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Did the Accounts of Jesus Evolve?

Bible

Biblical skeptics often surmise that the earliest New Testament books tell a very different story than the later books: that the story of Jesus grew with time, becoming more and more incredible, and less and less historical. In other words, the New Testament evolved from history to religious mythology.

Recently, I've seen this argument raised about both the Resurrection and the divinity of Christ. First, retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong (who denies the Resurrection) attacked the historicity of the Gospels, and in particular, the Resurrection account. He makes extensive recourse to the evolving-Bible:

"If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written - that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John - we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.[...] In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side."

Second, a commenter on my own blog recently said in response to C.S. Lewis' “Lord, liar, lunatic” trilemma,

"That was clearly on the assumption that the gospel of John represents actual history because only in John does he claim to be God. Based simply on the Synoptic gospels, we can say that if Jesus is not God he can still be considered a good man or a moral teacher. C.S. Lewis' false-dilemma require absolute faith in John to work."

Yet we know John doesn't belong with the other gospels, or at least that it isn't as historical as they are. Aside from John alone making Jesus claim to be God, we see how it disagrees on how, when, and where Jesus called his disciples. Is there any merit to either of these evolving Bible claims? Let's look at each one in turn.

The Resurrection

 
Bishop Spong, in his CNN article, stacks the deck in two different ways. First, he focuses just on the Gospels, rather than the New Testament as a whole. Second, he claims that in Mark's Gospel, “the risen Christ appears physically to no one.”

The reality is that the earliest New Testament documents describe Christ as (a) physically Resurrected, and (b) appearing to innumerable people. In St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he writes (1 Cor. 15:3-20),

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
 
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
 
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
 
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep."

So St. Paul tells us that Christ physically rose from the dead. He banks everything on the reality of the Resurrection: if it's not true, the Apostles are liars, Christians are pathetic, and the Gospel is proclaimed in vain. To validate this claim that Christ physically rose from the dead, Paul appeals to numerous post-Resurrection appearances, apparently well known to his Corinthian audience: Jesus appeared to Peter (Cephas), to the Twelve, to a group of five hundred brethren, and then to St. Paul himself.

In other words, Paul's not just saying, “the Tomb is empty, Jesus must have risen!” but that he had actually seen the Resurrected Christ, as had numerous others, many of whom were still alive and could vouch for this testimony.

Why does this matter? Well, Spong himself dates this passage from First Corinthians to the mid-50s, decades before when he thinks any of the Gospels were written. You can see this on page 201 of his book The Sins of Scripture. This completely destroys his claim that the earliest Resurrection accounts didn't have any post-Resurrection appearances, and that these were added “between the years 70 and 100.” What does Spong do in response? He simply ignores Paul's writings, and focuses on the Gospels alone.

Here, we get to the second way that he stacks the deck. He claims that in Mark's Gospel, “the risen Christ appears physically to no one.” The truth is that there's controversy over whether or not Mark 16:9-20 are part of Mark's original Gospel, because some of the earliest manuscripts don't include this passage. There are three theories:

  1. Mark 16:9-20 was written by Mark, but the section was lost in an early manuscript (and any manuscripts copied from that one).
  2. Mark originally had a different ending, which was lost; Mark 16:9-20 was appended to replace it.
  3. Mark originally ended his Gospel at Mark 16:8; Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition.

Spong assumes theory #3 is true, without actually telling his readers he's doing this, or justifying this choice.

But even if theory #3 is true, that doesn't mean that Mark denied post-Resurrection appearances. It would just mean that he stopped his Gospel quite abruptly at the empty Tomb on Easter morning. More likely, such an abrupt ending would be a way to begin an in-person dialogue: that readers would ask whoever gave them a copy of the Gospel what had happened at the Empty Tomb.

So Spong's suggestion that Mark was unaware of any post-Resurrection appearances doesn't follow at all. At most (and this is assuming theory # 3 is true), we can say simply that the post-Resurrection appearances postdated the events he's describing in his Gospel. Likewise, it's not unusual that the Gospels don't record details about Pentecost or the life of the early Church, or that Churchill biographies don't record details about the life of Thatcher. These things are simply outside of the scope of the work. Again, this is true only if Mark really did end his Gospel abruptly in verse 8, which is by no means certain.

So it's not clear that Mark's Gospel originally ended at verse 8, and there's no reason to believe in any case that he was unaware of post-Resurrection appearances. On the contrary, the earliest New Testament evidence is quite clear about the post-Resurrection appearances. Paul, who predates Mark, writes quite clearly about specific post-Resurrection appearances, as do Matthew (Mt. 28:9-10, Mt. 28:16-20), Luke (Lk. 24:13-53; Acts 1:1-11), and John (Jn. 20:10-11:25).

Of these, the one who lists the most post-Resurrection appearances is actually St. Paul. So this bears none of the marks of a big fish story that gets progressively larger over time. Everyone writing after Paul simply fleshes out specific accounts that he mentions in passing.

Jesus' Divinity

 
What about the claim that only John's Gospel depicts Christ as claiming to be Divine? Fr. Robert Barron debunks this claim pretty exhaustively, noting that when Christ claims to be greater than the Temple (Mt. 12:6), and to have the ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:5; Mk. 2:10), He's making claims that a Jewish audience would recognize as claims to Divinity (as they do: Mark 2:7). Likewise when He declares, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5; Mk. 2:28).

But I want to take this in a slightly different direction, instead. Let's look at just the Gospel of Matthew, for now. In Matthew 2, the Magi come to worship the Christ Child (see Mt. 2:2, Mt. 2:11). Various other people worship Christ throughout this Gospel as well: a leper (Mt. 8:2), “a certain ruler” (Mt. 9:18), a Canaanite woman (Mt. 15:25), the mother of James and John (Mt. 20:20), the disciples who witnessed Jesus walking on water (Mt. 14:33), the women who see the Resurrected Christ (Mt. 28:9), and many members of the crowd to which He appears in Mt. 28:9. In exactly none of these cases does Jesus “correct” the acts, which, if mistaken about His Divinity, would be blasphemous.

So even if Jesus is being ambiguous in what He's claiming about Himself, we see innumerable people taking this as a declaration that He's Divine, and responding by worshiping Him. When people mistakenly begin to worship two of the Apostles (Acts 10:25-26) or an angel (Rev. 19:10), the recipients of this misplaced worship immediately stop them. Not so with Christ. It's no mistake that He's proclaimed by His followers to be God, because that's exactly what He claimed, and the sort of worship He accepted, during His lifetime.

There's plenty more where that came from, too. For example, “the Son of Man” is a Divine title, which is made transparent by the interaction in Mt. 26:62-65, in which the high priest condemns it as blasphemous. The fact that Jesus uses it repeatedly, throughout all four Gospels (see, e.g., Mt. 11:19; Mk. 2:28; Lk. 22:48; Jn. 3:13) only supports the notion that Christ claimed to be Divine.

But again, that's just Matthew. We could also look to the writings of St. Paul, where he describes Christ as being equal with God, and having the very nature of God (Phil. 2:6), a passage which Paul concludes (in Phil. 2:10-11) by applying the words of Isaiah 45:22-23 to Christ. Read Isaiah 45:22-23, and you'll see why that's important. Likewise in the Letter to the Hebrews, the angels are commanded to worship Christ (Heb. 1:6).

Remember that Paul's writings are generally held to be the earliest New Testament documents, yet the letter to the Philippians is really clear that Jesus is God. So again, there's no evidence (at all) that this is an idea that only slowly emerged within Christianity. Like the Resurrection, this is at the core of the Faith from the very beginning.
 
 
(Image credit: Jeff Clarke)

Joe Heschmeyer

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Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Bob

    "So St. Paul tells us that Christ physically rose from the dead."

    Not necessarily. Paul tells us that Christ rose from the dead. I don't see anything about 'physically' in the text.

    Are you sure that you are not just reading this into Paul?

    That said, I am quite sure that Paul, the earliest extent writer, viewed Christ as divine.

    • "Not necessarily. Paul tells us that Christ rose from the dead. I don't see anything about 'physically' in the text."

      How does one rise from the dead non-physically? Rising suggests spatial movement, and thus a physical resurrection.

      When Paul said Jesus had rose from the dead, his listeners would not think he referred to anything other than a bodily resurrection.

      • Bob

        Spiritually, of course.... just like rebirth through Baptism, getting saved, etc...

        The flesh is dirty.

        Anyway, you might immediately think physical, because of the Gospels, but that doesn't necessarily mean that people from that time, before the Gospels, would immediately have thought so.

        In fact, there is some evidence of a rift in the early church over just such a thing.

        • TJPW

          You're saying the gospel's first century audience were Post-Cartesians?

          • Bob

            Actually, wouldn't I be saying that Post Cartesians were in, some ways, like some first century Christians?

          • TJPW

            With no basis for that claim, since the Post-Cartesian view of the human being was a novelty. That's its whole thing.

          • Bob

            There is nothing new under the sun, or something to that effect...

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The flesh is dirty.

          Oho! A Manichean in our midst?

        • Garbanzo Bean

          You are perhaps referring to Docetism.

          So the scenario you propose, is that Jesus may have in fact resurrected spiritually, and then later on someone fabricated the idea that he had actually resurrected bodily?

          • Bob

            No, I am saying that Paul is not necessarily referring to a physical resurrection based on the text.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Does "not physically, but spiritually" mean raised from the dead, but without his body? Doesn't sound like any kind of "raising from the dead" or "resurrection" Paul intends.

          • Bob

            If you insist on begging the question, then I suppose it wouldn't.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Your answer to the question above "How does one rise from the dead non-physically?" was "spiritually". My question to you is: does this mean raised from the dead but without his body? I am referring to the original human body.

          • David Nickol

            I am referring to the original human body.

            I raised a question in another message: If the body of Jesus had been cremated immediately after the crucifixion, would the resurrection have been impossible? Certainly Catholics don't believe that those who have been cremated or those whose bodies have thoroughly disintegrated and been "recycled" by nature will not be included in the general resurrection. So does "resurrection" necessarily mean "reanimation of a corpse"?

            The problem in this discussion is that we don't know what the very earliest followers of Jesus—those who "witnessed" the resurrection—thought. Some are reacting to the questions about what Paul saw or claims to have seen as if they are newly invented, blatant attacks on the resurrection. How dare the topic even be discussed. But of course there is nothing at all new in the questions. It is simply a fact that Paul gives a very vague account of his encounter with Jesus, one that does not seem to have been a "face-to-face meeting," and then lists it as the last of Jesus's resurrection appearances. It has long led people to ask the question whether—since Paul seems not to have had a "face-to-face meeting" with a human Jesus, and since he lists his encounter along with all the others—he thought his own encounter with Jesus was the same as the others he mentions.

            Trying to come up with an answer to these types of questions is not an attack on Christianity and the dogma of the resurrection. (Trying to prove that the resurrection is some kind of hoax is an attack on Christianity.) The claim that the resurrection was simply the reanimation of the corpse of the crucified Jesus is, I dare say, something not even the New Testament accepts. That would put Lazarus and Jesus in the same category.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            "If the body of Jesus had been cremated immediately after the crucifixion, would the resurrection have been impossible?"
            -I agree with you, Catholics would say the resurrection will occur for those whose bodies have been well rotted, burned, destroyed. The victims in Maccabees seem to concur. So in the case of Jesus, yes the resurrection still would have been possible post-cremation.

            "So does "resurrection" necessarily mean "reanimation of a corpse"?"
            -No, I would say it means the restoration and glorification of the body to its intended eternal state. To those who argue that restoration may not be possible because of the degree of dissolution of that body, I would answer as Jesus did to the Saduccees "you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God."

            "Paul gives a very vague account of his encounter with Jesus, one that does not seem to have been a "face-to-face meeting," and then lists it as the last of Jesus's resurrection appearances."
            -Paul's experience was that of a post-Ascension Jesus, so it could very well have been different from what the resurrection appearances were like.

          • Bob

            Paul does mention a spiritual body, whatever that actually means. I take it to mean that the body that is buried is replaced by something else.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            "I take it to mean that the body that is buried is replaced by something else."
            -I do not think "replacement" is an apt analogy for what Paul or Christians generally mean by "resurrection". Resurrection is the restoration and glorification of the original body from whatever state it is in to its eternally destined state.

          • Bob

            While true that it is not generally what Christians have come to mean by the word resurrection; it is, as I said, begging the question as far as what Paul himself may have meant.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Paul quite clearly emphasizes the continuity. The metaphors he uses are about transformation with an underlying continuity. This is not begging the question, it is a matter of understanding metaphor.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I think we need to be careful when using the word "physical". "Physical" to most modern people means made of the matter that we are all familiar with, matter that can be measured. It seems not at all clear to me that Paul's audience understood "physical" in that restricted sense.

        As you know, we can read later in that same chapter of 1 Corinthians:

        When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.

        Thus, while Saint Paul was adamant that the resurrection was "bodily", it's not clear that those new bodies were composed of "matter" in the same sense that we scientifically understand the word "matter".

        "Matter" in the scientific sense is just a human concept. It is part of our mental model of the universe. I would like to think that what happened transcended our little human concepts.

      • Doug Shaver

        How does one rise from the dead non-physically?

        You don't, if the body that rises is the same one that was buried. Does Paul say that it is?

        • Tpr1976

          He does say it is, but he also says it isn't.
          In 1 Corinthians 15, he uses the metaphor of a kernel of wheat planted which eventually becomes something completely new when it dies and then grows into a stalk of wheat.
          What we are now is corruptible, but when we are raised it is incorruptible.

          • Doug Shaver

            The "it isn't" looks pretty dominant to me. From the RSV:

            42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body."

            You do realize the pronoun "it" in those statements refers to the same individual entity undergoing a change? As in: I took my car to the shop today: it went in rusty, it came out shiny. It went in broken, it came out repaired.

          • Doug Shaver

            You do realize the pronoun "it" in those statements refers to the same individual entity undergoing a change?

            Yes, I realize that. I don't infer ontology from grammar, especially not after translation. However, if you know something about ancient Greek that tells us Paul could not have written this particular statement, worded as we have it, if he had believed the spiritual body could not be the same as the physical body, please share that knowledge.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            "I don't infer ontology from grammar, especially not after translation."

            I see. But you are ok to infer non-ontology from grammar?

            "However, if you know something about ancient Greek..."

            I did teach classical Greek at a secular university, but that was some years ago, and that was Attic, with some work in Doric and Ionic. The NT is Koine, but unless you know the specific differences it does't matter to an amateur.

            How would you translate the Greek differently?

            "...that tells us Paul could not have written this particular statement, worded as we have it, if he had believed the spiritual body could not be the same as the physical body, please share that knowledge."

            Are you referring to the second half of v. 44? I dont really follow you.

          • Doug Shaver

            But you are ok to infer non-ontology from grammar?

            I infer a writer's ontological beliefs from what he says, taking relevant context into consideration.

            Are you referring to the second half of v. 44?

            Yes. Transliterating, Paul wrote: Ei estin soma psychikon estin kai pneumatikon. You say he believed that the physical and spiritual bodies were numerically identical. How would he have worded that differently if he had believed otherwise?

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Had he believed otherwise, he could have left this one sentence intact, though he might not have left if so vague. However he would have had to word everything else he said completely differently.

          • Doug Shaver

            However he would have had to word everything else he said completely differently.

            You know Greek and I don't, so I'm not competent to agree or disagree. However, the Secular Web hosted a debate on this topic between two people who both know their Greek, with a panel of four judges. The judges' overall verdict was that your side won, but just barely.

            http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/carrier-oconnell/

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Debates can be a good source for the state of a question, but they usually dont indicate anything more than who was the better debater. I see Carrier exhibits his penchant for eisegesis once again.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, most debates are more about theatrics than anything else, but we can at least try to look past that to see whether one side or the other even has a case. It seems to me that most orthodox commentary on what Paul must have meant is grounded in a presupposition that Paul himself belonged to the sect that eventually became orthodox.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            "Paul himself belonged to the sect that eventually became orthodox."
            That might be backwards. The folks who kept Paul's letters and had them read aloud at their liturgies did so because they wanted to follow Paul. It was not a supposition, it was a choice.
            I think commentary on what Paul meant should be grounded on what he actually said. This is a far cry from what Carrier does.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think commentary on what Paul meant should be grounded on what he actually said.

            I see him saying that the resurrection body is not the same body as the one that died.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            It is changed, so in that sense it is not the same. But the resurrected body comes from the one that died, and in that sense it is the same body. The metaphors Paul uses are very clear in emphasizing the continuity.

          • Doug Shaver

            They are clear if you presuppose his orthodoxy, not so clear without that presupposition.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            They are clear if you are familiar with seeds and sleep.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think we've gotten to the point where all we can say to each other is 'Tis so and 'Tain't so.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            If indeed you are not familiar with the fact that seeds become plants, and that a plant is not a seed... and you are not familiar with the fact that when a sleeping person wakes up he is the same person, but is not asleep... then yes, your statement adequately describes the quality of your and Carrier's argument so far.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your supposition that only someone who is abysmally ignorant can disagree with your interpretation of Paul's analogies is noted.

    • Tpr1976

      What else could the phrase "rose from the dead" mean if not "physically" rose from the dead?
      Dead implies "once was alive".
      That's quite a fine hair you're splitting.
      Paul emphasizes Christ's divinity, but placing emphasis on divinity is not a denial of humanity.

      • Bob

        Paul's concern seems to be the spiritual death of the unsaved, or so it seems to me.

        • Tpr1976

          Of course he's concerned with that. In 1 Corinthians he says that if it's only for this life that Christ died, then we are pitiable creatures.
          He also says that resurrection comes through a "human being" in chapter 15 verse 21. That human being is Jesus.
          He's not ignoring Christ's humanity, His human life.
          He also describes Jesus appearing to several witnesses post-resurrection in chapter 15.
          Just because he is more concerned with our spiritual death does not mean he's saying Christ was only a spiritual reality and not a flesh and blood man.

          • Bob

            I am not sure I am following your objection. Paul's witness was specifically spiritual and no where does he claim anything other than this nor make any specific reference to any witness being different from his. I think you are inserting into Paul something that may have been alien to Paul himself.

          • Tpr1976

            What parts of Paul are you omitting from your statement because 1 Corinthians is pretty much accepted as Pauline in authorship and in that letter he mentions that the Risen Jesus appears to multiple witnesses.

          • Bob

            Yup, it sure does. What it doesn't do is differentiate these appearance in type, as you seem to want to make it say.

          • Tpr1976

            What does "appeared" mean? If it is not qualified with any other modifiers then don't we go with the most obvious, normal meaning? Did he specify that these appearances were spiritual appearances??? Why would one make that assumption when that's the less likely interpretation?

          • Bob

            Is it your contention that Paul's witness of Christ was of a physical Christ?

            I would have to disagree.

          • Tpr1976

            Is it your contention that the other witnesses of Christ was only a spiritual experience?
            I would also have to disagree because why would so many people go along because Cephas, James and the dozens of other disciples had a "spiritual experience"?
            If Luke knew Paul, he no doubt would have heard first hand of his experience on the Damascus Road.
            Why then would he change Paul's testimony when describing the resurrection in his Gospel?
            The Risen Jesus in Luke takes food and eats it, takes bread and brakes it, asks his followers to touch Him etc.....
            A spiritual resurrection is NICE and EASY!
            Why complicate it by insisting on bodily resurrection unless it really is what was witnessed by the earliest apostles?

          • Bob

            So I take it that you do not believe that Paul's experience was of a physical Christ.

            The rest is, as far as this discussion is concerned, a bit irrelevant I think.

          • Tpr1976

            Why do you take it that I do not believe Paul experienced a physical Christ?
            The Risen physical Christ passed through locked doors and bi-located. Could He not appear as a blinding flash of light visible and audible to Paul alone?

          • Bob

            An interesting view.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree with your take here on the physicality of Paul's experience, but a blinding flash of light is surely a departure from the common sense meaning of "an appearance of Jesus"?

            This is precisely why I think others are correct when they say it is not obvious what is meant by "appearances". For all the appearances that are mentioned in the NT, nowhere do we really have a visual description of what the risen Christ looks like. (Even Thomas in the Gospel of John doesn't necessarily see or feel Christ's wounds, he is only invited to touch them).

            It seems to me that all "common sense" meanings of the Resurrection accounts are inadequate. The Resurrection is meant to confound common sense. It could not have been merely material, and it could not have been merely non-material. If it was truly a meeting of heaven and earth, it must have transcended those categories.

          • David Nickol

            The important question that it seems impossible to answer is, when Paul claims Jesus appeared to him, what does he mean? Did Paul see Jesus in human form? Did he see Jesus in the way Thomas the Apostle is described as seeing him in the Gospel of John?

            And if all Paul experienced when Jesus "appeared" to him on the road to Damascus was a bright light and a voice, is that what Paul thinks Peter and the others witnessed in their experiences as well? Paul doesn't make a distinction between all the previous appearances of Jesus to others and the appearance to him. And yet Paul counts himself as an Apostle because Jesus appeared to him.

      • Michael Murray

        What else could the phrase "rose from the dead" mean if not "physically" rose from the dead?

        Don't we have to decide at least some of the following

        (1) what was the original phrase written in Greek by Paul

        (2) what did that phrase mean to the group it was written for

        (3) how reliably do we know (1) and (2) ?

  • Fr.Sean

    whenever someone claims to use the logic that there's no resurrection appearance in the shorter ending of Mark's gospel i usually see that as an indication that the one claiming it isn't all that familiar with the Gospel itself. On several occasions Mark has Jesus tell his followers that he will be condemned, die on a cross, and on the third day be raised. he also has the guard at the cross proclaim, "truly this was the son of God" immediately after his death. the shorter ending has the heavenly figure surprising the women at the tomb and telling them he has arisen and he will go before them are all indications that the belief of the resurrection was a forgone conclusion. taking the short ending and attempting to draw out an idea that Mark was oblivious of a bodily resurrection is taking the verse out of context for the chapter and for the Gospel itself. the ending was meant to imply that the story continues, and it is meant to imply it continues through the response of the reader.

    • Bob

      Perhaps, but maybe Mark created his allegory to say something different. In 16:8, the women flee, saying nothing to nobody. He doesn't say that they ran and told the disciples. In fact, he doesn't seem to think too highly of the disciples at all.

      It does cast a bit of a different light on the appearances referenced in Corinthians, when understood in this context.

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Bob,
        I"m not sure i understand? the heavenly figure at the tomb told the women to go to tell the disciples. it was the women's shock at the event that caused them to to be silent? Corinthians was written before Mark's Gospel which obviously has more about the details of the resurrection than the shorter ending. Mark's gospel is often summarized as the paschal mystery with a long intro so i don't know if it wold make all that much sense to write a story that focuses on a specific event but then rewrite the event as if it didn't happen?

        • Bob

          Indeed, the women were told to go tell the disciples, but did not. That is the story as Mark writes it.

          And I agree, Corinthians was written before Mark's gospel.

          I do think that Mark was a member of a Pauline community.

          I also think that it is possible that Mark may have been talking specifically to other communities around his Pauline one, or perhaps even answering some of them, though we only have one side of a conversation extent (similar to what we find in the 2nd and third centuries with the heresiologists - though one could point to the changes in Matthew and Luke, I suppose).

          From what I can tell, Christianity was not a homogeneous entity, even at that early date - (some clues that this was the case are found in the epistles themselves).

          Where we differ is that I do not assume that the specific event, as recounted in various ways in the later Gospels, actually happened in that way. I am rather trying to take Paul and Mark at their word.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Bob,
            I think you're instincts are right. Raymond Brown wrote a book about the early Christian communities but I can't remember the name of it. apparently various groups developed but they didn't have any defined written documents, just witnesses and the apostles. those groups took the events people remembered and eventually compiled the Gospels (which is why there's also apocraphical gospels) While they were independent groups they still considered themselves all Christians and eventually homogenized what they believed. but different groups were going from witnesses and memory so some groups remembered some things while others recalled other events. one can imagine that when Paul eventually became part of the group they all shared various resurrection accounts with him which is why he was able to write about it from what he was told and from his own experience.

          • Bob

            Hello Fr. Sean,

            Yes, that sounds rather plausible.

          • Doug Shaver

            Why do you think Mark was a member of a Pauline community?

          • Bob

            Mark's attitude toward the disciples seems to parallel a similar sentiment in Paul, particularly as found in Galatians. Additionally, Mark makes a big deal about the fact that Jesus was misunderstood by his contemporaries, again following Paul's assertion that the Gospel he preached was not of man or by men, but by revelation, etc...

            These, among other bits and pieces, have led me to believe that Mark was a member of a Paulinist community of one form or another.

          • Doug Shaver

            I guess you might be on to something, but the parallels are not as apparent to me as they seem to be to you.

            Paul does disagree with some leaders of the Jerusalem church (he never calls anyone a disciple of Jesus) about certain things, but he does not portray them as the clueless idiots that Mark makes them out to be.

            And, I don't see the analogue at all between Jesus' being misunderstood and Paul's claim to have gotten his gospel by revelation. As I recall, Paul never claimed to have been misunderstood, but only to have been not believed.

          • Bob

            All true, but the parallels in attitude are striking. There is, of course, a lot more to all of this, but for a combox - I think you get my general meaning.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            OTOH, the constant tradition was that Mark was Peter's secretary in Rome and jotted down his stories told at various gatherings. When Peter was condemned, and the living voice would no longer be available, he took these notes and arranged them into his gospel. Since Peter told the stories as the needs of the congregation warranted, Mark had to arrange them as best he could, and some criticized him for omitting some accounts or for putting them in the wrong order.

            And the presbyter [John] would say this: Mark, who had indeed been Peter's interpreter, accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order, about that which was either said or done by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord's reports, so that Mark did not fail by writing certain things as he recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them.
            -- Papias, as included in Eusebius

          • Didn't Marcion want to restrict the scriptures to just the letters of Paul and Luke. So he seemed to think Luke tracked most closely to Paul. Of course tradition has it that Luke was a companion of Paul. Even if it was not Luke there are indications the author of Acts traveled with Paul.

            The trouble is that does not fit the liberal theory. Luke has the longest Nativity account and people don't want to believe that Paul believed in all those angelic visits along with the virgin birth. Then they have to explain all the miracles Paul is recorded doing in Acts.

          • Bob

            I am not sure that Marcion's redaction would have contained the Nativity account as does the surviving redaction of Luke.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not really. The Confederacy lost, big-time, but was glamorized by writers ever after.

            Besides, if victors were writing such things, you have to come up with a more impressive touchdown dance that "John 'No-name' Mark was Peter's translator."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Sure, the confederacy lost, but the Union didn't salt their cities a al Rome and Carthage.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What exactly is the liberal theory?

          • Bob

            The victors do tend to write the history.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I had not heard this before. Makes a lot of sense.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The practice of Greek historiography -- which is to say of historiography of the time -- was that you referenced your eyewitnesses in the text. If a story had been told but the teller was not available to the audience for one reason or another, it might be left out. Hence, one evangelist might include a story that another left out; either because he had not heard it in his neck of the woods or because he couldn't locate a witness to verify it.

            Compare various first-hand accounts of the US Civil War. I read one account that stopped without mentioning Reconstruction; so I guess by your standards we would say the author "did not know" about the Reconstruction. One account of Chickamauga mentions Garfield's report to Rosecrans that Gen. Thomas was "standing like a rock." But another account does not mention this report. We can only imagine was future textual critics will make of such omissions. Perhaps that Historian X did not know Thomas as the Rock of Chickamauga while later Historian Y did (or "added" this account).

    • Doug Shaver

      taking the short ending and attempting to draw out an idea that Mark was oblivious of a bodily resurrection is taking the verse out of context for the chapter and for the Gospel itself.

      The author obviously did believe that a resurrection happened. But if his narrative actually ended at 16:8, the author does not affirm that anyone saw Jesus after the resurrection.

      the ending was meant to imply that the story continues, and it is meant to imply it continues through the response of the reader.

      Fine. He expected his readers to believe that Christ was risen. But he did not say that anybody had seen the risen Christ.

  • Mike

    Thanks for this; i learned alot and it's always nice reading concise, clear and thoughtful writing.

    PS All the best in your formation.

  • David Nickol

    Why doesn't Paul seem to know that the first to see the risen Jesus were Mary Magdalene and the various other women?

    • Bob

      Because they didn't actually see the risen Jesus...kata Mark, of course.

    • Doug Shaver

      He hadn't heard those stories. To hear him tell it, everything he knew about Christ came to him by way of personal revelation and his interpretation of Jewish scripture.

    • Tpr1976

      Have you read Paul's other statements about women?

      • David Nickol

        Have you read Paul's other statements about women?

        Are you implying that Paul knew "the women" were the first to see the risen Jesus, but suppressed this information because he was a misogynist? That he was trying to convince people of the resurrection but deliberately omitted evidence?

        • Tpr1976

          More like he was a man who understood the Greco-Roman world and knew that a female eye-witness testimony would probably not hold as much credibility as a male one.

          • Bob

            It is always sad to see such aspersions cast on Paul for the sake of a rather poor apologetic.

          • Tpr1976

            I'm down with our boy, Paul.
            He was simply "of his time". That's all.

          • Bob

            Or maybe he never heard of any women in the first place.

          • Tpr1976

            Just because he never heard of them doesn't mean that other apostles didn't either.
            Judging Paul by the standard of ...."You forgot Mary Magdalene." is not refutation of a Risen Jesus.

          • Bob

            I don't believe I ever said either of these things.

          • Doug Shaver

            What was it about Greco-Roman culture that disinclined him to say that witnesses to the risen Christ included women? Even to a misogynist, to say that some women were the first to see him would not have undermined additional testimony that several hundred men also saw him.

    • Eric

      I think we have to be careful in assuming that just because an item is not referred to by Paul then it mustn't have happened. It could as easily be that Paul had his own reasons, when addressing the community in Corinth, to emphasize the particular people Jesus appeared to in the order he did. (In dealing with factions among the community for example). I don't think you can so readily assume that because it wasn't in a letter he wrote, it didn't happen. When I write letters, the things I tell people about in the letter happened, but so did a whole host of things that I just didn't feel the need to include.

      • David Nickol

        I think we have to be careful in assuming that just because an item is not referred to by Paul then it mustn't have happened.

        Of course, it is not my position that if Paul didn't mention something, it must not have happened. There are probably an infinite number of possibilities. Paul may have known something and not written about it. Many things may have happened that Paul didn't know about. There could be letters of Paul that did not survive in which he wrote details of his experiences not included elsewhere.

        However, you can only go on the evidence you have, and if we have from Paul an early but vague account of something, and later accounts are much more detailed, then certainly one possibility is that accounts were elaborated over a number of decades.

  • Doug Shaver

    Biblical skeptics often surmise that the earliest New Testament books tell a very different story than the later books: that the story of Jesus grew with time, becoming more and more incredible, and less and less historical. In other words, the New Testament evolved from history to religious mythology.

    Those skeptics are usually referring to the gospels, not the entire New Testament. The epistles and Revelation are talking about Jesus, but they're not telling "the story of Jesus."

    Is there any merit to either of these evolving Bible claims?

    It would be an obvious mistake to equate the gospels with the entire Bible. However, to study the gospels without commitment to Christian orthodoxy is not a mistake if one is not a Christian. We're not obliged to presuppose that the gospel authors agreed among themselves or with any other canonical author.

    Well, Spong himself dates this passage from First Corinthians to the mid-50s, decades before when he thinks any of the Gospels were written. You can see this on page 201 of his book The Sins of Scripture. This completely destroys his claim that the earliest Resurrection accounts didn't have any post-Resurrection appearances, and that these were added “between the years 70 and 100.”

    I have not read that book, but I do not find, in the CNN article, any assertion by Spong that "the earliest Resurrection accounts didn't have any post-Resurrection appearances." If he has said it somewhere else, then I agree he should not have.

    He claims that in Mark's Gospel, “the risen Christ appears physically to no one.” The truth is that there's controversy over whether or not Mark 16:9-20 are part of Mark's original Gospel, because some of the earliest manuscripts don't include this passage.

    Yes, there is controversy, like there is controversy about practically anything you care to talk about in biblical studies. Still, the inauthenticity of this passage is practically undisputed among mainstream scholars, and even many conservatives accept its inauthenticity. In an article intended for a general readership that neither knows nor cares about academic minutiae, it would have been pedantic of Spong to even mention the objections of a handful of fundamentalists.

    But even if theory #3 is true, that doesn't mean that Mark denied post-Resurrection appearances.

    No, it doesn't, but no one is saying he denied them. The point is that he did not assert them, and that this would be a very odd omission for someone who believed they had occurred.

    So Spong's suggestion that Mark was unaware of any post-Resurrection appearances doesn't follow at all.

    Well, it doesn't follow in a rigorously logical sense. You cannot, strictly speaking, deduce "S was unaware of P" from "S did not mention P." But in many situations, we are well within our epistemic rights to infer that the likeliest explanation for S's silence about P was his unawareness of P.

    At most (and this is assuming theory # 3 is true), we can say simply that the post-Resurrection appearances postdated the events he's describing in his Gospel.

    Sure, if we must assume that Mark was aware of post-resurrection appearances. But we who are not Christians don't have to assume that.

    On the contrary, the earliest New Testament evidence is quite clear about the post-Resurrection appearances. Paul, who predates Mark, writes quite clearly about specific post-Resurrection appearances

    Agreed. Long before Mark's gospel was written (whoever the author was), there was a Christian sect that believed in a Jesus Christ who had been crucified and resurrected and subsequently appeared to various people. But it's only the historical Christian orthodoxy that insists Mark and Paul belonged to the same sect of Christianity.

    Everyone writing after Paul simply fleshes out specific accounts that he mentions in passing.

    Maybe. The author of Luke's gospel obviously had heard something about Paul, given that he also wrote Acts. I see no reason to assume that Mark knew anything about Paul or his writings.

    What about the claim that only John's Gospel depicts Christ as claiming to be Divine? Fr. Robert Barron debunks this claim pretty exhaustively, noting that when Christ claims to be greater than the Temple (Mt. 12:6), and to have the ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:5; Mk. 2:10), He's making claims that a Jewish audience would recognize as claims to Divinity (as they do: Mark 2:7).

    I don't know how a first-century Jewish audience would have interpreted any statement attributed to Jesus, and I'm not going to take a Christian writer's word for it. I want to hear it from a first-century Jew. And until I do, if the synoptic authors don't quote Jesus as saying "I am Yahwe" or words unambiguously to that effect, I'm not believing that they thought he claimed to be God.

    “the Son of Man” is a Divine title

    Practically all of the scholarship I have read disagrees.

    the high priest condemns it as blasphemous

    So says whoever wrote Matthew's gospel.

    Remember that Paul's writings are generally held to be the earliest New Testament documents, yet the letter to the Philippians is really clear that Jesus is God. So again, there's no evidence (at all) that this is an idea that only slowly emerged within Christianity. Like the Resurrection, this is at the core of the Faith from the very beginning.

    Yes, the Pauline corpus is difficult to reconcile with the conventional liberal story about Christianity's origins. That is why some of us have come to doubt that Paul had ever heard of any man like Jesus of Nazareth.

    • Yes, the Pauline corpus is difficult to reconcile with the conventional liberal story about Christianity's origins. That is why some of us have come to doubt that Paul had ever heard of any man like Jesus of Nazareth.

      Yet that is a pretty hard pill to swallow to. You have to figure out why Paul's spiritual Christ disappeared. You would expect 2 Christian religions to emerge if Paul's teaching was that different from the apostle's teaching.

      • Doug Shaver

        He agreed with the other apostles that Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected. He did not agree with them about the need for Christians to follow Torah. I think there were two Christianities, if not more, in Paul's time, if not more. There was the Jewish Christianity headed by the Jerusalem church and a gentile Christianity that Paul signed on to.

        • The trouble is that two separate Christian religions don't just come together by themselves. We know this well. If they were one faith in the 4th century then they had to be one faith all the way through.

          • Bob

            There is a whole lot of extant writing from the second and third centuries that might beg to differ.

          • Not that nobody believed anything different. It is that people knew what the orthodox church taught. They knew who the true successor of the apostles were and who were the loose cannons.

          • Bob

            Is that supposed to be the 'Fair and Balanced' version?

            I imagine that there would have been quite a few groups that may have viewed things differently.

          • If they did view things differently they basically died out. When it was time to call the Council of Nicea there was not huge controversy about who the legitimate leaders of the church were. They were the successors of the apostles or the bishops.

            Right now Christianity could do no such thing. Every Christian group would come up with a very different list of who the leaders of Christendom are.

          • Bob

            By the time of Nicea, yes all heretical forms were pretty much gone or on their way to being so.

          • So how does that happen. How many strains of Christianity just disappeared since the reformation? Even today the middle east has a bunch of very old Christian groups.

            There must have been one big group and a lot of little groups that survived only for a generation or two. That is the real Christianity was always obvious to people. St Augustine talked about how no heretic dared suggest their church was the Catholic church.

          • Bob

            Once a sect gained political power, it probably spelled the end of new adherents for other extant sects. Some sects, iirc, probably abstained themselves to death... A whole lot of reasons I imagine.

          • This was all before Christians gained political power. We did see this dynamic in the 16th and 17th centuries where one group would persecute all others. Yet is required brutal violence and even then didn't quite work. Nothing like that disunity was present in the 4th century. There was a sense that one group was legitimate because they had an authentic connection to the apostles that others did not.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            in the 16th and 17th centuries where one group would gain political power

            Actually, in the 16th and 17th centuries the State gained political power over the Church, broke it up into various State-established churches and then persecuted heterodoxy because it had become synonymous with political treason.

          • David Nickol

            I am not sure how important "apostolic succession" is (in terms of continuity of Christian teaching) regarding early "heretical" doctrines, since it seems to me the Apostles themselves would have been bewildered by the debates of the early great councils (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and so on). Technical discussions (in Greek) about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus, or technical explanations of how Jesus could have been both human and divine would have meant nothing to the Apostles or to the earliest generations of the followers of Jesus.

          • Doug Shaver

            If they were one faith in the 4th century then they had to be one faith all the way through.

            I don't see the necessity. We only have Eusebius's word for it that the teachings of 4th-century orthodoxy went all the way back to Jesus and his disciples.

          • Not at all. Ireneaus talked about apostolic succession. We have Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and other early writers who support this by mentioning these doctrines. We have the common sense that unity does not come from disunity especially across such a wide geographical area and without a strong central leadership. Really anyone who has spent any time in a church knows how impossible it is to get a rift to just go away. There are just a ton of problems you have to ignore to say there were many forms of Christianity early on. I am not sure anyone who holds this has shown any evidence of dealing with these issues.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ireneaus talked about apostolic succession. We have Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and other early writers who support this by mentioning these doctrines.

            You're right. I made a mistake, and it was a silly one.

            We have the common sense that unity does not come from disunity especially across such a wide geographical area and without a strong central leadership. Really anyone who has spent any time in a church knows how impossible it is to get a rift to just go away.

            It’s not always impossible. It is very difficult, and typically not achievable within a single generation. When the United States was founded, it had a rift between slaveholding and free states that took almost a century and one of history's bloodiest wars to paper over. If I am correct, it took some three centuries for Christianity's original factions to evolve into a single religion. And yes, it did not and could have happened without one of those factions attaining a position of strong central leadership.

            There are just a ton of problems you have to ignore to say there were many forms of Christianity early on.

            Let's talk about them. What do you regard as the biggest problem that you think I'm ignoring?

          • David Nickol

            The trouble is that two separate Christian religions don't just come together by themselves. We know this well. If they were one faith in the 4th century then they had to be one faith all the way through.

            Could you recommend a respected history of the early church that would justify making a statement like this? I am currently reading Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch, and early Christianity as you seem to imagine it could scarcely be more inconsistent with MacCulloch's description of it.

            I am not suggesting you must accept Diarmaid MacCulloch's account of early Christianity, but whose would you consider reliable?

          • Bob

            Spend some time and on the early Christian writings website.

          • i would recommend Warren Carroll's history of Christendom.

      • David Nickol

        You have to figure out why Paul's spiritual Christ disappeared.

        It is not as if Paul expounds at length about what the experience of encountering the risen Jesus is like. The point is that his is both the account closest in time to the historical event of the crucifixion, and also the only firsthand account of an encounter with the risen Jesus. But it is also lacking in any details at all. Consequently, if more concrete accounts "evolved" later, Paul's account does not exactly contradict them, but neither does it support them. And the question still remains why, if Paul knew more details than he provided, did he not write about them? The answer to that question can only be a matter of speculation.

        Paul's vague account of the nature of the resurrection is not evidence against the more concrete accounts in the Gospels, but it is weak support for them, leaving open the possibility that the more concrete accounts "evolved" from less concrete ones.

        I have read several references to scholarly suppositions that Paul's mentions of the resurrection are from "credal formulas" or from liturgy. So when we read something like the following, we must consider that it is not Paul writing a firsthand account "from the top of his head," but rather Paul referring to an established Christian creed, the wording of which had more or less become standard by the time of Paul:

        "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

      • Doug Shaver

        I don't think Paul's spiritual Christ actually disappeared, but rather was supplemented by the historical Christ after Christians got the notion that there must have been one.

  • TJPW

    If Mark ended his gospel at 16:8, how does he claim to have knowledge of the Resurrection? IF that's the end of the gospel, the question is lingering about how he heard what Mary told nobody.

    • Doug Shaver

      If Mark ended his gospel at 16:8, how does he claim to have knowledge of the Resurrection?

      He doesn't. Whoever wrote the gospel doesn't claim to know anything. Certain Christians who read it sometime afterward just assumed that he knew something.

      • TJPW

        Sorry, I mean the empty tomb, not the Resurrection.

        • Doug Shaver

          He had a story to tell. Some people who read the story believed it actually happened, but the author himself never said so.

          • So you are suggesting the writer of Mark made it all up and presented this to Christians who somehow forget to ask,"Is this true?"

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think it's all original with Mark's author. I think most if not all of the teachings he attributed to Jesus had been in circulation for some time. He just put them into a narrative framework involving a martyred itinerant preacher with some charisma.

            As for Christians' credulity, I see nothing special about it. People of all religions and no religion do the same thing whenever they hear a good story that sounds like it ought to be true. That's what gives urban legends their legs. It's also why, for one of countless examples, almost everybody believes that tale about Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    There is no consensus among Catholic Biblical scholars that the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine, that the contemporaries of the historical Jesus viewed him as divine, or that the historical Jesus himself claimed to be divine or was understood to have made that claim by his contemporaries. Furthermore, Catholics are not obligated by church teaching to believe that the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine, etc. What then is the utility of dialoguing with atheists on this question?

    • There are liberal Catholic bible scholars. So what? If the church excommunicates them would that change anything about this debate?

      • David Nickol

        If the church excommunicates them would that change anything about this debate?

        But the Church doesn't excommunicate "liberal Catholic bible scholars." Many people feel the New American Bible is "liberal" (indeed heretical), and yet it is approved by the American Bishops and the Vatican. Who do you claim is the authority for what is "orthodox" Catholic biblical scholarship, and why haven't they been refuted and disciplined by the USCCB and the Vatican?

        • There is no orthodox scholarship. There is just the orthodox faith. If the scholars don't believe it then the fact that they are technically Catholic is really not that relevant.

          Why the church does not discipline more people than she does is a mystery to me. Not my job to question the bishops.

          • David Nickol

            Why the church does not discipline more people than she does is a mystery to me. Not my job to question the bishops.

            It is not merely the fact that the Church doesn't discipline scholars who produce work such as the New American Bible. It is that the Church (the USCCB and the Vatican) publishes and approves their work.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            The divinity of Jesus is certainly part of the orthodox faith, but I don't know that Catholic scholars who do not believe that the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine are dissenting from any known doctrine. Again, they are not actually denying that Jesus is divine.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But the question is: how are you able to ascertain that these scholars don't hold orthodox beliefs?

            On the specific point that Arthur Jeffries raised at the beginning of this thread, there IS no defined orthodox belief. How can someone be heterodox with respect to a teaching that does not exist? Unless you are aware of some teaching that we are not?

          • Michael Murray

            But the question is: how are you able to ascertain that these scholars don't hold orthodox beliefs?

            There are methods that have proved reliable in the past:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heretic%27s_fork

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            @bvogt1:disqus, is this really the type of comment you want to support with an "upvote"?

            Rather than identifying and explaining any specific heresies or doctrinal errors, Randy is claiming that he is able to look into the hearts and minds of "liberal Catholic bible scholars" and see that they "don't have orthodox faith" and that they "think like atheists". I would have thought that only God could look into people's hearts in this way.

            How do comments like this foster respectful dialogue? Is it not a safer and much more productive enterprise to evaluate people's arguments, rather than evaluating their hearts and minds and applying cheap labels like "liberal"?

            I totally respect Randy's sincerity of belief and I agree with some of his comments, but surely this is not a good comment to applaud.

          • I am not looking into the hearts of anyone. I am simply saying there has been a liberal tend in Catholic scholarship in the last 150 years. The protestants in England, Germany and the NE US dominated theological scholarship since the late 1800's. Catholics in France, Spain and Italy have been very much playing a "me to" game. The game has been skepticism. How many people can we shock by questioning Christian tradition? There has been very little defense of Christian tradition in any of the major secular schools.

            That is the dynamic and I happen to believe it has been a bad one. The pressure has been all in one direction and many Catholic scholars have succumbed. I am not going to guess their motives. I just call them like I see them.

            It has gotten so bad that scholars defending traditional Christianity are basically ignored. That is to say that the people in the most prestigious scholarly positions are not interacting with the best arguments and the brightest minds in their field. They don't defend their positions against very well reasoned criticisms. So they don't deserve to be called scholars. They can be skeptical when attacking Christian ideas but can't be skeptical of the alternative theories being advanced.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think you are confusing Christian convention with Christian tradition. The tradition is, and always has been, that the Church is on a journey. We have a long rich history of where the truth has led us. We don't abandon that history. But, we don't HAVE the truth. We FOLLOW the truth. If the truth were just a bunch of dead facts, then Christian convention might be just fine. But if the truth is a living person, then we must follow Him. We see where He leads us. Jesus never said, "Here are the facts you need to know ...". He said, "Come, follow me." He is still alive, and we are still following. We are still learning more about who he is. You cannot engage in that learning process without questioning. If you want to follow Jesus, you have no choice but to question convention, and that includes Christian convention.

            Or, as Pope Francis said:

            If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.

            Would you also accuse Pope Francis of simply trying to scandalize Christian sensibilities?

            Is it the goal of some scholars to simply shock and scandalize? I'm sure it is. But let's take the specific arguments, one by one, and make rational arguments based on scripture and tradition for whether those arguments are right or wrong. We should not play this game of guilt by association, where an apparently perfectly orthodox view is dismissed simply because one has a sense that the author is somehow associated with some broad trend that has been occurring over several centuries.

          • Michael Murray

            Pope Francis seems to be considering relaxing no communion rules for divorcees.

            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/27/vatican-pope-remarried-divorced-communion

            I never understood how no communion works. As a child I was taught that a failure to go to communion for very long caused the death of the soul. Or something like that. I don't recall the exact wording but it was a "bad thing". Yet these divorcees have been missing communion for decades in some cases. Another "story" I was told I guess.

          • David Nickol

            By the understanding of the Catholic Church, a valid marriage cannot be dissolved. Catholics who enter into a valid marriage, obtain a civil divorce, and "remarry" in a civil ceremony are considered to be living in adultery. Adultery is a mortal sin. No one in a state of mortal sin is permitted to receive communion. Catholics in this situation (according to "hard liners," at least) have two choices. End the adulterous relationship and be a Catholic in good standing again, or continue in the adulterous marriage and refrain from communion.

            Technically, divorced and "remarried" Catholics (and other Catholics considered to be in a state of mortal sin) are under the same obligations as any other Catholics, which means they are obligated to attend mass on Sundays. I have a feeling, though, that almost all Catholics who divorce and remarry (and who do not seek annulments) simply stop being "practicing" Catholics. So I doubt that there are large numbers of divorced and remarried Catholics sitting in the pews on Sundays who wish they could receive communion.

            The Catholic position on divorce is very harsh, but then again, Jesus took a very extreme stance on divorce. The more "traditional" Catholics here bemoan "liberal" biblical scholarship, here's a case where scholarship finds that the exception Matthew makes in 5:32 to the "no divorce" rule is a softening of the original teaching. Paul also made exceptions to the "no divorce" rule of Jesus.

            One might argue that if Matthew and Paul could make exceptions, the Catholic Church has the authority to make exceptions as well.

            Something that complicates the whole issue, in my opinion, is that Jesus was taking a stance on divorce under Mosaic Law. Mosaic Law doesn't apply to Christians. If it was the intention of Jesus to found the Christian religion, why did he spend so much of his time making pronouncements about Jewish Law? It wasn't going to apply to his followers.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks David. So the communion issue I guess is one reason why people go down the annulment track which otherwise seems like a lot of hard work and effort.

          • Catholicism is always a balance. CS Lewis has a wonderful quote where he suggests that when the ship is about to tip to the port side you will always have those who warn loudly about the danger of tipping the other way. These scholars are in no danger of never questioning. Their real danger is ignoring God completely. Just assuming the secular world has all the wisdom and divine revelation holds no value.

            We do need to take specific arguments one by one. Still we need to see that there is a secular scholarly community that is not behaving like scholars. They are just throwing mud at Christianity. They are smart people and they work hard. Yet they have a huge bias that prevents them from processing the facts very well. So it is not a good idea to give their conclusions much weight.

          • Michael Murray

            Still we need to see that there is a secular scholarly community that is not behaving like scholars. They are just throwing mud at Christianity. They are smart people and they work hard. Yet they have a huge bias that prevents them from processing the facts very well. So it is not a good idea to give their conclusions much weight.

            Have you got examples of scholars who are in it just to throw mud ?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I still think you are painting with way too broad a brush, but at this point we've probably said what we can say on this point.

            Catholicism is a balance. We can agree on that. Good note to end on.

            In all sincerity, I will pray for you and all those who think that mainstream biblical scholarship is bankrupt, and you please pray for me and all those like me who think otherwise. Fair enough?

          • I agree we should pray. I would not say they are bankrupt. Like I said, Pope Benedict has interacted with many of these guys in detail and found some great insights. I am just not surprised that they fall into line with secular thinking as often as they do.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            It seems to me that you long for mainstream scholars to abandon the distinction between scholarly exegesis and theology that has been recognized by no less an authority than the Pontifical Biblical Commission:

            The primary task of the exegete is to determine as accurately as possible the meaning of biblical texts in their own proper context, that is, first of all, in their particular literary and historical context and then in the context of the wider canon of Scripture. In the course of carrying out this task, the exegete expounds the theological meaning of texts when such a meaning is present. This paves the way for a relationship of continuity between exegesis and further theological reflection. But the point of view is not the same, for the work of the exegete is fundamentally historical and descriptive and restricts itself to the interpretation of the Bible.

            Theologians as such have a role that is more speculative and more systematic in nature. For this reason, they are really interested only in certain texts and aspects of the Bible and deal, besides, with much other data which is not biblical--patristic writings, conciliar definitions, other documents of the magisterium, the liturgy--as well as systems of philosophy and the cultural, social and political situation of the contemporary world. Their task is not simply to interpret the Bible; their aim is to present an understanding of the Christian faith that bears the mark of a full reflection upon all its aspects and especially that of its crucial relationship to human existence.

            Because of its speculative and systematic orientation, theology has often yielded to the temptation to consider the Bible as a store of dicta probantia serving to confirm doctrinal theses.

          • David Nickol

            When atheists and those who tend toward skepticism criticize the God of the Old Testament here on Strange Notions, they are told, "Catholics aren't fundamentalists!"

            But when it comes to the New Testament, it seems to me the defenders of "traditional Christianity" here are difficult to distinguish from fundamentalists.

          • No, I don't think this is talking about the same thing. I am talking about perspectives. We need the secular perspective. We need to see how someone who assumes no supernatural intervention would make sense of the data. Yet we also need a Catholic perspective. That is how does a person who assumes Catholicism is true process this data. Catholic scholars don't give us that. They just parrot the secular scholars because they want the respect of that community.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Discipline how?

          • Michael Murray

            Discipline how?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H...

        • TJPW

          The Church really only officially excommunicates clerics these days.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            The ordained are well represented in the field of "liberal" Biblical scholarship.

        • Roman

          The church gives wide latitude to scholars to interpret the Bible because it understands and appreciates the contributions made through the more modern methods of biblical exegesis e.g., the historical critical method. However, it does criticize some from time to time and the Vatican also issues guidelines such as Pope Benedict's apostolic exhortation, "Verbum Domini" where he proposes that biblical scholars develop a "Method C" hermeneutic that takes into account both the Method A ancient patristic-medieval method and the Method B historical-critical approach. Where the Vatican draws the line is when a theologian clearly and stubbornly insists on an approach that is heretical, i.e., against established dogma or infallible teaching. In May of this year, the Vatican excommunicated theologian Martha Heizer for simulating Eucharistic celebrations without a priest.

          Who do you claim is the authority for what is "orthodox" Catholic biblical scholarship

          The most basic requirement that the church has always laid out is that scholars must interpret individual scriptural passages in light of scripture as a whole and in light of the church's entire living tradition. So to answer your question, the church through the Pope and its Bishops (not the theologians) is the ultimate authority for what constitutes orthodox Catholic biblical scholarship. Biblical exegesis must not contradict the Church's teachings on faith and morals as described in the documents of the church including the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

          • David Nickol

            So to answer your question, the church through the Pope and its Bishops (not the theologians) is the ultimate authority for what constitutes orthodox Catholic biblical scholarship.

            And yet you accuse the New American Bible of "poor scholarship," and it is approved by the American Bishops (USCCB) and the Vatican.

          • Roman

            You are missing something important here. Go to the USCCB website and go to the section labeled "approved translations of the Bible". It is the TRANSLATION of the scriptures that is approved for use, NOT THE COMMENTARY OR THE FOOTNOTES. I don't know if you've ever been in a Catholic church and seen the Catholic missal which is used for the Mass and contains the scriptures taken from the NAB. There IS NO COMMENTARY OR FOOTNOTES from the NAB. Also, the approval is limited. This is analogous to when the office of the bishop grants the Imprimatur or a nihil obstat to a book. The latter means that there is nothing in the book that is contrary to faith and morals but IT IS NOT A GUARANTEE THAT EVERYTHING IN THE BOOK IS TRUE. Also, the NAB is approved by the USCCB, not the Vatican.The official English translation of the Vatican is the Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic edition.

          • David Nickol

            It is the TRANSLATION of the scriptures that is approved for use, NOT THE COMMENTARY OR THE FOOTNOTES.

            I believe you are incorrect. Here is Canon 825 §1 from the current (1983) Code of Canon Law:

            Can. 825 §1 Books of the sacred Scriptures may not be published unless they are approved by the Apostolic See or the Episcopal Conference. The publication of translations of the sacred Scriptures requires the approval of the same authority, and they must have necessary and sufficient explanatory notes. [Emphasis added]

            It would not make sense for the USCCB to approve only the translation and not the notes. The notes often involve matters of translation.

            Also, the NAB is approved by the USCCB, not the Vatican.

            I should have been clearer about why I claimed the NAB was "approved" by the Vatican. There are versions of the Bible available on the Vatican web site in five different languages—Chinese, English, Italian, Latin, Spanish. The English version is the NAB (more specifically, the New American Version, Revised Edition). The notes are included. If the notes are "heretical," then the Vatican publishes heresy on its web site.

            The latter means that there is nothing in the book that is contrary to faith and morals but IT IS NOT A GUARANTEE THAT EVERYTHING IN THE BOOK IS TRUE.

            I agree absolutely. A Nihil Obstat or Imprimature may be taken as a guarantee, however, that the published work is not heretical.

          • Roman

            Thanks for looking that up. I stand corrected. Just to be clear, I've never said the footnotes or commentary are heretical. There are some, however, that have generated some controversy regarding their accuracy. I'll leave that for the scholars to fight over.

        • Roman

          Many people feel the New American Bible is "liberal" (indeed heretical), and yet it is approved by the American Bishops and the Vatican

          That's really not accurate. The NAB is a good dynamic translation, very readable and easy to understand. That's why its used in the liturgy of the Mass. However, the church has made changes in the version of the NAB that it used in the liturgy where it disagrees with the translation/interpretation. The main problem, however, with the NAB is the commentary. I wouldn't call it "liberal scholarship". I would call it poor scholarship.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        Why would "liberal" Biblical scholars be excommunicated? I did not say that they deny the divinity of Christ.

        • There are many liberal scholars that teach plenty to get themselves disciplined. Essentially they think like atheists. Now if you are talking about a serious Catholic who believes that about the bible then I will take note.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I am not aware of any mainstream Biblical scholars who think like atheists, and it seems presumptuous for you to assume that mainstream Biblical scholars are not "serious" Catholics.

          • What I mean is they approach everything with an extreme anti-supernatural bias. They theoretically believe God could do miracles but consistently dismiss that possibility when analyzing data. Even miracles like the virgin birth and the resurrection that are part of the creed they either deny or waffle endlessly on.

            So how would you want me to describe them? Basically I am saying I take their opinion as secular. Not that it has no value. It does. It just tells me nothing about how someone who wants to embrace the Catholic faith and embrace biblical scholarship would think. That would be of great interest to me because I desire to be such a person.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Even miracles like the virgin birth and the resurrection that are part of the creed they either deny or waffle endlessly on.

            Fr. John Meier, who Pope Emeritus Benedict (certainly no "liberal") has referenced in his own work, has said that he accepts such teachings as part of the faith of the church even while he reserves the right to study the written accounts of these events in a critical, scholarly manner. I think that many of his fellow Catholic scholars agree with that approach.

          • Pope Benedict referenced many liberal scholars in his work. He reads them and explains why he rejects their logic.

          • David Nickol

            He reads them and explains why he rejects their logic.

            If you check out Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth—Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (pp. 112-113), you will find he credits the first volume of John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew with the most convincing argument that the Gospel of John is correct (and the Synoptics are incorrect) about the dating of the Last Supper. It was not the Passover meal.

            From what I have read of the volumes in the Jesus of Nazareth series, I would not say he "explains why he rejects their logic." The passage that comes to mind is his assertion that "liberal scholarship" claims Jesus's baptism by John was some kind of conversion experience that launched his public ministry. He says that is not in the text. It isn't, but then again, his summary of what "liberal scholarship" says is somewhat of a straw man. I would say the scholarly consensus is that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but that he (Jesus) was initially a follower of John the Baptist, and that John the Baptist's protests that he wasn't worthy to baptize Jesus are rationalizations that came long after the event, when Jesus was a figure in his own right, and it was an embarrassment for him to be depicted as having been subordinate to John the Baptist.

          • Roman

            I would say the scholarly consensus is that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but that he (Jesus) was initially a follower of John the Baptist,

            Unless you've taken a survey of "scholars", you have no right to claim "scholarly consensus". That's just a cheap way of trying to make your argument sound more convincing. And there is nothing in the biblical text that would suggest that Jesus was a "follower" of John the Baptist. If fact, there is evidence to the contrary. For example, this quote is in Matthew and Luke as well as the Gospel of John....quoting John the Baptist "I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I" .....and "His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Clearly he is saying not only that Jesus is greater than he but that Jesus is God. The language of gathering wheat and burning the chaff is metaphorical language for gathering up his people (wheat) and sending some of those to hell (burning the chaff). Only God can do that.

          • David Nickol

            That's just a cheap way of trying to make your argument sound more convincing.

            Are you accusing me of saying to myself, "Hmmm. How can I make my argument sound more convincing? I know! I'll falsely claim there's a scholarly consensus supporting my view!"

            Do you suppose God would be a follower of John the Baptist?

            Why not? Do you think Jesus wasn't an observant Jew his whole lifetime? Would God be an observant Jew?

      • Doug Shaver

        I don't care how a scholar gets labeled. I want to know what evidence he's working from and what kind of argument he uses to get from his evidence to his conclusions.

    • Tpr1976

      Utility should not be the prime motive for theological discussion and debate.

      In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus does things that only God ought to do: forgives sins, performs miracles, teaches on His own authority and He admits to being the "Son of God" at his trials as well.
      The theme of the synoptics and their images of Jesus that they each emphasize might not be as divine as John, but if the Jesus of Mark isn't God....He is a blasphemous Jew.

      What then is the utility of this article and the ensuing debate among believers and atheists???
      I would say seeing that there is unity in the 4 Gospels as to the identity of WHO Jesus is. They all don't have to emphasize everything equally to be united in their declaration that "Jesus is LORD".

      • Bob

        I disagree. The reader of Mark would have no doubt who the author thinks Jesus is. It is the characters surround Jesus in Mark that are hopelessly confused.

        • Tpr1976

          They're confused in the narrative, but their confusion is answered loudly and clearly by the appearance of the Risen Jesus at the end.

          • Bob

            Though, interestingly, not in Mark.

          • Tpr1976

            Correct. At least not in Mark originally.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus does things that only God ought to do: forgives sins, performs miracles, teaches on His own authority and He admits to being the "Son of God" at his trials as well.

        I agree that the authors of the gospels viewed Jesus as claiming divine authority, though NT Wright and most other major scholars do not agree with your claim that the title of "Son of God" implies divinity.

        I would say seeing that there is unity in the 4 Gospels as to the identity of WHO Jesus is. They all don't have to emphasize everything equally to be united in their declaration that "Jesus is LORD".

        Are you suggesting that to call Jesus "Lord" was tantamount to calling him God?

        • Tpr1976

          In the Roman Empire....to say "Caesar is Lord!" was not only meant to mean that he was the biggest baddest dude around, it meant he was a god.
          To call Jesus "Lord" is not merely an acknowledgment of Him being a king.
          What kind of king gets himself killed on a cross?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            You seem to conflate the belief that Jesus was endowed with divine authority and power with the belief that Jesus was himself divine. The latter belief took a lot longer to develop than the prior.

    • Roman

      There is no consensus among Catholic Biblical scholars that the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine, that the contemporaries of the historical Jesus viewed him as divine, or that the historical Jesus himself claimed to be divine

      I doubt this is true. If a catholic biblical scholar didn't believe that the bible claims Jesus to be divine, he wouldn't be Catholic. I know there are secular scholars that hold this view. But that's why they're secular.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        The Bible per se doesn't do the claiming. The Bible contains claims that reveal the intent of human authors, and that reveal the intent of the divine author. The question at hand relates only to the intent and understanding of the human authors. Within the limits of Catholic orthodoxy, there is a valid range of interpretation on what the human authors thought and understood on this issue.

        • Roman

          The Bible per se doesn't do the claiming

          C'mon Jim, you're stating the obvious here.

          Within the limits of Catholic orthodoxy, there is a valid range of interpretation on what the human authors thought and understood on this issue.

          I agree with this, but with one caveat. Most verses in the scriptures have not been formally defined or interpreted by the Church, however, many have either in doctrine or dogmatic declarations. To those verses in the scriptures that have been formally defined in doctrine, a Catholic is required to give religious assent. Someone that would openly deny the doctrinal teachings of the CCC, for example, in a public way, is not an Orthodox Catholic because he/she is not giving religious assent. The Catechism of the Catholic Chuch is an example of a doctrinal document that has formally interpreted hundred of scriptural verses. See my response to Arthur above regarding what the CCC has to say about Gospel references that prove Christ's divinity. There are also verses that have been interpreted in the context of a dogmatic declaration. The council of Nicea quotes two verses from the Gospels in the context of declaring as Dogma, Christ's divinity.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, but unless I missed it, none of the catechism citations you offered have anything to say about what the human authors intended. The catechism offers an official interpretation of what the verses truly mean, but that is an understanding of the divine intent of the verses, not the human intent.

          • Roman

            I'm not clear on what this distinction between divine intent and human intent has to do with the original topic of this thread.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This thread began with Arthur Jeffries claim that there is no definitive teaching as to whether, "the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine". There is certainly definitive Catholic teaching that Jesus is divine, and that teaching certainly cites specific gospel verses as evidence of the claim, but all of that is tangential to the question of what the (human) gospel authors themselves thought.

          • Roman

            This thread began with Arthur Jeffries claim that there is no definitive teaching as to whether, "the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine"

            He actually claimed a lot more that that including the claim that scholars don't agree on whether the historical Jesus himself claimed to be divine, and he provided no proof, no reference for his primary claim that "there is no consensus among Catholic biblical scholars" on these matters regarding Christ's divinity. You are saying something somewhat different than Arthur. You are saying "there is no definitive teaching" but Arthur claims that "there is no consensus among Catholic biblical scholars that the gospel authors viewed Jesus as divine." I'll assume that you want me to respond to your specific wording. Okay. Now, I only need to find one example of Catholic doctrine to refute this. I'm going to quote again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 240 and 241.

            240 Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense:.....he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father. "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son (Mt 11:27). 241 For this reason, THE APOSTLES CONFESS JESUS TO BE THE WORD. "IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD (Jn 1:1); as "the image of the invisible God";....."and the very stamp of his nature" (Heb 1:3).

            The CCC says at the beginning of paragraph 241 that "The Apostles confess Jesus to be the Word". Two of the gospel authors, Matthew and John were Apostles. The CCC goes on to quote John the Apostle and gospel author and interprets his quote as an affirmation of the divinity of Christ. John 1:1 is John speaking, not John quoting Jesus or someone else. This is an example of a doctrinal teaching that the gospel authors John and Matthew believed Jesus to be divine.

      • David Nickol

        If a catholic biblical scholar didn't believe that the bible claims Jesus to be divine, he wouldn't be Catholic.

        This is a classic example of No True Scotsman:

        No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim ("no Scotsman would do such a thing"), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule ("no true Scotsman would do such a thing").

        • Roman

          I don't think you truly understand what the "No True Scotsman" fallacy is. In any event, you have totally misapplied it here. You are operating on the false premise that there is no objective standard that defines what it means to be a "Catholic" (i.e., Orthodox Catholic). You are wrong off course. See my response above to Arthur.

          • David Nickol

            While I agree that someone who claimed to be Catholic could hold certain positions so different from Catholic dogma that he or she could be judged to be outside the Church, those positions would have to be more clearly defined than whether or not "the bible claims Jesus to be divine."

          • Roman

            I'm not referring to some vague, general statement regarding whether or not the Bible claims Jesus to be divine. I'm talking about specific verses in the Bible that have been formally defined in Doctrine or in the context of Dogmatic definitions, especially those scripture verses that the Church has relied upon to support Dogma, e.g., Christ's divinity. This is not my opinion. Read the forward of the CCC and Lumen Gentium for yourself.

          • David Nickol

            Do you personally know of any Catholic biblical scholars who have undermined specific verses in the Bible in such a way as to deny Catholic dogma? Or is this all purely hypothetical?

            I have read a fair amount by "liberal" Catholic biblical scholars regarding the "historical Jesus," and I have never encountered any denials of dogma.

          • Roman

            No. I don't know of any Catholic biblical scholars who have undermined specific verses in the BIble in such a way as to deny Catholic dogma. It was Arthur who made that claim. The rest of the conversation is really somewhat hypothetical, i.e., based on the premise that he is somehow correct about that. I can think of some more modern interpretations of scriptures that perhaps we could say weaken the case for some Dogma, but that is different than outright denial.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        If a catholic biblical scholar didn't believe that the bible claims Jesus to be divine, he wouldn't be Catholic.

        Your's is a novel position, unsupported by pronouncements from either Rome (the Pope, the CDF) or the USCCB.

        Let us heed the warning of Pope Francis against spiritual worldliness, a condition in which:

        A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

        • Roman

          Your's is a novel position, unsupported by pronouncements from either Rome (the Pope, the CDF) or the USCCB.

          Have you actually read any of the Vatican documents or the CCC? I ask, because based on you comment, either you haven't or you misunderstand what you've read. First of all, there is an objective standard established by the Church to determine if someone is an Orthodox Catholic or not. According to the CCCC752 a "religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of Bishops declares concerning faith or morals". Lumen Gentium 25 similarly states "In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with religious assent." Most verses in the scriptures have not been formally defined or interpreted by the Church, however, many have been in the context of a doctrinal document or dogmatic statement. An example of a doctrinal document is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the introduction to the CCC, Pope John Paul II said "The Catechism of the Catholic Church....is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine..." If you look through the CCC, you can find dozens of examples of quotes and references from the Gospels which the CCC teaches proves the divinity of Christ. For example, paragraph 590 of the CCC says "Only the divine identify of Jesus' person can justify so absolute a claim as "He who is not with me is against me"; and his saying that there was in him "something greater than Jonah",..."greater than Solomon", something "greater than the Temple";.......and his affirmations, "Before Abraham was, I AM"; and even "I and the Father are one". There are in fact 8 different references to various parts of the Gospels in this one paragraph alone in the CCC that are claimed to justify Christ' claim to divinity! So, any person (scholar or otherwise) that would claim that the Gospel authors did not view Jesus as divine while at the same time claiming to be Catholic is clearly not an orthodox Catholic.

          And by the way, please don't take Pope Francis' comments out of context for the purpose of insulting someone on this forum. I am simply pointing out what the Church teaches. You on the other hand did exactly what Pope Francis warned us not to do.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            If a catholic biblical scholar didn't believe that the bible claims Jesus to be divine, he wouldn't be Catholic.

            First of all, there is an objective standard established by the Church to determine if someone is an Orthodox Catholic or not.

            I see that you have softened up your accusation. First you accused these scholars of being non-Catholics, now you say only that they are not "Orthodox" Catholics. Which is it?

            According to the CCCC752 a "religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of Bishops declares concerning faith or morals". Lumen Gentium 25 similarly states "In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with religious assent."</blockquote)

            Yes, then leave it to the bishops to judge these scholars, rather than declaring these scholars non-Catholics or, as you argue now, un-orthodox.

            Most verses in the scriptures have not been formally defined or interpreted by the Church, however, many have been in the context of a doctrinal document or dogmatic statement. An example of a doctrinal document is the Catechism of the Catholic Church

            Does Pope Emeritus Benedict agree with this? On pp. 112-113 he appears to concur with Fr. John P. Meier, one of your non-Catholics (or non-"orthodox"), that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal, despite the fact that the para. 1339-1340 of the CCC clearly quotes and inteprets Scripture to the contrary. Not only do we have the Pope quoting an apostate or heretic favorably in contradiction to the CCC, but agreeing with his argument. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

            And by the way, please don't take Pope Francis' comments out of context for the purpose of insulting someone on this forum.

            Rather than insulting you, I am drawing attention to the fact that you have insulted numerous Roman Catholic scholars without cause by declaring them excommunicated. You are also by extension insulting both their local bishops and the CDF, who have not excommunicated them or declared them to be excommunicated. Some of these scholars are even priests who daily celebrate the sacraments, a grave scandal in which their bishops are complicit if what you say is true: "If a catholic biblical scholar didn't believe that the bible claims Jesus to be divine, he wouldn't be Catholic."

            I am simply pointing out what the Church teaches. You on the other hand did exactly what Pope Francis warned us not to do.

            No, you are by classifying some of your brothers and sisters in faith as non-Catholics.

          • Roman

            I see that you have softened up your accusation. First you accused these scholars of being non-Catholics, now you say only that they are not "Orthodox" Catholics

            I haven't changed my original position. You are just misrepresenting what I said. Go back an reread my original comment. I never said these scholars are non-Catholics (i.e., noun), I said, assuming what you say about Catholic scholars is true (and you never really backed it up by the way), these scholars would not be Catholic, i.e, adjective. Get it? To describe someone's behaviour or views as not being Catholic is just an informal way of saying that they hold to one or more views that are heterodox.

            Yes, then leave it to the bishops to judge these scholars, rather than declaring these scholars non-Catholics

            Arthur, since when did you become moderator of this site and self-proclaimed Pope? Don't tell me what I can or cannot say. Expressing an opinion regarding another Catholic's public statements regarding matters of the faith is not "judging". To judge is to condemn someone based on moral grounds and then to pass judgment, as in condemn someone to Hell. Maybe the reason you keep engaging in false Ad Hominem attacks against me is because you can't get anywhere based on the facts.

            Does Pope Emeritus Benedict agree with this? On pp. 112-113 of Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2 he appears to concur with Fr. John P. Meier, one of your non-Catholics (or non-"orthodox"), that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal,

            Wow! The best you can do is reference something that is totally irrelevant? Arthur, go back and reread the excerpt I posted from Lumen Gentium 25. What does it say? I'll repeat the key statement..."In matters of FAITH AND MORALS, the Bishops...."Whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal is not material to the Catholic faith! Either is what Jesus was wearing or what he had for breakfast that morning. Scholars can argue all day long about these things, even if the Pope and the CCC has an opinion on these topics. Not everything in the CCC concerns matters of faith and morals. Okay. that's it for me. I'm wasting my time here. I'm going to move on.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I haven't changed my original position.

            I quoted your exact words. I am not to blame if you were not clear enough.

            assuming what you say about Catholic scholars is true

            Are you arguing to the contrary?

            Arthur, since when did you become moderator of this site and self-proclaimed Pope?

            Calm down.

            I did not claim to be a moderator.

            I did not claim to be the Holy Father

            You pointed out the authority of the bishops to me and I in response pointed out the authority of the bishops to you.

            Your imagination runs wild. I did not tell you what you can or cannot say.

            I wrote:

            Yes, then leave it to the bishops to judge these scholars, rather than declaring these scholars non-Catholics or, as you argue now, un-orthodox.

            As you know, I also never accused you of judging the immortal souls of Catholic scholars, but rather of judging their state of communion with the Church.

            I have not engaged in any ad hominems.

            I'll repeat the key statement..."In matters of FAITH AND MORALS, the Bishops...."Whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal is not material to the Catholic faith!

            In and of itself, the divinity of Jesus is unquestionably a matter of faith and morals. Whether the gospels authors understood him to be divine is not.

          • Roman

            the divinity of Jesus is unquestionably a matter of faith and morals. Whether the gospels authors understood him to be divine is not.

            To say that the Church's official interpretation of a scriptural reference to Christ' divinity is not a matter of faith is simply an absurd statement and asserting it over and over again proves nothing. This is easily refuted with just one example which I gave Jim.

            First from the forward of the CCC, John Paull II writes: "The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, ATTESTED TO OR ILLUMINED BY SACRED SCRIPTURE, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium"

            from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 240 and 241.

            240 Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense:.....he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father. "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son (Mt 11:27). 241 For this reason, THE APOSTLES CONFESS JESUS TO BE THE WORD. "IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD (Jn 1:1); as "the image of the invisible God";....."and the very stamp of his nature" (Heb 1:3).

            The CCC says at the beginning of paragraph 241 that "The Apostles confess Jesus to be the Word". Two of the gospel authors, Matthew and John were Apostles. The CCC goes on to quote John the Apostle and gospel author and interprets his quote as an affirmation of the divinity of Christ. John 1:1 is John speaking, not John quoting Jesus or someone else. This is an example of a doctrinal teaching that the gospel authors John and Matthew believed Jesus to be divine. Since all Catholics are required to give religious assent of the mind and will to doctrinal teaching on faith and morals, it follows directly that Catholics are required to believe that the Gospel authors believed in Jesus' divinity. Case Closed.

          • David Nickol

            It is certainly not a matter of Catholic dogma that the Gospels written by "Matthew: and "John" were written by the Apostles Matthew and John. I wouldn't even say it is a matter of Catholic teaching.

            Also, for a teaching to be included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church confers on it no authority greater than it had before the Catechism was written. There are commonly said to be five levels of Church teaching which are, in descending order:

            Dogma
            Definitive doctrine
            Authoritative doctrine
            Prudential admonitions and Church discipline

            Authoritative doctrine does not become Dogma just because it is included in the Catechism. And keep in mind there are some things that have been widely taught in Catholicism that were never official teachings of the Church—for example, the Limbo of Infants.

          • Roman

            The issue being discussed is not who wrote the Gospels, but whether or not the Gospel authors believed in Christ's divinity. My point is that if a doctrinal document document interprets a particular scriptural verse that concerns a matter of faith or moral, that interpretation is a matter of doctrine and according to the Code of Canon Law 752 must be given religious assent of the mind and will. I'm talking about doctrine not dogma which is a small subset of all doctrine.

            I don't know where you get the idea that the Church has 5 levels of teaching. There are only two with respect to Doctrine, either the doctrine is infallible or it is not. Infallible teachings are further broken down into those definitively taught, i.e., Dogma, versus those taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium that have been implicitly defined. Church discipline does not fall in the category of Doctrine.

          • David Nickol

            I don't know where you get the idea that the Church has 5 levels of teaching. There are only two with respect to Doctrine, either the doctrine is infallible or it is not.

            Apologies for the error; it's four levels.

            I have posted the following information a couple of times previously. It's from By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful by Richard R. Gaillardetz on levels of Church teaching and the required response of the believer, from highest level to lowest level. (It's a chart in the book, so I have had to modify the format, but I have not changed any of the wording.)

            Dogma - Assent of Faith [The believer makes an act of faith, trusting that this teaching is revealed by God.]

            Definitive Doctrine - Firm Acceptance [The believer "accepts and holds" these teachings to be true.]

            Authoritative Doctrine - "A Religious Docility of Will and Intellect" [The believer strives to assimilate a teaching of the Church into their religious stance, while recognizing the remote possibility of church error.]

            Provisional Applications of Church Doctrine, Church Discipline and Prudential Admonitions - Conscientious Obedience [The believer obeys (the spirit of) any church law or disciplinary action which does not lead to sin, even when questioning the ultimate value or wisdome of the law or action.]

          • Roman

            I think there are multiple ways you could group church teachings based on the ultimate source of the truth, the level of truth (fallible vs. non fallible), etc. Various Magisterial documents including Lumen Gentium assign the same level of assent to the first two levels you have because they are both considered to be infallible teachings. This level of assent is stated in the various documents in equivalent ways as follows:
            Assent of faith
            Theological assent
            sacred assent
            definitively to be held
            adhered to with firm faith (or firm and definitive assent)

            So your first two levels can be lumped together as having the same (i.e, equivalent ) level of assent

            Your third level is equivalent to my 2nd level which concerns nonfallible doctrine. The assent owed to this level of teaching can be described as:
            religious submission of will and intellect (similar to the term your author uses except he uses the word "docility")
            religious assent
            ordinary assent
            sincerely adhered to

            I've never come across your fourth category you cite as a separate category of assent. Does the author provide a reference? I would be interested in following up if he has cited one.

          • David Nickol

            The issue being discussed is not who wrote the Gospels, but whether or not the Gospel authors believed in Christ's divinity.

            As I understood your argument, it was that the Church said that the apostles believed in the divinity of Jesus, the authors of Matthew and John were apostles, therefore the authors of Matthew and John believed in the divinity of Jesus. My point was that it is not a teaching of the Church that the authors of Matthew and John were apostles.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            You have not provided any evidence that the Church insists that Catholic scholars concur with every interpretation of Scripture that is given in the Catechism. No scholar, not one, has been disciplined for dissent in this matter, because they are not dissenting from any know doctrine in the first place. Indeed, you are creating a new doctrine where none exists.

            What Pope has taught that, in general, that the Catechism's interpretation of select passages from Scripture are binding? Have the bishops released a statement on this development in church teaching? Saint John Paul II and especially Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were very involved in the development of the CCC. Why did they not make it clear to the faithful that whenever the CCC interprets Scripture on matters of faith and morals Catholics are obligated to accept that interpretation? Surely, the Pontifical Biblical Commission could have at least mentioned this important teaching in one of its documents, or the former Cardinal Ratzinger as Chair could have brought this up in an address to that body.

            You are the first Catholic, including among clergy and religious, to have ever spoken about this alleged doctrine to me. I consider myself to be very informed on church teachings, but I have never heard of this one before, nor read of it, not even in the CCC itself.

  • David Nickol

    Here is a provocative passage from one of my favorite resources, Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J. (from the entry Resurrection).

    Obscurity of understanding at the time of the resurrection is seen in one rather striking way: in four passages the witnesses fail to recognize the risen Jesus (Mk 16:12; Lk 24:16, Jn 20:14; 21:4). Evidently the resurrection of Jesus was not a return to his previous condition of life. Nor is Jesus seen by any who are not his disciples (with the exception of Paul).

    These and related considerations have moved W. Grossouw to write that the risen Jesus (and the apparitions of the risen Jesus) is a supernatural reality which does not belong to this world and cannot be the object of historical investigation as such; He is exclusively an object of faith. The resurrection, he points out, is a real fact, but as a mystery of faith is not a fact which can be demonstrated with certainty by the method of historical investigation. History can demonstrate only the faith of the disciples in the resurrection. Grossouw here formulates the position which is more commonly maintained in modern interpretation. Many apologetic writers have presented the resurrection exclusively as the convincing demonstration of the claims of Jesus or of His divinity. Whatever may be the merits of this approach, it is not the NT approach to the resurrection. In the NT the resurrection is not an argument for faith but that which faith first apprehends, the risen and glorified Jesus. The resurrection is the climactic achievement of the saving deeds of God. To recognize the event as a fact is nothing; to accept it as a saving deed is to believe in it and to receive the salvation which is achieved by it. In Jn 20:29 it is faith in the resurrection, not observation of the fact, which is blessed by Jesus. The importance of the resurrection in the preaching and catechizes of the NT rests upon its theological significance.

    The whole entry is too long for me to include here, but I should make it clear that in no way does McKenzie deny the truth of the resurrection. He says, for example,

    These [previously listed] passages, which represent both the Palestinian and the Pauline preaching and catechesis, make it abundantly clear that the resurrection was a primary object of the apostolic proclamation from the very beginning. The Twelve must be witnesses of the resurrection (AA 1:22).

    • People did recognize Jesus, just not immediately. There is no place where it is said he looked different. In fact, Luke 24:16 states that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Like that was something supernatural. In fact in Luke 24:39 Jesus explicitly denies being just a spirit. So he is playing up tiny pebbles of evidence for his theory and ignoring huge boulders on the other side.

      Is the resurrection supposed to lead to faith? I am not sure why eye witness accounts would even be included in the NT if that was not the case. The disciples were not heroes of faith who believed regardless. They believed when Jesus was right in front of them and not before. So Grossouw seems way off base.

      • Bob

        Why do think Luke found it necessary to specifically have Jesus deny being a spirit? Who was this author attempting to refute?

        • Luke did not do it. Jesus did. Luke just reported the words. The disciples were thinking He was a ghost or a spirit. Who wouldn't? Jesus said he was not a spirit and ate something in front of them to prove it.

          • Bob

            Jesus wrote Luke?

          • No, Luke wrote Jesus' words.

          • Bob

            I don't hold that view. I see Luke more as speaking to a community, or communities then as being a stenographer.

          • Just because you relate the words of Jesus does not make you a stenographer. He still wrote what was relevant for his audience. He tells us that at the beginning of His gospel.

          • Bob

            Exactly, he wrote what was relevant to his audience.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, someone in Luke's audience questioned the physicality of the resurrection?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Hi Randy,

        I haven't read Grossouw, but based on the excerpt above I think you are reading him wrong here. A "supernatural reality" is not something merely ethereal. A ghost or spirit, such as referred to in your Luke passage, is something less real than what we experience in the material world. But "supernatural" means "natural and then some". It is "more than material", not "less than material".

        When Grossouw says that the essence of the Resurrection is inaccessible to history, I don't think he is claiming that the Resurrection is non-material. He is saying rather that it can be perceived but not analyzed. It is an elemental reality, so there is no analysis to be done.

        I am not trying to say anything mysterious here. Think, for example, of your interior experience of pain. Is it real? Yes. Is it enfleshed and bodily? Yes. Is it accessible to science or history? Not really. I mean, we could rate you on a Likert scale, or we could monitor glucose metabolism in a particular part of your brain, but there is no set of measurements that would really reveal the essence of what it is like to be you feeling pain. It is a primary experience. It is more real than any conceptions you have of matter. It cannot really be broken down or analyzed.

        I think it is the same with the Resurrection. It is a primary reality, THE primary reality. That is precisely why it cannot be analyzed by history. For this reason, I see Grossouw's statement as an exaltation of the Resurrection, not a denigration of it.

        • Not sure how this is relevant. If we say faith in the resurrection rather than the resurrection then everything else follows? Yet, for the disciples, where does the faith in the resurrection come from? From seeing Jesus alive. Now the physical act of Jesus coming to life might not be something humans can study. Yet they can study everything around it. I don't see how that changes anything.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's almost the way that I would want to say it: You cannot study it, you can only study everything that flows from it. It is like the Henry Ossawa Tanner painting of the empty tomb, where the viewer cannot see into the tomb, but he can see the light reflecting off of John and Peter. Faith in the resurrection comes from the resurrection, I agree with that. The Resurrection is the wellspring that you can never quite get to, but you can taste the water coming from it. But, if I admit that I never quite get to the wellspring itself, I must admit that I cannot classify it as physical or not. Distinctions of physical / non-physical flow from it, but the wellspring itself is beyond my conceptual categories.

          • The bible clearly says it was a physical resurrection. We can't know that independently but if we can find some reason to trust the bible then we can know that way.

          • David Nickol

            The bible clearly says it was a physical resurrection.

            If resurrection means simply the reanimation of a corpse, then Jesus could not have risen had his body been burned immediately after being taken down from the cross.

            A major tenet of Christianity that is in many ways overlooked is that everyone who has ever lived will, like Jesus, be "resurrected." Again, if resurrection means the reanimation of a corpse, will "resurrection" be possible for those who were cremated or those whose bodies have entirely disintegrated to their constituent elements, which elements returned to nature and have been "recycled" into other life forms, including other human bodies?

            It would seem that resurrection defined as the reanimation of a corpse is an entirely inadequate concept to describe what is alleged to happen to Jesus and what is claimed eventually will happen to every human being.

            This would seem (to me at least) to argue that if a person whose body has entirely disintegrated can be raised from the dead, it is also entirely possible for a person to be raised from the dead while their recently deceased body continues to exist. If a person who once had a body, but that body entirely disintegrated eons ago, can be raised from the dead, why would God need the matter from the body of a newly deceased person to raise that person from the dead?

            It would seem to me it is not necessary to think of "physical" resurrection as the reanimation of a corpse, or as the miraculous transformation of the ordinary matter of a corpse into some new form of matter.

            What does it even mean to say that the resurrected Jesus was "physical"? He was certainly not physical in the sense that we understand physical. Another commenter states that Jesus could appear out of nowhere inside locked rooms and bilocate. That is not possible for physical beings, unless physical means something other than what we all think it means.

          • David Nickol

            The bible clearly says it was a physical resurrection.

            I think the words "the Bible says" should always be followed by a quotation from the Bible. The Bible says very little. Most of what appears after "the Bible says" is interpretation.

            Why should we assume the words even existed or now exist to adequately describe what those who experienced what they called "resurrection" actually were witness to?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Randy, you know the Bible is not univocal on that point.

            Moreover, even the catechism , which is meant to simplify matters, is difficult to reconcile on this point! On the one hand it says:

            "Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order."

            but on the other hand, it also says:

            "Christ's Resurrection is essentially different [from the resuscitation of Lazarus]. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. "

            This is the issue: for most people, "the physical order" is precisely the order the is not beyond time and space. We can only conclude that the writers of the catechism have a different meaning of "physical" in mind, but then we must ask: what does "physical" mean in this context? I think anyone who claims that the answer is common sense is doing a disservice to a transcendent event, and doing so in a way that is at odds with both scripture and the catechism.

          • Christ's resurrection is physical. Christ's resurrection is beyond time and space. Both are true. Both are clearly taught.

            Catholicism has this a lot. Something that is in time yet also transcends time. That is why the mass can make the crucifixion present yet we can talk about it occurring at a specific time and place. That is why Mary can bring Christ to us today even though she really did that on the first Christmas.

          • a_theist

            Consider Catechism 645. Clearly the ”.. the same body that had been tortured and crucified .. “ did not walk to Emmaus and the Church acknowledges that this is not a normal physical body with “not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer be confined to earth” …
            In this context and viewing the NT narratives we see that the popular view of the risen Christ as a normal physical human body is nowhere supported, except as a popular myth reinforced by the bible literalists.

            Given the natural confusion in teh NT narratives one can only agree that the narratives evolved. But that does not mean the core of the resurrection = Christ appeared in a recongnisable physical form (note physical form not as a real living physical body) is not true. I would be very suspicious of historic narrative that was without any contradictions, in particular on a topic (like the resurrection) which was outside of everyday experience

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree with everything you have written.

            Here is the issue that I initially raised: in a materialist culture, for better or for worse, the word "physical" has taken on the specific connotation of, "that which can be measured and analyzed". To me, it is painfully obvious that the core of Christian faith can NOT be measured and analyzed. We don't measure the resurrection. It measures us. We don't analyze it. It is atomic. We perceive what the Resurrection is saying by looking at the way the Resurrection is articulated through scripture and articulated through the life of the Church.

            For this reason, I am cautioning against using the word "physical" at all. If one does insist on using the word "physical", I think it should be followed by the immediate qualification, "... but not necessarily physical in a way that can be measured."

            The question on many people's minds is: "If a camcorder had recorded the resurrected Jesus eating fish, would we see it on replay?" I hold that the correct answer to this question is: "We don't know. And, in any event, watching such a video would not be a path to resurrection faith."

  • a_theist

    Of course it evolved. So what? Would you be surprised if all NT narratives were word perfect replicas regarding all events and interpretations?

    An example – ok a provocative one.
    Senior Catholic scholars agree that the town of Nazareth probably did not exist around 4AD and acknowledge some validity to it as a place name for the home of Jesus as being a distortion of term Jesus the Nazarene as reflecting an association with the group of northern Essenes of that name. (Matt 2:23, Mark 14:67, Mark 16:6 & Acts 24:5).

    Because for many atheists a literal inerrant bible is the cornerstone of their disbelief one must be careful not to confuse the natural (and expected) flaws in the bible narrative with its overall validity. In this the Catholic Church is well ahead of many of the fundamentalist denominations.

    • David Nickol

      And then there's this from National Geographic:

      Many archaeologists and theological scholars believe Jesus was actually born in either Nazareth or Bethlehem of Galilee, a town just outside Nazareth, citing biblical references and archaeological evidence to support their conclusion. Throughout the Bible, Jesus is referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth,” not “Jesus of Bethlehem.” In fact, in John (7:41- 43) there is a passage questioning Jesus’ legitimacy because he’s from Galilee and not Judaea, as the Hebrew Scriptures say the Messiah must be. Archaeological excavations have shown that Bethlehem in Judaea likely did not exist as a functioning town between 7 and 4 B.C., when Jesus is believed to have been born. Studies of the town have turned up a great deal of Iron Age material from 1200 to 550 B.C. as well as material from the sixth century A.D., but nothing from the first century B.C. or the first century A.D. Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, says, “There is surprisingly no archaeological evidence that ties Bethlehem in Judaea to the period in which Jesus would have been born. [Emphasis added.]

  • I am going to defer to mainstream New Testament scholarship on this. I understand this position to be that indeed we see great changes in the Gospels and from Paul's writing. This is what I derived from watching every episode of Introduction to New Testament Studies at Yale taught by a Christian. Reasonable Doubts has some good podcasts on this too.

    In terms of atheism, any significant changes in content, tone, purpose in religious writings describing the same events is at best a minor reason for discrediting theist claims. These really are issues for theists to sort out.

    I have not even read these volumes do I can hardly comment. However, what had been described to me is very interesting. We see the evolution when the accounts of one event are compared. Jesus' batptism and final words are described very differently by the respective authors and do not appear to reflect the event, but rather the author's theology.

    • We see the evolution when the accounts of one event are compared. Jesus' batptism and final words are described very differently by the respective authors and do not appear to reflect the event, but rather the author's theology.

      I saw the one episode from this Yale guy you pasted. He is Episcopalian. Technically a Christian. He compares account of Jesus' baptism and trial. Yet he glosses over the difference between leaving out details and making stuff up. Jesus says less at His trial in Mark than in John. Yet Mark does not deny He said what John ascribes to him. He just related some statements but might easily have omitted others. So the accounts are not so much contradictory as complementary. They both give different details but there is no reason they could not have all happened. So if we were both at a football game and I described a few plays and you described some other plays, by his method, he would assume we were not at the same game. It does not follow.

      What is more, it is not surprising that the author's theological emphasis will control which details he shares. In the football analogy, if I wanted to show how hard-hitting a game it was I would talk about the plays with the most violence. If you wanted to talk about how exciting the finish was you would focus on the last few plays of the game. We may or may not share the same play. Even if we did it would sound different.

      I didn't watch the other video by this guy because the method he described was flawed. He said he would only credit accounts that went contrary to the author's presumed goal. His presumed goal was to advance the Christian story. So by his method, he was ruling out any data that would support the Christian story. So there was a huge built in bias from the beginning. I did write something explaining the problem in more detail:

      http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/2014/09/scholars-and-historical-jesus.html

      • The question is not about contradiction, but evolution. The various authors wrote different things because they were making different points. Martin points out in another lecture that none of what is related to be said at the trial could be considered historical as none of the supposed authors would have been allowed. I think he even states that it is very unlikely there would have been a trial.

        • He said that in the video I watched. That seems weak as well. If he really thought like a Christian he would have considered that maybe the source was Jesus Himself. After the resurrection He could have told John. Beyond that there are many possibilities. Pilate could have told any number of people. Others could have been present. Perhaps even some that later converted to Christianity.

          It would be another reason for the difference in detail. Perhaps John found out about what was said from some source and knew it was not in the synoptic accounts so he added it as interesting info.

          • David Nickol

            Well, of course, you can make up anything you want, can't you? Peter might have kept a diary in which he faithfully wrote down at the end of the day everything that had happened. Pilate could have written his memoirs, which were so boring they have been lost to history, but the Evangelists could have used them as a source before they went out of print. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Evangelists, could have filled in any gaps that resulted from a lack of eyewitness accounts.

            Who are mere humans to question divinely inspired scripture? Why should we even question that creation took six days? It says so right in the Bible.

          • He was suggesting a problem. That if a trial happened nobody would know what was said. I am just saying it does not take much imagination to think of ways that might have leaked out.

          • David Nickol

            Historical reconstruction requires evidence. If you want to take the Bible as a supernatural document that is divinely guaranteed to be true, then fine. But if you want to use it as a historical source, then it must be examined critically, just like any other ancient document.

          • I am not saying to ignore evidence. I am just suggesting that he is drawing to big a conclusion from to little evidence. I have my biases. I would tend to be slow to believe there was no trial of Jesus before Pilate. In this case I think he is the one jumping to conclusions based on his prejudice and not on the evidence. If the story was in anything but a biblical text I don't think he would be at all sure it is not historical. So I don't think he is treating it life any ancient document.

          • Doug Shaver

            If the story was in anything but a biblical text I don't think he would be at all sure it is not historical.

            I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I do not approach any document, ancient or otherwise, with the assumption "Whatever it says happened must have really happened," no matter how ordinary the narrative might be and no matter who wrote it.

          • What he said was not that we can't be sure. What he said was it did not happen. Often historians will trust a single document and say this likely happened. Here we have a rare case where a written record actually makes him declare it did not happen.

          • Doug Shaver

            What he said was it did not happen.

            Are you referring to Dale Martin? I've seen a few of his Yale videos, and if he said that in any of them, I've forgotten. Could I trouble you for a link to the one you're getting that from?

            Anyway, I agree that "There was no trial" is too strong a conclusion to infer from any of the evidence we actually have.

  • mcarey

    As a student of mythology I have read so many stories about resurrection of the goddesses/gods pre-Christianity. The Jesus story is not unique. Inanna goes into the underworld and is then saved and brought back to life. Osirus was the resurrection god of the Egyptians. The death and resurrection of of Attis was celebrated every spring in Rome where there was a temple dedicated to Cybele (the Magna Mater) and Attis. In the procession people carried a pine tree, an effigy of Attis was hung in the branches and then buried under the temple. After three days he rose from the dead. As Attis was revived each spring and saved from death so were his followers. Recognize the elements here of another Near Eastern saga that came from Rome not so many years later?

    • Have you read this article?

      https://strangenotions.com/horus-manure/

      These parallels are typically grossly over stated. The other thing to note is that they don't disprove Christianity. The idea that the salvation story might be revealed to another people group in some form makes it more likely that it is legitimately from God.

      • Doug Shaver

        These parallels are typically grossly over stated.

        I don't know about "typically," but yes, they often are overstated. That doesn't mean they don't exist.

        The other thing to note is that they don't disprove Christianity.

        They disprove Christianity's claim to offer something that hadn't been offered before. Or do you deny that Christianity makes such a claim?

        The idea that the salvation story might be revealed to another people group in some form makes it more likely that it is legitimately from God.

        To say it was revealed is to beg the question.

        • Christianity does not claim to offer something completely new. It claims to offer a fuller revelation of God than you can get anywhere else. It does not claim everyone else has everything wrong. In fact, the closer other religions are to Christianity the more plausible it seems. Conversely, the fact that atheism is radically different from every other worldview makes it inherently implausible.

          • Doug Shaver

            Christianity does not claim to offer something completely new.

            It could hardly do so nowadays, having been around for almost 2,000 years. But wasn't it supposed to be a new idea when it started?

            It does not claim everyone else has everything wrong.

            I didn't say it did that.

            Conversely, the fact that atheism is radically different from every other worldview makes it inherently implausible.

            Atheism is not a worldview. It can be a piece of someone's worldview, but not it's not a worldview itself. (And neither is theism, in case you're inclined to ask if I think it is.) A worldview is not just one belief. It is a system of beliefs, and a system cannot comprise just one component.

          • I don't know that Christianity had anything that was completely absent from Judaism. Certainly Jesus made the picture of the Messiah more clear but the idea existed. It was a new covenant, new sacraments, new leadership, etc. The rest was a deeper understanding of what was already understood in part.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know that Christianity had anything that was completely absent from Judaism.

            Did the God worshiped by Jews ever become a man, suffer a humiliating execution, and rise from the dead to atone for the sins of all humanity?

          • That is the claim of Christianity, that the God worshiped by the Jews did that. That there is a lot in the Old Testament that points to that. Abraham being ask to sacrifice Isaac. The Passover blood on the doorposts saving Israel from the angel of death. Isaiah 53.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, but it was a new claim when the Christians made it. Before they came along, so far as I'm aware, no Jew ever speculated that the Passover rituals might foreshadow a time in history when God himself would shed his blood for the sins of the world.

          • Yes, but it was a new development of an old doctrine. Jesus never claimed to be replacing their religion but rather fulfilling it. The fulfillment was greater than they had ever imagined. The kind of awesome fulfillment you would expect from God Himself.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, but it was a new development of an old doctrine. Jesus never claimed to be replacing their religion but rather fulfilling it.

            One gospel author claimed he said so.

            What you are giving me is orthodox Christianity's interpretation of Jewish scripture. The fact that Jews themselves have never accepted that interpretation tells me that it is almost certainly a misinterpretation.

  • Sonmuayina Elumeze

    i want to take a different road on this matter, it seems to me that the majority of this post are just about history, is it not about time they update this information. he resurrected and ascended to heaven..shouldn't they tell us what he has been doing since he left for heaven, which side he was during the world wars, is the kingdom going to be giving to Israel, and some other new info or has he stopped inspiring people? just my take..

  • In which work of ancient literature do we first see the expression, "...kick against the goads"?

    If you said in the book of Acts, the resurrected Jesus speaking to Paul on the Damascus Road, you would be wrong.

    This expression was first used in circa 450 BC in a work of Greek mythology, "The Bacchae" by Euripides, in a fictional conversation between a man/god, Dionysus, and his persecutor, the king of Thebes.

    Isn't it odd that Jesus would borrow an expression from Greek mythology in is appearance to the self-proclaimed, "Thirteenth Apostle"?

  • Dick Wozinya

    Paul's experience was a vision of a blinding light and disembodied voice. There was no "bodily" appearance. See Acts 9, 22, and 26.