B.C II

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« on: March 21, 2012, 06:24:11 pm »
I have heard this kind of discussion here and there but have never devoted time to analyzing it. I post it here for deep analysis/discussion, etc. Any critiques?, comments?

*Note: (I did a quick google search of the term before heading out and found this blog: http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2007/10/one-of-main-reasons-why-i-think.html)

On One of the Main Reasons Why I Think Christianity is False (Reposted)  
 
An Inference to the Best Explanation: Jesus as a Failed Eschatological Prophet

I  agree with mainstream scholarship on the historical Jesus (e.g., E.P.  Sanders, Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, et  al.) that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.   Such a hypothesis,  if true, would be a simple one that would make sense of a wide range of  data, including the following fourteen (or so):

D1. John the  Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the imminent judgment  of the eschaton.  Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted  his message -- and in fact preached basically the same message.

D2.  Many (most?) of Jesus’ “Son of Man” passages are most naturally  interpreted as allusions to the  Son of Man figure in Daniel.  This  figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept  preaching that he was on his way (e.g., “From now on, you will see the  Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds  of heaven.” Matt. 26:64).  Jesus seems to identify himself with this  apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this  identification is a later redaction.  Either way, it doesn't bode well  for orthodox Christianity.

D3. The earliest canonical writing (I  Thess): Paul taught of an imminent eschaton, and it mirrors in wording  the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the so-called "Little  Apocalypse" in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew  and Luke).

D4. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting  the end within his generation (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom  of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15);  “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”  (Mark 13:30); “truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the  cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23); “Truly I  say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not  taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with  power.” (Mark 9:1); "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in  the clouds..." (Matthew 26:64)).

D5. A sense of urgency permeates  the gospels and the other NT writings: e.g., the disciples must hurry to  send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s “Son of Man”  comes; Jesus' command to leave all to follow him; Jesus' statement that  even burying one’s parents has a lower priority; Paul telling the  Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to  end  (e.g., don’t seek marriage, or to leave one's slave condition,  etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way  through the NT corpus).

D6. Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim  ethic".  This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would  occur within their generation.

D7. Jesus had his disciples leave  everything and follow him around.  This makes sense if Jesus believed  that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.

D8.  There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’  prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples,  starting with Mark (widely believed among NT scholars to be the first  gospel written), and continuing through the rest of the synoptic  gospels.  By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the  eschatological "kingdom of God" talk is dropped (except for one passage,  and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the  end-time predictions, and is replaced with "eternal life" talk.  Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thought Jesus  really predicted the end within their lifetimes.   Finally, this  successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those  of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where  some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic  message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if  Jesus  really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret  his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet  the eschaton never came.

D9. The fact that not just Paul, but also all the other NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D10. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D11.  Consider also E.P. Sanders’ argument: the passages that attribute these  predictions to Jesus and Paul satisfy the historical criteria of  multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark,  Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient “Maranatha” creed/hymn)  etc., thus strongly indicating that these words go back to the lips of  Jesus.

D12. Jesus’ parables: virtually all explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton.

D13.  Jesus’ “inversion” teachings (e.g., "The first shall be last, and the  last shall be first"): a common theme among Jewish apocalypticists  generally.  The general message of  apocalypticists is that those who  are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever.  The just are  trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation needs to be  inverted – as it will be when the “Son of Man” from the book of Daniel  comes to exact God’s judgment at any moment.

D14. The fact that the  first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but  instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits  of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed  that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that  such a task would be pointless.

But suppose all of this is wrong  -- or at least wrong in the one respect that Jesus didn’t mean “this  generation” in the way it seems.  Still, Jesus did say that the end  would come soon, and his apostles said that these were  “the last days”  etc.

Furthermore, consider:

D15. Certain relevant data in the book of Revelation:

-The author is talking about events within his day
-He attributes a quick return to Jesus -- one that would occur in his day.
-Using  cipher language, he names Nero as “the Beast” (in ancient languages  such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers.  Thus,  it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by  stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to).  Well,  Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the  church during the time that the book of Revelation was written.  In  fact, some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation have the number read  ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of  Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was supposed to be  imminent.
-But it’s been about 2,000 years since then, in which case the author of the Book of Revelation was flatly wrong.

And  so, no matter which way you slice it, the “statute of limitations” has  run out on Jesus and his apostle’s claim for an imminent end.  But if  so, then by OT standards, Jesus was quite si
   mply a false prophet, in  which case he’s not a person that a reasonable and ethical person should  follow. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God doesn't want us to  listen to or follow false prophets. So, for example, here's a statement  attributed to God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:21-22):

"You  may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been  spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the  LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has  not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of  him."

And here's another:

"The prophets prophesy lies in  my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake  unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a  thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14-15)

It  needs to be emphasized  that this line of reasoning isn't controversial  among mainstream, middle-of-the-road NT critics.  I'm not talking about  a view held by the Jesus Seminar, or earlier "radical" form and  redaction critics like Norman Perrin. Rather, I'm talking about the  kinds of considerations that are largely accepted by moderates who are  also committed Christians, such as Dale Allison and John P. Meier.   Indeed, conservative scholars of the likes of none other than Ben  Witherington and N.T. Wright largely admit this line of reasoning.  Why  are they still Christians, you ask?  I'll tell you: by giving unnatural,  ad hoc explanations of the data.  For example, Meier gets around the  problem by arguing that the false prediction passages are inauthentic  (i.e., Jesus never said those things; the early church just put those  words on the lips of Jesus, and they ended up in the gospels);  Witherington gets around the problem by saying that what Jesus really meant was that the imminent arrival of the eschatological kingdom might  be at hand(!); Wright gets around the problem by adopting the partial  preterist line that the imminent end that Jesus predicted really did  occur -- it's just that it was all fulfilled with the destruction of  Jerusalem (Oh, really?  So are we also to think that since he's already  come again, he's not coming back?  Or perhaps there will be a *third*  coming?  But even putting these worries aside: why does Paul tell  various communities very far *outside* of Israel about the same sorts of  predictions of an imminent end that would affect *them* -- one that,  like the one Jesus talked about, involved judgement, destruction, and  the gathering of all the elect?  And again, what about the author of  Revelation's detailing the end-time judgment, which includes the Roman  Empire *outside* of Israel, during the reign of Nero?).  Are you  convinced by these responses?  Me neither.  And now you know why nobody  outside of orthodox circles buys them, either.  

To all of this, I say what should be obvious: you know, deep in your gut (don't you?) that such responses are unnatural, ad hoc dodges  of what we know to be the truth here: Jesus really did predict the end  within the lifetime of his disciples, but he was simply wrong.

Notice  that the claim here is different from one often confused with it, viz.,  that Jesus happened to say some things that could be interpreted as  saying that the end would occur in his lifetime.  This isn't the claim  I'm making.  Rather, it's the much stronger one that Jesus was  an eschatological prophet -- the end time prediction was what he was  all about. It wasn't a message tangential to his central message; it was his central message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Putting it all together, we get the following argument for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet:

Let:
H1= the hypothesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.
H2= the hypothesis that Jesus is the Son of God of orthodox Christianity.

And let D1-D15 be the data sketched above.  Then the argument can be expressed as follows:

1. H1 is a better explanation of D1-D15 than H2.
2. If H1 is a better explanation of D1-D15 than H2, then H1 is more probable than H2.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, H1 is more probable than H2.

I'd  like to mention a related point.  If the mainstream scholars of the  historical Jesus are right and the points above are correct, then it  looks as though this line of reasoning undercuts Craig’s abductive  argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  For it seems extremely unlikely  that a god would resurrect a false prophet (recall, for example, the  passage from Deuteronomy above).  
In any case, it would have been  interesting to see how William Lane Craig would have responded if Bart  Ehrman brought up this point in their debate on the resurrection of  Jesus (Ehrman himself is a proponent of the "eschatological prophet"  account of Jesus. See his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (OUP, 1999)). See also Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, E.P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus, Paula Fredriksen's From Jesus to Christ, Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, and of course Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus.

 


Special thanks obviously goes to ex-apologist (http://exapologist.blogspot.com) for his personal (and thought provoking) analysis.


1

Snoochies

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2012, 08:17:21 pm »
I think you would need to look at what a 'Preterist' would say about all this. They view these teachings as historical and have happened and I think it yet again comes down what is symbolic. As from I understand (I know only a little) but the coming of the son of man means the coming judgement of Israel which happened 70ad.

I don't know too much about it but I think that is the basis so maybe someone who knows more can clarify but would be an idea to read up on Preterism.

Cheers
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear." Psalm 46:1-2

* Forum members please note:- Just because I ask you lots of questions, this does not mean I know something better. I am merely asking to seek clarification and arrive at truth the best I can

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B.C II

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2012, 10:33:29 pm »
Thanks for the response Snooch (lol...) I had an opinion formed but it was/is premature since I have not devoted too much time in analyzing this critique. I definitely felt that standards of interpretation is key however but we'll see what develops. Thanks again.

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Msheekha

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2012, 11:28:32 pm »
Oh dear, how many misconceptions and all in the one post!
The Assyrian Church of the East, the Church of martyrs.

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Msheekha

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2012, 11:58:28 pm »
Arthureus wrote: I have heard this kind of discussion here and there but have never devoted time to analyzing it. I post it here for deep analysis/discussion, etc. Any critiques?, comments?

*Note: (I did a quick google search of the term before heading out and found this blog: http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2007/10/one-of-main-reasons-why-i-think.html)

On One of the Main Reasons Why I Think Christianity is False (Reposted)
An Inference to the Best Explanation: Jesus as a Failed Eschatological Prophet

I agree with mainstream scholarship on the historical Jesus (e.g., E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, et al.) that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. Such a hypothesis, if true, would be a simple one that would make sense of a wide range of data, including the following fourteen (or so):

D1. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the imminent judgment of the eschaton. Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted his message -- and in fact preached basically the same message.
John the baptist was the forerunner to Christ, His message was one of repentance prior to be able to receiving Christ, this is practiced in all apostolic churches thorughout the world until this day. Before we receive Christ's Body and Blood we repent of our sins are absolved of them. The judgement was not imminent in the sense that it was to happen in John's life time, but rather men are now without excuse because Christ has been revealed to the world.

D2. Many (most?) of Jesus’ “Son of Man” passages are most naturally interpreted as allusions to the Son of Man figure in Daniel. This figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept preaching that he was on his way (e.g., “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64). Jesus seems to identify himself with this apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this identification is a later redaction. Either way, it doesn't bode well for orthodox Christianity.
God's justice could not of been carried out until the entirety of the world has heard the gospel message and that the "time of the gentiiles has been fulfilled" many prophecies were and are still being fulfilled to this day, Jesus prophesied that not only would Jerusalem be destroyed but that Israel would be trodden on until a certain time, that time was fulfilled 60 odd years ago. Picking and choosing quotes from the bible does nothing for this peron's credibility as he is taking verses out of context and is quite disingenious.

Chris't first statement that "you will see Him sitting at the right hand from now on" is in regards to judgement, once we leave this earth we will see Christ at the right hand signifying equality with the Father. His second statement is in reference to His second coming, which stresses the fact that He will conclude His mission during this time. Again, the author has deliberately taken verses out of context to try and push an agenda, any orhtodox Christian would find this quite insulting.

D3. The earliest canonical writing (I Thess): Paul taught of an imminent eschaton, and it mirrors in wording the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the so-called "Little Apocalypse" in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew and Luke).

More dishonesty, look at what ST Paul says 1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord [a]will come just like a thief in the night.

St Paul specifically states that he does not know when the day will come, nor, as Jesus stated in Matthew 24 "No one knows the day or the hour"

D4. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting the end within his generation (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15); “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30); “truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23); “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1); "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds..." (Matthew 26:64)).

More dishonesty, Mark 9:1 preceeds His transfiguration where three apostles saw Him in His glory, this is what Jesus explicitly referred to. The other passages refer to the pouring of His Holy Spirit which begins the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for all those who are baptised into Christ. and who deny themselves and walk with their cross daily. God's Holuy Spirit was poured upon us at pentecost so that we may receive the goodness of God and be transformed byt he renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus thorug the Holy Spirit.

Need to go to church now, will respond to the rest later.


D5. A sense of urgency permeates the gospels and the other NT writings: e.g., the disciples must hurry to send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s “Son of Man” comes; Jesus' command to leave all to follow him; Jesus' statement that even burying one’s parents has a lower priority; Paul telling the Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to end (e.g., don’t seek marriage, or to leave one's slave condition, etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus).

D6. Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim ethic". This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would occur within their generation.

D7. Jesus had his disciples leave everything and follow him around. This makes sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.

D8. There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’ prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples, starting with Mark (widely believed among NT scholars to be the first gospel written), and continuing through the rest of the synoptic gospels. By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the eschatological "kingdom of God" talk is dropped (except for one passage, and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the end-time predictions, and is replaced with "eternal life" talk. Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thoug
   ht Jesus really predicted the end within their lifetimes. Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if Jesus really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet the eschaton never came.

D9. The fact that not just Paul, but also all the other NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D10. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D11. Consider also E.P. Sanders’ argument: the passages that attribute these predictions to Jesus and Paul satisfy the historical criteria of multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark, Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient “Maranatha” creed/hymn) etc., thus strongly indicating that these words go back to the lips of Jesus.

D12. Jesus’ parables: virtually all explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton.

D13. Jesus’ “inversion” teachings (e.g., "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first"): a common theme among Jewish apocalypticists generally. The general message of apocalypticists is that those who are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever. The just are trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation needs to be inverted – as it will be when the “Son of Man” from the book of Daniel comes to exact God’s judgment at any moment.

D14. The fact that the first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that such a task would be pointless.

But suppose all of this is wrong -- or at least wrong in the one respect that Jesus didn’t mean “this generation” in the way it seems. Still, Jesus did say that the end would come soon, and his apostles said that these were “the last days” etc.

Furthermore, consider:

D15. Certain relevant data in the book of Revelation:

-The author is talking about events within his day
-He attributes a quick return to Jesus -- one that would occur in his day.
-Using cipher language, he names Nero as “the Beast” (in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers. Thus, it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to). Well, Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the church during the time that the book of Revelation was written. In fact, some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation have the number read ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was supposed to be imminent.
-But it’s been about 2,000 years since then, in which case the author of the Book of Revelation was flatly wrong.

And so, no matter which way you slice it, the “statute of limitations” has run out on Jesus and his apostle’s claim for an imminent end. But if so, then by OT standards, Jesus was quite simply a false prophet, in which case he’s not a person that a reasonable and ethical person should follow. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God doesn't want us to listen to or follow false prophets. So, for example, here's a statement attributed to God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:21-22):

"You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."

And here's another:

"The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14-15)

It needs to be emphasized that this line of reasoning isn't controversial among mainstream, middle-of-the-road NT critics. I'm not talking about a view held by the Jesus Seminar, or earlier "radical" form and redaction critics like Norman Perrin. Rather, I'm talking about the kinds of considerations that are largely accepted by moderates who are also committed Christians, such as Dale Allison and John P. Meier. Indeed, conservative scholars of the likes of none other than Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright largely admit this line of reasoning. Why are they still Christians, you ask? I'll tell you: by giving unnatural, ad hoc explanations of the data. For example, Meier gets around the problem by arguing that the false prediction passages are inauthentic (i.e., Jesus never said those things; the early church just put those words on the lips of Jesus, and they ended up in the gospels); Witherington gets around the problem by saying that what Jesus really meant was that the imminent arrival of the eschatological kingdom might be at hand(!); Wright gets around the problem by adopting the partial preterist line that the imminent end that Jesus predicted really did occur -- it's just that it was all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem (Oh, really? So are we also to think that since he's already come again, he's not coming back? Or perhaps there will be a *third* coming? But even putting these worries aside: why does Paul tell various communities very far *outside* of Israel about the same sorts of predictions of an imminent end that would affect *them* -- one that, like the one Jesus talked about, involved judgement, destruction, and the gathering of all the elect? And again, what about the author of Revelation's detailing the end-time judgment, which includes the Roman Empire *outside* of Israel, during the reign of Nero?). Are you convinced by these responses? Me neither. And now you know why nobody outside of orthodox circles buys them, either.

To all of this, I say what should be obvious: you know, deep in your gut (don't you?) that such responses are unnatural, ad hoc dodges of what we know to be the truth here: Jesus really did predict the end within the lifetime of his disciples, but he was simply wrong.

Notice that the claim here is different from one often confused with it, viz., that Jesus happened to say some things that could be interpreted as saying that the end would occur in his lifetime. This isn't the claim I'm making. Rather, it's the much stronger one that Jesus was an eschatological prophet -- the end time prediction was what he was all about. It wasn't a message tangential to his central message; it was his central message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Putting it all together, we get the following argument for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet:

Let:
H1= the hypothesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.
H2= the hypothesis that Jesus is the Son of God of orthodox Christianity.

And let D1-D15 be the data sketched above. Then the argument can be expressed as follows:

1. H1 is a better explanation of D1-D15 than H2.
2. If H1 is a better explanation of D1-D15 than H2, then H1 is more probable than H2.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, H
   1 is more probable than H2.

I'd like to mention a related point. If the mainstream scholars of the historical Jesus are right and the points above are correct, then it looks as though this line of reasoning undercuts Craig’s abductive argument for the resurrection of Jesus. For it seems extremely unlikely that a god would resurrect a false prophet (recall, for example, the passage from Deuteronomy above).
In any case, it would have been interesting to see how William Lane Craig would have responded if Bart Ehrman brought up this point in their debate on the resurrection of Jesus (Ehrman himself is a proponent of the "eschatological prophet" account of Jesus. See his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (OUP, 1999)). See also Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, E.P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus, Paula Fredriksen's From Jesus to Christ, Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, and of course Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus.




Special thanks obviously goes to ex-apologist (http://exapologist.blogspot.com) for his personal (and thought provoking) analysis.

The Assyrian Church of the East, the Church of martyrs.

5

Fred

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2012, 06:47:16 am »
Msheekha wrote:
Quote from: Arthureus
I have heard this kind of discussion here and there but have never devoted time to analyzing it. I post it here for deep analysis/discussion, etc. Any critiques?, comments?

*Note: (I did a quick google search of the term before heading out and found this blog: http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2007/10/one-of-main-reasons-why-i-think.html)

On One of the Main Reasons Why I Think Christianity is False (Reposted)
An Inference to the Best Explanation: Jesus as a Failed Eschatological Prophet

I agree with mainstream scholarship on the historical Jesus (e.g., E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, et al.) that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. Such a hypothesis, if true, would be a simple one that would make sense of a wide range of data, including the following fourteen (or so):

D1. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the imminent judgment of the eschaton. Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted his message -- and in fact preached basically the same message.
John the baptist was the forerunner to Christ, His message was one of repentance prior to be able to receiving Christ, this is practiced in all apostolic churches thorughout the world until this day. Before we receive Christ's Body and Blood we repent of our sins are absolved of them. The judgement was not imminent in the sense that it was to happen in John's life time, but rather men are now without excuse because Christ has been revealed to the world.

D2. Many (most?) of Jesus’ “Son of Man” passages are most naturally interpreted as allusions to the Son of Man figure in Daniel. This figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept preaching that he was on his way (e.g., “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64). Jesus seems to identify himself with this apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this identification is a later redaction. Either way, it doesn't bode well for orthodox Christianity.
God's justice could not of been carried out until the entirety of the world has heard the gospel message and that the "time of the gentiiles has been fulfilled" many prophecies were and are still being fulfilled to this day, Jesus prophesied that not only would Jerusalem be destroyed but that Israel would be trodden on until a certain time, that time was fulfilled 60 odd years ago. Picking and choosing quotes from the bible does nothing for this peron's credibility as he is taking verses out of context and is quite disingenious.

Chris't first statement that "you will see Him sitting at the right hand from now on" is in regards to judgement, once we leave this earth we will see Christ at the right hand signifying equality with the Father. His second statement is in reference to His second coming, which stresses the fact that He will conclude His mission during this time. Again, the author has deliberately taken verses out of context to try and push an agenda, any orhtodox Christian would find this quite insulting.

D3. The earliest canonical writing (I Thess): Paul taught of an imminent eschaton, and it mirrors in wording the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the so-called "Little Apocalypse" in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew and Luke).

More dishonesty, look at what ST Paul says 1 Now as to the A)">times and the epochs, brethren, you B)">have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that C)">the day of the Lord a]">[a]will come D)">just like a thief in the night.

St Paul specifically states that he does not know when the day will come, nor, as Jesus stated in Matthew 24 "No one knows the day or the hour"

D4. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting the end within his generation (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15); “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30); “truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23); “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1); "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds..." (Matthew 26:64)).

More dishonesty, Mark 9:1 preceeds His transfiguration where three apostles saw Him in His glory, this is what Jesus explicitly referred to. The other passages refer to the pouring of His Holy Spirit which begins the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for all those who are baptised into Christ. and who deny themselves and walk with their cross daily. God's Holuy Spirit was poured upon us at pentecost so that we may receive the goodness of God and be transformed byt he renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus thorug the Holy Spirit.

Need to go to church now, will respond to the rest later.


D5. A sense of urgency permeates the gospels and the other NT writings: e.g., the disciples must hurry to send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s “Son of Man” comes; Jesus' command to leave all to follow him; Jesus' statement that even burying one’s parents has a lower priority; Paul telling the Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to end (e.g., don’t seek marriage, or to leave one's slave condition, etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus).

D6. Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim ethic". This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would occur within their generation.

D7. Jesus had his disciples leave everything and follow him around. This makes sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.

D8. There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’ prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples, starting with Mark (widely believed among NT scholars to be the first gospel written), and continuing through the rest of the synoptic gospels. By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the eschatological "kingdom of God" talk is dropped (except for one passage, and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the end-time predictions, and is replaced with "eternal life" ta
   lk. Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thought Jesus really predicted the end within their lifetimes. Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if Jesus really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet the eschaton never came.

D9. The fact that not just Paul, but also all the other NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D10. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D11. Consider also E.P. Sanders’ argument: the passages that attribute these predictions to Jesus and Paul satisfy the historical criteria of multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark, Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient “Maranatha” creed/hymn) etc., thus strongly indicating that these words go back to the lips of Jesus.

D12. Jesus’ parables: virtually all explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton.

D13. Jesus’ “inversion” teachings (e.g., "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first"): a common theme among Jewish apocalypticists generally. The general message of apocalypticists is that those who are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever. The just are trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation needs to be inverted – as it will be when the “Son of Man” from the book of Daniel comes to exact God’s judgment at any moment.

D14. The fact that the first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that such a task would be pointless.

But suppose all of this is wrong -- or at least wrong in the one respect that Jesus didn’t mean “this generation” in the way it seems. Still, Jesus did say that the end would come soon, and his apostles said that these were “the last days” etc.

Furthermore, consider:

D15. Certain relevant data in the book of Revelation:

-The author is talking about events within his day
-He attributes a quick return to Jesus -- one that would occur in his day.
-Using cipher language, he names Nero as “the Beast” (in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers. Thus, it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to). Well, Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the church during the time that the book of Revelation was written. In fact, some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation have the number read ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was supposed to be imminent.
-But it’s been about 2,000 years since then, in which case the author of the Book of Revelation was flatly wrong.

And so, no matter which way you slice it, the “statute of limitations” has run out on Jesus and his apostle’s claim for an imminent end. But if so, then by OT standards, Jesus was quite simply a false prophet, in which case he’s not a person that a reasonable and ethical person should follow. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God doesn't want us to listen to or follow false prophets. So, for example, here's a statement attributed to God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:21-22):

"You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."

And here's another:

"The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14-15)

It needs to be emphasized that this line of reasoning isn't controversial among mainstream, middle-of-the-road NT critics. I'm not talking about a view held by the Jesus Seminar, or earlier "radical" form and redaction critics like Norman Perrin. Rather, I'm talking about the kinds of considerations that are largely accepted by moderates who are also committed Christians, such as Dale Allison and John P. Meier. Indeed, conservative scholars of the likes of none other than Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright largely admit this line of reasoning. Why are they still Christians, you ask? I'll tell you: by giving unnatural, ad hoc explanations of the data. For example, Meier gets around the problem by arguing that the false prediction passages are inauthentic (i.e., Jesus never said those things; the early church just put those words on the lips of Jesus, and they ended up in the gospels); Witherington gets around the problem by saying that what Jesus really meant was that the imminent arrival of the eschatological kingdom might be at hand(!); Wright gets around the problem by adopting the partial preterist line that the imminent end that Jesus predicted really did occur -- it's just that it was all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem (Oh, really? So are we also to think that since he's already come again, he's not coming back? Or perhaps there will be a *third* coming? But even putting these worries aside: why does Paul tell various communities very far *outside* of Israel about the same sorts of predictions of an imminent end that would affect *them* -- one that, like the one Jesus talked about, involved judgement, destruction, and the gathering of all the elect? And again, what about the author of Revelation's detailing the end-time judgment, which includes the Roman Empire *outside* of Israel, during the reign of Nero?). Are you convinced by these responses? Me neither. And now you know why nobody outside of orthodox circles buys them, either.

To all of this, I say what should be obvious: you know, deep in your gut (don't you?) that such responses are unnatural, ad hoc dodges of what we know to be the truth here: Jesus really did predict the end within the lifetime of his disciples, but he was simply wrong.

Notice that the claim here is different from one often confused with it, viz., that Jesus happened to say some things that could be interpreted as saying that the end would occur in his lifetime. This isn't the claim I'm making. Rather, it's the much stronger one that Jesus was an eschatological prophet -- the end time prediction was what he was all about. It wasn't a message tangential to his central message; it was his central message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Putting it all together, we get the following argument for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet:

Let:
H1= the hypothesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.
H2= the hypothesis that Jesus is the Son of God of orthodox Christianity.

And let D1-D15 be the data sketched above. Then the argument can be expressed as follows:

1. H1 is a better explanation of D1-D15 than H2.
2. If H1 is a better explanation of D1-D15 than H2, then H1 is more probable than H2.
----------------------
   ---------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, H1 is more probable than H2.

I'd like to mention a related point. If the mainstream scholars of the historical Jesus are right and the points above are correct, then it looks as though this line of reasoning undercuts Craig’s abductive argument for the resurrection of Jesus. For it seems extremely unlikely that a god would resurrect a false prophet (recall, for example, the passage from Deuteronomy above).
In any case, it would have been interesting to see how William Lane Craig would have responded if Bart Ehrman brought up this point in their debate on the resurrection of Jesus (Ehrman himself is a proponent of the "eschatological prophet" account of Jesus. See his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (OUP, 1999)). See also Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, E.P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus, Paula Fredriksen's From Jesus to Christ, Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, and of course Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus.




Special thanks obviously goes to ex-apologist (http://exapologist.blogspot.com) for his personal (and thought provoking) analysis.



Msheekha- You are examining the Bible from a Christian perspective, beginning with all the traditional Christian assumptions about Jesus - i.e.he's the divine, miracle working Son of God/Son of Man.  The scholars that are cited are examining the Bible from an objective point of view, without such preconceived notions.  

Craig attempts to make the case that an objective view of the evidence of the Bible supports the argument that Jesus was resurrected by God.  For that position to succeed, one has to allow a complete objective analysis, not limit it to the four alleged facts on which Craig bases his argument.  The post describes objective analysis by several Biblical scholars who's conclusions converge.  If you'd like to refute their conclusions, you have to do it from an objective, historical-critical perspective. Again, Craig suggests such an exercise will lead directly to at least the single most important doctrine of Christianity - the Resurrection.  If the Bible is self-affirming, if the case for its truth is contained within it, then it should not be required to begin with Christian faith when examining it.  Rather, Christian beliefs should be derivable from an objective analysis of it.  
 


 
Fred

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lapwing

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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2012, 06:59:27 am »

A good question: why does the NT give the impression that Jesus and the apostles expected an imminent
final judgment=eschaton. However the OP addresses this poorly.
Firstly it is important to realise that kingdom of God/heaven cannot be equated in all instances to the eschaton.
e.g. Lk 17:20,21
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”  

This observation refutes the OP argument in D1 and Mk1:15 in D4.

D2 "Son of man" has 3 different purposes in Matthew:
1. The present ministry and authority of Messiah (8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 37; 20:28).
2. The suffering and resurrection of Messiah (12:40; 17:19, 12, 22; 20:18, 28; 26:2, 24, 45).
3. The future coming of Messiah (10:23; 13:41; 16:27, 28; 19:28; 24:37, 39, 44; 25:31; 26:64)

The "son of man" of Daniel emphasises his human appearance compared to the other creatures - it is what the son of man is and does (given dominion so that all people serve him) which marks him as divine. This OT passage reinforces the doctrine of the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

D3 1 Thess should not be read ignoring 2 Thess. One understands that Paul took Jesus' teaching seriously "No one knows the day or the hour" Mk 13:32. From this, and other sayings of Jesus, we understand that Christians are to regard the eschaton as imminent i.e. it can happen at any time so Christians are to be ready, but no one knows when it will happen. 2 Thess ch2 corrected the view that it had already happened.

D4 Mk 13:30 genea or generation can refer to the race of men e.g. Mt 17:17. Much of the preceding passage seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem rather than the eschaton. The apocalyptic passage (Mk 13:24,25) is quoted from Isaiah ch 13. That passage includes similar apocalyptic language, but is referring to the eventual destruction of Babylon by the Medes. So it would not be unreasonable to view these two verses in Mark as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. Using the Daniel passage to interpret Mark 13:26,27 leads to the possibility that this is describing Jesus' ascension to his heavenly throne. The NIV "men" is an insertion - the Greek only has the word "they" (NB: not "you" i.e. not the disciples). The connection between vv26 and 27 is another "and then" which can mean consequent events with an unspecified time interval.

Mt 10:23 Using the same passage from Daniel, this would seem to refer to Christ's ascension, or possibly His resurrection or the coming of the Spirit. The eschatological interpretation is unfounded.

Mk 9:1 This has already been addressed well by Msheekha

Mt 26:64 The clear reference to Dan ch 7 is a strong argument that Jesus is claiming to be the divine Messiah. There is the irony that the religious leaders are judging Jesus who will judge them at the eschaton. So the "hereafter" refers to the religious leaders seeing Jesus at the last judgment.

D5,D7 This point seems to confuse the requirements for discipleship with so called urgency before the second coming. The sense of urgency and commitment was due to the fact that Jesus only had a limited time to train the disciples before His crucifixion and ascension.

D6 This needs clarification

D8-D11 These points need clarifying with actual Bible verses

D12 Parables are parallels: comparing one thing next to another. So, often fictional but credible, earthly stories are compared with a heavenly or spiritual truth or reality. Again, one should beware a narrow equating of the kingdom of heaven/God with the eschaton. The parables are told as warnings. This is what an earthly person would do so beware that God could act in the same manner. Although, the characters are often directly comparable, one should not understand the parables necessarily as prophecies of what God will do, rather treat them as warnings of what God may do.

D13 This is just referring to the eschaton without any implication about when it will happen. See the description of imminence above.

D14 This statement is disputable. It is naive to make such dogmatic statements about the authorship of the NT books.

D15 Revelation is a difficult book. It's a shame that many church ministers avoid it because of its difficulty. However, this paragraph would benefit from references to specific verses.

"You are examining the Bible from a Christian perspective" This is logical nonsense. Christian doctrine is based on the Bible. It has been developed by many able men over 2000 years. The "Christian perspective" is derived from the Bible. You cannot reverse this order of dependence with any credibility.

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Fred

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« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2012, 08:08:33 am »
 

"You are examining the Bible from a Christian perspective" This is logical nonsense. Christian doctrine is based on the Bible. It has been developed by many able men over 2000 years. The "Christian perspective" is derived from the Bible. You cannot reverse this order of dependence with any credibility.

 

I am not objecting to a Christian interpreting the Bible from a Christian perspective. I am pointing out that historical-critical scholars such as the ones listed do not do so.  They treat the Bible exactly as they would any historical document.  As I said, where Craig makes his argument using the "four facts" to make the argument for the resurrection, he is certainly purporting to examine the Bible from this historical-critical perspective rather than a Christian perspective.

 

You have provided a perfectly fine rationalization for the Christian interpretation of the Bible.  You haven't refuted the work of these scholars – you can't refute a case that isn't stated.  The OP just outlines some conclusions by these scholars.  You did make a better case than the OP, since the OP makes no case – other than an argument from authority.  

 

I haven't read all the listed scholars, but I've read two of them: E.P. Sanders and Bart Ehrman.  I don't have the time right now to outline their actual cases, so I'm not going to engage you on this.  But I will mention that the key difference between their approach and yours: they do not treat the Bible as inerrant.  Whereas some Christians expend a lot of energy rationalizing the contradictory information in the Bible, they would not do this.  Just because something appears in a book of the Bible does not imply to them that it is necessarily true: they subject all the information to source criticism, which applies objective criteria to examining the text.  Christians qua Christians don't do this, however there are plenty of Christian scholars who do this.

Fred

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lapwing

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« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2012, 01:16:15 pm »

Hi fredonly

Earlier you said "We don't have the testimony of the apostles, we have stories written about them by persons unknown." in #47 of is reason really important to you. I replied in #67 "If you cast doubt on any documentary evidence from the 1st century then how do you assess our current knowledge of the history of that time?". Which 1st century events, if any, do you consider we have reliable documentary evidence for?

"interpreting the Bible from a Christian perspective"

Here you are still implying that the Bible is interpreted according to Christian doctrine rather than Christian doctrine being based on the Bible.

The problems with source criticism:

For instance, there is the question of bias in the NT authors. Ask a range of Biblical scholars about this and what chance is there that you would get the same answer. I contend that you would get quite different answers. So the problem with this approach is that it pretends to a kind of scientific method, but depends on sujective judgments. Another danger is to judge the adherence to truth of the NT church with modern standards. The NT authors clearly show a commitment to telling the truth: such as was shared by the religious Jews of the time.

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Johan Biemans (jbiemans)

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« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2012, 03:53:57 pm »
Which 1st century events, if any, do you consider we have reliable documentary evidence for?

IMHO.....None......

I don't trust any documentary evidence (written format), for anything in the past.

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lapwing

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« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2012, 04:48:45 pm »

"I don't trust any documentary evidence (written format), for anything in the past."

What about your birth certificate then?


For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
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Fred

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« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2012, 10:57:53 pm »
 

lapwing wrote: Earlier you said "We don't have the testimony of the apostles, we have stories written about them by persons unknown." in #47 of is reason really important to you. I replied in #67 "If you cast doubt on any documentary evidence from the 1st century then how do you assess our current knowledge of the history of that time?". Which 1st century events, if any, do you consider we have reliable documentary evidence for?

 

I am not a historian, so I can't give you a comprehensive answer, but I'll give you a general answer:  I think we have a pretty good idea of the main events of history. We know who the emperors were, and know about their major deeds.  We know that Palestine was under the control of the Roman empire.  We know that Judaism was in a phase called "second temple Judaism."  We have some idea about the culture of the times, including some of the religious movements, the role of the state religions…what exactly are you looking for?  What we know about the history of the times is a consequence of what has been passed down to us, filtered through 2000 years of varying perspectives.  The modern historical view of the times is influenced by application of the historical method to the data that is available, not just the source data but also what has been passed along by prior generations of historians.  

 

Regarding casting "doubt on any documentary evidence form the 1st century" – source criticism applies objective criteria to the documentary data. E.g. First hand sources have higher credibility than second or third hand.  Events reported close to the time of occurrence are more credible than events reported significantly later. Known provenance of information is better than unknown provenance.  Information written from a biased perspective requires more careful reading, than information that seems unrelated to a bias.  If there's something you don't like about source criticism, then tell me what it is.  It is not a methodology that was invented for the sole purpose of refuting the Bible, it was developed for the general study of history.  

 

lapwing wrote: "interpreting the Bible from a Christian perspective"

 

Here you are still implying that the Bible is interpreted according to Christian doctrine rather than Christian doctrine being based on the Bible.

 

A Christian who reads the Bible will certainly have a different perspective on the Bible than a non-Christian. You do agree with this, don't you?  A Christian who reads it will tend to assume much (or all) of the stories in it actually happened.  I hope you realize that a non-Christian who picks up the Bible is not going to automatically assume the stories are true.  

 

Is Christian doctrine based on the Bible?  That's a very different question, but I'll give you my opinion  IMO Christian doctrine has a life of its own outside of the Bible. The Bible is referenced as an authority to justify the chosen doctrine.  I.e. it appears to me Christian doctrine is more or less consistent with the Bible, but it is not the case that someone could pick up the Bible and deduce what passes for modern Christian doctrine.  If it were that simple, there wouldn't be so many denominations of Christians. Nicaea wouldn't have been necessary.  

 

lapwing wrote:  The problems with source criticism:

 

For instance, there is the question of bias in the
   NT authors. Ask a range of Biblical scholars about this and what chance is there that you would get the same answer. I contend that you would get quite different answers. So the problem with this approach is that it pretends to a kind of scientific method, but depends on sujective judgments. Another danger is to judge the adherence to truth of the NT church with modern standards. The NT authors clearly show a commitment to telling the truth: such as was shared by the religious Jews of the time.

 

This historical method IS a kind of scientific method, although we have to recognize that historical analysis is different from scientific.  Both history and science can develop explanatory hypotheses, but only science can perform experiments to validate the hypotheses.  Historical hypotheses can only be tested against the historical data that we actually have, and new data rarely becomes available for events 2000 years in the past.

 

I agree that different scholars draw different conclusions from applying the historical critical method. This doesn't invalidate the methodology, it just demonstrates its limitations. It is not a crystal ball or a time machine.   All a scholar can do is apply the methodology, which means evaluating the information and making educated guesses about it.  Because the data is sparse, there are few firm answers.  More often than not, there are multiple ways to explain the data and no means to know which (if any) are correct.  Subjectivity is going to be there, but the historical method is designed to try and filter this out.  It helps considerably that there is peer review and criticism by scholars who bring different perspectives to it.  

 

I agree that the "NT authors clearly show a commitment to telling the truth,"  but it is the truth as they saw it.  I think the authors were sincere, and believed they were passing along the overarching truth.  But that doesn't mean they reported everything exactly as it happened, and doesn't even imply they believed they were reporting events as they actually happened.  To some degree, the Gospels are biographies.  Ancient biographies primary objective was to convey the character of the subject, rather to provide an accurate chronicle of all their words and deeds.  Telling the "truth" about a person meant conveying the correct impression of the person's character – correct in terms of the authors opinion, and this could often be accomplished by relating anecdotes or even making things up.   Clearly the authors held some beliefs about Jesus, which they conveyed in their writings.  What is unknown is the source of their beliefs. Clearly, they didn’t have the ability to perform research that we do today.  There were no newspapers or libraries to consult.

Fred

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lapwing

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« Reply #12 on: April 08, 2012, 05:49:05 pm »

So how do we know what we know about the Roman empire. Much of that knowledge is from historical documents e.g. Suetonius, Josephus. The NT account of the life of Jesus is also based on historical documents.

You are trying to characterise all Christians as biased in their view of the Bible and all non Christians as unbiased. I do not agree with this black and white view. it also seems to be a kind of group ad hominem. Do all Christians automatically assume that all Bible stories are true. You are implying that no Christians think about such things. This is not true.

"Is Christian doctrine based on the Bible?  That's a very different question, but I'll give you my opinion  IMO Christian doctrine has a life of its own outside of the Bible. The Bible is referenced as an authority to justify the chosen doctrine.  I.e. it appears to me Christian doctrine is more or less consistent with the Bible, but it is not the case that someone could pick up the Bible and deduce what passes for modern Christian doctrine.  If it were that simple, there wouldn't be so many denominations of Christians. Nicaea wouldn't have been necessary."

But how is the doctrine first "chosen" or better determined? You seem to be confusing defence of an established doctrine with its initial development. Different doctrinal beliefs are due to the nature of the Bible: a record of God's dealings with men and their actions and thoughts in relation to God. The Bible is not a set of doctrinal statements - these have to be inferred and the nature of the task leads to different opinions.

"source criticism applies objective criteria to the documentary data"

So Bart Ehrman (the atheists' favourite) and E.P. Sanders are objective and Christian theologians defend their views unthinkingly. Another black and white group ad hominem which I think would fail when the detail of what these people write is examined. Source criticism is not without value but the danger is to elevate it too far and ignore its implicit subjectivism. Provenance, time of reporting, bias etc. are all important and I would think that many Christian Bible scholars consider these matters. But to assign values to these parameters requires necessarily subjective judgment.

"There were no newspapers or libraries to consult."

Given their different lifestyle, many people believe that people of that era were better able to memorise events.

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Fred

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2012, 12:08:52 am »
 

lapwing wrote: So how do we know what we know about the Roman empire. Much of that knowledge is from historical documents e.g. Suetonius, Josephus. The NT account of the life of Jesus is also based on historical documents.

 

I never said we should dismiss all historical documentation.  Source criticism, and the rest of historical methodology, just provides a guide to objective interpretation of the data.  Regarding the NT accounts – it's a matter of speculation what they are based on.  Critical scholars agree they were based on prior documents and oral tradition as well.  It's difficult enough to evaluate documents that exist today, it is significantly more problematic to analyze the source documents that we don't actually have.  What little we can guess about them is based on an analysis of the documents we do have. For example, the literary relationship among the 3 synoptic Gospels leads to the widely held view that Mark was written first, while Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. Matthew and Luke contain common material between them that is not contained in Mark – so another source is postulated: the so-called Q document, believed to consist primarily of sayings of Jesus. Matthew and Luke each contain some additional information not contained in either Mark or Q, so each is guessed at as having one or more unique sources as well.  You may or may not buy these theories, but I'm just stating this so you can see the difficulty with making much of the idea that there were earlier documents. These hypothetical documents, that we don't have, do not help the case for Christianity in the least.  

 

lapwing wrote: …l.e. and all non Christians as unbiased. I do not agree with this black and white view. it also seems to be a kind of group ad hominem. Do all Christians automatically assume that all Bible stories are true. You are implying that no Christians think about such things. This is not true.

 

Everyone possesses a set of beliefs, and each person's beliefs will certainly influence how he will  interpret what he reads or otherwise perceives.  I wouldn't call this prejudice, I'd call it subjectivity.  A historian's job is to attempt to evaluate historical material in the most objective manner possible, and this demands examining the evidence with the most objective set of beliefs possible. Examine the criteria for argument to the best explanation:

 
  1. The statement, together with other statements already      held to be true, must imply yet other statements describing present,      observable data. (We will henceforth call the first statement 'the hypothesis', and the statements describing      observable data, 'observation statements'.)
  2. The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory scope      than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it      must imply a greater variety of observation statements.
  3. The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory power      than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it      must make the observation statements it implies more probable than any      other.
  4. The hypothesis must be more plausible than any      other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must be implied to some degree by a greater variety      of accepted truths than any other, and be implied more strongly      than any other; and its probable negation must be implied by fewer      beliefs, and implied less strongly than any other.
  5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than any      other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that
        is, it must include fewer new suppositions about the past      which are not already implied to some extent by existing beliefs.
  6. It must be disconfirmed by      fewer accepted beliefs than any      other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, when      conjoined with accepted truths it must imply fewer observation statements      and other statements which are believed to be false.
  7. It must exceed other incompatible hypotheses about the      same subject by so much, in characteristics 2 to 6, that there is little      chance of an incompatible hypothesis, after further investigation, soon      exceeding it in these respects.
 

There are several references to "accepted truths" and "accepted beliefs."  These are important criteria, because if we didn't apply these plausibility tests – it would mean we'd have to accept everything that is written at face value.  That would lead to absurdities, such as actual encounters with the Olympian Gods, and Aesop actually encountering talking animals.  The question then becomes: what comprises the propert set of "accepted beliefs?"   What about Christian beliefs that are commonly accepted by Christians?  I have no problem with that.  However interpretations that follow from this perspective will hold no weight with non-Christians. In general, historians attempt to be more objective than that – which simply means that rely only on beliefs held by almost everyone irrespective of their religion.  If there's any hope for examining history in an objective fashion, surely it has to be done this way.

 

If, by chance, Christian doctrine can be derived by an objective reading of the Bible (i.e. reading it without first assuming Christian doctrine is true) – that would make a case for Christianity, wouldn't it?  If Christian doctrine can only be derived by first assuming that it is true, then you're stuck with a circular argument.  As I've said, Craig attempts to make the case for the Resurrection by arguing that the "four facts" are derivable from an objective reading or the Bible – a reading that doesn't depend on believing Jesus is divine or in believing that Jesus rose from the dead..He's doing this to try to make an objective case for Christianity.  I think he fails, but that is clearly his intent.  

 

lapwing wrote: `
Quote from: fredonly
Is Christian doctrine based on the Bible? That's a very different question, but I'll give you my opinion IMO Christian doctrine has a life of its own outside of the Bible. The Bible is referenced as an authority to justify the chosen doctrine. I.e. it appears to me Christian doctrine is more or less consistent with the Bible, but it is not the case that someone could pick up the Bible and deduce what passes for modern Christian doctrine. If it were that simple, there wouldn't be so many denominations of Christians. Nicaea wouldn't have been necessary.
 

But how is the doctrine first "chosen" or better determined? You seem to be confusing defence of an established doctrine with its initial development. Different doctrinal beliefs are due to the nature of the Bible: a record of God's dealings with men and their actions and thoughts in relation to God. The Bible is not a set of doctrinal statements - these have to be inferred and the nature of the task leads to different opinions.

 

I don't think I was confusing initial development of doctrine with a defense of doctrine; instead I was pointing out that your personal beliefs are not derived directly from the Bible, but from prior interpreters of the Bible.  Sure, your beliefs are based on the Bible, indirectly.  Your beliefs are dependent on these human beings getting it right.  I'll stop here – it's really an entire topic in its own right.  

 

lapwing wrote:
Quote from: fredonly
source criticism applies objective criteria to the documentary data

 

So Bart Ehrman (the atheists' favourite) and E.P. Sanders are objective and Christian theologians defend their views unthinkingly. Another black and white group ad hominem which I think would fail when the detail of what these people write is examined. Source criticism is not without value but the danger is to elevate it too far and ignore its implicit subjectivism. Provenance, time of reporting, bias etc. are all important and I would think that many Christian Bible scholars consider these matters. But to assign values to these parameters requires necessarily subjective judgment.


I am making no ad hominem attacks, but your remark about Bart Ehrman is suggestive that  you might be dismissing him through a genetic fallacy. Ehrman really doesn't stray very much from mainstream biblical scholarship, but I'll point out that this type of scholarship is not orien
   ted toward theology. There are plenty of Christian scholars doing this type of objective scholarship.  For example, I've read several books by the late Raymond Brown.  Brown was a Catholic priest, and biblical scholar. I've read his An Introduction To The New Testament, a reference book used in most Catholic seminaries in the English speaking world..  You might be interested to know that the analysis is quite compatible with that of Bart Ehrman in the textbook he wrote (and which I also read): The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Ehrman is really pretty mainstream in his analysis. As he puts it, he broke from the crowd by going mainstream. There are many other Christians employing these objective criteria, and I've read some of these. You're right that they all bring their own subjective viewpoints, they emphasize different points, and reach different conclusions. This is to be expected when the historical data is so sparse. This doesn't invalidate the methodology, it just demonstrates its limitations. No, it's not black and white – there's a huge spectrum.

 

 

lapwing wrote:

 

Quote from: fredonly
There were no newspapers or libraries to consult.

 

Given their different lifestyle, many people believe that people of that era were better able to memorise events.

 

Can you provide a few of the names of these "many people" who propose this?  I have never heard anyone suggest this before.  I have heard it said that disciples of Jewish teachers would memorize key teachings, but that is completely different from memorizing events.  Honestly, this sounds like ad hoc, wishful thinking.

Fred

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lapwing

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Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2012, 08:08:18 am »

"I think that "even making things up"  is incompatible with "I agree that the "NT authors clearly show a commitment to telling the truth,"  

There is an instance of things being "made up" about the resurrection in Mt 28:11-15

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Jewish leaders had logical reasons for doing this: to protect their position. It's interesting to note that even the soldiers were expected to be honest and not take bribes. There are many passages in the NT which show a strong commitment to truthfulness e.g. 2 Thess 2:9-12

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Objective and subjective

Objective=presenting facts uncoloured by opinions or personal bias, disinterested

Subjective=proceeding from a person's views, not impartial

I disagree that your contention that source criticism is objective. Once you make judgments about bias, provenance etc in ancient documents you are making subjective judgments. What you can say is that source criticism is systematic, but that is not the same thing.

Q

"... the difficulty with making much of the idea that there were earlier documents. These hypothetical documents, that we don't have, do not help the case for Christianity in the least."  I don't understand, surely, the existence of earlier documents strengthens the veracity of the NT.

"your personal beliefs are not derived directly from the Bible, but from prior interpreters of the Bible."

How do you know how I have formed my personal beliefs?

Bart Ehrman and EP Sanders

On the Dawkins' website BE scores 502 hits and EPS only 22. In a sense QED. Now this could be because BE is more of a populist. Now there's nothing wrong with being a populist but one must recognise that, since all humans are limited in what they can do, being a populist reduces the time available for serious academic work.

Oral Tradition

Vansina holds that pre-literate people have "highly developed powers of memory, and hand down their traditions in a form made suitable for oral transmission by the use of rhyme or other formulae for linking the material together" In the NT we know that Jesus was recorded as literate, as would have been Matthew, at least. The gospels were written during the lifetime of some of those present. Why is there such a distinct absence of dissenting voices e.g. "I was there at the feeding of the 5000 - really we all brought sandwiches"

Papias recorded that Mark wrote down carefully what he remembered of Peter's teaching and this is backed up by Clement of Alexandria. Irenaeus backs up the authenticity of Luke's gospel.

For an article on this fascinating subject see for instance

http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/45/45-1/45-1-PP099-109_JETS.pdf

This includes: "Since first-century culture was a largely oral culture, since it is commonly acknowledged that memory skills are highly developed in oral cultures, and since some degree of oral transmission in the period prior to the writing of the Gospels is acknowledged by nearly every NT scholar, why should the probability of a common written source be given greater weight than that of a common oral source?"

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer