Another Response to David, Part 7: The Anatomy of Legend and the Ruse of Revelation
Are all these ancient historians spewing legend material uncritically?
Verdicts on Acts have ranged from dismissing it as a bundle of legends to accepting it as a history whose trustworthiness is unsurpassed. Today conservative commentators still suppose, as does Dunn ([The Acts of the Apostles], pp. xi, 335), that it may well have been written by a companion of Paul. But a few theologians – John Bowden, for instance – are prepared to set it aside as “ideology, party history” ([Appendix to his English translation of G. Ludemann, The Unholy in Holy Scripture], p. 151. Others say that because it shows accurate knowledge of Roman administration it must be accepted as a well-informed account by a meticulous historian. But there is no reason why Luke should not have known a great deal about the Roman Empire, whatever is true of his story. In this connection, Barrett, who by no means wishes to suggest that Luke created his story out of nothing, observes that he himself has read “many detective stories in which legal and police procedures were described with careful accuracy, but in the service of a completely fictitious plot” ([“The Historicity of Acts,” Journal of Theological Studies], p. 525). (Wells, Can We Trust the New Testament?, pp. 111-112)
I find myself in agreement with Wells when he points out that “the profusion of miracles throughout Acts is something that does not inspire confidence” that we are reading genuine history (Ibid., p. 97). He gives as examples:
the Spirit providing transport for missionaries (8:39), angels ordering them about (8:26) and releasing on one occasion the apostles (5:19) and on another Peter (12:7-10) from the securest of prisons. Such stories of prisoners being supernaturally released were popular in the literature of the time. The apostles themselves work miracles ceaselessly. The Jews have their own magicians but they are always worsted when up against Peter or Paul (8:9-24; 13:6-11). Already by Chapter 2 the apostles have performed “many signs and wonders” (2:43); and in Chapter 5 “the multitude from the cities round Jerusalem” – there were no ‘cities’ round it: Luke had a poor grasp of Palestinian geography – bring sick folk, “and they were healed every one” (5:16). They thought they might be cured if only Peter’s shadow fell upon them (5:15), just as, later, contact with Paul’s handkerchief in fact suffices to make sufferers well (19:12). When Peter raises Tabitha from the dead (9:36-41), the obvious parallel with what both Elijah and Elisha had done (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37) betrays that Luke’s intention here was to show that the apostles were in no way inferior to the prophets. But the more general overall purpose of the miracle stories is to demonstrate that the growth of the early church was God-driven. (Ibid.)
So if the author of Luke-Acts was a historian, I suppose Agatha Christie was also. At any rate, I’ve seen no good reason from Christians to suppose that the NT authors were not indulging themselves in the development of legends, and with the content and a track record like those which we see in the gospels and the book of Acts, it’s pretty easy to see why.
External sources seem to be the biggest problem for the legend theory.
Actually, as Wells, Doherty, Freke & Gandy, Price, etc., all show, external sources confirm the theory quite elegantly. They just don’t constrain their understanding of those sources according to a supernatural bias. Also, see my Early Non-Christian Testimony.
Do you really intend to reject every piece of evidence simply because it came later and “could have” been embellished?
If the context suggests that a feature or element is the result of embellishment, then I see no reason why I should not identify it as such. For instance, in Matthew, at Jesus’ death on the cross, you have an earthquake, saints rising out of their graves, the rent in the temple cloth, etc., details which no other writer, either in the NT or in the non-Christian record of the time, corroborates. All these things strike me as embellishments intended to make the event all the more impressive and dramatic. I see every reason to suppose these are inventions by the author and no reason to suppose they are historical.
There are many examples, too numerous to cull together here, which give little reason for confidence that we’re reading history in the gospels. For instance, in discussing two passages in Mark – 7:31-36 and 8:22-26 – Wells points out:
In both these pericopes Jesus uses spittle in the process of effecting the cure. All races of antiquity attached magical healing significance to spittle (see the discussion in Hull 1974, pp. 76-78), and this crudity, well-known from pagan parallels and embarrassing to commentators, may explain why Matthew and Luke omitted these two Markan stories. (The Jesus Myth, p. 149)
Are these healing stories really “history”? Why should we accept them as genuine history? It’s no use to try to recreate these conditions using saliva from anyone today, because apologists will say that mere mortal spit does not have the magical properties of an incarnated deity’s spit. So we’re stuck with accepting Mark on his say so in a matter which is simply incredible and obviously fantastic.
In many parts of the gospels, Jesus instructs story characters who are made to witness his acts or identify him as the messiah, to tell no one. Did they all quite coincidentally violate his instruction and go and tell someone who was writing Jesus’ biography about this? In Jesus’ hesitation prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read the prayer Jesus supposedly uttered in private. Who was there to record this if Jesus was praying in private? Who was there to witness Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness? The stories are chock full of constructed sequences which are obviously not historical.
The cumulative case is rather devastating; indeed, not even Christian apologists explaining away apparent Bible contradictions have attempted the maneuvers of proponents of the extreme legend theory.
Christian apologists ultimately rest their appeal to supernaturalism; they have to, because that is what the biblical record does. Paul appeals to supernatural revelation. The gospels appeal to miracles. The later apologists appeal to supernatural agencies. Those who see the telltale signs of legend-building need not make appeal to such fantasies.
Douglas J. Moo (The Letter of James,pg 13) points out that ‘…physical ties to Jesus became important only after the time of James’ death.’
David, this statement right here undermines the view that "brother of the Lord" indicates a sibling relationship.
Absolutely not, because I clearly said that I reject the position that Paul is honoring James with the phrase.
You can reject the view that Paul is honoring James with a title all you like. This only makes Moo's point all the more problematic though, since your position is that "brother of the Lord" is a reference indicating a sibling relationship. You want to interpret Paul as referring to James as a sibling of Jesus while he was yet alive (and writing when he was yet alive, according to Christian tradition), and yet here's Moo proclaiming that “physical ties to Jesus became important only after the time of James’ death.”
Why is any scholar that disagrees with your position a ‘Christian apologist’?
I don’t believe I have affirmed or practiced such a rule.
Actually we can say more than this. There are clear signs of tampering of common sources throughout the synoptics to taylor them to the specific preferences of the writer. It’s clear that Matthew and Luke were drawing upon Mark’s model, for they follow the same general course. But between Matthew and Luke, who (as many scholars – you like those – have pointed out) were both also drawing on a non-Markan source (referred to in the literature as Q), show differences in rendering the same sayings attributed to Jesus.
I think a lot of the alleged ‘tampering’ is simply each author demonstrating a purpose and an intended audience.
I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. However, a study of the four gospels’ respective treatment of the passion sequences and their aftermath would reveal something other than merely differing purposes or different intended audiences. Rather, we would see that the basic story found in Mark (the earliest gospel) undergoes various transformations as it is developed, reworked and, yes, embellished. One consequence of all this is the jumble of contradictions which apologists have for centuries tried either to cover up or to explain away, both tasks being rather hopeless. For starters, take a look at Dan Barker’s Leave No Stone Unturned. The evangelists’ willingness to revise the story to suit their own individual purposes, indicates that what we’re looking at here is not history, but theologically laden legends.
I had cited two passages, one from Matthew and the other from Luke, which demonstrated how one or the other or both authors adapted a saying which both attribute to Jesus in different ways:
Mt. 7:11: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"
Lk. 11:13: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"
I then commented:
Notice how Luke pushes the promise further into the imaginative realm of the supernatural. Where on Matthew’s version, the reader believing the promise could reasonably expect tangible goodies in response to asking the "Father" for them, Luke preempts such expectation by altering the text to say "the Holy Spirit" instead of simply "good things," which is, even on the Christian view, a broader generality. There are many similar examples of such loose handling of source material in the gospels. Clearly these folks were *creating* narratives, not *recording* history.
Some manuscripts for Luke 11:13 read πνευμα αγαθον, or ‘the good spirit’.
Yes, I’ve heard this before. But this does not alter my point. Luke still moves what Matthew has away from a material interpretation. Matthew’s “good things” is far more open-ended. The author of Luke, very likely drawing from the same or closely similar source, probably saw this as imprudent (since promises about material goods can be tested, and are therefore an opportunity for failure), and recast it in a manner which precludes a material interpretation, thus denying a chance for failure. And we’re still left wondering: Which, if either statement, did Jesus really say?
There is the issue of the authors placement of this narrative within the theme he is developing for his audience: ‘The Lukan parallel in 11:9-13 comes in a context where prayer is the issue. The point is fundamentally the same, but Luke narrows the focus. Rather than speaking of good gifts, he notes that the Holy Spirit is given. Since the Spirit is the consummate gift of God and also is a source of enablement and wisdom, the different is not that great.’ (Darrell Bock, Jesus according to Scripture, pg 146 sect. 63)
This reads like a bald-faced attempt at spin. No matter how apologists try to explain it, there is still a difference here, and it is in fact a significant difference. That “Luke narrows the focus” only concedes that the author is reworking the material, and thus not recording history but is inserting his own theological interpretation at this point. Since “good things” is much broader and more inclusive than “the Holy Spirit,” which is exactingly specific, there’s a great difference between the two. If one knew only the Matthean passage, he could certainly be forgiven for taking it to be a promise for material values (e.g., new sandals, medicine, wine, a bigger house, clothing for the children, winning the lottery, etc.). But Luke would rebuke such an interpretation, saying “No, no, no... Those kinds of things aren’t what’s being promised here. Something much different, residing in the spiritual realm, is what Jesus is offering you. Sure, you can ask for new garments, better food, disease cures, a restored spine, wealth, etc., but you need to be satisfied with the Holy Spirit instead.” Indeed, Luke’s upgrade of the saying moves the reward of supplication into the realm of the imaginary (anyone can imagine that some supernatural spirit has moved into his soul), and you can’t blame the guy: in such a realm, there are no failures.
David then wrote:
Also, this is arguably usage of a common figure of speech called synecdoche. (see Blomberg, The Historic Reliability of the Gospels, pg 165)
Perhaps I’m just dense (though I’ve studied a lot of poetry in my day), but I fail to see how anyone would take Matthew’s “good things” as a synecdoche for “the Holy Spirit.” In her standard Poetry Handbook, B. Deutsch defines ‘synecdoche’ as “the naming of a part to mean the whole” (p. 88). What we have in the case of Matthew, however, goes the opposite direction: rather than naming some part which belongs to the whole of “the Holy Spirit,” Matthew supplies a vastly broader term, which (if one values it) could be argued to include “the Holy Spirit,” but certainly much, much more than this. Similarly, it is hard to see how “the Holy Spirit” could plausibly serve as a synecdoche for “good things,” because of reasons given. If it is, as the apologist wagers, an instance of synecdoche, then again we’re left wondering what Jesus really said, for at least one author has revised an earlier source.
One need not conclude that the Gospel authors were inventing their entire stories simply because they tried to speak to their audiences.
That the authors “tried to speak to their audiences” is not the essential indicator of invention or reworking a text, so this statement misses the point. When it comes to sayings in the gospels taken from Q (which Mt. 7:11 and Lk. 11:13 appear to be), I don’t think the gospel writers were so much inventing as they were adapting a source to inform their respective portraits of Jesus. However, this vies against the notion that the gospel writers were recounting eyewitness accounts or chronicling history. Did Jesus say “good things” (Mt. 7:11) or “the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 11:13)? Did Jesus say anything at all? Given the shoddy evidence and the contaminated documents, I’m prone to suppose not.
If a variety of religions which preceded Christianity incorporated worship practices that involved, for instance, the consumption of bread and wine as symbols for the flesh and blood of a resurrected deity.
Has someone provided an example of this?
Yes, see for instance Freke and Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, Robert Price's many articles and several books on the matter, Wells, Doherty, and numerous other sources. I certainly don’t have time to spoonfeed you here. But here’s a little taste, from Price’s review of NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (which I have, but have not fully read):
There are three fundamental, vitiating errors running like fault lines through the unstable continent of this book. The first is a complete unwillingness to engage a number of specific questions or bodies of evidence that threaten to shatter Wright’s over-optimistically orthodox assessment of the evidence. The most striking of these blustering evasions has to do with the dying-and-rising redeemer cults that permeated the environment of early Christianity and had for many, many centuries. Ezekiel 8:14 bemoans the ancient Jerusalemite women’s lamentation for Tammuz, derived from the Dumuzi cult of ancient Mesopotamia. Ugaritic texts make it plain that Baal’s death and resurrection and subsequent enthronement at the side of his Father El went back centuries before Christianity and were widespread in Israel. Pyramid texts tell us that Osiris’ devotees expected to share in his resurrection. Marduk, too, rose from the dead. And then there is the Phrygian Attis, the Syrian Adonis. The harmonistic efforts of Bruce Metzger, Edwin Yamauchi, Ron Sider, Jonathan Z. Smith and others have been completely futile, utterly failing either to deconstruct the dying-and–rising god mytheme (as Smith vainly tries to do) or to claim that the Mysteries borrowed their resurrected savior myths and rituals from Christianity. If that were so, why on earth did early apologists admit that the pagan versions were earlier, invented as counterfeits before the fact by Satan? Such myths and rites were well known to Jews and Galileans, not to mention Ephesians, Corinthians, etc., for many centuries. But all this Wright merely brushes off, as if it has long been discredited. He merely refers us to other books. It is all part of his bluff: “Oh, no one takes that seriously anymore! Really, it’s so passé!”
The quote you provided does not address my question.
The quote in fact does provide a brief summary in response to your question, and the other sources which I gave in response to your question go further in depth on the matter. As I said, I am not going to spoonfeed you here.
Honestly I can stand Doherty but Price (in his debates) uses so much rhetorical bluster that I rarely want to sit and read him.
Price is a delight to read. He turns what can easily become dry reading into something both informative as well as entertaining. Also, his polemic style is fairly mild compared to (and much more mature than) some of the caustic vitriol I’ve seen many internet apologists produce.
Okay, so long as it’s understood that borrowing from pre-Christian religious models was taking place in the molding of the Christian product. There were many sources, including various Jewish sectarian sources, the Wisdom literature, mystery religions, etc.
If you wish to assert borrowing from the mystery religions, go for it but give me an argument, not just assertions from Price.
I don’t see any need to provide my own arguments for this. Price’s work on this topic is sufficient in my view. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel here.
The evidence is clearly the opposite as you have it, but by deeming the mystery cults as "irrelevant to [your] analysis" as you have, you cut yourself off from a vast area of knowledge and source of evidence. I suspect there’s an apologetic reason why you have chosen to do this.
The evidence has yet to be presented.
Notice the bald assertion from ignorance here. Or, if it’s not ignorance, it’s simply blatant denial, this after just noting Price’s work on the issue.
I see no reason to accept mystery cult allegations on the grounds that we have no historical evidence of it.
There’s no historical evidence of the Osiris cult, the Dionysos cult, Mithraism, the Eleusinian mysteries, etc.? Here you put yourself in the dubious position of having to prove a negative. Do you think scholars invented these cults in modern times in order to view Christianity as “the great surviving mystery religion” (Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle, p. 115)?
There is plenty of explanatory power within Judaism for Christian practices, why need I go seek explanations in places where evidence doesn’t exist?
I agree that there is “plenty of explanatory power within Judaism for Christian practices,” but this is incomplete. Paul drew from the OT (instead of from alleged knowledge of a historical Jesus), but also from the Wisdom literature as well (some of which is apocryphal). But there’s no question that Hellenistic culture also had its share of influence on Paul as well.
Now David, I did pose some questions on how revelation is supposed to work, but I do not see that you’ve addressed them. Instead, you seem to prefer trifling over a passing reference to James as “the brother of the Lord,” which seems to be a very small matter in comparison to the claim to have received a revelation from a deity.
As I recall you asked two questions: 1. How does Paul know he has received information from a supernatural source? 2. How do we know that Paul has received information from a supernatural source?
Yes, these are the kinds of questions I was hoping to pursue with you. Paul himself does not seem to address any of them. Going by the content of the bible, we're supposed to just take his word for this. But most people wouldn't do this in the case of anyone else. Why does Paul enjoy this privilege with believers?
Doug Geivett delivered an excellent paper at the same Greer-Heard conference that I referenced earlier (Dom Crossan vs NT Wright) on the “Espistemology of Resurrection Belief.” He also has a blog and is very responsive and polite, so I won’t hesitate to refer you to him for a thoroughly more educated opinion. His blog here.
Does Geivett get to speak for Paul? If so, why? What special knowledge of Paul’s mental situation does Geivett have that is not available to the rest of us? How would Geivett know how Paul knew that he received a revelation from a supernatural source? I haven't read Geivett’s paper so I don't know if he addresses my questions or not. And nothing you provide here suggests that he does, other than that you recommend it in response to my questions. Is his paper available online, or if not can you recap any of his relevant points? I'm just curious, when someone like the apostle Paul claims to have received knowledge by revelation, how this works, and why we should take Paul's word for it. For apparently that’s all we have to go on – Paul’s say so. In his writings, Paul certainly does not provide any objective evidence to have acquired knowledge supernaturally. Nor does he explain how knowledge can be acquired by revelation, how one knows that what he is experiencing is revelation (if revelation is something experienced in the first place), or how one distinguishes between what he calls knowledge by revelation and what he may merely be imagining. None of this is addressed in the bible from what I can tell; indeed, it seems that the authors who have contributed to both testaments seem oblivious to these concerns from the very get go. If you believe I am wrong, then I invite you to show me where any biblical author addresses these questions and provides inputs which relevantly settle them.
Now again, I have not read Geivett’s essay, but his own description of what occupies him in it does not give me much confidence that he in fact takes on the kinds of questions I have posed. In a response to a critic of his essay, Geivett recaps its purpose as follows:
I argue in my essay that N. T. Wright, a Christian theist, aims for methodological neutrality in his historical analysis of the evidence for and against a literal bodily resurrection of Jesus in the first century; in contrast, Dom Crossan’s methodology is inherently naturalistic.
If this is an indication of what Geivett seeks to establish in his essay “The Epistemology of Resurrection Belief,” I can only wonder what it has to do with explaining how Paul could know that he had received information from a supernatural source or how we can know that Paul actually received knowledge from a supernatural source.
1. As you’ve already pointed out, you will likely believe a personal experience or account if it comports with your expectations for that situation. I think you may have gone further and said you only believe reports that comport with the laws of nature, but a minor difference given the frequency of miracles.
What I accept as truthful is more involved than what you describe here. Briefly I will say that a claim, at minimum, needs to adhere to or at least be compatible with the primacy of existence principle; there must be some objective input from reality to inform it; it cannot contradict previously validated knowledge, etc. Certainly I would not accept as truth any statement which contradicts, either directly or indirectly, the primacy of existence principle. Conformity with the primacy of existence principle is a minimum requirement for accepting any ideational content as true. If a claim fails on this point, I know that it cannot be true.
2. If someone has an experience, and finds no reason to believe things aren’t as they perceived, then they have good grounds for believing their experience to be authentic.
This is rather vague. At any rate, in any instance of experience, there is perception of an object(s), which is non-volitional, and there is – if one pursues what he has perceived – also the identification of the object(s) he has perceived. This latter activity is volitional in that we can choose to identify what we have perceived or ignore it, and if we choose to identify what we have perceived, the process by which we do this involves selective focus (the proper method is called integration by essentials). This is not an infallible process; we can and sometimes do make mistakes. When someone tells me that he has had an experience in which he has encountered a supernatural being, I tend to wonder what perceptual inputs (if any) were involved and what process he used to identify what he experienced as being supernatural. I also wonder what epistemological safeguards he may have in place (again, if any) which secure his claims from contamination by imagination, particularly because – after studying the issue myself for nearly 20 years – I find it pretty much impossible to distinguish supernaturalism from the playland of imagination. It is on questions such as this that theists tend to be most careful about covering their tracks, or outright evading.
In the case of Paul, who claims that the risen Christ appeared to him, he gives us nothing to go on in investigating these details. Did he see something? Going by what he says in I Cor. 15, it seems that he did see something, but he does not specify this. I’ve known Christians personally who claimed that Jesus appeared to them, and yet they did not claim to have seen anything that they called Jesus, but rather seemed to be imagining Jesus as an invisible, ethereal or immaterial being in their immediate vicinity. So whether or not Paul saw something or thought he saw something is not exactly clear. But let’s suppose for argument’s sake that he did see something. Well, what exactly did he see? He says it was the risen Christ. Well, how does one know what the risen Christ looks like? Is it possible that he saw something completely mundane but mistook it or misidentified it as something supernatural? Of course, Christians want to rule out such possibilities, but it’s hard to see how one could reasonably do so. Christians apparently want Paul to be infallible where the rest of us are clearly fallible. So how did Paul identify what he saw as the risen Christ? He does not say; he gives no indication of how he made such an identification. We’re expected simply to take his word for it. We are apparently obliged to grant Paul wide allowances on these matters which we would not consider giving to a man on trial for murder who claims that a werewolf appeared between him and the murder victim just long enough to do the gruesome deed and vanish in a puff of smoke. Why is Paul an eyewitness of the risen Christ, but the man on trial making such a plea is not likewise an eyewitness? After all, he was there, was he not? The evidence puts him there, that’s why he’s on trial. How could we prove his story is false? We wouldn’t want to be presuppositionally biased against the existence of werewolves, would we?
So people claiming to have seen a resurrected human being, may very well have perceived something, but how they identify what they perceived as a resurrected human being is something that is not explained in the earliest testimony. The gospels were added into the record later in order to put credible eyewitnesses into the story, but these are clearly concocted stories, bearing the hallmark of fiction throughout, and not rationally credible whatsoever.
3. Reporting such an experience to others would follow similar criteria; namely, they would deem such testimony valid given they had no reason to believe the person was crazy, dishonest, or mistaken.
In the case of someone writing 2000 years ago, how can we gauge whether or not that individual was crazy, dishonest, or mistaken except by reference to what he has written? If the content of what he wrote contradicts basic fundamentals (such as the primacy of existence principle), why wouldn’t we suppose that something about him was amiss in some way, be it that he was crazy, dishonest, mistaken, or simply constructing a story which was intended to have allegorical significance rather than historical value?
The policy which involves assessing a person's claims as automatically trustworthy if we have "no reason to believe the person was crazy, dishonest, or mistaken," strikes me as nothing more than a recipe for indiscriminate credulity. But if someone told me that he saw a resurrected man, why wouldn't I think he's at least mistaken, if not dishonest or deluded? Paul does not claim to have the kind of experience which the gospels give to some of Jesus' immediate followers. In fact, Paul gives no indication that he knows about the kind of experience that the gospels report in their post-resurrection appearance scenes. He gives no indication that Jesus had a following of disciples during his earthly life, or that his post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the other apostles were in the flesh and on the day of his resurrection, as the gospels depict it. The loose ends here are simply too reckless to take seriously as historical, and given their underlying commitment to the primacy of consciousness, such accounts cannot be true, for the primacy of consciousness defies the very concept of truth.
Conclusion: A person claiming to have experienced something miraculous is generally not going to convince me; especially if I haven't had personal experiences or reports from other, or most certainly not if I presuppose the impossibility of said events (which I do not). I do think in combination with other types of revelation (such as the Old Testament for those Paul was writing to, remember how much he liked to argue using it?) and with examination: experiences and testimonies lend support to warranted belief. At minimum such things may press a person to further explore something.
So a single claim by itself is not sufficient to convince you, but multiple claims to the same effect are? Apparently in your view, simply repeating claim (even if it's arbitrary?) will vouchsafe its credibility, is that right? It appears that your view of the world lacks a fundamental understanding pertaining to the proper orientation of the subject-object relationship. I have discussed this matter elsewhere on my blog, so I won't repeat myself here. But this deficiency on the part of your worldview is evident due to your willingness to take the notion of the supernatural seriously. Cultures around the world today, some of them untouched by the influence of Christianity, do in fact take superstitions and stories of supernatural beings and phenomena seriously, and, like Christians today and in the past, find ways of making these beliefs compatible with their everyday experience. The common denominator to the willingness to entertain supernaturalism is the acceptance, typically unbeknownst to the believer, of the primacy of consciousness view of reality. Without the primacy of existence principle as one's ultimate criterion in evaluating truth claims, a thinker, no matter how careful otherwise, is susceptible to falling prey to an irrational worldview. This is because, on the most fundamental issue in philosophy - namely the orientation of the subject-object relationship - an individual who grants validity to the primacy of consciousness, even implicitly, has conceded the foundation of his understanding of reality and of man to the hazards of subjectivism.
You allude to different "types of revelation," which sparks my curiosity. How many types of revelation are there, what distinguishes them, and how do they work? You then appear to be saying that a combination of different "types of revelation" with "examination" will lead to a warranted belief. I wonder why examination would be needed for someone who has received a revelation from a divine source. What could this add to the revelation? Isn't a revelation supposed to be accepted as a self-sufficient transmission of knowledge on its own merits qua revelation? If the content of a revelation could be verified by examination, why would it need to be revealed? And what would keep someone from calling a fantasy which has no objective correspondence to reality a "revelation" from a divine source? For instance, what would keep me from claiming that it has been revealed to me by a divine source, that Mesus sits at the right hand of Yeah-Way in the supernatural Jingdom of Bleaven in triumph over Matan, the chief representative of uvil in the universe? For nay-sayers to disparage this truth as incoherent in some way, would only expose them for not having received the revelation. Indeed, I know of 762 other people who also received the same revelation. So with 763 witnesses to these truths, how could anyone dispute this?
When Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to 500 brethren, and gives no details about time, place or circumstances, or even gives no specifics on what exactly these 500 people allegedly saw or experienced, how does one "further explore" this claim? It seems to come to an immediate dead end. Paul does not even name any of these people, so they're completely anonymous. What alternative does Paul give even his contemporary readers to having to simply take his word for it? What I find fascinating is that Paul apparently claimed to have had a personal visit by the risen Jesus, but he mentions it only once in all his letters, and then only in passing, giving no details to what actually may have transpired. For all that he gives us, he may have been sleeping when this happened. We only have his say so on the matter, and he does not describe his experience, which therefore means we have nothing to examine. He gives us no content to investigate or "further explore." But somehow you still conclude that Paul was telling the truth when he claims to have received knowledge via revelation. How do you determine this?
Also, I do have another question, which I've asked other Christians, but for which I have not received any satisfying responses. My question is this: Why doesn't Jesus just appear before all of us, as he allegedly did before Paul on the road to Damascus (according to Acts anyway), and settle all these conflicts which have raged for 2000 years? I asked a Christian this question once, and his response was "Jesus wants us to have faith" (which only confirms the disjunction between faith and reason). To which I asked another question in response: Are you then saying that Paul, the most prolific writer of the NT, did not have faith?
If you're heading where I think you are, I don't want to get into the problem of evil this weekend, maybe another time. :)
No, that's not what I had in mind. I'm simply wondering, as I asked, why Jesus doesn't just appear to everyone in some profoundly compelling way, such as he is alleged to have done for Paul on the road to Damascus. This is not the problem of evil. It is what I call The Problem of Saul. Jesus is supposed to be God in Christianity, and God according to Christianity is said not to be a respecter of persons. Moreover, before Jesus' appearance to him, Paul (then Saul) was supposed to be a vicious persecutor of the church, far more formidable than some internet blogger like me. So if Jesus is no respecter of persons, why doesn't he just appear before me and everyone else? It would settle things quite quickly, and it would probably go a long way in averting heresies, apostasy, rogue cultish spin-offs, etc.
Now, perhaps you are like the late D. James Kennedy, who apparently did not believe in an omnipotent Jesus. Without explanation, Kennedy asserted in passing that “Christ cannot appear personally to all of the billions and billions of people that have lived on the earth since” the time of Paul.” But if Jesus is supernatural, "controls whatsoever comes to pass" (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160), and is not constrained by the laws of nature or the contingent facts of the universe, why suppose that he couldn't appear before everyone? He can know everyone's thoughts, can he not? And in his divine nature, he's omnipresent, is he not? What would prevent Jesus from appearing to anyone or everyone if he wanted to? D. James Kennedy?
In conclusion, we see that the objections and counterpoints which David has raised have already been anticipated in the critical literature, and are easily answered with a little digging. A fringe benefit to that digging is the discovery of more and more problems for the literalist Christian interpretation of the New Testament’s stories. That what we have in the New Testament is a wellspring of legends and tall tales, is undeniable. Try as they may, Christian apologists, driven by their desire to protect a fantasy, will struggle in vain to validate their religious beliefs. Sadly, futility is their only reward.
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Christian Legends