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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The First Three Points - Bible Stuff

"First, Jesus has been established as an historical character from eyewitness accounts in the Bible, writers of history such as Josephus, and people who might have rather erased all records of him, that is, the Romans and Jews. The Romans recorded the existence of "Chrestus" and His followers. The Jewish Talmud has references to Jesus, his birth, his ministry and also the Book of Matthew. Almost everyone agrees that He existed, other than a fringe factor that can be ignored. I consider the self-styled Bible scholar known as G A Wells to most definitely be one of the fringe. I am on the side of the majority opinion that Jesus was most definitely an historical character." (My words)

a hermit said...

Here's an interesting quote from John P. Meier


"Q: Can historians address the Resurrection, then?

A: We can verify as historians that Jesus existed and that certain events reported in the Gospels happened in history, yet historians can never prove the Resurrection in the same way. Why not?

Perhaps some fundamentalists would claim you can. Apart from fundamentalists, perhaps even some more conservative Catholic theologians would claim you could. I myself along with most questers for the historical Jesus—and I think a fair number of Catholic theologians as well—would say the Resurrection stands outside of the sort of questing by way of historical, critical research that is done for the life of the historical Jesus, because of the nature of the Resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus is certainly supremely real. However, not everything that is real either exists in time and space or is empirically verifiable by historical means."


One of the foremost Biblical scholars of our day confirms that the Resurrection of Jesus CANNOT be established as historical fact.


My Answer


I already posted several sources for the existence of Jesus Christ, including the New Testament books. But if you want to be thoroughly anal about it, just exactly what people CAN you prove were actual living people during that time? Pontius Pilate? Less proof for him than for Christ. Annanias? Who? How many documents that you can prove were written during his lifetime attest to the existence of anyone other than one of the Caesars? We have more proof of the historians of that time than we do the people they wrote about.

What is important is that there is enough historical evidence to establish Jesus as an historical figure. How much you take from the Bible and apply it is an individual choice. I would tell a hermit that you cannot dispute the resurrection with any historical evidence, either. At some point you either believe or disbelieve. Belief in God has always been a matter of faith rather than knowledge. Jesus was a real man. Was He the Christ?

~

"Second, it has been established that there is a great deal of controversy within the ranks of Biblical scholars concerning the dating of the New Testament books. There are competing camps, neither of which can claim a concensus. I am on the side of the early daters, as I have posted previously."

creeper said...

The Bible Stuff: Yep, there's controversy about the dating of the New Testament books, yep, you're a Biblical literalist, and Jesus is most likely a historical character, though that is not a certainty. And it's still another few steps from a person named Jesus actually existing to the details of his life (especially regarding his miracles, birth etc.), which aren't confirmed historically in the slightest.


My Answer

Well, since there is much to confirm the first five books of the New Testament (containing the history of Jesus and the early church) as being written in the first century AD by men who either knew Jesus or were contemporaneous, it becomes a matter of choice whether to accept them into evidence. Since the books were being mentioned as being in existence in the late first century and early second century, people who attempt to assign late dates to the books appear to be agenda-driven rather than seekers of truth. Dan Brown can make a ton of money being fast and loose with evidence and history but hopefully no one takes his assertions seriously.

One can decide that the Gospels are not historical and ignore the life of Christ revealed within. That is yet another choice to make. But, again, there is plenty of evidence that the Gospels are actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as honest testimonies to actual events. It falls to us to believe, or to believe not.

~

"Third, I have established myself as a Bible literalist. Unless the Bible is clearly using prophetic or allegorical terminology I take it literally for both doctrine and historical narratives. This puts me in the minority, but it is not a tiny minority by any means."

a hermit said...

"I believe it is the rapidly changing world view of a Western World moving away from Christianity and towards Humanism in the 1800's that led to the theories of Darwin being adopted, Uniformitarianism accepted, and Biblical textural criticism popularized. Once popularized, such thoughts became the "default setting" for the teaching of those disciplines, thus many Christians have come to agree with positions that are not in accord with the Bible."

Probably true, and, I think, a good thing since the result has been the rejection of slavery, the recognition that women are persons and not chattel, scientific advances, the expansion of civil and human rights etc.

My Answer

That is a strange comment bordering on the ridiculous, a hermit, since it is the Christian world in which such values have been recognized. You don't see women's rights and the expansion of civil and human rights in communist countries, or in countries ruled by Sharia law. Bible believing men wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in this country, documents foundational to the advances you named. Bible believers led the fight against slavery in the USA, in case anyone has forgotten. Furthermore, the great scientists of the centuries leading up to the 1800's were primarily believers in God. Atheism doesn't make for better scientists.


Creeper and anonymous have done a fine job of responding to most of the rest of this post, so I'll just add pass this on for anyone interested in Prof. Well's response to Rev. Neal's criticisms:

G. A. Wells Replies to Criticisms of his Books on Jesus

"I conclude that I have in Dr. Neal yet another conservative critic who to some extent misrepresents me, dwells on some marginal matters as if they were of fundamental importance to my case, and deals with the more central ones by mounting plausible-sounding objections while ignoring the answers I have repeatedly given to these very points. His polemical tone and confident emphases do not improve his case. His acerbity increases as his dialogue with my defender proceeds and is obviously in part the result of sheer exasperation with an interlocutor who continually comes back at him. But it is partly prompted by his concern to deter potential readers from my books by persuading them that they are unworthy of serious attention."

Quite a substantive rebuttal, I recommend reading the whole article.


My Answer

(I did read the whole article, by the way).

Wells is one of a number of Bible critics who look for evidences in more recent documents to prove to them what went before. They tend to ignore evidences that support the NT books as being written before 66 AD although those evidences are powerful. They pick and choose what historians they will pay attention to and have a pat answer for their decisions. It doesn't change the fact that men of the first, second, third and fourth centuries believed these books were authentic and they were much closer to the time of writing and had far more sources than do these latter-day critics. One of the fallacies of liberal Bible scholarship is to ignore the findings of early scholars.

Wells also displays a great deal of ignorance concerning the writings of Paul. Paul had no need to recount the Gospels, since they were already available. Paul was writing epistles to specific churches or pastors concerning the needs of those particular people and in doing so God used him to present the basics of Christian living to His church. Both Paul and Peter mention that in their preaching they preached the gospel, in other words, the life, death and resurrection of Christ leading to the salvation of man. Let's just consider the writings of Paul, since there is less dispute as to whether Peter would understand and teach the ways of Jesus.

Romans 1:15 - "So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also."

How often does Paul use this phrase or a similar one in his writings? I count at least forty times. How about this phrase?

I Corinthians 1:22-24 - "For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

In the Book of Romans Paul lays out the principles of sin and the price for sin. He explains what Jesus accomplished in His mission to mankind and how Jesus both paid the price for sin and made salvation available to mankind. He lays the background for understanding atonement, and grace, and echoes what Jesus told both His disciples and the crowds to whom He preached. Paul certainly understood Jesus' teachings exceedingly well and could present them convincingly.

I could go on and on. Paul's epistles, like those of James and Peter, were meant to augment the testimonies of the Gospels and the Acts, not to echo them. G. A. Wells seems to think that Paul needs to rerun previous scriptures in order to either have validity or to give validity to the scriptures that had been written by others. But Paul would not have seen that as being part of his mission. Paul sought converts to Christianity and as a mentor to other preachers he helped others to do the same. I am sure Paul never gave a moment's thought to whether his writings were a validation of the Gospel of Matthew. Like Jesus when He taught, Paul would occasionally quote scripture in his writings to make a point, but not to authenticate the passage being quoted.

Wells fails to see the significance of the fact that Peter and other believers associated with Jerusalem and Jesus himself acknowledged Paul as an apostle of Christ. Furthermore, Paul did not cling to that acknowledgement but actually was bold enough to question some of their rituals. Much like Jesus, Paul put emphasis on grace and the state of the heart of man above that of circumcision or the washing of hands. G. A Wells does not grasp this. Unfortunately G. A. Wells lacks the insight to understand the writings of the New Testament thoroughly because he comes to the books as a skeptic. A skeptic will have difficulty understanding.

II Peter 1:19-21 - "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

I try to be a humble man. It pains me to say something that people will take as arrogance. Yet I believe this to be true, that unless you are a believing Christian you cannot get as much out of the New Testament as can a believer. Based on the scripture above, men wrote the scriptures but first they had to be believers and be able to be moved by the Spirit of God to write. Second, in order to interpret what is written on needs the Spirit of God to help you understand in depth what has been written. This is not my idea, I am just passing on what the scriptures say.

As a believing Christian who has prayerfully studied the writings of Paul in the Bible, having read every one of his epistles dozens of times, looked up the Greek, prayerfully considered and meditated over individual passages, based my living in part on what is contained in those passages, I have to say this: G. A. Wells may very well be both a sincere and a studious man. However, Wells, when talking about what Paul said and knew and believed, just doesn't know what the heck he is talking
about.

____________________________________________________

Preview of coming events

Largely fueled by comments by creeper, the second set of seven points will be a much longer posting. It should be up on Thursday, since I teach a class on Wednesday and have a few other obligations so my post tomorrow may be a shorter one.

I do want to thank again all the commenters who take the time to post here. Concerning feedback, kindly make a comment on the last poetry posting if you would consider taking part in a Poetry carnival. I am thinking of hosting one and I think I have some commenters who could contribute some interesting stuff. Thanks!

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

" Atheism doesn't make for better scientists."

I don't think that's a question that's been researched in any depth yet, although it would be interesting. More importantly, you're conflating two things: atheism and a change in world view. As I've mentioned before, I'll agree that the development of evolutionary theory, like the growth of modern science and the establishment of liberal democracies, did depend upon a change in world view; that is, the Enlightenment (in the long, broader sense).

Wikipedia says (for what that's worth):
"This view asserts that the Enlightenment was the point where Europe broke through what historian Peter Gay calls "the sacred circle," where previous dogma circumscribed thinking. The Enlightenment is held, in this view, to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy and reason as being the primary values of a society. This view argues that the establishment of a contractual basis of rights would lead to the market mechanism and capitalism, the scientific method, religious and racial tolerance, and the organization of states into self-governing republics through democratic means. In this view, the tendency of the philosophes in particular to apply rationality to every problem is considered to be the essential change. From this point on, thinkers and writers were held to be free to pursue the truth in whatever form, without the threat of sanction for violating established ideas."

The Constitution and Bill of Rights (and Declaration of Independence) are products of the Enlightment (among other things). (And, of course, the Founders had a range of religious beliefs, including deism; "bible-believing" is certainly not accurate as a blanket term!)

"Sincce it is the Christian world in which such values have been recognized."
That is, the Western world (and not just the Western world, but certainly they're doing their best there!); the world that went through the Enlightenment.

" You don't see women's rights and the expansion of civil and human rights in communist countries"
Totalitarian governments usually aren't a big fan of civil and human rights, oddly enough - but East Germany, at least, was pretty big on women's rights (kinda).

, or in countries ruled by Sharia law."
Yeah. That's the point.

"Bible believers led the fight against slavery in the USA,"

Certainly abolitionism had a very strong religious component - including, around here, many Quakers - one linked in part to the social energies unleased by the Second Great Awakening. At the same time, however, the Bible and religion were also used to justify slavery, as they would be used, a century or more later (and with less textual support) to justify anti-miscegentaion laws, (finally overturned by the Supreme Court in what is probably the most-appropriately named court case of all time: Loving v. Virginia*). Look at the stunning logic in the orginal Virginia case that resulted in that couple's conviction for breaking one such law.
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Anyway . . . I'm a pretty big fan of Enlightment thinking myself, y'know. Due to not looking where I was stepping over the weekend, I got myself a classic puncture wound. Thanks in no small part to the results of the Enlightment, I could just go to the doctor's office and get a tetnus booster shot (and a sore arm - and let me say, I am the biggest baby when it comes to needles - it's really embarrassing).

Yay Enlightment!

* and I have no doubt that had the term been current then (was it?), the Supreme Court would have been condemed as 'activist judges'! And also note, right above where the wikilink drops you: "After World War II, white segregationists commonly accused the US Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., of being part of a communist plot funded by the Soviet Union to destroy the United States through miscegenation. Late FBI director J. Edgar Hoover spent considerable resources of that federal agency in futile attempts to establish a linkage between the civil rights activism of the day and communism."

-Dan S.

Anonymous said...

" There were no great discoveries in the 1800's to disprove God, but rather there were hypotheses proposed that did away with God as a necessity." (from the end of the world-view section in the quoted post)

Very well-phrased. And of course, such hypotheses and theories are not in opposition to belief in God, at least no more so than theories of planetary movement or weather that "do away with God as a necessity" by relying on natural laws, etc. rather than supernatural interventions. (Oddly enough, you don't here folks denouncing weatherpeople -( at least, not as God-hating atheists!) and meteorology as the evil fruit of naturalism). This was necessary in order to approach any of these topics (how do planets move? How does weather work? What explains the patterns of rocks we see? What explains the patterns we see looking at the variety of living and fossil organism?) in a scientific way.

Of course, as a source it is far, far from perfect, but nevertheless, It is telling that Wikipedia's section on early achivements in meteorlogy starts in 350 BCE with Artistotle and than skips to the 17th century. Certainly there had been countless centuries of observation, and the slow development of some reliable local guidelines, but in terms of formalized and codified measurements, observations, and predictions, carefully and appropriately tested and verified, we basically didn't make any progress beyond this general human knowledge base until about the last five centuries.

-Dan S.

Anonymous said...

Oh, am I embarrassed!

"Oddly enough, you don't hear folks denouncing weatherpeople," I meant.

*hides under desk in shame*

-Dan S.

A Hermit said...

"Jesus has been established as an historical character from eyewitness accounts in the Bible, writers of history such as Josephus, and people who might have rather erased all records of him, that is, the Romans and Jews. The Romans recorded the existence of "Chrestus" and His followers. The Jewish Talmud has references to Jesus, his birth, his ministry and also the Book of Matthew."

Apart from the Gospels themselves (which as we have seem are of debatable provenance) none of those sources refer directly to Christ HImself. They discuss the existence of Christians, (and mock their beliefs) but they do not make direct references to Jesus Himself.

"Almost everyone agrees that He existed, other than a fringe factor that can be ignored. I consider the self-styled Bible scholar known as G A Wells to most definitely be one of the fringe."

This in spite of the fact that you haven't actually read Wells, and seem to be under the impression that he utterly denies the possiblity of an actual itinerant preacher providing the basis for the Jesus myth.

"Just exactly what people CAN you prove were actual living people during that time? Pontius Pilate? Less proof for him than for Christ. Annanias? Who? How many documents that you can prove were written during his lifetime attest to the existence of anyone other than one of the Caesars? We have more proof of the historians of that time than we do the people they wrote about"

Actually there a number of direct references to Pilate in Josephus and Tacitus, (as opposed to the oblique, indirect and possibly interpolated references to Christ) as well as at least one artifact bearing his name. As for the Caesars, all I can say here is that you are displaying a profound ignorance of history if you think there is more evidence for Jesus than there is for, say, Caligula

You should note, also, that even for so well docmented a figure a real historian will note that "the surviving ancient accounts too sensationalized, for any serious policies of his to be discerned" and that the stories of his madness are not accepted as being proven just because his existence is known. That his existence as a historical figure can be validated does not automatically cofer veracity to every story told about him.

Contrast this with your approach, which is to conclude that if there is any hint of a historical figure who can be identified as the person who became known as the Christ then every last detail of the Gospels must be true. Not an objective approach, I'm afraid.

"What is important is that there is enough historical evidence to establish Jesus as an historical figure. How much you take from the Bible and apply it is an individual choice."

And the question becomes: how do you choose what to believe? I maintain that it is better to apply the same methodology to Christ as one would to Caligula or King Arthur. I'm sorry, but I cannot accept your claims of spiritual revelation as convincing evidence of anything. The ymay be convincing to you, but there is no reason for me to give them any more weight than I give to teh subjective beliefs of a follower of any other faith.

"I would tell a hermit that you cannot dispute the resurrection with any historical evidence, either."

And I cannot dispute the stories of King Arthur or the archer Arjuna with historical evidence, either. It is the absence of evidence which weighs in favour of a mythological basis for those stories.

"Jesus was a real man. Was He the Christ?"

Caesar was a real man. Was he the god they said he was? Arthur was probably based on some Romanized British chieftan, but was there really a Round Table?

Once again you're back to arguing from a basis of faith and spiritual revelation, not evidence and strict methodology. That's a different argument altogether. We'll get to it later, I'm sure...;-)

I am glad to see you concede that "there is a great deal of controversy within the ranks of Biblical scholars concerning the dating of the New Testament books." Would you agree that "a great deal of controversy" is not the same as the clear majority consensus which you claimed earlier? (or was that Highboy's claim? I may be conflating your opinion with his, I apologize in advance if that's so; I don't have time to go back and check just now.)


"t is the Christian world in which such values have been recognized. You don't see women's rights and the expansion of civil and human rights in communist countries, or in countries ruled by Sharia law"

It is in the increasingly secular world, where religion's grip has been loosened, that freedom has flourished. Communism, for the most part, is a kind of religion too; one for which I have no sympathy. (I'll tell you about my Moscow born sociology prof sometime; a virulent anti-Stalinist who saw many similarities between the Communist Party and the Orthodox Church). Although I will say that the women of Afghanistan enjoyed a lot more freedom under the Soviet backed regime than they did under the god believing Taliban...

Bible believers led the fight to preserve slavery, too; it was Deists, Unitarians and Quakers (all of whom reject trraditional Christianity) who really led that fight.

As for the US Constitution, it was written by men like Thomas Jefferson, who was derided as an atheist because he rejected most of the Bible as having been written by "inferior minds", and James Madison, who argued powerfully throughout his career that both religion and government were best served by a strict separation of the two; by Ben Franklin and other avowed deists. They based the document in part on Roman republicanism, in part on the example sof the Greek philosophers, and in part on the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Bible had very little, if anything, to do with it.


"(I did read the whole article, by the way)."

I think you should read it again, it seems to me Wells deals with every one of your objections in that article, but I'll have to go into that another time...I have places to be.

One last comment. you again assert "unless you are a believing Christian you cannot get as much out of the New Testament as can a believer."

This is just special pleading, Radar. You are forgetting that I used to believe as you do. Do you think I've forgotten everything I was taught growing up? Was my discernment of lesser value than yours? You still haven't answered this very important question, have you? Do you think your faith is inherently superior to what mine was? Are you a "better believer" than I was? Was God hiding from me? If so was it because my yearning for truth was too weak, or because God is arbitrary with His grace? What would you say to a follower of the Hindu or Muslim religion who told that you just cannot understand the Vedas or the Quran because you don't believe them? Should we be accepting their beliefs on that basis? If not, then why should I make an exception for yours?

Notwithstanding your protestaions of humility, Radar, there is no way to claim such a special status for your opinions without sounding, I would say without being, arrogant. If it really pains you so much maybe you should reconsider the issue.

Sincerely

A Hermit

radar said...

"Jesus has been established as an historical character from eyewitness accounts in the Bible, writers of history such as Josephus, and people who might have rather erased all records of him, that is, the Romans and Jews. The Romans recorded the existence of "Chrestus" and His followers. The Jewish Talmud has references to Jesus, his birth, his ministry and also the Book of Matthew."

Apart from the Gospels themselves (which as we have seem are of debatable provenance) none of those sources refer directly to Christ HImself. They discuss the existence of Christians, (and mock their beliefs) but they do not make direct references to Jesus Himself.

Radar - That is incorrect, AH. Jesus Himself is mentioned both in the Talmud and the Roman documents. You are wrong on this point.

"Almost everyone agrees that He existed, other than a fringe factor that can be ignored. I consider the self-styled Bible scholar known as G A Wells to most definitely be one of the fringe."

This in spite of the fact that you haven't actually read Wells, and seem to be under the impression that he utterly denies the possiblity of an actual itinerant preacher providing the basis for the Jesus myth.

Wells characterizes Jesus as a mythical character based on a possible historical character. He ignores strong evidence that Christ actually existed and goes further wrong from there. I did read up on him and read what he said on a link you provided. He is most definitely a fringe fringie, not a serious scholar.

"Just exactly what people CAN you prove were actual living people during that time? Pontius Pilate? Less proof for him than for Christ. Annanias? Who? How many documents that you can prove were written during his lifetime attest to the existence of anyone other than one of the Caesars? We have more proof of the historians of that time than we do the people they wrote about"

Actually there a number of direct references to Pilate in Josephus and Tacitus, (as opposed to the oblique, indirect and possibly interpolated references to Christ) as well as at least one artifact bearing his name. As for the Caesars, all I can say here is that you are displaying a profound ignorance of history if you think there is more evidence for Jesus than there is for, say, Caligula

You should note, also, that even for so well docmented a figure a real historian will note that "the surviving ancient accounts too sensationalized, for any serious policies of his to be discerned" and that the stories of his madness are not accepted as being proven just because his existence is known. That his existence as a historical figure can be validated does not automatically cofer veracity to every story told about him.

Contrast this with your approach, which is to conclude that if there is any hint of a historical figure who can be identified as the person who became known as the Christ then every last detail of the Gospels must be true. Not an objective approach, I'm afraid.

First of all, I said "other than the Caesars" so you are attacking a straw man at the outset. Secondly, there is more evidence for Christ than there is for Pilate. If you are more likely to believe Pilate existed that reveals a bias in and of itself. Again, you are just wrong about the naming of Christ in ancient documents. There is far, far more than a hint about Jesus Christ and in fact there are a number of references and a number of documents. Your claims to the contrary are denied by the evidence.

"What is important is that there is enough historical evidence to establish Jesus as an historical figure. How much you take from the Bible and apply it is an individual choice."

And the question becomes: how do you choose what to believe? I maintain that it is better to apply the same methodology to Christ as one would to Caligula or King Arthur. I'm sorry, but I cannot accept your claims of spiritual revelation as convincing evidence of anything. The ymay be convincing to you, but there is no reason for me to give them any more weight than I give to teh subjective beliefs of a follower of any other faith.

There is actually evidence that Arthur existed as well, although his reign has been romanticized in books written long after he lived and died. In contrast, the books and teachings regarding Jesus Christ were being used and passed around in the 1st century AD.

"I would tell a hermit that you cannot dispute the resurrection with any historical evidence, either."

And I cannot dispute the stories of King Arthur or the archer Arjuna with historical evidence, either. It is the absence of evidence which weighs in favour of a mythological basis for those stories.

"Jesus was a real man. Was He the Christ?"

Caesar was a real man. Was he the god they said he was? Arthur was probably based on some Romanized British chieftan, but was there really a Round Table?

Once again you're back to arguing from a basis of faith and spiritual revelation, not evidence and strict methodology. That's a different argument altogether. We'll get to it later, I'm sure...;-)

Well, here you go. Faith is what is required to believe IN Jesus. To believe THAT there was a man named Jesus doesn't really move anyone any closer to God.

I am glad to see you concede that "there is a great deal of controversy within the ranks of Biblical scholars concerning the dating of the New Testament books." Would you agree that "a great deal of controversy" is not the same as the clear majority consensus which you claimed earlier? (or was that Highboy's claim? I may be conflating your opinion with his, I apologize in advance if that's so; I don't have time to go back and check just now.)

The controversy is largely between liberal Bible scholars and traditionalists. It is fueled by a recent attempt to introduce long-ignored apocrypha into the discussion of accepted scripture. The traditional church holds to the view that the Bible is what it is, what it has been for centuries, based on the evidences of past scholarship and history. Liberal revisionists hold more sway amongst scholars who do not count themselves as Christians and among those who see themselves as "evangelical but not traditional or conservative." So there are two basic camps that are split along ideological lines.


"t is the Christian world in which such values have been recognized. You don't see women's rights and the expansion of civil and human rights in communist countries, or in countries ruled by Sharia law"

It is in the increasingly secular world, where religion's grip has been loosened, that freedom has flourished. Communism, for the most part, is a kind of religion too; one for which I have no sympathy. (I'll tell you about my Moscow born sociology prof sometime; a virulent anti-Stalinist who saw many similarities between the Communist Party and the Orthodox Church). Although I will say that the women of Afghanistan enjoyed a lot more freedom under the Soviet backed regime than they did under the god believing Taliban...

Bible believers led the fight to preserve slavery, too; it was Deists, Unitarians and Quakers (all of whom reject trraditional Christianity) who really led that fight.

As for the US Constitution, it was written by men like Thomas Jefferson, who was derided as an atheist because he rejected most of the Bible as having been written by "inferior minds", and James Madison, who argued powerfully throughout his career that both religion and government were best served by a strict separation of the two; by Ben Franklin and other avowed deists. They based the document in part on Roman republicanism, in part on the example sof the Greek philosophers, and in part on the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Bible had very little, if anything, to do with it.

I take it you have not read much history concerning the framers of the Constitution. Yes, many were Deists rather than classic Christians but even they held the Bible in high regard. Jefferson was a maverick in the bunch, re-writing the Bible to his preference. It was he, not Madison, who expressed in a letter his view of a wall of separation between church and state. This was not expressed in the Constitution nor was it a view expressed by anyone else. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were based more on Biblical principles than anything else.

Where do you get your history? The anti-slavery movement was spearheaded by Christians and churches participated in the underground railroad. Lincoln, a regular Bible-reader and Christian, made the abolition of slavery a priority.


"(I did read the whole article, by the way)."

I think you should read it again, it seems to me Wells deals with every one of your objections in that article, but I'll have to go into that another time...I have places to be.

One last comment. you again assert "unless you are a believing Christian you cannot get as much out of the New Testament as can a believer."

This is just special pleading, Radar. You are forgetting that I used to believe as you do. Do you think I've forgotten everything I was taught growing up? Was my discernment of lesser value than yours? You still haven't answered this very important question, have you? Do you think your faith is inherently superior to what mine was? Are you a "better believer" than I was? Was God hiding from me? If so was it because my yearning for truth was too weak, or because God is arbitrary with His grace? What would you say to a follower of the Hindu or Muslim religion who told that you just cannot understand the Vedas or the Quran because you don't believe them? Should we be accepting their beliefs on that basis? If not, then why should I make an exception for yours?

Notwithstanding your protestaions of humility, Radar, there is no way to claim such a special status for your opinions without sounding, I would say without being, arrogant. If it really pains you so much maybe you should reconsider the issue.

Sincerely

A Hermit

Were it my opinion, it could be arrogant. What pains me is that I have to say it. You seem to be telling me you came to Christ with an open mind and learned all there was to know about Him, but that knowledge was never translated into a saving faith. No one can be talked into faith. Knowledge alone will not accomplish it and clever arguments will fail. Only a heart that responds to the call of the Spirit of God will arrive at faith. Once there, that faith will not fail.

Your powers of reasoning may exceed mine, your IQ may be higher and you may have great discernment. The difference is that I accepted Christ as Saviour and was thereby changed.


"2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

"Galatians 6:15
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature"


If God wanted everyone to absolutely know that He existed then He would write His name in the clouds every day. The sun would have the name "Jesus" incorporated in its light. There are countless ways God could prove His existence.

But God gives us a choice. He makes the knowledge of Him available but not certain. He allows us to choose either God or not-God. He gives us the free gift of salvation but it does require a step out, an uncertain step out, into the unknown realm of faith.

It was not because of any great capabilities on my part that led me to faith, I was just willing to take that step. I could hear the call of God and I answered. No careful study alone, no compilation of knowledge could take me there. Just faith.

AH, there is no way that I can tell you why I have gone there and you have not. Perhaps that step of uncertainty at the end of so much study and gathering of knowledge seemed silly by comparison. Only you can speak for you.

I can only speak for me. I took that step, I trusted Christ, faith brought me to the place that God made an actual change within my heart and spirit and I am a Christian.

radar said...

Dan,

I believe the Enlightenment had a great effect upon the elite of society. But it was the Reformation that freed mankind in general. For it was not God and the Bible that had chained men by a set of traditional rules and laws so much as it was a "church" that had become more of a totalitarian government than anything else. When church and government are the same, all suffer. When religion and government are both free, all but the wicked are benefitted. But when government stifles religion, soon religion and government will be the same again.

The Enlightenment set the elite artists, scientists and authors free to follow their thoughts and dreams. It was quite slow to benefit mankind on the whole, although those benefits would come in time.

The Reformation set men free to worship freely, all the way down to the least educated of paupers. Soon printing presses were running and Christianity led the way to educate the masses. The Reformation helped freedom spread from the bottom up, Enlightenment from the top down. Both worked to some extent hand-in-hand. Neither would have been sufficient without the other.

In my opinion, of course!

Anonymous said...

"The Constitution and Bill of Rights were based more on Biblical principles than anything else."

C'mon, Radar! The conversation here has ranged over many topics - many of which we disagree on - but this . . . I can't see how it's anything but flat-out wrong. The dinosaur thing could at least appear fairly reasonable given certain (mistaken) ideas about radiometric dating, sedimentation, fossilization, and human narratives - this just tosses history and literary interpretation into the garbage can. Have you loooked at the Constitution or Bill of Rights lately? Please explain what you base this statement on? I missed the bit in the Bible about separation of powers and bicameral legislatures . . .

Very interesting comment re: the Reformation & the Enlightenment. I was going to reference the former, but decided against it - don't know enough, and the whole witchcraze bit (which predated it but then flared up again, and finally died down only as Enlightment thought really started taking hold). I'm definitely willing to consider that the Reformation had a quicker effect throughout society. It's interesting to imagine what the world might look like had the Church managed to keep it a matter of limited internal reform . . .

-Dan S.

A Hermit said...

"Radar - That is incorrect, AH. Jesus Himself is mentioned both in the Talmud and the Roman documents. You are wrong on this point."

Where? Talmudic parodys of Christian eaching really don't count, nor do late interpolations. References to "followers of Chrestus" rioting in Jerusalem thirty years AFTER the crucifixion are not a direct reference to Jesus.

Now, maybe I''ve missed something, or something new has been discovered lately, but just saying it's so don't make it so, Radar, you'll have to show me.

" Wells...is most definitely a fringe fringie, not a serious scholar."

You might disageree with him, but a cheap insult doesn't discredit his work; I think you'll find even those who disagreee with him in the academic world at least respect the man's credentials and the quality of his work.

" First of all, I said "other than the Caesars"


No, you said "other than one of the Caesars?". I thought you were refering to earlier mentions of Julius in this discussion, so I gave you another Emporer. The essential point still stands, anyway. We have a pretty good reasons to conclude that Caligula was a real person, but also every reason to be skeptical of some of the wilder stories told about him. Just establishing the historical existence of a preacher named Jesus wouldn't prove that every story told about Him is true, either.

"The controversy is largely between liberal Bible scholars and traditionalists. It is fueled by a recent attempt to introduce long-ignored apocrypha into the discussion of accepted scripture. The traditional church holds to the view that the Bible is what it is, what it has been for centuries, based on the evidences of past scholarship and history. Liberal revisionists hold more sway amongst scholars who do not count themselves as Christians and among those who see themselves as "evangelical but not traditional or conservative." So there are two basic camps that are split along ideological lines."

Very good. Now, let's contrast this with any other field of study; be it history, biology, physics, whatever. What scholars do is assess evidence, and constantly revisit and re-examine old evidence, especially in light of new discoveries.

You're quite right that there is an ideological divide here. I would say it is between real scholars who are unafraid of examining new evidence and revisiting old questions on one hand, and rigid traditionalists who fear any challenge to their established beliefs. One should never, of course, reject tradition or emnbrace some idea because it is new; but to cling to an idea simply because it has been around for a long time is not useful either.

" I take it you have not read much history concerning the framers of the Constitution."

I've read more than you have apparently...;-) Frankly I find it kind of sad, as a Canadian, how many Americans I meet are so ignorant of their own history. It's a fascinating and inspiring subject.

"Yes, many were Deists rather than classic Christians but even they held the Bible in high regard. Jefferson was a maverick in the bunch, re-writing the Bible to his preference. It was he, not Madison, who expressed in a letter his view of a wall of separation between church and state. This was not expressed in the Constitution nor was it a view expressed by anyone else."

I'll just refer you to the writings of James Madison (recognized by his contemporaries as "the Father of the Constitution"). I would urge to pay particular attention to his Memorial and Remonstrance in which he says "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy"

Or to his many letters on the subject; for example:

"I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.
Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822 (Madison, 1865, III, page 265)"


This Madison quote, by the way:

"We have staked the entire future of the American civilization not upon the power of government, but upon the capacity of the individual to govern himself, to control himself and sustain himself according to the Ten Commandments of God.",

often cited by conservatives is, in fact, the false invention of a Christian preacher. Some people will stop at nothing to push their religion down other people's throats.

"The anti-slavery movement was spearheaded by Christians and churches participated in the underground railroad." I would argue it was spearheaded by Christians, Quakers and zDeists.

I was probably understating the involvement of evangelical Christians, fair enough, but I should point out that those Christians who were involved were denounced by their more traditionalist, conservative brethren as radicals and liberals. (Sound familiar?) Those conservative Christians cited the Bible as supporting slavery. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed at least in part to defend the institution of slavery, so t's hard to argue that faith in the Bible was responsible for overthrowing slavery when faith in the Bible was also responsible for propping it up.

"No one can be talked into faith. Knowledge alone will not accomplish it and clever arguments will fail. Only a heart that responds to the call of the Spirit of God will arrive at faith."

I'll have to get into all of this later; for now I'll just point out that we started our converstaion on the subject of the Bible as historical evidence for your belief that Dinosaurs walked the Earth with men just a few thousand years ago. I'm hoping we'll get back around to that, because I'm hoping you'll still be willing to agree with me, as you appear to be doing here, that there is knowledge and there is faith and that one cannot substitute one for the other.

Sincerely

A Hermit

A Hermit said...

Oh, one more quick one:

"Your powers of reasoning may exceed mine, your IQ may be higher and you may have great discernment."

Oh stop, you're making me blush...;-)

"The difference is that I accepted Christ as Saviour and was thereby changed."

Whereas I accepted Christ as my Saviour and was not changed.

You're right. That is a significant difference. What do you think it means?

A Red Faced Hermit...

xiangtao said...

Want some others from the time who are quite historically documented? How about Cleopatra? Publius Vergilius Maro? Quintus Ennius? Horace?
Really I could go on for days.