Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Most Important Fact in the Bible



View Image
The resurrection of Jesus is the fact on which Christianity stands or falls. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain." And in Romans 10:9 he says, "If you believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved."

Without the resurrection as a factual, historical event, nothing else in the Bible matters. All the prophecies and typology in the Old Testament would be in vain--as Paul states, our faith would be entirely in vain. 

But the evidence supporting the resurrection looks like a carefully orchestrated litigation strategy by God Himself to make His case to those who honestly seek the truth. He does not call us to believe "what you know ain't so," in the manner of Mark Twain's definition of faith. Instead, He rewards the diligent seeker of truth. Proverbs 8:17 says, "I [wisdom] love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me." 

Before I get into the evidence for the life, deity, and resurrection of Christ in future blog posts, I want to address the fact that each Gospel gives a slightly different account of what happened at the empty tomb. Why does Matthew only mention Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary," while Mark adds Salome to the two Marys, Luke omits Salome but mentions Joanna, and John mentions only Mary Magdalene? I have heard numerous attempts to reconcile these discrepancies and some of the explanations are persuasive. For example, in John 20, Mary Magdalene is the only woman mentioned but she says, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have laid Him," (John 20:2, italics added).  So the authors may have chosen to omit extraneous details and focus on some things and not others.

However, I'm not going to attempt to reconcile these facts, because this "problem" is no problem at all--in no way does it undermine the central question of whether Jesus rose from the dead. If anything, it provides additional evidence that the tomb was indeed empty because it makes it clear to us that there was no collusion between the authors of the four Gospels, nor did anyone edit the manuscripts afterwards to make them consistent. The rawness is a sign of authenticity.

And even if these are actual human errors, they do not undermine the Bible's claim to divine inspiration, because God can and does work through human weakness to accomplish His goals. These discrepancies assure the reader that no conspiracy or editing took place.

In spite of minor discrepancies, the four Gospels agree on the important details, including the fact that the chief witnesses to the empty grave were all women. Women had so little status in first century Palestine that such a detail would not have been fabricated. First century historian Josephus said that the prevailing attitude was, "From women let not evidence be accepted because of the levity and temerity of their sex." So the only reason to mention the women was that they really did discover the empty tomb. 

The Gospels also all agree that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. Joseph would have been very well known, so this detail could not have been fabricated. And the tomb was in Jerusalem, not in some obscure place where nobody would know it if the tomb was empty. 

So unlike the question of how many women were present at the tomb, these are important details, because they help us determine whether deception was likely, so an honest skeptic can weigh these and other factors in order to determine whether Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. This will be the subject of my next several blog posts. 

40 comments:

Wolfgang said...

I look forward to your blog posts supporting the resurrection.

I hope you will address what I find to be the most unconvincing aspect of the resurrection. Jesus hardly does anything after he comes back to life. He makes a few appearances and then vanishes. He did about as much as Elvis but for only days not years.

If true, Jesus' death and resurrection is the single most important event in human history since our very creation, and yet it is a low key affair. The Pharisees and Pontius Pilate never even saw the resurrected Christ.

For someone back from the dead, he didn't do much. It is as if he really did die 2000 years ago.

Wolfgang said...

Much is made about the testimony of women not being trusted, but people ultimately did believe the story, so the point is moot.

And I do think differences in the Gospels are significant in that they show that the Bible isn't inerrant.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

I'm glad you commented here. Coincidentally, I replied to you on Atheist Central today before I saw your comments here.

As far as your point that Jesus never did anything after the resurrection, He did the most important thing, and that is to prove to His followers that He had risen from the dead. And the fact that He had risen meant that what He said about eternal life for those who receive Him was also true. His resurrection meant the future resurrection of His disciples.

So His appearances gave them the faith they needed to endure severe persecution and even martyrdom. Obviously they would have been in no position to do so if they weren't very certain that they really had seen Him.

According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Jesus appeared to over 500 people most of whom were still alive at the time. So the point was that those who had seen Jesus would testify about it. That was the main purpose of His bodily appearances and why He didn't immediately ascend into heaven.

Much is made about the testimony of women not being trusted, but people ultimately did believe the story, so the point is moot.

Luke 24:11 says that the disciples initially did not believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb to check for himself.

The reason why the story of women being the first to see the empty tomb is significant is not because men did not also see it, but because if the story was fabricated, it would be very unlikely that such a detail would be included. If they had made it up, the story would probably have stated that the disciples saw the tomb first, and there would have been no mention of women. The only motive the authors could have had to mention them is that it is true.

And I do think differences in the Gospels are significant in that they show that the Bible isn't inerrant.

Not necessarily. It could simply mean that the different authors focus on different things and leave out unnecessary details. If you write a biography on someone, you will choose which details to include and which to leave out. It is possible that all the women were present at the grave, but not all were mentioned.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was signed by 300 evangelical scholars, and it says in part:

"So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed."

Stormbringer said...

C.S. Lewis referred to the Bible as having "the ring of truth". That is, we see the people with all of their flaws, and the narratives are presented from different points of view to do what you said, to show each author's emphasis.

If someone was going to create a legend (and you cannot get people to die for a manufactured resurrection story because it's a "good idea"), there would be more uniformity in the narration of the events. Also, who would put in details like Peter's denial and Judas' betrayal?

Add to it that archaeologists verify the Gospel accounts, and you're forced to admit that there's something more to the Bible than "just a bunch of fairy tales", as some uninformed people like to say. Josh McDowell set out to prove the Bible point by point and became converted (see "Evidence that Demands a Verdict"). Another book worth reading is "Who Moved the Stone" by Frank Morison. May as well thrown in there, "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel, yet another atheist converted by the facts, and "Reasonable Faith", by William Lane Craig.

Anette Acker said...

Thanks for the list, Stormbringer! I'm reading Reasonable Faith right now and it's a very good book. The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright is also good, but it's 1000 pages long and very scholarly. He does deal comprehensively with the evidence for the resurrection being bodily rather than spiritual, though--an important point.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

You said on AC that you think atheism makes a lot more sense than a personal God. Why is that?

Wolfgang said...

A personal God doesn't make sense to me based on His current observable behavior. He behaves as if He does not exist. He is silent, and He remains hidden from the majority of people.

Also, I think we would agree, most people have convinced themselves of the existence of many untrue gods. If it is important for us to know Him and so many people get it wrong, why wouldn't He clear up the confusion?

My best explanation for why He doesn't communicate with all of us is either He is impersonal or He doesn't exist.

Stormbringer said...

Why does the omnipotent creator of the universe have to do things according to the desires of the creation?

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

At Atheist Central you said...
Most atheists I've talked with seem well-informed about what they (don't) believe, but what puzzles me is that it seems that they would rather say "I don't know" to fundamental questions that should have an answer than to conclude that there is a God. That part I admit that I don't understand. .

I think it is very reasonable to not know the answers when we don't have enough information.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

I don't know, but I also don't know why nothing should exist rather than something. Things exist. Why does God exist rather than nothing?

If an objective moral law exists, why does it exist, and in what sense did it exist during the first 99.9% of the history of the universe before we arrived?

An objective moral law does not exist, and morals were created by humans to govern human behavior. There would be no need for morals before the existence of humans.

If there is no objective moral law, why is it immoral to kill humans and not ants? Was Hitler wrong? If so, who are you to say that?

I think a lot of morals come from the idea behind do unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one wants to be murdered, so it is bad to kill people.

And some people and religions would say it is immoral to kill ants. Again, I think the reasoning behind that is no one wants to be murdered, so it is bad to kill living creatures.

You may simply say that there is an objective moral law, and people have simply ignored it, but I think history clearly shows moral relativism.

Atheists often compare belief in God to belief in Santa Claus. However, does it make sense to go from believing that Santa Claus put the presents under the tree to believing that the presents are just a brute fact and just leave it at that?

No, it does not because we have plenty of information about Christmas trees and presents. We do not have anywhere near the same amount of information about the existence of the universe.

To me it makes a lot more sense to go from believing in Santa Claus to believing that the parents put the presents under the tree. I also think it makes more sense to go from having an immature faith to having a sophisticated faith that is consistent with reality and philosophically defensible.

I think it is reasonable to go from wondering which God is true to realizing every god may be false? I mean, people are absolutely convinced that what they know of their god is true, but obviously most of them are mistaken. There is a reasonable possibility that they are all mistaken.

BTW, I have begun reading The Reason for God. I enjoy it a lot even though I can't relate to the reasons people give for doubting Christianity. Still, I enjoy Timothy Keller's perspective.

Wolfgang said...

@Stormbringer

An omnipotent Creator doesn't have to do what I desire, but is it important for me to know Him or not? His behavior suggests that it is not important.

Stormbringer said...

I guess my point is that he does not have to do what you or I desire — and we cannot lay out the conditions of his behavior. The fact is, Jesus has already explained God the Father. The Bible has revealed God to us, as has his work in nature and our consciences.

Perhaps you are looking not only in the wrong places, but with the wrong expectations? Just suggesting something to think about.

Wolfgang said...

@Strombringer

I have no expectations of God, I am merely trying to make sense of His behavior, but I will keep your suggestion in mind.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

A personal God doesn't make sense to me based on His current observable behavior. He behaves as if He does not exist. He is silent, and He remains hidden from the majority of people.

Also, I think we would agree, most people have convinced themselves of the existence of many untrue gods. If it is important for us to know Him and so many people get it wrong, why wouldn't He clear up the confusion?

My best explanation for why He doesn't communicate with all of us is either He is impersonal or He doesn't exist.


It does not surprise me that people believe a lot of wrong things, because I think most people are not interested in arriving at the truth. It is far more common to rationalize what we want to believe.

Moving toward truth means acknowledging (at least to ourselves) that we have been wrong. That requires humility, something that we don't naturally possess. It also means listening to other people, something else that requires humility.

Also, what we believe about the existence of God is often very personal and cultural, so to embrace a radically difficult worldview is difficult because it may lead to rejection and persecution.

Finally, Christianity requires self-surrender and the willingness to give up all our sinful habits. This means that some people will reject it outright and others will water down its teachings or behave hypocritically.

So there is so much potential for going wrong, even among Christians. And the reason for this is just the fallen human condition.

However, Jeremiah 29:13 says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

This may seem like God doesn't care and that He hides from us, but that is not the case. Proverbs 1:20-22 says:

"Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings; 'How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, behold I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.'"

Revelation 3:20 echoes the same message: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."

2 Timothy 3:15 equates wisdom with salvation and says that the Scriptures give us both.

On the one hand, God (wisdom) shouts to us, but we ignore Him, and the reason why we ignore Him is because other things--pride, fear, sinful habits, prejudice, daily concerns--shout louder.

On the other hand, we have to deliberately seek Him, because otherwise we will just take the path of least resistance culturally, emotionally, and volitionally, rather than believe what is true.

I think that Christianity values reason a lot more than Christians acknowledge today. Subjectivism is very common today, which can easily lead people astray. The atheists on AC who question subjectivism are absolutely right.

I already mentioned the Berean Jews, but Acts 17:17 says that Paul "reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there."

Anette Acker said...

Also, 1 Peter 3:15 says: "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." (The Greek word for defense is apologia, which is where the word apologetics comes from.)

This verse implicitly acknowledges the intellect, the emotions, and the will, because the "defense" is for the intellect, while the "gentleness and respect" make it less likely that the will and the emotions of the person we are talking with will override the intellect.

So that is another reason why people believe wrong things: Christians may not understand what they believe well enough to communicate it accurately to others, or they may reinforce the resistance of the unbeliever by forgetting to be gentle and respectful.

If I don't get a chance to address your other points today, I'll do it tomorrow.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

I think a lot of morals come from the idea behind do unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one wants to be murdered, so it is bad to kill people.

And some people and religions would say it is immoral to kill ants. Again, I think the reasoning behind that is no one wants to be murdered, so it is bad to kill living creatures.

You may simply say that there is an objective moral law, and people have simply ignored it, but I think history clearly shows moral relativism.


So are you saying that all cultures are equally moral or that the religions that say that it is immoral to kill ants are the most moral?

You said that history clearly shows moral relativism, but history only shows that moral standards have changed over time. It tells us nothing about whether an immutable moral law exists.

For example, before the fourth century, the Romans did not consider infanticide to be immoral. Most infant girls were left out to die of exposure, because people didn't want female children.

Wikipedia says:

"A letter from a Roman citizen to his wife, dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

'I am still in Alexandria. ... I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.'"

The quote clearly indicates that moral standards have changed over time (the first Christian emperor Constantine made infanticide illegal), but my question to you is whether you think that was an objectively less moral society than ours or do you just think that it was different?

Anette Acker said...

I think it is very reasonable to not know the answers when we don't have enough information.

I agree with you. But we never have all the information, which is why scientific theories are never proven. And yet scientists do not demand proof in order to act as if a particular theory is true.

Why not apply the same standard to the existence of God? The Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe both point to a Creator, and yet a lot of non-theistic scientists would rather speculate about naturalistic causes. However, they are every bit as metaphysical as the existence of a Creator and they require more assumptions.

I don't want to get into too many different discussions (maybe we should just stick with the one about morality), but my point was that some atheists (not all) seem to have already concluded that God cannot exist so no matter how much the evidence points to God, they explain it away. I think it just goes back to what I said before about people believing what they want to believe rather than just following the evidence honestly. Of course that is true of theists too.

Timothy Keller makes a good point by saying that God is to His creation what an author is to his or her book, so we shouldn't expect to find Him within His creation. However, like authors put a lot of themselves into their books, God has put a lot of Himself into His creation. So the question is whether creation (including the scientific evidence) is consistent with a transcendent God who created ex nihilo and created us in His image--that is, capable of abstract reasoning and understanding moral issues.

General Time Reversible said...

Hi Anette.

I have a question. [Given our earlier correspondence, I hope you'll accept this as a genuine question]. Regarding:

Proverbs 8:17 says, "I [wisdom] love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me."

If God is so earnest, why is it so difficult to see Him/Her? Anywhere? As a scientist, the whole 'God of the gaps' argument (used much too often, although I do not credit you with falling back on this) just gets smaller and smaller. Why must finding God be so difficult? Why must one be so 'diligent'? Certainly science requires diligence (indeed, it be considered part of the definition); we are attempting to extract information from a faceless, emotionless, uncaring physical reality. Why should God require equal diligence, given (which you may argue) far less evidence (many, myself included, would claim no evidence whatsoever)?

General Time Reversible said...

As a follow-up (but entirely unrelated) question: why is C.S. Lewis so highly regarded amongst apologists? I certainly recognize his gifts with imagination and writing; I loved his books as a kid, but have outgrown the taste for fantasy as an adult. But why is he so highly regarded for Christian apologist? Is he perhaps a particularly coherent writer that came around at just-the-right-time, or is it something more? Is it perhaps because he once regarded himself as an ardent atheist and 'switched sides'?

Wolfgang said...

Hi Anette.

At Atheist Central, you replied to Garbonzo Beans!!!...
I don't think that anyone has claimed that the correct interpretation of the Bible is self-evident (if someone has, I've missed it). In fact, it is a very difficult book to understand for two reasons:

First, since it is the word of an infinite God expressing everything He wants to communicate to us, there is no way it could be simple.


This is central to why I am convinced your God does not exist, and I sincerely hope you can help me make sense of it.

Your God can do practically anything, and He has perfect knowledge of us and our limitations. How does it make sense to you that He would communicate with us through a collection of books that are very difficult to correctly interpret?

Wouldn't talking with all us be much more simple in expressing everything He wants us to know and everything that we need to know?

Anette Acker said...

Hi General Time Reversible,

I have a question. [Given our earlier correspondence, I hope you'll accept this as a genuine question]. Regarding:

Proverbs 8:17 says, "I [wisdom] love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me."

If God is so earnest, why is it so difficult to see Him/Her? Anywhere? As a scientist, the whole 'God of the gaps' argument (used much too often, although I do not credit you with falling back on this) just gets smaller and smaller. Why must finding God be so difficult? Why must one be so 'diligent'? Certainly science requires diligence (indeed, it be considered part of the definition); we are attempting to extract information from a faceless, emotionless, uncaring physical reality. Why should God require equal diligence, given (which you may argue) far less evidence (many, myself included, would claim no evidence whatsoever)?


I can certainly see why you, as an evolutionary biologist, would feel like God does not exist, since so many Christians consider evolution the battlefield of faith. And when they talk about evolution they often equivocate between really meaning natural selection and meaning a naturalistic worldview, or the position that nature is all there is. Of course the latter is by definition inconsistent with faith in God, but the former is not.

St. Augustine said the following in the fourth or fifth century:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]."

I find it amazing how prophetic Augustine has turned out to be concerning the tension between faith and science over the centuries. We are often our own worst enemies!

Anette Acker said...

As for your question of why God requires us to seek Him diligently, Revelation 2:7 says, "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God" (Italics added). I think we all agree that life is a challenge, and although the problem of evil is a complicated one, God has permitted hardship and uses it for our good. Life was very hard for Christians living during the Roman Empire, but the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:17, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

So he is saying here that the difficulties in this life are necessary, but they are "momentary" and "light" in comparison to what awaits us in the next. So the challenges of being faithful to God are worth it, and that includes diligently seeking the truth.

Now, I know what you're thinking right now: that's wishful thinking. But keep in mind that Paul and the other apostles had actually seen the resurrected Jesus. (I will discuss the evidence for this in future blog posts.) So faith would come much more easily to them than to you or me.

On the one hand, it may look like they had an unfair advantage, but on the other hand, they had the responsibility of launching the early church, and they were severely persecuted. God gave them the grace to believe and to endure the persecution, but Luke 12:48 says: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Sometimes God reveals Himself to us in such a way that it becomes very hard to deny His existence. In other words, His grace becomes almost irresistible. (But I'm not a Calvinist, so I don't believe it is biblical to say that grace is completely irresistible. We always have a choice.) Somebody once asked me if that means that God has special favorites, but I think it means that the more we are given, the more will be expected of us. The early Christians were given the most grace, and they were often called upon to give their lives for their faith.

So that was a longwinded way of saying that although God offers us His grace (we can just ask for it), He has permitted obstacles for us to overcome. That is what the Bible teaches, and that is also how it is in the natural realm: everything worth having requires effort and sacrifice. So although God calls us to honestly seek the truth, He is also the one who enables us to do that.

Anette Acker said...

As for your point about “god of the gaps,” I believe that it is a false dichotomy to pit God and science against each other. Science answers the question of how the natural order works while philosophy of religion addresses the issue of why the natural order exists to begin with. Those are separate disciplines.

However, there is certainly overlap between science and philosophy in cosmology because it deals with the origin of the universe. Testable science comes to a dead end at the Big Bang, and the apparent fine-tuning of the universe begs for an explanation. Stephen Hawking’s speculation about a multiverse or imaginary time is every bit as metaphysical as belief in the existence of God, because science cannot test either hypothesis.

I think it’s very natural for scientists to assume that science can explain everything. According to agnostic cosmologist Robert Jastrow in God and the Astronomers: “There is a kind of religion in science; it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the Universe. Every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause; there is no First Cause. Einstein wrote, ‘The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation.’

“This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. As usual when faced with trauma, the mind reacts by ignoring the implications—in science this is known as ‘refusing to speculate’—or trivializing the origin of the world by calling it the Big Bang, as if the Universe were a firecracker.”

This is not to say that the idea of the universe having a beginning has not been challenged, of course. William Lane Craig says after an in-depth discussion of challenges to the Standard Big Bang Model:

“The history of twentieth-century cosmogony has, in one sense, been a series of failed attempts to craft acceptable non-standard models of the expanding universe in such a way as to avert the absolute beginning predicted by the Standard Model. This parade of failures can be confusing to the layman, leading him mistakenly to infer that the field of cosmology is in constant flux, as new theories of the universe’s origin continually come and go, with no assured results. In fact, the Standard Model’s prediction of an absolute beginning has persisted through a century of astonishing progress in theoretical and observational cosmology and survived an onslaught of alternative models. With each successive failure of alternative cosmogonic theories to avoid the absolute beginning of the universe predicted by the Standard Model, that prediction has been corroborated. It can be confidently said that no cosmogonic model has been as repeatedly verified in its predictions and as corroborated by attempts at falsification, or as concordant with empirical discoveries and philosophically coherent, as the Standard Big Bang Model.”

Anette Acker said...

General Time Reversible,

As a follow-up (but entirely unrelated) question: why is C.S. Lewis so highly regarded amongst apologists? I certainly recognize his gifts with imagination and writing; I loved his books as a kid, but have outgrown the taste for fantasy as an adult. But why is he so highly regarded for Christian apologist? Is he perhaps a particularly coherent writer that came around at just-the-right-time, or is it something more? Is it perhaps because he once regarded himself as an ardent atheist and 'switched sides'?

I couldn't tell from your question if you've read Lewis's apologetics and are unimpressed or if you are just wondering why he is popular among Christians.

If it's the former, I've heard other atheists say that they are unimpressed with him. I think part of the reason is that his arguments are somewhat dated and most atheists have heard them repeated ad nauseam less eloquently than Lewis originally expressed them.

I think Lewis was a great writer and thinker and I loved him back when I was in my twenties, but I don't read him that much anymore. Part of the reason is that I also have gotten tired of hearing Lewis quoted all the time, and often as if his words are Gospel truth.

But Mere Christianity had a major impact on me back when I read it as a freshman in college, right before a major research paper was due. I discovered it in the bookstore while waiting for the shuttle bus back to my dorm, and I read it in one sitting and ended up having to pull an all-nighter to finish the paper. I remember thinking that it was the most amazing book I had read in my life.

As I said, I don't read him that much anymore, though. I think the main reason is that many of his arguments have become clichéd from overuse and some have been refuted. But he had a rare ability to combine creativity and logical thinking.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

Your God can do practically anything, and He has perfect knowledge of us and our limitations. How does it make sense to you that He would communicate with us through a collection of books that are very difficult to correctly interpret?

Wouldn't talking with all us be much more simple in expressing everything He wants us to know and everything that we need to know?


There are several reasons why God did things the way He did. First, as I said to GTR, He wants us to "overcome" which entails challenges. (If that explanation was confusing, let me know, because I realize that I used Christianeze like "grace" and "irresistible grace." I don't know if you and GTR are familiar with those terms.)

Second, as Blaise Pascal has said, God has given us "the dignity of being causes." He entrusts important tasks to His people. So men wrote the Bible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This means that although the message is timeless, their culture is manifest in their writings.

He also has given to us the task of communicating the message of salvation. Romans 10:14 says: "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

God is like a good parent who delegates tasks to his or her children. And we do fail, but that doesn't stop God from using us. When we do the work that He has planned for us, it prepares us for His kingdom as well as the people to whom we minister. That's the way God has chosen to do things. Although we do the work, His power works through us when we submit to Him.

But nevertheless, God's overarching will for humanity will be done regardless of what we do. He has everything under control, even though He delegates tasks to us.

As for your point about the Bible being complex, this is true, but it is also simple. That is, it says that the only thing that counts is faith acting through love (Galatians 5:6). You don't need to be a theologian to understand that.

So the simple Christian who lives a life of love will come out ahead of the proud, self-centered theologian who fully understands complex theological concepts. Although we are to grow in knowledge of the Bible, love is more important. 1 Corinthians 8:1 says: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

And Matthew 25 indicates that we will be judged based on how much we loved other people, especially the least in our society. The moral compass that we all possess as humans tells us that this is the right standard.

There are times when knowledge is very important because of the particular task God has for us, but 1 Corinthians 13:2 makes clear that it is always secondary to love.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

I would like to elaborate on my answer to your last question, because I know it's an important one to you (I remember you asked about it on AC, too).

Christians agree on far more than we disagree on. We agree that Jesus was God's Son and He died for our sins so that we may have eternal life. We believe He rose from the grave on Sunday morning. And we agree that we are saved by faith, but that our lives have to bear good fruit.

That is the core of Christianity, and all Christians agree. We also agree that God is three in one and that He created the universe from nothing.

One reason why you get the sense that Christians disagree a lot is because atheists ask difficult questions, and not every answer may be equally precise. That doesn't necessarily mean we feel strongly about that particular answer, it may just mean that we haven't thought about it, and if we discuss it with another Christian we may change our minds. When I get asked an obscure question that has never occurred to be before, I research it to see what others have thought.

You asked on AC how you are to know whom to trust, and you know that by using your reason, intuition, and moral compass. When I started learning about apologetics, I didn't initially know whom to trust. But over time I learned that, for example, William Lane Craig and Timothy Keller are always careful about the facts and always reasonable. And I discover that others are "overzealous," so I have to be more careful about double checking what they say if I read it at all.

You have the same ability to think for yourself and trust whomever has earned your trust. But even the "overzealous" Christians will agree on the important central teachings of Christianity.

clamflats said...

Hello Anette, I'm glad to see you are writing again.

You write,
the four Gospels agree on the important details

There is a bank robbery. Four tellers are interviewed by investigators. At the trial, the investigators state, “The four witnesses agree that the bandit wore a red shirt and black pants.” The defense attorney asks the investigators if they interviewed the tellers independently or as a group. I think you'd agree that independent corroboration should be considered more potent and that a group interview brings in questions about groupthink errors, such as, one teller remembered the clothing and the other three agree with him. Don't biblical scholars agree that the Gospels show signs of having some common source? I believe it is known as Q. And given the time difference between the events and the documentation, should we at least suspect that a number of the “important details” had already been accepted?

..the chief witnesses to the empty grave were all women. Women had so little status in first century Palestine that such a detail would not have been fabricated.

I have been reading the Gospel of John and Acts (no kidding!) In Acts, the writer, Luke, is recalling Paul talking with a community. He writes (17:4), “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” So, at least here, Luke includes women of status as positive emphasis. Perhaps we shouldn't give too much weight to the detail that the witnesses to the empty tomb are women or that respect for women in the 1st century was completely absent.

Anette Acker said...

Hi clamflats.

As for your first question, about source Q and the similarities and differences between the gospels, that's a very good question, so I would like to do my next blog post on it some time in mid-November. (Just kidding! I'll try to do it by Monday, and not take month between posts in the future. :)

I have been reading the Gospel of John and Acts (no kidding!) In Acts, the writer, Luke, is recalling Paul talking with a community. He writes (17:4), “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” So, at least here, Luke includes women of status as positive emphasis. Perhaps we shouldn't give too much weight to the detail that the witnesses to the empty tomb are women or that respect for women in the 1st century was completely absent.

I don't think that respect for women was completely absent in the first century, but Flavius Josephus lived in the first century, and he expressed the prevailing attitude toward women (in my original post). Although strictly speaking women were not forbidden from testifying in court, there was a strong prejudice against using their testimony for important matters.

Greek women were not allowed to speak in public and they had to retreat to the women's quarters if their husbands had male guests. And they were practically imprisoned at home.

However, of course women still took on the status of their husbands, so these "prominent women" referenced in the book of Acts probably had important husbands. That doesn't mean that their own opinions counted for much.

clamflats said...

Anette, I look forward to your post about Q. I find biblical and early church history interesting.

Regarding the the women in the NT. I recognized the "completely absent" phrase I used after I submitted and realized I was overstating my case a bit. But on that subject, it is interesting to see in Acts the number of times women as a group and particular women are mentioned. I wonder if this wasn't part of the big attractions and strengths of the Way in early times. The early church did band together and take care of widows, orphans, wounded, ill, and displaced people. And we see to this day that taking care of the less fortunate remains a "women's" issue. That part of the Jesus message was revolutionary for the times. The directive, "Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me" is, imo, the strongest moral injunction in the New Testament. And the hardest to carry out. I don't believe the "me" in that phrase is a divine character but that doesn't diminish its potency for me. I look at Christians and others who follow it, St Francis, Gandhi, and MLK Jr. on a large scale. But also countless, nameless others, people of faith or none, who do it on a small scale everyday. And I think, "Isn't that enough?" That concept can prevent wars, prejudice, and exploitation. Why fret about heaven and hell and what happens to me after I die?
(sorry for the sermon)

I think you said you have school age children. I remember those first few weeks of school being quite hectic. Glad you're back.

Anette Acker said...

The directive, "Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me" is, imo, the strongest moral injunction in the New Testament. And the hardest to carry out. I don't believe the "me" in that phrase is a divine character but that doesn't diminish its potency for me. I look at Christians and others who follow it, St Francis, Gandhi, and MLK Jr. on a large scale. But also countless, nameless others, people of faith or none, who do it on a small scale everyday. And I think, "Isn't that enough?" That concept can prevent wars, prejudice, and exploitation. Why fret about heaven and hell and what happens to me after I die?
(sorry for the sermon)


Don't worry about sermonizing. I don't want to be the only person sermonizing around here.

I think Matthew 25:40 ("The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'") is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible, especially in the context of Judgment Day, because it zeros in on what is most important in life. You are right that it is the strongest moral injunction.

You are also right that it is the hardest to carry out, and that goes to the heart of why it wasn't enough for Jesus to teach--He also had to die for our sins and give us His Spirit. Since you are reading John and Acts you have probably noticed how much the disciples, especially Peter, changed after the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Peter was a puffed up, cowardly man (but likable anyway, because we can so much identify with his weaknesses) who turned into a strong, dignified leader of the early church.

But this change in Peter took place in part because he saw himself as he really was for the first time when the cock crowed and Jesus made eye contact with him. That is what is called repentance and it is only real when it comes from within. (Notice how Jesus never forced repentance by telling Peter that he was a puffed up coward--He just predicted what Peter would do.)

And after Peter had repented he received the Holy Spirit, which made it possible for him to be a true follower of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:11 says: "For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God." So Jesus does not just tell us what to do--He enables us to do it by giving us His Spirit.

And the Bible says that God will someday do away with this world and create a permanent, flawless world where all have chosen to be remade by His Spirit and where He will live among us. So although it is normal to feel as you do that this life is enough (it is, after all, all we know) it is not enough for God. This is the part of the story that is called "the former things" in the prophetic books and it is just a prelude to God's ultimate creation, the New Jerusalem. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Also, the problem with saying that Jesus was just a good teacher is that He never gave us that option. He was sentenced to death for blasphemy because He answered the question "Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God" in the affirmative, and quoted Daniel 7:13 which made it clear to the high priest that He claimed equality with God. (But I'll elaborate on that in a future blog post.)

So that means that we are faced with the "trilemma" of whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. A good moral teacher is not an option, given the facts. Did you watch the clip of Hitchens addressing that issue? He agrees with the "trilemma" as presented by C. S. Lewis and seems to imply that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic.

Anette Acker said...

I think you said you have school age children. I remember those first few weeks of school being quite hectic. Glad you're back.

Thank you. Well, they've been back in school for a while; it's more that I only have a certain amount of time to devote to this and I got sidetracked with discussions on other sites. One was about fulfilled prophecy, which is a very interesting subject, so I had a hard time bringing my mind back to the topic of the resurrection, which is what I planned to do my blog posts on.

Wolfgang said...

My real point with Craig on AC was not finding out whom to trust, though that is in a way part of it.

I was confusing when I talked about the world is full of deceivers and people deceiving us. I was trying to draw a parallel to the Garden of Eden, when the world had just one deceiver (who knew he was lying), and God also directly spoke with Adam and Eve.

Now, God has left us alone to discover the truth. And instead of a garden with one lying snake, we have a planet full of people who have discovered different and conflicting truths.

So the question isn't whom to trust, but rather who has found the truth? I think I have found the truth about gods, but is what I have found actually the truth? Most people are wrong; am I one of them? That problem could be solved if God would just speak with us. All of us.

You said, "Although we do the work, His power works through us when we submit to Him."

What is obvious to me is that people do the work. People communicate the message of salvation. People wrote the Bible. Just like the other religions with silent gods and believers who are absolutely certain of their existence.

People are clearly inspired by their understanding of their gods, but it appears the Christian God does no more than the Muslim God.

I do not understand many Christian terms including what you exactly meant by "He wants us to "overcome" which entails challenges."

And I am not sure why discovering the truth we so desperately need would be a challenge God would set before us.

It would be the same as if God never talked to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden including never telling them to not eat the forbidden fruit. And leaving it up to the snake and other creatures to tell Adam and Eve conflicting truths. And then punishing Adam and Eve for not doing as He wanted.

The punishment can only make sense if God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit. Otherwise, how could it be said they disobeyed Him?

That would be similar to the problem we face today if Christianity is correct.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

So the question isn't whom to trust, but rather who has found the truth? I think I have found the truth about gods, but is what I have found actually the truth? Most people are wrong; am I one of them? That problem could be solved if God would just speak with us. All of us.

God has made the truth clear to us whoever wants to know the truth. Thomas Arnold, former Professor of History at Rugby and Oxford, made the following statement about the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

“I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better, fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair enquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died, and rose again from the dead.”

If Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and the evidence indicates that God raised Him from the dead, then an intellectually honest person will conclude that Christianity is true. No other religion makes that kind of a historical claim.

God has also promised to give us His Holy Spirit to "lead us into all truth" when we surrender our lives to Him. So He helps us discover the truth if we want Him to.

clamflats said...

So that means that we are faced with the "trilemma" of whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. A good moral teacher is not an option, given the facts.

In order to answer the trilemma one has to presume that the words and deeds of Jesus, as written in the Gospels, are accurate. I add a fourth “lemma”, Legend. There just isn't enough evidence to make a justified claim to NT accuracy for the historical Jesus. You say, “given the facts” but how do we determine the facts? I think you bring a bias by presupposing a divine inspiration to the texts.

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

It is not necessary to presuppose divine inspiration for the purposes of this discussion. (If it was, then I would be using circular reasoning.) I'm just going to look at this as a historical matter, including the question of whether Jesus really said what was attributed to him, so my bias is irrelevant.

Wolfgang said...

Do you think two intellectually honest people can arrive at contradictory conclusions? I certainly do.

How does one surrender one's life to God?
Does one already have to accept Christianity as true?
Is it possible to surrender one's life to Him without belief in Him?

I ask because of your claim that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth once we surrender our lives to God. I find it nearly impossible to surrender to God without first having the truth of His existence.

Anette Acker said...

Do you think two intellectually honest people can arrive at contradictory conclusions? I certainly do.

Yes, I do. But to be perfectly honest, after researching the historical evidence for the resurrection, I have a hard time understanding how skeptical Bible scholars can arrive at their conclusions. Bart Ehrman contradicts himself depending on whether he is wearing his academic hat or his author for a popular audience hat.

And atheist NT scholar Gerd Ludemann wrote a book where he concedes most of the historical evidence, but concludes that all those who saw the resurrected Jesus hallucinated. That apparently would include Saul of Tarsus--a very hostile witness who persecuted the church.

To me, Bart Ehrman and Gerd Ludemann come across intellectually dishonest; Ludemann because he overreaches and claims to be able to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead, and Ehrman because he contradicts himself and came across like he was just blustering in a debate.

Having said that, I can think of very few--if any--atheists that I have talked with that I would call intellectually dishonest (but many appear to have made up their minds), and you and Clamflats come across particularly honest.

How does one surrender one's life to God?
Does one already have to accept Christianity as true?
Is it possible to surrender one's life to Him without belief in Him?

I ask because of your claim that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth once we surrender our lives to God. I find it nearly impossible to surrender to God without first having the truth of His existence.


It is possible, because God hears you even if you don't accept Christianity as true. And then He leads you into all truth. A lot of people are born of the Spirit without knowing the objective evidence for Christianity.

But if you find it nearly impossible to do so, then you can always approach this rationally by trying to determine whether the evidence supports the claims of the Bible. And I think it's good to determine whether something is likely true before we believe it. I mentioned to you my conversation with the follower of Sun Muyng Moon who believed something because it gave him greater personal fulfillment than atheism. He seemed like a nice person, but I think he was misguided.

stormbringer005 said...

PleaseConvinceMe.com has some very interesting Podcasts and Weblog articles, among other things. Podcasts are examining evidence regarding the validity of the Bible. Most recently, the resurrection of Jesus. The host is a cold-case homicide detective, so he knows something about evidence and witnesses.

Anette Acker said...

Thanks, Stormbringer. I checked out the site and it has a lot of great information.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

Actually, I don't think Gerd Ludemann is intellectually dishonest; I just think he has a very strong naturalistic bias, and his explanation--mass hallucination--is unconvincing.

But Bart Ehrman appears dishonest to me because he contradicts himself when it suits him.

General Time Reversible said...

Anette,

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I have not come across Lewis' apologetic writing; I was just curious.