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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.

Examples of this sort include John's allegedly changing the year of the Temple cleansing in order (in some metaphoric sense) to include all of Jesus' ministry in Passion Week, overshadowed by his "hour" (Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, p. 195) and John's allegedly changing the day and time of Jesus' crucifixion in order to emphasize that he is the lamb of God (pp. 191, 195). Licona borrows both of these ideas from Craig Keener. Another example, which appears to be Licona's own idea, is the hypothesis (p. 165) that Mark knew of but deliberately suppressed the repentance of one of the thieves on the cross in order to emphasize the fact that Jesus was "rejected by all." Licona does not positively conclude this about Mark but makes it one of his frequent dichotomies, arguing that either Mark engaged in this deliberate suppression or that Luke (for some reason) moved the repentance of one thief back from the time when it really happened so as to narrate it as part of the "same incident" with the reviling from the other thief.

In all of these cases the idea is that the Gospel authors thought they could make some thematic point by reporting things in a way that appears factual within their narrative but is not the way that events really occurred. Jesus really didn't die at the very day and hour when the Passover lambs were killed, but John reported as if he did in order to make a theological point that he was the Passover lamb, and so forth. It is particularly interesting that, in the context of describing the Temple cleansing, Keener refers more than once to the "story world" of John (Commentary on John, pp. 518, 530). The phrase "story world," used apparently to refer to a "world" that might or might not be the real world, occurs frequently in Keener's commentary.

What all of this assumes is that the Gospel authors viewed God's working in the world in such a way that they could make powerful theological points by mingling history and fiction. We are not talking here about a parable or some other totally fictional story. We are talking, rather, about taking a real person--the most important person in the world, Jesus Christ--and making up fake "facts" about him that are nonetheless somehow supposed to support theological points.

I submit that this is not how it works in history. Since the story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree with his little ax is non-historical, it doesn't show us that George Washington was honest. At most, it might weakly support the conclusion that people who knew him knew that he was honest in some other way and that this motivated them to make up such stories about him. But this is weak sauce indeed. After all, for all that that tells us, they might have been wrong. Or maybe (very likely) the story was made up by someone who didn't really personally know Washington. Similarly, the legend that the young Arthur pulled a sword out of a stone tells us nothing about whether a real King Arthur was chosen by God to resist the heathen Anglo-Saxons in Britain.

The evangelists themselves understand that God dips His pen in history and writes His story using realities, not literary inventions.

When the evangelists say that an event occurred that fulfilled prophecy, they are stating that the event itself really occurred, for otherwise, the prophecy would not have been fulfilled by that event. Prophecies are fulfilled by things that really happen, not by fictional occurrences in a "story world." If the soldiers did not really divide Jesus' garments, that portion of Psalm 22 would not have been fulfilled there and then. If Jesus' legs were broken, then the prophecy "not a bone of him shall be broken" was not fulfilled. If Jesus was not pierced, the prophecy "they shall look on him whom they have pierced" was not fulfilled in history. Hence John the evangelist's vehement evidential declaration:

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

For John, theological significance and literal events are inextricably woven together. The evangelist agrees that fake points don't make points.

You can disagree with the Gospel authors' interpretation of the Old Testament at times. Why take "Out of Egypt have I called my son" to be a prophecy at all, as opposed to merely a statement about the history of Israel? One has to take it that the Holy Spirit knew about an extra meaning in the Exodus that we wouldn't otherwise have suspected. But their occasionally rabbinic use of the Old Testament is built on their belief in actual historical events--both those in the Old Testament and those in recent history. Matthew may be interpreting the Old Testament verse in a typological way, but that does not at all mean that he disbelieves in the historical reality of either the Exodus or the flight into Egypt. To the contrary, he is saying that the flight into Egypt fulfilled Scripture by actually occurring. Whether one agrees or not with St. Paul's theological use of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, there is no doubt that he believed that the event actually happened, and that is why he bases his theology of justification upon it. As D.A. Carson points out in this insightful article (p. 191), even when Paul interprets Israel's history from the perspective of his theology of justification by faith, he does so on the basis of what he takes to be literal historical fact, such as the fact that God made his covenant with Abraham long before the Mosaic law was established at Sinai.

If Jesus wasn't really crucified on the day and at the time that the Passover lambs were killed (and I think that he wasn't), his crucifixion at that day and time cannot make the point that he was the Passover lamb. Fake points don't make points. John the Baptist of course does call Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and I am strongly inclined to think that his crucifixion at the general time of Passover was no accident at all, theologically or Providentially. But the fit between Jesus and the Passover lamb cannot be made better by the insertion of a false fact into the narrative.

Similarly, if the thief on the cross did actually speak to Jesus as he does in Luke, repenting and asking Jesus to remember him, then in just that sense Jesus was not strictly "rejected by all," and it would have been misleading for Mark deliberately to suppress the thief's conversion in order to make the point that Jesus was "rejected by all." Fake points don't make points. (Mark, of course, may well simply not have heard about the second thief's conversion. As usual, this extremely simple hypothesis doesn't make it onto the New Testament scholar's radar.)

In his insightful review of Robert Gundry's attempt in the 1980s to recast the Gospel of Matthew as "midrash," Douglas J. Moo makes the same point I am making:

[Matthew] writes from the conviction that the decisive revelation of God had recently been manifested in the historical actualities of Jesus’ life and teaching. To say, as Gundry does, that “'Jesus said’ or ‘Jesus did’ need not always mean that in history Jesus said or did what follows” ... attributes to Matthew an unconcern with history that seems to me at odds with one of the most distinctive features of the Christian message....I am suggesting that concern for historical actualities, which is the essential byproduct of the incarnation, kept [Matthew] from combining history and nonhistory.... “Matthew and Midrash,” pp. 38-39.

There is a very real danger that, in attempting to define "mere Christianity," we may develop a Barthian or semi-Barthian unconcern for any historical facts beyond those that we have put into the "mere Christian" box. Another danger is that we will flinch away from any epistemic connection between other facts and those propositions on which we have decided to hang our theological hats. We may lose our nerve and get into the habit of saying, "Phew! I'm so relieved that I don't have to defend that in order to defend Christianity," then repeatedly offer as a concession to skeptics that "that" may well be false, where "that" could be almost anything but, say, the bare statement of the resurrection of Jesus. We should explicitly acknowledge these dangers and resist these shifts. Our message in defining a minimal set of Christian distinctives should never be that nothing else matters. Most urgently, the message should never be that history doesn't matter, nor that it is a virtue to make Christianity immune to the evidential impact of history. Those Christian distinctives themselves, even if we settle on a fairly short creedal list, are both metaphysically and epistemically based upon a wealth of historical particulars and upon the factual nature of the records we possess.

We are surrounded by voices right now lecturing us that the concern for factual truth and for distinguishing fact from fiction is anachronistic, but the apostles do not agree. It was not a hung-up, post-enlightenment philosopher but St. Peter (2 Peter 1:16) who emphasized that he and the other disciples were not promulgating cunningly devised fables but were eyewitnesses of Jesus' majesty. (Yes, I'm aware that "many scholars" reject the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter. Yes, I'm aware of their arguments. Yes, I think Peter wrote 2 Peter.) It was Peter and John who told the Sanhedrin that they would keep preaching, because they must testify to what they had heard and seen (Acts 4:20).

God has wrought our salvation by means of literal history. Since both God and his apostles emphasize the importance of what is written in the language of history, we should care to know what is history and what is not. Nor should we project onto those who gave us the Scriptures a postmodern unconcern with bare, boring fact. That would be truly anachronistic.

Comments (45)

We may lose our nerve and get into the habit of saying, "Phew! I'm so relieved that I don't have to defend that in order to defend Christianity," then repeatedly offer as a concession to skeptics that "that" may well be false, where "that" could be almost anything but, say, the bare statement of the resurrection of Jesus.

I am afraid that it is even worse than that. The mind-set that allows this kind of make-believe in order to push a "theological point" does not necessarily have any limits at all. The urge to concede can be pushed so far that the "Christian" gives up even the death on the cross and the resurrection. And the birth. And, indeed, the whole shebang, accepting the entirety of the Gospels as being a morality play to "enlighten us" in our moral sensibilities, not to enlighten us about history.

The problem is that there is no principle that one can point to that could be cashed out as constituting a necessary limit, once you accept the basic premise. If they could invent (or intentionally suppress) the Good Thief, or invent the Doubting Thomas stories, there is no reason they cannot invent the passion, death and resurrection. Sure, this would be distasteful to most of the Christian (or "Christian") gospel historians at the moment, but they cannot point to a principle that says such a hypothesis is outside the acceptable standards of study, and in evaluating the "evidence" brought forth, because so much of it would be just the same sort of touchy-feely subjective stuff THEY rely on, they cannot rule it out of bounds either. All they can say of it is "it doesn't feel to me as strong as the evidence that the passion and death took place really and was not a compositional device". In other words, junk history cannot disprove other junk history.

In other words, junk history cannot disprove other junk history.

Lurking in the back of all of this are all the oddities by which the inerrancy debate has influenced the genre debate. Back in the 80s a scholar named Robert Gundry "midrashed" large portions of the Gospel of Matthew but argued that this was compatible with inerrancy. Basically, Gundry and some others wanted to separate hermeneutics very sharply from inerrancy, to retain only a "thin" definition of inerrancy, and thus to avoid what they deemed to be "political" wrangles over whether one could keep a job, etc., that required an inerrancy affirmation and still hold a view like Gundry's. Gundry was, in fact, ousted from the Evangelical Theological Society over this issue, and there was a certain amount of leftover resentment over this.

On a sufficiently "thin" view of inerrancy, divorced from all content, one could indeed hold that the Bible is inerrant and that the resurrection never occurred, simply by asserting that the Bible authors never intended the resurrection to be an historical event.

Trying to head all of this off, Norm Geisler and some others wrote a "backup" statement that said that, basically, one doesn't count as an inerrantist if one uses genre considerations to dehistoricize portions of the Bible that "present themselves as historical."

This, of course, merely caused neo-inerrantists to jump on "presents itself" and to imply that it is very difficult to tell what "presents itself" as historical in the Bible.

But in some cases, that just isn't true. Can there be borderline cases? Sure. I take the view, which some consider controversial, that the Book of Job is such a borderline case and that there is a legitimate question as to whether it "presents itself as historical."

But not everything is a difficult case. The Gospels are *paradigmatically* historical, and hence the narratives *in* the gospels (except of course the parables, which aren't hard to spot!) are *paradigmatically* historical.

The junk history comes into play in trying to chop up the gospels and treat each separate narrative, or even each tiny snippet of a narrative, as though it needs to prove itself, separately, to be really intended as historical. And this is really both very corrosive and historically unjustifiable.

I believe that sociologically it has arisen from despair on the part of former inerrantists who thought they could somehow split the difference by simply denying the historical intent of the portions they didn't think they could harmonize.

Lydia,
If Jesus wasn't really crucified on the day and at the time that the Passover lambs were killed (and I think that he wasn't), his crucifixion at that day and time cannot make the point that he was the Passover lamb.

From reading some bible commentaries, the scripture that is the basis for "Not a bone of Him shall be broken" is from Psalms 34:20 but that verse is about a complete deliverance from afflictions instead of a specific concern about broken bones - similar to how Luke 21:18 writes "Yet not even a hair of your head will perish" which is not supposed to be taken literally. Perhaps closer to John's real intent, Exodus 12:46 is an instruction on preparing the Passover sacrifice and this was symbolic of the unity of the faithful.

As I said in the post, even if one doesn't agree that something *was* a prophecy (e.g., the meaning of Psalm 34:20), the *fulfillment* (as the evangelist sees it) must happen in space and time, not merely "in" a story. This would be just as true of a reinterpretation of Exodus 12:46. In any event, Jesus can well be the Passover lamb while dying on 15 Nissan rather than on 14 Nissan.

Lydia,
A willingness to contort scriptural meaning to make theological points is not necessarily a one-way street; it could also indicate a willingness to contort historical fact. In some ways they have created a "story world" by interpreting past theology in a way disconnected from its original context.

I disagree. Treating a past verse as having, say, an additional meaning does not at all indicate that its ordinary meaning is denied. It would be absurd to suppose that the very Jewish Matthew *denied* the Exodus, a central event in Jewish history, because he affirmed that a verse about the Exodus (in its original context) had a prophetic significance. The idea that such extra interpretations and literal, historical meaning would have been in conflict really *is* anachronistic in a way that would be alien to the Jewish mind. A rabbi might make a gloss on an historical event that would be odd and inventive (from our perspective) as far as its *significance*, but that would be no means imply that he thought the event didn't happen. When Paul, for example, gives a typological significance to Hagar and Sarah and their children, this is entirely compatible with his affirming the historical existence of Hagar, Sarah, their children, and in general the OT stories about them. We know that he *did* affirm these events, for he uses the historical reality of the birth of Isaac, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, etc., to make arguments in other places. In fact, Paul thought that he could use things to make these kinds of points *because* they really happened.

From reading some bible commentaries, the scripture that is the basis for "Not a bone of Him shall be broken" is from Psalms 34:20 but that verse is about a complete deliverance from afflictions instead of a specific concern about broken bones - similar to how Luke 21:18 writes "Yet not even a hair of your head will perish" which is not supposed to be taken literally.

To follow up on what Lydia says: the principle of interpretation of Scripture is that there is a base sense that the human writer had in mind, and there can then be many more senses layered on top of that base sense. None of the other layers can contradict the base sense, but they don't have to be LIMITED to it - obviously, or they would not be distinct from it. So, there is nothing impossible about interpreting the Psalmist having a specific, narrow, historical thought in mind with the passage, and God also having another meaning in mind as a future reference. Certainly the story of Joseph going to Egypt is taken that way. And the Passover.

"I submit that this is not how it works in history. Since the story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree with his little ax is non-historical, it doesn't show us that George Washington was honest."
------It does if you believe the story is true. Perhaps the person who originated that story thought it more important that people believe a certain way about Washington, than what the actual historical truth was.

"When the evangelists say that an event occurred that fulfilled prophecy, they are stating that the event itself really occurred, for otherwise, the prophecy would not have been fulfilled by that event."
-------Again, they only need worry about getting people to believe their way...and that hardly requires that they assert only historical truth. Mormonism grows by leaps and bounds, yet is founded on fraudulent books that have duped millions about what happened in actual history. Apparently, success in religious purpose doesn't require confining oneself to historical truth. The apostles would have known this.

"One has to take it that the Holy Spirit knew about an extra meaning in the Exodus that we wouldn't otherwise have suspected. "
------That is ABSURDLY dangerous territory. If your religious defense mechanisms were not on red-alert, you'd quickly agree that any interpretation of an OT passage that couldn't be derived from its immediate context was false(i.e., a meaning we wouldn't suspect despite our ability to examine the grammar and context). If you cannot show how John's interpretation of OT texts derives from the immediate context, but have to resort to esoteric explanations like the Holy Spirit detecting meanings people normally cannot see in words, I'd say the case against John's honesty or competence is made.

"Similarly, if the thief on the cross did actually speak to Jesus as he does in Luke, repenting and asking Jesus to remember him, then in just that sense Jesus was not strictly "rejected by all," and it would have been misleading for Mark deliberately to suppress the thief's conversion in order to make the point that Jesus was "rejected by all."
---------Again, so what? The Book of Mormon was misleading, yet it cannot be denied that Mormonism has turned many young people from sinful lives to better lives. Lying is always good when it creates more good than asserting truth would have.

"If Jesus wasn't really crucified on the day and at the time that the Passover lambs were killed (and I think that he wasn't), his crucifixion at that day and time cannot make the point that he was the Passover lamb. Fake points don't make points. "
---------Fake points DO make points with those who are deceived thereby. So fake points could be seen as attractive by those who are a) willing to make them, and b) hopeful that the hearers will accept them as true. How many fake points have made points with Mormons?

"Whether one agrees or not with St. Paul's theological use of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, there is no doubt that he believed that the event actually happened, and that is why he bases his theology of justification upon it."
--------No, people can refer to the OT to make their theological points, without believing those stories are historically real. For example, people who think that Christianity is false, but also think it happens to be the best choice of religion for their loved ones. I have to wonder how many pastors became atheists long ago, but continue to lift up the bible as historically accurate because doing so gives them a paycheck, and works more good, than if they bluntly admit their change of world-view. Conservative Christians care more about Jesus than their own families. Their Jesus assures them they'll gain so much more if they give up what they have, yes including their children (Matthew 19:29), their Jesus didn't even allow one of his followers to perform a burial for his father (Luke 9:59-60). If you are a conservative pastor and you become an atheist, you know perfectly well that your family and friends think Jesus is more important than you....you know that bluntly admitting your change of worldview will do more than get you defrocked, you'll be opening the door to possible divorce, ending friendships, shunning by family, etc. So there you go...a perfect reason why somebody asserts the near-sacrifice of Isaac as a historically true story, when in fact they don't believe a stitch of it.

Barry, you've been stalking my posts back and forth here and at my personal blog. Here, as there, you show that you don't even know the position I'm writing against. The position I'm writing against is not that Matthew et. al. were rank charlatans but rather something more like accepted fictionalizers writing for an audience that thought such a mingling of fact and fiction was theologically deep. It's silly and would, certainly, involve writing misleadingly. But not in the way that you are picturing. My point that "fake points don't make points" concerns the philosophical confusion that John would have *really* thought that he somehow could "support" the idea that Jesus was the Passover Lamb (which he believed) by making up historical "facts" that never happened. It's a silly idea, but not what you are writing about. As usual, you're diving into a debate you don't understand.

“I'd say the case against John's honesty or competence is made.”

Barry, you need to decide which accusation you want to put your money on. If events which supposedly fulfil prophecy don’t really look like the fulfilment of prophecy, then there is little or no basis for the accusation that the Gospel writers invented those events in order to make it look as if prophecy had been fulfilled. It is then more likely that the events actually happened and that they were seen through the lens of Scripture. Whether this “seeing” deserves to be described as incompetent is another matter.

I must say that I always find the comparison with Mormonism curious. Is the purpose of the comparison to show that dishonesty is a theoretical possibility, or is the case of Mormonism considered to be sufficiently close in detail to that of Christianity that we should assume dishonesty in the latter unless the contrary can be proved?

Barry, you wonder how many pastors are really closet atheists. Let me tell you what I wonder. I wonder whether all the atheists who are so desperate to discredit Christianity are haunted by a nagging fear that Christianity might really be true.

Mrs. McGrew,

Barry, you've been stalking my posts back and forth here and at my personal blog.

Then apparently you think anybody who challenges and stays with the discussion without giving in, constitutes a stalker. So because you so comprehensively challenge Licona, you'll agree that you are "stalking" his books?

Or do you think objectivity can best be served by cutting back on your emotive innuendos?

Here, as there, you show that you don't even know the position I'm writing against.

And I'm sure Licona is equally dogmatically confident that you have misunderstood his own arguments. That does very little to make you fear you got one of his arguments wrong, amen?

The position I'm writing against is not that Matthew et. al. were rank charlatans

I never expressed or implied that the position you were writing against was that Matthew et. al. were rank charlatans. Rather, I simply took some of the generalizations you had set forth as truths, and showed how they create problems for your other beliefs.

As you well know, heretical Christians have been using fiction about Jesus ('fake points') to convince ('make points' with) their followers for centuries. Unless you can independently argue that the gospel authors were 100% honest about actual history in everything they wrote in the canonical gospels, I don't see why John should find using a few fictions about Jesus to make converts, any less desirable than you think Marcion or Joseph Smith found similar dishonesty desirable.

but rather something more like accepted fictionalizers writing for an audience that thought such a mingling of fact and fiction was theologically deep.

Perhaps you are taking too literally the idea that the gospels are 100% truthful. The gospel authors wrote in a cultural context of second temple Judaism, whose ideas about exegesis downplayed objectivity to a degree today's Christians would never allow.

It's silly and would, certainly, involve writing misleadingly.

Sure, but again, why do you emphasize the misleading nature of the fictions, as if this was some obvious problem? Even Paul would pretend to take theological views he actually denied, where he thought giving such false impression would create converts (1st Cor. 9:20-21). In second-temple exegesis, finding things in the OT that don't exist was routine. That's not too far from inventing historical details wholesale.

But not in the way that you are picturing. My point that "fake points don't make points" concerns the philosophical confusion that John would have *really* thought that he somehow could "support" the idea that Jesus was the Passover Lamb (which he believed) by making up historical "facts" that never happened. It's a silly idea, but not what you are writing about. As usual, you're diving into a debate you don't understand.

I don't see any philosophical confusion in any such act by John. Even assuming his use of fiction would never allow him to legitimately support the idea of Jesus as Passover Lamb, whether he "supported" the point successfully is not just an academic question involving actual truth v. actual falsity, we must also ask whether he thought his audience would believe he legitimately supported a fact, were he to assert things about Jesus that were false. Yes, obviously, they could.

For unknown reasons, your presuppositions about the gospel authors make them sound more like modern western conservative evangelicals, than the 1st century Jews approving of second-temple exegesis that they were.

Since the Jews in that period found such exegesis acceptable, despite how it is ridiculed today for finding things nowhere supported in the context, well, its not a very large leap from "we like to get things out of the OT that cannot be supported from the context", to "I sometimes tell little lies about Jesus to make it seem he fulfilled OT prophecy more than he actually did".

Lydia,
For John, theological significance and literal events are inextricably woven together.

If John is contorting scripture for theological reasons there is no reason to rule out the possibility of him contorting literal events also because he believes they are "inextricably woven together". You have seen this when it comes to something like Intelligent Design, where the young earth creationists latch onto some version of it that fits their particular narrative and have all these different facts and histories to explain away most of biology, geology and physics while most others are making far less extreme claims. So here's my question in regards to an audience that overlooks a mingling of fact and fiction: How much diligent effort have you put into correcting the YEC knowing they fervently support your faith and values?

If John is contorting scripture for theological reasons there is no reason to rule out the possibility of him contorting literal events also because he believes they are "inextricably woven together".

This is a confused use of "contorting," Step2. He would have known when Jesus died and would have known if he was making it up. It's not something he could have been legitimately confused on. Even if you believe that his prophetic interpretation of the OT was *mistaken*, that's something he could be genuinely mistaken about in good faith. Nobody is claiming that John *misremembered* the relationship of Jesus' death to Passover or the time of his crucifixion. The idea that I'm writing against is that he *knew* when it happened but deliberately changed it for theological reasons. This wouldn't be remotely like getting sincerely over-enthusiastic when it came to prophetic interpretations of the OT. We have to be clear. I doubt that you are saying that he literally was so biased that he misremembered what day and time Jesus was crucified on. And in any event, there are reasons to believe that he was *not* attempting to allude to the day and time on which Jesus died and connect this with the death of the Passover lambs. (If for no other reason than that he doesn't even say how many hours Jesus was on the cross!!)

the young earth creationists latch onto some version of it that fits their particular narrative and have all these different facts and histories to explain away most of biology, geology and physics while most others are making far less extreme claims.

(By the way, you are mis-using "Intelligent Design." Virtually everybody at the Discovery Institute is an old earther. If you didn't know this, you learned something new today.)

This would be a case of sincere error, not a case of deliberately changing what you know to be true in order to tell a theological story.

YECs are actually hyper-literalists when it comes to interpreting Scripture. I disagree with them, but they are as far removed as possible from Licona's approach.

They are not claiming that the authors of Scripture believed that it was okay to mingle fact and fiction in narratives that present themselves as historical.

I think they're mistaken about the age of the earth on the scientific end of it, but by no means are they trying to make out that it was okay for a Bible author to present something as historical and mix it with stuff he just made up.

That's really strained, Step2. Incredibly strained.

Barry, if you can't understand that typological exegesis of the OT isn't remotely the same thing as making up fake facts of recent history and mingling them with a prima facie historical narrative to support theological points that the author himself actually believes (though heaven knows why one believes them, if he has to make up stuff in order to support them), I'm afraid I can't help you, and I don't really have any great motivation to try to change your mind.

David,


“I'd say the case against John's honesty or competence is made.”
Barry, you need to decide which accusation you want to put your money on. If events which supposedly fulfil prophecy don’t really look like the fulfilment of prophecy, then there is little or no basis for the accusation that the Gospel writers invented those events in order to make it look as if prophecy had been fulfilled.

But the problem is who is making the judgment on whether an alleged event "looks like" it fulfilled some OT prophecy. That is precisely the disconnect between gospel authors and today's conservative Christian scholars. Walter Kaiser, Darrel Bock and Peter Enns debate that exact matter in "Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Counterpoints Series, Zondervan, 2008)"

My position is that because a) second-temple exegesis made it a habit to find things in the OT that could not be supported by grammar or context, and b) the gospel authors were part and parcel of that culture, the reason their use of the OT is such a point of disagreement among Christian scholars today is because NT authors approved of exegetical methods absurdly less objective than the grammatical historical contextual method held by most conservative scholars today.

So you cannot fight off the idea of gospel authors inventing fictions to make Jesus appear in fulfillment of the OT, on the ground that authors would never invent details that don't look like the descriptions found in the allegedly prophetic OT texts. Yes, they would. The gospel authors were not modern or western, they would NOT have done what modern forgers would do, and make the alleged fulfillment look exactly like the alleged prediction.

It is then more likely that the events actually happened and that they were seen through the lens of Scripture.

Well, now we are generalizing too much. I can buy the general historical reliability of the gospels, but I cannot say every single detail they tell was actual historical truth.

Whether this “seeing” deserves to be described as incompetent is another matter.

Yes and no. Yes in that whether the NT authors accurately convey the meaning of OT passages they cite, is a debate all to itself. But no in that if a gospel author found Jesus fulfilling OT passages that clearly did not apply to him, then the gospel author's inability to see the disconnect, impeaches his credibility and creates a rationally warranted suspicion that he also wasn't' above telling lies for the sake of what he believed to be a greater good. Such conclusion would be relevant here, where Lydia is defending the historical reliability of the gospels.

I must say that I always find the comparison with Mormonism curious. Is the purpose of the comparison to show that dishonesty is a theoretical possibility, or is the case of Mormonism considered to be sufficiently close in detail to that of Christianity that we should assume dishonesty in the latter unless the contrary can be proved?

Neither. I only brought up Mormonism, because Lydia had set forth "fake points don't make points" as if it was a general truth in all situations. She was wrong. Whether somebody had "made points" depends on context (Benny Hinn doesn't "make points" with his audience, if we take "make points" in the scholarly sense of his being actually correct in what he tells his audiences...but he surely does "make points" in the other sense of duping his followers into thinking his lies are truths). Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet clearly "made points" with his falsehoods. So I don't know why Lydia pushes the "fake points don't make points" maxim. If a gospel author was willing to lie and thought his originally intended audience would swallow it hook, line and sinker, his knowledge that his points were not legitimate, would hardly slow him down from telling those lies.

If religious leaders can create a long-lasting sense of peace and purpose among their listeners by telling fictions about Jesus, I see no reason why the originally intended audiences of the gospel authors should be exempt from that generality. Again, not saying the gospel authors DID lie, only that Lydia has failed to make a significant point. Fictions have been falsely supporting religions for centuries, and surely the gospel authors knew the popularity of the OT pseudapigrapha among their fellow Jews (and indeed, it was nobody but Christians who apparently felt legitimate points could be scored by authoring and promoting the NT apocryphal works like Infancy gospel of James).

Lydia appears to be assuming that the gospel authors were more like modern-day conservative evangelical Christians, who would immediately have problems with anything asserted about Jesus that wasn't true from actual history. But the popularity of the OT pseudopigrapha show us the complexity of the ancient Jewish mind from the second-temple period: they could still revere books that they didn't assert the full inerrancy of.

So they could surely have revered the gospels without believing every last detail about Jesus's words and actions asserted therein were literal historical truths. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would have known this, especially since we now know that utterly unhistorical words of Jesus in the book of Revelation became just as accepted as his historical words in the gospels.

Barry, you wonder how many pastors are really closet atheists. Let me tell you what I wonder. I wonder whether all the atheists who are so desperate to discredit Christianity are haunted by a nagging fear that Christianity might really be true.

Isn't that sort of like saying "I wonder whether all the conservative scholars who are so desperate to discredit Licona are haunted by a nagging fear that Licona might really be true..."?

I am not "desperate" to discredit Christianity. I have reams of scholarly rebuttal to scholarly apologetics arguments for the bible and Christianity. I have objective reasons for saying Christianity is false on the merits. What's funny is that I like the whole subject. When the morning news turns to sports, I turn the radio off and cue up some youtube video I saved where in McGrew or other scholars lecture and debate on apologetics topics.

If I thrust Christianity completely out of my life, you'll just say "would not come to the light lest his evil deeds be exposed." If I constantly keep Christianity in my life and make it a point to directly challenge its most vocal defenders, you'll just say "ever learning and never able to come a knowledge of the scriptures."

If I say I sincerely don't believe god exists, you'll just say "they are without excuse, because what may be known of God is manifest..."

Either stop insinuating that I'm "desperate" to discredit Christianity, or let's debate the biblical or Christian subject you feel most comfortable defending.

How much diligent effort have you put into correcting the YEC knowing they fervently support your faith and values?

Heh. That's easy: only a little. When I find YEC's persuading people that otherwise are sound believing Catholics, I will do something about it. But I don't know more than about 3 Catholics that have fallen for that stuff, and I have found that sort of Catholic (just like most other YEC Christians) impervious to reason, so I don't bother.

Barry
“So you cannot fight off the idea of gospel authors inventing fictions to make Jesus appear in fulfillment of the OT, on the ground that authors would never invent details that don't look like the descriptions found in the allegedly prophetic OT texts. Yes, they would.”

My point is that we would have no good reason to think that they had done that. We would only have good reason to think that they had done it if the alleged fulfilment of prophecy seemed too good to be true. Since you would expect events in Jesus’ life to vaguely echo things in the OT just by chance, then there would be no need to invent them - especially since the Gospel writers were free to select a limited number of events from the vast number of things that must actually have happened. The invention theory would then be pure, and unnecessary, she speculation.

However, I’m not sure what your point is, since you say that the Gospels are generally reliable. By the way, if you think that the OT pseudepigrapha provide a good analogy, then I would suggest that you are looking at this in completely the wrong way. The events recounted in the Gospels were *recent* history. And it is clear that they were believed to have vital and immediate significance. I don't believe that the Gospel writers would have felt they had anything like the freedom of the authors of the pseudepigrapha.

Barry, you don't even *get* what I meant by "fake points don't make points." I doubt that there's any point in saying it again, but one more time: I meant that fake points don't actually make things metaphysically true that were not otherwise metaphysically true. And fake points that are known to be fake don't epistemically support metaphysical truths.

The people I am writing against are implying that John's audience thought of him as writing semi-fiction and appreciated him the way I would appreciate a clever novelist. *Not* that John was just trying to fool them to get them to believe "fake points" so that they would *think* that some theological point was supported. Both they and John, on the view I'm attacking, are supposed to be all deeply moved by theological points even though those theological points are partly supported on the basis of fiction! It's dumb, but that's what I'm writing against. Of course I wasn't denying that a charlatan can confuse people about metaphysical truth by making up fake stories that his audience finds believable. Though in that case one wonders what *his* support is for the points in question. A true charlatan, of course, just doesn't believe anything.

Yes, the actions being attributed to John *would be* deceptive. I actually agree with you on that. But my opponents indignantly deny any deception, because the whole thing is supposed to be like a semi-postmodern literary game, appreciated by everyone involved. In that case, of course, why be willing to die for it?

I may appreciate the way that Arthur Conan Doyle fictionally "makes" Sherlock Holmes sacrifice himself by going over the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty, but I'm sure as heck not going to commit my life to serving Sherlock Holmes as the Savior of the world.

Barry “So you cannot fight off the idea of gospel authors inventing fictions to make Jesus appear in fulfillment of the OT, on the ground that authors would never invent details that don't look like the descriptions found in the allegedly prophetic OT texts. Yes, they would.” My point is that we would have no good reason to think that they had done that.

Well they said Jesus did miracles. Sounds to me like they were willing to lie as a matter of course. Shall we debate my ant-supernaturalist presuppositions?

We would only have good reason to think that they had done it if the alleged fulfilment of prophecy seemed too good to be true. Since you would expect events in Jesus’ life to vaguely echo things in the OT just by chance, then there would be no need to invent them -

Or there might be a need to embellish what really happened, as opposed to creation of 100% false fictions.

especially since the Gospel writers were free to select a limited number of events from the vast number of things that must actually have happened. The invention theory would then be pure, and unnecessary, she speculation.

Sorry, I disagree that the number of events they had to select from was limited. They could assert anything they wished about Jesus, and their followers, so willing to accept even their visionary Christ-sayings as true (Revelation) likely wouldn't have been too motivated to charge them with error, especially if those original gospel recipients don't get this stuff until 30 years after the events. 1st century Christians were not modern-day western conservative evangelicals who think "non-historical" means "useless". Midrash is a firm staple of Jewish religion.

However, I’m not sure what your point is, since you say that the Gospels are generally reliable. By the way, if you think that the OT pseudepigrapha provide a good analogy, then I would suggest that you are looking at this in completely the wrong way. The events recounted in the Gospels were *recent* history.

I don't date the gospels as early as you do. The typical date for John assigned by scholars is around 80 a.d. and that's nearly 50 years after the year Jesus died. The willingness of the Jews to put stock in the pseudepigrapha despite these books coming along thousands of years after the events they tell of, shows the willingness of the Jews in the time of Jesus to accept dubious sources as if thier truth-content was reasonably assured.

And it is clear that they were believed to have vital and immediate significance.

Perhaps to some, such as the Jewish church. But the words and deeds of Jesus were nearly totally useless to apostle Paul, whom conservative scholars say represents the earliest form of Christian preaching.

I don't believe that the Gospel writers would have felt they had anything like the freedom of the authors of the pseudepigrapha.

Why? Were they not Jews writing from within a jewish culture?

Barry, the difference between the Gospels and the pseudepigrapha seems so obvious to me that I am surprised anyone would doubt it. But if you don't think that we should make any distinction or that the early Christians would have made any distinction between them, then perhaps you can explain why the Ascension of Isaiah never attained canonical status.

You suggest that the Gospel writers may have been embellishing the facts rather than inventing them wholesale, so at least we are moving in the right direction. Although on the matter of miracles, it must be a case of outright lying. Or maybe not.

“Sorry, but I disagree that the number of events they had to select from was limited.”

I said that the number of events *selected* was limited, and that the selection was made from a much larger number of events. This freedom to select would allow the Gospel writers to choose those events that would allow them to make their theological point without the need for invention.

Barry, you don't even *get* what I meant by "fake points don't make points." I doubt that there's any point in saying it again, but one more time: I meant that fake points don't actually make things metaphysically true that were not otherwise metaphysically true.

Sure, but orthodox Jews of the intertestamental period who didn't find the pseudopigrapha canonical or entirely truthful, nevertheless found it spiritually edifying, apparently. Luther allowed study of the Apocrypha for spiritual edification despite its non-canonical status. The religious mind is complex and has a funny ambivalence about it, whereby one 'knows' a religious source is not entirely truthful, but nevertheless one "knows" it to be great spiritual value. Granted, modern western evangelicals automatically equate "non-historical" with "useless/dangerous", but we are talking about ancient religious concepts, not modern American empiricism.

And fake points that are known to be fake don't epistemically support metaphysical truths.

Well sure, but would the originally intended audiences of the gospels have been in a reasonably good position to know whether certain alleged gospel details were fake? I think not. Take the gospel of Mark: patristic sources declare he wrote for the church at Rome. No, Roman Christians in 38 a.d. would not have been in a good position to know whether something Peter said about Jesus was actually true or actually false. Luke implies Theophilus likely wouldn't know the exact truth about Jesus if he hadn't written his gospel for that man. John clearly wished to promote Jesus to Jewish Philo-flavored gnostics, who by their gnosticism probably only knew about Jesus second-hand and so could not likely confirm whether something John said was true or false.

The people I am writing against are implying that John's audience thought of him as writing semi-fiction and appreciated him the way I would appreciate a clever novelist. *Not* that John was just trying to fool them to get them to believe "fake points" so that they would *think* that some theological point was supported. Both they and John, on the view I'm attacking, are supposed to be all deeply moved by theological points even though those theological points are partly supported on the basis of fiction! It's dumb, but that's what I'm writing against.

I understand that, but I was concentrating on showing how your actual statements are problematic in and of themselves. I don't misunderstand what you are doing, I'm simply showing that some of the presuppositions you put to work in your rebuttal, are wrong or likely wrong for reasons independent of your disagreement with Licona and others.

Of course I wasn't denying that a charlatan can confuse people about metaphysical truth by making up fake stories that his audience finds believable. Though in that case one wonders what *his* support is for the points in question. A true charlatan, of course, just doesn't believe anything.

Well excuse me, but you said in unqualified fashion "fake points don't make points", as if fake points assuredly fail always to do what their claimant wants them to do. With your above admission, however, it seems you now recognize or now admit that fake points can achieve the same results as true points (i.e., conversion, getting people to tithe more, learn a moral lesson,etc). If you would have said "fake points don't make points with people who know that the fake points are fake", we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.

Yes, the actions being attributed to John *would be* deceptive. I actually agree with you on that. But my opponents indignantly deny any deception, because the whole thing is supposed to be like a semi-postmodern literary game, appreciated by everyone involved. In that case, of course, why be willing to die for it?

Were the gospel authors and their originally intended audiences willing to die for the gospel? Maybe a few did, but I've seen the evidence for the supposed martyrdom of the apostles, and it is singularly unimpressive to me. Would you like to debate it?

I may appreciate the way that Arthur Conan Doyle fictionally "makes" Sherlock Holmes sacrifice himself by going over the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty, but I'm sure as heck not going to commit my life to serving Sherlock Holmes as the Savior of the world.

You might if joining and obeying a Doyle-cult was the only plausible way you had to survive a severe famine. See Acts 11:28.

Yeah, no: I actually run a pretty tight ship when it comes to OT, and this thread is not going to become a tabula rasa for discussing every skeptical theory concerning the gospels, the history of earliest Christianity, etc., that you happen to harbor.


If you would have said "fake points don't make points with people who know that the fake points are fake", we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.

Well, now that you understand the actual context of my post and my words (y'know, one does write catchy titles briefly and then ask that readers interpret their meaning in context) and what I'm actually writing about, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't take what I say out of context and waste my time demanding that I argue with an irrelevant position. I'm writing a series here on a particular debate within Christian biblical studies. I realize (based upon your practice) that you find this difficult to believe, but bloggers actually do get to decide what topics they are going to discuss.

I notice that Barry has touched on something I said without specifically addressing his comment to me. He said that the pseudepigrapha might be considered spiritually edifying even though they wouldn't be granted canonical status. But that is precisely the point. No doubt, they were considered to have some sort of merit, but in that kind of literature there really was the freedom to write fiction. And there is a good reason why we don't find something like the Ascension of Isaiah in the Bible. It is precisely because it was a work of fiction.

Actually, the issue of the pseudepigrapha is an interesting one. It is true that around the time of Jesus people were writing stories about figures from the Old Testament. And “edifying fiction” would be a good description of such stories. However, it is undeniable that in about AD 30 people were reacting to something that they considered completely out of the ordinary. Furthermore, we have accounts of what that something was which were written pretty soon after it happened.

The problem for Christianophobes is not just how early the Gospels were written but also that the Gospels provide a natural explanation for the reaction which undoubtedly took place at the time. If the Gospels were just edifying fiction in the mould of the pseudepigrapha, then we might expect that if could look back to AD 30 we would find absolutely nothing, i.e., not even a belief that something had happened. And that expectation is simply untenable.

Mrs. McGrew,

I would like to debate you or anybody at your blog on several resurrection-related matters you haven't' already initiated. How might I go about giving you my list of proposed debate subjects? For example, "How many of the resurrection testimonies in the NT come down to us today in first-hand form?" (Under standard rules of historiography, more eyewitnesses is better, less eyewitnesses is worse, and I say there are (generously granting the assumption of apostolic authorship of the gospels) only three such first-hand reports, Matthew, John and Paul.

another topic might be:
"Do the errors of the early church fathers significantly impact their general credibility?"
(many Christians are not aware of the absurd errors of history and theology that are promoted by the early church fathers. Patristic trust in such falsities justifies suspicion toward their truth-detection abilities, which of course bears on to what degree we can trust them for the matters of gospel authorship, something directory related to establishing the resurrection of Jesus). We should probably make a seperate debate for each church father's alleged errors, since the issues can become involved and complicated.

I notice that Barry has touched on something I said without specifically addressing his comment to me. He said that the pseudepigrapha might be considered spiritually edifying even though they wouldn't be granted canonical status. But that is precisely the point. No doubt, they were considered to have some sort of merit, but in that kind of literature there really was the freedom to write fiction.

What differences are there between the gospels and the pseudepigrapha, that make you think the originally intended gospel audiences would have expected fiction in the latter and only truth in the former? Do all pseudepigrapha contain the qualification "the following work contains some fictions" that you can contrast with some canonical gospel statement "this work contains no fiction"?

And there is a good reason why we don't find something like the Ascension of Isaiah in the Bible. It is precisely because it was a work of fiction. Posted by David Madison | November 14, 2017 2:43 AM

First, Ascension of Isaiah is made up of Martyrdom of Isaiah, Vision of Isaiah and Testament of Hezekiah, and it is a composite work that cannot be reliably dated before about 100 a.d. So you've picked an extreme example and have unfairly implied it correctly represents the general truth about the pseudephigrapha. Not hardly.

Second, Jude 14-15 quotes 1st Enoch 1:9 word for word, and attributes the quote to the Enoch who was specifically the seventh from Adam, and attempts by Christian scholars to pretend Jude was doing here something other than implying his trust in the divine inspiration of the entirety of 1st Enoch, are unconvincing. I'm prepared to defend the view that Jude was according divine inspiration to the entirety of 1st Enoch. I'm guessing you'd like to inform me about how Paul quoted single bits from Aratus and Epimenides, though clearly without implying he thought those works were inspired?

Actually, the issue of the pseudepigrapha is an interesting one. It is true that around the time of Jesus people were writing stories about figures from the Old Testament. And “edifying fiction” would be a good description of such stories. However, it is undeniable that in about AD 30 people were reacting to something that they considered completely out of the ordinary. Furthermore, we have accounts of what that something was which were written pretty soon after it happened.

I'm sorry, I don't find the gospels stories about Jesus' alleged popularity to be very convincing, and my presupposition of the late dates for the gospels cannot abide your "written pretty soon after it happened" stuff. Most scholars date the gospels not earlier than 70 a.d. Some would argue it is unreasonable to characterize the near 40-year length of time between event and report, as "written pretty soon after it happened".

The problem for Christianophobes

That word is popular slang whose definition is "A person who hates or fears Christ, Christians, or the Christian religion." You are slandering me when you use that term, since it doesn't accurately describe me. I neither hate nor fear Christ, nor Christians (generally, but of course there are plenty who deserve to be hated, such as con artists like Benny Hinn, but you didn't mean that I hate the Christians who deserve hatred, you meant I hate Christians in general) nor the Christian religion. Under your logic, I probably "hate" the cult of Bigfoot because I insist the creature in the Roger/Patterson film is nothing but a man in a monkey suit.

Jesus said slanders come from an evil heart (Matthew 15:19). However, familiar as I am with conservative apologists, I'll take a guess that because you think Jesus said "whoever is not with me is against me", this is why you irrationally characterize disagreement with Jesus as hatred of Jesus. So apparently you must hate your parents if it be true that you disagree with them on anything? So you'll have to choose whether to be scholarly and thus dispense with the slurs, or not be scholarly. You are required to have a good reputation with those outside the church: 1st Timothy 3:7. You kick that requirement in the teeth when you slur those who are outside the church. That which first applies to you is not "the example of Jesus", but NT statements that directly aim their mandates/prohibitions at Christians. Jesus may have insulted the Pharisees, but that's far less directly applicable to you than 1st Timothy 3:7.

is not just how early the Gospels were written

I'm willing to have a debate with you at any forum of your choosing, on whether assigning late dates to the gospels is reasonable (or you wish the burden to be otherwise, for me to show that attacks on early gospel dates are reasonable).

but also that the Gospels provide a natural explanation for the reaction which undoubtedly took place at the time.

Providing natural explanations is also what jailhouse lawyers specialize in doing. The question is whether the gospel explanation is more reasonable than explanations contrary to the gospels.

If the Gospels were just edifying fiction in the mould of the pseudepigrapha, then we might expect that if could look back to AD 30 we would find absolutely nothing, i.e., not even a belief that something had happened. And that expectation is simply untenable.

That doesn't make any sense to me. The pseudepigrapha are not characterized solely by obvious fictionalizing like Ascension of Isaiah. They also include works containing much true history, such as Jubilees. And if we are talking about books the ancient Jews considered spiritually edifying but not quite canonical, then you've got the Apocrypha, which is not entire fiction but contains serious works such as Judith, Greek Esther and two books of the Maccabees.

For all these reasons, you have failed to refute my analogy of gospel truths/fictions, to deuterocanonical truths/fictions. I don't say the gospels necessarily included fictions, I'm only saying that the attempts by you and Lydia to make it seem absurd that 1st century Jews would ever mix fiction with truth in works they intend to be spiritually edifying, is far less convincing than you think it is.

I would like to debate you or anybody at your blog on several resurrection-related matters you haven't' already initiated. How might I go about giving you my list of proposed debate subjects?

I have not the remotest interest in debating you about resurrection-related matters. And (I know you'll find this difficult to believe) not because I'm afraid of you. In general, I find it far more constructive to spend my time on the Internet doing positive things rather than debating skeptics such as yourself. That's just how I choose to spend my time. Nor are the comboxes of What's Wrong With the World nor my personal blog provided as a kind of blank e-paper on which you are welcomed to press and carry out such debates through umpteen comments, regardless of the relevance to the posts actually put up. Maybe some blogs operate that way. We don't.

Barry, if you had given examples of first-century Jewish literature which were very similar to the Gospels and were produced in very similar circumstances, I would be looking at what you had said very seriously. And I would be doing that not because I wanted to beat you in a debate but because I would want to resolve the issue to my own satisfaction.

I’m sorry if this sounds rude, but it seems clear to me that a lengthy discussion with you would be a waste of time. You appear to be unable to grasp obvious points. For example, the reason why I cited the Ascension of Isaiah is that it is an example of *Christian* pseudepigrapha and it is therefore a good test of how Christians themselves distinguished between their own edifying fictions and the canonical works.

But let us briefly consider the hypothesis that the Gospels themselves are edifying fictions. In what sense are they fictions? Is it the case that no one actually believed at the time that Jesus had risen from the dead? Obviously not. I hope we are agreed on that. Have the Gospels embellished the evidence for the Resurrection? If there was no good evidence, then what generated the belief in the Resurrection?

Barry, if you had given examples of first-century Jewish literature which were very similar to the Gospels and were produced in very similar circumstances, I would be looking at what you had said very seriously.

Then your error is in pretending that the religious literary heritage of Jews as it existed between 300 b.c. - 33 a.d. had no significant relevance to the question of what must have been going on in the mind of Jewish gospel authors who were born into that culture around 4 b.c. Except of course for the Jewish canonical stuff that doesn't fairly represent all that Judaism was in those days.

And I would be doing that not because I wanted to beat you in a debate but because I would want to resolve the issue to my own satisfaction. I’m sorry if this sounds rude, but it seems clear to me that a lengthy discussion with you would be a waste of time. You appear to be unable to grasp obvious points. For example, the reason why I cited the Ascension of Isaiah is that it is an example of *Christian* pseudepigrapha and it is therefore a good test of how Christians themselves distinguished between their own edifying fictions and the canonical works.

I'm afraid the inability to grasp obvious points is yours. It was MY argument that the OT pseudepigrapha were significantly analogous to the gospels. Here is my quote:


...and surely the gospel authors knew the popularity of the OT pseudapigrapha among their fellow Jews...

I limited my analogy to just OT era writings or intertestamental literature because I was trying to establish a basis for what must have been going on in the mind of Jewish gospel authors born at the beginning of the first century, when such writings were in vogue.

That was far more objective way to gauge the probability of how the original apostles thought about history/fictionalizing, than your resort to what Christians believed 100 years after the apostles lived. How Christians did things in the 2nd century is a far less likely to inform you about how the apostles themselves believed, than is the Jewish literary heritage they grew up with.

Your alleged clarification indicates your original point had no force anyway: The 2nd century Christian writings also give you works that were set forth as serious historical material, even if they weren't actually historically true in all their details, such as the gospel of Thomas/Hebrews/Egyptians/Peter, Infancy gospel of James, etc, which your conservative tone suggests you take to be little more than literary efforts in which small kernels of historical truth are loaded up with embellishments and other fictions.

So if you were trying to appeal to the way Christians did things in 150 a.d. as representative of how the gospel authors likely thought/wrote (i.e., distinguishing between edifying fiction and historical truth), then their distinguishing edifying fiction from historical truth isn't their only trait. They also believed in the legitimacy of beefing up bits of history with embellishments, which they'd hardly do if they thought most Christians of their day would condemn such things. Apparently 2nd century Christianity has more to say about the way the apostles thought, than you wish to admit. My advice is that 2nd century Christianity goes in too many directions to pretend we can nail down which particular ones were representative of the gospel authors.

But let us briefly consider the hypothesis that the Gospels themselves are edifying fictions. In what sense are they fictions?

They contain a mixture of historical truth and historical fiction.

Is it the case that no one actually believed at the time that Jesus had risen from the dead? Obviously not. I hope we are agreed on that.

We are.

Have the Gospels embellished the evidence for the Resurrection?

Yes, that follows very credibly from the majority Christian scholarly opinion that a) Mark was the earliest gospel, and b) he intentionally ended it at 16:8. This whole business of Jesus appearing to identifiable disciples is only found in the later gospels. However, I am prepared to cross swords with N.T. Wright and any other conservative who, despairing of how easily the resurrection can be debunked on the theory of Mark intentionally ending at 16:8, therefore argue vehemently that Mark originally contained resurrection appearance stories.

If there was no good evidence, then what generated the belief in the Resurrection?

The tendency of religious people to believe in things that are false?

What generated belief in the Judaizer gospel, as apparently happened to Paul's Galatian churches (Gal. 1:6), and as happened to Paul's ministry helper Barnabas (2:13, personally selected by the Holy Spirit, Acts 13:2), and as even happened to Peter (Gal 2:14)?

What generated Peter's fear of the Jewish "men from James" (Gal. 2:12) if a) they were Judaizers falsely claiming authority from James (Acts 15:2) and Peter, having known James intimately with Jesus for three years prior, would surely have recognized that their legalism contradicted what James believed?

What generated the absolute historical silence of most of the alleged 500 eyewitnesses of a risen Jesus, whom Paul refers to in 1st Cor. 15:6?

What causes tens of thousands of converted Jews in James' church to trust so strongly in false rumors about the apostle Paul, that Paul's verbal denial of the rumor wouldn't be sufficient to dissuade them (Acts 21:18-24)?

What causes disciples to inaccurately remember the way Jesus said something (John 21:23)?

What causes the Jewish apostles and brethren to act as if Jewish Christians eating with Gentiles was utterly out of the question and worthy of sharp rebuke (Acts 11:1-3)?

What causes large segments of the post-crucifixion church to act as if the salvation of the Gentiles was some new shocking unexpected theological development they'd never have come to believe except by special revelation given recently to Peter (Acts 11:18)?

I have not the remotest interest in debating you about resurrection-related matters.

That's too bad, since the resurrection of Jesus is central to the claims of Christianity, while some would argue that Licona's errors on gospel differences are of slightly less moment.

And (I know you'll find this difficult to believe) not because I'm afraid of you. In general, I find it far more constructive to spend my time on the Internet doing positive things rather than debating skeptics such as yourself.

That's not true. You've been debating me for several days now. Either you think debating me is a positive thing, or you can play with semantics and trifle that our recent back-and-forth at your blogs, with my posts that you allowed or approved, doesn't constitute "debate".

That's just how I choose to spend my time.

The degree to which are you concerned about my risking eternal hell, is noted. But since you were open to the possibility of God giving people second chances after death, it only makes sense that you don't find defense to be anywhere near as urgent as the apostle Paul says it is. Well, you aren't an inerrantist, so presto, another reason not to get so uptight about things as Jesus and Paul did.

Nor are the comboxes of What's Wrong With the World nor my personal blog provided as a kind of blank e-paper on which you are welcomed to press and carry out such debates through umpteen comments, regardless of the relevance to the posts actually put up. Maybe some blogs operate that way. We don't.

Oh please, Lydia, your degree ought to have taught you that it is nearly impossible to have any sort of discussion about a biblical matter, without it blossoming out and eventually implicating other subjects (!?).

And the fact that you allowed most of my posts, testifies that either a) you thought those posts of mine were on-topic, or b) you don't seriously believe going off-topic is some type of deal-breaker with you.

Your spiteful tone with me, which appeared with your "troll" insult to me in your very first response some days ago, makes it clear that a) you find me annoying, and yet b) you are aware of what it looks like when you ban somebody who has been issuing legitimate challenges to you.

I hereby challenge you to present whatever apologetics argument you think is the most clear and compelling.

If you'd rather not field my academic challenges to your brand of Christianity, just say so. But David a few minutes ago asked me "what generated the belief in the Resurrection?". Perhaps you think he was going off-topic too?

I hereby challenge you to present whatever apologetics argument you think is the most clear and compelling.

Excuse me, what? Who the heck do you think you are?

No, that isn't what we're doing here. You do not come across at all as someone truly trying to find the truth, and I will not waste any further time with you. Nobody who speaks in defense of the gospel, not even an apologist, is setting himself up to spend indefinite amounts of time answering anybody with a keyboard who comes along, thumps his chest, and says, "I hereby challenge you." Go away.

Whoever you may *think* you are, you are a bully, a troll, and a time-waster, and you aren't doing any more of it here.

Let me set out some criteria for any potential analogies. The literature must have been written 30 to 60 years after the events it describes. The events must have been considered very important at the time. Whatever happened must have a great power to inspire people. We must also have letters written 20 years or so later which provide a summary of what happened. It would also help if the literature contains some of the greatest if not the greatest moral teachings in history.

So which intertestamental literature best fits these criteria?

I don’t think I have any more to say to Barry, but it might be worthwhile to offer a few thoughts for anyone else who might be interested. We can easily imagine a scenario in which the Resurrection was invented long after Jesus was crucified. We can also imagine that no one actually believed in the Resurrection until long after the idea first appeared in a legendary account. But that isn’t what happened. We have very good reason to think that people believed in the Resurrection at a very stage.

Because of this the sceptic has to alter his strategy. He must now argue that the Gospels misrepresent what really happened and this will probably involve accusations of deliberate fraud. But notice that we are now in a completely different ball game. Imagine how much easier life would be for the sceptic if there was no reason to think that anyone believed in the Resurrection until long after the legend was invented and if the legend itself was invented long after the alleged event.

Certainly, sceptics can claim that the Gospel writers were practising deliberate fraud. Perhaps the fraud was so cunning that Matthew actually invented the accusation that the disciples stole the body just to make the false claim of an empty tomb look more plausible. But, again, imagine how much easier life would be for the sceptic if Matthew had just been writing an entertaining mix of history and fiction.

I didn't expect to see this avalanche. I'm surprised he didn't electronically slap you with a leather glove when announcing his 'hereby' challenging you to a dual in New Testament history!

It's not hard to see you are in the middle of a series addressing a specific topic. Barry sounds like he has had a fair few debates on the internet and must know how many rabbit holes this topic can produce. You'd think his experience would give him some tact.

Barry won't be joining us anymore. He had been attempting to fill my comments threads at my personal blog with comments that ranged from relevant to pointlessly unpleasant. (A sarcastic suggestion on an old post where I recommended a modest clothing site that Christian women on my view ought to wear burkas.) Sometimes bizarre (asking whether I believed that Christian scholars with whom I disagree are not saved, for if I think they are really saved, I should think that perhaps they are right and I am wrong!). Etc. Most of these I didn't publish, since I have moderation enabled there. Some were close enough to relevance that I published and answered them. He then found W4 where moderation is not enabled and began filling my threads here with general debates about Christianity, couched in the style of demand that you see. After he replied with defiance to several warnings, I banned him. We don't have comment-by-comment moderation here, but we do have banning, though we try not to use it unnecessarily. I'm very pleased to have done so, especially as I deeply doubt that taking up his "challenge" would have been at all likely to be effective for his change of mind or salvation.

"However, I am prepared to cross swords with N.T. Wright..."

I haven't paid too much attention to this exchange, but that one made me laugh.

"I'm very pleased to have done so" made me laugh more than it should have. On the effectiveness of taking him up on his challenge, I note that he mentioned anti supernatural presuppositions. Couple that with the impression he gave me that he needs to respond to absolutely ever sentence for 'debate points' and it's a safe bet debates on the historicity of the resurrection or general reliability of the Gospels will quickly run into Hume and the whole field of natural theology!

Lydia,
Back to our regularly scheduled program:
By the way, you are mis-using "Intelligent Design." Virtually everybody at the Discovery Institute is an old earther. If you didn't know this, you learned something new today.)

That may be the case now, I wouldn't know, but back when they were involved in more lawsuits I remember seeing a few posts that were very accommodating of YEC. Furthermore, both authors of "Of Pandas and People" are young earth creationists and one of them is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute. The book's sequel is written by Senior Fellows William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells.

This would be a case of sincere error, not a case of deliberately changing what you know to be true in order to tell a theological story.

Thanks for the vote of confidence. If it had been an error, and my memory was distorted by a combination of time and partisan reflection that itself would have undermined the notion that the gospel writers couldn't misremember.

They are not claiming that the authors of Scripture believed that it was okay to mingle fact and fiction in narratives that present themselves as historical.

You will need to state more explicitly which parts you think do not "present themselves as historical." It is no good to complain when Keener talks about a "story world" and then refuse to be critical of what you consider fictional history.

that itself would have undermined the notion that the gospel writers couldn't misremember.

I've never said that they couldn't, merely that they didn't. But in any event, Licona & co. aren't saying that they misremembered but that they knew the truth and knowingly fictionalized.


The book's sequel is written by Senior Fellows William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells.

I know for a definite fact that Wells is OEC and have a pretty strong memory that Dembski is as well. Actually, Discovery has been majority OEC among its fellows, as far as I know, from the beginning. Paul Nelson was one of the only exceptions I've ever heard of. John Mark Reynolds may have been another, though I don't know if John Mark was ever a Discovery fellow. Paul has done truly top-notch work that in no way depends upon YEC premises. Not everything that a person does who is in fact YEC is somehow "tainted." To think that would be poisoning the well. Paul really knows his stuff when it comes to, e.g., the origin of the cell and in many other biological areas. ID tried to keep a big tent but were rejected by some of the more dogmatic YECs for that very reason--because they weren't YEC and because several of their more prominent spokesmen were OEC and would even suggest front-loading or detectably guided evolution as a mechanism.

It is no good to complain when Keener talks about a "story world" and then refuse to be critical of what you consider fictional history.

That's a little confusingly worded, so I'm going to guess what you mean. Actually, I'm pretty sure Keener and I could have a good conversation about that (though we never have) and that he would know what *I* mean by "present themselves as historical." He has decided as a scholar that John is fictionalizing in some places, and I think he's importantly wrong about that, but he also knows that overall the narrative presents itself as historical in type and would acknowledge that much of it *is* historical. It's not as though he thinks John is one ginormous parable. Presumably that's part of why he endorsed my book, and I happen to know that he thinks I was helpful about John in particular. Now he just needs to move further in the right direction. :-)

Step2, was it OK in the first century to mingle fact and fiction? Let’s suppose that it was and that that is what Mark did when he “invented” the story of the empty tomb. The empty tomb story would then be a nice way of “symbolising” Christ’s resurrection and no one would have lost any sleep over whether the story was literally true.

But that appears not to be what happened. There was an acrimonious debate between Christians and their opponents about the reason for the empty tomb. That is not at all what you would expect given the assumption that people were not too concerned about literal truth. Even if it was the case that in some forms of literature it was permissible to mix fact and fiction, that seems to be irrelevant to the particular situation in question.

It seems that there was just too much at stake for the first Christians and their opponents for either of them to be indifferent to the truth. Of course, the opponents of Christianity may then switch to accusations of outright fraud. But now we are having a very different debate, and the permissibility in some contexts of straying from the literal truth has no relevance to that debate.

David Madison,
There was an acrimonious debate between Christians and their opponents about the reason for the empty tomb. That is not at all what you would expect given the assumption that people were not too concerned about literal truth.

Groups of people argue all the time about almost any subject matter you care to name. That doesn't imply they are all arguing about literal truth, it could be about fictional stories and themes, abstract concepts, conjectural theories, tribal loyalties, aesthetic tastes, sublimated fears and hopes, or combinations of all the above.

Step2, do people argue all the time over whether The Three Little Pigs depicts an actual historical event?

That doesn't imply they are all arguing about literal truth, it could be about fictional stories and themes, abstract concepts, conjectural theories, tribal loyalties, aesthetic tastes, sublimated fears and hopes, or combinations of all the above.

Step2, I seriously hope that it isn't your position that early Christians and their opponents discussing whether Jesus rose from the dead were like Star Wars fans arguing over whether Han shot first. That is, that both sides (e.g., Paul debating in the synagogues) were agreed that they were arguing about an event that was alleged to have happened only "in a story." That simply does not pass the laugh test.

Tony,
If it had been told as a legendary story within some mythologies I wouldn't rule out the possibility. In any case, arguments about The Three Little Pigs can involve the themes and moral concepts and other factors besides an exclusive focus on its historical actuality.

Lydia,
Star Wars fanatics are as intolerant of heresy against the canonical story as any theist.

That is, that both sides (e.g., Paul debating in the synagogues) were agreed that they were arguing about an event that was alleged to have happened only "in a story."

If they thought it was a mixture of historical with conjectural and figurative elements then it isn't a simple either/or choice of being only "in a story."

In the immediate context of this sub-thread, Dave Madison was talking, specifically, about Jesus' resurrection. This is why I mentioned "an event."

Paul of course may not have read any of the written gospels that we have in the form in which we have them during the time of the debates recorded in Acts. Or at least the only one about which we have evidence is Luke, which he may quote in I Corinthians. (This would make Luke quite early, which is interesting in itself.) Anyway, Paul would likely not have been debating specifics of Jesus' ministry as recorded in Matthew per se. He appears to have been acquainted chiefly with an oral tradition. But as far as the content of that, we have not the slightest indication that he thought that any of the apostles ever promulgated fictional elements mingled with factual elements and certainly not that he thought such mingling was fine. Indeed, everything we know about Paul including his warning to Timothy against fables (I Timothy 1:4) indicates that he would not have had a high degree of toleration for such an admixture.

Step2, it shouldn't be necessary to spell this out, but what distinguishes Christianity from, say, ancient mythology is that we can trace the “story” right back to its roots. And when we do that we find that right from the start people cared about what was being said. Paul cared enough to persecute the early Church and after Paul himself became a believer he incurred fierce opposition. That was the story all the way along and it is reflected in Matthew’s comments about the empty tomb.

I don't believe, to put it mildly, that this is the sort of situation in which the truth can easily get lost.

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