Christ

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Jesus’ Birth: How undesigned coincidences give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts

There are many charges raised against the historicity of the birth narratives of Jesus Christ. These run the gamut from objections based upon alleged contradictions to inconsistencies in the genealogies to incredulity over the possibility of a virgin birth. Rather than make a case to rebut each of these objections in turn, here I will focus upon using undesigned coincidences to note how these birth narratives of Christ have the ring of truth. How exactly do undesigned coincidences work? Simply put, they are incidental details that confirm historical details of stories across reports. I have written more extensively on how these can be used as an argument for the historicity of the Gospels: Undesigned Coincidences- The Argument Stated. It should be noted that the birth narrative occurs only in Matthew and Luke. John begins with a direct link of Christ to God, while Mark characteristically skips ahead to the action. Thus, there are only a few places to compare these stories across different reports. However, both Mark and John have incidental details which hint at the birth account. These incidental details lend power to the notion that the birth narratives of Jesus are historical events.

Joseph

First, there is one undesigned coincidence that is such a gaping hole and such a part of these narratives most people will probably miss it. Namely, what in the world was Joseph thinking in Luke!? Do not take my word for this–look up Luke chapters 1-2. Read them. See anything missing? That’s right! Joseph, who is pledged to a virgin named Mary (1:27) doesn’t say anything at all about the fact that his bride-to-be is suddenly pregnant. There is no mention of him worrying at all about it.

So far as we can tell from Luke, Joseph, who we only know as a descendant of David here, is going to be wed to a virgin and then finds out that she’s pregnant. He’s not the father? What’s his reaction? We don’t find out until Luke 2, where Joseph simply takes Mary with him to be counted in the census, dutifully takes Jesus to the Temple, and that’s about it. Isn’t he wondering anything about this child? It’s not his! What happened?

Only by turning to Matthew 1:18ff do we find out that Joseph did have his second thoughts, but that God sent an angel explaining that Mary had not been unfaithful, and that the baby was a gift of the Holy Spirit. So we have an explanation for why Joseph acted as he did in Luke. Now these are independent accounts, and it would be hard to say that Luke just decided to leave out the portion about Joseph just because he wanted to have Matthew explain his account.

The genealogies of Jesus that Matthew and Luke include are different, but they reflect the meta-narratives going on within each Gospel. Luke’s narrative generally points out the women throughout in a positive light, and it is often argued that his genealogy traces the line of Mary. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, traces through Jesus’ legal father, Joseph. Now it could be argued that these are simply reflections of the authors’ imaginations within their fictional accounts, but surely including names with descendants tracing all the way back to Abraham and beyond is not a good way to construct a fictional account. No, Matthew and Luke include the genealogies because their accounts are grounded in history.

Incidental Details

Interestingly, the birth narratives of Jesus also help explain the events reported in Mark and John, which do not report His birth. What of the apparent familiarity John had with Jesus in Mark 1:3ff and John 1:19ff? It seems a bit odd for John to go around talking about someone else “out there” who will be better in every way than he himself is without knowing who this other person is. Well, looking back at Matthew and Luke, we find that Mary and Elizabeth (John’s mother) knew each other and had visited each other during their pregnancy. It seems a foregone conclusion that they continued to interact with each other after the births of their sons, which would explain John’s apparent familiarity with Jesus in Mark and John.

Strangely, Mark never mentions Joseph as Jesus’ father. If all we had was Mark’s Gospel, we would be very confused about who Jesus’ father is. The oddness is compounded by the fact that Mary is mentioned a number of times. Well okay, that still seems pretty incidental. But what about the fact that Mark explicitly has a verse where he lists Mary as well as Jesus’ siblings?

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3, ESV)

This verse seems extremely weird. After all, Joseph was a carpenter (well, a more accurate translation is probably “craftsman”) and yet despite Mark explicitly using that word for Jesus, as well as listing Mary and Jesus’ siblings, we still see nothing but silence regarding Jesus’ father. Well, of course! After all, when we turn to the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, we find that Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus had no human father. Thus, Mark, ever the concise master of words, simply omits Joseph from details about Jesus’ life. But to not mention Jesus’ father in a largely patriarchal society alongside his mother and siblings seems extremely strange. It is only explained by the fact of the virgin birth, with which Mark would have been familiar. However, Mark didn’t see the birth narrative as important in his “action Gospel.” Only by turning to Matthew and Luke do we find an explanation for the strange omission of Joseph from Mark’s Gospel.

Conclusion

I have listed just a few undesigned coincidences to be gleaned from the birth narratives of Jesus. The fact of the matter is that these can be multiplied almost indefinitely if one looks at the whole of the Gospels, and even moreso if one investigates the whole Bible. These incidental details fit together in such a way as to give the Gospels the ring of truth. The way that Matthew fills in details of Luke, Mark demonstrates his familiarity with the birth narratives, and the intimate connections of Jesus and John are all cross-confirmed is both incidental and amazing. The claim is not that based upon these incidences alone the Gospel accounts are true. No, the claim is that those who challenge the truth of these accounts must account for these incidences in a way that is more plausible than that they simply occur when people relate history. It seems that the only way to do that would be to resort to outlandish narratives that involve the four authors sitting together and discussing which portions of stories to leave out so the others can fill them in. No, instead it seems much more likely that these four authors were writing what they had witnessed–or received from eyewitness testimony, and just as we do when recounting events (think of 9/11, for example, and the different things people remember) they wrote specific details they felt were important or part of the narrative, while the others found other things more important or had other incidental knowledge related to the events they recorded.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Church Universal: Reformation Review

Perhaps the most crucial debate of the Reformation Era was over the nature of the universal church. During the Reformation, the church had split into numerous separate bodies. But were each of these bodies truly “the church”? Was salvation only found through membership in the Catholic Church? Finally, how did one determine what church bodies were part of “the church” if there were some new criterion for establishing what counted as “the church”? Having found their origins prior to the Reformation and a spectrum of answers during the Reformation, these questions continue to be debated into our own time.

The Church Universal

The key to understanding the emerging doctrine of the church within the Reformation is to note a distinction in meanings for “apostolic continuity.” On the one hand, one could note a literal apostolic continuity in which the authority of the Apostles themselves was passed from one person to another. On the other hand, some argued that the authority of the church was found in continuity with apostolic doctrine, not with a literal continuity of passed-on authority (McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction 141ff, cited fully below).

The Protestants began to view church authority as a consequence of right doctrine. This view allowed them to divorce themselves from the Roman Catholic church (and thus potentially lose the literal passing down of authority from one to another from the apostles) while still maintaining that their own churches remained part of the church universal.

Yet this was not the only question facing those trying to distinguish which churches were “true” as opposed to “false” churches. Surely there ought to be some signs of a “true church” to distinguish it from those that had fallen away. Martin Bucer and Martin Luther offered ways forward on this: the marks of the church. Luther insisted that what made a true church was “right administration of the sacraments and true preaching of the Gospel” while Bucer held that there was a third mark: discipline (Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation, 181, cited below).

The Background to the Reformation Debate

Alister McGrath notes how important it is to note the origins of the reformation debate regarding the church here. Specifically, the debate can be traced back to the Donatist controversy in the earlier church (third century). Essentially, this controversy centered around the very nature of the true church. The Christian church had been persecuted, and many had renounced their faith in order to avoid persecution. The question was asked: should these persons be allowed back into the true church? Could they still administer the sacraments and interact with the true body of Christ?

The Donatists said that those who had lapsed had become apostate and could not be allowed back into the church. However this belief was eventually considered to be incorrect and detrimental to the unity of the Church. Augustine argued against the Donatists and pointed out how the church is a “mixed body” of sinners and saints (McGrath, 144ff).

The concept of a sinner-saint was utilized by Martin Luther and other Reformers to note that the church was a body in which the Holy Spirit was actively working sanctification. That is, God was working to make the Church holy, but that did not mean that each individual in the church was absolutely devoid of sin.

How did all of this fit into the Reformation discussions on the true church? Simply put, the Donatists were radically schismatic. They sought to divorce themselves from “sinners” within the church. The Donatists were condemned for their schismatism, and so the Reformers had  to deal with the fact that they themselves had either been forcibly removed from or split from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, the importance of apostolic authority through theological unity became central in understanding the continuity of the Church.

The Modern Debates

The notion that right doctrine delineates the true church as opposed to literal apostolic continuity has a number of interesting outcomes which are very relevant for today’s church bodies.

First, it introduces a great difficulty for many church bodies in determining with whom one can fellowship. If the authority of the church universal is based upon true teachings rather than a passing down of authority from one person to another, then where is the line for how much teaching must be correct in order to remain as the true church?

Different church bodies offer different answers. Some church bodies err on the side of openness and humility and allow many into their fold who hold radically differing views. People in these organizations may hold to different views on things like the ordination of women, the age of the earth, and the like. Other church bodies err on the side of unity in doctrine and restrict membership to those that affirm sound doctrine as taught by their own body. For these church groups, a certain creed or body of work is referenced as the authoritative teaching of the church. If one differs from these teachings, then one is not part of their church body. (For more on the notion of using creeds or bodies of teachings as authoritative interpretations, see my post on “Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era.”)

To be frank, some Christians fail to recognize the diversity of these answers and simply assume that anyone who has a differing organizational structure is “liberal” or “conservative”–using the words in a derogatory manner. Such an attitude does not contribute to discussions on church organization. By failing to recognize the commendable attitude of humility in the churches that emphasize the unity of faith as opposed to the unity of individual doctrines, some unfairly label other church bodies as unbiblical or apostate. Similarly, by failing to recognize the commendable need for unity of belief in church bodies that emphasize right belief, some unfairly label these church bodies as schismatic or unchristian.

It also seems to me that both of these groups should learn from each other. Too many church groups vary too far one way or the other on these issues. Church bodies that emphasize humility in doctrine can often undermine their own church’s teachings. Similarly, church bodies that emphasize unity in doctrine can undermine their capacity for outreach and cooperation with other church bodies.

The Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican II, officially viewed non-Catholic churches as separated brethren–other bodies of true believers who were practicing independently. Such an affirmation ultimately undermines part of the debate that has raged since the Reformation: are Protestants saved, according to Roman Catholic teaching? This debate was hot during the Reformation and beyond, as the Roman Catholic church continued to deny salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Now, however, it is acknowledged that salvation can be found within Protestant circles as well.

Finally, the options Luther and Bucer offered to describe the “marks of the church” continue to be extremely important. Bucer’s emphasis on independent church discipline has–insofar as I can tell–largely fallen by the wayside, though it remains a point of interest in Anabaptist and other traditions. Although I would be hesitant to make a structured church discipline one of the marks of the true church, it would appear to be greatly important to have a system for disciplining those within the church who do not adhere to basic moral and/or doctrinal norms. However, this must be consistent with the notion that all believers are sinners being formed into saints through the process of sanctification. The modern church in the West perhaps does not have enough emphasis on the importance of church discipline, but caution should be taken so that a reform in this area does not lead the church back to a Donatist-like position.

Conclusion

So what makes a church a true church? The Reformers do still speak to us on this issue. Continuity with apostolic teaching is that which designates a true church. It is not easy to know where to draw the line between unity and humility, but over-emphasizing either leads to great difficulties for a church body. Of utmost importance, however, is the acknowledgement that though not all church bodies agree on every topic (there’s an understatement!), these church bodies are part of the saving body of Christ and therefore part of the salvific work of the Holy Spirit. Remembering this simple fact might help to spur on a bit of humility and unity among the Church Universal.

Links

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

Sources

Alister E. McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Image: credit to Beatrice- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Pietro_e_Ponte_SAngelo_(notte).jpg

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Avengers: Sin, Salvation, and Jonah

I have already reflected on Marvel’s “The Avengers” from a Christian perspective, but upon watching the recently released blu-ray and DVD I noticed two other major themes in the movie that I had missed in the previous post. So, time to look back at this huge blockbuster and offer some more thoughts!

There will be SPOILERS here.

Slavery of all mankind

A thoughtful friend of mine on Facebook pointed to the dialogue between Loki and a crowd of people near the beginning of the film wherein he forces them all to kneel. Loki stands before them and shouts:

Kneel before me. I said… Kneel! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

Think of how this resonates with the Christian notion of slavery in sin. We align ourselves with things that we love. Greed. Envy. Pride. Lust. Gossip. These things, while initially pleasurable, ultimately enslave us. Loki’s speech was very discerning, however. For even though these things come to enslave us and take time away from the goods in life, we come to love them, to glorify them, and to become attached to them. We want to be enslaved in sin. We desire it. Sin calls to us, enslaves us, and we love it.

Yet, as in the movie, we are called to rise up against this sin. But we can’t do it on our own. As I discussed in my other post on “The Avengers,” we “need a hero.” We cannot rise out of slavery. Paul discusses this very notion in his letter to Rome:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18, NIV)

Who is it that set us free? We did not do it on our own. After all, we became slaves to sin and offered ourselves freely to it. No, it is Christ Jesus who set us free. He was the “hero” who broke the chains and gave us our freedom in Him.

Debts that Cannot Be Paid

Later on, Loki converses with Black Widow. They discuss the notion that Black Widow has “debts” to others. She owes them for the things they’ve done for her. She says that her ledger is in the “red”–she is on the wrong side of debt. During this conversation, Loki tries to break Black Widow down verbally, “Can you wipe out that much red? …Your ledger is… gushing red.”

Loki’s comments are telling, for they are actually true of not just Black Widow but of everyone. We all have our debts. We have our sins that we commit in private, away from others. We have the anger we have expressed through thought and deed. Our ledgers are overflowing, they gush red. Our sins are too great for us to repay; we cannot wipe away the red.

Yet God has loved us so much that He paid the debt. Jesus, God in human form, came to earth and paid that debt for each and every one of us. Our ledgers were full, but now we’re in the black. We have become co-heirs with Christ and have received salvation by grace through faith. We are justified through Jesus’ death and resurrection. God forgives us our sins and wipes our ledgers clean on His behalf.  Loki’s comments are not unlike those of the Devil, trying to convince us that we are still in debt. Can anyone–even God–wipe away all the wrongs we’ve done? Fortunately, that answer is yes. Although we ourselves cannot repay it, God has done so for us.

Jonah

Another great line in the film is when New York City is under attack (seriously, why can’t that city catch a break?). Iron Man comes face to face with a gigantic enemy ship/creature/thing (my wife named it “Leviathan” and I think that’s a great title) and has to take it down. He asks his onboard computer: “You ever heard the tale of Jonah?” He then bursts into the mouth of the Leviathan and flies through it, exploding from the end and destroying it.

No, the reference was never explained. Hey, if you don’t know the story, look it up! It’s one of my favorites in the Bible. Just get out  a Bible (or search online) and flip to “Jonah.” It’s short, and I guarantee you it’s worth the read!

Conclusion

It seems to me that there are a number of themes in “The Avengers” that Christians can relate to. The notion of the incredible debt we owe and cannot pay due to our past resonates directly with the Christian worldview. It points towards the salvation we have in Christ. Similarly, our slavery to sin cannot be overlooked. We want to sin, we crave it, but thankfully those bonds are broken in Christ.

Links

A Christian Look at “The Avengers”– I examine a number of other themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Method or Madness? A reflection on Jesus, the Titanic, and Parallelomania

“[I]n the case of Jesus Christ, where virtually every detail of the story fits the mythic hero archetype, with nothing left over, no ‘secular,’ biographical data, so to speak, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical figure lying back of the myth.”[1]

One needs only to ask the question, “Did Jesus exist?” in order to spark intense debate amongst skeptics and Christians. A simple search for the question online turns up any number of non-professionals who boldly assert that there was no historical Jesus, or even that the evidence that Jesus was a myth outweighs the evidence that he was a real man.[2] There are even a few scholars who allege that Jesus never existed.[3] Perhaps the most frequently-cited “evidence” that Jesus never existed is the purported evidence of parallels in pagan and mystery religions.[4] The notion that legendary or historical parallels can discredit a historical account is itself on shaky epistemological ground. If, however, one were to take seriously the notion that parallels discredit a historical account, vast swathes of history would also evaporate into skepticism. Simply put, if the hyper-skepticism related to parallels about Jesus were applied to all of history without bias, historical inquiry would be undermined.  In order to draw out the implications of parallelomania[5] for what are generally acknowledged as historical accounts, the rest of this study will start off with a tongue-in-cheek investigation of one historical event (the wreck of the Titanic), emphasizing the parallels between it and a fictional account; then an inquiry into historiographical investigation will be launched in relation to the methodology which utilizes alleged parallels and their connotations for historical study. Thus, the following study will show that the methodology of those who argue from alleged parallels to the non-existence or “legendary hypothesis” of Christ is mistaken, rather than arguing that individual parallels are wrong.[6]

There is a tradition within Christian apologetics of pointing out the absurdity of rival positions, sometimes even by satire.[7] Essentially, by showing that an opponent’s method or conclusions lead to absurd conclusions about things nearly everyone agrees upon, the apologist can discredit the method or conclusion that is under investigation. The following section will be an exercise in this strategy. Note that the author is satirically employing the methods found in several sources of supposed historical inquiry into the existence of Jesus.[8]

The Myth of the Titanic: An argument from a “Titanic myther”

It is clear that the wreck of the Titanic is a mythic tale which has been foisted upon history. Few people know that Morgan Robertson’s novel, Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan,[9] which was written in 1898, 14 years before the RMS Titanic sank, outlines a highly telling, fictional account that has any number of parallels to the purported wreck of the Titanic. First, note the number 14’s significance: the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14th, 1912![10] The book itself discusses the wreck of the Titan, which a child could see is very similar to Titanic. Consider the first line of Robertson’s work: “She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men.”[11] The Titanic was supposedly the largest ship afloat at the time of her voyage.[12] The captains on both ships had the same name, Robert Porter. Not only that, but both the fictional and supposedly historical ships[13] had three propellers. Both were said to be unsinkable.[14] Both ships carried the minimum number of lifeboats required by law and therefore both ships lost an enormous number of passengers when sunk. [15] Finally, the clinching piece of evidence is that both the Titan and the Titanic were sunk by hitting an iceberg.[16]

From these evidences one would not be hard-pressed to conclude that the story of the Titanic is merely the plot of the Titan with historical embellishments. Consider the parallels once more. From the description (unsinkable) to the propulsion system (three propellers); from the lifeboats to the size of the ship; from the names of the ships to the very means of destruction, the Titan and Titanic are the same. Furthermore, numerology is inherent in the Titan/Titanic narratives. The 14 years between the two stories echoes in the alleged date of the wreck of the Titanic. Therefore, in the case of the Titanic, where virtually every detail of the story fits the “shipwreck” archetype, with nothing left over, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical event lying behind the myth.[17]

Parallels and Historiography

Setting aside the satire, it is clear that the example of the Titanic used here is only[18] the tip of the iceberg.[19] There are a number of other historical accounts and persons one could do a similar “study” upon.[20] But what does such an investigation prove? The notion that parallels can somehow discredit a historical account is on a very faulty ground. First, the notion of “parallel” is highly subjective and can mean different things to different readers. “One tends to read into accounts the commonalities one is looking for.”[21] If one assumes that a text is mythical—if one assumes the text is not trustworthy or at least had other sources or was derived—then one will find exactly that which one has assumed in the text. Samuel Sandmel writes, “I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist… I am speaking words of caution about exaggerations about the parallels and about source and derivation.”[22] He goes on to argue, regarding alleged parallels as derivations in Paul’s writings, “[T]o make Paul’s context conform to the content of the alleged parallels is to distort Paul… if we make him mean only what the parallels mean, we are using the parallels in a way that can lead us to misunderstand Paul.”[23] Similarly, if readers look at a historical account—even one that they believe only alleges to be historical—and make it mean only that which the parallels allow, then they distort the text’s meaning. Indeed, it can lead one to look only to the parallels for meaning rather than to the text itself.[24]

A second problem with the kind of parallelomania found in some skeptics’ looks at Jesus and alleged sources for the Jesus “legend” is that they have discounted many principles of historical inquiry. Historians begin by looking at the conventional meaning of a text.[25]  They also look at the historical context of the text in order to interpret the text.[26] However, in order to do this accurately, they must be aware of their own biases and be open to correction.[27] It is of the utmost importance for historians to consider the complexities of a historical picture as well as the links between causation, contingency, and counterfactual reasoning in historical research.[28] To put it more precisely, history is not a simple task in which one can conclude with certainty the causes of a past event.[29] Rather, historians must consider the interdependency of variables in a historical event[30] and avoid the temptation to oversimplify a historical account in an attempt to “clean it up.”[31] Those who seek to reduce the story of Jesus “without remainder” to legendary figures have fallen victim to a historiography of their own invention. They’ve followed their intellectual biases to their own conclusions and failed to take the texts into account.

Those who argue that the Gospels are discredited because of alleged parallels also utilize a poor, unjustified inference. Even were there a huge number of parallels between Jesus and the supposed mystery (and other pagan) religions, these would not, of themselves, discredit the account of Jesus as historical. Consider the “Titanic Myther”[32] in the satirical account above. The myther seeks to show that, due to all the parallels one can draw between the Titan and the Titanic, the latter is derived from the former. But by what principle of reasoning does it follow that similarities show derivation? Is there a way to determine when a document is derived from another? What is the cutoff point at which we know that a supposedly historical event can be said to be legend? None of these questions is intended to say that historians can never accurately say that a document—even one that claims to be historical—is legend. Rather, the question is whether the Gospels are shown to be legend by supposed parallels. If one holds that they are legends, then how is it that one comes to the conclusion? One can see by looking at most of the purported “studies” online that the conclusion is most often reached simply by citing a number of alleged parallels to Jesus across differing accounts, but of course that won’t do. One would have to show that these parallels are accurate in their claims (and many of them are not),[33] while also showing that the parallels are not mere coincidences, like those between the Titan and Titanic. Finally, the question remains: what rule of logic or historical inquiry yields the outcome that a prima facie historical account is in fact legend because there are legendary parallels?

Finally, there is the question of the burden of historical proof. The burden of proof is upon the one making the claim,[34] and in this case, people claim that Jesus was a legend. That is a positive claim in need of evidence. Unfortunately, the argument is most often made in a manner which simply dismisses counter-evidence while vastly overstating and sometimes even lying about the parallels which are found in other religious figures.[35] The dismissal without argument of counter-evidence, combined with a sometimes blatant disregard for historical accuracy[36] radically undermines the case of those who claim Jesus was a legend based on parallels.

Jesus and Legend

Hypotheses about historical events must take into account the entire body of evidence.[37] The theories which try to reduce Jesus to a legendary figure alone do not take into account the entire body of evidence, and therefore fail the test of historical credibility.[38] Suppose, for the moment, the numerous alleged historical parallels to Jesus were true. How, then, would historians account for the willingness of the disciples to go to their deaths for their beliefs in the truth of the Gospel accounts?[39] What of the Pauline epistles?[40] What of the archaeological evidence and extra-biblical documentation about the life of Jesus?[41] By reducing their historiography to a mere shadow of that which is used in standard historical studies, those who argue that the parallels of Jesus discredit the Gospel accounts have failed the test of explanatory scope for their theories. Like the “Titanic Myther” above, who didn’t take into account the photographs of the wreckage of the Titanic or the numerous firsthand accounts of her voyage, their theory cannot begin to account for the above questions—it does not cover the whole body of evidence. The “Jesus Legend” is a pure figment of their own imaginations–one which is not backed by historical inquiry.

Finally, those who argue from parallels make a number of other methodological blunders. First, they tend to lump all the mystery religions in with other pagan and ancient religions in order to form a kind of “composite parallel” to Jesus from which the Gospels are supposedly derived.[42] The problems with such a method, of course, are that it is extraordinarily anachronistic and that those proposing such theories “have been a bit too casual in fitting Christian elements into mystery religion data.”[43] Second, they borrow terminology from Christianity in order to retrospectively apply it to mystery religions, despite what are often entirely different contexts.[44] Third, the theories disregard the first century context of the Gospels in which, first, the “Homeric assumption” about resurrection (that is, that humans did not rise from the dead) persisted throughout the world;[45] second, the Jews would have been staunchly opposed to letting pagan religions undermine Judaism.[46] Fourth, the groundwork which must be laid down in order to establish dependence of one religion upon another is often ignored or misrepresented by those who alleged the ahistorical nature of Jesus.[47] Finally, at least some of the “sources skeptics typically cite as evidence that pagan religions influenced early Christian beliefs postdate the writings of the New Testament.”[48]

Concluding Remarks

Just like the “Titanic Myther” above, who drew upon disparate, unconnected, and self-invented (the reader may have noted one such example in the satirical section above)[49] connections and connotations to prove his point, those who hold that Jesus never existed, or that the Gospel narratives are reducible to legend have fallen into the trap of parallelomania. In their search for meaning, they have found exactly that which they set out to find. By rejecting the standard methods of historiography and embracing a hyper-skeptical approach to the Gospels, those who argue from parallels to the non-existence of Jesus become caught in their own arguments. Without any kind of historiographic base, their theories are trumpeted as unassailable facts.  The study that has been presented here reveals that rather than using sound historiographic methods, these hyper-skeptics have fallen into historical madness. Once one applies their method to widely acknowledged historical facts, history collapses in upon itself. In short, the way of parallelomania leads only to madness.

Links

Some people, reading this post, may immediately object because they find the parallels referenced in things like Zeitgeist very convincing. My stated topic in this paper was not to explore the individual parallels and refute them, but rather to point out the flawed methodology of these persons. However, for those who want more point-by-point rebuttals of these “parallels,” I have included a few links:

All About Horus– in-depth analysis of Horus as a potential parallel for Christ. Also, follow the links for discussions of other supposed parallels. See the next link.

Evidence for Jesus and Parallel Pagan “Crucified Saviors” Examined– More supposed parallels examined.

Zeitgeist Part I– a fairly thorough rebuttal of the movie.


[1] Robert Price, “Christ a Fiction.” Infidels.org. 1997, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/fiction.html.

[2] Mark Thomas, “Did Jesus Really Exist?” Godless Geeks. 2011. http://www.godlessgeeks.com/JesusExist.htm.

[3] Robert Price, Alan Dundes, and others are cited in Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 136ff.

[4] Eddy and Boyd dedicate a chapter to rebutting such claims in The Jesus Legend, 133ff. Examples of those who use this evidence are in abundance, for example: Robert Price, “Christ a Fiction”; Mark Thomas, “Did Jesus Really Exist?”; Jim Walker, “Did a historical Jesus exist?” No Beliefs. 22 April, 2011. http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm.

[5] Following Samuel Sandmel’s study of Parallelomania, “We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction.” (Sandmel, “Parallelomania” Journal of Biblical Literature 81, 1962: 1-13, 1.) I came upon this source independently of Eddy and Boyd, but am pleased that they cite this excellent paper as well.

[6] Again, for a study of these supposed parallels, see Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, esp. 133f; see also the excellent study in J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), 219-258.

[7] Perhaps the most interesting and humorous of these can be found in Richard Whately, Historical Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte (1819), where Whately applies Humean skepticism about the historical Jesus to Napoleon Bonaparte with great success.

[8] This study is not intended to be a comprehensive refutation of the sources which have already been cited. However, by showing the flaws in historical methodology, it seeks to show that those who ascribe to the non-existence of Jesus due to parallels are starting off from a flawed position.

[9] Morgan Robertson, Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, 1898.

[10] This Day in History, April 14th, The History Channel. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rms-titanic-hits-iceberg.

[11] Robertson, Futility, Kindle location 15.

[12] “Historic Images from the Titanic Sinking” Times Union, 2012, http://www.timesunion.com/news/slideshow/Historic-images-from-the-Titanic-sinking-41504.php#photo-2803535.

[13] “The Titanic: All About the Ship” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/the-titanic.html.

[14] Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 15; “Sinking the Unsinkable” 2005, http://www.snopes.com/history/titanic/unsinkable.asp.

[15] Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 32; “Titanic Lifeboats” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/titanic-lifeboats.html.

[16] “The Titanic Iceberg” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/titanic-iceberg.html; Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 329.

[17] The wording here intentionally parallels that of Robert Price at the beginning of this study.

[18] A search on Bing of “weird parallels between fiction and history” turns up millions of results. Many of these parallels are extremely thoughtful and creative, and demonstrate parallelomania (intentionally) in a perfect way.

[19] No pun intended in relation to the Titanic. Or was it the Titan? Sorry.

[20] One of the more popular historical examples is to compare Abaraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy—in particular, the stories of their assassinations. A skeptical treatment investigating these parallels (while still acknowledging that many of them are parallels) can be found at “Linkin’ Kennedy”, 2007, http://www.snopes.com/history/american/lincoln-kennedy.asp.

[21] Boyd and Eddy, The Jesus Legend, 141.

[22] Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” 1.

[23] Ibid, 5.

[24] There are indeed writings on the internet which allege, for example, that Robertson was “inspired” to prophesy the wreck of the Titanic in his novel. This is an example of parallels dictating not only the history but also the interpretation of a text. See “Inspiration 1: Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan” http://www.light-eternal.com/Titan.htm/.

[25] C. Behan McCullagh, The Logic of History (New York: Routledge, 2004), 18.

[26] McCullagh, The Logic of History, 24-26.

[27] Ibid, 31-34.

[28] John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History (New York: Oxford, 2002), 71ff.

[29] Gaddis, The Landscape of History, 102-103.

[30] Ibid, 69-70.

[31] Ibid, 108-109.

[32] Using the terminology of those who denote themselves “Jesus Mythers” who deny the historical existence of Jesus.

[33] Eddy and Boyd evaluate many claims in The Jesus Legend, 142ff; another problem with assessing many of these claims is that they are often given without any citation. One infamous example of outright lies is the “Zeitgeist” video (Peter Joseph, “Zeitgeist, the Movie” 2007, accessible here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZgT1SRcrKE), which literally makes up a number of its parallels (a critique can be found here: Edward Winston “Zeitgeist Part I: The Greatest Story Ever Told” 2007, http://conspiracies.skepticproject.com/articles/zeitgeist/part-one/). For example, it uses the English words’ “sun” and “son” to supposedly demonstrate that Jesus was the Sun God (despite the fact that English didn’t exist when the Gospels were written).

[34] For an argument to this effect see Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010), 94ff.

[35] A number of claims are analyzed and come up wanting, or as simply inaccurate or false in Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 219ff.

[36] Ibid; see also Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, esp. 139-146.

[37] McCullagh, The Logic of History, 49-52.

[38] On testing for historical credibility, see McCullagh, The Logic of History, 138ff.

[39] William Lane Craig, “Opening Statement” in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Edited by Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 34ff; William Lane Craig, The Son Rises (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1981), 127-134.

[40] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 400ff.

[41] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MS: College Press, 1996), 187-242.

[42] Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 223-224.

[43] Ibid, 224.

[44] Ibid, 224-226.

[45] See N.T. Wright’s brief but devastating criticism of the “dying and rising gods” alleged motif in The  Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 80-81.

[46] Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, 136ff.

[47] Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 226ff.

[48] Ibid, 233; for even more historiographical blunders made by those putting forward this theory, see Eddy and Boyd The Jesus Legend, 134ff.

[49] The reader may not have caught the lack of citation for the notion that the Captains’ names were the same in the book Titan and the “real life” Titanic. It is that easy to sneak a claim in between the lines. The actual names of the captains were Captain Bryce of the Titan and Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Christ Risen?

Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Now I want you to step back for a moment and think of your immediate response to that question.

Was it “Yes!” Well, why do you think so?

Was it “No!” Again, why?

I mean this very seriously. Read the question again, and now reflect on your answer. Does it come from a well-informed position or does it flow from your presuppositions or worldview? Why do you think Jesus rose or did not rise from the dead? Does your belief come from a careful study of the texts and the critical debate on the topic? Have you read sources from both sides of the debate, have you listened to top scholars in dialog about the topic?

Is it even important?

This one is for the atheists and skeptics out there: look at the picture I have posted on the top left. What feelings does it provoke within you? Disgust? Skepticism? Laughter? Joy?

Why do you think that is?

Christians, I ask you the same question.

What is the point of me taking this space to write all of this? I want everyone to be aware of the fact that when they consider the question I asked to start this post–“Did Jesus rise from the dead?”–they are influenced profoundly by their worldview and their starting point.

No, I want you to consider the evidence–both atheists and Christians. Christians, because it is your solemn duty to discern the truth of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14-19); atheists, because you owe it to yourself to follow the evidence where it leads.

I’m not going to make a sustained argument here. Rather, I encourage you to investigate the topic yourself. A good starting point is this podcast, which argues from the “minimal facts” approach. A summary of the usage of this method can be found here.

Is Christ risen? That’s a question we all must answer, but let us not answer it based on dogma, on presuppositions, or on a dismissal of the evidence. Let us engage with the facts and formulate a hypothesis. Let us investigate the historicity of the event and follow the evidence where it leads.

I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

Mormonism and God: A Philosophical Challenge to Mormonism

Central to discussions about God is the very concept of God itself. What does one mean when they refer to “God”? Suppose one is debating about the existence of God and in the course of that debate, one finds out that the other, when using the term “God” is thinking of a contingent, powerful but limited, and embodied deity; yet the other person has been trying to argue for the God of classical theism–infinite in power, wisdom, love, etc., omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, transcendent, and the like. Clearly, there is a difference over who “God” is. Now talk about God can be meaningful between these two because they can choose to use “God” as a title, similar to that of “King” (this is suggested by Paul Moser in The Evidence for God, 22ff).

That said, for this post I will not assume that “God” refers exclusively to the God of classical theism. Rather, I’m going to turn to the Mormon concept of God and examine its coherence. If Mormonism’s concept of God is incoherent, then Mormonism faces a serious philosophical challenge. (As has been argued elsewhere, coherence is a central test of a religion’s truth claims.)

It is important to note that there is no single “Mormon concept of God.” As with Christianity, there is an array of beliefs about specific attributes of God. Thus, for this post, I’ll focus on just two concepts of deity within Mormonism.


Monarchotheism (Also Known as Henotheism)

Explication

Stephen Parrish and Carl Mosser take Mormon teaching to expound the concept of God known as Monarchotheism, “the theory that there is more than one God, but one God is clearly preeminent among the gods; in effect, he is the monarch or ruler of all the gods” (Parrish and Mosser, 195, cited below). This concept of God is embodied (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith cited in P+M, 201). Furthermore, this God is contingent, the organizer of a world that was originally chaos, and one of many gods (Ibid, 201). Furthermore, Joseph Smith himself taught that this “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” (TPJS 345, cited in P+M, 202).

Critique

There are many difficulties with this Mormon concept of God. Perhaps most crucial is the inclusion of contingency in the concept of God. If God is contingent, then it does indeed beg the question “Who Made God?” Consider this against classical theism, which holds that God exists necessarily. Classical theists can respond to this question by simply saying, “No one made God, because God, as necessarily existent, never came into being.” Yet Mormons who hold God is contingent must answer this question.

That’s not the only difficulty with God as contingent either, for holding that God is contingent removes several of the reasons to believe that such a deity exists. Consider one of the classical arguments for the existence of God: that contingent things have all come into being, so there must be something which has always existed in order to terminate the infinite regress. Of course, if this deity which terminates the regress is, itself, contingent, then one must continue the regress to the next step. Thus, this Mormon concept of God provides no grounding for the universe itself.

Further, this Mormon concept of deity has no way to ground objective morals. While Mormons tend to hold that God is all good/omnibenevolent, they have no way to ground this goodness in God Himself. Rather, because God is contingent, there must exist some measure by which God is judged, and so one is left with all the difficulties of grounding morality without God. If, instead, morality is still to be based upon God, then it could only really be some form of extreme occamism/voluntarism–whereby things are moral just because God says so. The difficulties with such a view are extreme.

Of course, once more classical theism can explicate objective morality by grounding them in the nature of God. Because God is necessarily the greatest possible being, God is necessarily the source of all goodness, and therefore the grounds of morality are found in God.

Finally, there is the question of the problem of evil. Classical theism has a number of answers to this problem, but none of them are effective upon a monarchotheistic view of God. First, because there can be no grounding for objective morality on Mormonism, there remains the difficulty of explaining how actions could truly be evil to begin with (Parrish and Mosser, 215, see similar difficulties with naturalism here). Second, because evil is part of the universe and God himself is part of the eternal universe, evil can be seen as a natural part of the order of the cosmos (ibid, 215). Third, and most poignantly, because God is contingent and part of the universe, it seems that there is great difficulty with the notion that God would one day overcome evil. Because evil is part of the universe, and has therefore existed eternally rather than as a corruption of the goodness of nature, it seems that there is no way to finally overcome evil. Thus, the problem of evil is exacerbated exponentially on Mormonism (ibid, 216).

So, to sum up, monarchotheism appears to be one plausible interpretation of the Mormon concept of God. This concept is expounded by Joseph Smith in his Teachings and is also found in various theological works of Mormons (cf. McMurrin, Theological Foundations; Ostler, “Mormon Concept of God”; Paulsen, “Comparative Coherency”–these are noted in P+M, 457). However, this concept has been shown to be riddled with difficulties. It cannot explain many of the central features of our world, such as the existence of objective morality. Furthermore, it undermines reasons to believe in the existence of a God. Finally, this Mormon concept of God fails to even explain the existence of the universe itself. Thus, it seems to me this concept of deity is incoherence.

Polytheism

So much for Monarchotheism. But what about other Mormon concepts of God? There is one other concept which is attested in Brigham Young’s writings along with other Mormon writers. This view can fairly be referred to as polytheism.

Explication

Once more we find that the eternal existence of the universe is central to this view of Mormonism. Matter is eternal. God the Father organized the universe, but at least some laws of nature are outside of god’s control (see the discussion in  Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 99ff, cited fully below).

Furthermore, the notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

The rest of this concept is similar to the Monarchotheistic view, although rather than God the Father being a “monarch” over the others, he is more like one of many. As already stated, he is just one of a string of “Fathers.”

Critique

The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities (for some problems with the actual infinite search “infinite” and check out the problems Craig points out in his Q+A’s section).

Now, polytheistic Mormonism would also seem to have to deal with all the difficulties of Monarchotheism, for this concept also carries with it the contingency of deity and eternity of the world.

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity. While on Monarchotheism, the infinite regress was merely hinted at (and still extremely problematic), polytheistic Mormonism has infinite regress at its heart and soul. Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe. Polytheistic Mormonism, it seems, fares even worse than its Monarchotheistic counterpart.

Addendum: The “Standard Works” and Classical Theism

It is worth noting that those who wish to adhere to a strict “Standard Works only” approach to Mormonism may object to the critiques I’ve given above. The reason being that in the Standard Works, it seems like a view much closer to classical theism is expounded. For example, God is referred to as “Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:5 [and “Lord Omnipotent” in 3:17-18]; Mosiah 5:2). Further, God’s infinite goodness and mercy are affirmed (Mosiah 28:4, Moroni 8:3, 2 Nephi 1:10).

It is indeed the case that were one to only operate from this explication, one might come to believe in a God very similar to classical theism. There are three responses I would offer: first, I’d be very happy to welcome any others who do affirm mere classical theism. In that case, I’d like to discuss the finer points of differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

However, I think it is the case that many who object by showing a Standard Works reading of Mormonism do not themselves hold to a “Standard Works only” belief. Any who holds that, for example, humans can be exalted to godhood must accept the implication that God the Father would therefore be contingent, and would then most likely fall into one of the categories listed above. Second, I already noted how in Abraham 4 and 5 it seems quite apparent there are many “Gods” (any who disagree, feel free to simply read the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4… literally any verse between 5-31; it explicitly states “the ‘Gods'”). Because classical theism holds that there is only one who can occupy the title “God,” this places even the Standard Works alone reading outside the realm of orthodoxy regarding classical theism.

Finally, I’ve already quoted Brigham Young and Joseph Smith in other writings outside the “Standard Works” both affirming that God the Father is an exalted man and that God the Father was preceded by another Father. If Mormonism is to be conceived in a form akin to classical theism, Mormons must reject these writings, and with it discredit their prophets.

Conclusions

Central to the Mormon faith is God, just as God is central to any theistic religion. Yet, as has been seen, two of the major explications of the Mormon concept of deity fall victim to insurmountable philosophical problems.   The third, closer to classical theism, must contend with the fact that other Mormon writings (and indeed, even the Pearl of Great Price) are contrary to their position. The fact that Momonism’s concept of God is incoherent strikes a major blow to the truth claims of the Mormon faith. Without coherence in that which is central to the religion: God, the entire theological system falls apart.

Links/Sources

Check out other posts in my series on Mormonism:

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance– This post is pretty self descriptive.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?– Argues that the Native Americans are not Middle Eastern in ancestry. Because the Book of Mormon claims they are, the Book of Mormon is false.

Sources

Stephen Parrish with Carl Mosser, “A Tale of Two Theisms” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement ed. Beckwith et. al, 193-218 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).

Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).

[I have edited this post to put back in several references to Mormon scriptures that I initially omitted for length. Further, I modified it to make more clear the difference between “finite” in mathematical terms and “contingent” in philosophical meaning.]

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Scrooge, Molinism, and the “Grounding Objection”

`Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, `answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?’ …`Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. `But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’

…`They [the curtains on Scrooge’s bed] are not torn down.’ cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms,’ they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here — I am here — the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will.’-The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Such is Scrooge’s conclusion when he discovers that despite what he is shown about the future, he wakes up and discovers that he may change those ends. The story relies upon something which tends to be common in everyday language: the truths of counterfactuals. For example, Scrooge seems to conclude “If I change my course, then things will turn out differently.” Thomas Flint writes, “no one dismisses the story on the grounds that there simply are no such truths which ever could be revealed. The reason, I think, is that most people tacitly assume that there are such conditional truths” (Flint, 79, cited below).

It is therefore interesting that the most commonly cited philosophical objection to molinism is this very notion: that things can be true about what free beings will do in such-and-such circumstances. Most often the objection is put something like this: “What grounds the truths of these statements? If the creatures don’t exist yet, then how can there be anything to make such statements true?” I’ll be foregoing a lengthy philosophical defense of the position for now and instead focus on one rebuttal: Why suppose that such statements need to have a “truthmaker” or that they need to have a “grounding”?

What reason is there for supposing that “if a proposition is true, then something… causes it to be true…” (Alvin Plantinga quoted in Flint, 127)? Now Flint himself (and he says Plantinga follows) continues on beyond this to argue that there are in fact ways to ground such counterfactuals, but my own skepticism remains unconvinced. I’m not sure I understand the notion that propositions must have some grounds to make them true. It seems much more plausible to me that for any proposition, it is either true or false. Clearly, this is the case for many necessary truths. It is necessarily true that if something is pink it is colored. But does that mean that if nothing existed, this would not be true? Or would it follow that if no pink things existed, the statement would be meaningless? I’m not sure these things do follow, and so I remain highly skeptical of the notion that counterfactuals of freedom even need to be grounded to begin with. In any case, it seems to me highly questionable that they do.

It also seems extremely plausible to me to just accept my commonsense notion that the story of Scrooge just makes sense. If Scrooge had continued the life he had, then the things he was shown would have come about. Scrooge had a change of heart, so those things did not come about. But that doesn’t mean they would not have if he had not changed. The appeal to common sense is almost universally frowned upon in philosophy, but it seems like in this case there is little reason to doubt it.

Merry Christmas, all! I’ll resume posting after the day of the birth of our Savior!

Image  Credit: Robert Doucette http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_c_scott_as_scrooge.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts: 11/26/11

The Problem of Pain Sonnet Sequence 3– Holly Ordway, author of “Not God’s Type,” has an awesome blog going. This post is a sonnet which focuses on the problem of pain/evil. Be sure to check her site out in-depth, it has some amazing and unique content.

Over at Geocreationism, there is a new blog discussing death and original sin. It’s extremely interesting. Be sure to read his links on the various passages, which each lead to another in-depth and thoughtful discussion of creationism.

Book Review: “Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality” by David Baggett and Jerry Walls. The best book reviews don’t just review the content of a book, but present its central arguments. This is one such review. Check it out.

David and Tiffany O’Day have a great series of posts about “Authentic Community & Friendship.” Check out Part 1. Be sure to visit their homepage to check out the rest in the series.

The problem of anti-intellectualism in the church and some solutions.

Check out Apologetics 315’s list of 10 Apologetics books for giving. I will surely copy this feature with one of my own. His top book is Edgar Andrews’ “Who Made God,” with which I heartily agree. Check out the review.

10 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Talking to Cult Members, Part 3– this is part of a series on, well, look at the title! Find Part 1 and Part 2 as well.

Ehud the Judge/Assassin

Ever notice that the Bible is like an action movie? There are some seriously amazing stories in the Bible. Judges is full of them. Some of these stories can really make people think, whether they believe the Bible is the Word of God or not.

Take Ehud. His story would make a really awesome action movie. It’s recounted in Judges 3:12ff. Here are the highlights:

The Israelites sin. The LORD punishes them by sending Eglon, King of Moab. Eglon gets some allies of his to come with him and they beat up Israel. The Israelites cry out for help, and the LORD sends help for them. Enter Ehud, the assassin. Ehud is left-handed, and the king’s body guards don’t discover his weapon (probably because they didn’t bother to search his right side–his sword would be on opposite hand to make it easier to draw). Ehud asks for a private audience and Eglon grants it. Ehud stabs Eglon so hard that it sinks all the way into the portly man’s flesh. Leaving his blade behind, Ehud escapes and rallies the troops, who unite around their new leader. He then strikes ten thousand Moabites down with his army, and none escape.

Yeah, it could make a pretty epic action movie. But what about a Bible story? How are we supposed to take this story in the context of Scripture? Note once more the beginning of the story: the Israelites did evil (Judges 3:12). Throughout Judges, we see the same pattern: the Israelites do evil, and God punishes them by oppressing them with one of the nations in the area. Then, the Israelites realize their evil, and they cry to God, repentant, and ask Him for help. He delivers them from their enemies, and there is peace in the land.

What can we take away from this story? Does it show another instance of evil in the Bible which Christians must hide? No, rather it shows the story that we can see woven throughout the Scriptures: a story of redemption and peace with God. Because of Jesus, we now live in an era in which we no longer have to wait for a deliverer, as Israel did. We’re told that all people have sinned and fall short (Romans 3:23), just as the Israelites did. And we all deserve punishment. But when we cry out to God, we know there is a redeemer close at hand. God forgives our sins because of Christ, and we can live in peace.

The cycle in Judges is repeated over and over. It reflects a time in which everyone did what they willed (Judges 21:25). God came to His people with the understanding they had. But in our time, we have Jesus who died once for all. The cycle is broken, and we may enjoy eternal peace.

See Judges 3 for more on Ehud.

This is part of a continuing series on “Awesome Person(s) of the Bible.” Other posts can be found here.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Atonement and a Timeless God

One of my own struggles with Christianity as I began serious contemplation of its core doctrines is the doctrine of atonement. Specifically, I kept wondering how it is that Jesus’ death two thousand years ago could be used as atonement for my sins now. In order to overcome my difficulties figuring this out, I admittedly opted for a fideist type of approach and just assumed that God could do what He wanted, and if He wanted to forgive me because of something two thousand years ago, that was fine.

More recently, however, I’ve been thinking about God’s timeless nature. I touched on these thoughts in my last post, but wanted to get into more depth now.

Consider this: If God is timeless, then God’s existence occurs “all at once”; there is no sequence of events to God, only one eternal “now.” But then it follows that God the Son, Jesus Christ, is eternally crucified, eternally exalted, eternally reigning on high.

In some sense, if God is timeless, then it follows that while I am sinning, Christ is suffering on the cross. As I ask for forgiveness, He is rising from the tomb. As I read Scripture, Christ is speaking. I don’t mean these things temporally, of course, for on this view, god is atemporal–He is without time. Thus, I am not saying that “now”, Christ is dying in a temporal sense; rather, it is meant metaphorically. Christ is crucified in God’s eternal “now”; during which all events are “present.”

What does this mean for atonement? At least in my opinion, it seems to make a lot of sense out of the idea that Christ’s death pays for my sins. For there is no moment at which Christ is not suffering for my sins–a truly horrific thought. On the other hand, there is no moment at which Christ is not glorified with His Father in heaven. All of God’s experience occurs in an instant.

It should be noted again that these considerations are not intended to imply that all events are “simultaneous” in a temporal sense of “occurring at the same time”; rather, they are simultaneous in the sense that from God’s perspective, they have occurred; are occuring; and will occur. All events are eternally present to God. Neither does this mean that God has no sense of the order of events. God’s eternal now sees events in order of logical priority as opposed to temporal progression. Therefore, God knows that one event (x) occurs “before” another (y) in the sense that x is logically prior to y; x had to occur for y to happen. But God experiences all events as “now”; as the changeless, immutable deity, He is eternally crucified, eternally glorified; eternally paying for our sins, and eternally forgiving us for them.

At Communion today (Sunday), I was contemplating the implications of an atemporal God for atonement and justification. I was overcome with emotion as I thought deeply on the issue. As I was eating of the body and blood, Christ was being crucified for my sins; as my forgiveness was declared, Christ was rising.

Powerful thoughts. I think divine temporalists (those who hold that God is temporal) still have to deal with the doctrine of atonement: how does a death thousands of years ago atone for me now? Those who hold God is timeless can answer this question sufficiently: Christ is paying for your sins.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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