Friday, April 23, 2021

Other Agreements Among The Gospels About Jesus' Nonverbal Characteristics

In my last post, I discussed how the gospels agree about an aspect of Jesus' posture in the context of prayer. Because the gospels are documents about a teacher, they give a lot of attention to what Jesus said, and readers have a tendency to focus on those parts of the gospels. So, we're more likely to notice patterns in the verbal aspects of Jesus' life than in his nonverbal characteristics. And I think far more research has been done on the former than the latter. But I want to provide some other neglected examples of agreements among the gospels about Jesus' nonverbal characteristics.

He sometimes wept publicly (Luke 19:41, John 11:35).

He sometimes used spit in his healings (Mark 7:33, 8:23, John 9:6). Though spit was viewed positively at times in ancient sources, it was often viewed negatively as well. Raymond Brown referred to how "[Matthew] is in confrontation with Pharisees and in his account of the ministry [of Jesus] he is most careful not to give them anything they can use against Jesus (e.g., his omitting the spittle miracle narrated in Mark 8:22-26)." (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], n. 28 on 143) So, including that sort of detail in these healing accounts caused unnecessary offense.

And notice something else about the healings in Mark 8 and John 9. Both involved blind men, and both healings were done in multiple stages. So, not only do Mark and John agree in having Jesus use spit, but they also agree that he used it in the context of healing the blind in particular and that he sometimes healed the blind in multiple stages. That's a highly unusual series of agreements, and it's highly unlikely that Mark and John (and/or their sources) hit upon such agreements by chance in the process of making up stories.

Jesus was sometimes very confrontational, as we see with the temple cleansings (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-22). It's likely that he cleansed the temple twice, not just once. Something that can get lost in the controversy over how many times he cleansed the temple is that all of the gospels are agreeing that Jesus had such a character that he behaved that way and did so in such a public context.

And he seems to have been good at avoiding crowds and avoiding the assaults of his enemies when he wanted to (Matthew 8:18-23, Mark 1:35, 6:31-32, Luke 4:30, 5:15-16, John 8:59, 10:39). Notice the overlap between those nonverbal characteristics and his verbal skills of a similar nature (e.g., Mark 4:1-12, Luke 20:19-26, John 6:60-66). The harmony between his words and actions is striking. He seems to have been both physically and mentally agile.

These are just several examples. Much more could be said about agreements over Jesus' moral character, interests, ways of handling particular types of situations, etc. I've been focused on the gospels, those documents give us the most material to work with, and some of the agreements exist only among the gospels. But we should also look for overlap among other sources (e.g., Old Testament theophanies that we think involve Jesus, Old Testament prophecies about him, Acts, comments about Jesus in the New Testament letters, Revelation).

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The 6%

George Barna teamed up with the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University and conducted 30-minute long interviews with 2,000 people designed to discover what worldview they profess to hold, as well as what worldview they actually end up living in their lives (link to study here). It should not be much of a surprise that they found 88% of Americans “embrace an impure, unrecognizable worldview that blends ideas from these multiple perspectives.” In fact, “Biblical Theism” only scored a whopping 6% in the survey...but that still managed to get the majority out of the worldviews presented.

Those worldviews are:

  • Biblical Theism (6%)
  • Secular Humanism (2%)
  • Moral Therapeutic Deism (1%)
  • Postmodernism (1%)
  • Nihilism (1%)
  • Eastern Mysticism/New Age (< 1%)
  • Marxism/Critical Race Theory (<1%)

This study shows one of the problems with trying to pigeonhole people into one of these worldviews. The vast majority of people are Syncretists, wherein they grab a mishmash of things they like from various worldviews and smash them all together. Barna even explicitly labels them as such in his own results.

Of even greater concern than just the fact that only 6% of Americans can be considered Biblical Theists is the fact that when you take the numbers of characteristics that match “a moderately high number of beliefs or behaviors that meet various worldview specifications, but not quite enough to qualify as being a true adherent of that worldview” then the highest scoring trend in the US is those who hold to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism at 38%. Biblical Theists are in second place at 31%. This means that not only are 94% of Americans not Biblical Theists, but 69% of them aren't even close to being Biblical Theists.

It would be easy to say that syncretism isn't that bad. There's quite a bit of overlap between various views that people hold to, and besides Exodus 20:3 just says not to have another god before Yahweh, not to not have any other gods at all.

Of course the command in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me”, does not mean “Yahweh must be first on the list, but the other gods are okay after that.” “Before me” has a different understanding in older English, meaning “in the presence of”. For example, “I am going to be presented before the king.” Thus, the passage in Exodus carries that connotation, as in: “When you are present before me, you shall have no other gods.”

Still, I gather most readers here already know that. What may be a bit less obvious is the fact that when Israel committed most of her sins against God, such as those that led up eventually to the Babylonian captivity, Israel never really turned her back completely on God. That is, they didn't cease to offer sacrifices to Yahweh in order to add sacrifices to Baal. They simply sacrificed to both. Elijah points this out in 1 Kings 18:21, for example, asking the people of Israel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

More could be mentioned, but I believe the point is made for the purposes of this post. Namely, the sin that caused the downfall of Israel was the very sin of syncretism that currently plagues the United States. God never made a covenant with the United States, even though He has made a covenant with His Church. How do you think a post-Christian American society will fare in the grand scheme of history?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Humanists Being Humanists....

American Humanist Association Board Statement Withdrawing Honor from Richard Dawkins

[Richard Dawkins's] latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient. ...Consequently, the AHA Board has concluded that Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA, and has voted to withdraw, effective immediately, the 1996 Humanist of the Year award.

I'm sure he's devastated by the removal of something he probably forgot he received since it is worth exactly zero cups of coffee down at Starbucks. Frankly, it's somewhat ironic that you have the AHA "withdrawing honor", something which in the atheistic universe is just made up and has no basis in objective reality according to their own criteria.

Actually, I guess it makes perfect sense as to why criticizing something that was just made up and has no basis in objective reality would result in the removal of an award which is just made up and has no basis in objective reality after all...

Still, we live in a world where something can be memory-holed and treated like it never happened due to something you say 25 years after the fact. Isn't progress grand?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Agreement Among The Gospels About Some Practices Of Jesus

When discussing issues like the credibility and consistency of the gospels, matters such as Jesus' language and teachings often get a lot of attention, as they should. For example, he frequently refers to himself as the Son of Man in the gospels, whereas he's referred to that way much less often elsewhere. Another category that ought to be brought up in this context is what the gospels report about various nonverbal practices of Jesus, such as his posture:

"Here I am drawing attention to the Gospels' agreement in both John and the Synoptics that it was Jesus' habit to look up to heaven when praying [Matthew 14:19, Mark 6:41, 7:34, Luke 9:16, John 11:41, 17:1]….Though lifting up one's hands to heaven was also a possibility, the Gospels do not say that Jesus did that; they mention only that he looked up to heaven. They did not have to note his physical gestures in prayer, and it is interesting that when they casually do so in the course of telling a story, they note the same gesture and that John agrees with Mark on this point, though in different contexts." (Lydia McGrew, The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021], 386)