Sunday, May 22, 2022

Why wasn't early Christian eschatology criticized more?

In my last post, I argued that the earliest opponents of Christianity don't seem to have thought that Jesus and his followers falsely predicted the timing of his second coming. That raises the question of why they didn't make that accusation. Modern critics of Christianity frequently make the accusation that Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians in general set a false date for Jesus' return. Why would there be such a difference between Christianity's earliest opponents and its modern critics?

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Nobody Knows The Day Or Hour

A couple of years ago, I had a discussion on Facebook with a non-Christian who was raising the popular objection that early Christianity had falsely predicted the timing of Jesus' second coming. You can click on the link just provided to read the discussion in its entirety while it's available. But I want to post my end of the discussion here for those who don't have access to Facebook and in case it wouldn't be available on Facebook in the future for whatever reason.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

How Much The Conclusion Of Luke 2 Contradicts Roman Catholic Mariology

Protestants typically overlook or underestimate the closing verses of Luke 2 when addressing Catholic Mariology. There are several problems for the Catholic view of Mary in those verses, and the cumulative effect is highly significant.

I've discussed these issues in Luke 2 many times, but my comments are scattered across various posts over the years. I want to gather some of those comments in one place and supplement them with some other points:

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Did Jesus ride two donkeys?

Caleb Jore recently wrote a good post addressing a common objection to Matthew 21:7. He discusses some problems with a popular Christian alternative to the skeptical interpretation and offers another reading that avoids the problems with that Christian alternative and the skeptical view.

Another recent post on the same blog, by Lucas, discusses some recent trends in scholarship that are favorable to Christianity.

The whole blog is worth following. There's a lot of good material there.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Only Talk About Heavenly Things

"Remember how Mr. Bunyan pictures it. When Talkative came up to gossip with Christian and Hopeful, he chattered away upon all sorts of topics, and they were wearied with him. To get rid of him, Christian said to Hopeful, 'Now we will talk a little about experimental godliness' and when they began to speak about what they had tasted and handled of divine truth, Mr. Chatterbox dropped behind. He did not like spiritual conversation, neither do any of the breed. The holy pilgrims were not so rude as to tell him to go; they only talked about heavenly things, which he did not understand, and he went of his own accord. I believe that result is sure to follow holy conversation and sound preaching." (Charles Spurgeon)

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Thief On The Cross On The Day Of Judgment

Here are some good comments on the subject from John Piper. They're also applicable to deathbed conversions more broadly.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Dreams Of The Afterlife

Over the past several months, I've come across some resources I want to recommend on paranormal issues. These are subjects often discussed among nurses, hospice workers, and other people working in relevant fields, covered on television, and brought up in books, YouTube videos, conversations about family experiences, and elsewhere. But the large majority of Christians are very poorly prepared to address these topics.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Water Without Baptism In Many Contexts

My last post discussed some problems with a baptismal justification view of John 3:5. A related point worth noting is that there are many other significant references to water that don't seem to be about baptism in the gospels and earlier sources. Not only is it unlikely that John 3:5 is referring to baptism, but it's also unlikely that the references to drinking the water of life in 4:14, having water within you in 7:38, and being spiritually washed in 13:10 are about baptism. And notice how that series of non-baptismal references to water and spiritual life in John's gospel adds weight to a non-baptismal reading of chapter 3. To cite another example from the gospels, it's doubtful that the comment about waterless places in Matthew 12:43 is meant to be taken as a reference to places without baptism. Rather, the water is referring to something other than baptism. Similarly, Jesus' references to how the religious leaders of his day needed to wash and cleanse themselves (Matthew 23:25-28, Luke 11:39-41) weren't solely or primarily about getting baptized (Luke 11:41), much less about being justified through baptism. There are many examples of references to water, washing, dryness, thirst, and such in the Old Testament, such as in the Psalms, that likewise aren't about baptism. This kind of material, which is found frequently in periods of time predating when baptismal justification supposedly went into effect (after Jesus' resurrection), illustrates how much potential there is for later references to water, washing, and such to have something other than baptism in mind. We need to be careful, accordingly, about taking passages like Titus 3:5 as references to baptism. The pre-baptismal justification of somebody like Cornelius can be referred to with a term like "cleansing" (Acts 15:9).

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

How did Nicodemus interpret John 3:5?

As I mentioned in a recent post, one of the problems with baptismal justification, such as the view of it advocated by Tertullian, is that it involves so much discontinuity. It's common to allege that baptismal justification didn't go into effect until after Jesus' resurrection, for example. So, even though Abraham is repeatedly cited as the primary example of how people are justified after the time of Jesus' resurrection (much like Jesus' appeal to Abraham prior to the resurrection), we're supposed to believe that we're now justified in a way that has less continuity with Abraham's justification, since baptism is now the normative context in which justification occurs. And even though John's gospel is structured in such a way as to highlight Jesus' pre-resurrection soteriology and associate it with how people who read John's gospel can be justified, we're supposed to think baptism has been added as a requirement since the time Jesus made those statements John highlights. (For a discussion of the relevant material in John, see the section of the post here on John's gospel, for example. And there are other relevant posts in our archives.) If baptism didn't become justificatory until after Jesus' resurrection, then there's a higher degree of discontinuity with multiple types of baptism practiced in the Christian movement prior to that time, namely the baptisms of John and Jesus discussed in John 3:22-4:2. We're told that Cornelius' justification prior to baptism in Acts 10 is an exception to the rule. But it's continuous with how people were justified prior to that time. And what occurred in Acts 10 is referred to as if it's normative in 11:17-18 and 15:7-11 (in the context of how people are justified, not some other context, like whether speaking in tongues is normative). Furthermore, other passages, like Acts 19:2 and Galatians 3:2, seem to likewise treat a scenario like that of Cornelius as normative. The "hearing with faith" of Galatians 3:2 sounds strikingly similar to Cornelius' justification as he heard the gospel proclaimed and believed what he was hearing. What's described in Galatians 3:2 sounds more like Cornelius' situation than a baptismal context. (For a response to the common suggestion that Galatians 3:27 warrants including baptism earlier in the passage, see here.) And if the Galatians were justified as Cornelius was, then Paul's appeal to Abraham and Genesis 15:6 just afterward makes more sense accordingly. And so on. I'm just citing several examples here among others that could be discussed. Justification through faith alone, apart from baptism, involves more continuity and makes more sense of the evidence as a whole.

What I want to focus on in this post, though, is a particular aspect of that evidence. John 3:5 is often cited in support of baptismal justification. And it's often noted, in response, that Jesus speaks of how people are (not will be) born again and criticizes Nicodemus for not understanding what he (Jesus) was referring to in the passage, which makes more sense if the reference to water was about an Old Testament theme rather than about baptism and an aspect of baptism that wouldn't go into effect until after the resurrection of Jesus. But notice, also, that the timing of John 3:5 provides a lot of opportunity for interpretation of Jesus' comments there, regardless of whether the interpretations were correct. (Nicodemus would have interpreted what Jesus said, and other people may have been interpreting it as well, depending on whether others were told about the conversation and/or that portion of it prior to Jesus' resurrection.) We're often told that nobody interpreted John 3:5 as anything other than a reference to baptismal justification prior to the Reformation. I've demonstrated elsewhere, such as here and here, that that claim is false as it pertains to the post-apostolic era. But notice how problematic the claim is even by the standards of the people making the claim.

If baptismal justification didn't go into effect until after Jesus' resurrection, and John 3:5 is immediately followed by references to multiple types of baptism that weren't justificatory (John 3:22-4:2), why think Nicodemus and anybody else who was interpreting John 3:5 at the time would have been interpreting it as a reference to baptismal justification? In other words, it seems that the earliest interpretation of John 3:5 was likely one that didn't involve baptismal justification, even by the standards of the people advocating the baptismal justification view of the passage.

You could get around part of the force of this argument I'm making by proposing that Nicodemus was agnostic about the meaning of the passage, that he interpreted John 3:5 as a reference to baptismal justification, but didn't expect it to go into effect until sometime in the future, or something like that. But that wouldn't change the fact that the evidence as a whole, as outlined above, suggests that it's more likely that Jesus' comments wouldn't have been taken as a reference to baptismal justification at the time. Even under a scenario in which Nicodemus (and whoever else) was agnostic about the meaning of the passage, agnosticism is significantly different than the sort of clarity advocates of baptismal justification often suggest. So, all of this is further evidence against the notion that there was universal agreement about interpreting John 3:5 as a reference to baptismal justification prior to the Reformation.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Best Arguments For The Enfield Poltergeist

In a post last year, I made some recommendations about how to begin studying the Enfield case. What I want to do in this post is make some suggestions about how to argue for the case's authenticity.

Because the evidence for it is so multifaceted and so strong in so many contexts, and because there's some variability in which arguments will persuade which people, there are many approaches you can take that would have some merit. I'm not suggesting that the approach I'll outline below is the only one that should be taken. You can make whatever adjustments you think are appropriate to my recommendations, but I'll discuss a few of the arguments I would include. I'll start with a couple that I think would be the easiest to use, then mention some that are harder to articulate, but have a lot of value.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Plausibility Of Alleged Doublets And Other Parallels In The Bible And Elsewhere

Critics often object that the similarities among two or more events reported in the Bible make it unlikely that all of the reports are historical. Sometimes it's even alleged that the similarities suggest it's unlikely that any of the reports are historically accurate. Supposedly, there must have been some single underlying tradition that was developed in different ways by different sources and eventually took the form of reporting multiple events, even though there actually was only one event or no event at all. Jesus' feeding of the five thousand and his feeding of the four thousand surely didn't both happen, especially the lack of anticipation on the part of his disciples in the context of the second miracle. Similar reasoning is applied to the accounts about Abraham and Isaac and their wives in Genesis 20 and Genesis 26, the multiple accounts of the healing of the blind in Matthew (in contrast to only one similar account in the other Synoptics), etc.

A variation of this kind of objection is to allege that a Biblical source is too similar to an extrabiblical one. Old Testament passages must have been derived from similar ancient accounts in other cultures. Claims made about Jesus in the New Testament are too similar to ancient pagan mythology. And so on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Are Gnostic and pagan documents part of Roman Catholic tradition?

In the mid 1990s, I met a man online named John Wallace who impressed upon me the value of hostile corroboration. He made good use of the corroboration of Christianity that we have from ancient non-Christian sources. I also read some material in Philip Schaff's church history that left an impression on me in that context. A series I wrote on the canon of scripture several years ago has a segment about hostile corroboration of the New Testament canon, and it concludes with a quote from the material in Schaff's church history I just referred to. Ever since I came across Wallace and Schaff's work, I've given a lot of attention to hostile corroboration as a line of evidence. You can find many traces of it in my work over the years.

I often think of that line of evidence when I see Catholics and Orthodox claim that Protestants are relying on Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition when we accept our canon of scripture, interpret it in light of ancient sources, or some such thing. They act as though anything outside of scripture should be equated with Catholic or Orthodox tradition. I know that hostile corroboration has long been a large part of what shapes my views on matters like the canon of scripture and scripture interpretation. When Bible translators make judgments about how to render the Biblical text, Biblical commentators decide how to best interpret certain Biblical passages, and so forth, they rely partly on information they're getting from Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Trypho, Celsus, Porphyry, archeological artifacts, and other ancient non-Christian sources. And something like a New Testament manuscript or a catacomb inscription isn't always accompanied by an extensive statement of faith on the part of the individual(s) who produced the manuscript or inscription. Think of the absurdity of suggesting that everything from Josephus to Celsus to an ancient New Testament manuscript from a largely unknown source is equivalent to Roman Catholic Sacred Tradition.

But many Protestants are taken in by that sort of argumentation. And many Catholics and Orthodox think they're arguing well when they utilize such poor arguments. That's largely because we're such a secular, trivial culture that doesn't think and talk about issues like these nearly enough.

If a Catholic or Orthodox just wants to argue that part of what Protestants are relying on is Catholic or Orthodox tradition, then that qualifier should be added upfront rather than later in the discussion. And they should justify their claim about partial dependence on their tradition and explain why that partial dependence allegedly is problematic. A Protestant doesn't have to accept, and shouldn't accept, the assumption that all or even most of the church fathers or other early Christians were Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. And even if they had been Catholic or Orthodox, Catholics and Orthodox often depend on information they get from Protestant or other non-Catholic or non-Orthodox archeologists, historians, Bible translators, patristic scholars, etc. So what? All of us make our historical judgments, including judgments about matters like religion and morals, on the basis of testimony or other evidence from sources outside our church, denomination, or ecclesiastical movement. Again, so what?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Protestants Aren't The Only Ones With Solas

To add to what I said in my last post, it's important that Protestants keep in mind that we aren't the only ones with solas. We use the sola terminology more explicitly and more often than others, but we aren't the only ones who accept such concepts. Every rule of faith has parameters. It includes some things while excluding others. It doesn't have to be sola scriptura in order to be sola something. So, if a Catholic, Orthodox, or somebody else wants to complain that he doesn't understand how sola scriptura works in some context, you can ask him if he understands how his own sola works in that context. If he claims that Protestants are being inconsistent by doing X while affirming sola scriptura, ask him if he's being inconsistent by doing X while affirming his own sola. It's often adequate to say, "Scripture is to me what your rule of faith is to you."

It's remarkable how large of a percentage of objections to Protestantism consist of the sort of inconsistencies on the part of the objector that I've been addressing in these last two posts. Take away those inconsistencies, and you take away a large percentage of what many critics of Protestantism consider their best objections.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

How To Handle Canonical Issues

An important step in addressing objections you get from a critic is to ask how much the objection could be applied to his belief system. That can help you communicate better with that critic, help you better explain to him why his objection is problematic, or get him to abandon the objection or adjust it or his handling of it in some way, for example. The value of taking that approach is especially significant in the context of interacting with Roman Catholics, since Protestants so often interact with Catholics and since they so often raise objections to Protestantism that they should be holding against their own belief system if they were to be consistent. But you sometimes come across that sort of inconsistency with Eastern Orthodox, atheists, and other groups as well.

One of the most popular objections raised against Protestantism is its supposed inability to justify its acceptance of a canon for its rule of faith, scripture. There is no table of contents in scripture, we rely on means outside of scripture to arrive at our canon, we supposedly accept our canon because a Roman Catholic authority of some sort gave us that canon, and so on. But it's not as though Protestants are the only ones who have a canon for their rule of faith. Every rule has a canon. So, ask yourself whether the group the person you're interacting with belongs to (e.g., Catholicism) handles its own canonical issues in a way comparable to how you handle yours. Is there a table of contents within the Catholic rule of faith? No. Do Catholics arrive at their canon by means outside that canon? Yes. And so forth. In fact, since the Catholic rule is so much larger and more complicated, the process of sorting through canonical issues is more difficult for a Catholic than it is for a Protestant. There are ongoing disputes among Catholics about what qualifies as tradition and what doesn't, which papal teachings are infallible and which aren't, who's been a true Pope and who hasn't been, etc.

Similarly, when atheists and other critics of Christianity claim that the canon of scripture was decided by Constantine or the Council of Nicaea, claim that Irenaeus gave us our canon of the gospels, or some such thing, we shouldn't just respond by explaining how erroneous their historical claims are. We should also notice that they make a lot of canonical judgments themselves and often approach those canonical issues in much the same way Christians do. In discussions about politics and matters like separation of church and state, they'll accept a canon of Thomas Jefferson's writings or some portion of that canon based on whatever they've been told by whatever scholar or other source they've consulted. They'll accept what a high school teacher, college professor, television documentary, book, web site, or some other source told them about the canon of Supreme Court rulings on a particular topic, what the Court said about the issue in question, and so on. We all do this type of thing many times and in many contexts in our everyday lives. So, when a Christian accepts a Biblical canon based on trusting various authority figures (parents, pastors, denominations, a historical consensus of professing Christians, a consensus of Bible publishers, etc.), that isn't much different than what atheists and other non-Christians do in other contexts. Whether an atheist or some other critic is being inconsistent in the objection he's raising will have to be judged case by case, but the possibility that he's being inconsistent should be considered and should be considered earlier rather than later in the discussion.

A lot more can be said about these issues, and we've said a lot more elsewhere (e.g., in my series of posts arguing for the New Testament canon and summarizing the case for the Old Testament canon here). But I want to reinforce the point that it's important to take a critic's objections and apply them to his belief system early in a discussion. That can go a long way in helping the discussion develop well. Protestants need to get better at doing that, especially with Catholics, but also with other groups.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Was there a papacy in the early church?

There's been a lot of discussion of the papacy lately on some popular YouTube channels. For example, Cameron Bertuzzi recently had Joe Heschmeyer and Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers on his channel, along with some Protestants arguing for the other side. Here's a good one-hour summary, from Gavin Ortlund, of the problems with arguments for the papacy. The Other Paul has been producing a lot of good material on the subject as well, often with Geoff Robinson. Steven Nemes has been making a lot of significant points, such as in this recent video on Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22. You can find collections of our posts on these issues here and by clicking on the relevant post labels, like Papacy.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Jesus Saw Light

One of Steve Hays' last posts before his death in 2020 was about the original text of Isaiah 53:11, particularly its reference to how the Suffering Servant will see light. He had written on the subject in a post the previous year as well. He had a lot of interest in the theme of light in scripture in general, and he thought (probably rightly) that the inclusion of a reference to seeing light in Isaiah 53:11 implies the Servant's resurrection. Since this resurrection is tied to the Servant's unique status, such as his unique work of atonement, the resurrection seems to be something better than the general resurrection that everybody will experience. In the context of Isaiah, an unusual resurrection like the one attributed to Jesus makes more sense.

And that brings up another issue that doesn't get as much attention as it should. It's good to argue in the traditional, more direct ways for Jesus' resurrection, by appealing to the general trustworthiness and historicity of the relevant sources, by appealing to aspects of the documents that are unlikely to have been fabricated, by appealing to hostile corroboration, and so on. But we can also argue for the resurrection more indirectly by appealing to prophecy fulfillment. Given the evidence we have for Biblical prophecy in general and Isaiah's prophecies and the Servant Songs and related passages in particular, we have reason to expect the figure who fulfilled those passages in Isaiah to have risen from the dead accordingly. It would be surprising if Jesus' life lined up so well with so much of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, but not the references to rising from the dead in verses 10-11.

Something worth noting about this line of argument is that much of what Jesus has fulfilled in the Servant Songs and elsewhere is widely acknowledged by non-Christian sources, and some of the fulfillments were brought about by non-Christians to one extent or another. That undermines the argument that Christians arranged the fulfillments by natural means. See here, for example. You can argue that Jesus rose from the dead on the basis of the resurrection's connections to prophecy fulfillments that are largely corroborated by non-Christian sources. It's similar to Peter's appeal to prophecy fulfillment and other miracles in Acts 2.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Was ever grief like mine?

If you haven't read George Herbert's poem The Sacrifice, I recommend reading it. There are more than 60 verses addressing different aspects of Jesus' suffering. Here are several of the verses, but I recommend reading the whole poem:

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

An Overview And Critique Of Ed And Lorraine Warren

I recently saw the Twitter account of the Society for Psychical Research link a webinar by Randy Liebeck on Ed and Lorraine Warren, titled "Begone Satan! The Lives and Legacy of Ed and Lorraine Warren". It's the best treatment of the Warrens I've come across. He covers a lot of ground and includes many examples of the problems with the Warrens' credibility. He spoke with people affiliated with the Warrens in various contexts and had some interaction with Ed Warren prior to his death. The video addresses some of the Warrens' most significant cases, including Amityville. Liebeck also discusses a meeting he had with Warren, in which he asked to see the evidence Warren supposedly had for the paranormality of the cases he worked. There's some significant material on Enfield that Liebeck doesn't address, which you can find in my collection of posts on the Warrens here. That collection includes an article on a case I don't recall Liebeck mentioning in his presentation, the Arne Johnson case, the one The Conjuring 3 was based on.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Belief In Justification Apart From Baptism In Tertullian's Day

Gavin Ortlund recently said that he'll be having a discussion with Trent Horn about baptism during the last week of this month. I don't know which particular baptismal issues they'll be discussing, but I want to address a topic related to baptism and justification that probably will be relevant.

I've recommended Gavin's material on baptism in the past, such as here and here. He makes a lot of good points. For example, he's mentioned that in his work as a pastor, he's encountered many people who seem to have been regenerated prior to their baptism. However, as my two posts just linked explain, there are some significant arguments that I haven't yet seen Gavin bring up in these discussions. I want to expand on one of those here. This is just one line of evidence among many others for justification apart from baptism. But it's one that's been neglected. I've discussed other extrabiblical evidence against baptismal justification, such as in Josephus and Clement of Rome, but what I want to do here is address some material in Tertullian. I've brought it up before, briefly, but I want to address it in more depth than I have in the past.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The Resurrected Jesus Appeared To At Least Five Non-Christians, Probably More

For the evidence that he appeared to Saul of Tarsus, see the many relevant posts in our archives, such as the posts in the thread here. And see the posts in the comments section of that thread, starting here, for a discussion of some of the evidence that at least two non-Christians traveling with Paul witnessed the resurrected Jesus in the manner I discuss there. For the evidence that at least two of Jesus' brothers claimed to have seen the risen Jesus at a time when they were unbelievers, see here.

And he could easily have appeared to more than the five non-Christians mentioned above. He probably did. There could easily have been more than two non-Christians traveling with Paul in Acts 9. And the appearance in Matthew 28:16 was announced ahead of time, which provided a lot of potential for non-Christians to be present. That Matthew 28 appearance seems to be the best candidate among the ones narrated in the gospels and Acts for the appearance to more than five hundred mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6. (See here for some evidence that the appearance at the end of Matthew 28 is the one Paul refers to.) Since that appearance in Matthew 28 was anticipated, it could easily be the case that one or more non-Christians were brought there (e.g., family members going with each other) or went on their own initiative. Given the nature of ancient Jewish culture and particular types of relationships (e.g., family members often traveling with each other), it's more likely than not that some non-Christians were present during the appearance to more than five hundred mentioned by Paul. And not every resurrection appearance is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 (e.g., the appearances to women), nor should we assume that every appearance is mentioned somewhere in our extant documents. So, there's a lot of potential for Jesus to have appeared to more than the five non-Christians discussed above.

We should be careful to think beyond Paul and James when the issue of non-Christian witnesses comes up. And we need to be careful about objections based on the premise that Jesus didn't appear to more non-Christians. He didn't need to appear to any, and people typically underestimate how many he did appear to and how many he could easily have appeared to without our knowing it.

I expect some people to acknowledge that it seems that Jesus was reported to have appeared to more non-Christians than Paul and James, but to object that he didn't appear to an even higher number and that he didn't appear to more prominent non-Christians. But asking for more evidence isn't an adequate response to the evidence you have. And see here regarding the number of resurrection witnesses and here regarding their nature (e.g., why Jesus didn't appear to somebody like the Roman emperor rather than or in addition to Paul). The latter post just linked discusses an illustration I've found useful, a contrast between Paul and Constantine. Critics often act as though it obviously would have been better for Jesus to have appeared to somebody like a Roman emperor than to have appeared to somebody like Paul. But the choice of appearing to individuals like Paul has been vindicated over time. Paul has had a deeper impact, one with some characteristics that wouldn't be present with somebody like Constantine (or Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, etc.).

Thursday, April 07, 2022

It's probably best not to base your argument on logical fallacies...

 Yesterday, Timothy Keller tweeted out the following:

“Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing religious people of His day. However-our churches do not have this same effect which can only mean one thing. Our preaching and practices are not declaring the same message that Jesus did.”

Sadly, this statement contains several logical fallacies. We can start with the most obvious one being the false dilemma. When Keller says “this...can only mean one thing” he is clearly wrong. There are many things that it could mean, and it doesn't even take much imagination to think about what these other options could be. But Keller insists that no other options could possibly be relevant than that our churches today are not preaching the actual message of Christ.

Hey, isn't Keller a pastor preaching at a church? This can only mean one thing! Keller is admitting he doesn't preach the same message that Jesus did. See, I just used the same logical principal Keller did.

But, as I said, this false dilemma has many other alternatives. Some of the other things that he could have considered are overlooked by him because of other fallacies contained in the statement, so demonstrating these fallacies and why they are fallacies will help show why the false dilemma is, indeed, false.

Keller says that Jesus offended “the Bible-believing religious people of His day.” This, however, is anachronistic insofar as in Jesus's day, there was no complete Bible. The only Scripture that had been revealed at that point was the Old Testament, so there wasn't a single “Bible-believing” person of Jesus's day who actually believed the entirety of Scripture that we have today. Clearly, those who believe the New Testament along with the Old Testament are going to be in a different camp than those who believe solely in the Old Testament.

If you don't believe me, just ask a religious Jew. You'll find that they are still pretty well offended by the message Jesus taught, insofar as a religious Jew considers Jesus to be a false Messiah. Given this fact, one can immediately ask is Keller's follow up that “our churches do not have this same effect” even right in the first place? If our churches are offending the religious sensibilities of religious Jews, then clearly they are having the same effect that Keller points to.

A second matter to address is Keller's claim that Jesus's teaching “attracted the irreligious.” He clarified in a subsequent tweet that “Luke 15:1-3 shows Jesus attracting the 'sinners' and offending the religious” but there are some important distinctions to make with this. First, Luke 15:1-3 is the introduction to the parable of the Lost Sheep, and in it the people who are drawing near to Jesus are referred to as “the tax collectors and sinners.” Where does it say that these people are “irreligious”?

Is Keller claiming that tax collectors and sinners weren't religious? If so, that claim is belied by Luke 18:13, where a tax collector is unable to even lift his eyes to heaven but just cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” That seems a rather odd statement for someone who is irreligious to say. On the other hand, if Keller is equating “religious” with “the actions of the Pharisees” then all the “irreligious” are simply non-Pharisees and not necessarily pagans or secular people, which seems to be a pretty non-standard definition of “irreligious” to say the least.

But adding in those qualifiers, if they are indeed what Keller means, reduces his statement to: “Jesus's teaching consistently attracted those who were not Pharisees while offending those who only believed in the Old Testament. However-our churches do not have this same effect....” And I just don't see how our churches do not have the same effect. As already mentioned, Christian churches do offend Jews who believe the Old Testament only, so that half already fails. And even if we grant that many churches draw people in the same mindset as the Pharisees (i.e., those who believe they are justified by outward actions that obscure their inner spiritual death), that does not imply that those same churches do not also draw those who are not Pharisees at the same time. It is actually possible to draw both sets of individuals at the same time. And as far as the actual irreligious, not just non-Pharisee, is concerned, I learned music theory in college from an atheist who attended services nearly every week because he enjoyed the music. Granted, he was going to a traditional church with old timey liturgy (I believe it was an Anglican church, but as this was more than 20 years ago I don't recall for sure).

And this brings me to the next part of the statement that isn't justified. Keller said, “Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious.” But is it Jesus's teaching that attracted people to Him? The Gospels themselves show that Jesus attracted many people who wanted to see signs and miracles, not because of what He was teaching. For example, John 6:2 states that the large crowd followed Jesus “because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” And later, after the crowd followed Him across the sea, Jesus Himself said, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).

Thus, even if we granted everything else Keller says, one cannot conclude from the difference in crowd attraction that it is because the teaching is different, when it is just as easy to say it is because Jesus performed miracles and the church does not have the ability to do so.

Ultimately, Keller's conclusion isn't completely wrong. When he says, “Our preaching and practices are not declaring the same message that Jesus did”, that is true of many churches in America, although it is also false of many churches in America. But setting aside the existence of the genuine churches, we do not determine whether a church is teaching the message Christ taught by asking if the same people are drawn to the church as Christ drew to Himself—that is not the standard by which fidelity to His message is found. You find out whether or not a church is teaching the message of Christ by reading the message of Christ and seeing if it's the same as what the church is teaching. It really is that simple. Does the teaching of a church line up with the words Jesus said which are recorded in Scripture?

Because Keller is focused on the wrong thing to try to prove his point, his point is full of logical fallacies that are easily dismantled. That, perhaps, is the greatest problem with his tweet. Whatever valid points he could have made are undermined by the poor way in which he chose to “prove” it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Resurrection Implied By The Trajectory Of Scripture

"it is much more likely (particularly in a time of nationalistic fervour and a desire for independence [as in the late B.C. era]) that the seedbed for personal resurrection is to be found in Israel's traditional faith rather than in ideas and concepts imported from surrounding cultures. For instance, if the first major problem that unfolds in the Torah is death (as implied in Gen. 2, 3 and 5), one might reasonably infer that the solution will be its ultimate reversal. Even though not firmly grasped by many ancient Israelites, this is certainly implied by the trajectory of Scripture as a whole." (Paul Williamson, Death And The Afterlife [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2017], n. 68 on 82)

Monday, April 04, 2022

Difficult Details In The Resurrection Accounts

I've mentioned aspects of the New Testament resurrection accounts that were difficult for the early Christians in some way and, therefore, less likely to be fabricated accordingly. Augustine, writing a few hundred years later, provides us with some examples of how Christians were still struggling with those issues:

"And as for the pleasant color, how conspicuous shall it be where 'the just shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father!' [Matthew 13:43] This brightness we must rather believe to have been concealed from the eyes of the disciples when Christ rose, than to have been awanting. For weak human eyesight could not bear it, and it was necessary that they should so look upon Him as to be able to recognize Him. For this purpose also He allowed them to touch the marks of His wounds, and also ate and drank,—not because He needed nourishment, but because He could take it if He wished." (The City Of God, 22:19)

Saturday, April 02, 2022


The Ivy League Informational Apologetics Database:

Who are we?

The Iliad Forum was founded in 2021 by undergraduate students from all across the Ivy League, who wanted to provide an online, accessible, and rigorous database of answers to common questions about the nature and commitments of orthodox Christianity. The Iliad Forum site is intended to be a resource for both Christians and non-Christians, where answers to deep and complex questions and objections can be found almost immediately. Many of the questions that we deal with are tailored to the specific interests of undergraduate students at Ivy League universities. However, we also deal with broader topics, such as Christianity in the job market, philosophical apologetics, and Biblical history.

Got questions about Christianity?

The Iliad Forum is dedicated to the furtherance of the intellectual side of Christianity by answering common questions that Ivy League students have about the faith. Whether philosophical, scientific, Scriptural, pre-professional, or otherwise, we are committed to giving accessible answers in accordance with scholarly endorsement.

Both Christians and non-Christians submit questions to The ILIAD Forum, and we hope that it would be a resource for both. As an organization, we are committed to Biblical orthodoxy, and our answers will reflect as such.

The ILIAD Forum website is broken up into two main parts. Firstly, we answer anonymous questions that can be submitted by any student in the Ivy League. These questions can be submitted at the bottom of the home page. Secondly, Christians who are current or former students in the Ivy League are eligible to join our private forum, where they can freely and privately ask their Christian peers more personalized questions.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Paranormal Temperature Changes In The Enfield Case

The Enfield witnesses often reported unusual temperature changes. It's often difficult or impossible to tell if something paranormal was involved, though, and the significance of the incidents varies widely. Some of the people involved in the dragging episodes on December 3, 1977, for example, reported a lot of coldness on that floor of the house around the time when the dragging occurred, but there's a reasonable chance that the coldness was due to the weather at that time of year. Other temperature changes are harder to dismiss.

Part of what makes these temperature changes significant is how difficult it would be to attribute them to fraud on the part of the Hodgson children. It would also be hard to maintain that all of the witnesses were lying or honestly mistaken, given the nature of some of the circumstances and the number and variety of witnesses involved.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Apostleship Of Jude The Brother Of Jesus

In a post last year, I argued that Jude the brother of Jesus was an apostle in the highest sense of the term, meaning that he had seen Jesus after he rose from the dead. My focus there was on some New Testament evidence. I should add that there's some patristic evidence as well.

Tertullian refers to Jude as "the apostle" in section 1:3 of his treatise On The Apparel Of Women. Origen refers to "the apostle Jude" (in Thomas Scheck, trans., Origen: Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, Books 1-5 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2001], p. 320, 5:1:29). They could be referring to him as an apostle in a lesser sense, but the higher sense is more likely in the contexts in which Tertullian and Origen were writing. They're appealing to authority and scriptural authority in particular, and apostleship in the highest sense fits best in that context.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

A Pattern Across All Of The Gospel Resurrection Narratives

Another line of evidence for the resurrection appearance discussed in my last post is the ordinariness of Jesus' resurrection body. Contrast that with what was said shortly beforehand:

"an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow." (Matthew 28:2-3)

The other resurrection appearance of Jesus, narrated later in Matthew 28, likewise has no reference to a glorious body. Notice the contrast to the descriptions of not only the angel early in Matthew 28, but also the righteous in 13:43, Jesus in the context of the Mount of Transfiguration in 17:2, and Jesus again in the context of the second coming in 24:30.

See my post here for a discussion of the same characteristics in Luke's writings. John's gospel doesn't offer any contrasting descriptions of beings with glorious bodies, as far as I recall, but there are references to beings with a glorious appearance, including Jesus, in another Johannine document, Revelation. The gospel of John agrees with Matthew and Luke in describing Jesus' resurrection body in ordinary terms. In fact, John's gospel has Jesus being mistaken for a gardener (20:15) and not being recognized in 21:4-6.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Threefold Evidence For The Resurrection Appearance In Matthew 28:9-10

It's often mentioned that the appearance is to women (something unlikely to be made up because of the gender of the individuals involved) and is prior to any appearance to men (something unlikely to be made up because its chronology gives a significant form of priority to the female disciples over the males). A point not made as often is that the location of the women is similarly unlikely to have been made up (Jerusalem rather than Galilee). Given all of the emphasis on Jesus appearing to his disciples in Galilee (26:32, 28:7, 28:10, 28:16), an appearance in Jerusalem first is disruptive and unnecessarily raises a problem (why an appearance in Galilee would be mentioned and emphasized so much if he was to appear in Jerusalem first).

There are other reasons to believe that this resurrection appearance is historical. These are just a few points among others that could be made. But these three are easy to remember together, since this appearance to the women involves a difficult gender (women rather than men), difficult timing (before any appearance to men), and a difficult location (Jerusalem amid so much emphasis on Galilee).

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Thursday, March 17, 2022

How The Historicity Of The Bible Gets Obscured

R. Alan Culpepper just published a commentary on the gospel of Matthew (Matthew: A Commentary [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021]). (It was due out last year, but got delayed, so it has a publication date of 2021. It didn't come out until earlier this month.) I've read about 50 pages of it so far, including the introduction and his comments on Matthew's first two chapters. I was struck by some remarks Culpepper makes that are wrong and should easily be recognized as wrong. I'll discuss a few examples.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Practical Flowing From The Doctrinal

"The apostle [Paul] had been putting forth all his strength to prove the doctrine of the resurrection, yet he was not diverted from his habitual custom of making practical use of the doctrine which he established. He proves his point, and then he goes on to his 'therefore,' which is always an inference of godliness. He is the great master of doctrine: if you want the Christian creed elaborated, and its details laid out in order, you must turn to the epistles of Paul; but at the same time he is always a practical teacher. Paul was not like those who hew down trees and square them by rule and system, but forget to build the house therewith. True, he lifteth up a goodly axe upon the thick trees, but he always makes use of that which he hews down, he lays the beams of his chambers, and forgets not the carved work thereof. He brings to light the great stones of truth, and cuts them out of the live rock of mystery; but he is not content with being a mere quarryman, he labors to be a wise master builder, and with the stones of truth to erect the temple of Christian holiness. If I shift the figure I may say that our apostle does not grope among the lower strata of truth, hunting out the deep things and spending all his force upon them, but he ploughs the rich upper soil, he sows, he reaps, he gathers in a harvest, and feeds many. Thus should the practical ever flow from the doctrinal like wine from the clusters of the grape. The Puritans were wont to call the end of the sermon, in which they enforced the practical lessons, the 'improvement' of the subject; and, truly, the apostle Paul was a master in the way of 'improvement.'…My brethren, this is a lesson for us; let us never reckon that we have learned a doctrine till we have seen its bearing upon our lives. Whatever we discover in God's word, let us pray the Holy Spirit to make us feel the sanctifying influence of it….There are some brethren who are so enamored of doctrine that no preacher will content them unless he gives them over and over again clear statements of certain favourite truths: but the moment you come to speak of practice they fight shy of it at once, and either denounce the preacher as being legal, or they grow weary of that which they dare not contradict. Let it never be so with us. Let us follow up truth to its practical 'therefore.'" (Charles Spurgeon)

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Enoch In Heaven In Genesis 5:24

Since it's common to question or deny belief in an afterlife in early Judaism, we should keep in mind that an afterlife and significantly related concepts, such as the existence of heaven, are often implied where they're not spelled out (e.g., passages forbidding attempts to contact the dead). An example too seldom discussed is Enoch in Genesis 5:24.

For confirmation that something other than death is being referred to, see the many references to other individuals dying in Genesis 5, in contrast to what's said about Enoch. And notice the emphasis on how Enoch "walked with God", which implies that he would therefore receive favorable treatment. The language of being "taken" is more naturally interpreted as referring to ongoing existence elsewhere rather than ceasing to exist, and ceasing to exist after a shorter lifespan than so many other figures of that era doesn't make sense as a form of favorable treatment. The later taking of Elijah to heaven without dying shows that such a concept was known in ancient Jewish thought. And as far as I know, later accounts of what happened to Enoch suggest that his going to heaven was the most widespread interpretation of the Genesis passage. The text isn't as explicit as we'd like it to be, but an interpretation involving Enoch's going to heaven makes the most sense.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Who has the bigger prophecy problem?

James Tabor recently posted a video in which he discusses some aspects of ancient Jewish messianic movements. He portrays Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet whose movement had to adjust their eschatology over time, since Jesus' prediction about his second coming wasn't fulfilled. That's a common objection to Christianity. I've written a lot about it over the years, and some of what I've written hasn't been posted on Triablogue, so I want to use this post to gather some links to my material. I won't be linking everything I've written. Anybody who's interested can search our archives for more material like what I'll be citing below. These are just some highlights.

Tabor refers to how he's become increasingly open to a later dating of the gospel of Luke, even to placing it in the second century. He contrasts the eschatology of Luke/Acts to the eschatology found in the gospel of Mark. But the internal and external evidence strongly support a date for Luke/Acts no later than the mid 60s. See here for a brief overview of that internal and external evidence and links to other posts that go into more depth. It's also worth noting that placing Mark and Luke so far apart in time, especially under a scenario in which Luke isn't written until the second century, offers a weaker explanation of the similarities between Mark and Luke. They are, after all, commonly grouped together, with Matthew, as the Synoptics. The similarities among those three gospels don't require that the documents were written closer together, but their being written closer in time makes more sense of their similarities. So, Tabor's dating of Mark and Luke is problematic in all of these contexts.

But whatever dates you assign to Mark and Luke/Acts, the contrast Tabor draws between Acts 1:7 and the eschatology of Mark is wrong. As far as I recall, Tabor's video doesn't discuss Mark 13:32-33, which demonstrates that "day and hour" are interchangeable with "time", so that Mark 13 is in agreement with Acts 1.

For a summary of some of the most significant points that can be made against the claim that Jesus and the earliest Christians falsely predicted the timing of his second coming, go here. That post includes a link to another one that discusses the issues in a lot more detail.

Several years later, I had a discussion on Facebook with a non-Christian about the alleged false eschatology of the early Christians. It was largely about whether the early opponents of Christianity reacted to the alleged false prophecy as we'd expect them to have reacted if there was such a false prediction. I make some points there that I've seldom or never seen other people bring up (e.g., the discussion of Lucian's comments on Christianity). After following the link above, you'll have to click on Comments in the lower right to see the comments section, then keep clicking on the relevant areas to see the entirety of the comments that follow.

A bigger issue than the alleged false prediction of the timing of Jesus' second coming is the fulfillment of other prophecies. The latter is much more difficult for the non-Christian to explain than it is for the Christian to explain the former. We have Jewish (and, in that sense, non-Christian) documents like Ezra and Nehemiah that place Jesus' life in significant alignment with Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy. Non-Christians acknowledge that the Romans later destroyed both Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus' Galilean connections, his initial rejection by the Jewish people, his widespread influence on the Gentile world, and other facts about him that are widely admitted by non-Christians put him in significant alignment with Isaiah's Servant Songs and other passages connected to them in Isaiah. Psalm 22 is strikingly reminiscent of a crucifixion scene, and the psalm concludes by referring to the major significance of what's happened, how people across the world will hear about it and turn to God as a result of what's been accomplished (verses 27-31). See here for a collection of Christian prophecies fulfilled by non-Christians or whose fulfillment was corroborated by non-Christians. For an explanation of why it's inadequate for critics to object that the prophecies in question allegedly aren't Messianic, along with responses to other common skeptical objections, see here and here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Escaping Putin's War

In 1994 or 1995, the pastor of my church (who also happened to be my dad) held a missions conference where he invited several missionaries in to give presentations. The goal was to recruit missionaries to go to various places around the world and spread the Gospel. It was a resounding success because, by the end of it, two new missionaries had indeed been recruited.

They were my parents. When they joined Mission to the World, MTW asked them where they would like to serve, and without hesitation they said, “Siberia would be nice.” You see, my dad grew up in Alaska, and my mom met him there when they were both in college, so the cold temperatures weren't a deterrent to them. Rather, it was an invitation.

At the time, MTW responded, “We don't have anything in Siberia, or Russia as a whole, at the moment. But since you like cold temperatures, we have an opening in the high mountains of Ecuador. Would you be interested in that?” My parents agreed and began to train for that. If I remember correctly, it was when they were en route to language school that someone caught them and said, “I heard you wanted to go to Siberia. Would Ukraine be close enough?” and immediately my parents accepted that ministry instead.

And so it was that in April of 1996, while I was finishing up my senior year of high school, I was abandoned for several weeks, having to fend for myself against the wilds of civilization, making myself get up and attend high school even though ditching would have been more fun, while my parents took their first trip to Ukraine. And then, a couple of years later (1998—who said high school math taught me nothing?), my parents cured empty nest syndrome by boarding a plane which would take them to Europe, with their final destination being a little known city called Kherson.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

The Difficulty Of Paul's Labors

One of the factors we should take into account when evaluating a figure like the apostle Paul is the difficulty involved in accomplishing what he did. That gives us some information about his sincerity, his confidence, his love, and other aspects of his character. For example, among many other things that could be said:

"Paul's unbounded confidence, irrepressible energy, directness, and personal charm were irresistible (though not to all), and soon there were tiny Christian communities scattered throughout the region. He was an indefatigable traveler. Given the difficulties and dangers of travel in those days and the extent of territory he covered, his success as a missionary is astonishing." (Robert Wilken, The First Thousand Years [New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2012], 20)

We should keep things like those in mind as we read Acts, Paul's letters, the early patristic comments on Paul, and other relevant sources. A lot of work went into what we so easily think about and read about (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). We can have some awareness of these facts without having much appreciation for the full weight of their significance.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Why doesn't Paul mention Jesus' miracles?

Skeptics occasionally object to the historicity of Jesus' miracles on the basis that they aren't mentioned in Paul's letters. I responded to the objection as formulated by John Loftus several years ago. I won't repeat everything I said there. Those who are interested can read that post. What I want to do here is expand on what I said there.

The Church Of The Holy Sepulchre As The Site Of Jesus' Burial

Here's a good article by Caleb Jackson on the subject. The blog the article appears on, Think Christian Theism, has a lot of other good posts as well. It's worth following.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Christians Need To Be Far More Active On The Internet

It's common for people to object that Christians are behaving irresponsibly on Twitter, Facebook, and other online settings, especially in political contexts, but occasionally in other contexts as well. And it's popular to make derogatory comments about the internet and how unimportant it supposedly is (e.g., the popular dismissive comments about how it's allegedly ridiculous to be concerned that "somebody is wrong on the internet"). Supposedly, there's a major problem with people being unloving, arguing too much, and so forth, and that problem needs to frequently be addressed. But far less is said about the other end of the spectrum, the people who are much less involved than they should be with controversial issues, especially in religion, where it matters most. Yet, as I've documented many times, the percentage of people who are involved in these matters too little - far too little - vastly outnumbers the percentage who are involved too much or are involved in a way that's unloving, contentious, or some such thing.

So, when something like a small fraction of one percent of the population is highly involved in apologetics, while ninety-some percent are less involved than they should be - typically much less involved than they should be - why does the former group get so much more criticism than the latter? Probably largely because of the popularity of that latter group. Peer pressure, in other words. If you're a pastor or radio host, your audience doesn't want to be criticized for their neglect of apologetics, theology, ethics, politics, or whatever else. It's much easier to flatter the large majority of your audience while criticizing a small minority. It makes you more popular, keeps your paychecks coming, and so on.

A common example of this kind of thing is the handwringing we often see over the political atmosphere on Twitter. But what percentage of the population is involved in some kind of inappropriate behavior in Twitter exchanges? A tiny percentage. How many are involved in political discussions on Twitter in general, including discussions of a better nature? Few. The same Americans who tell pollsters and other people how concerned they are about how negative the political atmosphere of the nation is, how politically divided the nation is, etc. aren't involved much in politics themselves. After they hang up the phone with the pollster, they'll go sit in front of the television to watch some trivial (or worse) program, read a trivial book, do some cooking, go to a family gathering, or whatever, with little or no concern about politics. Americans aren't too political. They're too unpolitical.

Religion is more important than politics, and the level of neglect is worse with religion than with politics. But whether it's religion, politics, ethics, philosophy, the paranormal, or whatever other area of life that tends to be neglected, it's not difficult to figure out which side of the spectrum is more in need of correction. It's not the people who are highly involved or even the subset of those people who truly are unloving, contentious, or wrong in some other way. It's the large majority of the population who are more in need of correction, the large majority who are doing little or none of the relevant work and are so apathetic and contemptuous toward the people who are doing it. The people who should be criticized more are the ones who rarely or never try to persuade others about religious issues, make little or no use of the opportunities they have online, etc. Think of how many significant books on Amazon don't have any reviews from a Christian perspective, how frequently atheists and other groups who are smaller than Christians outnumber Christians in online discussions, how often ninety-some percent of the Christians who watch a good YouTube video won't even click the like button, how many Christians spend years online doing things like emailing relatives and posting family photographs on Facebook while doing little or nothing in contexts like theology and apologetics, etc.

There are billions of people in the world. You won't be interacting with the vast majority of those people face-to-face. The internet is the best tool most people have to reach a much larger audience (and a better audience, in the sense of being more interested, more informed, and so forth). It's good for people to also use television, books, radio, the telephone, and other tools to reach a bigger audience, but the internet is what's most efficient for most individuals. We don't need Christians to be less active online. We need them to be far more active online in the contexts that matter most.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Whether, When, And How The Enfield Poltergeist Concluded

The issues surrounding the conclusion of the case are larger and more complicated than is often suggested. Many of the factors involved haven't gotten much attention and remain unsettled. I can't answer every question, but I want to discuss what I know at this point.

I'll be citing the tapes of Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair. Grosse's tapes will be referenced with "MG", so that MG22B is a reference to tape 22B in his collection. Playfair's tapes will be designated with "GP", so that GP12B is a reference to his tape 12B.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Contexts In Which An Assumption Of Mary Could Have Been Mentioned

I've often mentioned that sources in the earliest centuries of Christianity who discuss assumptions to heaven and related topics keep citing examples other than Mary, but never cite Mary as an example. (See here and here, for example, and the other posts linked within those ones.) It's helpful to think of the number and variety of categories involved, so that we know how significant the lack of reference to Mary is. Since Roman Catholics have disagreed about whether Mary died prior to being assumed to heaven, the contexts in which Mary could be mentioned will vary somewhat depending on what view of whether she died is held. If we combine both views, think of the contexts in which Mary could be mentioned:

- People who didn't die.
- People who have been raised from the dead.
- People who have experienced resurrection to an immortal body rather than just being raised in the sense of resuscitation.
- People who were bodily taken up to heaven.
- People who are currently living in the afterlife in a bodily state, prior to the general resurrection in the future.

We find these topics discussed in scripture and the patristic literature, frequently in some cases. So, it's not just that Mary's alleged assumption goes unmentioned in one context or on some small handful of occasions. Rather, it's unmentioned across a large number and variety of contexts and occasions for hundreds of years while other figures keep getting mentioned over and over again (e.g., Enoch, Elijah, Paul). And we're often told by Catholics that Mary was held in such high regard by the earliest Christians, that she's the greatest being after God, etc. You'd think an assumption of Mary would have been prominent in their thinking accordingly if they'd believed in her assumption.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Some Points To Remember About The Dating Of The Gospels

- The author of the third gospel and Acts tells us the scope of his two-volume work in Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1. He's addressing "the things accomplished among us" (Luke 1:1), which he recharacterizes as what Jesus did and taught in the world (Acts 1:1). So, the best explanation for the ending of the book of Acts is that the events there are the last significant events of Christian history that occurred before the author published his work. It apparently was published, then, in the early to mid 60s. It would be unreasonable to suggest that the author was writing significantly later, but didn't want to include anything after what's narrated in Acts 28, since those later events weren't important enough. Many highly significant things happened after the conclusion of Acts 28, including shortly afterward and including things the author himself had suggested would be noteworthy (Paul's martyrdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, etc.). The interpretation of the opening verses of Luke and Acts I've just outlined is a far better explanation of the scope of the books than the popular appeal to Acts 1:8 to explain why Acts ends where it does. See here and here for discussions of the many problems with that appeal to Acts 1:8.

- The earliest external source to comment on the dating of Luke/Acts is 1 Timothy 5:18. It refers to Luke's gospel as circulating during Paul's lifetime. See here for more about that passage. Notice that its value as the earliest external evidence doesn't depend on Pauline authorship. We should accept and defend Paul's authorship of the document, but a critic of the early dating of Luke/Acts can't just object to Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy. He has to do more than that. Whoever wrote 1 Timothy and whoever the initial audience was, the document reflects an early belief in the early dating of Luke (and, by implication, Acts). As my post linked above explains, there's a way in which denying Pauline authorship of the document even increases its evidential significance in this context, since such a denial implies a larger initial audience for the letter. (And any sort of group authorship proposal would have a potential similar implication on the authorship side.)

- The later dates typically put forward for the gospels have much less of a negative implication for Christianity than is often suggested. Mark is usually dated roughly five years after Paul's death. And it's commonly suggested that Paul is a significantly early source, that there would be substantially more evidential value in a claim about Jesus if it appeared in Paul's writings, and so on. But five years doesn't have much significance in this context. There are many ways of illustrating that. One way is to think of the timespan involved in Paul's most widely accepted letters. They're typically dated anywhere from the late 40s to the mid 60s. If somebody dated Philemon five years after Romans, would anybody think those five years make Philemon much less historically credible than Romans when addressing events that happened before both documents were written? I doubt that anybody holds such a view. I doubt that the thought ever even entered the mind of most of the people who object to the alleged lateness of Mark's gospel. Does the person who dates 1 Thessalonians fifteen years earlier than Philippians consider 1 Thessalonians a far earlier source, as if those fifteen years justify placing the two documents in highly different categories? I doubt it. Or think of the time between Jesus' death and Paul's letters. Why assign so much more significance to something Paul wrote twenty-five or thirty-five years after Jesus' death than you assign to something written around forty years after his death? It should be noted that I'm not denying that people take factors other than dating into account when judging the credibility of a source (e.g., how Paul's value as a source is increased by his interactions with individuals like James and Peter). But the dating issue is often singled out, as if Paul's dating is much better or much less problematic than the dating of Mark and other sources. My point is that the significance of differences in dating is often exaggerated, regardless of what you make of other issues involved.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Productivity Amid Suffering

Jerome wrote about a time of many illnesses in his life:

"The Lord 'who looks upon the earth and makes it tremble, who touches the mountains and they will smoke' [Ps 104:32], who says in the song of Deuteronomy, 'I shall kill and I shall make alive, I shall strike and I shall heal' [Deut 32:39], makes my earth tremble mightily as well by means of frequent sicknesses. It was said to it, 'Earth you are, and unto the earth you shall go' [Gen 3:19], and often forgetting my human condition, he reminds me to be aware that I am a man, and old, and at any time now I shall be dead. Of this it is written, 'Why do earth and ashes boast?' [Sir 10:9]. This is why the one who had struck me suddenly with an illness healed me with unbelievable speed, to frighten rather than crush, and to reform rather than to flog. And so, knowing that my whole life belongs to him, and that perhaps the reason my sleep is being postponed is so that I may complete the work I have begun on the prophets, I hand myself over completely to this pursuit. And stationed as it were in a watchtower, I survey the storms and shipwrecks of this world, not without groaning and pain. I do not think about the present but the future, nor about my reputation among men and their gossip, but I greatly tremble at the prospect of God's judgment [cf. Phil 2:12]. And you, Eustochium, virgin of Christ, who have aided this sick man by your prayers, pray also for the grace of Christ to be upon him now that he has been healed, so that by the same Spirit with which the prophets sang of the future, I may be able to enter into the cloud and the gloom [cf. Exod 20:21] and know God's words, which are heard not with ears of flesh but with those of the heart. May I say with the prophet, 'The Lord gives me a tongue of instruction, to know when it is fitting for me to speak' [Isa 50:4]." (Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], p. 631, section 14:1 in the commentary)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Historical Argument For The New Testament Canon

My last post cited Charles Hill's Who Chose The Books Of The New Testament? (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2022). The book makes a lot of good points (e.g., the manuscript and patristic evidence that the canonical gospels were more widely accepted and viewed more highly than the non-canonical ones in the earliest centuries of Christianity).

However, his focus when discussing canonical criteria is on the self-authenticating nature of scripture, and he doesn't provide what I consider the best argument for the canon. See here for a series I wrote in 2009 that makes a historical argument for the canon on the basis of the criterion of apostolicity. Some parts of that series are somewhat dated, and you can find more recent material in our archives (e.g., I've written substantially more about 1 Timothy 5:18 since then, like here). But the 2009 series provides the general parameters and many of the relevant details.

One of the good aspects of Hill's book is that he cites the existence of our 27-book New Testament canon in Origen more than a century before it appears in Athanasius. But Hill doesn't go into much depth when discussing the subject. See here for my article on the topic, which covers a lot of details Hill doesn't mention, some of which I haven't seen anybody else bring up. As I explain in that article, there are multiple lines of evidence that the 27-book canon predates the letter of Athanasius that's typically cited. People ought to stop citing that letter or Athanasius as an individual as the first source supporting the canon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Should we trust the histories written by skeptical winners?

Scholars like Ehrman cite in this regard the well-worn adage: "It's the winners who write the histories." That is, those who get to write the histories are those who have already won the cultural battle. Thus they write history in a way that favors their own party, and puts any rivals in a bad light. The winners who wrote the histories were biased, often so biased, they couldn't even see their own biases. So, when we read early orthodox [Christian] writers today, we need to adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion, and read against the grain.

This is what the history books are telling us today. But then, isn't history always written by the winners? And aren't the winners often so enmeshed in the reigning cultural narrative that they can't see their own bias? Which is why we ought to read today's historians with the same sort of critical suspicion as they recommend we apply when reading the ancient writers.

(Charles Hill, Who Chose The Books Of The New Testament? [Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2022], approximate Kindle location 99)

Saturday, February 12, 2022

A Great Resource On Jesus' Resurrection

Than Christopoulos recently had several guests on his YouTube channel to discuss the resurrection of Jesus. The video isn't exhaustive, and they weren't attempting to make it exhaustive, but they provide a great summary of much of the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. It's about four-and-a-half hours long, but the discussion is excellent and worth watching all the way through. It's the culmination in a long series of videos, but you don't need to watch the previous ones to benefit a lot from watching this one. If you don't want to watch the entire video in one sitting, it's easy to break it into segments to watch separately. Go here for the beginning of the segment on the historical data, here for the one on objections to the appearances of Jesus, and here for the discussion of inference to the best explanation and rival hypotheses, for example. Or you can just stop wherever else you see fit and start there when you have time to watch more of it. The whole thing is worth watching, so I recommend going through all of it. I'll supplement their points with some of my own, though I'm also not trying to be exhaustive:

Thursday, February 10, 2022


"What they build with one hand they pull down with the other. Sad that it should be so. I must confess I find it far easier to climb the greatest heights of grace, and especially of communion, than to maintain the elevation. For a flight now and then our wings are sufficient; we mount, we soar, we rise into the spiritual regions, and we exult as we rise; but our pinion droops, we grow weary of the heights, and we descend to earth like stones which have been thrown into the air. Alas! that it should be so. Be ye stedfast. When ye climb ask for grace to keep there; when your wing has borne you up ask that there you may be poised till the Lord shall call you to your nest in heaven. Is your faith strong? Why should it decline again? Is your hope vivid? Why should that bright eye of yours grow dim, and look no more within the golden gates? Is your love fervent? Why should it be chilled? Cannot the breath of the Eternal Spirit keep the fire at full blaze? Wherefore is it that we do run well and then are hindered? We are short-winded, we cannot watch with our Lord one hour, we grow weary and faint in our minds. Alexander could not thus have won a world if after fighting the battle of Issus he had stopped short of the Granicus: if the Macedonian hero had said, 'I have done enough, I will go back to Greece and enjoy my victories,' his empire had never become universal. Nor would Columbus have discovered a new world if he had sailed a little way into the unknown ocean and then had turned his timid prow towards port. 'Onward!' is the motto of the earnest, all the world over, and should it not be the watchword of the Christian? Shall we be content with a wretched poverty of grace? Shall we be satisfied to wear the rags of inconsistency? God forbid." (Charles Spurgeon)

Sunday, February 06, 2022

What are you doing with the knowledge you have?

"I hold that it is unworthy of any man who possesses knowledge to keep his knowledge to himself, and rejoice in his own enlightenment, without making any effort to bring others to share in his privileges. Justly did the four lepers at the gate of Samaria feel their conscience smite them: 'We do not well; this is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.' [2 Kings 7:9] Had those to whom the light of Christianity was first given dealt so with our ancestors, we should still be lying in heathen darkness." (George Salmon, The Infallibility Of The Church [London, England: John Murray, 1914], 7)

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Music And The Paranormal

Melvyn Willin, the archive liaison officer for the Society for Psychical Research, just published Music And The Paranormal: An Encyclopedic Dictionary (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2022). The relationship between music and the paranormal is a significant and neglected topic and one that Willin has studied in a lot of depth for a long time. I'll quote some of his comments from the preface:

Since music is arguably the most intangible of the arts and since the paranormal, in all its manifestations, continues to intrigue people, the placing of these two subjects together seems long overdue. My own career in music as both a teacher and performer was infiltrated throughout my life with anomalies that intrigued me and my fellow musicians. Nobody seemed to be able to explain why some people appeared to be able to compose music or perform beyond their normal ability which, in some cases, they attributed to the deceased. Nobody seemed to be able to explain why music was sometimes heard when there was no obvious, or even un-obvious, source of the sound. Nobody seemed to explain why a number of people heard music when they were close to death which they remembered when they were resuscitated. Nobody seemed able to explain how intrusive operations could be conducted on people without anesthetic, but by using music to eliminate the pain. Nobody seemed able to explain why autistic people often possessed phenomenal musical abilities….I decided to undertake research into these and other related musical anomalies over a period of many years which culminated in two doctorates being awarded by Sheffield University and Bristol University, both in the UK. Previous pure music degrees were awarded by London University and Surrey University and a graduate diploma from the Royal Academy of Music, London. For more than thirty years I have been a member and then council member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and more recently the archive liaison officer. During this time, I have been directly involved with the archiving of the Society's manuscripts collection stored at Cambridge University Library. The audio-visual archive is held at my own premises in Essex, England….

The printed sources for my extensive research are many and varied, but I have not found a single book that has brought the multiple strands together….An earlier work of my own, Music, Witchcraft and the Paranormal (see Willin, 2005), outlined my original academic study of the material. I shall also be able to present my own case histories taken from interviewing a wide range of people and visiting sites where music has allegedly been heard from unknown sources. The end result will be a reference work that can be used to explore the academic study of music and the paranormal in a comprehensive alphabetical order as well as be of interest to the general public.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Enfield Miscellany (Part 7)

(See part 1 here for an explanation of what this series is about. The other parts in the series: two, three, four, five, and six. When I make reference to the Enfield tapes of Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair, I'll use "MG" to cite a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to refer to one from Playfair's. So, MG38B refers to tape 38B in Grosse's collection, and GP5A refers to 5A in Playfair's.)

The Death Of Vic Nottingham

A lot of the Enfield witnesses haven't been discussing the case publicly in recent years, and it's sometimes difficult to find out whether they're still alive. I came across a 2016 article that refers to Vic Nottingham as deceased, so I want to mention it. There are some errors in the article, and it could be wrong about Nottingham's death even if there were no errors on other subjects. But there's nothing in the article that makes me doubt what it reports about his death, and it would make sense for him to be dead by now given his age.

From what I know of him, including hearing him a lot on Grosse and Playfair's tapes, I find Nottingham likeable and honest. He was a good witness who added a lot to the case. I've been recommending the twelve-minute video here, from November of 1977, as an introduction to Enfield. Nottingham has a prominent role in that video. It serves as a good tribute to him. The video refers to how Peggy Hodgson was "ill in bed" at the time of the filming. That's an understatement. See the post here to get some idea of how difficult the events of November of 1977 were and what state Peggy was in at the time. I suspect one of the reasons why the Nottinghams are so prominent in that 1977 program is that they were trying to cover for Peggy, to help her in a difficult situation. They often did that sort of thing. One of the reasons why the Enfield case is of such an unusually high quality is that the Nottinghams were such unusually good neighbors. As Grosse commented on one occasion, "I think that in some respects this case has been remarkable for the amazing way that the people involved in it - the Hodgson family, the Burcombes, and the Nottinghams - have behaved during the whole of the investigation. They have behaved with an enormous amount of common sense. The incredible lack of hysteria at any time has been quite remarkable, considering that some of the things that have happened have been very frightening indeed." (MG14A, 18:42) In his book on Enfield, Playfair wrote, "Nobody could ask for better neighbors in a crisis, or indeed at any time, than the Nottinghams." (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 3) "They've always been good neighbors….I think a lot about Peggy and Vic. They'd do anything for you." (Peggy Hodgson, MG59A, 30:31, 33:21)

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Eric Svendsen's Doctoral Thesis On Mary Available Online

A correspondent on Facebook recently informed me that Eric Svendsen's doctoral thesis, about Mary in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism, can be viewed online. I've had a paper copy of an earlier version for around 20 years, and I never even thought to search for it online. But it's available here for anybody who wants it. To see the thesis itself, click on the file under "View/Open" on the left side of the screen.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Justification Through Faith Alone Before The Reformation

Gavin Ortlund recently released a video providing an overview of a Protestant perspective on justification. Much of the video involves a comparison between Protestant views on the subject and Catholic understandings of it. A large portion of the video responds to the common objection that there isn't enough historical precedent for a Protestant view of justification prior to the Reformation.

I want to expand on what he says about that issue. For my argument that justification through faith alone is found in scripture and in sources between the time of the Bible and the Reformation, see here, here, and here, among other posts on the subject that can be found in our archives. Read the comments sections of those threads as well, since I discuss other sources and other issues there and interact with critics. My posts in those threads include documentation of belief in justification prior to baptism among sources between the New Testament era and the Reformation. Gavin cites John Chrysostom as his primary example of a pre-Reformation source whose soteriology seems to agree with certain Protestant themes, but he acknowledges that Chrysostom believed in baptismal justification. I concur with Gavin that we don't have to agree with every soteriological belief of a source in order to cite that source in support of our view on a soteriological issue. Partial agreement is less significant than full agreement, but lesser significance isn't equivalent to no significance. Citing Chrysostom on some issues while disagreeing with him on others is fine. But there are sources who advocate justification apart from baptism in the patristic era and other pre-Reformation contexts, and that fact gets far less attention than it should. My posts linked above discuss the topic and give it more attention than it typically gets.

I also want to mention that I've discussed Hilary of Poitiers' soteriology in his commentary on the gospel of Matthew in a lengthy thread here. Gavin referred to Hilary's material in passing, but chose to focus on Chrysostom without elaborating on Hilary's views. For those who are interested in Hilary, see my thread just linked.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Arguing For Miracles

Than Christopoulos recently hosted a video discussing miracles, with Caleb Jackson and David Pallmann. They make many good points. Caleb has done a lot of good work on the subject and has a book about it coming out soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rewriting History Is Harder And Rarer Than Often Suggested

Late last year, I discussed Stephen Carlson's recent book on Papias. Among other things, the book documents several dozen passages about Papias in various historical sources, spanning about 1500 years. You notice some recurring themes as you read through those passages. One of them is the widespread opposition to premillennialism during most of those centuries. Over and over, there are negative comments about the premillennialism of Papias and some other sources (Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.). Notice not only that so many documents and fragments of documents advocating premillennialism were preserved for so long, but also that even the opponents of premillennialism kept discussing the subject, acknowledging the belief's existence and the fact that early sources like Papias and Irenaeus advocated it, etc. We see the same kind of thing in other contexts, such as later sources acknowledging that an early form of church government was different than what developed later. That doesn't go well with the notion that the early Christians had the ability and the will to rewrite history to the extent that skeptical hypotheses often require.

Another approach to take toward this issue is to think in terms of the differing circumstances of individuals within groups. If thousands or millions of people across countries and continents were opposed to something (Papias' premillennialism, a claim about the authorship of a certain book, a passage contained in a book considered scripture, or whatever), how likely is it that all of those individuals would simultaneously have sufficient motivation and opportunity to do something like destroy copies of a document or change its text? People range across a spectrum in terms of their interests, moral standards, how much risk they're willing to take in a given situation, their health, the responsibilities they have, etc. The fact that two people oppose something like the premillennial beliefs of Papias doesn't prove that both would be willing to do something to suppress what Papias said, that they'd both have sufficient opportunity to do so if they had that interest, that they'd agree on taking one approach toward the situation rather than another (e.g., destroying copies of Papias' writings rather than changing the text of those documents), and so on. Critics of Christianity often put forward hypotheses that would require an inordinately large amount of coordination among the people involved. The fact that people are sometimes dishonest, for example, doesn't justify a hypothesis involving a far larger degree of dishonesty than we typically see. If skeptics are going to increase the number and variety of people involved in that sort of activity, they need to increase their argumentation accordingly. It's one thing to forge a document written to an individual on one occasion, such as a letter from Paul to Philemon. It's something else to forge multiple documents written to a much larger number of people on multiple occasions, such as two letters of Paul to the Corinthians. It's one thing to speculate that one or two of the individuals who allegedly saw Jesus after he rose from the dead were hallucinating. It's something else to suggest that most or all of the witnesses were hallucinating. We have to make these distinctions.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

You Make Your Burden Heavy By Struggling Under It

"Your own discontent is that which arms your troubles with a sting; you make your burden heavy by struggling under it. Did you but lie quietly under the hand of God, your condition would be much more easy than it is. 'Impatience in the sick occasions severity in the physician.' This makes God afflict the more, as a father a stubborn child that receives not correction. Beside, it unfits the soul to pray over its troubles, or receive the sense of that good which God intends by them. Affliction is a pill, which, being wrapt up in patience and quiet submission, may be easily swallowed; but discontent chews the pill, and so embitters the soul. God throws away some comfort which he saw would hurt you, and you will throw away your peace after it; he shoots an arrow which sticks in your clothes, and was never intended to hurt, but only to drive you from sin, and you will thrust it deeper, to the piercing of your very heart, by despondency and discontent." (John Flavel, Keeping The Heart [Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2019], 46-47)