bookmark_borderHow the Suffering and Death of Billions and Billions of Kids Completely Disproves the Existence of a Good and Loving God – Including Wrecking Free Will Theodicy in the Process

This essay is in association with the June 2022 Biblical Studies Carnival you can check out at https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/test-post-for-june-2022-biblical-studies-carnival

Just the Stat’s Ma’am

I first got a hint of the facts that — as screamingly obvious as they are have gone shockingly ignored — refute the premise presented in the Bible and other scriptures that there is a benign and moral creator deity when I many a decade ago was reading the opening sentences of the preface of my SciFi/futurist hero’s Arthur C. Clarke’s novel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Clarke casually noted that around 100 billion people have been born. That caught my attention because it seemed a high number. Where he got the value from I do not know, but it is correct. All serious calculations agree on the basic figure, plus or minus about 20%. ~10 billion were born in the 1900s alone, and with humans being around for a few hundred thousand years, 10,000 of them since agriculture allowed large populations, it adds up.

The big a/theist debate is usually over whether any gods exist or not. But that is not really the point. What most theists imagine is not only that at least one deity is in charge of the big show, but that it is also a very fine and good creator God. One that according to Christian opinion is for reasons not at all clear all powerful, all knowing, all wise and all good. The goodness is as important as the existence – if the proposed god were not very good or evil that few would be interested in its existence much less adhering to its dictates. 

The simple question of the existence of a deity cannot be scientifically entirely refuted. What can be tested and proven is whether or not a creator power is moral or not. It’s a matter of demographic statistics run through the mill of logic and basic decency.

To wit, eventually it began to occur to me that the birth of a hundred or so of billion people has a dark side to it. One that directly torpedoes and sinks the common conceit believed by billions that God not only exists – itself a big, antiscientific stretch for reasons we shall not go into here – but also happens to be so righteous and wise that is worthy of and requires worship in exchange for the boons that it offers. That is a double super stretch.

The critical issue is clear enough. It’s those demographics. Until the advent of the modern medical science that humans devised after 99+% of our existence of living short and brutal lives, and without the aid of supernatural forces that apparently do not care, the juvenile mortality rate was ~50%. That means that in the area of 50 billion children have died from natural causes. If you have not heard that figure before it is because we live in a society that has covered up the biggest disaster in human history, the Holocaust of the Children.

For reasons that have me scratching my head no one bothered to take the number of those born and divided it by the childhood death rate and published the terrible toll of the children, leaving the global population shockingly ignorant. It has been a demographic and ethical scandal that has been allowing the churches et al. to get away with promoting being religious as moral. So I did the easy math and published it for the first time in 2009 in the academic journal Philosophy and Theology (http://www.gspauldino.com/Philosophy&Theology.pdf), with more recent up dated follow ups in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism (in two parts https://americanhumanist.org/what-we-do/publications/eph/journals/volume28/paul-1 & http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/03_Paul-SkeptoTheoPt2.pdf — these studies contain the majority of the references this little essay is based upon).

Christians and other theists like to go on about how humans cause evil, not God. But only a small percentage of children who have died have been dispatched by adults with bad intent. The greatest kid killer by far is the vast host of diseases that infest the planet and ruthlessly  torture children to death. Microbes and other afflictions that humans had nothing to do with creating and until of late had little ability to defeat. Even today some 15,000 children are lost to natural causes.

That is after birth. Before it is even worse in terms of numbers. The human reproductive complex is very inefficient so there is a lot of wastage, which is a reason why it is rather hard for women to get pregnant and stay that way. Three quarters or more of conceptions naturally fail to come to term, apparently because our genetics are so complicated that they are delicate and prone to malfunction (simpler mice do not have high rates of spontaneous miscarriage). Far from the womb being a safe refuge for the preborn, it is such a death trap that most do not make it out alive. As geneticist William Rice states, accidental abortion is “the predominant outcome of fertilization [and] a natural and inevitable part of human reproduction at all ages.” (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326485445_The_high_abortion_cost_of_human_reproduction). Doing the again why-had-they-not-been-done-it-before-they-being-easy-to-do calculations, I was the first to publish in the P&T piece that about a third of a trillion pregnancies have failed due to causes beyond human control: note that even modern medicine can do little to bring down the natural abortion rate. There is something of a saving grace to this in that most pregnancies fail before implantation, or shortly after, when the zygote has not the slightest awareness of its existence and no ability to suffer.

Ergo, if there is an all-powerful supernatural creator, then far from being the prolife, children loving beacon of sage morality that all must and should owe loyalty and fealty, it does not give a damn about the comfort, safety and lives of the innocent immature humans from conception on, and has not lifted a cosmic finger to save the lives of the hundreds of billions of youngsters, the great majority of conceptions having died, often under barbarically cruel circumstances, before their preteens due to Mother Nature.

The Great Theodist Evasion 1.0

The alleged font of divine wisdom, the Holy Bible, says nothing about this. Nada. Not once is the massive slaughter by nonhuman means of the young, preborn or born, directly addressed and explained. The Good Book does not even bother to detail what happens to the supposed souls of the little ones after they have died before growing up. Do they go the Hell because they have not accepted the glorious gift of the Grace of Christ? That would be as unfair as it is brazenly cruel. Do they get a free ticket to His Perfect Heaven where only those souls who during their earthly test of worthiness and willingness are allowed to ascend because the Perfect Lord of Paradise refuses to force any to worship Him for eternity without their enthusiastic concurrence? The reason what is purported to be the word of the flawless God avoids the death of children like the plagues that have wacked so many of them off is because it is not in any way possible to explain these massive irresolvable contradictions.

And as I detail in the P&T and EPH papers, the theological community — including the theodists whose insoluble business it is to try to explain how a brutally imperfect world is compatible with a perfect creator — has been dodging the problem of the death of billions of youth for millennia. Not once have the directly addressed much less successfully dealt with the incredible number who have died in the womb or their youth. And the reason is all too obvious, they too have no ability to devise a clever answer because none exists. So they simply sweep it under the rug.

Free Will Theodicy is a Great Big Lie

The primary go-to thesis that Christians intellectual and lay have long been employing is Free-Will and Best of All Possible Worlds theodicy. The not so smart idea is that because the Perfect God only wants willing worshippers in His Perfect Paradise, that the fair and wise creator plops us on this sometimes beautiful and other times horrid planet in order that we can make a free will choice regarding our eternal fate. The gaping problem that notion that has gone unaddressed is that in order to have free will – assuming for the sake of argument such exists at all – one has to survive long enough, say a decade or two, to have the necessary level of mental choice. Plus, adequate information about the all-important choice. Obviously, the proposed creator has allowed the planet to be so kid toxic that it is killing off most of them before they can make the bid decision. That many adults have not heard the word of Christ – half those born lived before 30 CE, and vast swathes of the continents did not hear up it until of late – and a good number are gravely mentally dysfunctional, means that when one runs the calculations that out of the few hundred billion conceived and 100 billion born only about 10 billion have heard the Word of Christ, and only maybe half that become Christians. Not a very successful Divine Utopia Project. Built as it is on the bodies of billions of youngsters denied their free will in order to satisfy the incoherent desires of an all too imperfect entity who craves attention.

To explain the mass natural abortion of the lives and free will of most conceptions requires one of the following. There is no supernatural creator. There is, but it is an amoral incompetent idiot. There is but it is evil to some serious degree. One way or another any creator is guilty of mass negligent or deliberate homicide and crimes against humanity. It is not possible for a powerful deity to be worthy of our loving adoration and obedience.

This is a brief summary of the situation. For the all too grim details and in-depth atheodistic analysis check out the P&T and EPH papers. The latter in particular include why the mode of divine creation, whether it be inept Biblical creationism, premeditated intelligent design theory, or callous Darwinian evolution, does not come close to solving the moral paradox.

The Great Evasion 2.0

After the P&T paper came out in 2009 I sent a PDF to all the major theodists alive at the time who had spent their careers avoiding dealing with death of the children problem – Haught, Hicks, Polkingorn, Plantinga, Swinburne and the like – for their consideration. Not a peep out of them, either one-on-one or in public. Not surprising since what are they going to say? Those who are still alive cynically continue to promote Free Will Theodicy even as they ignore its all too fatal flaws. That was not surprising. Also not paying attention was the news media that has long chronically under covered atheism (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/theocancel-culture-discrimination-by-neglect-the-chronic-news-and-opinion-media-bigotry-against-atheists). That was somewhat surprising because the first study to document the enormous numbers of deceased children was patently news worthy, as was how that overturns classic free will theodicy. And my work on how more atheism tends to correlate with superior national societal conditions had garnered a good deal of international coverage. The news media paid the P&T piece not the slightest mind. Funny thing though. They atheist community too has continued to be perturbingly slack on the issue that should be of great import to nontheism.

It’s the Animals Too

To try to address the continuing attention gap is one of the reasons I produced the EPH follow ups. Which go yet further on the problem of the suffering of the blameless. Immature H. sapiens are not the only innocents that have suffered vastly under the dominion of the perfectly idiotic creator. So have animals for the few hundred millions of years that they have had sufficient brain capacity to feel serious affliction. Notably, some of the same theodists who have avoided trying to excuse the mass slaughter of youthful humans have gone to lengths to try to deal with the enormous problem of animal suffering. In doing so they have expressed profound ignorance of biology via knowledge gaps that interestingly atheist evolutionists often succumb to as well, such as the “Balance of Nature” in which the harsh side of premature mortality is a necessary part of the system. Which it is not, there not being such a thing as the balance of nature that having been discredited way back in the last century. The arguments presented by the loving theodists have an air of self-indulgent casual cruelty that would justify beating your dog.

The Great Moral Challenge

The chronically under-appreciated Megadisasters of the Innocents are not just about disproving the reality of a beneficent creator of good intentions. It is about the problem of those who worship such an evil entity. The subject is covered in Part 2 of the EPH studies. Theists Christians especially love to go on and on with self-indulgent self-praise about how they are doing the selfless thing of worshipping a moral God. In the process they are prone to bash those who do not do so, either by not adoring the correct God i. e. the one they happen to follow, or by not following any deity. That is cynical projection of a high order. Many if not most atheists in turn merely claim that those who choose not to believe in matters supernatural can be as moral as those that do, and demand the respect that theists likewise mandate for themselves. That is not correct in that while atheism is morally neutral and atheists are free to be highly ethical, deity worship in search of boons is inherently morally corrupt. When theists are moral as they often are, it’s despite their religion, not because of it.

Even today 15,000 children die every 24 hours. By historical standards that is a remarkable, science and technology based achievement in mortality percentage terms that shows humanity cares vastly more than any creator who has shown stunning indifference to the fate of the preborn and children. On the other hand in absolute numbers it is a fairly typical per annum toll that has been seen for millennia. In principle humans can drive that number even lower by running a better world, but that will be very difficult to do, and it is not the fault of the children that so many still die like flies.

If there is God as a powerful as billions claim there is without any actual evidence to that effect, then it can put a stop to the death of the children in an instant. But Christians don’t care about that all that much. Seriously, they don’t. What is the priority of a devout Christian? Or Muslim? Is it to save the lives of children? No, that is the side show – would be very nice, but they have dreams much more important in their narcissistic eyes. Their true goal is to get to their god’s paradise. Which requires total obedience, and no criticism of their God lest they lose their ticket to heaven and perhaps get one to hell. So whatever God does is OK. Overseas a planet that causes immense suffering to trillions of animals for millions of years, and aborts billions of preborn and tortures to death billions more tykes? Not a problem, the ways of God being mysterious and all. Because Christians and the like are seeking gifts from God in exchange for looking the other way, they are hypocritical moral relativists and self-aggrandizer of a high order.

Atheists are not that. Not in that regard.

The EPH articles got about as much attention from the news media has had the P&T paper. None. And much the same response from the theologians. After a bluntly stated press release on part one was rejected by Religion News Service, and more cleverly written PR for the second half did the trick (https://religionnews.com/2021/11/22/new-academic-study-on-free-will-theology), not that it resulted in any coverage.

The lack of media coverage of the children’s holocaust in a world swamped with God is good chat is an outrage. As is how for thousands of years theism has flipped the truth by managing to make it out that the creator of a child killing planet is perfect in its morality when such is impossible, while making it seem that the humans who have saved billions of young lives with modern medicine are sinful entities. It is a pernicious scam being pulled off by the religion industry that has enjoyed tremendous success – but is faltering in a world increasingly skeptical of organized theism.

So what to do about it? That is discussed in Part 2 of the EPH work. That atheists have not gotten the news about the mass death of the premature out to the general population is a massive failure that goes way back, should have been done decades ago if not earlier. So time for us nontheists to get our rational and caring about the kids butts in gear and spread the bad news. Go on the moral offensive. Explain the that the vast scale of the Holocaust of the Children and the Brutalization of the Animals leaves no doubt that if there is a creator, it is a nasty piece of work. One unworthy of worship. And that doing so is gravely immoral. Seriously, why not do this? It is the truth, and it may be the moral straw that finally breaks the ethical back of religion that is already crashing in much of the world while a good chunk of what remains goes depraved reactionary.

As per, throw the mass death of the preborn in the laps of the forced birth movements, which is almost entirely an effort by the evangelical and Catholic right to reimpose a conservative Christian culture on Americans in violation of the 1st Amendment (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/the-forced-birth-movement-hates-real-religious-liberty-how-to-use-that-against-them-by-making-abortion-a-religious-and-medical-right). Who are they to claim that induced abortion is sinful murder when the creator whose behind they kiss in their search for a nice afterlife is fine with his nature killing off the unborn at a rate ten times higher than what mothers do by artificial means? If there is a creator then it is the Great Murderer of the Unborn, we humans are just running a little sideshow on that – specifically, during the period of Roe v Wade over 60 million induced abortions occurred, which is dwarfed by the nearly billion natural miscarriages over the same period in the US. If the theoconservatives really think that abortions should be stopped, then they should first demand that their God save the lives of all the over 1 million that miscarry each and every day, about 30,000 of them in these United States. Which would show that there is a God that actually gives a damn about it. But they won’t do that. Why? because they dare not challenge the deity they hope will assign them to His Heaven. So they are as corrupt as they are hypocritical in wanting to make induced abortion a crime. And because deep down a lot of them know it is all a fantasy.

On the larger scale, to the thesits issue the Great Moral Challenge. Tell them to stop selfishly worshipping their gods that they want stuff from until it puts a stop to the deaths of the children. Of course they won’t do it. But it will expose the falsity of their divine morality to a degree not yet seen.

Getting the Information Out to a Secularizing World

Spare me the negative and not all that useful chat about what is the point of the above seeing as how religion just keeps chugging along despite believers being called out on the absurdity and immorality of their beliefs since the classical Greeks. For one thing, religion is in a demographic crisis of a scale it has never seen before in the face of modernity (http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf, also see Ronald Inglehart 2021 Religion’s Sudden Decline: What’s Causing Ir, and What Come’s Next). And the religious community has never been faced square on with the scale of the loss of immature humans, and how that wrecks Free Will Theodicy and any possibility of basic decency in a God or in worshipping such a brutal being. Could be a game changer. Or not. The only way to gauge what popularization of the Megadisaster of the Innocents would accomplish is to put it out there big time and see what it does or does not do. Let’s go on moral the offense.

That includes putting the prominent theologians who keep pushing the Good God thesis while ignoring the 50 billion dead kids to at long last directly address the question on the spot to either come up with a compelling answer that actually makes sense. And if and when they can’t do so admit they are wrong. Again not bloody likely to happen but they will have been shown up for the vacuity of their arguments. Again, let’s go on the ethical offense.

It is, after all, what the deceased too soon children deserve. No?

And check out the P&T and EPH papers, and tell your friends. The more the better.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 7: More 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 from the Gospel of John 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.

In Part 6 of this series, I argued that John 8:12, John 8:46, and John 8:58 FAIL to show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God. In this current post, I will argue that the remaining three verses from the Gospel of John quoted by Kreeft and Tacelli also FAIL to show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.

EXAMINATION OF JOHN 10:30

Kreeft and Tacelli point out that Jesus called God his father:

Jesus called God his Father: “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30)…

(HCA, p.150)

Clearly, calling God one’s “father” is NOT a LITERAL statement. God does not have male sexual organs, because God, according to Christian theology, does not have a body. So, God cannot engage in sexual intercourse and God cannot ejaculate sperm in order to cause the fertilization of a human egg in a human female. Therefore, God CANNOT be a LITERAL father to anyone. (There are things that God CANNOT DO because God lacks a body. For example, God cannot eat a cheeseburger or cut his finger.) Calling God one’s “father” is necessarily a METAPHORICAL or SYMBOLIC statement that requires interpretation.

Kreeft and Tacelli seem to think that Jesus calling God his “father” means that Jesus was claiming to LITERALLY be God. This inference is clearly INVALID and ILLOGICAL because Jesus also said to his followers and disciples that God was THEIR father! Jesus did NOT believe that each one of his followers and disciples was LITERALLY God. So, calling God his “father” was NOT a claim to LITERALLY be God.

Kreeft and Tacelli, for some reason, FAIL to mention that Jesus frequently said to his followers and disciples that God was THEIR father. So, either Kreeft and Tacelli have never bothered to actually READ the Gospels, or they are IDIOTS. It is simply not possible for a person of normal intelligence to READ the Gospels and yet FAIL to notice that Jesus frequently says to his followers and disciples that God is THEIR father. Only an IDIOT would miss this constant refrain in the words of Jesus found in the Gospels:

25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

(Mark 11:25, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

(Luke 6:36, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

2 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be revered as holy.
May your kingdom come.

(Luke 11:2, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

29 And do not keep seeking what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.
30 For it is the nations of the world that seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

(Luke 12:29-31, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5:16, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matthew 5:44-48, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

If Kreeft or Tacelli had actually READ Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew, they would have to be MORONS to fail to notice that Jesus repeatedly said to his followers and disciples that God was THEIR father:

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be revered as holy.
10 May your kingdom come.
May your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look somber, like the hypocrites, for they mark their faces to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

(Matthew 6:1-18, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Here is another passage from verses near the end of Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life?
28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
32 For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

(Matthew 6:25-33, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Even in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers that God is THEIR father:

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

(John 20:17, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Once again, Kreeft and Tacelli have revealed their incredible ignorance about the contents of the Gospels. They have almost no ability to intelligently read and interpret the Gospels.

There is a second important point about John 10:30, which is that Jesus claimed to be “one” with God (“the Father”). Does this statement amount to a claim by Jesus to LITERALLY be God? It is fairly obvious that this is NOT a claim by Jesus to LITERALLY be God.

The idea of being “one” with God is VAGUE and UNCLEAR. It might mean that Jesus is the same person as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. But according to standard Christian theology, God is THREE PERSONS, not one person. Jesus is, supposedly, one person in the Trinity, and “the Father” is another person in the Trinity, so Christians reject the interpretation of this verse as Jesus claiming to be the SAME PERSON as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, because there are three different persons that constitute God (the Trinity). Most Christians reject the interpretation of John 10:30 as Jesus claiming to be the SAME PERSON as “the Father”, but they do so because this contradicts traditional Christian dogma.

Being “one” with God might also mean that Jesus was “one team” with God, meaning that they both worked together for the same purpose, according to the same plan. This interpretation fits well with the other things Jesus says in the same passage:

24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me,
26 but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.
27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
29 My Father, in regard to what he has given me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
30 The Father and I are one.”

(John 10:24-30, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

First, notice that Jesus asserts that “My Father…is greater than all…”. In this context, Jesus means that “God is more powerful than anyone else.” But this implies that “God is more powerful than I am.” If God is more powerful than Jesus, then that means that Jesus is NOT OMNIPOTENT, and if Jesus is NOT OMNIPOTENT, then Jesus CANNOT be God because omnipotence is one of the basic divine attributes. Only a person who is OMNIPOTENT can be God. Thus, in the verse immediately before John 10:30, Jesus makes a claim that clearly implies that he (Jesus) is NOT God. Somehow Kreeft and Tacelli failed to notice verse 29. Once again they reveal their inability to intelligently read and interpret the Gospels.

Second, Jesus clearly believes that he and God are both dedicated to working together to give eternal life to the followers of Jesus. They share that same goal and are both working to make sure that goal is achieved. Jesus is confident that he will be successful because he believes that God is on his side and that it is God’s goal, as well as Jesus’s goal, to give eternal life to the followers of Jesus: they are one team working for the same goal.

This interpretation of this passage from Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John is a PLAUSIBLE and REASONABLE interpretation, even if it is not the only plausible interpretation of this passage. But on this REASONABLE interpretation, John 10:30 does NOT amount to Jesus claiming to LITERALLY be God, to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe, and the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good ruler of the universe.

A third problem with the interpretation of Jesus’s claim to be “one” with God as meaning that Jesus was claiming to LITERALLY be God, is that Jesus also implied that his disciples would be “one” with him. So, if Jesus was in fact God, and his disciples were “one” with Jesus, then that implies that his disciples were ALSO “one with God”.

But according to the interpretation of Kreeft and Tacelli, being “one” with God MEANS LITERALLY being God. Thus, based on their reasoning, they would logically have to conclude that each of Jesus’s disciples was LITERALLY God. But Kreeft and Tacelli obviously REJECT the idea that each of Jesus’s disciples was LITERALLY God. To avoid this conclusion, one must either (a) reject the view that being “one with God” means being LITERALLY God, (b) reject the view that Jesus was LITERALLY God, or (c) reject the view that the disciples were (or would be) “one” with Jesus.

Being “one with the Father” or “one with God” is a VAGUE notion. What does Jesus mean by this? When Jesus asserts “The Father and I are one”, his Jewish audience becomes angry. Jesus then provides a big clue as to what he means by being “one with God”. He defends his claim by pointing to his (alleged) wonderful miracles (“good works”):

30 The Father and I are one.”
31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him.
32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?”
[…]
37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.
38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

(John 10:30-32 & 37-38, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

Notice that the reason Jesus points to his miracles is to persuade his audience that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (see verse 38). Jesus clearly believes that showing that God is in Jesus and that Jesus is in God amounts to showing that he (Jesus) is “one with God”.

Although Jesus does not directly and explicitly state that his disciples are “one with God”, he does imply this to be the case, or that it will be the case, by saying that his disciples will be in God and Jesus and that God and Jesus will be in them:

11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
[…]
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word,

21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

(John 17:11 & 20-23, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Jesus asks God to make sure that his disciples and followers will be “in us”, that is to say in God and Jesus. And Jesus also asks God to make sure that Jesus is “in them” and “you in me”, that is to say, God is in Jesus and Jesus is in his followers.

If God is in Jesus, and Jesus is in his followers, then that implies that God is in the followers of Jesus. Therefore, this alleged prayer of Jesus shows that Jesus believed that at some point in time Jesus and God would be “in his followers” and his followers would also be “in Jesus and God”. But that means that Jesus believed that at some point in time the followers of Jesus would be “one with Jesus”. Therefore, as explained above, based on the reasoning of Kreeft and Tacelli, they must logically conclude that each of the followers of Jesus is (or will become) LITERALLY God.

So, they either have to REJECT Jesus’ belief that his disciples would become “one” with Jesus, or they have to REJECT the view that Jesus is LITERALLY God, or they have to reject their own interpretation of what it means for a person to be “one with God”. There is clearly an ERROR or FALSE ASSUMPTION in their reasoning.

The most REASONABLE interpretation of Jesus’ belief that his disciples would be “one” with him, is that he meant they could be “one team” with him, that his disciples could work together with him to achieve a shared goal in accordance with a shared plan. That is the most REASONABLE interpretation of what Jesus was saying. So, given that it is very likely that Jesus spoke of his disciples being “one” with him, and meant this as being “one team” with him, it seems likely that when Jesus spoke of being “one” with God in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, that he also meant being “one team” with God, and did NOT mean a claim to LITERALLY be God.

Because there is a PLAUSIBLE and REASONABLE interpretation of John 10:30 in which Jesus does NOT claim to LITERALLY be God, John 10:30 FAILS to show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Because the reasoning that Kreeft and Tacelli use to conclude that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God in John 10:30 implies that Jesus also claimed that his followers would each LITERALLY become God, it is clear that there is an ERROR in their reasoning about this verse, so John 10:30 does NOT show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.

EXAMINATION OF JOHN 11:25

Kreeft and Tacelli provide another quote from the Gospel of John as proof that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God:

Jesus claimed to save us from sin and death. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die.”

(HCA, p.150)

The (alleged) words of Jesus here come from John 11:25. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus really did say these words.

The statement “I am the resurrection and the life” is clearly NOT a LITERAL statement. It is a METAPHORICAL or SYMBOLIC statement. “The resurrection” is a dramatic worldwide event that many Jews in Jesus’ time believed would occur in the future. Most Christians have believed that “the resurrection” is a dramatic worldwide event that will occur in the future. But Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, and Jesus was NOT a dramatic worldwide event. So, this statement is clearly NOT a LITERAL statement.

However, the statement that “He who believes in me will never die” is a LITERAL statement that can be understood in a straightforward manner. This statement tells us that Jesus believed that one day there will be a resurrection of the dead and that when God raises people from the dead, some people will be granted eternal life because they believed in Jesus and were followers of Jesus. In other words, Jesus believed that God sent Jesus to provide a way for human beings to obtain eternal life. OK. But this has NOTHING to do with whether Jesus is the eternal creator of the universe. And this has NOTHING to do with whether Jesus is the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

Clearly, if God sent a particular person to provide a way for human beings to obtain eternal life, then that person whom God sent is a Very Important Person in God’s plans for human beings. So, if Jesus actually believed that God sent him to provide human beings with a way to obtain eternal life, then Jesus believed himself to be a Very Important Person in God’s plans for human beings. But there is an OBVIOUS difference between being a Very Important Person in God’s plans for human beings, on the one hand, and LITERALLY being God.

Clearly, one could be a Very Important Person in God’s plans for human beings, and yet NOT be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. For example, Moses was a great prophet according to both Jews and Christians, so Moses was a Very Important Person in God’s plans for human beings, according to both Jews and Christians. But NOBODY believes that Moses was LITERALLY God. NOBODY believes that Moses was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Therefore, John 11:25 CLEARLY FAILS to show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.

EXAMINATION OF JOHN 14:9

Kreeft and Tacelli provide one more quote from the Gospel of John as proof that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God:

Jesus called God his Father: …”Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).

(HCA, p.150)

As I pointed out in my examination of John 10:30, claiming that God is one’s “father” is NECESSARILY a METAPHORICAL or SYMBOLIC statement, not a LITERAL statement. So, this statement requires interpretation.

More importantly, Jesus repeatedly said to his disciples and followers that God was THEIR “father”. So, based on the reasoning of Kreeft and Tacelli, each of the disciples and followers of Jesus must LITERALLY be God! But, of course, Kreeft and Tacelli don’t believe that.

Furthermore, according to the Gospel of John, some Jews in the first century other than Jesus also spoke of God as being their “father”:

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did,
40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
41 You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one Father, God himself.
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God, and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

(John 8:39-42, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Since Jesus believed that God was the “father” of his disciples and followers, and since Jews in the first century other than Jesus sometimes referred to God as being their “father”, the fact that Jesus “called God his Father” FAILS to show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.

A second aspect of this verse is that Jesus says that seeing him amounts to seeing “the Father”, so Jesus asserted that seeing Jesus amounts to seeing God. This statement is also NOT a LITERAL statement. God has no body, and God is invisible and intangible according to Christian theology. Therefore, God CANNOT LITERALLY be “seen”. Invisible beings cannot be detected with physical eyes that rely upon light reflecting off of physical surfaces. So, this statement is also METAPHORICAL or SYMBOLIC and thus it requires interpretation.

If you read John 14:9 in context, Jesus gives us a big clue as to what he means by this:

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves.

(John 14:8-11, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

As when we looked at Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, Jesus links his performance of miracles “because of the works themselves” with his being “in the Father” (i.e. “in God”) and with “the Father” being in him. So, what Jesus MEANS by saying that seeing him amounts to seeing “the Father” (i.e. “seeing God”) is that Jesus is “in God” and God is “in Jesus”. But, as we saw in our examination of John 10:30, Jesus also believed that his disciples and followers would be “in God” and that God would be “in them”. But Jesus did NOT believe that his disciples and followers were each LITERALLY God, so God being in a person, and that person being in God does NOT mean that the person in question is LITERALLY the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

Therefore, when Jesus said “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” he was speaking METAPHORICALLY or SYMBOLICALLY not LITERALLY, and what he meant was that God was “in Jesus” and that Jesus was “in God” and this, as we have previously seen, does NOT MEAN that Jesus was claiming to LITERALLY be God.

CONCLUSION ABOUT KREEFT AND TACELLI QUOTES FROM JOHN

NONE of the six verses from the Gospel of John quoted by Kreeft and Tacelli (at the beginning of Chapter 7 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics) as proof that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God actually show that Jesus made such a claim. Therefore, even if we assume for the sake of argument that the Gospel of John provides historically accurate information about the words and teachings of Jesus (it clearly does NOT do so), the evidence from the Gospel of John FAILS to show that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

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 from the Gospel of John 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:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 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 3:3-6, 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_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_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_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.

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 1: The Basic Argument

Christian philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli make a case for the divinity of Jesus in Chapter 7 of their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 1994, hereafter: HCA). Because their case for the existence of God (in Chapter 3 of HCA) and their case for the resurrection of Jesus (in Chapter 8 of HCA) both FAIL miserably, it is reasonable to anticipate that their case for Jesus’s divinity will also FAIL.

Furthermore, in the process of evaluating one of their objections to the Myth Theory, I examined their “scriptural data” supporting the divinity of Jesus (in Chapter 7 of HCA) and found serious problems with the conclusions they derived from that data: Defending the Myth Theory – INDEX (see Parts 4 through 7). So, I already have good reason to believe that a key part of their case for Jesus’s divinity FAILS.

Kreeft provides a very brief summary of this case early in Chapter 7:

Jesus claimed to be God, and Jesus is believable, therefore Jesus is God.

(HCA, p.156)

From this summary argument, we see that the conclusion of the main argument in Chapter 7 is this:

Jesus is God.

We also see that a key premise of the argument is this:

Jesus claimed to be God.

A couple of pages later, Kreeft goes on to spell out a more complex version of this argument:

1. Jesus was either Lord, liar, lunatic, guru, or myth.

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

3. Therefore “Jesus is Lord”…

(HCA, p.158).

Based on Kreeft’s initial summary argument, we know that the conclusion he is trying to establish is NOT the vague claim that “Jesus is Lord” but the strong and clear claim that Jesus is God.

So, in order for Kreeft’s argument to work to establish his intended conclusion, the wording of the conclusion of the more complex argument must be revised, and that means the wording of the first premise must also be revised so that it supports the revised conclusion:

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.

I take it that this is the main argument in Chapter 7, and that if this argument is a bad argument, then Kreeft and Tacelli will have FAILED to establish the divinity of Jesus.

Notice that the logic of this argument is very similar to the logic of the argument presented by Kreeft and Tacelli for the resurrection of Jesus in Chapter 8. They attempted to prove that the apostles were telling the truth about the resurrection of Jesus by eliminating the alternative possibilities that the apostles were liars (the Conspiracy Theory), or that the apostles were lunatics (the Hallucination Theory), or that their story about Jesus rising from the dead was not intended to be taken literally (the Myth Theory), or that Jesus only appeared to die on the cross, so his being alive after the crucifixion was not a miracle (the Swoon Theory).

Before attempting any further clarification or evaluation of the premises of Kreeft’s argument in Chapter 7, we should clarify the conclusion a bit more:

3A. Jesus is God.

What does it mean to say that “X is God”? Primarily, this means that “X has the divine attributes”, the attributes that make God who God is. Kreeft and Tacelli spell out some key divine attributes in Chapter 4 of HCA:

…God is spiritual… God is not a material being.

(HCA, p.92)

God Is Eternal

(HCA, p.93)

God is the creator and sustainer of all things.

(HCA, p.95)

God Is Omniscient and Omnipotent

(HCA, p.96)

God Is Good…God cannot be evil in any way…

(HCA, p.96)

Thus, the claim that

3A. Jesus is God.

has a number of implications, such as the following:

  • Jesus is spiritual. Jesus is not a material being.
  • Jesus is eternal.
  • Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things.
  • Jesus is omniscient (all-knowing).
  • Jesus is omnipotent (all-powerful).
  • Jesus is good. Jesus cannot be evil in any way.

If we find out that Jesus has all of these divine attributes, then that would show that Jesus is God. Similarly, if we find out that Jesus lacks some of these divine attributes, that would show that Jesus is NOT God.

bookmark_borderDefending the Myth Theory: COMPLETED

After my series of posts on the Hallucination Theory, where I showed that every one of Peter Kreeft’s objections against that theory FAILS, I started another series where I examined each of Kreeft’s objections against the Myth Theory. I also showed that every one of Kreeft’s objections against the Myth Theory FAILS:

Because The Secular Outpost had shut down, I published that entire series of fifteen posts on my own blog:

Thinking Critically about: God, Jesus, and the Bible

I have also published an article that has links to all of the posts where I defended the Myth Theory:

Defending the Myth Theory – INDEX

bookmark_borderThe Complete FAILURE of Peter Kreeft’s Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

In Chapter 8 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics (1994, InterVarsity Press, hereafter: HCA), philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli attempt to prove that Jesus really physically rose from the dead.

The idea of trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus in just twenty-two pages (without a single footnote or endnote) is ridiculous, but most Christian apologists believe they can prove just about any extraordinary claim in just a few paragraphs or in a few pages, so the pathetic attempt by Kreeft and Tacelli to prove the resurrection of Jesus in one short chapter is actually above average in terms of intellectual effort typically made by Christian apologists.

Kreeft and Tacelli identify FIVE Theories concerned about “what really happened in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday…” :

1. Christianity: “the resurrection really happened”

2. Hallucination: “the apostles were deceived by a hallucination”

3. Myth: “the apostles created a myth, not meaning it literally”

4. Conspiracy: “the apostles were deceivers who conspired to foist on the world the most famous and successful lie in history”

5. Swoon:  “Jesus only swooned and was resuscitated, not resurrected”

According to Kreeft and Tacelli, they can PROVE that Jesus rose from the dead by refuting the four skeptical theories above:

If we can refute all other theories (2-5), we will have proved the truth of the resurrection (1).

(HCA, p.182)

Kreeft and Tacelli claim to do just that in their one brief chapter on the resurrection:

Swoon, conspiracy, hallucination, and myth have been shown to be the only alternatives to a real resurrection, and each has been refuted.

(HCA, p.195)

These key claims form the overall argument of Chapter 8:

1. IF Kreeft and Tacelli have refuted the Hallucination Theory, and refuted the Myth Theory, and refuted the Conspiracy Theory, and refuted the Swoon Theory, THEN Kreeft and Tacelli have proven that Jesus really rose from the dead.

2. Kreeft and Tacelli have refuted the Hallucination Theory, and refuted the Myth Theory, and refuted the Conspiracy Theory, and refuted the Swoon Theory.

THEREFORE:

3. Kreeft and Tacelli have proven that Jesus really rose from the dead.

The logic of this argument is fine. However, there are two serious problems with this argument. First, premise (1) is FALSE. Second, premise (2) is FALSE. So, the overall argument of Chapter 8 is an UNSOUND argument. Or, as we in the philosophy and critical thinking business like to say, this argument is a piece of CRAP.

PREMISE (2) OF THE OVERALL ARGUMENT IN CHAPTER 8 IS FALSE

Here, again, is premise (2) of the overall argument in Chapter 8:

2. Kreeft and Tacelli have refuted the Hallucination Theory, and refuted the Myth Theory, and refuted the Conspiracy Theory, and refuted the Swoon Theory.

Kreeft and Tacelli raise fourteen objections against the Hallucination Theory, but each of these objections FAILS, so they completely FAIL to refute the Hallucination Theory, as I have argued in a series of posts on this subject:

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Index

Kreeft and Tacelli raise six objections against the Myth Theory, but each of these objections FAILS, so they completely FAIL to refute the Myth Theory, as I have argued in a series of posts on this subject:

Defending the Myth Theory – INDEX

Kreeft and Tacelli raise seven objections against the Conspiracy Theory, but each of these objections FAILS, so they completely FAIL to refute the Conspiracy Theory, as I have argued in a series of posts on this subject:

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – INDEX

Kreeft and Tacelli raise nine objections against the Swoon Theory, but each of these objections FAILS, so they completely FAIL to refute the Swoon Theory, as I have argued in a series of posts on this subject:

Defending the Swoon Theory – INDEX

Since every single objection raised by Kreeft and Tacelli against every one of the four skeptical theories FAILS, it is clearly and obviously the case that they have FAILED to refute ANY of the four skeptical theories. Thus, premise (2) of the overall argument in Chapter 8 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics is FALSE. Therefore, the overall argument in Chapter 8 is UNSOUND and should be rejected.

PREMISE (1) OF THE OVERALL ARGUMENT IN CHAPTER 8 IS FALSE

Here, again, is premise (1) of the overall argument in Chapter 8:

1. IF Kreeft and Tacelli have refuted the Hallucination Theory, and refuted the Myth Theory, and refuted the Conspiracy Theory, and refuted the Swoon Theory, THEN Kreeft and Tacelli have proven that Jesus really rose from the dead.

I have argued that there are MANY MORE skeptical theories in addition to the four theories that Kreeft and Tacelli attempt (but completely FAIL) to refute. Because there are MANY MORE skeptical theories in addition to the four that Kreeft and Tacelli discuss, it is clear that premise (1) is FALSE.

In the following two posts, I show that there are MANY MORE skeptical theories in addition to the four discussed by Kreeft and Tacelli:

The Complete FAILURE of Peter Kreeft’s Case for the Resurrection – Part 1: Three Serious Problems

The Complete FAILURE of Peter Kreeft’s Case for the Resurrection – Part 2: MANY Skeptical Theories

Because Premise (1) of the overall argument in Chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics is clearly FALSE, the overall argument in Chapter 8 is UNSOUND and should be rejected. And because it is also clearly the case that premise (2) of that argument is FALSE, there can be no doubt that the overall argument in Chapter 8 is UNSOUND, and should be rejected.

The case for the resurrection of Jesus by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Chapter 8 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics is a COMPLETE FAILURE.

bookmark_borderDefending the Hallucination Theory: COMPLETED

At the end of November 2021, I published Part 17 in a series of posts defending the Hallucination Theory of the alleged resurrection of Jesus. At that point, The Secular Outpost shut down.

However, I continued to write and publish further posts in that series over at my own blog:

THINKING CRITICALLY ABOUT: GOD, JESUS, AND THE BIBLE

I published Part 18 of this series on December 9, 2021, and then continued to publish posts in this series until I completed refuting every objection raised against the Hallucination Theory by Peter Kreeft. In Part 45, which was published on February 10th 2022, I finished refuting Kreeft’s final objection.

I also published an INDEX article that has links to the first 17 posts published at The Secular Outpost, and also links to the rest of the posts (Part 18 to Part 45) that I published on my own blog:

Defending the Hallucination Theory – INDEX