On several counts, you project your modern understanding back into ancient context:
They obviously do not have a physical person in mind when they make these kinds of declarations, so why suppose the early Christians were speaking about a physical Jesus when they claimed to have "witnessed" him?" If the word “witness” enjoys a very loose meaning for many of today’s Christians (and it very often does), why suppose it didn’t enjoy similar flexibility among the early Christians?
A word’s current usage cannot be transferred anachronistically “backwords” (get it?).
Looking at it again, I actually think it’s the other way around: Christians today have adopted the bible’s own looseness of meaning of the word ‘witness’ into their conversation today (just as they have in the case of other words, like love, peace, rest, etc.). This actually makes even more sense, for what are they taking as their model for usage of the word ‘witness’ if not what the bible itself says? So I’m committing no fallacy here. Christians of all ages seem to think of themselves as “witnesses of the spirit.” Unger’s elucidates this as “the direct testimony of the Holy Spirit to true believers as to their acceptance with God and their adoption into the divine household” (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 1370). Unger’s goes on to say that “the two classic passages upon which this doctrine is especially based are Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6,” and claims that “the witness of the Spirit is to be regarded as a sequence to or reward of saving faith” (Ibid.). If it is legitimate for believers to consider themselves “witnesses of the spirit” in this or some roughly similar sense, why would it be illegitimate for them to consider themselves witnesses of Jesus when they experience an appearance of Jesus before them, as in the case of the waking fantasies which many Christians I have known personally claimed to have experienced?
When Peter gives his sermon in Acts ch. 2, and says (v. 32) “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses,” what do you think he means? No gospel account puts anyone with Jesus in the tomb when his dead body was supposedly brought back to life.
In Acts 4:32-34 we find the following passage:
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold
The word ‘witness’ here seems so out of place on my (21st century) understanding of the concept for which it stands. But I’ll try to be flexible. For the early Christians, the use of ‘witness’ here was not illegitimate. For them, the dramatic change in the people’s response provided “witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” What is perhaps anachronistic is my assessment of such usage as loose, for this is not how I would use the word. But clearly Christians of the 1st century using the word ‘witness’ to include in its scope of reference spiritual objects (which is all I had in mind in my statement above) is not at all anachronistic.
The error is counted doubly when you attempt the feat with two different languages. (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies pg 33)
Perhaps your complaint is better directed to the translators of our modern English bibles, for they are using the word ‘witness’ in a variety of ways (I count 93 instances of the word ‘witness’ in my King James Version, and the meaning seems to flex through a multitude of senses) and while definitions are rarely if ever explicit in the bible, the New Testament’s usage of ‘witness’ does not at all seem incompatible with my point above, which you have sought to challenge in this way. If Paul had a waking fantasy of Jesus, like today’s Christians have, why wouldn’t he think of himself as a witness to Jesus? Even the book of Acts does not have the physical post-resurrection Jesus of the gospels paying a visit to Paul as they have him do before his immediate apostles before his ascension. And Paul in no way distinguishes between the experience of Jesus that he claims others have had, and his own. Would you not consider Paul a witness? That would seem quite strange, but I know that apologetic defenses can lead believers into very strange (and undesirable) positions.
If I had seen a man who was actually resurrected from the grave, whom I thought was "the Son of God," I would waste no time in writing down exactly what I had seen, where I had seen it and when I had seen it. If I knew of others who had the same experience, I would not hesitate to get their testimony down in writing, or at least to have them endorse such statements of witness. But that's me.
Do you live in the oral culture of first century Palestine? If you did chances are you’d be illiterate, and if you could read and write could you afford it? How could you assure the transmission of your document?
Yes, my point above does assume literate capacity, and no, we both know that neither of us lives in first century Palestine. My point here is one of character: I would not be sloth in broadcasting my witness, especially if I were personally charged by a great commission. I certainly would not wait 20, 30 or more years before getting my experience documented, during which time my memory of it could easily atrophy or distort my recollection of the event. As for whether or not I could “afford it,” well, again, I’m not there, so this question seems deliberately unanswerable. Similarly with your question about assuring the transmission of my document. How did the author of the gospel according to Matthew assure the transmission of his document? Or did he? Other individuals spread throughout the intervening centuries seem to be creditable for this task, not the author himself.
Now your objection is sensible on the basis of my worldview, for the concerns you raise would impact the situation. But how could it be sensible on the basis of the Christian worldview, where naturalistic constraints like the one you raise should ultimately be of no concern? Would a supernatural deity appear only before the illiterate? Christians are always trying to tell us that it’s a fallacy to assume everyone “back then” was illiterate, uneducated, unscientific, superstitious, etc. (and I don’t, by the way). But we can’t have it both ways here. If Jesus appeared only to the illiterate, I’d say that was a bad choice on his part. Also, if he did appear to only illiterate persons, why should this matter? Jesus is supernatural, and could easily empower an illiterate person with supreme fluency in a multitude of languages if he wanted to. In fact, the writer’s sudden ability to write could itself be evidence of Jesus’ supernaturalism, something the gospel writers were so eager to insert into their stories.
See how supernaturalism takes the apologetic backseat here? No, I do not live in the oral culture of first century Palestine, and you know it. I know this too. And the chances that had I lived in those days I’d most likely be illiterate is ultimately irrelevant. Would this stop a supernatural deity? Why think it would? Your response here assumes naturalistic constraints. Why would these apply if Christianity’s supernaturalism is true? Having to acquire literacy in order to write is understandable on my worldview, which recognizes the primacy of existence and therefore does not presume to fake the nature of the human mind. But Christianity denies the primacy of existence. What guided Matthew’s hand in penning his gospel, if not a divine hand, according to Christianity? What force assured the transmission of his gospel through the ages and into our hands, if not a divine force, according to Christianity?
It seems more and more that the authors of the New Testament texts were just as bound to the reality I know as I am. Their stories suggest otherwise, but the textual development speaks louder than this.
Even granting your position for the sake of internal critique, how many average people in our modern society have ever written a historical account of some life changing event they experienced?
I don’t have the statistics on this, nor would I see this as at all relevant. My point above was a testament to my own character, not to some ad populum law of averages. This should be clear from the leading statement: “If I had seen a man who was actually resurrected from the grave…” Then again, I’ve observed many people writing about things that have happened in their own lives. For many years I kept a diary, and often I would record things that happened, especially those that had a profound impact on my life. But then again, that’s me. I’ve known some others who claimed to have done this themselves, but diaries tend to be private (until they’re posthumously published, in some cases).
How about the Virginia Tech mass homicide? This was a major event to witness. Who decides – and why – whether or not it’s a major event? I was going to school at James Madison University at the time (2 hours down the road), and saw no written accounts circulating amongst my close friends who were only several feet away from the killer that day. Indeed not even blogging about their experiences?”
I wasn’t there, but I blogged about it shortly after it happened on two occasions. See my blog Virginia Tech
and also Christian Reaction to Virginia Tech
There were also news reports about the event for days and weeks afterwards, many of them including interviews with firsthand witnesses.
I am close friends with a man whose son was a student at Columbine when Klebold and Harris went on their rampage. My friend (also named David) wrote to me several times about his son’s experience shortly after the incident. I don’t know if his son ever wrote about it (I wouldn’t expect a 13-year-old to write much about anything), but that’s irrelevant.
But the incident at Virginia Tech is hardly analogous to a religious experience like a resurrected man-god walking and talking with you and commanding you to go tell the world. It seems that Peter and co. took their sweet time in fulfilling this commandment.
No, but they told me plenty about it. Even if they did write some of it down, would it still be around in a couple of millennia? Maybe so with today’s standards, but I don’t think that even close to a reasonable expectation for 30 AD.
What if their actions were guided by an irresistible supernatural force? I mean, let’s compare apples to apples here, shall we? Did any of your close friends report that they feel moved by a supernatural force to tell the world about this event, and yet fail to do so? The gospels are supposed to be divinely inspired, are they not? That is what I was always taught. Given this, I don’t know why Christians would care whether or not they were written by eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses could be relying on so-called “autonomous thinking” in determining what they witnessed, or they could have difficulty distinguishing between “the wisdom of God” and “the wisdom of the world,” which Paul rejects, relying on their own judgment of what they observed instead of “letting go and letting God.” An eyewitness account might take one’s own interpretation of what one perceives as authoritative in understanding it. But if man’s mental faculties are contaminated by “the curse of sin” as so many Christians claim, then it seems that one would want something stronger than this. Indeed, for the Christian, what could be more reliable than divine inspiration? What could be authoritative than a testimony like, “I wasn’t there, but here’s what God told me to record”? When we get to Paul, what exactly do we have? He bases what he tells us in his letters on the claim that he received a revelation from God. The appeal to eyewitness accounts seems to be an unwitting reversion to a form of naturalism, for it does not rely on appeals to supernatural transmission of knowledge. Instead, it relies on the senses and one’s own cognitive faculties, but if “God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4), why should we take testimony of this sort seriously?
Geisler (same book) points out it may very well be the case that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and James were among the 500 as well as nine who are elsewhere named Apostles (Geisler/Turek, pg 248); if he’s right then there are written accounts.
Well, since Paul never names any of the 500 people he mentions in passing in I Cor. 15, we could say anyone living at the time was among them. In fact, on Christianity’s supernaturalism, we could go well beyond this, and say that some or all of the 500 people had been dead for decades or centuries prior, and rose out of their graves a la Mt. 27:52-53, and gathered to see the post-resurrection Jesus. Or, maybe these were people from later centuries transported back in time to see the post-resurrected Jesus. Or, maybe they came from other planets. Since we’re asked to conclude that Christianity’s supernaturalism is “the best explanation” of the data, on what basis could we discount these alternatives?
Paul nowhere suggests that Jesus had taught these things during his life on earth. But that’s what we find when we get to the gospels: Jesus marching a squad of disciples through the ancient countryside between various towns in Palestine performing miracles, healing the blind, the lame and the infirm, giving moral instruction and teaching in the form of parables. We never learn any of this from Paul.
It’s as if you are surprised by the fact that Paul was writing letters on the road and not historical narrative.
No, that is not what surprises me. Paul may have been writing on the road (and writing on the road 2000 years ago would not be like writing on the road today – I know, I’ve done a lot of travel, both domestic and overseas, and today we move very quickly by comparison), but this did not prevent him from quoting OT sources and giving moral teachings of his own. Had he known that Jesus had taught the same things, I find it surprising that he did not appeal to Jesus’ authority. And if Paul were guided by a supernatural force (e.g., “the Holy Spirit”), and/or his hand was divinely inspired to write what he wrote, why should writing on the road be any kind of impediment? Then later we have stories which put Jesus into a historical setting where he does give the teachings that Paul gives as his own. If the gospels are true, I would find this quite surprising, perplexing even. But since it is the kind of thing we’d expect to see if the later narratives were literary developments rather than histories, it’s not at all surprising. What’s surprising at this point is how eager believers are to “soldier on” in spite of all the problems their position faces and cannot surmount.
Was Paul’s purpose in writing those letters to give exhaustive account of Jesus’ earthly ministry? No.
Paul need not have given an “exhaustive account of Jesus’ earthly ministry” in order to document knowledge of one. Indeed, we do not even learn from Paul that Jesus ever had an earthly ministry. Informative mentionings of it here and there would be quite adequate to establish his knowledge of it. And since he is said to have conferred with people who traveled with Jesus on that ministry, I would expect that he would have known about it.
Would these references have made his arguments more compelling? Perhaps to you, but where has it been argued that the original intended audience shares your worldview?
Why would they need to share my worldview in order for references to Jesus’ earthly ministry to be compelling? My worldview does not accept claims on the basis of supernatural authority in the first place, so your question here seems quite misdirected. Preachers today who are addressing people who share their own worldview are constantly drawing on the narratives of Jesus’ earthly life in order to buttress their points and make them more compelling. That Paul does not is quite curious. My evaluation here is not laden with anachronistic fallacy, either, since the earthly life that the gospel narratives give to Jesus is supposed to have taken place prior to Paul’s ministry, and Paul determined to “preach Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:23) and “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). And even with these declarations, Paul never indicates the time, the place or the situation of Jesus’ crucifixion.
So why blame Paul for not fulfilling your requirements when they are incompatible with Paul’s authorial intent?
Is it really “incompatible with Paul’s authorial intent” to cite Jesus for teachings which, according to the gospels, he gave? Is it really “incompatible with Paul’s authorial intent” to mention things like Jesus being born of a virgin, being baptized by John the Baptist, gathering a band of twelve disciples and journeying with them to places like Galilee, Capernaum, Jerusalem, performing miracles, curing diseases, teaching in parables, quarreling with the chief priests, etc.? Come now, David, in your zeal to exonerate Paul’s conspicuous silences, you’ve not only confirmed that Paul was silent on the points in question, you’ve also wandered into the preposterous in order to defend them.
1 Corinthians 9:10 ‘To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband’. Now why does Paul put this moral teaching in Jesus’ mouth, and then immediately afterwards clarify something that he is saying instead of Jesus? Indeed this teaching was nothing new (Gen 2:24; Mal 2:16).
As you point out, Paul most likely got this teaching from the OT and since the OT was held with veneration, it is a teaching that is attributable to “the Lord”. On many occasions Paul recasts OT teachings as if they were part of the rollout of a new covenant.
Still more to come!
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Christian Legends