Monday, July 27, 2015

How can Christians know the Manuscript Copies are accurate when they don't have the Originals?

This is Bob.

Christian:

"The thing is we do have an idea of when it (the Bible) was written, and due to textual criticism we are practically certain what the originals said (95% accuracy for OT, 99% for the NT). "

Gary:

I see Christians make this argument frequently, but I believe that there is a big hole in this argument.

Let's imagine that we have 1,000,000,000 copies/manuscripts about Story X, but we do not have the original. Even if all one billion copies agree with one another 100%, that does NOT guarantee that any of the copies correctly tell the original story. For instance, let's say that Randy wrote the original story. But Randy did not widely share his work and eventually his story was lost or destroyed. However, Bob read Randy's work, and since he couldn't take Randy's book down to Kinko's in the first century and copy it, he borrowed Randy's book and made a copy of it. However, when making a copy, Bob added new details to Randy's original story, but decided to still call his book, "The Gospel of Randy", because, Randy was an alleged eyewitness to the events and therefore Randy's name on the book would carry more weight in authenticating Bob's book.

Bob's book becomes widely circulated and billions of copies are made of it over the next 1,500 years, and all these copies of the Gospel of Randy are consistent, containing no major discrepancies in these billions of copies.

Question: Do we have the original Gospel of Randy as written by RANDY?

Answer: No. We do not. We have billions of copies of BOB'S Gospel of Randy. We have no idea what the original gospel written by Randy said.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Internet is Killing Christianity



Copied from this Christian website ChurchLeadership.org



Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline



By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir

God's marvelous Church has become culturally irrelevant and even distant from is prime purpose of knowing Him, growing in Him, and worshipping Him by making disciples! This is evidenced by what is going on in our culture and in our church. Most of the statistics tell us that...

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds. Proverbs 27:23


For the last 15 plus years, we, at the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (FASICLD) in partnership with Into Thy Word Ministries (another Francis Schaeffer vision), have been in careful, steadfast research in quest of "why so many churches are failing."

What the Statistics Tell Us

This quest started in 1992 as a Fuller Institute project that was picked up by FASICLD in 1998, seeking what had happened and why the bride of Christ was in decline. God's marvelous Church has become culturally irrelevant and even distant from is prime purpose of knowing Him, growing in Him, and worshipping Him by making disciples! This is evidenced by what is going on in our culture and in our church. Most of the statistics tell us that nearly 50% of Americans have no church home. In the 1980s, membership in the church had dropped almost 10%; then, in the 1990s, it worsened by another 12% drop-some denominations reporting a 40% drop in their membership. And now, over half way through the first decade of the 21st century, we are seeing the figures drop even more!
 
What is Going on with the Church in America?
 
The United States Census Bureau Records give some startling statistics, backed up by denominational reports and the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions:

· Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts!

· There were about 4,500 new churches started between 1990 and 2000, with a twenty year average of nearly 1000 a year.

· Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. This translates into the realization that people are leaving the church. From our research, we have found that they are leaving as hurting and wounded victims-of some kind of abuse, disillusionment, or just plain neglect!

· From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent).

· At the turn of the last century (1900), there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared to the close of this century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America! What has happened?

· Given the declining numbers and closures of Churches as compared to new church starts, there should have been over 38,000 new churches commissioned to keep up with the population growth.

· The United States now ranks third (3rd) following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians; in other words, the U.S. is becoming an ever increasing "un-reached people group."

· Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years.

· So, why do they leave-besides because of death? Why are they not coming?

More Startling Data

Between 1992 and 2002, 77% to 87% (160 million in 1992) of Americans identified themselves as Christians in most studies. However, what constitutes a Christian or a churchgoer is the question. One study that I did between 1992 and 2002 had surprising results. I found that church attendance may be half what those survey results stated. Many polls have indicated that the percentage of people who regularly attend a church service in the United States is around 40% to 50%, 20% in Canada, and 8% or less in Europe. But, when we started to count people from denominational reports and compare to census data and University research data, the numbers that were originally declared dropped by half!

· 22% of Americans "frequently" attended church in 1992, including Orthodox, Evangelical, or Protestant. (The reason why the other research is variant is due to how they ask the questions. I sought frequency over just attending. I deem frequency as at least 2 times a month as opposed to two to three times a year indicated by other statistical research.)

· 20.5% of Americans "frequently" attended church in 1995

· 19% of Americans "frequently" attended church in 1999

· 18.0% of Americans "frequently" attended in church in 2002

Now, by extrapolating the data and doing some statistical evaluation and adding some hope for revival, we can see the figures drop to 15% of Americans in attendance at a church by 2025, and a further drop to 11% or 12 % in 2050. Soon, we can catch up with Europe, which is currently "enjoying" two to four percent of its population in regular Church attendance. By the time these predictions come to pass, Europe may have no significant Church presence at all.

...Yes, I believe we do need to do a better job at reaching people. Changing some methodologies, and being creative is a good approach with which to start, but it does not solve the main problem! These are not the core issues on why people are finding other various activities to fill the Sunday time slot! Yes, we do need to re-think our methods without compromising the message. The church regards the guitar and keyboard as of the Devil while at the same time producing boring lectures and monotone messages in the King James language. Then we wonder where all the people are. Something needs to change. But, again, this is not the main problem! The problem is not that theater style is more conducive to people than the historical architecture of gothic design or thinking, or that chairs are better than pews, or storefronts better than the A-frames and cathedrals. It is not about a lack of parking, of drama, or of power point presentations. The problem is that the church has lost its way; we have fallen off the path that Christ has for us. Either we reform, and let the Lord use us to usher in revival (theologically speaking, He does not need us, but God, through history, has usually used people in His plan), or we will be like a bad science fiction movie where religion is a relic of the past!

Gary:  I disagree.

What has changed in the preaching of the "Gospel"?    I don't see a change.  Just because a church is using a praise band and an overhead projector doesn't change the 2,000 year old Christian core message that one must believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to be saved from eternal damnation in Hell. 

I believe that what has changed is that the man in the pew now has more than one source of information for evaluating the truth claims of Christianity.  In the past, the lay person's source of information for the truth claims of Christianity was one-sided:  his pastor and Christian literature.  How many of us had access to skeptics' literature just 20 years ago?  Yet today, a lay Christian can sit at his kitchen table, sip a cup of coffee, while doing a quick google search on any biblical truth claim, finding both Christian and skeptic articles on the claim in question.

The internet is killing Christianity, not some problem with the Church "losing its way".



Update:  Christianity is growing in Asia, particularly China, and in Africa.  Why is this happening in these areas of the world when it is dying in North America, Europe, Australia, and, has never made any headway in Japan?  I contend it is due to several reasons:  poverty, political repression, lower education levels, higher levels of superstition, and possibly most importantly, lack of access to the internet.  See the recent data in the table at the very bottom of the page regarding internet usage and access in the world by continent:





(continue scrolling down)



It is a large graph, so to fit it into this post, I had to post it at the very bottom of the page:














INTERNET USAGE STATISTICS
The Internet Big Picture

World Internet Users and 2015 Population Stats


WORLD INTERNET USAGE AND POPULATION STATISTICS
DEC 31, 2014 - Mid-Year Update
World Regions
Population
( 2015 Est.)
Internet Users
Dec. 31, 2000
Internet Users
Latest Data
Penetration
(% Population)
Growth
2000-2015
Users %
of Table
Africa1,158,353,0144,514,400318,633,88927.5 %6,958.2 %10.3 %
Asia4,032,654,624114,304,0001,405,121,03634.8 %1,129.3 %45.6 %
Europe827,566,464105,096,093582,441,05970.4 %454.2 %18.9 %
Middle East236,137,2353,284,800113,609,51048.1 %3,358.6 %3.7 %
North America357,172,209108,096,800310,322,25786.9 %187.1 %10.1 %
Latin America / Caribbean615,583,12718,068,919322,422,16452.4 %1,684.4 %10.5 %
Oceania / Australia37,157,1207,620,48026,789,94272.1 %251.6 %0.9 %
WORLD TOTAL7,264,623,793360,985,4923,079,339,85742.4 %753.0 %100.0 %
NOTES: (1) Internet Usage and World Population Statistics are preliminary for Dec 31, 2014. (2) CLICK on each world region name for detailed regional usage information. (3) Demographic (Population) numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau and local census agencies. (4) Internet usage information comes from data published by Nielsen Online, by the International Telecommunications Union, by GfK, local ICT Regulators and other reliable sources. (5) For definitions, disclaimers, navigation help and methodology, please refer to the Site Surfing Guide. (6) Information in this site may be cited, giving the due credit to www.internetworldstats.com. Copyright © 2001 - 2015, Miniwatts Marketing Group. All rights reserved worldwide.


Notice that in North America, internet "penetration" (access) is 87% of the population, in Europe it is 70%.  I would bet, however, that if you only calculated this figure for western Europe alone, the figure would be as high if not higher than the percentage for North America.  Notice how high the percentage is for Australia also.

In Asia, the internet access is only 35% and in Africa, it is only 28%!

I predict that as Asia and Africa catch up to North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan in education, prosperity, political freedom, and internet access, the decline of Christianity will begin in those regions of the world also.

 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Would you Believe in a Bigfoot who levitates into the Sky based on Four Anonymous Books?

 

 



He walks on water and can levitate into the clouds

Christian

How do you know that your position on Pilate is correct?

Gary:

We have no idea what really happened, friend! All we have are four anonymous books written decades after the event, two/maybe three of which borrow heavily from the first. We are both guessing what really happened. My point is that the Gospels seem, to me at least, to portray Pilate as "moral" as he prefers not to execute an "innocent" man. Based on the description of Pilate in Roman documents, I don't think he would have had any pangs of conscious in executing any Jew for any reason. My point is that the character of Pilate painted in the gospels does not square with the character of Pilate in non-Christian texts. To me this adds more doubt to the reliability of the Gospels as historically reliable texts.

Ecce Home (Behold the Man), Antonio Ciseri

Regarding the sign on the cross above Jesus, I believe that this little detail is an embellishment. I doubt its historicity, but historical or non-historical, it is inconsequential to the question at issue here, which is: Is there sufficient evidence for the claim of a first century reanimation of dead human tissue, for any reasonable person today to believe it as historical fact. I say, no. I have presented the evidence that Saul most probably also found the evidence for this claim poor. The persons in the first century who did believe there was good evidence for this supernatural story were overwhelmingly poor, uneducated Jews and Bible-ignorant Gentiles. That is NOT a ringing endorsement for the historicity of this claim.

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald 

Imagine if someone in this country made the claim of seeing a Bigfoot that levitates into the clouds, and when he presents the evidence for his claim, the only people who believe it are a group of poor, uneducated people from Appalachia and some Japanese tourists.

An Empty Tomb Proves Nothing

How many Christians are aware that the story of guards at the tomb only appears in one gospel. And the story of the guards at the tomb is not the only unique detail that appears in this one gospel. Dead saints walking out of their tombs to roam the streets, Roman guards guarding a Jewish peasant, messiah-pretender's grave, and other wild claims only appear in the gospel of... Matthew.

Christian apologists use the alleged "fact" of an empty tomb as their trump card for evidence for the Resurrection. Let's assume that the entire account in Matthew regarding Aramathea burying Jesus in his private tomb, the great stone in front of the door, and the Roman guards are all fact. Let's assume that on Sunday morning the women really did find an empty tomb. How strong of evidence is this "fact"? I assert that the empty tomb is only strong evidence IF Christians can prove that the body was guarded 24/7 from the very moment that Aramathea placed Jesus' body in the tomb to the moment the women found the tomb empty.


If there is even a ten minute window when the tomb was unguarded, that is enough time for a group of men to roll back the stone, grab the body, and make off with it. Christians will assert that NO ONE would do this for a long list of reasons, including breaking the Sabbath. I assert that Jews breaking the Sabbath is much more probable than that an invisible middle-eastern deity reanimated the dead body of a Jewish prophet and sent angels to move back the stone. Yes, in a world where anything is possible, the latter is possible, but it just is not probable. It is much more probable that devout Jews would break the Sabbath. We have evidence of the disciples breaking the Sabbath in the Gospels, so why not do it again? Also, maybe it wasn't the disciples. Maybe it was some of Jesus' family who wanted the body buried in Galilee. Or maybe it was just grave robbers who thought they could make a profit selling the remains of a messiah pretender. Maybe a small group of the Sanhedrin didn't like the idea of a blasphemer being buried in a respectable tomb, so they stole the body and tossed it into a hole, and did not tell the high priest and the other members. Or, maybe Aramethea only put the body in his tomb until Sabbath was over. After sunset Saturday night, with Pilate's permission, he removed the body and threw it into an unmarked grave.


A grave robber at work



Again, all of these scenarios are much more probable than the Christian supernatural explanation. Bottom line: We do NOT have evidence that the tomb was guarded 24/7 from the moment that Aramethea placed the body in the tomb and rolled the stone in front until the women found the tomb empty on Sunday morning. Below is the passage from Matthew:




Matthew 27

Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

Pilate Sets a Guard

62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night[m] and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Is this the Real Resurrection Story?

Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified. His body is left to rot on the cross for days, as was the Roman custom, as a warning to other trouble-makers. After a few days, what was left of his body was tossed into an unmarked hole in the ground with the bodies of other executed criminals, as was the Roman custom. Jesus' disciples were devastated. He had told them he was the Messiah. They had made plans, even telling family and friends, that they were going to rule on thrones with Jesus in the New Kingdom. But now he is dead. All their hopes and dreams are dashed to smithereens.

They return to Galilee to take up fishing again.

Then, several weeks or months or years later, a group of female disciples are walking down a road and see a man in the distance standing on a hill. He looks familiar. “It’s JESUS!” they shout with joy. “He DID rise again!” But before they reach the man, he has disappeared behind the hill and can’t be found. The women return to the Eleven and tell them that they have seen Jesus. They doubt at first, but soon the disciples and others, desperate to believe that there is still hope in Jesus’ claims, are “seeing” Jesus…and the legend of the resurrected Jesus begins.

At the beginning, what were the central “facts” of this story:

1. Jesus has been seen alive after his death, first, by women disciples.
2. The women rushed back to tell the male disciples who at first did not believe…but so wanted to believe it was true.
3. The male disciples start “seeing” Jesus in false sightings and in visions.
4. The belief in the resurrected Jesus so changes the disciples and Jesus’ family that they begin to boldly preach his resurrection as fact.

Fast forward 20-25 years to Paul. All Paul says in I Corinthians 15 is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the third day. He then gives a list of witnesses, not in order, and not with any details. This is perfectly consistent with my counter-scenario to the Resurrection story as told in the Bible. And, my naturalistic counter-scenario is much, much more probable to be the explanation of the early Resurrection belief than is the claim that an ancient middle-eastern god reanimated a dead, first century, Jewish prophet in a never-heard-of-before and never-heard-of-since supernatural act.

Fast forward to circa 70 AD. We are now FORTY years after the crucifixion of Jesus. The average life span in first century Palestine has been estimated by experts to have been forty years. So how many of the witnesses would still be alive just calculating normal life span? Now take into account the persecution that Christians had faced in Palestine by Saul and the high priest. How many more eyewitnesses were killed prior to circa 70 AD? Then we have the Roman-Jewish wars in the mid 60’s. How many more witnesses were killed during these wars? Then, in 70 AD, the Romans destroy Jerusalem and kill tens of thousands of more people.

So when “Mark” writes his first gospel talking about an empty tomb, writing his gospel in Antioch or Rome as most scholars believe, NOT in Palestine, how soon does a copy of this gospel, containing claims of an empty tomb, make it to Palestine, where any possible surviving witness could refute the gospel’s claims??

Is that you, Jesus?



Is the Key to Believing the Resurrection of Jesus "The Openness of your Heart"?


Abigail, Christian

Well, they do say there is enough evidence to believe (the Resurrection claim) if you want to, and enough not to believe if you don't want to. The choice you make reveals your heart.

Gary:

"The choice you make reveals your heart."

Thank you, Abigail! You have just stated what I believe is behind the entire Christian argument regarding the evidence for the Resurrection: It is not believable unless your "heart" is prepared to believe it.

In other words, you must set aside your skepticism; you must push aside your doubts about the probability of supernatural events; you must abandon all modern standards of evidence, reason, science, and medicine...and accept, by a leap of faith, a belief that defies everything your brain tells you is true about reality.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Saul of Tarsus did not buy, "Would not Die for a Lie"

Paul the Persecutor by Vridar
Christian apologists often state that the martyrdom of the early Christians, and specifically the martyrdom of the original disciples, those whom Christianity claims were the eyewitnesses to the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, is strong evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection.

"The Disciples wouldn't die for a lie!" Christians boldly proclaim.

But how strong is this claim, really? 

What Christians are saying is that if the alleged witnesses of the Resurrection were willing to die for this belief, this should be strong evidence to any rational, thinking, intelligent person that they were telling the truth.  They were not lying.  These appearances did not happen in visions or hallucinations. No one would die for something that they knew was not true.  Therefore, we today should believe this Christian supernatural claim as historical fact.

Ok.

Would most Christians consider Paul, otherwise known as Saul of Tarsus, to be a rational, intelligent person?

I would bet that a very high percentage of Christians would say, yes. 

Well, dear Christians, if we are to believe the accounts in Acts and in his own epistles, Saul of Tarsus did not believe that "Would not die for a lie" was sufficient evidence to believe this supernatural tale.  He did not buy it.  Prior to his personal vision experience on the Damascus Road, he continued to persecute and execute Christian after Christian, many of whom would have claimed to have seen this resurrected messiah with their own eyes, and this did not convince him of their story.

As another skeptic once wrote on his blog, "Would not Die for a Lie Doesn't Fly", and I would add, for more reasons than one.

Why did Jesus need to use Supernatural Powers and Mind Control to Convince the Eleven and Saul of his Resurrection?


Jesus appears to the unbelieving disciples
Think about this, Christian friends:

If you read the Gospels, specifically the Gospel of Luke (if we assume for the moment that the Gospels are historically accurate) none of the evidence given by Christian apologists today convinced the eleven apostles either...including a post-resurrection appearance!!

Get out your Bible and read it for yourself: The Eleven had been with Jesus for three years, they had seen incredible miracles INCLUDING raising people from the dead, they had just seen with their own eyes the empty tomb guarded by Roman guards 24/7, AND then, Jesus appears right in their midst...and do they believe? No! They are terrified because they think they are seeing a ghost (hallucinating).

Jesus then shows them his wounds, he tells them to touch him, he eats broiled fish, all to convince them that he is not a ghost. BUT, that isn't enough! Jesus then has to use his supernatural powers to "open their minds" so that FINALLY, they see the truth.

Dear friends: If seeing a walking/talking/broiled fish eating corpse is not good enough evidence for the apostles to believe, and if first century Jews converting to a religion of shame by the thousands; a shameful religion that uses women as its first witnesses; and, these many Jewish Christians are people who would not die for a lie, but yet they are being executed right and left at the hands of Saul...and Saul doesn't find the evidence convincing, why on earth should anyone living today, 2,000 years later, find your "cumulative" evidence convincing??

If the Bible accounts regarding the Eleven and Saul/Paul are true then that means that the pillars of the Christian Church required one of two events to occur in order to believe the same evidence you are asking me to believe:

1. A reanimated dead first century prophet/god must use his supernatural powers on me to open my brain.
2. I must have a "heavenly vision" in which I see and hear a talking bright light tell me it is a dead prophet/god and that I am going to be its missionary.

These are NOT rational beliefs, friends. You would never accept this kind of logic from any other religion.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

 
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b] 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[c] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[d] of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  ---Luke 24:36-49

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Require the same Evidence to Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus as did the Apostles and Paul

The Scales of Justice based on Evidence

Jesus Appears to His Disciples
 
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b] 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[c] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[d] of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
                                                                                   -
                                                                                   ---Luke 24:36-49


They still didn't get it, did they? 

These eleven guys had been with Jesus 24/7 for three years.  They had witnessed his many miracles which demonstrated his super-human abilities, confirming his claim of being the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God...confirming, that is, if....the accounts in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts are historical facts.  Let's review them:

1.  He predicted the only spot in a huge inland sea where they were able to immediately catch massive amounts of fish.
2.  He turned water into wine.
3.  He fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
4.  He ordered the wind and the sea to obey his commands, and they immediately did.
5.  He walked on water.
6.  He healed blindness, leprosy, seizures, and irregular menstrual bleeding.
7.  He commanded 2,000 demons to leave the body of a man to enter the bodies of pigs.
8.  He reanimated the dead bodies of several deceased individuals.
9.  He caused a fig tree to wither just by his verbal command.
10.  He had the power to read the minds and thoughts of his enemies and friends.
11.  His body was transfigured in front of their very eyes while meeting with the two most important Jewish leaders/prophets in Jewish history, Moses and Elijah.
12.  They witnessed a voice from the sky declare Jesus as his son at Jesus' baptism.
13.  They witnessed Jesus reattach the severed ear of the high priest's servant.
14.  They witnessed three hours of darkness in the middle of the day at the moment of Jesus' death.
15.  The witnessed two great earthquakes, one at the moment of Jesus death and one the morning of his resurrection.
16.  The witnessed dead saints walk out of their graves to roam the streets of Jerusalem.
17.  They witnessed an empty tomb that had been guarded round the clock by Roman guards.
18.  They received eyewitness testimony from female disciples that at least one, maybe two, angels had rolled the great stone away from the tomb entrance and had told the disciples to go to Galilee (or stay in Jerusalem) to meet Jesus (depending on which version of the story you read).
19.  Jesus had previously warned them that he would be killed and that he would be resurrected on the third day.
20.  Jesus had told them, after accomplishing so many supernatural acts, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, eternally present with the Father since the beginning.

Yet, none of this incredible evidence convinced the disciples that Jesus was God incarnate!  Nope.  And more than that, folks, even when Jesus appears to them...they don't believe!  They doubt.  They think he's a ghost!  These guys still don't believe in Jesus as God, even with his reanimated walking/talking body standing right in front of them!!  Jesus is forced to provide even more evidence for these guys to finally believe!  Jesus is forced to show them his wounds, ask them to touch his body, and, eat some broiled fish to prove to them that they are not hallucinating and seeing a ghost!!

And that still wasn't enough!  Jesus is finally forced to use his supernatural powers to "open their minds" so that at last, they believe!

Wow!


Let's now take a look at the Apostle Paul, previously known as Saul of Tarsus.  When those of us who grew up going to Sunday School hear the name "Apostle Paul" we almost immediately think of this passage in the Bible, don't we:

 
Paul before Agrippa
 
All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee...

Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth.[b] 10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. 11 By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.

“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 when at midday along the road, your Excellency,[c] I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14 When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew[d] language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me[e] and to those in which I will appear to you. 17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.

                                                                                   ---Acts chapter 26


Paul was a Pharisee, a rabbi.  In another passage of the New Testament, he claims that he was a student of one of Judaism's most famous teachers, Gamaliel.  Therefore, Paul was very well-versed in Jewish customs, the Jewish religion, Jewish history, and the Hebrew Bible.  Paul was also a policeman for the chief priest.  He tortured and condemned to death many Christians in the attempt to get them to blaspheme Jesus and trying to extract information from them.  Paul would have been very well acquainted, therefore, with the teachings of the early Church, with the leadership of the early Church, and have known the identities of the families and friends of the leaders of the early Church.  Any good policeman is going to find out who the leaders are of the group of trouble-makers he is pursuing, and, find out information about their families and friends.  So Paul would have known the following facts, or at least the following Christian beliefs/assertions of fact, about Jesus and the early Church:

1.  Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe.
2.  Jesus was the fulfillment of all messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible.  Since Paul knew these OT passages, he could compare these Christian claims to the Scriptures themselves to verify their veracity.
3.  Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, both of the lineage of David, born in Bethlehem, the city prophesied to be the birthplace of the messiah.
4.  Kings from the East came to visit the new Jewish King as a child bringing expensive gifts, infuriating Herod the Great, causing him to slaughter every young male child under two years of age in Bethlehem, except Jesus, who escaped to Egypt.
5.  At the age of 12, Jesus taught the meaning of Scripture to the rabbis and priests in the Temple.
6.  Jesus had performed numerous miracles, including raising the dead and healing the incurable.
7.   Jesus, the uneducated son of a peasant carpenter, was so wise in the ways of Scripture and Jewish law that he often dumbfounded the Pharisees and Sadducees, the brightest and most educated people in the land.
8.  Paul was either present in Jerusalem during the trial, crucifixion, and alleged resurrection of Jesus or shortly thereafter, as he was present at Stephen's stoning.  Therefore Paul would have witnessed first hand the earthquakes, dead saints roaming the streets, and three hours of darkness, or, received first hand testimony from eyewitnesses.
9.  As a Pharisee and policeman for the chief priest, Paul would have known about the round the clock presence of Roman guards at the tomb, the guards' story of angels opening the tomb, and the hush money paid by the high priest.
10  Paul would have known that at the moment of Jesus' death, the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn down the middle.
11. Paul would know the location of the empty tomb and its significance to the claim of a resurrection.
12.  Paul would have known that no first century Jew would have believed the claim of the resurrection of one dead man, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous, unless, the Jews in question had seen the resurrected dead man with their own two eyes.
13.  Paul witnessed the change in attitude and behavior of the previously cowardly and timid disciples of Jesus, including the brother of Jesus, James, the leader of the Church.
14.  Paul saw how thousands were converting (5,000 in one day!) to this "religion of shame".  A religion of which no respectable Jew or Gentile could be proud to be a member.
15.  Paul saw how this religion of shame was spreading like wildfire throughout Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and even into Syria.
16. Paul saw scores if not hundreds of Christians willing to be tortured and even killed for their belief. I'm sure Paul also believed that "no one would die for a lie".
 17. Saul/Paul would have also known that the witness of women in the first century was not accepted in court, so the fact that Christians were using women as the first witnesses in their story should have weighed heavily in favor of the truthfulness of their story in Saul's mind, right?

Obviously not.

Saul still needed a personal appearance from Jesus (in a "heavenly vision") to believe this tale. All this "cumulative" evidence did not sway him, including women being used as the first witnesses to the empty tomb.

Paul had all this evidence.  Paul had the very same evidence that Nick (the Christian NT scholar who challenged me to a debate on Theology Web) has presented to me, and more, as some of the evidence he saw with his own two eyes and Paul was much closer in time to the events in dispute.  So Paul had the same evidence that Nick and his Christian friends berate me for being so closed-minded, so prejudiced, (and so ignorant) for not believing...but...the exact same evidence Paul had, and more...yet Saul of Tarsus did not believe!!

Saul/Paul did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, as God, until Jesus made a personal appearance to him on the Damascus Road, and, blinded him, finally giving him back his sight three days later.  Then, and only then, did Paul believe.

So Nick asks what kind of evidence I would require to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.  Here is my answer:  I want the same quality and quantity of evidence that the Eleven Apostles and Paul required before they believed!

1.  I want to see with my own two eyes Jesus' walking/talking dead-but-reanimated superhero-body, including the nail holes and the sword wound.
2.  I want to touch his body to make sure I am not hallucinating.
3.  I want to watch him eat broiled fish.
4.  I want to be blinded for three days, to regain my sight only when a church elder says a prayer for me.
5.  Finally, I want the reanimated Jesus to use his supernatural powers on my brain, "opening my mind", so that there is no doubt left in my mind as to the truth of the Christian claims of the reanimation of a dead first century Jewish prophet as God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.  If this was the quality of evidence required by the eleven Apostles and Paul to believe, then why shouldn't I demand the very same??

Now, I can already hear Christians saying, "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe."

This is a quote from the Gospel of John where Jesus allegedly appears to the disciples a second (or third) time, this time with "Doubting" Thomas present.  I use the world "allegedly" because I don't believe for a second that Jesus ever said this.  Why?  This story is nowhere to be found in the first three gospels written, Mark, Matthew, and Luke.  It only appears in the last gospel written, the Gospel of John, which most scholars believe was written in the last decades of the first century, maybe even the first decades of the second century.  I believe that this little story is a blatant embellishment.  So why would this story be added to the story of the Resurrection?

I believe the Early Church, or at least the author of the Gospel of John, saw that they had a big problem.  Christian missionaries were telling potential converts in Asia Minor, Achaia, Rome, and elsewhere that they must believe in Jesus by faith, based on accepting someone else's word as truth, when the very pillars of the Church, the Eleven Apostles and Paul, had demanded physical evidence to believe.  Was the Church going to pay for round-trip boat tickets for all these people to travel to Palestine to see the empty tomb and interview the alleged 500 witnesses??  Of course not.  So they had to come up with a reason why people with no access to physical evidence, should believe this wild tale.  And this is what they/he came up with:  Jesus himself had said that if converts would believe by faith alone, without evidence, they were more blessed than those who demanded evidence!

Very clever, early Christians!

Sorry.  But I'm not falling for your clever "spin".  I still require the same quality and quantity of evidence demanded by the Eleven Apostles and Paul or I reject this whole story as one big concoction of superstitious nonsense.  Call me close-minded.  Call be biased.  Call me ignorant.  But then, Christian friends, you must explain why the Eleven and Paul were permitted to demand physical evidence in the quality and quantity described in the Bible prior to believing, but I am wrong for asking for the very same.






Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why don't skeptics need to investigate the Evidence for the Christian Claim of a Resurrected, Dead, First Century, Jewish Prophet?

Imagine that my debate with Nick the Christian had not been about the Christian magic claim of a reanimated dead Jewish prophet, but about a secular magic claim of a literal Tooth Fairy.  And imagine that Nick had argued in favor of the proposition and I had argued against it.  And imagine that Nick has quoted numerous eyewitnesses who claim to have seen the Tooth Fairy, to have felt the effects of the Tooth Fairy in their lives, and even some who claim that the Tooth Fairy has taken up residence inside their bodies in an invisible compartment.

Nick has also presented numerous quotations from numerous, highly educated Tooth Fairy scholars, all of whom have come to the conclusion, after extensive Tooth Fairy research, as recorded in their many volumes of Tooth Fairy books, that the Tooth Fairy is not a figment of the imagination of children, but a real, literal, being with whom we adult humans can interact and converse.

How many of you readers would expect me to comply with Nick's prodding to research the books and research papers of these Tooth Fairy scholars and experts before coming to the conclusion that Nick's position is false?  I doubt many would expect me to spend even a half hour looking at this "evidence".

Why?

AnswerBecause the claim itself is stupid.

Dear Christians, I am not trying to be mean, but many, many educated people today are coming to the same conclusion about your reanimated dead Jewish prophet story:  It just isn't believable.  There is no need to research the "evidence".  There is no need to research the evidence because the claim itself is nonsensical and silly.