictional concept. But the four modes are the basic logical deductions about the nature of existence.

The idea that the argument can be reversed just by switching the lines and declairing God impossible merely begs the question. Is God really impossible just because we can utter those words? Is God logically necessary just because we can utter those words?. No, but that's not what is being said. God is logically necessary as a concept. That is the nature of the God-concept, that's the idea of God. To deny that would be like saying "how do you know that tables are things to put things on?" Or "how do you know that triagles have three sides?"The question is one of actuality, so if it is possible that God exists than God is ontologically necessary and thus has real concete existence because since God is not contingent it cannot be that God is "merely possible." If it is at all possible that God exists, than it's not impossible. To show that the argument can truely be reversed the atheist must show why God is impossible, and to do that he/she must show that God cannot be understood analytically without contradiction.

Another attempt at reversing the argument, which is always used on message boards when I make this argument: just to put not in front of each line. "It is possible that god does not exist." The premise is they don't have to prove God is ipossible, but just that the possiblity of God's not existing reverses the argment.

The problem is, the premise is false. If god is not analytically impossible (contradictory) then God must exist. Thus it is not ture that it is possible that God does not exist. The logic works like this:

(1) If God is indeep possible, the God cannot be impossible.

(2) to say God is not possible is the same as saying god is impossible.

(3) if something is possible, it can't be impossible.

(4) you must show why God is impossible.

(5) I have showen why God is possible, becasue God is concievable without contradiction.

(6) anticipating answer on eneity and consciousness, consciousness is not a primary quality of God. Other things are conscoiuss, that is not something quiquely estabishes God as God, logical necessity is such a thing.

(7) If God is possible, and can't be impossible, and can't be contingent, then to be possible for God is to be logically necessary. Thus it does not work to say God is not possible because it isn't true, thus it's a false premise.

To make good on any reversal they must show a contraidction in the concept of God. To this they always retort "well you can't prove that God is not contradictory." But I don't have to prove that. One can assume that if there is no contraiction it is not contradictory. They are the one's seeking to make the reversal, so it's their burden of proof. But to prove that God is possible all one need do is concive god analytically without contradiction. what else could one do to prove a possiblity?

2) The assumption that we are merely loading the concept with terms that make it necessary, or that the deftion of God as necessary is arbitrary.

This is really the same arguement one must make to reverse the argument of necessary being. This is what atheists always argue. The first thing they say bout it is that we are just arbitrarily sticking on the term "necessary" and playing word games. Some go so far as to try and demonstrate this by sticking the term necessary on other things, such as "purple cow" or anything they think of, and that's suppossed to show what we are doing. I regard this move as nothing more than a demonstration that they do not understand the concepts The necessity of necessity and why it must be applied to God is demonstrated on the "modes of being" page. Moreover, this move is nothing more than the perfect Island argument. It can't wrok becaus it merely enthrones contingencies. Our reason for saying that God is necessary is much more logical and organic and is much more than a mere word game.

While it is true that God as being itself is a pre-given postulate and is idependent of proof because it is part of the defintion of God, the realization that being has t be means that this must be the case.

3) The assumption that we are lending existence to a fictional being.

This is merely an assumption. The necessary existence of God is implied in the possibility of God's existence and the realization that the the only alternative is impossibility. God is possible and thus necessary. Some have tried to argue that they are breaking up the four categories with a 5th not seen, that of "fictional" but that applies to the category 4 that of non-existing contingency.

4) Equivocating between types of necessity.

The argument says that to say God is necessary as a postulate of defintion is speaking of ontological necessity, than to assert the actuality of it is moving from logical to ontolgocial necessiy.

To say that a thing is logically possible is to say that it might have existed in the past or may exist in the future. But for God to exist he must always have existed; in the past, in the future, or all time. Given logical necessity the logical possibility of God 's non existance is impossible. Therefore, ontoloigcal necessity implies logical necessity. One implies the other and it is a rational move from one to the other.

This argument may seem like merely a trick of words, and modal logic may be conroverial, but it turns on very basic logic, such as modus tolens or modus ponens which is accepted by all logicians. On Argument 1 I document Antony Flew saying that the logoical categories of "Necessary" and "contingent" truth are accepted by all logicians.

Concise intero to the Modal Ontological Arugument for The Existence of God.


‘Modal’ – Pertaining to the modes of existence (de re) or of propositions (de dicto) as necessary or possible.  ‘Necessity’ is a mode of being for a thing or proposition as is ‘Possibility’.
‘Ontological’ – from Greek ontoV for being.
‘Argument’ – designed to logically support a proposition (not to be confused with persuasion which is a psycho-social phenomenon, not a philosophical one).
Throughout this description I shall use standard notation and notation used when the font is restricted to a single typeset as in a text only document for HTTP purposes on the Internet.

The modalities are symbolized as follows:
A square or in typeset [] preceding an expression means “It is necessary that…” or “It is necessarily the case that…” or simply “Necessarily…” e.g. as applied to a propositional function.

Ps/[]Ps – “It is necessarily the case that s is P” where s is a constant referring to some individual and P is a predicate.
A Diamond à or in typeset <> preceding an expression means “It is possibly the case that…” or “It is possible that…” or simply “Possibly…”


Possibility is defined as consistency.  àPs/<>Ps reads as “Possibly, s is P” and means that there is no contradiction in attributing P to s.  Necessity is defined as “not possibly not the case”.  If something cannot not be, then it must be.

Psº~à~Ps or []Ps=~<>~Ps

There are many different ways to axiomatize a logic, just as there are different ways to axiomatize geometry.  Axioms in some systems will be theorems in others, but since axioms and theorems have the same validity it is only a matter of formal difference.  One of the most used systems of modal logic is called S5.  There is an interesting theorem in S5 called Brouer’s Theorem.
(PàP)à(àPàP) or (P-->[]P)-->(<>P-->P)
This theorem is derivable in weaker systems as well.
The modal ontological argument for the existence of God is just a substitution instance for this theorem.  There are only two propositions needed.

First comes the definition of God as a being who, IF he exists, does so necessarily, i.e. a Necessary Being.  This is only the definition of what God would be like IF he existed.  The proposition is formalized as
GàG or G-->[]G
“If God exists, then he necessarily exists.”
The other proposition is the assertion that it is possible that God exists.
àG or <>G
“Possibly, God exists.”

The only rule of inference needed is Modus Ponens.
PàQ  “If P, then Q”
Therefore Q
Now we are ready to put the argument together.

1.      (GàG)à(àGàG)
2.      GàG
3.      àG
4.      àGàG
5.      G
(Theorem, sub G for P)
(Def of God)
(1, 2 MP)
(4, 3 MP)

1.      (G-->[]G)-->(<>G-->G)  (Theorem, sub G for P)
2.      G-->[]G  (Def of God)
3.      <>G (premise)
4.      <>G-->G  (1, 2 MP)
5.      G  (4, 3 MP)


It is quite a simple argument which makes it hard to understand its fullness.  The simple is packed with meaning.  As you can see, there is one and only one premise, that it is possible that God exists.  If this be granted, then his necessary existence follows. Since all efforts to show that the concept of God is contradictory have failed heretofore I conclude, somewhat reluctantly, that God exists.  Kai Neilson tried to argue this in his debate with J.P. Moreland, but didn’t make much progress.

Now I realize that to the average person, this seems like a trick, but the average person is not particularly accustomed to following logical arguments at all, much less highly specialized forms of logical calculi developed by professional philosophers.  Most professors at the University level don’t even know modal logic and many have never studied it and some have never heard of it.  What do those who know it, but don’t believe in God say?  They say that the concept of God is incoherent.  I have not yet seen an even slightly plausible argument to that effect.  Until I do, the OA will be cogent to me.  I might add that I am a convert on this argument.  I argued for years that the ontological argument was flawed until someone showed me the modal version.  I have always followed Reason wherever it lead and, as usual, it lead to God.


Adams, Robert M., _The Virtue of Faith_, esp. “The Logical Structure of Anselm’s Arguments,” Oxford University Press: 1987.
Moris, Thomas V, _Anselmian Explorations_, esp. “Necessary Beings,” University of Notre Dame Press: 1987.
Plantinga, Alvin, _The Nature of Necessity_, esp. “God and Necessity,” Oxford University Press: 1974, 1992.
Plantinga, Alvin, _The Ontological Argument_, Anchor Books, 1965.
Swinburne, Richard, _The Coherence of Theism_, Oxford University Press: 1977, 1993.

Oddly enough that quotation is linked to a site by an atheist named Adrian Barnett who is attacking my older version of this argument, but he was gracious enough to put this quotation, which I think works against his argument, by a philospher in the UK.

About Hartshorne

Hartshorne Lived to be 103, at the time of his death in the Fall of 2000, he was known as "the greatest living Metaphysician." Hartshorne was one of the major forces in the "back to God" movment in Philosophy (a term coined by  Christianity Today in a 1979 article. His first and greatest calim to fame is as the second most influential voice in process philosophy, along with Alfred North Whtiehead, but he is also credited as the man who brought the Ontologcial argument back from ignorminious defeat by Kant almost two centuries earlier. Hartshorne was also a recognized authority on birdsong, and an authority on bycicles, having never driven a car a single time in his centogenerian lifespan. Hartshorne devoted the last years of life to waging a letter's to the editor campgaign to advocate social issues such as medical care.

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