Saturday, October 07, 2017

Genealogical Adam and Eve

I don't subscribe to theistic evolution. That said, this is a striking critique of Dennis Venema:

Does Science Rule Out a First Human Pair?

Carrier on the Moral Scepticism Objection to DCT

Social contagion

Déjà vécu


When Jayden awoke, he found himself in a hospital room. He didn't remember how he got there. He wasn't in pain. Wasn't injured. Had no surgical incisions. The hospital was eerily quiet. He walked down the hallway, but the hospital was deserted. He went outside, but the streets were deserted. He didn't remember what happened after that.


Jayden found himself hiking with his son Xavier. He didn't remember what happened before then. They were climbing a hill. When they reached the summit, there was a was a mountain range in the distance. They started down the hill, towards a stream. He didn't remember what happened after that.


Jayden found himself on the football field of his old high school. He was coaching a player named Xavier. It was a crisp autumn day, with colorful trees surrounding the field, as well as leaves littering the track. He didn't recall what happened after that.


Jayden found himself in a barbershop. He didn't recall how he got there. Ava, a middle-aged beautician, was cutting his hair. He felt like he'd known her for a long time. 


Jayden found himself at a Thanksgiving meal at his mother's home. His mother Ava was busy in the kitchen, while he was talking to his brother Jordan in the front yard, facing the river. The sun was low on the horizon. He didn't remember driving there.


Jayden was driving on the expressway. He didn't recall where the trip began. The expressway was lined with familiar motels and exits he'd seen so many times before along that stretch of highway. He felt that he was heading home, although, as he thought about it, he didn't recollect where home was. He was driving back by force of habit–like he'd done this many times before. In the passenger seat was his wife Debbie. 


Jayden woke up in the bedroom of his college dorm. His roommate, Jordan, was seated upright in bed, typing on his laptop. Jordan was his best friend from high school. Jayden was pondering what to do next, but he didn't remember what happened after that. 


Jayden found himself sitting in a pizzeria, talking to a pretty waitress named Debbie. He sensed having had this conversation before. He had a foreboding that this would slip away as abruptly as it began. 


Jayden found himself sitting in an empty church. One of those churches that's open during weekdays so that people can visit the sanctuary to pray and mediate. He was flipping through the hymnal. 

Jayden couldn't shake the feeling of déjà vécu, like he was trapped inside a recurring dream, or circuit of dreams. Only he never really woke up. Every time, he woke up in the dream rather than waking up from the dream. A merry-go-round of dreams, where he kept reliving the same episodes, in no particular order. He could remember just enough to recall having done it all before, but he couldn't remember when it began–or if it began. He kept meeting the same people–or were they the same people? They had the same names. Same faces. Like a parallel universe. 

What was real? What was happening to him? Was he losing his mind? Or tripping out on LSD? Perhaps he suffered traumatic brain trauma from an accident. This was his delirium, as he frantically struggled to become fully lucid. Like a diver swimming towards the sunlight, but every time he's just about to surface, he sinks back. 

It had been going on for much too long to be a dream. He remembered it happening over and over again. Or did he? Maybe his memories were part of the hallucination–if that's what it was. The fact that he kept encountering the same people suggested that he knew them in the real world–whatever that was. He felt like an amnesiac groping to piece his life together, hoping to tap into some association that would suddenly bring it all back. Maybe in the real world, his body was sedated, with simulated imagery feeding into his mind through a neurointerface. 

He looked again at the hymnal in his hands. He knew this scene would vanish. He'd been there before. He'd been there again, sitting in the same spot, holding the hymnal open to the same page. 

He hadn't been very pious when all this began, assuming it had a beginning. Maybe it was like a Möbius strip, forever circling back on itself, without a starting-point or destination. But in his maddening ordeal, the only thing that kept him centered was the dawning realization that even if nothing else was real, God had to be real. If it was a recurring dream, that existed in God's reality. If it was an acid trip, that existed in God's reality. If it was a parallel universe, that existed in God's reality. If it was a computer simulation, that existed in God's reality. 

Only God could penetrate his experience. God was the only thing outside his experience that was able to reach into his experience. So God was the only realty he could reach from inside the illusion. And only God could connect him to his loved ones, whom he kept meeting and losing, meeting had losing. 

The earthquake at the crucifixion

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Dealing with grief

During those times in a Christian's life when he's passing through a desert, times of grief, frustration, the dry seasons of faith, theological propositions, while indispensable, only take us so far. They feel flat. External. At times like this I think Christians benefit from listening to music. To favorite hymns and carols. Depends on your taste in music. Christian song can water a parched soul in a way that theological propositions cannot. We need both. The Bible says a lot about sacred song. There's a reason for that. 

God's unwelcome recovery

Is death the end?

Timothy McGrew on Plutarch

Michael Licona has been making a big deal about the value of Plutarch in Gospel studies. I asked Jonathan McLatchie to ask Timothy McGrew (on Grill a Christian) if he thought Plutarch is a good literary model or frame of reference for understanding the narrative techniques of the Gospel writers. Dr. McGrew answers that question between 23-28 min. mark of this video:

Dr. McGrew's answers throughout the video are valuable. The other contributors also make useful points. 

Machine Gun Preacher

1. The actions of this Marine are receiving widespread praise:

On Facebook, a Christian wondered if we could analogize from his actions to a prolifer "stealing" the car of an abortionist to prevent him from getting to work, or would that violate the Biblical prohibition against theft? That's a very interesting question with many moral complexities. The question could spin off in many directions. I've discussed variations on that question on multiple occasions, so I will try to avoid getting too bogged in response to this question.

2. I'll begin with some general preliminary observations: some biblical commands and prohibitions represent intrinsically right or wrong actions. Inherently obligatory or prohibitory. 

But other biblical commands and prohibitions represent prima facie duties. These are not an end in themselves, but means to an end. Instrumental rather than intrinsic goods. In case of conflict between higher and lower obligations, the higher obligation temporarily supersedes the lower obligation. A classic example is the Sabbath controversies in the Gospels.

3. Apropos (2), there's a pro tanto or prima facie obligation to obey the law (e.g. Rom 13). But under special circumstances, that can be overridden (e.g. Acts 5:29). The most general exception is when the state forbids you to do right or commands you to do wrong. 

4. Apropos (2-3), we must often balance social obligations. In general, social obligations are concentric. We have greater obligations to relatives or fellow believers than we have to neighbors or strangers. 

5. Apropos (4), some Christians have prior obligations. Take a Christian husband and father. He's not at liberty to take the same risks as a Christian bachelor. 

Likewise, if a Christian bachelor is an only child, he may need to avoid taking certain risks in case his parents will need him to care for them in their dotage. If, on the other hand, he has several siblings, then he can assume a greater risk. 

6. Apropos (4), Christians don't have a duty to, say, buy a ticket to some third world hellhole, purchase a machine gun when when they arrive, and become self-appointed avengers. This is ultimately God's world. In his providence, God has often put us in situations where we can't rectify evil. In many cases, we must commit miscarriages of justice to eschatological judgment to right the scales. God is the ultimate avenger. There's only so much we can and should do on our own, in this life. 

7. That said, vigilantism is not inherently wrong. If civil authorities are hopelessly corrupt, vigilantism may be necessary to some degree, but that's in dire circumstances. Depends on the availability of legal remedies. 

A modern example is Christians who illegally sheltered Jews from Nazis. A secular example is the French and Italian Resistance. And although I disagree with this example, consider sanctuary cities, championed by the liberal establishment (as well as the church of Rome). 

8. A vigilante action might save a few innocent lives, but it won't change the policy. So there's a cost/benefit analysis. What can we do to do the most good?  

9. Few Christians are professional ethicists. God doesn't expect garden-variety Christians to have a sophisticated rationale for their actions. For that matter, even Christian ethicists disagree with each other on some issues. Even Christian ethicists are stumped by some ethical dilemmas. 

So there are cases where, even if an action is objectively wrong (from God's viewpoint), godly intentions can attenuate or exculpate what would otherwise be blameworthy. We must often make snap decisions. We must often make morally important decisions based on inadequate information. We lack divine wisdom. 

In that respect, I think it's possible to do good even when you're not doing right. It's possible for conscientious Christians to make innocent mistakes. There's a margin for error. 

10. Machine Gun Preacher presents an extreme case. Christian reviewers were conflicted:

I haven't seen the movie, but to judge by reviews, I'd be rooting for the protagonist. I sympathize with his actions. What he did was admirable. But I don't think that makes it obligatory–or even permissible–although there were powerful mitigating factors. 

11. Moses was a vigilante (Exod 2:11-15). Most commentators classify his action as murder. But I don't see it that way. I don't assume he intended to kill the assailant. That wasn't his aim. And it was commendable that he intervened to spare the victim from further harm. 

If, however, you interpose in a situation like that, you must be prepared to use lethal force, for even though the motivation is to protect a second party from harm, once you insert yourself into that situation, it instantly becomes a matter of self-defense. You've drawn the assailant's fire from the original target to you. Depending on the tenacity of the assailant, that may be a battle to the death. That's why many people don't get involved. They know the risk. You must take the potential for lethal force into consideration, for once you intervene, you're committed to do pretty much whatever it takes. If you're not prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect the victim or protect yourself, once you insert yourself into that situation, then it would be foolhardy to intervene. At that point it's too late to back out. 

Admittedly, this example is descriptive rather than prescriptive. So it doesn't prove that vigilantism is ever warranted. But in the larger context of the Mosaic law, where there's an obligation to protect the defenseless (e.g. orphans, widows), I think the reader is meant to view the action of Moses as brave, honorable and even exemplary. 

12. Although the Marine may technically be guilty of theft, it isn't theft in the usual sense. He didn't intend to keep the car or use it for recreation (joyriding). He intended to return the car. To be more accurate, he commandeered the car in an emergency situation.

13. I doubt biblical prohibitions against theft are absolute. Many biblical commands and prohibitions have an implied context. They were not designed to be universally applicable to every conceivable situation. Rather, they apply to typical situations. And when we apply them today, we should apply them to comparable situations. That's a class apart from the subset of biblical commands or prohibitions that represent moral absolutes. 

14. However, the issue doesn't turn on that particular example. Suppose we vary the example. Would it be permissible for a prolifer to deflate the tires of the abortionist? I doubt there's anything inherently wrong with that. But, of course, that's not a long-term solution. That's not something he can get away with on a regular basis. After the first two or three times, the abortionists will be on the alert. The prolifer will be arrested. And business as usual will resume. 

I don't know the legalities. If this is a misdemeanor offense, and you had a series of prolifers doing it, that would be more disruptive. Still, it's a piecemeal approach. 

15. Take a more creative example. Suppose a prolife hacktivist infiltrates the computer system of abortion clinic to shut it down. Suppose he can cover his tracks so that his repeated actions are indetectable. Technically, that's cyberterrorism, but depending on your viewpoint, that's more analogous to actions of the French and Italian Resistance. From what I've read, they used to sabotage power lines and railway tracks. Most of us wouldn't classify them as terrorists. For that matter, liberals don't object to hacktivism in principle. 

Do I think it would be morally licit for a prolifer to do that? I think that might be justifiable. Direct, nonviolent action. 

16. Suppose, though, I don't think that's justifiable. Suppose the hacktivist is my roommate, and I discover what he's up to. Do I have a duty to notify the police? No. Our abortion laws are a miscarriage of justice. I have no obligation to facilitate that injustice by collaborating with the authorities. Moreover, my roommate is doing good even if he's not doing right. So I wouldn't report him to the authorities. And if I happened to know the authorities were on to him, I might warn him. 

Best not to be born

Although atheism is ultimately self-refuting, a few hardy atheists make an effort to take their position to a logical extreme. Case in point:

The label for Benatar's position is existential nihilism. And that dovetails with Steiner's definition of absolute tragedy:

The Psychopath Inside

Most atheists are physicalists. The brain generates the mind. So morality is located in the brain. Consider this example:

James Fallon admits he has a lot in common with serial killer Ted Bundy and Columbine assassin Eric Harris. He is aggressive, lacks empathy and is a risk-taker.

Fallon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California Irvine, accidentally discovered what friends and family have suspected for years -- he has all the genetic traits and brain scan patterns of a psychopath.

"I don't have special emotional bonds with those who are close to me -- I treat everyone the same," he said. "I am involved in a lot of charities and good works, and my intentions are good for the world. But I don't have the sense of romance or love I am supposed to have for my wife. It's not there."

For years Fallon has worked with criminologists and other legal experts to evaluate the brain for abnormalities. But while volunteering with his own family for a study of Alzheimer's disease, Fallon learned on his PET scan that he has all the features of a psychopath.

"The last scan in the pile was strikingly odd," he writes about the 2005 discovery. "In fact it looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath -- or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one. ... When I found out who the scan belonged to, I had to believe there was a mistake. ... But there had been no mistake. The scan was mine."

"Looking at my genetics, I had lethal combination, but I just had the happiest childhood growing up," he said. Fallon's mother had four miscarriages before his birth and, as a result, he said he was, "treated well because they didn't think I would be born."

"There were dark periods I went through, but they didn't bring me to a psychiatrist, but they told my sisters and teachers to watch out for me," he said. "My mother instinctively knew there was a problem."

Although psychos have abnormal brains, they don't have defective brains, since–according to naturalism–there's no way the brain is supposed to be. And psychopaths can be highly functional. 

On this view, morality is arbitrary. Morality is an artifact of brain structures. If you change the wiring, you change morality.

In theory, evolution might have made psychopathic brains normal rather than abnormal. The majority might have psychopathic brains. Empathetic humans would be abnormal. From a naturalistic perspective, that's all there is to morality. Rewire the brain and you get a different moral code. There's no right or wrong way the brain is supposed to be wired. That's the outcome of the blind watchmaker. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


Mad Max

Question from a commenter on this post:

How far does this track? Crossbows to revolvers to automatic rifles to grenade launchers to nukes.

Naturally, what is available to governments is not financially feasible to the average citizen. But the financial aspect aside, if citizens can afford the weaponry, is there a point where the principle breaks down in favor of minimizing casualties by crazy people?

This is something I have struggled with and I am curious where you would draw the line (if at all).

1. Good question, but hard to answer in general or answer in the abstract. It depends on the specific situation and what there is to work with. There are roughly three players:

i) Gov't

ii) Private citizens

iii) Criminal class

2. How the power dynamic plays out varies in time and place. Take fictional dystopias like Mad Max, Jericho, Revolution, or The Book of Eli, where you have a breakdown in civil authority. In that situation it's every man for himself. Private citizens must use whatever is available to protect themselves. 

3. Although that's fictional, it can have real-world analogues during revolution, civil war, and economic implosion. 

4. Sometimes it's two against three. Gov't officials may be on the take, so that you have an informal partnership between the gov't and the criminal class. Gov't officials get a cut. 

5. In some Western nations, the citizens have been disarmed, so the only foks with guns and heavy weaponry are the police/soldiers, and criminal class.

Sometimes the gov't fears the criminal class (e.g. Muslim rioters), so that you have a gentleman's agreement between civil authorities and the criminal class. 

6. In our own country, police often refuse to protect property. They let rioters go on the rampage, looting stories, burning cars and buildings. In that situation, armed private citizens must protect their homes and businesses. 

7. Sometimes there's collusion between gov't and the criminal class. Take the Jim Crow era, where some gov't officials were in bed with the KKK. I've read that some blacks took advantage of the ease with which guns could be procured to arm themselves. That became a deterrent. 

Likewise, suppose incidents like the Warsaw uprising had been widespread and occurred sooner? 

On a related note, 

“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?... The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If...if...We didn't love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation.... We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” 

― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

Valley of Hinnom

I reader drew my attention to this post:

Several fallacies in his argument:

i) Metaphors originate in a particular concrete phenomena, but acquire an abstract, analogical significance. The significance of the metaphor is not identical to the natural or historical exemplar. It develops a significance that goes beyond the exemplar, even in contrast to the exemplar. 

Take Edenic motifs or Mt. Zion. These take on symbolic connotations that are no longer conterminous with a specific address and/or the geography of that particular locale. Or, in modern usage, take metaphors like "salt mines" or "Siberian exile". These originate at a particular time or place, but they develop an emblematic significance that's independent of the historical exemplar. 

ii) Although the original context has interpretive resonance, the normative context for NT occurrences is how that's used in the NT. What the metaphor means at that stage of theological elaboration. 

iii) Moreover, it's not confined to the meaning of a particular word, but how that's combined with larger descriptions.

iv) Furthermore, Scripture uses a variety of metaphors to depict eschatological judgment. The concept of damnation isn't confined to the figurative range of one particular metaphor, but how that's built up on the basis of many figurative as well as literal descriptions. 

Top 10 Reasons for Accepting Jesus’ “I Am” Sayings in John as Historically Reliable

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

I used to think gun control was the answer

Response to Licona

Neglected prooftext for deity of Christ

Bible puzzle solved

Biblical writes couldn't anticipate that what they said some 2500-3000 years ago would be corroborated in the 20C. Can't chalk that up to an author of pious historical fiction sprinkling his text with random facts to give an air of verisimilitude:

More guns, less gun violence

"What's the case for citizens being able to access crossbows?"

"Progressive Christian" Randal Rauser posed this question in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre: "What is the case for citizens being able to access (semi) automatic weaponry?"

I'm not an expert on this debate, but here's my off-the-cuff response:

i) To begin with, have you ever noticed that gun-control debates parallel debates about theodicy? Every time there's a natural disaster that kills a lot of people, atheists rehash the problem of evil. Likewise, every time there's a gun massacre, liberals rehash the gun-control debate. 

What this fails to consider is that sophisticated Christians already have a theodicy or set of theodicies to address the problem of evil. A new example of natural evil doesn't change the argument. By the same token, people who support gun rights often have arguments based on principle. A new massacre doesn't change the principle. 

ii) Like many other things in a free and open society, private gun-ownership is a tradeoff. It's inevitable that legal access to guns will led to some tragedies. Sophisticated advocates of private gun-ownership have already taken that into account. Just as we make allowance for the fact that driving cars inevitably results in many fatal accidents. Pointing to a freeway pileup doesn't change the position. The alternative to private gun ownership is a police state. 

iii) The right of self-defense is calibrated to the threat level. What you need to defend yourself depends what you're up against. Take the old adage about "bringing a knife to a gun fight". 

Suppose we recast Randal's question in medieval terms: "What's the case for citizens being able to access crossbows?"

Well, if you have longbows while Viking marauders have crossbows, that puts you at a disadvantage. If the assailant's weaponry is superior to yours, then you can't defend yourself. If the criminal class has better weaponry than private citizens, then private citizens are no match for the criminal class. There's deterrent value if crooks know private citizens may be able to respond in kind. 

Van Til was “Prophetically True” on Roman Catholicism

Daniel the Prophet Accurately Describes Roman Catholicism

Van Til was “Prophetically True” on Roman Catholic syncretism
Leonardo De Chirico explicates Van Tils view of
the syncretism of Roman Catholicism
In his latest issue of Vatican Files, Leonard De Chirico has published an excerpt of a paper given at a September 2014 conference in Rome entitled “Rerum Novarum: Neo-Calvinism and Roman Catholicism”. Google translates “Rerum Novarum” as “of the new things”. That is also the title of a papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, by “Pope Leo XIII”, and the title indicates “the spirit of revolutionary change” – beginning with the “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”.

This theme was an appropriate point of contact between neo-Calvinists of the late 19th century, and it was deemed to be the theme of a program in 2014 as well. Here is the theme of the program from the organizers:

Roman Catholicism was a world player when neo-Calvinism began to develop from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards. At that time, both Catholicism and Protestantism went through substantial changes. For the neo-Calvinists, Catholicism functioned as both an antagonist and an ally in their struggle to uphold religion in the modern age of ‘rerum Novarum’. The neo-Calvinists were the first Protestants to cooperate openly with Roman Catholics in politics and on social issues. Theologically they were particularly interested in neo-Thomism, but remained critical of Roman Catholicism until after the Second World War and the Second Vatican Council.

The conference will focus on the theological, ecclesial, philosophical, political, social and cultural interactions between the two traditions: in what ways did they influence and approach each other, on which aspects did they continue to differ and why, and how could their relationship over a century and a half best be described?

This, it seems to me, is a useful approach that Reformed scholars and believers can take in addressing Roman Catholicism. Especially useful, it seems, is the paper given by De Chirico (excerpted here, and to be given in a fuller form in a book-length project soon to be released from this conference): “The clay of Paganism with the iron of Christianity: Cornelius Van Til’s Critique of Roman Catholicism”.

Seers, angels, and talking donkeys

In Scripture, angels sometimes appear to people when they're awake, but at other times in a dream or vision. That raises the question of whether Balaam's encounter with the angel and the talking donkey (Num 22:21-35) was a vision. An additional consideration is Balaam's identity was a seer. If you combine the fact that angelic apparitions sometimes occur in dreams and visions with the additional fact that Balaam was a seer, it may well be the case that his surreal experience was visionary in nature–like the talking eagle in Rev 8:13. 

We wouldn't necessarily need an explicit textual clue that the scene was visionary, since the fact that he was a seer, combined with the fact that angelic apparitions sometimes take place in dreams and visions, already clue the reader to that interpretive option. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

By God's singular care and providence

This is a sequel to my previous post:

Here's how another noted scholar responded to my question:

A huge majority of differences between the MSS we have are tiny and make no difference to the sense. Others are obvious mistakes that can be easily recognized. I would doubt there was ever a MS that was 100% correct, but so what? Most (or even all) of the published versions of my books contain some typos that no one picked up in the proof-reading, but I have rarely found one that would seriously mislead a reader. (If I had accidentally omitted "one" from that sentence, you would easily supply it.) 

There are some verses of the NT where I think it is impossible to be sure of the original text. That doesn't really bother me. There are also verses where we can be pretty certain of the original text but where it is impossible to be sure what it means! So I do wonder whether Ehrman's argument is actually directed at Christians who think it important to be absolutely certain of the original words in every case. That is certainly not possible, but I don't think we need such a degree of certainty. 

I think it is intrinsically very likely that at least in the case of the major books, many copies were made independently from the original "autograph" or from a copy of it. Suppose Mark's Gospel was written in Rome. The church there would probably have several copies made to send to other churches. But then also Christians visiting Rome over the next few years would get copies made to take back to their own churches. 

As you probably know, many works of classical antiquity have only survived in copies much later than the early NT MSS. I don't notice classical scholars regarding it as a big problem.

The case for Calvinistic hermeneutics

Before Abraham was, I am

In the video, Ehrman asks Evans if he thinks Jesus actually uttered the “I am . . .” statements in John’s Gospel. Evans answered that most of them were probably not uttered as recorded and that John was probably of a genre different than the other Gospels...Now I realize some of my rather conservative brothers and sisters in Christ will experience some discomfort at Evan’s statement...It’s a matter of whether Jesus made those claims implicitly and John recast them in an explicit manner. In John, are we reading Jesus’ words or the message behind them? That’s the question. 

There are several basic problems with Licona's explanation:

i) A claim like Jn 8:58 is not a self-enclosed statement. Rather, what Jesus said in v58 grows directly out of the preceding exchange, while the reaction in v59 is in direct response to what he say in v58:

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple (Jn 8:59).

The narrator can't simply take an originally implicit claim by Jesus, recast that as an explicit claim, without disrupting the flow of argument. In v58, Jesus is responding to what his enemies said, while, in v59, his enemies are responding to what he said. V58 is embedded in a dynamic exchange, where statement leads to another. Rejoinder and surrejoiners. The Abraham motif gives rise to v58. Jesus seizes on that comparison, then draws a pointed contrast between himself and Abraham. In v58, Jesus talks about himself in a way that deliberately invites comparisons with classic monotheistic statements in the OT (e.g. Exod 3:14; Isa 41:4; 43:10-11,25; 45:18-19,22; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6). His opponents are reacting to that specific formulation (or an Aramaic equivalent). 

ii) Although the Synoptics attest the deity of Christ, that's generally through allusive actions rather than mere statements. Statements in combination with illustrative actions. But in Jn 8:58, the Jews are incensed, not by something Jesus did, but by something he said. The statement in itself has that effect.

iii) Jn 8:58 is not an explicit claim to deity, but an implicit claim. A provocative statement designed to trigger associations with OT statements stressing the unique status of Yahweh–in contrast to heathen nonentities. To say that Jesus originally said something more oblique than v58 fails to explain the reaction in v59. V58 is an allusive statement that intentionally and inevitable evokes those OT texts. To claim that what Jesus original said was more muted leaves the comparison shrouded in obscurity. 

Was meat on the menu?

To a modern reader, Gen 1:29-30 and 9:1-4 suggest meat-eating was a postdiluvian development. But to an attentive Jewish reader, that would not be the case. In Gen 4:2-3, we have two offerings which foreshadow the offerings of the firstborn and firstfruits in the Mosaic cultus. Sacrificial meat was either eaten by the priest or the worshipper (e. g. Deut 15:19-23). Therefore, the default inference to draw from Abel's offering is that meat eating antedated the flood. Gen 9:1-4 probably involves a distinction between livestock and game. And because game animals would not be hunted, they would become fearful of man (9:2). If, moreover, humans consumed meat prior to the flood, that it seems all the more likely that animal predators did as well. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Blank slate historiography

It is important to know that I am a historian. When the practice of history is conducted with integrity, the historian does not allow himself or herself to allow their theological presuppositions to weigh into their investigation. After all, the results of one’s inquiry may reveal that certain presuppositions are mistaken. For example, an atheist historian should not bring his or her presupposition “God does not exist” to an investigation of Jesus’ resurrection. For it would force the conclusion that Jesus did not rise from the dead, in spite of the abundant and forceful evidence to the contrary. Conversely, if I as a Christian historian want to conduct an investigation in the Gospels with integrity, I cannot bring a theological conviction that the Bible is God’s infallible Word to that investigation. Historians who practice with integrity must come to an investigation being as open as possible to what it may yield, even if what it yields suggests something I presently believe must be modified or abandoned. Otherwise, one ends up being guided more by his or her presuppositions rather than the historical data. That’s practicing theology or philosophy; not history.

i) That's an inadequate framework. On the one hand, Christian apologists want to be able to say that Muslims and Mormons (to take two convenient examples) shouldn't bring a theological conviction that the Quran or the Book of Mormon is God's infallible Word to their investigation. However, the way Licona has framed the issue is asymmetrical. The logical alternative to "God does not exist" isn't scripture (e.g. the Bible, Book of Mormon, Koran) is God's infallible Word. There's a continuum. Theological presuppositions needn't be that specific. 

ii) The problem with suspending your theological convictions is that God's existence or nonexistence has far-reaching ramifications for ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics in general. Yet any investigation into a religious claimant must operate with some criteria. But criteria are value-laden. We don't come to any text as a blank slate. And we can't evaluate any text as a blank slate. We must take some philosophical, theistic, or atheistic operating assumptions for granted. We either come to the text with theistic or atheistic operating assumptions. There's no middle ground between atheism and theism, per se–although there are varieties of theism and degrees of atheistic commitment. 

Criteria make assumptions about the nature of the world we inhabit. About what's possible, impossible, probable, or improbable. Consider presuppositions regarding the general reliability of reason, sense perception, testimonial evidence, and induction. An expectation that the world is in some measure comprehensible. That math and logic are applicable to the external world, and not merely mental projections or human constructs. 

Are these theistic or atheistic assumptions? What must the world be like for these assumptions to be warranted? Assuming these criteria are theistic, a reader ought to bring these theological presuppositions to bear when reading the Bible. He needn't begin with specifically Christian presuppositions. These might intersect with Christian presuppositions. But even if a Bible reader is not initially a Christian, it would be good for him to come to the text with these theistic criteria already in place, if in fact that's the basis of rationality. The Bible then would complement and undergird those criteria. 

iii) One problem with Licona's framework is acting as though every historian either has or ought to have the same viewpoint when investigating religious claimants. But one historian's background may dramatically differ from another historian's background, and the philosophical or theological presuppositions he brings to the text may be warranted or at least enjoy prima facie justification based on prior experience. For instance, suppose a young man was raised in a Christian home. Suppose, moreover, that he has witnessed miraculous answers to Christian prayer. Is he not justified in bringing that background knowledge to bear when he reads the Bible? Doesn't that create a warranted presumption? 

iv) Suppose a young man had a secular upbringing. Atheism might be his default frame of reference when examining the Bible, but that can be a provisional frame of reference. Something he holds to lightly, which could be falsified. Experience and inexperience aren't opposing lines of evidence. One is evidence while the other is not. 

Likewise, a historian who has no religious background can read the Bible through different filters, comparing and contrasting the explanatory power of a Christian or theistic interpretive grid with the explanatory power of a secular grid. Suppose he's initially noncommittal in either regard. But it's not as if he's coming to the text without a viewpoint. Rather, he's examining the text from competing viewpoints. 

v) If the Bible is true, wouldn't we expect the experience of Christians, or at least some Christians, to correspond to the outlook of Scripture? If their extrabiblical experience (e.g. miracles, answered prayer) already dovetails with the Bible, why shouldn't they bring that to their reading of Scripture? Indeed, if the Bible is true, we'd expect some cross-pollination between Biblical observations of reality and extrabiblical observations. A Christian has access to both. Suppose he, or friends and relatives pray to Jesus because Scripture encourages them to pray for Jesus. Suppose, in some cases, there are unmistakable answers to prayer. That feeds back into his Bible reading.