Thursday, July 20, 2023

Against The Invocation Of Saints

That's the title of a book I hadn't heard about before I listened to The Other Paul's video with the author, Seth Kasten, earlier today. You can order the book here. I ordered it earlier today and expect to read it soon. It looks like there's some overlap between Seth's material on the topic and mine, but also some material we each cover that the other one didn't. It's a neglected subject and one that heavily favors Protestantism over Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The video linked above is worth watching, since the topic is so important, so neglected, and seldom addressed in that much depth.

What Needs To Be Addressed In Gospel Authorship Disputes

Discussions will often focus inordinately on one Christian, like Papias or Irenaeus, or a small group of Christian sources. Some of the evidence that most needs to be addressed won't even come up. For example, what about the practical issue of how the gospels and similar documents were distinguished from one another in contexts like their use in church services, their being stored in libraries, and in the process of looking up information in them? In modern contexts, we use means such as titles on the covers of books and titles on book spines to distinguish one book from another. How were distinctions made during the earliest years when the gospels circulated (not just the second century and later)? We know that distinguishing among the relevant documents by means of author names was widely practiced from the second century onward, and continuity makes more sense than discontinuity. Since those who think the documents were distinguished differently in the first century or who want us to be agnostic on the subject bear the burden of proof (given the discontinuity they're giving credence to), what proof do they have to offer? Another significant issue that often gets neglected is what non-Christians (heretics, Jews, and pagans) said about authorship issues, not just Christian sources. People often suggest that somebody like Papias or Irenaeus had a Christian bias that makes him unreliable. How, then, do they explain the gospel authorship attributions of non-Christians? There's also the fact that people so often underestimate the Christian sources, such as their earliness, number, variety, and credibility. Both Christian and non-Christian sources frequently questioned traditional authorship attributions (e.g., Christian doubts about Revelation, non-Christian doubts about Daniel) and left documents anonymous or attributed to a group rather than an individual (e.g., The Martyrdom Of Polycarp). They were capable of doing the same for the gospels if the evidence warranted it. For a collection of resources on issues like these, see here. And here's one about Matthew in particular.

Since Papias comes up so often in these discussions (but see the posts just linked for examples of sources other than Papias before the time of Irenaeus), do a Ctrl F search for "Papias" here for responses to common objections related to him. I wrote a review at Amazon of a book about Papias, a review you can read here, and it addresses some relevant issues as well. Keep in mind that even if Papias' comments that are typically cited about the writings of Mark and Matthew are about documents other than our canonical gospels (an unlikely scenario), his comments would still provide evidence for the traditional gospel authorship attributions. It would be a lesser and more indirect form of evidence, but, on balance, it would still be evidence for the traditional attributions. His comments would still provide evidence that Mark and Matthew were literate, that they had interest in writing about gospel-related issues in particular, etc. If Papias was referring to something Matthew wrote that was roughly analogous to the hypothetical Q document, for example, instead of our canonical Matthew, that would still increase the plausibility of Matthew's having written the canonical gospel attributed to him. It's not as though ancient authors were only capable of writing one document. Since so many of Eusebius' citations of Papias are about lesser-known traditions he commented on (about Judas' death, about premillennialism, etc.), it would be plausible that Eusebius also cited some of Papias' comments of that nature related to Mark and Matthew. Or the Mark comments are about our canonical Mark, whereas the Matthew comments are about a previous writing of Matthew that Papias discussed in the process of addressing the canonical gospel attributed to him. Whatever the scenario, none of the typical skeptical objections to Papias' comments amount to much with regard to Papias, and they're even less significant with regard to the evidence for the gospels' authorship more broadly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Athenagoras' Belief In Praying Only To God

It seems that Athenagoras, a second-century Christian, held a view of the creator/creation distinction that involved praying only to God. When addressing the gods of paganism in his A Plea For The Christians, he sometimes brings up the creator/creation distinction, such as when he refers to "distinguishing and separating the uncreated and the created" at the beginning of section 15. That distinction comes up in section 13 as well, where he responds to the objection that Christians don't offer sacrifices to the gods. He explains that instead of offering sacrifices to the gods of paganism, Christians offer other types of sacrifices to the one true God. Prayer is one of those sacrifices:

When, holding God to be this Framer of all things, who preserves them in being and superintends them all by knowledge and administrative skill, we "lift up holy hands" to Him, what need has He further of a hecatomb [sacrifice]?

"For they, when mortals have transgress’d or fail’d
To do aright, by sacrifice and pray’r,
Libations and burnt-offerings, may be soothed."

Notice that he's approaching the discussion under the theme of God's being "Framer of all things", the creator/creation distinction I referred to earlier. So, he seems to be discussing what should be offered to God alone, not any created being. His reference to "lifting up holy hands" is about prayer, as 1 Timothy 2:8 illustrates. (Athenagoras also draws material from 1 Timothy 2 elsewhere, in the closing section of the document, which increases the likelihood that he's drawing from it here.) And the quote of the Iliad that follows also combines the themes of sacrifice and prayer, adding further evidence that Athenagoras had prayer in mind. Prayer is compared to offering a sacrifice that should be given to God alone. Though he's responding to paganism, the reasoning implies that we also shouldn't pray to angels or saints. The creator/creation distinction he keeps making can't be limited to pagan gods. And, like other early Christian sources, Athenagoras refers to praying to God without ever advocating praying to saints or angels. He keeps criticizing the practice of praying to pagan gods (e.g., "as to a god who can hear" in section 26), but only offers prayer to God as an alternative. Even when he writes about how the pagans pursue gods who used to be ordinary humans who lived on earth, he never offers praying to saints, who were better humans who lived on earth, as an alternative. He never makes a distinction between some higher form of prayer that can only be offered to God and a lower type that can be given to other beings. Reading that kind of distinction into the text is a less likely interpretation and places the burden of proof on the shoulders of the person advocating that view, a burden he won't be able to carry. An unqualified reference to prayer is most naturally taken as a reference to prayer in general, not just some subcategory of prayer. The best explanation of the evidence as a whole is that Athenagoras believed that we should pray only to God.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Correcting Wikipedia's Article On The Enfield Poltergeist

I recently ran a Google search for "Enfield Poltergeist", and the Wikipedia article on the case came up as the first result. It's gotten millions of views. Wikipedia is popular in a lot of contexts, and that's often a bad thing. On paranormal topics, Wikipedia is inordinately influenced by skeptics. The Enfield article has changed over time as it's been edited, and it will change in the future, but I want to respond to it as I saw it when I recently came across it again. As far as I recall, it was pretty bad on the occasions when I saw it in previous years as well. The skeptics who have been editing the article have had almost two decades to work on it. Let's take a look at the quality of their efforts.