The Case for Christ: The Believing Scholar Point of View (Part 1: Scripture)

Case for Christ In my last post I did a short book review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I mentioned that what I liked best about the book was it was a short introduction of some of the best believing Christian scholars.

In this post, I am going to try to attempt to summarize the believing Christian scholar point of view as Strobel lays it out. For this post, I’m just going to summarize the point of view laid out in the book, not comment on it. (Note: I split this post into two parts. This part will deal with the historicity of scripture internally. The next will deal with some outside evidences or issues. The split up is a bit artificial, I admit.)

For this post, I will not be in any way critical of the point of view being expressed, but rather just to try express it in its own words.

Authorship of the Synoptic Gospels

The authors of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were attributed to the most unlikely of authors: two non-apostles (Luke and Mark) and a hated tax collector (Matthew.) Later legendary material was always attributed to the most well known figures, Peter, Mary, James, etc. Further, the synoptic Gospels have no competitors for authorship. As far back Papias in A.D. 125 we find the authors specifically named as Matthew and Mark. The best explanation for this is that they probably were written by the very people they are attributed to. (p. 22-24)

What Does “Q” Tell Us About Jesus?

There is a hypothesis that the Gospels all borrowed for even earlier material. This hypothesized source document is called “Quelle” which means “source,” or “Q” for short. Some scholars have culled out of the Gospels the portions they believe existed in Q. But even in this case we still find strong claims about Jesus being made, such as “that he was wisdom personified and that he was the one by whom God will judge all humanity, whether they confess him or disavow him.” Q, despite being only sayings or quotes, still implies Jesus was a miracle worker. (p. 26-27)

The Synoptic Gospels Claim Godhood for Jesus

One common argument made is that the Gospel of John, which clearly declares the Godhood of Jesus, is actually a later book based on later doctrinal developments reading those developments back into earlier events. However, the synoptic Gospels actually affirm the Godhood of Jesus as well, though in more subtle ways. For example, In Matt 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52 you have Jesus walking on water and saying (in the original Greek), “Fear not, it is I am” with “I am” being the same Greek word as was used in the more famous John 8:58 where Jesus takes upon Himself the divine name as in Exodus 3:14. Jesus also referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” in allusion to the divine figure in Daniel 7:13-14. Further, Jesus continually claims to forgive sins which is a power that Jews reserved for God alone. He also claims that “whoever acknowledges me, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven” implying He has final judgment authority. Therefore, John is more clear but not different in kind compared to the synoptics. (p. 29-30)

Consider also that Jesus called twelve apostles as his followers to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. But then who does Jesus represent in this analogy? (p. 134) And if Jesus really was just a normal Jewish Rabbi that only later was built into a god by the later Church, then why exactly did the Jewish authorities and even the Romans feel the need to kill him? Jesus even performed his miracles claiming they were signs that he could forgive others of their sins or setup God’s kingdom, as only God was believed to be able to do. (p. 135) The synoptic Gospels present the very same divine Jesus the Gospel of John does (p. 138) but more subtly so as to slowly allow this fact to dawn on them. Had Jesus merely erupted on the scene claiming He was God, it would have been such a drastic departure from what the Jews were used to that it would have been misunderstood. (p. 133)

The Liberal Dating of the New Testament

Even liberal scholars date Mark to the 70s, Matthew and Luke to the 80s and John to the 90s. While much is made of these late dates, decades from the life of Jesus, these are in fact still the dates closest to the original events of any ancient history. By comparison the earliest histories of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death. Yet they are still considered to be generally trustworthy. Most legendary material about Alexander developed five centuries after his death, not within a few decades. (p. 32-33) A.N. Sherwin-White of Oxford did a study of the rate at which legend accrued in the ancient world and concluded that not even two full generations was enough time for legend to develop and to wipe out a solid core of historical truth. (p. 264)

Reliability of the Manuscripts

Even the dating of the existing manuscripts is remarkably close to the originals compared to any thing else in ancient history. We have copies within a couple of generations from the originals, a few that date back to early second century, whereas other ancient texts that we consider reliable are five to ten centuries later. Plus we have multiple translations of the same material for comparison purposes. (p. 59) In addition, we have more than five thousand Greek manuscripts for comparison purposes on portions or all of the New Testament. To give a real life counter example, Tacitus the Roman historian’s first six books exist in only one manuscript today, and it was copied in A.D. 850, about seven centuries after Tacitus. The best runner up is actually Homer’s Iliad which has fewer than 650 manuscripts today with the earliest being eight or nine centuries off from the original. (p. 60-62)

Interestingly, the most disputed of the Gospel’s, John, has some of the earliest manuscripts. One manuscript that contains two thirds of John dates to A.D. 200. In another manuscript, a fragment of John can even be dated to between A.D. 100 and 150 and was found no where near where John would have composed it, thus requiring John to be dated even earlier than this. Since liberal scholars previously claimed John was a fourth century creation, this has forced significant rethinking within liberal scholarly circles. (p. 61-62)

The Conservative Dating of the New Testament

Of course there is a strong case to be made that the liberal dating of the material is too late. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome waiting trial. We do not find out how he dies, presumably because the story was written before he died. So Acts can’t be dated later than A.D. 62. Acts is the second of a two part work, so we can now place the book of Luke before that time. Mark is believed to be before Luke by most scholars, so it’s even earlier. If you assume a year for each, you end up with Mark being written by A.D. 60 or possibly earlier. Assuming Jesus died in A.D. 30 or 33 we have a maximum of 30 years gap. Probably much less.

Paul and the Early Creeds

Of course the Gospels aren’t even the earliest materials about Jesus. Paul’s letters are believed to come even before that. Paul incorporated some of the earliest creeds and confessions of faith into his epistles. (p. 229-230 for discussion on how it was determined it was a creed.) This includes Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. So the material in each of these creeds is even earlier than the very early epistles of Paul themselves. These creeds include statements about Jesus including that he “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, that by Him all things were created, that he was buried and rose from the dead, that he was seen of Cephas (Peter) and the twelve and then by “above five hundred” and finally by his own brother (and skeptic) James. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 in particular, Paul specifies that this was the beliefs he received upon his conversion. If we assume the earliest date for the crucifixion as A.D. 30, then Paul’s conversion would be placed at about A.D. 32. His first meeting with the Apostles at Jerusalem can then be placed at A.D. 35. So we can place the dating of the 1 Corinthians 15 material as already established and formulated doctrines of the early Church to within 5 years of the crucifixion – far too fast to be Legendary additions of any sort.

Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, we do find several important corroborations about the life of Jesus such as “that Jesus was a descendant of David, that He was the Messiah, that he was betrayed, that he was tried, crucified for our sins, and buried, and that he rose again on the third day and was seen by many people – including James, the brother of Jesus who hadn’t believed in him…” (p. 88) Paul shows no interest or corroboration for the parables and teachings of Jesus (as Liberal Theologians now sometimes claim was the real historical teachings of Jesus) but instead is primarily interested in the already existent beliefs about Jesus (by A.D. 35) that Jesus was resurrected and atoned for our sins. Paul’s letters also strongly corroborate the deity of Jesus, and this from the strictest of monotheistic Jews. (p. 88)

Therefore, we have a substantial amount of evidence that within 20 years of the death of Jesus, probably much sooner, that there was already a full blown ‘Christology’ proclaiming Jesus as God. (p. 139) How probable is it that this was all conjured up out of thin air within twenty or fewer years after Jesus died when there are still living witnesses of the historical Jesus around to tell people what he really taught and said? (p. 230) Further, it is Paul that delivers these creeds and he does so by affirming that he has investigated the claims of this creed by questioning two of the witnesses mentioned in it (in Gal 1:18-19) as well as being an eye witness of the resurrected Jesus himself. (p. 230-231).

The evidence is strong that the creeds in Paul are early, free from legendary contamination, and unambiguously specific. (p. 233) Therefore, the best possible explanation is that Jesus really did teach that He was God. (p. 140) The Theologically Liberal Jesus who taught good things but never claimed to be God simply did not exist. Instead, we must except that Jesus either had the highest form of megalomania or He really was God. (p. 141)

The Reliability of the Accounts

And even though the synoptic gospels clearly borrow from a single source (possibly Mark itself) this is what we’d expect since Mark was believed to be the same Mark that was close to Peter. The small variances between the synoptics may also be explained as an artifact of any ancient oral culture where committing stories to memory was common, but so were slight variances depending on the teller. (p. 43) Contrary to popular belief, this is not similar to the kids game of “gossip” or “telephone” where you pass a message, but are not allowed to check that you have it right. To make a game similar to what really would have happened, you’d have to allow every third person to check back with the first person out loud and in a clear voice. (p. 44) Since the variances are always in secondary details and not in the substance of the message, this is consistent with oral transmission of the times.

And what reason did these people have to tell their unpopular story? They could only gain criticism, ostracism, and ultimately martyrdom. They had nothing to win financially. (p. 48) And it must be admitted that something caused the Christian religion to take off amongst a group of discouraged and depressed followers of a man that died an ignoble death. (p. 246) And how else do we explain a skeptic like James the brother of Jesus only coming to believe in Jesus after the resurrection? (p. 248)

The Gospels themselves provide proof that the stories told are told accurately because there is a large body of ‘hard sayings’ of Jesus that, even at the time, were not popular. If these were all invented sayings of Jesus then such hard sayings would not be included. Even the opponents of Jesus claim that he was a sorcerer who led Israel astray. So even the counter witnesses are admitting that he performed great miracles.

Claims that variants between accounts undermine the testimony of the Gospels overlook the fact that it’s completely normal to have different accounts of the same historical incident with some contradictions. For example, Hannibal cross the Alps has two narratives with significant incompatibilities, yet no one doubts the basic fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps. (p. 216) The Gospels are the same way. They only differ on small details, not on the key points of faith, such as that Jesus died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, and was resurrected and met many of his disciples.

Even the fact that women are mentioned as the first witnesses confirms strongly that this is a historical record and not a later creation, for women were not considered reliable legal witnesses at the time. So if the story was fiction, women would not have been chosen as the first witnesses of the resurrection. This can only be explained by the fact that the women were, in fact, the first witnesses of the resurrection. (p. 217-218)

Do Variants Pose Danger to Christian Doctrines?

Even admitting to some variants between manuscripts, the variants do not pose any danger to any of the core Christian doctrines. Even if you were to remove the portions that are in question, you still find a Divine Jesus, a Trinity/Godhead doctrine, Salvation through Jesus, etc. In fact, many scholars have claimed that we can reconstruct 99.5% of the original manuscripts. (p.65)

In my next post, I’ll continue the summary of the arguments in The Case for Christ.

89 thoughts on “The Case for Christ: The Believing Scholar Point of View (Part 1: Scripture)

  1. “Instead, we must except that Jesus either had the highest form of megalomania or He really was God”
    There are a lot of good mental gymnastics. It’s interesting to see the Evangelical & other Protestants make all sorts of intellectual leaps, but deny the Latter-day Saints any leap of faith. That same sentiment I quoted and the proceeding evidence could easily read, “We must accept that Joseph Smith was a prophet who saw God the Father and His Son or he had the highest form of megalomania. And since so many witnesses corroborate not only his story, but often his visions with visions of their own, he is a true prophet.”

    Of course, the protestants would have none of their reasoning turned on themselves. I find the LDS are one of the only consisent Christians who actually apply similar reasoning across the scriptures from ancient times to today. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s always interesting to see how things written 2000 years ago are taken as fact (practically, without the need for spiritual witness), but things written 200 years ago (or even last month) are baloney if we only rely on a spiriutual witness.

  2. chris,

    You nailed it. In my last post I talked about how their jabs at Mormons in this book backfired to some degree. This is one of the main ways. I have some even more specific examples for a later post.

    Hey chris, I’ve seen you commenting here a lot recently. Tell me a bit about yourself (as much as is possible on the internet) and your backgroud. Do you blog (or whatever) somewhere?

  3. In my assessment, these are all pretty standard conservative apologetic arguments that attempt to summarize critical scholarly arguments, ignore the inconvenient details, and rely on razor thin gaps to argue for the possibility that all those inconvenient details they ignore foreclose.

  4. I’d just add that I think that we need to confront these issues head on rather than hoping they will go away and we can all just go back to not worrying about them, as this book attempts to do.

  5. Oh, and I’m also interested (but less so) in how you justify the statement “I think that we need to confront these issues head on rather than hoping they will go away” as such is a veiled truth claim about the world that itself seems to need an explanation or justification of some sort. My post on Lovecraftianism suggests that it is at least logically possible that we *do not* need to confront any issues of “truth” at all as the truth might be a negative impact compared to a falsehood.

    I do believe in the value of truth, but only because I have an explanation for it. Minus that explanation, I do not believe it should be assumed.

  6. ..Or you could take the position that you accept that Jesus is who modern-day prophets say He is, that He walked the Earth and is risen, and that He will return. Any faults/gaps/bad translations/contradictions in the New Testament that may exist are white noise once you accept those truths. It also helps to have had a spiritual witness through the Holy Ghost of the larger truth of the Gospel and Jesus Christ. If you haven’t had such confirmation, you could always try to get it by following the advice of modern-day prophets.

  7. Ben, I have never read “The Case for Christ,” so I am going on Bruce N’s synopsis, but I can’t see that this book ignores any of the 10 issues mentioned by TT, but instead takes them on directly.

    In addition, I find the whole idea of a “consensus” on NT scholarship absolutely ridiculous. There is a vigorous debate between many “conservative” scholars who are widely respected and many “liberal” scholars who are also respected. I find that many people use the word “consensus” to stop the debate and to get the other side to shut up. This is the exact opposite of open inquiry.

  8. Strobel is a journalist, not a scholar, and relies on conservative scholarship from a generation ago that most good conservative scholars have abandoned (with the exception of a few people like Ben Witherington III). Scholars don’t take his seriously and dissenting voices are not evidence that a virtual consensus exists. Of course there is vigorous debate on these issues, including what they mean. We should participate in that debate, but relying on people like Stobel who want to insist that the problems don’t really exist at all is not a constructive approach.
    For good conservative scholarship that takes these issues seriously, check out N.T. Wright and L.T. Johnson.

  9. Bruce,
    Stobel is a postiivist, as positivist as they come and would be subject to your critique about truth claims far, far more than a postmodernist such as myself.

  10. Hey Bruce,
    Sorry I didn’t get back yet… I just like reading this site because it seems like one of those that post from a faithful LDS perspective where the writers do not seek to elevate themselves by reducing the words or witness of past authorities. It doesn’t mean I of course believe in inerrancy of any individual, but I take very strongly the admonition of the oath and covenant of the priesthood to receive the servants of the Lord, and to also be one with my brethren in the church as they are one with the Lord. I like to click around and spend a few minutes on some of the other sites, but this one is a nice place to come back to frequently because of the perspective of the writers.

    About myself? Well, that’s private :) I’ll say whatever I say online face to face to another person, but I don’t like to have a bit of anonymity because we’re all people and we often make judgements too quickly and I wouldn’t want someone to think my blog comments represent the sum of my character…

    I don’t blog anywhere though. A long time ago before there were “blogs” I wrote and ran a content site with 100k readers. But that was ages ago…

  11. but I don’t like to have a bit of anonymity
    should be
    but I like to have….

  12. @ TT #12 –

    TT, whether or you intended this or not, I don’t know. But what I just heard you say is that we need to take the truth head on (in post 4) except when it’s inconvenient for TT.

    Perhaps this isn’t what you meant, but it’s surely the way it came across. Anyhow, let’s ignore this side thread. It’s not really relevant and you’ve already said enough for the moment. Instead, let’s focus on this:

    “Strobel is a journalist, not a scholar, and relies on conservative scholarship from a generation ago that most good conservative scholars have abandoned”

    Yes, Strobel is not a scholar. So? If the truth of your position is established by authority alone then that’s fine. But I just wanted to be clear.

    Believe me when I say that I’m interested in your point of view here. I hate to only get one side of a story like in Strobel’s book and I figured I could count on FPR to fill in the other side.

    I did look at the post of yours that Ben suggested and Geoff is right that Strobel sought out answers to all the serious points you mention.

    There are several, but less problematic, issues he didn’t address: such as perhaps the conflict with the Pharisees increased in later editions. But this does not seem at all problematic for any of the thesis of the book nor for any of the truth claims of Christianity (well, except for Biblical inerrancy of course). So what? No one seems to be in doubt that the Bible incorporates the ideas of the individual writer at the time of the writing nor that it may have been modified by later copyists. Strobel’s scholars all admit this upfront.

    But your points about Q, the lack of harmony, virgin birth, the earliest version of Mark not containing the post resurrection Jesus (but note: it did contain angels saying Jesus was resurrected and an empty tomb), and the lack of names of authors are all directly addressed by the book. So I’m assuming this isn’t what you were referring to previously when you said Strobel used abandoned arguments. So far it would seem he’s batting pretty well.

    So what else should we know? I’m giving you an open invitation here for facts.

  13. By the way TT and Ben,

    I am preparing my own criticism of the book’s premises. I think my criticism is pretty solid, actually. But judging by what TT is saying, my criticisms are NOT likely to be similar to yours at all. You are making some considerable claims here.

    So I’d really really like to know what the best counter arguments (other than the one I’m preparing) of liberal scholars are. You speak with such confidence that such arguments exist and that they are overwhelming. Now we just need to see them produced.

    I prepared this summary with you guys in mind. (You guys meaning scholars over at FPR, not anyone in particular.) I was hoping to have one of you give a few good links to your own posts or something so that I could compare your point of view to the conservative scholars point of view for my own sake.

    Plus, this post will allow me to link back in the future and say “here’s the believing orthodox Christian scholars point of view summarized as best I could.”

  14. “TT, whether or you intended this or not, I don’t know. But what I just heard you say is that we need to take the truth head on (in post 4) except when it’s inconvenient for TT.”

    I’m not sure how you can conclude this exactly, and if it is something you want to pursue you will have to explain to me the logic of this reading of what I have said here or elsewhere. You are the one that suggested that I have made a “veiled truth claim,” and knowing a trap when I see one I politely declined to follow you down the rabbit hole of defining what “truth” is. But honestly, the insinuation that I somehow am selectively avoiding “inconvenient” truths is not only an insult, but just silly. I thought you knew me better than that. If you really feel like there is some utterly obvious truth that I’m missing as I stare down the abyss of difficult questions in the face of belief and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, I’m all ears.

    “Yes, Strobel is not a scholar. So?”

    This is a response to Geoff B’s claim to supposedly discredit my arguments in my FPR post about a consensus by citing Stobel: “There is a vigorous debate between many “conservative” scholars who are widely respected and many “liberal” scholars who are also respected.” Not that Geoff B could name 10 biblical scholars so why he thinks he can intervene competently on this issue is a mystery, but my point was that citing journalistic mystery novel/testimony as evidence that scholars disagree on these foundational assumptions is incorrect. Far be it from my to invoke an argument from authority, but I will answer Geoff B’s argument from authority that serious conservative scholars would take significant issue with any of the points I put forward. I’m happy to argue any of those points (and we had an excellent discussion of them in the comments), but I’m not going to concede counter-arguments that Strobel constitutes evidence that “scholars” disagree with my points.

    “Believe me when I say that I’m interested in your point of view here.”

    I’d love to believe you, but your sarcastic reply accusing my of ignoring “inconvenient” truths and relying on arguments from authority seem an awfully uncharitable reading of anything I’ve said here.

    “Geoff is right that Strobel sought out answers to all the serious points you mention.”

    You’ll note that my criticism of Strobel was not that he didn’t give answers to the major issues, but rather that he offers an “attempt to summarize critical scholarly arguments, ignore the inconvenient details, and rely on razor thin gaps to argue for the possibility that all those inconvenient details they ignore foreclose.” Of course he gives answers to the arguments, they just happen to be terrible answers that even reputable conservative scholars aren’t going for any more. I provided the two most important in my comment above.

    “But this does not seem at all problematic for any of the thesis of the book nor for any of the truth claims of Christianity (well, except for Biblical inerrancy of course). So what? No one seems to be in doubt that the Bible incorporates the ideas of the individual writer at the time of the writing nor that it may have been modified by later copyists. Strobel’s scholars all admit this upfront.”

    I suppose that it depends on what you mean by “the truth claims of Christianity.” Of course, it is easy to dodge the bullet if you keep making a moving target like Strobel does. He wants to accept Q on the point that Jesus is a miracle worker, but not accept Q on the point that Jesus never claims to be the Messiah or Son of God in it (and the Son of Man sayings are dubious). He wants to say that the ” variances are always in secondary details and not in the substance of the message,” but ignore when the gospel writers dramatically altar the message itself.

    “But your points about Q, the lack of harmony, virgin birth, the earliest version of Mark not containing the post resurrection Jesus (but note: it did contain angels saying Jesus was resurrected and an empty tomb), and the lack of names of authors are all directly addressed by the book. So I’m assuming this isn’t what you were referring to previously when you said Strobel used abandoned arguments. So far it would seem he’s batting pretty well.”

    Again, having answers to arguments, and having good answers to arguments are not the same thing. I’m happy to debate any particular point you want to press on, but I don’t have the time or energy to lay out all of the arguments on all of these points. I’d be happy to provide a bibliography on them if you’re sincerely interested in knowing more, but it would just be too much to demonstrate all of these points (especially if you adopt the moving target that Strobel takes where anytime an inconsistency or problem is pointed out, you just say that that doesn’t answer some mythical “essence” of the message.).

    “So what else should we know? I’m giving you an open invitation here for facts.”

    Check out a good gospel parallel (there is a great one online at http://www.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/) and pick 10 or so stories from the Synoptics and from John and try with all your might to reconcile them. It can’t be done in a convincing way. Try to even compare the image of Jesus in John and the synoptics. We are dealing with very different interpretations. Then try to add Paul into the mix and you get something else entirely. Now, I am a minimilist on this, but I am one that thinks that we have depictions of Christ that reflect the communities in which they were produced far far more than the accuracy of the stories they tell. That is our starting point, not some positivistic fantasy about what we can “reasonably” conclude about who Jesus “really” was.

  15. Bruce @ 16,
    I look forward to your critiques, and I actually bet that we will share quite a bit in terms of criticisms.

    Bruce, in some ways this debate has been happening for over 100 years and going over the basics of it is really kind of tedious. One tires of it, perhaps like evolution or abortion and having to go over all the issues again with people just beginning to confront them is kind of a drag. I will do it when pressed on specific things, but attempting to lay out the enterprise of critical biblical studies in blog comments or posts is just too much, and my fatigue with it is not evidence that there aren’t good arguments. My interest is really in the second order questions of what it means in light of these perspectives, different hermeneutical issues that begin from, and critique historical critical methods, and specific points of interest to me at any particular time. Rather than rehash these assumptions that critical scholars have taken for years as apologists like Strobel do, my vision for LDS biblical scholarship is that we join the conversation rather than annoyingly stand outside of it and pretend its scholars just don’t know anything about Christ or the Bible.

    If you want to read a pretty mainstream commentary, the best in Bart Ehrman’s Introduction to the New Testament, far and away the most adopted text book right now. A slightly more classical one would be Raymond Brown, who is a believer, but one who seriously confronts the issues. For the NT at least, these should put forth the basic arguments that pretty much everyone begins with. Certainly there are points to disagree with them on (and I certainly have my disagreements with them), but they will provide a far more competent introduction to the issues at stake than Strobel.

  16. TT, you need to come off your high horse. You could not name 10 competent economists either, yet I’ve seen you comment on economics at times. I have admitted in many comments that I am far from an expert. There is no qualification that somebody be an expert to comment on this or any other thread (if that were the requirement, we wouldn’t get very many comments).

    I have behind me right now a book shelf filled with literally hundreds of books on Biblical scholarship, BoM scholarship and Church history. I have read all the books there. I am not an academic and don’t attend all of the conferences that you and your colleagues go to. But I can hold my own, and I certainly know enough to reiterate my comment that there is vigorous debate between conservative and liberal scholars on the NT. And I will also reiterate the self-evident point that claiming there is a consensus on any of the major points so far discussed is ridiculous (and against the true spirit of academic inquiry).

  17. Geoff,
    I don’t think anyone needs to be an expert to comment on these issues and have made it a point time and again that I wholly reject claims to credentials or authority as evidence in and of itself, but I do think that one should know what they are talking about if they are going to lecture me about what is or is not a consensus on any particular issue that I am writing about. If you can to pull down some of the books off of your shelf and provide actual arguments about any of these points, I will be happy to engage, but I am not going to sit back and concede that the arguments aren’t worth taking seriously because you think there is some mythical debate on these issues.

    I will grant that a universal consensus is of course not possible, but to suggest that there is simply no such thing as virtual consensus on certain fundamental issues in various fields is hanging a mountain on a thread. The field of evolutionary biology takes for granted certain principles about how the world works, which in order to be considered a member of that guild one accepts. The same is true for basically every other field, including economics and even biblical studies. No, these are not dogmatically accepted, but represent the conventional wisdom of battles fought and won long ago. Yes, one can question them rigorously and be taken seriously. But in order to do so, one must not only demonstrate that they understand the issues at stake, but also recognize that the reasons for the consensus in the first place is because the solution offered resolves a certain problem, and the new solution that is being offered can’t be a return to the state before the problem was resolved, but offer a newer, better solution. This is Kuhnian paradigm stuff about how consensuses work and are challenged. If you want to challenge the heliocentric model of the universe, you can’t argue that we should just go back to the good old days of a geocentric universe because there are problems with the heliocentric model, but rather attempt to resolve the new problems that the heliocentric model presents. The same is true in biblical studies. We can’t go back to just assuming that the all the NT writers share the exact same views just because we might find problems with the new consensus. Rather, we have to find new solutions to those problems that don’t create all the problems that the previous model already solved. Strobel thinks that we can just return to a geocentric model because he doesn’t grasp the extent of the problems, and thinks that because there are new problems with the heliocentric model that it must not be right. This is a problematic starting point.

    None (or very few) of the claims that i have made in my previous post is really all that close to be in serious controversy by NT scholars, though I think that ironing out the details on some of them might reveal some points of discussion. But your claim that simply because debate exists in the field that this constitutes evidence that any of my claims is somehow questionable is just false.

  18. @TT #12 and then # 17

    TT, I took your #12 to be a response to my comment in #6: “
    I do believe in the value of truth, but only because I have an explanation for it. Minus that explanation,I do not believe it should be assumed.”

    The ‘veiled truth claim’ I mentioned was apparently not what you took it to be as it had nothing to do with Strobel or even the Bible or Jesus. I meant something pretty simple: your statement assumes truth is better than fiction in all cases. Or at least that is how I read it… and even now with your further explanation, it still seems to say just that. Further explanation may be warranted.

    Thus without further explanation, I think I’m right to challenge you later saying this: “would be subject to your critique about truth claims far, far more than a postmodernist such as myself.”

    I do not see how this is anything but a contradiction at this point.

    However, I *can* now see that you weren’t responding to my original statement as I assumed (dang blogs!), but rather assumed I meant something else. And that does make better sense because that would explain what Strobel has to do with my comment in #6 that had nothing whatsoever to do with Strobel.

    In any case, I apologize if it came across as insulting or sarcastic due to that misunderstanding.

    But I do not back off my actual point: you can’t both believe in the universal value of truth and also not believe in it. Or at least you don’t get to without either being ribbed by me or without a far better explanation than you are currently giving.

    In any case, I concede this isn’t that important a point to this thread.

  19. A comment on the TT and Geoff debate

    TT, I think you are misunderstanding what Geoff is saying. For starters, Geoff was responding to Ben Park’s claim that “this book seems to basically ignore many of the facts that NT scholars have a consensus on.” He took that to mean, quite literally, that your post had points that Strobel’s book does not address.

    You know, I confess, I took Ben as meaning that too. In fact, I suspect any sane reader would have read Ben that way. And so Geoff is right to respond “bull” to such a claim. And if this isn’t what Ben intend, I hold that Ben did a very poor job of communicating.

    That being said, you go on to point out several things that I think are worthy of note. Let me try to summarize the few crumbs you’ve thrown me so far:

    1.Q does speak of Jesus as a miracle worker, but if you discount the “son of man” references as referring to Daniel’s prophecy, then Q does not have Jesus specifically claiming to be God.
    2.“Try to even compare the image of Jesus in John and the synoptics. We are dealing with very different interpretations. Then try to add Paul into the mix and you get something else entirely.”
    3.“we have depictions of Christ that reflect the communities in which they were produced far far more than the accuracy of the stories they tell”

    I think Stobel hides nothing on #2 and 3, personally. But I would agree Strobel skips #1 for the most part (he does spend time making his case around ‘son of man’ title, however) and I agree this represents a place Strobel ignores an inconvenient fact.

    Perhaps this is what Ben even intended and the reference to your post was just unfortunate.

    I would love more examples like #1 for consideration.

    I appreciate your willingness to point me to a whole bibliography and I even more appreciate you then reducing that two books, one from a believing scholar and one from a non-believing scholar. I will add both to my books to read queue (which, unfortunately, is a very very long queue.) But I look forward to this.

    In the mean time, you say you’re willing to give me specifics if I ask, so I’ll post what I think are the key points of the already summarized summary that I’d love to hear from you on.

  20. TT, we appear to be talking past each other. I made two points in #10. One is that your FPR post and Strobel’s book do indeed appear to address similar issues. This I still believe to be true, although as I said I have not read Strobel’s book. The other is not specifically aimed at you but instead intended to point out the use of “there’s a consensus on that, shut up” tactic is not a very credible tactic. That appeared to be what Ben Park was claiming.

    I agree with you that there are certain academic issues in which there ARE many wide areas of agreement among scholars. I was objecting to the use of the “there is a consensus, shut up” tactic and simply pointing out that there are areas of disagreement among scholars. Just to point out one area that I am familiar with (and again I will reiterate that I am far from an expert, just somebody who tries to read a lot), Goodacre seems to disagree with your approach to Q.

    http://www.markgoodacre.org/Q/ten.htm

    Are you claiming your approach to Q is the consensus?

  21. Geoff,

    While the existence of a *specific* document called today “Q” is just an educated guess, it’s probably safe to say that the harmonization of the sayings of Jesus across all the Gospels requires an explanation and that the best explanation is that there were earlier writings of the sayings of Jesus that the Gospel writers were familiar with.

    I see no reason why believing scholars should disagree with that point at all. It’s just reasonable given the limits of what we currently think we know.

    I think the more questionable “consensus” would be to interpret a lack of specific and overt claims to Godhood on the part of Jesus in His sayings to somehow imply that that is a later invention of doctrine. Hopefully TT is not making such a wild claim.

  22. Okay, here are key points I’d love TT’s or anyone’s input on.

    1. I’d like to know what the current “liberal consensus”dating of the manuscripts is. Is Strobel (or rather Blomberg) out of date on this?

    2. How do liberals come up with their dates.(I’d like to see a comprehensive an argument as Blomberg’s on the conservative side. Strobel does not explain the liberal point of view on this at all.)

    3. I’d like your thoughts on the “conservative” dating of manuscripts. I found Blomberg’s argument pretty good on this front. Granted, it’s all just guess work. But is there really a compelling reason (other than personal bias) to pick the liberal dates over the conservative dates? If so, what is it?

    4. Do liberal scholars agree (as Strobel and I think Craig claim) that Paul contains within it early creeds? What is the counter argument? Which of these ‘creeds’ are agreed to be ‘early creeds’?

    5. TT, you mention that Strobel’s and his scholar’s “…ignore when the gospel writers dramatically altar the message itself.” Give us the top examples for our consideration. Pick the juiciest ones with the strongest backing and explain.

    6. The heart of the arguments made by Strobel’s scholars seemed to me to be that we can date things back too far to discount “Jesus as God” to be solely a legendary development. So I’d love your comments on this: “A.N. Sherwin-White of Oxford did a study of the rate at which legend accrued in the ancient world and concluded that not even two full generations was enough time for legend to develop and to wipe out a solid core of historical truth” Or related thoughts.

    7. Likewise, the dating back did seem to me to go back pretty far to the point where I do find it pretty hard to believe that we could start a whole religion around the resurrection of a man while there “still living witnesses of the historical Jesus around to tell people what he really taught and said [i.e. that he wasn’t actually resurrected.].” Thoughts on that.

    8. What are the current best arguments against the ‘empty tomb’? (A point Strobel’s scholars raise again and again.) Why didn’t someone just go show everyone that Jesus was still in his tomb and stop the whole movement in it’s tracks?

    9. “Strobel is a journalist, not a scholar, and relies on conservative scholarship from a generation ago that most good conservative scholars have abandoned.” Give specific examples of arguments mentioned in the summary above that ‘most good conservative scholars have abandoned.’

    10. You took issue with Stobel’s use of Q. However, rereading my own summary, he does mention that Q speaks of Jesus judging all humanity. Please explain your thinking on feeling that this does not (within a Jewish context) imply that Jesus was more than just hinting at being God in Q. (Or else explain why you disagree that this is part of Q.) I would have thought that was a pretty good argument that even Q basically has Jesus claiming to be divine.

    These are the points I’m most curious about at the moment.

  23. Oh, one more.

    Even granting that the Gospels have different interpretations of Jesus, I did find the argument that all of them seemed to teach Jesus was Divine in a unique way and that all claimed Jesus was resurrected compelling. Thoughts?

  24. Geoff,
    On Q, there are a few scholars like Goodacre who question Q, and provide some excellent points to consider. I’ve seen this summary document before and speaking personally here am not that impressed with it for a few reasons. First, the Q hypothesis already acknowledges later times when harmonization between Luke and Matthew occur, which could explain the shared material there, as well as suggestions of various versions of Mark (including Secret Mark) to explain why Luke and Matt agree with each other but disagree with Mark. Second, Goodacre’s suggestion that Luke follows Matt and not Mark doesn’t really explain where Matt got the sayings, and doesn’t explain why Luke changes the order of the sayings and not the Mark material. It is a hypothesis worth considering, but actually shares much more in common with the basic assumptions behind Q than conservative critics who think Matt is an eyewitness.

    So, yes, even though there are some scholars who challenge Q on conservative and liberal grounds, in my opinion it remains the best hypothesis and is certain still the most widely accepted theory for explaining the synoptic relationship. Where most of the debate around Q is right now (well, really in the 90’s since the Q issue is not really actively being debated right now at a widespread level) is in the question of “layers” of Q, different redactional layers that represent different assumptions. I think there are really good reasons to be skeptical of the redactional layers of Q, but the basic idea of the four source hypothesis is still what the overwhelming majority of scholars are working from. Goodacre offers the kind of acceptable critique of that foundational assumption that is worth considering (though I remain unconvinced), but I don’t think radically unsettles either my assertion about consensus on the issue or my claim that the Gospels are actively revising previous Gospels in order to improve and replace them.

  25. TT, I have added Raymond Brown’s “An Introduction to the New Testament” to my wish list.

    I could not find a book called “Introduction to the New Testament” by Bart Ehrman, but I did find “A Brief Introduction to the New Testament” and also one called “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.” Which were you refering to?

  26. Must have been “A Brief Introduction…” because the other is a pre-order.

  27. TT and Bruce, thanks for more information on Q. I have learned something new on this thread, and that’s a very, very good thing. I think I made my point on the issue of blindly accepting the “consensus” argument. Goodacre is well-respected in the NT studies area and has written several books on Q and other subjects. His discussion of the Q phenomenon is alive and well, and many scholars see him as a hero. See this as one example (written just a few months ago):

    http://www.thesacredpage.com/2011/03/goodacre-and-scandal-of-non-engagement.html

    I will probably bow out of this discussion and go to lurking at this point, but I felt a need to explain my comment #10 (and I guess defend myself from not being able to name 10 scholars — I’m just so darned stoopid).

  28. I am no scholar of history, biblical or otherwise. But I do find the thoughts and analyses fascinating. Thanks for the post, Bruce.

    I do find it strange that it matters to some testimony, however. We can’t get two people to agree as witnesses to some event that happened two weeks ago, let alone two millenia ago.

    So while I like to read about the historicity and/or validity of religious texts, the world’s best wisdom about what happened when really isn’t something I’d make life decisions on. Nor would I hang my sense of self-worth on how familiar I am with said wisdom.

    I wager that personal character, charity and humility are far more valuable.

  29. Bruce @25,
    1-3. On the dating, the late dates of 70 for Mark, 80’s for Mt and Lk, and 90’s for John remain the most persuasive even though they are estimates. The big historical issue that anchors the whole dating debates in the First Jewish War in 67-70, which alters that relationship Jews have to Romans (explaining why followers of Christ increasingly try to distance themselves from Jews, and why the gospels often depict Judeans as rioters). Trying to date Mark before the Jewish War is what is at stake here. If the supposed predictions of the destruction of the temple in the mini-apocalypse can be dated before 70, as conservative scholars want to do, it suggests that Jesus was a true prophet. Given the prophetic and even messianic record of prophesies against the temple and predicting its destruction in ancient and 1st c. Judaism, I don’t think it unlikely that Jesus may have said something along those lines, but most think it is more likely that they weren’t written down and circulated until after they came true so that they could be read as having been fulfilled. Once Mark is dated to after 70, it is just a reasonable guess for time to circulate and time for revisions for Matt and Luke, combined with contemporary concerns about the relationship to “Jews” and “Pharisees” which look like the kinds of post-Jewish war struggles we read about in Josephus, being retrojected back into the time of Jesus.

    4. Yes, though “creeds” doesn’t mean the same thing as the 4th c., and no one thinks they are universal. In fact, Paul is often arguing against followers of Christ who don’t accept his basic assumptions, and at least in one example he changes one of the baptismal formulas by dropping the “no longer male and female” part in Gal 3:28 when he writes to the Romans and Corinthians. Further, often these “creeds” contradict the gospel accounts. Take for instance 1 Cor 15:3-7, there is no resurrection appearance to women. This is way earlier than any of the gospels, and the argument that the resurrection appearances to women (except in the shorter version of Mark) must be historical ignores the fact that the earliest account of resurrection appearances is totally different and has no women at all.

    5. I’m away from my library right now, so I can’t offer really specific detailed cases. The parables are good examples. They often have slightly different endings in the synoptics. I’m not going to look up all the references, but after the parable of the sower Jesus explains in Mark that he speaks in parables so that no one will understand and will be condemned. Matt changes this saying to say that he wants people to understand so he speaks in parables. Luke drops it entirely. This is an example of one of the “harsh sayings” (google it to find lots more). Classical examples are the beatitudes, with Luke giving a socio-economic take and Matt offering a more spiritualized take. What they show is that the gospel authors often exercised editorial control over their source material, dropping the inconvenient parts, combining two different sayings to comment on one another, and adding explanations for actions or sayings placed in the mouth of Jesus. Matthew often adds “fulfillment” sayings in his gospel where he identifies an action as having fulfilled a scripture, even though Mark and Luke (an argument against Goodacre) don’t have those passages.

    6. With all respect to Sherwin-White, that is ridiculous. If you get a chance, read Lucian of Samosata’s “Passing of Perigrinus.” Lucian was a satirist who goes after a philosopher named Perigrinus who had developed a cult following (interestingly, he claims Perigrinus was once a Christian). Lucian ridicules him and his followers for being gullible, and tells the story about how Lucian himself spread stories about the divinization of Perigrinus and later that day heard them exaggerated. The point is that whether or not Jesus claimed he was God during his life can’t be proven by dating Mark earlier, nor can it prove that the earliest followers didn’t make it up. (Incidentally, Rom 1:3-4 says that Paul didn’t think Jesus was the Son of God until after the resurrection, not during his mortal life, a passage often ignored by people who want to claim that Jesus actively taught he was divine while he was alive). Part of the conservative argument is to try to date things incredibly early as if that makes them more reliable. This develops in response to the early push to make things late in order to make them less reliable. The problem is that dating is not a gaurantee of reliability at all. People can publish crap whenever they want. Of course, it may very well be that Jesus not only claimed he was divine, but that he in fact was, but this is not going to be proven by dating Mark earlier.

    7. This is one of those older arguments that I think no conservative scholar really accepts anymore. The basic premise is that Jesus is who he said he was because why would anyone make it up? The fact is that people make up stuff all the time. But even still, even if people experienced something doesn’t make it necessarily true. I have heard and read tons and tons of spiritual encounters, visions of God, and miraculous occurrences, even from really smart people, from all different religions. I have heard really really compelling accounts of reincarnation. Is the Dalai Lama either a madman or really the reincarnation of previous Dalai Lamas? The forced dichotomy of either/or that Strobels argument provides can be used (and is) for every single religious claim ever made, and the story of Jesus is no different. Furthermore, the idea that Christianity is a whole new religion is not exactly correct. It arises out of Judaism and its practitioners see themselves as Jews for many decades. Christianity doesn’t really fully become a whole new religion probably until a century or so after Jesus’ death, depending on what criteria you choose, and in some ways still isn’t a whole new religion.

    8. I don’t really know on this one, but I can speculate. Interestingly, Mark doesn’t have the story of the tomb as being guarded, which is added later suggesting that they needed to counter the accusation that the body had simply been stolen. Perhaps the body really was stolen, and later apologists had to come up with ways to explain how that wasn’t possible. In some ways, the whole tomb story itself is incredible, not the empty tomb, but that Jesus the peasant from the Galilee would be given a tomb after his crucifixion rather than thrown into the mass graves that were normally dug for criminals. I’d suspect that some people suggest that it isn’t the empty tomb that is made up, but that there was a tomb at all. Why would the Romans give the body of someone charged with sedition over, especially someone who lacked any social status as Jesus did?

    9. I mentioned the either Son of God or madman argument as one example. I’d say that the idea of harmonization of the gospels is another. I’d say that Paul’s happy coexistence with the Jerusalem authorities is another.

    10. Strobel relies on lots of “hints” about what Jesus said. One problem is that there is no guarantee that anything in Q was actually said by Jesus, and depending on who you follow, many of the apocalyptic sayings are later additions, espcially the Son of Man sayings. And given that the Son of Man sayings are all in the 3rd person, even if Jesus did say something like them, there is no reason to necessarily conclude that Jesus thought he was the Son of Man. But I’d have to know what specific Q saying he is making this argument from. If it is Mt 7:1ff/Luke 6:3ff, that is a pretty thin ‘hint.’

  30. Bruce @ 28-29,
    OUP is trying to sell more copies by offering shorter and longer introductions (they are doing it with OT intros too). This is just the textbook market. Either should probably suffice.

  31. Geoff @30,
    I’m glad we’ve found some common ground on this, and I agree that what Goodacre is doing is worthy of serious engagement. But I just want to point out that his complaint recorded on the link you provided suggests that Q posesses an overwhelming hegemonic influence in the field to this day, supporting my claim that there is near consensus on the issue. It also shows that one can challenge a consensus in a constructive way. But ultimately I think that you are right that we were talking past one another since I didn’t take Ben’s claim or mine about a consensus to shut down conversation, but rather to represent accurately the state of the field.

  32. Just to clear up my comment: I was not implying that Strobel was ignoring issues, but that he was ignoring vast swaths of evidence. (I used the term “facts.”) And I still hold that many of these evidences (or “facts”) do, indeed, hold a virtual consensus amongst reputable NT scholars (as TT outlines in #20).

    You can disagree with me if you’d like. I just wanted to clarify what I meant.

  33. As much as TT claims exhaustion and begs off from engaging (yet again) he does a pretty good job of it and with patience at that. He and I are in the same field and I have to say that his knowledge base is impressive and his willingness to engage with those outside our field is really commendable–I tend to compartmenalize and avoid engagement.

  34. I won’t try to chime in on this long and heated discussion between TT and Bruce and Geoff and others, but I do want to thank Bruce for taking the time to put this together. It’s important to make this type of research available to a wider audience. I have not, unfortunately, read this book by Strobel, so I appreciate the summary here.

    As I haven’t read the book, I’m not in any position to judge whether Strobel is correct or not, or how well his positions stand up against the latest scholarship, but I do appreciate his efforts to take a stand for what he believes in. I wish that there were more scholars out there willing to do so.

    Geoff made a good point earlier — that there is no real consensus on many of these issues. Firmly-held theories often wither away when new evidence is found. I strongly believe that individuals should not easily give up their convictions merely because they are confronted by new challenging points of view. There are always multiple ways of interpreting evidence and I don’t believe that there are any unbiased interpreters — what we get out of a specific piece of data depends greatly on what paradigm we had going in. I think this is true for everyone.

    So, I commend efforts like Strobel’s to argue for what he believes in. BYU did something similar not too long ago with their “Messiah” series, although their approach was a bit different and some of their material would only be really appreciated by an LDS audience. But the spirit and intent of what they and authors like Strobel have done is a great example for all of us.

  35. You really know Christ only when you’ve carried the cross, and he’s carried yours. But in an unbelieving world, everyone needs reminded that there are a lot of facts that are hard to explain if the resurrection didn’t happen.

  36. Geoff made a good point earlier — that there is no real consensus on many of these issues. Firmly-held theories often wither away when new evidence is found.

    This is quite late to get into the game, but I have been following the discussion. I agree with Geoff that the attitude of “there is a consensus, so shut up” is worthy of critique (although I’m not so sure that Ben or TT had that in mind in their earlier comments).

    And let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that there is no real consensus among scholars on many (or any) of these issues. Does this mean that we are free to pick and choose among the theories out there? If the answer is “yes”, then I’m afraid that we will only choose those theories that support what we already believe. IMO, the argument that “there is no consensus, so pick and choose as you want” (which David may or may not have had in mind) is equally pernicious to the argument of “there is a consensus, so shut up.” Regardless of whether or not there is a consensus, the issue of how a scholar arrives at a conclusion should be open for evaluation. We should not, simply because someone has an academic credential and we happen to like their conclusions, give them a free pass because “hey, there’s no consensus in the field anyways, so this theory is just as good as any other.”

    I strongly believe that individuals should not easily give up their convictions merely because they are confronted by new challenging points of view.

    David, given our previous conversations I’m not entirely surprised by this comment. What does it take for you to give up a conviction?

    Following this line of thought, Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails is an interesting study (although a bit outdated) of how communities that predicted the end of the world cope with the continuance of the world.

    From page 3: “But a man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.”

  37. “Incidentally, Rom 1:3–4 says that Paul didn’t think Jesus was the Son of God until after the resurrection, not during his mortal life, a passage often ignored by people who want to claim that Jesus actively taught he was divine while he was alive”

    Just commenting on this from TT in light of one of my favorite scriptures from modern revelation:
    D&C:93:12-14

    “, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
    And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
    And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.”

    It seems to add a bit of clarification to that concept. I think Jesus taught that we should do the will of the Father, like him and progress to receive that fulness. And he further clarified that the only way to receive that fulness of the Father is to come unto Christ who is the only one worthy enough to have received it by his own merit, so to speak, as vs. 19 in DC93 continues…

    “I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.”

    I don’t want to get into the scholarly debate, but I would assume as a Latter-day Saint today, that Paul understood this then. Either he phrased it unclearly, or it was understood/recorded/translated unclearly. I don’t think it proves Romans “wrong” but just adds further light and understanding to the concept.

  38. I also just want to add, I’m strangely happy to have scholars poke holes in any kind of historical arguments, as long as it is done from the perspective of not destroying faith. Increasing our faith (and all that means) is a necessary part of this life from an eternal perspective and faith as well as many of the lessons to be gained from this life would be rendered useless if we just took the scriptures as true because a biblical scholar proved them true and not because they were revealed to us as true as a result of our own use of agency. I count it as a good thing when wnything which encourages us to stay close to the scriptures while seeking our own version of “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven”.

  39. I think it’s more “there is no consensus, (and CAN be no real proof) so don’t base your faith on it.”

    That’s what I was trying to get at, anyways.

    I think there’s always benefit in considering history and opinion about it, so long as you remember that in the end it can only be opinion based on recorded facts . . . which are, of themselves, often opinion.

  40. Chris,

    The Romans 1:3-4 quote actually has two (or more?) possible interpretations. TT’s was only one of the two I’m aware of. The other is that Paul was saying in effect: The resurrection of Jesus declared or proved that Jesus was correct when He claimed He was the Son of God during mortality. Or in other words, Jesus was declared to the world to be the Son of God (and always was) by the reality of His resurrection of which we are witnesses.

    I am not very familar with Wolfhart Pannenberg, but I thought this was the argument he used.

  41. David said: “I strongly believe that individuals should not easily give up their convictions merely because they are confronted by new challenging points of view. There are always multiple ways of interpreting evidence and I don’t believe that there are any unbiased interpreters — what we get out of a specific piece of data depends greatly on what paradigm we had going in. I think this is true for everyone.”

    David! Amen and Amen!

  42. Small Axe asks: “David, given our previous conversations I’m not entirely surprised by this comment. What does it take for you to give up a conviction? “

    Oh! Pick me! Pick me! That one’s easy. Even I know the answer: You give up your convictions when there is an even more worthy and better one available!

    Boy, that was easy. Come to think of it, what other possible answer could there have been?

    “Following this line of thought, Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails is an interesting study (although a bit outdated) of how communities that predicted the end of the world cope with the continuance of the world.”

    I hate this over used example. No one ever mentions that the whole community collapsed shortly thereafter. So Festinerg’s points are only valid in the very very short term. So it’s time to stop using quotes like this.

    The real truth is that faith based communities can be disproven and thereby eliminated from existence. It sometimes takes a long while, true. But the fact is that faith is subject to falsification and always has been. So we should get past arguments like this in my opinion.

    Let’s face it, if there is no second coming in, say, the next 5 centuries, its unlikely that the LDS Church will still exist or even Christianity for that matter.

    It just isn’t true that you can’t falsify faiths. Presumably if the Lovecraftians are right (said tongue in cheek because there are none) the day is coming where the non-existence of God, Morality, or even Hope will be driven soundly into the head of every living being through the ultimate falsification: heat death. Even if it takes billions of years, that will be just a drop in the bucket compared to forever. So the fact is that all things are falsifiable in the long run.

    And if the Lovecraftians are right (there are none), I don’t care about the truth anyhow, so I don’t mind being wrong compared to them. I’m right to be wrong and they are wrong to be right.

  43. Ben,

    Thanks for the explanation. I do think we understand what you intended now.

    I think you and TT are being harsher on Strobel’s book that it deserves. Clearly he argued his points better than you are claiming because – well because I recognize so much of what TT says having only read Strobel’s book. That is saying something.

    But I do agree that Strobel over reaches at times, albeit only a few, and that he clearly does not give equal time to opposing view points. (Here I do not blame him one bit since that was the whole point of his book was to layout the case for the believing point of view.) The points that ultimately got listed by TT as not accurate and no longer believed by even believing scholars seemed to me to be nits. But then this isn’t my field. If I dealt with it day in and out, I’d probably be more upset by use of such poor arguments.

  44. TT,

    1-2: Good answer

    3: The crux of Blomberg’s argument was that Acts comes before Luke and Luke ends with Paul in Rome prior to his death. This seems somewhat persuasive to me. (Or, I guess I should say, I find it equally persuasive as your explanation of the First Jewish war. I’d be hesitant to say I found one more persuasive then the other so far.) Thoughts on this argument?

    4. I accept your explanation that the ‘creeds’ are not what today we’d call ‘creeds’ and that they are not universal. Good explanation. I would like more information on this comment you make: “ignores the fact that the earliest account of resurrection appearances is totally different and has no women at all.” What are you referring to here? Do you mean an account other than 1 Cor 15:3-7? 1 Cor 15:3-7 was covered by Strobel’s scholars. They pointed out that 1 Cor 15:3-7 does not claim to be some all encompassing list of visitations and that women at the time were not considered competent witnesses. So we’d not expect such a ‘creed’ (or whatever we want to call it) to include them. Thoughts?

    5. Satisfactory answer. I understand what you mean now.

    6. Good answer. This one is actually similar to my own criticism. However, I’d still like your thoughts on

    7. I like what you say here, but I don’t think you actually answered the question I intended. So let me re-ask in a different way. Think of your answer to #6. The big problem with it that is difficult to address is that it’s one thing for things to start getting exaggerated, its another for them to do so while the original witnesses are still around. Now we might claim that the original witnesses *are* the ones that did the exaggeration, but now we do bump into a rational problem that obviously is seeking an explanation: just exactly how did we take a Jewish man (Jesus) who never taught he was God or even hinted at it and then suddenly get a sizable group of people (at least 12, probably more) to all suddenly think he had been teaching he was God all along? (For the sake of argument, let’s assume that I agree with your interpretation of Rom 1:3-4 and they are only teaching that Jesus was God post resurrection and was merely hinting at it per-resurrection.) Now the most obvious response to this question is that the witnesses never taught this. But we know that isn’t the case because of Paul’s letters and particularly his ‘creeds.’ So we are left with a problem seeking a good narrative to explain it. Yes, I get it that there are lots of religious people that claim a lot of things. But just how many have claimed as a sizable group to spend regular time with a dead man raised from the dead that also claimed he thought He was God or at least thought he would be God? Dalai Lama go to the back of the line. (By the way, enjoying his book “How to Practice.”) So the comparisons aren’t enough to make this an invalid question. I think what I’m really looking for is “what is the best alternative explanation that has been offered up to the fact that Paul really did meet the 12, really did print creeds while witnesses were still alive that really did proclaim Jesus to be God, and really did confirm all this with the original witnesses?” I’m not in doubt that there are good possible counter arguments here. I can think of a pretty good one. I’m just asking what the best ones are.

    8. Satisfactory answer on this one. I get where you are coming from.

    9. Satisfactory answer on this one. I do have a tangential question: I don’t understand what you mean by “Paul’s happy coexistence with the Jerusalem authorities.” Actually, I do understand what you mean. I guess I’m missing the significance.

    10. Good answer. You have me interested enough in Q that I might have to buy a book or something. Recommendations? I’m seeking something that perhaps prints the supposed text (our best guess) for Q rather than a book about Q.

    @ TT #34 – Good answer.

  45. TT,

    I wasn’t going to ask any more questions about the tomb, but there is one I am really curious about.

    The fact is that a religion did emerge from a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus and did so because people that lived at the same time he did claimed they saw him after his death.

    The fact is that it seems something happened here. An argument that Jesus was dumped into a mass grave seems problematic. Maybe not impossible, but highly highly improbable given the contemporary belief that Jesus came back from the dead. The fact is that the friends of Jesus seemed rather convinced that Jesus had bodily resurrected.

    Even if we start with the assumption that resurrection is completely impossible, there still seems to be a question begging for an answer here. What are the best alternative explanations for why a religion suddenly formed around the resurrection of a dead man given that (for the sake of argument we are assuming) it didn’t happen? Surely *something* improbable must have happened.

    I think this is the real essence of the ‘empty tomb’ argument. And I don’t see how the ‘mass grave’ argument really addresses it, at least not by itself. What they are really asking for is what the alternative explanation is so that we can compare both side by side. And this strikes me as an epistemologically fair question.

  46. By the way, TT, my unfortunate outburst that you expressed concern over was really just what I saw as incongruence between saying “we need to confront these issues head” while also claiming to be a postmodernist.

    But it occurs to me that perhaps you mean something different by that then I understand it to mean. Indeed, I just realized you called Strobel as “Positivist” which does not fit Strobel at all in my opinion. Leaving me wondering if what you mean by “Positivist” is what I understand it to mean. I am going off of how Stephen Hawkings and David Deutsch define the term which is that we aren’t concerned about the truth, only that our theory builds a good mathematical model that makes good predictions. I do not see how this fits Strobel.

  47. Bruce @ 44,
    Re: Rom 1:3-4. The passages discuss two different geneaologies, one “according to the flesh,” and another “according to the spirit of holiness.” For the second, the text says that he was declared to be of that lineage by the resurrection. With respect to Pannenberg, you have to add in the idea that Jesus declared to be Son of God while alive, a claim that Paul no where makes, in order to come to the conclusion that that is what Paul is saying. So, yes, if you add in stuff that the text doesn’t say, the alternative interpretation would be acceptable.

    Bruce @ 48,
    3. Why Acts ends the way that it does is indeed a mystery and honestly there isn’t a good explanation. Solutions have ranged from the idea that we have lost the ending to internal narrative elements about having reached the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), the story is now done. The gospel, not Paul, is the main character. But, the idea that Luke stops there because that is his present isn’t really persuasive for lots of reasons. First, Luke definitely doesn’t know Paul or Peter because everything he says about them is contradicted by Paul. Paul would never circumcise Timothy, and says that he didn’t when he went to the Jerusalem council, but Luke says he did. Peter did not support the mission to the gentiles, or at least does so reluctantly, while Luke depicts him as its champion. Luke’s narrative thesis is one that harmonizes the early apostolic vision, and to your point about the problem with doing so when there are eyewitnesses around to contradict it, suggest that Luke’s fictitious church history is written long after the events it describes. So, while an early date might explain the strange ending of Acts, it doesn’t explain why everything it says about Paul and Peter’s theologies and missionary practices is totally wrong. Many people, including me, don’t think that Luke ever read any of Paul’s writings, and the prosopoeiac speeches he gives doen’t sound like Paul at all. Lot’s of thing suggests a second generation history, including Luke’s account of his sources at the beginning of Luke and Acts, and his account of who gets to be called apostles, as well as his description of church organization, which is decidedly not anything Paul knew. Plus, he says that Luke is the first book in Acts 1:1.

    4. 1 Cor 15:3-7. It doesn’t seem that one can both say that it is an early creed that is authoritative early tradition, and that it doesn’t intend to accurately reflect what the earliest traditions are. The text clearly says that this is the tradition which Paul received. Then it says that he appears in order to:
    1. Cephas
    2. All the 12
    3. 500+ others
    4. James and the apostles
    5. Last of all to Paul
    There is not indication that Paul thinks that he is leaving someone out. Plus, this list doesn’t match up with any other known list. In fact, not even one of them, except 2, is found in an independent source. Whatever “tradition” that Paul “recieved” does not seem to have been known by the evangelists who seem to have received entirely different traditions (none of them match up exactly either, all having a different order and different appearances to different people).
    The idea about women is problematic, especially for Paul. He praises lots of women teachers. And if the appearance to women is problematic for the Pauline tradition because they are women, doesn’t this suggest that the “creeds” and traditions about what happened were highly flexible, changed by different communities to suit different purposes?

    7. The idea that first generation “witnesses” are somehow better historians has no basis. I can’t think of a single ancient history writing about contemporaneous events that isn’t considered by modern historians to reflect the biases and poltiical interests of its authors. Josephus’s own story of the Jewish War is filled with all kinds of stuff that Josephus makes up, or traditions which he exaggerates. Consider his beautiful speech of the call to mass suicide at Masada. The prosopoeiac speach is wonderful, but since everyone died no one could have told Josephus what was actually said there, so he makes it up. All ancient histories have this, and Josephus was alive at the time and knew he was making up the speech. That is because the value of objective history based on reliable sources is not nearly as important as a good story. Another example is Eusebius’ Life of Constantine. Much of it is total bull. He wants to praise the emperor and make him sound awesome, but there is just no way tons of the stuff he says about him happened, at least not without being exaggerated by Eusebius. One could go on and on, as historians vilify or praise their subjects depending on their biases, and leave stuff out or exaggerate stories to make it sound better. In the gospels, the birth narratives could serve as examples of this tendency, with some Zoroastrian priests showing up having followed a star from Persia. These sorts of miraculous and divine signs are standard elements of ancient histories of heroes, and they totally spring up during the life even of the person they are describing. Another would be the death of Caeser, after which he is declared a god by the Senate. Then, the stories of his heroic deeds become even more important and even more exaggerated. This isn’t really all that controversial, and can be shown to be true over and over and over again in ancient texts. The fantasy that a first generation history (even though the gospels are second or third is going to not include legends makes no sense. Another excellent example, now that I think about it, are the legends of Joseph Smith. You know all those great stories that Truman Madsen tells about Joseph? Ever wonder why they aren’t in any of the scholarly biographies of Joseph? It is because they all come from the Utah period, when remembrances of the matyred Joseph Smith become increasingly exaggerated. You get more and more and more pious accounts of how amazing Joseph was, even though the history from contemporary sources doesn’t match up. D&C 135 is a great example of the exaltation of Joseph to amazing heights.

    “just exactly how did we take a Jewish man (Jesus) who never taught he was God or even hinted at it and then suddenly get a sizable group of people (at least 12, probably more) to all suddenly think he had been teaching he was God all along? ”

    There are a few assumptions here. 1. That 12 or more of the earliest followers thought he was God. There is no evidence of that. The gospels barely hint at it (see the post I link to above where we go through every possible verse in detail in the comments. 2. That the record suggests that Jesus taught he was God. The texts are pretty circumspect about this (except John). Mark depicts the disciples as having no idea who Jesus is. Really, the big secret seems to be that he is the Messiah, not God, in the synoptics. But the messiah isn’t a divine figure. The phenomenon of exalting a martyr is really easy to find. Consider the ancient martyred saints. Really, the idea that a community would say amazing things about its martyred leader isn’t all that hard to imagine, and certainly doesn’t require that the leader ever actually said such things about himself for the community to create those traditions.

    “But we know that isn’t the case because of Paul’s letters and particularly his ‘creeds.’”

    The creeds don’t teach that Jesus was God, at least not in any super straight-forward way (remember that the issue is what it means to say something is “God”), and there is no reason to think that these came from “eyewitnesses.” In Gal, Paul specifically says he was never taught by them and that he was taught directly by God. Of course, the quesiton of who handed down these traditional teachings to him is open, but the claim that it came from eyewitnesses isn’t true. But again, we are assuming eyewitnesses somehow have special access to truth, but in fact may actually have the most at stake in changing it.

    “claimed as a sizable group to spend regular time with a dead man raised from the dead that also claimed he thought He was God or at least thought he would be God?”

    Again, we have no actual eyewitness statements of anything like this in early christian texts. And, if you want to be picky about it, the number of early Christian post-resurrection accounts, some dating to the early decades of the 2nd c., make exactly this claim, but show the content of the teaching to be entirely different. And, I’m sure you can think of tons and tons of stories of people claiming to have seen someone who died. And the specific “unique” feature (lots and lots of people in the history of the world have claimed to be god, including may early Christians, like Montanus) of both claiming to be God and having people claim to have seen you after death is ultimatley arbritrary. I could easily ask a question that would make the Dalai Lama the most unique: How many people claim to not only be reincarnated while a child from someone who once lived a century ago and have been independently verified by a group of experts when you demonstrated knowledge about your past life that you couldn’t possibly have known? When you use that criteria for who is a true religious leader, Jesus fails the test! So, it is ultimatley just a circular, arbitrary set of standards of verification about Jesus, and one not even based on facts in evidence since both the claims he is said to have made, and the sources of those claims, are highly contestable.

    9. Paul seems to have hated the Jerusalem authorites based on his report in Gal 1-2. He speaks of them in only derisive terms (don’t rely on the nice-ification of the KJV) and resents the fact that James, the brother of Jesus!, keeps trying to undermine his mission to the gentiles. There is no love lost between them, and Paul constantly emphasizes that he recieved his call as an apostle directly from God, not from human beings, so basically they can shove it. He won’t submit to their authority because his vision of the importance of Jesus is quite different from theirs. The significance is the idea that Paul is somehow depending on eyewitnesses for his information about Jesus is something he would reject. He thinks that he is an eyewitness himself, even the last one, making him the greatest authority, because what really matters isn’t what Jesus taught or did while alive (Paul only twice-I think-cites a teaching of Jesus) is nothing compared to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. That is what matters, and he is an eyewitness to that, so those who knew him while living have no special knowledge that Paul himself doesn’t also have.

    10. Kloppenborg is the Q guy, but as I mentioned before the layers of Q people are more skeptical of. He has a few short books that are just Q with an introduction. I think one is called “The Q Reader.”

    Bruce @49,
    “What are the best alternative explanations for why a religion suddenly formed around the resurrection of a dead man given that (for the sake of argument we are assuming) it didn’t happen? Surely *something* improbable must have happened.”

    I think that if we go down this line, we end up stuck with the problem of every single claim to a miracle, even one’s that might contradict our basic assumptions. This burden to explain every single person’s claim to a miracle or vision of the supernatural is just too high. How do we explain the Dalai Lama? How do we explain Mohammed? How do we explain Teresa of Avila? I mean, *something* happened, right? And, it assumes that the tradition of the empty tomb is one known by the eyewitnesses, again, a fact not in evidence. Paul doesn’t know an empty tomb story. It is not part of the creeds. We don’t have any eyewitness accounts, and there is no reason to think any of them were around when the gospels were written, and even if they were, we have lots of exaggerated histories. And, if we are adding up historical probabilities, the idea of someone raising from the dead is probably the last of all possible rational explanations for what might have happened.

    All this is to say that I don’t find a lot of credibility in the apologetic arguments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is room for belief and commitment. I just think that it is a commitment to a vision of the world that the early christian church taught about, whether or not Jesus himself did. I think we can have resurrection appearances even without an empty tomb.

  48. Just as a side note, there is an excellent discussion up about the limitations of scholarship for dealing with the miraculous by Richard Bushman and Robert Orsi on the Dialogue website. Though it is about Joseph Smith and the Virgin Mary, in reading it I couldn’t help think about our discussion about the resurrection appearances.
    https://dialoguejournal.com/2011/finding-the-presence-in-mormon-history-an-interview-with-susanna-morrill-richard-lyman-bushman-and-robert-orsi/

  49. Bruce @ 50,
    Yeah, I think I was confused by your assumption that somehow being a post-modernist was somehow an admission to not thinking we need to confront issues head on. But untangling all these big terms about truth, post modernism, positivism, etc., isn’t really necessary for our purposes here, as you’ve said. Some other time.

  50. You give up your convictions when there is an even more worthy and better one available!

    What makes one conviction “more worthy and better” than another?

    I ask this seriously, because from the rest of your comment it sounds like you are saying that one gives up a conviction in favor of another when the latter conviction is more compelling; where “compelling” means rationally confirmed by the available evidence. However that neither squares with how I understand David’s comment (hence I’m not sure why you’re praising it in #45 if this is actually your view), nor with the examples you then provide when examined more closely.

    Given that the idea for a second coming of Jesus comes from the times of the Bible itself it’s not ridiculous to believe that the LDS Church or Christianity will still be around in 500 years. It’s now some 1900 years after those early Christian communities seemed to believe that Jesus was coming soon and Christianity is larger than it ever has been. Predictions of Jehovah Witnesses have not happened, yet a hundred years later they are larger than ever.

    Despite how dated Festinger’s study and approach are, many of his main points still hold. People often believe things for reasons other than their “compelling” nature.

  51. Just a clarification on this: “So, yes, if you add in stuff [contained in all the Gospels] that the text [of Paul] doesn’t [happen to] say [because it doesn’t fit the context of what he is writing about], the alternative interpretation would be acceptable.”

    This, I’m afraid, is the problem with feeling like it’s actually possible to draw conclusions without admitting that history is mostly narrative fallacy and ancient history is primarily narrative fallacy. This is actually my primary concern with Strobel, but it applies to the liberal approach equally well.

    “There is not indication that Paul thinks that he is leaving someone out.”

    You seem to be starting with the absolute assumption that Paul knew every witness accurately and without doubt was trying to list them all. These don’t strike me as well supported assumptions. But even if I take those assumptions at face value, I’m not sure why this would be a massive problem for the rest of the content in question. How does finding out that a creed left out the first witnesses that were women – or better yet, that the women mentioned in the Gospels were later additions – pose a problem for my original question? The fact is that we still have a super early tradition that Paul gets from the very witnesses (or at least checks with those witnesses) while still alive. So I’m not seeing your point here.

    On #7, I still feel like you aren’t understanding my question. We’re talking about a bunch of people deciding in synchronicity that they all talked to a man that returned from the dead and that (as I stated for the sake of assumption) this man became God post resurrection.

    If this was a later legend after the witnesses – as you suggests the Gospels, Luke in particular, are — that isn’t a big deal, I admit. We can probably ignore it as later people deifying a man they never knew. (But then you turn around and use the Gospels as evidence Jesus didn’t make such wild claims… hmmm…) But the question I asked was specifically about Christianity at the time of Paul and within the tradition he was a part of, which included the 12 and, as you yourself pointed out, included Jesus being God at a minimum post resurrection. So appealing to the Gospels (if they are in fact a later tradition) does not make sense here. Further you go on to claim that I’m assuming Jesus claimed he was God. No, actually I’m not assuming that in my question. In fact, I was quite explicit in what I assumed: “For the sake of argument, let’s assume that I agree with your interpretation of Rom 1:3–4 and they are only teaching that Jesus was God post resurrection” Now you may be claiming here that Paul made that part up. Okay. But that still doesn’t answer the question because now we have Paul making up that Jesus is God (post resurrection) while there are living witnesses who claim otherwise. That’s my question. Nothing else.

    So what I am really looking for is not a series of contradicting potential problems with the orthodox narrative here. (i.e. appeal to the Gospels as both late and not claiming Jesus is God while also claiming Paul is both early and does proclaim Jesus as God post resurrection. Or using the later Gospels account of the women to prove that the earlier creeds of Paul must be false.) What my question specifically is is this: give me the best non-orthodox potential explanation that fits all the facts simultaneously rather than ad hoc. Again, I’m not assuming you can’t. I just am not sure you understood what I was really asking for. Ad hoc problems like this don’t amount to a counter explanation and in some ways underscore the strength of the orthodox explanation because it is, in fact, a full explanation that attempts to fit all the facts rather than resorting to Rejectionism.

    “So, it is ultimately just a circular, arbitrary set of standards of verification about Jesus, and one not even based on facts in evidence since both the claims he is said to have made, and the sources of those claims, are highly contestable”

    I was just using this as an example. But I hope you can see that one of these claims is more fantastic than the other by far.

    “I think that if we go down this line, we end up stuck with the problem of every single claim to a miracle, even one’s that might contradict our basic assumptions. This burden to explain every single person’s claim to a miracle or vision of the supernatural is just too high.”

    I’m asking for the best counter explanation. If I were to ask this for Joseph Smith, it would be easy to point to Dan Vogel’s theories or Fawn Brodie’s theories. The fact is that people do try to explain such things and often quite well. It’s just a guess of course, but it avoids Rejectionism and should be applaued for the effort and for being epistemologically correct. (i.e. theory to theory comparison versus ad hoc problems.)

    “How do we explain the Dalai Lama? How do we explain Mohammed? How do we explain Teresa of Avila? I mean, *something* happened, right?”

    Absolutely!!! Couldn’t be more obvious. And, yes, deserves an explanation if one believes it didn’t come from God for from the Divine.

    I understand that you personally don’t care. I’m not claiming otherwise. I’m asking for others opinions. I thought everything I was asking for was asking for other’s opinions, right? I am trying to look at a comparison of the best ‘orthodox’ theory vs. the best non-orthodox theory. Not for your personal views, if that makes any sense. If you feel uncomfortable with this, that’s fine. We can drop this question. Or just give me the name of an author or something that felt the need to take the challenged of presenting a full counter theory vs. ad hoc issues.

    “And, it assumes that the tradition of the empty tomb is one known by the eyewitnesses, again, a fact not in evidence”

    I don’t see how this is assumed. Only thing assumed is that there are multiple witnesses that knew Jesus in life and then formed a religion around having seen him raise from the grave. I am only assuming the Cor creed at the moment.

  52. TT,

    On Kloppenborg: I found two books and am not sure which you refered to:

    Q Thomas Reader

    Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus

  53. SmallAxe,

    You asked a number of very good questions. Nor are they questions that are easy to answer in a short comment.

    So I have to ask if, by some chance, you happen to read my posts regularly. Probably not. I doubt much of anyone reads my posts and for good reason.

    This is an issue I’ve been writing about for a while in various ways and I’m still trying to figure out how to explain my “philosophical” ideas more fully. My view is that there seems to be a fundamentally philosophical question that people — for some reason — don’t even think to ask.

    My Lovecraftianism post was my most recent attempt to address the question.

    I think it could be summarized like this:

    1. There is no logical reason to believe “truth” has universal value. It is entirely possible that some truths has negative value and we’re better off without them. (One example I gave in my epistemology posts was assuming “Positivism” was true.)
    2. Everyone assumes the truth has universal value in the way they speak and act and never seem to question this.
    3. Therefore everyone makes a massive leap of faith akin to the very one religious people make when deciding to believe in God.

    It’s actually way more complicated than this. For example, after a series of arguments that I can’t possibly layout in a comment, I think there is good reason to believe it’s not just akin to making a leap of faith for believing in God but that it’s actually the very same leap of faith.

    However, I wouldn’t expect you to agree with me on that point.

    Instead, let me say this, since I think it’s rationally fairly obvious: whether or not the truth matters depends on what the truth is. Therefore, when you make a statement like “What does it take for you to give up a conviction?” it’s actually am empty question that can only possibly have an empty answer: the very one I gave. I just don’t see how any other answer will do but the one I gave until you tell me what ‘the truth’ in question is.

    If you want a more specific answer (and I’d love to be more specific) you’d have to first tell me what you assume the truth is and then I can answer you fully in that context.

  54. “Despite how dated Festinger’s study and approach are, many of his main points still hold.”

    I have to respond to this.

    Stated like you just stated it, it seems like a pretty vacuous truism to me. Yes, of course.

    However, think about the quote you gave from him. It’s only true in the short run. This basically makes the statement meaningless for our purposes.

    As for this: “Given that the idea for a second coming of Jesus comes from the times of the Bible itself it’s not ridiculous to believe that the LDS Church or Christianity will still be around in 500 years. It’s now some 1900 years after those early Christian communities seemed to believe that Jesus was coming soon and Christianity is larger than it ever has been.”

    I confess, I am no prophet. I was just mentioning my honest opinion in passing. When we make predictions like this, they have to be taken with a grain of salt, of course. An your opinion, whatever it is, is probably as good as mine on such predictions.

    However, the main trust of what I am saying is without a doubt true. Yeah, maybe a false LDS Church could survive and even thrive for over 500 years without a second coming. Maybe. But eventually the truth that they are false will kill them. If nothing else heat death will do them in — billions of years in the future.

    My point being that it just isn’t true that religions are not falsifiable. They may not be falsifiable in your life time, but they are not non-falsifiable. I’m really not saying any more than this. Once all life has died (assuming all life dies) there will no longer be any more Mormons anyhow. ‘Truth’ will have won out. I’m only predicting that “we” won’t even have to wait that long. (I’ll, of course, be dead by then.)

  55. On the issue of “conviction,” I would like to point out that Bruce has had many, many posts on this subject on M* over the last year or so, and his comment #57 doesn’t do his position on the issue justice. If you really want to discuss this issue, it would seem fair to start another thread on another post. Just my two cents.

  56. @ Geoff B and then Bruce.

    Bruce chose to engage this issue. My original comment was directed at David. I’m also not sure this warrants a further post since I suspect that we (Bruce and I) agree on the main issue–what counts as a conviction, and what makes a conviction compelling.

    The issue at stake here is not the falsifiability of religious belief. I’ll consent to your (Bruce) point on this here for the sake of discussion. The issue at stake here is what people do when their (religious or non-religious) conviction is threatened or disconfirmed. David’s statement is an endorsement to not to give up a conviction in the face of new and challenging points of view. That’s fine, but given previous conversations with David my sense is that such a notion is also a license to not change one’s mind/belief when presented with compelling reasons otherwise. Festinger’s research, while outdated and not unproblematic, demonstrates that people do not easily give up convictions even when those convictions are clearly overturned. The final truth may win out at the end (as Bruce argues); but sociologically speaking people don’t give up a conviction “when there is an even more worthy and better one available” if by worthy and better we mean rationally compelling.

  57. SmallAxe,
     
    I have tried to write a full response to your question finally had to surrender to the reality that a “full” answer is not possible in a comment. So, first, let me say that I’ll try to incorporate my full thoughts into upcoming posts. In the meantime, I think I can suggest my answer like this:

    Are you familiar with William James concept of a “live option”? A live option has three attributes: 1) The alternatives must be plausible enough so that you are truly capable of deciding either way, 2) The choice must be forced, 3) The alternatives must be momentous.

    The Sonship of Jesus Christ (however interpreted) and the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ are a live option. I applauded David’s comment because it means he sees reality clearly and piercingly. He sees that belief in Jesus Christ is a live option. Therefore he sees what the truth is.

    The example you are trying to compare it to is an example of a non-live option. At a minimum, we know for a fact that it failed #1 (that’s why the belief community built around it collapsed). I’d argue that they lacked #2 and #3 as well. Therefore, the comparison is no good.

    Now it may one day be that Christianity will no longer be a live option. Perhaps someday the evidence will become so overwhelming that Christianity will lose its meme-ness and go out of existence. In fact, in the long run this will happen if Christianity is not true (again, think of my heat death example for the ultimate disproof). But that isn’t the rational case that exists today.

    There are some people that would disagree with me and claim that Christianity (by that I mean Sonship and Resurrection of Jesus) is already not a live option because the alternative of it being true is not plausible. Such people will often cite the very example you cited with Festinger’s study and claim that this proves people can continue to believe in the disproven forever. (Failing to note that the real story proves the opposite.)

    However, empirically we know such people are rationally incorrect because Christianity both persists and thrives. So it is in fact those that say Christianity is not at all plausible that are the irrational ones. They do not see the evidence for what it is and have become as biased as Strobel is. They are merely committing the reverse of his error.

    At the heart of our shared concern about Strobel’s book is the fact that Strobel wishes to turn Christianity from being a live option to being a rationally compelled one. Strobel is wrongly trying to claim that Christianity is not a live option because #1 is proven almost beyond doubt. Ultimately, if we are going to be ‘rational’ we must admit that Christian beliefs are a live option because both options are plausible.

    This, at least, explains why I feel liked David’ comment. Perhaps what you are really asking me is “under what circumstances should one abandon their beliefs because they’ve been disproven?” But such a question attempts to leave out the reality of point #3 of live options. And this, I’m afraid, makes it impossible to answer your question in the abstract. You have to give me what the next best alternative is or there is no way to answer the question.

    Does this mean that we are free to pick and choose among the theories out there? If the answer is “yes”, then I’m afraid that we will only choose those theories that support what we already believe

    Well, for a live option, the answer is, yes. But that isn’t true for all options, of course. I believe our live options define who we are and tell us what is truly in our hearts.

    If I were to venture another guess, I’d guess that what you are really wondering about (or asking about?) is Baconian epistemology. Bacon wanted it to be that we must drive out our prejudices and biases and let the facts speak for themselves. But Popper demonstrated that Bacon was dangerously wrong on this point and gave us a more realistic approach to over coming our biases. (As much as is humanly possible, anyhow.)

  58. Bruce,

    I think you’re taking this in a direction it need not go. What question do you think you’re answering and how does this answer it? FWIW, my sense is that you’re also misusing James’ notion of a live option, but that need not concern us here (unless you’d like it to).

  59. FWIW, my sense is that you’re also misusing James’ notion of a live option

    I’m interested.

    I really was responding to what you said. But let me lay it out line by line so it’s more obvious.

    The issue at stake here is not the falsifiability of religious belief. I’ll consent to your (Bruce) point on this here for the sake of discussion. The issue at stake here is what people do when their (religious or non-religious) conviction is threatened or disconfirmed.

    Fair enough.

    David’s statement is an endorsement to not to give up a conviction in the face of new and challenging points of view.

    I disagree this was David’s point. His point was to accept that every new narrative fallacy was not a reason to give up a choice on a live option. Narrative fallacies do not compel one rationally. I think this is quite obvious in the case of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection. The non-believing argument ultimately boils down to evidence that you can’t rely on the evidence.

    That’s fine, but given previous conversations with David my sense is that such a notion is also a license to not change one’s mind/belief when presented with compelling reasons otherwise.

    See above.

    Festinger’s research, while outdated and not unproblematic, demonstrates that people do not easily give up convictions even when those convictions are clearly overturned.

    Two issues with this statement. One (as already stated multiple times), only true in short term. Two, David is not talking about a situation that is ‘clearly overturned.’ See above. Actually, make that three: there is a difference between an individual holding a belief and a group maintaining a meme. The former can defy all obvious reason for some individuals. The second cannot.

    The final truth may win out at the end (as Bruce argues);

    True.

    …but sociologically speaking people don’t give up a conviction “when there is an even more worthy and better one available” if by worthy and better we mean rationally compelling.

    Two problems: One, as previously stated, a live option has to be assessed against two kinds of rationality: Plausibility but also pragmatic effect on the individual (#3). Two, given that more accurate understanding of “compelling” people do indeed give up their convictions when a more compelling one becomes available. It is my opinion that you are trying to ignore the second half of that but without a reason or explanation as to why.

  60. Let me answer the “live option” issue first, and suggest how it relates to the larger issue and then head to bed. This may (or may not) allow us to clear a few things up before proceeding further.

    A live option, as I understand it, is one where someone (let’s call him Dr. J) has the possibility of going either way, so to speak. So Dr. J has a live option in a particular situation IFF more than one choice of action was possible for Dr. J. Said another way, someone, say Mr. H, knowing Dr. J’s character and Dr. J’s situation, might say that he would not be surprised if Dr. J took option 1 or 2 in this particular circumstance.

    So, if Dr. J is addicted to prescription pain killers, having him refrain from consuming the pain killers he just purchased from CVS is not a live option since there really is no possibility of him going either way. Mr H, knowing Dr. J’s character, and this situation would be quite surprised if Dr. J refrained.

    So, in relation to the issue at hand, for most Mormons (and I would put David in this category as well), the Sonship of Jesus Christ and the literal resurrection of Christ are not live option issues. This is because, in the view of most Mormons, there is no possibility of going either way. Knowing David’s character, for instance, we would not suppose that David would choose either to believe in the literal resurrection or not to believe in the literal resurrection. We would suppose that he would believe in the literal resurrection.

    Now, of course a person can always choose between two options; but that is different from a live option. David is always free to choose to believe in or not to believe in the literal resurrection. However, he does not have a genuine choice in the sense of going either way. This is because his character precludes the possibility of choosing not to believe in the literal resurrection.

  61. Well, I’m sorry that I didn’t jump back into the conversation sooner, but seeing what has become of what I thought was a rather clear and simple statement on my part, I thought I’d try to explain myself a bit better. I won’t try to delve into the philosophical discussion, which Bruce and Small Axe have argued so deftly, but hope to explain, in straightforward terms, what I meant.

    What I originally said was: “I strongly believe that individuals should not easily give up their convictions merely because they are confronted by new challenging points of view.”

    First of all, I was attempting to nuance what would otherwise have been an overly inflexible statement by adding the “easily” in there. Having said that, I stand by my initial position. Along life’s journey, we are constantly (well, that depends on what you read and who you interact with) being introduced to new ideas, many of which may conflict with our current perspective or world-view. What I’m saying is that the preference should be to hold on to your convictions, while I acknowledge that it is also important to be open-minded when approaching new material.

    For me, and I believe that this is what the Scriptures teach us, the important thing is to distinguish between and give the proper priority to the ultimate source of the ideas that you are contemplating. An example of the perspective I’m coming from is the passage from Isaiah:

    Isaiah 55:8-9 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    We can easily find a number of similar scriptural statements: “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25); “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14); “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor. 3:19-20).

    There are many more passages (some great ones in the Book of Mormon) that make the same assertions. Now I’m not using these in a pathetic attempt to avoid scholarly debate or informed discussion, but want to reiterate and expand my initial point: We should not easily give up our convictions, especially when we have a personal witness that these ideas have God as their source. The “philosophies of men” can’t compare with the wisdom of God. We simply should not allow them to in our minds. If we let our own intellect prevail over what we have come to know by the Spirit, we are letting our natural man becoming an obstacle to our reception of God’s wisdom, which is infinitely greater than our own (or any man’s).

    Again, I’m not saying that there is no room for intellectual discussion, learning from the world’s great thinkers, or being open to changing one’s mind about long-held convictions. What I am trying to emphasize is that we should not ever deny or allow to become diluted a testimony of truth that we have personally received from God — a piece of knowledge that is more precious than the contents of all the books in all the libraries of the world.

    Any piece of dirt or accusation you throw at me regarding Joseph Smith (or the Church) will not affect the testimony of his divine calling that I have personally received from God in answer to prayer, and I should not be foolish enough to let it. That doesn’t mean that there are not aspects of my “gospel knowledge-base” that I should not be willing to modify or let go of, but never the things that have been revealed to me by God.

    Of course I am not saying that people should never let their dearly-held convictions be overturned when they come in contact with new evidence. If everyone did this (refused to let go of convictions), I’m sure that there would be very few of us here having this discussion. On our missions, I’m sure we were constantly hoping and praying for people to give up some of those convictions! If you don’t (or no longer) believe that your beliefs were given to you by God, or that their ultimate source is God, then I don’t think you should continue to cling to them for other reasons, especially if there is something new that you’ve encountered that you do believe comes from God or that he has revealed to you is true.

    I am not (going back to another of Wee Axe’s concerns) advocating a “pick and choose as you want” approach — I am suggesting that wisdom gained from a superior source (God) not be set aside in favor of that obtained from inferior sources, no matter how well-presented or popular. I’ll end with 2 Nephi 9:28, speaking of those who consider themselves wise in worldly terms:

    “When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.”

  62. David,

    Thank you for interceding.

    First of all, I was attempting to nuance what would otherwise have been an overly inflexible statement by adding the “easily” in there…. What I’m saying is that the preference should be to hold on to your convictions, while I acknowledge that it is also important to be open-minded when approaching new material.

    My response to this was also quite simple; although perhaps I did not state it directly enough. Research indicates that people (perhaps by nature) do not easily give up their convictions when confronted with new material. So I’m not sure this needs encouragement. (I cited Festinger in my first comment, which Bruce takes issue with, but there’s plenty of research out there to support this. See, for instance, Brendan Nyhan’s “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions” found here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bnyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf)

    If I were to make a statement similar to yours I would say, “We should carefully consider new and even challenging points of view.” Carefully in this sense can mean both “cautiously” but also “taking these perspectives seriously”.

    Personally, I think much of your last comment is based on a false dichotomy between “the Spirit” and “the philosophies of men.” You’ve created a situation where those things that are learned by the Spirit are not open for debate, while those things that are learned from the philosophies of men are open for debate; but how do you distinguish between the two? Now, I realize that answering this question may be more than you bargained for when leaving your last comment. I don’t necessarily expect an answer. My point simply is that the kind of statement you’re making requires some rather complex machinery to be supported; and when pushed on it cannot necessarily deliver the clarity you promise.

  63. Personally, I think much of your last comment is based on a false dichotomy between “the Spirit” and “the philosophies of men.”

    I would have to sharply disagree with you on this. This is not the perspective that the Scriptures present (see, e.g., the ones I cited in my comment). A dichotomy between revelation from God and the philosophies of men is absolutely crucial to Latter-day Saint/Christian identity!

    You’ve created a situation where those things that are learned by the Spirit are not open for debate, while those things that are learned from the philosophies of men are open for debate; but how do you distinguish between the two?

    I think that’s an appropriate distinction. How do you distinguish between the two? Well the answer should be quite clear to those who have learned something by the Spirit. I’m not referring, by using the expression “learning by the Spirit”, merely to any and all types of Gospel-related learning. I’m talking about personal revelation, the kind that is sought and received from God, often in answer to specific questions. While some experiences may be considered by the individual as more “gray” in terms of how clearly they can be interpreted as having come from God, I believe that many of us would consider some special experiences to be very black and white.

    I don’t think the reality of revelation through the Spirit is something that needs, nor asks for, “complex machinery” for support. I don’t know what kind of assumptions inform your thinking, Small Axe — its somewhat difficult for me to understand where you, as a Latter-day Saint, are coming from on this. False dichotomy…that’s a good one!

  64. David,
    I agree with what you are saying. The difficulty is some people who have not experienced revelation as it relates to direction questions and answers. I experienced revelation often in the church, but more in a guiding sense. That kind of revelation I think is most common in the church (at least for me) and is perhaps open to debate. Not debate over whether or not we received revelation, but debate over what our conclusions or actions should be based on that revelation. A person can be inspired and then go the wrong direction with that inspiration (or even go in a less than ideal direction to put a less negative spin on it) as often happens.

    Over the course of spending several days in the temple and pondering and deciding to ask a specific question I received a very profound revelatory experience like I had never before seen before. Even as I was wondering if I was imagining this experience or forcing it upon myself out of hope, it came upon me even stronger perhaps to reinforce that it was from God. I’d agree with you, this kind of revelation is not really up for debate, even when I hear contradictory statements concerning it. But even so, from the moment I received the answer to my prayer, it was clear to me I could easily do the wrong thing with this profound bit of personal revelation. I haven’t fully worked out all the conclusions, and I don’t think I ever will in this life, and I’m equally sure the content is not something for me to be parading around or even sharing in intimate settings. It was direct personal communication from God to me. So having received this communication it would be easy for me to run off and presume to teach/share it and that would be taking a bit of truth and doing the wrong thing with it. So I think there’s room for both what you and Axe are saying.

  65. replace “never before seen before” with “never before experienced”. I didn’t “see” anything so much as experience it. Although you might say my eyes were opened to what God wanted me to “see”. I just didn’t want to make it sound like I actually saw God. Although to myself, the experience is as strong and real as if I did. Sorry for all the qualifiers. Just trying to explain something not very explainable.

  66. David’s #69.

    Okay… so why don’t you define the terms and present an example? What are the philosophies of men vs. learning from the Spirit?

  67. Sorry I haven’t responded to these last comments directed to me. For some reason, I’m not receiving emails notifying me of the latest comments.

    Chris, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like it was a very real and memorable experience for you. I agree that it is sometimes difficult to interpret what a spiritual experience means and exactly in what way were are being guided.

    My original argument was that we should not give up our convictions — what I meant by this is that we should not give up beliefs that we know to be true because their truth has been revealed to us by God. If you have prayed to God to know if the Book of Mormon is true and He has revealed that to you, then you shouldn’t give that testimony up when confronted by arguments against the book’s veracity (unless, of course, you no longer believe that God revealed it to you).

    Small Axe — The “philosophies of men” is obviously just a simplistic appellation for a very broad category. What I mean by it is simply the rational (and/or irrational) arguments and theories invented by human beings as opposed to information given by revelation from God. I suspect that you are not going to like how black-and-white I am making these categories, but there you go.

    What I’m trying to say is don’t give up on beliefs that you have a testimony of (through personal revelation) in favor of opposing theories (thought up by human beings). If you don’t (or no longer) believe that God revealed any such thing to you, then that’s a different story.

  68. I suspect that you are not going to like how black-and-white I am making these categories, but there you go.

    You’re right. Perhaps you could present an example because I don’t see this distinction. The philosophies of men are (ir)rational theories as opposed to revelation. I’m not clear how those are mutually exclusive categories.

    In the end, here’s what I hear you saying: “Don’t give up on your beliefs, unless you no longer believe in them.” Shouldn’t you have some theory of how someone comes to believe or disbelieve; and how is this theory not in some way related to some process of rationality?

  69. SmallAxe,

    I’m a busy man these days, so sorry for temporarily bowing out. The thread has gone off without me and I’m not even sure how to get back in now.

    Let me clarify on thing. I do not know whether yours or skeptic Martin Gardner’s view of “Live Options” is more true to the original James position. However, I was using it (actually plagiarizing it word for word because I was feeling lazy) from Martin Gardner, so just assume I mean it the way he does. So let me quote him directly:

    The question “Does God exist?” confronts many people, perhaps most people, as a live option.

    I hope this clarifies what I meant and I hope you can see that the three criteria I listed (whether or not this matches James) were valid to my point. For better or worse, Gardner gives James the credit, so I did too, perhaps incorrectly. This might be more Martin Gardner’s philosophies than James.

    And I hope it is clear that a literal resurrection *is* a live options for most Mormons in the Gardnerian sense. It’s also a live option for most everyone, really.

  70. SmallAxe,

    I am not sure at this point if we are agreeing or disagreeing or on what any more. However, I still feel you are forcing an interpretation on David that just isn’t there.

    Now clearly David considers revelations from God (and particularly personal testimony) to be a valid source of knowledge. What I want to know is if you do or not?

    If you care to answer this (and presumably go on to explain how you feel it works for you personally) then I would consider your challenge to David to be a valid one. However, if you don’t, then I would encourage David to not answer questions you ask of him because such questions are only valid in a true dialog – and that implies you are sticking your neck out as far as he is.

    If you want to ask difficult questions like that of David – and I confess it is difficult – I expect you to be ready to engage in full dialog and answer the questions for yourself as well. Personally, I would be very interested in your point of view, actually. You have indicated that you are a practicing Latter-day Saint and you have never indicated that you don’t believe in knowledge through revelation. In fact, it seems like in the past you have indicated that perhaps you do.

    I would even be interested if you did not believe in knowledge through revelation. I would consider this a fair answer as well. (Obviously one that also requires some explanation and reconciliation, I’d imagine.)

    But I do expect you to answer such questions for yourself if you are going to ask questions like this of David. If you are afraid to, then please desist from such questions to others on subjects you aren’t prepared to touch yourself. You really do need to hold yourself to subjects you are also prepared to have dialog on – and dialog is always two ways, not one way.

    If you aren’t feeling up to that discussion, then I’d encourage you to go back to your original point with me instead and drop the side thread with David.

    I do have concerns with Festinger’s points precisely because he cuts out just as the most important thing was about to happen: the collapse of the false beliefs. However, when I go back and read what you say, you seem to say little more than: human beings naturally want to hold on to their beliefs. That seems obviously true enough. So I’m probably not disagreeing with you on that. I think in most case this is even a good thing. (Clearly, at a minimum, it must of had survival value.)

    But I also now see that you never really seemed to make a point either. So I’m curious where you were going with this. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this from your own point of view. Clearly you are both a scholar and a religious person, so you must have some way of dealing with both sides of yourself.

  71. Bruce,

    No problem. We’re all busy people. I haven’t posted anything on FPR for quite some time, because I’ve been rather busy myself.

    I can’t make heads or tails of the way that you’re using ‘live option,’ so let’s start from scratch here, and agree to keep our posts relatively brief. My sense is that we probably agree on most points so maybe we don’t need to go further. My point is quite simple, as you already note, human beings naturally want to hold on to their beliefs, which means that when confronted by new or even contradictory views most human beings will not give up what they already believe. We don’t need Festinger for this; you can also see the article I referred to above: Brendan Nyhan’s “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions” found here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bnyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf). If this is the case, we don’t need to encourage people, as David did, to hold on to their convictions. They already do!

  72. If you care to answer this (and presumably go on to explain how you feel it works for you personally) then I would consider your challenge to David to be a valid one.

    Maybe we’re not clear on how dialogue works. Here’s a general rule I go by: Only make assertions you are willing to defend. Every assertion I’ve made here, and elsewhere, I’ve been willing to defend. In this case, I’m only asking David to defend assertions that he’s made. I’m not the one claiming that there’s a “black and white” distinction between revelation and the philosophies of men.

    I am sticking my neck out as far as he is by only making assertions that I am willing to defend.

    Since you’re asking, I believe in revelation. I believe in reason. I’m not sure we can clearly separate the two into categories that do the kind of work that David wants to do with them.

    FWIW, I’ve written on these issues previously:

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/08/compartmentalizing-the-bracket-and-the-problem-of-creep/

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/01/interpretation-and-revelation/

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2007/03/how-to-reconcile-difference-in-history-and-more/

    And on live options:
    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2009/05/deep-agency/

  73. “If this is the case, we don’t need to encourage people, as David did, to hold on to their convictions. They already do!”

    If that is all you’re getting at, it seems like a fair point worthy of discussion. So here’s my point of view: I disagree completely.

    It’s easy to see that people can and do need such encouragement and that that is, in fact, the whole point of putting yourself into a faith community (i.e. a Church) in the first place: to help assist your faith in God. Our faith in God will realistically comes under challenge all the time and we’ll want and need help to not lose hope!

    In fact, this was really the true take away from Festinger’s book: that once the prophecy had failed, they *needed more people to help reinforce their beliefs* or they were going to lose it. When they couldn’t recruit (and just how successful could they be with this disaster on their hands?), it died. So David’s comment was spot on.

    “This first of all means that what is in fact recorded in our texts or spoken by our prophets is in effect one degree removed from the revelation itself”

    I agree with this wholeheartedly.

    “compartmentalization”

    So here is my point of view. I don’t feel there is a need for compartmentalization except to not ruffle the feathers of others. Popper’s concept of the Myth of the Framework suggests why it’s unnecessary epistemologically (though still necessary for other valid reasons as just mentioned). It’s because so-called “apologetics” is a critical part of the knowledge gaining process. We are at our best when we let the best apologetics clash and see what survives.

    I don’t necessarily mean Mormon apologetics, I mean we should go with what we think is true (on any subject, not just religious) and then allow our own views to be published and criticized. That’s how we shape and change our views the best. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to change our minds. We should foster those virtues, not one of somehow pushing biases out of our minds. That’s impossible anyhow and as Popper points out, the real danger is that you’ll think you succeeded. Since removing biases is completely impossible, instead, trust in the natural selection of conjecture and refutation. Or in other words, put your views out there and get them into the hands of your worst enemies and let them be criticized. Don’t hide your point of view just to avoid the pain of being criticized. Etc.

    “Since you’re asking, I believe in revelation”

    I didn’t ask this well. Yes, of course you believe in revelation. What I really meant was “do you believe revelation can reveal facts about reality — say reveal facts about history.”

    My point here was that David clearly believes this, though he seems to place quite a few caveats on it. If you do not believe this, then this point has to be handled or addressed first or you will talk past each other. (i.e. no dialogue will take place.) In fact, one could imagine that being the full difference between two persons positions.

    “Maybe we’re not clear on how dialogue works”

    Or maybe we disagree on how dialogue works. And maybe this, in and of itself, is worthy of dialogue. ;)

    “I’m only asking David to defend assertions that he’s made”

    I guess I may or may not agree with you. In a sense you are clearly right. Here is the paragraph in #73 in question.

    Small Axe — The “philosophies of men” is obviously just a simplistic appellation for a very broad category. What I mean by it is simply the rational (and/or irrational) arguments and theories invented by human beings as opposed to information given by revelation from God. I suspect that you are not going to like how black-and-white I am making these categories, but there you go.

    As I see it, he makes three assertions:
    1. That there is such a thing as “revelation” and such a thing as the “philosophies of men.”
    2. That he is using “philosophies of men” as an intentionally simplistic appellation and is not trying to (at this time) define them clearly.
    3. That you probably won’t like the fact that way back in post #66 (where he first used it) and in this post he isn’t attempting to define it in any definitive sense.

    Now I would just like to point out that assertions 2 and 3 are beyond doubt. I’d personally like to know if you agree with assertion #1. Based on what you’ve said, I’d say that you, yes, you do.

    If I am right, then all three assertions were, beyond doubt, correct.

    I think what you are really getting at (if you’ll allow me try to read your meaning instead of your words) is that there is no clear way to separate those two categories (philosophies of men vs. revelation). But David hasn’t even attempted to address that issue so far. It’s actually you that brought it up, not he. So I stand by my point of view that you need to be ready to answer the question first if you want to engage him in true dialogue on this subject.

    I *personally*, would love to engage you on that subject. I spend way way way too much time trying to think that one through and love getting others’ opinions on the subject because I’ve never come up with a clear answer on the subject. I’m betting you haven’t either. (Well, unless you believe revelation never gives facts about reality or something like that.)

  74. SmallAxe,

    On “live options” I wrote you a response and then deleted it because I read what you said a bit more carefully.

    I am no longer convinced there is much difference between yours and Martin Gardner’s views. I think it’s contextual.

    Martin Garnder says that a choice to believe or disbelieve in God is a “live option” because it fits the three criteria:

    1) The alternatives must be plausible enough so that you are truly capable of deciding either way, 2) The choice must be forced, 3) The alternatives must be momentous.

    You might be suggesting that it is not for someone that is a member of the LDS Church because it’s a settled question that God exists.

    From a certain point of view, I can agree with both of you. Martin Gardner would probably say that most people to make the choice at some point in their lives. You’d probably say that once they’ve made the choice and intend to stick with it that it’s no longer a ‘live option’ for them.

  75. “do you believe revelation can reveal facts about reality — say reveal facts about history.”

    Sure.

    I think what you are really getting at (if you’ll allow me try to read your meaning instead of your words) is that there is no clear way to separate those two categories (philosophies of men vs. revelation). But David hasn’t even attempted to address that issue so far. It’s actually you that brought it up, not he.

    In David’s own words:

    For me, and I believe that this is what the Scriptures teach us, the important thing is to distinguish between and give the proper priority to the ultimate source of the ideas that you are contemplating

    Now I’m not using these in a pathetic attempt to avoid scholarly debate or informed discussion, but want to reiterate and expand my initial point: We should not easily give up our convictions, especially when we have a personal witness that these ideas have God as their source. The “philosophies of men” can’t compare with the wisdom of God. We simply should not allow them to in our minds. If we let our own intellect prevail over what we have come to know by the Spirit , we are letting our natural man becoming an obstacle to our reception of God’s wisdom, which is infinitely greater than our own (or any man’s).

    I am suggesting that wisdom gained from a superior source (God) not be set aside in favor of that obtained from inferior sources, no matter how well-presented or popular.

    All of that in #66. If that isn’t “attempting to address [the] issue” that there are ways to separate the two out, I’m not sure what is.

    And then in 69:

    A dichotomy between revelation from God and the philosophies of men is absolutely crucial to Latter-day Saint/Christian identity!

    I think what you are really getting at (if you’ll allow me try to read your meaning instead of your words) is that there is no clear way to separate those two categories (philosophies of men vs. revelation).

    Actually my point is less strong–I don’t see how these are two distinct categories. David asserts that they are. I don’t see how that’s the case. He’s making an assertion, I’m challenging that assertion. If you’re asking why don’t I see them as two distinct categories, well I’m not the one that’s introduced them into the discussion. Personally, I don’t use the term philosophies of men because more often then not it’s a social rather than intellectual category. It’s usually a means of excluding someone or something by using a label rather than engaging the specifics of their ideas.

    It’s easy to see that people can and do need such encouragement and that that is, in fact, the whole point of putting yourself into a faith community (i.e. a Church) in the first place: to help assist your faith in God.

    Actually we could make somewhat of the opposite claim; namely, it’s so hard to change one’s convictions that one needs the encouragement of a community to make that change. The encouragement comes on the side of change, not for those who already accept the norms of the community. Take David’s statement, for instance, “ Any piece of dirt or accusation you throw at me regarding Joseph Smith (or the Church) will not affect the testimony of his divine calling that I have personally received from God in answer to prayer, and I should not be foolish enough to let it. ” This isn’t the voice of someone that needs encouragement to stay. If someone has convictions it is hard to get them to believe otherwise.

    Festinger’s work in this regard is illuminating. He does note that people can alter their convictions: “…when people are committed to a belief and a course of action, clear disconfirming evidence may simply result in a deepened conviction and increased proselyting. But there does seem to be a point at which the disconfirming evidence has mounted sufficiently to cause the belief to be rejected” (12). And as you note, yes, the community eventually fell apart, but it took years; and similar communities as I’ve pointed out are still going strong.

  76. All of that in #66. If that isn’t “attempting to address [the] issue” that there are ways to separate the two out, I’m not sure what is.

    Whoa there SmallAxe!

    This specific quote you took from David was in the context of whether or not we should let a series of alternative interpretations about the resurrection of Jesus derail that belief. That’s the context. You are leaving that out now. I was speaking in a more general sense.

    If you narrow the context to the resurrection like this, then, yes, I would again agree wioth David that we as Latter-day Saints should not let these scholarly debates about the resurrection of Jesus derail our faith and what we know through by the Spirit.

    So now I have a couple of more questions for you that seem equally appropriate to the dialogue now:

    1. Do you believe the resurrection of Jesus is a revelation from God and do you believe Jesus was literally bodily resurrected?

    2. If yes, would you agree that the arguments previously (probably both for and against) are just ‘the philosophies of men’ compared to a testimony of the literal resurrection? (If, no, then that is fine too, but I would definitely see that as the point of disagreement and we’d not need to seek any further.)

    I would definitely say that within the context of the resurrection of Jesus, we’ve got a pretty clear cut boundary between ‘revelation’ and ‘the philosophies of men’ (which is rare, I admit) and I would definitely expect people who believe in Mormonism to accept that the resurrection of Jesus is indeed basic to the faith. I would even agree that the boundary here is crucial to Mormon identity. Would you disagree with any of that?

  77. Um, Bruce, you’re the one shifting the context. David never uses the term “resurrected/resurrection”. If you go back through the entire post, the resurrection is only one of several issues under discussion. The larger context was the ways in which consensus in academic fields work. It was at that point that David interceded.

    I’m pretty tired at this point of debating what David may or may not have meant; and I’m sure David is pretty tired of reading what we think he may or may not have meant. So I’m going to drop this issue.

    Regarding your questions about the resurrection, I can’t answer them until you define the terms. What is revelation as opposed to the philosophies of men? More importantly, since you’ve acknowledged that such a division is in fact “rare” I’m thinking I’ll just walk away saying that this is good enough for now.

  78. SmallAxe,

    The thread in question was specifically about two things:

    1. Unique Sonship of Jesus
    2. Literal resurrection

    Within the context of that discussion, David made his comment.

    Isn’t it obvious by now that this *is* our point of disagreement? That you read David has making a blanket statement that *all* revelations and the philosophies of men have clear boundaries and I read him as meaning *some* did? (Specifically Sonship and the Resurrection being the two examples under consideration)

    Isn’t this a fair difference in reading? Doesn’t that make sense? Haven’t we successfully found the difference of opinion through dialogue?

    If you agree that this was the difference, perhaps we can encourage David to clarify which of us “had him right” so to speak. If you’ll agree this was the difference of opinion I’ll ask him myself. But I want to be sure we have reached the honeset difference of opinion.

    “Regarding your questions about the resurrection, I can’t answer them until you define the terms”

    Okay, no problem. The resurrection is where a person that is dead comes back to life in a physical but immortal body. In other words I’m just using the standard LDS definition. I do not mean nor intend anything purely of ‘spirit’ (whatever that means) nor do I mean it in some sense such as ‘immortality through being remembered’ or anything like that. I mean a physical body that can (like the resurrected Jesus) eat and you can feel holes in the hands, etc.

    “What is revelation as opposed to the philosophies of men?”

    Yes, I find the boundary between the two difficult at times. Perhaps I differ from my more conservative bloggers on this, I don’t know. But I do not believe it is difficult to show that “these are two distinct categories.”

    Further, it’s very easy to show that part of LDS identity is that such categories do exist. (Even if I personally struggle to tell them apart in many circumstances.)

    I’m just saying what I believe here, SmallAxe, I’m laying it (i.e. my point of view) out for you for open criticism. I’m hoping you’ll do the same and return the favor.

    Now, how would I demonstrate that the two categories exist? Easy, I’d point to this thread right here. I’d show, for example, that as believing Mormons we absolutely — beyond all doubt — accept a literal resurrection and the Sonship and full Divinity of Jesus Christ as part of our chosen faith.

    Then I’d point to TT’s explanations of how someone might doubt this using historical sources. I’d probably pick out this example in particular:

    1. Comment 32: TT says: “Incidentally, Rom 1:3–4 says that Paul didn’t think Jesus was the Son of God until after the resurrection, not during his mortal life, a passage often ignored by people who want to claim that Jesus actively taught he was divine while he was alive”

    2. I then pointed (Comment 44) out that actually that isn’t the only possible interpretation of that verse.

    3. TT then argues in comment 51 points out that Paul never claims Jesus was “God” (whatver that means) in the flesh. (He also points out that actually, it depends on what you mean by “God.” I take it TT is arguing both sides here.) (Note: Only then in comment 66, does David make his philosophies of men comment. But this isn’t about David. Just trying to point out why I read him the way I did.)

    So here we have a clear tenet of the faith that is believed to be a revelation of God and we also have a clear ‘philosophy of men’ that actually we somehow “know” that Paul taught specifically that Jesus only became “God” after the resurrection and therefore wasn’t “God” before.

    It’s a clever argument. But I believe its obviously weak and can be ignored as ‘the philosophies of men.’ It would have to be considerably stronger before I’d take it seriously. One data point does not a good argument make. This verse can clearly — very clearly — mean either. We do not know for sure which Paul intended and that is a fact. So there is no reason to not pick the one that matches the faith on this and to essentially dismiss the other as ‘the philosophies of men.’

    So without a doubt this is a clear cut boundary from within a believing Mormon point of view.

    Therefore, end of proof by positive example. The two categories do exist for certain even if I can’t always find them.

  79. You still haven’t defined “philosophies of men” versus “revelation”. Those were the two terms I wanted you to define. And even your example doesn’t demonstrate how they are distinct categories.

    For instance,

    It’s a clever argument. But I believe its obviously weak and can be ignored as ‘the philosophies of men.’ It would have to be considerably stronger before I’d take it seriously. One data point does not a good argument make. This verse can clearly — very clearly — mean either. We do not know for sure which Paul intended and that is a fact. So there is no reason to not pick the one that matches the faith on this and to essentially dismiss the other as ‘the philosophies of men.’

    Let’s say that we gain more data points that supports TT’s interpretation, then what?

    All I’m getting from you here is that “the philosophies of men are those things that I don’t believe.” If you’re belief was changed, and let’s say you had a revelatory experience supporting TT’s interpretation; now what? Is it no longer the philosophies of men? If the PoM is such a slippery category, why use it?

  80. “Let’s say that we gain more data points that supports TT’s interpretation, then what?”

    Short answer? Depends on what assumption you want me to take. Probably nothing if there is still considerable room for doubt. If you mean we get enough data to basically compel us to accept that Paul taught Jesus was not Divine until after the resurrection, then the LDS Church is doomed at that point.

    “If you’re belief was changed, and let’s say you had a revelatory experience supporting TT’s interpretation; now what?”

    Assuming I feel very certain it’s a revelation, then yes, it’s now a revelation for me.

    “If the PoM is such a slippery category, why use it?”

    I have yet to see why you think it’s slippery. Seems very concrete in the examples you used given those assumptions.

    Besides, when you ask this question, do you mean besides the fact that this fits securely into Mormon doctrine right now and that to abandon it would likely undermine Mormon theology?

  81. SmallAxe,

    I have been reflecting upon our conversation. (I do that, you know. That’s the whole point of intentionally engaging people you don’t fully agree with.)

    I have a number of concerns or clarifications I want to share or seek. But, as you mentioned, we’re both busy. And you asked me to keep my comments short. Which I haven’t always done – though TT puts me to shame. ;)

    But this is difficult to do. This is, after all, a difficult subject worthy of a lot of writing.

    So let me summarize my main concerns and you can tell me which you want me to share in detail.

    1. I simply have no doubt that the LDS Church does in fact teach that there is a difference between the philosophies of men and revelation. You may or may not agree with this (and I’d ask for you to be clear where you stand), but that doesn’t change that they teach it.

    2. David’s reference to these two concepts seems entirely consistent with LDS Church teachings on this subject. What you are saying does not seem to be. And David is right that this is an authentic part of Mormon identity.

    3. I worry that you are putting David into a position of choosing between a core (in my opinion) LDS teaching and being a ‘real’ scholar. This may not be your intent (hopefully not) but I find this aspect of your actions perplexing and in need of further explanation.

    4. Your main argument is that if I or David can’t define ‘revelations’ vs. ‘philosophies of men’ that this means they aren’t different. I would love to give you my full thoughts on why this is a poor argument in my opinion. But it’s a long argument full of lots of examples.

    5. I’d be happy to elucidate how, in general, people that believe in the LDS Church look at this this concept (i.e. philosophies of men vs. revelation) and why it probably doesn’t seem that troubling to them.

    If interested, please pick what you’d like for me to explain further. I’ll gladly engage you on any of these. Or feel free to call it quits if you prefer. It’s not my intent to force you into a debate.

    As I like to say, this isn’t a contest and you can’t ‘beat me’ and win a trophy. If you can win a trophy by beating me, I’ll conceded for the sake of you winning trophy and then we can go back to having real dialogue.

    Oh, and by the way, I’ve appreciated the dialogue.

  82. Bruce,

    I’ll try to keep this short as well.

    I didn’t introduce the terms or the dualism of PoM/Revelation into the discussion. I think it’s only fair for those who introduced them, or those that think they’re particularly appropriate for the discussion to explain them.

    Slapping on labels like “central to LDS identity” or “consistent with the LDS Church’s usage” doesn’t explain them; and as a matter of fact, they only exacerbate the very problem I’ve explained with the term PoM. In this case, if I don’t buy into this dichotomy of PoM/Revelation, which you haven’t even explained, then by implication I am not consistent with the Church’s teaching and lack a fundamental part of a true Mormon identity.

    The problem I have with this is that terms like the PoM are more often than not used as a social rather than an analytical category, by which I mean that they serve as a marker for those who one believes should not be in a particular group; but it’s not analytical because those who use them do not subject them to analysis such that there is a way to apply the terms beyond one’s (or one’s group’s) personal preference. In the example under discussion (about Paul and the resurrection), two people could hold the exact opposite view as to what is revelation and what is the PoM, yet there seem to be no means of adjudicating between the two.

    Regarding your list of 1-5. I think what I’ve just said addresses much of this. You’re making this much more complex than it needs to be. I’m not forcing anyone to make any kind of existential decision. I’m simply asking them to define their terms. That’s it; plain and simple. As such, the only thing I’d like you to share in detail is your analysis of the dichotomy PoM/Revelation.

  83. SmallAxe,

    I put up a post with further thoughts this week sometime. Very interesting discussion.

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