Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tough Questions Answered: if James denied Jesus' miracles, he likely wouldn't have believed Jesus rose from the dead

This is my reply to an  Tough Questions Answered article entitled:           
Posted: 11 Aug 2017 06:00 AM PDT

The astute reader will be astonished to see, in Acts 12, that James, the half-brother of Jesus, is mentioned by name by Peter before Peter leaves Jerusalem to escape Herod Agrippa. Let’s quickly review what we know of James from the Gospels.

    Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his ministry (Mk 3:21, 31-35; 6:3; Jn 7:1-10).
Why?  Because Jesus' miracles were fake?  Or because Jesus' brothers had a method of miracle-investigation that impeached their credibility?
    Jesus’ brothers taunted him (Mk 6:3; Jn 7:1-10).
    Jesus’ brothers were apparently absent at Jesus’ crucifixion, where Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to one of his disciples, suggesting his brothers were nonbelievers at the time (Jn 19:25-27).
His brothers don't believe during the three year miracle ministry, and they are absent from him as he dies from crucifixion.  If you want me to believe their skepticism existed because they were stupid morons who didn't know how to properly investigate claims, that credibility problem will continue impeaching them as a character trait even if later accounts say they suddenly believed in his resurrection.  You can believe in Jesus resurrection because of an inability to properly investigate the claim. 
Given the fact that Jesus’ family, including James, rejected his messianic claims while he was alive, why would Peter want his Christian brothers and sisters in Acts 12 to tell James what had happened?
I deny the legitimacy of the question, as it blindly presupposes the truth of biblical inerrancy, here, blindly assuming that the author of Acts 12 is telling the truth about Peter wishing to tell James.  I argue elsewhere that Luke's unfairly biased and already unbelievable account of the clash between the apostles and Judaizers at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) justifies suspicion toward anything Luke says that is not independently corroborated (this does not mean proof of such corroboration will meet my challenge.  The corroborating witness has to pass their own tests of reliability and credibility, etc.
Michael Licona, in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, explains that James seems to have changed his mind about Jesus after Jesus was crucified. He notes:

    Jesus’ brothers were in the upper room with Jesus’ disciples and mother after the resurrection (Acts 1:14).
    James was an apostle and leader in the Jerusalem Church (Gal 1:19; 2:9, 12; Acts 12:17; 15:13).
    Paul reported his activities to James (Acts 21:18).
    It would appear that at least some of Jesus’ brothers became believers (1 Cor 9:5).

The best explanation for James’ change of heart is that he saw his brother after he was raised from the dead. Licona writes, “James’s transformation from skeptic to believer is plausibly explained by his belief that Jesus had been raised and by a postresurrection appearance of Jesus to him (1 Cor 15:7). James believed his risen brother appeared to him.”
Same answer:  I claim any atheist or non-Christian who thinks Luke is telling the truth here, to be sloppy in their research or at least innocently ignorant of my reasons for saying Luke's bias as a historian is too great to justify giving him the benefit of the doubt in cases where he is not corroborated independently.
Licona adds:
“[Gary] Habermas asserts that the majority of critical scholars writing on the subject grant the conversion of James as a result of what he perceived was a postresurrection appearance of Jesus to him. As examples he lists Betz, Conzelmann, Craig, Davis, Derret, Funk, Hoover, Kee, Koester, Ladd, Lorenzen, Ludemann, Meier, Oden, Osborne, Pannenberg, Sanders, Spong, Stuhlmacher and Wedderburn. We may add Allison, Bryskog, Ehrman and Wright to Habermas’s list.

There is significant heterogeneity within this group that includes atheists, agnostics, cynics, revisionists, moderates and conservatives. With James, we have significant evidence that indicates he and his brothers were not among Jesus’ followers.
And that is a permanently fatal problem for you, because you think Jesus was doing genuinely supernatural miracles during his three year ministry, that is, the time James and the other brothers did not believe Jesus was the messiah.  So does James have significant credibility problems because he doesn't believe even when a member of his immediately family gives infallible proof of divinity?

Or was James responsible and prudent, when watching Jesus do miracles, to conclude that the tricks didn't involve any supernatural agency? 
However, sometime after the crucifixion of Jesus, James became a follower of his brother, a leader in the church Jesus had started and finally died as a Christian martyr.
And given that the area suffered a terrible famine around 40 a.d., I can imagine James thinking it prudent for the larger goal of group survival that he act like a good politician, and publicly profess to believe something he didn't seriously believe, as countless pastors and politicians do today.
The best explanation for this change of heart is that James came to believe that his brother had risen from the dead. It is probable that James had an experience that he perceived as being a postresurrection appearance of Jesus. However, it cannot be stated with certainty whether his conversion was prior to the experience or resulted from it.”

Something caused James to go from skeptic to believer. If James had seen his crucified brother alive days later, we could all understand why he converted. Absent the resurrection, there seems to be every reason for James to remain a skeptic the rest of his life. After all, following Jesus was a death sentence for most of the apostles.
 Once again,  my reasons for rejecting Luke where he cannot be corroborated by reliable independent sources are strong.  The family of Jesus continuing to be unbelievers and skeptics all the way through his miracle ministry and up to his death, cannot be brushed aside without harmful consequences to the Christian position:

Given your blind trust that the gospels are reliable when reporting Jesus' family didn't accept his messianic claims, how do you explain their skepticism, and are your reasons for this belief more convincing than the "they-didn't-believe-because-Jesus'-miracles-were-fake" reason?

I am PISSING myself with fear that the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead best explains the historical data.  I wish that Christian apologists would stop doing what they do and withdraw their books from circulation so I can feel better about my atheism.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Answering "Tough Questions Answered" on Gentile salvation

This is my reply to a "Tough Questions Answered" article entitled:
Posted: 04 Aug 2017 06:00 AM PDT

I skip most of the article because I'm only interested in the part that makes the least bit of sense:
While Peter is speaking, he is interrupted by the Holy Spirit pouring into the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house. The Jewish companions of Peter are amazed at what is happening. Arnold explains:
    The Torah-observant Jews recognize the remarkable significance of this event. God is now accepting Gentiles on the same basis that he did the Jews—on the sole basis of believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. These Gentile believers will not be required to be circumcised, offer sacrifices, observe the Jewish festivals, or keep Jewish dietary laws as a means of entering or maintaining their position in the new people of God.
Arnold has apparently forgotten the entire gospel history.  Jesus had a mission to Gentiles no less than he had to Jews: Mark 1:45, Matthew 4:15, etc.  The idea that Jesus never told anybody how Gentiles could get saved until God gave the Acts 10 vision to Peter, is total bullshit if the gospel histories are true.
Seeing this, Peter commands his companions to baptize these Gentiles in the name of Jesus Christ. Darrell Bock, in Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, summarizes:
    God directs an epoch-making event in which Gentiles are accepted in fellowship and receive the gospel.
Say what?  How can acceptance of Gentiles at this point in Peter's life in Acts 10-11 be anything close to "epoch", when the 4 canonical gospels make clear that Jesus did a substantial amount of preaching among Gentiles?  It is my contention that somebody is lying:  If Jesus really had such a Gentile ministry, Gentile salvation would not have been regarded as a new theological development to Peter or the rest of the church as late in the game as Acts 10-11, so either a) the gospels are lying and Jesus preached only to Jews, or b) Acts is lying and painting Peter and the church as nearly universally Jew-oriented.
Their faith leads to the gift of the Spirit, the sign that the new era has arrived. In addition, they are not circumcised and yet table fellowship and full hospitality between Jews and Gentiles ensues.
 Well excuse me, but I would have figured that if Jesus had a Gentile ministry as Matthew 4:15 says he did, the question of whether Jewish Christians could have table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile Christians would have been resolved before Jesus died, for how could it be otherwise?  Sorry, somebody in the bible, either the gospel authors, or the author of Acts 10-11, is lying about how things really happened.

    The Trinity is quite active here (Gaventa 2003: 173–74). God takes the initiative. Jesus Christ is at the center of the plan. The Spirit confirms that all of this is God’s work. The actions that take place represent the act and will of God working in harmony. The church does not lead here but follows God’s leading, thereby learning a great deal about how God views people.
How much did Peter and the apostles learn about how God views people, during Jesus' three year ministry?  A lot?  A little?  Did anybody think to ask the obvious gentile question before Jesus died?

Cold Case Christianity: A loving god needs to torture people in hell, it couldn't be otherwise. YEAH RIGHT

This is my response to an article by J. Warner Wallace entitled

Posted: 04 Aug 2017 01:44 AM PDT

 261When Rob Bell released his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, he capitalized on the historic controversy surrounding the existence and nature of hell. Critics of Christianity have cited the hell’s existence as evidence against the loving nature of God, and Christians have sometimes struggled to respond to the objection. Why would a loving God create a place like Hell? Wouldn’t a God who would send people to a place of eternal punishment and torment be considered unloving by definition?
If he isn't, then we are dealing with a rather strange definition of "love" that appears more motivated by necessity of apologetics and less by common sense.
The God of the Bible is described as loving, gracious and merciful (this can be seen in many places, including 1 John 4:8-9, Exodus 33:19, 1 Peter 2:1-3, Exodus 34:6 and James 5:11). The Bible also describes God as holy and just, hating sin and punishing sinners (as seen in Psalm 77:13, Nehemiah 9:33, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Psalms 5:5-6, and Matthew 25:45-46).
He is also described as taking just as much "delight" in watching women be raped, kids be kidnapped, and  parents cannibalizing their own kids, as he takes in prospering those who obey him:
NAU  Deuteronomy 28:
 15 "But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
 16 "Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.
 17 "Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
 18 "Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.
 30 "You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her; you shall build a house, but you will not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you will not use its fruit.
 41 "You shall have sons and daughters but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity.
 53 "Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you.
  63 "It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. (Deut. 28:1-63 NAU)
 So you need to remember that God doesn't just cause or allow evil, he takes "delight" in it.  While I can buy that a loving father will discipline children, perhaps severely, I cannot buy that the father who "delights" to punish his kids just as much as he "delights" to reward them, is "loving".
It’s this apparent paradox reveals something about the nature of love and the necessity of Hell:
 Mercy Requires Justice
When a judge pardons an unrepentant rapist without warrant, we don’t typically see this as an act of love, particularly when we consider the rights of the victim (and the safety of potential future victims).
On the contrary, "mercy" most commonly means the refusal to carry out justice, such as when a man injured in a knife attack pulls out a gun.  He has the right to shoot in justice, but he simply tells the aggressor to go away.  That's mercy too.  Your idea that mercy requires justice is a perfect absurdity.   While they sometimes mitigate one another especially in the legal system, they don't necessarily go together.
Mercy without justice is reckless, meaningless and dangerous.
We are extending mercy to others deserving of vengeance, when we refuse to take vengeance ourselves.  Is obeying Romans 12 reckless, meaningless and dangerous?
True love cares enough to punish wrongdoing.
Then God cannot be true love, because God took away David's sin by simply waiving his magic wand:
 13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.
 14 "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die." (2 Sam. 12:13-14 NAU)
David was the one deserving of punishment since he committed adultery.  You cannot say God punished David here by killing the infant, because a) god didn't impose the mandatory death-penalty for adultery here, and b) the prior text says God took away David's sin.  The infant is not being put to death because of David's adultery, but because the adulterous act caused the enemies to blaspheme.  God's mercy to David in refusing to extend the death penalty to David was not accompanied by any justice toward the adulterous act (God's justice and mercy don't always intersect or compliment one another).  If nobody had blasphemed, there would have been no reason to kill the kid either.
For this reason, a God of love must also be a God of justice, recognizing, separating and punishing wrongdoers.
Granted, but God's punishments in the bible go beyond anything that common sense will allow as justice, for example, God commanding death by burning at the stake, because a priest's teen daughter had pre-marital sex., Lev. 21:9.  Do Christians cringe at this because they are just a bunch of enthnocentric spoiled modern babies living in a more relaxed culture, or because such a penalty really does conflict with the law that is in their hearts?
Hell is the place where God’s loving justice is realized and executed.
You completely overlook 

a) your god can be regretful of his own prior choices (Gen. 6:6-7, no evidence in the grammar or context for anthropomorphism) and 

b) the new hermeneutic that says much language in the bible is exaggeration or hyperbole, the way Copan and Flannagan argue in their effort to show that God didn't really commit genocide.
Freedom Requires Consequence
True love cannot be coerced.
Then God must not love those whose jaws he hooks and forces them to do what he wants them to do, Ezekiel 38:4.  Even granting the hooks are metaphorical, the imagery is still intended by your god to show up in your brain, and this imagery is totally contrary to any notion of respecting human freedom or freewill.
Humans must have freedom in order to love,
No, you love your three year old when you force him out of the street against his will.  True love sometimes overrides freedom.  
and this includes the freedom to reject God altogether. Those who do not want to love God must be allowed to reject him without coercion.
Because we all know that coercion can never be loving, such as trying to coerce your stupid teen daughter from going to an alcoholic party. 
Those who don’t want to be in God’s presence must be allowed to separate themselves from Him if their “free will” is to be respected.
Your doctrine of God's omnipresence, aside from the fact that it contradicts several bible passages, does not allow the logical possibility of separating ourselves from God in any sense.  And your Calvinist brothers would agree that rejection of God is what God is forcing the unbelievers to do.

And regardless, its not just spiritually blind atheists who find your reasoning stupid.  You don't say all Calvinist Christians are unsaved, so they are spiritually alive just as much as you, and yet Calvinists totally deny the idea that God respects human freedom, and with good biblical reason, Romans 9.
God’s love requires the provision of human freedom, and human “free will” necessitates a consequence. Hell is the place where humans who freely reject God experience the consequence of their choice.
But your problem is that if hell is literal, humans going there would immediately repent upon receiving such severe punishment the way humans normally do otherwise.  So you have a silly doctrine that says regardless of how terrible hell is, it does not convince any of its inhabitants to realize their wrong and to repent.  Your god is quite a sick individual to render persons incapable of changing for the better.
Victory Requires Punishment
All of us struggle to understand why evil exists in the world.
You need not struggle at all.  God is the reason why rape, starvation and parental cannibalism exist, see Deut. 28:63.
If there is an all-powerful and all-loving God,
A presupposition that is soundly refuted by other liberal Christians who point out places in the bible where God is neither all-powerful nor all-loving.
this God (by His very nature) has the power and opportunity to conquer and punish evil.
But there's always a chance he'll be sorry he did any such thing, Genesis 6:6-7.
If God is both powerful and loving, He will eventually be victorious.
Some would argue he is a loser for creating people whom he infallibly foreknew would end up in hell.  What, god isn't capable of making far more powerful arguments for the gospel, than those put forward by imperfect "apologists"? 

Are you quite sure that God himself appearing to and conversing with a modern atheists, could not do much better than the job done by imperfect sinful Christian evangelists and apologists?  God couldn't make the Christian case any more persuasive than it is made in Cold Case Christianity?  But if he could, then why isn't he doing his best toward that end?  Seems to be that when you fail to give a job your best effort, its because you don't care about it that much.

The issue is not whether God thinks what he gave is "sufficient", but whether a loving God would do his "best" to save that which is lost.  And your god certainly isn't doing his all-powerful best.
God’s victory over evil will be achieved in mortality or eternity.
Another false distinction, the bible sometimes describes heaven as as place afflicted by time no less than earth.  Genesis 19:24.  What, did the fireballs god was throwing, switch dimensions on their way down? 

Or did the earliest of the Hebrews seriously believe heaven was physically "up there"?
God has provided a mechanism though which evil will be permanently conquered and punished in the next life. Hell is the place where an all-loving and all-powerful God will ultimately defeat and punish evil.
Contrary to the OT, in which God makes clear he thinks he has fully satisfied his sense of justice when those who disobey him are killed.  The OT never expresses or implies there's another facet to God's sense of Justice that cannot be satisfied unless the person who died under his hand experiences conscious suffering in some after-world.  You read hell into the OT purely because of your errant presupposition of biblical inerrancy and your childish belief that lack of absolute certainty leads inevitably to destructive chaos.
The paradox of God’s love and justice necessitates the existence of Hell.
You continue presuming NT Hell is literal when there are more Christian theologians who deny it than who affirm it.  I say quit the trifling madness and first justify your literal view of hell (i.e., answer the liberal view of Luke 16 and the liberal argument from God's being fully satisfied in the OT to kill those who disobey).
God’s love does not compel Him to eliminate the necessary punishment and consequence for sin,
Wrong, God took away David's sin of adultery and its required death-penalty in 2 Sam. 12:13-14, supra.  Your belief in some idealized ultimate deity is a perfect absurdity in light of actual biblical teaching.  God's sense of justice is equally open to change, such as his first belief that the sinful Israelites deserved to die, but he relents only because Moses first talked some sense into the divine head (heads?  Trinity?):
 9 The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.
 10 "Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation."
 11 Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
 12 "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth '? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.
 13 "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"
 14 So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.         (Exod. 32:9-14 NAU)
Wallace continues:
but instead compels Him to offer us a way to avoid this consequence altogether. By offering forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (who took our punishment), God demonstrated His love for us.
A rather stupid solution since he offered it in a way that was so unclear that it has produced millions of doctrinally divided yet equally sincere Christians, most of whom are open-theist and think your conservative justification for eternal torture in hell is the very definition of mental illness. 
It cannot be said that a loving God would never create a place like Hell if that same God has provided us with a way to avoid it.
Apparently, you only intend your comments to be taken seriously by Christians, since you presuppose throughout this article that the bible is correct in everything it says about God, which is another perfect absurdity. 

Yeah, Wallace, skeptics and atheists certainly don't find your trifles here the least bit persuasive, so you realize they only sound persuasive to those who already share most of your presuppositions, such as inerrancy and the evangelical conservative view of the bible.  Maybe you can impress some Christians that the Holy Spirit needed your help, but we atheists just consider you another Benny Hinn of Christian apologetics.


Clever ways to market the barbaric bible god in a more politically correct way to modern ears

James Patrick Holding attempts in yet another cartoon video to get away from the "shall" in the mandate in Deuteronomy to kill the girl who was not a virgin on her wedding night, by trifling that this law was not prescriptive, but merely exhortational.

Questions immediately present themselves to the neo-conservative who tries to dance that absurdly fine line between taking the bible seriously and marketing its god as a politically correct deity to modern ears:

What is Holding's criteria for deciding which "shalls" in Deuteronomy were mandatory and which weren't?

What does Holding have to say about conservative inerrantist Christian scholars who disagree with him on the point (and in Christian history, it is only Origen that would side with Holding's liberal view on these matters)?  How does Holding explain god not revealing the liberal truth to most Christians for so long?  Were most such Christians not sufficiently sincere in their prayers or in their faith?

When Holding says the death penalty for non-virgins in Deut. 22 is not prescriptive, isn't he opening the door to ways to abborgate this law in certain circumstances?  What did Jesus say about those who would attempt to get around or otherwise not comply with even the least part of the law?
 17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
 19 "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
 20 "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
 21 "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'
 22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
 (Matt. 5:17-22 NAU)
Anyway, here's Deut. 22
 13 "If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her,
 14 and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, 'I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,'
 15 then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
 16 "The girl's father shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her;
 17 and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, "I did not find your daughter a virgin." But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city.
 18 "So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him,
 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl's father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.
 20 "But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin,
 21 then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father's house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.   (Deut. 22:13-21 NAU)
Holding doesn't make sense as usual:

1  -  Deuteronomy twice warns against anybody adding to or taking away from its words, it commands Israel to follow it exactly as written:
 1 "Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
 2 "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
 3 "Your eyes have seen what the LORD has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you.
 4 "But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you.
 5 "See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.
 6 "So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'
 7 "For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?
 8 "Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? (Deut. 4:1-8 NAU)
 Notice the last clause, "ther you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God".  It is assumed in the text that one would not be obeying the Lord if one attempted to add conditions to, or allow exceptions to, the commands as they are given.

Notice also how the immediate context stresses the keeping of the "statutes".  The idea that this could be harmonized with another set of laws that provide exceptions under which the statutory penalties can be avoided, is total bullshit.

Notice also that the precise wording of Moses must be followed to the letter, because in v. 8, it is observed that no other nation has laws as good as Mosaic law.  This rhetorical question wouldn't make sense if the laws that made Israel unique, could be circumnavigated around in the Pharisee fashion Holding advocates for.
  31 "You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
 32 "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. (Deut. 12:31-32 NAU)
So when Holding says law codes were only "didactic", thus implying more words were added and showing the law was not as mandatory as it looks on the surface, he contradicts Deuteronomy's mandate that the people follow exactly what was written without adding exceptions or additional circumstances.  If Holding is repeating what other scholars say, then those scholars have the same problem Holding does:  reading exceptions and extra conditions into the laws of Moses despite clear Mosaic injunctions against modifying the codes in any way.

Scholar Alexander Rofé, Professor Emeritus of the Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sees the death penalty as literal and mandatory

2 - Deut. 22:18-19 show that Moses knew how to specify different penalties for different shades of sinfulness.

3 - That we should assume the worst when trying to read between the lines is justified from the infamous story of how Moses required the stoning death of a man who gathered wood on the Sabbath day.  The command to do no work on the Sabbath day does not come with any conditions:
 8 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
 9 "Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
 11 "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exod. 20:8-11 NAU)
But when Israel found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (working), Israel did not know what to do with him, and Moses judged that he be executed:
 32 Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day.
 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation;
 34 and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him.
 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp."
 36 So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Num. 15:32-36 NAU)
Notice:  If Holding and other neo-inerrantists are correct that we must assume Israel had other local laws that allowed for certain exceptions to Mosaic penalties for crimes or sin, then how could it be that Israel did not know what to do with the man gathering wood on the Sabbath day?  Easy, the inerrantists are wrong:  we should NOT be assuming Israel presumed that the law of Moses left room for unstated exceptions or conditions.  THAT is why they didn't know what to do in the case of a man violating the Sabbath day law.

4 - Holding says the command for death is to emphasize the seriousness of the offense, but as usual, he supplies no commentary from Christian scholars who agree with him that this particular Mosaic law allowed for exceptions or further conditions.

5 - Inerrantist Eugene H. Merrill uses "prescriptive" to designate several Mosaic laws in Deuteronomy:
(3) Disobedience at Kadesh Barnea (1:26–33) ‭[Deuteronomy 1:31]‬ 1    
(1) The Central Sanctuary (12:1–14) ‭[Deuteronomy 12:14]‬ 2    
(4) Laws Concerning Unsolved Murder (21:1–9) ‭[Deuteronomy 21:9]‬ 3    
(6) Laws Concerning Preservation of Life (21:22–22:8) ‭[Deuteronomy 22:8]‬ 4    
(2) Respect for the Dignity of Another (24:8–25:4) ‭[Deuteronomy 24:22]‬ 5    
1. The Gathering at Shechem (27:1–13) ‭[Deuteronomy 27:7]‬
Merrill also takes the death penalty as mandatory, so Holding must do what he usually does, and insist that Merrill got it wrong because Mr. Holding's view is the voice of God himself:

22:20–21 Occasionally, of course, the husband’s accusations would have substance and the evidence of virginity would not be forthcoming (v. 20). Should this occur, the woman must be stoned to death and at the door of her father’s house at that! Just as an unfounded accusation brought undeserved dishonor to the father’s name, one that could be proved brought justified dishonor. The reason is that the girl had clearly had sexual intercourse before her marriage, an act described here as “being promiscuous.” This translates the Hebrew ˓āśĕtâ nĕbālâ, literally, “She has done a disgraceful thing” in Israel. This formula occurs frequently to speak of a moral or spiritual breakdown of such proportions as to impact the whole covenant community negatively (cf. Gen 34:7; Judg 19:23; 20:6, 10; Jer 29:23).186 Only her death at the hands of the community could remove the disgrace brought about by her deed (cf. Deut 17:12; 19:13; 21:21; 22:24; Judg 20:13). 186 A. Phillips, “nebalah—A Term for Serious Disorderly and Unruly Conduct,” VT 25 (1975): 237–42.
Merrill, E. H. (2001, c1994). Vol. 4: Deuteronomy (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; 
The New American Commentary (Page 303). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Keil & Delitzsch agree with Merrill that the death penalty was literal:
Deut. 22:20, 21. In the other case, however, if the man’s words were true, and the girl had not been found to be a virgin, the elders were to bring her out before the door of her father’s house, and the men of the town were to stone her to death, because she had committed a folly in Israel (cf. Gen. 34:7), to commit fornication in her father’s house. The punishment of death was to be inflicted upon her, not so much because she had committed fornication, as because notwithstanding this she had allowed a man to marry her as a spotless virgin, and possibly even after her betrothal had gone with another man (cf. vv. 23, 24). There is no ground for thinking of unnatural wantonness, as Knobel does.
Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. 
(Vol. 1, Page 946). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
 6 - Talmudic sources indicate Deut. 22 was interpeted literally, and the Bride and Groom searched before consummation to make sure they didn't have a hidden bloodstained cloth by which to overcome her lack of virginity: Tosef. Ket. 1:4ff.; Ket. 1:1, 25a; 4:4, 28c; and Ket. 12a.  The problem of whether this law presupposed something unstated, such as the need for two witnesses, is answered from the Deut. 4 and other texts that forbade anybody from adding to or subtracting from the Law.

7 - The Qumran text 4q159 gives a version of this Deuteronomy law that still requires the girl to be executed.

8 - Specifically Deut. appears to be addressing the situation of the newly married girl who was not a virgin and yet kept this fact to herself until after marriage.  That is, the death penalty is not merely because she wasn't a virgin, but that she misled the man during betrothal to believe she was a virgin when in fact she wasn't.  The death penalty is for girls who get married without disclosing that they have previously lost their virginity.

9 - Holding says the fact that some virgins don't bleed when deflowered would have been pled before the Israelite judges, but he provides no evidence for this, and regardless, the fact that the author thought the lack of blood was conclusive, is further evidence of just how pre-scientific was the culture this law came out of.

10 - at time code 1:50 ff, Holding says the only people who interpret the text other than he and his cited scholars, are loud-mouth unqualified youtubers, which seems to indicate that Holding thinks most inerrantist Christian scholars, such as Merrill, are loud-mouth unqualified youtubers.

11 - Holding ends the video by saying stupid fundy atheists just don't realize how casual sex would have decimated people living in the ANE, and how important sexual chastity was, but if that is true, then the death penalty would seem to be intended literally, since a literal application of it would serve as a deterrent no less than harsh punishments in modern law deter because they are real, not mere threats.

12 - Holding's position with the liberal scholars, that this was a mere threat to showcase the severity of the offence, doesn't make sense.  If the law really wasn't applied exactly as written, the Israelite girls would have known this, and, like typical children who begin to notice that dad and mom never actually punish but only scream, would be likely to stop thinking this penalty was real, in which case the deterrent value of the law is lost.

13 - Holding may say Moses wasn't stupid enough to require his people to carry out all that he said without any type of exceptions or further conditions, but that he was this dense is proven from the story where his father in law has to tell him that it is stupid for Moses to try to be the one man whom all Israel come to for deciding their cases.  Somebody had to bang common sense into his head and tell him that with several million Israelites, they will never get their cases heard unless Moses appoints local judges:
13 It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening.
 14 Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?"
 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God.
 16 "When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws."
 17 Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good.
 18 "You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
 19 "Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God,
 20 then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.
 21 "Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.
 22 "Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.
 23 "If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace."
 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.
 26 They judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor dispute they themselves would judge.
 27 Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way into his own land.
 (Exod. 18:13-27 NAU)
14 - Merrill and K&D agree that Deut. 4:2 is forbidding any additions or subtractions to the law. Merrill cites ancient secular law warnings that similarly absolutely forbid any modifications.

Deut. 4:2. The observance of the law, however, required that it should be kept as it was given, that nothing should be added to it or taken from it, but that men should submit to it as to the inviolable word of God. Not by omissions only, but by additions also, was the commandment weakened, and the word of God turned into ordinances of men, as Pharisaism sufficiently proved. This precept is repeated in Deut. 13:1; it is then revived by the prophets (Jer. 26:2; Prov. 30:6), and enforced again at the close of the whole revelation (Rev. 22:18, 19). In the same sense Christ also said that He had not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil (Matt. 5:17); and the old covenant was not abrogated, but only glorified and perfected, by the new.
Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament.
(Vol. 1, Page 874). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
4:2 The divine origination of and responsibility for the covenant is underscored here also by the solemn admonition that nothing can be added to or subtracted from it (v. 2; cf. 12:32; Rev 22:18–19).150 In a unilateral arrangement of this type the sovereign and he alone set its terms.151 The vassal could only accept them as given and then make every effort to keep them. These are summarized here by the term miṣwôt (“commands”), a term that in context is synonymous with the combination ḥuqqîm (“decrees”) and mišpātîm (“laws”).

150 Such prohibitions are well known in ancient Near Eastern law and covenant texts. See the Lipit-Ishtar Lawcode epilogue in Pritchard, ANET, 161; and D. J. Wiseman, 3 (London: British School of Archaeology, 1958), 60, ll. 410–13: “(You swear that) you will not alter (it) [the covenant text], you will not consign (it) to the fire nor throw (it) into the water, nor [bury (it)] in the earth nor destroy it by any cunning device, nor make [(it) disappear], nor sweep (it) away.”
151 Mendenhall, “Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” 29.
Merrill, E. H. (2001, c1994). Vol. 4: Deuteronomy (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; 
The New American Commentary (Page 115). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
15 - Holding may trifle that the conditions believed by an Israelite elder to justify refusing to impose the death penalty, does not constitute adding to or subtracting from the law, but indeed it does.  Moses could very well have had the same mind that most modern Legislators and battlefield generals have:  collateral damage is unavoidable, to raise the prospect of exceptions is to invite political corruption and cronyism, when in fact ruthless application of the law as written would achieve well the goal of making the people fear.

16 - The God Moses served once desired to kill him solely because he son wasn't circumcised:
 24 Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.
 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me."
 26 So He let him alone. At that time she said, "You are a bridegroom of blood "-- because of the circumcision. (Exod. 4:24-26 NAU)
It should be clear  that Moses had an absolutist mindset and believed he was serving a god that was actually this barbaric.  This is more consistent with the conservative view that the death penalty for non-virgins in Deut. 22 was literal, than it is with no-conservatives who call it symbolic solely beacuse they desire to make god more politically correct as they market him to modern audiences.

Finally, Holding and his liberal scholars open a can of worms in saying this death penalty was merely exhortational and not prescriptive:

Which death-penalty laws of God ARE prescriptive, and how does Holding know?  Are the death penalties for homosexuality, bestiality and adultery prescriptive, yes or no?

It would seem that Holding prefers more to trifle in Pharisee fashion than to accept what the Law actually says.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Demolishing Triablogue: Jason Engwer fails to defend traditional authorship of Matthew's gospel

Jason Engwer responds to Richard Bauckham's denials of Matthian authorship of Matthew's gospel.  I show why Jason is guided more by a subjective desire to promote a conservative view than in objectively evaluating the evidence:
Monday, May 29, 2017
Posted by Jason Engwer at 5:31 PM
Richard Bauckham Is Wrong About Matthew's Authorship
He's mostly right about gospel authorship issues. He thinks Matthew may have had some sort of role in the origins of the gospel attributed to him,
An admission that makes it even more difficult to identify with reasonable certainty any particular part of Matthew as an eyewitness account, for example, Matthew 28, the resurrection story, which could be hearsay just as easily as Luke's resurrection account is secondhand.
accepts the traditional authorship attributions of Mark and Luke, and attributes the fourth gospel to a close disciple of Jesus named John.
Which makes it even more difficult to decide which parts of John's gospel are truly from an eyewitness, or secondhand or worse, such as John's resurrection stories in 20 and 21.
But he doesn't think Matthew is responsible for the first gospel as we have it today, and he thinks the John who wrote the fourth gospel wasn't the son of Zebedee.
...Regarding Matthew, Bauckham argues (108-12) that it's highly unlikely that a first-century Jew living in Israel would have had two Semitic personal names as common as Matthew and Levi. It's very unlikely, then, that Matthew is the Levi referred to in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. And if Levi were another name for one of the Twelve, Mark surely would have explained that in his list of the Twelve, where so many other details are included (108). Since the author of the gospel of Matthew uses a passage about another man to tell his readers about Matthew's calling (Matthew 9:9), the author must have been somebody other than Matthew. "Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi's call." (112) Bauckham also thinks the replacement of "his house" (Mark 2:15) with "the house" (Matthew 9:10) suggests that the author of the gospel of Matthew was only applying Mark 2:14 to the apostle Matthew and didn't think the rest of the passage was applicable (111).

What about the unlikelihood of somebody being named both Matthew and Levi? There are extremely rare names and combinations of names, sometimes even unprecedented ones, in every culture. Why do we conclude that people with such names exist? Because the prior improbability that somebody would have such a name is just one factor among others that have to be taken into account as well, and those other factors can outweigh the prior improbability that somebody would have that name. How reliable is a source who reports that somebody had such a name? How likely is it that such a report would exist if the person under consideration didn't have the name in question? And so on. In his book, Bauckham often accepts a highly unusual name if there are ancient sources attesting it, even just one source. He does it in his section on Matthew's authorship, where he mentions some ancient Jews who are referred to with two names, including at least one that's "unusual" or "very unusual" (109-10). The many comments he makes elsewhere in his book about how popular or unpopular various names were assumes that some unpopular names existed, even ones attested only once. Even if naming somebody both Matthew and Levi would have been "virtually unparalleled", "very unlikely indeed", etc. (109-10), we should go on to look at the other evidence pertaining to Matthew's names and Matthean authorship of the first gospel. We should try to determine the significance of the improbability Bauckham is appealing to in light of the evidence as a whole.

D.A. Carson refers to some problems with how Bauckham goes on to handle the remainder of the evidence:

"Yet whatever the onomastic improbability, the identification of Levi (Mark's gospel) with Matthew (here [in Matthew 9:9]) seems less implausible than Bauckham's explanation: the unknown evangelist knew that Matthew was a tax collector (like Levi), and knew he was one of the Twelve, and so simply transferred the story across (on the assumption that the conversion of one tax collector would be very much like the conversion of another?)." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, Vol. 9: Matthew & Mark [Gran Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010], 263)

What's mentioned in Matthew 9:9 isn't what we'd expect of the calling of every tax collector, most of them, or even one other tax collector. How many tax collectors would be in their booth at the time of the calling and would be sitting while Jesus walked by? How many would immediately leave their work and follow Jesus upon being told "Follow me"? How many would experience all of those things? It's doubtful that the author of the gospel of Matthew would have thought that the story of the calling of this tax collector would be so applicable to another tax collector. Bauckham is wrong in commenting that "The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple." (111), since the story isn't "so brief and general". The appropriate response to Bauckham's claim that "Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi's call." (112) is that anybody could have.
But the question is whether it is likely that Matthew, having personally experienced what Mark is talking about, would have surpressed his own first-hand ability to tell the history, and favored more the same history that was sourced in a hearsay account. No, it isn't.  
There wouldn't have been anybody, whether Matthew or somebody else, who would have needed to use Mark's account about the calling of another man to describe the calling of Matthew.
I find the Matthew-author's drawing on Mark for Matthew's own calling to be especially unlikely if Matthew really did experience those events himself.   But since you agree that not everything in that gospel come from apostle Matthew himself, your further disagreements with Bauckham at this point are immaterial to my purpose. 
And it's very unlikely that the author of the first gospel would have wanted to tell Matthew's story in that manner. Why give such a significant figure in early Christianity such secondhand treatment,
Are you sure Matthew was any more significant than any other first-century Christian?  According to the NT, he is not accorded any special place the way other apostles like John, James and Peter are.  His becoming significant later in church tradition is irrelevant and after-the-fact, and even then he himself did not gain any significant notoriety, it was only his name being attached to a gospel, that caused "him" to become more prominent in later tradition.
especially if the author of the gospel was associating his work with Matthew as much as Bauckham thinks he was? The scenario Bauckham is proposing is highly improbable.

But he makes a good point about Mark's list of the twelve apostles. You'd think Mark would mention that Matthew was also known as Levi, if Mark had held that view. Luke's list of the Twelve isn't as detailed as Mark's, so the lack of clarification in Luke's list is less important, but it's significant that Luke, like Mark, doesn't explain to his readers, inside his list of the apostles or elsewhere, that Matthew and Levi are different names for the same person.

However, there's other evidence Bauckham doesn't discuss that suggests that Mark and Luke viewed Levi as one of the Twelve. It follows that though Mark and Luke don't tell us who among the Twelve had the alternate name of Levi, they thought somebody among the Twelve did.
That's unlikely, their lists often specify that one named person had a second or alternate name:
  16 And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter),
 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder ");
 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot;
 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.
 (Mk. 3:16-19 NAU)

  13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:
 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew;
 15 and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot;
 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Lk. 6:13-16 NAU)

 Seems reasonable to conclude that if Mark or Luke thought somebody had some type of secondary or new name, they would have specified so.  There was no second person named "peter" such that the two would need to be distinguished in writing, yet Peter still had a secondary name.
That weakens Bauckham's argument about what's "clear" from Mark's list of the Twelve and how Mark "surely" would have included the detail that Matthew had that other name if he'd known about it (108).
It's nice to see Christian apologists disagreeing with each other like this.  It makes you seem rather ignorant to pretend that we spiritually dead people are accountable to figure out the problems that not even spiritually alive people can resolve.  One thing is for certain, you cannot blame atheist denials of gospel authorship on their mere spiritual deadness, there's plenty of academic room in the evidence to justify the majority Christian scholarly position that Matthew's gospel was anonymously written.
In Mark and Luke's passages about the calling of Levi, the language, themes, and placement of the text are reminiscent of the calling of other apostles, which suggests that whoever is being called in the passage is an apostle as well. Compare Mark 1:16-20 to 2:14-17. Compare Luke 5:1-11 and 5:27-32. In both gospels, the calling of Levi is narrated in close proximity to the calling of those other apostles, with similar language and themes, leading up to the nearby choosing of the Twelve by Jesus and the listing of them by the gospel authors (Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:13-16). Jesus is walking by and looks at the individual(s) in question and says "Follow me" and is immediately followed, which involves leaving a profession (fishing or tax collecting), in both contexts in Mark (1:16-20, 2:14). That theme of leaving a profession makes sense for the calling of an apostle in the sense of being one of the Twelve, since that sort of apostleship would require so much devotion. Similarly, both of Luke's passages have the individuals in question "leaving everything" to follow Jesus (5:11, 5:28). That theme of the apostles leaving everything is repeated elsewhere (Mark 10:28, Luke 18:28). Their leaving the professions they were involved with was important, "so that they would be with him [Jesus] and that he could send them out" (Mark 3:14). So, the passages in Mark and Luke about Levi have a series of connections both backward to the call of Peter and his associates and forward to what's said of the Twelve. Even without reading Matthew, the accounts about the calling of Levi in Mark and Luke look like the calling of a member of the Twelve.
But Jesus required the "leave everything" committment of ALL of his followers:

 37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matt. 10:37 NAU)

 26 "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Lk. 14:26 NAU)
 Matthew makes pretty explicit that the degree to which the apostle left everything is the same degree he expected any other follow to leave everything:
 28 And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
 29 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
 30 "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. (Matt. 19:28-30 NAU)
Therefore, while you are correct that the story says Levi left everything just like the apostles did, this doesn't put Levi on any higher level than any other follower.

You will say his specific calling from the tax-collector booth sets him apart.  But I would argue that if Jesus was consistent, he would have extended the same type of "leave everything" call to anybody at all that he wanted to be part of his ministry, especially given Luke 14:26.  It wasn't any easier for lesser ranking disciples, was it?
NAU  Luke 10:1 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. (Lk. 10:1 NAU)
Some passages in Mark and Luke about people other than apostles refer to themes like following Jesus and leaving possessions and making other sacrifices to follow him. But those other passages have less similar language and themes and less significant placement in the text of the gospels.
No, EVERYBODY that wishes to follow Jesus must leave everything to the same degree required of the apostles.  Luke 14:26, supra.
Something like Jesus' call to discipleship in Mark 8:34-38 or his interactions with Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10 is somewhat reminiscent of the calling of the apostles, but also significantly different. Jesus walks by Zaccheus and looks at him (verse 5), and Zaccheus gives up possessions to follow Jesus (verse 8), for example, but Jesus is only staying in Zaccheus' house briefly (verse 5), there's no reference to his leaving his profession, the passage is far removed from the appointing of the apostles earlier in the gospel, etc.
Paul's justification by faith doctrine in Romans 4 is far removed from the legalistic salvation Jesus taught in Matthew 19:17 ff, but you always fix arguments based on distance with a healthy presupposition of bible inerrancy, don't you?  If you can reconcile justification by faith alone with what Jesus said in Matthew 25:37, what prevents you from reconciling the calling of the apostles with the calling of Zaccheus?
Likewise, Jesus' exchange with the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30) involves a call to discipleship and to giving things up to follow Jesus, but the man doesn't follow Jesus, the passage is far removed from the context of the calling of the apostles, and so on.
See above, you don't have the first clue about the way Jesus "called" others to ministry, you only get a small sampling from the gospels, and you pretend as if the literary purpose of the author is equal to the historical reality.  That Jesus required everybody who followed him to make such extreme sacrifices, does indeed create a difficulty in getting Levi = Matthew from the mere fact that Levi's calling is similar to the calling of other apostles.
Both passages contrast the rich young ruler's rejection of Jesus' call and the apostles' acceptance of it (Mark 10:28-31, Luke 18:28-30). While the calling of individuals like Peter and Levi is similar to Jesus' interactions with other people elsewhere in Mark and Luke, there are substantial differences as well. The calling of Levi is significantly similar to the calling of Peter and his associates in a way in which other passages in these gospels aren't. So, independently from the gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke give us reason to place Levi among the Twelve.
Origen, the greatest textual scholar of the early church, felt that it was only by a textual variant that Levi could be said to be numbered among the Twelve:

It is manifest to us all who possess the Gospel narratives, which Celsus does not appear even to have read, that Jesus selected twelve apostles, and that of these Matthew alone was a tax-gatherer; that when he calls them indiscriminately sailors, he probably means James and John, because they left their ship and their father Zebedee, and followed Jesus; for Peter and his brother Andrew, who employed a net to gain their necessary subsistence, must be classed not as sailors, but as the Scripture describes them, as fishermen. The Lebes also, who was a follower of Jesus, may have been a tax-gatherer; but he was not of the number of the apostles, except according to a statement in one of the copies of Mark’s Gospel.
NPN, Origen: Against Celsus (Contra Celsum), 1:62.

But they don't refer to any of the Twelve as Levi when they list the apostles, nor do they tell us elsewhere which apostle went by that name. They also leave out other information about apostolic names. Peter is referred to as Simon Barjona in Matthew 16:17, but not anywhere in Mark or Luke. Similarly, Luke doesn't tell us that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were referred to as Boanerges, a detail that Mark does include. And so on. Bauckham doesn't claim that Mark and Luke are exhaustive about apostolic names.
 Indeed, trying to figure out what's what in early Christianity is a fool's game.  If the answers were so clear and compelling, we wouldn't expect so many conservative Christians to be so deeply divided on the related historical and exegetical issues as they are, for example, you and Bauckham.  Which one of you has the Holy Spirit, and why can't you demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in you by something other than the force of academic argument?  Could it be that although with your lips you yap about the need for the third person of the Trinity to enligthen you, that at the end of the day, you don't ever receive any enlightenment except that which comes from the same type of study that englightens one about science?
More significantly, Bauckham thinks the identification of Thaddaeus (Mark 3:18) with Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16) is "very plausible" (108), but neither Mark nor Luke offers that identification, even though Bauckham thinks Luke used Mark as a source and appeals to such sources in the opening of his gospel. That's an instance in which Luke knew about a potential confusion over apostolic names, but didn't offer a clarification.
Or Luke's Markan source wasn't as detailed as canonical Mark is today.
Still, Luke's failure to clarify something potentially seen as a discrepancy between what he wrote and what's in a source he used and that many of his readers would be familiar with (Mark) isn't the same as a failure to clarify something that people could misunderstand in his own writings (that Levi and Matthew are the same person).
Please stop talking like you think canonical Luke is exactly today the way it was in its original form.  You don't have the first clue whether anything specific to canonical Luke was what Luke himself wrote.
I'm just giving some examples of Mark and Luke's failure to provide details and clarifications they could have provided about apostolic names, even though the examples I've cited in this paragraph are less significant than not clarifying the relationship between Levi and Matthew.

What's most important to recognize in this context is that identifying Levi and Matthew as two different individuals still leaves you with a substantial lack of clarity in Mark and Luke.
Lack of clarity in the bible is a meaningless point, it hasn't stopped Christians from convincing themselves that their particular version of Christanity is the "right" one.
If Levi isn't Matthew, then which member of the Twelve is he, given the evidence cited above that he's portrayed as a member of the Twelve in the two gospels under consideration?
That's a problem for the apologist who insists the source is reliable, not the skeptic who puts no stock in the source to begin with.
Or if you deny that Mark and Luke meant to portray Levi as one of the Twelve, why did they use language, themes, and text placement that are so suggestive of Levi's identity as one of the Twelve?
Maybe because they mistakenly thought he was one of the 12?  You will say it is absurd that a false rumor could have spread among the original eyewitnesses and their followers, which would signify that you never read Acts 21:18-24, where an allegedly false rumor about Paul is held as true by thousands of converted Jews, so much that James thinks not even a speech by Paul, but only his paying expenses for other Jews to conduct a ritual, will suffice to dissuade them from this allegedly false rumor.
I don't see how a significant lack of clarity in Mark and Luke is a problem only for those who consider Levi and Matthew the same person. There's a substantial clarity problem for Bauckham's position as well.

What should we think of the change from "his house" in Mark 2:15 to "the house" in Matthew 9:10?
 Craig Blomberg says Matthew's Greek is more ambiguous than Luke's on this point:
9:10–11 On some later occasion, Matthew throws a party for Jesus (cf. Luke 5:29, in which the antecedent of “his” is less ambiguous than in the Greek of Matthew).
Blomberg, C. (2001, c1992). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; 
The New American Commentary (Page 155). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
It could easily be an attempt on Matthew's part to clarify the passage rather than an attempt to distance verses 10-13 from verse 9. As Bauckham notes (111), the "his" in Mark 2:15 is sometimes taken as a reference to Jesus rather than Levi, so Matthew may have changed "his" to "the" in order to avoid that confusion. Luke makes the passage clearer by referring to how "Levi gave a big reception for him in his house" (5:29). Perhaps Matthew intended to provide clarification. Or he may have just chosen different terminology than Mark without any intention of clarifying anything and without intending to distance verses 10-13 from verse 9 in the way Bauckham suggests. Furthermore, how would changing "his house" to "the house" have the implications Bauckham claims? To the contrary, the lack of qualification for "the house" motivates the reader to look at the surrounding context for indications of what house is in view. Why would the author send his readers to the surrounding context if he wanted them to avoid the conclusion that verse 9 provides the context they're looking for? The most natural way to take "the house" in verse 10 is as a reference to Matthew's house, since Matthew's booth had just been mentioned, and the reference in verse 9 to Jesus' traveling makes it more likely that he'd be in somebody else's house rather than his own. If the author of the gospel of Matthew had wanted to distance verses 10-13 from verse 9 as much as Bauckham suggests, he could have put one or more other accounts between the content of verses 9 and 10 or changed or added language to verses 10-13 to distance those verses from verse 9 rather than keeping them together and so undistinguished (e.g., he could have referred to "the house of Levi, a tax collector").
I agree that Matthew's context would suggest that the house is Matthew's. 

As far as I can tell, Origen's bias in favor of traditional gospel authorship makes it unlikely he would have trifled that it is only a textual variant that can support Levi = Apostle.  Engwer needs to explain Origen's unlikely trifle, if Engwer wishes to maintain that that Levi was an apostle.

Yes, Bill, extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence: a response to William Lane Craig's strawman attack

When miracle skeptics say "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (ECREE), they are not saying miraculous claims require miraculous evidence.  They are also not saying normative types of evidence such as testimony, documents, photos, video footage, can never suffice to establish an extraordinary claim.

That would be stupid.  NO fool says impossible claims require impossible evidence.  But many Christian apologists are fond of mischaracterizing ECREE in their desperation to avoid admitting how rational it is to dismiss biblical miracle claims.

Instead, the miracle skeptic merely means the more one's claim about reality depart from those experiences that we can agree all humans commonly share ( flames burn skin, money doesn't grow on trees, kittens don't massacre adult pit bulls, etc), the greater quality and quantity of evidence will be required before the hearer can be intellectually obligated to believe the claim. 

Yet there is no mechanical test for exactly how much or what type of evidence is minimally necessary to rationally justify rejecting or accepting any claim.

In light of this, by "greater quantity of evidence" we mean that the more a claim runs contrary to our perception of what's physically possible, the greater number of independently corroborative evidences will be needed.  Absent evidence that you are lying, I'd likely believe your claim to have won the lottery if I find that after you made that claim, you started buying expensive cars and homes.  However that type of corroboration is not conclusive, you could be claiming a lottery win merely to cover up a huge profit you made shipping illegal drugs.  ECREE is not about absolute verification or falsification, it's only about how to increase the odds that your rejection or acceptance of somebody else's claim will be reasonable and rational.  ECREE does not pretend to guarantee to show the truth to a person investigating a very deceptive scam or fraud.

Likewise "greater quality of evidence" simply means your corroborating evidences have a stronger ring of truth about them and are less susceptible to skepticism than other types of corroboration.  A person without any known ties to you emotionally, financially or socially, corroborating your claim of winning the lottery, would be a bit more objective of a proof than if the same testimony came from a family member or friend.

It's real easy:  When total strangers tell us they bought groceries at the store last week, we usually don't remain skeptical until they can corroborate their claim, because purchasing groceries at the store happens with routine regularity.  That is, most rational mature adults do in fact more readily believe claims that cohere perfectly with their own ideas of what's physically possible/likely.

When total strangers tell us they won the lottery for $45 million dollars, the greater unlikelihood in this example makes us slightly more hesitant to believe the story absent some type of corroboration.  It is highly unlikely for any certain person to win the lottery.  That is, most rational adults do in fact remain skeptical, in absence of corroborating evidence otherwise, of claims that substantially depart from their own ideas of what's possible/likely.  If anybody retains the least bit of skepticism toward a total stranger's claim of winning the lottery until some type of corroborating evidence has been disclosed, they are employing ECREE.

When total strangers tell us they can levitate their bodies using nothing more than their non-physical mental powers alone, we are very hesitant to believe such a claim.  Why?  For the same reason YOU are skeptical of such a claim, it's never happened to you before, you've never seen genuine levitation happen, there's no science to show it's possible and there's plenty of personal experience and science saying only some type of physical countering force (magnets, support beam, etc) can free you from gravity's influence.

Ok...suppose one friend of the stranger corroborates the stranger's grocery-store claim.  Is that a sufficient basis upon which to believe her claim that she bought groceries at the store?  If so, how do you know?  If not, why not?

Suppose one friend of the stranger corroborates the stranger's levitation claim.  Is that a sufficient basis upon which to believe her claim of levitation?  If so, how do you know?  If not, why not?


With that preamble, let's dive into Craig's errors on ECREE:

First, Craig at :30 ff says this aphorism of ECREE is "demonstrably false".  That's his first error:  ECREE is not a mechanical test that produces a definite result of "believable" or "not believable".  It is a general rule of thumb intended to help a person properly decide whether any given claim is likely true or false.  Saying ECREE is demonstrably false is about as muddled as saying "interviewing witnesses is false".

Second, at :40 ff, he claims ECREE fails to take into account all the factors that play into assessing the probability of an event.  This too is an outrageously false strawman, since ECREE is a generalized rule of thumb and just what level of quantity and quality of evidence would be required to justify belief in a claim would possibly radically differ from case to case. 

Third, at :45 ff, Craig says if ECREE were true, we could never have adequate evidence for extraordinarily improbable events, and appeals to somebody winning the lottery.  But the reason we know people have won the lottery before is for reasons for more substantial than their own testimony.  We can obtain state records showing big payments to lottery winners, we can see claimants suddenly quitting their jobs and purchasing very expensive items for themselves, and the idea that winning the lottery is all mere "fake news" is contradicted by a great quantity and quality of objective reports from disinterested parties, which would thus qualify as the "extraordinary evidence" (i.e., evidence of greater quality and quantity than we normally demand for claims of routine everyday events).

Third, at 1:00, he says the evidence for the reliability of the evening news would be swamped by the improbability of the event reported.  But this is a weak argument simply because reporting something through the evening news does not more of less obligate a person to believe it truly happened. Again, when the evening news reports that somebody picked all the right numbers and won the lottery, they are not reporting something that runs afoul of what our everyday experience tells us is physically possible.

Fourth, at 1:17 ff, Craig says ECREE would lead to skepticism toward non-supernatural claims.  Yeah, so?  The alibi witness on the stand stand corroborating the murder-suspects alibi, is his mother, and since mothers have an obvious natural instinct to protect their children, the mother's credibility does not become trustworthy or believable merely because she causes her vocal cords to do something that can be percieved by the human ear, and jurors would naturally require her credibility be established a bit more objectively than they would if it was a cop on the stand corroborating the alibi, who otherwise was biased against the suspect by arresting him for the crime.  IF ECREE would justified skepticism of non-supernatural claims, that would be a good thing.

Fifth, at 1:25, Craig says probability theorists concluded that we have to consider how likely the evidence would be if the event had not occurred.  Since the question concerned Jesus's resurrection being extraordinary, Craig likely means skeptics needs to explain how the resurrection evidence came about at all, if in fact the resurrection claim is false.  Fair enough, and hardly anything that sends skeptics running in fear.

Religious people are known to be delusional, Pentecostals have individual experiences at church, but the collective nature of their corporate worship encourages them to insist that they all had the same experience, the first 100 years after Jesus died are the textually dark period of the NT where we don't have the first fucking clue just how close the original versions of the gospels mirrored the canonical form they take today, John the apostle was prone to visions anyway, Apostle Paul was a self-confessed liar, the last 100 years shows how true Paul's claim was that some can peddle the gospel solely for money, Mark's gospel was eariliest and contains no resurrection appearance stories like we normally expect if Mark or Peter had believed such reports were true. 

But let's also not lose sight of the fact that the claimant is the one with the burden of proof.  There is no general rule of evidence or reasoning that says the skeptic is required to come up with reasons to reject the claim (because the logical opposite of that would be a requirement that byou believe every claim you hear until you have reasons to reject it, which is the very definition of gullibility.  We don't just believe everything we hear).  The skeptic's goal is successfully completed if he can show enough legitimate evidentiary shortcomings in your evidence that it becomes rational to be suspicious of your claim.  The idea that we are obligated to provide the actual naturalistic truth behind the claim is total bullshit, since many fake religious claims arise in private circumstances that can never be fully debunked, such as the kids pretending to see visions of Mary at Fatima.  Nobody can go back and perfectly reconstruct all the realities that led up to this alleged vision to show that the vision claim is false.

Sixth, Craig at 1:55 ff asks how probable would be the Empty Tomb, the post mortem appearances, and origin of the disciples' resurrection belief, if Jesus hadn't rose from the dead.  Again, this is old hat:  Craig's  belief in the Empty Tomb draws from the minimal facts argument of Gary Habermas, and I'll soon be explaining why independent evaluation of each piece of NT evidence overthrows the idea that the empty tomb is a reasonably certain fact of history.  How likely true the post-mortem appearances are, depends in part on how early they are, which depends in part on how early one dates the gospel reports of such resurrection appearances.  And Gospel dating itself arises from other presuppositions that could be debated.  One thing appears reasonably certain, it doesn't matter if the alleged hymn of resurrection Paul repeats in 1st Corinthians 15 started the third day after Jesus died, that hymn is not a resurrection appearance story, and carries no more weight than when today's Christians recite John 3:16.  They don't say this because they have empriical evidence that God loves the world, they say it as a mere matter of theological devotion, nothing more.  As far as origin of the disciple's resurrection belief, this too is hazy:  therer were allegedly 12 disciples, with Matthias replacing Judas in Acts 1.  We don't have a clue just how strongly the majority of these twelve held to a belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and one could plausibly argue that the reason only Peter, James, John and Paul far overshadow the others in the NT is because a substantial number of original disciples stopped believing Jesus rose from the dead.  That becomes worse when we remember it isn't just some of the 12 that never left any surviving records of resurrection preaching, in Acts 1 there are about 120 people who are intimately associated with the apostles, likely including the 70 otherwise unnamed disciples.  There's an awful lot of allegedly amazingly transformed Christians in league with the original apostles, whose preaching activity was apparently not extreme enough to protect it from destruction by the passing of time.

Seventh, Craig at 2:12 boasts that we'd agree that if Jesus didn't rise, these "facts" would be enormously improbable, but he is just talking crazy at this point.  Even if we grant yes they would be improbable, so what?  ECREE neither expresses nor implies that if some claimed event has any degree of improbability, then it must be false.

Eighth, Craig at 2:25 ff says we don't need to have extraordinary evidence to establish extraordinary claims, but he fails to define "extraordinary evidence" here, which is why I took the time to do so in this blog post, supra.  The sad truth for apologists is that ECREE is not just reasonable and rational, but is so precisely because it is how everybody including Christians, decide which types of claims in the real world they will believe, reject, or remain undecided about.  ECREE does not assert that a claim should always be capable of meeting the demands of greater quality and quantity of evidence.  It is not unreasonable to suppose that evidence for improbable events is lost or destroyed.  It may be true that byour dad told you orally, before he died, that he is leaving his entire estate to you, but if you didn't record it or otherwise have other people hear your dad say such a thing, and if what he said is contrary to what he stated in his will, then the truth doesn't matter, the administrator will still be reasonable and rational to insist that the written will constitutes the more objective evidence of what dad wished.  Even so, it doesn't matter if Jesus really did rise from the dead, the issue is whether you can demonstrate this contention to another person with such force that a reasonable person would feel compelled to agree that the claim is true.  You can't.

Craig's response here was little more than a desperate strawman; ECREE is the type of reasons that Christians themselves employ when they attempt to evaluate ANY truth-claim, even truth-claims of other competing religions.  Indeed, it is what we employ when making ANY decision about whether a given claim is likely true or false.

Tough Questions Answered: if James denied Jesus' miracles, he likely wouldn't have believed Jesus rose from the dead

This is my reply to an  Tough Questions Answered article entitled:              How Does James’ Belief in Jesus Corroborate the Resurre...