Tuesday, December 29, 2020

New Books To Get In 2021

This is the first of what I hope will be a series, which will consist of one post I'll put up near the end of each year. I'll mention some books I'm looking forward to that are due out the following year, and anybody who's interested can add their own books they're looking forward to in the comments section of the thread. You don't have to be expecting to agree with everything in the book or even most of what's in it. These are just new books, coming out next year, that you think are worth getting for whatever reason. And you don't have to be exhaustive. You can mention one, two, or however many you want. I'm hoping these posts will help us be more aware of what books are coming out and to make better plans about which books to get, which to read, in what order, and so on.

I'll just mention a few I'm looking forward to, to start things out. John Piper is publishing a book on providence. Lydia McGrew's book on the gospel of John, The Eye Of The Beholder, is supposed to come out next year. So is Stephen Carlson's book on Papias.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Are you putting yourself and others to work?

What did you do with your time this year?

"But my soul hath been refreshed and watered, when I hear of your [David Dickson's] courage and zeal for your never-enough-praised, praised Master, in that ye put the men of God, chased out of Ireland, to work. Oh, if I could confirm you! I dare say, in God's presence, 'That this shall never hasten your suffering, but will be David Dickson's feast and speaking joy (viz.), that while he had time and leisure, he put many to work, to lift up Jesus, his sweet Master, high in the skies.' O man of God, go on, go on; be valiant for that Plant of renown, for that Chief among ten thousands, for that Prince of the kings of the earth. It is but little that I know of God; yet this I dare write, that Christ will be glorified in David Dickson, howbeit Scotland be not gathered." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 315-16)

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Well That Doesn't Run Dry

"I have walked through 65 Advent seasons as a believer in Jesus. I preached my way through half of them. So, counting Christmas sermons, that would be roughly 150 messages during Advent. I don't ever recall thinking, 'Oh my, how will I say anything fresh this year?' There are some wells that don't run dry. Some horizons that expand as you approach. Some stories that reach back forever, forward into eternity, down to the depths of mystery, and up to the heights of glory. Advent is one of those. It is inexhaustible." (John Piper)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Jesus' Inferiority To Samuel In Luke 2:52

The concepts and terminology in Luke 2:52 are taken largely from 1 Samuel 2:26. Yet, Luke is discussing Jesus' highly ordinary upbringing in a normal lower-class home in Nazareth, in contrast to Samuel's extraordinary upbringing in a sanctuary setting with Eli. Critics often allege that Matthew and Luke and/or their sources were making up stories to parallel Jesus to various Old Testament figures, like Samuel. But Luke refers to Jesus' upbringing in a setting that's substantially different than and inferior to Samuel's, even though he thought highly of Samuel and wanted to draw comparisons between him and Jesus. The desire to see Jesus in the Old Testament didn't prevent the early Christians from acknowledging differences between Jesus and those figures who came before him and even referring to ways in which Jesus was inferior.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Evidence For The Birth Narratives

Lydia McGrew has a good article on the subject at a site affiliated with the Unbelievable? radio program she recently appeared on. I also recommend participating in the comments section below the article. Too few Christians do that sort of work. Skeptics shouldn't be allowed to be so disproportionately represented in those contexts. If Christians have false priorities, are apathetic, are cowardly, or are lazy, among other problems, skeptics can easily outperform them. They often do.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Would Paul Have Known Much About Jesus' Childhood?

I've argued elsewhere that Paul tells us more in his letters about Jesus' childhood than people typically suggest. But before we even get to that sort of content in his letters, how much sense would it make to think Paul was as unconcerned about or ignorant of Jesus' childhood as people often suggest?

I've written some posts about what the Old Testament anticipates concerning the childhood of the Messiah, such as here and here. Paul was influenced by the Old Testament and would have had some interest in Jesus' childhood accordingly.

He was in contact with and following the work of multiple members of Jesus' immediate family for multiple decades (Acts 15:13, 21:18, 1 Corinthians 9:5, 15:7, Galatians 1:19, 2:9). The same is true of his relationship with the Twelve (Acts 9:27-28, 15:7, 1 Corinthians 1:12, 9:5, 15:5, Galatians 1:18, 2:7-10). In other posts, I've discussed how a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood is reflected in many places in all four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Paul was closely associated with all four of the individuals those documents have traditionally been attributed to. In addition to what's cited above regarding Matthew and John, see the following regarding Mark and Luke: Acts 13:5, 15:36-40, 16:10, Colossians 4:10-14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24. Even if all four traditional gospel authorship attributions were to be rejected, Paul's widespread traveling and frequent contact with messengers among the churches and in other circles make it highly likely that he would have been familiar with at least much of the material on Jesus' childhood that was circulating and eventually appeared in the gospels. He also would have encountered, or had a lot of potential to have encountered, some figures who don't get much attention in modern discussions about these contexts, but would have had relevant information (e.g., Manaen in Acts 13:1).

Notice that even if we were to grant some skeptical scenarios for the sake of argument, some of what I'm appealing to would remain valid. Think of the third gospel, for example. The evidence suggests it was written by Luke, a companion of Paul, but let's assume for a moment that it wasn't. Why should we think it wasn't written by some other companion of Paul, then, given the evidence of the "we" passages in Acts? And if it wasn't written by any companion of Paul, why think it wasn't at least written by a segment of early Christianity that thought highly of Paul and, therefore, was highly influenced by him (which wouldn't require agreement with him on every issue)? The same line of reasoning can be applied to 1 Timothy and its citation of Luke's gospel as scripture (in 5:18). Even if we were to reject the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, why go even further by rejecting the document's reflection of Pauline thought and, more specifically, the perception at the time that Luke's gospel was circulating during Paul's lifetime and was viewed highly by Paul? More could be said, but what I've already brought up is enough to make my point. You can't get around the implications the gospel of Luke has for Paul's circumstances (e.g., what information he likely had access to, what views of Jesus' childhood he likely held) simply by doing something like denying the Lukan authorship of the third gospel or denying the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy.

It seems highly likely that Paul had substantial interest in Jesus' childhood and access to reliable information on the subject. He probably held a view similar to what we see in the gospels.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The McGrew/Pearce Debate On Christmas Issues

Lydia McGrew recently debated Jonathan Pearce on issues surrounding Jesus' birth on the Unbelievable? radio program. I've reviewed Pearce's book on Christmas issues. And Steve Hays and I wrote some further responses to his work: here, here, here, and here. Those responses from Steve and I are focused on Jonathan's objections to the magi material in Matthew 2, and he raises those objections in his debate with Lydia. Anybody who's interested can read those exchanges from 2014. I won't be repeating what I said in that context, but will instead focus on other parts of the McGrew/Pearce debate. The large majority of what needs to be said in response to arguments like Jonathan's is covered on the pages linked above and in my recent collection of Christmas resources here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Snopes Debunking The Bethlehem Birthplace

They just reposted an article from The Conversation that casts doubt on Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and other aspects of the infancy narratives. And here's the original version of the article they reposted. I've posted in the comments section of that original thread. We'll see how many other Christians post there and how substantive their comments are. Typically, Christians don't do much in this sort of context. That's one of the reasons why our culture is in the condition it's in.

Keep in mind that when a source like Snopes or The Conversation produces anti-Christian material like this recent article, it influences people who won't tell you they were influenced by it. When your spouse, children, or coworkers come across such material, whether they were searching for it or not, they typically won't say much, if anything, about it to other people. But it does affect them. It affects how they think, their confidence, who and what they're willing to associate with, what they say to other people about relevant subjects, etc. Material like what Snopes and The Conversation are producing is more influential than Christians suggest.

You can't just make dismissive comments about the media, liberals, atheists, and so on. You need to interact with what's being said. You need to participate in the discussions. And I'd estimate that only a tiny fraction of one percent of Christians in a place like modern America are sufficiently prepared to discuss the relevant New Testament data, non-Christian sources, patristic evidence, etc. The vast majority of Christians in a context like the United States will respond to material like what Snopes and The Conversation have produced in a highly inadequate way. They're too occupied with family get-togethers, cooking, joking around, following sports, watching movies, etc. When that tiny fraction of one percent of Christians do the relevant work to respond to sources like Snopes, the typical response from other Christians is apathy or contempt. That needs to change. When you see something like that Snopes article, what are you doing about it? How many of these conversations have you been participating in over the years? And what's the quality of your participation?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Pete Enns Is Wrong About Isaiah 9

See his article here. He's wrong about what Isaiah 9 refers to in its original context, and he's wrong about how the earliest Christians viewed the passage. On the original context, see here and here. On how the earliest Christians understood the passage, see here and my other posts since then that discuss the issues further.

The fact that Isaiah 9 opens with an eighth-century B.C. backdrop doesn't suggest that the entire passage will be fulfilled at that time or shortly after. It can be relevant to an eighth-century B.C. audience and be sufficiently understood by them without being entirely fulfilled at that time or shortly after and without being entirely understood by that initial audience. Jesus' fulfillment of the passage centuries later, without any fulfillment by Hezekiah or somebody else earlier, doesn't mean that the passage has "no relevance to Isaiah’s audience", as Enns claims. It has a lot of relevance, much as unfulfilled eschatology and other types of predictions not yet fulfilled have a lot of relevance to modern Christians.

Enns writes that "It is striking, though, that Matthew doesn’t go on and cite the rest of Isaiah 9, especially verses 6-7". He doesn't need to. It would be absurd to think that Jesus is the figure of the first two verses of the passage, but that verses 6-7 refer to somebody else. Verse 7 refers to David's throne. Jesus' Davidic Messiahship is a major theme in Matthew's gospel. It would be ridiculous to suggest that he thought Isaiah 9:6-7 refers to somebody other than Jesus. Similarly, Jesus only needs to cite a portion of Psalm 22 in order to suggest that the whole Psalm applies to him (Matthew 27:46).

Enns goes on to tell us that Matthew "is only one of two New Testament writers who bother to even tell us about Jesus’s birth". See here regarding the material on Jesus' childhood outside of Matthew and Luke. John's gospel, for example, tells us a substantial amount about Jesus' childhood, including his fulfillment of Isaiah 9. And notice that Jesus' appeal to the opening verses of Isaiah 9 in John 8:12 comes in the context of responding to allegations about issues like his ancestry and birthplace (John 7:41-42, 7:52), which implies that Jesus is intending to appeal to the Isaiah 9 passage as a whole, not just the opening verses. The closing verses of the Isaiah 9 passage, not the opening ones, are the verses that refer to birth and Davidic ancestry (with the implication of a Bethlehem birthplace, for reasons I've gone into elsewhere). The evidence suggests, then, that Jesus is applying the Isaiah 9 passage as a whole to himself in John 8:12. So, Enns' claim that "Connecting Isaiah 9 to Jesus was the work of later church theologians" is false.

The Fifth Gospel

"Isaiah, then, together with his rebukes of wickedness, precepts of righteousness, and predictions of evil, also prophesied much more than the rest [of the Biblical prophets] about Christ and the Church, that is, about the King and that city which he founded; so that some say he should be called an evangelist rather than a prophet." (Augustine, The City Of God, 18:29)

Even if critics' efforts to overturn the four gospels of the New Testament had been successful, there's a fifth gospel that's out of their reach. You can grant so much of what they claim about the gospels, even their breaking up of Isaiah and assigning it to different authors, their late dating of it, and their various hypotheses about the original referents in passages like Isaiah 9 and the Servant Songs. When you grant them so much, which they don't deserve, they still have no adequate explanation for why Jesus' life and influence on the world align so well with what Isaiah wrote.

We've written a lot about the prophecies of Isaiah over the years. I've written about Isaiah 9 recently, and you can find more about that passage in our archives, such as here and here. We've also written about other passages, like the Servant Songs. You can go here to find a collection of many of our articles on prophecy issues, including other ones on Isaiah and some discussing the principles involved in evaluating prophecy.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Evidence For Jesus' Galilean Background And Its Usefulness

In other posts, I've discussed the evidential significance of Jesus' background in Galilee and Nazareth. Critics of Christianity make much of Jesus' Galilean background, often his residence in Nazareth in particular. That's probably because there's such good evidence for those aspects of Jesus' life, critics don't perceive those characteristics of his life as much of a threat, and they view his background in Nazareth as a means of undermining belief in his Bethlehem birthplace. Because of Micah 5:2 and its use over the centuries as evidence for Christianity, critics have given a lot of attention to trying to undermine the Christian use of that passage.

But they're repeating a mistake that's been perpetuated from the time of Jesus down to our own day. As I wrote in another post:

Friday, December 11, 2020

Isaiah 9 And The Resurrection

I've argued that Jesus set his public ministry in the framework of Isaiah 9:1-2. It's unlikely to be a coincidence that the two places where he chose to live as an adult lined up with the references to Zebulun and Naphtali in Isaiah 9:1 (Nazareth in the region of Zebulun, then Capernaum in the region of Naphtali).

The notion that Jesus set out to align himself with Isaiah 9 is corroborated by how he framed his resurrection appearances. Though he appeared to people outside of Galilee, he singled out Galilee and went out of his way to travel there to appear to his disciples in that location (Matthew 26:32, 28:7, 28:10, 28:16, Mark 14:28, 16:7). Think of a couple of the questions raised by his choice to appear in Galilee and his choice to emphasize the appearance there so much. Why Galilee? And why emphasize it so much, going out of his way to do so, even when he appeared outside of Galilee as well and appeared elsewhere before appearing in Galilee? The best explanation is his interest in fulfilling Isaiah 9. Saying that he made those choices because the beginning of his public ministry was so tied up with Galilee just pushes the question back a step. Why was the beginning of his ministry so tied up with Galilee? And why did he want to emphasize the Galilean relationship so much? I don't know of any explanation that's comparable to or better than his concern for fulfilling Isaiah 9.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Christians Should Believe In Ghosts

Earlier this year, Billy Hallowell published a book on demons, ghosts, and other paranormal topics. He was recently interviewed by Sean McDowell. Here's something I just posted in the comments section below the video. It's several paragraphs long, so I doubt many people will read it. But, for those who are interested, I explain why Christians should believe in ghosts, how we're often overly dependent on the demonic hypothesis, what harm that does, and what other explanatory options are available to a Christian.

Factors Involved In Evaluating Star Of Bethlehem Theories

We get media stories on the star of Bethlehem at this time of year, especially about the claims of people who advocate astronomical views of the star. Here's a post I put up on Facebook last year that briefly outlines four of the factors we should take into account when evaluating theories about the star.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

California dreamin' no more

I'm a native Californian from the Los Angeles area. Quite arguably much of California has become a dystopia (e.g. many parts of LA and SF). Many parts of the state are more like a developing nation than a developed nation. A third world nation. Tremendous poverty, tent cities, drug addicts, mental issues, etc.

The dystopia that California has become is also known as the progressive dream. California is considered a role model for progressives. It's a foretaste of what the US could be if the US was like California according to progressives. As such, I think this post can serve as a warning about progressivism.

In any case, here are my pros and cons about my (once) beloved state. In no particular order:

The Significance Of Jesus' Being Raised In Nazareth

I've written elsewhere about the importance of Jesus' choice as an adult to live in Nazareth for a while, then live in Capernaum, which aligns with Isaiah 9:1. Critics could object that Jesus was trying to make himself look like the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, so that his alignment with the passage doesn't involve anything supernatural. That approach wouldn't resolve all of the problems Jesus' fulfillment of the passage poses for skeptics, though.

For example, they often object that the early accounts of Jesus' childhood are discontinuous with the early accounts of his adulthood. Supposedly, the accounts of his adulthood don't reflect the alleged events of his childhood the way we'd expect them to if those childhood events actually occurred. But even if Jesus set out to fulfill Isaiah 9 by normal means, without anything paranormal involved, his identifying himself as the figure of Isaiah 9 would be an example of substantial continuity between the accounts of his childhood and the accounts of his adulthood. So, objecting that Jesus lived in Nazareth and Capernaum as an adult to make himself look like the fulfillment of Isaiah 9 helps the critic avoid some conclusions that are favorable to Christianity, but still leaves him with other problems.

And notice the significance of the fact that Jesus didn't just choose to live in Nazareth for a while as an adult. He also grew up there, and he did so from an early age, from about the age of two. At that stage, he was far too young, by normal means, to have reasoned with his parents to persuade them to live in Nazareth in order to accommodate a claim of Messiahship he'd make later in life. So, Jesus was in the right place at the right time (in Nazareth, which is in the region of Zebulun, the first region mentioned in Isaiah 9:1) well before he was in a position to arrange being there by normal means. Jesus was in Nazareth, and was there both as an adult and as a child, even a child as young as about two years old, before moving to the region of Naphtali (Capernaum).

Isaiah and other Old Testament authors often refer to a Messianic branch or shoot who was to come. We could say that Jesus was planted in Nazareth by God's providence before he chose to live there for a while as an adult, followed by a move to Capernaum, in alignment with Isaiah 9.

But we should look even further back. Why are Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned in Isaiah 9 to begin with? The backdrop seems to be the Assyrian takeover of northern Israel in the eighth century B.C. However, Isaiah never refers to the northern kingdom as Zebulun and Naphtali anywhere else. He uses multiple other names (e.g., Ephraim in 7:5, Jacob and Israel in 9:8), but Zebulun and Naphtali aren't used elsewhere. Furthermore, there were other tribal territories in the north, not just Zebulun and Naphtali, that were affected by the Assyrian invasion. As H.G.M. Williamson explains:

"The detail is not important for the present verse, however, as these two tribes are probably mentioned only representatively of the northern part of the country; Asher and Dan, at least, must have been affected in a similar way to Zebulun and Naphtali. The same style of representative reporting affects the brief description of this self-same event in 2 Kgs 15.29, as there, alongside a list of towns, only Naphtali is mentioned of the tribal territories." (Isaiah 6-12 [New York, New York: Bloomsbury, 2018], 382)

As 2 Kings 15 illustrates, Zebulun and Naphtali wouldn't have to be singled out, much less mentioned in that order, if an author wanted to cite one or more tribal regions of northern Israel to represent the whole. So, the selection of Zebulun and Naphtali, in that order, in Isaiah 9 is significant accordingly.

There are many other aspects of Isaiah 9 that also line up well with Jesus' life. See here and here, for example.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Evidence For The Miracles In The Gospels

Lydia McGrew has been adding a lot of videos to her YouTube channel lately, such as a series on the feeding of the five thousand and one that just began on the virgin birth. There's a lot of good material there.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Steve Hays' Contribution To Christmas

I considered discussing the subject in my Christmas Resources post this year, but decided to address it separately instead. I conclude my Christmas Resources post each year with links to the Triablogue material written on Christmas issues over the past year. This was the last year in which that collection of links would include posts from Steve.

During the Christmas season of 2004, Time and Newsweek published articles against the historicity of the infancy narratives, and those articles got a poor response from Christians. Seeing what happened that year convinced me to become much more involved in doing apologetic work on Christmas issues. I've been building on what I started in 2004 every year since then. I joined the Triablogue staff in February of 2006 at Steve's invitation, which gave me a prominent platform for doing that Christmas work. He not only gave me that platform, but also frequently encouraged me in doing the work, both publicly and privately, including shortly before his death.

And he did a lot of Christmas apologetic work himself. I've linked many examples over the years in my Christmas Resources posts and elsewhere. It needs to be remembered that producing material like that cost him a lot of time, effort, reputation, and other resources. Something that only takes, say, two, five, or eleven minutes to read and is so easy to understand after he's set everything out was much harder for him to put together and maintain (answering questions, responding to objections, updating whatever needed updated, etc.). Given how few people go as deep into Christmas issues as Steve did and how few think outside the box as much as he did, it was a rare privilege and joy to work with him in that context. As I mentioned in a tribute to Steve that I wrote shortly after his death, I miss his knowledge, his wisdom, and his constant presence and persistence. As he did in other contexts, he expanded my thoughts about Christmas not only by increasing the information I had within the parameters of my thinking, but also by expanding those parameters.

He wrote a lot of good material on Christmas issues outside the context of apologetics as well. He would often write about music, including Christmas music, to which he often posted links during the Christmas season. As he mentions in his autobiography, he and his family have a history of involvement in music. For example:

The Christmas Eve [church] service left an impression of sorts. This was partly because it was the only day of the year when I was allowed to stay up so late—well past midnight. We had a family tradition of playing the Festival of Lessons and Carols, by King's College Chapel choir, before heading off to church. The Alpine clarity of the high treble descant, echoing in the ambient chapel, was mesmerizing to me. And the candlelight service at church augmented the magical mood.

That planted a lifelong fondness for King's College Chapel choir, and its repertoire. Nowadays I can watch services on my laptop. The hymns I've been hearing and singing since childhood take on greater resonance as we ourselves pass through the pilgrimage of life and faith–watching our godly relatives go ahead of us, and following in their footsteps. (25-26)

Last year, he wrote a post about singing in heaven. He'd written on the subject in a 2017 post as well. What he wrote about his Christian relatives at the conclusion of his autobiography now includes him:

For my sainted loved ones, the pain is past, the longing gone, the sorrow over, the patience requited, and the waiting rewarded. Far above the stars, where angels chime the watches of the night, they join the everlasting choir–in the tintinnabulations of a thousand-thousand bells. (85)

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

New Enfield Material From The Warrens

Two videos that are highly relevant to the Enfield Poltergeist were published recently on the Official Ed and Lorraine Warren Channel on YouTube. You can watch them here and here.

The first video has an introduction from Tony Spera, the Warrens' son-in-law, followed by a slide show Ed Warren presented on paranormal issues. There's a discussion of Enfield at the end of it. Start watching here. The Warrens visited the house in 1978, 1979, and 1981 at least, perhaps on one or more other occasions as well. Warren refers to the children's ages at the time of the first photo as 16 (Janet), 17 (Margaret), 9 (Billy), and 12 (Johnny). That's incorrect. He seems to be taking the ages of the girls around the time of the 1981 visit and combining those with the ages of the boys during the 1979 visit. The children look significantly older than they do in the photos and videos from 1977-78 that have been widely circulated, and the house looks significantly different. The Warrens' 1978 visit was in June, and their 1979 visit was in August. The clothing worn by the people in the photo makes less sense in either of those months than at other times of the year. Maurice Grosse apparently attended Johnny Hodgson's funeral on March 30, 1981 (Melvyn Willin, The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes [United States: White Crow Books, 2019], 98). That doesn't leave much time for Warren's photo to have been taken that year, but the clothing makes more sense then, and so do the differences between how the children and the house look in Warren's photo and how they looked in 1977-78. Janet would have been 15 at the time of an early 1981 visit, and Margaret would have been 16. The best explanation of the photo and Warren's comments on it seems to be that the Warrens visited and had the photo taken in early 1981, just before Johnny died, and that Warren was mistaken about the children's ages at the time. (Janet and Margaret would turn 16 and 17, respectively, later in 1981, after Warren's visit. Billy and Johnny had been 9 and 12 when Warren visited in 1979.) Though some of the photos in the slide show are Warren's, and I don't recall having seen them before, most of them are from Guy Playfair's book on Enfield. Warren refers to how Janet passed through a wall "in full view of investigators". I suspect he's referring to the December 15, 1977 event in which Janet went through the main bedroom wall into the Nottinghams' house. There's good evidence for that event, but it didn't happen "in full view of investigators". He refers to about six occasions when Janet was thrown onto the radio in the corner of the room. I only know of three occasions, but Warren may have heard of others I'm not aware of. There's a brief audio clip of the poltergeist voice at the end of the slide show, taken from the audio tapes released to the public when The Conjuring 2 came out in 2016.

The second video is much more significant. It includes a discussion of the Enfield case involving Lorraine Warren and John Kenyhercz, a member of the Warrens' team who investigated the case in 1979. The video was recorded on August 1, 2013. Much of what Kenyhercz says is corroborated to some extent by other witnesses (the timing of his team's visit, events that occurred during that visit, the nature of some of the phenomena the poltergeist would produce, etc.). There are apparent discrepancies between what's on this video and what John and Sylvie Burcombe reported about the Warrens' 1979 visit on tape 95B in Maurice Grosse's collection of Enfield tapes, but those apparent discrepancies are relatively minor. For the most part, there's agreement about what happened. There's some discussion on the video about Billy Hodgson dying of cancer, but Johnny is the one they had in mind.

To get a more balanced view of the Warrens' involvement in the case, see my previous posts on the subject here and here. I suspect the Warrens and their team did experience some paranormal events at the Hodgsons' house, but not everything they reported was genuine. The Warrens, Kenyhercz, and Spera should be given credit for releasing so much of their Enfield material to the public and making it so accessible. I hope they'll do more of that.

Monday, November 30, 2020

A Response To Tovia Singer On Isaiah 9

He recently posted a video on the subject that's already gotten more than five thousand views and a lot of comments. I've posted a response in the comments thread, in which I address the claim that the verses should be translated with a past tense that undermines Jesus' fulfillment of the passage, the idea that Hezekiah fulfilled it, and some other issues. The replies I've gotten so far aren't of much significance. My web browsers aren't showing my comments after my original post unless I'm logged into my Google account. I don't know why or whether that's normal. But I didn't say a lot in those other comments, since there isn't much to respond to. If you want to read what I wrote in my later comments, you may have to be logged into a Google account.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Capernaum And Christmas

Last year, I wrote an article about how Jesus seems to have structured much of his public ministry around his identity as the light of Isaiah 9:2. His move to Capernaum was part of that process (Matthew 4:12-16), and that move has significant implications for the origins of the infancy narratives, their historicity, the authorship of the gospels, and other important issues. I want to discuss some of those implications in this post.

As I mentioned in my article last year, Matthew apparently worked, and likely lived, in Capernaum or nearby. The same is true of John and some of the other apostles. That put them in a position to have known more about Jesus and to have been in more contact with him accordingly. And that makes men like Matthew and John more plausible candidates for writing biographies of Jesus, which heightens the credibility of the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels. Furthermore, the significant attention given to Capernaum in the gospels of Matthew and John, as discussed in my article linked above, makes more sense under the traditional authorship attributions.

Similar observations can be made about the early Christian accounts of Jesus' childhood in particular. If Matthew and John had so much access to Jesus (and, by implication, his relatives, neighbors, etc.), then they had access to more information about his childhood. (See here concerning the material on Jesus' childhood in the writings of John, which is often underestimated.) It would be natural for people living in or near Capernaum to want to know why Jesus moved there. It's the kind of subject that would easily have come up in conversations. If he had the motive for moving there described in Matthew 4:12-16, as the evidence suggests, then issues related to his ancestry, birth, childhood, and Messiahship (all mentioned in Isaiah 9) would have come to mind and probably would have been discussed. Just as Isaiah 9 is associated with Christmas issues in our day, it was in ancient Israel as well (e.g., John 7:40-8:12). Jesus' move to Capernaum would have been of interest to individuals like Matthew and John, and the reasoning behind the move would have brought up thoughts and discussions related to Jesus' childhood.

People often ask and theorize about the origins of the infancy narratives and other early material on the childhood of Jesus. Bethlehem and Nazareth are important in that context, but Capernaum probably had a large role as well, a role that's been highly neglected.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Christmas Resources 2020

Last year, I wrote two articles that can be used as a starting point for researching Christmas issues. One of those articles was about how to concisely argue for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood. The other was about how Jesus framed his public ministry around his identity as the figure of Isaiah 9:1-7.

Here are some examples of other Christmas issues we've addressed over the years:

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Chariots And Horses Of Fire

"Jesus Christ, our most true God, veiled in human form, bows his knee and prays [in John 17], and throws his divine energy into the prayer for the bringing home of his redeemed. This one irresistible, everlastingly almighty prayer carries everything before it. 'Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am,' is the centripetal energy which is drawing all the family of God towards its one home. How shall the chosen get home to the Father? Chariots are provided. Here are the chariots of fire and horses of fire in this prayer. 'I will,' saith Jesus, 'that they be with me;' and with him they must be. There are difficulties in the way — long nights and darkness lie between, and hills of guilt, and forests of trouble, and bands of fierce temptations; yet the pilgrims shall surely reach their journey's end, for the Lord's 'I will' shall be a wall of fire round about them. In this petition I see both sword and shield for the church militant. Here I see the eagles' wings on which they shall be upborne till they enter within the golden gates. Jesus saith, 'I will;' and who is he that shall hinder the home-coming of the chosen? As well hope to arrest the marches of the stars of heaven." (Charles Spurgeon, The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32, pp. 223-24)

Monday, November 23, 2020

What About Evil? by Scott Christensen


What About Evil cover

Full disclosure: The following is a review of What About Evil? by Scott Christensen.  I am friends with Christensen on Facebook, although I cannot remember precisely the details of how we became Facebook friends. I suspect it’s either because of Triablogue or because of Steve Hays directly. I also received a review copy for free.  However, the following views are my own and are an honest assessment of Christensen’s book.

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Christensen’s writing style is one that definitely connected with me.  When reading some authors, you can get the sense of overwhelming intellect. They use large words and technical phrases with skill, and you learn a lot from them but it also takes a lot of extra thinking to parse out those sentences.  Christensen’s style is the opposite.  It’s not that his writing is simplistic—far from it—but rather that he writes in such a manner that it is effortless to take in what he is writing about.  In other words, his meaning is plain, not convoluted. His metaphors are obvious, not strained.  And the end result is that reading a paragraph from his book is effortless.  Unlike reading a massive tome where it is a chore to grind out every sentence, Christensen’s style lends to quick, and enjoyable, reading.

Where this becomes a bit unusual is in instances where Christensen lists examples of what he is referring to.  For instance, when giving a list of natural disasters in his introduction (page 2), he includes “...the European Black Death (1347–51), Chilean earthquakes (1647), Krakatoan volcanoes (1883), Spanish flu pandemics (1918), Indonesian tsunamis (2004), Chinese coronavirus pandemics (2020), and endless twisters in Tornado Alley.” Because I am used to reading many technical treatises, my mind immediately asked “why do tornadoes not have any dates listed?  And why did he suddenly move from specific examples to the general example of tornados?  And why only tornadoes and not, say, hurricanes?” 

But of course, Christensen wasn’t trying to make any extra point by including tornadoes there.  He’s simply listing some common examples of natural evils, and the “oddity” of having tornados at the end, not fitting the format of the other items in the list, fits into Christensen’s folksy style.  This is the sort of list someone would make if they were talking extemporaneously in a conversation.

I hope none of that is taken as a criticism. In fact, I think the style of the book helps make it easier for a lay person to read.  And by pointing out the style is “folksy” that in no way means that the arguments Christensen puts forth have no weight.  Instead, it means that (in my opinion) more people will be able to benefit from this writing than if Christensen had used a more academic style.

Christensen quickly gets to the point in the book. He is looking into the various theodicies presented to oppose those who question the existence of God based on the existence of evil.  He looks at some of the more common theodicies, such as the “Free-Will Defense”, “The Natural-Law Defense”, and the “Greater-Good Theodicy” (among many others), concluding that while there are some good things in most defenses, for a Biblically-minded Christian, the view that is most faithful to Scripture is a version of the “greater-good theodicy” with “the best-of-all-possible-worlds defense.”  He dubs his own view the “Greater-glory theodicy”, in his words, “because it seeks to resolve the problem by examining what brings God the greatest glory” (p. 7).

The reason I like Christensen’s method is because he is geared so closely to holding to what the Bible teaches, and using that as the foundation for all else.  It places Christ, and His work in defeating evil, at the center of the entire context of evil in the first place.  As he writes, “[…]Christ is no conventional hero, and the cross is no conventional weapon. We do not naturally associate a hero’s victory with his death. … Yet surprisingly, in the cross, Jesus defeats evil.  Jesus defeats death by dying…. He becomes our hero by being treated as a villain” (pp. 8-9).

If you feel I’m giving away too much of the book, perhaps the low value of those page numbers will assuage you.  Christensen fully tells us all of this within the very introduction of his book!  This isn’t something he’s trying to hold off for later, to bait you in before revealing where he’s going.  As is keeping with Christensen’s “folksy” language, he has no reason to obscure anything with rhetoric and seems almost excited to get through the background information to get to the main point: the glorification of Christ.

Honestly, as someone who’s read a lot of philosophy on theodicies—and many of them quite well reasoned and argued—it’s nice to have one where the focus is so clearly on the majesty of Christ.

This is why I especially enjoyed that while Christensen took several chapters to discuss evil from a historical and philosophical standpoint, including discussing how the term can even be defined, he so quickly delves into what would even constitute a theodicy that honors God, especially in light of how secular the world is in modern days.  He examines the strengths and weaknesses of the common arguments in Chapters 5 and 6, (the weaknesses being where they lack Biblical support, and the strengths being where they have sufficient Biblical support), and then spends chapters 7 and 8 discussing the nature of God Himself and how the Bible discusses evil.  It is that Biblically-centered focus that I very much appreciated, and that’s not even getting into the section that Christensen himself identifies as the “heart” of his book: Chapters 10 – 13, where the redemptive theme of Scripture is seen as a monomyth—“one universal storyline that evokes a human longing for redemption.”  And if you’re looking for shortcuts, first of all I suggest not doing so.  But if you really want to get to the main argument, Chapter 12 of the book (specifically, beginning on page 281) presents the “greater-good theodicy” in detail.

Much more could, and should, be said about this work by Christensen.  There is a treasure of introductory-level Reformed theology throughout all its pages, and his defense being grounded in Scripture is definitely a breath of fresh air.  The Bible is the strength of the Reformed position, and Christensen does a wonderful job pulling together the various threads to support his view: philosophical, historical, and most of all theological.  While I am more intellectually driven and love the logic of the Reformed view, Chapters 10 and 11 (where Christensen spends time talking about the entire story of the Bible) was a nice change of pace.  As a dabbler in fiction, the purpose and intent of stories also speaks to me, and it’s nice for someone to remind me that God is an Author, just as much as He is an Architect or Mathematician.

My only regret is that when I read the majority of this book, it was during an unexpected foot surgery I had, and as a result the experience was not as physically pleasant as I wish it could have been.  I hope in another couple of months to re-read the book, from a new (unmedicated and pain-free) point of view to get another take on it.  It will be well worth reading again, and I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to increase their theodicy arsenal.  I rate this a solid A+, or 5 stars if we go by the Amazon scale, because it is well written, well researched, well informed, and, most of all, Biblically grounded.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Buying Christ's Honor With Your Losses

"Blessed are they who would hold the crown on His head, and buy Christ's honour with their own losses." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 258)

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The High Cost Of Low Living

My post yesterday quoted some comments from J.G. Pilkington on the significance of what are often regarded as little things, including sins that we often underestimate. Adrian Rogers preached a great sermon on Samson, probably the best sermon I've ever heard from him, and it addresses this issue. You can listen to it here. The last several minutes are especially good, starting here, but I recommend listening to the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Subtle Power Of Little Things

"Augustin frequently alludes to the subtle power of little things. As when he says,—illustrating (Serm. cclxxviii.) by the plagues of Egypt,—tiny insects, if they be numerous enough, will be as harmful as the bite of great beasts; and (Serm. lvi.) a hill of sand, though composed of tiny grains, will crush a man as surely as the same weight of lead. Little drops (Serm. lviii.) make the river, and little leaks sink the ship; wherefore, he urges, little things must not be despised. 'Men have usually,' says Sedgwick in his Anatomy of Secret Sins, 'been first wading in lesser sins who are now swimming in great transgressions.' It is in the little things of evil that temptation has its greatest strength. The snowflake is little and not to be accounted of, but from its multitudinous accumulation results the dread power of the avalanche. Satan often seems to act as it is said Pompey did, when he could not gain entrance to a city. He persuaded the citizens to admit a few of his weak and wounded soldiers, who, when they had become strong, opened the gates to his whole army. But if little things have such subtlety in temptation, they have likewise higher ministries. The Jews, in their Talmudical writings, have many parables illustrating how God by little things tries and proves men to see if they are fitted for greater things. They say, for example, that He tried David when keeping sheep in the wilderness, to see whether he would be worthy to rule over Israel, the sheep of his inheritance." (J.G. Pilkington, in n. 766 to Augustine's Confessions, 9:8)

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Cause Is The Lord's

"But it is a great part of your glory that the cause is not yours, but your Lord's whom you serve. And I doubt not but Christ will count it His honour to back His weak servant; and it were a shame for Him (with reverence to His holy name) that He should suffer Himself to be in the common of such a poor man as ye are, and that ye should give out for Him and not get in again. Write up your depursments for your Master Christ, and keep the account of what ye give out, whether name, credit, goods, or life, and suspend your reckoning till nigh the evening; and remember that a poor weak servant of Christ wrote it to you, that ye shall have Christ, a King, caution for your incomes and all your losses. Reckon not from the forenoon. Take the Word of God for your warrant; and for Christ's act of cautionary, howbeit body, life, and goods go for Christ your Lord, and though ye should lose the head for Him, yet 'there shall not one hair of your head perish; in patience, therefore, possess your soul.' [Luke 21:18-19]…He who was dead and is alive will plead your cause, and will look attentively upon the process from the beginning to the end, and the Spirit of glory shall rest upon you." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 133-34)

Friday, November 13, 2020

Shallow Confession Of Sin

"If you forget the costliness of sin, your prayers of confession and repentance will be shallow and trivial. They will neither honor God nor change your life….Stott argued that confessing our sins implies the forsaking of our sins. Confessing and forsaking must not be decoupled, yet most people confess - admit that what they did was wrong - without at the same time disowning the sin and turning their hearts against it in such a way that would weaken their ability to do it again. We must be inwardly grieved and appalled enough by sin - even as we frame the whole process with the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ - that it loses its hold over us." (Tim Keller, Prayer [New York, New York: Dutton, 2014], 212)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

You Have Not, Because You Reason Not

I've been thinking about James 4:2. Sometimes we don't get something because we don't pray for it. The verse is often referred to in a variation of its King James form, "You have not, because you ask not."

The same principle is true of apologetics. We don't get answers we want to questions because we don't think much with the mind God has given us. We don't convince many people of our views, and our culture declines, because we don't reason with people as much as we ought to. That sort of neglect of apologetics, and intellectual matters more broadly, isn't the only factor involved in something like our own unanswered questions or the problems in our culture. But it is one of the factors involved. Similarly, after his comment in James 4:2, James goes on to mention other potential reasons for not getting what we want. But that doesn't change the fact that what he mentions in verse 2 is one of the factors involved.

How often is it suggested that if we want revival, we should pray more, improve our lives in certain moral contexts, study scripture more, attend more church services, evangelize more, and so on? We're often told that we should try to be more like the church in the books of Acts in those contexts. How much is said about doing more in the context of apologetics, which is so prominent in the book of Acts? Or how much is said about maturing intellectually in general, not just in apologetics? We're commanded to be intellectually mature (1 Corinthians 14:20; what Proverbs says about knowledge, discernment, and wisdom; etc.). And that maturity is all the more important when changes in technology and other changes in the world require us to sort through so much more information and to do so more rapidly.

God can act independently of apologetics, just as he can act independently of prayer. The fact that God can convert people and otherwise influence them by non-apologetic means doesn't suggest that we shouldn't try to influence people through apologetics. We have a standing obligation to make the most of what God has entrusted us with, including our minds and the minds of other people. We shouldn't use God's sovereignty as an excuse to neglect prayer or apologetics.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

My thoughts on the 2020 election

Here are my thoughts on the election so far:

1. The media has declared Biden the winner. However, that's not how our system works. The way it works is we vote. All the votes are in. Votes are counted. If there are discrepancies which warrant further investigation (e.g. voter fraud, irregularities that need to be reconciled), then independent investigations will be made. That's how we ensure the integrity of our elections. That's how we ensure future elections remain free and fair. This election isn't any different. We need to wait for the outcome, not accept what the media says - and arguably the media is saying Biden is the winner for malicious reasons (e.g. to foster the notion that Trump stole the election if he does win). In fact, isn't this what essentially happened in 2000 with Gore v. Bush?

2. However, even if Trump doesn't win the presidency, this election is an overall win for the GOP and conservatives in general:

Friday, November 06, 2020

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

The Irony Of Christian Neglect Of Apologetics

The "Christ" in "Christian" comes from Jesus' Messiahship. And that Messiahship is an evidential concept. It involves the historical fulfillment of prophecy by a historical individual. Men like Isaiah and Daniel made much of the apologetic value of their prophecies (Isaiah 43:8-13, 46:9-11, Daniel 2:19-28, 5:8-12), including ones Jesus fulfilled. It's ironic that so many people who call themselves Christians are so apathetic and contemptuous toward apologetics and other intellectual matters. That includes a lot of people who acknowledge in principle that apologetics has some significance, but do little or nothing about it in practice. The problem isn't just with fideists.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Further Problems With Anita Gregory's Doctoral Thesis On Enfield

A couple of years ago, I wrote a response to the sections of Anita Gregory's doctoral thesis that discuss the Enfield Poltergeist. But I wrote that response before listening to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I've now listened to all of them, and I want to supplement my response to Gregory's thesis with what I've learned since then from the tapes and other sources.

When I make reference to the tapes below, I'll use "MG" to cite Grosse's tapes and "GP" to cite Playfair's. Therefore, MG74B refers to Grosse's tape 74B, and GP15B refers to tape 15B in Playfair's collection, for example.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Like Light From A Fire

"And, like as the flame burneth the wood without the help of the light, and yet the flame cannot be without the light; so is it assuredly true that faith alone consumeth and burneth away sin, without the help of works, and yet that the same faith cannot be without good works….Whereupon it cometh that the holy Scripture promiseth the Christian everlasting life for his good works; because good works are the fruits and testimonies of lively faith, and proceed of it, as light proceedeth from a flame of fire" (The Benefit Of Christ's Death, 61-62, 64)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Confusing The Author Of Nature With The Editor Of Nature

"…scientists who regard the phenomena investigated by psychical researchers as impossible seem…to confuse the Author of Nature with the Editor of the scientific periodical, Nature; or at any rate they seem to suppose that there can be no productions of the former which would not be accepted for publication by the latter!" (C.J. Ducasse, cited in Stephen Braude, The Limits Of Influence [Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1997], 20)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

I stand corrected on convalescent plasma therapy

1. Sorry I haven't been blogging these days. Mainly for personal reasons that have led me to feeling quite burned out over the last year or so. And I'm afraid I don't expect to resume posting any time soon. This is just a one-off post in order to say something that I should say: mea culpa!

In the past, I touted convalescent plasma therapy as a viable "band-aid" to deal with SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 until a vaccine was ready. However, I stand corrected about this. Convalescent plasma therapy doesn't really work for COVID-19. That's the main take away or bottom line if you don't wish to read further.

2. So please no need to read further if you don't wish, but here are more details in case you do:

My mea culpa is based on the recently published "PLACID trial". Its accompanying editorial is worth a read too. The PLACID trial involved 464 patients in 39 public and private hospitals across India (randomized, but not blinded): 235 patients received the convalescent plasma, while 229 did not (placebo). The study looked at two endpoints - a P/F ratio below 100 or death. All that's necessary to know is P/F ratio indicates low oxygen in the blood aka hypoxemia. (A normal P/F ratio is 400-500. A P/F ratio 100 or less is very impaired, to say the least. P/F stands for PaO2/FiO2, that is, the ratio of arterial oxygen partial pressure to fraction of inspired oxygen. It's also called the Horowitz index.) The study found the 235 patients in the convalescent plasma arm had a 19% chance of reaching a P/F ratio 100 or less or death, while the 229 patients in the placebo arm had an 18% chance of reaching the same endpoints. There's no statistically significant difference between 19% and 18% in this trial.

3. All that said, it's interesting to note the following from the editorial: "convalescent plasma did exactly what the investigators hoped it would do, yet there was no net clinical benefit to patients". It seems the reason may be because, on the one hand, the convalescent plasma is successfully neutralizing the SARS-2 coronavirus (via antibodies), but on the other hand, the convalescent plasma is making the patient's blood more easily able to form blood clots aka thrombi (via clotting factors). And COVID-19 itself is (as the editorial notes) "a life threatening thrombotic disorder".

As such, a potential way forward may be to keep the antibodies, but eliminate the clotting factors. In short: monoclonal antibodies.

4. Finally, a vaccine might be on the way soon - still a surprise to me how fast vaccines are being developed! - which, if so, might diminish the priority to further research other therapies including monoclonal antibodies. In any case, see what pharma companies AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been saying, for example.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Heaven's Logic In Romans 8:32

The point of Romans 8:32 is that this love of God for his one and only Son was like a massive, Mount Everest obstacle standing between God and our salvation. Here was an obstacle almost insurmountable: Could God - would God - overcome his cherishing, admiring, treasuring, white-hot, infinite, affectionate bond with his Son and hand him over to be lied about and betrayed and denied and abandoned and mocked and flogged and beaten and spit on and nailed to a cross and pierced with a sword, like an animal being butchered and hung up on a rack?...

Would he really do that? If he would, then we could know with full certainty that whatever goal he was pursuing on the other side of that obstacle could never fail. There could be no greater obstacle. So whatever he was pursuing is as good as done….

Therefore, in Paul's a fortiori argument, God has done the hardest thing to give us everlasting happiness. He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. What does this guarantee? Paul puts it in the form of a rhetorical question (that means a question he expects us to immediately answer correctly): "how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"…

I said that when I was twenty-three, this logic of heaven penetrated so deeply into my soul that it changed the way I think about everything - and that the change was full of hope….

I live my life every day by the promises of God. I owe every one of them to the logic of Romans 8:32….

Behind every one of those battles is the logic of heaven: "I did not spare my own Son; therefore, my promise to you cannot fail. I will help you. Go. Do what I have called you to do."

(John Piper, Why I Love The Apostle Paul [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2019], 186-89)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Randi's Million Dollar Challenge And The Eisenbud Challenge

James Randi did some good things, and he ought to be getting some positive coverage in the context of his death earlier this week. But the coverage has been far too positive, which is unsurprising in light of the media's biases. You can read our archive of posts on Randi here. While the media give so much attention to Randi's Million Dollar Challenge, keep in mind his failure to meet a challenge in the other direction:

Nevertheless, with his usual bluster, Randi accepted a $10,000 challenge (a considerable sum in those days) to duplicate the Serios phenomena and make good on his claim.

Of course, confidence is easy to feign, and Randi does it routinely in his role as magician. He also cleverly takes advantage of the occasional high-profile case he successfully exposes as fraudulent, by publicizing those successes and creating the impression that he's a generally reliable guide when it comes to the paranormal. So Randi's dismissal of the Serios case was all it took for those already disposed to believe that Serios was a fake, and it was probably enough even for those sympathetic to parapsychology but unaware of Randi's dishonesty....

What the TV audience never learned was that when the show was over and Randi was pressed to make good on his wager, he simply weaseled out of it. To keep that side of the story under wraps, Randi prohibited publication of his correspondence on the matter. That was undoubtedly a shrewd move, because the letters show clearly how Randi backed down from his empty challenge. However, Randi's original letters now reside in the library at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and researchers, finally, can easily confirm this for themselves. When Serios's principal investigator, Jule Eisenbud, died, I was assigned the task of going through his papers. I collected all the material relevant to the Serios case and deposited it in the Special Collections section of the UMBC library. (This includes correspondence, the original photos and film, and signed affidavits from witnesses.)...

But there's no documentary evidence of Randi having even attempted to duplicate the Serios phenomena under anything like the conditions in which Serios succeeded, much less evidence of his having actually pulled it off....

In fact, the history of parapsychology chronicles some remarkable examples of dishonest testimony and other reprehensible behavior on the part of skeptics....

Skepticism is just as glib and dishonest now as it was in 1882 when the British SPR [Society for Psychical Research] was founded. In fact, despite sensible and careful dismantling of the traditional skeptical objections, the same tired arguments surface again and again. And those arguments all too easily mislead those who haven't yet heard the other side of the story or examined the evidence for themselves.

(Stephen Braude, The Gold Leaf Lady [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2007], 22, 34, 126)

See my post here about how other magicians have misled people about the paranormal.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Letters Of Gold

"Are ye ashamed to be corrected? This is the vice of the proud. It is, forsooth, a degradation for learned men to pass from the school of Plato to the discipleship of Christ, who by His Spirit taught a fisherman to think and to say, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.' The old saint Simplicianus, afterwards bishop of Milan, used to tell me that a certain Platonist was in the habit of saying that this opening passage of the holy gospel, entitled, According to John, should be written in letters of gold, and hung up in all churches in the most conspicuous place. But the proud scorn to take God for their Master, because 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.' So that, with these miserable creatures, it is not enough that they are sick, but they boast of their sickness, and are ashamed of the medicine which could heal them. And, doing so, they secure not elevation, but a more disastrous fall." (Augustine, The City Of God, 10:29)

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Gospels' Agreement About James And Corroboration Of Other Sources

In a post yesterday, I discussed agreements among the early sources regarding the apostles. Some evidence that's often neglected in that context is what the gospels tell us about Jesus' brother James.

I've discussed their material on him elsewhere. Something I don't believe I've discussed here before, though, and it's something that doesn't seem to get much attention in general, is James' position in the lists of Jesus' siblings in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. Notice that the two lists are different, and there are some differences in the surrounding context, so it's not just a matter of Matthew's copying Mark, Mark's copying Matthew, or both's copying some other source. What I want to focus on here, though is how they list the names of Jesus' brothers in a different order, yet agree in putting James first. As I've mentioned before, the order in which names appear in a list can be determined by a wide variety of factors. James could be listed first because he was the oldest brother of Jesus. Or it could be because he was the most prominent for whatever other reasons. Or it could be both. Maybe James was the most prominent, which was partly because he was the oldest and partly because of one or more other factors. Whatever the cause of his being listed first in both documents, that's consistent with his prominence elsewhere. He's prominent in Acts, much more prominent than the other siblings listed with him in Matthew 13 and Mark 6. He's the only sibling of Jesus mentioned by name in the resurrection appearances discussed in 1 Corinthians 15. He's the only brother of Jesus mentioned in Galatians 1-2 and the only one named anywhere in Paul's letters. Jude identifies himself in connection with James (Jude 1), but James sees no need to appeal to a relationship with any of his brothers in his letter. This sort of greater prominence James had, in comparison to his brothers, is corroborated by the passages in Matthew 13 and Mark 6.

Several years ago, I wrote an article addressing why the gospels don't include any reference to the resurrection appearance to James. I said that the best explanation for their not including the appearance to James is a desire to be consistent with their previous focus on Jesus' earliest followers and a desire to honor those earliest disciples. You can read the article just linked for a further discussion of that subject and others that are related. I want to note here, though, that since one of the gospels that doesn't include the appearance to James is Luke, there's an implication that Luke wanted to honor Jesus' earliest disciples above individuals like James in the manner I just described. That's significant in light of the fact that some people deny that Luke viewed James as an unbeliever during Jesus' public ministry. I've argued that Luke 8:19-21 probably alludes to his unbelieving status. But even if we didn't have that passage, or even if my view of it is wrong, I think the absence of any reference to the resurrection appearance to him is best explained if he was an unbeliever in the relevant timeframe. Even if I'm wrong about both of these matters, the meaning of the Luke 8 passage and the absence of the appearance to James, there has to be some reason why all of the gospels don't mention that appearance. And that's further common ground they have about James.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

How Much The Early Sources Agree About The Apostles

In a recent post on Peter's prominence in the New Testament, I mentioned a significant similarity in how Matthew 14:29 and John 21:7 portray Peter. When people discuss agreements among the gospels and other early Christian sources, agreements about Jesus get the most attention, for good reason. But there are many agreements on other matters as well, including about other individuals. Peter is a good example, and I provide some illustrations in my post linked above (his impulsiveness, his outspokenness, etc.).

But something else should be noted, which doesn't get as much attention, and it's illustrated in the passages in Matthew 14 and John 21 mentioned above. Notice that the passages not only portray Peter behaving so similarly, but also agree about the behavior of the other disciples. They're more reserved, more hesitant to act, or however you'd put it. That's also reflected in another passage I cited in my earlier post, John 20:6. John refrains from entering the tomb, but Peter goes in. There are many examples of agreements like these in the gospels, Acts, Paul's letters, etc. That's a problem for skeptical views that involve less common ground among the early Christian sources, higher levels of carelessness, and so on.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Simplest Explanation For Peter's Prominence

There are many places in the New Testament in which Peter is prominent for reasons that are obviously of a non-papal nature. I'll start with some examples in the gospels of Matthew and John that are striking in how similar they are, despite appearing in such different contexts. When Peter leaves the boat he's in and enters the water in Matthew 14:29 and John 21:7, while the other disciples remain in the boat, he does so because of the nature of his personality, not because he's a Pope. Similarly, Peter's entering the tomb, while John remains outside, in John 20:6 is best explained by Peter's personality, not a papal office. And so on. Peter was outspoken, impulsive, rash, and so forth, so that he would often stand out for reasons other than a papacy. There's no reasonable way to deny that Peter's prominence in the early sources is due partly to such personal traits.

And that's a problem for Roman Catholicism. Since Peter's personality explains his prominence so well, no papacy or any other concept of a similar nature is needed to explain that prominence. All other things being equal, we prefer simpler explanations. Simplicity isn't the only criterion we take into account, but it is one of the criteria we consider. Why seek a second explanation for Peter's prominence when the first one is sufficient?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Help The Liconas

Mike Licona and Nick Peters have done a lot of good work in apologetics over the years. Here's a GoFundMe page to raise money to help Allie Licona Peters, Mike's daughter and Nick's wife.

The New Testament In The Earliest Centuries

It's common to allege that the twenty-seven-book New Testament canon we have today doesn't first appear in the historical record until around the middle of the fourth century, in Athanasius. But it probably was advocated in multiple locations prior to that time, including in Origen more than a century earlier.

Even if it's recognized that the canon dates earlier than Athanasius' letter, it's commonly suggested that the process leading up to the origination and popularizing of that canon was unusually large and complicated and should motivate us to look for a source like an infallible church to adjudicate the situation for us. However, what stands out about the origins and popularizing of our New Testament canon isn't how unusually difficult the process was, but rather how unusually easy it was. See here for a further discussion of the subject.

And you can go here to find several other articles on issues related to the canon (mostly the New Testament, but also the Old).

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Andrew Before Peter

Several years ago, I wrote a post responding to the popular Roman Catholic claim that Peter is always mentioned first in lists of the apostles. Something that I didn't mention there is that Papias lists several of the apostles in the early second century, and he places Andrew before Peter (in Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:4).

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Pauline Papacy In Ephesus

Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote a list of 51 proofs of a Pauline papacy and Ephesian primacy. The reasoning Catholics use to argue for a Petrine papacy and Roman primacy can also be used to argue for similarly ridiculous conclusions about Paul and Ephesus. I didn't include any material on 1 Timothy 3:15 in my list, but in light of my recent post discussing the relationship between that passage and Ephesus, my list could have included that passage. Other material could be added as well, like some of Ignatius' comments in his letter to the Ephesians.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Pillars Of Roman Catholicism

An easy way to remember some of the problems with Catholic ecclesiolgy is to think of how scripture uses the metaphor of a pillar in a couple of passages.

I recently discussed 1 Timothy 3:15, where the church (whatever concept of the church you think is in view there) is referred to as a pillar and support of the truth. As I mentioned, we normally think of a structure being supported by multiple pillars, not just one, which suggests that the church isn't the only pillar. F.J.A. Hort referred to the absurdity of "a building, standing in the air supported on a single column" (cited in William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles [Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000], 223).

Another relevant passage that uses the pillar metaphor is Galatians 2:9. It's doubtful that people would have been grouping Peter with other apostles as pillars of the church and naming him second, after James, if he was thought of as a Pope. Remember, Catholics are the ones who place so much emphasis on the alleged significance of Peter's being a foundation of the church in Matthew 16, which is similar to the pillar concept in Galatians 2:9. It's highly unlikely that the early Christians believed that Peter was such a unique foundation of the church, the infallible ruler of all Christians, including the other apostles, yet perceived him as described in Galatians 2:9.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

What To Make Of 1 Timothy 3:15 And Catholic Claims About It

Roman Catholics often cite 1 Timothy 3:15 in support of their view of their denomination. But:

- The context makes it more likely that Paul is referring to the local church than that he's referring to a worldwide denomination, like the Roman Catholic Church. He's writing to Timothy about the latter's work in Ephesus (1:3).

- What we read about the Ephesian church elsewhere, such as in Acts 20:17-38 and Revelation 2:1-7, suggests that there was no assurance that the Ephesian church would remain faithful, have an unbroken succession from the apostles in perpetuity, or any other such thing. In Acts 20, Paul expects wolves to come in among the Ephesian leadership and calls on them to remember the teaching they'd received from Jesus and Paul. He says nothing of an assurance that they'll maintain the faith or how they can look to the infallible church teachings of their day, in addition to remembering the teaching of the past. Even an apostolic church as prominent as Ephesus, one that had the principles of 1 Timothy 3:15 applied so directly to it, could also be addressed in the terms of Acts 20 and Revelation 2.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

The Justification Of The Reformation

Reformation Day is coming up later this month. Here's a collection of resources addressing many topics relevant to the Reformation. Some links have been added to it since last year (a third post on sola scriptura; a post on prooftexts for Catholic Mariology; see the comments section of the thread on the papacy for a couple of links that were added there; a post on ecclesiology; a fourth post on development of doctrine; a third post on the assumption of Mary).

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Enfield Miscellany (Part 4)

(For an explanation of what this series is about, see part 1 here. Parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here. I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes below. I'll use "MG" to designate a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to designate one from Playfair's. MG88B refers to tape 88B in Grosse's collection, GP70B refers to 70B in Playfair's, and so on.)

Unknown Precedent

One type of event to look for in paranormal cases is something that has precedent, but only in a context unknown to the people involved in the event. The precedent adds credibility to the claim that the event occurred, and the ignorance of the precedent on the part of those involved in the event undermines the notion that the event was faked based on that precedent. I noticed some incidents in the Enfield case that seem to meet those criteria.

Peggy Hodgson reported experiencing a sensation like a cat sitting on her feet and the bottom of her legs (GP5A, 4:44, especially 5:59). I've come across a similar report, but only briefly and in passing in a summary of a haunting case that occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, Poltergeists [United States: White Crow Books, 2017], approximate Kindle location 3236). Gauld and Cornell refer to how a woman in the case reported "a feeling as if a cat were curling round her feet". In the Enfield case, on the tape cited above, Peggy refers to "a cat sitting on you…on your feet, [unintelligible] your legs". In all the books I've read on paranormal topics, articles I've read, podcasts I've listened to, etc., I don't recall anybody other than the woman cited by Gauld and Cornell and Peggy Hodgson reporting such an incident. And it seems extremely improbable that somebody like Peggy would have come across the obscure incident briefly mentioned by Gauld and Cornell or have been significantly influenced by somebody else who came across it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Christianity And Living Agent Psi

I've posted an Amazon review of Stephen Braude's recent book. The review repeats some of what I've said here, but also adds some comments on other subjects, such as the evidence Christianity provides for life after death.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

How Replicable Should The Paranormal Be?

Critics of the paranormal often object that paranormal events should be documented in scientific experiments if such phenomena actually occur. It's also common to object to decreases in reported paranormal activity over time or from one region to another, as if we should expect more consistency if the paranormal actually exists.

There are a lot of problems with those objections (e.g., the documentation we already have from scientific experiments), and Stephen Braude discusses some of those problems in his recent book. What I'm quoting below isn't meant to be exhaustive. I doubt that Braude intended to cover all of the ground involved, and I'd include other factors from a Christian perspective:

As time went on, more and more people, both in and out of the field of psychical research, took seriously the possibility that physical mediums might in fact be PK agents and therefore the actual cause of phenomena attributed by others to surviving spirits. And even when the mediums and other spiritists resisted this belief, the fact remains that the belief was increasingly "in the air" and difficult to ignore as growing numbers of secular researchers began to investigate the phenomena for themselves. But this can only have had a chilling effect on the psychology of mediumship generally. Mediums knew that even some sympathetic investigators considered them to be causes of - and not simply vessels for - paranormal physical phenomena. So they now had a concern that quite possibly had never entered their minds before - namely, that they might have powers they couldn't control and that conceivably could do great harm.

It's not surprising, then, to find that Eusapia Palladino's impressive phenomena in the 1890s and first decade of the twentieth century were less impressive than those of Home twenty years earlier. And it's even less surprising to find that many of the mediumistic "superstars" in the next several decades of the twentieth century had increasingly less intimidating repertoires of phenomena. For example, by the time we come to Rudi Schneider in the 1920s and 30s, the most sensational phenomena tended merely to be medium-sized object movements. And more recently, alleged PK superstars such as Nina Kulagina and Felicia Parise produced even smaller-scale phenomena.

Moreover, it's interesting to note how PK superstars in the latter half of the twentieth century seemed to suffer greatly when producing their phenomena. Their spiritistic predecessors typically went into a trance or at least into a state of passive receptivity, and occasionally they were tired afterwards. But more modern PK stars have more thoroughly accepted their role as the originator of their physical manifestations, and they seem quite clearly to be making a conscious effort to achieve those results. But of course, since they acknowledge their own role in the production of the phenomena, it's not surprising that they should have to work hard (say) to make a cigarette or pill bottle move a millimeter or an inch. In fact, consider how convenient effortful PK is psychologically - that is, from the psychic's point of view. If PK subjects feel it's necessary to expend a great deal of energy to produce only a small effect, then (in a careless line of thought characteristic of much self deception) it can easily seem to them as if their life or health would be endangered by trying to produce a phenomenon worth worrying about….

So, practically speaking, investigators may simply have to acknowledge a law of diminishing returns in applying controls. Besides, it would hardly be surprising if at some point (given human psychology), continually tightening controls simply snuffs out the phenomena. And how readily that occurs will undoubtedly vary from one subject to the next, just as our inhibition-thresholds vary widely in many familiar life contexts. I believe that's one reason why laboratory phenomena are so modest compared with phenomena in natural settings, if the phenomena can be duplicated at all in the lab. As I've argued elsewhere, since we really are nowhere close to knowing what psi's natural history is (i.e. its function or purpose - if any - in real-life settings), for all we know it may be similar in crucial respects to familiar phenomena or abilities (e.g., sexual performance, athletic skills) that can only be evaluated in their natural contexts, not in the straitjacketed conditions required for formal experiments.

(Dangerous Pursuits [San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2020], 10-11, 69)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Dark Side Of The Paranormal

I've often made the point that one of the issues that needs to be addressed more in discussions of the paranormal is the negative nature of much of what's involved. Stephen Braude makes some comments relevant to that subject in his new book:

In fact, over several decades of public lectures, I've had many opportunities to see how much distress I cause when I simply raise the issue [of the potential for using psychic powers for bad purposes] with my audiences. Significantly, that reaction has been especially intense at various New Age conventions where attendees focus exclusively on the potential benefits of psychic influence, apparently refusing to acknowledge the obvious point that no power can be used only for the good. I must confess, I've found it mischievously satisfying on those occasions to play the role of spokesperson for the Dark Side. With gratifying regularity, I've sent some in my audience home in tears….

I'm aware that many people accept the possibility of psychically influencing normal, everyday states of affairs, at least when the effects are salutary - for example, in the realm of healing or meditating for crime reduction. But of course, no force can be used exclusively for the good. So it's both interesting and revealing that few of those who propose beneficial applications of psi consider equally seriously the potential for pernicious uses of the same power.

(Dangerous Pursuits [San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2020], 5, 149)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Stephen Braude's New Book

I recently finished reading his latest book, Dangerous Pursuits (San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2020), which consists mostly of updated versions of material he'd previously published. The book is largely about mediumship, but there's also a lot of discussion of philosophical issues related to the paranormal. Some other topics are addressed as well. You can find out more about the issues the book covers on the Amazon page linked above.

There are a couple of chapters on his investigation of the Felix Experimental Group, centering around the mediumship of Kai Mügge. Though Mügge cheats at times (which is common among people with genuine abilities, as we see in academic contexts, sports, etc.), it does seem that he's producing some real paranormal phenomena as well. Some apparently authentic table levitations were caught on video. Braude discusses them and includes some photographs. A video of a particularly impressive levitation is supposed to be included in an upcoming film by Robert Narholz (tentatively titled Finding PK). Judging by the photos and Braude's account of the surrounding context, it seems that the levitation I just referred to is genuine. Go here to watch Braude discussing the subject in an interview, accompanied by a series of photos of the levitation mentioned above. (Watch the remainder of the interview for more photographs and video of levitations not associated with Mügge. For a discussion of other paranormal events caught on video and links to the relevant videos, see here.)

I found Braude's chapter on the mediumship of Carlos Mirabelli highly interesting. I didn't know much about Mirabelli before reading Braude's material. Mirabelli was reported to have "produced full-form materializations in bright daylight, and these were often recognized as deceased relatives, acquaintances, or well-known public figures by those attending the séance. Sitters would watch them form; attending physicians would carefully examine them for up to 30 minutes and report ordinary bodily functions; photographs of the figures would be taken (for example, Fig. 1); and then they would slowly dissolve or fade before everyone's eyes. Moreover, Mirabelli reportedly materialized animals as well." (99) Braude provides some of the relevant photographs, including one apparently showing a woman in the process of materializing. He reports an occasion when one of the medical personnel present touched one of the bodies that was in the process of dematerializing and found it to be "a spongy, flaccid mass of substance and that then he experienced some kind of a shock and fell to the ground" (105). You can read an online version of Braude's chapter on Mirabelli here.

Braude also has a chapter responding to criticisms of the mediumship of D.D. Home. If you don't know much about Home, Braude's chapter is a good introduction.

Much of Braude's material in the book is about issues related to the distinction between psi and super psi. One of the chapters discusses why it might be that disembodied individuals would perceive their surroundings as if having a body (an ability to perceive the physical environment, a range of vision similar to what an embodied person has, etc.). Even the chapter on jazz improvisation includes some comments on paranormal issues. Because of the variety of topics covered, most people interested in paranormal issues should find something worth reading.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

What Would Your Relatives And Coworkers Think?

"For the people is our master and the great mob; a savage master and a severe tyrant: not so much as a command being needed in order to make us listen to him; it is enough that we just know what he wills, and without a command we submit: so great good will do we bear towards him. Again, God threatening and admonishing day by day is not heard; but the common people, full of disorder, made up of all manner of dregs, has no occasion for one word of command; enough for it only to signify with what it is well pleased, and in all things we obey immediately. 'But how,' says some one, 'is a man to flee from these masters?' By getting a mind greater than theirs; by looking into the nature of things; by condemning the voice of the multitude; before all, by training himself in things really disgraceful to fear not men, but the unsleeping Eye; and again, in all good things, to seek the crowns which come from Him." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Corinthians, 12:8-9)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Daniel The Prophet

I think Steve Hays wrote more about Daniel than any of the other prophets. You can find a collection of links to a lot of Steve's material on Daniel here. The page also links many of his other posts on issues related to prophecy. The collection is far from exhaustive, though. You can search our archives for more.

"The Egyptian or Chaldaean prophets, and the other writers, should have been able accurately to tell, if at least they spoke by a divine and pure spirit, and spoke truth in all that was uttered by them; and they should have announced not only things past or present, but also those that were to come upon the world. And therefore it is proved that all others have been in error; and that we Christians alone have possessed the truth, in as much as we are taught by the Holy Spirit, who spoke in the holy prophets, and foretold all things. And, for the rest, would that in a kindly spirit you would investigate divine things - I mean the things that are spoken by the prophets - in order that, by comparing what is said by us with the utterances of the others, you may be able to discover the truth." (Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 2:33-34)

"Let [Porphyry] explain the meaning of that rock which was hewn from the mountain without hands, and which grew to be a great mountain and filled the earth, and which smashed to pieces the fourfold image. And let him say who that Son of man is who is going to come with clouds and stand before the Ancient of Days and have bestowed upon him a kingdom which shall never come to an end, and who is going to be served by all nations, tribes, and language-groups. Porphyry ignores these things which are so very clear and maintains that the prophecy refers to the Jews, although we are well aware that they are to this very day in a state of bondage." (Jerome, Commentary On Daniel, Chapter Eleven, vv. 44-45)