Friday, January 13, 2006

Ed Babinski Replies to C. S. Lewis

This is Ed's response to me on the Trilemma. My replies are in bold.

C.S. Lewis Replies to Ed on the Trilemma Argument?

Funny thing about Lewis' argument for the chief character in the Fourth
Gospel reading like "Boswell's Johnson," is that Boswell has since been
castigated by Boswell scholars for having both embellished and INVENTED
stories about Dr. Johnson. So I guess Lewis was not only lacking in his
knowledge of comparative Gospel scholarship but also could have benefited
from the results of more in-depth Boswellian scholarship as well.

VR: And do Boswell scholars agree on this? Is there consensus among them? Even if the book contains some embellishment, does anyone seriously think that Boswell's Johnson is as unreliable as Bultmann thinks John is? Perhaps we should hop into the TARDIS, bring C. S. Lewis back from the mid-century, and ask him what he thinks of this radical development in Boswell scholarship.

As Dr. Robert M. Price pointed out in "A Rejoinder to Josh McDowell's
Evidence That Demands a Verdict: 'Jesus-- God's Son'":

"Before one parrots the ludicrous dictum of C.S. Lewis (in "Modern
Theology and Biblical Criticism") that the Johannine discourses bear no
resemblance to ancient, non-historical genres, one owes it to oneself to
read the Gnostic and Mandaean revelation soliloquies abundantly quoted in
Bultmann's commentary on John, something I rather doubt any apologists
take the trouble to do. (I find it amusing that Lewis preferred to compare
John's discourses with Boswell's "reportage" of Samuel Johnson's
table-talk--which, as has recently been argued, seems itself to have been
a literary stylization of the kind critics suggest we find in the Fourth
Gospel!)"

Adding to Price, one should note that anyone reading the Fourth Gospel can
see it begins with the author's intepretation of Jesus, "the Word of God."
But the previous three Gospels begin merely by calling Jesus the Messiah
and son of God, both a far cry from "God the son."

But, as Lewis points out, at the end of all the Gospels, Jesus gets himself crucified by making claims on his own behalf, such as "I'm going to come back and judge the world." So maybe Jesus didn't claim to be god, he just claimed to be the final judge of all the nations. He could have been sincerely mistaken about that, no doubt. Arthur Wainwright, my Bible professor at Candler School of Theology, quoted Bultmann as saying that Jesus couldn't have said he would come on the clouds to judge the world, because if he said that he would have had to have been crazy. Maybe someone can give me the reference; I've been looking for it since. I remember Wainwright quoting Archbishop Temple: No one would bother to crucify the Christ of liberal Protestantism.

And in the ostensibly earliest Gospel, Mark, Jesus is merely chosen by God
at his baptism, where an ancient Hebrew coronation psalm that refers to
installing a HUMAN king, is used to illustrate Jesus' status, "You are my
son, this day I have begotten you." A human being chosen at his baptism.

There's plenty of debate about what Jesus claimed. Stephen Davis (in Davis et al ed. The Incarnation (Oxford, 2002) defends the claim that Jesus really did make the claims that generate the trilemma. And he has a formidable knowledge of biblical scholarship, I defy anyone to call him ignorant of the relevant literature.

Also, you can read responses to Lewis' "indirect" arguments for Jesus'
"godhood" in the books I mentioned in my original email to Vic. There's
some online responses as well. Too bad Lewis didn't live long enough to
read them, and instead remained far more ignorant of Biblical theology
than he lets on in his essays. In fact he never wrote an essay revealling
any intimate or detailed acquantance with the biblical sholars and deeper
scholarly questions of his own day, and instead begged off such studies,
admitting he was no expert!

"I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and
merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and
have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted
to the correction of wiser heads." [Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on
Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, The Role of
Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979),
p. 22.]

He did, however, claim to have an understanding of ancient literature based on his professional career as a literary scholar. Lewis thought that the biblical scholarship of his day, which he did read, suffered from a presupposed methodological naturalism, either consistently adopted or inconsistently adopted, and a treatment of biblical texts which differs from the way in which other texts from the same time period are treated by scholars. So he;s not a specialist, but his own specialized knowledge makes him suspicious of what the biblical specialists say. I don't think his response is irrational.

The important thing to realize here is that Lewis's work should never be presumed to be a complete apologetic for Christianity. There is always more work to do.


Lastly, Lewis continued to refer people to the same book of Christian
apologetics that first converted him, Chesterton's book, The Everlasting
Man, as if it were the be and end all of Christian historical apologetics.
Lewis continued to hold Chesterton's book as the most demonstrative
apologetic word for him, even in some of the last letters he wrote, when
people inquired what a good historical apologetics work was.

Was he saying "This is a nice picture of what I believe, written in a style that laypeople can understand," or was he making some kind of inerrancy claim? I doubt the latter.

Lewis never grew up intellectually, never faced the questions a James D.
G. Dunn did, or the other scholars I mentioned in my original email
comments, many of whom began their scholarly biblical studies as
conservative Christians.

And John A. T. Robinson when from Honest to God to Redating the New Testament. Does "growing up intellectually" mean leaving the fold and agreeing with you? We can sit here and quote scholars all day. I object to this type of rhetoric. If I wanted to repay you in kind, I would say that this type of rhetoric implies immaturity on your part.

Let's take Ben Witherington as an example. Can you honestly say that he hasn't faced the questions? Would you say that he is ignorant of modern scholarship? How about N. T. Wright or Luke T. Johnson, who teaches at Candler now (or at least did last I heard)? Or, to go back a generation, Joachim Jeremias. All I'm saying here is that Jesus's claims are a subject for serious scholarly debate, and the conservative view of what Jesus claimed is ably defended in the literature. This may not be sufficient to defend the trilemma, but it is sufficient to rebut your charge of not growing up intellectually.



"A False Trilemma" by Dr. Robert M. Price
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/beyond_born_again/chap7.html

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lewis thought that the biblical scholarship of his day, which he did read, suffered from a presupposed methodological naturalism, either consistently adopted or inconsistently adopted, and a treatment of biblical texts which differs from the way in which other texts from the same time period are treated by scholars.


Huh? What do you mean by treated differently from other ancient texts? I thought the problem many conservative Christians have with biblical scholars is that those scholars do treat the biblical texts just like they would treat any other ancient text.

Victor Reppert said...

A standard response by many evangelicals toward radical critics is that while these critics claim that they treat the Bible like any other book they in fact treat it with a degree and kind of skpeticism that is accorded no other book. This complaint is not the the Scriptures are not treated from the point of view of a faith-based commitment to inspiration and inerrancy; rather, if you had four texts which are similar to the degree that the Gospels are about any other event, (say, the battle of Actium or something like that), it would be considered to be strong evidence that the event occurred as reported, whereas reports in the Gospels are, for some reason, not accorded that evidential status.

Anonymous said...

If those accounts of the battle of Actium contained references to angels talking to the participants or say the sun stopping overhead in order to prolong the battle, then the same skepticism would be shown to them as toward the books of the Bible. No other ancient text is allowed a free pass on such fantastical accounts.
The Bible is so full of references to the supernatural that it is very difficult to determine what might be real or make-belief. The Odyssey has about the same amount of supernatural material and is considered a fiction.

Can you think of any other ancient text that contains about the same ratio of supernatural events to natural events as the Bible and is accepted as being more historically accurate than the Bible?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear VIC, my replies follow yours, below, ED

VIC: And do Boswell scholars agree on this? Is there consensus among them? Even if the book contains some embellishment, does anyone seriously think that Boswell's Johnson is as unreliable as Bultmann thinks John is? Perhaps we should hop into the TARDIS, bring C. S. Lewis back from the mid-century, and ask him what he thinks of this radical development in Boswell scholarship.

ED: Price mentioned Bultmann because of the latter's collection of pronouncement sayings, as even Celsus, the early Christian Roman critic pointed out, were not unique to the Fourth Gospel. Neither was I suggesting that Boswell's Johnson was AS unreliable and questionable to the degree that the Fourth Gospel is. But I was suggesting the irony and idiocy in Lewis comparing the Fourth Gospel with Boswell's Johnson, because even in the first modern biography that some consider to be the first fact-checked down to earth "warts and all" biography, Boswell's Johnson, some fiction was STILL mixed with fact. So how much moreso in the case of the Fourth Gospel which is by no means a modern biography?

"The modern biography--the kind where it actually matters that you are accurate, that you do fact checking, that you show both the flaws and virtues of the person whose life you're recounting--began with James Boswell's The Life of Dr. Johnson." The modern biography did not begin with the Fourth Gospel which is blindly praiseworthy, non-fact checked, and, more hagiography than biography. Jesus might as well be walking with his feet not touching the ground in the Fourth Gospel.

For Lewis to suggest that the Jesus in the Fourth Gospel is as "real" as Boswell's Johnson is not even close to an intelligent remark, though we may debate the sense of the word "real," and wind up admitting that the author of the Fourth Gospel at least deserves praise for his literary ability to construct long theological dialogues, putting them in his character's mouths, dialogues that are much longer than the bits and pieces of actual sayings of Jesus, or logia, found in the first three earlier Gospels.

Let's compare: Boswell as well as quite a few others knew Johnson directly and wrote about him or about his sayings and events in his life, mentioning such things in their letters, diaries, and we have the works written by Johnson himself, even bills and other miscellaneaous papers.

But the author of the Fourth Gospel was an anonymous writer, writting decades after his subject's death. His Gospel was even composed last of all the four Gospels. And few scholars (except the most theologically conservative) ever argue today that the Fourth Gospel contains many true sayings of the historical Jesus. You should do something Lewis apparently never did, read some books about why such doubts exist. Let me share just a few of the reasons behind the doubts here... And please keep in mind that you ought to read even fellow Christian theologians like James D. G. Dunn who started out conservative himself and has concluded that Jesus never said a word as recorded in the Fourth Gospel. Or listen to tapes of college courses on Jesus by theologians like Bart Ehrman, offered by the Teaching Company. Don't blame "skeptics" for daring to spoil your adolescent Bible beliefs, these are mainstream questions that even fundamentalists acknowledge, though of course faith covers a multitude of questions.

Only in the Gospel of John do different characters sound the same. The narrator's long prologue employs similar analogies and similar phrases as are found in the sermons and prayers of Jesus found in that same Gospel, which also resemble the long dialogue found only in that Gospel, allegedly spoken by John the Baptist. Why such similarities? It's likely the author is putting his words and ideas into other people's mouths, Jesus and John the Baptist.

The previous three Gospels all had built up Jesus' sayings by running together many short pithy sayings of Jesus, and simply stringing them together, one after the other, but not in a truly united format. It's the Fourth Gospel that contains lengthy discourses that all sound like the narrator of the opening chapter wrote them, not composed of brief logia remembered and later strung together. It is in no way believable that someone who wrote the Fourth Gospale had memorized lengthy discourses, word for word, of Jesus and also John the Baptist, and that they all spoke alike and that such long discourses were recalled decades later, only to show up in the last of the four N.T. Gospels. It's more likely that such long dialogues and new teachings found only in the Fourth Gospel, were the author's creation.

The Fourth Gospel also begins by defining who Jesus was in divine terms, and even has an apostle recognize and proclaim that Jesus is "the Messiah" in the first chapter or two, not in a later scene where as in the Synoptics it is finally revealled "to Peter" who Jesus was, and Jesus praises him for his special insight that the others lacked. In the synoptics, the apostles are also told not to tell others.

Therefore, in the Fourth Gospel, right from the earliest chapter everyone knows Jesus is the Messiah, and even more. Because John the Baptist sees Jesus and allegedly says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World!" What? John the Baptist never said such a thing, in the other three earlier Gospels, defining Jesus i such theological terms.

Moreover, speaking of "Lamb of God," only in the Fourth Gospel is the day of Jesus' crucifixion changed so it accompanies the slaying of the lambs for Passover. Hence the "Lamb of God" motif
of the Fourth Gospeler has rewritten the story to fit the motif. (Go ahead, compare the days on which Jesus was slain according to all four Gospels, I'll wait, or listen to Bart Ehrman's tapes on the historical Jesus.)

Oddly enought, the slain passover lambs have nothing to do with being a sacrifice for "sin," while the sacrifice of the GOAT, or rather, letting a live GOAT take on the sins of the people and have it run into the desert, i.e., the SCAPE GOAT, and not the Passover LAMB in the O.T. was considered a way to "cleanse the people of their sins." (The heads of rabbis spin whenever Christians try to use theHebrew Bible to try and prove the truth of Christianity. Neither does the O.T. agree throughout that sacrifices of living animals are necessary for forgiveness. Jesus himself taught the Lord's Prayer in the earlier Gospels, about God forgiving those who forgave others, directly, without blood.)

Then there's the prayer of Jesus in the garden prior to his crucifixion, a whole chapter's worth of prayer found only in the Fourth Gospel, spoken when the apostles were all asleep and lying at a distance from Jesus according to the other Gospels which feature no such lengthy prayer. Go read it, you think someone memorized it and put it in the Fourth Gospel? It's invented, and employs similar analogies and speech as the author employed elsewhere in his Gospel.

There's the long discourse again only in the Fourth Gospel about the necessity of believing specific things and being "born again," a discourse allegedly spoken to someone who visited Jesus "at night." Give me a break, saving the mystery teachings and special initiate phraseology for the last of the Gospels ever written? The earlier Gospels contain not a word about being "born again," not even a word about "salvation" except in one instance, when a tax collector gives back money he'd stolen and Jesus says, "This day has salvation come to this house." That's the only case in the earlier three Gospels that mentions "salvation" at all. But according to the last written Gospel, the Fourth Gospel, you're either "saved" per John 3:16 or "already damned."

The earlier three Gospels mention Jesus being asked on numerous occasions "how to inherit eternal life," and Jesus never mentions having "to believe specific things about himself in order to be born
again," but instead teaches huge crowds to pray directly to the Father that their debts be forgiven as they forgive their debtors. Simple, direct forgiveness from God. In those same earlier three Gospels Jesus even reacts prior to responding to "How to Inherit Eternal Life," by telling the person "Why do you call me good, only God is good." (With a sleight variation in another early Gospel, in both cases, Jesus replies as though he was less than divine, as one might expect in those three earliest Gospels since they all start off only by saying Jesus was the Messiah and son of God--both phrases being used previously in the O.T. to designate HUMAN Hebrew kings. Moreover, when Jesus speaks about the "son of man" in the earliest three Gospels, its a phrase that is employed in the THIRD PERSON.

Compare the figure in the Fourth Gospel, who is hardly the kind of person who would rebuke somebody for calling him "good," since he walks about a foot off the ground with each step, and ONLY talks about himself (this Jesus doesn't tell a SINGLE parable, just keeps talking about himself every chance he gets) with a barage of verses that state, "I am the Lamb of God... I am the Light of the World... I am the Good Shepherd... I am the Way the Truth and the Life... I am the Resurrection and the life... I am that I am...") The entire Gospel revolves around seven "signs/miracles" that fit in with those sayings. It's a theological work, meant to convey that Christian community's beliefs about Jesus, and much further from the historical Jesus of Nazareth than any of the Synoptic Gospels. THIS IS NOT BOSWELL'S JOHNSON.

In cases where Jesus is asked in the earlier Synoptics Gospels how to inherit eternal life his responses include, "Love God and follow the commandments," leaving for LAST (not first)the idea of following him too (and following him is not equal to believing in him). In fact in one case when asked "How to inherit eternal life," Jesus just says in one synoptic Gospel, "love god and your neighbor as yourself" and leaves it at that, just like Hillel did, another first century rabbi. Likewise in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus stresses the things one must "do," and even decries those who will cry to the "son of man," "Lord, Lord, have we not had faith and done miracles in your name," and Jesus replies by pointing out that they did not "do" the stuff he had commanded in the Sermon on the Mount, so this Jesus in the earlier Synoptic Gospels stressed righteous acts, and even adds in that sermon, "Love your neighbor as yourself for this is the whole of the law and the prophets."

The Fourth Gospel also differs from the rest in having Jesus cleanse the Temple at the beginning of his ministry, not at the end, thus leaving room at the end of that late-written Gospel for Jesus not to have irritated the religious authorities for having cleansed the temple, but instead made them seek his death because of a final super miracle at the end of Jesus' ministry that the Fourth Gospel alone adds, "the miracle of the raising of Lazarus." (The Fourth Gospel narrator mixes and combines stories with parables found in the earlier synoptics, namely the PARABLE in Luke about a begger named "Lazarus" who dies, yet does NOT come back from the dead though is asked to by a rich man in Hades, mixing that up with isolated stories of sisters Mary and Martha who are never said to have had a brother, and stories of unnamed women in different towns who attended to Jesus with expensive ointment or washed his feet with their hair, or listened at his feet, all found in the earliest Gospels. The Fourth Gospel author mixed all such stories about women (and the parable about "Lazarus and the rich man") up into a blender and poured out a SINGLE TALL TALE to end his Gospel with. He adds the town where one unnamed women anointed Jesus, adds the two sisters, adds the other unnamed woman who wiped Jesus' feet with her hair and tears, etc. to create a story about sisters, one of whom anoints Jesus and also wipes his feet with her hair, and adds the parable figure, "Lazarus," into a rich brother of those sisters who dies and IS resurrected from the dead. Wow. Total amalgamation. Happens all the time of course, like when Christian tradition mixed together the name of Mary Magdelene with the story of an unnamed former demon infested prostitute.

I think the author(s) of the Fourth Gospel pretty creative, stringing together a lot of theological thoughts and interpretations.

Also, the Fourth Gospel says in one place, that it was authored by a community of believers, "we" and in another place it mentions a single believer. But what's interesting is when you read the last few verses of the last chapter and compare them to the last few verses of the next to last chapter.

The next to last chapter seems like a fine way to end it all. But apparently a final chapter was added to perpetuate the myth of a singular author, and that author being an apostle. But still, the figure remains unnamed.

For those who imagine that the Fourth Gospel was written by an apostle named John, it should be considered that it is the one Gospel of the four that does NOT feature a tale of Jesus's "transfiguration" miracle that John the apostle along with only two others were allegedly priviledged to see.

Also most unbecoming is the way the Fourth Gospel ends, with it's final chapter, the added ending, speaking of a great "suppose" and hinting that when it was written there were already so many added stories about Jesus circulating among Christian communities that "I suppose the world could not contain all the books that could be written of everything Jesus said and did." Yeah, right. The Gospels contain so little information about what actually Jesus said that you could fit all of Jesus's words into a 16 page booklet. And the Gospels have to repeat stories and sayings, especially the synoptics, with over 90% of Mark reproduced in Matthew and Luke. "I suppose" the author of the last chapter of John was living in the days when Christians were telling new stories about Jesus that eventually got into about 24 added Gospels written later and not included in the Bible. Stories galore.

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VIC: Lewis points out, at the end of all the Gospels, Jesus gets himself crucified by making claims on his own behalf, such as "I'm going to come back and judge the world." So maybe Jesus didn't claim to be god, he just claimed to be the final judge of all the nations. He could have been sincerely mistaken about that, no doubt. Arthur Wainwright, my Bible professor at Candler School of Theology, quoted Bultmann as saying that Jesus couldn't have said he would come on the clouds to judge the world, because if he said that he would have had to have been crazy. Maybe someone can give me the reference; I've been looking for it since. I remember Wainwright quoting Archbishop Temple: No one would bother to crucify the Christ of liberal Protestantism.

ED: Jesus said at his trial, "You shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds," which is not to say Jesus was necessarily saying he was the Son of Man. Though he may have believed he would be chosen for that office later if he was obedient enough. Theologians have pointed out that Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels always spoke of the Son of Man in the third person. So there is a possibility that Jesus, like some other eschatologically minded Jews of his day, was indeed expecting a judge of the world, just as the writer of the book of Enoch expected, a heavenly Son of Man figure would come soon to judge mankind. But the phrase "son of man" goes back a little earlier than Enoch, to Daniel, another book popular in Jesus' day, and again this "Son of Man" appears in a heavenly context, but NOT EQUAL to God, more like a figure representing Israel. The "Son of Man" in Enochian literature is God's designatee. Another figure found in the Dead Sea Scrolls was "Melchizadek," a figure mentioned in one or two verses in the whole O.T., but who is depicted in one pre-Christian Dead Sea Scroll as being a HUMAN desgnatee to judge all of mankind. So Jesus was raised in a millieu in which some/many? Jews DID believe such things about human designatees soon coming to judgie the world.

Speaking of Jesus' trial there was also another view possibly related to it, a view held by some that there were two thrones in heaven, one for God and another at his right hand for someone God appointed. The very idea of two thrones in heaven was however considered blasphemy by rabbis writing at a slightly later period. Yet it does say even in the psalms that a HUMAN king would be honored metaphorically by sitting at God's right hand. Though it doesn't say the person sitting on the right is sitting on a THRONE (does it?), more like the right hand seat of honor, than a second heavenly throne. All such ideas in the paragraphs above could relate to the disdain with which the Jewish leaders viewed upstart Messianic figures and weird ideas in general. They probably didn't go in much for either Enochian literature, Melchizadekian, nor the "two throne" idea. Maybe they weren't too thrilled about Messianic claimants either, and maybe they were more worried about maintaining the status quo and keeping their own people free from religious cults and messianic scandals, and fearing Rome's wrath. Anyway, who knows exactly what went on at the trail, exactly what words were spoken? Unless you're an inerrantist, you can't say for sure. Most likely Jesus had caused a ruckus at the Temple, and the priests took that act as sedition against God, and/or their God entrusted duty to lead the people, and most likely they sought to drum up further charges as well. How Christians later wrote about the trial and interpreted it is another story.

Anyway, Lewis is wrong, and would probably admit it today, granted the finding and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc., because it's not illogical for someone living in that millieu to believe the things Jesus of Nazareth is shown believing in the New Testament's FIRST THREE GOSPELS. He obviously lived during turbulent apocalyptic-minded days when Jews were downtrodden, being ruled over by Greeks, then Romans, and expecting God to free his people once again from non-Jewish rule and burdensome taxes. TEN MESSIAHS are known from that period, some political, some religious, and people joining either movement must have thought somewhat in both terms, either a complete supernatural judgment would come, or they would work to drive out the Romans and God would then assist them supernaturally from heaven. One Egyptian fellow according to Josephus led tens of thousands into the desert to await the final judgment. Neither was the name "Jesus" special, as Josephus mentions lots of people named "Jesus" in his works. The Dead Sea scrolls also make mention of "this generation" not passing away until the final judgment comes (quoting Hosea, just as the later N.T. Gospel authors did), and another Dead Sea scroll talks about a final WORLD WIDE battle between all the tribes of Israel that within one generation would gather together again finally in Jerusalem, and fight all the "sons of darkness" on both the natural and supernatural plane, and win. The book states how long this revolution would take place, within a single generation, and it mentions all the other people of the earth, their nations and fathers as mentioned in Genesis, all the non-Jews on the side of the sons of darkness. So it's a worldwide apocalyptic battle, the battle of the sons of light with the sons of darkness, and the gathering together of Jews in Jerusalem and the final battle were to take place in a single generation. Gee, the whole N.T. doesn't sound so weird after all in light of the beliefs written up before even it was written. So contra Lewis, Jesus FIT his millieu, or at least was NO MORE nuts than some other devout writers and messianic figures of his day.

The Dead Sea scrolls even have been found to contain an addition to Isaiah that Christians later also employed when they wrote the Gospels, about "He shall heal, and raise the dead." In the oldest Hebrew manuscripts the phrase had not been added concerning "raising the dead." Only the Dead Sea scrolls, in a portion dated to before the N.T., and later in the N.T. Gospels themselves, is the phrase "raise the dead" added.

Another peculiarity found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is a verse added to 1st Samuel, "He shall be called a Nazarene," that the author of Matthew may have cited, since he did cite a verse like that as a "prophecy" about the city in which Jesus would be raised, and said it was in the Bible, but such a verse is not in the Bible we now possess.

Even some of the beatitudes apparently preceded the Gospels and were found in the ealier Dead Sea Scrolls.

So the argument is not only whether Jesus was "Mad, Bad, or God," since the categories should also be broadened to include whether Jesus and his followers were merely sane enough for their particular religious millieu to believe things we might consider weird today. Even people today are considered sane enough for today's standards which include snake handlers and also tons of pre-mil dispenstaionalists who believe that they could be "taken up to meet Jesus in the air" at any moment, not to mention Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. Think of the ancient world and its first century beliefs in Palestine which weren't all as homogenous as we formerly figured, especially after encountering the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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VIC: There's plenty of debate about what Jesus claimed. Stephen Davis (in Davis et al ed. The Incarnation (Oxford, 2002) defends the claim that Jesus really did make the claims that generate the trilemma. And he has a formidable knowledge of biblical scholarship, I defy anyone to call him ignorant of the relevant literature.

ED: We agree there's debate, and that debate is not evidence of proof. We also agree that you don't have to peg someone as being "ignorant of the relevant literature" in order to disagree with them. Disagreements come in all sizes and shapes. *smile* Though I do disagree with you and others who appear sometimes to be fawning at C. S. Lewis's feet over his ability to argue his way past all the toughest problems in philosophy and religion, and imagine he has solved all questions concerning the unseen world and afterlife and history, all solved in favor of his particular orthodox faith and holy book, and solved via the use of picturesque analogies.

As for Davis and his article, “Was Jesus, Mad, Bad, or God?,” The Incarnation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), have you read the REPLY by a fellow Christian and philosophy prof, Daniel Howard-Snyder? It's titled, WAS JESUS MAD, BAD, OR GOD?…OR MERELY MISTAKEN? and currently available on the web at http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~howardd/mbgfp5web.pdf Go read it, have fun. Notice that even Christian philosophers who share a knowledge of the same relevant literature and even who share the same holy book and orthodox Christian beliefs, can't agree on whether the MBG argument proves anything. As Howard-Snyder put it in his article: "Proponents of the MBG argument contend that the MBG argument, properly understood, can establish the rationality of belief in the divinity of Jesus. I suspect that their contention is false. Perhaps a bit more circumspectly, it does not establish for me the rationality of belief in our Lord’s divinity, and I am fairly sure that this is not due to a failure on my part to understand the argument properly. I understand it at least as well as its contemporary advocates, and yet it fails to establish the rationality of belief in Jesus’ divinity for me."

You have to read the above Christian philogopher's article, it's free online at the moment. And he even thanks J.P. Holding for lending him assistance with it! I wonder if J.P. Holding is beginning to question the MBD's efficacy?

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VIC: Lewis claimed to have an understanding of ancient literature based on his professional career as a literary scholar.

ED: And yet Lewis never applied his mastery of literary scholarship to write a detailed paper demonstrating via plenty of concise and incisive points exactly why he said that the Jesus of the Fourth Gospels was as "real" as Boswell's Johnson? Too bad. I guess we'll just never understand how Lewis intended to argue or prove such a baldly ridiculous assertion. Of course SOME Christian apologists just need Lewis' word, and will drop to one knee and defend it in truly Medieval literary fashion.

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VIC: Lewis thought that the biblical scholarship of his day, which he did read, suffered from a presupposed methodological naturalism,

ED: That's also the modern day I.D. bugaboo that they want to wipe off the earth, "methodological naturalism." But Vic, you don't have to deny miracles CAN happen when considering the possibility of natural explanations. Christian Biblical scholars and historians aren't all atheists, far from it, yet they have raised both incisive and demanding questions, and acknowledged the limits of human knowledge.

Let me put it this way, just because miracles CAN happen doesn't prove that they DID happen in all instances, nor on every page of every holy book that your particular church has canonized. Lewis for one was well aware of that, being no inerrantist himself, even pointing out why he believed the story of creation and of Jonah made more sense as myths than history.

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VIC: The important thing to realize here is that Lewis's work should never be presumed to be a complete apologetic for Christianity. There is always more work to do.

ED: Yes,"more work to do" on the part of those seeking to "inerrantize" the Bible, and also more "work to do" on the part of those who question attempts at inerrantizing the Bible, including questions raised by Christians who lay on the non-inerrant or more questioning side of the Christian spectrum. Take the case above of the Christian philosopher who replied to the MBG argument, and admitted he found its attempts at "proving" anything lacking.
(There are also as I've pointed out, Christian philosophers and brain physiologists who find arguments for brain-mind dualism questionable, and who debated that topic inside an anthology of theists debating theists on a wide number of issues, and published by the Society of Christian Philosophers.)

Personally, I think the world would be better off if people with the same general theological beliefs sought to argue the validity of their individual arguments with each other more often, because then they couldn't blame large contrary differences in beliefs for their differences of opinion concerning the "truth" of specific arguments. Yet how often people with widely differing beliefs SEEK OUT those on the totally opposite pole! I guess it's like trying to hunt for BIG fish, very different from yourself. Even people whose beliefs are generally very similar, can get into energetic arguments, to say the least, over what outsiders might consider minor differences of opinion. It seems that even when Christian brethren continue long in an unsettled argument, things can get hairy between them, hence the manner in which Christian churches keep dividing. And often the people closest to us, both belief-wise and loving wise, can hurt us the most. Such observations make me increasingly skeptical as I grow olde, that the conservative Christian emphasis on "right beliefs" makes much sense. The world contains a diversity of beliefs, even within religion and philosophy, even within Christianity, i.e., a variety of soteriologies, eschatologies, interpretations from Genesis to Revelation. Like anyone deserves "eternal hel" for holding different beliefs? (Hey, didn't the theif on the cross next to Jesus simply call Jesus a "man" [heretic!]--yet Jesus promised that theif "paradise?")

Like we deserve all the pains, sorrows, miscommunications, hormonal imbalances, and ignorance of others shoved our way from cradle to grave in this life as well as DESERVE eternal hell in the next life? I don't think any feeling thinking sentient beings "deserve" eternal hell. Maybe a bitch slap for a couple hundred thousand years, followed by a complete tutorial of the afterlife and increasing opportunities to interact with others who inspire them positively, but hell?

Any Super Being who thinks s/he/it must torture or shun mere mortals for eternity without remission or hope, should probably switch to Sanka.

I can't even imagine wishing any fellow being to endure a toothache for ETERNITY, and neither can I imagine a "God" who acts on a lower standard of right and wrong than I can conceive--and then call that standard a "higher standard." Sorry, can't imagine it. So now I'm damned for what, my lack of imagination?

Life on earth is messy and finite, we just don't know about lots of things that remain out of sight and beyond death. And people experience a wide variety of different things on this planet. We've done a helluva job inventing explanations for all those things we can't see and don't know about, and pass along lots of neat stories concerning them, but KNOW, really KNOW? Sorry, I honestly don't. So it makes a lot more rational sense if any Deity worth their salt were to allow people to make their final decisions afterwards, based on more evidence--much clearer and convincing evidence than this world affords.

Speaking of stories, even according to the N.T., the preaching of the Jesus faith only took off seven weeks after Jesus's alleged resurrection, a resurrection that nobody apparently saw happen, only claims of "appearances" afterwards, followed by the claim found only in presumably the last synoptic Gospel written (Luke) that the raised Jesus convinced them he was "not a spirit," but had flesh and bones, then ate a litte food and "led them to Bethany" (i.e., walking through the streets of Jerusalem with a flesh and bone raised Jesus?) and then allegedly ascended bodily into the sky, again, seen only by those same eleven witnesses. You call such stories convincing? Waiting seven weeks before preaching "the resurrection," and also walking through Jerusalem unnoticed, leaving the city a helluva lot more quietly than when you first arrived, and getting rid of the body by lifting it up into the sky toward the moon and stars, a cosmos billions of light-years in diameter? I guess the fish Jesus ate in Luke also merged miraculously with his body and was able to ascend with him into the sky. Later I hear Muhammed ascended into heaven to, and they know the exact spot from which he did, and since he was riding a horse at the time, he probably gave Jesus a lift since even travelling at the speed of light, Jesus couldn't have been very far out in the cosmos, nowhere near it's outer edges, even by Muhammed's day. The whole Bible by the way assumes the relative nearness of heaven overhead, and angels and God coming down to the earth below and then up again. You'd need a passport to keep track of them all. But mountain tops and ziggurats don't in fact bring you nearer heaven in our modern cosmos. Neither do we consider the heavens to be only "the heavens of the Lord" while "the earth he has given to the sons of men." Heck, we shoot our space junk up there into the Lord's heavens, and paint the names of pagan gods on our spacecraft that ascend into the Lord's heavens. How's that, Mr. "Bible-God?"

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VIC: Was he saying "This is a nice picture of what I believe, written in a style that laypeople can understand," or was he making some kind of inerrancy claim? I doubt the latter.

ED: Yes, Lewis was not an inerrantist. Far from it, since he believed the goodness of God took precedence over brutal hate mongering texts that inerrantists feared to part with as being true. Lewis chose a good God rather than an inerrant Bible. He also admitted that the creation story and Jonah were religious fables/myths, not true in any literal sense. Though he treated the N.T. miracles and sayings of Jesus (which he used the Medieval phrase, "Dominical sayings" to describe) as more or less sacrosanct, unquestionably true.

Though doing so, he did feel he had to admit that Jesus was probably wrong to predict the final judgment of the cosmos within a generation, but he attributes that failed prediction to Jesus's "human" side, not his "divine" side, of course. (Ah, the wonderful ability of the brain to explain away whatever doesn't fit and make it fit somehow. So much theology, so much jerrymandering.)

But the fact remains, Lewis's apologetics remained not much more informed throughout his life, Biblical-scholarship-wise, than that of Chesterton's.

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VIC: John A. T. Robinson went from Honest to God to Redating the New Testament. Does "growing up intellectually" mean leaving the fold and agreeing with you? We can sit here and quote scholars all day. I object to this type of rhetoric. If I wanted to repay you in kind, I would say that this type of rhetoric implies immaturity on your part.

ED: John A. T. Robinson's dating questions didn't make him much less liberal in his theology. Neither did he suppose that Christian theology and Christian beliefs were absolutely unique and absolutely necessary, and in fact after he wrote, Redating the N.T., he wrote Truth Is Two-Eyed, in which he compared spiritual teachings and insights from Eastern religions with Christianity. (I also read a third book by him about his universalistic views.) Robinson was in fact asked to speak at a fundamentalist Southern Baptist seminary and they were extremely eager to hear him speak about his book, Redating the N.T., but he spoke instead about his new book, Truth Is Two-Eyed. That pissed off the inerrantists who paid to get him there to speak.

As for "growing up intellectually," it is to grow to recognize where the line lay between the things one knows best and with the greatest rational surity, and those you know about less or least, things out of sight, beyond the senses, beyond death--And to admit that the latter are things you believe and do not know so well or for sure, and that differing degrees of relative surity may also apply to each of our beliefs, and those degrees may themselves vary over time and with different experiences and knowledge. It is to grow to recognize that one has limited time for study, and limited knowledge, and that one has suspicions, not proofs, of many things one believes (or has been taught, raised to believe).

However, I don't see many primates on this planet who can go for long without attaching themselves and their egos to some beliefs that make them feel larger and stronger, after which of course comes the attempt to evangelize others to accept everything in their particular "belief trunk" which can then make them feel even larger and stronger.

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VIC: Take Ben Witherington as an example. Can you honestly say that he hasn't faced the questions? Would you say that he is ignorant of modern scholarship? How about N. T. Wright or Luke T. Johnson, who teaches at Candler now (or at least did last I heard)?

ED: Vic, I read Wright's essay about why he believes in the virgin birth. Let's look at that. It's probably up at his unofficial home page. He admits up front that the whole idea of taking the nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke as historically true is preposterous. He admits that the two nativity narratives are difficult to reconcile or even to make sense of. I mean a census of the whole world where people had to return to the cities in which their ancestors lived? Joseph had to return to Bethlehem because his ancestor King David lived there a thousand years previously? Also, comparing Matthew and Luke, there's the slaughter of the innocents tale found only in Matthew, but Luke says Jesus and his mom and pop returned home a mere 30 days after Jesus's birth. I guess the coast was clear, I mean 30 days had passed. Herod must have lost his temper. Yeah, right. No risk there, just return home after 30 days. That's if you try and combine stores.

Wright even admits that sections of each nativity tale could have simply been constructed out of O.T. verses, not a genuine infancy history of Jesus, but instead, an attempt by the early church to justify that Jesus was "the Messiah," creating nativity tales to suit the O.T. scriptures that they believed MUST describe things their savior underwent in his youth! Wright admitted all that up front in his article. He even added that the "birth prophecy" given to King Ahaz in Isaiah had nothing to do with a "virgin birth." Here's where Wright goes wrong. He argued that if Isaiah wasn't talking about a virgin birth, then there was no virgin birth prophecy, and hence a REAL virgin birth may have occurred, and only later was the Isa. prophecy strong armed into service and MIS-APPLIED to suit a TRUE VIRGIN BIRTH. So Wright argues that all the rest of the nativity narratives might be considered questionable history, but the "virgin birth" of Jesus really happened.

At this point I am assuming he's grown drunk on the prestige he now has being a bishop of the church of England, and feels he has to at least defend the "Apostle's Creed" formulation, "born of a virgin." But the rest of the nativity tales can be jettisoned if necessary, because they aren't part of the necessary beliefs mentioned in the Apostles Creed.

Here's where it get's interesting. Wright does not even mention in that article that the Gospels were written later by Greek speaking Christians who cited the Septuagint/Greek trans. of the O.T., and the Septuagint does ideed employ a term in Isahah's birth prophecy whose meaning is nearer to "virgin" than the term used in the Hebrew Bible which refers only to a "young women." He does not mention in this article that a particular translation of the O.T. used by the authors of the Gospels COULD have led to their belief in Jesus' "virgin" birth, could have generated such a story, just as in the other cases where he's willing to admit such a thing led to the mythical nativity stories being created. He neglects to add the fact that being "born of a virign" was "de riguer" for anyone famous or connected intimately with the "divine" back then.

Now you tell me who is asking questions, and who is merely burping up the Apostle's Creed in bishoply fashion. Wright has perhaps the most degrees and heaviest theological research experience of the conservative Christian scholars whom you mentioned above, and yet he winds up a fundamentalist when it comes to certain Creedal propositions.

Same goes for his enormous book on Jesus' resurrection. Just read some of the questions that theological reviewers threw his way, and how unconvincing they found his attempts to harmonize the resurrection tales in the N.T., and other questions they raised. Reading their reviews can open your mind to the possibility, that Wright might be wrong. In only one case did I see Wright engage a kindly questioner/reviewer in print and that questioner proposed in a calm and kindly fashion that Wright engage his critics more. I have been saving such reviews. Of course you won't read about them in Christianity Today, or hear about them at Christian apologists websites. But I have access to databases galore working in an academic library, and I can tell you how interesting it is to read ALL SIDES. Which again, is why I remain more skeptical than you of many things.

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VIC: Or, to go back a generation, Joachim Jeremias.

ED: Or to go foward a generation, if you want scholars who continue to write numerous books of the highest calibre concerning the Bible and/or Christianity and Christian history, take a former Christian convert who later lost it, Geza Vermes. Or take former cum laude graduate of Wheaton who is now an agnostic, Bart Ehrman. Or take the former son of a fundamentalist minister, now an agnostic biblical archeologist, William Dever. Or take the former fire and brimstone Baptist, Dr. Robert M. Price, two Ph.D.s in N.T. history (and theology). Or take James D. G. Dunn, who apparently in his youth held more conservative views and today is a moderate/liberal Christian who says among other things that Jesus most probably never spoke a word attributed to him in the Fourth Gospel.

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VIC: All I'm saying here is that Jesus's claims are a subject for serious scholarly debate, and the conservative view of what Jesus claimed is ably defended in the literature. This may not be sufficient to defend the trilemma, but it is sufficient to rebut your charge of not growing up intellectually.

ED: Rebutted? Lewis was a fairly typical British don, liked his beer and pipe and quiet and books, and he also had other scholars and writers whose works and/or personalities he disdained (like T. S. Eliot), and/or adored, he even had a temper, and had a penchant for beautiful analogies and a fine command of the English tongue, but speaking in terms of Biblical scholarship, his writings constitute a sweet smelling wart on the ass of Biblical scholarship which continues to keep moderately educated Christians from even considering that they might or should read about deeper, more particular, questions related to Biblical scholarship that arise even simply when you thoroughly compare the gospels with one another.

On second thought, Lewis's job on the web seems to have been usurped as of late by that of J. P. Holding and his "don't bother to read this" Book List, which lambasts every work by theologians of high calibre from Bart Ehrman's books and textbooks to David F. Strauss's Life of Jesus Critically Examined, a classic work that examined a limitless hoard of questions that arise simply by comparing the Gospels with each other (a book that I defy J. P. Holding to prove he ever thoroughly read).

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Edward T. Babinski said...

Victor Reppert said...
A standard response by many evangelicals toward radical critics is that while these critics claim that they treat the Bible like any other book they in fact treat it with a degree and kind of skpeticism that is accorded no other book. This complaint is not the the Scriptures are not treated from the point of view of a faith-based commitment to inspiration and inerrancy; rather, if you had four texts which are similar to the degree that the Gospels are about any other event, (say, the battle of Actium or something like that), it would be considered to be strong evidence that the event occurred as reported, whereas reports in the Gospels are, for some reason, not accorded that evidential status.

ED: What do you mean "four different texts?" We have four Gospels, most likely composed in a certain chronological order, and most likely with information simply appropriated by the next Gospel at least in the synoptics, since over 90% of Mark is repeated by Matthew and Luke, except of course the nativity and resurrection stories, where Matthew and Luke differ most from each other. Why? Because Mark lacked both a nativity tale and any post resurrection tales. So Matthew and Luke improvised, and needless to say, couldn't even come up with the same stories there. Far from it. Matthew's empty tomb story says, "He has gone before you to Galilee, THERE you shall see him." Luke changes the words at the tomb and has Jesus be seen in Jerusalem. That's but one example.

Victor Reppert said...

Anonymous: Of course a lot is going to depend on how much antecedent improbability attaches to the supernatural character of what is reported. Hume, D. F. Strauss, and Rudolf Bultmann, of course, thought that there couldn't be enough evidence for a supernatural event. Starting from those assumptions, of course you have to attruibute a whole lot to legend. But these methodogical assumptions are reasonable only if we know in advance that miracles don't happen.

Lewis wrote Miracles: A Preliminary Study largely to make the case that believing in the extreme antecedent improbability of the miraculous was not rationally justified. It is called a preliminary study because you have to assess the antecedent probability of the miraculous before you consider the study of Scripture, because different scholars view that antecedent probability differently.

Ed Harbin said...

I personally find it a relief that in the fictions of the school of Thucydides, all the actors speak in their own voices.

Anonymous said...

"a treatment of biblical texts which differs from the way in which other texts from the same time period are treated by scholars."

You still have not provided any evidence to substantiate that statement.
If there is a reluctance to accept uncritically the supernatural events in the Bible, that reluctance also extends to all other ancient texts.

Steven Carr said...

Anonynous is correct.

The miracles in the New Testament can be treated to exactly the same analysis with which Christians treat the stories in the Book of Mormon and the Koran.

See my article Miracles and the Book of Mormon at
http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm