What’s Wrong with the World

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The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

August 7, 2018

The myth of the sock puppet Jesus

There is a myth about the Gospel of John that keeps popping up. If you are interested in biblical studies and read this kind of thing much, even at a somewhat popular level, I'll wager you've heard this myth. It goes something like this: The voice of Jesus in John is so much like the voice of the narrator that it is often difficult to tell which one is supposed to be speaking.

This creates a picture of a narrator in John who is, at a minimum, careless about distinguishing his own words from those of Jesus himself. In such a Gospel of John, we are meant to think, the author frequently wanders heedlessly back and forth between his own thoughts and the thoughts of Jesus, not considering it important to distinguish what things were actually said by Jesus from his own glosses.

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August 5, 2018

Pope Outlaws the Death Penalty ... Or Does He?

Unless you live under a rock or do not read religious news at all, you have probably heard the news, to the effect (depending on the precision of the news source) that Pope Francis has done away with the death penalty (DP). He has issued a new version of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which says that the DP is “inadmissible”.

But to be more careful, or at least more precise, it is not clear that what happened is that Francis has “done away” with the DP in calling it “inadmissible”. In order to get a fair estimate of what actually happened, let’s read the actual new text that replaces the old:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. [my emphasis] [1] FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.

There are two major opinions about the meaning of the money quote in bold, and especially, about the import of “inadmissible” here. They are as follows: (1) “inadmissible” has the effect of saying that the DP is intrinsically evil, a per se immoral and disordered act, because that’s what happens if an act is, by its very nature an unjust attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person. (I insert “unjust” here, because if it was a JUST attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, then it would not be inadmissible). If the character of “being an unjust attack” did not belong to the very nature of the DP, then the Pope could not have called it “inadmissible” simply, but could only have called it “inadmissible under certain conditions”.

This is the more coherent reading of the text, and of the intent of the Pope in setting it forth this way, (to the extent his intent is concrete enough to have ANY characterization at all).

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August 4, 2018

The gift of cussedness

Several stories all came up around the same time in the "choice devours itself" department. Readers to whom this concept is new may need it explained. I coined the phrase "choice devours itself" over ten years ago while writing for a different blog. It doesn't describe merely in general the fact that the party of "consent" becomes increasingly coercive. Rather, it describes situations where the person who was supposed to benefit from having the option to "choose" something the left considers good (generally in the categories of sex, abortion, or euthanasia) is actually coerced into this alleged "choice."

So forced or high-pressure abortions to which the left turns a blind eye are cases of choice devouring itself. Perhaps the most common type of example comes from coercing or pressuring people into "consenting" to euthanasia, or euthanizing people who by definition cannot give mature and informed consent (those with dementia, children, etc.). In the most extreme cases, the victim is physically coerced, as in one of the stories in this post.

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July 26, 2018

The voice of the Master--Pure Style

In several places Michael Licona has pushed for a highly flexible view of John's willingness to change Jesus' words and even the events of Jesus' life. He calls it "adapting the traditions about Jesus" and gives the impression that it is widely granted among all Johannine scholars that John "adapted the traditions about Jesus," without specifying that the extent to which scholars think that John "adapted the traditions" varies widely and that the more controversial claims about John's "adaptations" are by no means universally accepted, especially among conservative, evangelical scholars.

Almost every time he argues for John's "adaptations," he will talk about the way Jesus talks in John, especially in the Greek. I've already quoted some of these statements in earlier posts, but I'm going to re-quote a couple of them here, because this post is going to be about geeky Greek stuff.

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July 24, 2018

The beard and the heap

Knox%20beard.jpg What is a sorites paradox, and how does it apply to biblical criticism? The paradox of the sorites or heap arises from the fact that if we add a single grain of sand to others, there is not a sharp line at which we say that we have a heap of sand. If we take one grain away at a time, there is not a sharp line at which it ceases to be a heap. Yet (mark this) there are cases that fall unambiguously on the side of "heap" or "no heap."

We can also think of this as a beard problem. When does a man have a beard, and when does he just have a five-o-clock shadow? There are fuzzy cases (pun intended) where we are unsure what to say. Yet this does not mean that there are no unambiguous beards and no unambiguously clean-shaven men.

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July 12, 2018

Kavanaugh: I wish I had more to say

While the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may be the most important recent event in U.S. politics from the perspective of social conservatives, the final evaluation of its significance will be possible only in hindsight.

As is so often the case, it is necessary for the confirmation of a justice that we know very little about what we are all most interested (not to say anxious) to know: Would he rule to overturn the judicial over-reaches of Roe and Obergefell if he were on SCOTUS? If the Republicans had a stronger Senate majority ("strong," including in the sense that there would not be defectors in the event of a close vote), perhaps we could afford to know more. As it is, we could very easily face an uphill battle for Kavanaugh's appointment simply because of kneejerk opposition by the left, only to discover that he is the new Kennedy or Souter. His record does not say.

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July 9, 2018

The voice of the Master--More evidence

In this post in my on-going John series, I'm going to talk about places where Jesus sounds distinctly "Johannine" in the synoptic Gospels or "synoptic" in the Gospel of John.

To be sure, there are differences of emphasis, but those differences are exaggerated by scholars, to such a point that Craig Evans says that "you have virtually nothing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that sounds like and looks like Jesus in the Gospel of John" and that, if we took John's portrait to be just as literally historical as that of the synoptics, we would have to wonder "is there just some other Jesus we just didn't know about?" Of course, all of the posts in this series on John contribute to a rebuttal of Evans's statements. See especially here, here, here, here, and here.

Michael Licona has used the alleged great difference between the way Jesus talks in John and the synoptics to support the idea that John "adapted" the "traditions about Jesus" to such an extent as to change "My God, why have you forsaken me?" to "I thirst" on the cross (Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, p. 166), when the latter was not uttered in an historically recognizable fashion at all.

Mere differences of emphasis are, of course, a completely different matter. John and the synoptics may have recorded different statements by Jesus for reasons of theme and saliency to a particular author. Showing crossovers in Jesus' speech at precisely the points where the Gospels have been alleged to be most different is therefore relevant to the historicity of the gospels and, since John comes under such special doubt, to John in particular.

Continue reading "The voice of the Master--More evidence" »

July 3, 2018

Only one Jesus: The voice of the Master--evidence

In this post I will be laying out some parallels between the way that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John and in the synoptic Gospels. I am not trying to make an absolutely sharp distinction between verbal and conceptual parallels. When a conceptual parallel is close enough it becomes a type of verbal parallel, and a distinction between verbal and conceptual parallels can become artificial if pressed too hard. My examples will all be chosen, however, to represent at least very close conceptual parallels in Jesus' speech, and several are definitely verbal parallels.

I am not, of course, implying that, in all of the places where a word is translated by the same English word, the same Greek word is used. For example, the word Jesus uses for "Come" in Matt. 11:28 is different from the word he uses when he says that all that the Father gives him will come to him in John 6:37. On the other hand, the same Greek word is used for "believe" when he tells Jairus to believe (Mark 5:36) and when he tells Martha that she will see the glory of God if she believes (John 11:40). Whether or not the same Greek word is used varies, but the parallels are there nonetheless and often quite striking.

Most or all of these were taken from the pages beginning here of Stanley Leathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ, 1870, drawn to my attention by Esteemed Husband. I'm very privileged to bring back to the attention of modern apologists these treasures of the past.

Continue reading "Only one Jesus: The voice of the Master--evidence" »

July 2, 2018

Only one Jesus: The voice of the Master--the alleged problem

This post inaugurates a sub-series within my series on the Gospel of John. This sub-series will investigate and respond to the claim that there is something suspicious about the similarities between the way that Jesus talks in John and the way that John writes (as narrator and in I John), on the one hand, and, on the other, the differences between the way that Jesus talks in John and the way that he talks in the synoptic Gospels.

These twin comparisons are used to support some rather radical theses. Leon Morris (Studies in the Fourth Gospel, pp. 265ff) points out that some scholars have used these claims about the way that Jesus talks to argue against authorship of John by an eyewitness.

Others, such as Craig Evans, use the alleged problem of the way Jesus talks to support a general doubt about the historicity of John's portrait of Jesus. Here is a quotation (podcast here, searchable transcript here) from the second half of his recent debate with me on the Unbelievable show:

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June 26, 2018

Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Some quotations

At the repeated suggestion of reader "Joe Lightfoot," and upon being assured by Esteemed Husband that he owned a copy of the book and could locate it in his huge personal library, I began reading Leon Morris's Studies in the Fourth Gospel, Eerdmans, 1969.

I've found it especially refreshing to read an author who, writing as relatively recently as 1969, evokes the style of the authors of the 19th century. Morris writes without jargon or equivocation. It's always possible to tell what he is saying. And he does not take with undue seriousness highly complex theories of factual alteration. He is occasionally more concerned about something than I think he needs to be, but he has a balanced enough mind to recognize that there are always going to be things we don't know. For example, he seems (to my mind) unduly puzzled by Jesus' open statement to the Samaritan woman that he is the Messiah in John 4:26 in contrast with the alleged "messianic secret." But Morris, though not as satisfied by it as perhaps he should be, is open to the theory (which to my mind is correct) that the contrast between this clear statement and Jesus' attempted secrecy elsewhere (e.g., Matthew 16:20) is explicable in terms of attempting to keep his Messianic claims from raising the wrong idea in the minds of those likely to take them in a revolutionary direction.

I need to make more notes from Morris's book, as there is much useful information there, some of which was new to me. For this entry, I want to give my readers some beautiful quotations.

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June 18, 2018

“I was the king of standing alone” -- Rateliff and the Night Sweats

by Nolan Cella and Paul Cella

If it sounds strange to talk of Rocky Mountain Soul, that’s because, until very recently, that sub-genre of music did not really exist; and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that a single band called it into existence.

The band we speak of, which made it fair to talk that way, only came to national prominence in 2015. Before that, the band’s frontman was reachable “for a curbside interview on any given day on South Broadway,” according to his hometown paper. I mean Nathaniel Rateliff (pronounced RATE-lif) and the Night Sweats, the R&B act out of the greatest city on the front range of the mighty Rocky Mountains.

The Queen City of the Rockies, the Mile High City: D-town stands unique. Sports-crazy, decadent, hard-Left on some things, she yet retains a distinct edge of the old granite don’t-tread-on-me attitude: the pioneer and mountain-man. For instance, marijuana decriminalization would have been impossible absent that strong strain: a lot of perfectly sober and respectable Republicans thought, “who the hell cares what those hippies waste their time on?”

By some measures one of the most secular cities in the country, Denver nevertheless boasts a vibrant Catholic diocese (the distinguished Charles Chaput, now Ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia, made a name for himself nationwide at his first archbishopric -- in Denver) and many strong biblical churches.

So the native of D-town, casting his gaze over the wide pastures of American Rhythm & Blues, and the supreme excellencies issuing forth therefrom, can only delight in the swelling pride which attends the news that Denver has its own R&B/soul genre.

“Go tell it on the mountains” holds musical as well as theological substance in Denver. Go tell it that Jesus Christ is born. Supreme king over all.

But also:

Go tell on the mountains that these dudes can play.

Continue reading "“I was the king of standing alone” -- Rateliff and the Night Sweats" »

June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day

June 14, 2018

Does John "narrate theologically"? On the perils of theological theory in history

I have noted in other posts the unjustified rhetoric that is often leveled at the Gospel of John to the effect that he is less historical than the synoptic Gospels. (See also Craig Evans's extensive comments to this effect here.) John is the red-headed step-child of historical Jesus studies. He is always assumed to be a problem, frequently assumed to be historically dubious on the flimsiest grounds. When something (like the fact that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus' cross) is found in the synoptic Gospels but not in John, the question is: What's historically wrong with John? When something (like the "I am" sayings) is found in John but not in the synoptic Gospels, the question is: What's historically wrong with John? Double standard duly noted.

In this post I want to examine some passages from the commentaries of eminent and learned New Testament scholar Craig Keener that illustrate the unwarranted bias against John and that also illustrate the negative effects of an undue mingling of theological interpretation with the attempt to answer the simple question, "Did this really happen?"

It goes without saying that my criticisms of Dr. Keener's ideas in these commentaries are in no way, shape, or form a personal attack but rather a part of our mutual search for truth concerning God's word.

Continue reading "Does John "narrate theologically"? On the perils of theological theory in history" »

June 10, 2018

R.I.P. Tom Wolfe [updated]


As a writer, the late Tom Wolfe manifested a truly subversive idea: that humor is fundamentally conservative. It emphasizes -- subtly, implicitly, but nevertheless perceptibly -- the traditional picture of mankind and his place in the world. He is unique in dignity but given to proliferating folly. He takes himself way too seriously. His social nature produces absurdities that he often cannot see. For these and other reasons, he willingly submits to petty tyrannies which in retrospect seem almost inconceivable. The humorist need only (no easy task, of course) expose the absurdities, pierce the self-importance, illuminate the folly, and ridicule the willing submission to humbug and phoniness. Nor should we neglect how frequent a trope in good humor is the jape at flawed authority: the bumbling bureaucrat, the feckless father, the officious colonel, the dreary clergyman. In a sense, humor is conservative because it has proven to be one of the most powerful methods of demonstrating that oldest of all conservative precepts: original sin. The Fall of Man, among many deductions, inevitably renders him an object of mirth.

Tom Wolfe had mirth in superabundance, and he did not fail to delight his readers with it. Wolfe’s riotous send-ups of intellectual, artistic, political, literary, and social fashion, so superbly satirized progressive pomposity, that it actually took a couple decades for progressives to realize it. For instance, many readers (even to this day) appear to have taken The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as a kind of celebration or endorsement of that early hippie lifestyle. La Wik will only allow, delicately, that Wolfe was, “in some key ways different from the Pranksters.” You think? Those key ways include, but are not limited to: (a) dressing normal, (b) abjuring narcotics, (c) observing common bourgeois proprieties, and (d) regularly punctuating his descriptions of their antics with rapier thrusts of satirical brilliance. The counterculture took itself quite seriously, on the level of philosophy; Wolfe did not. He only took it seriously on the level of curiosity. What a strange creature is man and his works, that he could produce such a spectacle as this!

In time (certainly by 1975’s The Painted Word, though one marvels that anyone failed to perceive it years earlier), even the dullest Manhattan critic abandoned all hope and conceded that, alas, Tom Wolfe was not one of them.

But by then he had already made a successful career out of gutting them with his lively pen. His position was secure; no amount of denunciation, sneering, sanctimony or churlishness could dislodge him now.

Next he plunged himself into a nearly decade-long study of American masculinity, especially of the military sort. This superlative (and still very funny) literary turn began with the unforgettable fighter-pilot essay, “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie”; includes “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” which, even 35 years on, is still reckoned the best short history of Silicon Valley available; and culminates in 1979’s The Right Stuff, which rendered the American test pilot and early space program in heroic and hilarious realism. We might say this period of Wolfe’s career did for middlebrow American writing what Reagan did for American politics: re-established it on a foundation of high-spirited patriotism.

(I will pass over his novels in silence, largely from a lack of sustained engagement with them -- except to advert to this fantastic essay from a few years back which examined a neglected aspect of their brilliance.)

Wolfe’s last book, The Kingdom of Speech -- while emphatically not the equal of his mid-career classics -- nevertheless features some uproarious humor directed at eminently deserving targets. Its core argument also rests on a very solid syllogism:

Evolutionary science cannot explain speech;
man cannot be understood in the absence of an understanding of speech;
therefore evolutionary science cannot fully explain man.

One need only read a few of the prominent reviews of this book to observe that it struck a nerve. Even into his 80s, Wolfe retained a sublime knack for puncturing fashionable pretensions.

Last month, America lost one of her finest chroniclers of that mysterious and wonderful creature called man. Tom Wolfe was a writer who grounded his work on diligent observation, and produced some of the funniest, most delightful and most illuminating books of the past half century. R.I.P.

UPDATE: below the fold is a video clip from the late 90s on The Late Show with David Letterman which nicely captures the spirit of Wolfe. No less than Donald Trump himself emerges as a topic of discussion.
Image credit: Hoover Institute/YouTube

Continue reading "R.I.P. Tom Wolfe [updated]" »

June 8, 2018

Only one Jesus: The man who loves his friends

JesusMaryMartha.png It is a theological doctrine that God the Father loves all men and that God the Son manifests the love of God by coming to the world to die for our sins (John 3:16). It is a fact of history, visible throughout all four of our historical sources, the gospels, that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of strong affections who had special love for particular people.

While Jesus would go off alone to pray (e.g., Mark 1:35), he was not in general a "loner." He was a man who had friends, loved his friends, and wanted to be with them.

In this series, I continue to examine the unity of the personality of Jesus in the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels. In the previous entry I discussed several personality traits of Jesus that are constant across the gospels, including his being an emotional rather than a stoical person. This brings us to the particular way in which Jesus' affections were called out by his love for his friends. Here, too, we see that, pace the commonplaces of critical scholarship, the portrait of Jesus in John is not "very different" from the portrait in the synoptics. Rather, the documents present the same man, giving different instances of the same personality traits.

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June 6, 2018

The Eeyores are Right on Masterpiece Cake Shop

June 3, 2018

Only one Jesus: Part 2 (plus) in a series

May 28, 2018

On credentials

May 25, 2018

Dancing with the distinguished professor--Post III--Back to the positive evidence

May 24, 2018

Dancing with the distinguished professor--Post II

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