Monday, February 23, 2009

Can we enjoy believing in a real Jesus?

RS writes:

I just read your tretise again. I like your questions. In fact I've asked a lot of them myself. You imply some conclusions that I'm not comfortable with however. We could draw some firm conclusions if all of the books that were ever written about everything were still available. But they're not. In the ancient, illiterate world I don't think many books were written in the first place. How many books do you think there were in circulation 2 thousand years ago? What did people write about back then? Who were the authors and who were the audiences? Why did they even write books? Did they get paid for writing them? Were there professional authors back then, like there are now?

So, I'm uneasy about some of your conclusions; like maybe Jesus didn't actually exist because we haven't found more than a couple of ancient books outside the Bible that even mention him. We don't have all the books that were written available for examination. We can't conclude that an event didn't happen just because there is no evidence for it. The event could have happened but the evidence is gone. To be rational I think we have to reserve the possibility that Jesus did exist. I think we also have to consider the possibility that mingled within possible myths, legends, and embellishments contained in the Bible is a kernel or 2 of truth.

You seem to have drawn your conclusions more on faith than on evidence. So I guess you and I are still following a practice we thought we left religion for: believing in things that can't be proven or disproven. I enjoy believing there was a real Jesus. I enjoy reading what he puportedly said for the most part. There is wisdom and insight there in some of it. I enjoy reading Pauls teachings. I accept from the Bible generally , what is relevant for me and ignore the rest, and I find meaning in it. I don't believe there is a final exam at the end of life so to me it's okay if you reject everything. All I'm suggesting is that because we don't know all there is to know we should be open to the possibilities.


You are uneasy with reaching the conclusion that Jesus did not exist, for we do not have a complete historical record of that time. That is true. We cannot resolve the issue of his existence with certainty either way. And I make no claim that I know it with certaintly. I do think he probably did not exist, but I am not dogmatic about that claim. (See The Jesus Puzzle for more information on why many think he did not exist.)

You say you enjoy reading the reported words of Jesus. That is all well and good. There are a lot of good ideas in the Q Gospel and Thomas, the two books that are believed to be closest to the timeframe of Jesus. And there are lessons to be learned from writers like Luke who built on this tradition. I am in no way saying we cannot learn from these books. The point is that there is no way to prove that these books represent the words of a single man named Jesus, the words of one man who used Jesus as a pseudoname, or a compilation of sayings of many people. When it comes to enjoying the moral lessons there, one can do that regardless of who had a hand in preparing those documents.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Ask whatever you need to, and let Him provide the answers."

Another reader observes:

I stumbled upon your website and wanted to ask something. In your own words, taken directly from your website, you state:

"To convince a skeptic that he is wrong, you will need to do more then state that you are right and he is wrong. You will need evidence."

I simply want to ask...what "evidence" have you provided that the Bible is not inspired? Your website is a multitude of questions without answers. Can you, with your scientific mind, provide evidence that the Bible was not inspired by God? Can you provide evidence that God does not exist? You pose very good questions on your website, however, you fail to answer any of them. In the end, you simply tell me that since I can not provide evidence that you deem sufficient, I am incorrect in my beliefs and you are correct in yours. Why does it have to be me providing the evidence, and not you? Even if I were to tell you of all the wonderful ways God has blessed my life since inviting the Holy Spirit of Jesus into my heart and doing my best to live in His would ask me whether wonderful things ever happened before, and you would tell me that it's all just coincidence. So, one man's "evidence" is not necessarily another's. Based on the litany of questions on your website it seems to me that you are searching. Don't look in the Bible, and likewise don't look to science (which will only explain to you the matters of this three dimensional universe and time)...just look to Jesus and ask. Take the time to sit peacefully, open your heart, and invite Him in. He'll stand at the door waiting for as long as it takes, but he won't break it down to get's got to be your choice. Then ask whatever you need to, and let Him provide the answers.

God Bless...and I hope you find what you're truly looking for.

I respond here:

What evidence have I provided about the Bible? What about the long list of contradictions at my site? What about the detailed descriptions of moral problems with the Bible? Could God have written such things? Please read what I wrote. If you don't think that evidence is sufficient, please explain why.

You say, "you simply tell me that since I can not provide evidence that you deem sufficient, I am incorrect in my beliefs and you are correct in yours. " But of course, I never said any such thing, or anything close to it. Failure to find evidence for one belief in no way proves that another belief is correct. My views must stand on their own evidence.

You say I fail to answer any of the questions at my site. Again, have you even attempted to read my site? The site is filled with questions, and my responses to those questions. I think I have made my position very clear. If you are confused about my position, please ask.

You say one man's "evidence" may not be enough to convince another. Exactly. You are not convinced with the evidence that Iesha presented for Islam, are you? You are not convinced with the evidence for the book of Mormon, are you? Can you understand that some evidence is not convincing? Some evidence is valid, some is not. The fact that you found "evidence" may not mean the evidence is valid. For even you refer to your "evidence" in quotes, indicating that even you see that this is not convincing evidence.

You tell me to open my heart and invite Jesus in. I have indeed done that, many, many times. And no, I did not get all the answers. Yes, when I was a Christian, I thought I had a direct line to the throne, and yes, I thought I was getting answers directly from God, but as I explained at my site, others were using the exact same link to the throne and finding dramatically different answers. Have you never experienced that? Have you never once found a Christian who prayed to God and concluded something different from you? If this method you propose is so valid, why do people who use if find such radically different answers?


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"I ended up in a place I should be in"

JF writes:

I just read some of your points. You are very creative. There is a lot of smoke and mirror's for you to hide behind.

I think you should look closer. The answer may be there.

Good luck on your ongoing search for the truth.

My search was long and winding and I ended up in a place I should be in.

I will give you a hint,

I will pray for you,

JF, I am glad that, after a long search, you ended up in a place you should be.

Can you understand that, just because a place may be right for you, it may not necessarily be right for me? After all, some will tell me that they have found a place that is right for themselves, and their faith is very different from yours. Should I follow Islam, for example, since some have found it to be a place that is right for them? Will you immediately turn and follow all religions for which others declare that they have found it to be right for them? No? Then why would you expect others to immediately turn and follow your religion just becuase you declare it is right for you? Can you understand how most people would not regard your argument to be convincing evidence that they should abandon their views and accept your faith?

May I ask you how you know this is the place for you? Is it because of social pressure, and the fear of saying things that disagree with your peers? Is it because you have come to the faith you knew as a kid, and you feel secure in not having to face the real world with its many conflicting beliefs? Or is it because you have found new evidence that convinces you of a certain truth? If it is because of new evidence, what evidence are you referring to?

You say that you will pray for me. Fine, but what will you pray for? Will you pray that I abandon the knowledge I now have, and accept your faith, even though I sincerely think the evidence points me in another direction? Would your God honour such intellectual dishonesty? And if your God honors intellectual dishonesty, how would I know I could trust him?And if you are praying that I will be informed of a new fact, what fact is it that you want me to know? Why not just tell me?

I am sorry that you think my site is smoke and mirrors. I wrote it as an honest attempt to explain my views, and why I came to those views. If I am mistaken, it was an honest mistake, and I would like to know where I am wrong. Can you understand how simply calling my site smoke and mirrors does not address the issues? If I am wrong, where am I mistaken?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Okay, maybe not so much Paul as Mark and Luke

I see that WisdomUnchained has responded in detail to my post about Paul. I will address him here.


You write,

I have read the 3 parts starting with the Conspiracy of Silence so I understand your reasoning that Paul was speaking of Jesus on a spiritual plane and not as an earthly person. My initial reaction is that a person, after reading all of Paul's writings, would have to make a pretty significant leap of faith to agree with that. This in light of the fact that the gospel of Luke makes it clear that the Jesus being spoken about was an earthly person. Luke of course was a travelling companion of Paul so it seems unlikely that he would have somehow been in disagreement with Paul over whether Jesus was a real person or not.

I'm glad that you were willing to read the other side. You are certainly on the way to deeper understanding. Many refuse to read that which they disagree with. You and I--and probably most of those reading this--are among those who are willing to explore the thoughts of those who disagree with us.

Now that you have read the skeptical view, you may want to go back and read Paul for what he says. People are so used to hearing bits and pieces in church, where the speaker jumps between Paul and the gospels, leaving one with the impression that they are all speaking the same message. But if one isolates just the teaching of Paul, and reads it by itself, without interpreting it in the light of the first five books of the New Testament, it is hard to see that Paul is speaking of an earthly Jesus. That was the point I was responding to. The argument had been raised that Paul was a good early witness to the reality of the story of Jesus. Paul certainly testifies that he believed in a Jesus, but does he witness to the fact that Jesus lived on earth? That is the question.

Are we justified in reading Paul on his own, without viewing him in light of the first 5 books? Yes, if Paul wrote long before those books, wrote to a different audience, and had no contact with those other books or their authors. Is there any convincing evidence that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were known by Paul?

Interestingly, your response shifts completely from the original topic of the writings of Paul, and turns back to the four gospels as your source. I addressed those books at Are the Gospels Historical?, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? , and When Were the Gospels Written?.

You refer to Luke, the companion of Paul, as the writer of the third gospel. How do you know that he wrote that book? The third gospel is completely anonymous, with no indication within the book itself of who the author is. Nobody even mentions Luke as a writer of a gospel until 150 years after Christ. And even then, we are told only that a Luke wrote the book, and not told which Luke. And yet your whole argument here hinges on the assertion that this book was written by Luke, the companion of Paul. Do you have any evidence for that claim? And if you admit that there is no convincing evidence that this Luke wrote that book, then the argument that Paul's intimate companion taught an earthly Jesus disappears. One is then left once more with turning to the writings of Paul himself to find out what Paul taught.

The gospel of Mark, who of course is considered the disciple Peter's interpreter, also speaks of an earthly Jesus. Since from Paul's writings we know that he had extensive interaction with Peter, and Peter claimed to be a direct disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, it seems pretty unreasonable that there was some major miscommunication between all four of them over whether Jesus was a real earthly person who had died just 20 some years before or not.

Again, I see an assertion here about the authorship of Mark. Once again, there is no mention within the gospel of who the author is. Again, we find nobody identifying this particular book with Mark until 150 years after Jesus. How do you know it was written by Peter's interpreter?

Paul mentions Peter, but nowhere mentions anything about Peter actually being with a physical Jesus on earth. In fact, Paul very clearly indicates that his own spiritual visions of Jesus are of equal validity with what Peter saw. Is there any indication anywhere that Paul thought Peter saw anything more than a vision? If I look only at the writings of Paul, I find there no evidence there that Peter physically saw Jesus.

Mark most likely wrote to an isolated group away from Palestine who had no contact with the Jerusalem apostles. If the Jerusalem apostles were even still alive at that point, they probably had no contact with the book of Mark, and so never refuted it.

If you would like to claim Mark was written before 70 AD, I would be interested in your reasons. For I find strong evidence for a date of Mark after 70 AD.

Peter even addresses this in 2 Peter 1:16 where he says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty”..

Excuse me, but how do you know that Peter wrote the book of 2 Peter? 2 Peter is widely regarded as a second century pseudepigraph, that is, it was written by somebody other than Peter. See 2 Peter. What are your reasons for thinking Peter wrote that book?

Be that as it may, that still doesn't answer the underlying question. What are your thoughts on why Paul, who from the writings attributed to him was obviously a highly educated zealous Jew, who spoke and wrote fluently in multiple languages, was a man of reason, a roman citizen, a rising star in his Jewish sect of the Pharisees, and one who had already demonstrated his contempt for Christians by admittedly having them put to death; Why would he have abandoned his zealous Jewish beliefs to convert to Christianity? All this in light of the fact that he was trading a life of success and respect for one of prison, beatings, and suffering that lead to his own death by crucifixion. Whether it was an encounter with the physical or spiritual Jesus, it was a catastrophic event that compelled him to make a 180 degree change in his lifestyle based on 1400 years of tradition. A reasonable man, as Paul obviously was, just doesn’t do that without a dramatic event.

Did Paul encounter a catastrophic event? Sure! It was the Diaspora. Paul appears to have been one of the many Jews that were spread by the Romans across the area, intermixed with believers in many religions. In those desperate times in which people had to learn to cooperate with people of many cultures to survive, many adopted parts of other religions. So it is no big surprise that Paul combined elements of Judaism with elements of other religions, such as the religions that taught that a dying savior god in the spiritual realm brings salvation.

There is no doubt that Paul was zealous about his religion. Many are zealous about many different religions. What is in question is whether Paul taught that his Jesus had recently walked on earth as a man. You will have no problem convincing me that Paul was zealous. The question before us is this: What message was Paul zealous for?

I look forward to reading your response.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

What about Paul?

I have contended that the early records tell little about an historical Jesus. We have no record of anybody definitively writing of the earthly Jesus revealed in the gospels until about 70 AD when Mark wrote his book. If the earthly life of Jesus was so important, why did nobody choose to write about it until 40 years later? Could it be that Mark was simply writing a novel which was later adopted as truth, and that the story has very little basis in historical fact?

Here is a reader's response:

I just came across your website this evening and I must admit that I haven't read through everything yet. I'm curious though about what your thoughts are on the books of the new testament written by Paul. I read your comments on the gospels and how you question whether they are eye witness accounts or not. Paul on the otherhand is credited with writing much of the new testament. He describes his seemingly miraculous conversion to belief in Christ and then travels around until he is killed proclaiming Christ. What are your thoughts on these books and Paul himself? Are you skeptical that he was a real person? If you think he was a real person, why would he have fabricated the story he did especially unto death? The other option is that he was deceived by the Apostles but he seemingly would have had an easy time of validating their stories with other eye witnesses since he lived during the same time as the original Apostles. I can understand how zealots in our own modern age can be deceived and convinced by faith in whatever religion to give their life as a final act of obedience. They take the word of a man before them. If you read the writtings of Paul though, he comes across as a man of reason. It doesn't seem reasonable that he could be deceived given his proximity to others who could disprove the Apostle's claims. Even if he was deceived, why make up the lie about his conversion? And what could his movitation have been to perpetuate that lie and Christ? Before proclaiming Christ, he was apparently a rising star in the Jewish community, a roman citizen, a free man, with power, influence, and likely money. Why trade all that for a lie?

Yes I believe that "Paul" was a literal man, for we have a collection of books written by "Paul". Although we can't be absolutely certain that the person who wrote these books was called "Paul" by those around him, it seems obvious that a man existed who wrote these books.

The problem is that Paul does not testify to the fact of an earthly Jesus. Paul describes a Jesus in heaven, who is doing a work on a spiritual plane. If this Jesus had had an earthly existence before this heavenly work, the letters of Paul bypass it. Yes, Paul refers to a death and resurrection, but the experience he refers to appears to be a heavenly experience, not one that happened on earth. You can read more about this at Conspriacy of Silence.

So the books of Paul, rather than being a convincing argument for the earthly resurrection, actually support the view that Jesus was considered to be only a heavenly figure by the earliest Christians. Not until Mark came along do we have a record of anyone reporting that the story happened on earth.

"God's ways are higher"

Where have I been? It's been a busy year, and I haven't spent much time on this blog. Several have written emails to me in the past year, but I have not yet responded. Let's get back to some of your concerns.

One person observes:

I also was brought up in a very devout Mennonite family and have recently found myself having questions about God, creation, the Bible, my life. You name it - I have questions about it.

I am basing what I am writing on the belief that there is a God and He is Creator.

As I read through the articles on your website I was struck by a thought - if we could understand everything about the way the earth was created, human nature, science, the mind, etc... through human intellect and reasoning wouldn't that, in itself, nullify God. It seems to me that one of the attributes of God is that God's ways are higher than our ways and God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts. If we could figure everything out using our human mind and understanding that would mean we are equal to God - just as intelligent as He is. Is that possible?

I am grappling within myself about the questions I have about God: How did the earth come to be? Why are there so many, what seem to be, inconsistencies in creation, the Bible, theology - just as you have written?

But then I think of my own experience and how I have felt God's presence in such remarkable ways. I have seen miraculous things happen. Is that just my emotions, my mind, nature? It is written that we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Where is faith in all of this?

Could it be that God has left things unanswered - not all aspects of things - but that perfect connection, the perfect answer, the one thing that nails down the theory for the very fact that it requires faith to believe in Him? I don't know. I'm just putting it out there.

Right now, I hold to my belief in God, not because I have all the answers, but precisely because I don't.

Thanks for listening,

Could it be that God's ways are higher than ours, and that we really can't understand him. Sure! That is certainly possible. In fact, if a God did create this world, then it seems obvious that his ways would be higher than ours.

If God's ways are higher than ours, does this prove that this person has the correct religion? I think not. For if this person could prove he is right, since God is unknowable, then religions that radically differed with her could make the same claim. But religions differ greatly. Can all be proved to be right by using this argument? Can you see that an argument that leads to the conclusion that all religions are right cannot be a valid argument?

If God is not fully knowable, doesn't that lead us to the position of agnostism? If God's ways are above us, and we can't fully know those ways, then what is wrong with saying, "I don't know?" Why "nail down the theory" of one faith by accepting it on faith, when you know that you would be "nailing down the theory" of another faith if you were in different circumstances, with everyone around you nailing down another theory?

The writer speaks of feeling God's presence, but how can she be sure of what she felt? For if God's ways are unknowable, and she feels comfort, how can she know God comforts? If she feels guidance, how can she know God guides? To assume that these feeling come directly from God implies that we know what God wants to convey to us. But if God's ways are above us, and we can't understand them, how can we make definitive statements about how Gop wants us to feel? And if we can't know how God wants us to feel, how can we be sure that a particular feeling was caused by a direct intervention from God?

So no, I don't understand that the argument that our ignorance about God proves that a certain religion is right about God. That conclusion just doesn't follow.