Visionary Basis of Christianity

I believe for the most part that Christianity had its origins in a series of visions. These visions, I believe, were naturally-caused and are in no need of supernatural/divine causation. Many Christians will object by saying that while individuals may have hallucinations or visions, it cannot happen to a group or collection of people at the same time. This, I believe, is wrong. What I wish to show in this post is 1.) that visions have occured in antiquity, 2.) that they occur to groups of people at a time, and 3.) they were so common in antiquity that they were considered actually to be normal.

To accomplish these three goals, I wish to provide the social-scientific basis for such visions. Then, I wish to give a few examples of what I consider to be these kinds of visions in history. Let me start with the social-scientific basis of the visions that I have in mind.In pages 327-329 of their excellent Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh engage in a discussion on "Altered-States-of-Conciousness". I reproduce their section below:"Anthropologists studying cross-cultural psychology define altered states of conciousness as conditions in which sensations, perceptions, cognition, and emotions are altered. Such states are characterized by changes in sensing, perceiving, thinking, and feeling. When a person is in such a state, the experience modifies the relatoin of the individual to the self, body, sense of identity, and the enviroment of time, space, or other people. One scholar has identified twenty such states of conciousness: dreaming, hynogogic (drowsiness before sleep), hypnopompic (semiconsciousness preceding waking), hyperalert, lethargic, rapture, hysteric, fragmentation, regressive, meditative, trance, reverie, daydreaming, internal scanning, stupor, coma, sotred memory, expanded consciousness, and 'normal'. In trace or in any other altered state of conciousness, a visionary encounters, indeed enters, another level of aspect of reality registered physiologically in the brain in the same way 'normal' experiences are. Culturally 'normal' of consensual reality is that aspect of dimension of reality of which a person is most commonly aware most of the time."Alternate reality describes that dimension of reality in which the deity and spirits reside, in which human beings from culturally 'normal' reality can sometimes visit in ecstatic trance by taking a journey (variously called "sky journey" or "soul loss" and the like), and to which people go when they die (Those who do not believe any of these things would call this nonconsensual reality.) During the centuries before and after the Gospels were written, countless persons reported a range of visions and appearances involving celestial entities. There is no reason not to take the experiences of these persons seriously, at their word. Their experiences have to be interpreted within the framework of their own culture's consensus reality (rather than ours)."The authors go onto list five main incidents of these kinds of visions and appearances; the baptism of Jesus, the testing of Jesus, the miracle of walking on the sea, the Transfiguration, and the Resurrection appearances. Their comments on the resurrection appearances are especially pertinent. They say:"The appearances of Jesus raised by God are visions of Jesus in alternate reality, where he, as God's chosen holy one, continues to live. The appearances of a holy man are altered-states-of-conciousness experiences and therefore are quite real. The interpretation that the disciples gave to these experiences was that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Mainstream U.S. culture frowns upon and even denies the human capacity for visions, trances, and experiencs of alternate realities. We are very cruious about nonrational dimensions of human existence, but tend to label all such occurences as irrational. John Pilch cites the work of Erika Bourguignon, who compiled a sample of 488 societies in all parts of the world, at various levels of technological complexity, and found that ninety percent of these societies evidence 'altered states of conciousness' Her conclusion: "Societies which do not utilize these states are historical exceptions which need to be explained, rather than the vast majority of societies that do not use these states" (cited by Pilch 1993). Thus it would be quite anachronistic and ethnocentric to take our post-Enlightenment, post-industrial revolution, technologically obsessed society as the normative for judging anyone other than ourselves. For most of the world, even today, a report of altered states of awareness would be considered quite normal."Cross-cultural comparison suggests that the Gospel authors describe experiences of altered states of awareness. This may be difficult for us to believe because we have been enculturated to be selectively inattentive to such states of awareness except in dreamsand under the influence of controlled substances."I have highlighted in bold what I consider to be important points relative to my arguments. First of all, note that Malina and Rohrbaugh consider the postmortem appearances of Jesus to be "visions". Note also, that they point out that visions of a holy man are in altered-states-of-awareness. Next, note that during the time before and after the Gospels were written that these visions and appearancs were widely reported in history and that they involved altered-states-of-consciousness. Finally note that the U.S. appears to be the exception, not the norm, and that these kinds of ASC type of visions are normative and considered usual in honor-shame soceities. This provides, I believe, the social-scientific basis for visions. Now as for specific examples of these kinds of visions in history involving ASC.

My first example is from Gershom Scholem's remarks on "the messianic revival of Sabbatai Sevi": The people of Smyrna saw miracles and heard prophecies, providing the best possible illustration of Renan's remark about the infectious character of visions. It is enough for one member of a group sharing the same beliefs to claim to have seen or heard a supernatural manifestation, and the others too will see and hear it. Hardly had the report arrived from Aleppo that Elijah had appeared in the Old Synagogue there, and Elijah walked the streets of Smyrna. Dozens, even hundreds, had seen him.... A letter written in Constantinople notes apparitions of Elijah "whom many have seen." In fact, visions of Sevi were very common after his death to his followers from what I understand (Price, Beyond Born Again, "Guarding an Empty Tomb"). These visions of Sevi can be understood as having occured in altered-states-of-consciousness, just like what Malina and Rohrbaugh have argued. Robin Lane Fox, in his work Pagans and Christians also seems to provide an example of a ASC- group vision:"Every visitor to the Black Sea knew the special island of Achilles, and in his report on the area, a visiting governor, Arrian, informed the Emperor Hadrian how 'some said' Achilles appeared to them in broad daylight on the prow or mast of their ships, 'as did Castor and Pollux'. Maximus, indeed knew a man after Homer's own heart. Near the same island, visitors had 'often' seen a young, fair-haired hero dancing in armour and had heard him singing a paean." (Fox pg. 144).According to Fox, Arrian informed Emperor Hadrian of reports that Achilles had appeared to groups of visitors to that special island of Achilles. In fact, according to this report, visitors "had often seen" what they took to be Achilles. In fact, Fox stresses that Miletus was alive with glimpses of the gods which had been granted to all sorts of people (pg. 143). Granted, Achilles and Sevi were probably not in the least considered holy men, but that's not my point here; rather my point is that these kinds of group visions involving altered-states-of-consciousness were common in antiquity. In fact, one can argue that legends arose from these kinds of visions. Even if some stories of these kinds of visions are pure legends, one can reasonably argue that the legends might reflect actual visionary experiences of these kinds.

This, I consider to be the naturalistic basis upon which Christianity was founded on.



John W. Loftus said...

From the New Bible Dictionary:

“VISION. The borderline between vision and dream or trance is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. This is reflected in the biblical vocabulary of ‘vision’. The NT uses two words in this connection: horama (Acts 9:10, 12; 10:3, 17, 19) and optasia (Lk. 1:22; Acts 26:19; 2 Cor. 12:1). They signify ‘appearance’ or ‘vision’.”

“The circumstances in which the revelatory visions came to the seers of the Bible are varied. They came in men’s waking hours (Dn. 10:7; Acts 9:7); by day (Acts 10:3) or by night (Gen. 46:2). But the visions had close connections with the dream-state (Num. 12:6; Jb.4:13).”

“In the NT Luke manifests the greatest interest in visions. The supreme set of visions in the NT is that in the book of the Revelation.”

Luke’s usage of the word group for “vision.” Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, didn’t actually see angels, he saw a vision. (Luke 1:22). The women who went to the tomb of Jesus said they didn’t see angels, just a vision. (Luke 24:23). According to the Prophet Joel, and Peter the Apostle, and Luke who records it, dreams, visions, and prophecies have a close connection with each other. “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:17).

Ananias saw visions and followed them to speak to Saul/Paul: “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’” (Acts 9:10) “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared (i.e., gave a vision) to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 9:17)

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius who was “a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.” He received a vision “one day at about three in the afternoon,” and followed it. (Acts 10:1-3). Then the Apostle Peter himself had one and learns from it that “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:5-6,18). That’s an educated way to learn something, isn’t it?
Luke also tells us Peter received his “vision,” while “in a trance.” A trance? A trance? Paul himself received a vision while in a trance (Acts 22:17). Ancient people, especially those considered prophets and priests (and apostles too), would put themselves in a trance to gain divine knowledge. How often did Peter and Paul do that?

Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon: “Trance” = Ecstasy, “throwing of the mind out of its normal state, alienation of mind, whether such as makes a lunatic or that of a man who by some sudden emotion is transported as it were out of himself, so that in this rapt condition, although he is awake, his mind is drawn off from all surrounding objects and wholly fixed on things divine that he sees nothing but the forms and images lying within, and thinks that he perceives with his bodily eyes and ears realities shown him by God.” [On “trance” in the OT, see also Daniel 8:18, 10:9].

Paul’s missionary journeys are said to be directed by visions, which happened in the night (hence, dreams). “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” (Acts 16:9-10. [See also Acts 18:9 where it is said that Paul was once again in a trance].

Paul even seems to equate his Damascus Road conversion experience to a vision: “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19).

Daniel said...

Good stuff. Good stuff.

paul said...

Matthew (and John),
This is really interesting. Thanks.
Here are the thoughts this evokes in me.
Particularly, Luke 24:36-43:
"36 While the were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them 'Peace be with you.' 37 They were startled and frightened thinking they saw a ghost.38 He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence."
The point of this scripture seems to be to establish that the disciples were not having a collective vision and that Jesus was not an apparition but an actual physical being who could be touched and eat.
The questions would be: is this an accurate recounting of what happened? Or did the writer have a problem with, and understand that their audience would have a problem with, visions and apparitions being the basis for such a pivotal doctrine and looked to cover that angle?
My other thought was Pauls (presumably Paul) experience in II Corinthians 12:1-2: 1" visions and revelations from the Lord.2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows."
Paul here on the one hand speaks of "visions and revelations" but then questions whether the experience was "in the body or out." This seems to be indicating a 'spiritual' demension beyond just a vision or in the head experience. Sounds like Paul was practicing astral projection!

Matthew said...


I believe that the accounts in Luke and John are apologetics. I am reading a book by Charles Talbert called Luke and the Gnostics. I agree with him so far. I believe that there were heretics such as Gnostics and some of these heretics subscribed to a heresy known as "docetism". This was a heresy which held that Jesus never had a body of flesh but only appeared to.

I believe that the skepticism of the disciples served as a foil against which the miracle happened. The greater the skepticism, the greater the miracle required to overcome the skepticism. This is the author's way of putting his critics in the disciples' shoes to show them that Jesus really did have a body of flesh and blood.

I believe that the resurrection narratives have a strong antidocetic theme to them and is the author's way of rebutting them.


Josh ( said...

Unbelievable you would much rather believe a lie than the truth. You might as well just say that you don't believe that actual visions (from God mind you) occurred than try to reason your way into explaining how many people at once could have had these visions in the bible. You sound ridiculous. You're actually willing to chuck your common sense out the window to try to justify why the Bible musn't be true. Just one problem. Because common sense bears witness with the majority of people that your reasoning is faulty, you will only be seeking to debunk Christianity until the cows come home with never any ultimate success.
Your foundational presumption that God had nothing to do with the advancement of Christianity (esp. in the first century A.D.) is wrong from the start. Therefore your seeking is in vain.

By the way, none of you have ever known God or Jesus Christ, because if you had it is impossible to become an athiest or agnostic. Jesus Himself says, but this is eternal life (zoe life = God kind of life in salvation), "to know You the only True God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Read the Bible and you will discover that the meaning of life is to know God . And noone comes to the Father except by means of the Son.
A Christian is about a life of knowing God as you would another family member. None of you can honestly say that you have known god this way and therefore you assume that it is impossible or that it is not happening today. That is why Jesus says that anyone who belongs to My Father cannot be snatched away from my father's hand. Therefore those who battle with uncertainty about the reality of God, still reamin in darkness and have NEVER known the Son of God nor the Father.

But you reason it out for yourself and see your own motives. If you really were saved--that means that you actually knew God and Jesus hrist as one would a family member, not in some vague "spiritual/emotional/imaginary way", but really recongnize His voice and involvement in your life and in the lives of others--then how is it possible you can now call yourself an athiest or even an agnostic who is unsure about the reality of God and his character? This is an outright contradiction! Therefore, in actuality, there is NO SUCH THING AS A FORMER FUNDAMENTAL/EVANGELICAL/BIBLE-BELIVING BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER IN CHRIST JESUS WHO THEN BECOMES AN ATHIEST OR AGNOSTIC.

Either you NEVER really did know Jesus nor Father God that way, or you are liar to everyone else leading them on to believe that you were once born again and then somehow unborn again. You were either saved or you wont.

But you dont care to humble your hearts seek God and pray. For if you had you really would find Him to be so real--and not because someone else told you so. You yourself would know that.

But as it remains you would much rather live a life of sin and debauchery. And without receiving the Son of God, how will you escape the impending judgement of the world.

Daniel said...

The trily-boogers are conspicuously silent on this post. Ahem.

Matthew said...


I wouldn't say that. They'll think of something to say. I just don't bother with them anymore- I don't see the point of rebutting them. As for the fellow "Josh", I have to say that I am a bit stunned. Instead of rebutting what I have to say, he goes into an emotion-laden rant in response. He finds it incredulous that I would believe a "lie" rather than what he considers to be the "truth" and then it's the usual garbage about how I was never saved to begin with (who the hell died and made him God?)


paul said...

Gee, another Christian debunks himself. I can't figure if such rants are born out of ignorance or unbelief. What does a christian expect from heathen? Why would he be surprised by our words or arguments? After all, "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned."I Cor. 2:14. So, if a christian believes this, why would they be surprised by a heathens ignorance. don't they see their superior attitude when they're incedulous that we don't believe as they? why aren't we smart as they, humble as they, saved as they?!?

Matthew said...

I wonder though: of all the 'heathens' for whom this "Josh" fellow could respond to, why my post though? Does this fellow regard my particular hypothesis (of ASC-visions) to be a lie? If so, who is the liar (other than...well...obviously "Satan"). However, I would like to really make Josh's head spin. I plan to post answers to common critiques made of arguments of this sort. I particularly want to answer the arguments of William Lane Craig (because he is the foremost defender of the resurrection and the empty tomb).


paul said...

I think you pretty much hit the nail in your opening statements, specifically that such ideas of ASC-visions are not part of our culture, thus considered, well, whacky. The "lie," simply means you reached the wrong conclusion, so of course it's from the father of lies. It's all so logical, can't you see!!! God is evident all around us, and we have the manual (bible) to splain it all. Take the bible at face value, don't look to closely or check foot notes, and you won't risk getting such responses.
Your premise is not really so out there, you just touched the sacred cow. If you were talking about Islam and how it got its beginnings when Mohammed had some visions in a cave, all christians would probably be fascintated.

Matthew said...


You spoke too soon. A fellow named Jason has responded to my post on the subject. He mistakes me for you when he says that I wonder why no one has responded. I was tempted to go on their blog and tell Jason I think he has a bit of a reading comprehension problem.

The rest of his post is a rant about "hallucination" and how the gospel resurrection stories cannot in fact be grounded in hallucinations. This is kind of funny since I do not state that I believe that they are "hallucinations" rather, instead I believe that they are visions. What's more is that this fellow Jason doesn't even touch the social-science argument I brought up. He brings up the old Evangelical canard in that hallucinations cannot be shared. For Christ's sake, I wish he would take a better look at what I wrote.

I wrote that visions can definitely be shared collectively by groups of people simultaneously.In fact, all of my examples were examples of collective group visions, the exact kind argued for by Malina and Rohrbaugh and what's more is that they believe that the New Testament resurrection narratives fall into this social category.

As for the rest of his rebuttal, it's the same old "hallucinations can't do X". I hate to inform him but I believe that the majority of resurrection narratives were antidocetic apologetics. I'm not pulling this out of my ass here- Jason would believe otherwise, but I rely on the work of actual scholars like Charles Talbert and so I would expect a defense of traditional inerrancy from Jason against the critical and expert scholarship of Talbert and others.


Edward T. Babinski said...

Matthew, Great job in your two recent posts, 1) a review of John Loftus's book, and 2) a dicussion of the visionary nature of Christian beginnings.

Robert M. Price dug into the visionary stories that arose concerning the medieval Jewish Messiah, Sabbati Sevi, and made such stories central to his first master's thesis (that I have on file at home). Price cited the SS story again in his online book, Beyond Born Again.

To add to what you wrote about visions, Price pointed out that not everybody in a tight knit group need see exactly the same vision, and in fact many need not have seen anything at all, but said they did, in order to go along with another group members' story of their vision, and because they believed so strongly in the group as a whole and in another group member's interpretations and/or inspired leadership.

Visionary tales also get passed around within groups via enthusiasm so contagious that people hearing such tales make them their own when telling them to others, "as if" they too were the ones having the vision. Consider another ancient example Price cites in Beyond Born Again, this one being the experience of a famous Greek playwrite who was at a cremation ceremony of someone and whispered in a single person's ear in the crowd that they saw not only the smoke rising from that person's pyre into heaven but saw the person's soul rising up as an eagle into heaven. The next day the playright was told by someone completely different in the street about the marvelous miracle that had been witnessed by one and all the previous day, of how the cremated man's soul had transformed into an eagle before everyone's eyes and flown up to heaven.

Which brings me back to the the fact that most people debating the resurrection have no experiences themselves of what lay beyond death. Even those who claim to have had a Near Death Experience (or NDE) bring back different stories about their experiences and what lies there. One Buddhist in Thailand met a sacred tortoise during his NDE.Others meet beings of light, or encounter people like themselves.

Sadhu Sundar Singh, a convert to Christianity whose testimony is still cited by some Evangelical Christians, wrote that when he was young he had a Pauline-like experience, seeing Jesus who spoke to him a few words. Sundar went on dangerous missions to convert people to Christianity, but in the end became a Swendenborgian mystical Christian, convinced that his pagan mother and everyone else would eventually be saved by God's love, a conclusion that Evangelicals who tell his story have been covering up. One hard core Evangelical who remained a firm believer in hell, Dr. Ebby, wrote that he had two NDEs, one in heaven, and another later in hell, and Ebby talked about seeing a gigantic talking Bible in heaven. Ebby also made predictions about the future that later proved false. And of course many testimonies exist of people who are neither Evangelical Christians nor any type of Christian at all, yet who have experienced loving positive NDEs and no longer fear death because of them.

For the faithful, all it takes is a possibility (no matter how remote) that their interpretation might be right, for them to believe it is. A "maybe" is as good as a "certainty," or increases the faith they already possess. For the non-faithful, a possibility is just that, a maybe is as good as a maybe, an "appearance" remains an "appearance," nothing more, nothing less:

a) Protestants see Jesus and angels but seldom Mary because the awe/respect that Catholics pay Mary is denigrated by Protestants.

b) Catholics see Jesus and Mary.

c) Native Americans experience illuminating visions of animal spirits. Hindus may be visited by personae from their vast pantheon.

d) Buddhists may experience the compassionate "amida Buddha" as they pray, "Save me, amida Buddha." A different school of Buddhists even experiences "born again" like experiences of hellish fears followed by the relief of salvation (as discussed in Conrad Hyers's book, One-Born, Twice-Born Zen).

e) New Agers see chakra colors and UFOs.

f) A Gallup poll revealed that Southerners hear God's voice much more often than Northerners. Just whose voice are these people hearing and does it sound Southern to them? (Protestants stress hearing God's voice more and the value of "the Word," while Catholics stress seeing God more, which may explain the greater number of visions they experience in general.)

g) What about J. B. Phillips's story that C. S. Lewis "appeared" to him after Lewis had died? (Cannon Phillips had corresponded with Lewis "a fair amount" before Lewis died, and only saw him in the flesh once before. When Phillips mentioned that appearance to a certain saintly Bishop, the Bishop's reply was, "My dear J., this sort of thing is happening all the time.")

h) My friend, Will Bagley, told me that in a very realistic dream, Rajneesh, the Hindu guru, once appeared to Will at the foot of his bed with a brief message.

i) My former fiance told me about how a Catholic aunt of hers once saw Jesus before going to bed one night. (She told Jesus she was tired, and went to bed!)

j) Dr. Robert Price knew a woman who ran a religious bookstore who claimed that Jesus appeared to her often. (Ask him about that story sometime.)

Speaking of which, ever notice the lack of details by people in the Bible who claim to have been to heaven or seen the afterlife?

The apostle Paul wrote, "I knew a man [Paul is presumably speaking about himself] who visited the third heaven," but where are the details?

One Gospel claims "many saints" were "raised" when Jesus died on the cross, and they entered the holy city and showed themselves to many. But again, no one was curious enough to either ask those raised saints or to write down what was on the other side as told by such many raised saints, presuming they didn't vanish the same night they allegedly appeared, but stuck around long enough to live out their lives.

In the tale of Lazarus--a story that appeared in only the last written Gospel--again we have no record of what Lazarus said he saw on the other side.

The earliest Gospel in fact tells us nothing about what the raised Jesus told the apostles in Galilee, but it ended with only a promise of seeing the raised Jesus in far off Galilee, "He has gone before you to Galilee, there ye shall see him."

The next Gospel written, Matthew, contains 30 some words of the raised Jesus, and which read more like a short three or four sentences from a catechism of the early church put into the mouth of the raised Jesus.

Then comes the Gospel of Luke with yet more words--the verbiage of the raised Jesus increasing from Gospel to Gospel chronologically speaking (keep in mind none of the names of the Gospel authors that appear in large print and precede each Gospel in the Bible are names that were in the original manuscripts, but instead names given to each Gospel decades later by people who were not their authors)--says the raised Jesus spoke about what "all the Scriptures said about him, how the Messiah must die and rise," etc., and in Acts about how the raised Jesus spent "40 days" with his disciples before "ascending into the sky" beyond the clouds to get to heaven. But the funny thing is that such extended lessons concerning what "all the Scriptures say" are not found in Luke or Acts, they are things no one wrote down nor preserved, though they presumably were lessons taught by a resurrected teacher.

So, the words of the raised Jesus increased over time even within the span of writing the earliest four cannonical Gospels, and we encounter foggy generalizations, like "he went through the whole Scriptures with them," rather than encountering the actual words and teachings of the raised Jesus. (Jewish rabbis point out that there are no clear teachings about a "resurrected messiah" in the Old Testament, let alone found throughout all the Scriptures. Apologists like J. P. Holding even admit that the so-called prophecies in the Old Testament that the New Testament authors tried to pin on Jesus were in the form of pesher and midrashic reinterpretations that stretched the original meanings of O.T. verses, and not likely to convert anyone who knows the O.T. today and doesn't believe in pesher and midrash as very reliable forms of exegesis, but views such interpretations as stretching the truth to fit the message you want to preach.)

And what about the "40 days" of being with the raised Jesus that only the book of Acts mentions? "40" is a figure used often throughout the Bible. 40 years in the wilderness, etc. The author of the book of Acts seems to be echoing the "40 days" Jesus was tempted in the wilderness before he began his ministry--with the "40 days" the raised Jesus allegedly spent with his disciples at the very end of his ministry. So the "40 days" could be a literary device to introduced to "even out" the story of Jesus's ministry, "40 days" in the beginning with Satan, "40 days" at the end of his ministry with the disciples. The "40 days" is also only mentioned in the beginning of Acts, but not at the end of the Gospel of Luke, which has the raised Jesus lead his disciples out of Jerusalem the same night they first saw him, "led them to Bethany," and then rose up into the sky, all in one night, not "40 days" later. Neither are any of Jesus's words preserved from those "40 days" of hanging around with the raised Jesus.

So for people like Christians bragging about having nailed the question of the afterlife shut there seems quite a lot of questions, and quite a bit of silence concerning it even in their own holy books that claim people went there and came back, yet said nothing. Even quite a bit of silence concerning what the raised Jesus said during his sermons about "all the Scriptures" and during his "40 days" on earth with his disciples. Nobody wrote those sayings down, or asked about them?

Of course apocalypses written later than the Gospels did help answer some of the above questions, from the visions in the book of Revelation to "pseudepigraphic" forgeries like the Apocalypse of "Peter," a work that would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church ("Peter's vision of hell" was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). "If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it."--Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p.326-327, 330-331, 412]

Fortunately for us, Mark Twain wrote down the definitive account of a visit to heaven. Just read his "Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven."

Edward T. Babinski said...


"If you are a Muslim and the community is under occupation by a non-Islamic power it becomes a religious requirement to resist that occupation," Terrill explained. "Most Iraqis consider us occupiers, not liberators." He describes the religious imagery common now in Fallujah and the Sunni triangle: "There's talk of angels and the Prophet Mohammed coming down from heaven to lead the fighting, talk of martyrs whose bodies are glowing and emanating wonderful scents."

[SOURCE: "Far graver than Vietnam: Most senior US military officers now believe the war on Iraq has turned into a disaster on an unprecedented scale" by Sidney Blumenthal, Thursday September 16, 2004, The Guardian]



STEVE: Did you know that Jesus recently miraculously appeared before 6,000 in Nairobi? There are even photos of him and testimonies to his miraculous appearance and disappearance:

This time he went off in a car though, but then vanished without ascending.

BOB [OF TECTON APOLOGETICS]: As for Kenya, get back with me in 5 years and let me know how the movement that surrounds this event is doing.

STEVE: That was 1988 and they're still talking about it. The movement is Christianity BTW. At least it was 6,000 Christians who were calling him "Jesus." Although others later claimed him to be Maitreya, the crowds were calling "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus of Nazareth!". As it says on the website 6,000 believed they saw Jesus Christ, in broad daylight. They are not the only Christians who have claimed to see Christian figures to the embarrassment of other Christians as I know you are well aware.
was for light relief mostly, but with one serious point which I wondered if anyone would pick up on. That is the gullibility of crowds. 6,000 puts 500 to shame - and see how easily they believed this was Jesus. First hand witnesses even testified with multiple attestations and photographs which is far more impressive than what 1 Cor. 15:6 gives us.

This is of course quite apart from a point Ed makes in his book:

"...when Paul states that Jesus "appeared" to "over 500 brethren at once" (1Cor. 15:6), that would have been to a far greater number of "brethren" than were said to have existed before Jesus' physical body supposedly rose into the clouds. (Only 120 "brethren" existed at the time - Acts 1:9, 14-15, 22). So by the Bible's own admission, whoever or whatever may have "appeared" to "over 500 brethren" could not have been a physically resurrected Jesus, since his body left the Earth before that many "brethren" existed."

More on this at


BOB: As for the appearance of Jesus to a multitude in Kenya, get back with me in 5 years and let me know how the movement that surrounds this event is doing.

ED: If long term success is your criteria of truth then Taoism and Hinduism must be truer than Christianity, after all, they are older by many centuries. Hey, aren't animism and polytheism the oldest religions? Then today's Wiccan's and New Agers must be the true faith. For that matter who knows where Christianity will be in the far future? Who knows where the human species will be for that matter? (Oh wait, BOB KNOWS. Last time he entertained doubts they were wearing slinky halter tops at Trader Vic's, and Bob was buying the house drinks. It was only a one night stand though.)

And speaking of "getting back to me in five years" here's some OTHER indicators of change over time you ought to consider: All the major universities in America were founded as conservative seminaries to train pastors of a particular denomination, but in the long term, their religious roots withered while their academic levels increased. Go figure. Yale was founded due to the "theological excesses" of Harvard.

Now look at Yale. Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia was founded due to the "theological excesses" of Princeton. But Westminster Seminary is Bob Seely's alma mater and they have published his Biblical flat-earth articles! The list goes on and on. Calvin's Academy founded in sixteenth century Geneva had Unitarian profs by the eighteenth century.

The most religiously conservative schools are the ones that haven't been around very long, they are the superficial newbies on the block. They spring up in reaction to all of that "higher learning." When they try to interact with "higher learning" themselves by hiring the most well schooled profs and brightest students, the thoughts and doubts broaden and the original conservatism starts to fade. That's what can happen to you too Bob! (Hey, I think I see a doubt winking at you in the corner, and boy is she cute!)

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matthew said...

To all readers,

For those in the know (especially through e-mail correspondence), I said that I intended for the post on visions in "The Visionary Basis for Christianity" to be an intial post in a series. I originally planned to do a three-part series defending the nature of visions against objections to visions.

The more I think about it, I have had to revise my original planning. What I had planned as a three-part response has evolved into a potential five-part response. In my response I was thinking of answering objections made to vision hypotheses made by Evangelical Christians such as Bill Craig and my favorite debating partner (yes, I know some of you guys loathe him but I get along with him fine just as liberal Alan Colmes gets along with neocon Ann Coulter)Mr. James.P.Holding of Tekton Ministries.

In my first post I am considering answering the objection that the vision hypothesis doesn't explain the empty tomb. I will try to answer it to the best of my ability and leave it to readers to judge. In my second post, I will try to answer the objection put forth by Bill Craig that visions do not explain the diversity of appearances in the New Testament. In my third post, I will answer the objection by some that any vision hypothesis doesn't explain the differentiation in the New Testament between visions and appearances.

However, I realize that I may have to expand what was originally a three-part response into a five-part response. I was thinking of writing a fourth post which will answer any remaining objections as well as a fifth post in which I will attempt to answer an objection to visions made by J.P.Holding, regarding the expectations of the resurrection of the disciples. But I plan to discuss this argument with him in our Scholarly Diplomacy section and then incorporate the results of such a discussion into a fifth post on the subject but that will be a while in the future.

Stay tuned!


John W. Loftus said...

I'm looking forward to it.

Josh ( said...

This may well be my last post on this board. Most people here likely dont remember me from any earlier posts over the last 3 or so years. Edward no doubt recalls. But in the earlier days I would try to prove God, Christianity, the Bible etc. to people on this borad via apolegetics, ID, etc. But one thing that I should have taken into account is that most people have a propensity for "justifying" what they have chosen to accept, sometimes unknowingly. I've said it before and I still stand by it: The mind justifies what the heart has already chosen.
If this is the case then it becomes very easy to think that Christians, for example, are non-thinking, narrow-minded individuals who say one thing is right, true, or real and that all other takes are wrong and unacceptable. Even if you dont accept what I say about my Maker, you no doubt would realise that what I am saying is correct in that people throughout history have always and continue to justify things that one person considers wrong and another considers right.
Also, I'd hope that you would agree with me in that not everyone should be considered right just because they attempt to justify or support what they accept.
So with that said, how then can we [mankind] come to some kind of agreement as far as matters concerning God? Surely any reasonable person whether he/she adheres to any religion or not would not insist that one simply acquiesce to another person's belief just because "I say so". That's not good. So is any agreement even possible? Yes. If God Himself reveals Himself to an individual in some kind of convincing way to that person repeatedly throughout an individual's life, that would no doubt be the best proof beyond any reasonable doubt. Whether you are believer or nonbeliever one would have to agree that this is infact the most compelling way.
That is why I NEVER waste time anymore with apolegetics or historical supports. I only ask people to prove God for themselves.
Why do I ask that?
Because God Himself asks us to do that. Not to test God, but to prove Him--there is a difference.

I always ask that people would seek God whole-heartedly, humble their hearts and pray. This is biblical. Whether you are athiest or agnostic. For even in the chapter where it says that the foolish man says in his heart, 'there is no God', that same chapter gives the solution. It goes on to say, 'they dont understand, none of them seek God.'
God says, "You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart."

There are many promises in the Bible to those who are called according to His promises. But these as I mentioned above are promises for the unbeliever, athiest, agnostic, and even those who believe in other Gods.

I could tell you stories that if I told you you still wouldnt believe me. But even Jesus said, "if I tell you of things here below that we see and know and still not believe, how then will you believe if I speak to you of the things of Heaven [which are spitritually discerned]?"
I know of a girl who came to know Christ Jesus without the help of any individual. her name is Arianna, she was on the Miracle Channel. She only lived with her mother only way out in a cottage country. She didn't go to school, didn't have any friends, and since her birth she never had a tv, radio, computer, or any other means of contact with the rest of the world. She didnt have a Bible and her mother never even knew who Jesus was. From about the age of 6 she would talk about Jesus and what this Jesus was telling her. The mother initially didn't think too much about it but soon began to get concerned. To make a long story short, when she was there on TV at age 15 and an EXTREMELY gifted artist and writer(a child prodigy), she actually came to know Jesus as both the Son of the Living God as well as God Himself. All before she ever saw a Bible. Now how is this possible? If you heard her, she would tell you that she prayed to God everyday often by herself away from everyone.
She was a seeker but didn't even know it. She sought God whole-heartedly.
I used to wonder why we had to initally seek God whole-heartedly like that? Then I discovered that it's because you crucify the flesh in the process.
Have you ever wondered why every other religion in the world has a general ethnic/racial look to it except for Judaism and Christianity? Infact the largest Christian church in the world is a Chinese church; and Christians in China are increasingly being persecuted becasue it is growing rapidly there.
I saw a man who speaks 14 languages; 13 of them he learned supernaturally by God. He, too is a son of God through belief in Jesus Christ.
And if your agrument is well, "If I was born in India, I would likely have been a Hindu. Or Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, I would likely be a Muslim," I respect that belief because you're right as far as that's how most people are--even among the church. But Christ has established a kingdom of truth seekers, because God is a Spirit of Truth. If it seems like a Western religion as opposed to an Eastern religion, that's because your right in a sense. But that is consistent with the God of the Bible. God says, "come ye out of them and be separate."
Even with the history of Israel we see this reality. That is always how God has done things. That also explains why there are many professing Christians who really have no actually regular experiential knowledge of God because they just grew up in a "Christian household and maybe learned some bible verses and tried to be "good"."
If God only knows you through your parents, there's a problem.

"God has no grandchildren."

As my final post I simply plead with everyone to Call out to God and ask Him about Himself and Jesus. Ask God or Jesus(if He is God the Son) to prove Himself in such a way that you know He is, if He really is. Seek God whole-heartedly. Do you think God would deny your seeking? I assure you He will not. I write so much because I would be doing you a diservice if I didnt tell you how to find God. Just try me out. You literally have NOTHING to lose!
Why do you think believers often say that they hear from God most often really early in the dark hours of the morning when the are up by themselves? Why is the first meal of the day called breakfast(technically break-fast)?
That's because all the hours when you were asleep you were actually, in a sense, "crucifying the flesh". And with the same craving you use to satisfy the flesh with food, you use to satisfy the flesh with other temporary/momentary pleasures. And we are humans(technically humus + man), which is man--the spirit being in a dirt/earth(humas) body. And the Bible teaches that the will of the spirit(not the Spirit) and the will of the flesh are continually against each other. *You should know that you cannot seek God whole-heartedly and be taking food breaks every hour. Just as hunger--momentary deprivation of food-- drives you on when working and actually makes you more productive, so too is it when you seek God WHOLE-HEARTEDLY.
Why does the week have seven days worldwide. Why, why, why?, I could go on and on.
But usually when I write about seeking God whole-heartedly I could tell whether or not someone has humbled themselves and set their heart to understand from God alone or not. If someone replies by trying to argue why they believe it's futile or pointless to seek God wholeheartedly then
they have only shown why it is that God has not proved Himself in any obvious way to them. For God resists the proud but extends grace to the humble. And what you may think is not pride, when you get to know God, you will look back and see things differently. Think about it. Why is it that the Bible thought it necessary to mention that God humbled Moses in the desert and he became the most humble person in all the earth of his time. Moses became a great leader and patriarch. Jesus, as the Bible says, "humbled Himself to become a man on earth and to be a servant, and went even further to die a shameful death on the cross." It also says of Jesus, "though He was the form of God, he counted that nothing to hold on to, but for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross." Paul the apostle was so humble that in regard to his supernatural experiences he often talked in the third person. "Paul" also means "humble" by the way. God ALWAYS exalts the humble.

Jesus said that in the last days, the everyone will be taught of the LORD. Small to great.
"It is better to trust the Lord than to put your confidence in man." Trust in the Lord with all your heart, don't depend on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path(honestly for real). Dont depend on your own goodness or righteousness because you dont realize how far we have fallen since the Garden of Eden. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is destruction. "For even our righteousness is as filthy rags."
"Seek the LORD while he may be sought."

In Christ,

Daniel said...

I will leave Josh's sermon here intact, but the fellow stupidly decided to post this same sermon in the comments section of 15 other posts, which will all be deleted.

Folks, please don't trash up our blog by cross-posting a sermon under numerous threads. Thanks.

John W. Loftus said...

Actually, we don't even want sermons here. We invite relevant comments. But since he says this is his last one..........

paul said...

You seem, at least, sicere in your post, so i'll bite.

I guess i would consider your post relevant because it's a real expression of what you believe as a christian, and i don't think your beliefs are uncommon in christianity.
It seems impossible for you to believe that many, if not most, of the posters here could have (and may have) written your post themselves at another time. What is happening on this site is many are giving the reasons why they no longer feel compelled to preach thusly. So, i guess it's easy to lose sight (if you ever believed in the first place) that you are preaching to the former choir.
The pivotal point of your plea is that God is real, and, if we would just prove him, we would know this as do you. You assume that we have not sought God in the way you have because otherwise we would believe as you do. Again, whether you believe it or not, many of us have spent years, some decades, doing just that. It is in our years of seeking/proving, where we start finding the holes. For instance, take the notion of "seeking God." You quote several scriptures telling us that if we would but seek God with our whole heart, he would be found by us. But then this same bible you quote points out that there isn't anyone that does this: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." Romans 3:10,11. I know you can do gymnastics (i've been an olympian myself) to make this somehow fit. The fact remains you cannot have it both ways. At best we wait for the gracious gift of faith to be bestowed so we can believe. However, I think most of us would have to be able to see the difference between faith and wishful thinking, emotional predisposition, delusion, etc., before embracing christianity. Experience has taught some of us that once you've bought into this, it needs to bear out (i.e. prove to be true).
Your conclusion that "the mind justifies what the heart has already chosen," is often true. Still, there are some out there who can simply say "i don't know," can we substantiate it? That seems like openmindedness to me.

I'm not sure how you might find comfort in this (it doesn't seem loving and "God is love"), that, apparently you are among the "chosen." Not everyone is called after all, rather, "many are called, few are chosen."