Saturday, November 30, 2019

Calvinism and the Problem of Contrition

Two kinds of Christians

One of the striking things about many apostates, at least militant apostates like Bart Ehrman, is how easily they make the adjustment to life as an atheist. They don't think they put much behind them when they put Christianity behind them.

This goes to a related issue. You can have two Christians who are equally zealous, equally devout, but one loses his faith while the other perseveres. And this can be unnerving. In a sense, that's a good thing. It's a deterrent to getting cocky. 

The standard Calvinist explanation is that an apostate was never saved in the first place. 1 Jn 2:19 is duly quoted. Apostates and freewill theists consider that special pleading. The No-True-Scotsman fallacy. But that's an argument for another day. 

On the face of it, the Reformed explanation, which I think is correct, fails to explain the divergent trajectories of two equally zealous, devout Christians. And here I'd like to make an observation:

The similarity may be quite superficial, because they are Christian for different reasons. On the one hand there are Christians who are Christian because they believe they are sinners, and Christ died for them to spare them damnation. That inspires gratitude. You might say he's a sawdust trail Christian. Some become pastor and missionaries. 

Now, up to a point there's nothing wrong with that. It's great as far as it goes. But it's a Christian solution to a Christian problem. It takes the Christian framework for granted. So it's only valuable within that framework. 

If, however, you lose your faith in the framework, then you have nothing to lose by losing your faith. The Gospel is only the antidote if you accept the diagnosis. If, though, you come to believe that sin is just an artificial theological category, and you no longer believe the theology that sponsors it, then Christianity is the answer to a pseudo-problem. 

On that view, apostasy is cost-free. You can be very zealous so long as you operate within that framework, but if you cease to find it convincing, then you can shuffle it off because you never had any real stake it in. The value was internal to the system. The value was conferred by the theological paradigm, and has no value independent of the paradigm. From that viewpoint, it's easy to make the transition from Christian to atheist. 

But there's another kind of Christian. His identity is bound up with Christianity at a much deeper level. You might say he's an existential Christian. In a sense, he comes at it from the opposite end. He appreciates the fact that everything of value hinges on the Christian faith. There's everything to lose if Christianity is false. It's not just about sin and salvation, but what makes anything important. What makes something good? What, if anything, makes life worthwhile? 

It's far more difficult for a Christian like that to give up on Christianity. And even if he does, he's more likely to return to the faith. He understands what's at stake in a way that the first kind of apostate does not. So while, to all appearances, both kinds of Christians may be equally zealous, equally devout, what motivates their faith is fundamentally different. The existential Christian may be less outwardly zealous than the sawdust trail Christian, yet his roots run much deeper. He's a Christian because he has to be. 

Walking on water

A Facebook exchange I had with Lydia. There are some other participants as well. 

I am inclined to think that when Jesus says, “It is I” in Mark 6:50 he is merely trying to calm the disciples’ fears, not to make an “I am” claim to deity.

While it's true that ego eimi is not a claim of deity in itself, the setting of the claim inevitably evokes and invites parallels with OT statements about Yahweh's control over the sea.

My argument would be that it would scare them more for him to make a claim to deity while walking out of the night on the water, whereas it seems that he's trying to make them feel better and calmer by saying it, since they're already terrified. That would fit more with saying, as we would in like circumstances, "It's okay, guys, it's me."

Lying in the background of Lydia's statement about Synoptic Christology is her legitimate concern that some "evangelical/inerrantist" scholars treat the deific statements of Jesus in John's Gospel as legendary embellishments. The narrator wrote a script which he makes Jesus, like a fictional character recite. And one of Lydia's concerns is the cavalier notion that John's Gospel isn't a pillar of high Christology (Trinity, Incarnation).

Right, I do think John is necessary to a full-orbed defense of high Christology, especially if we're focused on what Jesus himself said, not simply how the author portrays him or thinks of him. I don't think John is epistemologically extraneous and that you can get all you want from the Synoptics anyway, etc. OTOH, I hope that I'd be objective enough (hope?) to recognize high Christology in the Synoptics even if this somehow made John less necessary. One example that I actually like that I got from Jonathan McLatchie and was new to me in this past year: Jesus' reference to Psalm 8 in the Temple in Matthew. The leaders suggest that he should rebuke the children for singing Hosanna to him, and he asks them if they are not familiar with the Scripture that says, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise." This would be at least faintly blasphemous if he were not God, since the one being praised in Psalm 8, the one being addressed in that verse, is Yahweh. So there is something pretty strong in that answer: "I'll see you and raise you five," basically.

I'd add that there's an intensely practical aspect to this issue. Imagine if the NT was ambiguous about the deity of Christ. Maybe Jesus is God Incarnate or maybe not. The NT witness could be read either way. That would be completely untenable from a religious standpoint. False worship is a huge issue in biblical piety. Are we supposed to worship him as God or not? The NT can't afford to be ambivalent on that question. Believers can't take a noncommittal position. There is no middle ground.

Exactly. Thank goodness that we have all the evidence, incl. John. Especially since it's not enough just to say, "Well, that's what Paul thought." I mean, for sure some Arian or Unitarian is going to say Paul just got it wrong and attributed things that Jesus never taught himself. Obvs. that's what the liberal scholars say anyway, which is why they try to dismiss John as non-historical.

I should say that when I look at a verse like that I try to ask myself how it would look to an audience member who was not ill-disposed toward Jesus but who just was not expecting the Incarnation, was not expecting even the Messiah to be God Incarnate. That seems to me a reasonable question, because it seems to me a reasonable position for a devout Jew to be in at the time. I imagine there are some who will disagree with me there, but I think Jesus' own disciples were non-culpably in that situation for a lot of the time while Jesus was on earth. The doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity were new and seemed shocking to them. They may even have tried to interpret some of the things Jesus said in ways that didn't imply such a thing because they thought that was being charitable and that it was his enemies who attributed such claims to him and considered them blasphemy. 

So for that example, my initial reaction is that it is suggestive and can be seen in hindsight to be an allusion to Jesus' deity but that a Jew at the time who heard it for the first time would have been likely to try to find some other way to interpret it. It would be indirect and non-obvious to him. (You'll notice that nobody tries to stone Jesus when he says that and nobody is recorded as expressing shock or dismay, unlike in response to the claims in John or the claim to forgive sins in Mark 2.) Since it's a prophecy he's interpreting, they may have said to themselves that prophecy is often fulfilled in weird ways and is cryptic, that perhaps he's saying that John the Baptist is foretelling some kind of final apocalypse (which John the B's own preaching gave some excuse for thinking), or that the Messiah will be the messenger of Yahweh in an even more direct way than John the B. was. One can say that they should have taken it more literally, but if they thought that doing so would be attributing blasphemy to Jesus himself, then it's understandable if they didn't catch the allusion to his deity.

"my initial reaction is that it is suggestive and can be seen in hindsight to be an allusion to Jesus' deity"

i) The retrospective viewpoint is a useful distinction. That said, it's not uncommon for people to believe or entertain something in the abstract, but when it becomes a concrete reality in their lives they're not ready for it. It takes them awhile to make the intellectual and emotional adjustment. Like planting ideas in people's minds. They may not be ready for what you have to say at the time you say it, so there's a delayed effect. In that respect it doesn't have to be something new. They just weren't prepared for it at a practical level. So long as it remains at a safe distance, they don't have to come to terms with it.

ii) In addition, it would be very unnerving, even for Christians, to think they're in the tangible presence of God. Imagine it dawning on the disciples that when they see Jesus face-to-face, they are gazing into the face of God. Even in theophanies, which are a step removed, that was very unnerving.

"The doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity were new and seemed shocking to them."

Depends on what you mean by "new". There are no divine incarnations in the OT. There's no list of messianic prophecies. And there's no single verse which says messiah will be Yahweh Incarnate. What we have are lots of oracles about someone who will fill certain roles. Are these one and the same individual or more than one individual? Might be hard to sort out ahead of time, but easier to recognize in retrospect. There are indications of divine plurality. Indications of a divine messiah. Indications of a dying and rising messiah. But it helps when they coalesce in the person of an actual individual who combines these scattered motifs.

The extent and number of indications of divine plurality and indications of a divine messiah are where I would probably disagree with various people, including Jonathan, various of the Triablogue-ers, and Michael Heiser. I have really grave doubts about this extensive Jewish "binitarianism." And even Heiser admits, as far as I've been able to figure out, that even on his theory this supposed "binitarianism" didn't go as far as believing that there would be a man, born of a woman at a particular time and place, who would be Yahweh Incarnate. The "dying and rising messiah" is indicated in Isaiah 53, I agree, and said that in my Phil. Christi paper on messianic death prophecy some years ago. Isaiah 9:6 is an indication of a divine Messiah, I would grant that.

It's a case of reading the OT through pre-Christian Jewish eyes. For instance, I myself wouldn't appeal to a shift from first-person to third-person discourse by Yahweh as an indication of divine plurality. Yet it's striking that the Rabbis did find that puzzling. There are, however, stronger arguments involving the Angel of the Lord, which also caught the attention of the Rabbis.

My argument would be that it would scare them more for him to make a claim to deity while walking out of the night on the water, whereas it seems that he's trying to make them feel better and calmer by saying it, since they're already terrified. That would fit more with saying, as we would in like circumstances, "It's okay, guys, it's me."

That depends on how narrowly or holistically we view the incident. Jesus may have more than one motive. 

At one level he may be walking on water because it's an efficient mode of transportation.

If, however, he knows that the disciples will witness the miracle, then presumably another motive is to provide them with a dramatic nature miracle. 

But over and above that, if Jesus anticipated (or even arranged) this rendezvous, then the primary purpose isn't to allay their panic but to furnish a stage in which he manifests himself to them as Yahweh.

So do we view the incident as an occasion where Jesus and the disciples just happen to cross paths, or is the whole thing a premeditated setup?

Certainly it is premeditated. And certainly he is trying to show them that he is more than a mere man. But his immediate purpose in telling them that it is he, himself, and not to be afraid, is to calm their immediate terror. I would argue that the colloquial meaning of, "It is I" serves better for that purpose than any allusion to the divine Name.

A related issue is the intended audience. At one level, his contemporaries are the immediate the audience for what he says and does. But at the same time he also speaks and acts with a view to posterity. Or, to take a different comparison, who's the audience for the binding of Isaac? At one level, Abraham and Isaac. But from a providential standpoint, it's primarily for the benefit of future Jewish and Christian readers.

To take another example, who's the audience for the Bread of Life discourse? At one level, those who were there. But surely Jesus also has posterity in mind.

There are other passages about Yahweh's delivering his people in the Red Sea crossing. While poetic, the refer back to a real event, and poetry is a way of succinctly and memorably celebrating and commemorating that event. 

I don't think the walking on water episodes were ever meant to evoke one particular OT verse. Rather, they were designed (in addition to their practical function) to trigger a range of associations with OT texts and related events. The walking on water episodes aren't a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing, but function to invite comparison. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Jesus, John, and plagiarism

In the recent past there were two plagiarism stories involving Peter T. O'Brien and Andreas Köstenberger. O'Brien was accused of plagiarizing F. F. Bruce while Köstenberger was accused of plagiarizing Don Carson. Specifically, O'Brien was accused of plagiarizing Bruce's commentaries on Hebrews and the Prison Epistles while Köstenberger was accused of plagiarizing Carson's commentary on John. 

I myself noticed how Köstenberger's commentary reads like a paraphrase of Carson's. Since, moreover, Carson has authored a (periodically updated) NT commentary survey, I thought it must been a strange experience for Carson to read and review Köstenberger's commentary, which borrows so heavily from Carson. Offhand, I think the accusation against O'Brien is a pedantic technicality. 

But here's why I bring this up: many readers notice that John's Gospel generally has a very different style than the Synoptics. Moreover, they notice that it's hard to distinguish the style of the Johannine narrator from the style of Jesus. As a result, some scholars conclude that either Jesus in John's Gospel is a fictional character or else the author has reworded the ideas of Jesus in his own style. 

Now let's go back to plagiarism. It seems to me there are two basic ways to explain the similarities between the voice of Bruce and O'Brien or Carson and Köstenberger. One possibility is that Köstenberger and O'Brien had the commentaries right in front of them while they were writing their own. They were literally on the same page, and they copied from the commentary, only they paraphrased the original. 

Here's another possibility: O'Brien was a student of Bruce while Köstenberger was a student of Carson. They had read those commentaries so often, as well as other writings by their mentors, that they became imbued with the same style. Unconscious assimilation. By the same token, the Apostle John may have become so steeped in the style of Jesus that it's second nature for his to speak the same way. To take another comparison, the style of Apocalypse is marinated in the OT. 

It's also striking that, unlike the Synoptics, John often records private conversations between Jesus and another or other individuals. So that's one reason John's Gospel differs from the Synoptics. 

Would you indoctrinate your child to save their soul?

A typically malicious analysis on Rauser's part:

1. Christian parent aren't ultimately responsible for the eternal fate of their kids because they don't control the outcome.

2. There's a risk of defection if you only show them to one side of the argument as well as a risk of defection if you show them to both. So that's a wash. There's no presumption that if you only show them to one side of the argument, they are more likely to stay in the fold. Consider the countless testimonies of apostates who discovered objections to Christianity and the Bible. They were defenseless because they were never schooled in Christian apologetics.

3. But the most fundamental flaw in Rauser's argument is his defective concept of saving faith in exclusivism. Saving faith isn't an accidental default faith where a Christian is an apostate waiting to happen, who only believes in Christianity because he's been shielded from alternatives. 

That never was saving faith. That never was personal faith in God or Christ or Scripture. Rather, that was childish faith in the authority figures in his life, like his parents or pastor. And that's fine when you're a child, but you're supposed to outgrow blind faith in your parents. You can't leech off of parental faith for the rest of your life. You have to develop your own conviction. 

It's like kids who lose their faith in Christianity when they find out that their parents "lied" to them about Christianity. But that just means they became disillusioned with their parents (for stupid reasons). In a sense it's good to lose that kind of faith, because that frees up space for personal faith. 

Does Calvinism cancel out the Gospel?

A brief exchange I had on Facebook

There is no one saved if calvinism were true. You have to be in danger of something to be saved. No one headed to heaven was ever in danger of not being in heaven. It literally cancels out the gospel.

It's easy to reframe the issue counterfactually. They'd be in danger if they were not elect. To take a comparison, a swimmer would be in danger of drowning if there was no lifeguard on duty.

Christmas Resources 2019

The issues surrounding the childhood of Jesus are important, but often neglected. For over a decade now, I've been putting together a collection of resources for each Christmas season:


You can also click here for an archive of all of our posts with the Christmas label. Keep clicking on Older Posts at the bottom of the screen to see more. Or you can view the text of the infancy narratives with links to relevant material from our archives. Go here for Matthew and here for Luke.

Here's a collection of our reviews of Christmas books. Some of the reviews are on Triablogue, but others are on Amazon or Goodreads.

Since Raymond Brown's book on the infancy narratives is still widely considered the standard in the field, it's important to know what to make of it. See here for a collection of responses to the book.

I've compiled some responses to skeptical misrepresentations of the church fathers, including on issues related to Christmas. You can find the collection here.

For more about the importance of apologetics in general, not just Christmas apologetics, see this post I wrote several months ago.

And here are some examples of the posts we've written on Christmas issues over the years:

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Charlatan faith-healers

This is a good expose of some high-profile charlatans, and that's just a sample.

However, the dilemma of this sort of expose is that those who are listening don't need to hear it while those who need to hear it aren't listening. In general, those who are listening weren't taken in by the charlatans in the first place while those who need to hear it are impervious to evidence that their idols are flimflam men. That's not the fault of Dembski and countercult ministries. 

Led by the nose of modernity


Christians who defend the doctrine of hell as eternal conscious torment…

I don't defend hell as eternal conscious torment but eternal conscious punishment or misery. Some of the damned deserve to suffer torment, but damnation is fundamentally about retributive justice, not torment. It's dishonest for progressives like Rauser to constantly mischaracterized the opposing position. 

…often challenge critics of the doctrine of "modern sentimentalism". 

If you prefer, what about modern immortality? Opposition to retributive justice is immoral. 

What, like the "sentimental" ideas that slavery and torture are wrong? 

Here he's resorting to a familiar wedge tactic. Cite alleged parallels which he assumes everyone ought to agree with. But the examples beg the question.

Under the circumstances, I think the OT position on "slavery" (not one thing) was justified. 

Gratuitous "torture" is wrong. But using physical or psychological coercion to extract information from an unwilling terrorist about future plots is morally warranted. 

That animal suffering is morally significant? 

I think the "moral" problem of animal suffering is vastly overrated. It's a sign of decadence by people spoiled by affluence. 

That military conflicts shouldn't target non-combatants? 

Military conflicts ought to avoid gratuitously targeting noncombatants. But there are human shield type situations where that's a necessary evil. 

That prisons should seek to reform and not merely to punish?

Depends on the crime. Retributive justice is good in its own right; it doesn't require remediation for its justification.

Those are all "modern" ideas. Yet, that is no argument against them. 

A willfully one-sided claim. There are lots of arguments againt his examples. They're only unquestionable within his bubbleworld of fellow progressives. 

The wedge tactic only works against like-minded people or those who lack the sophistication to critique the examples. 

And to call them "sentimental" would be diminished as retrograde, foolish ignorance.

Having no argument, he resorts to shaming opponents into submission. It's so egotistical when little twits like Rauser imagine their approval or disapproval should mean anything to anyone else. 

The moral censure of eternal conscious torment is drawn from the same well as the modern stance on all these other varied topics. 

Which cuts both ways. 

If we do not dismiss the latter as mere sentimentalism, why do so in the case of eternal conscious torment?

Because Christian faith demands commitment to biblical authority. If Christianity is a revealed religion, there are severe limits to its capacity for change. 

The right way to debate Bart Ehrman

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Dracula on the move

L'Osservatore Romano

Dracula has been leaving a trail of exsanguinated victims in Poland, Spain, France, Italy and Ireland. Police are stymied by the fact that Dracula is a shapeshifter. In addition, he's invisible to security cameras. All of which make him exceedingly elusive. 

Church authorities have had more success tacking him down, but with demoralizing effects. The usual techniques have proven ineffectual, resulting in Dracula exsanguinating the church's best vampireslayers. 

The reason is that Catholic vampireslayers have nothing to use against Dracula since he's Romanian Orthodox. A Latin cross or crucifix is ineffectual. They need to use a Byzantine cross. Making the sign of the cross is ineffectual because Catholic vampireslayers cross themselves backwards: from left to right rather than right to left. Holy water is ineffectual because Catholic vampireslayers profess the Filioque, thereby invalidating the sacramental. The Vatican has been in negotiations with the Ecumenical Patriarch to dispatch Rumanian Orthodox vampireslayers to the West, but the Ecumenical Patriarch has demanded that the Pope come home to mother church before he authorizes such action. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Impeach Trump!

I've changed my mind. Trump has now committed an unambiguously impeachable act. I'm alluding to the abuse of pardons. In particular, he's pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey. That's a textbook example of witness tampering. Buying the silence of a potential accuser by pardoning them before they cop a deal to turn states evidence against the boss. It stands to reason that the turkey overheard incriminating conversations between Trump and Ukrainian officials. 

Larry Hurtado

A manual for creating dumb atheists

Suppose Christian parents scrimp and save to send their kid to college. In his freshman year, during Christmas break, he comes home and pounces on the faith he was raised in. Perhaps he read A Manual for Creating Atheists, and quizzes his hapless parents with Philosophy 101 objections:  
How do you know the Bible is true? Can you prove that the world didn't spring into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past?
The average Christian parents will be dumbfounded. But let's consider some responses:

1. Why are we spending tens of thousands of dollars a year to make our son dumber than when he started college? Surely there's a cheaper way to raise dumb children. 

2. What makes an artificial thought-experiment the benchmark? 

3. If the hypothetical is true, then the college is an illusion. It didn't exist 6 minutes ago. If the hypothetical is true, we have no parental duties to "our son" since we're not actually related to each other. We were created ex nihilo 5 minutes ago (and counting). 

4. Assuming for argument's sake that we take the thought-experiment seriously, that doesn't disprove God's existence. To the contrary, it's a theistic proof. What would it take for world to spring into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past?

It would take a supernatural Creator with immense intelligence and power to fabricate that illusion. Consider the ability to implant coherent false memories in the population? Each person's memories about their own life would be false, yet they'd be internally consistent as well as consistent with everyone else's memories. And the evidence for the antiquity of the world would be false, even though all the prima facie evidence would be consistent with the antiquity of the world.

Monday, November 25, 2019

There's a dragon at Christmas

Yes, I know, it's not yet Thanksgiving. However, Christmas isn't an occasion that Christians only celebrate for one or two days a year; Christmas floats us through the journey of faith from beginning to end. Like Easter, the Christmas season is a season for all seasons.

"Pronoun hospitality"

i) Bracketing other issues, a basic problem with "pronoun hospitality" is that many trans feign gender dysphoria as a political wedge tactic. Consider drag queens at public libraries. They don't suffer from gender dysphoria. They are pedophiles using transgenderism as a ruse.

ii) Another example is biological male athletes feigning transgender identity to beat girls or women in female sports. They don't suffer from gender dysphoria. Rather, it's easier for male athletes to compete with female athletes. A calculated ploy. 

iii) Another problem with "pronoun hospitality" is that it dishonors real men and women. It's like comparing your mother to a drag queen.

iv) Another example is people like Elizabeth Warren and Ward Churchill who indulge in resume inflation to game the system. Does Christian hospitality require us to play along with their bogus minority status? That dishonors bona fide minorities.

v) Or what about political candidates and job applicants who lie about military service. Should they be accorded the same respect as actual servicemen?

vi) Shifting to people with genuine gender dysphoria, compare that to someone on an acid trip who believes he's invulnerable to harm because he's a superhero. If everyone plays along with his delusion, he will get himself killed.

Fatalism at the cross

There are different ways to define fatalism. Freewill theists use fatalism as a synonym for Calvinism or predestination, but that's confused. In Reformed theology, there's a predestined chain of events leading up to a particular outcome. In fatalism, by contrast, the outcome is the same regardless of the preceding events.

Another definition is where  people unwittingly fulfill an oracle by attempting to avert it. In that sense, the Bible has some fatalistic episodes. One example is the Joseph cycle (Gen 37-50) where his brothers try to thwart the prophetic dream, but their evasive actions ironically facilitate its realization.

A greater example is where Satan engineers the Crucifixion to defeat the Son of God, blind to the fact that Jesus wins in the long-term by "losing" at the cross. In the plan of God, the Crucifixion is a tactical loss. A way to achieve strategic victory. Although Satan may be a criminal genius, his evil blocks his ability to enter into the mind of God. In his effort to defeat Jesus he unwittingly defeats himself. God ironically  used Satan as a means to foil Satan. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Impeachment carnival

What outraged leftists fail to grasp is that elections are about alternatives. Even if we think Trump was guilty of abuse of power, that's not a game-changer considering whoever the Democrat nominee will be. The question is what's the alternative to Trump? If you frame it that way, then it's trivially easy to understand why Trump supporters are unmoved by the impeachment carnival. even if Trump is corrupt, many voters prefer a corrupt president who protects their civil liberties to a corrupt president who tramples on their civil liberties. So even if, for argument's sake, we assume the worst about Trump, choosing him over whoever the Democrat nominee will be is still a no-brainer. 

Democrats be like: "Put the gun down so that we can bust your kneecaps with a baseball bat". And I'm thinking to myself, "Why in the world would I agree to that?"

Not to mention that much of this is cynicism camouflaged as idealism. It's just hilarious to see them decry the alleged lawlessness of the Trump administration (which in general is quite respectful of the rule of law) when you compare it to the brazen lawlessness of the Obama administration–as well as dictatorial Democrat candidates  who pledge to violate the Constitutional rights of American citizens, if elected. Not to mention lawless judges as self-appointed members of the Resistance! 


I'd like to expand on something I said about the recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Peter Williams:

1. For many years, Ehrman's stock argument against the reliability of the Gospels has been his contention that they were authored by anonymous writers decades after the events who never lived in Palestine. But in the debate he suddenly shifted grounds. He said that even if they had accurate background knowledge of 1C Palestine, that creates no presumption that the accounts of Jesus are accurate. 

2. To begin with, I don't know what Ehrman is claiming. Is he claiming that the Gospels are intentionally historical, but the writers are simply clueless about the historical Jesus, despite their intentions to write an accurate biography? If so, why would their sources be accurate about little background details but wrong about the main events? Why would their sources preserve accurate background information but be unreliable about the main events?

3. Apropos (3), it's unclear on Ehrman's reckoning how we could ever credit any ancient historical account. If incidental accuracy in details doesn't count as evidence for the general accuracy of the stories, then how, if at all, does Ehrman distinguish between legend and history? Doesn't his skepticism apply with equal force to Thucydides, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and Josephus (to name a few)? Isn't the kind of corroborative evidence Williams marshals in Can We Trust the Gospels the same kind of evidence historians use to verify ancient accounts generally?

4. For that matter, if he's that skeptical about ancient records, then he can't say the chronology in Lk 2 is mistaken, since he'd have to have confidence in other historical sources to use them as a standard of comparison. 

5. Or is he claiming that the Gospels are intentionally fictional, but the Gospel writers sprinkled their stories with accurate background information to lend the stories verisimilitude? If that's what he's angling at, then one problem with his objection is that what he says about the authors is applicable to the audience. Verisimilitude is only effective if the reader is in a position to recognize the accuracy of the details. If, however, the Gospels were written decades after the fact by authors who never lived in Palestine, or knew people who did, then wouldn't the target audience for the Gospels be in the same boat? The audience would be just as uninformed as the authors. So how would they be in a position to appreciate verisimilitude? Wouldn't accurate background information be lost on them? 

6. As I mentioned before, it would dangerous to be a Christian back then. Why would the Gospel authors risk writing fiction that was so hazardous to their life and livelihood? If, on the other hand, they were writing historical biographies, then it would be worth the risk, given who Jesus is. 

7. Ehrman kept defaulting to memory studies. But in his recent book, Christobiography, Craig Keener devotes a whole chapter to that issue (chap. 14). Likewise, Richard Bauckham's article: “The Psychology of Memory and the Study of the Gospels. ”Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 16 (2018) 1-21.