Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Day Of Salvation Is Several Months From Now

I recently came across an article I'd read many years ago about the conversion of Bernard Nathanson, a former abortion doctor, to Roman Catholicism. The article quotes some comments he made about his upcoming baptism: "'I will be free from sin,' he says. 'For the first time in my life, I will feel the shelter and warmth of faith.'" That's an illustration of a point I've made before about how baptismal regeneration interferes with the Biblical theme of the nearness of redemption.

The title of this post is meant to draw attention to the contrast between the Biblical theme of the nearness of redemption, such as the reference to how "now is 'the day of salvation'" in 2 Corinthians 6:2, and the absurd putting of off redemption under baptismal regeneration. The inconsistency between baptismal regeneration and how Jesus redeemed people independent of baptism in the gospels led Tertullian to concede to the critics of baptismal regeneration in his day, "Grant that, in days gone by, there was salvation by means of bare faith, before the passion and resurrection of the Lord." (On Baptism, 13) But John's gospel emphasizes Jesus' statements about salvation during his earthly ministry (John 3:16, 5:24, 11:25-26, etc.), and John tells us that he wrote his gospel to lead people to salvation (John 20:31), using language similar to Jesus' language earlier in the gospel. If the means of being justified had changed so much after the resurrection, then John's emphasis on Jesus' pre-resurrection teachings about justification makes less sense. Paul, like Jesus and others, thought of Abraham as the Christian's spiritual father, citing Genesis 15:6 as the paradigm example of how we're justified. No baptism was involved, and the phenomenon of justification apart from baptism continues beyond the gospels (Cornelius, Paul's expectation of the reception of the Spirit "when you believed" in Acts 19:2, Galatians 3:2, etc.). The reason why Abraham, the tax collector in Luke 18, and Cornelius are all justified through faith alone rather than through faith and baptism is that it's how God has been justifying people "from the beginning" (Clement of Rome, First Clement, 32). They're not exceptions. They're the rule.

As I've discussed elsewhere, there are many problems with baptismal regeneration. Its inconsistency with the Biblical theme of the nearness of redemption is one that gets discussed far less than it should. As I mentioned in a post last year, we've seen many and widely contradictory views of the efficaciousness of baptism over the centuries, and, unsurprisingly, it also became popular to add various other works along with baptism as initiatory rites, means of receiving the Holy Spirit, means of remitting sin, etc. Once the door is opened to making baptism a means of obtaining justification, people often let other works through the door as well. The response to somebody like Bernard Nathanson isn't to tell him to wait several months for baptism or whatever other initiatory rite or group of rites. You tell him, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:50)

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Half-Hearted, Weak, And Following The Crowd

"The assent that people usually give to divine truths is very faint and half-hearted, weak and ineffectual. It stems only from a blind inclination to follow the religion that is currently in fashion or from a lazy indifference and unconcernedness as to whether religious truth is indeed either certain or important. Men are unwilling to quarrel with the religion of their country, and since all their neighbors are Christians, they are content to be so too. However, seldom are they at pains to consider the evidences for Christian truths or to ponder the importance or consequences of them. Thus it is that their affections and practice are so little influenced by them….We must therefore endeavor to stir our minds toward serious belief and firm persuasion of divine truths and a deeper sense and awareness of spiritual things." (Henry Scougal, in Robin Taylor, ed., The Life Of God In The Soul Of Man [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2022], approximate Kindle location 865)

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Patterns In Jesus' Teaching

I want to discuss some other points Peter Williams brings up in The Surprising Genius Of Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2023). He mentions that the gospels often have Jesus beginning and ending parables or other comments he's making in certain ways (95-99). For example, he often opens a parable with a question. He uses phrases like "which father among you" (Matthew 7:9) and "which of you" (Luke 11:5). Or "was it not necessary" (Matthew 18:33) and "it was necessary" (Luke 15:32). Williams also notes that the parables in these passages are both about "a forgiving authority figure with two subordinates and one refusing to forgive the other" (98-99).

He goes on to note how often male and female examples are set beside each other in Jesus' teaching (99-101): the two men in the field in Matthew 24:40 and the two women at the mill in the verse that follows, the parable of the female virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) followed by the parable of the talents involving men (Matthew 25:14-30), "the Queen of the South" in Luke 11:31 paired with "the men of Ninevah" in the verse that follows, etc.

For further evidence that teachings like what we find in these passages came from Jesus, not some later source or group of sources, see Williams' comments in another book quoted here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Jesus And Pigs And Dogs

Peter Williams' recent book, The Surprising Genius Of Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2023), discusses some agreements that are often overlooked among the gospels. For example, Jesus' parables in the gospel of Luke bring up some "proverbially unclean" animals, pigs (15:16) and dogs (16:21). The surrounding context of both parables suggests that the association with those animals is something negative. Similarly, Matthew 7:6 refers to dogs and pigs in that sort of negative manner. Another point that could be made, which I don't recall Williams making in his book, is how easily such a pairing of dogs and pigs could have been avoided in early Christian circles. Paul makes a negative reference to dogs (Philippians 3:2), but not pigs. The same is true of John (Revelation 22:15). And John brought up a wide variety of animals and other beasts in Revelation, which increases the potential for him to have included pigs and dogs as often as Jesus did, which John didn't. Peter combined the two animals (2 Peter 2:22), but most New Testament authors didn't, including ones who wrote as extensively as Paul and John did. Another point that I don't recall seeing in Williams' book is the episode with the Gerasene demoniac, which involved casting the demons into pigs. The demons asked to be cast into the pigs, so they're the ones who initiated it. But Jesus' willingness to go along with the request suggests that he found it fitting. And that account is found in Mark's gospel, which means that Jesus' expression of that sort of view of pigs is found in three of the gospels. I'm not suggesting that such a view of pigs is something highly unusual. But the expression of such a view seems unusual enough to be significant. Given how seldom pigs come up in that sort of way in the rest of the New Testament, it's notable that the gospels have Jesus expressing that sort of view of pigs a few times, in a few different contexts that are so diverse (in material found in only one gospel, in material found in multiple gospels, both in parables and elsewhere, etc.). Jesus also seems to refer to dogs in that sort of way more often than we see in other early Christian sources. In addition to the passages cited above, see Matthew 15:26 and the parallel passage in Mark. These are more examples of agreements among the gospels that are of a more subtle nature, and therefore are often overlooked, and which are best explained as coming from the historical Jesus.

(See here for a discussion of how one of these passages involving pigs is significant in another context.)

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Looking Beyond Initial Reactions

"We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world…If, to punish, partly the ingratitude, and partly the stubbornness of those to whom we desire to do good, success must prove desperate, and all things go to worse, I will say what it befits a Christian man to say, and what all who are true to this holy profession will subscribe:—We will die, but in death even be conquerors, not only because through it we shall have a sure passage to a better life, but because we know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the Divine truth which men now despise." (John Calvin)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Problems For Baptismal Regeneration In Romans 10

I want to expand on what I've said about the subject in other posts (like here and here). Notice that baptism is absent across multiple contexts addressed in Romans 10: the activities of the justified person and others involved (no getting baptized, no baptizing, no sending a baptizer), the means by which justification is received (no baptism), the nearness of redemption (as referenced in verses 8-11, and both the theme of nearness in general and what this passage in particular says about it make more sense if you don't have to wait until baptism to be justified), and the Old Testament passages cited (involving no baptism or equivalent of it). The absence of baptism across such a large number and variety of contexts is conspicuous and is best explained by justification apart from baptism.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Why does God interest you so little?

"Is not the public interest of Christ and his cause infinitely more important than any interest of your own, and should you not prefer his glory and the welfare of his kingdom before everything else? Should any temporary suffering, or any sacrifice which you can be called to make, be suffered to come into competition with the honour of his name?" (John Flavel, Keeping The Heart [Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2019], 101)

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Corroboration Of The Gospels And Acts In Paul's Letters

The documents are written in different genres and at different lengths (the shortness of some of Paul's letters), among other differences. We shouldn't expect Paul to say much about the contents of the gospels and Acts. But he does say more than people typically suggest.

In addition to the more obvious references - the timing of Jesus' life, his crucifixion, the Last Supper, his being betrayed, his having multiple brothers, that one of the brothers was named James, the names of some of Jesus' disciples, etc. - there are many less obvious corroborations. I want to link some examples I've discussed in the past. See here on Jesus' childhood in Paul's letters. And here on Jesus' performance of miracles. Or here on undesigned coincidences, some of which involve the letters of Paul. Here's something on the details involved in Galatians 2:9. Go here and here for posts about details related to Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. See this post on the soteriology of the gospels, and notice the parallels in Paul (the significance of Abraham, justification through faith alone, etc.). Or the posts here and here on relational and moral issues, like the primacy of love and opposition to polygamy.

These examples, which are large in number and variety, are far from exhaustive. There's so much more that could be cited regarding Trinitarianism, moral issues, etc. And skeptics typically accept some facts about Jesus that aren't referred to anywhere in what they consider the genuine letters of Paul (e.g., Jesus' residence in Nazareth, his baptism by John the Baptist, the initial unbelief of his brothers).

Sunday, May 05, 2024

The Growth Of Sin In The Afterlife

"But if sin in the retrospect be the sting of death, what must sin in the prospect be? My friends, we do not often enough look at what sin is to be. We see what it is; first the seed, then the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. It is the wish, the imagination, the desire, the sight, the taste, the deed; but what is sin in its next development? We have observed sin as it grows; we have seen it, at first, a very little thing, but expanding itself until it has swelled into a mountain. We have seen it like 'a little cloud, the size of a man's hand,' but we have beheld it gather until it covered the skies with blackness, and sent down drops of bitter rain. But what is sin to be in the next state? We have gone so far, but sin is a thing that cannot stop. We have seen whereunto it has grown, but whereunto will it grow? for it is not ripe when we die; it has to go on still; it is set going, but it has to unfold itself forever. The moment we die, the voice of justice cries, 'Seal up the fountain of blood; stop the stream of forgiveness; he that is holy, let him be holy still; he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.' And after that, the man goes on growing filthier and filthier still; his lust developes itself, his vice increases; all those evil passions blaze with tenfold more fury, and, amidst the companionship of others like himself, without the restraints of grace, without the preached word, the man becomes worse and worse; and who can tell whereunto his sin may grow?" (Charles Spurgeon)

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Extrabiblical, Pre-Reformation Support For Eternal Security (Part 4)

Jerome wrote, regarding Jovinian, a monk who was a contemporary:

"He endeavours to show that 'they who with full assurance of faith have been born again in baptism, cannot be overthrown by the devil.'…The second proposition of Jovinianus is that the baptized cannot be tempted by the devil. And to escape the imputation of folly in saying this, he adds: 'But if any are tempted, it only shows that they were baptized with water, not with the Spirit, as we read was the case with Simon Magus.'…Does any one think that we are safe, and that it is right to fall asleep when once we have been baptized?…And we flatter ourselves on the ground of our baptism, which though it put away the sins of the past, cannot keep us for the time to come, unless the baptized keep their hearts with all diligence." (Against Jovinianus, 1:3, 2:1, 2:3-4)

Whether Jerome was consistent in his beliefs on these matters and how to reconcile them with the later comments he made about mercyism, discussed in my last post, are distinct issues from what I'm focused on in this post. My focus here is on Jovinian's views, not Jerome's.

The Protestant historian Philip Schaff wrote:

"Jovinian's second point has an apparent affinity with the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverantia sanctorum. It is not referred by him, however, to the eternal and unchangeable counsel of God, but simply based on 1 Jno. iii. 9, and v. 18, and is connected with his abstract conception of the opposite moral states. He limits the impossibility of relapse to the truly regenerate, who 'plena fide in baptismate renati sunt,' and makes a distinction between the mere baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit, which involves also a distinction between the actual and the ideal church." (History Of The Christian Church, 3:4:46)

Gregory Lombardo, a Roman Catholic scholar, wrote:

"Jovinian exaggerated the justifying efficacy of baptism, so much so that he asserted that it was impossible for a baptised person to commit sin…What Jovinian was really teaching was salvation by faith alone, without works. All that is necessary is to receive baptism with a full faith. The rest - marriage, virginity, fasting, and any other good work - mattered little, since one was no better than the other in merit, and since it was really not necessary to perform them to be saved. Baptism and a full faith made it impossible for a person to fall away." (St. Augustine: On Faith And Works [New York, New York: The Newman Press, 1988], n. 10 on p. 65; n. 34 on p. 75)

In the eighth century, Bede wrote against "those who understand by this [justification apart from works] that it does not matter whether they live evil lives or do wicked and terrible things, as long as they believe in Christ, because salvation is through faith" (cited in Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament XI: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], 31). He made those comments in his commentary on James. I've read that commentary, and the version I've read renders Bede's comments in a way that suggests that Bede is placing the individuals in question in the first century (David Hurst, trans., Bede The Venerable: Commentary On The Seven Catholic Epistles [Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1985], 30). Hurst's translation suggests that Bede was attributing the view in question to some people the apostles were correcting in the first century, whereas the translation used by Bray leaves the timeframe unspecified. Whichever translation is correct, Bede thought that such a view had been held by some people by the time he wrote.

As I have time for it in the future, I may discuss further examples of partial or full support for eternal security among extrabiblical, pre-Reformation sources. But the examples I've provided over these last few posts are enough to demonstrate some significant problems with the documentary I'm responding to.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Extrabiblical, Pre-Reformation Support For Eternal Security (Part 2)

My last post mentioned that Augustine wrote against some advocates of eternal security in his day. See, for example, section 21:17-27 in The City Of God. He describes a few different forms of eternal security that existed in his day, involving anything from no discipline or punishment in the afterlife to a large amount of it, though all of the individuals in question would eventually go to heaven: "he shall either quite escape condemnation, or shall be liberated from his doom after some time shorter or longer" (21:22). It should be noted that Augustine opens his comments about these individuals by saying, "I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man's sin." (21:17) He refers to these opponents as Christians. He does the same elsewhere, commenting that "those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity" (The Enchiridion, 67). As he mentions in the passage just cited, he wrote an entire work responding to a particular group who held such views. It's titled On Faith And Works, and you can get a twentieth-century English translation of it by Gregory Lombardo (Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 1988). In that translation, Lombardo, a Roman Catholic scholar, tells us:

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Extrabiblical, Pre-Reformation Support For Eternal Security (Part 1)

A documentary arguing against eternal security recently came out. It's mainly about the Biblical evidence, but it makes some comments about extrabiblical history along the way. Since it makes some misleading comments about the extrabiblical sources, and advocates of eternal security have handled those sources so poorly, I want to comment on the subject. It's not one of my primary areas of research, but I know enough about the topic to provide some information that significantly undermines the documentary's claims.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Evangelical Tabloid

It seems that one of the consequences of the societal changes I referred to in my last post is that some aspects of the culture are taking on more of a tabloid nature. For a long time, there's been a noticeable decline on conservative political radio programs, on conservative political web sites, and in other parts of our culture that have usually been thought of as traditional to some extent. You can see differences in a lot of contexts. There's more of a personal nature to things, such as a tendency to get overly emotional about certain individuals and to be overly focused on topics that are of a less significant and more personal nature (e.g., responses to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Hunter Biden, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). Or if a famous comedian, athlete, etc. says something that seems favorable to political conservatism, Christianity, or some other part of the culture that's more traditional, what that famous person said will get a lot of attention, much more than it should. Some web sites have a section highlighting which posts are the most popular at the moment, and what's most popular often resembles a tabloid far more than it ought to. Posts are getting more sensationalist headlines, and the audiences seem to like it and frequently take the bait. There's been a problem for years with even conservative radio programs and web sites, for example, having inappropriate ads, and that's gotten worse with the passing of time. (And not just in sexual contexts.) That's probably largely because the audiences like those kinds of ads so much and are responding favorably to them. There's also a problem with inappropriate photographs accompanying articles. Material and practices that used to be more associated with tabloids have become more mainstream. The examples of this type of thing go on and on. It's not universal, and it's occurred to different degrees in different contexts, but you see it to some extent in many places.

That includes Evangelicalism. Because people have delegated too much of their work to other individuals (as part of the shortcuts referred to in my last post), it's become more significant when somebody like pastor So-And-So exhibits some kind of perceived weakness. Therefore, a controversy that pastor is involved in gets more attention. And there are other factors involved, like the enjoyment people get from following scandals. They treat it like watching a soap opera. They like gawking at trainwrecks. Even if they didn't like it, they have a tendency to follow the crowd, and the crowd is chasing after scandals. There's also the fact that people like going after easy targets. You aren't risking much, and it gives you an easy sense of moral superiority to look down on a person who's done something that's widely agreed to be inappropriate.

There are other factors involved. I'm just giving some examples. And to whatever extent I'm wrong about how these problems have gotten worse in recent years, the fact remains that they are problems that exist to whatever degree. My main point is that the problem exists to some extent. I'm not suggesting that it's as bad as it could possibly be. And I'm not denying that the problem is accompanied by other things that are good. But it is a problem, and it needs to be addressed.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Looking For Shortcuts

Because of factors like advances in technology, the increase of political freedoms, and the effects of capitalism on the world, people have more access to more information (through television, smartphones, and so on). The large majority of people don't want to make the changes needed to sort through that information responsibly (such as decreasing their time spent on less significant things and increasing their time spent on more significant things). They look for shortcuts. They become more dependent on emotions, intuitions, and such to sort through issues. They look more than they should for political leaders, social commentators, pastors, or other people to sort through the information for them, to fight their battles for them, and so forth. And it isn't just a problem with people looking for shortcuts too much. There's also a problem with poor judgments being made about which shortcuts to take. They're taking too many shortcuts, and they aren't even choosing the best ones.

It's been popular to criticize the political left in the United States for being overly emotional (style over substance, feelings over facts). Something that's occurred over time, especially in the most recent decades, is that the right (the political right, the religious right, etc.) has become more emotional.

You see it in Evangelical circles, even if it takes on a somewhat different form than it does elsewhere. I occasionally see hosts of Evangelical YouTube channels, for example, commenting in one way or another about what needs done now to get and keep a bigger audience. It's not good, and you can tell that a lot of the YouTube hosts don't like it. (Though that doesn't seem to keep many of them from doing it.) If a famous pastor gets involved in a controversy, people show a lot more interest in that than they show in a post or video about God, theology, the afterlife, or some other such topic. A tweet about a scandal pastor So-And-So is involved in will get hundreds of likes and comments, whereas something significant that's tweeted about God, apologetics, or church history will get much less of a response. A joke or family photograph will get more of a positive response than even the best theological or apologetic work. It happens in contexts as trivial as thumbnails. The first two parts of a three-part video series will have a much higher view count than the third part. The first two included an image of a famous person in the thumbnail, whereas the third didn't. What and who's popular in Evangelical circles seem to be determined by things like emotions and insignificant personality traits far more than they should be.

We should ask ourselves how we're being impacted by these things. Are we taking too many shortcuts, and are our judgments about our shortcuts as good as we like to think they are?

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Thunder In John's Writings As An Indicator Of Authorship

Mark 3:17 tells us that Jesus referred to the sons of Zebedee as Sons of Thunder. To my knowledge, thunder is referred to several times in the New Testament, and the only references outside Mark 3:17 are found in the writings attributed to John the son of Zebedee (John 12:29, Revelation 4:5, 6:1, 8:5, 10:3-4, 11:19, 14:2, 16:18, 19:6). And many of those references could easily have been avoided. John is describing multiple details about something, and the thunder aspect could easily have been left out. He's describing what something sounded like, and he could easily have compared it to something other than thunder. Or he could have just not included the passage to begin with. Even where a reference to thunder seems too difficult to avoid once a particular passage is being included, we still have to ask how easily the passage could have not been included. There's the issue, for example, of why God chose to reveal himself in the context of thunder so much in the book of Revelation. That seems more coherent if the recipient of the revelation was the son of Zebedee. For reasons like these, I don't think the prominence of thunder in John's writings can be dismissed merely by an appeal to necessity, as if anybody writing in such a context would have needed to refer to thunder. If these documents were authored by the son of Zebedee rather than some other John or were intended to be perceived as authored by the son of Zebedee without his having written them, then that helps explain the prominence of thunder in the documents. It's a further line of evidence against views like Richard Bauckham's, in which some other John was the author or purported author.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Honoring The Dead

We're often too shallow in our concept of friendship and too forgetful of the dead. Jerome on loving and honoring deceased believers:

"to me, the same religious duty applies to friends who are both present and absent, both men and women, who are now sleeping in Christ, that is, the love of souls, not of bodies." (in Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], p. 820, section 18:1 in the commentary)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Forgotten In This Life, But Not In The Next

There's a passage in Ecclesiastes about a man who saved a city, but was forgotten:

"Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, 'Wisdom is better than strength.' But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good." (9:13-18)

Augustine made a somewhat similar observation:

"From the blessing of the two sons of Noah, and the cursing of the middle son, down to Abraham, or for more than a thousand years, there is, as I have said, no mention of any righteous persons who worshipped God. I do not therefore conclude that there were none; but it had been tedious to mention every one, and would have displayed historical accuracy rather than prophetic foresight." (The City Of God, 16:2)

A lot of other examples could be cited. Most of what we have in modern Bibles (and other modern editions of ancient documents) is based on manuscripts produced by unknown individuals. Much of the patristic literature comes from unknown sources (The Didache, The Epistle Of Barnabas, The Letter To Diognetus, The Apostolic Constitutions, etc.). And so on.

I think this is part of how we'll see the fulfillment of Jesus' comments on how the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 19:30). The forgotten in this life won't be forgotten in the next life. It's another reason to not have much concern about your social status in this life.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The Structure Of Life

People are born into a family, and they're surrounded by a larger culture (other relatives, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, people on television, people in books, etc.). From their earliest years onward, they're surrounded with those two contexts (the family and the larger culture). They think, talk, make their plans, and so on with those two contexts in mind. Christians should be intervening in people's lives to get them to be more concerned about God, above their concern for family and above their concern for the rest of the culture. God is superior, he deserves to be of more concern to us, and the family and the culture wouldn't exist and wouldn't have hope for the future without him.

Given the nature of life and how so many people err so much in the direction of neglecting God while giving too much attention to the family and the rest of the culture, we should adjust our efforts accordingly. Family issues, career issues, and such should be addressed within the framework of the primacy of God, and the tendency of people to overestimate the former while underestimating the latter needs to constantly be kept in mind.

Often, opposition to a Christian view of the family comes from a minority of the population, even if it's a large minority, an unusually vocal one, or something like that. Even when the opposition represents a majority, that majority often simultaneously overestimates the family in other contexts. I've mentioned before that the Pew Research Center has found that when asked where they find meaning in life, Democrats cite the family more than Republicans do. Just because a group is anti-family in some contexts, that doesn't prove that it isn't overestimating the family in other contexts. And the pro-family response to anti-family movements can go too far in the pro-family direction. There's a reason why Jesus repeatedly addressed the need to love him more than you love your family. There was a lot of fornication, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, polygamy, etc. in Jesus' day. He addressed those issues while simultaneously recognizing the primacy of God, telling people that loving God is the foremost commandment, and recognizing that the same culture that had so many anti-family characteristics also needed to repeatedly be warned about overestimating their family. And much the same can be said about other issues in life (careers, healthcare, etc.).

One of the reasons why I'm bringing these things up is that a lot of Christians (and Jews and others who should know better) don't seem to be giving these subjects enough thought. I frequently hear people who should know better commenting on how nothing in life is more important than the family (or your health or whatever), how the biggest issue of our day is the family or some kind of anti-family movement in our culture, people saying a lot about their family while saying far less about God than they ought to, etc. A lot of this seems to involve peer pressure, since people know that it's so popular to give a lot of attention to something like your family, your career, or health issues, whereas it's unpopular to say much about God. But we should be going against the peer pressure rather than going along with it. And the peer pressure wouldn't exist if there weren't so many people holding these false ideas and pressuring others to go along with them.

"The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity." (Luke 8:14)

Sunday, April 07, 2024

The Christopoulos/Dillahunty Debate On Jesus' Resurrection

Than Christopoulos and Matt Dillahunty recently debated the resurrection. Than made a lot of significant points in his opening remarks, which Matt didn't interact with much. As you listen to Matt, keep in mind that objecting that there isn't more evidence doesn't explain the evidence you have. And keep in mind that offering equal or better alternative explanations of the evidence Than appealed to would be an effective way of demonstrating that Than's case is as bad as Matt suggests it is, yet Matt didn't do that. The more often you ignore the evidence cited and appeal to agnosticism, the less of a position you're in to use the sort of language Matt used to describe the evidence for the resurrection: "pretty weak", "bottom of the barrel", "the weakest evidence", "the worst possible evidence", etc.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

My carriage is broken!

"Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead. 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22)….Picture this life as a journey on your way to receive a spectacular inheritance. It will protect you from idolatry and make all your burdens lighter, and quiet all your murmurings. Here's the way the old John Newton put it: 'Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, 'My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!'" (John Piper)

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Why were the early sources so confident about gospel authorship attribution?

A neglected aspect of the evidence for the authorship of the gospels is how much more prominent the authorship of the gospels was than the authorship of other documents. And that greater prominence suggests that the early sources' gospel authorship attributions have greater significance.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The King Is Here, Dispensing Favors

"And after rebuking the other [thief on a cross], he [the repentant thief] says, 'Lord, remember me; for with Thee is my account. Heed not this man, for the eyes of his understanding are blinded; but remember me. I say not, remember my works, for of these I am afraid.'...Therefore also he justly heard the words, 'Be of good cheer'; not that thy deeds are worthy of good cheer; but that the King is here, dispensing favours. The request reached unto a distant time; but the grace was very speedy. 'Verily I say unto thee, This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise; because today thou hast heard My voice, and hast not hardened thine heart. Very speedily I passed sentence upon Adam, very speedily I pardon thee. To him it was said, 'In the day wherein ye eat, ye shall surely die'; but thou today hast obeyed the faith, today is thy salvation. Adam by the Tree fell away; thou by the Tree art brought into Paradise.'...O mighty and ineffable grace! The faithful Abraham had not yet entered, but the robber enters! Moses and the Prophets had not yet entered, and the robber enters though a breaker of the law. Paul also wondered at this before thee, saying, 'Where sin abounded, there grace did much more abound'. They who had borne the heat of the day had not yet entered; and he of the eleventh hour entered. Let none murmur against the goodman of the house, for he says, 'Friend, I do thee no wrong; is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? The robber has a will to work righteousness, but death prevents him; I wait not exclusively for the work, but faith also I accept. I am come who feed My sheep among the lilies, I am come to feed them in the gardens. I have found a sheep that was lost, but I lay it on My shoulders; for he believes, since he himself has said, 'I have gone astray like a lost sheep'; 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.''" (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13:30-31)

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Everlasting Giver

"Jesus asked at the Last Supper, 'Who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves' (Luke 22:27). And so it will be to all eternity. Why? Because the giver gets the glory. Christ will never surrender the glory of his sovereign grace. 'Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything' (Acts 17:25). He created in order to have beneficiaries who magnify his bounty. And he will bring history to an end as the everlasting Giver. From beginning to end his aim is the same: 'the praise of his glorious grace' (Ephesians 1:6)." (John Piper, Seeing And Savoring Jesus Christ [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004], 115)

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

More Miracles On Video

I wrote a post on the topic a few years ago. As the Ted Serios case discussed there illustrates, we've had video footage of miracles for a long time. I occasionally come across more examples.

Elsewhere, I've discussed the UFO videos released to the public in recent years. Stephen Braude recently did another interview with Jeffrey Mishlove, which addresses some of the paranormal cases Braude has investigated. In the interview, he discusses some recent table levitations captured on video. Go here to watch an earlier interview with Mishlove that showed some photographs and video of table levitations. The segment here about Ariel Farias includes some video footage. Jimmy Akin recently discussed the evidence for animal telepathy, including some video of the phenomena. See here and here for a couple of relevant sections of his program. These are just some examples. I'm not trying to be exhaustive.

We need to keep in mind that the skeptical claim that we don't have good evidence for any miracles, sometimes even taking the form of claiming that miracles are never caught on video, was a weak objection from the start. And it's been getting weaker with the passing of time.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Paul's Familiarity With The Other Resurrection Witnesses

Last year, I wrote about the significance of the details mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6 regarding the appearance to more than five hundred. Something else worth noting is that Paul's comments elsewhere corroborate the idea that he was closely following the lives of the other resurrection witnesses. Think of his comments in Galatians 1-2 about visiting other apostles, spending a lot of time with them, and coordinating his efforts with theirs. Or his discussion of the sufferings of the apostles in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. Or his discussion of the practices of the apostles when traveling in 1 Corinthians 9:5. Or his reference to how they were all proclaiming the same message, a comment he makes shortly after 1 Corinthians 15:6, in verse 11.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Why don't the gospels have Jesus anticipating Paul?

It's often suggested that later Christians attributed words and actions to Jesus that advanced their later theology, preferences, and so on. The Jesus of the gospels is at least largely a fabrication of later Christianity.

There are a lot of ways to respond to that sort of claim. What I want to focus on here is a counterexample that doesn't get as much attention as it should. The Jesus of the gospels doesn't anticipate Paul. He doesn't address the controversies surrounding his apostleship, his not having been with Jesus "from the beginning" (John 15:27; see, also, Acts 1:21-22), etc. We don't just see controversies surrounding Paul in his letters, but also in other sources (2 Peter 3:15-16, first- and second-century heresies that opposed Paul).

Think of Luke especially. He thought highly of Paul and says a lot about him in Acts. But Jesus doesn't anticipate Paul in Luke's gospel. To the contrary, he highlights the significance of having twelve apostles (Luke 22:28-30), and the opening of Acts even has a set of requirements for apostleship that would exclude Paul (1:21-22).

This sort of refraining from reading Paul back into the gospels (and the earliest portions of Acts) is even more significant when interacting with critics who allege that Paul created Christianity, radically redefined it, or something else along those lines. If later Christianity was shaping the gospels and the earlier portions of Acts as much as critics often suggest, you wouldn't know it from looking at the relationship between those documents and Paul.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

What communities did the early Christian documents come from?

1 Corinthians 15 often comes up in the context of Easter. A lot of attention is given to the state of the Corinthian church at the time, what circumstances Paul was addressing there, and so on. But we should keep in mind that a document sent out involves at least two communities. In addition to the community in the location the document is sent to, like Corinth, we should also think about the community in the location the document came from.

1 Corinthians seems to have been written by Paul while he was in Ephesus. So, in addition to his expectation that the Corinthians would be familiar with the resurrection appearances he mentions in 1 Corinthians 15, there's also a likelihood that the Ephesians would have heard about those appearances in the context of Paul's composition of 1 Corinthians. To the extent that they'd heard about the appearances before then, the circumstances surrounding Paul's letter to the Corinthians would have reinforced what the Ephesians had heard previously. And they would have had opportunity to get further information from Paul about the appearances and related matters.

Look at 1 Corinthians 16, all of the individuals and multiple churches mentioned there ("the churches of Asia" in verse 19, etc.). Or look at the similar comments in other New Testament (and extrabiblical) letters.

We should think of at least two communities when considering a document like 1 Corinthians. That's true not just with regard to the contents of the document, but also other issues involved, like authorship and genre. That means a larger number of people, accordingly, would have been well informed about such issues from the start. It's not as though a matter like who wrote 1 Corinthians, the gospel of Matthew, or 1 Peter, for example, would have been well known only to the author and the original recipients of the document. There likely would have been at least two communities who were well informed from the beginning. These documents were a means of informing multiple groups, typically groups that were some significant distance apart geographically. So, there was some diversity built into the circumstances at the outset. For more about topics like these, see here.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

How The Author's Travels Support The Authorship Attribution Of Luke/Acts

I've written before about how Acts ends with a "we" passage that places the author in Rome and how some of the earliest evidence we have for Lukan authorship comes from sources closely connected to that city. Something else to note about the authorship of Luke and Acts is that multiple sources in multiple locations should have been in a good position to know who wrote the documents. The "we" passages in Acts, which suggest participation by the author in the events in question, are evidence that the author traveled widely. And he apparently was writing Acts as he traveled, doing preparatory work for writing while traveling (e.g., gathering information from people, taking notes), or some of each, given the nature of the details in the document. (For evidence to that effect, see here, here, and here.) So, people in a large number and variety of locations should have had significant evidence regarding who wrote Acts (and the gospel of Luke). That includes being in a good position to falsify an incorrect authorship attribution. That's especially true given all of Luke/Acts' references to times, places, individuals involved, etc. I've argued that some of Luke's material on Jesus' childhood likely was acquired in the context of Acts 21. So, it looks like the authorship of the third gospel, not just Acts, is also directly connected to his travels in the "we" passages. Attribution of the third gospel and Acts to Luke was widespread and seems to have not faced much opposition. That makes more sense if the attribution is correct than if it's incorrect. That's true not only as a general principle, but even more so in light of the author's travels.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Neglected Evidence For Acts' Material On The Resurrection Appearance To Paul

There are some good arguments that are often brought up for the material on Jesus' appearance to Paul in Acts, such as the authorship of Luke/Acts and the general historical reliability of the author. See, for example, my posts on such issues here, Craig Keener's video on Luke's historiography here, and a video featuring Lydia McGrew on the subject of hard things Acts gets right here. What I want to focus on in this post is some evidence that comes up less often. I'll occasionally mention more common arguments in the process of discussing the less common ones, but my focus here is on lines of evidence that have gotten less attention.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Number Of Resurrection Experiences Peter Had

The numbers are significant for other individuals as well, but I want to focus on Peter here as an example. He probably was part of at least three of the appearances mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, and there's a good chance that he was part of four of them. For a discussion of the potential for his participation in the appearance to more than five hundred in 1 Corinthians 15:6, see here. He also witnessed the appearances in John 21 and Acts 1. And he's reported to have witnessed the empty tomb and the condition of Jesus' grave coverings at the time (Luke 24:12, John 20:3-7).

Such a large number of experiences would tend to involve a large amount of variety as well, and we see that with what Peter experienced. He was alone on one occasion, but with one or more other individuals on other occasions, only with John on the occasion of seeing the empty tomb and with varying larger groups on other occasions. The experiences are reported to have ranged across multiple weeks (John 20:26, Acts 1:3), from seeing the empty tomb on Easter day to seeing Jesus at the time of the ascension.

That sort of number and variety of experiences should be kept in mind. It wasn't just one event or one set of circumstances. Peter is the most significant example in this context, but the same point can be made to a lesser extent about other resurrection witnesses.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Evidence Of How Psalm 22:16 Should Be Rendered

Michael Flowers has produced a series of videos on Psalm 22:16, in which he makes a lot of significant points about the passage. He's also published an article discussing thirteen proposed renderings of the passage and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Notice how easily most of the proposed readings can be reconciled with crucifixion. The traditional Christian view involving digging, boring through, or piercing is supported by the earliest versions of Psalm 22 that we have. As Flowers notes, "In an article from 1897 Henri Lesêtre observed that although Justin Martyr quotes Ps 22 for his Jewish interlocutor Trypho and appeals to it as a proof-text for Christ’s crucifixion, he never pauses to consider Jewish objections to the Septuagint rendering of v. 17 [verse 16 in Christian Bibles]. Since Justin is aware of other Jewish objections to Septuagint renderings – as in Dial. 67 where the term παρθένος in Isa 7:14 is discussed at length – Lesêtre hypothesized that כארו was still the established reading in the mid-second century." Justin's comments are in section 97 of his Dialogue if you want to read what he wrote for yourself. Furthermore, multiple other details in the psalm suggest a crucifixion, one with Roman characteristics, as I've discussed elsewhere. The language Christians appeal to in Psalm 22:16 was circulating in versions of that psalm in antiquity and seems to have been circulating widely, including in pre-Christian sources. If that language was a textual corruption, then was it a mere coincidence that such unusual textual mistakes so favorable to Christianity entered the manuscript record and became so popular? If somebody is going to advocate that sort of view, we should note how often he appeals to such unusual alleged mere coincidences in other contexts as well, such as with regard to other details in Psalm 22 and in other contexts related to prophecy fulfillment (Jesus just happened to be raised in Nazareth in the region of Zebulun in line with Isaiah 9:1, the flogging in the Servant Song in Isaiah 50 just happens to line up with the common Roman practice of flogging an individual before crucifixion, the Romans just happened to destroy both Jerusalem and the temple in line with Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy, etc.). And if the alternative reading of Psalm 22:16 that's adopted is one like the popular Jewish rendering involving a lion doing something to the hands and feet, we should ask what's being accomplished by going with that sort of reading. Even though it wouldn't support a Christian understanding of the psalm as much as a traditional Christian version of the text would, it's still singling out the hands and feet in a significantly unusual way and can easily be reconciled with crucifixion.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

How To Approach Easter Prophecy

Issues of prophecy fulfillment often come up in the context of Easter. I want to make a few points about how to best handle the situation.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Skeptics Being Evasive About Recent Miracles

Critics of the supernatural often object to paranormal claims that occurred in the more distant past, since there's no ability to question the witnesses, consult the larger number of records that tend to be available with more recent events, etc. But they often provide poor responses to the evidence we do have for those more distant events, which raises questions like how much these skeptics actually need the larger amount of evidence they're asking for and how sincere their objections are.

Another way of addressing the line of objections I'm focused on here is to look at how these skeptics handle more recent miracle claims. How much interest do they show in asking the witnesses the relevant questions and examining the evidence involved in other ways?

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Optional Belief In Mary's Assumption

"Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) counted the Assumption an opinion that could be held or not held, for the Church had not yet decided." (Eamon Carroll, in Juniper Carol, ed., Mariology, Vol. 1 [Post Falls, Idaho: Mediatrix Press, 2018], approximate Kindle location 710)

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Credobaptism Before The Reformation

I discussed infant baptism at length in some posts here in 2006. I don't think I've addressed the subject much since then. I want to revisit it.

Monday, February 19, 2024

A Response To Trent Horn's Comments In His Recent Sola Scriptura Debate With James White

In his debate with James White on sola scriptura last week, Trent Horn repeated some sentiments he's expressed before about the alleged lateness of the recognition of the New Testament documents as scripture, their lack of prominence before the time when Irenaeus wrote, etc. I've responded to him on the subject before, in the post here. What I documented there is also relevant to something else Trent said during the debate, when he referred to how Jesus didn't tell anybody to write anything before he ascended to heaven. As my post linked above argues, Jesus' comments on the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 likely anticipate the New Testament. What he said isn't limited to what the apostles would write, but it does include their writings. That's probably why John's comments about his gospel toward the end of the document parallel what Jesus said in those earlier chapters. John seems to have considered his gospel a fulfillment of what Jesus anticipated. Again, see my post linked above for further details. That post also addresses other problems with Trent's view of the New Testament.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Evidence Against Infant Baptism In Aristides

I've written about how Aristides is a neglected source on baptismal issues. A passage I didn't bring up there was the following in section 15 of his Apology:

"Further, if one or other of them [Christians] have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction."

If somebody considers infant baptism a means of making the baptized child a Christian, the testimony of Aristides is some early evidence to the contrary. You could add one or more qualifiers to Aristides' comments to reconcile what he said with the view of infant baptism under consideration (e.g., by "children", he only meant a particular subcategory of children), but that would be a less natural reading.

When Tertullian writes against infant baptism in section 18 of his treatise On Baptism, he's often thought to be making the first explicit reference to an actual practice of infant baptism in the historical record rather than to be merely responding to a hypothetical. And I agree. It's likely that infant baptism was being practiced at the time by some people, though only a minority, and that Tertullian was responding to actual people who advocated the practice. And one of the comments Tertullian makes when arguing against infant baptism is "let them [infants] become Christians when they have become able to know Christ". So, it seems that the opponents he has in mind considered infant baptism a means of making the infants Christians. If so, the contrast between their view and Aristides' comments about persuading the children of Christians to become Christians is striking. Aristides appears to be offering two contrasts to the advocates of infant baptism Tertullian is interacting with. Aristides doesn't mention making infants Christians through baptism, and he does mention persuading them to become Christians. Tertullian's comments provide a significant contextual factor in interpreting Aristides.

And a point I made in my earlier thread about Aristides should be reiterated. He was writing to a pagan audience. It's unlikely, accordingly, that he would have expected his audience to make certain unstated Christian assumptions relevant to infant baptism, would have expected them to recognize highly subtle allusions to infant baptism, etc. The best explanation for why he seems to say nothing of infant baptism when discussing relevant topics and seems to even contradict the concept of making infants Christians through baptism is that he didn't hold such a view of baptism.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Key To History

"Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history." (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2021], approximate Kindle location 763)

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Departure Material In John

I've written about what I've called the departure passages in scripture and how they relate to issues like the papacy and sola scriptura. See here, for example. Acts 20, 2 Timothy, and 2 Peter have been discussed a lot, but I want to expand on John's material, which has been neglected.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Widespread Reports Of Near-Death And Out-Of-Body Experiences

Regardless of whether or not these things [near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences] veridically occur, people around the world have been reporting them throughout recorded history and regarding them as being in a separate category to everyday occurrences. This pattern of consistent ascription is an important indicator of the cross-cultural stability of such experiences….

People often also change their beliefs following their own NDE [near-death experience]. Notably, that includes atheists who neither believed in an afterlife nor expected to have an NDE….

In whatever culture it occurs, the OBE [out-of-body experience] is by definition always and unambiguously considered a dualistic state in which consciousness is separated from the body….

Not only are explicit descriptions of OBEs found in Eastern and Western narratives throughout history, but mind-body dualism, often exemplified by descriptions of OBEs, is a common element of nearly every branch of Egyptian, Ancient Near Eastern, Zoroastrian, Graeco-Roman, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and numerous other theologies (see, for example, Badham 1997, Bremmer 1983, Couliano 1991, Metzinger 2005, Pilch 2011, Zaleski 1987). Dean Shiels (1978: 699) found that of the 67 small-scale indigenous societies he reviewed, 95 percent believed in OBEs, and they were consistently described in remarkably similar ways. He concluded that the most likely explanation for this wide cross-cultural occurrence of OBE belief was that it "results from a common experience of this happening" (Shiels 1978: 699). McClenon's fieldwork (1994, 2002: 106-31) provides a mass of cross-cultural evidence that demonstrates that NDEs and OBEs often lead directly to beliefs in an afterlife and in mind-body dualism.

From a neuroscientific perspective, Thomas Metzinger (2005: 57) also theorizes that dualistic beliefs cross-culturally originate in OBEs. He stresses that OBEs "can be undergone by every human being and seem to possess a culturally invariant cluster of functional and phenomenal core properties." They "almost invariably lead the experiencing subject to conclude that conscious experience can, as a matter of fact, take place independently of the brain and the body." Metzinger (2005: 78 n. 8) cites other studies that support his hypothesis, including one (Osis 1979) in which 73% of survey respondents claimed that their beliefs had changed as a result of their OBEs, and another (Gabbard and Twemlow 1984) in which 66% claimed that their OBEs caused them to adopt a belief in life after death.

(Gregory Shushan, The Next World [United States: White Crow Books, 2022], approximate Kindle location 3474)

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Paul's Suffering And Prophecy Fulfillment

I've been thinking about Paul's comments in 2 Corinthians 11 regarding how he'd suffered as a Christian. What he says there is significant in a lot of contexts. It provides further evidence that the earliest Christians lived in a setting in which there was a large amount of potential to suffer for the claims they were making (about Jesus' resurrection and other topics). Given Jesus' crucifixion, Paul's former persecution of Christians, and Paul's references to his own suffering in 2 Corinthians 11 and elsewhere, we have multiple, independent lines of evidence that Christianity arose in that kind of atmosphere. And what Paul reports about his own experiences corroborates much of what the gospels and Acts report about such circumstances. The gospels' reports about efforts to throw Jesus over a cliff or stone him, for example, are rendered more plausible by what Paul tells us about the violent reactions he often met with. There are some undesigned coincidences between 2 Corinthians 11 and the gospels and Acts as well. These are just a few examples of the value of Paul's comments in 2 Corinthians 11. What I want to do in the remainder of this post is focus on one of the other examples, the significance of the passage in a context involving prophecy fulfillment.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

The New Testament's Historicity Evidenced In The Earliest Extrabiblical Sources

It's common to cite Josephus, Tacitus, Clement of Rome, and other early sources to corroborate certain parts of the New Testament. But the extent to which they support the historicity of the New Testament is underestimated, because so many of the details seldom or never get discussed.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

People Converted Through Arguments

"My colleague J.P. Moreland, out at Talbot, has taken to responding to, when people say to him, 'You can't bring anybody to Christ through argument.', J.P. says, 'Oh, yeah, you can. I've done it.' And I can say the same. We constantly get emails and testimonies coming into Reasonable Faith that people who have come to Christ after seeing a debate or a video or have come back to Christ after walking away from Christian faith through Reasonable Faith materials." (William Lane Craig, 8:04 in the audio of his November 13, 2023 Reasonable Faith podcast here)

There are Biblical examples as well (e.g., Acts 17:2-4, 19:8).

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Trivializing

"Now, why are these verses [Isaiah 1:29-31] so confrontational? You can ask that question of so many passages in the Bible, especially in the prophets. Why are these verses so confrontational? God is pressing his point because we trivialize ourselves. God takes us more seriously than we take ourselves." (Ray Ortlund, 31:56 in the audio of his August 25, 2002 sermon here)

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Racism, Classism, And Other Problems In Paranormal Experiences

I've been citing Gregory Shushan's comments on some aspects of paranormal phenomena that don't get discussed much and don't fit well with a lot of popular interpretations of the paranormal. I'll conclude with this post, in which I'll briefly refer to a variety of other examples that people can read more about in Shushan's book.

He often refers to separations of people in the afterlife according to their race, social class, and such in contexts like near-death experiences and mediumship (The Next World [United States: White Crow Books, 2022], e.g., approximate Kindle location 1962). He writes of how it was "common" for there to be racism in mediumistic messages in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (2096). Leslie Flint, a medium, claimed that in the afterlife, "Oscar Wilde lives a life of 'delicious sin' which in Heaven is 'natural' (ibid. 34, 82, 91-3, 102, 108-10, 112)." (1962) Shushan writes:

Racism, classism, and religious intolerance are disturbing trends in the pre-1975 narratives. This has some important ramifications for those who wish to view the afterlife descriptions as genuine, for they indicate either that the next world is truly a systemized bigoted realm, or that the spirit communicators were portraying merely their personal intolerant mind-dependent afterlife. However, the latter possibility is inconsistent with the recurring claim by the spirits themselves that death brings about spiritual transformation….The other possibility is that the information conveyed by spirits was filtered through the mediums' minds and thus overlaid with the institutionalized bigotry of their times….

In any case, we are left with a somewhat obvious conundrum: communication difficulties cannot explain why statements about the afterlife and its denizens could not be clear, specific, accurate, and consistent while evidential information [verifying paranormality] allegedly could. (2086, 2237)

Shushan often refers to errors and apparent inconsistencies among the phenomena, even inconsistencies within the experiences of one individual. At one point, he refers to "yet another contradiction" from a well-evidenced medium (1910). That medium, Geraldine Cummins, "also credited her communicators with some frankly ludicrous statements, such as that there are monkeys in the sun, according to the spirit of Sir Walter Scott." (1879)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

False Prophecies In Near-Death Experiences

Gregory Shushan's recent book on the paranormal and the afterlife discusses a negative aspect of near-death experiences (NDEs) that doesn't get as much attention as it should:

Public revelations "received" during NDEs demonstrate that even if some NDEs might have veridical content, others demonstrably do not. In the early days of NDE research, Kenneth Ring, an American psychologist and an important figure in the field, published an article called "Precognitive and Prophetic Visions in Near-Death Experiences." With data gathered from NDErs in the United States ranging from the 1940s-1970s, he found that prophecies were often conveyed to the experiencer as divine revelation, that is, occurring "in association with an encounter with guides or a being of light." Reminiscent of many historical examples, some NDErs even believed that they had been chosen by their god to deliver his message to people on Earth.

Ring (1982: 54, 6) found that the prophecies in the thirteen cases he analyzed bore remarkable consistencies, including that Earth will suffer devastation on a global scale due to a nuclear event and/or widespread natural disasters, and that this will occur sometime in the late 1980s, with 1988 being the most frequently specified year. A few years later, British psychologist Margot Grey (1985) independently replicated these findings, collecting a number of prophetic NDE visions that were astonishingly consistent with Ring's. Obviously, the prophesied events did not come to pass, demonstrating that the alleged divine revelations were false.

(The Next World [United States: White Crow Books, 2022], approximate Kindle location 714)

For more examples of such characteristics in NDEs, characteristics that support a more subjective view of the experiences, see my collection of posts here.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Support For Christianity Among Some Of The Foremost Mediums

Something that doesn't get enough attention in discussions of mediumship is how often some of the mediums with the most documented paranormal abilities have supported Christianity in one way or another. I'm not saying that their mediumship was consistent with Christianity, that these mediums were in contact with the spirits they claimed to be in contact with, or anything like that. As I've explained before, I think that there's a lot of genuine paranormal activity (along with much that's inauthentic) in mediumship, near-death experiences, and other such contexts. But I think what's often involved is human paranormal capacities, meaning that the experiences often reflect the human mind, including its fallibility, sinful tendencies, and so on. Still, it's worth noting how prominent support for Christianity and certain aspects of Christianity (e.g., monotheism, a future judgment) often have been among mediums, near-death experiencers, people who have deathbed experiences, and so forth. That doesn't sit well with the sort of religious pluralism, universalism, relativism, and such that we often hear from many advocates of the paranormal in our day.

Gregory Shushan provides some examples in his recent book on the afterlife:

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Irenaeus' View Of The Gospels Was Shaped By Many Sources

It's common to suggest that all or some large percentage of gospel authorship attributions among the patristic sources can be traced back to Papias. There are a lot of problems with that sort of argument, like the ones discussed here.

In that post, I discuss some of the sources who probably influenced Irenaeus' beliefs about who wrote the gospels, such as Pothinus and the gospel manuscripts Irenaeus read or heard about. Since Irenaeus was a church leader and traveled widely, think of how often he would have read gospel manuscripts, had them read by somebody else in his presence, heard other people mention the authorship of the documents in one context or another, etc. Look at how often he draws from the gospels in his writings, such as in Against Heresies. Or consider how often the gospels would have been read aloud during church services he attended or presided over. Think of how many of the doctrinal controversies, moral disputes, and such that occurred in his day involved material in the gospels and would have involved discussions of the gospels. See this post for a discussion of how Polycarp, one of Irenaeus' mentors, would have influenced New Testament authorship attributions in a variety of contexts. See here regarding a Roman source Irenaeus cited on gospel authorship. And see here for links to posts about other relevant sources. One of the ones listed there is the heretic Ptolemy, who attributed the fourth gospel to a disciple of Jesus named John and is quoted by Irenaeus doing so (Against Heresies, 1:8:5).

Irenaeus did have access to the writings of Papias, but he doesn't say that he got his gospel authorship attributions from Papias, and it's absurd to suggest that Papias was his only source on the topic. Given the nature of Irenaeus' life (when he lived, his relationship with Polycarp, his relationship with Pothinus, his roles in church leadership, his widespread traveling, his access to what Papias wrote, etc.), he had to have been influenced by a large number and variety of sources on issues like gospel authorship, and those sources are likely to have been independent of one another to some degree. There's no reason to begin with a default assumption that they all were dependent on Papias, nor is there any reason to think universal dependence on Papias is equally possible or likely. Rather, it's highly unlikely.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Why doesn't Justin Martyr name the gospel authors?

Critics of the traditional gospel authorship attributions make much of the fact that Justin doesn't name the authors of the gospels. And he fails to name the authors even though he cites the documents so often (or similar documents, depending on your view of what he was citing).

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Problems For The Anonymous Gospels Hypothesis

I've argued elsewhere that Papias was a disciple of John the son of Zebedee, that the elder he cites when discussing a document by Mark was John, and that the Markan document is our gospel of Mark. Notice, though, that even if we grant the skeptic's position on all three of those issues, the fragment of Papias in question (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:15) is still problematic for the idea that the gospels circulated anonymously until sometime in the second century. Even under the skeptic's scenario, we have two individuals (the elder and Papias) who lived at least part of their lives in the first century and were likely at least contemporaries of the apostles showing interest in the authorship of a document similar to our gospels. That's problematic for the notion that authorship attributions for our gospels didn't originate until the second century. Furthermore, just after the passage in Eusebius cited above, he goes on to quote some comments from Papias on something Matthew wrote. Again, even if we reject Papias' status as a disciple of John the son of Zebedee (or another disciple of Jesus named John) and assume that the Matthean document in question isn't our gospel of Matthew, we still have Papias showing interest in identifying the author of a gospel-like document.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Mishandling The Demonic Hypothesis

I recently watched an interview Ross Coulthart did with Garry Nolan about UFOs. Here's a segment in which both refer to "religious fundamentalists" in the government handling UFO issues poorly. I've written about this subject before. I won't repeat everything I said there. I agree with Nolan that not only has the demonic hypothesis not been justified, but even if it were correct, we shouldn't therefore conclude that we shouldn't do any further research on UFOs.

There's a larger problem here with Christians being immature and irresponsible about paranormal issues more broadly. It isn't just a problem in the UFO context.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Edge Of Reality

I recently read a new edition of The Edge Of Reality (Newburyport, Massachusetts: MUFON, 2023). It originally came out in 1975. It's largely a record of some discussions about UFOs between two of the foremost researchers in the field, J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee. I didn't read the 1975 version, and I don't know how different the update is. I think it's the same or almost the same aside from a new foreword (by Hynek's son) and a new introduction (by Vallee). The bulk of it doesn't discuss the developments of the last half century, since it was published so long ago, but it has a lot of relevance and significance anyway. I still think the best overall introduction to the topic that I've read is Leslie Kean's UFOs: Generals, Pilots, And Government Officials Go On The Record (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010). The Edge Of Reality is a good supplement to Kean's book. It addresses a lot of issues not covered or not covered as much by Kean, like issues of interpretation and the history of research. And it's written by two giants in the field whose experience and inside knowledge are more significant than Kean's. Hynek has a lot to say about his experiences with the United States' government's incompetence and corruption in handling UFO issues, for example. The book covers a wide range of subjects related to UFOs, though their comments are often brief. Vallee (rightly) rejected the extraterrestrial explanation for UFOs, and Hynek seems to me to have leaned in that direction as well. He gives some attention to views like mine, that UFOs are produced by human paranormal activity. He even draws a comparison to poltergeists at times, as I have. Neither Hynek nor Vallee goes into as much depth as I'd like about these issues, but there's a lot that's helpful in what they do say.

Another book by Vallee, Dimensions (San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2008), opens with a dedication to his friend:

This book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. J. Allen Hynek.

As a scientist, he was the first to grasp the significance of the problem. As a thinker, he understood its relationship to other deep mysteries that surround us. As a teacher, he shared freely his data and his insights.

As a man, he wondered.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

What would be the significance of the gospel authors' illiteracy, lack of literary experience, etc.?

It's often suggested that the illiteracy or low level of literacy of the large majority of individuals in the ancient world is evidence against the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels. There are a lot of problems with that objection. We have information about people like Matthew and John that puts them well above the average person in antiquity. For example, not only was John an apostle, which would have provided him with far more motivation than the average person would have had to become more educated, but we also have good evidence that he lived an unusually long time and had a role as a sort of patriarchal figure toward the end of his life. Then there's the fact that there are widespread reports in antiquity that John did compose some documents, which is further evidence we have to take into account rather than just going by how many people in general would be able to produce such a document, how many fishermen in general would be able to, etc. We have much more than such statistics to go by.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Updated Recommendations For Bible Study Resources

Denver Seminary has published the 2024 update for their Old Testament bibliography, and the updated New Testament bibliography is here. Steve Hays kept a bibliography of his own until shortly before his death in 2020. You can find it here. One of the resources he recommended was the Best Commentaries site.

I noticed that Craig Blomberg's New Testament list for Denver Seminary mentions his new commentary on Matthew as coming out this year. I haven't seen it at Amazon yet, but Blomberg's in a good position to know when it should be out.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

An Interview With A Police Officer Who Worked The Bridgeport Poltergeist Case

I've often cited the work of the late Roman Catholic patristic scholar Robert Eno. His younger brother, Paul, is a paranormal researcher. One of the cases he worked was the Bridgeport Poltergeist in the 1970s. It seems to be an authentic case and one that's highly evidential. You can read about it in depth in a book by William Hall, The World's Most Haunted House (Pompton Plains, New Jersey: New Page Books, 2014). Paul has discussed the case and his involvement in it in many places, including in some YouTube videos. He hosts a radio program with his son, Ben, and they recently interviewed Joe Tomek, a police officer who went to the house involved in the Bridgeport case and witnessed some of the paranormal events there.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Gospel titles in only a small number of early manuscripts?

Some recent skeptical treatments of the authorship of the gospels that I've come across have raised the objection that only a small number of our gospel manuscripts from the earliest centuries include a gospel title (e.g., "The Gospel According To John"). I want to address some problems with that objection.