What’s Wrong with the World

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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

December 15, 2017

Licona wrap-up

This post will wrap up my current series on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? by Michael Licona. There will doubtless be other posts in which I discuss Licona's work, and there are also posts from 2016 in which I discussed his on-line lectures. For those interested in these topics, both the New Testament tag and the Licona tag are relevant and contain posts from 2016 and 2017. The New Testament and Licona tags at my personal blog have some non-overlapping material, and sometimes stub posts from W4 refer to longer posts at Extra Thoughts (the personal blog) and vice versa.

I'll begin this wrap-up by discussing a portion of an e-interview from this past summer that Bible Gateway did with Dr. Licona.

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December 5, 2017

Undesigned coincidence: A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also

As we have discussed several times in threads here at W4, the infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew come in for a lot of unnecessary doubt from New Testament scholars. Michael Licona has even suggested that whatever is not overlapping in Luke and Matthew might be a "midrash" (aka made up), an embellishment on the far more minimal facts that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of a virgin named Mary espoused to Joseph. The many other facts reported in both Gospels may have been added, he suggests, to "create a more interesting narrative."

At the same time, the Gospel of John is also treated as some kind of a "problem child" for the historicity of the Gospels, because Jesus allegedly "sounds so different" in John and in the synoptic Gospels. But the difference between the presentation of Jesus in John and in the synoptic Gospels is overestimated by critical scholars.

Recently, Esteemed Husband was reading some passages to me from one of those neglected old books: Stanley Leathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ (1870). There are about twenty pages in this book (pp. 300ff) showing parallels between Jesus' manner, his methods, his ways of speaking, his personality, etc., in John and in the synoptic Gospels. It should be required reading for all seminarians, apologetics students, and others interested in New Testament studies. Some of the things Leathes mentions are also discussed in a useful blog post by NT scholar Rob Bowman, here, but Leathes has much more.

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December 2, 2017

Will Ken Miller be home for Christmas?

I haven't posted an update here recently about Ken Miller. Here is the tag for my posts about this case.

Those who've followed it will recall that Pastor Ken Miller is the only one so far who has served a lengthy prison sentence in the U.S., though Timo Miller (no relation) languished in a Nicaraguan dungeon (literally) for over a month when the U.S. insisted on extraditing him and the Nicaraguans, for some unknown reason, cooperated. Thus far, Timo Miller has been sentenced to time served, and Philip Zodhiates was convicted but has his case on appeal. Pastor Ken Miller has been in federal prison for "kidnaping" for nearly two years. He is, I say in all seriousness, America's political prisoner.

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November 30, 2017

Laying Bare the Thought Behind the Defense

Most people paying attention to the Catholic world talking about the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) have heard that a document was published recently billing itself as a “correction”: the Correctio Filialis (CF), on which I commented earlier. This was put out by a number of lay persons, mostly theology types, and some priests. The list of signers has grown, at last count it was at over 200.

I would not like to get into the thick of all the complex points made in the Correctio, I want to charge in a different direction. Francis clearly had a ghost-writer helping him with AL, (which is standard, all popes get assistance in writing their major docs), a priest he elevated, Archbishop Victor Fernandez. Fernandez has now issued a defense of AL, here,
that in my opinion has the clearest and most distinctly problematic statement of the thought behind AL – or, of the thought behind erroneous ways of interpreting it. By coming from Fernandez, who both holds Francis’s ear and helped write the document, it confirms that those who found the ambiguous passages of AL troubling were not just making it up: the passages were written in such a way because they can be used to support an underlying position that is wrong.

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November 28, 2017

Licona gospel examples V: Making things complicated

A common theme among the examples I've examined from Michael Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? is that New Testament scholars tend to go for more complicated theories over simpler theories. This problem is endemic to the discipline and seems almost impossible to eradicate. Licona is not the worst example of over-complicating theories that I have seen lately, but his examples are fairly typical. What makes the habit of overcomplicating so hard to root out is the fact that authors are often unaware that they are doing it. The few examples I discuss in this post, in addition to many in past posts, illustrate the tendency.

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November 17, 2017

Licona gospel examples IV: More over-reading

In this post I'll discuss more examples from Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? in which Licona's approach creates unnecessary tensions between the gospel accounts by over-reading. Here, as elsewhere, Licona opts for the interpretation of the text that creates an alleged contradiction and then (in all cases but one) "explains" it by fictionalization on the part of one or the other author. In the remaining case I will discuss, Licona explains the discrepancy created by over-reading by an interesting reference to use of contradictory sources which, in turn, is tacitly at odds with the traditional authorship of two of the gospels in question. Moreover, he adds fictionalization theories on top of the contradictory source theories.

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November 15, 2017

Death for the New Natural Lawyers

Our friend and erstwhile contributor, Professor Edward Feser, has with a colleague Joe Bessette written a most important book about the death penalty and about Catholic doctrine, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. The most important feature (from my point of view) is the extremely strong argument that the moral licitness of capital punishment enjoys the immemorial, perennial magisterial support of the Church, from the Apostles to Benedict, as well as explicit endorsement in the Bible.

As frequent readers here would expect, I have defended their theses with my own arguments in numerous online places, including in about 5 different posts in Ed’s blog. I won’t give a repeat of that support, you can look them up just fine.

Chris Tollefsen, a proponent of the New Natural Law (NNL), has often disagreed with Ed’s support of the moral licitness of DP. He did so again yesterday, at Public Discourse, which I aim to address here.

Tollefsen's thesis rests on this theoretical claim from the New Natural Law:

Here is the basic argument: (A) human life is a basic, and not merely an instrumental, good for human persons; (B) no instance of a basic good should ever be destroyed as an end or a means;

Tollefsen, and NNL generally, are wrong here. They are wrong in a very fundamental sense.

Human life is not “a basic good,” not in the sense that it is always wrong to destroy it.

Continue reading "Death for the New Natural Lawyers" »

November 12, 2017

American Affairs

A new quarterly called American Affairs earned some surprisingly good press when it first appeared. I would not have expected a magazine of scholarly Trumpism, unveiled a month after his nomination, to walk away with warm and whimsical write-ups in the The New York Times and the New Yorker; but then again a lot of things happen that I don’t expect.

The bad press came a bit later, when, driven by an entirely foreseeable trajectory of events, the journal’s Editor publicly repudiated his vote of a year ago for the aforementioned Trump. (But even then, the Times gave him prominent space for the mea culpa.)

However they voted, I’ll grant that the editors and writers of American Affairs have indeed produced some interesting and provocative copy.

[edited for some embarrassing typos]

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November 8, 2017

Fake points don't make points

We pause in our series of detailed discussions of Dr. Licona's examples for a broader theological reflection.

It is all-too-common in New Testament circles, and certainly not unique to Dr. Licona's work, to hold that a Gospel author changed some historical fact in order to make a theological point. If anything, Licona concentrates on literary motivations (such as making a story run smoothly, telling a story more briefly, and the like) more often than on theological motivations. But he does at times accept or hypothesize a theological motivation for an alleged change. Sometimes Licona borrows these theological hypotheses from other scholars.

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November 6, 2017

Licona gospel examples III: Over-reading

In this entry and one other (with a short theological digression post in between) I plan to discuss passages in which Licona engages in over-reading in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? Here I will focus on over-readings connected with chronology.

A note on chronology

One of the oddest aspects of Licona's book is his repeated insistence or strong implication that the Gospel authors are creating a chronological order when they do not have to be taken as doing so. He needs to do this in order to attribute "displacement" to the authors as a compositional device, because he defines "displacement" thus:

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November 3, 2017

Licona gospel examples, Part II: Fictions Only Need Apply

In this post I'm going to continue discussing specific examples from Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? My goal is to continue showing that Licona fails to provide examples from the gospels where the best explanation is a fictionalizing literary device. Another goal is to show how Licona's method unnecessarily (and, in the aggregate, quite seriously) undermines confidence in the reliability of the documents and makes it extremely difficult to know what actually happened. See here for other posts at this site on Licona's work and here for posts at my personal blog.

In the previous post I discussed places where there is not even an apparent discrepancy between accounts but where Licona gratuitously suggests either a conflict between accounts or fictionalization on the part of the author. I called these utterly unforced errors.

In this post I will be focusing on examples where there are at least supposed discrepancies but where Licona's bias towards fictional explanations causes him either to overlook entirely or to underestimate the worth of simpler, non-fictionalizing explanations. Licona's moves in these cases are errors of explanatory and logical judgement, sometimes taking the form of literally not even considering simpler explanations than the ones he presents us with. There is nothing about his method that flows from special expertise on his part or highly specialized knowledge. He is just engaging in poor literary redactive criticism, applied to the Gospels. Meet the new higher criticism, same as the old higher criticism.

Continue reading "Licona gospel examples, Part II: Fictions Only Need Apply" »

October 31, 2017

Licona gospel examples, Part I: Utterly Unforced Errors

Having discussed and answered Licona's claim in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? to have found ample evidence of the use of fictionalizing literary devices in Plutarch, I'm starting on a series of posts analyzing a sample of his claims concerning the gospels. This is, of course, only going to be a sample, but it's going to be quite a large sample by the time I'm finished with the series. Some examples may come up more than once, as they illustrate more than one problem.

Page numbers are taken from the Kindle version of the book. I've done a spot-check in multiple places, and the page numbers I'm using appear to be very similar to those in the paper version. My pagination references should enable the interested reader to find the relevant parts of Licona's book.

The short version of what this whole series will inductively illustrate is this: There is not a single Gospel example in Licona's book that is best explained by the use of a fictionalizing literary device. Moreover, Licona's entire approach, which is in essence just old-fashioned destructive higher criticism, sometimes glossed using Licona's categories of fictionalizing devices supposedly drawn from Roman history, casts entirely unnecessary doubt upon what actually happened in Jesus' life and upon the accuracy (in the literal sense) of what the gospels report. The undermining of the gospels' literal reliability and the gospel authors' intention of literal truthfulness is real and cannot be brushed away by re-labeling. It is unnecessary because none of the examples require the redactive or other fictionalizing explanations Licona suggests. One of the most striking features of Licona's work is his monotonously repeated mistake in not considering all available hypotheses, making unforced errors, or dismissing perfectly good and simple hypotheses in favor of more complex ones. These are historical and epistemic errors which have serious results in biblical studies. That they are all-too-typical of biblical scholarship (as I'm sure Licona would be the first to remind us) does not make them logically justified.

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October 29, 2017

Did the Founders Build Better or Worse Than They Knew?

An interesting little debate has flared up in the Claremont Review of Books and continued online between a group of academics who make the case that the Founding laid the seeds of liberal disorder and what might be considered America’s turn to libertinism (think the sexual revolution, abortion on demand, gay “rights” and so-called gay “marriage”, the push for transgender “rights”, etc.) The other group of academics, led by Robert Reilly, argue that the Founders built better than they knew and that the Constitution draws on natural law ideas perfectly compatible with traditional and conservative policies – the question for America was whether its leaders and citizens would be wise enough to implement such ideas. This blog post explores this debate.

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October 27, 2017

On Giving to God What is God’s

Or: being stamped with an Image.

Every now and then you come across someone whose clarity of insight and presentation is truly outstanding, positively gifted. Fr. Lankeit, on “gay marriage,’ is just that sort. You really need to see and hear it.

If you have ever struggled in discussing “gay marriage” with others, this 16 minute analysis will help you. If you have sometimes stumbled in saying what you meant, so that you made something confused that isn’t really confused, or opened yourself for attacks that you didn’t need to do, Fr. Lankeit’s presentation might help avoid that. He is crystal clear, in a simple and easy to follow analysis, which is also well formed and stated in terms of not saying more than what is necessary.

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October 25, 2017

Josh Ritter at Variety PLayhouse

J%20Ritter1.jpg

Last night Josh Ritter and his excellent band came out at Variety Playhouse in east Atlanta and played a hell of a show. My brother and I had a great time.

As a performer, Ritter possesses contagious warmth; from the moment he brought his beaming smile on stage and gave us a few chords, he had us. Stand-up bass and slide guitar, somebody’s kids off stage, plus several songs in barbershop quartet style — one mic and everyone surrounding — overall the concert surpassed in quality and variety. Very well done, Josh.

(All I missed was “Monster Ballads.” But in the end you can’t have everything)

Lyrically, Ritter is about as good as anyone not named Dylan or Cohen or Cash. His latest album, Gathering, with its fine Southern feel, includes a classic in the GFY tradition: “Cry Softly,” a rockabilly number “Oh Lord, Pt. 3” and the magnificent braggadocio tune “Showboat.” He played all three in Atlanta, to vigorous effect.

Highlighting the show, “Homecoming” and “Getting Ready to Get Down,” rocked the place. The latter song features a charming blend of infidelity and joy: seems like what we might call a brilliant PG-13 tune.

Showing proper disdain for the character of our national politics, Ritter declined to make any statement along those lines, though he introduced one song this way, “This is a song about a — [long pause] This is a song.” Hearty laughter. But what suffuses Ritter’s great musical art is a great love of our great country, despite her greatly embarrassing aspects.

It’s become hard to really make money from quality of recorded musical arrangement. Digital businesses have destroyed the ability to ask a small fee on every song purchased and listened to. Creative destruction, I guess. But I’d say it’s worth buying a ticket and seeing your favorite bands live, since it’s from that purchase whence their income arises.

Josh Ritter is one of my favs. The dude puts on a show. My 40 bucks were more than well spent. If he’s coming to your town, I can pretty well guarantee that he and his band will play you a memorable concert. Your money will be well spent.

October 17, 2017

He who pays the piper, next chapter

October 15, 2017

Correctio Ad Infinitum

October 6, 2017

On some examples in Plutarch

October 3, 2017

Response to Dr. Licona

September 25, 2017

Standing at attention for the National Anthem

 
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