Wednesday, June 07, 2006



Steven Carr said:

Craig ducked the question of other miracles.

The 'evidence' of other miracles seems just as strong as the evidence for the miracles of Jesus :-

Josephus's 'Wars of the Jews' was written with ten years of the events , by a direct participant , and he records eyewitness testimony - 'I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it' . He is referring to a heifer giving birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple.

Does Craig believe a cow gave birth to a lamb, in a work written within ten years of the event?

Surely this is just as well attested as the raising of the widow of Nain's son.

In the 'Histories' by Tacitus, he records that the Emperor Vespasian cured blindness with spittle and cured lameness. Tacitus writes ' Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.'

Does Craig believe Tacitus's reports, based on eyewitness testimony, and attributed by him to the god Serapis?

Does Craig believe Tacitus is just as reliable an historian when talking about Jesus, as when he was talking about Vespasian?

In Mark 8:23-26, Jesus cures blindness, partly by spitting on someone's eyes. Does Craig believe him?

In the Histories, Tacitus also records that a priest of the god Serapis, Basilides, was seen by Vespasian in the Temple, although Vespasian knew , and checked by sending horsemen to verify, that a moment earlier Basilides had been in a town some eighty miles distant.

Does Craig believe Tacitus, reporting the eyewitness testimony of the hard-headed Emperor/Soldier Vespasian?

In Acts 8:39-40, Philip was 'caught up' (same verb as in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul is 'caught up' into the third heaven) on the road to Gaza and reappears at Azotus.

Does Craig believe Philip, like the pagan priest Basilides, transported from place to place like a character from Star Trek?

And, of course, the evidence for these pagan miracles is much stronger than the evidence for the miracles of Jesus, which can be refuted using exactly the same methods of dealing with the evidence that Chriatians use when talking about the Koran or the Book of Mormon.

See m article 'Miracles and the Book of Mormon' where I use Christian techniques to analyse the New Testament miracles.


Obviously I can’t speak for Craig, so I’ll speak for myself.

I wouldn’t assume that Craig was “ducking” the question of extrabiblical miracles. This can turn into a very time-consuming debate, a separate debate.

I also can’t imagine that Craig has never had time to think about this issue.

Steven Carr overlooks any number of considerations:

1.The Christian worldview does not exclude extrabiblical miracles. If Vespasian performed a miracle, that would in no way disprove the miraculous ministry of Christ.

2.In fact, Christianity affirms the occurrence of miracles by agents of the dark side, from the Egyptian sorcerers (Exod 7-8) to the Antichrist (Mt 24:24; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13:13).

Miraculous attestation is, at most, a necessary, not a sufficient, condition of divine commissioning. It is not the only criterion.

3.Not every miracle is positioned to attest a prophet or a point of doctrine.

4.In Scripture, a miracle is not a freak show, but a purposeful event. A cow giving birth to a lamb is scarcely parallel to a biblical miracle.

Let us also recall that contemporeity is not the only criterion of authenticity.

5.Warfield regarded Vespasian as the fulfillment of 2 Thes 2:9. Works 2:610-111.

I don’t necessarily agree with his preterist interpretation, but my immediate point is that crediting Vespasian with miracles would not disprove the Bible. To the contrary, on Warfield’s reading, the career of Vespasian is a confirmation of NT prophecy.

6.Throughout the course of the debate, Craig was making his case according to Ehrman’s own criteria of authenticity.

Suppose we apply Ehrman’s criteria to Tacitus:

i) The Histories were penned about 30 years after the fact, i.e. Vaspasian’s rise to power. According to Ehrman, an account at least thirty years after the fact is unreliable.

So it flunks his test of contemporeity.

ii) In addition, the testimony is far from disinterested. As one scholar explains:

“Vespasian was able to make a successful bide for power at the end of the year of the four emperors (68-69) by skillfully sending back to Rome—for popular consumption and in advance of is return—tales of special favours shown him by the Egyptian deities and the special gifts they granted him,” H. Kee, Medicine, Miracle & Magic in New Testament Times (Cambridge 2005), 83.

So Vespasian had a vested interest in these stories. They served to further his imperial ambitions as a claimant to the throne.

As such, they flunk another one of Ehrman’s criteria.

iii) Apropos (ii), note the source of the report. Yes, it’s reported in Tacitus, but where did he get his information?

According to Kee, he is simply reporting what was reported to him in reports sent back to Rome from Egypt by Vespasian himself.

So do we, in fact, have any independent corroboration, or is Vespasian the primary source?

If so, then it lacks multiple-attestation.

That would flunk one more of Ehrman’s criteria.

iv) In addition, there are conflicting versions of Vaspasian’s thaumaturgy. But according to Ehrman, conflicting reports cannot be trusted.

So that flunks yet another one of his criteria.

So then, to apply Ehrman’s own criteria of authenticity to the claims of Vespasian: “For that reason, these accounts are not as useful as we would like them to be for historical purposes. They’re not contemporary, they’re not disinterested, and they’re not consistent.”

7.I know from reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul what kind of men these were.

I don’t know anything about the anonymous witnesses adduced by Tacitus.

We do know something about Vespasian. He was a very ambitious man. Ruthless and power-hungry.

Totally different from Jesus and the Apostles.

8.I do, of course, affirm Acts 8:39-40.

9.As to Mormonism, there are many ways of disproving Mormonism. For one thing, it’s a Christian heresy which claims to honor the authority of the Bible.

If, then, it proves to be unscriptural, that alone suffices to falsify Mormonism.

1 comment:

  1. Steve has made some good points. I'd like to add to those or restate some of them in a way that might help people better understand the issue.

    The logic behind the appeal to non-Christian miracle accounts can be applied to other issues as well. For example, we generally place a high value on eyewitness testimony in a court of law, but eyewitnesses sometimes lie or remember something incorrectly. Citing examples of unreliable witnesses wouldn't justify a rejection of the testimony of all witnesses. Rather, it should motivate us to realize the possibility of false testimony and to make the appropriate effort to discern between the reliable and the unreliable. Similarly, the fact that some people fabricate miracle accounts and the fact that miracle accounts sometimes contradict each other or are complicated to sort through in some manner shouldn't lead us to reject all miracle accounts. Rather, we should recognize the possibility of false accounts and be careful to discern between the reliable and the unreliable. We should also be careful in sorting through how one miracle report relates to another.

    We can distinguish between the quality of miracle accounts in two ways. One miracle account can be shown to be more likely than another. And among two miracle accounts that seem to both be reliable, one miracle can be of a higher quality than the other in some sense. If one man is reported by one source to have brought about rainfall by means of praying for rain, and he's not reported to have been associated with any other miracles, and the source giving us this information is writing 100 years after the death of the man he's discussing, do we conclude that the man who prayed for rain should be placed in the same category as Jesus? No. We would make the two distinctions I refer to above. A miracle such as Jesus' resurrection has much better evidence than just one report from one source 100 years removed. And the dozens of miracles Jesus performed are of much more significance than the one miracle associated with the first man. The individual miracles of Jesus have better evidence than the one miracle of the other man, and the combined weight of all of Jesus' miracles is far more significant than the one miracle that the other man is associated with.

    If there are both supernatural agents of evil and supernatural agents of good, we can see supernatural activity from both, yet distinguish between the type and degree of power displayed by each. There's nobody in history comparable to Jesus in terms of the variety and depth of power displayed, such as the fulfillment of detailed prophecy, making detailed prophecies Himself that were fulfilled, and rising from the dead.

    We would also make distinctions based on context. If a six-month-old infant would levitate, what would we make of such an event? If no message accompanied it, we wouldn't be able to make much of it. It would be an unusual event without much further significance. But if a miracle is accompanied by claims to be the Messiah or God incarnate, that's more significant. And if a miracle account is given in a context of seriousness and reverence, while another miracle account is given in a context of triviality and irreverence, the former would be more plausible. Somebody who testifies to a miracle at the cost of his own health or life, for example, is more credible than somebody making such a claim without having as much at stake. We have to consider the character of the individuals involved, their social context, etc. Steve Hays mentioned the apostle Paul as an example, and consider how much material we have on Paul. We have 13 of his letters and a document by one of his colleagues, Luke, that covers about 30 years of Paul's life in significant detail. Do we have comparable information by which to judge the sources Tacitus was relying on and the other sources Steven Carr refers to?

    I wonder, why would Steven Carr use the raising of the widow of Nain's son as an example? Do Christians cite that miracle as one of their primary arguments? No. They usually put more emphasis on Jesus' resurrection or fulfilled prophecy, for example. But even with the raising of the widow's son, we have the testimony of a highly credible contemporary of the apostles, Luke, who was in contact with Jesus' brother and other church leaders. Luke refers to the raising of this child as a highly public event that was widely reported. He was writing in a highly historical genre, he can be shown to be a credible source, he was writing at a time when eyewitnesses of Jesus could have denied such an account, he was writing at a time when Christianity had many enemies and Christians were often persecuted, etc. There are a lot of factors to take into account, not just the small number of factors that Steven Carr mentions (he singles out factors that supposedly favor non-Christian accounts while ignoring others that would go in the opposite direction).

    Carr absurdly claims that "the evidence for these pagan miracles is much stronger than the evidence for the miracles of Jesus". Either Carr is only referring to miracles he selectively chooses to discuss, such as the raising of the widow of Nain's son, or he's referring to all of Jesus' miracles. If it's the former, then so what? If it's the latter, then why should we think that there's better evidence for the miracles reported by Tacitus than there is for Jesus' resurrection? We have eyewitness accounts for Jesus' resurrection appearances, some of these witnesses are known to have suffered and died for a faith that had the resurrection as one of its essentials, the early enemies of Christianity corroborated the resurrection accounts to some extent (by acknowledging the empty tomb), etc. Some of the people who claimed to have seen the risen Christ had been enemies of Christianity (Paul and James). Belief in one individual rising from the dead before the general resurrection was significantly different from what was commonly expected in the society of their day. Etc. Where's the comparable evidence for what Tacitus reports about Vespasian? Do we have documents from the eyewitnesses themselves, were people staking their lives on the miracle reports, did enemies of Vespasian becomes followers of him as a result of seeing him perform miracles, etc.? If the Vespasian miracles are credible, is that an insurmountable problem for Christianity? No. Would it show Vespasian to be comparable to Jesus in terms of the power displayed? No. Would adding credible miracles from Vespasian to credible miracles from Jesus make Steven Carr's worldview more plausible? No.

    For those who are interested in reading more about this subject, I recommend consulting the work of Glenn Miller and J.P. Holding, both of whom have written about the sort of argument Steven Carr is putting forward:

    Glenn Miller in particular has written at length about distinguishing among miracle claims.