Saturday, May 18, 2019

Skeptics, seekers, and Acts

In addition to a sophisticated defense of the historicity of Acts, Craig also gives an inspiring account of his conversion:

Misanthropic feminism

Fun fact: If my younger sister was in a car accident and desperately needed a blood transfusion to live, and I was the only person on Earth who could donate blood to save her, and even though donating blood is a relatively easy, safe, and quick procedure no one can force me to give blood. Yes, even to save the life of a fully grown person, it would be ILLEGAL to FORCE me to donate blood if I didn’t want to.

See, we have this concept called “bodily autonomy.” It’s this….cultural notion that a person’s control over their own body is above all important and must not be infringed upon. 

Like, we can’t even take LIFE SAVING organs from CORPSES unless the person whose corpse it is gave consent before their death. Even corpses get bodily autonomy. 

To tell people that they MUST sacrifice their bodily autonomy for 9 months against their will in an incredibly expensive, invasive, difficult process to save what YOU view as another human life (a debatable claim in the early stages of pregnancy when the VAST majority of abortions are performed) is desperately unethical. You can’t even ask people to sacrifice bodily autonomy to give up organs they aren’t using anymore after they have died. 

You’re asking people who can become pregnant to accept less bodily autonomy than we grant to dead bodies. 

Commenting on this statement, Christian philosopher Tim Hsiao said:

There are at least two problems with this line of argument.

First, the relationship between a parent and a child is very different from a relationship between siblings. Parents have a special responsibility to care for their children in a way that siblings do not. Why? Because they are the ones who are responsible for their children's existence. More specifically, they caused their children to exist in a state of great vulnerability, need, and dependence. In doing so, they incur an obligation to provide for the well-being of their children. That's why parents are often referred to as the guardians of their children.

If I push you into deep water as part of a swimming lesson, I owe it to you to make sure that you don't drown. The reason is because I have done something to put you in a position of great vulnerability. The same thing is true of the parent-child relationship.

Second, abortion is not just the mere withholding of treatment or refusal to act. It actively seeks out the death of the unborn. I may not have an obligation to give my blood to my brother, but does that mean I can go ahead and blow out his brains? Of course not. The fact that I may refuse to assist someone does not allow me to do some positive action that brings about his death. So even if the message is correct, it does not give the mother the right to actively seek out the death of her child.
This graphic takes a very low view of women. It treats pregnancy as if it were some kind of disease or pathology. But that is not at all the case. Reproduction is a natural part of the human experience, and to treat something so wonderful and joyous in such a negative light is dehumanizing.

Speaking for myself, I'd add that:

i) I think there's certainly a moral obligation for one sibling to donate blood to another sibling. I'd go beyond that: as a rule, a sibling has a duty to donate a kidney or half their liver to another sibling (unless the sibling has abused their health).

ii) Or take someone unrelated to me. Suppose I find an abandoned child at a rest stop. Minimally, I have a duty to temporarily care for it until I get hand it off to the authorities. But suppose there's no one else to care for it. That was commonplace in the ancient world. Children exposed to die. Foundlings. Even though I didn't create the situation, even though I'm not responsible for the situation, there are circumstances in which I can have social obligations despite the fact that it's unfair and burdensome.

Boys need real men

In a time and place where you have absentee dads, due to divorce, loss of custody, and broken homes, it wouldn't surprise me if many adolescent boys are sexually confused because they lack normal male role models and have a hunger for natural (platonic) male affection that can be exploited by homosexual men:

Sex strike

Her initial tweet has been getting lost of buzz. A few observations:

i) The assumption is that a sex boycott hits men where it hurts the most. It hurts men disproportionately. That plays on the misandrist stereotype that women don't like sex: sex is just an onerous favor that women do for men, like a reward for mowing the lawn. Or a bargaining chip to get what they really want in exchange for sex. 

But if women have so little interest in sex, why are they getting pregnant in the first place? Why are the getting abortions? Why do they clamor for abortion as a fallback in case of pregnancy? In almost all cases, their pregnancy results from consensual sex. Remember the supermodel who dumped Tebow because he refused to have premarital sex with her? 

ii) With the proliferation of sexbots, women are more expendable in that regard. Of course, sexbots are a pathetic substitute for the real thing. But they're easier to get along with than feminist banshees like Milano and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

That's not a recommendation. I'm not making a moral assessment. I'm just responding to Milano on her own crass grounds. 

iii) If women wish to have sex without getting pregnant, why aren't they using contraception? Evidently, Milano thinks women are so lacking in foresight and impulse control that they engage in activity with easily foreseeable, but undesirable consequences. 

Even if, for argument's sake, we cast the issue in terms of bodily autonomy, this is not about denying women the right to control their own bodies, but the failure of many women to exercise self-control. If they don't want kids, practice abstinence or use contraception. Abortion is a fallback for women who are able but unwilling to control what they do with their bodies (prescinding the fraction of pregnancies cause by rape). 

If feminists think women are that reckless and impetuous, why should they be in positions of authority and responsibility? Why should they have the right to vote or be public officials in policymaking positions? 

iv) Then we're treated to the euphemism of "reproductive rights," as if prolifers want to pass laws making it illegal for women to reproduce. But what prolife laws actually reject is a murder exception for women–or mothers in particular. We don't think being a woman exempts you from the prohibition on murder. If it's okay for a mother to kill her baby, it is okay for husband to kill his wife? 

v) Pregnancy is how every feminist came into the world. Suppose a ship capsizes and a passenger climbs into a lifeboat. He then fishes a floundering women out of the water. But when a girl swims over to get on board, the second passenger kicks her away, causing her to drown. The second passenger was rescued but rather than rescuing another passenger, kicks her away. And what if that was a mother who turned her daughter away? 

Abortion operates with a Nietzschean philosophy, but if Nietzschean ethics is the yardstick, then men have all the rights. If it boils down to ruthless power, men come out on top.  

In another tweet she poses as the proud mother with her kids. But if she thinks she has the right to kill her children before they are born, does she have the right to kill them after they are born? Likewise, if abortion and infanticide are rights, does that mean matricide and patricide are rights? Do grown children have a right to do to parents what parents have a right to do to babies? 

Shotgun marriage

This comment has gotten a lot of buzz. 

i) She acts like she's never heard of marriage

ii) Skimming her tweets to locate the original tweet, this is example of what happens to people with no Christian frame of reference. Utterly lost. A stimulus-response organism. They act like animals in heat. Utterly selfish. No realization that if babies don't have rights, why should women have rights? It boils down to raw power. 

iii) It doesn't occur to her that she hangs around the wrong kind of men, then complains about what she ends up with. It's so predictable. 

iv) There are fathers who want to keep their child, but current law gives the mother the unilateral choice to abort. Fathers of the child have no legal say in abortion. They've been disenfranchised from having a claim on their own child. In addition, women divorce men at much higher rates than men divorce women. Women usually get custody while the dad is stuck with child support even though he doesn't have custody or joint custody and even visitation rights may be iffy. So the "deadbeat dad" trope is often slanderous to well-meaning men who have all the responsibilities but none of the rights. If you want responsible men, you must give them a stake in the transaction. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Do the Gospels Record Jesus Teaching in Greek?

To follow up on Steve's witty post from Williams, see the following that makes a good case that not only did Jesus know Greek, but the Gospels likely record interactions in Greek that he had with Greek speakers.

Peter, Greek, and Ehrman

Peter J. Williams
‏Thread: clearly, as Bart Ehrman says, Peter was an Aramaic speaking peasant.

He knew no Greek.

He came from Bethsaida (John 1:44), which became a Greek polis (city) around AD 31 but studiously avoided learning Greek.

He traded in fish, but made sure he only sold to Aramaic speakers.

He lived in Capernaum on an international trade route, but avoided talking to foreigners.

He fished on the Sea of Galilee, but if in the middle of this little lake his boat met boats of fishermen from the Greek-speaking Decapolis on the far shore he made sure only to use Aramaic or sign language.

His parents somehow managed to give his little brother Andrew a Greek name uncommon for Palestine, but knew no speak Greek.

The fact that they chose names for both their sons which work in Greek (Simon & Andrew) was actually just to spite Greek speakers.

He signed up with an itinerant rabbi (teacher), but did not receive any language education.

He travelled as a preacher in the linguistically mixed villages of Palestine, but always spoke only to Aramaic speakers.

He travelled to the Decapolis & Caesarea Philippi, but always remembered to block his ears when the locals spoke Greek.

If he travelled from Palestine in later life, he worked hard not to learn Greek.


we all just KNOW he was an Aramaic speaking peasant.

Linguistics & New Testament Greek Conference 2019

Are church councils an ultimate criterion?

High churchmen typically reject sola Scriptura. They appeal to church councils to determine orthodoxy and heresy. But here's a problem with that: if they use church councils as their criterion for theological truth, how do they determine which church councils are authoritative? High churchman don't regard all or even most church councils as authoritative. Indeed, they think some church councils are heretical or illegitimate. 

Do church councils determine what's true, or does truth determine which church councils are true? If church councils are your starting-point, how do you decide which ones to start with? If you use church councils as your criterion, how do you decide which ones to trust? Unless you have independent access to the truth, apart from church councils, how do you winnow church councils that teach true doctrine from church councils that teach false doctrine? If you use church councils as your doctrinal criterion, what's your doctrinal criterion to assess church councils? There are competing conciliar claimants. What about Arian church councils? 

Abortion and the soul

1. I notice that many prolifers shy away from appealing to the soul. They confine their arguments to genetics and embryology. They rest their case on physical properties. The moment of conception. A heartbeat. Unique DNA. A separate body. 

But treating a baby as just a physical organism can be counterproductive. If human beings are reducible to body parts and organic molecues, is that an adequate basis for human rights? 

It leads to equivocation about the "humanity" of the "fetus". Human hair, toenails, and even excrement are human. Just because something is human–in that sense–doesn't ipso facto make it entitled to protection. 

2. The strategy appears to be in part that that's a scientific argument. In addition, that's a secular argument. Many prolifers seem to think that appealing to the soul is inherently religious, and therefore lacks common ground when reasoning with unbelievers. 

However, arguments for the soul aren't necessarily religious. Take the hard problem of consciousness, or veridical near-death  experiences and postmortem apparitions. We can present philosophical and empirical arguments for the soul. 

3. Also, we shouldn't avoid religious argument. For one thing, it's impossible to justify human rights or women's rights on a secular basis. So we can put the abortionist on the defensive. That's an opportunity to deploy the moral argument for God's existence. 

You can't simply assert religious claims when addressing unbelievers. That begs the question from their standpoint. An illegitimate argument from authority.

But you can give reasons for Christianity. And that, in turn, undergirds appeal to Christian ethics. Many unbelievers have no idea that there is any evidence for Christianity. They think it's all a matter of sheer faith. Make-believe and wishful thinking. By avoiding religious arguments, prolifers reinforce that damaging stereotype. 

Spontaneous abortion and induced abortion

A common argument that abortionists deploy against Christians is the phenomenon of miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. They say God is the greatest abortionist of all, given the number of miscarriages. Therefore, opposing abortion is tantamount to opposing God. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to add some additional considerations:

i) Scripture treats miscarriage as a tragedy. Therefore, the fact that miscarriage occurs in the course of ordinary providence doesn't mean it's good, from a biblical perspective.

ii) In Scripture, the fact that something providentially occurs doesn't automatically mean we have no duty to infer with it. For one thing, we live in a fallen world. Death is a providential event, yet Scripture treats death as evil. Providence by itself is not a reliable guide to our duties.

iii) Miscarriage is one of many natural causes of death. But in general, we don't think the fact that some deaths are due to natural causes is a reason to accept the status quo. Much of medical science is directed at preventing death by natural causes, where possible. Death by disease is natural or providential. That's no different from miscarriage. 

iv) Scripture treats disease as a natural evil, yet Scripture also has cases of miraculous healing. So healing isn't impious. 

v) Insofar as many miscarriages are beyond the ability of medical science (at present) to prevent, there's no duty to prevent them. That doesn't mean there's no obligation to save individuals from gratuitous death, where that's preventable. 

vi) In a fallen world, combatting providential evil can be a good thing. For instance, it cultivates soul-building virtues. God puts some obstacles in our way in order for us to overcome the obstacles. 

vii) There's a sense in which some deaths are morally worse than others. Murder is worse than accidental death. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why you can’t believe rape is wrong if you don’t believe abortion is wrong (Video) . . .

. . . and you can’t believe abortion is wrong if you don’t have an objective, universal, moral standard (i.e. God’s law).

What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd?

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Lk 15:3-7).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (Jn 10:1-18).

What makes Jesus a good shepherd? His determination and ability to protect his sheep. Not one will be forever lost. If his flock loses sheep, then he failed. He failed to protect his sheep from deadly harm. 

Now, a freewill theist might say Jesus protects his sheep so long as they remain within eyeshot of the shepherd, but if they separate themselves from the flock, they expose themselves to danger. Jesus doesn't protect them from wandering away of their own accord. 

But that's what endangers sheep. If they stray, the wolf can pick them off because they are too far away for the shepherd to protect them. So protecting the sheep must include reclaiming stray sheep–otherwise it's no protection at all. The peril lies in getting separated from the shepherd. And that's why the shepherd retrieves sheep that wander off.

A freewill theist might object that I'm pressing the metaphor. It's just a metaphor. Every analogy has limitations. 

That's true, but what else is there to the metaphor of sheep and shepherds? It's chosen to illustrate a principle since it plays on the popular stereotype of lost sheep, endangered sheep. That's what sheep do. Left to their own devices, they wander off into the waiting jaws of the bear or the wolf pack. And the job of a shepherd is to protect the flock. In the OT, David is the paradigmatic shepherd who protected his flock from wild predators. Does Jesus do less for his sheep than David? 

Challenging Muslims in their own language

Communion and cannibalism

Progressive theologian Randal Rauser offers an outlandish and unsuccessful defense of transubstantiation against the cannibalism charge:

It seems to me that the best way forward for the Catholic is to bite the bullet on this one. Yes, it is cannibalism. However, we must make an important distinction. While it is true that this act technically meets the definition of cannibalism, it is not cannibalistic in the substantial sense, and that’s the sense that matters.

So what’s the difference I am drawing between technical and substantial? That difference is rooted in the standard social function of the term “cannibal”. Consider, by analogy, the term “vegetarian”. To be a vegetarian is to abstain from the consumption of all animal matter (i.e. meat) in one’s diet.

While that is the standard definition of vegetarian, I would argue that it can also be viewed as the technical application of the term. By contrast, the substantial application of the term vegetarian is somewhat more narrow and pertains to abstaining from the consumption of all animal matter in one’s diet that once constituted part of an animal. There are at least two reasons for this dietary restriction: consuming that animal matter is complicit in the infliction of unjust suffering upon animals and it also exacts a disproportionate environmental cost. These concerns are the real motivation for censuring the consumption of animal matter.

And so, what if a person could consume meat wholly apart from any animal suffering or disproportionate environmental cost? I am thinking specifically of animal matter which has been cultivated in a laboratory such that this meat never formed part of the body of a sentient, living organism. Instead, it was cultivated from cells in a petri dish. (I’m assuming the cellular base was originally collected in a wholly ethical way consistent with vegetarian concern to avoid animal suffering.) While the consumption of this meat would technically violate the vegetarian identity, I would submit that it would be consistent with the substantial motivations behind (most) vegetarianism: i.e. the avoidance of animal suffering and disproportionate environmental cost of meat production.

From that perspective, the person who eats only lab meat may technically be violating the definition of vegetarianism, but they nonetheless meet the substantial definition and its underlying moral concerns. And thus, while this person may not be a technical vegetarian, they retain substantially a vegetarian.

i) That's fatally equivocal. What motivates a vegetarian isn't constitutive of what differentiates meat from vegetable matter. In his thought-experiment, the person who consumes artificial meat is still a meat-eater. What he's consuming is objectively meat. His psychological motivations for vegetarianism don't alter the content of what he consumes. The process by which the meat is produced doesn't change the constitution of the product. 

Rather, he's a meat-eater whose diet is consistent with vegetarian scruples inasmuch as he is sidestepping ethical objections to meat-eating. That doesn't make him a vegetarian. Rather, it demonstrates that, in principle, meat-eating can satisfy vegetarian ethical criteria. So even if Rauser's comparison was relevantly analogous, it would still fail to prove his point. 

ii) Moreover, cannibalism would still be morally abhorrent even if a human body was cultivated in a lab from scratch. 

The same point can be made with respect to cannibalism and the Eucharist. Non-cannibalism eschews the cannibalistic act because that act involves inflicting suffering upon human persons and devaluing human personhood and the body by way of consumption of that body. But those strictures assume that the matter which is consumed once formed part of a living human person’s body.

This is not true of the Eucharist. Thus, while these elements may technically become one with the body and blood of Christ, they were never part of the body of the living human person Jesus. In that sense, the consecration of Eucharistic elements in the Mass is analogous to the growing of new meat in a laboratory. And the consumption of the Eucharist avoids the social censure of cannibalism in the same way that the consumption of lab-grown meat avoids the social censure of carnivory.

To conclude, just as the person who restricts themselves to lab-grown meat may meet the substantial definition of being a vegetarian, so the person who restricts themselves to Eucharistic elements may meet the substantial definition of being a non-cannibal. And so, the cannibal charge may be good for a cheap shot in a meme, but as a significant objection to Catholicism, it lacks a substantial bite.

That's another fatal equivocation. Although the unconsecrated communion elements don't originate in the living body of Jesus, they become identical with the living body of Jesus (according to transubstantiation). The result of the process is identical with the living body of Jesus. 

To take a different comparison, if I'm born blind, but science is able to clone a pair of eyes using my own genetic material, those are as much my eyes as if I was born sighted. Those are as much my eyes as my hands or ears or tongue. They're indistinguishable from the eyes I'd have if I was born sighted. 

Or take in-vitro fertilization. If the ovum is fertilized outside the womb, it remains substantially a human baby–no less that if it was fertilized through normal procreation. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The New England Primer

Although the theology is often stern, much of this is driven by the ubiquity of death at any age. At that time, before modern medicine, death constantly shadowed the living and snatched them away.

The Idiot

Cædmon was a strange boy. No one knew who his parents were. He wandered into the town one day as a little boy. The townsfolk assumed he was abandoned. He slept in barns and bathed in the creek, eating wild fruit and whatever scraps some townsfolk would share with him. He seemed insensible to cold. 

He never spoke a word. The townsfolk assumed he was "slow". Indeed, the boys called him a "retard!" By common consent, he was the village idiot. A few of the townsfolk were protective, taking pity on him and treating him with kindness. But the boys used to beat him up. 

As a teenager, he was amiable but aloof. A handsome lad, girls were curious, but he didn't reciprocate their interest. He seemed to be intently observant. Once he rescued a child from drowning in the creek. Another time he recovered a lost child. He had uncanny tracking skills. He had greater affinity for children than adults–reinforcing the assumption that he had the mind of a child. 

He had a mysterious affinity with wild animals. He could summon birds. They'd perch and sing on his outstretched palm.

One day there was a solar eclipse, followed by a lunar eclipse and a meteor shower. The countryside was convulsed by earthquakes. Sinkholes opened up in town, swallowing homes and cars. Lightning strikes set trees and crops on fire while twisters appeared out of nowhere. The town was plunged into darkness apart from the hearthlike wildfire and flashes of lightning. It seemed like the end of the world was upon them. 

Then Cædmon became luminous, unveiling his hidden identity as one of God's angelic reapers, winnowing the wicked from the righteous, as the town became a threshing floor for Judgment Day. 

Dating Mark

This is a sequel to my previous post:

1. Due to Markan priority, which is the mainstream view in NT scholarship across the theological spectrum (liberal, moderate, conservative), the date of Mark is a lynchpin for dating Matthew and Luke. Liberals usually assign Mark a post-70 AD date. Moderates and conservatives usually date Mark to the 60s, although some date it to the 50s, and a handful to the 40s. NT introductions by Guthrie (81-86) and Carson/Moo (172-82) have a useful overview of the patristic evidence and respective positions on dating and provenance.

Among conservative and some moderate scholars, a key factor in dating Mark is the way patristic testimony tethers Mark to Peter. This goes back to the testimony of Papias, who says Mark was Peter's "interpreter". Variations on this testimony are found in other early church fathers. However, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria apparently disagree on whether Mark's Gospel was written during or after Peter's lifetime. This raises a number of methodological issues:

1. If Peter is Mark's sole informant, the question is when and where Mark and Peter cross paths. Rome? Caesarea? That affects dating schemes. 

2. Even if Peter is Mark's informant, it doesn't ipso facto follow that he wrote his Gospel at the time he met with Peter–although he might take notes. 

3. To what extent is subsequent patristic testimony independent of Papias? Do they have their own sources of information, or are these secondary notices, dependent on Papias? Are they simply repeating and passing along the tradition of Papias? Or does it dovetail with other available information? 

4. How early in church history would there be a constituency for a biography about Jesus? Seems to me people would be interested in the life of Jesus from the outset. And as the Christian movement rapidly radiated out across the far-flung Roman Empire, there'd be a need for a written life of Jesus.

5. I'm struck by the neglect of Acts 12:12 is discussions of Mark's Gospel. There's an entrenched scholarly tradition that takes patristic testimony as the starting-point, but while that's important, evidence gleaned from the Book of Acts is more important. That should be the point of departure. 

Scholarship often gets stuck in a rut. Scholars influence other scholars, so that has a conditioning effect what how the issues are framed–which in turn, selects for the range of answers.

But according to Acts 12:12, Mark's mother hosted a house-church in Jerusalem, which was known to Peter. That carries a number of highly suggestive implications:

Jerusalem was Mark's hometown. Presumably, he was living in Jerusalem during the public ministry of Christ. In addition, he had access to apostles living in Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem was a polyglot city, and Mark himself came from a Greek-speaking family (immigrants from Cypress). 

6. If we run with Acts 12:12, Peter might well be one of Mark's informants, but Mark would have access to other informants. 

7. It's quite likely that Mark first met Peter in Jerusalem, early on. 

8. In addition, it's stands to reason that Mark was an eyewitness to some events involving the public ministry of Christ.

9. Therefore, I see no good reason to tether the date of Mark's Gospel to the whereabouts of Peter. And even if Peter was his primary informant, Mark could have gotten his information from Peter when they were both living in Jerusalem–back in the 30s. But the inertia of mainstream scholarship makes it hard to turn the ship. 

Porter on Christianity Today Caving to Mob Rule . . .

A New Book By Melvyn Willin On The Enfield Poltergeist

It should be out soon. For those who don't know, Willin is an archivist for the Society for Psychical Research, and he's known some of the people involved in the Enfield case, including Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair. I haven't read the book yet, but I expect it to be good. You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dating the Gospels

I. Conventional reasons to date the Gospels after 70 AD:

1. Form criticism

According to this theory, the sources of the gospels underwent extensive creative oral development before commitment to writing. Other issues aside, many NT scholars date the Pauline letters much earlier than the Gospels, yet if Christians could write letters in the 40s-60s, there's nothing to inhibit them from writing Gospels in the 40s-60s. So the form critical stipulation is arbitrary. 

2. Olivet Discourse

i) Liberal scholars don't think Jesus could foresee the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore, the Synoptic Gospels had to be written post-70 AD. Given Markan priority, that pushes Matthew and Luke further out. If, however, you accept the supernatural phenomenon of precognition, not to mention the deity of Christ, then that objection reflects unjustified naturalistic prejudice. 

ii) A more specific objection is that Luke's version of the Olivet Discourse (Lk 21:20-24) reflects knowledge after the fact. Luke allegedly rewrote the oracle with the benefit of hindsight. By way of response:

iii) Even on naturalistic grounds, the account uses stock siege warfare imagery from the LXX. 

iv) Jerusalem was a fortified city, so siege warfare would be the standard tactic.

v) This wasn't the first time Jerusalem had been surrounded by foreign armies (e.g. Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans). 

vi) Luke has his own sources, independent of Matthew and Mark. All of them may well be quoting what Jesus said, but excerpting different statements. Cf. D. Wenham, The Rediscovery of Jesus' Eschatological Discourse (Wipf & Stock 2003). What Luke records is more germane to his Gentile target audience while what Matthew records is more germane to his Jewish target audience. 

3. John's Gospel is more theological advanced than the Synoptics 

In a sense that may be true. However, this doesn't imply that his Gospel is later than the Synoptics–although it may be. For example, you can have two contemporaries who write about a war they lived through. One account may be more insightful than another. That has nothing to do with relative chronology. Moreover, John's Gospel uses Jewish categories and OT paradigms to express theology. 

II. Reasons to date the Gospels before 70 AD:

1. Authorship

i) If traditional authorship is correct, then that sets an outer limit for the composition of the Gospels inasmuch as they had to be written within the lifetime of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Minimally, that rules out the 2C. 

So that depends on evidence for traditional authorship, which is varied, including both internal and external evidence. One argument is the titles of the Gospels. Our Greek manuscripts are remarkably consistent in their authorial ascriptions. But it's hard to account for that uniformity if the titles are late editorial additions, considering the fact that ancient Christian scribes worked independently of each other. So that implies the originality of the titles. Detailed arguments are provided by scholars like Hengel and Bauckham. Cf. R. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2nd. ed., 2017); M. Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (Trinity Press 2000). (Not that they affirm traditional authorship, which is ironic, and reflects a failure to follow through with the logic of their own arguments.)

ii) There's a sense in which authorship is more important than date. So long as the Gospels reflect living memory. So long as they were written by people who knew Jesus or knew people who knew Jesus. 

2. Historical accuracy

If the Gospels were written by people who were not eyewitnesses or didn't have access to eyewitness sources, then it's very hard to explain the historical accuracy of the Gospels. Cf. Peter Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels? (Crossway 2010). So that implies authors with firsthand knowledge. 

3. The date of Acts

The Book of Acts ends abruptly, without informing the reader about the fate of Paul. There's a steady buildup to Paul's impending trial before Caesar, only to leave that hanging in midair. The most natural explanation for lack of resolution is that Acts was written before the final disposition of Paul's case. For a classic exposition and defense, cf. C. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns 1990), chap. 9. Readers are bound to be curious about Paul's fate. Although that argument is less popular among scholars than it used to be, it's still the most plausible, straightforward explanation. In addition, Acts lacks any reference to the demise of Peter and James (brother of Jesus), even though it records the demise of other church leaders (Stephen, James bar Zebedee). Assuming that Acts was written before Paul's execution, that pushes Luke's Gospel further back. 

4. The Synoptic Problem

i) On a conventional solution to the Synoptic Problem, Matthew and Luke made use of Mark. That entails Markan priority. The basic argument is that if a teacher read three student papers as similar to each other as the Synoptics, he'd logically conclude that there was collaboration or literary dependence. This doesn't mean Matthew and Luke are necessarily dependent on Mark for on their information, even in parallel accounts. There is evidence that they had their own sources of information, even in parallel accounts. Cf. L. McGrew, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (DeWard 2017). 

ii) Even if that yields a relative chronology, it doesn't give an absolute chronology. But it provides a rough terminus ad quo and terminus ad quem. At one end, Mark could be as earlier as the 40s. Cf.

At another end, if Acts was written before Paul's execution, then Luke was probably written around the late 50s, give or take. I have no opinion as to whether Matthew was written before or after Luke. It could date from the 50s-60s. 

5. John's Gospel

i) Patristic evidence may indicate that it was written in the 90s, during the reign of Domitian. However, that interpretation may be dubious. Cf. J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Westminster 1976),  256-58. 

ii) The epilogue to John's Gospel (Jn 21) supplies a terminus ad quem for the composition of the Gospel. It was either occasioned by the death of Peter or John (the "Beloved Disciple"). Scholars typically opt for John's death (or the "Beloved Disciple"), but if we accept the internal and external evidence for Johannine authorship, then by process of elimination, Peter's death is a better candidate. That's challenged on the grounds of third-person narration. However, illeism, as well as alternation between first-person and third-person narration, is a stock convention in ancient historiography. Cf. Rod Elledge, "Illeism in Classical Antiquity", Use of the Third Person for Self-Reference by Jesus and Yahweh: A Study of Illeism in the Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Texts and Its Implications for Christology (T&T Clark 2017), chap. 2. 

Mind you, so long as the Fourth Gospel was authored by the apostle John, or even an eyewitness other than John (assuming the Beloved Disciple and the apostle John are distinct), then the date of the Fourth Gospel is inconsequential. 

In sum, I think all four Gospels were probably written between the 40s-60s. I don't have a bulletproof argument, but historical reconstructions are rarely bulletproof. It's a matter of choosing the best explanation.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Emoting over animal pain

A Catholic reader of this blog is deeply troubled by the problem of animal suffering. He reports his painful recollection of a YouTube video that depicts

. . . the killing of a baby elephant by 13 lions. They first attacked the little elephant in the open, but he was saved when several water buffalo intervened and drove the lions off. The baby then ran to two large bull elephants nearby, but rather than protecting him from the lions, they were indifferent. The lions, seeing this, rushed the baby, which helplessly ran off into the bush, where the lions, 13 in all, caught him, and began to devour him. You probably know that because of an elephant’s trunk, a lion’s bite to the neck does not kill, so I assume that the baby was eaten alive.

I find the thought of this killing and the myriad other killings like it very hard to accept. How does a theist explain such acts in nature? I know something of the various theodicies and defenses of theistic philosophers, but when confronted with this scene of terror and horrendous death, I find them all unconvincing. Something in the depths of my being rejects them all as over-sophisticated attempts to mask what is truly terrible so as to defend at all costs the first of Hume’s four options, that of a perfectly good first cause. I am not saying that I am abandoning my theistic beliefs, but I think that for too long, theists have not taken the matter of animal pain and suffering seriously enough.

Leaving philosophic theism aside, there is glaring indifference to this matter in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, where the fixation on humanity’s fall, faults, and need for salvation. Without denying whatever truth may be found in this long theological reflection on human misery, what of the animals, those here millions of years before man walked on the earth, and all those who have shared and do share the earth with him? 

i) I've often written about the so-called problem of animal suffering, so I won't repeat that here. Instead, I'll say some new things in addition to what I've said in the past.

ii) Some issues are artificially important. They're not intrinsically important, but they become important because some people make them more important than they are. 

iii) For most of their history, Christians and Jews have been overwhelmed by human death and suffering all around them. It's only in the age of affluence and modern medicine that that's retreated to some degree. At a time and place when many children were orphaned by disease and war, when many children who slept together with their siblings watched their young brothers and sisters buried due to death from famine or childhood illness, it would be morally obscene to fret over animal suffering. That's a luxury for spoiled people who don't have more serious and immediate evils to lament. 

iv) It's not coincidental that he cites the example of a mammal. He doesn't talk about fish eating other fish, or a bird eating an earthworm, or a hawk eating a snake, or snakes consuming other snakes, or adult crocodiles gobbling up young crocodiles. That shows you how subjective the reaction is. Like a lot of guys, I find certain reptiles impressive. I have a morbid fascination with crocodiles, Komodo dragons, anacondas, reticulating pythons, and venomous snakes. However, I have no affection for reptiles. I suspect that's because I'm too mammalian to have affection for reptiles. 

v) Most wild animals aren't nice. A few year ago there was a nature show about meerkats. They're cute and fun to watch. But they're not nice animals. They stage vicious raiding parties on rival meerkat communities. Otters are cute. They can be fun to watch. But they belong to these same family as wolverines, and otters have a vicious streak. 

vi) Apropos (v), some animals are evidently intelligent. Animal intelligence ranges along a continuum. I think it's fair to say there's such a thing as animal minds, at least among some higher animals. But if we could get inside an animal mind, we might well find that animal minds are quite alien to us. Many animals may well have minds like a psychopathic serial killer. There are science fiction movies about getting inside the mind of a psychopath. 

Suppose Ted Bundy picked the wrong coed. Suppose she had a couple of Dobermans who mauled him to death. Normally, it would be horrific to witness someone mauled to death by dogs. If, however, that was Ted Bundy, I wouldn't shed a tear. 

vi) It's striking that some animals seek out what appears to be painful behavior. Take a cat fight. To a human observer, that looks excruciating. Perhaps it is. But if it's that excruciating, shouldn't we expect the pain to be a deterrent to cat fights? Why do cats initiate fights if it's that painful? Maybe it's not as painful as it looks to us, from our human frame of reference.