Sunday, March 25, 2007

John Lost Us

Last Monday, Loftus told us that he was going to take a long needed break. He felt that he was wasting his time. This Sunday, he did another post:

Being the agreeable guy that I am, let me assure him that, yes, indeed, he was wasting his time, and this is no exception.

He follows his usual tactic of referring the reader to already rebutted pieces that he and his fellow Debunkers have written to prop up his current post.

“Why should I believe anything an ancient person believed?”

Well, that’s a rather sweeping dismissal. At one stroke, there goes Tacitus, Strabo, Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Julius Caesar, Thucydides, &c.


“Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, didn’t actually see angels, he saw a vision (Luke 1:22). The women who went to the tomb of Jesus said they didn’t see angels, just a vision. (Luke 24:23).”

What Loftus is attempting to do here is to argue along the lines that Bible writers like Luke believed in visions, visions are hallucinations, the Resurrection was visionary, therefore, the Resurrection was hallucinatory.

But there are several problems with his reasoning. Loftus is assuming that optasis denotes a “vision” in the sense of a purely subjective psychological process. There are two things wrong with this:

i) That is not the only meaning of the word.

ii) He’s confusing the meaning of words with the meaning of concepts.

Let’s look at the meaning of the word:

Optasia, -as

Mal 3,2; Est 4,17w; Dn (Theodotion) 9,23; 10:1.7
“appearance” Sir 43:2; “act of appearing” Mal 3,2; “public appearance” Est 4,17w
J. Lust et al eds. A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 1996), 2:336a

Optasia, as, he “vision, appearance”

“The two occurrences in Luke refer to the appearing of an angel.”
H. Balz & G. Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans 2000), 2:525a

So the bare meaning of the word isn’t limited to “vision.”

And beyond the dictionary definition is the concept. Even if it were a vision, what is a vision?

A “vision trance is a state in which audio and/or visual experiences imperceptible to others are perceived by the intermediary,” D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity (Eerdmans 1991), 33.

Aune also adds that “ecstasy and rationality should not be regarded as two mutually exclusive states of consciousness,” ibid. 33.

Luke is not distinguishing between an actual angelic sighting and a vision of something else.

The word he uses is synonymous with an objective appearance. The angel or angels appeared to them.

The visionary language is used because angels are ordinarily invisible.

Even more to the point, an angelophany is irrelevant to the case of the Risen Christ. For Jesus, unlike an angel, is not a discarnate spirit.

Indeed, in Lk 24, Luke goes out of his way to distinguish the Risen Christ from a spectral or ghostly apparition.

To cite visionary instances from the Gospel of Luke or Book of Acts and then superimpose that on the Resurrection account is not honest exegesis, for that is not how Luke describes the Resurrection. That is not how he meant the account to be understood.

So it’s duplicitous of Loftus to transfer the visionary category to the Resurrection by appealing to Lukan usage when that runs flat contrary to Lukan intentions.


“Ancient people would put themselves in a trance to gain divine knowledge. How often did Peter and Paul do that?”

There’s no evidence that Peter and Paul “put themselves” in a trance to gain divine knowledge.

Zecharias didn’t put himself in a trance. An angel appeared to him. The women at the tomb didn’t put themselves in a trance. The angels appeared to them.

This came from the outside. An external stimulus.

Of course, Loftus can deny that, but he cannot deny that by appealing to the NT.

“The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon tells us that…”

Does Loftus think that this is a scholarly reference work?


“Why should anyone today believe what an ancient person was led to believe because of a dream-like trance-induced vision? How does anyone know that such visions were actually from God, especially when we have logical difficulties with Christianity that we can think through? I'll go with logic over history everytime, especially a miraculous history which can be attibuted to visions.”

So no matter what the quality or quantity of historical evidence, Loftus would reject historical testimony to a visionary mode of knowledge every single time.


  1. If you read what I wrote, then I claim your God should know better than to choose such a poor medium as history to reveal himself in.

  2. What? Would you have Him reveal Himself to you now and thus leaving all the generations to follow you disbelieving your experiences as you do the ancients?

    If God revealed himself, if you documented God's interaction with people today, its impossible for it to not turn into an historical event that can be dismissed because of personal biases in the future.

    History does not seem to be the issue, but assumptions about reality which cause certain individuals to distort the evidence.

  3. Steve,

    I was never any good at history anyway. God should have chosen television as the medium He chose to reveal Himself in. I mean, I believe everything I see on TV. Oh well, I guess He just doesn't really exist...