Archive by Author

How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response

Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, released just yesterday, is the most recent example of a scholarly tradition of books with similar titles offering to explain how Christianity turned a simple itinerant Jewish teacher into the Second Person of the Trinity. Two of the earlier, notable such books were Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God (1999) and Larry Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (2005). In what may be an unprecedented publishing event, a book by evangelical scholars critiquing Ehrman’s book was released at the same time yesterday, entitled How God Became Jesus. The concurrent publication of the rebuttal book was facilitated by the fact that its publishing house, Zondervan, is owned by HarperCollins, which published Ehrman’s book under the HarperOne imprint.

Ehrman, of course, has more name recognition in the English-speaking world than any other biblical scholar today, due especially to his de-conversion story (enthusiastically disseminated in the mainstream media) of abandoning evangelical Christian belief and becoming an agnostic. Sadly, he is probably a hundred times better known than any of the five scholars who contributed to How God Became Jesus. In particular, it is a shame that Craig A. Evans is not better known. Evans is also the author of what I consider the stand-out chapter responding to Ehrman. More on that later.

An Overview of the Two Books

Ehrman’s thesis is that Jesus was not viewed, by himself or his disciples, as in any sense divine during his lifetime, but that belief in his divinity arose almost immediately after his disciples had visions of Jesus that they interpreted as meaning that God had raised him bodily from the dead. Continue Reading →

Shawn McCraney on the Linear Thinking of His Theological Critics

Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who became a “born-again” Christian and eventually left Mormonism, received some ministry training through Calvary Chapel, and launched his own ministry in Salt Lake City to evangelize Mormons. In the past few weeks Shawn has gone public on his television show denouncing the term Trinity as “garbage” and explaining his own doctrine of God in ways that have been confused at best. I flew out to Utah to meet with Shawn, had very friendly and enjoyable conversations with him, and appeared on Shawn’s show Heart of the Matter. I also posted a few messages on Facebook regarding the controversy.

On March 12, 2014, Shawn McCraney’s lecture on his TV show was a critical response to his critics, whom he characterized as scholars, theologians, and apologists who impose their exclusively “linear thinking” on the church to rule, control, and dominate. There is a “teachable moment” here because the issues that Shawn’s argument raises have relevance beyond the specific controversy over his teaching. Continue Reading →

How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist

In an article on Huffington Post (naturally) entitled How to Debate a Christian Apologist, atheist Victor Stenger explains why non-Christians usually do so badly in debates with Christians and then offers a cheat sheet of brief answers to Christian apologetic arguments. The reason why the Christians do so well, according to Stenger, is that they have had years to polish their arguments in their religion classes and churches. The atheists, apparently, don’t have comparable opportunities. This will come as a surprise to Christian students throughout the Western world who have sat under atheists and other skeptical professors routinely spouting off against Christianity even if it entails ignoring the subject matter of the course. Continue Reading →

John Shelby Spong on the Gospel of John

John Shelby Spong’s newest book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, was released this week. For those unfamiliar with Spong, he is a retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and the author of a string of notorious books such as Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (1992), Why Christianity Must Change or Die (1999), A New Christianity for a New World (2002), and Jesus for the Non-Religious (2008). The recurring theme in these books, reflected in some of the titles, is that Christianity must stop being Christianity and become a mildly spiritual humanism. (Spong actually won the 1999 Humanist of the Year award.) Spong is a devotee of the liberal humanistic theology of Paul Tillich (1886-1965), a German-American theologian who argued that God was not a personal Creator but the ground of being, or being itself. This is a philosophically sophisticated way of saying that God does not exist, of having one’s God and eating It too. Spong has also written several books attacking specific traditional Christian beliefs and values, such as Living in Sin? (1990, against traditional Christian sexual values), Born of a Woman (1994, no virgin birth), Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (1995, no resurrection of Jesus), and Eternal Life: A New Vision (2010, no heaven or hell).

Spong claims, both in the book and in an article on Huffington Post promoting the book, that The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic is the result of an “intensive five-year-long study” of the Gospel of John and of Johannine scholarship. “I have now read almost every recognized major commentary on John’s gospel that is available in English from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries” (Fourth Gospel, 8). Unfortunately, it doesn’t show. Continue Reading →

14 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—and 14 References

In this article I will summarize, as briefly as possible, fourteen evidences for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The summaries of each point are deliberately brief and undeveloped. No pretense is made here of having anticipated every response that skeptics might make. Nor is this an exhaustive list of evidences. Rather, it is a simple overview of many of the factual elements that contribute to the historical case for Jesus’ resurrection. No one point is by itself absolute proof that Jesus rose from the dead, but the evidence is cumulative (that is, each piece adds further weight to the total) and integrative (that is, the various facts fit together in a meaningful whole). The result is a very strong case that Jesus (a) died, (b) was buried, (c) rose from the dead, and (d) appeared alive to a variety of persons (1 Cor. 15:3-8). At the end of this article is an annotated bibliography of 14 books that examine in great detail the issues touched upon in the list of 14 evidences.

 

14 EVIDENCES

  1. JESUS’ EXISTENCE. That Jesus was a historical individual is granted by virtually all historians and is supported by ancient Christian, Jewish, and pagan sources. Yet modern skeptics often feel that their best strategy for denying the evidence of his resurrection is to deny that he even existed.
  2. JESUS’ DEATH. The most popular counter to the Resurrection in non-Christian and heretical beliefs is to deny that Jesus died on the cross (e.g., this is the position of Islam). However, historians regard the death of Jesus by crucifixion as ordered by Pontius Pilate to be as historically certain as any other fact of antiquity.
  3. CRUCIFIED MESSIAH. Crucifixion was a horrible, shameful way to die, so much so that it would never have occurred to anyone in the first century to invent a story about a crucified man as the divine Savior and King of the world. Something extreme and dramatic must have happened to lead people to accept such an idea—something like his rising from the dead. Continue Reading →

Is Limiting Marriage to Unions of a Man and a Woman Discrimination?

I’m not a legal scholar or an expert on the issue of same-sex marriage, but I’d like to offer some thoughts I have had on the subject for some time. Specifically, I want to address the complaint that the traditional restriction of marriage to unions of a man and a woman are discriminatory against gay and lesbian persons.

same-sex-marriage

I would suggest that laws prohibiting two men to marry one another, or two women to marry one another, are not discriminatory at all. They do not even discriminate based on sexual preference or orientation. If you’re homosexual, you can still get married, as long as it is to a person of the opposite gender. To understand why this is not discrimination, consider a far more common sexual orientation and its relevance to the issue of marriage.

A fairly typical male has natural inclinations or proclivities toward sexual relationships with multiple females. That is, he has biological urges that cause him to find women sexually attractive other than his wife. Moreover, this typical male doesn’t seem to be able to eliminate these feelings. They appear to be natural to him. For some reason, he has not yet been added to the alphabet soup of persecuted groups, LGBTQIA, but perhaps he should be. After all, there are a lot of guys in this category, and they get no respect. Admittedly some females have a similar desire to be united sexually with multiple males, and we don’t want to ignore them. Call these people, both males and females, the polyamorous, or the promiscuous, and add them to the mix. Now we have the LGBTQIAP.

At the present time the law allows Ps to pursue sexual relationships with any number of females that they might like as long as they are adults and consent. However, a P cannot be married to more than one woman. He can set up house with each one, if he can afford it, and procreate children by each one, but the fact is that he would not be allowed to marry any of them except one. The law does not allow him to marry anyone else as long as he is already married. Is this “discrimination”? No. The law is not discriminating against promiscuous men. The fact that he may feel that he sincerely “loves” more than one woman does not make the law discriminatory. The P is free to marry; but he is free to marry only one person. The male P is free to marry one person, and that person must be (a) female, (b) not a biological relative within certain parameters, (c) an adult, and (d) consenting to the marriage. So the law is not discriminating against him personally, nor is it discriminating against a class of people (the Ps).

A promiscuous man, then, may marry if he chooses. In doing so he is choosing to renounce his natural inclinations toward multiple sexual partners in the interests of a higher purpose. Billions of Ps have done just that throughout history; thousands of Ps are doing this every week. If a man simply finds refusing his promiscuous inclinations too painful, he is also free not to marry. But it would be ridiculous to claim that marriages with multiple partners needs to be made into a legally sanctioned and protected form of marriage on the grounds that not doing so “discriminates” against the P class of people. At least it seems ridiculous now to most of us. I suspect it already seems sensible to a few of us and that it may seem less ridiculous as our society abandons the traditional understanding of marriage. However sensible or ridiculous one may find such an idea, the fact remains that laws limiting marriages to unions of just two persons are not discriminatory.

Similarly, laws against incest discriminate against no one. Suppose a man and his sister feel that they are in love and want to live together, share property together, have each other in their wills, procreate or adopt children together, etc., etc. Is the law discriminating against them by refusing to recognize their relationship as a marriage? No. Refusing to sanction certain types of unions as marriages is not discrimination. Our law refuses to sanction as marriage sexual unions between an adult and a child, between two consenting adults who are siblings, and between any two individuals if one or both of them are already married to someone else.

Likewise, the lack of legal sanction for same-sex marriages does not constitute discrimination against any individual or class of individuals. No law currently requires anyone to identify his or her sexual orientation prior to getting married. Any consenting adult may marry any other consenting adult within certain limitations: the other adult must not be a close biological relative, must not already be married to someone else, and must be of the opposite gender. The law does not ask how you feel about sex with persons of the same gender or of different gender; it does not ask how many persons you find sexually attractive. It therefore does not discriminate against a class of persons based on their sexual orientation. It does, however, limit the government’s official sanction of marriage in specific ways. One may not like those limitations, or one may argue on some other grounds that they should be eliminated, but they are not discriminatory.

The main objection to the above line of reasoning is that it would mean that prohibiting people of different races to marry one another would not be discriminatory. After all, anti-miscegenation laws, so the objection goes, prohibited no one from getting married, but only prohibited certain kinds of unions, namely, interracial marriages. There are a lot of problems with this objection, not the least of which is that race is an amorphous construct that cannot be defined in a clear enough way to be coherently applicable to marriage laws.[1] It is really not even possible to find an arbitrary standard by which anti-miscegenation laws can be consistently enforced. Those laws, which were on the books in some states in America for two to three centuries, were unjust laws, but not because they “discriminated” against a particular class of people; they applied to ALL people and were nevertheless unjust. Anti-miscegenation laws were irrational on their face: supposedly a single drop of “Negro” blood made a person a Negro, but many drops of “White” blood did not make a person a White. We now know that far more Americans commonly classified as “White” have ancestors of African descent than one could guess by looking at them or even looking at a typical family tree going back a few generations.[2] There is simply no valid comparison between anti-miscegenation laws, which were themselves legal innovations, and the traditional view of marriage as a societally sanctioned union of a man and a woman.

Another problem with this objection is that miscegenationist marriages entail no differences in potential functionality than any other marriages. A black man and a white woman who are married can potentially perform any function normally associated with marriage in the very same way as a white man and a white woman. The claim here is not merely that each and every mixed couple can procreate; it is that a couple, by virtue of its being mixed, is in no way hindered from procreation. By contrast, each and every same-sex couple, simply by virtue of its consisting of two persons of the same gender, is by definition hindered decisively from procreating. Thus a normal function of the marital union is at least possible in most marriages regardless of race or ethnicity but is by definition impossible in any same-sex union.

Also, any heterosexual couple by definition will have one parent of the same gender as any child the couple might procreate or adopt, whereas approximately one-half of all children adopted by same-sex couples (assuming an approximately equal number of gay and lesbian adoptive couples) will necessarily have no parent of the same gender. About half of the adopted boys in such households will be raised with no father. The empirical evidence is overwhelming that the lack of a father will be disadvantageous for boys. This fact cannot be swept aside by citing exceptional circumstances; there are bad heterosexual parents and I would assume by contrast admirable homosexual parents, but overall children do better if they have parents of both genders, and particularly if the boys have fathers.[3] I have nothing but admiration for women who through no fault of their own are doing their best in raising their children without husbands, and I acknowledge that homosexual parents would all things being equal be better than no parents or abusive parents. But these qualifications do not change the fact that same-sex unions, by their very nature, cannot provide the normal dynamic of child-rearing produced in families that have a father and a mother. Obviously, this potential problem does not apply to racially or ethnically mixed marriages, so once again the analogy to anti-miscegenation laws is invalidated.

Having given some reasons why restricting marriages to heterosexual unions is not comparable to anti-miscegenation laws, the argument I presented above stands that shows that disallowing same-sex unions as marriages is not discriminatory. It is more like disallowing incestuous unions as marriages, or disallowing polyamorous associations as marriages. Any consenting adult may marry any other consenting adult, but “marry” here has a specific, recognized, historic meaning, namely, to enter into a publicly-sanctioned, exclusive, perpetual union with a person of the opposite sex. If the couple are siblings, or if their expressed intent is only to enter into a temporary living arrangement, or if the persons forming the union number three or more, or if the union includes two persons of the same sex, then by definition it is not a marriage. It is not arbitrary to define marriage in this way, nor is it discriminatory.

NOTES

[1] On the difficulties inherent in defining race, see, for example, C. Loring Brace and George W. Gill, “Does Race Exist?” Nova, 15 Feb. 2000 (presenting opposing viewpoints); Michael J. Bamshad and Steve E. Olson, “Does Race Exist?” Scientific American, 10 Nov. 2003.

[2] For an interesting article on this subject, see Steve Sailer, “Analysis: White prof finds he’s not,” UPI, 8 May 2002. The article reports that an estimated 30 per cent of “White” Americans have “Black” ancestors.

[3] See the National Fatherhood Initiative’s webpage on research data on the consequences of father absence, which includes helpful citations. Only some of the data can be explained as the result of only one adult in the household.

 

Quarles Reviews Licona on the Resurrection

Charles L. Quarles of Louisiana College has a lengthy review of Michael R. Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) in the newest issue, which I just received in yesterday’s mail, of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, 4 (Dec. 2011): 839-44. Although the book represents a major advance in evangelical scholarship on the historicity of the Resurrection, discussions about the book have focused largely on Licona’s controversial  suggestion that the pericope of the saints raised from the dead (Matt. 27:52-53) may be viewed as apocalyptic imagery rather than as a literal historical occurrence. In 2011 evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler publicly denounced Licona’s interpretation as a denial of biblical inerrancy, leading to Licona’s departure from the Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board (NAMB) at the end of the year and to his being ostracized at several other evangelical institutions. (Full disclosure: Licona and I worked together in the same department at NAMB for two years, 2006-2008, and we are good friends.)

Not surprisingly, Quarles devotes about half of his review to a discussion of Licona’s handling of this one passage. Quarles offers what appears to me to be a very thoughtful and well considered critique of the apocalyptic interpretation of the pericope, which I will only summarize briefly here. He objects that the text of Matthew gives no clear indication of a shift in genre from historical narrative to apocalyptic. He posits that Licona’s arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection would also support the historicity of Matthew 27:52-53 (a point Quarles unfortunately does not develop, no doubt due to space constraints). He critiques the claim that the pericope is non-historical because it may be poetic. Quarles emphasizes that it is especially difficult to exclude historical and even evidential intent from Matthew’s statement “they appeared to many.” Finally, Quarles takes exception to Licona’s appeals to pagan parallels. His arguments here are worthy of reading and careful reflection.

Quarles mentions the controversy itself only very briefly at the end of the review:

“Recently, Licona’s position on these two verses has stirred considerable controversy, necessitating a more extensive treatment of his discussion of Matt 27:52-53 than a typical review would warrant. My hope, however, is that a treatment of two verses that amounts to only 6 pages out of the 641 pages of text in the book will not prevent conservative evangelicals from carefully reading and digesting the author’s many fine arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection” (843-44).

Amen to that.

Quarles offers no further comment on the Licona controversy, not even mentioning Norman Geisler, and says nothing about the claim that Licona’s view of the Matthean pericope is a denial of biblical inerrancy. This is rather ironic, given that JETS is the journal of a society founded on the issue of biblical inerrancy. To his credit, though, and as is appropriate in a book review, Quarles keeps the attention focused where it should be, on the relevant exegetical and hermeneutical issues and not on personalities or red-flag accusations.