Another Response to David, Part 6: Signs of the Legends
Yes, you adhere to supernaturalism on the one hand (which defies explanation), and yet demand more and more and more explanation when it comes to hypotheses involving embellishment, fabrication, misunderstandings that beget further misunderstandings, manipulation of sources (such as OT "prophecies" of Jesus), etc., all couched in a worldview which condemns human beings as depraved liars. Got it.
Not even close Dawson, and I’m surprised you would hurl such insults if you are really laboring in love as you claim. It only makes the discussion less productive.
Also, it is the Christian worldview, not mine, which views man as contaminated with some malady or force called "sin," something we are said to be born with or into, something that is part of our nature whether we like it or not. There's no use denying this aspect of our existence, Christians say, for it is traced back to the fall of Adam, the first man, according to the Genesis myth which got the whole thing started. It's never been clear how one "inherits" sin from Adam, or how one man's guilt can be hereditary. But then again, supernaturalism defies explanation, and we're just supposed to believe that this curse is passed on from generation to generation, without exception. In Rom. 3:12 Paul declares "there is none that doeth good, no, not one." To be true, this statement would have to include Paul himself. This statement was preceded by the declaration, in 3:4, "Let God be true, but every man a liar," which I've always thought a very puzzling statement, for it seems to put this decision, that "God [is] true" and "every man a liar" in the hands of the believer. That makes sense on my analysis of Christianity as ultimately being rooted in imagination. But Christians want to believe all this is true. But if it's true, that men are inherently depraved and involuntarily prone to lying, why should I trust what any Christian says? It's completely self-undercutting, even coming from the bible, because it was written by men, and, as men, they are involuntarily prone to lying according to their own worldview.
And here I am, I have offered a non-supernaturalistic explanation of the data which we find in the New Testament, and it's rejected because a few inconsequential things here and there are left "unexplained." But if being able to explain everything comprehensively were the guiding criterion for qualifying an account as reasonable, then surely we ought not accept the Christian account of the New Testament.
David had written:
3. Your interpretation provides little explanatory power, since if 'brother of the Lord' simply means James was a Christian, this is nothing unique and honorific at all.
Did you read what I had written? Paul clearly thought that James was a "pillar" of the church at the time (I referred you to Gal. 2:9). He was not just another convert in Paul's view.
This doesn't at all lend credence to your argument about the meaning of the phrase in Galatians 1.
Paul could say James was purple in chapter 2, but why assume that has any bearing on the meaning of a phrase in chapter 1?
Specifically what evidence "points to the historicity of the Gospels"? What exactly do you mean by this? What evidence is there that a deity incarnated itself, was born as a human being to a virgin mother, performed miracles and cured congenital blindness, rebuked demons and devils, raised dead people back to life, and was himself raised back to life after being crucified? We have stories, and stories can be made up. Tell me what evidence supports these stories?
It seems like you have only supernatural events in mind for the historicity of the Gospels. There are voluminous works out there on the historical Jesus from all spectrums of the issue which give evidence for this. Need I summarize them all here?
All Christians have for validating the gospel narratives are the storybooks themselves, and sources which variously date later but are taken as confirmation of these storybooks. But in the end, stories are all they have, stories which become “real” in the believer’s imagination, because he envisages the characters and events which they depict. They are, in essence, the precursors to today’s cartoons.
As for the legend theory, I’ve already pointed to things which Paul says that conflicts with the later record, such as his view of rulers.
I already asked how Paul’s general description of rulers is relevant to a specific description in the Gospels.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.
Now, if Paul had no knowledge of these things, and in fact had known differently about rulers and governors, thinking they were fair, then Paul's proclamation about rulers and governors might make sense. But why wouldn't he know about these things? Is it possible that Paul was just uninformed? But how could that be the case, given his travels and humanitarian ventures? It seems difficult to believe that Paul would have been so ignorant of the behavior of rulers and governors which not only impacted the lives of believers, but also helped to propel the very events of the narratives which we find in the gospels and book of Acts. Besides, Paul was supposedly “divinely inspired,” having his knowledge by result of it being revealed to him from a supernatural source. This would seem to make ignorance of these evil rulers all the more unlikely. And if Paul were so divinely inspired, wouldn’t he have at least some inkling of the state-sanctioned persecution to come? Surely Christians would not suppose that Paul’s generality could apply to Nero, Severus, Maximinus, Decius, Diocletian, etc. Clearly many rulers and governors of Paul’s time (even of the Roman state itself) were not fair, as he describes them, nor were many to come. At best, Paul’s statement seems wildly naïve. We can reasonably ask: What rulers and governors did Paul have in mind here? Paul himself does not tell us, which is not surprising.
But Paul’s statement that rulers and governors is only one of numerous points of discrepancy between what we read in his letters as opposed to what we read in the gospels and the book of Acts.
In I Cor. 5:9-11, Paul writes:
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
For Paul, spiritual maturity clearly involves doing away with “childish things.” Famously, he tells us (I Cor. 13:11):
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things
Brethren [believers might mistakenly think he’s speaking to Jesus’ biological siblings here], be not children in understanding... in understanding be men.
Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
For Jesus, salvation (the kind that grants entry into heaven anyway) is available if one should “keep the commandments” (cf. Mt. 19:16-19). But Paul would have none of this, as this is a soteriology of works. For Paul, salvation is through faith:
If thou confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness: and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
When it comes to the resurrection appearances, the view which gospels give us differs significantly from what we find in Paul, and even amongst themselves the gospels have some major points of discrepancy. Wells summarizes these problems as follows:
As, then, appearances of the resurrected Lord were of importance in the early church in establishing apostolic authenticity, it is at first surprising that those recorded in the gospels correlate poorly with those posited by Paul. The canonical gospels know nothing of an appearance to James, or to five hundred. And although Cephas as, according to Paul, the first to see the risen one, Peter plays but a very minor part in the gospel resurrection stories... In Matthew and John, appearances to women (unmentioned by Paul) are given pride of place. This suggests that the gospels were written at a time when establishing one’s apostolic authority by reference to appearances had ceased to be important. Mark, whose Christology led him to represent Jesus as dying deserted by his disciples, introduced women instead of them as witnesses of the crucifixion and burial, and naturally represented these women as going to the tomb on Easter morning, where they receive the resurrection news from an angel in the empty sepulcher [also unmentioned by Paul]. Matthew initiated a tradition of actual appearances of the risen one to these women by supplementing Mark’s story... It is also noteworthy that, while Paul has nothing to say of the locality where the appearances occurred, later Christian documents which are explicit on this matter contradict each other. Matthew locates the appearances to the disciples exclusively in Galilee, whereas Luke confines them to Jerusalem, seventy miles away. Such major discrepancies concerning a matter of the greatest importance to early Christianity suggests that stories of the appearances are legends. Initially Christians would simply have believed that Christ was risen; later, various stories about his appearances entered the tradition as attempts to substantiate this claim... That Christ rose from the dead does not of itself give him any share in God’s sovereignty. To achieve this he must be exalted to heaven, to sit at God’s right hand. Resurrection, then, and exaltation or heavenly session are not identical, although it was natural for the earliest Christians to assume that the latter the former immediately. Paul does not suggest any discontinuity when he writes of “Christ Jesus... who was raised from the dead and is at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34). And in Phil. 2:8-9 the sequence of events is said to be: Jesus dies and God exalts him to heaven. In Paul’s view, the post-resurrection appearances were made from heaven... The evangelists, however, writing a generation later, were anxious to establish the reality of the resurrection by making the risen one return – even if only for a few hours – to the company of disciples who had known him before his death. It was natural to represent him as doing this before his exaltation, and so the possibility was given of terminating his resurrection appearances with a distinct act of ascension. This possibility was not taken up by Mark and Matthew, but fully exploited by Luke. (In the appendix to Mark the ascension is stated in phrases clearly drawn from Luke.) In Luke and Acts the physical reality of Jesus’ post-resurrection body is brought out by making him eat and drink with his disciples (Acts 10:41) as he had done before his death. Paul would surely have rejected as blasphemous any claim to have eaten and drunk with the exalted one, and his claim that this person had appeared to him is intelligible, as we have seen, as religious experience. Luke’s story of the risen Jesus consuming broiled fish (Lk. 24:41-3) represents later apologetic, relevant to a situation where Christians were replying to Jewish and Gentile incredulity with a narrative which established the physical reality of his resurrection. (The Historical Evidence For Jesus, pp. 44-45)
The profound discrepancy between Paul’s epistles and later canonical tradition is carried into Acts, which is written by the same hand that wrote the gospel of Luke, and which is supposed to document the travels of Paul on his missionary journeys to places like Ephesus and Corinth. Before going to Corinth, Paul went to Athens, and according to Acts he gave his famous public square speech (speeches are a big thing in Acts, and make for interesting study). A comparison of the speech that Acts puts into Paul’s mouth with what Paul writes in his letters is quite revealing. Wells summarizes:
That Paul preached effectively in Athens and won followers (as Acts alleges) before leaving for Corinth (17:34-18:1) – there is no suggestion that he was driven out – is incompatible with Paul’s own statement (1 Cor. 2:3) that he reached Corinth in “fear and trembling,” obviously after a very rough time in Athens. If he ever did speak as Acts represents him, then he indeed went a long way to accommodate his Christian views to pagans – so far as to eliminate the redemptive significance of the cross, which he stresses at every turn in his letters.
Luke knows nothing of Paul’s idea of the efficacy of the crucifixion. For him, this event was a miscarriage of justice, a sin of the Jews, in that they perpetrated it when they should have known from their scriptures that Jesus was their Messiah.
Apologists have tried to argue that at Athens Paul modified his real views, in accordance with his declared principle (1 Cor. 9:10) of becoming like a Jew to win Jews and like a Gentile to win Gentiles. But the context shows that what he had in mind when he wrote this was observation of the Jewish religious law (which in his view is in any case unnecessary to salvation). In Jewish company he is prepared to be bound, for instance, by Jewish food laws, but in pagan company he feels free to abandon them. What he does not mean is that he is a hypocrite who will change his theology so as to win converts. In Galatians he insists that, as far as the theological substance of his preaching is concerned he will make no compromise: “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8; cf. the whole of Gal. 2).
Apologists who reconcile Romans with Acts by making Paul modulate his theology thus pay a heavy price for the consistency thus achieved. But if, in fact, the author of Acts knew nothing of Paul’s epistles and little of their theology, then the address to the Athenians becomes quite intelligible. Luke lived in a world where the Christian mission had turned from Jews to Gentiles, and so he naturally wished to show that Christianity is acceptable from Gentile premises. To this end he makes Paul say that pagan religious ideas need by slight recasting to become Christian, that Greek lore allows of Christian interpretation. (The Historical Evidence For Jesus, p. 162)
The picture in Acts is significantly different. Acts has Paul subordinating himself to the Jerusalem church at every turn. Acts 15:23-29 recounts a letter written by the Jerusalem church to Paul and Barnabas who were in Antioch. This letter included instructions on what Paul and Barnabas should be including in the content of their missionary teaching and preaching. Among those instructions are the following injunctions (Acts 15:29):
that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
The claim that the injunctions in Acts. 15:29 are best understood as an injunction against participating in pagan festivities, as some apologists have argued in order to overcome the problem, is unpersuasive. For if this is all that the Jerusalem council intended, why didn't they say this? Indeed, it is quite a different matter, for things sacrificed to idols were often sold to the public for personal consumption. Thus one need not participate in the festivities which produced things offered to idols, and still consume them. As if anticipating such a spin on things, Paul confirms the point in I Cor. 10:25-26, where he writes:
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.”
At any rate, we still have a problem when Acts tells us that the Jerusalem council issued a decree instructing Paul and Barnabas to have converts abstain from things offered to idols, blood and strangled things (Acts 15:29), while Paul tells us that all they wanted of them was that they remember the poor (Gal. 2:10).
To make matters worse, in Acts. 16:1-3, when Paul meets up with Timothy in Lystra, the apostle compels Timothy to be circumcised - my reading of Acts suggests that Paul performed this operation himself (eww!). Surely the god of foreskins and calves' blood would have been pleased, but Acts has Paul do this to appease the local Jews. And yet according to Paul's own letter (Galatians), he rebuked Peter in Antioch for appeasing a Jewish faction which had been sent there by James (Gal. 2:11-12). This on top of Paul's vehement denial of any requirement that Christians be circumcized (cf. Gal. 5:6).
According to Paul's letters, there were some scandalous disagreements between them, much of it revolving around the place of the law in the new Christ-centered religion as it involved Gentile converts. This is evident in Galatians where Paul gives his side of the dispute and recounts his rebuke of Peter, something the book of Acts completely ignores.
You believe the literalist Christian propaganda because you’ve invested yourself so deeply into its program, and admitting that your leg has been pulled is just too much to bear, especially when the messenger is someone so “loathsome” as a confessed atheist. I realize this, David, I was in your shoes at one point in my life. Only I woke up.
It’s rather unfortunate that my beliefs be relegated to mere “devotion to a system.”
It’s not as if you have any particular insistence on the negation of my beliefs, or hold stock in the legend theory for any reasons relevant to your own Christianity experience.
No not at all! I am completely biased and blind because of my worldview and you are the wise old atheist waking me up with the somber light of disbelief.
I find that rather silly, but amusing nonetheless. :) I’m 24 years old and grew up in a Christian home in the deep Southern Bible belt. I wildly abandoned my parents’ faith in college and eagerly followed the natural sciences as the sole means of attaining truth. I did things I never dreamed of (and will have nightmares about later in life), having been freed from the morality of my youth. Then, through events in my life, God took hold of me. I picked up the Bible and actually read its claims about God, mankind, and the world as well as the relationship between them. It makes perfect sense to me, and everything in the Bible meshes with what I’ve experienced personally in my “walk”, or whatever the popular Christian word is these days. In addition, I find the 4 facts about the resurrection very compelling.
So you see, from my perspective I too woke up, and I was also in your shoes.
Actually I know a limited amount about your shoes, but I think you have a great deal of confidence in your dismissal of Christianity.
My confidence in my critique of Christianity is subordinate to my confidence in my critique of mysticism as such, because I understand why it is false, why it is dangerous, and what the proper alternative suitable to man is. It would be very difficult for me to just sit on this knowledge and do nothing about it. Hence I broadcast it, free of charge, with open admission to all who would like to come.
I'm sure you've thought this, but I'm always one to say doubt everything even your skepticism.
indeed all other sources examined use the phrase specifically to identify Jesus’ siblings.
And I’ve addressed this several times now: had later Christians not known that ‘brother of the Lord’ was a church title not at all denoting a sibling relationship, it could easily have been mistaken by them as meaning a sibling relationship, or opportunistically seized on in order to contrive such a view. Using ‘brother’ to denote others as believers was common parlance; it still is today. When I was a Christian, everyone in my church was so eager to call me his brother. Also, it is doubtful that Paul would have put stock in a relationship of the flesh. Nowhere does Paul say that Jesus had any siblings.
Are you basing your assertions about later Christians on what is probable or what is possible?
In Gal. 1:19, Paul indicates that whoever “James the Lord’s brother” may be, he was one of the apostles. He writes there:
But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
1. Simon Peter
2. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother
3. James the son of Zebedee
4. John the son of Zebedee
9. James the son of Alphaeus
10. Thaddaeus (surnamed Lebbaeus)
11. Simon the Canaanite
12. Judas Iscariot
If all your probability assessments rely on the legend theory, I think you’re in big trouble.Threats of being “in big trouble” will not move me.
I had written:
I’ve spoken to this already. The phrase "brother of the Lord" as used by Paul most likely indicates that James had some very high position in the Jerusalem church; for Paul, James is one of the “pillars” of the church (Gal. 2:9).David responded:
You’ve given no evidence that “brother of the Lord” indicates this, and neither have the quotes you provided. Speculating about unnamed “extant texts” doesn’t do much for me.Here you simply display the persistence of your own confessionally motivated denial. You want “brother of the Lord” to validate the sibling relationship which the gospels make explicit between Jesus, not because anything in Paul’s letters warrant this, but because you want to preserve the literalist view that the gospels portray authentic history. Indeed, you have provided no evidence to support the view that Paul really did have a biological relationship in view with his reference to James as “the brother of the Lord.” I’ve given several reasons why this interpretation is highly unlikely, and your response to these reasons is to dismiss them with the wave of your hand, to deny them outright if for no other reason than that you simply prefer otherwise.
Especially because it references "the Lord" as opposed to "Jesus," the phrase strikes me very much to be a title rather than a reference to a biological sibling. I don’t think a reference to a sibling here would at all make sense.David responded:
Actually when the alleged ossuary of James was found, one of the reasons some critical scholars rejected it as authentic was precisely because it named him “brother of Jesus.”Well, there you go, then. A later Christian could have easily come along and used his inscription on the ossuary to correct what he considered a problem in the written record.
I see that you resist answering my question. At any rate, I will answer yours:David responded:
Yes, you’re right, you did. Had I time to edit my response I probably would have caught this. My apologies.
On the contrary, I clearly stated that I didn’t think James’ sibling status had much to do with it.
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Christian Legends