God: Innocent until Proven Guilty

Things have gotten pretty heated against us ex-christian bloggers lately. I guess here's some more fresh meat for you all to chew on...

In 1998, back when I was a Christian in Michigan, I witnessed a fatal accident involving multiple cars. I watched as a small car's left tires merged ever so slightly into that "slush" that builds up on the side of the highway in winter (those of you from the north know what I mean). It looked to me as if that was the cause of that small car suddenly spinning out of control on the cold and wet road.

The car in front of me was the first to slow down enough to avoid the collision, and I was the second. The 3 cars in front of us were not so fortunate. I later learned one of the passengers in a car died that night (or a few days later or something).

When my car came to a stop I remembered thinking that if I had left my church only seconds before or after I did, that I might have been one of the victims too. I then thought about all the little things that caused me to leave when I did -- I remember having to park a little further back in the lot that Sunday; I remember the guy stopping me to shake my hand as I walked out; and the list goes on.

At the time of the accident I closed my eyes and thanked God for saving me. I think most of us have been in similar situations. After resiging from my church and becoming an atheist, I'm finding myself re-thinking all those supposed "answers" to prayer and intercessions from God in my life.

So, I have an honest question: To the Christian, how can I know if it was your God working over my life all those years? What reason do I have to believe it was the Christian God rather than simply believing those things just happened to me? Is there a test to know the difference? Is there a way to show God is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for saving my life?

I think that if God exists and is involved in our world, there would be a way to distinguish between something God did and something that just happened because of the very fact of nature (like Hurricane Katrina or a Tsunami).

I know some Christians might say nothing that happens in the world is a coincidence; it's all directed or allowed to happen by God's hand. But I'm asking as someone who doesn't already believe in God. I'm just a member of the jury - what is the reason I should believe it was God who did it?

God, in this case, is innocent until proven guilty. If there is no evidence, no test, no way to show beyond a reasonable doubt that it was God who committed these "gracious" acts in my life, then we should declare him to be innocent in this case.

(insert gavel sound here).

30 comments:

unemployed deity said...

Some very good questions. Personally I dont have a clue. I could give you the party line about all the omni's but it is not much comfort or even a good answer.

Much of belief is an emotional need that people have, some people need mystery, need a "higher" being if you will. It seems hard wired into many of us. The professional apologists, and Jr apologists (no offense intended) could offer better words, formulas and such. But the basics is we dont know. Offered wor what its worth.

Vince said...

Shallow thoughts.

Christian/Jewish monotheism is much deeper than you or conservative fundamentalists think. Try reading some better thinkers about God. Try Spinoza or Thomas of Aquinas from pre-enlightenment years. Try Kierkegaard, Barth, Buber, or Yoder from post-modern years. Try the Jewish historian Sarna for an excellent discussion of the meaning of Genesis.

Your simple attacks only strike fear in the literalist Christian or dogmatic fundamentalist. You are right on only one thing ... there is no methodology to 'prove' God exists. The corollary is ... there is no methodology to 'disprove' God exists.

“I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” Albert Camus (surprisingly)

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between living life as if there is a god, and living life as if there isn't?

Morne said...

It is a damn good question. Let the christians (who claim God does or are responsible for certain things) give us the "test" that would distinguish between events where he is actively involved and where he is not involved.

If you as a christian can not give us this test and claim that your god is involved and responsible for everything i would just like to remind you of 2 verses in the bible, that clearly shows his nature and "responsibility":

Isaiah 45:7 - “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

Amos 3:6 - “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?”

Zac Taylor said...

Thanks unemployed deity, Morne, and anon. Vince, Do I have to read all of those things to understand God? Since you have obviously read all those people, what is their answer to knowing how God is working in the world?

I think it's a good question because Christians should have some kind of way to know whether it was God's will for George W. Bush to be in office or not. If God gave them a way they could speak with one voice on that and thousands of other things. They would know what social causes to support and which ones not to in order to really bring God's kingdom to this world.

Obviously there's no hard proof that God exists or does not exist. I want to know where the "fingerprint" of God is on human events. What does it look like? That's all. I don't think there is one, and it's one reason I can't believe the Christian god or any other god is the cause behind the fortunate or unfortunate times in my life.

Basically, I think most Christians would say God is responsible for everything that happens to them - good or bad.

Dan Barker tells a story of how he would be in a hurry going to the store and would pray for a parking spot. When he would get a good spot, he would thank God for answering his prayer. When he got a bad spot or had to wait a long time, he would say God must be teaching him patience.

The good and bad in a Christian's life is all "for good" (Rom 8:28) in the end. Really, the god-experience of the Christian is just a subjective and fanciful interpretation of human experience where god simply can't lose.

John W. Loftus said...

Zachary, as a preacher I told I story about kids driving around looking for a place to eat, when all of a sudden they got sideswiped and landed in a ditch next to Tom's Diner. After checking to see that everyone was okay, one kid in the back said, "I guess God wants us to eat here!" ;-)

paul said...

Vince,
ditto Zachary..."Do I have to read all those things to understand God?" That strikes me as elitist.

Are we in a different dispensation where illiterate fishermen need no longer apply? Does God no longer choose the "weak and foolish?" Is God known and understood through revelation or intellectual pursuit? Can't we know Gods will by rolling dice or choosing straws?

Shining and Burning Light said...

Zachary,

The answer to your question is that God mercifully spared your life in that car accident, granting you more time for repentence. There is no test to prove this, you know that. If everything could be proven in such a fashion there would be no need for faith. You can believe that those things just happened to you by chance if you want to, but your response to such a gracious providence should tell you a lot about the state of your heart. Such a time as that (having your life spared) is a time for sober reflection upon eternal things, not a flippant dismissal of the whole thing as "luck". Those are your two choices, God's providential dealings in the world as an expression of His kind benevolence OR your just a lucky guy. Thanks for listening...

Joe E. Holman said...

Shining and Burning Light said...

"Zachary,

The answer to your question is that God mercifully spared your life in that car accident, granting you more time for repentence."



Oh yes, you're right on! That is why God spared Zach from that accident...just like God sent hurrican Katrina to punish all those topless whores who expose themselves during Mardi Gras, and just like God gave the Native Americans diseases to kill them off for the godly Christian Spaniards who came here! God is always working things out providentially for Christians!

Preach on, brother!

*insert sarcasm here!*

(JH)

Shining and Burning Light said...

JE Holman,

Zachary asked the question and I gave him my answer. You may not like my answer, but I didn't offer it without his request. As to why God sent hurricane Katrina, you are welcome to your own conclusions. It is not my intention to squabble with you over it. As far as the "godly Christian Spaniards" you referred to. Which one of God's commandments were they obeying when they did what they did? None, in fact they were violating His commandments and were not godly Christians. Calling yourself a "Christian" and being one are two different things. Apparently you were using sarcasm there, I'm sure those that agree with you found it amusing, but I thought the question was asked sincerely so I answered it that way...

Dennis said...

Zach,

It is true that we can not possible know and understand all of God's ways or when and if he is directly intervening in our lives. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." As Christians, it is not our responsibility to try to decipher what comes from God and what doesn't. We should simply give God thanks for everything.

You also said:
"I think that if God exists and is involved in our world, there would be a way to distinguish between something God did and something that just happened because of the very fact of nature (like Hurricane Katrina or a Tsunami)."

I don't know if you consider yourself an atheists, but this is a flawed argument that a lot of atheists use. That is, if God doesn't come to me on my own terms or if God doesn't act in a way that I would consider reasonable, than he must not exist. God has revealed himself to us, but on his terms. He has revealed himself through his marvelous creation and through the Bible.

DagoodS said...

Dennis:

but this is a flawed argument that a lot of atheists use. That is, if God doesn't come to me on my own terms or if God doesn't act in a way that I would consider reasonable, than he must not exist.

But that is not the argument. I am informed by humans there are certain things God does. By virtue of this statement, it is delineating there are (at least) two types of things: One that God does, and one that God does not. If God does everything or nothing, there is no need to point it out, true?

So once I am informed “God does ____” I can reasonably assume the inference there is something out there in which we can also state, “God does NOT do __________.”

Further, by the theist filling in that blank, they have designated a specific item or action that God does. They are making a positive assertion that (at the least for themselves) we can make a partial determination as to what God does or does not.

What atheists are asking is “How?” How do we come up with some method by which we can determine an item or action is what God does, does not or is unknown?

I am not asking for GOD to be act in a way in which is reasonable, I am asking the theist who is making the positive assertion that some supernatural entity is involved to explain how they come up with that conclusion. And by inspecting the method by which they came up with that conclusion, apply it elsewhere and see if it conforms.

For example, you indicate that God has revealed Himself through the Bible. This is a positive assertion that God did something (“revealed Himself”) and did it through a particular means (“the Bible.”) By making this claim, we can infer that you believe there are books in which God did NOT reveal himself. Like “Little Red Riding Hood” for example.

Further, by making this claim, you have developed some method (even if it is simple as “I was told so.”) by which you determine what books God uses to reveal himself and what ones he does not.

I have no qualms with God coming to me on his terms. Where I cough and sputter is when a human tells me what God’s terms are, and careful investigation of the methodology as to how the human came to find out what the claimed “God’s terms” are reveals that, lo and behold, it isn’t a God at all, but that human’s determination as to how one comes to a God. Not God’s.

Show us. Explain what method we can use to determine which books “reveal God” and which ones don’t. If those are “God’s terms.”

Zac Taylor said...

DagoodS,
I liked your response here as much as my post. I think you philosophically defined the question better than me. Thanks!

Joe E. Holman said...

Shining and Burning Light said...

Zachary asked the question and I gave him my answer. You may not like my answer, but I didn't offer it without his request. As to why God sent hurricane Katrina, you are welcome to your own conclusions. It is not my intention to squabble with you over it.


my reply...

My point was that you have no more claim to answering Zach's question than I did in making the mock assertions I made. In every case with Christians, the providence of God is whatever the believer wants it to be.

JH

Dennis said...

DagoodS said...
“I have no qualms with God coming to me on his terms. Where I cough and sputter is when a human tells me what God’s terms are, and careful investigation of the methodology as to how the human came to find out what the claimed “God’s terms” are reveals that, lo and behold, it isn’t a God at all, but that human’s determination as to how one comes to a God. Not God’s.”

What if I could show you that God’s terms were that he would use humans to reveal himself to us? Would you have a qualm with that?

DagoodS said...

Dennis, that is what this blog is for—Show away!

Dennis said...

DagoodS,

Can you first answer my question?

You stated that you were open to God revealing himself to us on his own terms but then you imply that you reject the possibility that God would use humans as spokespersons and I need to have your position clarified. Are you open minded to the possibility of God revealing himself to us on his terms or are there exclusions? I don't want to waste my time putting together a reply for you if my answer is already disqualified before I compose it.

DagoodS said...

Dennis, I certainly have no qualms.

I do not reject the possibility of a god using humans to reveal itself. What is difficult to do is develop a consistent methodology, by which we can determine when a God is involved, or when just a human is.

For example, do YOU exclude the Priests of the Aztec God(s) as a God revealing itself through humans? Are you open-minded to the possibility, or is this an exclusion? Or the Shaman of the Native Americans? Or the Druids? Or the Hindus?

Or for another example, you use the Bible. The Bible was written by some humans, stating in human terms what God does/says, and in which other humans determined that some books would be included in a canon, and other books would not. (It depends on the human as to which books are in, and when.)

What makes it any different than the Book of Mormon in that respect? (and Yes, I know the differences.) On one hand I have a group of humans telling me what other humans said is one “set of terms” that God requires, and on the other I have a group of humans saying, “No, No. THIS is the ‘set of terms’ that God requires.” How do we develop a set of criteria by which we can discern which group of humans is correct?

The problem I see, Dennis, isnot that God uses humans as spokespersons; it is that, in the end, that is all the entities claiming what God requires or not—humans. And even you will reject what some humans say about how God’s terms are defined.

To be fair to you (and so you know what I am looking for in a reply) I am looking for a methodology by which we can determine “What this set of humans say is God’s terms, and what that set of humans say are not.” And in obtaining that methodology, I will apply it to the theist’s position and see if they can stay consistent.

Further, if you are saying that God only reveals himself through humans, to be honest, I will have a strong inclination to reject that out of hand. I can’t tell which humans are accurate about God or not. How do you?

Shining and Burning Light said...

JE Holman,

God's providence as expressed in his decretal will is everything that happens. It is not whatever the believer wants it to be. Some flinch at that assertion because they don't like its implications, but it's the Biblical answer nonetheless. You may want to squabble over it, but I'm not so inclined. That discussion has taken place in many other forums.....thanks

Dennis said...

DagoodS,

I have to question how well you actually know the Bible if you lump it into a group of other "religious" texts. Have you ever taken the time study Old Testament prophesy? The Bible is miraculous in the details of New Testament events that are clearly described in the Old Testament. The Old Testament tells us that the coming Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). In fact, it was Micah 5:2 that allowed King Herod to determine that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and to focus his search for him there (Matthew 2:5-6). The Old Testament also tells us *when* the Messiah would be anointed (his baptism) and *when* he would be cut off (his crucifixion) in the 70 weeks of Daniel. Another amazing section of the Old Testament is Psalm chapter 22. Please take the time to look at it if you aren't already familiar with this. In this one chapter we see foreshadowing of very specific events that would occur at Jesus' crucifixion. If the Bible is nothing but the written words of man, can you present me a tenable position that explains how these apparent fulfillments of prophecy took place (with an emphasis on tenable)?

Your question about how we can determine which books are God's revelation to us is also a question I have personally struggled with. In the end, it was the way Jesus lived his life and the words he spoke which taught me to let go of this concern. Jesus didn't have the complete Bible in his day, but he did have the collection of books that we refer to as the Old Testament. It amazes me that Jesus, the incarnation of God, had the authority to speak whatever words he wanted but very often quoted the words of men. If you are familiar with the Gospel writings, you understand what I mean. When Jesus was in the desert being tempted by Satan, every response included a reference to words written by man in the Old Testament. When being challenged by the Sadducees, Jesus rebuffed them and said "you are in error because you don't know the scriptures". This particular scene really stands out to me because it shows me that God expects me to know his scriptures and to use it as my source of wisdom. Obviously God played a role in the collection of the Old Testament, otherwise Jesus wouldn't have treated it as he did. By faith, I accept that God got it right the second time around when the New Testament was collected. The act of God using man to fulfill his plans or to act as a messenger on his behalf is part of a pattern we see throughout the Bible.

DagoodS said...

Dennis, great question.

Sure I can provide a tenable position as to how these prophecies were fulfilled. Those that provided Jesus story, long after he lived, lifted verses out of the Tanakh, claimed they were prophetic, and then molded Jesus’ story around it. They made it up.

You may not like my theory, but let’s look at it, shall we? What are the chances that one person could fit any 6 of the prophecies of Jesus? A Billion to 1? A quadjillion to 1? So many that we could bury Texas 5 feet in one dollar coins, and pick out one? (Yep, I heard that one.)

What are the chances I could take a particular passage. From anywhere. Any book. And fictionally insert it into the life of an individual, point back to the original passage and how prophetic it was. Exactly 1 to 1. Anybody can do it. The odds of that happening are astronomically accurate.

Can you show that this was not done in the Life of Jesus? You presume (and I did too at one time) that the Gospels are literal history. However, once we step back and review them with a more objective eye, we can see that it is far, far more likely that the authors felt free (note: Not in a deceitful way) to introduce facts that supported Jesus as Messiah, without these facts necessarily being what happened.

Remember, even Josephus felt free to write what “could have happened” as history, not what actually happened.

Shall we apply this to the prophecy of the Bethlehem Birth?

Micah 5:2. Is that talking about a place or a clan? (1 Chron. 4:4) Personally, I think it was presumed that the Messiah would be born in the linage of David (he was to be a political hero, after all) and that being born in Bethlehem was expected. For purposes of this discussion, we will presume that it was expected the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

What does the first person who wrote about Jesus say about where he was born? Nope. How about the next person—Mark? Actually Mark makes it clear that Jesus is from Nazareth. NOT Bethlehem at all! (Mark 1:6)

Now we have the next writer. They want to fit the prophecy of the Bethlehem birth BUT they have the already existing situation of Jesus being from Nazareth—not Bethlehem. What to do? Simple, place his birth to having occurred in Bethlehem, but later move him to Nazareth.

The illuminating part is that is exactly what we see the authors do. Only two (2) authors do it, they do it differently, which results in a conflict. Precisely what we would anticipate with my theory, (humans making up facts to conform to a prophecy) not at all what we would expect with divine prophecy.

Matthew, to get Jesus born in Bethlehem, has Jesus born and raised there for a few years, and eventually moving to Nazareth. Luke, to get Jesus born in Bethlehem, has Mary and Joseph take a trip there, get Jesus born, and then immediately return to Nazareth.

Clearly they both wanted Jesus born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. Both just choose different ways to do it. What is enlightening now, is to see that in doing so, they generated different accounts. They each made up something that does not conform to the other.

One has Jesus born while Herod was reigning (up to 4 BCE). The other has Jesus born when the Census occurred. (6 CE). One has Jesus living in Bethlehem in a house for two years, the other has Jesus visiting there in a cave for about eight days. One has Herod killing nearby children and visiting Magi, the other has visiting Shepherds, and proclamations at the Temple of his greatness. One has Jesus escaping to Egypt, the other has Jesus quietly living at home. One has Jesus’ family avoiding Jerusalem and “hiding” in Nazareth, the other has the family openly going to Jerusalem every year. One has all the conversations of the angels to Joseph, the other to Mary.

Simply put, both felt free to have Jesus born in Bethlehem and used alternative means of doing so. Just to fulfill prophecy. Amazing? Not in the least. In fact, it is more amazing to use Nostradamus to predict 9/11, in that at least THAT prophecy would have to conform to certain facts that were known. Here there is no one who would bother to question, or even care, that Jesus was or was not born in Bethlehem. Since it was claimed he was the Messiah, it would be presumed he was born in Bethlehem. If the intended audience of Matthew or Luke was already convinced of Jesus’ Messiahship, they would never question it.

Or, another example, your “70 weeks.” In the same way the authors of the Gospels did, current apologists attempt to smash that prophecy to, in some way, fit the life of Jesus, and bound through Herculean leaps in order to make it fit.

It has been some time since I studied this, so forgive me if I am a little rusty. Doing it from memory. The “seventy weeks” was to start from Cyrus’ command to build Jerusalem. (Isaiah 44:28) However, this command was too early, placing Jesus still in BCE. So apologists fall on the letter to Nehemiah given by King Artaxerxes. (Neh. 2:7) Sadly this letter is for safe passage, and a request for material (for the project of rebuilding which had already begun), not for rebuilding, but because it is closer to when the apologist needs, they use this letter.

The problem, then, though, is that this puts Jesus’ death too late! (38 CE, if I remember correctly) So the apologist modifies the years to be, not actual years, but “prophetic years” of exactly 30 days per month and 12 months per year. How and when we are to use “prophetic years” is anybody’s guess. But using the wrong starting date, and the wrong number of days, we come up with a date of Jesus’ death.

‘Course the problem remains that scholars disagree as to the year Jesus died, so in the end, we do not know if the prophecy was even accurate or not! And what happens after seven weeks? Every apologist skips over that bit, and goes right to the 69 weeks. But the verses indicate seven weeks then 62 weeks. Why the break? (Dan. 9:25)

As to Psalm 22, Mark followed the stories of the Tanakh in retelling the tale of Jesus. It is of little surprise that he would continue to do so, even in the events of the Crucifixion. Again, we have Paul, that recounts no tales regarding the crucifixion, we have Mark who liked to follow the Tanakh (such as the Elijah-Elisha cycle) and, in keeping with his style, conforms Jesus death with a Tanakh passage.

Mark indicates familiarity with the Tanakh. What surprise is it, then, to place the words and events of Psalm 22 in the re-telling of Jesus’ crucifixion? Even if there was a Jesus that was crucified. Even if one holds that Jesus was God, and it was the atoning act of salvation. Mark knew Psalm 22. How can we say that he did not insert Psalm 22:1 in Jesus’ mouth? Or the dividing of the clothes? In fact, the “piercing” may have brought it to Mark’s attention in the first place!

Matthew and Luke merely follow Mark.

See, Dennis, it wasn’t a bad experience with a Church, or Christianity or Christians that caused me to deconvert. It wasn’t one book, or one person, or one event. It wasn’t some secret desire to act out upon some sin.

Once I studied how the Gospels were made, other historical documents of the time, and the order in which the books were written, the argument that the authors fashioned the story to fit prophecy rather than prophecy being fulfilled appeared to be so much stronger.

I could go on about other prophecies, but I hope you see the point. Unless we can independently verify the events (and some of the events are extremely unlikely—such as the Slaughter of the Innocents, the virgin birth prophecy, the riding of two animals, the mis-translation of “Nazareth”) it seems very tenable, even persuasive, that the authors could modify or even manufacture events in Jesus’ life in order to claim it was fulfilled prophecy. That was, partly, their intent, true?

What was stopping them?

It amazes me that Jesus, the incarnation of God, had the authority to speak whatever words he wanted but very often quoted the words of men.

And this fits my theory as well. If humans decided to conform Jesus’ statements to the Tanakh, the words are right there. Easy as pie to have Jesus quote Jewish Scripture. It is no longer amazing at all.

Further, there has been extensive argument that the words claimed to be spoken by Jesus were influenced by statements of other philosophies and statements of the time. Here is a good article giving some of the background of the various positions.

Again, it looks more like fitting words and claims in where people desired, rather than prophecy being fulfilled.

I am glad you feel that God wants you to know the Bible. I hope you continue your study of how it came into being.

Dennis said...

DagoodS,

Thanks for taking the time to compose a respectful reply.

Your comment about Mark is missing some important details. First, Mark didn't record any details about the birth of Jesus so the fact that he doesn’t mention where Jesus was born does not present a problem as you suggested. Actually, John understood the significance of Jesus being born in Bethlehem (see John 7:42) yet didn't include a birth account for reasons that I don't know and it doesn't matter. So your theory falls on it face at the first step, nice try though. Since Mark doesn't mention the birth of Jesus or where it took place, this does not create any kind of predicament for Matthew and Luke as you seem to insist must take place. Matthew and Luke make it clear that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then later lived in Nazareth. Mark was right in saying Jesus was from Nazareth in the same way I am right to tell people that I come from the city where I currently reside instead of the city that I was born in. I see absolutely no conflict between the gospels regarding where Jesus was born and where he was raised. I agree with you that the different gospels place Jesus at different places and at different times and I have studied and argued over what critics call contradictions. I am more than willing to walk you through any supposed conflict in this area if you will just identify a particular one that is causing you problems. You say you have a problem with the fact the Luke records an angel talking to Mary and Matthew records an angel talking to Joseph. Are you kidding me? What is wrong with the scenario that Luke gathered his information from Mary and Matthew from Joseph which gives each a different perspective? There is other evidence to suggest this did a

As for the 70 weeks of Daniel, you just don't understand this enough to argue against it. For example, the 70 weeks of Daniel says nothing about Cyrus as you stated. There is reasoning behind the 360 calendar day years. I hope it's not a surprise to you that a calendar year hasn't always contain 365 days with a leap year every fourth. Please study this more and I will discuss it with you when you understand it better.

So there are philosophers from Jesus' time that were saying similar things? That doesn't surprise me!

Could you please help me to clarify what your beliefs are regarding the gospel writers? Am I right that you believe the gospel writers were not intentionally being deceitful but took the liberty to fill in details they believed were missing? This would mean they made up the story about the birth of Jesus but where telling the truth when they conveyed the parables of Jesus that they heard in person? You have presented a way to get around the prophesies of the OT but I need to understand your views of the NY better. I still believe your views of the gospels are untenable but I need to understand it better. I am also struggling with this idea that the gospel writers not intentionally being deceitful when they fabricated stories to make it appear as they had first or second had knowledge of them.

If you want to correct the error in your theory about the Bethlehem birth and run it past me again, I am ready anytime you are.

Dennis said...

DagoodS,

I thought of another Messianic prophesy that presents a problem for you. The OT tells us that the Messiah would be rejected by his own people. This prophesy surely seemed unlikely to those who wrote it but that is exactly what happened. To maintain that the gospel writers made it appear that this phophesy was being fulfilled, you now have them not only forging their writings but also stiring up dissent among the majority of Jews to cause them to hate Jesus. I guess while the disciples were following Jesus around Galillee, they somehow found time to sneak off and plant seeds of discontent among the crowds that were following them. (Ok, maybe there are other ways to explain it away, I'm just having some fun :)

It was never my expectation that you couldn't find a way to explain away all of the OT prophesies regarding Jesus. It was my expectation that any explanation made could be demonstrated as untenable.

DagoodS said...

Dennis,

My theory on the Gospels. Hmmm. You might not like it, but so be it. Remember, in this field there are more theories than theoreticians!

First of all, regarding the synoptic problem, I do hold to Markan priority. I believe Matthew is based upon Mark, and a Matthew pamphlet of sayings of Jesus, commonly referred to as “Q.” Luke is based upon Mark, Matthew’s pamphlet (NOT the Gospel of Matthew), and Josephus. John is in a field of its own, bordering on (and even delving into) Gnosticism. Any parallel in John to the synoptic(s) is from oral tradition, possibly even traditions started by the written gospels themselves.

As to a historical Jesus, I hold to a traveling rabbi/philosopher that was crucified. I won’t commit to much more than that.

Paul used this traveling rabbit to either jump-start Christianity, or was the primary mover of a religion that was jump-started by someone else. Either way, Paul uses Jesus to fashion a sect of Judaism. Note that Paul does not quote Jesus (other than the Eucharist), does not cite any historical facts of his life or ministry, and only the barest of facts as to his death and resurrection. Paul cites no miracles by Jesus, no parables, no sermons.

The author of Mark (not Peter’s secretary. An unknown person. I vacillate back and forth as to whether he was a Jew, but this week fall on “Jew”) hears some form of the story of Jesus, and decides to frame a story about it, using the Tanakh as the model. Mark (It is convenient to call the author “Mark”) uses a distinct form of story-telling that demonstrates the fictionalization of the account, as well as the fact it follows the tales of the Tanakh. As some of the facts of Jesus are already in circulation, he must incorporate them in the story, particularly the crucifixion.

Matthew (not the disciple, of course. Also an unknown author.) has collected sayings of Jesus. Similar, if you will, to the form of the Gospel of Thomas. Upon reading Mark, he cannot help but “flesh out” his sayings with a story, and the Gospel of Matthew is born. Also probably not a Jew, but versed enough to recognize the selling point of the use of the Tanakh, Matthew “one-ups” Mark by grabbing every possible verse he can and turning it into a prophecy. He even makes up a few. (“He shall be called a Nazarene.” Tell me—what is a person from Nazareth called? Either a Nazarethite, or a Nazarethene. A “Nazarene” is a person from “Nazarea.”)

Luke (it is possible this is the Luke that traveled with Paul, but not very likely) uses Mark, the sayings of Matthew, and frames his own story. Again, remember if Matthew was circulating at this point, it could be having an effect on what the “oral” tradition was.

As to their modifying the story, we have to immerse ourselves in First Century times, not use our literal, rationale minds of current standard.

Many historians, including Josephus, would include tales and statements of individuals that it was impossible for him to know. Josephus records, for example, a speech in a sieged fortress in which all the defenders were wiped out. Since they all died, there would be no way to know anything of what was said. Josephus records statements of Moses that are nowhere to be found in the Tanakh.

The reason he does is that it was acceptable to incorporate statements of things people would have said at the time. No one would say, “Hey, Josephus. How could you know what was said—they all died.” Not at all. It made sense, it fit the facts, why couldn’t the person have said it?

Looking at the birth narrative. I didn’t make my point clear. I indicated that Mark states Jesus came from Nazareth. The reason that is significant is that both Matthew and Luke are copying Mark. They KNOW they need to get Jesus to Nazareth eventually. (Mark only took one slice of Jesus’ life. He had no intention of going through Jesus’ birth, childhood, and young adult years. Just like most novels don’t start at a birth and end in a death, but take just a portion of a person’s life.)

Mark, (who is keeping the Messianic secret) has not a care in the world as to where Jesus was born, but either was relying on tradition by placing him in Nazareth, or created Nazareth as the jumping point by himself. (Note, there is a possibility “of Nazareth” of Mark 1:9 is a later addition and Mark felt that Jesus was from Capernaum.)

The “predicament” for both Matthew and Luke is that they cannot have Jesus born and raised in Bethlehem. Or raised in Jerusalem. At some point, they need to transport him to Nazareth. Matthew simply HAD to force-feed another prophecy or two out of it. Luke simply shrugged, and started with Jesus’ family there right off.

I wasn’t really intending to point out conflict, as much as the parameters in which Matthew/Luke had to work.

Now Matthew is writing this story. Matthew truly believes that Jesus was the Messiah. He is firmly convinced that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem. Putting 2 and 2 together, it would be appropriate to place him in Bethlehem. The how’s and the why’s make for good storytelling, but there it is. No one would question Matthew’s motives—they were pure. No one would fault him for making up a fantastic story, Jesus WAS the Messiah, Jesus DID fulfill prophecy.

If you are familiar with Karen Armstrong’s work, you may understand the difference between a logos and a mythos world. The First century was steeped in myth and legend. Kings became Gods. Statutes wept. Magicians and philosophers roamed. Demons and monsters caused sickness. To add myth to a life was not only acceptable, if it was a great personage, it would all but be expected!

In our time, we want our history to be accurate. Then, they wanted their history to be fantastic. It was not a matter of deceit, but of living within the times.

Let me try a (poor) example. Do you remember, or have you heard of “Hogan’s Heroes”? A television show about funny Nazis. At the time it was made, the 60’s (?) that was acceptable comedy. Could such a show get on the television now? Never! Or a tale of funny terrorists? Absolutely not.

Yet we do not fault the writers of the time as insensitive clods, or idiots. In their time, it was acceptable, now it is not. In the same way, in the times of the Gospels, writing fantastic tales was acceptable. And we do not even know, might I add, whether the authors themselves felt they were writing History. (Although I personally think Luke did in his Gospel.)

My theory, as it were. Take it or leave it, but you asked.

Thank you for the offer to take me through the contradictions of the birth narratives. I am well-aware as to the differences, and the proposed explanations. Giving fantastic human alternatives, such as second/joint governorships, or alternate sources of information make the books MORE human, not less.

And Yes, I have even seen the argument that Matthew’s source was Joseph and Luke’s was Mary. Not persuasive. Do you know a mother? Propose the following situation to them:

A mad dictator decides to kill your only son. Your firstborn. You are supernaturally warned, and flee at the last minute. The dictator is so enraged, he kills every baby boy in your entire city. You must go to another country and hide for years. Then you are supernaturally warned it is safe to return, but you go to another city to live in fear.

Mary forgot that? It simply slips Mary’s mind, when recounting the tale to Luke? Mary forgets the house in Bethlehem? The Magi? Egypt?

And Joseph just happens to forget the REASON for traveling to Bethlehem? The Census? The Shepherds? The Cave? The innkeeper?

I am well-versed in the proposed explanations of the contradictions in the Birth narrative. So what. Anyone can come up with an explanation to attempt to do away with the apparent problem. Shoot, my 9 year old son can come up with an explanation as to why his ball did not just go through my window, when he still has the bat in his hand. Kids do it all the time.

Again, a very human thing to do. But is it persuasive? See, Dennis, I don’t view this as an “all-or-nothing” prospect in that I propose the contradiction and as long as you come up with an explanation, ANY explanation, there can be no contradiction. I see it more as what would a jury be convinced of.

As you aptly stated earlier—what is tenable? A person attempting to align the birth narratives must go through machinations of double/joint/unrecorded governorship, conflicting genealogies, wrong years, unrecorded atrocities, conflicting accounts, and missing information. And after hours of explanation, I stand up and say, “It is two writers who both want Jesus born in Bethlehem and make up different stories. Hence they conflict.” With but a few seconds, I have proposed a solution that is simple, believable, observable, and every neutral jury in the world would buy it.

Remember where we started this conversation—showing something different about an event or item that qualifies it as “supernatural” rather than natural. One of the items you proposed is that the Bible is different in recording fulfilled prophecy. The problem becoming more and more evident, is that you are using the source to prove the source. We have no independent verification that Jesus’ life fulfilled any such prophecy.

Further, we see the authors well-aware of the prophecy, even citing the prophecy as being fulfilled by Jesus, recording his story more than 70 years after the event, that are free to incorporate events to make it look like fulfilled prophecy. Further, we see two different authors doing this in two different ways, emphasizing that they felt free to incorporate details, unbeknownst to them that were conflicting with some other author.

Look, the Book of Mormon claims fantastic events that are unrecorded and unproven in history. If a Mormon stated to you, “The Book of Mormon proves the Book of Mormon” would you accept it? No? Then why should I accept the same argument from you? What you are saying is that the New Testament recorded events prove that the New Testament is unique by showing fulfilled prophecy. Any religions’ sacred writings can prove themselves. Show me something different.

70 Weeks

Lol! I found this funny.

I thought you were showing me. In my perspective (and this is only my perspective—I could be wrong) I see this:

Theist: Have you ever taken the time to study prophecy like the 70 weeks?
Atheist: Oh yes, it is wrong because of this, that, these and those.
Theist: Er…you don’t understand and I won’t talk to you until you do.

Can you understand why I might be inclined to determine that you don’t have a response to what I indicated? Again, I thought you were showing me. To now back off, when it seems I have some knowledge is not indicative of “showing me.”

As far as I was aware, the only “70 weeks” prophecy is from Daniel 9:24-27. If there is another, this is exactly what I asked for—show me the prophecy!

In order for us to understand how to count the 70 weeks, we need to know the starting date. Is it creation? Is it the flood? Is it Exodus? Vs. 25 gives us that starting date: “From the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem…”

What date is that, Dennis? I propose it is the date that Cyrus….uh….gave the command to restore Jerusalem. As far as I am aware, apologists propose the date that Artaxerxes gave letters of safe passage to Nehemiah and an order to pick up building materials. Materials for a building project that was previously in place.

You indicate I don’t understand, and won’t show me. Sigh. Now I will never know what that date will be.

Further, as far as I know, the only way to get the date remotely within Pilate’s period (before 36 CE) the concept of a “year” must be reduced to exactly 12 months of exactly 30 days. It is entitled a “prophetic year.”

Where did I ever state that a year consists of 364 days plus a leap year? I would THINK the most appropriate calculation of a claim of a year in the Tanakh is to look at the Jewish calendar. Which consists of months of 29 days and months of 30 days. In order to correct for the missing days, on some years a month is added. Which ends up with (roughly) the same system we have of occasional corrections to keep the number of day in line with the earth’s rotation.

But using the Jewish calendar brings the same problem as our calendar would, in that even using Nehemiah’s letter, we would be past Pilate. Hence the “Prophetic year.”

Dennis—could you buy what you are selling? For fun, let’s put the shoe on the other foot and see, shall we?

Suppose that it just happened that the calendar years worked out from Cyrus’ decree. Now, I come along and say, “Oh, No. The letter we should use is the one from Nehemiah that allows him safe passage, and therefore adding 70 weeks puts it much past Jesus’ time.”

Honestly, would you say, “Oh, shucks. You are right. That is the appropriate letter to use. I guess the prophecy failed.” OR is it much more likely you would presume I am looking for any way in which to discredit the Bible, and grabbed on to this letter as an escape hatch?

Or what if the calendar years worked out, and I said, “Ah, but this is a prophetic year which means it is only 360 days, and this places it much too early to be in Jesus’ time period.” Again, would you accept this as defeating the prophecy, or would you be more inclined to believe that I am grasping at straws, to say anything to make the prophecy not fit?

If you wouldn’t buy my using the wrong letter, and using a contrived calendar to discredit the Bible, why should I buy your using the same letter and a contrived calendar to support the Bible?

Show me something DIFFERENT! Not some human improvisation to attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole, and claim that God defines round holes as “square” so therefore the peg fits.

DagoodS said...

First of all, Dennis, I have no idea what you mean by “forging” their own writing. How can one “forge” one’s own writing? This does not make sense.

Further, no gospel makes a claim as to authorship. You cannot claim that the author of Matthew claimed to be the Disciple of Matthew. Nor Mark, or Luke. The closest thing we have is John 21:24 with odd language. If the author was Johh, who was the “we”? And why does the author refer to himself in the third person, and then state ANOTHER person as “we”?

What dissent? The Gospels record multitudes following Jesus. The mob scene before Pilate is problematic at best, pure fiction most likely. The people loved him, according to the Gospels, they didn’t reject him. According to the gospels it was the Jewish leaders that rejected him.

All that being said, what do the Jews say about this fulfilled prophecy? Here is a great link that provides a short synopsis of the problem of applying Isaiah 53 to Messianic Prophecy. It also points out the problems that even the Jews of the Gospel writers did not consider Isaiah 53 as being a Messianic prophecy.

If the Jews of the Gospels, and the Jews of today tell me this is not a Messianic prophecy, why should I believe Christians that it is?

I would also note that Matthew, who LOVES to point out prophecies, fails to cite Isa. 53:7 in Matthew 27:14, which would be unusual. If you hold Isa. 53:7 as a true Messianic prophecy, then Jesus blows it and could not be the Messiah, since he clearly opens his mouth and replies to Pilate according to Mark 15:2 and Luke 23:3 and even enters into a discourse with his accusers in John 18.

It is not whether I can “explain” away any of the prophecies, it is what is more likely. But even then, we are two humans discussing human resolutions. Where is the supernatural differentiation we are looking for?

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

DawoodS,

This will be my last post on this topic. Instead of trying argue against your conclusions, I am choosing to make a list of statements you made that are false or would seem unreasonable to an unbiased person (if such a person really exists!).

In response to your jab about my phrase "forging their own writings", I want to point out that in your last post you referred to Jesus as a "traveling *rabbit*"! LOL!

There is no "Gospel Q" as your post implies. The Gospel according to Q is only a postulated text by people who share your views. If I am wrong, please tell me where I can find the earliest dated copy of this gospel. It frustrates me that you would gloss over that important detail. It's ironic that in the defense of your view that the gospels were "made up", you resort to making up your own gospel to make a point.

You accept tradition when it's convenient for your views and reject it when it's not. For example, your theory accepts without question the traditionally held belief about the order of when the books were written. In my opinion, we can probably be more certain about who wrote the books than we can about the date they were written. This doesn't prove any points, I am only pointing out the inconsistency.

You state that Mark "uses a distinct form of story-telling that demonstrates the fictionalization of the account". On the surface, an unbiased person would outright reject your ability to determine that Mark was a forgery based on the author's writing style.

You are wrong to state that the assumed author of Matthew wasn't the same Matthew who was a disciple of Jesus.

Your claim that first century historians commonly forged historical accounts seems absurd. I don't think I've ever seen a disclaimer in a history book that says "We don't know what really happened in the first few centuries because historians back then just made stuff up" but I'll look into your claim.

You claim that the predicament for Matthew and Luke was that they could not have Jesus born and raised in Bethlehem. Why is this a predicament since there was no need for Jesus to be raised in Bethlehem? Your claim that this was a predicament is also refuted by the fact that Matthew and Luke could have kept Jesus in Bethlehem as long as they wanted since they were fabricating their accounts anyway but for some reason chose not to.

Your criticism of Luke missing details covered by Matthew is flawed. Luke's account of Jesus ends when Jesus was 8 days old and then picks up again when Jesus was 12 years old. There is a huge gap of details left out, I agree, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to come up with an explanation of how this happened. Maybe Luke's discussion with Mary was cut short and he never saw again. Matthews account technically doesn't even give us a birth account. It leaves off after the Angel reassures Joseph about marrying Mary and then picks up again when Joseph and Marry are living in a house after the birth. There is actually very little overlap between the two accounts. It's kind of hard to prove a contradiction when both accounts are talking about different periods of time. It sounds like you enjoy talking up a big game about how difficult it is to reconcile these birth narratives but then fail to produce a good example when I ask you to take ownership of one of them.

I am not "using the source to prove the source". The OT and NT are not the same source. In my opinion, your attempt at refuting Daniel's 70 weeks has failed (primarily because you don't understand it).

Daniel's 70 weeks. I did point out a few problems with your views on this topic. Instead of verify your facts regarding the errors I pointed out to me, you spent your time typing up a mock conversation where my position is summarized by "Er…you don’t understand and I won’t talk to you until you do." This representation of what I said proves what?

King Cyrus didn't issue a command to rebuild Jerusalem. Spend less time mocking me and go do your homework.

There was much more to Artaxerxes and Nehemiah than just a letter of passage. Nehemiah asked Artaxerxes to send him to rebuild Jerusalem. We don't know exactly what the letter said but that could have contained a command for Nehemiah to rebuild. Furthermore, Nehemiah later told his people "come and let us build". Either one can be viewed as the command to restore Jerusalem. Artaxerxes letter has been dated around 445 BC. 69 times 7 = 483 years which puts us around 38 BC. I guess if a golfer made a 1 mile drive and the ball landed on the green but not in the hole, you wouldn't be impressed.

I think you are taking an unreasonable interpretation of "He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth." How does this verse imply silence for a long period of time? A simple reading of this verse suggests to me that one possible interpretation is whoever is being oppressed and afflicted did so without rebuke. Why is your interpretation the only reasonable one? Oh that's right, there were so many fulfilled Messianic prophesies that you have to find at least a few to nitpick.

DagoodS said...

Well, I am sorry you are cutting out, Dennis. Nice discussion, but I understand conversing with a skeptic can get exhausting. How about we go through each of your points in which I am wrong.


There is no Gospel “Q” *shrug* I told you it was my opinion. I agree the lack of copy is a problem, however the conformity in the parallel statements, remains troubling. For me, personally, I do not see Luke copying Matthew, because of the differences in the birth/crucifixion/resurrection accounts.

I have not studied Goodacre on this issue but I should. If “Q” does not exist, it means little to me.

You accept tradition when it's convenient for your views and reject it when it's not.
What do you mean “accepts with out question”? Of COURSE I had questions. This was a process, Dennis. I am telling you (out of politeness because you asked) my theory of the make-up of the gospels. I did not go through the process, nor all the debate, nor all the arguments for each point. That would take pages and pages!

I accept “tradition” when it is backed by good arguments, not because it is tradition. The arguments for Matthean and Lukan reliance upon Mark seem to be incontrovertible to me. Yes, there are some that still argue for other possibilities, I was just giving my conclusion. Markan priority is neither convenient nor inconvenient for me. It just is.

Likewise my statement that Mark was told in story fashion. I could go through the step-by-step analysis of why I came to that conclusion (thanks primarily to a friend) but I was just giving you my “overall” look, and not intimate details. You are free to say I am wrong. Some day, if we are lucky, you and I can debate it.

I still don’t get this “forged” statement. A forgery is a writing in which one person claims it is the writing of another without their permission. We don’t know who the author of Mark is! If I claimed “Bob” wrote it, claiming it was “Mark” then you may have a forgery claim. The book does not designate its author. I presume the author of Mark was…..the author of Mark! Whether his name was Bob, Mark or Sally I have no idea.

Where did I claim that First Century Historians “forged” documents? I never did. They had liberty to modify events, but this is not a forgery. I do not understand why you would keep saying this word, unless you are deliberately framing my arguments to conform to some pre-conceived notion.

You still don’t see the predicament for Matthew and Luke for the Jesus birth narrative? I must REALLY be off my communication skills. They each needed Jesus born in Bethlehem. They each needed Jesus moved to Nazareth. Not Jerusalem. Not staying in Bethlehem. Not Capernaum, or Tyre or anywhere else.

So they each told a tale of how Jesus could be born in Bethlehem, but “come” from Nazareth. And they each ended up disagreeing with each other. “Big Game”? Are you taunting me? Hmm. How about the years? What year was Jesus born?

I am not using a “source” to prove a “source” You are using the New Testament to prove the New Testament is true. Not the Tanakh at all. Prove the events of fulfillment of prophecy without using the New Testament. We have no outside source to show that Jesus fulfilled even one prophecy.

King Cyrus did not issue a command to build Jerusalem. Ezra 1:2. To a Jew the Temple WAS Jerusalem. Further, restoring a building is more of a command to restore a city than a shopping list to pick up materials.

We don't know exactly what the letter said but that could have contained a command for Nehemiah to rebuild. (emphasis added) Nehemiah 2. Nehemiah asks to go to Jerusalem to re-build it, and the King gives him letters of safe passage and to pick up some supplies. We know what the letter says, unless you are saying the Bible is unreliable?

There is no “command” to restore, because the “command” is already in place with Cyrus.

Artaxerxes letter has been dated around 445 BC. 69 times 7 = 483 years which puts us around 38 BC.

Oh you ARE a hoot! Didn’t you just chide me for thinking of a calendar year in just terms of 365 days, and now this is exactly what you apply? Have you now abandoned the “Prophetic year” calendar?

And this is the best you can do—say “Meh, close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades.” THAT is the “supernatural” imposition upon which I am to see something unique.

A wrong starting date that gets us close (but wrong) as to the date of Christ? I thought if a prophet makes a false statement, we are assured it is not from God, and they should be put to death? Deut. 18:20-22.

What methodology do you use to say a prophecy is “close enough” to be from supernatural means?

So “open not his mouth” and “as a sheep is silent” is “close enough” to be if Jesus only spoke a certain way, or didn’t say a certain thing?

I presume if “close enough” is our standard, we could say just about any prediction could come true.

Oh that's right, there were so many fulfilled Messianic prophesies that you have to find at least a few to nitpick.
Excuse me? If I remember correctly (and I do) it was YOU showing me! I did not pick which Messianic prophecies to discuss, YOU did. If I was “nitpicking” I apologize, but I only addressed those that were brought up.

Good discussion, Dennis. I’d ask, kindly, that you not claim I am ever stating the Gospels are “forgeries.” That is not my position, and I would not want others misled. Thanks.

Dennis said...

DagoodS,

My apologies over the misunderstanding of the term "forgery". I think we are working from different meanings of the word. A person who knowingly creates a "fake" whether it be a document or other piece of evidence is creating a forgery. In my opinion, if someone writes an account of events that took place in their life and willfully misrepresents what took place and then tries to pass that off as what really happened, then this person has created a forgery in my opinion.

I am still struggling with your view that someone could record an account of a specific event including details of conversations that took place and then pass that along to someone as what really happened and this not be considered dishonest. I understand that you believe this was commonly done at that time and this is a claim that I want to spend some time researching.

For example, John 5:24 says "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true." That seems to imply that whomever wasn't just story-telling but conveying a factual testimony.

Another example, Luke 1 says "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." Does this verse not imply that Luke tried his hardest to gather a truthful account of what happened so that he could pass it along to Theophilus? I struggle with the idea that Luke was uncertain about what really happened but was just filling in facts as he thought they should have occurred or that he was collecting testimony from people he didn't trust.

I have no problem with continuing our discussion but I just don't have the time to compose the long replies that I did for my last two posts. If you want to continue our discussion, that is fine. Let's just pick one point instead of trying to cover 3 or 4 at one time.

Anonymous said...

If you have known God's voice and turned away from it, my own words would only get in the way...so I only offer the below:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1)

Thus says the LORD, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the LORD. "For he will be like a bush in the desert And will not see when prosperity comes, But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant. "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD And whose trust is the LORD. "For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit. "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
(Jeremiah 17:5-10)


If these things are not self-evident to your own private, innermost thoughts...nothing I can say would ever change your newfound faith in man. This is not said or meant to be in anger...only the hopes to point straight back to God.