Friday, November 19, 2010

The Questions Christians Hope No One will Ask

I recently became aware of a new book: The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. It intrigued me, primarily because of the price: Free. (Until November 20.) I could not resist the temptation. (Heck, I’m a heathen, I didn’t even try!)

The author referred to a survey where 10,000 Christians were asked, “What Questions do you find difficult to answer?” and compiled a list of the top ten; the author kindly provides Christian responses. After having read the first three chapters, I already regret the price I paid for the book. Ah well…what’s done is done.

It did get me to thinking—what questions do I see that Christians hope no one will ask? I pose questions in many conversations, and often see the questions avoided until I have asked and re-asked and re-re-re-re-asked, each time pointing out how I have asked it previously and despite the other person answering everything else I asked, they keep avoiding this one question. Or refuse to take it head-on. Or give some qualifying rationalization that even a 9-year-old could see through.

Given my experiences, here is a list of Questions I see Christians hoping I won’t ask:

1. What is your method to _______?

There are a variety of examples, such as:

“Given a string of words, what method do we use to determine those words are theopneustos?” (God-breathed.)

“How do we determine whether the solution is either: 1) something science hasn’t discovered yet, but will or 2) something science hasn’t discovered yet and never will or 3) something science cannot discover because it is supernatural?”

“How do we determine whether this plane is exactly like the supernatural, similar to the supernatural, or not at all like the supernatural when we cannot observe the supernatural?”

“How do we tell what is myth and what is historical in the story?”

2. What is your source?

3. If you believe your God has phenomenal cosmic power, and is able to sustain the universe, why do you have savings accounts, pension plans, insurance, college funds, stock portfolios and locks? Just in case?

4. Why is it whenever I try your suggestion to “find God” (i.e., go to nature, read the Bible, pray), God never shows up? Worse, why am I arrogant to expect him to, when I followed your instructions where you told me to expect him to?

5. What century did the Exodus occur?

6. If God lied, how would you know?

7. If you use Paley’s watch (indicating we compare designed items to non-designed items) to argue for an intelligent designer in the universe—what non-designed item in the universe are you using to compare?

8. When arguing for the statistical improbability of a natural claim (i.e. natural abiogenesis, or evolution), what statistical probability are you using for a God performing the act, so we can compare which is more likely?

9. If your God determined the only way to resolve the cultural clash in the Tanakh was to engage in genocide, how is it he conveniently found virgin females could be rehabilitated, but not one-day-old males?

10. What law, moral code or justice system was God following when He absolved David of his sin? More importantly, what moral code or justice system was God following when He killed a baby as punishment for a sin He absolved? 2 Sam. 12:13-18

11. If God has mercy, doesn’t this render his justice arbitrary?

Like I said, I’m only three chapters in…maybe one of my questions will get asked yet…

What questions do you see Christians avoiding?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Independent Witness in Gospel of John – Part 3

The Gospel of John doesn’t help Resurrection Apologetics.

Our series:
1) What is the Gospel of John?
2) How does John differ from the Synoptics?
3) Does John support the apologetic claims?

If you listen to apologetic debates regarding the Resurrection you notice the current trend focusing on the 1 Cor. 15:3-8 creed, and Dr. Habermas’ famous minimal facts. In fact, some apologists even claim they won’t use the Gospels (but then use facts derived from the Gospels without citing the source.)

The problem being the various accounts are contradictory, as discussed in my last entry. I particularly enjoy Dr. Craig’s clever debate tactic: When the skeptic points out these contradictions, Dr. Craig replies (paraphrased): “My opponent points out numerous claimed contradictions. While I think those contradictions can be resolved, that doesn’t matter because this debate isn’t about inerrancy—this is about historical events.”

In a sneaky, off-hand way, Dr. Craig avoids the contradictions because he intones that isn’t what the debate is about! I wish an opponent would reply, “I am glad Dr. Craig agrees with me that this debate is not about inerrancy, since he would be forced to concede, as the documents clearly present contradictory accounts. However, these inconsistent accounts do impact credibility, and as such we cannot afford to avoid the implications presented by the differing statements made.”

We will first complete our discussion regarding the contradictions in John to demonstrate the apologist comes to a point they must choose how John could possibly be historical, and then we will apply Dr. Habermas’ minimal facts to John and see how it pans out.


John 21. Starts off with Peter and some disciples going fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Simple question—where does one fit it in the chronology?

It could fit in Mark, of course, as we have no subsequent appearances. This is the reason Evan Powell has even argued John 21 is the lost ending of Mark, because it fits so well. No contradiction here.

Matthew has the women tell the Disciples to go to Galilee, and they see Jesus on the Mountain. Now, the only two places one could fit the fishing appearance is either before they saw Jesus on the Mountain or after. (Obvious, eh?)

It makes little sense (albeit possible) for the fishing appearance to be after, because Matthew’s encounter on the mountain ends with the Great Commission. One would have to argue Jesus said, “Go out and start the Church” so the Disciples went…fishing. Apparently a post-resurrection Jesus doesn’t have quite the force a pre-resurrection Jesus did. (Remember, pre-resurrection Jesus asked Peter to become a fisher of men, and Peter immediately followed Jesus (Mark 1:16-18)) Post-resurrection Jesus says “Go out into the world and make disciples” and Peter says, “Meh…first let’s go fishing.”

Also, John 21:14 claims the fishing appearance was the 3rd time Jesus appeared to the Disciples, so Matthew would have apparently skipped one appearance.

And, in the same light, if the fishing appearance was before the Mountain experience, then Matthew has skipped three previous appearances (Appearance One, Appearance Two, Fishing Appearance) before the mountain appearance. Possible; but not credible.

Luke starts to give us fits. Timing is crucial here, so we need to follow it.

On Resurrection Sunday, the women go to the tomb, see it empty, and report back to the Disciples. Peter goes to the tomb. The same day (Sunday) two fellows walk to Emmaus encountering Jesus. Emmaus is 7 miles from Jerusalem. That evening (Sunday), Jesus eats with the fellows. They run back (7 miles) to Jerusalem, and when they arrive (Sunday) Jesus appears to the disciples.

You cannot fit John 21 on Sunday. Not with Luke. The fishing appearance was in the morning (21:4) and was the third appearance (21:14). Ridiculous to have the women running all the way to Galilee, to have Peter and the others say, “Oh sure, we saw Jesus. Heck, this is the 3rd time; had breakfast with ‘im” and Peter lounges around with Jesus for a bit, then runs back to Jerusalem to see the tomb, and the rest go sit around the upper room in Jerusalem, only to be terrified and frightened to see Jesus (for the fourth time) when Jesus says, “Hey, don’t worry this time its me” and yet they still didn’t believe. (Luke 24:37-41)

So John 21, if we can manage it at all, must fit after the Lukan appearances. (Indeed, John 20’s alignment with Lukan appearances in the upper room are pre-supposed in John 21’s claim this was the third appearance.)

Yet this becomes just as odd as Matthew’s claim. Luke has Jesus explicitly stating, “Stay in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:29; Acts 1:4), so the disciples ignore him and go to Galilee? Matthew says, “Go out and start the church” so they go fishing? Why does post-Resurrection Jesus carry such little weight?

Worse, notice the cycle of doubt. In Luke, when Jesus appears in the upper room, they don’t believe. In Matthew’s mountain appearance some still doubted. However (this gets tricky!) Matthew’s mountain appearance can’t be second, because John records two appearances before the third fishing appearances.

Look--this is fun!

Appearance 1: Lukan upper room (and John first upper room) on Sunday.
Appearance 2: _________________________
Appearance 3: John 21 Fishing Scene.

If we put “Matthew Mountain top” in Appearance 2, we get a problem because John 21 records Thomas as seeing Jesus in Appearance 3, yet still doubting by the second Johannine upper room appearance which hasn’t happened yet! John mandates the second appearance to be the Doubting Thomas scene to make work. So we have:

Appearance 1: Lukan upper room (and John first upper room).
Appearance 2: John 2nd Upper room scene (Doubting Thomas convinced)
Appearance 3: John 21 Fishing Scene.
Appearance 4: Mountain top (at best).

But this, too, is problematic. Why did Matthew skip three (3) previous appearances? Why mention an appearance that is more than eight (8) days later than the resurrection? Why is it when Jesus said, “Stay in Jerusalem” they rush off to Galilee? But far more importantly, how is it after four (4) appearances, some still doubted!?

Myth development, lack of historicity and agenda-driven writing explain these problems easily. Claiming every account is factually and historical accurate causes one whiplash and strained explanations.

Minimal Facts

The Minimal facts cited are:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

Let’s go through some regarding John’s account.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.

John is the only account to add the famous spear into the side of Jesus. Mark doesn’t have it. Matthew (who loves prophecy) missed it. Luke knows about scars in the hands and feet; but missed it. Only John. As previously mentioned, John’s community was dealing with docetism—the belief Jesus didn’t have a physical body. This claim regarding a spear and having Thomas touch the wounds is a direct doctrinal attack against the perceived heresy. It is to confirm Jesus was really, really dead. This isn’t historical—it is theological.

2. He was buried.

The argument relies upon Joseph of Arimethea, and that Christian’s wouldn’t dare make up a story regarding a council member.…what about Nicodemus? Mark, Matthew and Luke forget to mention him. If Mark, Matthew and Luke were compelled to mention Joseph (because the apologist claims it is true) why didn’t they fell the same compulsion with Nicodemus? If Nicodemus is not true, then John made him up. Why couldn’t the others have made up Joseph of Arimethea for the same reasons?

3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.

His death caused the disciples to go fishing!

4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).

The point of this argument is not simply an empty tomb—any tomb can be empty. The argument is that the tomb was found empty very early (Sunday morning) and therefore natural explanations for this are extremely difficult. For example, Dr. Craig argues “the enemies of Christianity felt obliged to explain away the empty tomb by the theft hypothesis.”

However, John clearly indicates Mary Magdalene felt a natural explanation was probable, and shows no discomfort with a natural explanation for an empty tomb. She states, upon seeing what she thinks is a gardener, “Sir, if you have carried him [Jesus] away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15) She anticipates an ability to take a body out of a tomb, and is more than willing to participate in the endeavor!

Apologists (like Dr. Craig) enjoy pointing out the soldiers’ conspiracy in Matthew’s story, as evidence the Jews felt it necessary to make something up to explain away this empty tomb. I have yet to see one address John’s gospel where no one felt it necessary to make something up, because Mary Magdalene thought it perfectly natural a gardener would move a body, and give the body to her to take somewhere else!

By the way, tombs were family affairs in the First Century, and if Jesus’ family did have a tomb, it would have been in his home town in Galilee. It would be perfectly natural to use this nearby cave for a temporary tomb (because of the oncoming Sabbath,) and later move the body to the family tomb. An empty tomb has a perfectly natural explanation; an explanation the Johannine community was comfortable with.

5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.

I will deal with all three statements here, because they have the same two-word response.

“Doubting Thomas.”

Here was a guy who had traveled with Jesus for one (or three) years. According to the apologist who holds to the historicity of the Gospels, Thomas had seen Jesus walk on water, feed 1,000’s with some scraps of food. Watched blind people gain sight, lame walk, deaf hear. Even performed miracles himself!

Has seen Jesus raise people from the dead and heard more teachings from Jesus than any other person alive (with the possible exceptions of Peter, James and John.) This fellow is an insider.

He is informed by his friends, “We have seen Jesus post-Resurrection!” (Argument 5 above is a bit deceiving; it should more accurately state, “Disciples reported having experiences they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.”)

He has almost immediate knowledge regarding the claims Jesus was raised. (I say “almost” because John records 8 days between the first two appearances, so this would be the greatest extent of time. Luke records Thomas heard on Sunday, but this contradicts John. Take your pick: 1-8 days.)

He was in Jerusalem, he had the opportunity to inspect the empty tomb right away. He had access--friendly access—to all the disciples, Jesus’ family. Everything.

Can you possibly imagine a witness closer to the scene with a more suitable circumstance to investigate the claims being made about a resurrected Jesus?

And he wasn’t convinced.

He wasn’t convinced by the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the message, the transformation of his friends, the claims of his friends, or his proximity to the scene of the event.

Can I be any clearer? Doubting Thomas--who was far better equipped than any of us to investigate and confirm--was not convinced by the minimal facts! If even he wasn’t convinced, why should the same argument work on us--2000 years and cultural differences later?

I know the minimal facts apologists love to focus on the conversion of “enemies”—James and Paul. What I am more curious about, and what I haven’t seem them address, is what about the failure to convert friends with these same facts?

In conclusion, John certainly presents an independent version of Jesus’ resurrection. Too independent. If John is accurate, we seriously question the historicity of the Synoptics, and the effectiveness of the minimal fact theory.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Assume Jesus Existed; Now What?

Larry, a/k/a The Barefoot Bum asked a fascinating question in a comment:
Let us hypothesize (for the sake of argument) that some specific account of Jesus, resurrection, miracles and all, were actually historically true. Assuming (for whatever reason) that only so few people were willing and able to write about the event that only four survive to this day.

What sorts of things would we expect to see?
This is compounded by my mulling over Vinny’s recent blog entry: Can Evidence Ever Prove a Miracle?

Let’s see if this illuminates areas for study. What WOULD we expect?

My first thought was to frame the account of Jesus: What are the basic facts we utilize in our hypothetical as accurate? I put together these:

1. He was a traveling philosopher/rabbi/teacher during Pontius Pilate’s prefect (26-36 CE) in Palestine (Galilee, Samaria & Judea.)
2. He gathered followers, both core and peripheral.
3. He performed miracles such as healing, feeding large crowds and raising people from the dead.
4. He talked to crowds regarding his particular philosophy.
5. He became accused of a crime.
6. He was crucified.
7. He was buried.
8. He miraculously resurrected from the dead.
9. He appeared post-resurrection to numerous individuals over a period of time.
10. He then ascended into heaven.

And already…I have a problem with number 3.

In putting together this conjecture we would agree Jesus did miracles—but how many? To what extent? Put yourself in First Century Palestine. First of all, other than the upper class, you are sustenance living—generating enough grain or food to provide for your family, your livestock and to plant for the coming year. You are being taxed to within an inch of starvation.

One bad season, one famine and you are wiped out. Only the hardiest will live.

Second, death is a firm reality. Infant mortality is large. There are no hospitals, sewage flowed freely in most cities. A flu or broken arm most likely meant death.

Now imagine you introduce an individual who can cure all disease in this society. All wounds. Who can literally bring people back to life. Further, this individual can turn a few loaves and fishes into a meal for 1,000’s.

Jesus would be inundated from dusk to dawn by crowds clamoring to be healed and fed. His reputation would be impossible to suppress. We see people today flocking to fake healers; what would happen if crippled legs really did straighten and grew strength? Amputees regrew body parts? Dead people came back to life?

Larry has (cruelly) limited us to four sources, yet wouldn’t such a person be in every source? Even the emperor would be interested in such a person. Imagine not having to carry food for the army, and being able to heal your wounded soldiers. Tiberius would be invincible!

I am unable to visualize a balance, in our made-up account, of how to have Jesus perform some miracles, but not enough to attract attention. Be that as it may, assume he did.

Given our 10 facts, what would we expect next in historical accounts?

However, first an admonition—is historical method the adequate means to determine what should or would possibly happen given certain factors? The study of history looks to events that have happened. It makes no judgment whether these events “should” or “should not” (I’m not talking about studying motivations, or bad judgments.)

Virtually ever historian agrees it was bad tactics on Hitler’s part to start a two-front war with Russia in 1941. We may use the vernacular, “He shouldn’t have done it,” but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We do not discount a historical event simply because it seems improbable.

On September 10, 2001, if asked, most people would say the possibility the Twin Towers would be completely destroyed the following day was extremely unlikely. Yet 24 hours later, we all faced such a reality. Even looking at the course of human events, expecting humans to act as they have in the past, we see historical variances—unexpected happenings—where history would tell us not to expect it to happen in the future. Yet it does.

So we can project, based upon past expectations, yet understand something can veer and cause a completely different, unintended result, putting history on a completely new course.

A good example is the genre of fictional alternative history, like Turtledove’s Guns of the South where the South obtain machine guns during the US Civil War. Given that fact, we could reasonably project, they would utilize the weapons and (assuming adequate supplies) repel the North.

But would the South then attack the North, or would it be content to leave a border, forming a new country? Would it feasibly attack Mexico? What if it engaged in trade, utilizing the guns for material, and thus introducing the guns to other nations, such as England? Assuming they received the guns in the Winter of 1865, we can project what would happen in the next few months. What would the world look like in 1870? 1890? In 1900--only 35 years after the introduction of the machine gun--is it possible to even conjecture what would happen?

In the same way, we are dealing with writings made at least 35 years after the events. It would be difficult to develop a method of what these writings would probably look like, given the variables involved.

The only model I can utilize would be to view the historical development of other religions.

1. People would expect a continuation of consistency. The reason they were drawn to Jesus in the first place was what he did and/or what he said. They would expect the same message to continue, and more importantly, expect the continuation of miracles.

Of course, this raised the question—in our account are we going to say the apostles can do miracles? I see three choices: 1) they could not, or 2) they could but to a lesser extent, or 3) they could the same as Jesus. If it was either (1) or (2), then we would expect some reason must be given as to why they could not perform the same amount.

In these four accounts, I would anticipate claims of what Jesus said and did, followed by claims of his disciples following that philosophy.

2. We would expect a veneration of Jesus’ activity, especially if fewer miracles were performed by the apostles. (People may not care if they are still getting fed and healed.) Where he was born, what house he grew up in. More importantly, where this or that miracle occurred. Certainly where the greatest miracle of all occurred—the tomb.

Included would be veneration of his statements. This creates instability in our method, in that people tend to make stuff up, especially about leaders. How many beds did George Washington sleep in? Did he chop down a cherry tree? Without an early system of verification, people could claim Jesus said anything, as long as it was within the general frame of the expected philosophy, and no one could (or would) question it.

We would expect descriptions of his miracles. Especially the Resurrection. Words and doctrines of Jesus, specifically words and events that conformed to the intended recipient’s beliefs.

3. There would be a succession of leadership. And typically an issue. What would qualify a person to be Jesus’ successor in leading this religion? Typically, that, too, is an issue. Would it be bloodline? Appointment by Jesus? Who saw him post-resurrection?

We would expect a disagreement over method of determining leadership. If Peter claimed to be the first to see Jesus post-resurrection, he would claim the method used is: “whoever sees Jesus post-resurrection.” If Paul claimed to receive direct revelation from God the Father, he would claim the method it is who God says is the leader.

Do you see the problem we now enter? Peter claims one way (which coincidently makes him leader); James claims another method (by sheer chance making James the leader); and Paul claims yet another way that….well…you get the idea.

At this point we would expect to see competing claims to leadership; disagreements over methods as to who is rightfully appointed.

4. Finally, we would anticipate the later the writings, the more they would mold to the changing requirements of the religion. If some new issue was introduced, we would anticipate the writings to include statements of Jesus added to address those issues.

Included in the mythology development would be injection of statements relevant to the present troubles.

Understanding this as a mind-experiment, I did draw conclusions—some unexpected:

a) I am a bit surprised how similar the writing we have would be, regardless whether Jesus actually did miracles or not. This may be my inherent utilization of what humans typically do, in reviewing other religions such as Judaism, Mormonism or Islam; the thought that whether Jesus really did these things or not, people are people and at some point will act on their humanity.

b) The silence of Paul becomes deafening. It makes little sense the first writings following Jesus’ existence do not refer to his miracles, do not refer to his sermons, do not refer to his doctrine, do not refer to any happenings in his life. Nothing about his baptism, interaction with Jewish leaders, or interaction with disciples.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. How can we have a leader of a religion be so prominent as proclaimed in our account, yet so under-utilized in the first accounts referring to him? The recipients of Paul’s letters, written 15-25 years after Jesus lived, would want to know what Jesus said about their problem. What Jesus did. Not Paul’s particular problem with marriage.

c) Why is the Resurrection an afterthought? If this is the lynchpin of Christianity, as Paul proclaims, it seems odd the four accounts have better record-keeping on feeding people than on its occurrence. While Luke and John give greater length and detail—they are later accounts. Paul simply lists appearances with no time, place or historical background. The earliest account, Mark, doesn’t think it important enough to even list one appearance. Matthew barely mentions two.

I would think, given the account above, and the records we have, we would need to reassess the import of the Resurrection on these writers. They didn’t seem to find it terribly factually interesting.

d) I am not certain how one gets around some veneration. Would Mary be pressed to give anecdotes about Jesus’ childhood? Would his childhood home become revered, or places he walked become pilgrimage destinations? Certainly the empty tomb, simply by its connection to the Resurrection, would become a place to visit.

Yet we see nothing of that.

Any thoughts? What do you think we would see, given the 10 facts I listed above? Am I too rigidly following the pattern of other religions? Why would this one be different?

What would you expect to see written about Jesus, if this actually happened, in the first 35 years following his death?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Independent Witness in Gospel of John – Part 2

How does the Gospel of John differ from the other three canonical Gospels?

The simple fact: these accounts contradict each other. They contain different details (including different statements, additional items, and fewer items), as well as a general demonstration of increased mythology. Now…Christian apologists and inerrantists have proposed resolutions for these contradictions; whether those resolutions are satisfactory depend on one’s standard of proof for determining contradictions. If one uses the least possible standard—“any logical possibility, no matter how inane”—then these resolutions may be satisfactory. If one uses even the slightly higher standard we normally use—“which is more likely: a contradiction or not”—then many of these remain contradictions.

However, a word of caution. A contradiction does NOT render the entire account non-historical; dissimilarities in accounts happen all the time. Did we arrive at the party at 7:00 p.m. or 7:15 p.m.? Two people giving different times would never cause us to dismiss any arrival at all—we understand such disagreements happen all the time.

These contradictions are instructive on four points:

1) Question accounts as to credibility. Sometimes people read the word “credibility” and assume it to be an affront on one’s character. How many times have we heard the dichotomy, “The disciples were either complete fabricators or completely 100% accurate”?

“Credibility” is not only deliberate falsehood, but includes one’s ability to observe, remember and recall the events. A witness 10 feet from an occurrence is more credible than a witness 1000 feet away, due to ability to observe. Both can be earnestly honest; yet the closer witness is considered more credible. Writing down accounts even 1 year after an event can be inaccurate, because of memory lapses, or external influences. Now imagine if the account was 5 years later. Or 10. Or 30.

2) Question accounts as to reliability. Stronger than the first point—if the contradiction is on a key element where the witness benefits from the contradiction, we inherently consider that less reliable.

Imagine if a person was accused of a crime that occurred at 7:05 p.m.; an unbiased witness indicates the accused arrived at the party at 7:00 p.m. The perpetrator’s claim, “I arrived at 7:15 p.m.” is considered unreliable (absent any confirming evidence), because they are very likely saying it to exonerate themselves.

The more important the issue, the greater we scrutinize the motive behind the contradiction.

3) Demonstrate distrust in source. Here we have an interesting situation where Matthew and Luke utilize Mark as a written source. To the extent they disagree with their source and write something contrary, the more one wonders whether historicity or doctrine has become the motive.

Why are they disagreeing with their source? Did they hear something different? Are they supplementing or supplanting the previous sources?

4) Finally, I believe these contradictions demonstrate how John used other sources—specifically Matthew and Luke—in compiling his gospel account of the passion and resurrection. For that, we need to dig a little deeper…

Let’s look at some examples.

The Placard

Mark 15:26 records the statement above Jesus was, “The King of the Judeans.”
Matthew 27:37 adds, “This is Jesus, the King of the Judeans.”
Luke 23:38 reduces it back to “This is the King of the Judeans.” (In Greek, Latin and Hebrew!)
John 19:19 expands it to “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Judeans.”

Of course, the inerrantist could claim the sign said, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judeans” and each author only chose to include some; no author included it all:

Mark: This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judeans.
Matthew: This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judeans.
Luke: This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judeans.
John: This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judeans.

But is likely? Or is it far more likely Matthew added a portion on, Luke took out what he deemed unnecessary—“Jesus”—but added even more by listing other languages, and John, aware of both Matthew and Luke, combined both to give the most complete coverage? Remember, if one is going to say John is “independent,” this entails having to explain why Mark, Matthew and Luke all chose to ignore part of the sign.

Which brings us to a brief digression—what do we mean by “independent?” It is not enough for it to merely mean “another.” By this word—“independent”—we mean the author developed the material from a source different than the other authors. It is not independent if John used Matthew. Or John used the same source as Matthew. Or John heard about Matthew and included it. It must be John, without any interjection from Matthew or Matthew’s sources, (or Mark or Luke). It is John recounting on his own.

This needs highlighting because often the apologist will get so caught up arguing for John’s independence through differences, that they fail to realize this undercuts the historicity of the other accounts. If John, independently remembered the sign with the full saying, then Mark, Matthew or Luke either didn’t know about it (meaning they lose credibility) or knew about it and deliberately reduced what they knew (meaning they lose reliability.) Either way, these contradictions may support independence (somewhat) but begin to tear at historicity.

Joseph of Arimathea

Mark 15:43 states Joseph of Arimathea was a council member, waiting for the kingdom of God.
Matthew 27:57 demotes Joseph out of the council, making him a “rich man;” but elevates him to a disciple of Jesus.
Luke 23:50-51 places Joseph back on the council, but continues with Mark’s “waiting for the kingdom of god.”
John 19:38 doesn’t speak to Joseph’s income, nor being a council member, but John does go back to Matthew’s position Joseph was a disciple.

What we start to see is a pattern where Matthew tends to disagree with Mark. Luke attempts to combine combination of Mark and Matthew. John appears to pick and choose from Matthew and Luke (or both).

John’s use of Joseph is a strong indication this story was (at least in part) dependent on another source. Primarily because Joseph is a fictional character created by Mark. If John truly was independent from the Gospels, he may have utilized Nicodemus, but he never would have known to use Joseph. He never would have heard of him! The ONLY way for John to even know about Joseph is through the Synoptics.

The Tomb

Mark 15:46 says Joseph laid Jesus in a tomb.
Matt. 27:60 says it was Joseph’s new tomb.
Luke 23:53 agrees it was new (no one had ever been in it) but retracts from saying it was Joseph’s.
John 19:41 follows Luke, saying it was a new tomb, no mention of it being Joseph’s.

Again, we have the authors either not completely stating the facts, OR disagreeing with each other. Again, the inerrantist could claim it was “Joseph’s new tomb” but only Matthew provides the full description. Mark (our earliest source) left out the fact it was new and Joseph’s, Luke and John both leave out the fact it was Joseph’s.

Time and time and time again, we see discrepancies in these accounts. One, two or a few may cause us to scratch our heads. But when it becomes almost every single detail, we question the accuracy for the reasons state above: lack of credibility and reliability.

Resurrection Appearances

The meat of the problem. When reviewing from a chronological standpoint, we see the myth development, and how John conveniently falls into place following Luke, thus establishing both its late writing and its use of (at least) Luke as a source.

Mark, as well known, has no resurrection appearances. Although he implies them. The women see an angel in the tomb (I know it says, “young man;” it is probable Mark was implying this to be a heavenly apparition) who says, “Go tell the disciples that He (Jesus) is going before you into Galilee and there you will see Him as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7) This intones two facts:

1) Jesus is going to Galilee; and
2) The woman will see him.

And Mark ends it there.

Matthew, after reading Mark, does have Resurrection appearances. Matthew (following Mark) has women seeing the angel, who says (like Mark) “Go and tell the disciples that He is risen from the dead, is going before you into Galilee and there you will see him.” (Matt. 28:7)

On their way, Matthew recounts the women see Jesus (just like Mark implied) and the women then tell the disciples. The disciples go to Galilee, and Matthew recounts the appearance as follows:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. (Matt 28:16-17 NKJV)

Jesus gives the Great commission, and the Gospel ends.

I don’t think people realize how limited our earliest accounts are regarding resurrection appearances. Ask most Christians about these events, and they talk about the Road to Emmaus, Jesus appearing in the room, Doubting Thomas, Jesus at the Lake…yet all these events happen in later accounts.

Again (because this is important):

Mark has no appearances.
Matthew has two (2) appearances: One to the women to relay a message to the Disciples and one to the 11 disciples (minus Judas, of course) in Galilee. The astute reader will note that some of the 11 doubted!

[This may be a good time to discuss 1 Cor. 15:3-8, where Paul states Jesus appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, then to 500 at once, then to James, then to all the apostles and finally to Paul. There is no time, place or detail. When did these occur? Where? What was said or done? Was it a vision or a physical appearance? Worse, this order contradicts every Gospel account. For our search on the independence of John, the passage provides no illumination.]

Our next chronological account is Luke.

Luke has a problem. Luke intends to convey that the Church initially began in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:12-14). But Mark implies Jesus wanted the disciples to go home to Galilee, and Matthew outright states Jesus saw them in Galilee. How does Luke get them back to Jerusalem?

Simple--he never has them go to Galilee in the first place. Notice how Luke modifies the story, beginning with what the Angel at the tomb says:

“Remember what Jesus said in Galilee about being raised again?” (Luke 24:6-7) You can almost hear Luke say, “No, no, no. Mark and Matthew got it all wrong. The Angel didn’t say, ‘Go to Galilee.’ Oh, my, no! The Angel said, ‘Remember what was said in Galilee.”

Here’s the odd bit. What is the import of Jesus making such a statement in Galilee? In fact, Luke records Jesus stating it in Galilee (Luke 9:22) but also records Jesus stating this in either Samaria or Judea! (Luke 18:33) (It is unclear whether Jesus had reached Judea yet, but he was coming from Samaria.)

The ONLY reason Luke feels the need to include the word “Galilee” (since the place the statement was made is irrelevant) is to explain away the problem people associated the angel stating something about Galilee at the tomb.

Now the Luke has removed the pesky problem regarding “Go to Galilee” found in both Mark and Matthew, we continue with Luke’s story. Luke has the women go tell the Disciples (but includes nothing about Jesus appearing to the women because that would entail having to address the Galilean problem again. Remember, in Matthew the women were told by Jesus, “Get the boys up to Galilee.”).

Luke includes a scene where Jesus appears to two people on the Road to Emmaus. Once these two miraculously realize it is Jesus, they tromp off to the eleven Disciples who say, “We know—Jesus appeared to Peter!” (Luke 24:33-34) Oddly, Luke hasn’t recorded any appearance to Peter. Nor has Mark or Matthew.

At this moment Jesus teleports into the room. They think he is a spirit—so Jesus says, “Look at my hands and feet.” (Luke 24:39-40) [Is this Luke attempting to counter Matthew’s claim that “some doubted”?] He has a bit to eat, tells them to stay in Jerusalem, takes them out to Bethany, and floats into the sky. (In Luke’s next book, he provides the additional information that 40 days pass from the resurrection to the ascension, but no such time frame is provided for or even implied here. One wonders why Luke felt the need to add more time.)

At this point we can see why inerrantists spin circles attempting to align the accounts. Given a chronological mythical development, the Synoptic Gospels fall neatly into place. Attempting to claim historicity amongst them has the Jesus and angels telling the disciples to go this way and that, and the disciples traipsing up to Galilee and back to Jerusalem in one day, tying to figure out where Jesus is going to appear next.

Now on to John. Initially, we see a different start to the day. Instead of numerous women, we only have one—Mary Magdalene. She doesn’t see any angels, or hear any proclamations; she discovers an empty tomb. Tells the disciples resulting in Peter and the other disciple coming to the tomb. A story aligned with Matthew, with the embellishment of enhancing the “other disciple” as being equal with Peter.

The men leave and Mary Magdalene is crying. She sees two angels, and then Jesus. The Gospel of John is the only account of Mary’s individual meet-up with Jesus.

Independent? Well…not exactly. See, in every other Gospel, Mary Magdalene makes her appearance at Jesus’ death. (Luke does include her in a list of women who traveled with Jesus, but that’s it. (Luke 8:2)) Mark and Matthew give us no information about her—we wouldn’t even know she existed until the crucifixion. Luke’s information—Jesus kicked 7 demons out of her—is give as an aside, and nothing more is provided.

But come resurrection Sunday, Mary Magdalene is definitely included in all accounts regarding the tomb. Including John. How is it that John tells us nothing about this deep relationship with Jesus, yet (just like the other gospels) she makes her appearance here? This is the Gospel where Jesus cries over Lazarus’ death, Jesus washes disciple’s feet, Jesus engages in philosophical content with Nicodemus, numerous interpersonal relationships…but nothing about Mary Magdalene? The woman who was the first to see the empty tomb, and the only one who hung around the tomb crying?

John is aware of the Mary Magdalene inclusion in this part of the story from another source.

After this the Gospel of John follows Luke. Jesus appearing suddenly in locked room. Instead of showing “hands and feet” like Luke, John has Jesus saying “touch hands and side.” John is the only Gospel that includes the account regarding a Roman spear in the side of Jesus, so it makes sense John, unlike Luke, has Jesus say, “touch my side.”

Doubting Thomas is not present, at the first meeting (again, trying to clear up Matthew’s statement, “some doubted”?), but at the second meeting is convinced.

And the Gospel ends there.

John 21 is a separate account about the Disciples going back to Galilee, to their lives as fisherman, not recognizing Jesus, and the Jesus cooks them breakfast. John 21 is definitely independent—it doesn’t align with anyone. However, (more discussion in the next blog entry), John 21 causes difficulties with historicity.

It is a simple question—where does it chronologically fit in the other accounts? Anywhere you put it, it will contradict something else and either knock out another account’s historicity, or else lose its own.

A quick summary:

Mark: No appearances, “Look for me in Galilee.”
Matthew: Two brief appearances, follows Mark’s Galilean theme.
Luke: Dismantles Galilean statement to move appearances in upper room at Jerusalem. Jesus shows scars.
John: Appearances in upper room. Jesus shows scars.

There is a constant tension among these works. The closer in similarity the story, the less likely the stories are independent. The less similarity, the less likely the stories are historical.

1) What is the Gospel of John?
2) How does John differ from the Synoptics?
3) Does John support the apologetic claims?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Independent Witness in Gospel of John – Part 1

In debates regarding the Resurrection, Christian apologists will mention (in part) a historical method including “multiple independent sources” as having a higher likelihood of historicity. The “independent sources” often cited regarding the post-Resurrection appearances are Paul (1 Cor. 15:3-8), and the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

We understand Markan priority—that Matthew and Luke utilized Mark in writing their Gospels. This raises the question of their “independence.” (Although Mark lists no post-Resurrection appearances, so to some extent, Matthew and Luke would still need to be addressed regarding any homogeny.) I was recently asked regarding the Gospel of John.

We recognize the differences and conflicts between the Synoptic Gospels and John—indeed we draw upon those dissimilarities to point out contradictions: Jesus clearing the temple at the end of his ministry in the Synoptics, (Mark 11:15-19; Matt. 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46) but at the beginning in John. (John 2:13-17). Or the discrepancies in the names and calling of the twelve disciples. Or the three year ministry of John compared to the one-year ministry in the Synoptics.

Yet as we point out how John is unlike Mark, Matthew and Luke--are we providing greater weight to its independence? Are we furnishing sustenance to the apologists’ claim that John is an “independent source”?

The short answer is (as with all biblical issues!): “Yes. And No.” John borrows from a variety of sources, as well as interjecting stories for doctrinal purposes, rather than historicity. Making it not just “one independent source” but a “multiple independent source” within itself. However, since “multiple independent sources” is only one part of this historical method, when we look to whether it is an eyewitness account, and how “independent” it is, John does not help the Resurrection apologists on many fronts.

This will take three blog entries to unpack:

1) What is the Gospel of John?
2) How does John differ from the Synoptics?
3) Does John support the apologetic claims?

Date John Written

Traditionally dated 90 – 110 CE; making it later and most likely after the other three canonical Gospels. Some reasons cited include the higher Christology (the indication Jesus proclaimed himself equal to God), no Sadducees (who were eliminated in 70 CE), and the lack of immediacy in eschatology.

A strong argument (in my opinion) are the verses indicating Christians would be kicked out of the synagogues. John 9:22, 12:42, 16:2. Although specifics are not easily determined, it would appear sometime around 90 CE in some locales, Jewish Christians were forbidden from entering or participating in synagogues. If so, these verses demonstrate knowledge regarding the eviction, and thus were written after.

The papyrus scrap P52 that contains a portion of John on a codex has been dated 125 – 150 CE; thus the range for the Gospel being 90 – 110 CE.

In contrast, Papias (writing from 110 – 140 CE), a disciple of John, indicates knowledge of three Gospels—Mark, Matthew and Gospel of the Hebrews, but does not mention a Gospel written by John.*

*Papias wrote five (5) books, and we only have a few paragraphs from his writing. It is possible he discussed a Gospel of John in writing we do not have, but no author up to the time of Eusebius associates Papias with a Gospel of John.

As always in biblical discussions, there are scholars who disagree. Evan Powell in The Unfinished Gospel argues John was first among the gospels, and at an earlier date.


Literary Integrity

The dating works only if the Gospel is a cohesive whole; if an amalgamation of other works, (which I think it is), then at best we can only date portions, and stab at when it was edited together. There are three reasons to see a combination of different works:

1) The Signs Gospel. Scholars have long noted miracles in the first 11 chapters that have no parallel in the Synoptics:

a) Water into Wine,
b) Healing Capernaum nobleman’s son,
c) Heal paralytic at Bethesda Pool
d) Heal blind man with mud and washing in pool
e) Lazarus raised from the dead
f) Voice from heaven not at Baptism or Transfiguration.

This has caused scholars to reasonably speculate John utilized some source listing these signs. (As I have previously discussed, Mark indicates Jesus saying he won’t give any sign, [Mark 8:12], Matthew & Luke indicate only one (1) sign [Matt. 16:4; Luke 11:29] whereas John’s incorporation of the Signs Gospel gives numerous signs.)

And John 5:2, part of the Signs Gospel, uses the verb, “There is by the Sheep Gate a pool…” with a present tense. Thus it was written prior to the sacking of Jerusalem, in the 60’s CE, but later incorporated in this book referring to events in the 90’s CE.

2) Anomalies in the writing.

There are scholarly discussions whether the order has been transposed in numerous chapters. Some argue it has; others give explanations for why it has not. I will give one example. In John 6:1, it states “Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee” and then in John 6:3, going up a mountain. The problem is this: John 5 ends with Jesus in Jerusalem (far to the south and on the same side of Galilee as the mountains! Why would Jesus cross over to get to the same side? This would indicate the introductory statement was left in a later-added passage. (On occasion, the Gospel writers demonstrate fatigue in copying, giving details in the original work that do not make sense in their copy.)

Another fascinating item is found in the last phrase of John 14:31, when Jesus states, “Get up, let us go from here.” This passage in context is in the middle of a long discourse. (You will see pages of red if your Bible is a red-letter edition.) In Chapter 14, Jesus has been talking about love, keeping commandments and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and in Chapter 15, he continues to talk about being the vine, love and keeping commandments.

Why, in the middle of it, would he make the statement about leaving? Read chapters 14 & 15—there is no reason for this statement. The editor is combining two (2) sources, one of which ended at 14:31.

This also demonstrates the editor is utilizing written sources. Think about it; imagine a person writing down this speech 5 or 10 or 20 years later. The powerful images of keeping God’s commandments, of loving each other, of the vine and the Holy Spirit could be remembered. But would the writer remember and include this non-sequitur phrase, “Get up, let us go from here”? Or would it more likely be forgotten amongst the common themes?

The only reason to include it was it’s being in a document being copied.

3) The third question of literary integrity, going to the heart of our resurrection discussion, is John 21. It is a chapter, added after the original conclusion of chapter 20.

In Chapter 19, we complete the death of Jesus, moving to Chapter 20 for the appearances. First Mary Magdalene sees the empty tomb, informs Peter and the “other disciple,” who all go running to the tomb. The men leave; Mary stays weeping and is rewarded with an angelic appearance, and Jesus himself.

That night Jesus appears to the disciples (minus Thomas) in a shut room, shows them his hands and side, and breathes the Holy Spirit into them. (No Pentecost here!) Eight days later, Jesus again appears in the shut room, this time tells Thomas to touch his wounds, and then the chapter finishes as follows:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31 NKJV)

This has all the hallmarks of wrapping up a book.

Chapter 21 starts off with some disciples returning to their occupations as fisherman! In direct contrast to Matthew’s Great Commission, or Acts’ having them hang around Jerusalem, this divergent story discusses the disciples return to Galilee. It acts as if Chapter 20 never happened; Peter doesn’t even recognize Jesus.

There are additional thematic differences—the “sons of Zebedee” are not mentioned before, indeed the author has not been identified until 21:24. At least part acknowledges being a different writer than other parts. Peter is treated generally negatively throughout the rest of John; here is treated extremely positively. And there is a hint the writer knows that claiming John as the author would be a problem, as John is dead. See John 21:23.

For these reasons, the general consensus among scholars is that Chapter 21 is an add-on.

In the next blog entry, I will address John’s independence (and some dependence) regarding the Synoptics, but I believe I have demonstrated John has internal multiple sources. How independent they are may depend on one’s theological point-of-view.

One final note before we leave John…


As much as we debate who wrote the Gospels, it is more enlightening to contemplate who the gospels were written to. Who was the intended audience, and what was the author intending to demonstrate to them? Why did the author think this particular point was necessary to be emphasized?

In looking at the Johannine corpus, it would appear one issue being addressed was docetism--the belief Jesus did not have flesh. He appeared like a person--a really, really good hologram, worthy of Star Trek--but his feet did not leave prints in the sand. Not having flesh means he couldn’t technically die, nor obviously be resurrected. See 1 John 4:2-3 and 2 John 7 for direct statements intended to refute this belief.

I will leave it at that, and pick up the discussion in a later entry. (Unless you are thinking ahead. About the only Gospel referring to scars and touching scars was John. Because you can’t scar spirit; only flesh scars…)