bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 6: Quotes from the Gospel of John

WHERE WE ARE

For the sake of being able to evaluate the second DILEMMA in Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of four dilemmas, I am going to temporarily set aside the serious problem of the historical UNRELIABILITY of the Gospel of John, and pretend (assume for the sake of argument) that the historical Jesus actually spoke the words attributed to Jesus in quotations presented by Kreeft and Tacelli in support of the view that Jesus claimed to be God.

The question at issue concerning our evaluation of the second DILEMMA is thus whether Jesus meant these statements LITERALLY, and whether in making them he was LITERALLY claiming to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

Here are the six verses from the Gospel of John that Kreeft and Tacelli quote in the opening pages of Chapter 7 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA):

  • John 8:12
  • John 8:46
  • John 8:58
  • John 10:30
  • John 11:25
  • John 14:9

According to Kreeft and Tacelli, the statements Jesus makes in these passages imply that Jesus is claiming to LITERALLY be God, that is, claiming to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

EXAMINATION OF JOHN 8:12

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

(John 8:12, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

First of all, this is clearly NOT a statement that Jesus meant LITERALLY. Jesus did NOT claim to LITERALLY be light, nor to LITERALLY be the SUN, the star that provides light to the planet Earth. Jesus was NOT claiming to be visible electromagnetic radiation, nor was he claiming to be a massive ball of plasma that is located at the center of our solar system about 93 million miles from the Earth. It would be IDIOTIC to take this quotation LITERALLY. Obviously, Jesus is speaking metaphorically here, as Jesus frequently does in the Gospel of John.

The next question is whether this metaphorical statement was intended to mean that Jesus was LITERALLY God, that Jesus is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. There is no hint here that Jesus is claiming any of this about himself. He is NOT claiming to be the creator of the universe here. He is NOT claiming to be the omnipotent ruler of the universe. He is NOT claiming to be perfectly good or omniscient. Therefore, Jesus is NOT claiming to LITERALLY be God in this quote.

Light is obviously a metaphor representing truth or knowledge or wisdom. In this statement, Jesus is claiming to be a source of important truths or knowledge or wisdom. Since Jesus was a devout Jew who had followers who were devout Jews, and since Jesus often taught about God and about being morally good, fair, and kind to others, he was probably claiming to be a source of theological and ethical truths or knowledge or wisdom.

Jesus believed that he was a prophet of the God of Israel, and that God communicated important theological and ethical truths to him, as he indicates in the same Chapter of the Gospel of John that the quotation above comes from:

…but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. …

(John 8:40, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

In claiming to be “The light of the world”, Jesus was probably claiming to be a source of important theological and ethical truth, truth that he believed came from God. But being a prophet is just being a messenger for God, bringing messages from God to other people. Being a messenger for God does NOT imply that a prophet IS God. Therefore, in claiming to be a source of theological and ethical truth, and in claiming to be a prophet of God, Jesus was NOT claiming to BE God.

This quote was obviously not meant LITERALLY by Jesus. This first piece of evidence clearly and obviously FAILS to show that Jesus said something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY would mean that he was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Furthermore, the meaning of this statement is basically that Jesus claimed to be a prophet of God, which in no way implies that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.

EXAMINATION OF JOHN 8:46

Here is how Kreeft and Tacelli present the next quotation of Jesus:

He also claimed to be sinless: “Which of you can convict me of sin?”

(HCA, p.150)

This quote from the Gospel of John (Chapter 8, verse 46) clearly FAILS to show that Jesus LITERALLY claimed to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

First, in this quote Jesus does NOT claim to be “sinless”. Jesus doesn’t make ANY EXPLICIT CLAIM at all in this quote. He asks a QUESTION. However, the question does seem to be a rhetorical one, so we can reasonably infer the following implication from this question:

You people cannot convict me of sin.

Jesus is implying that the people who he was speaking to on that occasion were not able to PROVE that Jesus had committed a specific sin.

But that is completely compatible with it being the case that Jesus had in fact sinned. For example, Jesus believed that a man who looks at a woman with lust in his heart commits a sin whether or not the man acts on that sexual desire (Matthew 5:28). Thus, if Jesus was aware that he had looked at a woman with lust in his heart, he would view that as being a sin, even if he never acted on that sexual desire. But if a man does not act on such a desire, then only that man (and God, if God exists) would KNOW that the man had sinned in that way. Therefore, Jesus was fully aware that some sins are hidden from the view of other people, and thus Jesus was aware that the fact that no one could PROVE that he had committed a specific sin does NOT mean that Jesus had never sinned.

It should also be noted that this conversation took place in public in Jerusalem (John 8:20). But much of Jesus’ life and ministry took place in Galilee, several days’ journey north of Jerusalem. Thus, the people to whom Jesus was speaking were likely residents of Jerusalem who would only have first-hand knowledge of what Jesus had said and done in public in Jerusalem, and would be unlikely to have first-hand knowledge of what Jesus had said and done in public in Galilee, and very unlikely to have first-hand knowledge of what Jesus had said and done in private situations in Galilee. In other words, Jesus knew (or believed) that the people to whom he was speaking on this occasion were people who had first-hand knowledge of only his public words and actions in Jerusalem.

Thus, any sins that Jesus was aware of having committed either in public or in private in Galilee (or in private in Jerusalem) would likely be outside of the first-hand knowledge of the people to whom he was speaking on this particular occasion. So, Jesus would be aware that the INABILITY of those particular people to PROVE that Jesus had committed a specific sin would NOT mean that Jesus had never sinned.

So, not only did Jesus NOT EXPLICITLY CLAIM to be “sinless”, but his rhetorical question does NOT imply that he was “sinless”, nor that he believed himself to be “sinless”.

Second, being “sinless” does NOT imply that one is the creator of the universe, nor does it imply that one is the ruler of the universe. It does NOT imply that Jesus was omnipotent, nor does it imply that Jesus was omniscient.

Furthermore, being “sinless” does NOT imply that Jesus possessed the divine attribute of being perfectly good. Being “sinless” means that one has not yet committed a “sin” or done something that is morally wrong. But that is only one part of being perfectly good. A person who is paralyzed from head to toe might never commit a sin, but might also never do anything particularly good or loving or heroic or beneficial for someone else. Being perfectly good requires one to be perfectly loving and perfectly kind and perfectly generous to others. That requires positive actions that benefit other people and animals. Therefore, a person who is “sinless” might well NOT be a perfectly good person. So, even if Jesus DID claim to be “sinless” that would still NOT imply that Jesus possessed ANY of the basic divine attributes.

This second quote from the Gospel of John clearly FAILS to show that Jesus made a statement that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Furthermore, this quote clearly FAILS to show that Jesus LITERALLY claimed to be God, that Jesus LITERALLY claimed to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

EXAMINATION OF JOHN 8:58

Here is the next quote of Jesus from the Gospel of John:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 

(John 8:58, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

Kreeft and Tacelli write an entire paragraph about this verse:

Most clearly and shockingly of all, he invited crucifixion (or stoning) by saying, “Very truly, I tell you (i.e. I am not exaggerating or speaking symbolically here; take this in all its force) before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58). He spoke and claimed the sacred name that God revealed to Moses, the name God used to name himself (Ex 3:14). If he was not God, no one in history ever said anything more blasphemous than this; by Jewish law, no one ever deserved to be crucified more than Jesus.

(HCA, p.151)

First of all, Kreeft and Tacelli assert an interpretation of the phrase “Very truly, I tell you…”, and that interpretation is clearly FALSE. They imply that this phrase means “I am not exaggerating or speaking symbolically here…”. However, there are at least seven other passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus prefaces a statement with the same phrase “Very truly, I tell you…” but where it is CLEAR that the statement that follows this phrase is NOT meant LITERALLY, but is meant SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY:

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

(John 3:4-6, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

(John 6:32, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

(John 6:53, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

(John 10:1, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

(John 10:7, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.

(John 12:24, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

(John 21:18, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

The second “birth” that Jesus mentions in Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John is NOT a LITERAL birth. Jesus is speaking SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY there. The “true bread from heaven” that Jesus mentions in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John is NOT literal bread. Jesus is speaking SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY there. The eating of the “flesh” and drinking the “blood” of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) mentioned by Jesus in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John is NOT talking about LITERALLY eating his flesh or LITERALLY drinking his blood. Jesus is speaking SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY there. A “thief” climbing into the “sheepfold” mentioned by Jesus in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John is NOT about a LITERAL sheepfold or a LITERAL thief. When in the same chapter Jesus calls himself a “gate for the sheep” he does NOT mean that he is LITERALLY a gate. When in Chapter 12 of the Gospel of John Jesus talks about a “grain of wheat” falling into the earth and dying, and then bearing fruit, he is NOT making a point about LITERAL grains of wheat. When Jesus tells Peter in Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John that one day someone “will fasten a belt around you” Jesus is NOT talking about a LITERAL belt being placed on Peter (this is understood to be a prophecy by Jesus about Peter dying a martyr’s death).

The phrase “Very truly, I tell you” when used by Jesus in the Gospel of John, does NOT mean “I am not speaking symbolically here”. In making this OBVIOUSLY FALSE claim about this phrase, Kreeft and Tacelli demonstrate that they have no clue how to intelligently interpret the Gospel of John, or else that they have never bothered to actually READ the Gospel of John.

If nothing else, anyone who has actually read the Gospel of John should notice these two things: (1) Jesus very frequently speaks SYBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY in the Gospel of John, and (2) Jesus very often prefaces his statements with the phrase “Very truly, I tell you…” in the Gospel of John (twenty-five times, to be exact). So, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude (or at least suspect) that sometimes in the Gospel of John Jesus prefaces a SYMBOLIC or METAPHORICAL statement with the phrase “Very truly, I tell you…”. It only took me a couple of minutes to verify this was in fact the case. So, this FALSE claim made by Kreeft and Tacelli shows that they have no clue how to intelligently interpret passages from the Gospel of John.

Second of all, Kreeft and Tacelli FAIL to mention that the English translation of this verse is subject to serious doubt. Specifically, the phrase “I am” might well be an incorrect translation. In the GREEK text of the Gospel of John, the words translated as “I am” are “ego eimi”:

The exact same Greek phrase occurs in other passages of the Gospel of John, as well as in some other gospels, but it is NOT translated as “I am” in those other passages. It is usually translated as “I am he”:

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

(John 4:26, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.”

(John 8:24, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.

(John 8:28, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am he.”

(John 9:9, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe that I am he.

(John 13:19, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.

(John 18:5, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.

(John 18:6, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)


Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these people go.”

(John 18:8, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Because the GREEK phrase ego eimini is usually translated as “I am he”, in the Gospel of John, the decision to translate this phrase as “I am” in John 8:58 is questionable. The translation of this phrase in John 8:58 might well be an incorrect translation.

This is another reason to doubt the ability of Kreeft and Tacelli to intelligently interpret passages from the Gospel of John. Do they not know that the Gospel of John was originally written in GREEK? Do they not know that one should examine the GREEK text of a passage from John in order to make sure that a specific translation and interpretation of that passage is correct? Do they not know that the GREEK phrase ego eimini occurs in other passages of the Gospel of John and that it is NOT translated as “I am” in those other passages? It seems clear that Kreeft and Tacelli are either ignorant about the interpretation of the Gospel of John or they are being dishonest in hiding the fact that there is good reason to doubt the correctness of this translation of this verse.

Third of all, the phrase “I am he” is strongly associated with the claim that a specific person is the “Messiah”, the great King or leader of Israel that the Jews believed God would send them so that they would be able to live in a righteous and just kingdom where they would rule themselves and other nations, instead of being governed and oppressed by pagan nations.

For example, in the 4th Chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman, and at the end of the conversation this is what they say:

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

(John 4:25-26, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

In the GREEK text Jesus tells her ego eimini which is translated (as it usually is) as “I am he”, and what this means in this context is clearly “I am the Messiah”. It does NOT mean “I am God”, and Jesus is NOT claiming “the sacred name of God” here.

In Chapter 14 of the Gospel of Mark, at the trial of Jesus before the Jewish leaders, the high priest directly asks if Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus responds “I am” (GREEK: ego eimini):

61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am, and

‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ”

(Mark 14:61-62, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Jesus here uses this phrase to claim to be the “Messiah”. Jesus is NOT claiming to be God in this passage. Jesus is NOT claiming “the sacred name of God” here.

In both Mark and Luke, Jesus speaks of the end of the world and how as the end approaches many people will say “I am he”:

Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.

(Mark 13:6, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

(Luke 21:8, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

What is it that these people are claiming? The author of the Gospel of Matthew provides the answer to this question by re-wording the phrase “I am he”:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.

(Matthew 24:3-5, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

The author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as his source for this passage, but clarifies the meaning of the phrase “I am he” (GREEK: ego eimini) by substituting the phrase “I am the Messiah!”. So, the author of the Gospel of Matthew understood the phrase “I am he” in Mark to be a way to claim to be the Messiah. This interpretation of the phrase “I am he” by the author of the Gospel of Matthew is confirmed by Jesus’ concluding remarks about the end times in the Gospel of Mark:

21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 

(Mark 13:21-22, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

So, in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, when Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” (GREEK: ego eimini), he is talking about a claim to be the Messiah, and he is NOT talking about a claim to be God. And as we saw above, in the first passage where Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” (GREEK: ego eimini) in the Gospel of John (John 4:25-26), he clearly uses this phrase to make the claim that he is the Messiah, and does NOT use this phrase to claim to be God.

Furthermore, there is a passage in Acts where John the Baptist denies that he is the Messiah by asserting “I am not he”, the opposite of the phrase “I am he”:

21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of the sandals on his feet.’

(Act 13:25, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

It is clear that John the Baptist was NOT denying that he was God. Nobody thought John the Baptist was God, so there was no need for him to deny that. The reference to Jesus as the “promised” savior of Israel, and as “posterity” of King David clearly indicates that the phrase “I am not he” is used by John the Baptist to deny that he (John the Baptist) was the promised Messiah. This is so clear that several translations of this passage have John the Baptist assert “I am not the Messiah” or “I am not the Christ” or have him deny being “the Promised One”:

AMPLIFIED BIBLE
And as John was finishing his course [of ministry], he kept saying, ‘What or who do you think that I am? I am not He [the Christ]; but be aware, One is coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie [even as His slave]!’
NEW LIVING TRANSLATION
As John was finishing his ministry he asked, ‘Do you think I am the Messiah? No, I am not! But he is coming soon—and I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the sandals on his feet.’
WEYMOUTH NEW TESTAMENT
But John, towards the end of his career, repeatedly asked the people, “‘What do you suppose me to be? I am not the Christ. But there is One coming after me whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten.’
INTERNATIONAL STANDARD VERSION
When John was finishing his work, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I’m not the Messiah. No, but he is coming after me, and I’m not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’
CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH VERSION
Then, when John’s work was almost done, he said, “Who do you people think I am? Do you think I am the Promised One? He will come later, and I am not good enough to untie his sandals.”
HAWEIS NEW TESTAMENT
But as John was finishing his course, he said, Whom do ye suppose me to be? I am not the Messiah. But, behold! he is coming after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.

https://biblehub.com/parallel/acts/13-25.htm

In the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” to mean “I am the Messiah”. In the first passage of the Gospel of John where Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” it is clear that what he means is “I am the Messiah”. In Acts, when the story is told about John the Baptist denying that he was the Messiah, John the Baptist is said to have asserted “I am not he”. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to interpret the same phrase (GREEK: ego eimini) in John 8:58 to be a claim by Jesus to be the Messiah, and NOT as a claim by Jesus to be God.

Fourth of all, Jesus appears to be claiming to have existed prior to Abraham, who lived thousands of years before Jesus was born. This is taken by some Christians to mean that Jesus was claiming to be God. But this inference is wrong for a couple of reasons. First of all, Jesus existing before Abraham clearly does NOT imply that Jesus is God.

Noah existed before Abraham, but Noah is NOT God. Noah is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Noah is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Adam existed before Abraham. But Adam is NOT God. Adam is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Adam is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Michael the Archangel existed before Abraham. But Michael is NOT God. Michael is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Michael is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Satan existed before Abraham. But Satan is NOT God. Satan is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Satan is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

So, even if Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham, that would NOT imply that Jesus was God, nor that he believed himself to be God. That would NOT be a claim by Jesus to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

Another problem here is that it is NOT clear that Jesus was in fact claiming to have existed before the time of Abraham. Here is something else that Jesus says in Chapter 8 of the Gospel of John about his relationship to Abraham:

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

(John 8:56, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Abraham lived and died thousands of years before Jesus was born. So how could it be the case that Abraham “saw it”, that is, saw “my day”, that is, saw the day Jesus would walk the earth?

There are two main interpretations of the phrase “he saw it” given by bible commentators. First, there is the view that Abraham foresaw the coming of Jesus the Messiah through prophecy or divine revelation. Alternatively, some commentators think that Jesus is talking about Abraham experiencing or learning about Jesus’ life and ministry in the afterlife, thousands of years after Abraham had died. Jesus believed that people can be conscious and aware of earthly events even after they die.

Here are some examples of these two common interpretations of John 8:56:

ABRAHAM FORESAW JESUS’ DAY

Benson Commentary
And he saw it, and was glad — His faith was equivalent to seeing. By the favour of a particular revelation, Abraham had a distinct foresight of these things, and was exceedingly transported with the prospect.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
He saw it – See Hebrews 11:13; “These all died in faith, not having received (obtained the fulfillment of) the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them,” etc. Though Abraham was not permitted to live to see the times of the Messiah, yet he was permitted to have a prophetic view of him…
Matthew Poole’s Commentary
This father of yours foresaw my coming into the world, and my dying upon the cross. He saw it by the eye of faith, in the promise which was made to him, That in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He saw it in the type of Isaac’s being offered, then receiving him in a figure, Hebrews 11:19. He saw it in the light of Divine revelation.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
and he saw it and was glad; he saw it with an eye of faith, he saw it in the promise, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; …he saw also Christ and his day, his sufferings, death, and resurrection from the dead, in a figure; in the binding of Isaac, in the sacrifice of the ram, and in the receiving of Isaac, as from the dead;

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/8-56.htm

ABRAHAM SAW JESUS’ DAY FROM HEAVEN (IN THE AFTERLIFE)

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
And he saw it, and was glad.—This is the historic fulfilment of the joy which looked forward to the day of Christ. Our Lord reveals here a truth of the unseen world that is beyond human knowledge or explanation. From that world Abraham was cognisant of the fact of the Incarnation, and saw in it the accomplishment of the promise…The truth comes as a ray of light across the abyss which separates the saints in heaven from saints on earth. As in the parable, where Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, the rich man is represented as knowing and caring for his brethren on earth, so here the great Patriarch is spoken of as knowing and rejoicing in the fact of the Incarnation.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
and he saw it, and was glad] A very important passage with regard to the intermediate state, shewing that the soul does not, as some maintain, remain unconscious between death and the Day of Judgment. The Old Testament saints in Paradise were allowed to know that the Messiah had come. How this was revealed to them we are not told; but here is a plain statement of the fact. The word for ‘was glad’ expresses a calmer, less emotional joy than the word for ‘rejoiced,’ and therefore both are appropriate: ‘exulted’ while still on earth; ‘was glad’ in Hades.
Pulpit Commentary
The proper sense was, doubtless, that, since the Lord became incarnate, Abraham’s exulting hope has been realized; that which he desired and rejoiced in anticipation to see has now dawned upon him. This becomes an emphatic revelation by our Lord in one palmary case, and therefore presumably in other instances as well, of the relation and communion between the glorified life of the saints, and the events and progress of the kingdom of God upon earth. A great consensus of commentators confirms this in terpretation – Origen, Lampe, Lucke, De Wette, Godet, Meyer, Stier, Alford, Lange, Watkins, Thoma. …Abraham rejoiced at the advent of Christ. He has seen it, and been gladdened.

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/8-56.htm

On either of these two common interpretations of John 8:56, there is no implication that Jesus actually existed before Abraham existed. Abraham could have foreseen the day that Jesus would walk the earth through divine revelation (Jesus believed in prophecy and divine revelation), or Abraham could be aware of Jesus walking the earth at the time that Jesus walked the earth even though Abraham had died thousands of years before this occurred (Jesus believed that people can experience or be aware of events on earth in the afterlife).

In keeping with these two common interpretations of John 8:56, we could reasonably interpret John 8:58 as follows:

Before Abraham existed, God had a plan for me (Jesus) to come into existence (thousands of years after Abraham) and be the Messiah of the Jews and the savior of humankind.

On this interpretation, Jesus would NOT be claiming to have actually existed before Abraham existed.

Let me summarize the key points that I have made about John 8:58:

  1. Kreeft and Tacelli claim that the phrase “Very truly, I say to you…” in the Gospel of John means that the statement following that phrase is not meant SYMBOLICALLY, but this claim is clearly and obviously FALSE.
  2. Kreeft and Tacelli FAIL to mention that the GREEK phrase ego eimini is usually translated as “I am he”, elsewhere in the Gospel of John, so the translation of this phrase as “I am” in John 8:58 is questionable and might well be incorrect.
  3. In the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke, the phrase “I am he” (ego eimini) is clearly used to mean “I am the Messiah”, and the author of the Gospel of Matthew understands the phrase “I am he” in the Gospel of Mark to mean “I am the Messiah”, and in Acts, John the Baptist says “I am not he” in order to deny being the Messiah, and finally in the first instance where Jesus says “I am he” in the Gospel of John, he clearly means “I am the Messiah”.
  4. The idea that Jesus is claiming to be God by claiming to have existed before Abraham existed is mistaken because: (a) existing before Abraham does NOT imply that one is the eternal creator of the universe or the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe, and (b) it is UNCLEAR that Jesus was in fact claiming to have existed before Abraham existed.

For these reasons, the words attributed to Jesus in John 8:58 do NOT show that Jesus was claiming to LITERALLY be God. This passage does NOT show that Jesus implied that he was LITERALLY the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 3

No Mental Life after Brain Death: The Argument from the Neural Localization of Mental Functions

Gualtiero Piccinini and Sonya Bahar 

(Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

For today’s post on The Myth of an Afterlife, I wanted to unpack some thoughts from Piccinini and Bahar’s chapter regarding the physical grounding of mystical experience.  They comment:

In 1983 Michael Persinger suggested that religious and mystical experiences in general might be artifacts of temporal lobe microseizures (Persinger, 1983). More recently, a wealth of brain imaging studies have complemented the early EEG studies, confirming the temporal localization of such events (Hansen & Brodtkorb, 2003). Other studies suggest that mystical experiences are not solely localized to the temporal lobe, however, and that they may involve a large and complex network of activations in the brain. Cosimo Urgesi, Salvatore M. Aglioti, Miran Skrap, and Franco Fabbro (2010) found that lesions in the inferior posterior parietal regions led to a feeling of “self-transcendence” in patients.

Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

That mystical experiences are simply brain based and not an indicator of the soul makes good sense of what we know of how the person transcends themselves, being ek-static or outside of oneself.

We encounter the issue of soul/brain dualism in the Transpersonal Psychology tradition following a certain interpretation of Jung, which made a big deal out of transcendence in the mystical and alchemical traditions.  So for instance, etymologically, the language originally used to describe the self originally came from nature (eg., I’m boiling mad).   Nietzsche clarified this that we are outside of ourselves in the sense that we bodily schematize experience, and so for instance when we have a stomach ache, beings appear in an irritating manner, so it isn’t just an activity of the mind-ish soul, but a general physiological point.

On the idea of our ek-static nature or being outside of ourselves, here’s a recent post I did on the Heidegger Circle discussion group:

 Heidegger points out that since Plato, anything that ‘is’ can be differentiated into two realms, the aistheton and the noeton, that which is apprehended by the senses and that which can be experienced by nous, the mind’s eye. The noeton is that which truly is for Plato (see below) because it is not subject to the changeability of the things of the senses, and hence are constant. The particular house shows the essence, house as such, but only in a limited way, and hence is me on, not simply nothing, ouk on, but deficient with respect to what truly is, the primary image, the paradeigma (cf Heidegger, Holderlin’s Hymn The Ister, 24).  But, this needs to be thought in a Greek way, since for instance under Homer’s understanding with beings as eonta, Homer applies the term eonta to “the Achaean’s encampment before Troy, the god’s wrath, the plague’s fury, funeral pyres, [and] the perplexity of the leaders’. Man too belongs to eonta.”  So, the beings that are sensed are not simply thought of as mind independent substances with properties, but in terms of presencing, since man is grounded in eros, is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire who nourishes on Being.  How?

There is one idea (house) despite the many incarnations of house.  So, thought of verbally as the event of presencing, the idea “house” may be presencing powerfully to the observer through the beautiful mansion, comparatively plainly and weaker through the average dwelling, and hardly at all through the run down cottage. But, Heidegger stresses here that Homer says the gods don’t appear to everyone enargeis (Odyssey, 16, 161), Odysseus experiencing the radiant presencing of the goddess as Beauty incarnate, though the next person beside him wasn’t experiencing the woman in that lustrous way.  So, the rustic cottage you find presencing as shoddy may be presencing as quite charming and quaint to the next person:  Heidegger thinks enargeis in the sense of argos, radiant, the same word Plato uses in the Phaedrus (250d) to indicate the presencing, radiant shining of the Beautiful (McNeill, 332).  The idea is the oneness and constancy that presences through all beings: alteration and change meaning basically non-being for Plato. Why?

For Plato the soul nourishes itself (trephetai) on Being.  A human is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire in eros – but thought in relation to deinon/apolis – restlessness/homelessness (Sophocles’ Antigone).  Plato compared the constancy of the stars with man’s own erratic, disorderly and restless thoughts, and believed that people should aspire to the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Healy, 1984). This is why in the Nicomachean Ethics theoria is the highest form of human life for Aristotle.  Heidegger cites Aristotle that the life of theoria [contemplation] which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein, to be immortal- [whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein, to be Greek], that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals. In theoria mortals reach up to the life of the gods (see Heidegger, Heraclitus Seminar, 111).  For the Greeks both gods and humans were immortal, but the deathlessness of the gods meant the blessedness of their manner of existing, forever in the fire and absorption of youth.

This positive, comparative, and superlative presencing of the universal (eg House) means the idea of the beautiful is what shines through the various levels of appearing (Now that’s a house!):  “What is most longed for in eros, and therefore the Idea that is brought into fundamental relation, is what at the same time appears and radiates most brilliantly.  The erasmiotaton, which at the same time is ekphanestaton, proves to be the idea tou kalou, the Idea of the beautiful, beauty (Heidegger, ‘Nietzsche [1991],’ 167).”

Holderlin points to verbalization of predicates: the sky is usually nice and “blueing,” but especially when the sky “blues” after a storm.  Similarly, the house always “yellows,” but especially so when you turn down a strange street you’ve never been on before looking for the yellow house, when suddenly yellowness leaps at you!

Heidegger thus says more original than “perceiving-perceived substance with properties” understanding of the person perceiving beings is the ancient Greek notion of “ek-statikon” or “being-in-the-world.”  So for instance, in perceiving something as boring or sexy, the predicates are not simply fully perceiver or perceived, but in the middle as event: the way the being is presencing (eg the tv show appears or is showing itself in a boring manner to me, boringness is felt as a characteristic of the show, the other, though the next person may not experience this boringness at all).  Likewise, Dreyfus pointed to predicates like “equipment,” which both do and don’t belong to the hammer, since a large rock can perform the same function as a hammer but isn’t essentially viewed as equipment.

Understanding something as a thing in terms of a substance with properties requires schematizing it as a temporal snapshot.  The sun has been a “substance,” a thing with properties, much longer than any substance on earth, but in reality this “substance sun” is only a moment in the process of an event that is the birth and death of this star, and that event in turn is itself simply a moment in further events “in-process.”

Of course, the mystical and alchemical traditions of being outside of ourselves (supposedly in union with Nature and God) are not evidence of a soul as many transpersonalists hold any more than is an out of body experience, but are just extreme cases of our normal Being-In-The-World, our being ek-statik or outside of ourselves.  I have a professor friend who is an adamant transpersonal psychologist who takes a good solid empirical foundation and then turns it into ridiculousness by inferring all kinds of theological nonsense.  For instance, psychologists  know that one of the fundamental human abilities/instincts is mirroring, like the way the infant mirrors the expressions of the mother.  This is the mechanism that allows us to mirror nature (eg I’m boiling mad), and so nature-self referential language cross culturally is analogous because the environment is analogous world wide.  So, since there are similarities in the world wherever you go, human self-understanding, grounded in this mirroring, is going to be similar.  This is the transpersonal understanding of the Jungian archetypes (the sophisticated transpersonalists anyway).  And so, for instance, historically, for the medieval alchemists the turning of something into gold represented the perfecting of the mirroring soul.  Where the whole valorization of mythicism thing by transpersonalists becomes absurd is when the transpersonalists start inferring divine stuff from this perfectly naturalistic and reasonable foundation.  My friend and I have argued about this many times.  It’s silly.  For instance, there are meditative traditions where you can cultivate a feeling of the dissolving of the self into Being, but this in no way implies the existence of God, contact with God, or that you have become part of God.  It’s just an unusual feeling/experience.  These are simply interesting tricks of the brain.  Psychadelic drugs can also invoke such altered states of consciousness.

The cross cultural question is interesting.  The mirroring that creates an understanding of self, either of mother by child, or environment by person (eg.. I’m boiling mad), or understanding oneself through one’s culture (eg, your are probably Muslim if born in certain countries), etc., understandably are cross cultural because we all share similar brains, instincts and environments worldwide.  And so, for instance, mysticism where the practitioner thinks they are unifying with God is to be expected on the atheist account.  Just as being marginalized and belittled causes negative little-ing (feeling negatively small), the positive companion phenomenon of being dwarfed causes serenity.  So just as you might feel dwarfed at the expanse when looking out over the ocean, or as a child in the protective embrace of a parent, or as a student by the genius of Aristotle, so too in some meditative traditions can the practitioner latch on to how my self is received from the other (via mirroring) and cultivate/grow the feeling of being dwarfed by that Other to such a point that the self feels effaced and the only experience left is this expanse (what some traditional mysticism theologizes as the mystical union with God).  There is nothing supernatural or mysterious, here and is exactly what one would expect on a secular account.

And so, since this being-outside-oneself in mirroring seems to be a perfectly natural activity of our physiology, it would make sense that animals would have these types of  transcendent experiences too.  So Jennifer Viegas reports that:

Animals (not just people) likely have spiritual experiences, according to a prominent neurologist who has analyzed the processes of spiritual sensation for over three decades.

           Research suggests that spiritual experiences originate deep within primitive areas of the                 human brain — areas shared by other animals with brain structures like our own.

The trick, of course, lies in proving animals’ experiences.

“Since only humans are capable of language that can communicate the richness of spiritual experience, it is unlikely we will ever know with certainty what an animal subjectively experiences,” Kevin Nelson, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, told Discovery News.

“Despite this limitation, it is still reasonable to conclude that since the most primitive areas of our brain happen to be the spiritual, then we can expect that animals are also capable of spiritual experiences,” added Nelson, author of the book “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain,” which will be published in January 2011.

The finding is an extension of his research on humans, which has been published in many peer-reviewed journals. A Neurology journal study, for example, determined that out-of-body experiences in humans are likely caused by the brain’s arousal system, which regulates different states of consciousness.

“In humans, we know that if we disrupt the (brain) region where vision, sense of motion, orientation in the Earth’s gravitational field, and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch,” he said. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat, or primate’s brain.”

Other mammals also probably have near-death experiences comparable to those reported by certain humans, he believes. Such people often say they saw a light and felt as though they were moving down a tunnel.

The tunnel phenomenon “is caused by the eye’s susceptibility to the low blood flow that occurs with fainting or cardiac arrest,” he said. “As blood flow diminishes, vision fails peripherally first. There is no reason to believe that other animals are any different from us.”

Nelson added, “What they make of the tunnel is another matter.”

The light aspect of near-death experiences can be explained by how the visual system defines REM (rapid eye movement) consciousness, he believes.

“In fact,” he said, “the link between REM and the physiological crises causing near-death experience are most strongly linked in animals, like cats and rats, which we can study in the laboratory.”

Mystical experiences —  moments that inspire a sense of mystery and wonderment —  arise within the limbic system, he said. When specific parts of this system are removed from animal brains, mind-altering drugs like LSD have no effect.

Since other animals, such as non-human primates, horses, cats and dogs, also possess similar brain structures, it is possible that they too experience mystical moments, and may even have a sense of spiritual oneness, according to Nelson.

Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also believes animals have spiritual experiences, which he defines as experiences that are nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have.

Both he and primatologist Jane Goodall have observed chimpanzees dancing with total abandon at waterfalls that emerge after heavy rains. Some of the chimps even appear to dance themselves into a trance-like state, as some humans do during religious and cultural rituals.

Goodall wondered, “Is it not possible that these (chimpanzee) performances are stimulated by feelings akin to wonder and awe? After a waterfall display the performer may sit on a rock, his eyes following the falling water. What is it, this water?”

“Perhaps numerous animals engage in these rituals, but we haven’t been lucky enough to see them,” Bekoff wrote in a Psychology Today report.

“For now, let’s keep the door open to the idea that animals can be spiritual beings and let’s consider the evidence for such a claim,” he added.

“Meager as it is, available evidence says, ‘Yes, animals can have spiritual experiences,’ and we need to conduct further research and engage in interdisciplinary discussions before we say that animals cannot and do not experience spirituality.”

The responsibility would seem to be on the brain/soul dualists to mount the argument in favor of the soul because they are going beyond what is immediately given in the evidence, like it would be the responsibility of the schizophrenic to provide evidence of actual alien involvement for her genuinely felt experience that aliens are controlling her brain.

It seems that to conclude from experiences of bodily transcendence such as in NDEs or certain meditative experience that (i) this is evidence an immaterial soul exists and (ii) evidence of what this soul is like, is an egregious paralogism. Heidegger showed being ek-static is our basic human stance, and the transcendence experienced by mystics is simply and extreme form of this general being-outside-ourselves.  Arguing for brain/soul dualism is analogous to someone who is experiencing phantom limb syndrome after an arm amputation and reasoning that not only (i) The soul does exist, but also (ii) The soul has an arm, four fingers and a thumb.

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 2

Today I wanted to think a little about the difference between the kinds of lenses theological hypotheses provide in comparison with secular lenses in science and even literature.  In his introduction to the book, Augustine points out that regarding the secular framework for viewing death:

“Because we are built from the same flesh and blood and DNA that forms nonhuman animals, and share their evolutionary origins, their mortality implies our mortality.”

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Theistic explanations of reality are indifferent to the reality they are trying to color.  In response to horrific animal and human suffering, the theist responds “God promises justice in the next life, not this one.”  This means through the theist lens the world looks exactly as it would if there was no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  Similarly, in response to empirical scientific experiments that show the ineffectiveness of prayer, the theist responds “God always answers prayer, just sometimes the answer is no.”  Again, the theistic explanatory framework sees a world that would look exactly the same way if there was no God.  And with “miraculous healing,” while it may be unlikely that you would undergo a medically highly unlikely recovery of health, given a planet of billions it is to be expected some would unusually recover health: for the same reason that while it is ridiculously unlikely you would win the lottery, it is not unlikely at all that someone will win – and someone usually does.  Similarly, Carrier responds to the theist fine tuning argument of the cosmos that actually the universe is optimally configured to generate black holes and be hostile to life, which is exactly what you would predict if there was no God.  

Far from being a rigorous scientific level colored lens for viewing reality, the theistic colored lens certainly is not, and is not even at the level of a literary colored lens.  If I told a student who has never encountered Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, they can use that lens to generally predict what they will find in the text and actively confirm by reading.  Making and confirming predictions is a good meaning making strategy.  The religious lens makes predictions only because it is so broad and vague that it is unfalsifiable.  

And really, as Heidegger points out, the issue of mind is not so much the question of consciousness as the question of awareness, because one can be unconscious and yet very aware and absorbed in an unfolding dream.  The key seems to be that conscious and unconscious awareness is grounded in the way the mind creates the experience of the stretching out of time as a foundation for allowing experience, since by contrast under general anesthetic the patient goes to sleep and wakes up an hour later in what feels like an instant.  When we chemically interrupt the mind creating time as a scaffold for experience we really experience the nothingness that will be death, specifically when even the nothing is not experienced. 

bookmark_borderThe Law Written On Our Hearts

It is sometimes said that the only difference between Paul and the Jerusalem bunch on Jesus is that Paul didn’t think gentile converts needed to be circumcised (become fully Jewish).  This hardly makes Paul historically interesting, and seems to miss a key distinction.

In previous posts I talked about Jeremiah’s prophecy that the law would be written on people’s hearts, which seemed to have been fulfilled in Jesus who redefined love from Greek eros (Honor seeking Achilles) to Christian agape (love of enemy).  The key event post-Jesus was the realization of God’s chosen one being horribly tortured and killed by the sins of the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and crowd placating, indifferent to justice Pilate, which were also the sins in all of us.  This slap in the face of his beloved followers was a catalyst to realize how corrupt we and the system were and inspire change, which was particularly important because the end of the age and hence judgment was imminent.  The law thus written on the hearts by Jesus was a Jewish fulfilled prophecy for Jews, and if gentiles wanted to participate they had to become Jews.

The apocalyptic Paul had a novel take on this.  For him, the important thing is that God’s specially chosen Davidic heir was crucified, and so the law already written on the hearts of Jews and Gentiles was made conspicuous as the heart was circumcised.  Then, what was important in battling Satan is that Christ possessed and empowered you.  In this regard, Jesus’ entire ministry and teaching was unimportant to Paul.  What mattered was the accomplishment of the cross, which is why Paul said “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2).” 

 So, we have a difference between James/Peter in the meaning of Christ’s death, and Paul’s.  This is hard to see because Paul influenced Mark, but we can make some inferences.  If the main element for Jesus’ life was writing the law on Jewish people’s hearts, his wrongful death as God’s specially chosen one stamped this law as a disc-closure of the corruptness of the world.  Paul, on the other hand, argued, the law was already written on the hearts of Jews and gentiles and the corrupt, fleshly natures of those hearts just needed to be circumcised away through the cross.  Paul, who was from the birthplace of the stoic enlightenment, had infused stoicism into the Jeremiah prophesy with the idea that for Christ’s death to convict us (the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and the placating, indifferent to Justice Pilate in all of us), an inner principle of Justice must already lie dormant within all humanity.  When Mark and Luke both emphasize the transformation of the Roman soldier at the cross (Truly this is God’s son; an innocent Man), this is pure Pauline influence arguing against the Jewish exclusivity of the Jeremiah prophecy Jesus, James and Peter ascribed to.  For Peter and James, Jesus’s wrongful death was a horror to the Jewish Christians, as he was thought to restore the Davidic line, and was family and friend to them.  For Paul, the offence was against our very humanity, the specially chosen one of God condemned to the cross as an affront to both Jews and Gentiles equally.  Troels Engberg-Pedersen comments in a somewhat different context:

  • In Stoicism grasping the good takes the form of what may best be called a “conversion”: a sudden insight that changes all one’s previous perceptions and leads to right action. And that is exactly what we find in Paul too, where the “grasp of the good” (i.e. of the Christ event and its meaning) is something suddenly believed (in faith, pistis) and understood (through the pneuma).

Paul is not thinking of Christ dying for our sins as paying our sin debt instead of us, but rather Christ died so all have died (1 Cor 5:14), specifically we are crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) in that the real ones who should be subject to justice is not Jesus, but the crowd, religious elite, and Pilate in all of us. And to believe that we have crucified the special chosen son of God is to see the malignancy at our core and desire to reject/destroy it – repentance that will enable God to forgive, since there can be no true forgiveness without repentance.

Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke are really informative: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” So (i) the one point is that the issue is about forgiving sins rather than punishing them. And (ii) the other point is that the people can’t see that they are sinful, so the veils over their eyes need to be lifted so they can truly see themselves for what they are and repent. Forgiveness is powerless without repentance, like a wife who continually forgives a spouse who won’t stop cheating. That’s basically what I’m trying to argue against the penal substitution interpretation.

Reference:

Stoicism in early Christianity: The Apostle Paul and the Evangelist John as Stoics. Authored by: Troels Engberg-Pedersen in The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition

bookmark_borderSeptuagint Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17 (reflecting with Mako Nagasawa)

One of the topics I explore in my penal substitution essay is the question of Isaiah 53 influencing the New Testament writers. One topic I didn’t include in the Isaiah 53 section of the essay is Matthew and Isaiah 53:4 of the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures the NT writers used)

Matthew, though appearing first in the bible, was written after Mark and incorporates a great deal of Mark into itself. It shows itself to be a Judaizing of the gentile gospel of Mark, so it is notoriously difficult to trace material back from Matthew’s narrative to the historical Jesus. It seems to incorporate early material, the hypothetical Q source, which is the material common to Matthew and Luke that didn’t come from Mark.

In my penal substitution essay, I try to show that Conservative Christians are wrong to think the NT writers used Isaiah 53 to suggest penal substitution, the idea Christ suffered/died in our place to pay our sin debt. Today I am going to look at Mako Nagasawa’s arguments why Matthew 8:17, which cites Septuagint Isaiah 53:4, does not align with penal substitution.

Nagasawa points out it is in his sinful nature that Jesus identifies with the rest of humanity. Consider how this relates to the question of the circumcised heart I talked about in my last Secular Frontier post:

  • But on the deepest level, Jesus suffered humanity’s internal condition which made the exile from Eden necessary in the first place.  That is, he shared in the corruption of sin within human nature, the common human condition since the fall.  Jesus really did struggle against the flesh, especially in the wilderness (Mt.4:1 – 11) and at Gethsemane (Mt.26:36 – 75).  Those two episodes bracket his public life and ministry... This parallel means that Jesus, throughout his life, and even at the Sermon on the Mount, was receiving the Father’s writing of His law on the tablet of his human heart, so that Jesus might be able to share his own heart by his Spirit with others.  He was condemning sin in his own sinful flesh (Rom.8:3), to put to death the old self (Rom.6:6), and produce the heart circumcised by the Spirit (Rom.2:28 – 29), making him out to be the true Israelite, the one restored from exile (Dt.30:6).  Paul understood this act to embody Israel’s true vocation under the law (Rom.7:14 – 8:4).  If Jesus embodied Israel in himself, he therefore embodied that very vocation:  to return his human nature back to God circumcised of heart.  This involved for Jesus an intense suffering which we can only existentially understand through the hardest moments of our own temptations and choices to faithfully grow in obedience with him, by his Spirit.  The author of Hebrews notes, ‘In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.’ (Heb.5:7 – 8)

Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4 to parallel Jesus’ life with early Israel. Then regarding the heart and Jeremiah’s prophesy I talked about in my last Secular Frontier blog post, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Following the Sermon on the Mount, which are commandments directed towards the human heart in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (Jer.31:31 – 34), Jesus gives ‘ten commandments’ in Matthew 8:1 – 9:38 by his word… Matthew is clearly grouping these miracles together to present a sustained reflection on the Sermon on the Mount.  The two sections in Matthew, 5:1 – 7:28 and 8:1 – 9:38, are mutually interpreting.  That is, the heart commandments and the verbal-healing commands are literary reflections on each other.

How is Jesus to be understood in connection to early Israel? In non-penal-substitution fashion, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Matthew begins his Gospel by speaking of Jesus saving ‘his people from their sins’ (Mt.1:21).  Not their punishment, which is already unfolding through the exile, but their sins.  Matthew is saying that Jesus shares in the diseased human nature of all humanity.  He shows this through Jesus’ baptism, in that Jesus confesses sin through his baptism:  not sins of action or thought that he had actually committed, but the sinfulness of his flesh (Mt.3:13 – 17).  His wilderness temptation and trial reflects his struggle against the sinfulness in his flesh (Mt.4:1 – 11), otherwise, there would be no temptation or struggle at all.  But whereas at Mount Sinai, God had discourse with Moses alone, when Jesus speaks from the top of a mountain, giving the Sermon on the Mount, he is opening up face to face contact with Israel, represented by his disciples.  And this is further portrayed as Matthew as a ‘ten commandments’ delivering people from diseases and demons… [In Matthew] Jesus, by stretching out his hand, is liberating people from disease, demons, and death.  These acts are outward pictures of Jesus liberating people from the even deeper problem of human sin, evil, and separation from God.  Jesus is restoring humanity to what God meant us to be.  The three lessons on discipleship woven into the ten miracles suggest that Jesus’ call for disciples to follow him should be understood as his way of healing us.

As I said in my previous post, this all has to do with circumcising the heart and the twofold play of disclosing the law written on our hearts and Jesus reshaping our hearts. Nagasaw concludes:

  • In effect, Matthew’s parallel extends to even before the Exodus and the Ten Commandments.  That is because the Ten Commandments and the ten plagues from Exodus were already referring to the ten declarations in the Genesis creation narrative (Gen.1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28).  God was making Israel into his new humanity, who lived in a garden land like the original humanity.  Ten utterances from God bring forth new life; they inaugurate a covenant; they set free and liberate; they order and declare.  They demonstrate God’s power to do all these things.  Thus, when we listen to Jesus’ teaching on our hearts, we must receive his word with the understanding that his word contains his power to change us.  Jesus brings forth new life in us; he liberates us from our own sinfulness; his word orders and declares a new spiritual reality in human nature.  This is possible because Jesus himself is touching corrupted human nature in his own person.  His healing of the leper, the paralytic, etc. are external pictures of a singular, deeper, internal reality at work within the person of Jesus… It is puzzling for penal substitution advocates to claim that Isaiah 53 supports them, because Matthew himself does not understand Isaiah 53 that way when he explicitly quotes it.  He does not quote it in a legal-penal context, but in a healing-ontological context, and in a literary unit that asks us to situate Isaiah 53 itself in the framework of ontological substitution (the heart of Christus Victor), not penal substitution.

WORK CITED:

Atonement in Scripture: Isaiah 53, Part 2, Mako Nagasawa – blog post, https://newhumanityinstitute.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/atonement-in-scripture-isaiah-53-part-2/

bookmark_borderI Get Interviewed On Freethinker Podcast About Mythicism, Atonement, and Gnosticism

“meretrix pudicam:” “The harlot rebuketh the chaste.” (proverb referenced by Athenagoras of Athens)

Here is an abridged transcript of the interview:

Q1 – Why do you think that Luke goes against the standard model of the atonement (or penal substitutionary model)?

I tend to think Luke is actually the most conspicuous case of what is generally going on in Mark and Paul.  Ehrman writes:

  • It is easy to see Luke’s own distinctive view by considering what he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. What is striking is that in none of these instances (look, e.g., in chapters 3, 4, 13), do the apostles indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sins. It is not that Jesus’ death is unimportant. It’s extremely important for Luke. But not as an atonement. Instead, Jesus death is what makes people realize their guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then he forgives their sins. (Ehrman, 2017)

I think this is ultimately what we also see with Paul and Mark.  Just as Luke has the transformation with the soldier saying of the crucified Jesus “This was an innocent man,” Mark has the soldier say “truly, this was God’s son,” which according to my reading is the soldier giving Jesus respect for voluntarily being wrongly horribly tortured and executed to show us our inner corrupt nature and inspire repentance – the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and indifferent to justice Pilate in all of us who killed God’s specially chosen son who God sent to restore the Davidic throne (though God’s real plan was the death and resurrection). [1]

Penal substitution makes no sense as an interpretation of the cross: how does it serve justice to punish an innocent child in Africa for the crimes of a felon in Chicago?  If something is obviously senseless to us, we should be wary about believing the original Christians ascribed to it.  This is also part of the reason I disagree with the mythicism of Price, Carrier, etc, because if Christ was crucified in outer space by demons and was never on earth, the central point of the transformative nature of the cross evaporates.  How does such a death inspire my self-realization and repentance?

Basically what I’m arguing is that I think Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke are really informative: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” So, from that quote, (i) the one point is that the issue is about forgiving sins rather than punishing them. And, (ii) the other point is that the people can’t see that they are sinful, so the veils over their eyes need to be lifted so they can truly see themselves for what they are and repent. [2] Forgiveness is powerless without repentance, like a wife who continually forgives a spouse who won’t stop cheating. This is basically what I’m trying to argue against the penal substitution interpretation of the cross that says Jesus died in our place to pay our sin debt.

Q2 –  Do you think that the real Jesus would have approved of The Council of Jerusalem’s decision to take circumcision’s off the ‘to do list’ in order to become a Christian (even Paul had to think about what the Judaisers were saying and later meet with the Apostles ?

Q3-  Do you think the Gnostic movement began in the 1st Century?

I’ll answer these together.  Paul felt he had a gospel that was appropriated from the Jerusalem bunch (Corinthian Creed), but also was uniquely his.  Paul writes:

  • 25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to “my gospel” and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 16:25)

The “my gospel” of Paul seems to be that the Christ’s death awakened the law written on our hearts on our hearts, Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 2:14-15):

When gentiles, who do not possess the law, by nature do what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, as their own conscience also bears witness

To understand this, we need to go back to Jeremiah.  Jeremiah’s prophecy is to the Jews in exile.  This was a prophecy to the Jews, but Paul expanded it with the law written on the hearts of the gentiles:

  • 31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will “write it on their hearts,” and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Notice how the last line isn’t about people being made to pay for their sins, but rather God forgiving.  So, Paul took this idea but expanded it saying it was not just a prophecy for the Jews that Jesus fulfilled, but a covenant with all people who always had the law written on their hearts dormantly, so there was no need for the difficult transition for gentiles to become circumcised Jews to become Christians.  The death of Christ awoke the law written on our hearts because we wrongfully killed him, and so inspired repentance – what Paul called a circumcision of the heart.   This fits in nicely with the argument that Mark was using Paul (the idea of the transformation of the Roman soldier in Mark and Luke / for Carrier on Marks use of Paul see https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15934). 

For the other question, Gnosticism is the idea that besides other ways, salvation most properly comes through gnosis or secret knowledge.  This is what Paul taught, that what was at issue was a mystery hidden since the beginning of the world (1 Cor. 4:1, Rom. 16:25,26).  The mystery is that God wrote the law on the hearts of Jews and gentiles, and this was a true test of your heart because the crucifixion of God’s specially chosen one Jesus activated this inner divine spark, and so your response to Christ determined whether you had been crucified with Christ in that your heart was circumcised.  This notion of special knowledge is also conspicuous in Mark who has Jesus say even the disciples didn’t completely have it:

  • 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables, 12 in order that ‘they may indeed look but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? (Mark 4:11-12)

I think this is good evidence that the salvation through the cross and resurrection was not even on Jesus’ radar during his lifetime, as the disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at the arrest of Jesus if the crucifixion/resurrection was ever part of the plan.  McGrath makes the point that the writers wouldn’t have invented the idea of the disciples being violent at the arrest.  You see the writers inserting ideas about Jesus predicting his death and resurrection, which is fun apologetics but hardly historical.

I don’t think the historical Jesus would have thought of himself as anything other than a failed messianic claimant.  The disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at Jesus’ arrest if the plan was for Jesus to die.  The cross/resurrection theology was invented after Jesus died, and I think Jeremiah 31:33-34 I mentioned before is probably a pretty good window into what James, Peter, and the Jerusalem bunch were advocating, and where Paul appropriated from them, yet diverged.  Jesus fulfilled the Law by teaching it’s essence as love of God and neighbor, and redefined love to emphasize love of enemies and those who persecute you (Matt 5:43-48).  This reversed the Greek notion of love with Achilles and the love/eros of endlessly seeking honor and glory.  Love does not pursue so as to temporarily satisfy, but rather bestows value, so that even those some might find undesirable are loved: the ground of care for widow, orphan, stranger, and enemy.  This is a law written on the heart, a transformed heart.

Of course, the idea of awakening the divine spark within through Christ’s death certainly resonates with  Gnosticism.  Great Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels  says:

  • Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate . . . If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself

Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” In Luke 17:21, Jesus proclaims, depending on how you translate it, that “The kingdom of God is within you,” and “all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

Regarding the death of Socrates and thanking Asclepius for the poison because of the transformative effect Socrates’ death would have on society (we no longer execute people for being a nuisance/gadfly), this phenomenon had led some (e.g., St. Ambrose) to conclude that Plato had actually heard the prophet Jeremiah when in Egypt:  Conversely, Gmirkin argues for a late date for Jeremiah and that the Platonic/Socratic flavor of Jeremiah as the Deuteronomistic literary stereotype of the persecuted prophet in Jeremiah draws on Greek antecedents, notably the portrait of Socrates in Plato’s writings.

There is sometimes a dispute over what it means for Jesus to be a sacrifice.  If we look at the Leviticus 16 background for the sacrifice imagery in the Letter to the Hebrews, we see there are two animals involved.  The blood of the sacrificed animal doesn’t provide vicarious atonement, but rather sanctifies and allows God to dwell amongst a sinful people.  On the other hand, the sins of the people are put on the other animal, the scapegoat, and it is released into the wilderness.  Obviously, Jesus is the sacrificed animal, not the scapegoat.  The idea with the law in people’s hearts is Christ’s sacrifice provides the occasion to awaken the law written on your heart and inspire repentance.  Recall the passage from Jeremiah about the new covenant law being written on people’s hearts.  *** God is powerless to forgive unless the people repent.  Otherwise, it’s like a wife who is forever forgiving and giving second, third, etc chances to a cheating spouse who won’t stop cheating.

Similarly, James McGrath points out the gospel of John is interesting because when John says Jesus takes away the sin of the world, he doesn’t call him a scapegoat, but a lamb, specifically a Passover lamb.  There doesn’t seem to be a connection between atonement for someone’s sins and the Passover sacrifice, but if we see it as a collective with sin enslaving the Jews in Egypt Christ’s death points to transformation from being in bondage/enslaved by sin.  It has nothing to do with Christ dying in our place to pay God our sin debt – as though we had ever done anything (the vast majority of us) that warrants capital punishment!

ENDNOTES

[1] See: https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/04/some-good-friday-reflections/

[2] There has been question by a few as to whether the forgiveness prayer of Luke 23:34 was originally in Luke, or rather if it was inserted by a later scribe, because it is missing from some ancient manuscripts. Ehrman provides a convincing argument that the prayer was authentic to Luke. Ehrman comments:

  • The verse (found only in Luke) coincides perfectly with Luke’s own portrayal of Jesus as calm and in control in the face of his death, more concerned with the fate of others than himself; it shows Jesus in prayer, a distinctive emphasis of Luke, long recognized; the prayer itself embodies the motif of “ignorance”, a notion used throughout Luke-Acts to account for Jesus’ unlawful execution. (This preceding argument is meant to show that it is likely that Luke himself wrote the verse, that it did not originate with a scribe inserting it into the text.) see https://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-pray-father-forgive-them-from-the-cross/


For further analysis, see my two peer reviewed essays

(A) The Justified Lie by the Johannine Jesus in its Greco-Roman-Jewish Context: https://infidels.org/library/modern/john-macdonald-justified-lie/

And

(B) A Critique of the Penal Substitution Interpretation of the Cross of Christ:

https://infidels.org/library/modern/a-critique-of-the-penal-substitution-interpretation-of-the-cross-of-christ/

Also, for the other 2 blog posts in this series, see

On Matthew and Isaiah 53:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/05/septuagint-isaiah-534-and-matthew-817reflecting-with-mako-nagasawa/

And on The Law Written On Our Hearts:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/05/the-law-written-on-our-hearts/

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 5: Did Jesus Mean his Claim to be God Literally?

WHERE WE ARE

In Chapter 7 of their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), Christian philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli make a case for the divinity of Jesus. Here is the main argument they present in Chapter 7:

1A. Jesus was either God, liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.

2A. Jesus could not possibly be a liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.

THEREFORE:

3A. Jesus is God.

In Part 3 of this series, I analyzed and clarified a series of four dilemmas (four EITHER/OR statements) that they use to support premise (1A). The four dilemmas are used to try to prove that there are only FIVE possible views that can be taken on this issue. I summarized the clarified version of their four dilemmas in this decision tree diagram:

In Part 4 of this series, I argued for some key points about the first dilemma in the above diagram:

Here are those key points:

  • When Kreeft and Tacelli added two more possible views to the TRILEMMA to make their QUINTLEMMA, they unknowingly changed the meaning of the key question in the first dilemma (“Did Jesus claim to be God?”), making the meaning of the question UNCLEAR.
  • Kreeft and Tacelli fail to clarify the key concept of the MYTH VIEW and make a mess of the first dilemma, requiring me to fix the first dilemma by specifying a simple and clear definition of the MYTH VIEW as well as providing a plausible interpretation of the key question: “Did Jesus claim to be God?”.
  • Given my repairs to the first dilemma, it turns out that the answer to this key question is “NO” and yet that the MYTH VIEW is FALSE, contrary to the logic of the first dilemma. So, the logic of the first dilemma is INVALID.
  • The QUINTLEMMA FAILS on the first dilemma of Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of dilemmas and thus the dilemmas FAIL to show that premise (1A) is true (that there are only FIVE possible views about the alleged divinity of Jesus).

THE SECOND DILEMMA SUPPORTING PREMISE (1A)

It is now time to examine the second dilemma or second part of the decision tree diagram that represents this second dilemma:

The second dilemma or second basic question supposedly leads to the GURU VIEW, if the answer to the question is “NO”:

In order to answer the question “Did Jesus mean his claim to be God literally?” we must first understand the meaning of the statement “Jesus meant his claim to be God literally.” This is easy, because this statement means exactly the same thing as the statement “Jesus claimed to be God” in the context of the TRILEMMA. Specifically, the meaning of this statement is this:

Jesus claimed to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

It is important to note that if Jesus said “I am God” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe” or “I am the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe” it is possible that he did not mean these statements LITERALLY. In that case, Jesus would not, in saying those things, be CLAIMING to be God, or CLAIMING to be “the eternal creator of the universe” or CLAIMING to be “the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe”. Jesus would be making some other sort of claims by means of uttering those sentences.

To mean those statements LITERALLY would involve Jesus CLAIMING to be God, and to NOT mean them LITERALLY involves Jesus NOT CLAIMING to be God, but would involve Jesus making some other less extreme claim.

RUNNING INTO A DEAD-END

In Part 4 of this series, I argued that Jesus did NOT say something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. So far as we know, the historical Jesus, for example, never said “I am God” or “I am God incarnate” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe” or “I am the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe”. Thus, the answer to the first basic question, the question in the first dilemma was: NO.

But since the answer to the first basic question of the decision tree diagram is “NO”, that ENDS any further progress on the decision tree diagram; we hit a dead end and can go no farther. We are supposed to conclude that the MYTH VIEW is true, and that is the end of the story.

Although based on a “NO” answer to the first dilemma, we should stop and proceed no further, I would still like to attempt to understand and evaluate the second dilemma. But in order to answer the second basic question, the question that is the focus of the second dilemma, we need to identify particular statements made by Jesus that appear to be claims to be God, and then we can try to determine whether Jesus meant those statements LITERALLY.

Because my answer to the first basic question (“Did Jesus claim to be God?) was “NO”, there are no statements that have been identified as claims that IF TAKEN LITERALLY imply that Jesus was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe, so there are no statements that we can examine to determine whether Jesus meant them LITERALLY or not.

If we just imagine that Jesus had said “I am God” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe”, we could try to figure out whether Jesus would have meant those statements LITERALLY or not. But that seems a pretty hopeless task because we have no idea what the circumstances were when Jesus made those statements because we are simply PRETENDING that Jesus made such statements. So, how in the hell can we figure out what Jesus “meant” by making such statements when, to the best of our knowledge, he never actually made such statements? This seems too hypothetical, too speculative of a question to answer with any degree of confidence.

But if we have no good reason to believe that the historical Jesus ever said “I am God” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe”, or some other statements that IF TAKEN LITERALLY imply that Jesus was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe, then what statements of Jesus can we focus on and examine for an attempt to answer the second basic question: “Did Jesus mean his claim to be God literally?” ? Without specific statements that sound like claims to be God and that we have good reason to believe the historical Jesus actually uttered, then we cannot answer the basic second question.

One way around this dead-end is to focus on some of the key statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, statements that Christian apologists typically offer as evidence that Jesus “claimed to be God”. I do not accept that the alleged “claims to be God” made by Jesus in the Gospel of John were actually uttered by the historical Jesus, and it seems DUBIOUS to me that those statements, even if uttered by the historical Jesus, imply that Jesus was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Nevertheless, it is possible that I could be wrong on one or both of those questions.

So, one way around the dead-end of a “NO” answer to the first basic question, is to assume for the sake of argument that the historical Jesus DID say some of the things attributed to him in the Gospel of John that Christian apologists (like Kreeft and Tacelli) consider to be claims to divinity by Jesus. That would provide specific claims allegedly uttered by Jesus, from specific alleged contexts, which could be evaluated in terms of whether those claims were intended LITERALLY by Jesus. We could examine such alleged statements in terms of whether they clearly imply that Jesus was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good ruler of the universe.

KEY PASSAGES FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

Kreeft and Tacelli open Chapter 7 of HCA, the chapter where they argue for the divinity of Jesus, with a number of quotations of Jesus from the Gospel of John. They clearly believe that those verses are powerful evidence showing that Jesus claimed to be God. I will examine each of the quotations of Jesus that they put forward in the first two pages of Chapter 7 (HCA, p.150 & 151).

Here are the six verses from the Gospel of John that Kreeft and Tacelli quote in the opening pages of Chapter 7:

  • John 8:12
  • John 8:46
  • John 8:58
  • John 10:30
  • John 11:25
  • John 14:9

For the sake of being able to evaluate the second DILEMMA in Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of four dilemmas, I am going to temporarily set aside the serious problem of the historical UNRELIABILITY of the Gospel of John, and pretend (assume for the sake of argument) that the historical Jesus actually spoke the words attributed to Jesus in these six quotations. The question at issue then is whether Jesus meant these statements LITERALLY, and whether in making them he was LITERALLY claiming to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

bookmark_borderBlog Post 2 on “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Some Thoughts On Keith Augustine’s Introduction to “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Today I wanted to think a little about the difference between the kinds of lenses theological hypotheses provide in comparison with secular lenses in science and even literature.  In his introduction to the book, Augustine points out that regarding the secular framework for viewing death:

“Because we are built from the same flesh and blood and DNA that forms nonhuman animals, and share their evolutionary origins, their mortality implies our mortality.”

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Theistic explanations of reality are indifferent to the reality they are trying to color.  In response to horrific animal and human suffering, the theist responds “God promises justice in the next life, not this one.”  This means through the theist lens the world looks exactly as it would if there was no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  Similarly, in response to empirical scientific experiments that show the ineffectiveness of prayer, the theist responds “God always answers prayer, just sometimes the answer is no.”  Again, the theistic explanatory framework sees a world that would look exactly the same way if there was no God.  And with “miraculous healing,” while it may be unlikely that you would undergo a medically highly unlikely recovery of health, given a planet of billions it is to be expected some would unusually recover health: for the same reason that while it is ridiculously unlikely you would win the lottery, it is not unlikely at all that someone will win – and someone usually does.  Similarly, Carrier responds to the theist fine tuning argument of the cosmos that actually the universe is optimally configured to generate black holes and be hostile to life, which is exactly what you would predict if there was no God.  

Far from being a rigorous scientific level colored lens for viewing reality, the theistic colored lens certainly is not, and is not even at the level of a literary colored lens.  If I told a student who has never encountered Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, they can use that lens to generally predict what they will find in the text and actively confirm by reading.  Making and confirming predictions is a good meaning making strategy.  The religious lens makes predictions only because it is so broad and vague that it is unfalsifiable.  

And really, as Heidegger points out, the issue of mind is not so much the question of consciousness as the question of awareness, because one can be unconscious and yet very aware and absorbed in an unfolding dream.  The key seems to be that conscious and unconscious awareness is grounded in the way the mind creates the experience of the stretching out of time as a foundation for allowing experience, since by contrast under general anesthetic the patient goes to sleep and wakes up an hour later in what feels like an instant.  When we chemically interrupt the mind creating time as a scaffold for experience we really experience the nothingness that will be death, specifically when even the nothing is not experienced. 

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 4: Did Jesus Claim to be God?

WHERE WE ARE

In Chapter 7 of their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), Christian philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli make a case for the divinity of Jesus. Here is the main argument they present in Chapter 7:

1A. Jesus was either God, liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.

2A. Jesus could not possibly be a liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.

THEREFORE:

3A. Jesus is God.

In Part 3 of this series, I analyzed and clarified a series of four dilemmas (four EITHER/OR statements) that they use to support premise (1A). The four dilemmas are used to try to prove that there are only FIVE possible views that can be taken on this issue. I summarized the clarified version of their four dilemmas in this decision tree diagram:

In this current post, we will examine just the first dilemma:

THE TRILEMMA VS THE QUINTLEMMA

In Chapter 7 of Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1972), Josh McDowell presents a TRILEMMA in support of the divinity of Jesus: “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic”. McDowell argued that there were only three possible views on this issue. In HCA (1994), Kreeft and Tacelli attempt to improve upon McDowell’s argument by adding two more possible views to the three views outlined by McDowell. They added the MYTH VIEW and the GURU VIEW to McDowell’s LORD VIEW, LIAR VIEW, and LUNATIC VIEW.

In effect, Kreeft and Tacelli rejected McDowell’s TRILEMMA argument because they point out two other possible views in addition to what McDowell had claimed were the only three possible views on this issue.

However, when Kreeft and Tacelli added the MYTH VIEW and the GURU VIEW as possible views, they not only showed that McDowell’s TRILEMMA was a BAD ARGUMENT, they also muddied the waters concerning the first dilemma (or the first basic question in the decision tree diagram that represents their reasoning). In McDowell’s TRILEMMA, the assertion that “Jesus claimed to be God” had a CLEAR MEANING. But in the QUINTLEMMA presented by Kreeft and Tacelli, the meaning of this key claim is problematic and UNCLEAR.

In McDowell’s TRILEMMA argument, the assertion that “Jesus claimed to be God” has a clear meaning, because this claim is clearly intended by McDowell to be understood LITERALLY, and thus what it means is this:

Jesus claimed to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

To claim to LITERALLY be God, means to claim to possess the key divine attributes of God, according to western theism.

The word “God” is a word in the ENGLISH language, and the ENGLISH language was formed in a culture dominated by Christianity. So, the primary meaning of the word “God” in the ENGLISH language was shaped by the Christian concept of God, which includes some key divine attributes: being eternal, being the creator of the universe, being the ruler of the universe, being omnipotent, being omniscient, and being perfectly good. There are other divine attributes according to various Christian theologies and sects, but these are among the most common and widely accepted divine attributes.

It is fairly clear, to anyone who is familiar with the modern study of the historical Jesus, that Jesus did NOT ever claim to literally be God, to be the eternal creator of the universe, nor did Jesus claim to be the omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good ruler of the universe. So, the basic assumption of the TRILEMMA is FALSE, and it can be dismissed as FAILING right out of the starting gate.

Unfortunately, such a decisive FAILURE is not obvious in the case of Kreeft and Tacelli’s QUINTLEMMA, because when they added the GURU VIEW as an outcome of the second dilemma (or as a result of answering the second key question in the decision tree), they made the statement “Jesus claimed to be God” into an UNCLEAR statement when it had previously been a clear statement in McDowell’s FAILED TRILEMMA.

The first dilemma in Kreeft and Tacelli’s reasoning supporting premise (1A) can be represented as a YES or NO question:

Did Jesus claim to be God?

We can answer this question only after we understand what the statement “Jesus claimed to be God” means. In McDowell’s TRILEMMA, the meaning of that statement was clear: it was to be understood as meaning that “Jesus claimed to literally be God”. Given that understanding, the answer to the question “Did Jesus claim to be God?” is clearly: NO.

But in Kreeft and Tacelli’s QUINTLEMMA we CANNOT interpret the statement “Jesus claimed to be God” as meaning “Jesus claimed to literally be God” because that is one answer to the SECOND QUESTION or second dilemma in Kreeft and Tacelli’s QUINTLEMMA:

If we were to interpret the first basic question in this decision tree as meaning “Did Jesus claim to LITERALLY be God?”, and if we answer “YES” that that question, then the second basic question becomes IRRELEVANT. The only possible answer to the second question would then be “YES”, because in answering the first basic question as “YES” we have already determined that Jesus meant his claim to be God LITERALLY. So, in order for the second dilemma or second basic question to have any significance, we must NOT interpret the first dilemma or first basic question as meaning “Did Jesus claim to LITERALLY be God?”

But then what DOES the first dilemma or first basic question mean? At a high level, it must mean something like this:

Did Jesus either (a) claim to literally be God or (b) claim to be God in some non-literal sense?

In order to give a “YES” answer to this question, one must either determine that Jesus claimed literally to be God or determine that Jesus claimed to be God in some non-literal sense. If one determines, as I have suggested, that the historical Jesus never claimed literally to be God, that is not sufficient to answer this question. One must then go on to determine whether the historical Jesus ever claimed to be God in some non-literal sense. But in order to make that determination, we must first understand what the following statement means:

Jesus claimed to be God in some non-literal sense.

It seems to me that there are MANY different possible non-literal senses of a statement where one “claims to be God”. It would be difficult to circumscribe all such possible statements and their non-literal meanings. If that is correct, then defining what it means to claim “to be God in some non-literal sense” may be very difficult or even impossible. I am confident that I have a fairly clear idea about what it means to claim to LITERALLY be God, but I am skeptical about the possibility of identifying all of the different possible ways one could claim “to be God in some non-literal sense”.

Given the VAGUENESS of the statement “Jesus claimed to be God in some non-literal sense”, it is difficult to give any sort of confident answer to the question “Did Jesus claim to be God in some non-literal sense?”, but in that case, it is difficult to answer the first basic question:

Did Jesus either (a) claim to literally be God or (b) claim to be God in some non-literal sense?

A SECOND INTERPRETATION OF THE FIRST BASIC QUESTION IN THE DECISION TREE DIAGRAM

Kreeft, or a defender of Kreeft’s QUINTLEMMA, might object that we don’t have to determine at this stage whether Jesus meant a claim to be God in some non-literal sense. If we simply determine that Jesus said “I am God” or “I am the eternal creator” or “I am the omnipotent and omniscient ruler of the universe”, we can call that “claiming to be God”, and temporarily set aside the question of whether Jesus meant these assertions LITERALLY.

This is not a bad suggestion. But it does imply a specific interpretation of the first dilemma or the first basic question in the decision tree diagram:

Did Jesus say something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe?

We could answer this question “YES” without committing to the view that Jesus in fact meant these assertions to be taken LITERALLY. The question of the literalness of his assertion could be examined and answered at a later point in time.

However, on this second interpretation of the question “Did Jesus claim to be God?” we should still answer the question as “NO”, because the historical Jesus did NOT say things like “I am God” or “I am God incarnate” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe” or “I am the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe”. The historical Jesus did NOT say anything that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. The historical Jesus did NOT, in short, say that he was God. So, on this second interpretation of the first dilemma or the first basic question in the decision tree, we should answer the question as “NO”, and the QUINTLEMMA would FAIL immediately, just like Josh McDowell’s TRILEMMA FAILS immediately, out of the starting gate.

So, Kreeft’s QUINTLEMMA FAILS on the first dilemma or first basic question (in the decision tree diagram) on both plausible interpretations of the first basic question. Here again, is the first basic question:

Did Jesus claim to be God?

We cannot interpret this question to mean “Did Jesus claim to LITERALLY be God?” because then that would make the second dilemma IRRELEVANT and REDUNDANT. One plausible interpretation of this question is this:

Did Jesus either (a) claim to literally be God or (b) claim to be God in some non-literal sense?

We can give a clear and confident answer to the first part of this question: NO, because the historical Jesus did not claim to LITERALLY be God. But that doesn’t answer the whole question, because we then need to determine whether Jesus claimed “to be God in some non-literal sense”, but that question is difficult or impossible to answer with any confidence, because there are MANY different ways that someone could claim “to be God in some non-literal sense”, so it is difficult or impossible to know if all of these possibilities have been identified and considered. Thus, on this first plausible interpretation of the first dilemma or first basic question, there does not appear to be a clear answer to the question, because the question involves the VAGUE notion of claiming “to be God in some non-literal sense”.

A second plausible interpretation of the first dilemma or first basic question is this:

Did Jesus say something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe?

This is an improvement over the first interpretation because it does NOT involve the VAGUE notion of claiming “to be God in some non-literal sense”. But because this question is clearer, we can determine the answer to this question with confidence. The answer is: NO, because the historical Jesus did NOT say “I am God” or “I am God incarnate” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe” or “I am the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe”. The historical Jesus did NOT say anything that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. On this second interpretation, Kreeft’s QUINTLEMMA FAILS right out of the starting gate, just like McDowell’s TRILEMMA. On the very first dilemma or first basic question (in the decision tree), the answer is: NO, and there is no point to moving on to the second dilemma or second basic question.

Therefore, on both plausible interpretations of the first dilemma, Kreeft’s QUINTLEMMA FAILS, either because the first question is too UNCLEAR to be answered with any confidence, or else the first question is sufficiently clear to be answered with confidence, and the answer is: NO, thus killing off Kreeft’s series of four dilemmas right out of the starting gate.

DOES THE MYTH VIEW FOLLOW FROM THE ANSWER “NO”?

According to the decision tree diagram, if we answer “NO” to the first basic question, then that implies that the MYTH VIEW is correct:

Before we can determine if this logic is correct, we must understand the meaning of the statement “Jesus claimed to be God”. We have seen that this statement does NOT mean that “Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God”. We have also seen that there are at least two other plausible interpretations of this claim.

Furthermore, before we can determine if this logic is correct, we must understand the meaning of the MYTH VIEW. In Part 2 of this series, I briefly discussed what Kreeft and Tacelli mean by the MYTH VIEW. Here is a quote from them about the MYTH VIEW:

All three previous hypotheses –Lord, liar and lunatic–assumed that Jesus claimed divinity. Suppose he didn’t. Suppose this claim is a myth (in the sense of fiction). Suppose the liar is not Jesus but the New Testament texts.

(HCA, p.161)

This view assumes that there was in fact a historical Jesus, but that the historical Jesus NEVER claimed to be God. In other words, the Gospels, and other New Testament writings, assert that Jesus claimed to be God but all such claims are FALSE and UNHISTORICAL. The idea that Jesus claimed to be God is FICTIONAL: it is a myth that Jesus claimed to be God.

Let’s temporarily set aside the problems of the UNCLARITY of the statement “Jesus claimed to be God” and assume this means what it meant in the TRILEMMA: “Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God”. I suggest doing this because there are other complexities and ambiguities in the idea of the MYTH VIEW that need to be identified and examined, and it will be easier to do so if we (temporarily) set aside the UNCLARITY of the basic statement “Jesus claimed to be God”.

First point of clarification: Do ALL of “the New Testament texts” assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God? or do only SOME of “the New Testament texts” assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God? Since the word “texts” is plural, does that mean the MYTH VIEW asserts that at least two of the New Testament texts assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God? or should we understand the MYTH VIEW to assert that MOST of “the New Testament texts” assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God? Here are the different options, so far:

  • At least ONE NT text asserts or implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • At least TWO NT texts assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • MOST NT texts assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • ALL NT texts assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God.

Kreeft and Tacelli FAIL to specify the quantification of this aspect of the MYTH VIEW. Suppose that the MYTH VIEW asserts that ALL of the New Testament texts assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God. In that case, if a skeptic can point to just ONE single New Testament text that does NOT assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God (for example, the Gospel of Mark), then the MYTH VIEW would be FALSE. Furthermore, in this scenario, the MYTH VIEW would be FALSE whether or not the historical Jesus claimed to be God!

Suppose that the historical Jesus did NOT claim to be God, and that at least ONE New Testament text (e.g. the Gospel of Mark) does not assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God. In that case, the answer to the first basic question would be NO (because the historical Jesus did NOT claim to be God), but the MYTH VIEW would FALSE (if we understand the MYTH VIEW to assert that ALL NT writings imply that Jesus claimed to be God), contrary to the logic in the decision tree diagram, and thus contrary to the logic of Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of four dilemmas.

Similar counterexamples are possible if we understand the MYTH VIEW to assert that MOST of the New Testament texts assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God. A skeptic might be able to show that it is NOT the case that MOST NT texts assert or imply this. That could be the case even if the evidence shows that the historical Jesus did NOT claim to be God. In this case, the answer to the first basic question would be NO (because the historical Jesus did NOT claim to be God), but the MYTH VEIW would be FALSE, contrary to the logic in the decision tree diagram, and thus contrary to the logic of Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of four dilemmas.

So, it is clearly important what sort of QUANTIFICATION Kreeft and Tacelli have in mind here, as being asserted by the MYTH VIEW.

There is another ambiguity introduced by Kreeft and Tacelli concerning the meaning of the MYTH VIEW when they talk about whether Jesus or the New Testament texts are LYING:

Suppose this claim is a myth (in the sense of fiction). Suppose the liar is not Jesus but the New Testament texts.

(HCA, p.161)

Texts, of course, are not liars. If the New Testament texts contain LIES about Jesus, then it is the authors of those texts who are LIARS. But as we have seen in the TRILEMMA, saying something FALSE does not necessarily mean that one is a LIAR. One might be a LUNATIC, or less dramatically, one might be sincerely mistaken about the point in question. By conceptualizing a false claim about Jesus as being a LIE, Kreeft and Tacelli introduce ambiguity and unclarity.

Suppose, as Kreeft and Tacelli undoubtedly assume, that there are several New Testament texts and authors who assert or imply (in those texts) that Jesus claimed to be God. There are many different possibilities here, and it is UNCLEAR which of these possibilities are included (or excluded) by the MYTH VIEW:

  • At least ONE New Testament text contains a FALSE historical claim that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • At least TWO New Testament texts contain a FALSE historical claim that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • MOST New Testament texts contain a FALSE historical claim that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • ALL New Testament texts contain a FALSE historical claim that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.

Each FALSE historical claim could either be (a) a LIE by the author or (b) a sincere but mistaken belief of the author:

  • At least ONE New Testament text contains a sincere but mistaken claim by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • At least ONE New Testament text contains a LIE by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • At least TWO New Testament texts contain a sincere but mistaken claim by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • At least TWO New Testament texts contain a LIE by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • MOST New Testament texts contain a sincere but mistaken claim by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • MOST New Testament texts contain a LIE by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • ALL New Testament texts contain a sincere but mistaken claim by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.
  • ALL New Testament texts contain a LIE by the author that implies that Jesus claimed to be God.

Obviously, if there are a number of false historical claims about Jesus spread across several NT writings, some of these FALSE claims might be lies and some of them might be sincerely mistaken beliefs of the authors. What exactly does the MYTH THEORY assert here? Does the MYTH THEORY insist that there are some LIES about Jesus in the NT writtings? or does it only require that the NT writings contain some FALSE claims about Jesus (specifically about Jesus claiming to be God)?

Because Kreeft and Tacelli use the term “liar” in relation to NT writings that assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God, it seems like they understand the MYTH THEORY to imply that at least SOME of the NT writings that assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God contain LIES by the authors of those writings about this historical issue. But in that case, if all of the instances where NT writings assert or imply that Jesus claimed to be God were sincerely mistaken beliefs of the authors of those writings, then the MYTH VIEW would be FALSE, even if we decide that the historical Jesus did NOT claim to be God. In that case, the logic of the first dilemma would be wrong, because we would give a NO answer to the first basic question (“Did Jesus claim to be God?), but the MYTH VIEW would be FALSE, contrary to the decision tree diagram, and contrary to the logic of Kreeft and Tacelli’s first dilemma.

In short, Kreeft and Tacelli have FAILED to clearly specify the content and implications of the MYTH THEORY, and as a result, we cannot tell whether the logic of the first dilemma is good or bad, correct or incorrect.

FIXING THE MESS MADE BY KREEFT AND TACELLI

In case you haven’t noticed, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli are not the sharpest tools in the shed. They are UNCLEAR and SLOPPY in their thinking and arguments. It is no surprise to me that in their attempt to improve McDowell’s TRILEMMA, they have introduced UNCLARITY and CONFUSION. At this point, I have already put in a fair amount of work to clarify their argument and the logic of their series of four dilemmas, but my efforts are not yet sufficient to clean up the mess they have created. So, I’m going to jump in and help them by FIXING, as best I can, their first dilemma.

It should be clear that Kreeft and Tacelli have FAILED to specify what they mean by the MYTH VIEW. Furthermore, it is clear that by introducing the concept of LIES into their characterization of the MYTH VIEW, they introduce unnecessary complexity and ambiguity. So, the first thing I will do to try to fix their mess is toss out the notion of LIES. In order for the logic of the first dilemma to work, they need to keep the idea of the MYTH THEORY as simple and as circumscribed as possible and avoid any unnecessary complexity. Adding more elements to the MYTH THEORY just creates more ways for the logic of the first dilemma to FAIL. The main principle that Kreeft and Tacelli ignored was KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

There are two main elements of the MYTH THEORY. First, there is some assumption about the content of the New Testament writings concerning whether Jesus claimed to be God. Second, there is some assumption about this content being FALSE (thus the descriptions: “fictional” or “mythical”); the MYTH VIEW does not need to say anything about HOW or WHY this FALSE content came about:

The MYTH VIEW is true IF AND ONLY IF:

(a) at least ONE New Testament writing asserts or implies that Jesus claimed to be God,

AND

(b) it is NOT the case that Jesus claimed to be God.

Obviously, if the answer to the first basic question (i.e. “Did Jesus claim to be God?) is NO, then condition (b) would be satisfied. The only thing remaining that would need to be determined is whether condition (a) was also satisfied.

It seems to me that (a) MIGHT be satisfied because in the Gospel of John Jesus (allegedly) makes various astounding claims that indicate he believes himself to have a very close and unique relationship with God.

However, Jesus never, even in the Gospel of John, says “I am God” or “I am God incarnate” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe” or “I am the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe”. In other words, Jesus never claims to be God in a way that is clear and unambiguous. Therefore, whether Jesus claimed to be God according to the Gospel of John, is a matter of interpretation, and is, in my view, UNCERTAIN. But the Gospel of John is the only Gospel where Jesus makes such strong claims, so it is the best evidence available to show that condition (a) is satisfied.

My conclusion is that although (a) MIGHT be true (based on a careful analysis of the Gospel of John), it is also the case that (a) MIGHT be false (based on a careful analysis of the Gospel of John). Therefore, even given my very SIMPLE and UNCOMPLICATED interpretation of the MYTH VIEW, it is still not clear that the logic of the first dilemma works.

It appears that it might well be the case that (a) is FALSE, that NO NT writing asserts or implies that Jesus claimed to be God, and therefore even if we have good reason to conclude that it is NOT the case that Jesus claimed to be God, the MYTH THEORY might well be wrong, and thus the logic of Kreeft and Tacelli’s first dilemma would be mistaken. If the answer to the basic question “Did Jesus claim to be God?” is NO, it still might be the case that the MYTH THEORY was FALSE, because it might well be the case that no NT writing asserts or implies that Jesus claimed to be God.

FINAL EVALUATION OF THE FIRST DILEMMA

I have been temporarily setting aside the problem of the meaning of the statement “Jesus claimed to be God”. This statement had a clear meaning in Josh McDowell’s TRILEMMA argument:

Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.

But when Kreeft and Tacelli altered the TRILEMMA and turned it into their QUINTLEMMA, they unknowingly changed the meaning of this statement and made its meaning UNCLEAR. In order for the logic of their series of four dilemmas (as represented in my decision tree diagram) to work, the statement must be understood in some other way. My best guess at how this statement should be understood is as follows:

Did Jesus say something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe?

If we assume that this is what the question “Did Jesus claim to be God?” means in Kreeft and Tacelli’s QUINTLEMMA, then how should their first dilemma be evaluated?

As I have indicated above, my view is that the historical Jesus did NOT say something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. For one thing, only in the Gospel of John does Jesus make any strong claims that might be taken as claims to divinity (e.g. “I and the Father are one”, “He who has seen me has seen the Father”, “Before Abraham was, I am”), but even in the Gospel of John Jesus NEVER clearly and unambiguously makes claims that IF TAKEN LITERALLY imply that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. For example, Jesus NEVER says “I am God” or “I am God incarnate” or “I am the eternal creator of the universe” or “I am the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe”, not even in the Gospel of John.

Second, the Gospel of John is the least historical, the least reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is clearly spouting the theological beliefs of a follower of Jesus about Jesus, and it does NOT accurately present the words of the historical Jesus. It is very unlikely that the historical Jesus ever said “I and the Father are one” or “He who has seen me has seen the Father” or “Before Abraham was, I am”. So, even the unclear and ambiguous claims to “divinity” by Jesus in the Gospel of John are probably UNHISTORICAL.

Therefore, the most reasonable answer to the first basic question, the question posed in the first dilemma of Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of four dilemmas, is: NO, Jesus did not say something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

According to the logic of the first dilemma in Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of dilemmas, an answer of “NO” to the first basic question implies that the MYTH VIEW is correct. However, the MYTH VIEW, as I have argued above, implies this:

(a) at least ONE New Testament writing asserts or implies that Jesus claimed to be God,

This implication of the MYTH VIEW, it seems to me, is FALSE. If so, then the MYTH VIEW itself is FALSE, and if the MYTH VIEW is FALSE, then the logic of Kreeft and Tacelli’s first dilemma FAILS, because their logic asserts that an answer of “NO” to the first basic question implies that the MYTH VIEW is true. But in the case that I have described, and which I have argued is the reality about Jesus, this logic FAILS, because the correct answer to the basic question in the first dilemma is NO, yet the MYTH THEORY is FALSE.

Therefore, Kreeft and Tacelli’s QUINTLEMMA fails at the first dilemma, because the answer to that question is NO, thus killing off the remaining dilemmas as IRRELEVANT, and the logic of their first dilemma FAILS, because they are wrong in asserting that a NO answer to the first basic question in the first dilemma logically implies that the MYTH THEORY is true.

bookmark_border(Part 4) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

I have the book now, and so will start formally blogging through it. I hope you’ll join me. It should be fun. In today’s short post, I would just like to share a brief passage from the book where the authors address what they will be arguing:

  • We show that there are, in fact, situations in which people will judge that time does not exist when presented with certain discoveries about the world. This begins to drive a wedge between time and agency… According to the general theory of relativity, spacetime is a basic constituent of reality. However, we argue that recent developments in physics present a serious challenge to the existence of spacetime in at least some sense. Next we argue that causation and the folk notion of time come apart. This sets the scene for our return to agency. Because the folk notion of time and causation come apart, it is possible to have agency in the absence of time in the folk sense. We can use causation in the absence of time as a new foundation for agency. In this way, we show that agency provides no reason to suppose that time, in the folk sense, must exist.” (Baron, Samuel; Miller, Kristie; Tallant, Jonathan. Out of Time (p. 8). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.)

So, we are going to be interrogating the concept of time in terms of agency, science, and causality as we progress through this book.