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.