Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Born under the law

Does vicarious atonement require an Incarnate Deity? Apostate Dale Tuggy denies that, although he fails to explain how the death of a merely human messiah can have any vicarious significance. What makes his death different than the death of any Christian martyr? Evidently, unitarians resort to theological voluntarism. The vicarious atonement is just an arbitrary divine fiat?

Let's compare that to Christian theology. God bears a different relationship to his own law than creatures do. The Ten Commandments are inapplicable to God–not because God is amoral, beyond good and evil, but because God isn't that kind of being. Likewise, there's a fundamental asymmetry. For instance, we have a duty to worship God whereas God has no reciprocal duty to worship us!

If we keep God's law for humanity, we're just doing what we're suppose to do. And if we fall short, there's no extra credit assignment we can do to make up for our deficit. 

If, by contrast, God chooses to be born under the law, to submit himself to the penalties of his own law, that's sheerly meritorious. God had no obligation to do that in part or in whole. 

Though dead they still speak

And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead (Heb 11:4).

There's a sense in which dying words aren't necessarily your last words. Have you ever noticed how many rich folks are buried? Some of them have ostentatious private family crypts or mausoleums. Even in death they are still striving to impress their neighbors. Even in death, they have a message for the living: "I'm somebody! I'm more important than you! I'm higher on the social ladder!" Even on the way out, that's how they want to be remembered.

Of all times and places, people should be humble in death. Death shows how powerless the powerful ultimately are, how worthless wealth ultimately is. Death is the great leveler.

People whose tomb makes a proud worldly statement aren't just signaling their neighbors, but signaling the God of the living and the dead. The very last thing a dying person should wish to do is flaunt his social pretensions before his Maker and Judge. It's striking to compare their attitude to John Calvin:

He was buried on Sunday in an unmarked grave at a secret location somewhere in Geneva. In one of the last commentaries he wrote, he commented on the death and burial of Moses, "It is good that famous men should be buried in unmarked graves."[1] This conviction guided his own burial. He rejected the superstitious veneration of the dead and wanted no pilgrimages to his grave. he had lived to make Christians, not Calvinists. He had perhaps written his own best epitaph in his Institutes ". . . we may patiently pass through this life in afflictions, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other disagreeable circumstances, contented with this single assurance, that our King will never desert us, but will give what we need, until having finished our warfare, we shall be called to the triumph." Robert Godfrey, John Calvin, Pilgrim and Pastor (Crossway 2009, 198-99).

Medical and state tyranny

I recently wrote about Alfie Evans here.

Ben Shapiro has an article "Who Controls Your Kids' Lives?" that's gold.

Over 100 U.K. physicians have signed the following:

Press release, regarding Alfie Evans: Medical and State Tyranny
From the Medical Ethics Alliance
14.00pm 24th April 2018

We are deeply concerned and outraged by the treatment and care offered to Alfie Evans. Wanting to withdraw treatment so that he will die, the medical authorities have taken Alfie to the High Court. At that point, and as a result of the hospital’s court action, the parents were stripped of their right to be decision makers for their beloved child. They could only advise the Court and look on as the High Court made decisions for Alfie.

The High Court decided that it was in the “Best Interests “ of Alfie to die and duly authorized the withdrawal of treatment. As a result the parents are being tortured as they watch the hospital take actions expected to lead to his death.

Despite a viable alternative being available (namely transfer by air ambulance for further assessment to a specialist hospital in Rome), the hospital and doctors responsible for his care insists that he remains under their care and on a pathway towards death. While he now has some oxygen and some fluid this has taken huge effort to obtain for him. He is offered sedation although (we understand) this has not been given at present. Sedation (if given) would mean that he would develop respiratory failure and die even more quickly.

Actions such as these have now brought the Alder Hey Hospital to worldwide attention and by extension bring our whole profession into disrepute.

Medical tyranny must stop. Poor Alfie must not be killed in this way. We demand that the authorities to allow Alfie safe passage to Rome.

With respect we insist that with immediate effect the GMC investigate the actions of doctors providing his care. Surely the doctors should refuse to implement such a tyrannical decision and allow Alfie to go to Rome.

So old it's new again

Fried earthworms

As I enjoy a break from my writing projects to watch the World Cup I’ve taken to spending my evenings after my son goes to bed lying on the sofa watching 22 grown men running around after a piece of inflated leather. My wife thinks it’s really rather pointless, lacking any important goal. What does it matter? Who really cares who wins? Will it make any difference to the world whether Brazil or Argentina or Holland wins?

And of course there seems to be something innate in us which makes us ask this very question of our own existence and take a shot at an answer. We’re born. We engage in years of intensive education. We try to get the best job we can, earning as much money as we can, and get a bit of enjoyment along the way. All the time we age, our bodies weaken, and before we know it it’s nearly all over and all that’s left is a young person inside an old body wondering what the hell happened. Before we know it our lives have taken a dive and we’re in a box. And is that it? Are we just worm food after that? What if atheism is true and there is no greater purpose to life? If atheism is true isn’t life just as meaningless and purposeless as watching 22 grown men chasing a ball?

What if atheism is true……..

We know that eventually our sun will burn up our planet. We know also that the universe itself will “die” as, in all probability, it expands and becomes more dilute, cold, desolate and pitch black. All the genius of humanity will be forgotten. Every witty invention will have gone to the wall. Everyone cured of illness by the finely honed skills of a doctor will have succumbed to death, and their doctors along with them. Every piece of art destroyed. Every building turned to dust and scattered. Every river dried up. Every mountain flattened. Every star burned out. The Milky Way galaxy will have spiralled out of existence. The sombrero galaxy will be ripped apart and broken. The Big Dipper will have dipped. Taurus hunted down and destroyed. The Gemini twins torn asunder never to be reunited. The universe will end in blind pitiless indifference to everything humanity ever was or did or saw. And there is no one to save us.

Of course, this rather foul picture is true on atheism only. This will almost certainly be the end of all things if there is no God to intervene. I’m no fan of atheism and therefore I don’t believe this will be how it all ends. But what if atheism is true? Is life therefore meaningless, purposeless and valueless? Can we do nothing but despair? So much of existentialist literature can be summarized as the despondent cry “God does not exist! What on earth are we to do now?!”

Some theists even attempt to make arguments from the meaning of life to the existence of God, which typically take the form:

1. If God does not exist then life does not have any meaning.
2. Life does have meaning.
3. Therefore God exists.

As a theist whose belief in the existence of God is amongst the strongest beliefs I hold I have to confess I don’t find arguments concerning the meaning of life to be of much value. The first half of this argument doesn’t appeal to me. True enough if God does not exist then there is no “transcendent” meaning, no eternal purpose to life. If, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” then in the absence of God our lives no longer have this purpose. But what is supposed to follow from this? Does it follow that nothing has any meaning or purpose or value? William Lane Craig reckons that because – on atheism – man ends in nothing then he is nothing. But is that correct?

It strikes this theist as flat out false to say that if atheism is true then nothing has any meaning, purpose or value. I can imagine someday waking up after an argument with the World’s Most Intelligent Atheist” who has managed to help me see the error of my theistic ways. I pay the penalty of the encounter and I’m forced to admit that there is no God after all. Now, would it follow that in this new universe I inhabit that nothing has any meaning or value or purpose? I really don’t see how. On my first day on team atheist I wake up and go to see my son in his bedroom. He’s no longer fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, but he’s still my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. I read him the next thrilling chapter in Harry Potter and the enjoyment we both get from that time together remains just as strong. I don’t see why such moments require an external source to give them meaning or value or purpose.

It seems to me that much of what we experience in the world is experienced by us as intrinsically good; meaning good for its own sake and not for some end. I might go for a stroll along a sunny seaside. I walk on particles of sand scattered randomly by a universe that didn’t have the pleasures of my feet in mind when it threw the beach into existence. The sun warming my skin isn’t there for my benefit. The wind blowing through my hair doesn’t care if I find it annoying or pleasant. And yet as I stroll along the experience may well be an incredibly pleasurable one. Moreover, this isn’t an experience for some end. It’s not that there’s some transcendent meaning behind it. It’s simply pleasurable. It’s enjoyable. I like it.

In the same way if atheism is true and there is no greater purpose to our life, nothing that stretches into eternity, no divinely given mission or goal, there still remains this phenomenon which we might call the joy of mere being. This is the enjoyment we derive simply from being alive, from living in and enjoying our little corner of the universe. From watching a sunset, or hiking up a hill. It’s the sheer intrinsic pleasure of sitting with my son in a tent in the back garden and listening to the rain outside while we eat chocolates and sweets in abundance. We have an entire universe at which to marvel, and no prohibition on the extent to which we may explore it.

Moreover most of us are blessed with family and friendships. I’d hazard a guess that for the vast majority of human beings on the planet the greatest moments in life are shared with other people. And again, these experiences needn’t have any transcendent meaning. We simply enjoy them for their own sake. I don’t see why such experiences would be meaningless or somehow devoid of meaning or value in an atheistic universe. Most of these experiences are completely self-contained – they don’t require anything external to them to make meaningful or valuable.

And whilst it’s true on atheism that some day it will all end and be forgotten, it is still very real to each of us. As Marcus Aurelius reminds us we live only in the present; the past has gone, the future is not yet with us. All we ever really possess is the present moment and thus it doesn’t matter whether we live for eternity or merely 70 years. Even if one day I will be extinct and forgotten by a universe that doesn’t care, my life now is worthwhile – to me and to many others. Life is worth living for its own sake.

Which brings me back to the World Cup. It might be nothing more than a bit of rather pointless play. But like life itself it’s enjoyable, it’s engaging, and even inspiring. So even if it might all really be for nothing in the end it was worth it at the time, and if you’re reading this you can be glad that the final whistle has not yet sounded.

Medically inexplicable healing

I'll comment on this:

I’m currently wading through Craig Keener’s massive two volume work “Miracles.” The book relays healing anecdote after healing anecdote. Frankly it is largely boring, incredibly tedious reading, and should have been about a quarter of the size.

So Graham is complaining that Keener provides too much evidence?

Keener tells us that his main thesis is to defend the claim that people all over the globe – past and present – have claimed to be eyewitnesses to miraculous events, and thus New Testament claims can’t be dismissed as later legends, but rather they were genuine claims by eyewitnesses. I honestly don’t know who Keener is aiming at here because I have never met a single person – past or present, in real life or in literature – who doesn’t already know that many people past and present make claims concerning supposed miraculous events they witnessed. Such miracle claims abound in practically every culture. No-one seriously disputes that. I suspect Keener is being rather disingenuous with us, telling us hundreds and hundreds of miracle stories in the hope that we too begin to believe in miracles, or if we already believe then he means to affirm our belief with all these stories. I simply do not believe him when he tells us that the point of his book is the far more modest claim that people claim to have witnessed miracles.

What's wrong with Keener providing reams of evidence so that "we too begin to believe in miracles, or if we already believe then he means to affirm our belief with all these stories"? Is that a nefarious agenda? 

Struggling With Pornography And Assurance Of Salvation

I just posted this on Facebook. Anybody who wants to add comments here can do so, or you can post on my Facebook page.

Here's something I recently wrote to a Christian struggling with pornography and assurance of salvation. I'm posting it with his permission, and I hope it will be helpful to other people. If anybody wants to add to what I've said below, you can do that in the comments section of this thread if you want. It could be helpful to this individual and others looking on if those of you who have anything to add will do so. Here's what I wrote:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Quest for the historical Licona

Over at, Kurt Jaros is initiating a series in which he attempts to rebut the alleged misrepresentations of Michael Licona by the McGrew clan. Unfortunately, Kurt is operating with a woodenly literal ipsissima verba paradigm of the historical Licona. But what if the McGrews actually operate with an ipsissima vox paradigm, in the exemplary tradition of Thucydides? Indeed, a "broad view" of ipsissima vox? 

Unfortunately, Kurt's allegations suffer from a flat reading of the McGrews. He's failed to make due allowance for narrative art, narrative plot, and the McGrewian sense of irony. Their analysis of the historical Licona is not a misunderstanding or misrepresentation, but a dynamic equivalent transmogrification, so that even if they don't look at all alike, yet beneath the surface, at a deeper level, they bear almost exactly the same meaning. 

From Spider-Man to God-Man

According to humanitarian unitarianism, Jesus was just a man. That, however, generates an acute dilemma, because the NT ascribes distinctively divine powers and prerogatives to Jesus. A "human" Jesus who created the universe, created angels, created life on earth, can process millions of prayers a day in hundreds of foreign languages, who can read everyone's mind to be their eschatological judge, and so on. To defend his mere humanity, unitarians must deify Jesus! Quite a paradox!

Dale Tuggy says God "upgraded" Jesus. Perhaps Tuggy thinks Jesus is a mutant superhero. He acquired his Spidy powers when bitten by a radioactive spider. 

Or perhaps he got the notion from Lt. Reg Barclay:

The idea of upgrading humans to give them divine abilities and prerogatives is nothing new: the traditional term is apotheosis. That's common in polytheism, as well as Mormonism. It's ironic that unitarians resort to polytheistic principles to defend unitarianism. 

Highly exalted

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to exploit 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6-11).

1. Apostate Dale Tuggy has a funny habit of citing this passage as if it's a prooftext for unitarianism. One problem is that he talks about God exalting Jesus, while ignoring the specific context.

2. This passage is thoroughly discussed in in standard commentaries by Fee, Silva, Hansen, Bockmuehl, and O'Brien. You can find the detailed exegetical arguments in support of what I'm about to say in their commentaries.

3. What does morphe theou mean?

a) Paul's expression is defined in part by the fact that morphe theou functions as a synonymous parallel to isa theou as well as antithetical parallel to morphen doulou. So in Paul's usage, the "form of God" is equivalent to equality with God. And it represents deity in contrast to humanity.

b) It denotes manifest divine nature. Not just deity, but a discernible expression of deity. That makes sense because Paul is talking about the Incarnation. 

c) It initially refers to a preincarnate state, which continues through the Incarnation, but stands in contrast to his assumption of a subservient condition. So this is a statement of the Son's eternal preexistence and deity. 

4. In this passage, Paul uses "God" as a synonym for the Father. Hence, equality with "God" is equivalent to equality with the Father. That's a powerful statement of Christ's intrinsic deity. 

5. The meaning of harpagmos is part of a two-word phrase. It's not the meaning of harpagmos in isolation, but the combination of the noun with a customary verb. Like idiomatic two-word phrases in sports and card games.

It means Jesus did not exploit or take advantage of his coequality with the Father for his own benefit. This is not a status which the Son declined to aspire to, but a status already in his possession and at his disposal. A preincarnate status. 

That's prior to his undertaking the role of a servant, being born, suffering death. So that's another statement of the Son's eternal preexistence and deity. 

6. To "empty" himself is figurative for temporarily divesting himself of his royal divine prerogatives. 

7. Paul uses terms connoting "form", "appearance", and "likeness", not in a gnostic sense, as if Jesus wasn't really human, but to maintain the distinction between his humanity and deity. He's like humans in being fully human but unlike humans in being fully divine. A body is empirical in a way that God is not. 

8. His subsequent exaltation is in part a resumption of his preexistent status as the Father's compeer. The plot typifies the classic comic curve, where the action comes full circle. The hero begins on top, then there's a downward motion where he goes on a quest or undergoes ordeal, then he's restored to his former position. Indeed, enhanced in some respect.

Phil 2:6-11 has the same v-shape plot. Initially, the Son is the Father's compeer, but he temporarily renounces his divine prerogatives by adopting the status of a human being, and even a convict, then having achieved his mission, he returns as the conquering hero. This trades on royal succession narratives, where the crown prince proves himself on the battlefield before ascending the throne or becoming coregent. 

9. The enthronement ceremony transfers to Jesus a statement which in the original setting singled out obeisance uniquely reserved for Yahweh (Isa 45:23). In context, he's even given the name of Yahweh. To accord those honors to a mere creature would be blasphemous. 

Death panel

A working definition from Wikipedia:

"Death panel" is a political term that originated during the 2009 debate about federal health care legislation to cover the uninsured in the United States. Sarah Palin, former Republican Governor of Alaska, coined the term when she charged that proposed legislation would create a "death panel" of bureaucrats who would decide whether Americans—such as her elderly parents or children with Down syndrome—were "worthy of medical care". Palin's claim has been referred to as the "death panel myth", as nothing in any proposed legislation would have led to individuals being judged to see if they were worthy of health care.

Do death panels exist? Maybe or maybe not in the United States.

However, death panels evidently exist in another democratic and "free" nation: the United Kingdom. At least if the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans are allowed to bear witness.

It wasn't up to Charlie's parents and currently it's not up to Alfie's parents to have the final say in what's best for their child. Their parents didn't get to decide if their children are "worthy of health care". Rather, it's up to their (presumably NHS employed or closely affiliated) physicians and the government of the United Kingdom to have the final decision as to whether these children are "worthy of health care".

See the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom's decision about Alfie Evans. The court document ends with these unintentionally chilling words:

There will be no further stay of the Court of Appeal's order. The hospital must be free to do what has been determined to be in Alfie's best interests. That is the law in this country.

To emphasize, it's not Alfie's parents who "must be free" to do what's in Alfie's best interests. No, it's the "hospital" that "must be free" to do what's in Alfie's best interests, in turn fully backed by "the law in this country".

If the government is the ultimate source and provider of health care for the people, then why couldn't the government likewise be the ultimate arbiter of who is and who isn't "worthy of health care"? What's stopping the government?

The government giveth, the government taketh away. Blessed be the autonomy of the government! For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Abasciano's decoy

Is Calvinism tautologous?

I'd like to make a few brief comments on Brian Abasciano's post:

1. My own position, which is documented by Greek lexicographers, is that, especially in Johannine usage, kosmos has an ethical connotation, denoting the hostile world-order, alienated from God. So it doesn't necessarily mean "everybody", and there are many verses where it can't mean "everybody". 

2. By the same token, kosmos doesn't have a default meaning of "everybody". Rather, the word means more than one thing, and the sense is context-dependent.

3. There's a lot more to the argument of Anderson, Bignon, and Gibson than how to render pas ho pisteuon. Is Abascino trying to misleading Arminians by banking on the fact that most of them will blindly accept his summary of the argument rather than consulting the original presentations by Bignon, Gibson, and Anderson?

4. One issue is a stock distinction between sense and reference. For instance, "Peter" 

i) means rocky 

ii) refers to Simon bar-Jonah

Sense and reference are separable, for even if "Peter" always has one and the same meaning, it doesn't always have one and the same referent. Millions of men have the name Peter–not to mention fictional characters by that name. That doesn't make them reincarnations of Simon bar-Jonah. The same word can have a single intension but multiple extensions. 

5. Hence, it's quite possible for komos to refer to the elect even though it doesn't mean the elect. That's not some ad hoc Calvinistic distinction, but an elementary distinction in lexical semantics. 

6. To my knowledge, Mounce and Wallace aren't considered cutting edge. There are more up-to-date Greek grammars (e.g. Stanley Porter). 

Humanitarian Christology

Historically, some unitarians regarded Jesus as the first creature and highest creature. However, apostate Dale Tuggy subscribes to a "humanitarian Christology". On that view, Jesus is just a human being. 

In a sense, that's a simpler, more consistent version of unitarianism. But it faces daunting problems. 

i) If Jesus is just a man, then presumably he came into being in toto at the moment of conception. The alternative would be like Hinduism, with a warehouse of preexistent souls that are beamed into bodies. 

ii) But a major problem with humanitarian Christology is that Scripture says Jesus/the Son was the Creator (or co-creator) of the universe (Jn 1:3,10; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2,10-12). 

That means a human being, a human male, created the universe. A human male created life on earth. Consider the amount of knowledge and power that's required to create the universe or life on earth. 

If a humanitarian unitarian subscribes to theistic evolution or old-earth creationism, that means a male human being created the universe 14 billion years ago. He existed for billions of years before any other human beings existed. He preexisted Adam and Eve. 

Tim McGrew fielding atheists, part deux

Monday, April 23, 2018


Today I saw Timothy McGrew's presentation on the Gospels at the Stand Firm conference:

He did that last month (March 24). I did two posts on the same subject this month (4/18 & 4/19):

There's so much conceptual overlap between his presentation and my two posts. We both quote from the two Wallace papers. We use very similar arguments.

A redaction critic would assume some literary interdependence. I redacted him or he redacted me. 

But he didn't have access to my posts since his presentation was given 3 weeks before, while I didn't have access to his presentation, which was only uploaded onto the internet today (at least, that's when I first saw it). And I only had access to the Wallace papers as of 4/17. 

What are the odds that my posts are independent of his presentation, and vice versa? What are the odds the we're both quoting from Wallace's two articles, less than a month apart? Just coincidental? How to account for the parallels. 

Yet, as a matter of fact, the timing actually precludes comparing notes. That illustrates the pitfalls of redaction criticism. 

Modern historiography

I am glad to see that in one major way Mike and I agree about the Gospels. We agree that we cannot hold the Gospels to modern standards of accuracy, because if we do, the Gospels are not accurate. In Mike’s words, the Gospels are “flexible with details” and they are comparable to modern movies that employ extensive “artistic license.” I couldn’t agree more.

My sense is that when people today want to know whether the Gospels are historically accurate, what they want to know is this: Did the events that are narrated in the Gospels actually happen in the way the stories are told or not?

And so the natural question arises, as Mike himself raises it: What do we mean by historical accuracy? Let me tell you what I think most people mean. My sense is that when people today want to know whether the Gospels are historically accurate, what they want to know is this: Did the events that are narrated in the Gospels actually happen in the way the stories are told or not? People in general are interested in that basic question, not so much in the points that Mike raises. That is to say, people are not overly interested in the question of whether the Gospels stack up nicely in comparison with ancient biographers such as Plutarch and Suetonius. Of course they’re not interested in that. Most people have never read Plutarch and Suetonius. I’d venture to say that most Bible readers have never even heard of Plutarch or Suetonius, or if they have, it’s simply as some vague name of someone from the ancient world.

People don’t care much, as a rule, about other ancient biographers and their tactics when talking about the Bible. They are interested in the Bible. Is it accurate? For most people that means: Did the stories happen in the way they are described or not? If they did happen that way, then the stories are accurate. If they did not happen in that way, they are not.

If it were, however, important to talk about the relationship of the Gospels to such ancient authors, then it would be worth pointing out, as Mike knows full well, that Plutarch and Suetonius are themselves not thought of as historically reliable sources in the way that many people hope and want the Gospels of the New Testament to be. Both authors tell a lot of unsubstantiated anecdotes about the subjects of their biographies; they include scandalous rumors and hearsay; they shape their accounts in light of their own interests; and they are far less interested in giving abundant historically accurate detail than in making overarching points about the moral qualities of their characters. That is what Plutarch explicitly tells us he wants to do. He wants the lives that he describes to be models of behavior for his readers, and he shapes his stories to achieve that end. He is not concerned simply to give a disinterested historical sketch of what actually happened.

Mike thinks the Gospels are like Plutarch, and I completely agree. They are far more like Plutarch, and Suetonius, than they are like modern attempts at biography. In modern biographies, an author is concerned to make sure that everything told has been verified and documented and represents events as they really and truly happened. Ancient biographies, including the Gospels, are not at all like that.

i) Ehrman's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, there is some value in judging ancient historical/biographical writing by ancient standards. For instance, it's not erroneous for a writer to use round numbers. Since he wasn't aiming for exactitude, he can't fail to hit a target he wasn't aiming for. 

ii) However, I disagree with the popular contention that the Gospels and Acts operate with essentially different standards than modern historical/biographical writings. It's often said that the Gospels weren't merely history, but interpretive history. That's true, but it's hardly distinctive to the Gospels.

Good historians and biographers don't content themselves with giving a bare chronicle of events. Rather, they wish to explain what caused events. Why did the Roman Empire fall? That sort of thing. 

They consider different determinants. The motivations of human participants. Economic factors. Social dislocation due to famine or pandemic. And so forth. Modern biographies and history books are interpretive history no less than the Gospels or Acts.  

Healing touch

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly (Mk 7:31-35). 

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mk 8:22-25).

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (Jn 9:1-7).

This is striking for several reasons:

i) Jesus could simply willed people to be healed, without resort to any means whatsoever. So why are there occasions when he heals by touch? 

ii) Likewise, why the use of saliva on three different occasions? 

iii) Commentators find this a bit puzzling. The fact that we have to guess at why Jesus did it this way indicates that Gospel writers aren't inventing stories to illustrate theological claims, for had that been the case, we'd expect the symbolism to be more overt. Rather, they record these details because that's how it happened, and not due to the theological significance, if any, of the details. 

iv) I don't claim to know the reason, but these incidents are recorded for our benefit, so we should explore the possible reasons. One factor may be that sick and disabled people often suffer from physical isolation. People are more likely to avoid them. Humans are social creatures, and touch is extremely important in human relationships. By physically engaging them, at such a personal level, Jesus is affirming their worth.

v) In the first two examples, the narrator mentions that Jesus tried to heal the individuals as privately as possible. One reason might be that he's not treating them like circus animals. He's not trying to prove anything to others by healing them. Rather, he has the sensitivity to heal them in private because he cares about them. They likely already felt stigmatized, and by healing them away from public view, Jesus shields them from the shame of prying eyes and gossipy tongues. Their suffering is nobody's business. In that regard, notice how Jesus restored the daughter of Jairus. Where possible, he sometimes prefers to do these things is a more secluded setting.

vi) Because these individuals suffer from sensory deprivation (deaf, blind), Jesus takes a tactile approach. Two can't see him act while a third can't hear him speak, so he comes down to their level, entering their blinkered experience. Expressing solidarity. Leading them out of their predicament by going with them into their predicament. 

vii) These gestures reinforce the fact that the healing comes from Jesus. A chain of physical continuity. From his mouth to their mouth, his hands to their ears and eyes. 

Mary, don't you weep!

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

I'd like to comment on two puzzling features of this scene:

i) Why didn't the Magdalene recognize Jesus by sight? One simple explanation is that was still too dark to see clearly. Evidently, they went to the tomb at first light. In the twilight conditions when she spotted him, the lighting is too dim to clearly see his face. There's a difference between first light and sunrise. 

In addition, she didn't expect him to rise from the dead, which contributed to her mistaken identification. 

ii) Then there's his mystifying exclamation not to cling to him. Commentators are perplexed. I certainly don't know for sure what the explanation is. But I'll take a stab at it.

In the Mosaic cultus, there was the principle of sacred space. Certain objects and places were symbolically holy. These were off-limits to unauthorized personnel. Likewise, they might even be off-limits to authorized personnel at unauthorized times. Contact was only permissible for certain people at certain times. To transgress that was hazardous or fatal. 

Jesus supplants the temple. His resurrection is analogous to raising the temple (Jn 2:19-22). Perhaps, in the dewy bloom of the Resurrection, he was "dangerously" holy. Consecrated, set apart. Temporarily untouchable. 

iii) In addition, as Klink points out in his commentary (846-48), Jesus doesn't plan to stick around. The Easter appearances are intended to confirm the fact of the Resurrection, but he won't be physically accessible for the duration. Rather, the Holy Spirit will take his place. His Resurrection appearances are a temporary presence. In that sense, witnesses shouldn't get too used to having him back–because he will be leaving them to return to the Father.  

Thanks, atheism!

Why are there differences in the Gospels?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Unitarian apostates

Apostate unitarians and apostate atheists share something fundamental in common. As I've often noted, there's frequently a difference between atheists in general and apostates in particular. Typically, someone who deconverts from Christianity still uses Christianity as a frame of reference. There's lots of carryover. Apostate atheists typically retain a residual idealism and moralism that's at odds with naturalism. They act as though belief in God is a discrete, self-contained belief. They can put Christianity behind them but still retain everything of value. This is unlike atheists (e.g. David Benatar, Alex Rosenberg, Daniel Dennett, W. V. Quine) who don't use Christianity as a frame of reference, who labor to construct a secular worldview from the bottom up. 

By the same token, apostate unitarians like Dale Tuggy still use traditional Christianity as a frame of reference. They act as though belief in the Trinity and Incarnation are expendable, self-contained beliefs that you can discard while leaving the overall structure intact. They're not constructing unitarianism from scratch. 

For instance, why is the unitarian Jesus sinless? He's just another guy like you and me. What makes him the lone exception to the universality of sin? 

What's so special about his death? What makes his death vicarious compared to the death of any other martyr? Isn't he essentially interchangeable with other human beings? The difference is just the arbitrary assignment of a unique role. But in principle, God could just as well pick another man to play the same role.

How can the unitarian Jesus process millions of prayers a day in hundreds of different languages? Here the cult of the unitarian Jesus suffers from the same incoherence as the cult of Mary. 

If the Incarnation is true, then God is accessible to humans in a way that's not the case if unitarianism is true. God comes down to our own level, as one of us. Likewise, if the Trinity is true, then God is essentially interpersonal. 

This is why the Deity of unitarian traditions like Islam and rabbinical Judaism is so unapproachable. There's a fundamental lack of commonality to bridge the metaphysical distance. In Islam and rabbinical Judaism, you have divine transcendence without divine immanence. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ares redivivus

Apostate Dale Tuggy's philosophical objection to the Trinity is that it (allegedly) violates the law of identity. One issue this raises is how to define identity. For instance, I've argued that if A and B can be put into point-by-point correspondence, then that's a rigorous definition of identity. However, reflection symmetries meet that condition, yet reflection symmetries remain distinguishable by virtue of chirality. 

But another issue is whether ancient people operated with a stringent definition of identity. Let's take hypothetical example.  In paganism, the gods are not indestructible. One god can kill another god. In that event, he ceases to exist. No more body. No more consciousness. Yet it's possible to recreate him through sorcery. 

Suppose Zeus gets really miffed with Ares and zaps him out of existence, but Hera brings him back through some magic ritual. There's a gap in his existence: from existence to nonexistence to reexistence. Would pagans regard Ares redivivus as one and the same individual? While some metaphysicians might balk, I have no reason to think ordinary ancient people would regard Ares redivivus as a different individual from his former self. 

Quantifying miracles

i) The issue miracles is often framed in terms of mathematical odds. Like there's a presumption against having a license plate with that particular number, given tens of millions of license plates, but that presumption can be overcome by specific evidence to the contrary. By the same token, miracles are said to be very rare. Therefore, the mathematical odds against the occurrence of a miracle are high, though not insurmountable. 

I've never been impressed by that way of framing the issue. To take a comparison, consider a corridor with closed doors on both sides. Let's say there are 100 doors total. What are the odds that any particular door is locked?

I don't think the mathematical odds are relevant. That's the wrong way to broach the issue. There's no presumption that the closed doors are either locked or unlocked. That depends on other variables. 

If it's during business hours, many doors may be closed but unlocked. If it's after business hours, they are more likely to be locked. Yet even then you have workaholic employees who are still slaving away in their office. Or doors may be unlocked because the cleaning crew is servicing offices. 

Some doors lead to conference rooms. These remain unlocked day or night. There might be a door to a utility room that's normally locked.

The abstract odds have no bearing on the probability that any particular door is locked or unlocked. There's no presumption one way or the other. 

ii) Even if miracles are very rare, that's not a mathematical assumption. Rather, that's an empirical observation. In our experience, miracles are (allegedly) very rare. That's not a question of a priori mathematical odds, but a posteriori evidence.

Moreover, it's ambiguous to say miracles are rare. Rare overall? We'd expect miracles to be underreported since most Christians aren't famous. Miracles might be frequent, but most of them will never be a matter of public record. 

Something can be rare but still be common if the absolute number is large even if the relative number is small. It might be a fraction of total events, yet the percentages are considerable. Green eyes are rare, but if millions of people have green eyes, that's a lot of green eyes.