Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Invincible Unbelief?

View ImageA few months ago, I spilled a glass of water on my daughter's book. I quickly wiped it off and put it down to go clean the area where I spilled. But when my daughter came to look for it later because she needed it for school, it was gone. We searched everywhere to no avail, so I just bought her a new book. It never reappeared, and at this point I would be surprised if it ever does. 

How could that book have completely disappeared? Did the water have magical properties? Do we have a gnome infestation? That thought has occurred to me a few times when socks go into the laundry chute and never, ever make it out. Maybe the book went the way of those socks, whose partners have taken up permanent residence at the bottom of the clean laundry basket in the hopes that they will someday return.

But enough about my laundry woes, the point here is that in spite of my speculation, I know that we don't have gnomes. I also know that the water did not make the book disappear. In fact, I know that even if the book never shows up there's a natural explanation for its disappearance. I have an invincible unbelief in gnomes and magic water and I believe that to be a rational position.

I used the words "invincible unbelief" because during a debate between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas on the resurrection of Jesus, they agreed on the relevant historical facts, but Flew said that he had an almost invincible unbelief in the resurrection because it was so wildly different from our experience of how the universe functions. Flew agreed with David Hume's argument against miracles in the article "Of Miracles," which states, in a nutshell, that no matter how improbable a naturalistic explanation, a miracle is even less probable. Hume defines a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature and argues that experience is proof against them.

There are several problems with Hume's argument. First, the definition he gives of a miracle is a poor one. A better definition is the one given by J. L. Mackie: "The laws of nature . . . describe the ways in which the world--including, of course, human beings--works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it." That definition is not theologically precise, but it works for the purposes of this discussion.

The example I gave about gnomes stealing my daugther's book or water causing it to disappear would be a violation of the laws of nature in that the universal laws would suddenly not apply. However, the resurrection would be a miracle according to Mackie's definition because God raised Jesus from the dead; this was not simply a violation of the laws of nature, but an intrusion from beyond nature.

This distinction is significant because it is reasonable to believe that the laws of nature are constant. If they were not, the universe would be incomprehensible to us and science would be impossible. We know from experience that the laws of nature are predictable. However, this does not mean that it is reasonable to have an invincible conviction that nothing exists beyond nature. That is a different question altogether.

Second, Hume's argument may be reasonably applied to the disappearing book, but it is not reasonable to apply it to the resurrection of Jesus, which, if true, would be an argument for a God who exists beyond nature. In other words, if God raised Jesus from the dead, then that is an argument for theism, like the fine-tuning argument, the cosmological argument, and the argument from moral law. The argument is not just that a violation of the laws of nature took place, but that God intervened from beyond nature to raise Jesus from the dead, and He would have to exist to do so. And not only is it an argument for theism in general, but it is an argument for the Christian God.

In fact, I have frequently heard non-believers say that they would believe if they witnessed a miracle. Of course, if God had to perform a major miracle in the presence of every person who ever lived, then miracles would be the rule rather than the exception and therefore not evidence for His existence. Instead, He entered His creation in the flesh and did one major miracle that is supported by historical evidence: He rose from the dead. And His resurrection from the dead is the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

So Hume commits the fallacy of begging the question by rejecting the central claim of Christian theism without even considering the evidence. He dismisses the possibility that we could ever have evidence that a God who exists outside of nature revealed Himself to us within nature by doing something that is normally impossible.

Third, Hume's argument is essentially probabilistic, and it has been refuted by Bayes' Theorem. William Lane Craig explained this in his debate with Bart Ehrman, who used a variation of Hume's argument. Craig sets it up as follows:

Calculating the Probability of the Resurrection:

B = Background knowledge
E = Specific evidence (empty tomb, postmortem appearances, etc.)
R = Resurrection of Jesus
Pr (R/B & E) = ?

As I said before, Hume ignores the specific evidence for the resurrection, and says that the probability of the resurrection is R/B, with B representing our background knowledge about the laws of nature and the likelihood of a violation. Of course the probability is very low, in part because of his definition of a miracle and in part because he does not take into consideration the evidence for the resurrection and the plausibility of naturalistic explanations. Agnostic philosopher of physics John Earman (not to be confused with Ehrman) did not mince words in calling Hume's argument fallacious in his book Hume's Abject Failure.

Since Hume's argument is about the probability of a miracle, Earman and Craig used Bayes' Theorem to refute it. Craig argued that the equation has to look like this:

                                                 Pr (R/B) x Pr (E/B&R)          
Pr (R/B & E) = ____________________________________________
                           Pr (R/B) x Pr (E/B&R) + Pr (not-R/B) x (E/B& not-R)

The numerator is the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge and the specific evidence for the resurrection. The denominator reproduces the numerator and adds the probability and explanatory power of all the naturalistic explanations. So the lower the probability of those explanations, the higher the probability of the resurrection. But if the naturalistic explanations [Pr (not-R/B) x (E/B& not-R)] are plausible and have explanatory power, then the probability of the resurrection goes down.

If that is not clear, Craig spends more time (and does a much better job) explaining it here.

The point here is not to give a probabilistic value to the resurrection but to demonstrate that Hume's argument is fallacious because he oversimplifies the probability of the resurrection. Instead of dismissing the resurrection as always the least probable, we also have to take into consideration the specific evidence for the resurrection and the probability of the naturalistic explanations, like numerous people--including skeptics--having the same hallucination in different situations and at different times, and being willing to give their lives for the truth of what they perceived.

But even if we ignore the evidence for the resurrection and just go back to the original equation Pr = R/B, then Hume's argument still fails because the arguments for theism in general make the inherent probability of the resurrection greater. If the existence of a God who created ex nihilo is the best explanation for why the universe emerged out of nothing, and an Intelligent Designer is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe, then the probability that God raised Jesus from the dead increases. So the background knowledge is not just the probability of a violation of the laws of nature--it is the probability that God raised His Son from the dead, and the probability of that increases if the evidence in cosmology points to a Creator. Pr = R/B is affected by the probability of the existence of a Creator.

In the introduction to "Of Miracles," Hume says, "I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument . . . which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures."

Although those of us in the throes of "superstitious delusions" are eternally grateful to Hume for his thoughtful gesture, the problem is that his argument is far too ambitious because it is only useful with respect to true superstition. For example, if I were tempted to plug in my gap of knowledge about the missing book with an explanation like gnomes, then his argument would be a "check" to that kind of a "superstitious delusion." But it tells us nothing about the probability that a God beyond nature would identify Himself to us within nature by superseding its laws, because for Him to be able to do that the laws of nature would have to be predictable in the first place. 

52 comments:

Vinny said...

But it tells us nothing about the probability that a God beyond nature would identify Himself to us within nature by superseding its laws, because for Him to be able to do that the laws of nature would have to be predictable in the first place.

That’s not the probability that Hume and Ehrman are talking about though. Hume and Ehrman are talking about the probability that any particular story about the laws of nature being superseded is true. Even if we believe in a God who can do such a thing, we still have to assess that probability based on our knowledge and experience of similar stories. Knowledge and experience tell us that unreliable and unverifiable stories of natural law being superseded are extremely common whereas verifiable stories are completely unprecedented. We also know that many of these stories claim to be exclusive revelations of God meaning. For this to be true of any one of them, logic would dictate that all the others are false. So when we are faced with any specific miracle story, we are still left with the unavoidable conclusion that it is most likely not true.

Vinny said...

This comment seems more appropriate on this post.

If I was standing outside on a dark night and I felt water falling on my head, I would conclude that it was raining rather than that I was under attack by a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns. This is because rain is a common ordinary occurrence that is thoroughly supported by my knowledge and experience. On the other hand, a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns would be completely unprecedented.

When faced with stories about supernatural events, I reason in the same way. My knowledge and experience contains many examples of people who attribute natural events to supernatural causes and gullible people who accept and pass on such stories uncritically. My knowledge and experience include no examples of reliable or verifiable supernatural events. Just as I am compelled to conclude that the CIA predator drone is the least likely explanation for water falling on my head, I am compelled to conclude that an actual miracle is the least likely explanation for a miracle story.

If I believe that the CIA lacks the capability to arm a drone with squirt guns, I will assess the probability at zero. If I believe that it has the capability, however, it would only move my assessment of the probability from zero to infinitesimal. Rain would still overwhelmingly be the most likely explanation. Similarly believing in the possibility of a God who can choose to supersede the laws of nature would not meaningfully increase the probability of any such story being true.


I can conceive of circumstances in which I might consider the CIA drone to be the most likely explanation. It could well be that there are sounds and smells associated with the predator drone. If these were present combined with other factors that made rain particularly unlikely, I might conclude that the unprecedented explanation was the best. I can’t imagine that the same reasoning could ever lead me to embrace a supernatural explanation because I cannot imagine any circumstances that I could know to be unique to a supernatural event.

Y = X said...

In fact, I have frequently heard non-believers say that they would believe if they witnessed a miracle. Of course, if God had to perform a major miracle in the presence of every person who ever lived, then miracles would be the rule rather than the exception and therefore not evidence for His existence.

I don't think this makes sense. If god performs a miracle to each person in such a way that it is clear to that person that the action is being done by a super powerful entity then it is by definition evidence that such an entity exists. It wouldn't be hard for god to do this.

I interact with you in a way that no one else does. The more I interact with you the more evidence you have that I exist.

It's not a big request to ask that god demonstrate his existence to each person in a way so that person can't deny that he exists.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

That’s not the probability that Hume and Ehrman are talking about though. Hume and Ehrman are talking about the probability that any particular story about the laws of nature being superseded is true.

Ehrman is specifically talking about the resurrection when he says:

"Because historians can only establish what
probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is
highly improbable, the historian cannot say it
probably occurred."

He is saying that a historian cannot say that the resurrection probably happened. And that argument is also used by many non-historian non-theists in rejecting the evidence for the resurrection.

Hume did not specifically speak of the resurrection when he said:

"A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined . . . And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior."

So he did leave open a small window of possibility by saying that if the opposite proof is superior then it overrules the proof of experience.

But Ehrman's version permits no evidence that could overrule the presumption against miracles. He said: "I’m just going to say that miracles are so highly improbable that they’re the least possible occurrence in any given instance." And he goes on to say that they can only be accepted on faith.

Even if we believe in a God who can do such a thing, we still have to assess that probability based on our knowledge and experience of similar stories. Knowledge and experience tell us that unreliable and unverifiable stories of natural law being superseded are extremely common whereas verifiable stories are completely unprecedented. We also know that many of these stories claim to be exclusive revelations of God meaning. For this to be true of any one of them, logic would dictate that all the others are false. So when we are faced with any specific miracle story, we are still left with the unavoidable conclusion that it is most likely not true.

I agree with this, but there is nothing similar to the resurrection in terms of its theological significance and the historical evidence. So it is very possible to be skeptical of miracle stories in general and yet have a rational belief in the resurrection.

Vinny said...

I question whether we can even have evidence for an event that supersedes the laws of nature.

The reason we think that fingerprints on a gun might tell us who used that gun to commit a murder is that we think that we understand the natural processes by which the unique patterns in the skin on the human finger might come to appear on another object and, just as importantly, we think that those natural process are unvarying. If we thought that those patterns just appeared randomly on objects or if we thought they appeared by divine fiat, we could not say that fingerprints on murder weapon constituted evidence of anything.

In order to claim that something constitutes evidence that a miracle took place, we would need to have some reason to think that the evidence we have is more likely to be the product of a supernatural event than a natural event. Unfortunately, supernatural events are exceedingly rare and they obey no natural laws. The historical evidence for the resurrection is stories recorded decades after the events in question by unknown authors based on unknown sources an unknown number of steps removed from the original eyewitnesses. What possible basis could we have for concluding that these stories were more likely to be the result of a supernatural event than a natural one?

Theological significance is an interesting concept but why should I think that it increases the probability that a supernatural story is true?

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

If I was standing outside on a dark night and I felt water falling on my head, I would conclude that it was raining rather than that I was under attack by a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns. This is because rain is a common ordinary occurrence that is thoroughly supported by my knowledge and experience. On the other hand, a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns would be completely unprecedented.

The problem with your CIA predator drone with squirt guns explanation (as opposed to rain) is that it is very ad hoc. But if you had been threatened by a CIA predator drone with squirt guns and you get hit by a burst of water, you would reasonably conclude that's what it was no matter how bizarre and unprecedented.

And all four Gospels clearly state that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (He was sentenced to death for blasphemy), and they all record Him saying that He will die and rise again on the third day. For this reason (and because the evidence for the resurrection is also evidence for theism) it is reasonable to conclude that God does exist and proved it by raising Jesus from the dead.

If I believe that the CIA lacks the capability to arm a drone with squirt guns, I will assess the probability at zero. If I believe that it has the capability, however, it would only move my assessment of the probability from zero to infinitesimal. Rain would still overwhelmingly be the most likely explanation. Similarly believing in the possibility of a God who can choose to supersede the laws of nature would not meaningfully increase the probability of any such story being true.

What matters here is the resurrection, not miracle stories in general. Although I do believe in modern day miracles, I agree that we should be skeptical of any given claim, because most likely there is a natural explanation.

If we're talking about the resurrection, however, to assess the probability at zero or close to zero is to have a closed mind about Christian theism. Since it is a major religion and the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has not been answered (the consensus among theists and non-theists has been that Hawking doesn't even come close in The Grand Design), it would be unreasonable to have a closed mind about the resurrection.

The historical evidence for the resurrection is stories recorded decades after the events in question by unknown authors based on unknown sources an unknown number of steps removed from the original eyewitnesses. What possible basis could we have for concluding that these stories were more likely to be the result of a supernatural event than a natural one?

As I have said before, most historians accept the relevant facts, so I won't go into their historicity here. But our basis for concluding that a supernatural event happened is because all the naturalistic explanations are ad hoc and lack explanatory power, and the resurrection explains all the facts. Also, the Gospels tell us that Jesus predicted His resurrection on the third day.

Theological significance is an interesting concept but why should I think that it increases the probability that a supernatural story is true?

It should be a reason for you not to have a closed mind about it, since I assume that your mind is not closed about the existence of God. Most people would say that their minds are not closed to the existence of God, but if they assess the probability of the resurrection at zero or close to zero, their minds would in effect be closed to Christianity.

But if we go beyond the argument from experience that Hume uses and look at the question logically, there is no reason why the laws of nature should always apply. Why do we live in a universe that operates according to predictable laws anyway? And what "breathes fire into the equations"? Since we don't have answers to any of those questions, it is unreasonable to have closed minds about the resurrection.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

I don't think this makes sense. If god performs a miracle to each person in such a way that it is clear to that person that the action is being done by a super powerful entity then it is by definition evidence that such an entity exists. It wouldn't be hard for god to do this.

God reveals Himself to us when we are born of the Spirit, which is a miracle. That is when we come to know Him in the same basic way that we know other things. And the more we are led by the Spirit, the better we will know Him.

That is how He has chosen to make Himself known to us, and it is actually the most effective way, because, according to the Gospels, a lot of people didn't believe He was the Son of God (including His family) until after sent His Spirit. Without the Spirit, their hearts were always hardened no matter what they saw Jesus do. Peter had been with Jesus and seen His miracles for three years, yet he denied Him out of fear when Jesus was arrested.

So it is possible to know God intuitively as well as rationally and experientially. And the more we know Him in all these three ways, without cognitive dissonance, the stronger our faith.

Ryk said...

Perhaps the gnomes are an "interface from beyond nature" as are pixies, gremlins, dragons, ad infinitum.

Your position simply adds a second step to the process of justification. Instead of saying God, leprechauns, Zues, etc. exist, one says God, Leprechauns, Zues, etc, are interfacing beyond nature so they exist.

Silly.

Ryk said...

As to the question of why is there something rather than nothing, it is a dishonest question. Since there is absolutely no evidence that an ontological nothing has ever existed, since such is beyond even the ability of our experience to describe, "nothing" as a default is unjustified.

A more honest question would be "why do you think there was ever nothing instead of something.

Vinny said...

As I have said before, most historians accept the relevant facts, so I won't go into their historicity here. But our basis for concluding that a supernatural event happened is because all the naturalistic explanations are ad hoc and lack explanatory power, and the resurrection explains all the facts.

Even if I were to grant that these are “facts” and that historians agree about them, I would still be deeply troubled by the notion that they are all the or the relevant facts. On the contrary, what apologists like Craig and Habermas have done is cherry pick a very carefully circumscribed subset of the relevant facts and declared without any justification whatsoever that the only valid historical theory is one which explains their facts and only their facts. Then they argue that only their theory does the trick.

This has always struck me as the kind of approach favored by conspiracy theorists like the “Truthers” who insist that the Twin Towers were brought down on 9/11 by a controlled demolition ordered by the United States government. They cherry pick video clips and snippets of eyewitness accounts that are consistent with explosions on the lower floors of the buildings. They insist that the only valid theory is one that explains the subset of data they have selected without consideration of any other evidence. Not surprisingly, if only those bits of evidence are considered, a controlled demolition might be the best explanation. However, when all the evidence is considered, the case is overwhelming that terrorists flew hijacked planes into the towers.

In evaluating the likelihood that Jesus was raised from the dead, there is no reason that I should limit my attention to the facts selected by the apologists. I need to consider what I know about the propensity of ancient people to embrace supernatural explanations for the phenomena they observed. I have to consider what I know about how people embellish and change stories as they pass them along. I have to consider what I know about the speed with which myths and legends grew around other religious figures. I need to consider the rate at which other religions have grown. I need to consider the propensity of eyewitnesses to make mistakes.

I also need to consider the propensity of religious groups to provide less than balanced accounts of their own history. I just finished Under the Banner of Heaven: History of a Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer which examines contemporary fundamentalist Mormon sects in the light of the history of the Latter Day Saints. One cannot help but notice that when Mormons recount the history of their church, every fact and detail that might undermine their message tends to get swept under the rug. As there is no reason to think that the Christian church made any effort to present a balanced view of itself, I have to take into account the fact that the only early records we have are the ones that Christians chose to preserve.

Apologists love to pose the question “What evidence would convince you that the resurrection really happened?” For me, it is not a question of needing some additional evidence. The problem is that I would have to erase so much of I already know about how the world works.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Ryk. How are things?

Perhaps the gnomes are an "interface from beyond nature" as are pixies, gremlins, dragons, ad infinitum.

Your position simply adds a second step to the process of justification. Instead of saying God, leprechauns, Zues, etc. exist, one says God, Leprechauns, Zues, etc, are interfacing beyond nature so they exist.

Silly.


You'll have to do a much better job of summarizing my argument than that if you're going to declare it "silly." Go back and reread it! ;)

As to the question of why is there something rather than nothing, it is a dishonest question. Since there is absolutely no evidence that an ontological nothing has ever existed, since such is beyond even the ability of our experience to describe, "nothing" as a default is unjustified.

A more honest question would be "why do you think there was ever nothing instead of something.


Since nothing comes from nothing, "Why is there something rather than nothing" is a perfectly valid and honest question that philosophers and scientists have always asked. It is a rational question. However, to say that the universe is just a brute fact and leave it at that is materialist dogma. Since nothing else in our experience is a brute fact, there is no reason to think that the universe itself is. And there is no reason to think that a quantum vacuum capable of producing a universe fine-tuned for life is a brute fact.

But I don't want to get into that here, because it's off the subject. If you think that the universe is a brute fact, that is one perspective among many. None of us know for sure what caused the universe, and the evidence for the resurrection is one more argument for a Creator. My point to Vinny was that it's not just any old miracle--it is one with great theological significance because it is the Creator's revelation of Himself in the world. In other words, there is a reason why God would create a world that functions according to predictable laws but still supersede those laws by raising His Son from the dead.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Even if I were to grant that these are “facts” and that historians agree about them, I would still be deeply troubled by the notion that they are all the or the relevant facts. On the contrary, what apologists like Craig and Habermas have done is cherry pick a very carefully circumscribed subset of the relevant facts and declared without any justification whatsoever that the only valid historical theory is one which explains their facts and only their facts. Then they argue that only their theory does the trick.

They have justification for picking those facts and it is 1 Corinthians 15:13-14: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain."

Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection, so the facts that have to do with the resurrection are the relevant ones. And apologists generally choose different ones, but all focus on the appearances (because they are highly relevant and scholars almost universally concur that they took place) and most focus on the empty tomb, which is accepted as historical by most critical scholars. Of course it goes without saying that Christianity grew out of that small band of the uneducated disciples of a dead leader, and produced followers among emperors and philosophers within a few centuries.

Craig focuses on three or four facts and Habermas has a list of about ten, and I've heard other Christian philosophers focus on the appearances and not the empty tomb. So they have not agreed to cherry pick certain facts, but all the facts have to do with the resurrection of Christ.

I know that non-theists like Bart Ehrman and Dan Barker love to bring up the discrepancies in the Passion story, but they are irrelevant because Paul never says that our faith is worthless if Salome was not one of the women at the empty tomb. If he did, then the non-theists would be right to focus on the details of what happened at the empty tomb, and it wouldn't just be an idle distraction.

In evaluating the likelihood that Jesus was raised from the dead, there is no reason that I should limit my attention to the facts selected by the apologists. I need to consider what I know about the propensity of ancient people to embrace supernatural explanations for the phenomena they observed. I have to consider what I know about how people embellish and change stories as they pass them along. I have to consider what I know about the speed with which myths and legends grew around other religious figures. I need to consider the rate at which other religions have grown. I need to consider the propensity of eyewitnesses to make mistakes.

Yes, you do have to consider those things, and apologists do. I'm going to quote William Lane Craig on this:

"According to [historian] Sherwin-White [author of Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament], the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be "unbelievable." More generations would be needed.

"In fact, adding a time gap of two generations to Jesus’s death lands you in the second century, just when the apocryphal gospels begin to appear. These do contain all sorts of fabulous stories about Jesus, trying to fill in the years between his boyhood and his starting his ministry, for example. These are the obvious legends sought by the critics, not the biblical gospels."

Anette Acker said...

I also need to consider the propensity of religious groups to provide less than balanced accounts of their own history. I just finished Under the Banner of Heaven: History of a Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer which examines contemporary fundamentalist Mormon sects in the light of the history of the Latter Day Saints. One cannot help but notice that when Mormons recount the history of their church, every fact and detail that might undermine their message tends to get swept under the rug. As there is no reason to think that the Christian church made any effort to present a balanced view of itself, I have to take into account the fact that the only early records we have are the ones that Christians chose to preserve.

Actually, that is one of the factors that lead historians and critical Bible scholar to conclude that the relevant parts of the Gospels are reliable: The disciples are portrayed in such a negative light. I've already discussed Peter's cowardly denial of Jesus when questioned by a servant girl (who would make up that detail?), but the disciples are generally portrayed as lacking in faith. This is one factor that has led Orthodox Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide to trust significant parts of the NT and conclude that God raised Jesus from the dead.

And the NT contains four Gospels, each of which gives a slightly different account of which women were present at the empty tomb. Why was this not edited out later or coordinated by the original authors? The roughness is a sign of authenticity.

Apologists love to pose the question “What evidence would convince you that the resurrection really happened?” For me, it is not a question of needing some additional evidence. The problem is that I would have to erase so much of I already know about how the world works.

That's the very issue I have addressed in this post. Are you saying that your lack of faith in the resurrection is intuitive? (And I think faith or its absence is in general more intuitive than rational.)

BTW, my in-laws are coming this weekend and staying for about a week, so I don't know when I'll be able to get to your comments in the previous thread. But I will try to reply to them eventually. (But I might do a post on the empty tomb first.)

Vinny said...

You commented in the last thread that you have never caught Craig in a half-truth. This tells me that you have never read A.N. Sherwin-White’s Roman Law and Society in the New Testament because Craig’s misrepresentation of that work is at best half-truth and at worst outright falsehood. For example, Sherwin-White doesn’t doubt that the gospels contain large amounts of mythical or legendary material. “Certainly a deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the event, whether for national glorification or political spite, or for the didactic or symbolic exposition of ideas.” Nor does he deny that myths can arise in less than a generation. Writing of Alexander the Great, Sherwin-White said “[t]here was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds during the lifetime of contemporaries, and the historical embroidery was often deliberate.” Also, Sherwin-White never uses the word “unbelievable” so Craig’s use of quotation marks around that word is a patent misrepresentation.

What Sherwin-White argued was that critical historical methodology—the kind employed by scholars like Ehrman—could be applied to the gospels to separate the legendary material from the core of historical truth that remained. He did not offer any estimate of how large that historical core might be or what it might contain. There is certainly no suggestion that Sherwin-White expected that historical core to include any supernatural events. If you are interested, I did a series of posts on my blog on The Apologists’ Abuse of A.N. Sherwin-White .

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Vinny. I will definitely read your blog posts, but as I said before, I don't know how much time I'll have in the next week, so I don't know when I'll be able to get back to you.

Vinny said...

Actually, that is one of the factors that lead historians and critical Bible scholar to conclude that the relevant parts of the Gospels are reliable: The disciples are portrayed in such a negative light.

I doubt that you would actually find many trained historians who buy this argument. Overwhelming, the scholars who do hold degrees in theology or New Testament studies.

My main objection to the argument is that the faithlessness and cowardice of the apostles is a crucial element in the theological narrative. The whole point of the gospel message is its the transformative power. If the apostles were portrayed as bold and fearless prior to the resurrection, the story would lose all its impact.

Over the years, I have known a number of people who claim to have been "born again" and I have heard several of them give their testimony. Invariably, they portray themselves as much more miserable and sinful prior to their conversion than I remember them being. I have heard one fellow's testimony several times and each time his preconversion life becomes more sinful and more miserable. If you are going to claim to have had a life changing experience, you will naturally try to make the change seem as dramatic as possible.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Now I know that you have been hired by Bart Ehrman to exact vengeance for my derogatory words by sabotaging my Thanksgiving preparations. I'm onto you! ;)

I'm joking--I know that I don't have to reply.

I doubt that you would actually find many trained historians who buy this argument. Overwhelming, the scholars who do hold degrees in theology or New Testament studies.

Actually, historians are the ones who take seriously this argument by applying the criterion of embarrassment. And Pinchas Lapide was a historian as well as a Jewish theologian.

Over the years, I have known a number of people who claim to have been "born again" and I have heard several of them give their testimony. Invariably, they portray themselves as much more miserable and sinful prior to their conversion than I remember them being. I have heard one fellow's testimony several times and each time his preconversion life becomes more sinful and more miserable. If you are going to claim to have had a life changing experience, you will naturally try to make the change seem as dramatic as possible.

I hear you, but I'll bet these were far more interesting sins than Peter's rather pathetic denial of Jesus. In my experience, Christians with a sordid past do not mention sins that make them seem cowardly and weak. The bragging usually takes the form of, "Look, I was bad once!" not "Look, I was terrified of a servant girl and denied knowing Jesus after I had confidently declared that even if everybody deserts Him, I would not!" I think that if we talk about our past sins we avoid the ones that are truly embarrassing.

Vinny said...

I hope you have a pleasant visit with your in-laws. If you feel like coming back to this discussion after they are gone, that would be fine. However, I know from my own experience that my attention often turns elsewhere after I step away from a discussion for awhile. If so, I have appreciated the conversation.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I would definitely like to continue the conversation later if you do, but I just have to prioritize a lot of other things in the coming week, so I don't know if I will have any time to comment on my blog. I may and I may not, but if I don't find the time I don't want you to think that I'm ignoring your comments.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I ordered Roman Law and Society in the New Testament and read your blog posts, and I plan to do my next blog post on the empty tomb, so I'll address the issue of legendary embellishment then (I think that was the subject of your two comments in the last thread). Like I said, I don't know if I'll have time while we have guests (it depends on how late they sleep in the morning, etc.), but hopefully this subject will still interest you by the time I do write it.

In the meantime, I just want to respond to something you said on your blog:

If Craig recognizes Sherwin-White as an authority on this issue and understands his position to be that there would be at least some mythological development in the oral tradition prior to the composition of the gospels, I wonder what parts of the gospels Craig would deem to be legendary. As far as I can tell, Craig defends the New Testament in all its particulars up to and including the zombie saints of Matthew 27:52-53. Isn't it intellectually dishonest for Craig to cite Sherwin-White as an authority if the only legendary embellishment he will admit is the names of the women who found the empty tomb?

Craig never focuses on biblical inerrancy in the context of the resurrection--instead he zeros in on the core facts and relies on the assertions of critical scholars about their historicity. So he probably would not argue with the assertion that the Gospels contain some legendary embellishment. That is just not a battle he has chosen to fight regardless of his personal views on the subject of inerrancy. But as for the question of knowing what is the historical core: he would say to apply the criteria of embarrassment, multiple attestation, dissimilarity, etc. Under these criteria, the empty tomb story would be deemed historical while the "zombie saints" story of Matthew 27:52-53 would not. That does not mean that Craig would say that Matthew 27:52-53 is an embellishment--it just means that the story fails to meet any of those criteria of historicity.

Ryk said...

Annette I am well.

It seems as if you are willing to accept that at some point there was nothing as a brute fact. That is fallacious. While it can not be shown that there was never nothing it also can not be assumed there was. "Nothingness" has never been observed. Nor is there any evidence that supports an ontological nothing. Therefore the presumption that nothing is the default is not justified.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I've had a chance to read the relevant parts of Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, and you are right that Sherwin-White never uses the word "unbelievable," so I don't know where Craig got that. But I think Craig got the gist of what Sherwin-White was saying and I'll elaborate on that in response to your specific points.

For example, Sherwin-White doesn’t doubt that the gospels contain large amounts of mythical or legendary material. “Certainly a deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the event, whether for national glorification or political spite, or for the didactic or symbolic exposition of ideas.”

Craig never disputes this--he is talking about the "historical core." So, as I said before, he makes no effort to deny the possibility that the later Gospels are more embellished than, say, Mark.

However, Sherwin-White says: "Yet however one accepts form-criticism, its principles do not inevitably contradict the notion of the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed, even if these were not shored up and confirmed by the external guarantee of their fabric and setting." (Italics added.)

So he is talking about the historical core of the particular stories in the Gospels. By this standard, the empty tomb should certainly qualify even if he would deem some of the details embellishments.

Nor does he deny that myths can arise in less than a generation. Writing of Alexander the Great, Sherwin-White said “[t]here was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds during the lifetime of contemporaries, and the historical embroidery was often deliberate.”

However, Sherwin-White says that "the historical embroidery was often deliberate." You have already expressed agreement with all modern scholars in stating that you do not think the early Christians set out to deceive. He also says that "the hard core still remains," so this example seems to him "encouraging" to his thesis "rather than the reverse."

What Sherwin-White argued was that critical historical methodology—the kind employed by scholars like Ehrman—could be applied to the gospels to separate the legendary material from the core of historical truth that remained. He did not offer any estimate of how large that historical core might be or what it might contain. There is certainly no suggestion that Sherwin-White expected that historical core to include any supernatural events. If you are interested, I did a series of posts on my blog on The Apologists’ Abuse of A.N. Sherwin-White.

He says nothing about supernatural events one way or the other--in fact, he says nothing about any specific events except the trial of Christ, and he states that it is likely historical.

I disagree that apologists "abuse" Sherwin-White, because he says what apologists claim he says (even if some are careless in how they state it). He makes a very strong case for the historicity of the Gospels because after an in-depth study of the book of Acts, he says: "That the degree of confirmation in Graeco-Roman terms is less for the Gospels than for Acts is due, as these lectures have tried to show, to the differences in their regional settings. As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit at Jerusalem, the confirmation begins. For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempts to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd."

So what he says here is that we do not have the ability to determine the historicity of most parts of the Gospels because of the regional setting. However, since the trial of Christ and the book of Acts are so historically accurate, we can deduce that the rest of the stories of the Gospels are as well.

Anette Acker said...

You said this in your blog:

It seems that he would applaud the efforts of modern scholars like Bart Ehrman, Dominic Crossan, Karen Armstrong, and John Shelby Spong who seek to identify that core of historical facts that the gospels contain.

I have to strongly disagree with this point, Vinny. These are the very types of people he is refuting when he says that some scholars claim that "the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written." That is the Jesus Seminar in nutshell. They have completely re-created Jesus in their own liberal, secular image and they have rejected just about everything in the Gospels as unhistorical, except random stories that happen to fit their agenda--like the story of the Good Samaritan, which is only found in the book of Luke.

Please don't tell me that you don't think these individuals are biased. They most certainly are. Biger A. Pearson, Professor of Religious Studies at UC Berkeley, says: "Scholars of religion have rightly come to be suspicious of theologically driven scholarship. We should be equally suspicious of atheologically driven scholarship, or any ideologically driven scholarship, political or otherwise. The 'hidden agenda' in the work of the Jesus Seminar is clearly an ideology that drives it. So what is this ideology? An important clue is found in the frequency with which the word 'secular' appears in The Five Gospels."

These individuals do not treat the Gospels as other historical documents would be treated--the Jesus Seminar debunks whatever doesn't fit their agenda. And Sherwin-White simply makes the point that the Gospels and Acts should be treated like other historical documents. And since the book of Acts is no less biased than the Gospels and the "confirmation of historicity is overwhelming," we can reasonably conclude that this is also true of the Gospels.

Anette Acker said...

Ryk,

It seems as if you are willing to accept that at some point there was nothing as a brute fact. That is fallacious. While it can not be shown that there was never nothing it also can not be assumed there was. "Nothingness" has never been observed. Nor is there any evidence that supports an ontological nothing. Therefore the presumption that nothing is the default is not justified.

I do not believe that an ontological nothing ever existed. However, experience tells us that "something" needs an explanation but "nothing" doesn't (unless something was already there or reasonably expected). If I simply open up a bank account, the default is that there is no money in it. And if several thousand dollars suddenly appeared, I would not accept that as a brute fact. I would look for an explanation.

Likewise, a quantum vacuum capable of producing a universe like ours demands an explanation. It is not the kind of thing one accepts as brute fact.

Vinny said...

I have to strongly disagree with this point, Vinny. These are the very types of people he is refuting when he says that some scholars claim that "the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written." That is the Jesus Seminar in nutshell. They have completely re-created Jesus in their own liberal, secular image and they have rejected just about everything in the Gospels as unhistorical, except random stories that happen to fit their agenda--like the story of the Good Samaritan, which is only found in the book of Luke.


Actually, I don’t think that this is who A.N. Sherwin-White is referring to at all. Ehrman is firmly convinced that critical historical methodology can be applied to draw factual conclusions about Jesus and his mission. The whole point of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium is to apply historical criteria in order to tease out that core of historical facts that Sherwin-White seems to think are there. I think this is also true of many members of the Jesus Seminar although I am less impressed with their work than I was three years ago when I wrote that post. If I were writing it today I would have dropped the references to Crossan, Armstrong, and Spong while retaining Bart Ehrman and perhaps adding Dale Allison and E.P. Sanders. I think that Sherwin-White’s criticism was directed towards scholars who believed that the gospels were utterly and completely useless as historical sources. I am not sure who those scholars might have been in 1963, but I can think of a few who fit the bill today.

Bullhorn Twotails said...

Anette--

Don't know whether you've seen the very recent Dembski/Hitchens debate.....

No longer on You Tube, but can be found @ Preston Christian Academy site.

Not to be missed.

Hitchens at his best. Superb.

How he does it, given what he's facing, is a testament to his spirit.

A great mind, for this or any other century, in full flow.

Astounding.

Ps. I've pretty much quit blogging, although I recently posted a comment on wearesmrt, which provoked a huge response, most of it negative.

Funny how things go, isn't it?.

Trust all is well with you & yours.

Regards, Rene.

Ps. I'm now sure Ray is mad. Watching him fall apart before my eyes is not something I wish to witness any longer. So I've ceased commenting there. Time will tell of course, but I don't expect to ever return.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I was mostly talking about the Jesus Seminar. Ehrman is a much more serious scholar, but as an apostate Christian, he is still biased. He is considered an opposition scholar (not a neutral one), unlike someone like Sherwin-White or other agnostics and Jews who can detach themselves from the subject.

I realize that he does apply historical criteria in order to determine the historical core, but that is not an exact science. The stories of Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb should be deemed historical under those criteria. So what reason does Ehrman give for saying that we don't know whether those are historical? Even though Jesus was crucified as a criminal, surely Joseph could have been given the body if he paid for it (even Crossan admits this possibility). Ehrman's statements in From Jesus to Constantine should be his true scholarly opinion if he is objectively applying those criteria.

As I said before, Sherwin-White did an in-depth historical analysis of the book of Acts and said that the "confirmation of historicity is overwhelming." And his point is that we can then extrapolate to the Gospels and conclude that they are likewise historical. That seems like a rational, objective position, especially since Luke wrote both the book of Acts and one of the Gospels.

Vinny said...

Consistency with known practices of the culture is also a test for historicity. Even if not completely unknown, the honorable burial of a crucified criminal would have been contrary to the usual practice of the Romans. It does not mean that is couldn’t have happened, but it is probably enough for a historian to consider it questionable. We also have the fact that our earliest source does not indicate anything unusual about the burial of Jesus.

As far as I can tell, Sherwin-White did not do a detailed analysis of Acts. He simply commented on those passages which touched upon his area of expertise which was the Roman legal system. His conclusions were limited to a few select legal issues like trial practice and Paul’s citizenship. He seems to have had a high opinion of Luke in those areas, but we cannot extrapolate from that to all the gospels. The whole point of Sherwin-White’s argument is that legend and fact can be mixed together in ancient sources. Even if the source is historical on some points, it may not be on others.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Rene,

Don't know whether you've seen the very recent Dembski/Hitchens debate.....

No longer on You Tube, but can be found @ Preston Christian Academy site.

Not to be missed.

Hitchens at his best. Superb.

How he does it, given what he's facing, is a testament to his spirit.


No, I have not seen that debate. I actually don't watch that many debates--just a few with William Lane Craig. I found the site but it looks like the video is temporarily unavailable due to overwhelming demand.

That's impressive if Hitchens is at his best now and even doing public debates. Hopefully that means his health is stable.

Ps. I've pretty much quit blogging, although I recently posted a comment on wearesmrt, which provoked a huge response, most of it negative.

Whatever did you say on wearesmrt that provoked a negative response?

Trust all is well with you & yours.

Yes, we're having a great visit with my in-laws. And how are things with you and your family?

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Consistency with known practices of the culture is also a test for historicity. Even if not completely unknown, the honorable burial of a crucified criminal would have been contrary to the usual practice of the Romans. It does not mean that is couldn’t have happened, but it is probably enough for a historian to consider it questionable. We also have the fact that our earliest source does not indicate anything unusual about the burial of Jesus.

Most historians do not find it questionable. As John A. T. Robinson said, the honorable burial of Jesus is one of "the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus." And, "The view that we can know nothing about the body of Jesus, because as the corpse of a condemned criminal it would have been thrown into a lime-pit, is sheer dogmatic scepticism, flying in the face of all the evidence that, contrary to what might have been expected, it met no such fate."

The reason why 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 doesn't mention the burial is probably because it is such a barebones recitation of the early creed. However, the words "He was raised on the third day" imply that they knew exactly when Jesus was no longer in the tomb. If He just appeared to them, they would not have known exactly when He was raised.

And the words "He was buried" are more consistent with an honorable burial than just being tossed into a common grave. So 1 Cor. 15:3-4 does nothing to undermine the historicity of the honorable burial.

As far as I can tell, Sherwin-White did not do a detailed analysis of Acts. He simply commented on those passages which touched upon his area of expertise which was the Roman legal system. His conclusions were limited to a few select legal issues like trial practice and Paul’s citizenship. He seems to have had a high opinion of Luke in those areas, but we cannot extrapolate from that to all the gospels. The whole point of Sherwin-White’s argument is that legend and fact can be mixed together in ancient sources. Even if the source is historical on some points, it may not be on others.

Roman society and law around the time of Jesus were Sherwin-White's area of expertise, and he certainly felt like he had done a detailed study. He said: "So much for the detailed study of the Graeco-Roman settings of Acts and the Gospels." And he said that historians are "seldom in the happy position of dealing at only one remove with a contemporary source." But that is the case with the Gospels.

Again, he is talking about the historical core--I never claimed that he would deem everything in the Gospels historical. However, he was talking about the historical core of the stories. He says: "Yet however one accepts form-criticism, its principles do not inevitably contradict the notion of the historicity of the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed, even if these were not shored up and confirmed by the external guarantee of their fabric and setting."

The historicity of Acts has been confirmed by numerous historians, and it is no less of a propaganda source than the Gospels, so it is reasonable to extrapolate and conclude that the Gospels are likewise historical. Certainly it shifts the burden of proof to those who claim otherwise.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I made a mistake on one of the Sherwin-White quotes. He said "basic historicity" instead of "historicity." So he says that principles of form-criticism do not inevitably contradict the basic historicity of the particular stories of the Gospels.

Vinny said...

However, the words "He was raised on the third day" imply that they knew exactly when Jesus was no longer in the tomb. If He just appeared to them, they would not have known exactly when He was raised.

Sure they would have. The passage says that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Even if the appearances had taken place several months or several years after the crucifixion, Paul would have known that the resurrection occurred on the third day because he understood that to be the prophecy.

Anette Acker said...

The typology in the OT regarding "the third day" is extremely subtle (Hosea 6:2 is the cross reference), and there is no reference to the Messiah dying and being raised on the third day. So based on the OT alone, there is very little reason to think that the early Christians would have seized upon it if the resurrection had not actually happened on the third day.

However, Jesus said repeatedly that He would be raised on the third day. If you are referring to those parts of the Gospels, they are less historically attested than the empty tomb. As with all biblical prophecies, critical scholars usually claim that they were written after the fact.

So to my knowledge, the only Scriptures that say anything about the Messiah being raised on the third day are the words of Jesus in the Gospel. This indicates that Paul had knowledge of this prophecy. However, if you are looking at this critically, there is no reason to doubt the story of the empty tomb if you believe that Jesus really made those prophecies.

Anette Acker said...

Scratch what I said about "this indicates that Paul had knowledge of this prophecy." I was going to remove that but forgot to. It may mean that, but more likely it means that Paul knew that the tomb was found empty on the third day and he drew the connection to Hosea 6:2.

Vinny said...

Scratch what I said about "this indicates that Paul had knowledge of this prophecy." I was going to remove that but forgot to. It may mean that, but more likely it means that Paul knew that the tomb was found empty on the third day and he drew the connection to Hosea 6:2.

That is certainly one possibility, but another possibility is that after his vision of the resurrected Christ, Paul searched the scriptures for any passages that would help him understand the experience he had just had. I don't know how you decide that one is relatively more likely than the other.

Anette Acker said...

That is certainly one possibility, but another possibility is that after his vision of the resurrected Christ, Paul searched the scriptures for any passages that would help him understand the experience he had just had. I don't know how you decide that one is relatively more likely than the other.

Hosea 6:2 says: "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him."

That has nothing whatsoever to do with Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. It is subtle foreshadowing of the resurrection on the third day.

Only if Paul knew that Jesus had risen on the third day could he make the connection to Hosea 6:2.

Vinny said...

Even if he had hadn’t actually known how much time had passed between the crucifixion and the resurrection, I tend to think that Paul would have been smart enough to make the connection between the risen Christ, Hosea’s themes of repentance and restoration, and Hosea's reference to raising up his people so that they may live before him.

Anette Acker said...

There is a difference between being smart and jumping to conclusions. The words "raise us up on the third day" combined with the themes of redemption would have tipped Paul and others off. But without that language, it would have been a tremendous stretch to conclude that this foreshadowed the resurrection of Christ.

The OT "types" are found when the author is talking about something else and they are often just a faint shadow of something in the NT. On the other hand, the messianic prophecies are much more explicit. For example, the subject matter of Isaiah 53 is a particular person--a "Righteous One" who will die to "justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities."

However, Hosea 6:2 says that God will raise us up on the third day, so there is nothing in the text that indicates that this applies to the Messiah, except in retrospect, because of the words "raise up" and "on the third day." So regardless of Paul's intelligence, he could not have said that this was "according to the Scriptures" if he had not known that Jesus was raised on the third day.

Bullhorn Twotails said...

Anette--

It's on the Freefrawl segment @ wearesmrt.

Mind you, it's not suitable for polite company...

I posted what I thought was an innocuous comment, only to be met with a torrent of abuse from all quarters. 185 comments, with over a 1000 viewings in the space of a week....

I gave as good as I received, & quite enjoyed myself.

Be forewarned: the whole thing descended into a free-for-all farce, with no holds barred. The language used also reflects Wearesmrt's rather liberal, virtually-anything-goes, approach....

Anyway...

Peace to you.

Anette Acker said...

Over a thousand viewings in one week? Well, whatever pent up emotions you may have tapped with your comment, they should be very grateful to you now for bringing that kind of traffic to their site. :)

Vinny said...

It’s interesting that you should mention Isaiah 53 because no one thought of that as a messianic prophecy before Jesus’ followers got hold of it. No one expected the Messiah to suffer. As you correctly note, Christians often went far beyond the prevailing interpretation in looking for passages in the Old Testament that foreshadowed Christ and their determinations often rested on pretty thin reeds. I have not done an exhaustive survey, but I doubt that Hosea 6:2 was that much more of a stretch than some of the others.

Anette Acker said...

It’s interesting that you should mention Isaiah 53 because no one thought of that as a messianic prophecy before Jesus’ followers got hold of it.

Well, do you deny that it fits? Sometimes it's just not possible to make sense of something until after the fact.

Vinny said...

Of course it fits, but why does it fit? Maybe the passion stories were written with Isaiah's suffering servant in mind.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Can you give me one example of an interpretation that is as tenuous as Hosea 6:2 would have been if Paul did not know that Jesus had been raised on the third day?

And since you don't believe in divine inspiration, a seemingly random reference to the OT, like Jesus made to Psalm 118:22 in Matthew 21:42, doesn't count. "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" (Matthew 21:42). He made it clear that He was the capstone the the Jewish leaders were the builders. And in Acts 4:11, Peter says about Jesus, "He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.'"

Like much typology, it would be difficult to make sense of that beforehand: Jesus was the stone rejected by the builders (the Jewish leaders) because they didn't think the "stone" fit. But that is because they expected someone different. As you said, they didn't expect a suffering and dying Messiah. But the question is whether Jesus fits the OT prophecies to someone without presuppositions about what the Messiah would be like. The "prevailing interpretation" is irrelevant--what matters is what interpretation fits best.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

You said that you thought the passion stories might have been written with the Suffering Servant in mind--how do you think they pulled this one off? Or do you think it's a coincidence?

In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman by a well, and he explains the Gospel to her, comparing salvation to “living water.” This encounter is foreshadowed in the OT.

There are only six examples in the OT of two parties meeting at a well, and each one communicates some aspect of salvation:

In Genesis 16, Sarah’s Egyptian maid Hagar has run away because Sarah mistreated her. The angel of the Lord met her by a spring of water in the wilderness (16:7). Hagar went back to Sarah, but in 21:19 Sarah has driven her and her son Ishmael away permanently. The boy is about to die of thirst and Hagar sits weeping. The angel of God meets her again and opens her eyes so she sees a well.

In Genesis 21:30-31, Abraham and King Abimelech make a covenant by a well called Beersheba.

In Genesis 24, Abraham’s servant seeks a wife for Isaac and meets Rebekah at a well. In Genesis 29:9, Jacob meets Rachel at a well. And in Exodus 2:15-17, Moses meets his future wife Zipporah at a well.

So the following elements of the doctrine of salvation are inconspicuously buried in the OT: God seeking the Gentiles (Hagar), a covenant (Abraham and Abimelech), and the union (often compared to a marriage) of Christ and the church (the patriarchs and their wives).

In John 4:12, the Samaritan woman tells Jesus that their father Jacob (Israel) gave them the well and drank from it himself, and Jesus says in 4:22 that salvation is from the Jews. The well/salvation was from Israel/the Jews.

Revelation 22:17 ties together the imagery of living water by stating: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.”

The problem with saying that this is a coincidence is that there are far too many details that fit, and the symbols are repeated several times (four covenants, three instances of God seeking Gentiles, the presence of a well each time and the concept of "living water"). And none of the NT authors draw the connection. Jesus Himself makes no effort to say in John 4 that this is in any way according to the Scriptures.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Bullhorn Twotails said...

Anette precious--

Yeah, well anyway, wish you the best, for what it's worth....

I'm cutting loose.

Affectionately, Rene.

Anette Acker said...

If we don't hear from you, Rene, have a merry Christmas. God bless you and yours. (And yes, He is here.)

Vinny said...

You said that you thought the passion stories might have been written with the Suffering Servant in mind--how do you think they pulled this one off? Or do you think it's a coincidence?

One theory is that the followers of Jesus who believed he was the Messiah were confused by his death because no one expected the Messiah to be crucified. They turned to the scriptures to help them try to understand and they came across Isaiah’s suffering servant and they decided that Isaiah had been talking about Jesus even though it had not previously been viewed as a messianic prophecy.

When the early Christians told stories about what happened to Jesus, there may well have been no first hand accounts of the passion because all of his followers had gone into hiding after his arrest. The only place they could have gone for information was the Hebrew Scriptures. Since they were sure that he was the Messiah and that he had fulfilled the prophecies, they would naturally have based their account of the passion on the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.

When the author of Mark finally tried to put together a coherent narrative of the life of Jesus, there were probably lots of stories floating around in the oral tradition. It would have been natural for him to look to the scriptures to figure out which ones were true and which ones belonged in his gospel. It is not surprising at all to me that his so much of his account is foreshadowed by the Old Testament.

I don’t think that the author of Mark would have thought of himself as “inventing” stories. He was just writing an account of the things that must have happened to the man that he understood to be the Messiah.

Anette Acker said...

Sorry, I was not clear about what I meant. This was my point: since you think that the Gospels were written with OT passages in mind, how would you explain John 4? In the passage, Jesus never references the OT Scriptures, nor does John. And it is too detailed to be a coincidence.

I don’t think that the author of Mark would have thought of himself as “inventing” stories. He was just writing an account of the things that must have happened to the man that he understood to be the Messiah.

All that you've said is complete conjecture (and you still haven't given me an example of an OT connection that is as tenuous as Hosea 6:2 would have been if Paul didn't know that Jesus was raised on the third day). There is no reason to think that Mark (or anyone else) would have believed that Jesus was the Messiah if He had just died. Other people holding themselves out to be the Messiah came before, died, and their followers scattered. That is in fact what the Gospels record the disciples doing when Jesus was arrested. What changed?

Also, most people would not give Mark credit for that kind of creativity. Matthew was the one who focused on OT typology. And the passion story of Mark is spartan compared to the Gospel of Peter, which came considerably later and contains a great deal of legendary embellishment, like the talking cross, the giant Jesus, etc.

Anette Acker said...

When the early Christians told stories about what happened to Jesus, there may well have been no first hand accounts of the passion because all of his followers had gone into hiding after his arrest.

The women did not go into hiding after the arrest, and they were followers of Jesus.

Vinny said...

All that you've said is complete conjecture (and you still haven't given me an example of an OT connection that is as tenuous as Hosea 6:2 would have been if Paul didn't know that Jesus was raised on the third day).

I don’t see much point. You take the tenuousness of the Hosea connection as proof that Jesus really must have been raised on the third day. I’m sure you would take the tenuousness of any other connection as proof of the writer’s veracity rather than his ingenuity.

When I look those passages in John, I see literary creativity. I have read many novels that touch on biblical themes without explicitly quoting the Bible each time they do so. I see nothing extraordinary in John’s use of Old Testament imagery in his account of the life of the Messiah.

Anette Acker said...

I don’t see much point. You take the tenuousness of the Hosea connection as proof that Jesus really must have been raised on the third day.

No, I do not. I am saying that the tenuousness of the Hosea connection and the words "He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures" implies knowledge of the empty tomb on the third day.

I’m sure you would take the tenuousness of any other connection as proof of the writer’s veracity rather than his ingenuity.

Again, no. It tells me nothing about his veracity, but it tells me something about his knowledge.

When I look those passages in John, I see literary creativity. I have read many novels that touch on biblical themes without explicitly quoting the Bible each time they do so. I see nothing extraordinary in John’s use of Old Testament imagery in his account of the life of the Messiah.

Of course novels touch on biblical themes and people recognize them. However, it is nothing like the well references in the OT, which are completely insignificant in and of themselves. Many OT stories are well-known, and they can be clearly identified with just a few words. But there were six encounters at a well in the OT, and the well itself is generally not important. What is the probability that such extremely subtle symbolism would fit so perfectly?

I can identify more details in the OT stories that fit the NT teachings of salvation. First, God opened Hagar's eyes to see the well. In Ephesians 1:18, Paul says, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling." God is the one who opens the "eyes of our hearts" so that we receive His salvation.

Second, in Genesis 24, Abraham sends out a servant "who had charge of all that he owned" to find a wife for his son. Likewise, God sends out His servants (but like Eliezer of Damascus was a friend of Abraham's and not just a servant, John 15:15 says that Jesus calls His people friends) to find people to be part of the church, the Bride of His Son. And Genesis 24:8 says "if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath." In the same way, it is not our responsibility to make someone believe. Each person has a choice.

Third, Hagar and the Samaritan woman were outcasts who were suffering the consequences of their own choices. But that didn't stop God from showing them His mercy and kindness. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

So all these details fit, and I might even come up with more, but I'll spare you. I promise.

This is a far cry from some reference to the OT that every literate person gets. It's not even clear that John was aware of the symbolism, because that is how divine inspiration works. John was just recounting a story about Jesus, but God saw to it that it communicated exactly what He wanted to communicate, down to the detail.