Saturday, September 23, 2006

An open letter to Shawn McElhinney

“To say that I see nothing in substance different from what Dave has done with my work and what Steve Hays did with it is demonstrably true. The difference I suppose is that I did not expect Steve Hays to adhere to basic scholastic ethics the way I do from Dave.”

“When Dave did those things, he lost all benefit of the doubt for he objectively cast himself in the same mould as the Steve Hays' of the world. Much as it would gall him to read that it is nonetheless true to type: on that issue, there was not a shred of difference whatsoever in what the latter sorts do and what Dave did.”

“The way my body handled the various traumas from 2000-2002 was a gradual mental breakdown of sorts in the cognitive area: a process that started probably in late 2000 but I did not notice it until the aftermath of my father's death and funeral in June of 2001. By November of that year, it was so bad I took a four-month web sabbatical and when I returned in March 2002, it had not improved much. By October of 2002, things were pretty close to back to normal but I can see some inconsistencies in my archives from August and September of 2002 viz. post quality. (A little in early October too but not much.) Nonetheless, they remain as they were posted because it was what it was and I will not pretend that things were differently out of a respect for both honesty as well as historical accuracy. Would that more people were concerned about those things but I digress.”

“And while I am hesitant to say anything about it on this thread for how some people will interpret it, Dave conveniently ignores the fact that I had to deal with twenty-three deaths of family and friends in the past six years!!! Even since Dave and I originally went to war over the bombing issue, there were five deaths in the period from August of 2005-April of 2006 -including my oldest childhood friend whom I have known since I was five (may he rest in peace).”

—I. Shawn McElhinney

When I’m too tired for serious work, I sometimes surf the web, which is how I came across this material.

In the first two paragraphs, Shawn is alluding to my analysis of his defense of the modern understanding of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.”

At the time I was commenting on Shawn’s material, I was unaware of his personal situation. I had been referred to his material by other Roman Catholics.

As a matter of my own personal experience, I’m only too aware the cumulative impact that cumulative personal loss can have on one.

Had I know then what I know now, I would have taken a less frontal approach in dealing with his material.

I might have generally summarized the arguments without any personal interaction.

For my unwitting insensitivity at this trying time in his life, I apologize.

Would Matthew Not Have Used Mark if He Really Wrote Matthew?

This sort of objection gets trotted out from time to time: If Matthew was an eyewitness, he would not have used Mark. Therefore, Matthew the Apostle did not write Matthew. Aside from the obvious assumption of Markan priority, which is the most popular theory but by no means certain, there are a number of problems with this objection.

The assumption is that it is unnatural to suppose that for information which Matthew, as one of the Twelve, had already received firsthand he would resort to a book written by Mark, a man who did not even belong to the inner circle of the Twelve.

For starters, the tradition that Mark authored Mark also includes Peter in that Mark is regarded as Peter's stenographer. In that event, Matthew is using Mark, assuming Markan priority, because Mark is, for all intents and purposes, Peter's secretary.

Second, there is some discussion about the young man who ran away at Gethsemane. If this was Mark as a young man, then Mark is an eyewitness of at least part of his own gospel.

Third, if Matthew composed in the Hebrew vernacular and/or, more concretely, in a Jewish / rabbinic style, this would fit with what we have in Acts, in which the Twelve were set apart for teaching, and the first major persecution was against Hellenistic Jews who had become Christians, in which case the Twelve were not among the persecuted. Indeed, Mark could well represent the written core of the teaching of the Twelve about Jesus which they compiled together. It would not be recorded until later, but Matthew had access to it, because the Twelve had gotten their teaching straight, as it were, while together in Jerusalem. Mark is, on this view, the core, Matthew is the extension of the core. Mark, on this view, in its written form comes later than Matthew, because Mark presumably writes it down near Peter's death. Matthew, on this view, comes first, and Matthew, since it borrows from the LXX not the Hebrew text for some OT citations, would be an extended version for the Hellenistic Jewish churches that were planted as a result of the dispersion. One does not need direct literary dependence, e.g. copying from one to the other on such a view, given that memory and verbatim passing down of liturgy was an extremely well developed skill in this society. What we have in Mark is, thus, on this view, the core liturgy. Matthew is a written version of that liturgy with added details from his notes. Matthew's gospel was historically popular for catechumenates to learn for use the more southern geographical areas of the Ante-Nicene church, so this hypothesis fits what we would expect. Should it be objected this is conjecture, the reply would be that Q, Markan priority, and whole host of other theories, especially the idea that communities of Christians composed the gospel involves much more conjecture.

That said, assuming Markan priority, there's a nother problem with the assumption that Matthew would not have used Mark. This assumption is used as a premise in two syllogisms with opposite conclusions:

Syllogism 1:
a. Matthew, eyewitness of Christ's ministry and hearer of his words, wrote the Gospel that bears his name.

b. A close witness, in writing the gospel, would not have felt a need to borrow from or outright use a gospel written by a non-eyewitness.

c. Therefore Matthew did not use Mark.

This one aimed at conservatives evangelicals and sometimes used by them. So, you see, when we discuss this assumption, we are not merely taking aim at critics like Jon Curry. Rather, we are taking aim at those on our own side of the aisle. More on this later.

Syllogism 2:

a. Literary comparison proves "Matthew" depends on Mark for a considerable portion of its contents.

b. A close witness, in composing "Matthew," would not have felt the need to borrow from or use a gospel written by a non-eyewitness.

c. Therefore, the Apostle Matthew, eyewitness of Christ's life and earwitness to His words, cannot have written the gospel, and the tradition that he did so is false.

In both of this the second premise is faulty. For starters, Matthean priority is another live option, so one is just assuming what he must prove in order to hold this in the case of Syllogism 2. The first syllogism is used at times by those asserting Matthean priority. It's a faulty syllogism for them to use, because it assumes a particular order of authorship as well. If one holds to Markan priority already and still uses Syllogism 1, then one would be holding a view that logically pulls away from Markan priority.

More importantly, however:

A. Neither syllogism explains the uniform external attestation to Matthew's authorship.

B. They also do not explain the uniform strong tradition that Mark was Peter's "interpreter."

C. One could, as alluded above one could construct a syllogisthis way:

a. The Apostle Matthew, eyewitness of Christ's deeds and words, wrote the gospel that bears his name.

b. There is uniform tradition that Mark "interpreted" Peter's teaching about Jesus.

c. Matthew mostly likely knew this and esteemed Peter highly, since he was "leader" of the Twelve.

d. Therefore, Matthew enthusiastically used Mark's Gospel. The conclusion that Matthew did not write Matthew if Matthew depends on Mark/because Matthew used Mark is a non-sequitur.

D. The 2nd above syllogism seems to assume that Mark does not reflect Christ's words and deeds accurately. Does it not do that? Does it not do so in a lively way? In order to assert that Matthew would not have used Mark, particularly in Syllogism 2, one is assuming that Mark does not authentically record the events it purports to record. Those who level Syllogism 2 thus tell us more about themselves than they do about the text of Mark. If I was going to write a biography of somebody I knew and somebody else I knew had written one already, and if I considered that a reliable source, why would I not, with his permission even, use that material and then enlarge it, perhaps arrange the material in a particular form for a particular audience to make a particular point? It seems, assuming for the sake of argument Markan priority, that Matthew and Luke would have been more than happy to use Mark, particularly if it was written first.

Christianity's Eyewitnesses

Earlier this week, Chris Price linked to an article by the New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham. The article is about early Christian reliance on eyewitness testimony, a theme I've been mentioning a lot in recent posts in response to Matthew Green, Jon Curry, etc. I don't agree with every detail of Bauckham's article (it addresses many subjects in some form), but I do agree with the general thrust of it. The early Christians were highly concerned with eyewitness testimony. Many eyewitnesses would have been alive and would have been consulted when the gospels and other early Christian documents were being composed. Bauckham's book on this subject is due out later this year. The article Chris Price links to is from 2003.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Jon Curry's False And Misleading Claims About The Textual Record

Jon Curry makes many false and misleading claims, and some of his worst have been about the textual record of the New Testament. Jon frequently accuses Christians of being unethical, yet he himself behaves unethically in the process, often giving us little or no evidence for his claims and often making claims that are misleading or false. As some of you may remember, Jon called James White's webcast earlier this year, and during his second call to the program he mentioned an argument for textual corruption made by Robert Price and made some misleading claims about the textual record himself. Elsewhere on this blog, Jon has written:

"The evidence is that copyists and others have a large tendency to modify the biblical texts and in other ways do unethical things to advance their own views. This is a unique situation that applies to Scripture and not to a lot of other ancient texts. I've heard it said that there are more textual variants in Scripture than there are words in the Bible....Clearly early Christians were not so ethical as to not put false documentation forward. You can start by looking at all the false gospels. Acts of Pilate. Gospel of Mary. Gospel of Thomas. Infancy Gospel of Thomas. You can look at the manuscript modifications as Bart Ehrman recently has put at the forefrunt of the discussion." (see here)

"This idea that we must assume the traditional authorship names because all manuscripts have it is simply not persuasive in my view. The first example of a text with the name would be something like 400 years after the fact. I am not of the opinion that changes can't occur without hard manuscript evidence in 400 years." (see here)

"There are Christian forgeries as far as the eye can see, and where we have a document that is not a forgery, in that case we have Christians modifying copies to suit their own ends." (see here)

I've already refuted the misleading claims Jon made about the textual record on James White's webcast. And I've refuted Jon's absurd suggestion that there are no gospel author names in the manuscripts until 400 years after the gospels. What I want to do in this post is address the more general issue of the transmission of the New Testament. (See the archives of this blog for more material on the subject, such as responses to Bart Ehrman.)

It should be noted that although Bart Ehrman gives a lot of attention to corruptions in the textual record, he also adds significant qualifiers and doesn't go as far in his conclusions as people who cite him, like Jon Curry, sometimes do. Ehrman has written:

"I do not think that the 'corruption' of Scripture means that scribes changed everything in the text, or even most things. The original texts certainly spoke at great length about Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The issues involved in the corruption of the text usually entail nuances of interpretation. These are important nuances; but most of the New Testament can be reconstructed by scholars with reasonable certainty -- as much certainty as we can reconstruct *any* book of the ancient world." (cited here)

I suggest that people read other textual critics in addition to reading Ehrman, but even if we only read Ehrman's assessment, he makes many positive comments about the state of the New Testament text:

"Most of these [textual] differences are completely immaterial and insignificant....In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple - slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another....when scribes made intentional changes, sometimes their motives were as pure as the driven snow....And so we must rest content knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the 'original' text. This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our interpretation of his teaching....In a remarkable number of instances - most of them, actually - scholars by and large agree [about what the earliest attainable text said]....It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was by and large a 'conservative' process. The scribes - whether non-professional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the Middle Ages - were intent on 'conserving' the textual tradition they were passing on. Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow them. Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited." (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], pp. 10, 55-56, 62, 94, 177)

Below are some comments from other sources.

"The New Testament grew in size from the earliest copies to the latest copies - fourteen hundred years later [from the first century to the sixteenth] - by about 2 percent. That is a remarkably stable transmissional process...Since the earliest texts that we have agree substantially with the later ones, if we were to project backward to the original, the changes from the original text to the earliest copies would be miniscule....Of the hundreds of thousands of textual variants, the majority are spelling differences that have no impact on the meaning of the text....The next largest category of variants consists of readings that do not affect translation or that involve synonyms. These are variants other than spelling and nonsense readings but nevertheless do not alter the way the text is translated - or at least understood....The next largest category consists of variants that impact the meaning of the text but are not viable. They are variants found in a single manuscript or group of manuscripts that, by themselves, have little likelihood of going back to the wording of the original text....The final - and by far the smallest - category consists of variants that are both meaningful and viable. Only about 1 percent of all textual variants fit this category. But even here the situation can be overstated. By 'meaningful' we mean that the variant changes the meaning of the text to some degree. It may not be terribly significant, but if the variant affects our understanding of the passage, then it is meaningful. To argue for large-scale skepticism because we cannot be certain about a very small portion of the text is a careless overstatement, yet this is just the impression given by Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar....The issues that textual critics face are, frankly, of such small importance to most other New Testament scholars that the latter often assume that there is nothing left to do in the discipline. The reality is that, although most of the text of the New Testament is not in dispute, some passages are....Only about 1 percent of the variants are both meaningful and viable. And, as we will see in our final chapter in this section, these do not affect foundational beliefs....whatever doubts we cast on the text of the New Testament must be cast a hundredfold on virtually any other ancient text. The New Testament manuscripts stand closer to the original and are more plentiful than virtually any other ancient literature. The New Testament is far and away the best-attested work of Greek or Latin literature in the ancient world....The smallest amount [of textual variants] (about 1 percent) deals with meaningful and viable alternative wording. But even here, the vast bulk of variants affect only minor issues related to meaning....The quotations by the church fathers of the New Testament number well over one million - and counting!...For the vast majority of the textual variants, there is simply no difficulty determining the original wording....Most New Testament scholars would say that there are far fewer textual problems in this category [viable and meaningful variants] than even 1 percent of the total....Most New Testament scholars would say that there are absolutely no places where [textual] conjecture is necessary....For the past forty-five years, the institute [the Institute for New Testament Textual Research] has been more influential than any individual, school, or group of scholars anywhere else in the world for determining the exact wording of the original New Testament. In short, they know their stuff. [quoting Kurt and Barbara Aland, the earliest directors of the institute] 'Every reading ever occurring in the New Testament textual tradition is stubbornly preserved, even if the result is nonsense...any reading ever occurring in the New Testament textual tradition, from the original reading onward, has been preserved in the tradition and needs only to be identified.'...Most in the discipline share their [Kurt and Barbara Aland's] views....The short answer to the question of what theological truths are at stake in these variants is - none. Most New Testament scholars are of the opinion that no doctrine, no teaching of the New Testament, is jeopardized by textual variants." (J. Ed Komoszewski, et al., Reinventing Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2006], pp. 55-57, 59-61, 63, 70-71, 81, 83, 105-107, 109-110)

"One number that appears often in this context is 200,000 variants in the New Testament...Taking the number mentioned above, 200,000, we first note that these variants occur in only about 10,000 places....Westcott and Hort, the two men most vilified by KJV Only advocates, indicated that only about one eighth of the variants had any weight, the rest being 'trivialities'. This would leave the text, according to Westcott and Hort, 98.33 percent pure no matter whether one used the Textus Receptus or their own Greek text! Philip Schaff estimated that there were only 400 variants that affected the sense of the passage, and only 50 of these were actually important. He asserted that not one affected 'an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.' The great American Greek scholar, Dr. A.T. Robertson, whose familiarity with the most intimate details of the Greek text is abundantly verified by his massive 1,454 page A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, indicated that areas of real concern regarding textual variants amounted to but 'a thousandth part of the entire text.'...The reality is that the amount of variation between the two most extremely different manuscripts of the New Testament would not fundamentally alter the message of the Scriptures! I make this statement (1) fully aware of the wide range of textual variants in the New Testament, and (2) painfully aware of the strong attacks upon those who have made similar statements in the past. KJV Only advocates are quick to attack such statements, but I stand by it and will document its truthfulness throughout the rest of this book. The simple fact of the matter is that no textual variants in either the Old or New Testaments in any way, shape, or form materially disrupt or destroy any essential doctrine of the Christian faith. That is a fact that any semi-impartial review will substantiate....A person who would read Codex Sinaiticus and who would apply sound exegetical methods to its text would come to the very same conclusions as anyone reading a Byzantine manuscript written a thousand years later." (James White, The King James Only Controversy [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1995], pp. 38-40, 45)

"The text of the Gospels is the best transmitted in the whole of antiquity: about six Gospel papyri go back to the period around 200 or to the second century AD, and a further nineteen to the third century; of course most of them are only small fragments, but some contain larger parts of the text. Together with the great uncials since the fourth century, the numerous later manuscripts, and the early translations, the attestation of the original text is so strong that practically all the secondary alterations to the text and interpolations can be picked up in the unbelievably multiple textual tradition....Once again: no ancient text is as well attested as the Gospels." (Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], pp. 28-29, 31)

Healthy And Unhealthy Skepticism

I'm continuing a discussion with Jon Curry on some issues related to early church history in another thread. Some subjects have come up there that I think warrant some attention in a post of their own. I want to address three points.

Jon has brought up Irenaeus' false belief about the age of Jesus. He uses that mistake as a justification for dismissing Irenaeus' testimony about the authorship of the gospels. I've discussed some of the reasons why Jon's argument is fallacious in that other thread, but I want to emphasize, here, one of the points I made in that thread. There is no early document that explicitly tells us that Jesus was such-and-such an age when He died. We arrive at conclusions about His probable age by means of putting together various pieces of information. We today may think that it's obvious that Jesus died in His 30s, since we hear that conclusion so often from pastors, historians, etc., and we so often see artwork, movies, and such that portray Jesus as somebody in that age range. But whether Jesus was in His 30s or 40s isn't of much significance to Christianity, and Irenaeus lived at a time when that issue hadn't received nearly as much attention as it has since then. As I explain in the other thread, it seems likely that Irenaeus reached his false conclusion based primarily on a misreading of John 8:57 and perhaps some other data. When he refers to elders of the church confirming what he was reporting, those elders probably only confirmed the historicity of John 8:57, an oral tradition related to some other passage of scripture, or something else that Irenaeus wrongly associated with Jesus' having lived to an old age. If those elders had taught that Jesus lived so long, it seems unlikely that so many other early sources would disagree with Irenaeus on the point. Irenaeus did make a mistake that he attributed, in part, to the traditions of the elders, but it was a mistake on a subject that's somewhat difficult to discern and about which Irenaeus didn't have nearly as much easy access to information as we have today.

Secondly, we ought to keep in mind that it's common for historical sources to be mistaken on some subjects. I remember seeing a television program on Josephus while I was in college. The program gave examples of issues where historians rejected Josephus' claims, yet the program went on to mention how Josephus is trusted on other issues. Similarly, witnesses in a court of law often are mistaken in many areas of their lives. One man may read his horoscope every day, another man may not remember his anniversary date, and another may have some false beliefs about American history. It wouldn't make sense for a defense attorney to try to undermine these three men's testimony about a crime they witnessed by mentioning their lack of credibility on the issues I just referred to. Tacitus was a Roman historian who sometimes had potential motives to make an emperor or Rome in general appear better than they actually were, but we can't therefore dismiss everything he reports on such subjects.

J.P. Holding has a good article on the gospels that I recommend reading. He writes the following after discussing the evidence for Tacitus and the works attributed to him:

"Comparably speaking, this evidence [for Tacitus] is vanishingly small compared to the incredible number of attestations and attributions by patristic writers [for the gospels], some few earlier than (but many as late as) those listed for Tacitus above. How can someone dealing with the evidence fairly claim to be sure of Tacitus' authorship of his various works (where such external evidence is concerned) and dismiss the Gospels, which have far better external evidence? I have recently checked a book titled Texts and Tranmission (Clarendon Press, 1993) which records similar data for other ancient works. Throughout the book classic works from around the time of the NT whose authorship and date no one questions (though some have textual issues, just like the NT) are recorded as having the earliest copy between 5th and 9th century, earliest attributions at the same period (for example, Celsus' De medicina is attested no earlier than 990 AD, and then not again until 1300!), and having so little textual support that if they were treated as the NT is, all of antiquity would be reduced to a blank wall of paranoid unknowingness. If the Gospels are treated consistenly, there will be no question at all about their provenance, but that is clearly the last thing critics want to do."

Craig Keener, commenting on attempts to deny that the same author wrote the gospel of John and the Johannine epistles, writes:

"No other author of antiquity could survive the nit-picking distinctions on which NT [New Testament] scholars, poring over a smaller corpus, often thrive. As a translator of Euripides for the Loeb series notes, Euripides’ ‘plays, produced at times widely apart, and not in the order of the story, sometimes present situations (as in Hecuba, Daughters of Troy, and Helen) mutually exclusive, the poet not having followed the same legend throughout the series.’ He would not fare well in the hands of our discipline." (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], p. 125)

D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, after addressing the external evidence for John's authorship of the fourth gospel, write:

"Most historians of antiquity, other than New Testament scholars, could not so easily set aside evidence as plentiful and as uniform." (An Introduction To The New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005], p. 233)

The double standard isn't just a result of a distinction between religious and non-religious literature. As Martin Hengel notes:

"Thus we have only one biography of Muhammad (who died in 632), by Ibn Hisham (who died in 834, 212 years after the Hijra), which has incorporated parts of the lost earlier biography by Ibn Ishaq (died 767). Although the chronological distance from the historical subject in the Muhammad biography is much greater [than it is with Jesus], the historical scepticism of critical European scholarship is substantially less here." (The Four Gospels And The One Gospel of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], p. 6)

People aren't threatened by the writings of men like Tacitus, Euripides, and Ibn Hisham as much as they are by the New Testament documents. Double standards are applied.

In closing, I want to comment on one other subject. Jon Curry has referred to Tertullian as a "vicious" and "wicked" man, and he recently suggested that Irenaeus was "lying". I think that when a person gets to the point of denying Jesus' existence and describing men like Irenaeus and Tertullian as vicious and wicked and liars, he's probably crossed the line from healthy skepticism to unhealthy skepticism.

Secular amorality

At 12:11 PM, Giordano Sagredo said…

As a naturalist I can see no alternative to some kind of nonrealism, because ethical claims will ultimately depend on contingent anthropological and biological facts. I take it that our brains paint the world with a moral hue in a way analogous to the way it paints it with colors and humorous people.

Even if we found a moral module, akin to Chomsky's grammar module, such that we could predict, given a person's environment and genetics, what they will judge to be ethical (i.e., their judgments about what actions they are committed to, and the intention that all people be so committed), this would not imply that those judgments are "true".

I think the best we naturalists can do is agree that, given certain goals by which to measure behavior (e.g., some utilitarian or deontic rights-based metric), we can engage in valid and sound arguments about how to achieve those goals.

In practice, this doesn't seem a big problem, but in theory you can think of scenarios in which it is disastrous (e.g., a Nazi society that considers itself moral for having "exterminated" the Jews, and in which dissent has been eliminated). However, moral repugnance is not enough to establish moral realism, any more than seeing colored objects establishes that color is independent of the observer. I take claims about morality to be on a par with claims about someone being humorous. Can we say objectively that Chris Rock is humorous? I don't think so. However, we can still have rational discussions of what color an object is, or how funny someone is, and our judgments about such things will evolve over time based on such rational pressures.

To Our Anonymous Muslim Apologist II

MA responded to my last post on Islam and his defense of it.

Like before, he is MA and I am PM.

MA: "Thank you for your time and effort. I am afraid once again I need to stress the reading part. You need to read the muslim interpritations of all these Suras."

PM: Thank you for your time and effort. I am afraid that once again I need to stress the responding part. You need to eventually respond to all these arguments.

MA: "Because you must agree that anything taken out of context could mean just about anything just like:

“Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the new covenant; poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins” [Matt. 26:27].

Then we should interpret this verse as jesus promoting drunkard and drunk driving if we will take it the way you quoted the Holy Quran."

PM: But even taking this out of context you can't get "drunkenness" and "drunk driving" out of it. So, you can't even get your weird conclusions out of a verse you intended to draw weird conclusions out of!

Second, it is one thing to claim that I've taken the Qur'an out of context and another thing to show it.

MA: "I started randomly with a good verse though. Would God order people to lose their minds and get drunk?"

PM: He doesn't, as you admitted, you took it out of context. And, furthermore, there's nothing about drunkenness in that verse."

MA: "If wine was god's blood then we should worship grapes."

PM: Despite the fact that the non-sequitur, you already admitted you took the verse out of context! Why waste your time writing about a verse you admit was taken out of context?

MA: "I would like to tell you that that verse from the Holy Quran was directed to Prphet Muhammed directly and only to him and it does not direct him to what you were wishing for which you spilled on this page. Instead he was told to go to test his data which he recieved from God against their's, and this might surprize you, the difference is what he was looking for here not an agreement. But what was more surprizing was that they came to the Prophet [PBUH] for guidance and to test him sometimes."


1) He's talking about sura 10:94.

2) It doesn't matter if it was directed toward Muhammad and Muhammad alone. The verse still claim that if Muhammad is in doubt then he is to "ask those who had the book before thee; the truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord, so be in no wise of those who doubt."

3) Even if we forget sura 10:94, there are plenty of other passages which support the reliability of the Bible in Muhammad's day, which is what we have today.

Sura 5:43 "But how do they come to you for decision while they have the Taurat (Torah), in which IS the (plain) Decision of Allah; yet even after that, they turn away. For they are not (really) believers." The Bible is reported as reliable enough for the Christians and Jews to look to the Torah for guidance, rather than needing to come to Muhammad.

Or look at sura 5:46-47:

"And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein IS guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah - a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil). Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers." Here "Allah" says that the people of the gospel should check their own Bible's in order to see if what Allah says is true! Why would Allah direct them to a corrupted text?

Or, why would "Allah" tell Christians and Jews to check the Bible they have WITH THEM in sura 2:40-41

"O children of Israel! call to mind My favor which I bestowed on you and be faithful to (your) covenant with Me, I will fulfill (My) covenant with you; and of Me, Me alone, should you be afraid. And believe in what I have revealed, VERIFYING THAT WHICH IS WITH YOU, and be not the first to deny it, neither take a mean price in exchange for My communications; and Me, Me alone should you fear." See, that which is WITH THEM can be used to "verify" what Muhammad is saying.

4) So, all you've done is to raise more problems for yourself.

MA: "I do not have enough time to go through every point you think you made but I will tell you this. I will respond little by little every day."

PM: But you had enough time to waste a paragraph making fun of the Lord's Supper and drawing absurd conclusions from a verse which you admit you took out of context?

Maybe you meant that you needed to run the things I said by your fellow Muslim internet apologists?

MA: "Until tomorrow just remember that Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth. Remember that Muhammed is the most popular name on earth. Remember that Islam is the most faught and agressed against religion on earth. And remember that Allah [TWT] promised that His chosen religion (Islam) will enter every house and reach every corner in the planet by means of those who support it and those who don't and it'd happening ;)"

PM: Until tomorrow remember that you've not once dealt with any argument in a real substantive way.

Remember that it's pretty easy to gain converts when their only other choice is to have their heads cut off. Real sincere conversions.

Remember it's not that Muhammad is remembered, it's what he's remembered for. I don't think I'd be proud of a guy who's remembered for making up a religion and telling people that Satan farts so he won't hear the call to prayer and if you have garlic on your breath while you pray, Allah will not listen to you.

Remember that Islam is the most aggressive religion on the face of the earth. I guess if you don't have a dog in the intellectual fight you need to resort to terrorism and death threats to gain converts.

Remember that Jesus promised to put all His enemies under His feet.

Remember that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Crocodile Nutter

The official memorial service for Steve Irwin was held yesterday.

A natural exhibitionist, his infectious enthusiasm and emphatic delivery won him a wide following.

The incident in which he hand-fed a crocodile while holding his month-old son in the other arm exposes a limited capacity for self-criticism.

But that was only disillusioning if you put a herpetologist on a pedestal to begin with. I thought he was a likable guy, in his rambunctious way.

I remember one time he described—as only he could—the first time he caught sight of his wife to be. Truly love at first sight—almost the equal of his love of cobras and rattlesnakes.

With his larger-than-life delivery, he would have made a great narrator of children’s stories.

Not everyone was as admiring, though. PETA Veep Dan Mathew said that Irwin “made his career out of antagonising frightened wild animals, that's a very dangerous message to send to children," while Germaine Greer, in a now famous or infamous op-ed, took the same tack:,,1865124,00.html

This goes to certain ironies in secular humanism.

On the one hand, many unbelievers are more overawed by God’s handiwork than are many believers. How do we explain this?

In the past, historical theology has suffered from a deficient eschatology. It equated the intermediate state with the final state. Hence, to be heavenly-minded was to hanker after an angelic mode of subsistence. By contrast, the earthly world was considered to be a spiritual snare.

Conversely, many unbelievers, due to common grace, pay unwitting tribute to the wonder and beauty of God’s handiwork.

Moreover, from their perspective, nature is all there is, so they might as well make the most of it.

This, in turn, leads many unbelievers to idolize nature. Instead of being a signpost pointing to God, nature becomes a surrogate god.

That accounts for the sanctimonious disapproval of Dan Mathew and Germane Greer. For them, Irwin was desecrating the inner sanctum of nature. Nature is their cathedral, and Erwin was defiling holy ground with his muddy footprints.

But Irwin himself was just as nutty in his own way, because he bought into the same worldview.

It’s odd to watch the way in which a hardnosed Darwinian can romanticize nature raw in tooth and claw.

He would risk his life to save a Saltwater crocodile. Why? What does that matter in the great scheme of things? Does nature care if a crocodile lives or dies?

A Saltwater crocodile is a magnificent beast, but it’s just a giant killing and eating machine.

Consider what Irwin said about crocodile farming and other sustainable animal-management programs:

“These Hitlers use the camouflage of science to make money out of animals,” says Steve. “So whenever they murder our animals and call it sustainable use, I'll fight it. Since when has killing a wild animal, eating it or wearing it, ever saved a species?

In Asia, Steve stormed out of a restaurant selling shark-fin soup. “'Sorry, mate,' I told the proprietor, ‘we're leaving.' He said, ‘But Mr Irwin, there're other things to eat. I said ‘You're not hearin' me. I cannot eat here. I will not eat here.' They are raping the oceans and stuffing up the food chain by eliminating the No. 1 predator.”

Hitlers? Rape? Murder? How do you account for such a sentimental view of sharks and crocodiles?

Such is the conundrum of infidelity. It dehumanizes man, humanizes the animal kingdom, denies the existence of God, and divinizes nature.

To Our Anonymous Muslim Apologist

In the combox of my post on Islam we've had an anonymous Muslim commenter trying to do Muslim apologetics. Most of his comments seem to not be a response to my arguments so much, but, rather, are used as his soapbox to rant about zionism, President Bush, and the materialistic Americans. Only recently has he even attampted to offer anything substantial. Since he's upped the ante, I'll make my response public.

Dear Muslim Anonymous,

Muslim anonymous will be MA and I will be PM.

MA: Allah or God in Islam is merciful. He tells us in the holy books especially in the Holy Quran that he forgives all sins except ascribing to Him

PM: What holy books? If Allah spoke in the taurat, as you admit, then what do you make of his claim that there is NO REMISSION OF SIN WITHOUT THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD? The problem here is that throughout the old testament we read, over an over again, that there can be no remission of sin without the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11; Eze. 18:4;).

For God to be just he must punish sin. Why did "Allah" require these bloody rituals in the Tauraut? Why do people in hell get their sins punished but people in heaven don't? How can guilty people escape punishment? If a judge in court today did not punish a law breaker we would cry, "A great injustice has been done!" So when God doesn't punish your sins, how has an injustice not been done?

Why did Allah say this?


4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

How do you interpret that?

MA: "If I have sins, and I do, only God can question me and therefore He only knows if I will go to heaven or not."

PM: I didn't ask you whether God know you'll go to heaven. That's an uninteresting claim to tell us that an all-knowing being knows something.

I asked how you can know that you're going to heaven.

I also asked you on what basis you can say that Allah will allow you to stay in heaven?

MA: "But in the Holy Quran and even the tampered-with bible He promises those who don't ascribe mercy and Heavens."

PM: Despite the fact that I don't understand this sentence, why would you say the Bible has been tampered with? What proof do you have of this? And, an embarrassing sura for the Muslim is sura 10:94.. In this sura we read:

"But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers.”

What we have here, then, is Muhammad telling people who doubted the veracity of his teachings to ask those who had the book before him (Jews and Christians) if what he was teaching was true. The problem here is that since the texts we have today are substantially the same as the manuscripts circulating in Muhammad's day, we would have Muhammad directing questioners to a corrupted text! If the Bible had been corrupted then why would Muhammad send his followers to verify his teachings from a corrupted text? This sura, then, testifies to an uncorrupted Bible.

This is not some isolated text, either. The Qur'an claims "Before thee, also, the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye realize this not, ask of those who posses the message” (sura 21:7). But those who “possessed the message” back then just happened “to posses” the same “message” that we posses today. There is simply not one shred of evidence testifying that a Bible completely foreign to the Bible we posses today was the Bible used by Christians in Muhammad’s day.

MA: "To those who asked about the Hadith and the Holy Quran or question them let's see the facts. Historians cannot even authenticate the existence of Prophet Jesus [GPUH] and let's be objective about it."

PM: There's some huge problems here:

i. Sorry if I don't take your word for it that historians cannot even authenticate the existence of Jesus. Do you have any actual arguments to back this claim up?

ii. Your argument is fallacious. You can't defend your books by pointing to (supposed) errors in other books. For even if I can't authenticate the existence of Jesus that does not magically take away the problems I raised for the Qur'an.

iii. Really, I don't think you've even attempted to read what I wrote in my post on Islam.

MA: "How is it logical that God leaves the whole universe without a ruler and comes down on a tiny planet that might not count in His eyes or is, with all it's contents, more tiny than ant to us just to let a bunch of crooks kick him around and humiliate him, and at the end murder him?"

PM: Well, you're confusing being able to understand something with it's being illogical. Show me the laws of logic violated by the hypostatic union.

Secondly, you show the typical Muslim ignorance and confusion. When the second person the trinity took on a human nature, that does not mean there was no God at the time.

Third, the Bible tells why God would let a "couple of crooks kick him around."


4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?

9 And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Who is this man called ?

Isa. 9

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.

Who sits upon the throne of David?

What do the "inspired apostles" (sura 21:7)say about Jesus?

Luke 2:32 "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;

MA: "What mercy is in that for us? How did such illogical sequence of fictional events clean our sins?

PM: The mercy is that the "iniquity" was laid upon Jesus and not us, where it should have been laid. Where is your iniquity laid upon?

Second, show how this "sequence of events" is "illogical."

Third, why does "Allah" say? "WITHOUT THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD THERE IS NO REMISSION." Jesus' blood was shed, therefore, there is remission. Now, I've given a logical argument. Tell me, if you can, how can your sins be cleansed, and Allah still remain holy.

MA: "Such stuff can only be found in cartoons. Humanity needs a more convincing story."

PM: What, like the story in the hadiths that Satan farts so he won't hear the call to prayer? Or, maybe you meant the story that tells us that Satan stays in our noses at night? Or perhaps you were thinking of the Qur’anic miracle that says Muhammad cut the moon in half with a sword?

MA: "If this story was true, then why nothing has changed? What in humanity's or earth's norm has changed? Tell me facts."

PM: This is pretty vague? This rhetorical question, beggs the question! People have been forgiven. They've been brought from death to life. Jesus did what Adam couldn't, thus imputing his righteousness to us. That's why "Allah" said this about Him,

Jer. 23:6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'

All power has been given to Jesus. His name is above all names. He's the final revelation from God (cf. Hebrews 1). Plenty has changed.

The Bible needed to be given in the vulgar languages so people could hear about Jesus, this eventually led to the invention of the printing press.

People needed to learn how to read and think so that they could understand the Bible and read it for themselves. They needed to learn how to exposit the Bible, the original languages, and how to apply logic to it, this led to the institution of the Universities.

Read, for example, "What if Jesus had never been born" by D. James Kennedy. Plenty has "changed" because of Jesus.

MA: "Islam says there is this One God who send reminders to all of humanity in different forms and shapes."

PM: Yeah, and I showed how this claim was the death nail for Islam. The Bible contradicts the Qur'an, thus "Allah" contradicts himself. If you say the bible has been corrupted, then your argument is with Muhhammad in sura 10:94, not me.

MA: "It says that who wants salvation needs to work for it added to believing in God."

PM: How can you ever be sure you've done enough work?

How can you force God to reward you for your work. What if he decides to up the bar just before you die? How can you be sure that even if you do the work Allah will reward you, he's not just. If he's just then he must punish your sins.

Lastly, why would "Allah" accept your works. For he says through the prophet Isaiah,

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6)

Don't you see? Allah himself, according to you, says that all your good works are considered as filthy before him!

God tells us that "if we keep his commandments" then we can dwell with him. He doesn't say that if we keep some of his commandments we can dwell with him and he‘ll let the others slide! God is perfect and requires perfection. His eyes are too holy to look upon sin. If you break some commandments, you pay the price!

MA: "God has set these rules and He is the first One to respect them and enforce them."

PM: God has not only set the rules, but he has set the punishment for the rules! If he does not always punish sin how can you say he "respects" and "enforces" the rules? Who pays the punishment for your (admitted) sin? Remember, "Allah" said that WITHOUT THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD THERE IS NO REMISSION."

MA: "Not all the jesuses or muhammeds in the world can save you."

PM: Oh, but you and your filthy works can save you?

MA: "If jesus was god and the salvation then what about the people before jesus? Who saved them?"

PM: What about them? They were saved the same way as people are saved today. The old testament sacrifices were foreshadows of Christ's sacrifice. They looked ahead to Christ, we look back.

The "inspired" apostles say this,

"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (Heb 11:24-26).

Indeed, the Old Testament spoke of Jesus. Since you believe Jesus was a prophet, and prophets cannot lie, then here's what your prophet says of the Taurat, Psalms, and prophets,

Luke 24: 26 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

So, was Jesus lying? If so, then the Qur’an is wrong. If not, then the Qur’an is wrong.

If you say this is part of a corrupted text then (a) the burden is on you to show this and (b) your argument is with Muhammad who in sura 10:94 says that the text was not corrupted.

MA: "If God's plan for us was to be one nation and believe the same thing then why are we different?If there was only one way for salvation then why is it only a bunch of drunks get it?! What about the other nations?

PM: Who said that "God wants us to be one nation and believe the same thing?" Why do you attack straw men?

There is only one way of salvation.

It is false to say that "only drunks are getting in." Murderers, gang members, adulterers, hypocrites, self-righteous folk, thieves, and every other kind of criminal in God's universe, is getting in!

Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous. You can trust in your own works, "but as for me and my house, we'll trust in Jesus." It is He who is "the author and finisher of our faith."

Save your money!

I see that his publisher has posted the table of contents for John Loftus’ magnum opus: Why I Rejected Christianity.

After the ubiquitous autobiographical filler, we get to his “cumulative” case, which consists of the following topics:

The Outsider Test For Faith…
Faith and Reason
The Christian Illusion of Rational and Morality Superiority
Does God Exist?
The Problem of Unanswered Prayer
The Lessons of Galileo, Science and Religion
Science and Creation
Science and Genesis 1-11
The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible
-Pseudonymity in the Bible
-Archaeology, the Exodus, and the Conquest
Historical Evidence and Christianity
Do Miracles Take Place?
The Self-Authenticating Witness of the Holy Spirit
Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Bethlehem?
“The Passion of the Christ”: Why Did Jesus Suffer?
Did Jesus Bodily Rise From the Dead?
The Devil Made Me Do It!
Hell? No!
Prophecy and Biblical Authority
The Problem of Evil
The Achilles Heel of Christianity

Then, after some more autobiographical padding, we have some appendices, including:
The Pharisees: Were They That Bad?

A few quick observations:

1.What we have are a series of stock objections to the Christian faith, viz. faith & reason, the Euthyphro dilemma, unanswered prayer, science and the Bible, ancient superstition, pseudonymity, the argument from silence, the possibility of miracles, the “myth” of God Incarnate, the Resurrection, hell, prophecy, the problem of evil, the new perspective on Paul, &c.

Clearly he has no original objections to level against the Christian faith. Just a bunch of warmed over, mouse-eaten scraps and leftovers of a bygone era.

2.For those of us who bother to monitor his blog offerings, there is obviously a good deal of duplication between his book and his blog.

And, indeed, what we’ve witnessed at his blog is not a cumulative case for atheism, but the cumulative unraveling of his case as every major argument of the Debunkers is shot down as soon as it pops its head above ground.

3.Also, if you glance at the pagination you’ll see how skimpy the treatment is on many major issues, viz. existence of God, pseudonymity, prophecy, archeology, miracles, &c.

Entire books have been written on each of these subjects. Entire books on just one aspect of each subject.

4.Needless to say, Loftus is hardly an expert on all these issues. He’s not a scientist or archaeologist.

A word of advice: save your money.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Like Totally Swedenborg, Dude, or The Gnarly Wipeout

Okay, I wasn't going to make anything of it but a guy who goes by the moniker "Swedenbord Dude" has been making a some comments in the combox of my post on Islam. Since Emanuel Swedenborg's a somewhat interesting guy to discuss, and I don't think anyone has discussed him (or, Swedenborgianism, or with a Swedenborgite) on T-blog before, I'll offer the first offense. Since I probably won't have time to continue this discussion, maybe other T-bloggers will join in, or T-blog commenters can join in in the comments section.

First, here's a bit about Emanuel Swedenborg:


"Emanuel Swedenborg (born Swedberg) (January 29, 1688 – March 29, 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, seer, and theologian. Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. Then at age fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase of his life, where he experienced visions of the spiritual world and claimed to have talked with angels, devils, and spirits by visiting heaven and hell. He claimed to be directed by God, the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the doctrines of His second coming....

By 1744, in the Netherlands, Swedenborg had completed publication of his scientific works. Shortly thereafter he travelled once again to London. Around this time he began having strange dreams. It appears in hindsight as though his mind was being assaulted by the diametrically opposed powers of belief and disbelief. He was dreaming about angelic states and about demonic states, about spiritual things and material, and was often very frightened. All these dreams he analyzed and wrote down in a notebook, found a century later and published as Journal of Dreams...

In October 1744 he was instructed by the Lord to abandon his old career as a scientist and pursue a new one in which he would write about spiritual things. He soon began working on The Worship and Love of God which was published in 1745.

According to Swedenborg's own account, the Lord revealed to him the doctrine for His second coming, by means of which He would establish the New Church. God commissioned him to do this work and opened his sight to the spiritual world, permitting him to see the heavens and the hells, and to converse with angels and spirits for many years."



And now let's look at "Swedenborg dude's" post:

SD: "Swedenborg claims to have been revealed to directly by The Lord God Jesus Christ."

PM: So? So does Joseph Smith. So does the apostle Paul. They all have contradictory revelations, so how do we distinguish who's telling the truth here? What standard do we use to determine who is speaking for Jesus, and who is speaking against him? How do we know that Swedenborg was not visited by either (a) a demon or (b) his own imagination?

SD: "He claims his revelation is similar to that of all those revealed to in the Bible and for other religions down through history. He mentions a book of the Ancients of Greater Tartary as a previous Divine revelation."

PM: Problems:

1) All these religions are contradictory. Jesus says that no one comes to the Father, except through Him (John 14:6). But "other religions" deny this. Moreover, who is Jesus. The Muslim's do not believe that he is God, and the Mormons believe that he is a god, among many. The Christians believe that He is fully God, but that there are distinct persons within the Godhead. Furthermore, according the Christians, the Son took on a human nature and that the law keeping and death of a full man is required to turn away the wrath of God. But, Swedenborgianism denies this and the atonement. Thus to mix contradictory religions does not somehow, magically, take away contradictions.

2) Or, is this "similarity" so vague as to be uninteresting? That is, Swedenborg speaks of a "god" and of "heaven" and of "angels," and since other religions use these same words, never mind the concepts behind them, it's now "similar" to them. Okay, but this tells me next to nothing about Swedenborgianism.

3. Why care what he claims? Maybe he was crazy?

4. He claims to have contacted dead people. But Jehovah expressly condemns this: Lev. 19:31; Ex. ch 7-8; Deut. 18:10; Ex. 22:18; Isa. 8:19-20. Why was Swedenborg exempt? Indeed, if he's just revealing what has been revealed before him then he's showing that his religion is not of God, or, the Bible is wrong. but he says he's following the Bible. So, either Swedenborg is following the Bible, in which case he's wrong to speak to people like Plato and Augustine (assuming he even did), or, he's not following the Bible but claims he is. Either way it looks like he's wrong.

SD: "His God is not multiple -- the opposite -- he is the ultimate monotheist. That is clear from his writings."

PM: But if an all knowing "god" revealed things to Swedenborg, why this huge blunder? Christians do not believe in "multiple gods." We are "monotheists." We are "ultimate monotheists." The proper distinction is to say his god belief was a monotheistic and monopersonalistic. And so this is enough to condemn him, or, maybe his "Jesus" can reveal errors?

SD: "His God is omnipotent, but cannot act contrary to His will. That is, God cannot do evil."

PM: Okay.

SD: "And God cannot take away our spiritual freedoms since His will is to provide us with spiritual freedom to choose to love Him or choose to love ourselves."


Jesus says, "No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).

So, NO men CAN come to Jesus. This means no men are ABLE to come to Jesus.

Swedenborg believesthat all men are able to come to Jesus. Unless what? Unless they "freely choose Him?" No. Unless the Father draws that man. The Father chooses who to draw and who to leave in his rebellion. Will all men be drawn? No. Because all who are drawn by the Father are raised by the Father on the last day. Since universalism is false, the proposition that all men are drawn is false.

So, this isn't Jesus' teaching, it's Swedenborg's. Since it contradicts Jesus' teachings, how can Swedenborg claim unity with Jesus? It looks as if Swedenborg was just making this stuff up.

Furthermore, to say that God cannot take away our freedoms is plain false. We know that Jehovah determined that Joseph would be sold in to slavery. God used the choices of Joseph's brother's to accomplish His plan. Could the brothers have thwarted God's plan? We also know that it is Jehovah who hardened pharaoh’s heart. Why would he do that to neutral willed pharaoh?

Lastly, what about in heaven? Can men be evil and sin in heaven? if they always have this free will that God has willed that they have, then even in heaven they need to have the moral ability to do evil!

SD: "Taking that away compels us to love Him, or leaves us out in the cold no matter what(Calvanism) -- not a spiritual worldview that I want to be a part of."

PM: But that fact that you don't want to be a part of the biblical (Calvinistic) worldview has no bearing on whether it's true or not. Secondly, if God cannot take a nature away then you could still sin in heaven. If God is just he would have to punish that. Indeed, if you "choose" to not love Him anymore, then would he send you to hell? If so, what assurance do you have that even if you make it to heaven you'll stay there?

SD: "Swedenborg claims that The Lord revealed the solution to this as the Doctrine of Permission. God doesn't deny us the choice of evil, if that is what we want. He permits us to turn away from Him if we so desire. Otherwise we are automatons with no free will of our own - machines really."

PM: Again, it doesn't really matter what Swedenborg claims.

If your choices are uncaused are they irrational then? And, how do you have events that have a beginning that are uncaused? Indeed, if Swedenborg's god is omniscient, then if he knows that you'll do X in the future, then you will do X in the future. Is not-X a real possibility? That is, if you did not-X then Swedenborg's god didn't know it, since one can't know falsehoods. If you can't do not-X, then how are you free in the libertarian sense? Is open theism your out?

Lastly, to mischaracterize the Calvinist position seems odd, again for the reasons stated above. Why would a perfect god reveal to Swedenborg a straw man position of Calvinism? Men do what they desire to do, they are not coerced, and that's what's required for freedom. Men are "able" to do otherwise in the metaphysical sense, but not the ethical sense. For example, it was prophesied that the bones of Jesus would not be broken. Does this mean Jesus had steel has his skeletal structure? Or, did he have real human bones? If they were real human bones, then they were breakable. Likewise, men have the metaphysical ability, i.e., they "can" move their arms this way or that, but they are ethically slaves to their sinful nature and will always act in accordance with that nature. They do not have the "ability" to act contrary to this nature since they are described as "dead men." Dead men "can't" do anything. Unless, of course, they are regenerated.

SD: "Swedenborg taught that the doctrine of faith alone is what has spiritually destroyed the Christian churches. He teaches that you can NOT win Heaven on merit - on that we agree. But he also teaches that you will NOT be a Heavenly person unless you do good as of yourself, knowing that it is the Lord who is able to do good through you."

PM: Sounds like more basic theological confusions. Here, justification and sanctification are confused.

If you cannot merit heaven then why do you have to do good works in order to enter heaven?

Sola fide does not deny that works are a necessary outcome of saving faith. That is, no one will enter heaven if they don't bear fruit, but this is because all those saved will bear good fruit. Works are an evidence of true saving faith. Faith alone does not deny that works are necessary consequents to saving faith. So, it appears that, again Swedenborg has misrepresented a position. One must wonder if this was really Jesus who spoke to him? Was Jesus lying to Swedenborg?

Also, why the equivocation? We talked about "winning heaven" without works and then you said that we can not be "heavenly people" without works.

If you are not saved by works at all, then you're saved by grace. Also, what happens to your sin? Is Swedenborg's god a just god? If so, how can he not punish sin?

SD: "He teaches that sin is loving oneself more than anything. And the opposite of sin is loving the Lord above all else and loving the neighbor as oneself. These are the two great commandments of the Bible and the basis for the Ten Commandments. So, sinning is breaking the commandments."

PM: So, if sin is violation of the law then how can a just God not punish violations of his law? What is the punishment for breaking the commandments in Swedenborg's thought? Remember, if he contradicts Jesus then he has problems, if he doesn't then he has problems since he denies the atonement.

SD: "Shunning evils as sins is the way to Heaven."

PM: Okay, so I actually do merit my way to heaven.

SD: "Unlike Calvanism, there is only a universal "predestination" to Heaven, that is, the Lord wills all to choose a life of Heavenly happiness, and has created us for Heaven. But many do not choose that. And as a result, must be separated from those who do -- Hell."

PM: Well, this is an egregious contradiction on your part! If God wills all men to enter into heaven then why do some enter hell? You had said above that God cannot act contrary to his will. And you said that he wills to give men free will, and they can choose to be with him or not. So, one "will" of God's is that all men enter heaven, but another "will" is that all men have the ability to deny heaven. So it appears that one of God's "wills" was "contrary" to his other will. I doubt you hold to the decretive and permissive wills of God as us Calvinists do, so what’s your answer?

SD: "According to Swedenborg's revelation, God cannot "save" a person who has chosen a life of sin."

PM: But "saving" them is his will, and he "cannot act contrary to his will." So, he should "save them." But, if he does then he acts "contrary to his other will." What's Swedenborg's god to do? Furthermore, it appears that the creature has sovereign control over the creator. Swedenborg's god seems impotent.

SD: "In fact, God does one better. He permits sinners to live their loves in Hell. There, these people can engage in their self love to their hearts content, as long as they do not harm another."

PM: So, he's kind of like a cosmic Disneyland?

And, what if "their love" is to "harm another."

SD: "Since this is their unwavering wish, they are restrained from doing so, and thus the Hell of Hell."

PM: What if my self love is that other's cannot have self love? Thus their self love harms another, me? So, would all people be in The Hell of Hells?

SD: "This is precisely the theology of the Bible, though."

PM: Verses please!

SD: "Back to Islam, as a Calvanist, you can only take 144,000 to Heaven."

PM: Huh? I don't know where you got that one from.

SD: "So, the questions re: Islam are moot -- they are all going to Hell in your Christianity anyway, regardless of whether they were raised up of Divine Providence or not. As well, 99.99999999% of all Christians are headed for eternal Hell fire. And 99.99999% of all Calvanists are headed for Hell Fire."

PM: Nothing happens "regardless of God's providence." The rest is based on your 144,000 view. I'm afraid you're confusing me with Jehovah's witnesses.

SD: "This is not my kind of God! Create people -- billions and billions of them -- so that He can burn them in eternal Hell fire. And your theology had to create Satan? Why the need? Your God was taking care of that already!"

PM: I don't know why you'd believe that "majority of people created will end up in hell" in my theology. I don't think there's biblical warrant for that.

But, in your theology, God is all knowing and he created billions of billions of people who he knew would deny him, and thus end up in the Hell of Hells. So, it looks like your god is not "your kind of god!

SD: "Swedenborg's theology -- claimed to be revealed by God -- is the opposite of that. Swedenborg teaches of a Heaven and a Hell that only a God of Pure Love could create. Supported by free will, God created a way where angelic people can be truly happy in Heavenly joy, and a way for evil people to be as happy as they can be, given their loves, in Hell."

PM: Again with the mere "claiming."

How is Swedenborg's god "loving." He allows rapists and murderers to not get their just deserts. They have broken the law, and they get to go to cosmic Disneyland and be "as happy as they can be." Sorry, that's not "my kind of God." And unjust god is not the God of the Bible. And unjust god cannot be counted on to always act rightly. And unjust god, then, cannot ever be counted on and thus you have no security whatsoever.

Was the Pope Wrong?

Was the Pope Wrong?

By Timothy R. Furnish

Mr. Furnish, Ph.D (Islamic History), is Assistant Professor, History, Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody, GA 30338. Mr. Furnish is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Praeger, 2005).

One might think that Muslims would be offended because the head of the world’s largest Christian denomination considers them, well, unreasonable. But the rent-a-mobs in Gaza and Kashmir are proving the truth of his assertion in that regard. As for the numerous statements by Muslim spokesmen that the pope is “ignorant” of Islam and Islamic history—well, the reality is that they simply can’t handle the truth.

First, Muhammad was not just a man claiming that God spoke through him; he was also a political and military leader. Driven out of Mecca and taking the reins of power in Medina, Muhammad and the Muslims spread their faith not just via da`is (missionaries), but by the sword; in fact, Jews in Medina who refused to accept Muhammad’s prophethood (and who, to be accurate, were accused of plotting against King Muhammad) were killed or enslaved. The conquest of Mecca in 630 CE was accomplished at swordpoint, not by persuasion. The creation of a huge Islamic Empire by the first four caliphs, the Umayyads and the Abbasids (between 632 and the end of the first millennium CE) was carried out via conquest—not by handing out brochures. Granted, Jews and Christians within the Muslim-ruled territories from the Pyrenees to the Indus were not all forced to convert—but the relegation to second-class status known as dhimmah led, eventually, to the majority of people in North Africa and the Middle East converting to Islam.

The initial phase of Islamic conquests resulted in about half the territory of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire switching hands. For several centuries the borders stabilized and the Byzantines ruled a state pushed back into Anatolia and the Balkan Peninsula. But in the 14th century CE a new wave of Muslim jihadists, the Ottoman Turks, were again moving on Byzantine lands. This was the situation facing Manuel II, and no doubt his view of Islam as “evil and inhuman” was in no small measure influenced by watching what was left of his empire disintegrating. (Indeed, less than three decades after his death Constantinople would fall to the Ottoman ruler Mehmet II.) One might ask how many Muslims setting fire to Christian churches, or to effigies of the pope, are even aware of this? I suspect that even if they were, it would make no difference.

For, in the view of some Muslims, it is not unreasonable to spread their religion by violence, for two reasons: 1) it is the final revelation of God to humanity and 2) the Qur’an enjoins it. To paraphrase Dr. Henry Jones (Indiana’s father): “goose-stepping morons like yourselves should be reading your holy book instead of burning churches.” If they did, they would discover that:

Surah Muhammad [47]:3 says “When you meet the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads….
Surah Anfal [8]:12 says “I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the tips of their fingers.”
Surah al-Nisa’[4]:74 says “Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the hereafter, fight for the cause of God….”
Surah al-Nisa’[4]:56 says “The true believer fights for the cause of God, but the infidel fights for the devil.”
Surah al-Nisa’[4]:101 says “The unbelievers are your inveterate enemies.”
Surah al-Ma’idah [5]:51 says “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.”

Only in a truly Bizarro world can those passages NOT be an incitement for some to violence, to “evil and inhuman” acts. Are there other passages in the Qur’an mitigating these? Yes. But many of these more benevolent passages are also considered by many Muslims to have been abrogated by the more martial ones.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Apostolic Status Of Papias And Polycarp And Some Other Issues

I recently posted a reply to Jon Curry here that addresses some subjects that some of you may be interested in. For example:

Was Papias a disciple of John?

Was Polycarp a disciple of the apostles?

Did Papias make reference to John's gospel in his writings?

Does anybody before Irenaeus attribute the fourth gospel to John?

Were the gospels possessed by the early Christians the same as the gospels we have today?

Well I'll be damned!

Therefore, based on your belief that the Catholic Church is "an apostate denomination" (stated later in this same paper), I MUST be an apostate (at least in a "theological, doctrinal" outward sense), since I accept all that teaching (and I understand perfectly well what it is that I accept: not in the sense of exhaustive knowledge, of course, but in terms of the particular tenets and doctrines that Catholics are required to accept and believe in faith). There is no logical way out of this.

I appreciate Dave’s frustration. It’s hard for a small-timer to maintain his self-esteem. It’s discouraging to know that you didn't make the cut.

But I do have standards. I’m not about to debase the coinage of “apostasy” by bestowing that label on every wannabe. Sorry, Dave, but you need to take your place at the back of the line and wait your turn.

As one can see, “apostasy” is coveted title. Clearly there’s a need for one of those “reality shows” in which contestants vie with one another for the prize of being the biggest and baddest apostate of them all.

A cross between Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice, The Ultimate Fighter, Fear Factor, and Blind Date.

But as a consolation prize, maybe we should also distinguish between A-team apostates and B-team apostates, or senior and junior apostates.

The A-team would include the likes of Simon Magus, James Barr, Bauer, Briggs, Bultmann, Chauncy, Crowley, Darwin, Driver, George Eliot, Martin Gardner, Ingersoll, Julian, George McDonald, Henri de Navarre, Nietzsche, Priestly, Spong, Sozzini, Swedenborg, Templeton, Toland, Wellhausen, &c.

The B-team might include also-rans like Barker, Babinski, Harvey Cox, Bobby Price, Loftus, and so on.

As a personal favor to Dave, I guess I could always create a C-team: a Special Olympics of Apostasy.

But short of a Black Mass or child sacrifice, he just hasn’t done anything impressive enough to make the grade. Sorry to disappoint.

You can’t expect special treatment just because of the wonderful relationship we’ve built up over the years.

Now, I’m a fair-minded man, so I’m willing to give you a second chance if you can spice up your resume with a ritual Satanic slaying or two. But I can’t give you a social promotion with so many worthier contenders to consider.

The award will mean a lot more to you when you’ve had a chance to really earn it.

The atonement


Mathetes said:


I'm curious what you mean about the comment, "...if you think that sin is a question of alienation rather than guilt, then you take the atonement for granted..."

If someone thinks that sin is a question of alienation, do you mean they view sin as merely keeping one out of God's family? I'm not familiar with this expression.


Biblical soteriology has both a Godward and manward dimension.

It isn’t just that fallen man has turned his back on God. Rather, there’s a divine impediment as well.

Sin creates a moral obstacle. Not only must man be reconciled to God, but God must be reconciled to man.

God is righteous, but man is unrighteous. How do you bridge the gap?

This dimension is captured by such forensic categories as redemption, justification, and propitiation.

There are, however, theological traditions and professing believers who reject the forensic framework in toto. They repudiate the whole notion of divine wrath, to be appeased by penal substitution.

This is offensive to their tender sensibilities.

So, for them, the obstacle to reconciliation is strictly one-sided. The gates of hell, assuming they still believe in hell, are locked from the inside, not the outside.

In place of a full-orbed Scriptural view of salvation, the atonement is recast in Existential terms.

God is not alienated from man, but man is alienated from God.

Sin is redefined as a lack of wholeness or wellness.

There is a grain of truth to this lopsided soteriology, but it’s a severely truncated and secularized version of the atonement.

And, indeed, it’s meant to be. It’s meant to make salvation palatable to “modern” man.

“Modern” man, so we are told, cannot stomach all that barbaric rigmarole about blood atonement and the judgment of God.

But he can “relate” to the concept of alienation. Of dysfunctional relationships. This is a way of making the atonement “relevant” to modern man.

We don’t need the cross. The parable of the prodigal son says it all.

(Of course, we mustn’t use the word “man” anymore, since that’s sexist and patriarchal and homophobic and heteronormative.)

So that, in a nutshell, is what I mean.

Could “Reformed” Catholics Ever be Calvinists? An Ecumenical Proposal

Could “Reformed” Catholics Ever be Calvinists? An Ecumenical Proposal

There has been some discussion lately as to the status of “Reformed” Catholicism theology within the circle of the Reformation. I have been very clear in the past in affirming the fact that I do not view “Reformed” Catholic theology as either authentically Catholic, nor authentically Reformed in outlook. This despite my low regard for fence-riders like Kevin Johnson, Tim Enloe, and Paul Owen.

“Reformed” Catholicism in America is essentially a product of our country’s rugged individualism, disestablishmentarianism, and denominationalism—where schismatical day-trippers can sample a dash of Catholicism here, and a dash of Evangelicalism there.

What would have to happen for my assessment of that to change?

1.“Reformed” Catholics would have to give up their all-too-common a la cart mentality, which cherry-picks whatever it fancies in historical theology while mouthing “catholicity” in every other sentence.

2. “Reformed” Catholics would have to be willing to leave Babylon behind and relocate themselves Biblically within the remnant of the universal church, rather than with the husk of various dead and dying denominations outside the pilgrim church of the ages.

3. “Reformed” Catholics would have to have a genuinely Reformed understanding of the covenants, which sees the Church of Rome as the continuation and fulfillment of the true Synagogue of Satan (WCF 25:5-6).

This would mean that the universal Church would have to be seen as an invisible society on heaven and earth, consisting in the whole number of the elect, which is larger than any local congregation (WCF 25:1). In other words, Christianity is a gracious faith, which one objectively does or does not belong to, not by outward rites and ceremonies, but by election, redemption, and regeneration.

In my opinion, even Anglo-Catholics are schismatic in essence (as seen by their membership in splinter groups and breakaway sects twice-removed from Rome).

4. “Reformed” Catholics would have to agree with the word of God that regeneration is immediate rather than mediate, and place their faith in Christ alone rather than a wafer or a thimble of wine.

6. ”Reformed” Catholics would have to recant their Pharisaical view that “we are Abraham’s seed” by virtue of our parentage (Mt 3:7-10). In other words, they would have to have an authentically Scriptural view of the family of God.

Moore is less

Victor Reppert has posted a somewhat stream-of-consciousness response to my last reply in our ongoing dialogue on inerrancy:

VR: My claim was twofold. First, the word "inerrancy" conjures up in the minds a kind of lead-footed literalism that would force us to accept Young Earth Creationism, etc.

SH: Is that what the term conjures up? I guess the connotations of the term depend on what historical background one brings to the term.

To take a few examples, the members of the ICBI generally, and the signatories to the Chicago Statement in particular, were not committed to YEC. Some were OECs.

Warfield was a theistic evolutionist. E. J. Young and Oswald Allis (founding faculty of Westminster) were OECs. So was Carl Henry.

So perhaps we need to distinguish between a popular misconception and what inerrancy actually stands for according to its representative spokesmen.

At the same time, YEC shouldn’t be treated as a conversation stopper. Men like John Byl and Kurt Wise deserve a fair hearing.

VR: It would also, for example, force us into the hands of the universalists in response to such passages as "Every knee shall bow," etc.

SH: Reppert has a confusing habit of oscillating between inerrancy and hermeneutics. Here he seems to be equating inerrancy with literalism—as he understands it.

But inerrantists aren’t literalists per se. That’s not their guiding principle.

Rather, they interpret the Bible literally if they think the grammatico-historical method favors a literal interpretation.

And even that is not the same as inerrancy. James Barr interprets Gen 1 literally, but he rejects inerrancy.

VR: What any interpreter will do at that point is to supply "context" into which the passage fits. They will argue that the error emerges from reading the passage to narrowly and not adding in the context. (I want to point out that there is a danger that what we call "context" is simply the whole boatload of preconceived theology and Sunday School lessons that we brought to the text in the first place). So a "lead-footed" inerrancy proves too much, but a more sensible inerrancy might not in fact do enough work.

SH: Well, it may be that a “lead-footed” inerrancy proves too much, but this is a straw man argument.

Reppert appears to be equating inerrancy with certain fundy popularizers like Henry Morris, John Hagee, or LaHaye.

But televangelism doesn’t set the bar. Even as far as fundamentalism is concerned, we need to judge it by its best representatives as well as its worst. By scholars like Harold Hoehner, Darrel Bock, and Daniel Block.

It wouldn’t hurt Reppert or Vallicella to read, let us say, V. Philips Long on The Art of Biblical History or Craig Blomberg on The History Reliability of the Gospels to acquaint themselves with a more highly inflected understanding of inerrancy.

It also wouldn’t hurt to dip into some standard Evangelical commentaries on Ruth (e.g. Block, Hubbard) or Jonah (e.g. Alexander, Baldwin, Stuart).

VR: Exactly what does it take to make out the claim that so-and-so is really making an error attribution to Scripture? Augustine is the classic example of someone who would if asked have affirmed "inerrancy" in a heartbeat, and yet developed a theory of origins that, if anything, looks more like Darwinian evolution than Young Earth Creationism.

SH: I think we need to make allowance from a theologian’s historical position. Knowledge is cumulative.

Augustine was a philosophical and theological genius with an intimate knowledge of the Latin classics. But he never attained the same fluency in Greek, much less Hebrew.

He knew next to nothing of Second Temple Judaism, much less ANE history.

VR: Was Gundry attributing error to Matthew when he analyzed it in terms of midrash?

SH: No, he wasn’t. But that’s not the only issue. Even if he wasn’t attributing error to Matthew, there’s the additional question of whether his identification was erroneous, and whether certain erroneous interpretations are simply out of bounds.

Christianity has a social dimension, as a community of faith. Social cohesion depends on a certain measure of like-mindedness.

Christians are believers. They must hold certain beliefs in common to enjoy a common life.

Since some readers may not know what we’re talking about, let’s take a closer look at the controversy surrounding Gundry:


Robert Gundry is the author of Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Eerdmans,1982), a mammoth 652-page study of the first Gospel that has stirred the opposition of conservatives everywhere because of the enthusiastic use it makes of the scholarly technique in biblical studies known as "redaction criticism." This discipline presupposes that the four Evangelists, especially Matthew and Luke, have adapted the deeds and words of Jesus to fit the life and experiences of their readers. For example, redaction critics would argue that Matthew adapted his prose to the rocky topography of Palestine and quoted Jesus as saying the wise man "built his house upon the rock" (Matt. 7:24). Luke, writing perhaps for readers in Greece, with its thick soil, felt it necessary to have Jesus specify that the man "dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock" (Luke 6:48).


Taken by itself, redaction criticism isn’t all that controversial. Basically speaking, conservative redaction critics arrive at conservative interpretations while liberal redaction critics arrive at liberal interpretations, and the moderates fall somewhere in the middle.

This is not to say that redaction criticism is purely subjective; merely that a given methodology doesn’t generate automatic results, for there are a number of background assumptions and concrete judgment calls which will still be feeding into the net result.

For example, Gundry said:


In a rejoinder, Gundry writes, "I deny in some texts what would be the literal, normal meaning for a reader who assumes a modern standard of history, but not what I believe to be the literal, normal meaning for the original audience, or even for a modern audience that is homiletically oriented."


This statement, left to itself, is unobjectionable. But it has no directional force. It leaves, to be penciled in, the key question of how we reconstruct the “literal, normal meaning for the original audience.”

What got Gundry into trouble was the next step:


Even more controversial has been Gundry's suggestion that in the "infancy narratives" (Matt. 1, 2) and elsewhere Matthew uses a Jewish literary genre called midrash. Like many preachers today, the writer of a midrash embroidered historical events with nonhistorical additions. When, for example, a preacher in a sermon quotes the conversation between Adam and Eve in the garden, he is embroidering a biblical text to help his hearers understand a point, but his hearers do not reject what he says simply because the conversation is not historical.

Similarly, Gundry argues, Matthew has freely changed stories that are related more historically in Luke. Gundry says, for example, Matthew changed the shepherds in the fields into the wise men from the East because he wants to foreshadow and emphasize the mission of Jesus to the Gentiles. Gundry does not believe wise men visited Jesus.


Was Gundry attributing error to Matthew? No. But there’s more to the doctrine of inerrancy than what an isolated individual happens says or thinks about Scripture. There is also the communal understanding of Scripture. There is—in a word—the church.

BTW, I’m not saying that his position should be dismissed out of hand because we don’t like the consequences of what he said. It needs to be evaluated on its own merits, or lack thereof.

Also, up until now, I’ve been using this vanilla-gray rhetoric about the community of faith. But, of course, Christendom is divided and subdivided.

Now, there are theological liberals who have no problem with Gundry’s position on the allegedly fictitious character of the Matthew’s nativity scenes. Indeed, many of them are well to the left of Gundry—such as the Jesus Seminar.

Is that acceptable? Depends on whom you ask. Acceptable to whom? No one person speaks for Christendom.

And that’s the point. This controversy, like so many others, raises the perennial question of what makes a Christian community to be Christian. What constitutes a credible profession of faith? Absent a common object of faith, there is no church—no corporate identity, but only individual identity.

Different professing believers give different answers, but while they don’t all agree with one another, they do form various associations of like-minded individuals.

Suppose, for instance, Gundry were to apply his midrashic analysis to the Easter narratives instead of the nativity accounts? Suppose he were to dehistoricize the Resurrection?

Would he be attributing error to the Resurrection accounts? No. But that wouldn’t render his interpretation any more acceptable.

And even where we agree certain essentials of a common creed, there may be other areas of disagreement which preclude full participation across the board.

As a result, professing believers can and do form rotating associations on varying points of agreement. There are different degrees of Christian affiliation. It isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition.

VR: Is Pinnock an inerrantist or not.

SH: I don’t know. He used to deny inerrancy, but now he says he’s prepared to retract those older denials.

I don’t really care because his other errors (open theism; conditional immortality) are just as bad.

VR: The Chicago Statement, which has been touted as the locus classicus for inerrancy, seems to back away from drawing out all the hermeneutical implications that many advocates of the doctrine have defended.

SH: It is difficult to come up with general language that will capture every contingency. So many cases must be left to the discretion of a larger body of believers, or responsible subset thereof.

VR: The book that spelled all this stuff out, ironically enough, is Pinnock's early book Biblical Revelation. There, he claims Ruth cannot be fictional, since for it to be fictional would be to attribute a deceitful literary form to Scripture. But there are plenty of people who would continue to use the word inerrancy who would deny that Pinnock drew all the correct consequences of inerrancy, including a guy by the name of Clark Pinnock.

SH: Yes, you’re always going to have differing points of view, and to that I’d say two or three things:

1.Reppert is not a Pomo relativist who regards all arguments or alternative positions as equally good.

It isn’t just a matter of registering the existence of opposing opinions. Opposing positions on the historicity of Ruth or Jonah or Daniel cannot all be true. Opposing positions cannot be equally faithful to the original.

2.And at this point I’d also say: thank God for denominations!

Unlike a big tent affair, such as Roman Catholicism, Protestants don’t have to fudge a Delphically duplicitous compromise position in order to keep everyone under the same roof.

I’m grateful for liberal denominations. I’d glad to have a clear-cut separation between Bible-believing Christians and nominal believers.

3.I’d add that the Bible was meant to be interpreted. It was given to be interpreted.

So often the critics of sola Scriptura act as if there’s a terrible gap in the Evangelical doctrine of Scripture. On the one hand we profess to believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture. God controlled the outcome from start to finish.

On the other hand, that’s where it ends. He leaves this infallible book in the grubby hands of all those fallible theologians and errant commentators.

From total control to no control. Hands on where the inspiration of Scripture is concerned, but hands off where the interpretation of Scripture is concerned.

Well, there are Protestant traditions which are vulnerable to this charge.

But in Calvinism, divine providence is always in play. Inspiration is, itself, a subdivision of providence.

It’s not as if God seizes upon Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul out of the blue.

God is orchestrating the very events they report. God is responsible for the family tree that gives rise to Moses, David, Isaiah, and so on.

God is responsible for where and when they are to be born. For their natural aptitude and education.

God is also responsible for the effect which is word has on the hearer. God has a will for his people. A will effected through his word.

God’s will is that his people should come to a saving knowledge of himself through his spoken and inscripturated word.

Even misinterpretations serve a purpose in the plan of God. Most of the Jews failed to see in Jesus the fulfillment of OT expectation. But their false expectation was, of itself, instrumental in the very fulfillment of OT expectation.

VR: I think everyone, including C. S. Lewis and myself, or Pinnock for that matter, who thinks of Scripture as special revelation, also accepts some version of the doctrine of inerrancy. I mean God can't be sitting up in heaven saying "Darn that guy I'm inspiring to write I Samuel. He's saying I wanted all the Amalekites killed!"

SH: Yes, but this misses the point. Do we have a Biblical doctrine of Biblical inspiration? Does our view of Scripture arise from Scripture?

Does what we believe about the Bible resemble the object of belief? Does it correspond to the self-understanding of Scripture?

Or is our theory of inspiration some ad hoc simulacrum in which we begin from a frame of reference outside of Scripture, then see how much of Scripture we can squeeze into the preexisting mould of our conceptual cookie-cutter.

But at that point we’re just keeping up appearances. If the Bible is the word of God, then it speaks with divine authority. It’s not something you can cut down to size or trim around the edges and still take seriously on its own terms.

VR: However, Steve seems to think that all beliefs on matters of faith should be determined simply on an analysis of what we find in the biblical text, without asking any further questions of whether that is plausible on other grounds, such as scientific ones. One must sign oneself to believe whatever we find through a grammatical analysis of Scripture.

SH: This is a fairly accurate summary of my position, although I’d refine it in some respects.

1.On the one hand, the Bible is silent on many issues of faith and practice. On the other hand, the Bible speaks to more than narrowly theological issues.

2. As to the question of plausibility, I’m not exactly sure where Reppert is going with this.

i) Is he saying that scientific plausibility (to use his own example) selects for the correct interpretation?

a) But that can’t be right. For one thing, it would be grossly anachronistic.

b) For another thing, the “correct” interpretation would vary from one generation to the next.

For example, it’s unintentionally ironic to read 19C reinterpretations of Gen 1 which skillfully reconcile Gen 1 with the exact requirements of 19C science. And that’s because the details of 19C science are obsolete.

ii) Or is he saying, not that extrinsic factors determine the true interpretation, but they determine whether the true interpretation is true to the facts? Is the correct interpretation a correct description of the way the world really is? But there are a couple of basic problems with this as well:

a) It involves turning the Bible into a true or false exam. You go through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, putting a “T” or “F” beside each verse, then tally the results.

This leaves you with an utterly subjective, piecemeal theory of inspiration. The Bible is inspired whenever I happen to agree with it, which also differs from where you happen to agree with it.

b) It is also a belated exercise for a professing believer to be asking about the plausibility of this or that passage when he interprets the Bible.

That’ss a preliminary question regarding the identity of the Bible as the word of God. He should have made up his mind on the general plausibility of that particular claim and taken this to be a settled issue whenever he comes to the Bible—for his views with respect to the identity of the Bible intersect with his Christian identity.

To treat the plausibility of Scripture as an open question, to be revisited every time he opens the Bible to some specific verse, betrays a failure to answer first things first. This should have been worked out at the onset of his Christian profession.

It is, of course, possible to revise one’s preliminary judgment. But that has less to do with the identity of the object (the Bible) than it does with the identity of the subject (the reader, as a Christian or not).

VR: But what I would say is that I don't accept the complete subordination of all other forms of knowledge to the knowledge gathered through bibical exegesis.

SH: I agree that one form of “knowledge” is not subordinate to another form of “knowledge.” But that sidesteps the question of what counts as knowledge. What is our source and standard of knowledge?

Is the Bible divine revelation? Is so, then— yes, we ought to subordinate our opinions to the superior wisdom of God.

VR: We know that pi is 3.1416... not 3.

SH: I guess this is an allusion to the dog-eared example of the bronze basin in 1 Kgs 7:23 (par. 2 Chron 4:2).

Now, there have been various efforts to save the accuracy of this figure. Some distinguish between the inside rim and the outside rim. Others distinguish between a hemispherical and a cylindrical shape.

Either explanation may be correct. But they also miss the larger point.

We don’t “know” that pi is really 3.1416 rather than 3.

Notice that Reppert doesn’t give the full decimal expansion of pi. Why is that? Because, of course, the decimal expansion is infinite.

So he settles for a round number. And it’s quite likely that the Bible writer was also using a round number.

No doubt it’s rather more accurate to round it off at the 4th decimal place. No doubt it would be even more accurate to round it off at the millionth or billionth or trillionth decimal place.

But it’s not as if Reppert’s approximation is true, while the Biblical figure is false. Since both figures merely approximate the exact ratio, it’s a category mistake to say that one approximation is true while another is false.

The Biblical figure would only be erroneous if the Bible writer were aiming for a certain degree of technical precision.

In the nature of the case, precision is a relative concept. For no spatiotemporal instantiation of a numerical relation is absolutely exact.

VR: There is good reason to believe in an ancient earth.

SH: Up to a point, I don’t dispute the fact that our conventional dating techniques are “reasonable.”

But they are also circular and theory-laden. They make certain unprovable assumptions about the uniformity of nature. They postulate certain initial conditions. And they also presume that certain natural processes can be put to use to derive a chronometric result which has nothing to do with their design function.

While this is not unreasonable, it is also unprovable. And it becomes unreasonable when a scientist begins to equate his anthropomorphic manipulation of nature with an actual clock in the sky.

It also becomes unreasonable when one doesn’t bother to consider the implications of creation ex nihilo.

So this isn’t a simple matter of merely following the raw evidence wherever it leads. Rather, we’re dealing with a theoretical construct which is underdetermined by the evidence. And more than one theoretical construct is compatible with the very same body of evidence.

One of the ironies I find in this discussion is the lack of philosophical sophistication. Dr. Reppert is very astute and nuanced thinker on the subject of dualism. And Vallicella is a brilliant metaphysician.

But when they get on the subject of inerrancy, the objections they raise do not evince anything like the same level of philosophical self-reflection.

For example, what do we see the world when we see the world around us? What is Reppert’s theory of perception? And can his theory of perception underwrite scientific realism?

VR: and God has provided us with minds to discover some truths in methods that are not simple a matter of Bible study.

SH: True.

VR: Even if the Scripture is inerrant in some important way, Scripture readers and students are quite errant.

SH: True. But why doesn’t Dr. Reppert say the same thing about a scientist?

VR: We do have more knowledge and understanding which may conflict with a straightforward acceptance of actions attributed to God as good.

SH: I don’t see this at all. Certain types of knowledge are cumulative. But he is talking about our moral intuitions. Does he think that moral intuition is progressive? Does he think that the moral intuition of a man living in the 21C is automatically superior to that of a man living in the 1C? Newer is truer?

VR: No one should be expected to come to Scripture with a blank slate for a mind to be written upon by the text, and no one ever does.

SH: True, but the question is whether the Bible is in a position to correct our preconceptions.

VR: I know, about as well as I know anything, that an omnipotent being who condemns people to everlasting punishment who he could just as easily have saved without endangering anyone else's salvation is not a good being, much less a perfectly good being.

SH: With all due respect, he doesn’t know any such thing. This is a complex value-judgment which is predicated on the way in which he answers a number of interrelated questions. It’s not a direct deliverance of reason.

VR: So, a the end of all the verse wars about Calvinism, I'm just going to put my hand up in front of my face and do what William Rowe calls the G. E. Moore shift.

SH: This sounds like an emotional rather than an intellectual bottom-line. And it does go to a deeper dividing line.

1.There doesn’t seem to be any room for an element of trust in Reppert’s conception of Christian faith. Same thing with Vallicella.

Where the Bible is concerned, they live by sight rather than faith.

I’m not saying that the alternative to this is blind faith. I’m not a fideist. But neither am I a rationalist.

In Scripture itself, it isn’t a choice between taking everything on faith, and taking nothing on faith.

In Scripture, there are certain things we actually know about God. Not merely believe, in the weaker sense of defeasible opinion, but know for a fact.

And one of the things we know about God is that he is trustworthy. Therefore, we can take God at his word for certain things. We don’t need direct evidence for everything we believe as long as we have sufficient evidence for believing in God.

2.Apropos #1, Reppert and Vallicella also don’t seem to feel any obligation to God. Where’s their sense of loyalty?

And I think this goes back to a deficient view of the atonement. If you think that sin is a question of alienation rather than guilt, then you take the atonement for granted. That’s what God is for. The gratuity of grace is entirely lost sight of.

If, on the other hand, you think of sin in terms of guilt, then the fact that God has shown you mercy will elicit a sense of immense surprise as well as unpayable gratitude.

This is something we find throughout the Bible. And, despite his flawed theology, it overflows in the hymns of Charles Wesley.

3.Apropos #2, it will also instill as sense of duty to one’s Redeemer. He owes us nothing while we owe him everything. Among other things, we should honor God by honoring his Word.

God is demanding so little in return. And it’s all for our own benefit anyway. Can’t we take his hand to lead us in the dark? For him to be our eyes and ears when our own eyesight fails us?