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 placating, indifferent to justice Pilate.  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 an affront to the Jews, 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 cross speaking to both Jews and Gentiles equally.  Troels Engberg-Pedersen comments in a somewhat different context:

  • This is a point where the Stoic moral psychology is much closer to Paul than anything we find in Plato and Aristotle. 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).

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

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). 

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?

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, but a covenant with all people, 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 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!

For further analysis, see my two peer reviewed essays

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

And

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.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 3: The Argument for Premise (1A)

In Part 1 of this series, I showed that the main argument for the divinity of Jesus given by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Chapter 7 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics goes like this:

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 this post I will analyze and clarify the argument given by Kreeft and Tacelli in support of premise (1A).

FOUR DILEMMAS GIVEN TO SUPPORT PREMISE (1A)

The reasoning supporting premise (1A) is spelled out in a chart near the end of Chapter 7:

I. Jesus claimed divinity

…A. He meant it literally

……1. It is true___________________________________Lord

……2. It is false

………a. He knew it was false_______________________Liar

………b. He didn’t know it was false_________________Lunatic

…B. He meant it nonliterally, mystically______________Guru

II. Jesus never claimed divinity_____________________Myth

(HCA, p.171)

THE FIRST DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S CHART

At the highest level, Kreeft presents a dilemma between “Jesus claimed divinity” and “Jesus never claimed divinity”:

EITHER Jesus claimed divinity OR Jesus never claimed divinity.

The expression “claimed divinity”, however, is UNCLEAR, so this phrase needs to be revised:

EITHER Jesus claimed to be God OR Jesus never claimed to be God.

To make sure that this top-level dilemma is logically correct (i.e. constitutes a necessary truth, an analytic truth) and encompasses ALL logical possibilities, we should also revise it into the assertion of a disjunction of a specific claim and its negation (“P or not-P” is a tautology or analytic truth). The specific assertion that the highest-level dilemma is related to is this:

Jesus claimed to be God.

The top-level dilemma may be spelled out in plain English:

4. EITHER Jesus claimed to be God OR it is not the case that Jesus claimed to be God.

Statement (4) is an analytic truth that covers ALL logical possibilities. The second disjunct in this statement is this claim:

It is not the case that Jesus claimed to be God.

According to Kreeft’s dilemmas chart, this second disjunct implies the “Myth” view, the view that the New Testament portrays Jesus as claiming to be God but that this is a FALSE or FICTIONAL representation of Jesus; Jesus never claimed to be God:

5. IF it is not the case that Jesus claimed to be God, THEN the MYTH VIEW is correct (i.e. the New Testament portrayal of Jesus as claiming to be God is fictional).

We can represent the first dilemma and this alleged implication by means of a decision tree diagram:

THE SECOND DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S CHART

Assuming that Jesus DID claim to be God, the next dilemma in Kreeft’s table (above) concerns whether Jesus meant this literally:

EITHER he meant it literally OR he meant it non-literally, mystically.

To make this disjunction clearer, we should eliminate the pronouns “he” and “it” and specify what those pronouns mean:

EITHER Jesus meant his claim to be God literally OR Jesus meant his claim to be God non-literally, mystically.

Kreeft has FAILED to make a logically comprehensive dilemma here by combining two different criteria (“non-literally” vs. “mystically”). Because these concepts have different meanings, Kreeft introduces confusion and ambiguity here. We should drop the reference to “mystically” and keep the reference to “non-literally” (or, better: not literally), because Kreeft needs the first disjunct to assert that Jesus meant the claim to be God literally, in order for the third dilemma to work. So, here is the clarified and logically corrected version of Kreeft’s second dilemma:

6. EITHER Jesus meant his claim to be God literally OR Jesus did not mean his claim to be God literally.

Note that both disjuncts ASSUME that Jesus claimed to be God, so this dilemma does not encompass ALL logical possibilities, but that is OK, because this dilemma occurs after the first dilemma, where one has to decide whether Jesus claimed to be God or not. The second dilemma only applies after one has determined that Jesus DID claim to be God, so the second dilemma covers ALL logical possibilities that exist assuming that Jesus claimed to be God.

According to Kreeft’s table of dilemmas, if Jesus claimed to be God and Jesus did not mean this literally, then the GURU VIEW is correct (i.e. Jesus held the mystical view that he was divine only in the same way that all humans are divine, and he was NOT claiming to be divine in the literal sense of being the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good ruler of the universe):

7. IF Jesus claimed to be God and Jesus did not mean his claim to be God literally, THEN the GURU VIEW is correct (i.e. Jesus was only claiming to be divine in the sense that all humans are divine, and he was not claiming to be the eternal creator of the universe nor the omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good ruler of the universe).

Here is the decision-tree diagram of the second dilemma from Kreeft’s chart:

THE THIRD DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S CHART

Assuming that Jesus claimed to be God and that Jesus meant this claim literally, the next dilemma or choice is whether this claim is true or false:

EITHER it is true OR it is false.

For the sake of clarity, we need to eliminate the pronoun “it” and specify what this means:

EITHER Jesus’s claim to literally be God is true OR Jesus’s claim to literally be God is false.

This does not encompass ALL logical possibilities, because both disjuncts assume that Jesus claimed to be God and that he meant this claim literally. But that is OK, because this is the third dilemma, and the third dilemma only applies after we have already determined that Jesus claimed to be God (in first dilemma), and that Jesus meant this claim literally (in second dilemma).

However, Kreeft has FAILED yet again to encompass all of the logical possibilities that exist given the assumptions that Jesus claimed to be God and that Jesus meant this claim literally. Kreeft assumes here that any assertion that is not true must be false. But there is another possiblility: some assertions are neither true nor false, but are incoherent or nonsense. For example, the assertion below is nonsense:

The number sixteen sleeps furiously.

Although this sentence is grammatical, it makes no sense. A number is not the sort of thing that could sleep. And sleeping is not the sort of thing one can do furiously. So, this sentence is neither true nor false; it is simply nonsense. Some philosophers have argued that the following sentence is also nonsense:

God created the universe.

If those philosophers are correct that this sentence is nonsense, then this is another sentence that is neither true nor false. Furthermore, if those philosophers are correct, then a sentence that is directly relevant to Kreeft’s argument for the divinity of Jesus is also nonsense:

Jesus is God.

So, to avoid begging an important philosophical question, we need to reject Kreeft’s dilemma between Jesus’s claim being either true or false, and instead formulate the dilemma in terms of Jesus’s claim being either true or not true:

8. EITHER Jesus’s claim to literally be God is true OR Jesus’s claim to literally be God is not true.

According to Kreeft’s chart of these dilemmas, if Jesus claimed to be God and Jesus meant this claim literally and this claim was true, then the LORD VIEW would be correct (i.e. Jesus was God, and Jesus is God):

9. IF Jesus claimed to be God and Jesus meant his claim to be God literally and Jesus’s claim to be God was true, THEN the LORD VIEW is correct (i.e. Jesus is the eternal creator of the universe and the omniscient and omnipotent and perfectly good ruler of the universe).

Here is the clarified and corrected logic of Kreeft’s third dilemma represented in a decision-tree diagram:

THE FOURTH DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S CHART

Assuming that Jesus claimed to be God and that he meant this claim literally and that this claim is not true, there are only two possibilities, according to Kreeft’s chart:

EITHER he knew it was false OR he didn’t know it was false.

Recall, however, that the clarified and corrected second dilemma does not talk about Jesus making a false claim, but rather, it talks about Jesus making either a true claim or a claim that is not true. So, Kreeft’s third dilemma cannot jump to the idea that Jesus’ claim was false. Here is a logically correct version of Kreeft’s fourth dilemma:

EITHER he knew it was not true OR he didn’t know it was not true.

For the sake of clarity, we need to eliminate the pronouns “he” and “it” and replace them with what they mean in this context:

10. EITHER Jesus’s claim to literally be God was not true and Jesus knew that his claim to literally be God was not true OR Jesus’s claim to literally be God was not true and Jesus did not know that his claim to literally be God was not true.

According to Kreeft’s chart of the four dilemmas, each alternative of this fourth dilemma implies a different view:

11. IF Jesus’s claim to literally be God was not true and Jesus knew that his claim to literally be God was not true, THEN the LIAR VIEW is correct (i.e. Jesus was a liar).

12. IF Jesus’s claim to literally be God was not true and Jesus did not know that his claim to literally be God was not true, THEN the LUNATIC VIEW is correct (i.e. Jesus was insane; Jesus was seriously mentally ill).

The clarified and logically corrected version of Kreeft’s fourth dilemma can be represented in a decision-tree diagram:

According to Kreeft’s chart, his four dilemmas encompass ALL logical possibilities, and lead to only FIVE views:

  • The Myth View
  • The Guru View
  • The Lord View
  • The Liar View
  • The Lunatic View

If Kreeft’s four dilemmas FAIL to encompass ALL logical possibilities or lead to more than just the FIVE views that Kreeft specifies, then Kreeft’s four dilemmas FAIL to support premise (1A) of his main argument for the divinity of Jesus. In the next post of this series, I will evaluate Kreeft’s four dilemmas, based on the clarified and logically corrected version of them that I have presented in this current post, as represented by the decision-tree diagram that contains all four dilemmas (above).

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 2: The Five Alternatives

In Part 1 of this series, I showed that the main argument for the divinity of Jesus given by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Chapter 7 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics goes like this:

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 this post, we will analyze and clarify the first premise of this argument.

PREMISE (1A): THE FIVE ALTERNATIVES

The first premise of Kreeft’s argument for the divinity of Jesus asserts that there are only five logical possibilities:

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

The five alternative views are as follows:

  • Jesus was God.
  • Jesus was a liar.
  • Jesus was a lunatic.
  • Jesus was a guru.
  • Jesus was a myth.

None of these claims is clear as it stands. Each claim needs to be clarified and made more specific.

JESUS WAS GOD

In Part 1, I have already clarified the meaning of the claim “Jesus is God”, and the claim that “Jesus was God” implies that “Jesus is God” because one cannot be God for a day, like being King for a day, or president for a day. Being God, for example, implies being eternal, and one cannot be eternal for just one day or one week.

Furthermore, God’s omnipotence and omniscience are supposed to be eternal attributes, attributes that God has always had in the past, and that God will always have in the future. If some being were omnipotent for just one day or just one week, that being would NOT be God, and that being would NOT even be God for one day. So, if it is the case that “Jesus was God” in the past, then it must also be the case the “Jesus is God” today. Furthermore, the reverse is true as well. If Jesus is God today, then it must also have been the case that “Jesus was God” two thousand years ago, and two million years ago. Thus, “Jesus was God” means the same thing as “Jesus is God”.

JESUS WAS A LIAR

What does the claim “Jesus was a liar” mean? Kreeft provides no definition or clarification of the term “liar”. One important and obvious point to note is that telling one lie does NOT make a person a “liar”. In fact, most people tell lies frequently (most young children and teenagers tell lies, and most young adults/college students tell lies, and most adults in general tell lies), but it is unclear that we should conclude that most people are liars. The point of the use of the word “liar” is to categorize a small subset of people as being particularly dishonest. We tolerate a fair amount of lying as just par for the course. For this reason, the Merriam-Webster definition of “liar” is clearly wrong:

a person who tells lies

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liar

On this definition, everyone, or almost everyone, would be a “liar”. More is required than telling an occasional lie to make a person a “liar”. But how often does one have to lie in order to be properly categorized as being a “liar”? That is NOT at all clear.

Furthermore, it would seem that telling small white lies on a regular basis might not be enough to make one a “liar”. It might require telling some big or serious lies on a regular basis to make one a “liar”. But how many big or serious lies does one have to tell in order to be a “liar”? That is also NOT clear. So, the term “liar” does NOT mean “a person who tells lies”; something more than that is required, but it is UNCLEAR what exactly is required to make a person a “liar”.

Therefore, the term “liar” is a problematically VAGUE and UNCLEAR term, apart from a careful analysis and a clear definition of this term. But Kreeft and Tacelli provide no such analysis or definition of the word “liar”. Apart from a clear definition of the word “liar” it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make a rational evaluation of whether Jesus (or anyone else) was, in fact, a “liar”.

JESUS WAS A LUNATIC

What does the claim “Jesus was a lunatic” mean? Kreeft provides no definition or clarification of the term “lunatic”. He does, however, sometimes use the word “insane” in place of the word “lunatic”, so presumably, he views these words as synonyms (see Kreeft’s use of “insane” and “insanity” when introducing this part of the argument on pages 155 and 156 of HCA).

The dictionary definition of “lunatic” indicates an AMBIGUITY in this term:

People who are NOT insane sometimes believe things that are WILDLY FOOLISH for them to believe. For example, I think that it is WILDLY FOOLISH for Kreeft to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead, but I do NOT think that Kreeft is insane. So, the word “lunatic” has a stronger and weaker sense. In the stronger sense of the word, to say that “Jesus was a lunatic” means that “Jesus was insane”. In the weaker sense, it means that “Jesus held some wildly foolish beliefs”. Because Kreeft uses the word “insane” as a synonym for the word “lunatic”, it seems likely that he intended the stronger sense of the word “lunatic”:

affected with a severely disordered state of mind: INSANE

However, the term “insanity” is no longer an accepted medical diagnosis:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insanity

So, there is no generally accepted medical definition of the term “insane”. Thus, the meaning of this word is problematic and UNCLEAR.

JESUS WAS A GURU

What does the claim “Jesus was a guru” mean? Kreeft provides no definition of the term “guru”. However, he does describe the view that “Jesus was a guru”, and his description could be used to clarify the meaning of the term “guru” in this context.

When Kreeft initially introduces the idea of Jesus being a “guru”, he focuses on Jesus’s alleged claim to be God:

Perhaps even though the Gospels tell the truth that Jesus claimed divinity, and even though he could not be a liar or a lunatic, and therefore the claim is true, yet he didn’t mean it to be understood literally, but rather in a mystical way. According to this theory, we should interpret his claim to divinity…in an Eastern, Hindu or Buddhist, sense. Yes, Jesus was God, and knew it, and claimed it–but we are all God. We unenlightened nonmystics just don’t realize it. Jesus was an enlightened mystic, a guru, who realized his own inner divinity.

(HCA, p.165)

I take it that being a “guru” in this context is about Jesus claiming to be God, and Jesus intending this claim to be understood in a NONLITERAL way, such that his view was that every human being is God, just as much as Jesus is God. What this view asserts, then, is that Jesus was NOT claiming to be the creator of the universe, and Jesus was NOT claiming to be omnipotent and omniscient. Jesus was NOT claiming to possess the divine attributes that constitute the western/Christian concept of “God”. In claiming to be “God”, Jesus was merely indicating that he believed that he was “one with God” in the very same way that all human beings are “one with God”.

JESUS WAS A MYTH

What does the claim “Jesus was a myth” mean? Kreeft provides no definition of the term “myth”. However, Kreeft does clarify the view that he has in mind corresponding to the claim that “Jesus was a myth”. Like the view that “Jesus was a guru”, the view that “Jesus was a myth” is, in this context, focused on the idea of Jesus claiming to be God:

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)

The view that “Jesus was a myth” is NOT the view that there was no actual historical Jesus. Rather, 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, and that Jesus believed himself 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, and it is a myth that Jesus believed himself to be God.