Friday, December 08, 2006

A Reponse to My Many Critics -- And a Solution

A Reponse to My Many Critics -- And a Solution by Dennis Prager

Fabricating Jesus

“I went to seminary for the purpose of training in Christian ministry…Greek and Hebrew came easily; exegesis was fun; historical and background studies were stimulating. While other students were attempting to avoid these subjects, I engaged them enthusiastically,” C. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (IVP 2006), 9.

“I had the good fortune of entering Claremont Graduate University at a time when its biblical studies faculty was at its greatest…It was from Brownlee that I learned much about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it was with him that I studied Aramaic and Syriac,” ibid. 9-10.

“Sanders introduced me to the versions of Scripture, such as the Old Greek (or Septuagint) and the Aramaic (or Targum). He led me through the rabbinic literature, taught me to appreciate rabbinic Midrash and transformed textual criticism—the study of ancient manuscripts and their diverse readings and variants—into a joy,” ibid. 11.

“As I taught New Testament at Trinity, I of course began to shift my research and publishing away from Isaiah and the Old Testament to the New Testament. I focused on Jesus and the Gospels, which had been the focus of my interest back in seminary. An interesting thing happened. I realized that my work in Isaiah, the Greek and Aramaic versions of the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls and early rabbinic literature was an enormous asset in the study of Jesus and the Gospels. As I became acquainted with more and more New Testament scholars (at regional and national Society of Biblical Literature meetings), I became aware that many of them lacked training in the Semitic background of the New Testament. I was bumping into New Testament scholars who had studied Greek and knew something of the Greco-Roman world, but had only the feeblest ability with Hebrew and Aramaic (if at all). Most knew little of early rabbinic literature and the Aramaic paraphrases of Scripture,” ibid. 12.

“This deficiency on the part of so many New Testament scholars helps explain the oddness of much of the work of the Jesus Seminar, founded by Robert Funk in 1985. Whereas many of the Seminar’s members have been exposed to Greek literature and Greco-Roman culture and conventions, not many of them appear to have competence in the Semitic (Jewish) world of Jesus. Few seem acquainted with the land of Israel itself. Few have done any archaeological work. Few know rabbinic literature and the Aramaic paraphrases of Scripture,” ibid. 12.

“Long ago in a doctoral seminar on the historical Jesus I questioned the historical validity of ‘double dissimilarity’ as a criterion of authenticity. James Robinson, who was leading the seminar, responded that the criterion was necessary to rule out sayings that may have originated in either Jewish or Christian circles. I found this puzzling. This thinking was greatly at odds with my studies in history (in which I had majored). Eventually I learned that many scholars engaged in the study of the historical Jesus have studied Bible and theology, but not history. These Jesus scholars are not historians at all. This lack of training is apparent in the odd presuppositions, methods and conclusions that are reached,” ibid. 252n16.

Bread & circuses

“In any case, I grant that abortion is murder, but maintain on the more conventional meaning of the term -- killing without just cause, Japan has some of the lowest murder rates in the world.”

You are accusing me of inconsistency. When you accuse your opponent of inconsistency, then his usage is determinative.

You are free to define the terms however you please. All other things being equal, you’re not bound by my usage.

But the charge of inconsistency entails an internal critique. If you’re going to take that angle, then you are bound by my usage for the sake of argument.

As I explained in my inaugural post on this thread, unbelievers, if left to their own devices, commit rape, robbery, and murder, but redefine these vices as something other than rape, robbery, and murder.

The fact that Japan doesn’t define abortion as murder is consistent, rather than inconsistent, with my original claim. Try to follow the bouncing ball.

“Even if you include abortions into the numbers for all the societies, I believe you will find Japan among the most ‘life-preserving’ overall.”

Even if true, that is irrelevant to my original claim. My original claim was not a quantitative claim. Comparative crime stats do not invalidate the terms of my original claim.

“Child sex industry. This is something you didn't mention in your claim, Steve.”

i) That I didn’t mention this in which claim? The original post? In the original post I specifically mentioned child rape.

ii) As I also said in my original post, I was giving examples. I never said my original post was exhaustively illustrative. Obviously not.

iii) You brought up Japan as a counterexample. I therefore *responded* to your counterexample.

Now, a *response* is not necessarily original. Otherwise, it would not be responsive to what was said *before* the response.

My response will be as specific as your objection. If you raise a specific objection, I’ll present a specific response. You bring up Japan. I respond accordingly.

If you introduce a new objection, then my response will be equally novel. Amazing how that works!

iv) But all my responses are consistent with my inaugural post.

“If you want to say that rape occurs, that's fine. But I think if you check out the laws that govern this, *any* kind of sexual contact as the result of coercion is illegal. I'm convinced that pornography *is* a large morally problem in Japanese society. If your claim was that non-Christian societies inevitably descend into pornography, I would not have offered Japan as a counter-example, because it's not. But that wasn't your claim. Pornogrpahy was not your claim, and *is* a distraction here. If you want to equate pornography with rape, I will suggest you are demeaning the experience of anyone who has truly been raped. Pornography is abusive in its own way, but it is not rape.”

i) What I said in response to the Japanese counterexample was: “What about kiddy porn in modern Japan? What about prostitution in Japan? What about sodomy in Japanese culture—both ancient and modern?”

Then, in reply to a follow-up objection by Touchstone, I also mentioned “the child sex industry.”

ii) Apparently, it doesn’t occur to Touchstone that kiddy porn involves child rape. Legal definitions vary from country to country, but here’s a representative definition:

Maybe we also need to define “rape” for Touchstone. But definitions customarily revolve around the absence of consensual sexual activity. This is where the age of consent becomes an issue.

Of course, NAMBLA has its own definitions, and I realize, from Touchstone’s perspective, that it’s outrageously arrogant of me to prefer my own moral framework over NAMBLA’s, but I guess we have to agree to disagree on that.

Bottom line: if you combine a standard definition of rape with a standard definition of kiddy porn (i.e. what’s involve in the production of kiddy porn), guess what you get? Hmm.

iii) Then there’s the issue of prostitution. Although a prostitute may be of majority age, if she entered into the sex trade as a child (which is commonplace in Asia), then that would also qualify as rape—as I define it—since she didn’t volunteer for this occupation, but was forced into it (indeed, b0ught and sold) at an early age.

Again, though, I realize that, according to Touchstone’s lexicon, this is just a distraction from the *real* issues.

“Japanese mafia. Pure distraction, Steve. What are the numbers here, if not. How many thousands or millions are murdered in Japan that escape the notice of law enforcement and government reporting agencies? Do your Japanese friends suggest that Japan actually *does* have high murder rates. Mine don't. Their anecdotal testimony agrees with the official numbers.”

I didn’t cite the Japanese mafia under the category of murder.

More commonly, organized crime involves property crimes of one form or another.

However, in a nation like Japan where organized crime is deeply embedded in the socioeconomic and political fabric of the culture, it isn’t necessarily a crime, in the legal sense.

That’s the nice thing about organized crime. Once everyone is on the take, it ceases to be a crime and becomes a socially sanctioned form of extortion.

“Shogunate. Another distraction. The Shoguns aren't around anymore. The last Shogun ruled in the 19th century if I recall (Tokugawa?).”

i) Notice that Touchstone is now attempting to redefine the terms of my original post. My claim was never predicated on a contrast between antiquity and modernity. To the contrary, I made a general claim. So anciently civilizations are by no means “another distraction.” Rather, these examples (Imperial Japan, the Shogunate) and others (e.g. Aztecs, Romans, Assyrians, and other warrior cultures) are directly implicated in my original claim.

ii) As I also pointed out, modern Japan is less representative because it is so heavily influenced by American culture.

“Even as a distraction I don't know that it helps your case. Were murder, rape, and robbery countenanced as public policy before the meiji era?”

Which misses the point. Such activities wouldn’t be classified as rape, robbery, and murder.

For example, the Japanese custom of pederasty, at court, among the monks, and among the Shogun, wasn’t a crime.

They wouldn’t call it child rape. I would.

That’s my point. Non-Christian cultures do commit certain forms of rape, robbery, and murder as a matter of public policy. Those in power have no incentive to pass self-incriminating legislation. Therefore, they don’t break the law when they do these things. Such conduct is lawful, albeit immoral.

Yes, I know, it’s terribly intolerant of me to say that rape, robbery, and murder are immortal. How dare I elevate my moral framework above Genghis Kahn or Attila the Hun?

“Whatever the disposition on that, it doesn't matter -- I've been pointing at modern Japan, and believe I used that term: ‘modern Japan’.”

Which is irrelevant to an internal critique of my original claim. If you’re going to accuse me of inconsistency, then my usage controls the analysis, comprende?

But, hey, when has Touchstone ever been able to answer an opponent on his own grounds? That would be unheard of.

Development Of False Doctrine

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for Roman Catholics. For those who are interested, I've written two articles on the sinlessness of Mary, here and here.

"The Augustinian view long continued to prevail; but at last Pelagius won the victory on this point in the Roman church." (Philip Schaff)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

John Loftus: sex therapist

“Here are some brief thoughts about sex, marriage and the Christian. It's not meant to be complete or exhaustive, so don't go jumping to conclusions, or in assuming the worst. I think Christians are hung up over sex. Many Christian couples don't talk about it because it's taboo. It's of the flesh...”

Yes, that’s the problem. Christians are sorely inhibited by their carnal, fleshly notions of sex. That’s why they have so many more children than unbelievers. Because they associate sex with warm bodies and skin contact and all that touchy-feely stuff.

If only they could shuffle off these Victorian pruderies and adopt the more Platonic view of sex advocated by Loftus.

Celebrate diversity: a manifesto for multiculturalism



Degenerate societies on the verge of extinction hold a powerful grip on Mel Gibson's imagination.

From his performances in the dystopian "Mad Max" films through his directorial efforts in "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ," he often returns to graphically violent variations on the theme.

Are the films warnings to modern viewers, object lessons on the process of civilization's collapse? After viewing his ambitious, audacious Yucatan chase movie, "Apocalypto," the answer is clearly yes. It's a stern message picture in the trappings of an action-packed adventure.

Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who divvies up the meat, is a natural leader. The successful hunt ends with Jaguar resting his head tenderly against the swollen belly of his wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), as their unborn child kicks along with the fireside drums. Life is harsh and uncertain here, but there is community and an Eden-like beauty as well.

A raiding party from a neighboring Mayan metropolis shatters that tranquillity, turning the hunters into prey and prisoners…After much bloodshed, Jaguar and a dozen others are tethered together and led away to the city. Their captors are vicious and sadistic, but even they are shaken when they encounter a young girl, half mad with smallpox fever, who delivers a prophecy of their doom. There's a supernatural authority in her huge, dark-as-death eyes.

The captives' entrance to the capital is chilling. The huge bloodstained pyramids that dominate the skyline are a fantastic metaphor of evil, hallucinatory altars of destruction and death, prehistoric weapons of mass destruction. As the crowds cheer, heads literally roll down the pyramid steps as each victim is sacrificed.

The terrified Jaguar and the others are ushered up the main pyramid's steps to have their beating hearts cut out in an offering to the sky god, who they hold responsible for a ruinous drought around their dusty metropolis. Gibson masterfully conjures a sense of insane fantasies fueling satanic levels of violence.

Jaguar miraculously escapes, setting off a frantic chase. He must outrun, outwit and outfight a dozen of the city's toughest warriors to rescue Seven.

The faith of a militant fideist


“My argument is that that morale rationale is a good one -- it's clearly to the Judaeo-Christian framework, in my view. But Calvindude, and now Steve, have taken to saying that such a rationale doesn't exist!”

i) You have been changing the subject throughout the course of this thread.

ii) I never denied that an atheist can have a rationale. That’s not the issue.

The question at issue is whether he has a rational rationale. Is his rationale rationally well-founded?

The Marquis de Sade had a rationale. So what?

“But, while take a dim view of atheistic moral rationales, I do grant that they have been formulated and advanced.”

This is a straw man argument since I never said otherwise.

Yes, secular value systems have been formulated and advanced by such secular luminaries as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Herbert Spencer, Peter Singer, and the Marquis to Sade.

So what?

“As for restraint making individuals good, I don't suppose that makes one good in the spiritual or righteousness sense. But in the civic sense, as opposed to indulgence in the crime of murder, rape, robbery, or mayhem, I would definitely say that refraining from these acts is good’.”

Touchstone is now reverting to the elementary confusion between the question of whether an atheist (or idolater) can ever do the right thing (or refrain from doing the wrong thing), and whether an atheist has a rationally compelling basis for doing the right thing.

“The atheist says his secular moral framework is true. You say the Christian moral framework is true. I say the Christian moral framework is true.”

i) To begin with, not every atheist is an advocate of secular ethics. Some secular thinkers admit that a secular outlook commits them to some form of moral relativism, viz. Russell, Ruse, Mackie, Dawkins, Nielsen, and Quentin Smith, to name a few.

ii) Yes, Nietzsche and I don’t see on to eye on morality. Singer and I don’t see eye to eye on morality.

Does that mean we split the difference? Nietzsche gets to exterminate half the Jews while I get to save the other half? Singer gets to butcher half the babies while I get to save the other half?

iii) I don’t merely *say* that my position is true. I have often *argued* for my position.

“Is it true because there's two of us, and one atheist? Hope not, or he'll go get two atheist buddies.”

Do you cultivate intellectual frivolity, or does this come naturally to you?

“But what do you mean by ‘normative’? Is Steve Hays now normative? Why isn't Hume normative? I don't see how saying this is a ‘normative issue’ is anything more than begging the question.”

That’s because there’s a problem with your eyesight. You are citing examples of secular ethicists (Hume, Mill) to illustrate the existence of secular ethical systems.

But that’s a purely descriptive exercise. No one denies the existence of secular ethical systems.

Rather, the question at issue is whether these secular alternatives are any good. Do they lay a solid foundation, or a sandy foundation, for morality?

Jeffrey Dahmer was a secular ethicist. He had a moral framework. Social Darwinism. He appealed to Darwinism to justify his mass murder and culinary taste.

The real question is not whether he had a rationale for what he did, but whether his reasoning was sound.

Sorry you’re so offended by my value-judgments. I guess from your pluralistic viewpoint, I get to choose my menu while Dahmer gets to choose his own menu.

Tolerance is a beautiful thing—until you end up in the refrigerator, next to the pork and beans.

“If the Christian God exists as we claim, then the atheists are wrong, and their morality is founded on a lie.”

i) Depends on what you mean by a “claim.” If you’re treating the Christian truth-claim as a defeasible hypothesis, then I disagree.

ii) In addition, these are asymmetrical propositions. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Christianity is false, its falsity would not thereby validate secular ethics.

It isn’t a choice between Christian ethics and secular ethics. Rather, it’s a choice between moral realism and moral antirealism. The alternative to Christian ethics isn’t secular ethics. Rather, the alternative to Christian ethics is moral relativism.

If the Christian is right, then we do have a source and standard of moral absolutes; if the Christian is wrong, then neither the Christian nor the non-Christian (atheist, agnostic, idolater) has a source and standard of moral absolutes.

The Christian worldview has winners and losers; a non-Christian worldview has no winners, only losers.

“If no god exists, then the Christians are wrong, and our morality is based on a lie. Or it could be neither of these ideas is right, and they are *both* based on a lie.”

From your perspective, not mine. No, Christianity cannot be wrong. I’m a transcendental theist. Apart from God, nothing can be true or false, right or wrong. The existence of God is not a falsifiable proposition, for the existence of God is the precondition for anything to be falsifiable. There can be no truth or falsehood without truth-conditions, and there can be no truth-conditions without God.

For supporting arguments, see some of the material by Anderson, Welty, and Pruss, posted on this blog.

“But that's the Big Question, isn't it.”

A question for whom? You or me? You or an atheist (assuming there’s a difference).

“It seems Calvindude is convinced that his pronunciation pretty much settles the matter, for Christian, Buddhist, atheist and Zoroastrian. Are you claiming the same here.”

Yes, Calvindude operates with the eccentric notion that a professing Christian is someone who actually happens to believe that Christianity is true. Where he came by this crazy idea, I don’t know, but life is stranger than fiction.

Based on this utterly eccentric notion of his, he also believes that when he is talking to a fellow professing believer, is okay for both them to act as if Christianity is exactly what it claims to be…as in…you know…true.

I understand how hard it is to get inside such an aberrant mindset, but it’s like one evolutionary biologist talking to another evolutionary biologist, where they think it’s okay to take evolutionary biology for granted. Pretty weird, I know.

But things get even worse. Calvindude is also one of those unconscionably arrogant Christians who thinks it’s all right, when dialoguing with an unbeliever, to maintain his Christian identity.

Calvindude is so arrogant that when he enters into a dialogue with an unbeliever, he takes the outlandish position that it’s permissible for him to continue acting like a Christian, as if the Christian faith were actually true and rationally superior to the alternatives!

Yes, I realize it’s shocking to contemplate the sorry fact that, in the 21C, there are still some backward corners of the world where the Gospel According to St. Spong have yet to penetrate. But with your help we’ll rectify the situation.

“It seems that Utilitarianism per J.S. Mill and friends can lay claim to some level of objectivity -- evaluation of morals empirically, based on outcomes and observations -- but Christian morality is based on subjective belief. Belief in the Christian God is a subjective axiom required for it, and would seem to be make Christian morality fail your own test.”

Several problems:

i) Utilitarianism always falters on the justification of the “good.” What makes the common good “good”?

ii) Is Christian morality based on a subjective belief?

By definition, belief has a subjective dimension. It’s a psychological state.

But there’s also a difference between true and false beliefs, based, in part, on their correspondence, or lack thereof, between the mental state of the subject and the extramental object of belief, as well as the extramental evidence—not to mention the extramental rules of evidence.

iii) You are treating the Christian belief-system as if it were an axiomatic system with unprovable first principles. Maybe that’s your model of the Christian faith.

But it’s not my model—and I daresay that it isn’t Calvindude’s, either.

iv) You’re problem is that you happen to be a judgmental fideist, but if you’re a fideist, you shouldn’t be judgmental, and if you’re judgmental, you shouldn’t be a fideist.

v) You seem to define Christian faith as belief over against knowledge.

Because, according to you, Christian faith falls short of knowledge, and because, according to you, the non-Christian alternatives are in the same boat, you wax indignant whenever you encounter Christians who don’t buy into your fideism and attendant relativism.

But you only have a right to your moral outrage if you subscribe to moral absolutes, and you only have a right to that appeal if you ditch you fideism and relativism.

From what I can tell, your basic problem is that you are a reactionary. You are rebelling against your fundy upbringing, and you get very emotional over any statement you associate with the position you are trying to put behind you as you attempt to stake out some mediating position. Unfortunately for you, any mediating position is going to be an unstable compromise, which is why you constantly contradict yourself and hopscotch from one adversarial posture to another.

One wonders where you will be 5 or 10 years from now. Given your abusive treatment of someone as customarily charitable as Calvindude, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if your current position isn’t a transitional phase on the way to atheism or agnosticism.

Unto Us A Son Is Given

"The poem is full of royal and Davidic themes but is significantly different from the royal psalms which were used as coronation odes for the actual kings of is a born king (6; cf. Mt. 2:2), actually divine. In him everything that was envisaged is embodied; he is the eschaton....The emphasis falls not on what the child will do when grown up but on the mere fact of his birth. In his coming all that results from his coming is at once secured....The decisions of a king make or break a kingdom and a kingdom designed to be everlasting demands a wisdom like that of the everlasting God. In this case, like God because he is God, the Mighty God (el gibbor), the title given to the Lord himself in 10:21...Father is not current in the Old Testament as a title of the kings. Used of the Lord, it points to his concern for the helpless (Ps. 68:5<6>), care or discipline of his people (Ps. 103:13; Pr. 3:12; Is. 63:16; 64:8<7>) and their loyal, reverential response to him (Je. 3:4, 19; Mal. 1:6)....As eternal/'of eternity', he receives 'such an epithet [as] could, of course, be applied to Yahweh alone'....To designate the child as pele [wonderful] makes him 'out of the ordinary', one who is something of a 'miracle'. Isaiah's use of the noun in 25:1 and the verb in 28:29 of the Lord's 'counsel' suggests that he would not resist the notion of deity in 9:6<5>, specially when it is contextually linked with Mighty God (el-gibbor)....Whenever we find a construction identical with Isaiah 9:6<5> (el with a following adjective or noun), el is never adjectival but is always the ruling noun, more closely defined by the additional word....Isaiah cannot have been unaware that el-gibbor would be understood in its plain meaning. He puts the matter beyond equivocation by using the identical title of the Lord himself in 10:21." (J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy Of Isaiah [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993], pp. 99, 101-102, 104-105)

"The titles underscore the ultimate deity of this child-deliverer. Although some commentators have expended a great deal of energy attempting to make these titles appear normal, they are not. Perhaps the primary way in which this is attempted is by reference to the Egyptian throne-names (cf. Wildberger). It was customary to give five throne-names to an Egyptian king upon his coronation....On this basis some suggest that the same practice was followed for the equally human kings of Israel. However, several factors tell against this equation. First, there are not five names here [in Isaiah 9] but four, and only emendation can produce a fifth. Second, this is not a coronation hymn but a birth announcement. Third, the Egyptians believed their kings were gods and the names express that belief. But the Hebrews did not believe this. They denied that the king was anything more than the representative of God. To be sure, throne-names were probably used in Israel (cf. 2 K. 23:24; 24:17), but there is no evidence that they were of the Egyptian sort." (John Oswalt, The Book Of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986], p. 246)

"No Israelite or Judean king was ever identified as 'Mighty God.' Clearly the person being referred to here is the promised Messiah, who will reign over God's people with a kind of justice and righteousness that no mere human descendant of David ever achieved. Furthermore, the government and the social and personal integration ('peace,' Heb. salom) he will produce will be eternal (9:7). This is not Hezekiah or any other merely human son of David." (John Oswalt, The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003], pp. 160-161)

"Given the prevalence of divine kings in parts of the ancient Near East (De Vaux, Israel, 111; even Akenaton in 'The Amarna Letters,' 483-90 in ANET, passim), one sin to which Israel’s and Judah’s rulers had not succumbed (De Vaux, Israel, 113), one may question whether Isaiah would have risked implying that God would be Israel’s ultimate Davidic king if that was not what he meant…Tg. Isa. 9:6 [a Jewish commentary on Isaiah 9:6] deliberately alters the grammar to distinguish the Davidic king from the Mighty God." (Craig Keener, The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], n. 135 on p. 295)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The war on drugs


"I know this is off the subject, but I thought I would post a homework assignment that I once had about legalization or at least decriminalization of certain drugs."

Some high profile conservatives like Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley have advocated the legalization of drugs.

Ideologically speaking, I'm sympathetic to the argument.

But pragmatically speaking, where this experiment has been attempted it doesn't seem to solve any problems while creating a new set of problems as well as exacerbating the old problems.

Commenters and team members are welcome to weigh in.

Morality & criminality


“Japan, Sweden, Denmark, etc., have *significantly* lower violent crime rates than America, and *just so happen* to be highly non-Christian, but there is no correlation between their social systems and their actions?”

Of course, this has next to nothing to do with my original post. For the equation between morality and criminality is fallacious.

Every crime is not a vice, and every vice is not a crime.

On the one hand, miscegenation used to be a crime under Jim Crow. Did that make interracial marriage immoral? Or was the law immoral?

On the other hand, a vice may not be a crime. Alcoholism is a vice, but it’s not a crime.

To judge the public morality of a nation by the crime rate is fallacious at several levels:

i) The appeal is circular. For it all depends on what behavior is legal or illegal.

Suppose drug use is a crime. As such, there’s a direct correlation between high drug use and high crime.

Now, you could make the crime go away overnight by simply decriminalization drug use.

The rate of drug use would remain the same, but the crime rate would drop to zero.

ii) To judge public morality by criminality is exceedingly superficial. What about rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide in Sweden or Demark?

They may not be criminal activities. But they are social ills.

iii) In addition, whether we consider one country morally superior to another depends on our respective value-system. I don’t regard a country that euthanizes the young and the old to be a model of social ethics.

Secular munchkins on the march

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays)

Robert Price, a sometime fellow of the Jesus Cemetery…uh…I mean…Seminar, has posted a predictably negative review of an old essay by Gary Habermas.

Since Price is a high-profile apostate with some advanced degrees in theology, it’s worth reviewing his review.

I’d add that since Habermas is more of an evidentialist, and I’m more of a presuppositionalist, it’s not as if I’m predisposed to rubberstamp whatever he says. So let’s see how it goes.

That is to say, he [Habermas] poses as an objective researcher into open questions regarding the early Christian literature and history, but his conclusions are determined in advance by a dogmatic agenda.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is a correct assessment, and sufficient to discredit whatever Habermas has to say, doesn’t the charge cut both ways?

Habermas writes to persuade, while Price writes to dissuade. Habermas has a theological agenda while Price has an atheological agenda.
Because he is a spin-doctor on behalf of inerrantism (the real presupposition underlying all this blather), he has never met a resurrection story he doesn’t like, and if you (or Dodd) don’t like this one, maybe you’ll buy that one. Habermas himself obviously cares nothing for the judgment of the critical scholars he cites except that he may use them cosmetically in a warmed-over piece of fundamentalist apologetics.
More of the same. But couldn’t we rephrase this just a bit:

Because he is a spin-doctor on behalf of errantism (the real presupposition underlying all this blather), Price has never met a resurrection story he likes. He himself obviously cares nothing for comparative mythology except twhen he may use it cosmetically in a warmed-over piece of atheology.

As a member of the Liberty University faculty, Dr. Habermas is honor-bound to believe in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible, the dogma that the Bible is free from all historical errors, and even that its authors never expressed differences of opinion on religious matters.

To which we might add that, as a member of the Jesus Seminar, Dr. Price is honor-bound to believe in the absolute errancy of the Bible, the dogma that the Bible is rife with all manner of historical errors.

But back to Habermas, Price’s characterization is transparently scurrilous. It’s true that, given his institutional position, Habermas is sworn to uphold the inerrancy of Scripture.

But what this characterization chooses to ignore is that no one is forcing Habermas to teach at such an institution. It’s not as if he’s a conscript who’s been drafted into the army of Field Marshal Falwell. It’s not as if he must follow orders and play the good German.

The fact that Habermas teaches at an institution in which the faculty are expected to believe and teach inerrancy is no more discreditable to his motives than the fact that Edward Witten teaches at an institution in which the faculty are expected to believe and teach modern physics.

It’s rather like accusing the framers of the Constitution with towing the party line. No, they were actually the architects of the party line.

Since Price is not unintelligent, why does he level such unintelligent objections to the work of Habermas?

The only explanation is that if you have no intelligent objections to offer, all you’re left with are unintelligent objections. Having dealt himself a losing hand, Price has to play his losing hand as if it were a royal flush.

Three major difficulties beset this erudite and clearly written essay. The first is the character of the whole as essentially an exercise in the fallacious argument of appeal to the majority. Habermas does not want to commit this logical sin, so he admits in the beginning that the mere fact of the (supposed) consensus of scholarly opinion to which he repeatedly appeals does not settle anything, and as if to head off the charge I have just made, he says he supplies sufficient clues in his endnotes to enable the interested reader to follow up the original scholars’ arguments, which, he admits, must bear the brunt of the analysis. I’m sorry, but that is simple misdirection like that practiced by a sleight-of-hand artist. You can say you reject the appeal to consensus fallacy, but that makes no difference if all you do afterward is to cite big names on the subject.

Observe that, in the course of this paragraph, Price actually says two very different things. On the one hand, he says that Habermas is guilty of a fallacious appeal to consensus. On the other hand, he also says that “Habermas supplies sufficient clues in his endnotes to enable the interested reader to follow up the original scholars’ arguments, which, he admits, must bear the brunt of the analysis.”

So, according to Price’s own admission -- and this is coming from a hostile source, remember -- what Habermas actually does is not to appeal to mere consensus, but rather, to scholarly “arguments.” Not a survey of scholarly opinions, but scholarly arguments.

True, that’s relegated to the footnotes, but let us recall that Price is reviewing an essay, not a book. In the space of an essay, we wouldn’t expect Habermas to lay out all of the detailed argumentation.

So Price’s allegation of name-dropping is false on Price’s own representation. And considering that Price is trying to cast the essay in the worst possible light, any favorable admission you can squeeze out of him makes you suspect -- even if you’d never read the essay -- that it must be far better than Price allows.

The second besetting sin is Habermas’s neglect of much recent scholarship…contemporary studies of Acts are increasingly inclined to treat the narrative as a tissue of second-century fictions and legends no different in principle and little different in degree from the Apocryphal Acts, though it is better written than these others (see Richard I. Pervo, Profit With Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles, 1987). You will know that J.C. O’Neill (The Theology of Acts in its Historical Setting, 1961) and others regard the supposed bits of early tradition found in the speeches in Acts to be signs of a late date, of the Christology and theology of the Apostolic Fathers, not of the primitive church.

So Habermas is guilty of yet another besetting sin because, in his 1997 essay, he neglected to consider such “recent” scholarship as the 1961 title by O’Neill.

And while we’re on the subject of recent Lucan scholarship -- within the publication date of the essay by Habermas, what about Bruce’s revised commentary on the Greek text of Acts, Colin Hemer’s posthumous monograph on The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellentistic History, as well as five volumes in the six-volume series on The Book of Acts in Its First-Century Setting?

Do these works document the trend of which Price is speaking? Or do they generally move in the opposing direction?

I’d add, just to bring things up to date, that I believe Craig Keener, Stanley Porter, Darrell Bock, Walter Gasque, and Joel Green are all in process of composing major commentaries on the Book of Acts. And I don’t think their viewpoint would serve to confirm a sceptical trend in Lucan scholarship.

You will be familiar with the fact that a number of scholars (not just me!) have spotlighted the appearance list in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a later interpolation into the text, an alternate explanation for all the non-Pauline linguistic features Habermas invokes as evidence that Paul is quoting early tradition (Arthur Drews, Winsome Munro, R. Joseph Hoffmann, William O. Walker, J.C. O’Neill, G.A. Wells).

G. A. Wells? Isn’t he a retired German teacher? Yes, Price is definitely rolling out the heavy artillery.

You would know that there may be quite a gap between whomever and whatever the earliest Christians may have been (if you can even draw a firm line where proto-Christianity split off from Essenism or the Mystery Religions).

Split off from Essenism or the Mystery Religions? Which is it? Aren’t Essenism and the Mystery Religions rather different historical phenomena? For Price, anything will do as long as it’s unorthodox.

The third big problem with the essay is the lamentable leap in logic whereby, like a Scientific Creationist, Habermas seems to assume that the (supposed) absence of viable naturalistic explanations of the first resurrection-sightings proves the objective reality of the resurrection. This is to pull the reins of scientific investigation much too quickly! And in fact one may never yank them in the name of miracle, for that is a total abdication of the scientific method itself, which never proceeds except on the assumption that a next, traceable, i.e., naturalistic, step may be found. And if it never is, then science must confess itself forever stymied.

Well, I suppose that’s true enough if, in tightly circular fashion, you define science as a godless enterprise. Who needs an argument when truth by definition is such a time-saver? Just don’t draw the noose so tight that you asphyxiate on the secular insularity of the whole procedure.

We need to take a closer look at his cards. First, There is little doubt, even in critical circles, that the apostle Paul is the author of the book of 1 Corinthians. Rarely is this conclusion questioned (p. 264) But there is reason to question it, and this is where the appeal to the majority is so misleading.

But if, even in “critical circles,” the Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians goes unquestioned, although critical circles operate with a sceptical bias to begin with, then why is it unreasonable of Habermas to invoke the support of those who are predisposed to be antagonistic to his overall position? That’s a standard argumentative strategy, and a pretty strong argument. Isn’t the onus on Price and his fellow fringe-group to prove otherwise?

Bruno Bauer and a whole subsequent school of New Testament critics.. all rejected the authenticity of 1 Corinthians as a Pauline epistle. And they did so with astonishing arguments that remain unanswered to this day.

Except that Price doesn’t cue the reader into the actual content of their “astonishing” arguments to the contrary.

And if Price denies the Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians in toto, then what becomes of the argument, if you care to call it an argument, that 1 Cor 15:3-11 is a post-Pauline interpolation? A post-Pauline interpolation in a post-Pauline letter?

Clearly, Price is prepared to grasp at any grab-bag of objections, however contradictory of one another, as long as they all contradict the Bible. Thankfully, though, it’s only Habermas who’s guilty of a “lamentable leap in logic.”

Second, Virtually all scholars agree that in this text [1 Corinthians 15:3ff] Paul recorded an ancient tradition(s) about the origins of the Christian gospel. Numerous evidences indicate that this report is much earlier than the date of the book in which it appears (ibid.) This is not really a separate argument from the next two following, but let us briefly note the oddity of the whole notion of Paul, if he is indeed the author, passing down a tradition, much less an ancient one (though perhaps Habermas means ancient in relation to us, but then that’s true of the whole epistle, isn’t it?). Habermas has set foot on one of the land mines in Van Manen’s territory: the anachronism of the picture of Paul, a founder of Christianity, already being able to appeal to hoary traditions, much less creedal formulae! All this demands a date long after Paul.

This objection is a verbal trick, based on denoting the tradition as “ancient” tradition. Of course, the tradition wasn’t “ancient” to Paul. The word “ancient” connotes something from the distant past in relation to the timeframe of the speaker.

The standard argument is not that 1 Cor 15:3-11 represents ancient tradition, but merely primitive tradition.

The conflation of the lists (to say nothing of the addition of gross apocryphal elements like the appearance to the half-thousand!) presupposes much historical water under the bridge, way too much for Paul.

How is the appearance of 500 witnesses a “grossly apocryphal element”? According to the Gospels, Jesus had thousands of followers before his arrest and crucifixion.

Wouldn’t we expect rumors of his Resurrection to attract a crowd of 500 or so? Sheer curiosity would have that effect.

The text as we read it gives no hint that Paul is supposed to be citing some older material (though I agree the material is alien to the context, not being the writer's own words.

Older than what? Older than Paul? No. He’s a contemporary of the other Apostles.

But the list is a living, apostolic tradition. It’s older than the time of writing (of 1 Corinthians). Once again, Price is trading on equivocations.

First, one may ask concerning all this what it is that Paul was supposed to have been preaching prior to this visit, since 1 Corinthians 15:1 makes the list the very content of his initial preaching to the Corinthian church!… But if he does regard the list as a piece of earlier material, he leaves no interval between the beginning of his apostolic preaching and the learning of this so-crucial list. Ouch.

Paul is not personally dependent on this material. That’s not how it functions in his argument.

He’s dealing with Corinthian sceptics. So he cites corroborative testimony from other witnesses. That’s a standard form of argument.

Nor should we forget how Galatians tells us in no uncertain terms that the gospel message of Paul was in no way mediated through any human agency, which would just not be true if he was simply handing on tradition like a plastered cistern that loses not a drop.

Continues to miss the aforesaid point of how this appeal functions in the argument of 1 Cor 15. This is not for Paul’s personal benefit, but the benefit of the Corinthian sceptics.

Conservatives have elevated to a dogma the premature and groundless judgment that we can take for granted that no important interpolations crept into the text during that early period for which there is absolutely no manuscript evidence either way.

Conservatives have no monopoly on textual criticism. What Price is complaining about isn’t “conservative” textual criticism, but mainstream textual criticism.

Indeed, there are some King James-only types who regard Westcott and Hort as minions of the dark side.

And in general, we must recognize that references to what the apostles may or may not have said, occurring not in writings by them but rather in writings by a different author have no independent historical value.

Really? Price has it exactly backwards. It’s precisely what one writer says about a second party that would give it independent historical value. By definition, what a writer says about himself has no “independent” historical value, although it may be historically accurate in its own right.

But to have “independent” historical value, the claim must be made about someone by someone other than the claimant himself.

Would Price insist that nothing said by Tacitus or Cicero or Julius Caesar about a fellow Roman has any independent historical value?

Price has written a whole book on his deconversion experience. In that book he talks about many other individuals whom he has known. Does his book have no independent historical value the instant he switches from a strictly autobiographical claim to a biographical claim?

In other words, we have it on Paul’s authority that these resurrection appearances were also being proclaimed by the original apostles (p. 267). But we cannot say we know they were preaching the same list or the same listed appearances until we read some other document by one of them that has the list in common with 1 Corinthians 15. And we have no such text.

And if we had such a text, Price would simply dismiss it as apocryphal or legendary or interpolative, &c.

Likewise, [Mt 28:]16-20 are a mere pastiche-summary of a resurrection-commission narrative…This is a reference back to something he forgot to include in his story, like somebody getting ahead of himself and spoiling the ending of a joke.

i) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this analysis is correct, so what? The Apostles didn’t have word processors. They couldn’t churn out multiple drafts of a gospel, moving paragraphs around a scroll the way we cut/paste a Word document.

So suppose, ex hypothesi, that Mt 28:16-20 was an afterthought. Suppose it is out of place, chronologically speaking. That’s no evidence that 16-20 were interpolated.

ii) I’d add, though, that the historical narratives of Scripture often employ flashbacks as well as foreshadowings.

Some of the language is Matthean (unto the consummation of the age; to disciple ); the rest is derived from both the Septuagint and Theodotion’s translation of Daniel 7, as Randel Helms (Gospel Fictions, 1988) has shown.

According to Emanuel Tov (the world’s foremost OT textual critic), Theodotion “apparently lived at the end of the second century CE,” Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress Press 1992), 145.

So, if Mt 28:16-20 is a non-canonical interpolation, the wording of which is modeled on Theodotion, then it must have been composed in the 3C AD at the earliest, and thereafter managed to edge out every preexisting copy of Matthew’s Gospel.

Where is the textual or patristic evidence for such a radical claim?

And let’s get it straight: vv. 44-49 are not independent L tradition, which is to appropriate source criticism as apologetics. No, Luke just made it up, as one can see from the material’s similarity to the speech in 24:25-27 as well many of the speeches in Acts, also Lukan compositions.

i) How would the parallels between Lk 24:25-27 and 44-49 furnish any evidence that Luke made it all up? Why would we not expect Jesus to appeal to OT prophecy on both occasions?

ii) Are the speeches in Acts made up? There’s a considerable body of scholarship to the contrary.

In fact, this way of reading Luke’s story makes it remarkably similar to the episode in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana

Other issues aside, Luke is a 1C account of a 1C figure while Philostratus is a 3C account of a 1C figure.

The Doubting Thomas story closely parallels one from Philostratus.

Same disanalogy (see above).

This is one of the ironies of hyper-sceptics like Price. Their scepticism begins and ends with Scripture. They never subject extrabiblical sources to the same treatment as Biblical sources.

Hallucinations are not shared by groups. Then I guess Habermas accepts the historicity of the dancing of the sun in the sky at Fatima. Plenty of people saw that, too.

This counterexample is recycled by a number of unbelievers. In fact, this stock comparison is a good example of secular urban legend. The incident has undergone legendary embellishment in the process of oral tradition as it’s handed down, by word-of-mouth, from one unbeliever to another.

But as I pointed out in my review of TET, if you study the scholarly literature on Fatima, the state of the record preserves a number of conflicting accounts.

So all that Price et al. have demonstrated is the unreliability of militant unbelievers to accurately transmit tradition.



What I don't understand about this is why Christian apologists feel they even feel the need to assert that non-Christians can't be good people in the ethical/legal sense. This isn't the claim of Christianity, that without Christ, civilization will break down.

Look at Japan. Manifestly non-Christian, in origin and contemporary constitution, and yet, one of the most honor-bound, socially restrained societies that ever was. Does that mean they get to go to heaven when they die? No, but it does make arguments from Christians claiming that without Christ the only outcome is widespread murder and mayhem.

Christianity claims that good civic behavior is *not* enough, eternally and temporally. It does not claim one cannot lead an outwardly "good" life without Christ. Instead it claims one cannot be *righteous* on the inside of one's own accord.

So the "debate-stopper" seems to be more of a "reflex-trick" to see who will bite on straw man arguments like Steve did. In his zeal for the faith, he figured he had to commit Christianity to being the sole source of all *ethical* behavior.

That ain't the case. It's not hard to find law, abiding, ethical people all over the world who are not Christians.

What Christianity claims is that while that's true, it's not what's really important, for works and ethical uprightness are not sufficient to satisfy God. They do not make up for one's sin, for one's unrighteous attitudes and actions.

This just makes Christianity look really stupid. Anyone who is familiar with modern Japanese society will laugh at a paragraph like this. Steve, do you know what the murder rate is in Japan vs. the US? How can that be if what you say is true?


Speaking for myself, what is more likely to make Christianity look really stupid are intellectual joy-riders like Touchstone. I offered an 8-point argument for my position. Did Touchstone make the slightest attempt to interact with my 8-point argument?

No, all he did was to launch into a knee-jerk screed that was completely unresponsive to my actual argumentation.

Since he lacks the mental discipline to follow any argument he doesn’t already agree with, let’s lay down a few breadcrumbs and see if he can follow the trail:

1.Shermer (along with Dawkins, et al.), raised both a de jure and a de facto challenge to the Christian. What *would* an apostate do? And what *should* an apostate do? I answered him on both counts.

2.Did I ever say that unbelievers in general, or apostates in particular, are law-breakers? No.

What I said, rather, is that, is that, given a chance, unbelievers generally legislate according to their value-system, such as it is.

You can be a law-abiding killer because the law gives you a license to kill (e.g. abortion, infanticide, euthanasia).

You can be a law-abiding rapist because the law lowers or abolishes the age of consent.

Depending on the country, the authorities sanction a child sex trade, or child marriage, or child pornography.

Depending on the country, gang-rape may be part of the honor-code or rite of passage.

You can be a law-abiding robber because the law canonizes certain forms of extortion (e.g. eminent domain).

So an unbeliever doesn’t need to be lawless to do his own thing. He simply exacts legislation that makes rape, robbery, and murder a civil right.

3.What about Japan?

i) Notice that he talks about modern Japan rather than imperial Japan. No discussion of the Shogunate. Modern Japan, beginning with MacArthur, is obviously influenced by modern American culture.

But what about the cult of pederasty under the Shogunate? What about the cult of violence under the Shogunate? What about the feudal economic system?

Yes, in a military dictatorship, everyone knows his place. Very law-abiding. But what about the morality of the law they abide by?

iii) What about modern Japan?

What about pornography in modern Japan? What about kiddy porn in modern Japan? What about prostitution in Japan? What about sodomy in Japanese culture—both ancient and modern?

What about the abortion mill in modern Japan?

Since its all legal, then, by definition, it never figures in the crime stats.

It’s remarkable how quickly you can lower the crime rate by decriminalizing crime. All it takes is the stroke of a pen.

What about organized crime? What about the Japanese Mafia?

We could go right down the list.

It’s an excellent illustration of Touchstone’s moral blindness that he cites Japan as a counterexample to my thesis.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The joy of rape, robbery, murder, and mayhem

“In fact, if a Christian became an atheist his or her behavior wouldn't change much either, which is another reason why it's not the Bible that forms our ethics. Michael Shermer asks the Christian one simple question. ‘What would you do if there were no God? Would you commit robbery, rape, and murder, or would you continue being a good and moral person? Either way the question is a debate stopper. If the answer is that you would soon turn to robbery, rape, or murder, then this is a moral indictment of your character, indicating you are not to be trusted because if, for any reason, you were to turn away from your belief in God, your true immoral nature would emerge…If the answer is that you would continue being good and moral, then apparently you can be good without God. QED.’ [Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil, pp. 154-155].”

This is becoming a popular tactic among militant atheists. Dawkins uses the same tactic in his new book.

There are several problems with this “debate-stopper”:

1.It is attempting to shame the opponent rather than reason with him. The “debate-stopper” is only a moral indictment of Shermer, Dawkins, et al., who—having lost the argument—resort to emotional extortion.

2.It begs the question. The question at issue is not whether I would still be a virtuous person if I lost my faith in God.

Rather, the question at issue is whether it would even be meaningful to be a virtuous person if I lost my faith in God.

Suppose my behavior didn’t change at all. This wouldn’t indicate that I was just as virtuous after having lost my faith as I was beforehand.

Rather, it would simply mean I was doing the same things. But doing the same things now that I was doing before doesn’t imply that what I was doing beforehand was ethical

Rather, the argument is that, absent God, whatever I do is amoral, whether I change me behavior or continue with business as usual.

3.The question assumes that rape, robbery, and murder are immoral, so that it would be immoral of an apostate to commit rape, robbery, or murder.

But if moral norms depend on God, and God did not exist, then it would not be a moral indictment on the apostate to commit rape, robbery, or murder.

4.The question is also misleading, for the absence of an external deterrent doesn’t mean that we will automatically do what we had hitherto refrained from doing.

I, as an apostate, might refrain from rape, robbery, or murder, not because I think they’re evil, but because I have no particular desire to indulge in rape, robbery, or murder.

5.Apropos (4), as long as rape, robbery, and murder are illegal, the average apostate will still refrain from these activities, even if he has no moral compunction about committing them, due to the risk of legal reprisal. But if he could do it with impunity, and if he had the desire to do so (4), why not?

BTW, ever notice that as Christian morality declines, security cameras proliferate? Along with metal detectors, prepaid gasoline, random drug testing, random roadblocks, &c.

6.Historically, a certain percentage of the male population will commit rape if there is no social stigma or social sanction to the contrary. Before the modern laws of warfare, that was commonplace among invading armies.

And there are cultures in which gang-rape is actually part of the honor-code or rite of initiation.

7.Another reason that many apostates still behave much like Christians is because they retain the remnants of a Christian conscience.

It’s quite different with someone who has no Christian background, such as the Samurai, Viet Cong, or Khmer Rouge, &c.

8.Although most apostates aren’t dumb enough to commit rape, robbery, and murder as long as these are criminal activities, one thing unbelievers do is to change the law so that certain forms of rape, robbery, and murder are decriminalized—or even attain the status of civil rights.

i) For example, homosexuals often lobby to lower or abolish the age of consent. The result is legalized child rape.

ii) Liberals enact various forms of homicide into law, such as abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

iii) Liberals also codify robbery. They garnish your wages (income tax). They treat you as a serf or tenant farmer who lives in a company town, shops at the company store (sales tax), and rents his home (property tax, the estate tax). You never own anything outright. You’re always paying the government for the privilege of having a roof over your head and food on the table.

In communism, the state owns everything. Socialism is communism in kid gloves.

Recently, a leading secular philosopher dropped all the euphemisms and made it clear that we are all public employees. All housing is public housing:

Cf. T. Nagel, The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (Oxford 2002).

So, yes, Mr. Shermer, left to our own devices it’s only a matter of time before rape, robbery, and murder would become public policy. Indeed, that prospect has played out to one degree or another whenever an unchristian regime has been in power for long.

There is, indeed, a truly immoral nature just waiting to emerge.

The Price is Wright

Robert Price has written a predictably negative review of N. T. Wright’s recent monograph on the Resurrection:

Since Price is one of the better-educated critics of the faith, let’s review his review.

“Wright always adopts the stance as of a career historian in the field of ancient history, as if approaching the gospel texts as an admiring outsider. In fact, he is a bishop of the Church of England celebrated there for his reactionary theological opinions.”

“Wright is the mouthpiece for institutional orthodoxy, a grinning spin-doctor for the Grand Inquisitor. What credibility his book appears to have is due to the imposing wealth, power, tradition, even architecture, of the social-ecclesiastical world which he serves as chaplain and apologist.

So the fact that Wright is an Anglican prelate makes him a mouthpiece of traditional orthodoxy? Needless to say, an Anglican prelate can be a theological liberal, so the fact that Wright is a theological moderate is not a role which he has been assigned to play by virtue of his office.

Is the Church of England in the 21C conspicuous for its wealth and power?

“They are the same old stale fundamentalist apologetics we got in Ladd, essentially the same old stuff we used to read in Josh McDowell and John Warwick Montgomery…In the end, Wright, now Bishop of Durham, is just Josh McDowell in a better suit.”

Price’s trademark guilt-by-association. But these are hardly four of a kind. McDowell is a popularizer. Ladd was a respected NT scholar. Wright has taught at Oxford and Cambridge, while Montgomery is a polymath.

Even in the case of McDowell, while he’s not a scholar or philosopher in his own right, there is nothing wrong with anthologizing the scholarship of others, and McDowell’s work, whatever its limitations, is better documented than Price’s “reslung hash.”

“Wright reminds me of Francis Schaeffer, a hidebound fundamentalist who began as a children’s evangelist working for Carl MacIntyre.”

More guilt by association. But, of course, Wright was not an associate of Schaeffer—any more than he’s an associate of McDowell.

Is there something wrong with being a children’s evangelist?

No doubt Schaeffer had his limitations, but he did a lot of good work for the Kingdom.

The objective of these invidious comparisons is to make the reader mentally substitute Schaeffer or McDowell for Wright.

“The tragedy is that many today are falling for it. Witness Wright’s own prominence in the Society of Biblical Literature, to say nothing of his ecclesiastical clout.”

Ah, so the SBL is another hotbed of fundy apologetics.

“Wright backs up much too far to make a running start at the resurrection, regaling us with unoriginal, superfluous, and tedious exposition of Old Testament and Intertestamental Jewish ideas of afterlife and resurrection, resurrection belief in every known Christian writer up into the early third century, etc., etc.”

How is that superfluous? The NT is in dialogue with the OT and Second Temple Judaism.

“He is a victim of what James Barr long ago called the Kittel mentality, referring to the approach of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in which articles on individual New Testament terms and words synthesized from all uses of the term an artificial and systematic semantic structure, leading the reader to suppose that every individual usage of the word was an iceberg tip carrying with it implied reference to all other references.”

It isn’t at all clear to me that Wright is guilty of “the Kittel mentality,” but, in any event, as we shall shortly see, Price himself is guilty of the very mindset he finds fault with in Wright.

“Again, we detect here a phony ecumenism, as if he thought Jews were not all going to hell for rejecting Jesus as the Son of God.”

Does Wright, in fact, believe that all non-Messianic Jews are hellbound? Can Price quote Wright to that effect?

“There are three fundamental, vitiating errors running like fault lines through the unstable continent of this book. The first is a complete unwillingness to engage a number of specific questions or bodies of evidence that threaten to shatter Wright’s over-optimistically orthodox assessment of the evidence. The most striking of these blustering evasions has to do with the dying-and-rising redeemer cults that permeated the environment of early Christianity and had for many, many centuries. Ezekiel 8:14 bemoans the ancient Jerusalemite women’s lamentation for Tammuz, derived from the Dumuzi cult of ancient Mesopotamia. Ugaritic texts make it plain that Baal’s death and resurrection and subsequent enthronement at the side of his Father El went back centuries before Christianity and were widespread in Israel. Pyramid texts tell us that Osiris’ devotees expected to share in his resurrection. Marduk, too, rose from the dead. And then there is the Phrygian Attis, the Syrian Adonis.”

Several major flaws in this analysis:

i) Notice that Price is doing the very thing he imputes to Wright. He takes a loaded word like “resurrection,” “savior,” or “redeemer,” and uses that word, with all its Christian connotations, to describe pagan mythology. This is the Kittel mentality on steroids.

ii) Also observe that Price never applies to pagan materials the same radical criticism he applies to the Biblical materials. Any serious effort at comparative mythology would need to ask and answer some of the following questions:

a) What is the date of our sources?

b) Where do they come from?

c) What is the genre of our sources?

d) What is the state of our textual evidence?

e) Have our sources of pagan mythology undergone redaction?

Ironically, Price is a precritical “fundy” when it comes to pagan mythology. He acts as if there’s just one authorized, canonical version of every myth. That there’s a Textus Receptus of the mythological canon. Sola Mythos.

iii) Look at what else is missing from his comparison. No verbatim quotes. No pagination. No citation of sources from critical editions. In short: no documentation whatsoever.

And this is typical of Price. The comparison never gets beyond name-dropping and tendentious assumptions.

“The harmonistic efforts of Bruce Metzger, Edwin Yamauchi, Ron Sider, Jonathan Z. Smith and others have been completely futile, utterly failing either to deconstruct the dying-and-rising god mytheme (as Smith vainly tries to do) or to claim that the Mysteries borrowed their resurrected savior myths and rituals from Christianity.”

Observe the purely assertive character of this denial. Not a single attempt to interact with the argumentation or documentation of Metzger or Yamauchi. The adjectives do all the grunt-work: “completely futile,” “vainly tries,” “utter failure.” Telling rather than showing.

“If that were so, why on earth did early apologists admit that the pagan versions were earlier, invented as counterfeits before the fact by Satan? Such myths and rites were well known to Jews and Galileans, not to mention Ephesians, Corinthians, etc., for many centuries.”

Don’t let this statement get by you too quickly. Comparative mythology is not peripheral to Price’s case against the faith. And it’s not just one argument among several. Rather, comparative mythology is central to his case against the faith.

As we saw, he made no effort to directly rebut Metzger, Yamauchi, &c.

So what he says here is his only counterargument. That’s it. “early apologists admit that the pagan versions were earlier, invented as counterfeits before the fact by Satan? Such myths and rites were well known to Jews and Galileans, not to mention Ephesians, Corinthians, etc., for many centuries.”

Several basic problems.

i) Once again, the absence of detail. Which versions of what, exactly? Specifics, please!

ii) Which early apologists?

iii) Since they were doing apologetics, would we not expect a degree of audience adaptation and accommodation to create common ground between the apologist and the pagan reader?

iv) Do Christian apologetes from the 2C AD or later have any expertise on the historic origin, redaction, and geographical distribution of pre-Christian mythology?

It’s on this fraying thread that Price is hanging the weight of his case against the faith.

“He merely refers us to other books.”

What’s improper about a scholar referring the reader to specialized literature on the subject? And why doesn’t Price address himself to the footnoted literature on the subject? Does it or does it not back up the claims of Bishop Wright?

“Worse, though, is his utter failure to take seriously the astonishing comment of Herod in Mark 6:14-16 to the effect that Jesus was thought to be John the Baptist already raised from the dead! Can Wright really be oblivious of how this one text torpedoes the hull of his argument? His evasions are so pathetic as to suggest he is being disingenuous, hoping the reader will not notice. The disciples of Jesus, who was slain by a tyrant, may simply have borrowed the resurrection faith of the Baptist’s disciples who posited such a vindication for their own master who had met the same fate.”

How would this be a paradigm for Easter? Jesus and John the Baptist were contemporaries. Jesus was already on the scene before the Baptist was executed, and he outlived the Baptist. So in what sense could the Baptist be resurrected in the person of Jesus if Jesus was on the scene the whole time?

This would only makes sense if, like a Clint Eastwood Western, the sheriff dies, then a stranger rides into town, and after a while it becomes apparent that the stranger is the sheriff returned from the dead.

But even that would be a case of reincarnation rather than a resurrection. And it would assume a sequential rather than simultaneous relation between A and B. Not synchronic, but diachronic. A must die before B appears to take his place.

What is more likely is a Moses/Joshua or Elijah/Elisha relation, where B is the successor to A. And, indeed, the Baptist was thought to be Elijah’s successor (Mk 1:6; Mal 4:5-6). Now, Jesus is thought, by some, to be the Baptist’s successor.

“Equally outrageous is Wright’s contrived and harmonistic treatment of the statements about a spiritual resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, where we read that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (v. 50) and that the resurrected Jesus, the precedent for believers, accordingly possessed a spiritual body (v. 44). Wright labors mightily and futilely to persuade us that all Paul meant by flesh and blood was mortal and corruptible, not made of flesh and blood. Who but a fellow apologist (like William Lane Craig who sells the same merchandise) will agree to this? What does Wright suppose led the writer to use a phrase like flesh and blood for mortal corruptibility in the first place if it is not physical fleshiness that issues inevitably in mortal corruption?”

It is not carnality that issues in death, but fallen carnality. Price fails to distinguish between creation and the fall. In this very chapter, Paul coordinates death with the sin of Adam.

“1 Corinthians 15:45 has the risen Christ become a life-giving spirit.”

“Spirit” is generally employed in Pauline usage, not as an ontological term, but as a charismatic term for the agency of the Holy Spirit.

“Likewise, when he gets to Luke, Wright laughs off the screaming contradiction between Luke 24:40 (Touch me and see: no spirit has flesh as you can see I have.) and 1 Corinthians 15:50 and 45 (Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.).”

Why should we treat Pauline and Lucan usage as synonymous? Especially when Lucan usage is narrative usage while Pauline usage is theological usage.

“Similarly, when he gets to 1 Peter 3:18 (Jesus was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, etc.), Wright rewrites the text to make it say what he wants.”

Actually, Wrights interpretation is standard exegesis. Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but raised by the Spirit of God. Cf. I. H. Marshall, First Peter (IVP 1991), 120-22.

“Wright is desperate to break down the flesh/spirit dichotomy in Paul and Luke (not to mention that between Paul and Luke!), but he builds the same wall higher outside the texts. That is, he wants to say resurrection always meant bodily, not merely spiritual, resurrection.”

This is another category mistake on Price’s part. The flesh/spirit dichotomy in Paul is ethical rather than ontological. It’s not a body/spirit dichotomy, but a sin/God dichotomy.

“But Wright confesses he has no clear idea of what sort of physical presence the risen Jesus might have had. He calls it transphysical and admits he cannot define it. What then is he arguing? He just knows he wants a bodily resurrection, but it has to be a body capable of passing through locked doors and teleporting, appearing and disappearing at will. Yet he despises the notion that the risen Jesus was docetic, a spiritual entity that could take on the false semblance of physicality.”

This is a genuine point of tension in Wright and some other authors. It’s generating by to factors:

i) A Bible scholar is not a philosopher by training, so his conceptual resources are limited.

ii) There’s a tendency to overinterpret Lk 24 and Jn 20. John doesn’t say that Jesus “passed through” a solid door. That’s just a popular inference.

One problem here is the assumption that what Jesus could do was a property of the glorified body.

But Jesus performed many miracles before his Resurrection, miracles which often involved the manipulation of time and space.

Moreover, this isn’t even distinctive to Jesus. Other prophets and apostles could do the same.

“The third strike against Wright is by far the most important. He loathes Enlightenment modernity because it will not let him believe in miracles. So he must change the rules of the game. Like all apologist swindlers, Wright makes a fundamental confusion. He thinks it an arbitrary philosophical bias that historiography should be methodologically atheistic.”

Why shouldn’t he change the rules of the game? He didn’t make the rules. He didn’t get a chance to vote on the rules. Why should he feel bound by the rules of the game? Why does Price have the right to impose his question-begging rules on Wright? If the game is rigged to that a Christian will always lose, the Christian is entitled to change the rules.

“To say that the rise of Christian resurrection faith requires a divine intervention is tantamount to saying we just do not know how it arose. One resorts to such tactics of desperation when all else fails, as Wright thinks mundane explanations have failed. But in that moment one has not found an alternate explanation at all…How is God an explanation, even if there is a God? God is a mystery, unless one is an idolater. And to claim one has explained a problem by invoking a mystery is no advance at all. You are trying to invoke a bigger enigma to explain a smaller one.”

i) This only follows if you subscribe a purely apophatic theology wherein God is wholly inscrutable. But why should a Christian capitulate to Price’s stipulative definition?

ii) God is an explanation if, in fact, divine agency was partly or entirely responsible for the outcome.

“The instant one invokes the wildcard of divine miracles, the game of science and scientific history comes to a sudden halt.”

To more problems:

i) Notice that this is a strictly consequentialist argument. If miracles occur, then we can’t to science or history: ergo, miracles don’t occur.

But even if the occurrence of the miraculous had that consequence, how is that an argument against their occurrence?

Price is one of those ironic unbelievers who acts as if a godless world was set up for his convenience. But since, by his own reckoning, the universe is supremely indifferent to human life and thought, why do unbeliever assume that things have to happen in a way that’s transparent to our understanding?

ii) And why assume that nothing can be explained scientifically unless everything can be explained scientifically?

iii) He also generates a false dichotomy by defining science in atheistic terms from the get-go.

iv) The basic problem is that he begs the question. If God really does exist, then there are going to be consequences. If God made something happen, then you should adjust your worldview accordingly for the simple reason that a fact is a fact—whether or not the fact in question is convenient or inconvenient.

“Wright (though by this time one is tempted to start calling him Wrong) uses sneer quotes, dismissing with no argument at all Crossan’s claim (which I deem undoubtedly and even obviously correct) that the empty tomb traditions stem from women’s lament traditions like those mentioned in Ezekiel 8 and attested for the Osiris cult and others.”

Observe the fallacious inference: some women mourn for Tammuz, some other women mourn for Jesus; therefore: the women’s vigil at the tomb “undoubtedly” and “obviously” stems from Ezk 18 and the Osiris cult.

Needless to say, women grieve whenever there’s an occasion to grieve over. Mourning doesn’t select for a particular occasion; rather, the occasion selects for mourning. So you can find female mourners in any context—be it historical, literary, or mythological.

“The Emmaus story is cut from the same cloth as numerous ancient angels unawares myths, but it bears a striking resemblance to a demonstrably earlier Asclepius story where a couple returns home dejectedly after failing to receive the desired healing miracle at Epidauros.”

i) It’s true that the account is evocative of a common theme, reminiscent of OT theophanies and angelophanies (e.g. Gen 16; 18; Jgs 13). That’s only mythical of you don’t believe in theophanies or angelophanies. Remember, too, that some angelophanies are theophanies (the Angel of the Lord).

ii) The OT material is demonstrably earlier than the tale of Asclepius. And the Gospel of Luke is studded with OT allusions.

iii) Observe that Price doesn’t quote directly from the mythical story of Asclepius. He doesn’t put the text side-by-side the Emmaus account. He doesn’t cite a critical edition. Or give any dates for our sources. Or document its geographical provenance. For Price, higher criticism begins and ends with the Bible, not with mythology.

“The miraculous catch of fish in John 21 is patently based on an earlier Pythagoras story in which the no-longer relevant detail of the number of the fish made some sense.”

This explanation was criticized by Keener in his commentary on John, issued the same year as the book by Wright which Price is reviewing. Cf. C. Keener, The Gospel of John (Hendrickson 2003), 2:1232-33.

Price only tells the reader what he wants the reader to know. Opposing viewpoints are consistently suppressed.

Borrowing a leaf from Talbert, he also attributes the short ending of Mark to a Hellenistic apotheosis. He doesn’t even mention Wright’s own explanation for the short ending—not to mention other explanations by other scholars. Nor does he discuss critics of Talbert like Davie Aune.

“John's story of Doubting Thomas concludes with Jesus making an overt aside to the reader: “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.” Can this writer have seriously intended his readers to think they were reading history? Such asides to the audience are a blatant and overt sign of the fictive character of the whole enterprise.”

If Jesus is who he says he is, why wouldn’t he speak for the benefit of posterity?

The generation of living witnesses will die out. So the church must come to depend on the written testimony which they leave behind.

“As Barr pointed out long ago (Fundamentalism, 1977), the fact that Luke has the ascension occur on Easter evening in Luke 24 but forty days later in Acts chapter 1 (something Wright thinks utterly insignificant!) shows about as clearly as one could ask that Luke was not even trying to relate the facts and didn’t expect the reader to think so.”

“Wright confesses himself ready to swallow the historical accuracy of the guards. Wright thinks it makes sound sense that the guards are to tell that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep? How did they know what happened while they were snoozing? Wright seems not to recognize comedy if there is no laugh track.”

They didn’t know. The guards were not attempting to come clean. To the contrary, they were attempting to shift the blame. They needed a fall guy.

Really? All it clearly shows is narrative compression and literary foreshadowing. Luke is writing a two-part history. The Ascension is a transitional event, rounding out the earthly life of Christ in the Gospel of Luke, and previewing the fuller account of the same event at the beginning of Acts. A teaser as well as a linking device: the hinge of his two-panel history.

Since the Ascension really is a transitional event, it can also serve as a literary transition from the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry to the inauguration of the Apostles ministry.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Perennial antisemitism


Baker's Folly
11/29 12:07 PM
According to the New York Sun: "An expert adviser to the Baker-Hamilton commission expects the 10-person panel to recommend that the Bush administration pressure Israel to make concessions in a gambit to entice Syria and Iran to a regional conference on Iraq. ..."

For James Baker and his ilk, it always comes down to Israel and, by implication, the Jews.  I warned about this the other day.  His thinking is skewed by his contempt.  Baker is Pat Buchanan in a $3,000 suit.


Science & scientism


Steve wrote: "For Hawking, the paradox is a pseudoproblem since, for him, a scientific theory isn’t supposed to be true to reality. Rather, it’s only supposed to be true to our measurements of reality. But if a theory doesn’t correspond to reality, then it has no ultimate truth-value. It corresponds to our measurements of reality, but our measurements of reality are not equivalent to reality itself—according to Hawking."

If I understand correctly, the discussion is between the following propositions (which I think could both reasonably be called `scientific anti-realism'):

1) Science teaches us things about the world, but not about an "ultimate reality" such as God. Claims about the world coming from other sources (e.g. human speech or divine revelation) can theoretically come into conflict with scientific knowledge of the world.

2) Science does not teach us anything about the world. It is purely self-referential and the influence of scientific experiments does not extend outside science. In particular, scientific knowledge is by definition disjoint from what revelation tells us about reality.

I am a supporter of (1), and I get the impression you adhere to (2). For clarification, I prefer not to call (1) anti-realism but critical realism or something similar.

I don't understand what you mean by the second paragraph of the above quotation, especially by a theory that "doesn't correspond to reality". I believe that a theory "corresponds to measurements of reality" in the sense that there are certain aspects of reality which can be measured and that the results can be compared to theoretical predictions. From what you wrote, I'm not sure to what extent you would agree with that. "Corresponding to reality" is a stronger property of a theory than "corresponding to measurements of reality", but it is not justified to conclude from this, or from Hawking's philosophical views, that a theory can predict much about measurements of reality yet say nothing about reality itself. You seem to make such a conclusion, however, when you say:

"Unbelievers claim that science falsifies Gen 1. But, other issues aside, that would only be possible if scientific theories are truth-valued."

I believe geology and biology do not "correspond to reality" in the sense that there is a 1-1 correspondence between the facts of the world and the propositions of those sciences. Still, they allow us to say enough about the world (that there was no time when both dinosaurs and humans lived on the earth, for example) to conclude that a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is inconsistent with those aspects of reality that geology and biology touch upon.

The only way out I can see is to believe that God not only hides Himself from scientific investigation, but even intentionally makes the world appear in such a way that scientific investigation leads to conclusions that contradict God's revelation of the way He acts in the world.


Hi Peter,

1. There are two potential sources of misunderstanding here:

i) The relation of my scientific philosophy to Hawking's scientific philosophy. Are they the same? Different? Do they intersect?

ii) The fact that in this post I haven't attempted to spell out my complete position.

2. To avoid unnecessary complications, let's leave the exegesis of Hawking's position out of the picture.

3. Speaking for myself, I'm an indirect realist. Science does teach us about the world, but the phenomenal world. The world as the percipient senses the world.

4. Now, I'm an indirect realist rather than a phenomenalist or idealist. So I do believe in the existence of an external, extramental world underling the phenomena.

(Mind you, I couldn't prove that from empiricism or rationalism.)

So I do think there are physical objects generating these stimuli. Ontologically speaking, it isn't appearances all the way down.

But from the epistemic viewpoint of the observer, it is appearances all the way down. Phenomenal layers. Phenomenal filters.

5. What sciences measures are appearances And I do think there's a *correlation* between appearance and reality. That's why we can successfully navigate our environment.

But what we lack is a *correspondence* between appearance and reality, in the sense that there's no way of telling, from the viewpoint of the observer, the degree to which, if any, our perception *resembles* reality. To what extent, if any, appearance is *like* reality?

For example, there's a correlation between a music score and a musical performance. But a music score doesn't sound like a piece of music. It doesn't sound like anything. It's just a code. A way of encoding music.

6. That said, some codes are more accurate than others. It's possible to mistranscribe a piece of music.

7. My distinction between appearance and reality is not between the sensible and the supersensible (God).

I do think that science can arrive at a knowledge of God. That there's scientific evidence for the existence of God.

But I don't regard scientific theories as literally descriptive of the physical world.

8. Indirect realism is not the only card in the deck. We can also discuss biology and geology on their own terms. I've done that elsewhere. And others have done that elsewhere—on both sides of the fence. Technical analysis is best left to those with training in the requisite field of specialization.

9. Even so, specialization doesn't obviate the metascientific issues. To say the world looks one way according to science, and another way according to Genesis, is an unscientific statement, for it conceals a number of metascientific assumptions.

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child!"

Unbelievers typically contend that Matthew quoted Isa 7:14 out of context. Actually, it’s unbelievers who quote Isa 7:14 out of context.


The use of Isa.7:14 in Matt.1 is best understood by J.A. Motyer (“Context and Content in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14,”Tyndale Bulletin 21 [1970]: 118-25). Signs in the OT may function as a present persuader (e.g., Exod 4:8-9) or as “future confirmation” (e.g., Exod 3:12). Isaiah 7:14 falls in the latter case because Immanuel’s birth comes too late to be a “present persuader.” The “sign” (v.11) points primarily to threat and foreboding. Ahaz has rejected the Lord’s gracious offer (vv.10-12), and Isaiah responds in wrath (v.13). The “curds and honey” Immanuel will eat (v.15) represent the only food left in the land on the day of wrath (vv.18-22). Even the promise of Ephraim’s destruction (v.8) must be understood to embrace a warning (v.9b; Motyer, “Isaiah 7:14,” pp. 121-22). Isaiah sees a threat, not simply to Ahaz, but to the “house of David” (vv.2, 13) caught up in faithlessness. To this faithless house Isaiah utters his prophecy. Therefore Immanuel’s birth follows the coming events (it is a “future confirmation”) and will take place when the Davidic dynasty has lost the throne.

Motyer shows the close parallels between the prophetic word to Judah (7:1-9:7) and the prophetic word to Ephraim (9:8-11:16). To both there come the moment of decision as the Lord’s word threatens wrath (7:1-17; 9:8-10:4), the time of judgment mediated by the Assyrian invasion (7:18-8:8; 10:5-15), the destruction of God’s foes but the salvation of a remnant (8:9-22; 10:16-34), and the promise of a glorious hope as the Davidic monarch reigns and brings prosperity to his people (9:1-7; 11:1-16). The twofold structure argues for the cohesive unity between the prophecy of Judah and that to Ephraim. If this is correct, Isaiah 7:1-9:7 must be read as a unit—i.e., 7:14 must not be treated in isolation. The promised Immanuel (7:14) will possess the land (8:8), thwart all opponents (8:10), appear in Galilee of the Gentiles (9:1) as a great light to those in the land of the shadow of death (9:2). He is the Child and Son called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” in 9:6, whose government and peace will never end as he reigns on David’s throne forever (9:7).

Much of Motyer’s work is confirmed by a recent article by Joseph Jensen (“The Age of Immanuel,” CBQ 41 [1979]: 220-39; he does not refer to Motyer), who extends the plausibility of this structure by showing that Isaiah 7:15 should be taken in a final sense; i.e., Immanuel will eat the bread of affliction in order to learn (unlike Ahaz!) the lesson of obedience. There is no reference to “age of discretion.” Further, Jensen believes that 7:16-25 points to Immanuel’s coming only after the destruction of the land (6:9-13 suggests the destruction extends to Judah as well as to Israel); that Immanuel and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, Isaiah’s son (8:1), are not the same; and that only Isaiah’s son sets a time limit relevant to Ahaz.

The foregoing discussion was unavoidable. For if Motyer’s view fairly represents Isaiah’s thought, and if Matthew understood him in this way, then much light is shed on the first Gospel. The Immanuel figure of Isaiah 7:14 is a messianic figure, a point Matthew has rightly grasped. Moreover this interpretation turns on an understanding of the place of the Exile in Isaiah 6-12, and Matthew has divided up his genealogy (1:11-12, 17) precisely in order to draw attention to the Exile. In 2:17-18 the theme of the Exile returns. A little later, as Jesus begins his ministry (4:12-16), Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2, which, if the interpretation adopted here is correct, properly belongs to the Immanuel prophecies of Isaiah 7:14, 9:6. Small wonder that after such comments by Matthew, Jesus’ next words announced the kingdom (4:17; cf. Isa 9:7). Isaiah’s reference to Immanuel’s affliction for the sake of learning obedience (cf. on Isa 7:15 above) anticipates Jesus’ humiliation, suffering, and obedient sonship, a recurring theme in this Gospel.

This interpretation also partially explains Matthew’s interest in the Davidic lineage; and it strengthens a strong interpretation of “Immanuel.” Most scholars (e.g., Bonnard) suppose that this name in Isaiah reflects a hope that God would make himself present with his people (“Immanuel” derives from immanuel , “God with us”); and they apply the name to Jesus in a similar way, to mean that God is with us, and for us, because of Jesus. But if Immanuel in Isaiah is a messianic figure whose titles include “Mighty God,” there is reason to think that “Immanuel” refers to Jesus himself, that he is “God with us.” Matthew’s use of the preposition “with” at the end of 1:23 favors this (cf. Fenton, “Matthew 1:20-23,” p. 81). Though “Immanuel” is not a name in the sense that “Jesus” is Messiah’s name (1:21), in the OT Solomon was named “Jedidiah” (“Beloved of Yahweh,” 2Sam 12:25), even though he apparently was not called that. Similarly Immanuel is a “name” in the sense of title or description.

No greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with his people (Isa 60:18-20); Ezek 48:35; Rev 21:23). Jesus is the one called “God with us”: the designation evokes John 1:14, 18. As if that were not enough, Jesus promises just before his ascension to be with us to the end of the age (28:20; cf. also 18:20), when he will return to share his messianic banquet with his people (25:10).

If “Immanuel” is rightly interpreted in this sense, then the question must be raised whether “Jesus” (1:21) should receive the same treatment. Does “Jesus” (“Yahweh saves”) mean Mary’s Son merely brings Yahweh’s salvation, or is he himself in some sense the Yahweh who saves? If “Immanuel” entails the higher christology, it is not implausible that Matthew sees the same in “Jesus.” The least we can say is that Matthew does not hesitate to apply OT passages descriptive of Yahweh directly to Jesus (cf. on 3:3).

Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 is very close to the LXX; but he changes “you will call” to “they will call.” This may reflect a rendering of the original Hebrew, if 1QIsaa is pointed appropriately (cf. Gundry, Use of OT , p. 90). But there is more here: The people whose sins Jesus forgives (1:21) are the ones who will gladly call him “God with us” (cf. Frankemolle, pp. 17-19).


Son Of David

In the Old Testament, the Messiah was expected to be a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16, Psalm 89:3-4, 132:11-12, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15). And later Jewish tradition was expecting a Davidic Messiah:

"Although there was much diversity in messianic speculation among individual Jewish groups, a general consensus emerged within later Judaism that the Messiah would be Davidic along the lines set out by the exilic prophets. A representative statement of Jewish messianic expectations is Psalms of Solomon 17-18…Essentially the same description of the Davidic Messiah appears at Qumran (1QM 11:1-18; 4QFlor 1:11-14; 4QPBless 1-7; 4Qtestim 9-13; see Dead Sea Scrolls) and in the Pseudepigrapha (4 Ezra 12:31-32; T. Jud. 24:1-5)." (D.R. Bauer, in Joel B. Green, et al., editors, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992], p. 767)

Many early Christian sources refer to Jesus as a descendant of David (Matthew 1:1, Mark 10:47-48, Luke 1:32, Romans 1:3, Revelation 22:16), and Jesus seems to have accepted the claim (Matthew 12:22-32, 15:21-28, 21:1-16, Mark 10:46-52, 12:35-37). Since relatives of Jesus were available to and prominent in the early church and since some genealogical records were kept among the Jews of the first century, the early Christian accounts of Jesus’ being a descendant of David seem credible. Some of the earliest Christians had been active in the leadership of Judaism during the early stages of Christianity (Acts 6:7, Philippians 3:4-6), so they probably would have heard of objections to Jesus' Davidic ancestry if there were any. Paul, for example, was active in persecuting the church and surely would have had significant knowledge of the arguments used against Christianity by the earliest opponents of the movement, and he was in contact with Jesus' immediate family. He affirms Jesus' Davidic descent (Romans 1:3, 2 Timothy 2:8). How could Jesus' claim to be the Messiah have gotten far among so many people who had the expectation of Davidic descent, and why would He have even thought of Himself as such a Messiah in the first place, if He wasn’t descended from David? As the author of Hebrews indicates, information on Jesus’ background was "evident" to the public (Hebrews 7:14). Raymond Brown referred to Jesus' Davidic descent as accepted by "the majority of scholars" (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], p. 505). Craig Keener writes:

"there is little doubt that Jesus’ family historically stemmed from Davidic lineage. All clear early Christian sources attest it (e.g., Rom 1:3); Hegesippus reports a Palestinian tradition in which Roman authorities interrogated Jesus’ brother’s grandsons for Davidic descent (Euseb. H.E. 3.20); Julius Africanus attests Jesus’ relatives claiming Davidic descent (Letter to Aristides); and, probably more significantly, non-Christian Jewish polemicists never bothered to try to refute it (Jeremias 1969: 291). Jesus’ relatives known in the early church seem to have raised no objection to the claim of their family’s background (Brown 1977: 507)….B. Sanh. 43a, bar., may preserve a [non-Christian Jewish] tradition that Jesus was of royal lineage (unless it suggests connections with the Herodian or Roman rulers, or that he was about to take control of the people; both views are unlikely)." (A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 75 and n. 9 on p. 75)

D.A. Carson writes:

"After Zerubbabel [in Matthew’s genealogy], Matthew relies on extrabiblical sources of which we know nothing. But there is good evidence that records were kept at least till the end of the first century. Josephus (Life 6 [1]) refers to the 'public registers' from which he extracts his genealogical information (cf. also Jos. Contra Apion I, 28-56 [6-10]). According to Genesis R 98:8, Rabbi Hillel was proved to be a descendant of David because a genealogical scroll was found in Jerusalem. Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.19-20) cites Hegesippus [a second century Christian] to the effect that Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) ordered all descendants of David slain. Nevertheless two of them when summoned, though admitting their Davidic descent, showed their calloused hands to prove they were but poor farmers. So they were let go. But the account shows that genealogical information was still available. While no twentieth-century Jew could prove he was from the tribe of Judah, let alone from the house of David, that does not appear to have been a problem in the first century, when lineage was important in gaining access to temple worship." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew, Chapters 1 Through 12 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995], p. 63)

Though the New Testament emphasis is on the Davidic lineage of Joseph, there was widespread early belief that Mary was a descendant of David as well. Gabriel is speaking with Mary in Luke 1:32, and Joseph isn't mentioned in the immediate context, so a Davidic descent of Mary may be in view, though Joseph is mentioned in verse 27. The concept of Mary's Davidic descent seems to be popular in second century sources as early as Ignatius of Antioch (Raymond Brown, et al., editors, Mary In The New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978], pp. 260-261), though the evidence isn't as significant as it is for Joseph's ancestry. Whatever Mary's ancestry was, it seems that Jesus' status as a descendant of David was considered sufficiently credible to gain general acceptance among the early Christians and their early opponents.