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The Church Fathers Debate Biblical Inspiration

Ben Myers has an article at Faith and Theology about two of the most prominent and influential Christian church fathers, Marcion and Origen, and their differences when it comes to the questions of Biblical inspiration and the barbarism of the Old Testament. First, Marcion’s view:

As far as I can tell it is Marcion who comes up with the first full-blown “Christian” theory of biblical inspiration. It is fundamental to Marcion’s system that the Hebrew scriptures are divinely inspired. They are a perfect, utterly reliable revelation, word for word and letter for letter. But there’s a sinister twist in this doctrine of inspiration. For these Hebrew scriptures are inspired not by a good God but by the Demiurge, the wicked god of the Jews. In Israel’s scriptural writings this god has given us a completely reliable revelation of his (monstrous) deeds and character. Corresponding to Marcion’s theory of inspiration is a commitment to literal interpretation. Read literally, the Hebrew scriptures plainly show the Jewish god to be a god of violence, wrath, jealousy, injustice, ineptitude, and petty legalism.

Marcion is right, of course, as was Thomas Jefferson when he described the Hebrew deity as “cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.” But at least he didn’t do what so many Christians do today and dismiss the barbarism of Yahweh as mere allegory or as great mysteries to be explained by God himself when we die. Origen, on the other hand, anticipates the current view quite well:

And this is where the theory of biblical inspiration comes into play. In authoring scripture, Origen argues, God has deliberately planted all sorts of interpretive obstacles: problems, difficulties, mistakes, morally objectionable stories, and so forth. These manifold obstacles lead us to press beneath the surface of the text and to search more deeply for its spiritual meaning. Such spiritual exegesis isn’t just a scholarly technique. It requires ascetic purification, the spiritual transformation of the reader. So the problems in scripture – the same problems which Marcion takes as proof of divine wickedness – are planted there by God to lead us into the depths of spiritual life, just as a wise teacher might plant mistakes in a class discussion in order to lead the class, gently and unobtrusively, towards the truth.

Origen’s exegesis lays the foundations for all later Christian interpretation of scripture.

Indeed it does, complete with a great deal of intellectual dishonesty, special pleading, wishful thinking and vague nonsense.

Comments

  1. unbound says

    Basically, this reads very much like the old cop-out of meaning what they say, unless you have objections, in which case, it was just a joke.

  2. says

    Wow, I haven’t heard those names since undergrad History of Christianity. I remember thinking Marcion sounded like a really interesting person whom I would have liked to have a long talk with. Origen, not so much.

  3. raven says

    Such spiritual exegesis isn’t just a scholarly technique.

    Exegesis is a con.

    It is just a way to make the giant Rorschach Inkblot say whatever you want it to say.

    “When jesus recommended that men cut off their testicles, he really meant you should check your engine oil monthly and change it every 3,000 miles.”

    It’s all so easy to do.

  4. Michael Heath says

    One of the great intellectual efforts is the energy, effort, and imagination put into reconciling that which is obviously ignorant, stupid, and evil as that which is instead good beyond what humans are capable of demonstrating.

    One of the surprising things I’ve found reading all the science books I’ve read over the decades is the importance of imagination when it comes to explaining the evidence. With theology we see that talent subverted, and yet the people doing the subverting often have real talent. They just took that one step down the slippery slope of fundamentalist thinking where their talents and energies ultimately cause great human suffering instead of making a positive contribution to life on this planet like we enjoy from scientists and other disciplinary experts.

  5. says

    I remember thinking Marcion sounded like a really interesting person whom I would have liked to have a long talk with. Origen, not so much.

    Really? Marcion was not a Christian, but rather a Chrstian heretic. He not only disliked the OT god, but he also rewrote the NT. For the same reason. He was a first class anti-Semite and he excised all “Jewishness” from the NT. His NT was almost entirely Pauline, because he believed only Paul’s theology was free from Jewish influence.

    So yes, I suppose he is interesting, in a Fred Phelps kinda way.

  6. says

    “Indeed it does, complete with a great deal of intellectual dishonesty, special pleading, wishful thinking and vague nonsense.”

    Boy, it would sure be nice if you could say all of what is encompassed in that statement with just one word. Oh, you can, it’s “theology”.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Take note, ye scoffers: these Founding Fathers said absolutely nothing to support gun control!

  8. says

    heddle said:

    Really?

    Yes, because– if I recall correctly– Marcion’s conclusion that God was a fearsome horrible entity in the Old Testament forced him to conclude that he was therefore not the same god as the one in the NT. That is, again if my memory is accurate, the main thing that got him classified as a heretic in the first place.

    And that seems like an entirely reasonable conclusion to me. But then it would, since I’m a heretic myself (and was back in college as well).

  9. says

    “God has deliberately planted all sorts of interpretive obstacles: problems, difficulties, mistakes, morally objectionable stories, and so forth.”

    Because an all-loving God intended for people to find salvation [i]sola Scriptura[/i] by reading the literal Word of God?

  10. says

    To be fair to the Tanakh, it comes on a roll, which is pretty cool. If you spin one side fast enough, it’s a movie. The LORD was technologically ahead of His own time. I highly recommend turning it over and listening to the director’s track.

  11. says

    And, heddle, I wholeheartedly agree that the OT god is “a god of violence, wrath, jealousy, injustice, ineptitude, and petty legalism.” Does that make me also a “first class anti-Semite”?

  12. says

    @Gretchen #11 – Yup. In fact, Marcionism was prevailent enough to be one of the major rivals of what would become orthodox Christianity, along with Arianism and Manichaeism.

    The irony is that Marcion created the first canon of Scriptures in Christendom, as documents that (he claimed) were free of the Jewish “taint.” These became the nucleus of modern Christian Scriptures, with most of the letters attributed to Paul (excluding Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) and a redacted version of Luke’s Gospel.

  13. raven says

    Origen, not so much.

    Origen is reputed to have actually followed jesus’s advice and castrated himself.

    It didn’t do him any good in the end. He was excommuncated twice and his works declared anathema.

    Origen: Gifted, Devout, Condemned – AD 1-300 Church History …
    christianity. com › … › Church History › Timeline › AD 1-300

    Origen: Gifted, Devout, Condemned from AD 1-300 church history timeline. … in 231 and 232 enacted motions against Origen, and he was excommunicated.

  14. says

    Gretchen,

    Does that make me also a “first class anti-Semite”?,

    I don’t know–do you think the writings of Mark, Matthew, John, Peter, etc should be dropped from the canon, even though they are not discussing that mean old god from the OT, but rather simply because they are too Jewish?

    I can give him a free pass (on the anti-Semitism charge) for arguing the OT god was not the NT god. That’s a common Gnostic claim too. But not for demoing NT writings because they were too Jewish.

  15. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    The irony is that Phelps is a devotee of the very “god of violence, wrath, jealousy, injustice, ineptitude, and petty legalism” that Marcion rejected.

  16. says

    @heddle #8 – Every self-described Christian over the last 2000 years was a heretic according to some other self-described Christian. Remember: heresy and orthodoxy are determined by who won the ideological war.

    As for Marcion “rewriting” the New Testament, that is a flat-out distortion: he compiled the first version of the Christian canon; there was none before his. If you want to be legalistic about it, the church councils rewrote his New Testament, not the other way around.

    As for the charge of being anti-Semitic, that stream of thought was already very well entrenched in Christendom before Marcion becacame a bishop. It is quite clear in John’s Gospel, and most of Paul’s epistles (which were likely written before John) show it developing. Marcion was very much a Christian of his day, and his teachings attracted a wide enough following that those who espoused what would become the orthodox view saw him as a dire threat to be destroyed at all cost.

  17. eric says

    Heddle

    Really? Marcion was not a Christian, but rather a Chrstian heretic.

    So was Calvin.

    Guess we should treat their crazy unChristian theologiical ramblings with equal consideration, eh?

  18. says

    heddle,

    So it sounds like you think Marcion is an anti-Semite because he wanted to expunge traces of a religion he believed to worship an abhorrent god from his own beliefs. If that’s bigotry, then so is any kind of apostasy against any faith.

  19. raven says

    As for the charge of being anti-Semitic, that stream of thought was already very well entrenched in Christendom before Marcion becacame a bishop

    The roots of antisemitism are in the Gospels of John and Matthew and the NT.

    The Catholic church kept it alive as official policy for 2,000 years.

    One of the most rabid antisemites was a famous Catholic, Martin Luther, who eventually dropped the RCC but kept the antisemitism.

    The leader of the most successful recent pogrom was a famous Austrian…Catholic.

  20. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Marcion was not a Christian, but rather a Chrstian heretic. – heddle

    Marcion lived from about CE 85 to about CE 160. I know he was excomunicated by the Church of Rome, but does the designation “heretic” really make sense with regard to this period? The canon had not been determined, nor as far as I know was there any generally recognised doctrinal authority. Or do you just mean he was posthumously denounced as a heretic once there was such an authority?

    Like Gretchen, I question whether thinking the OT’s Yahweh is a nasty piece of work is sufficient to establish antisemitism, although I’m quite prepared to accept that Marcion was antisemitic if you have any evidence that he persecuted or reviled Jews themselves.

  21. otrame says

    What I find most telling about this is that even in the first couple of centuries after the beginning of Christianity, during a time not known for its attention to decency, human rights, and other modern foibles, the leading theologians of the day felt the need to explain away the awfulness of the OT.

    Makes you wonder how people today who insist it is the inerrant word of gdo missed out on all that.

  22. says

    @raven #22 – Point of information: the Catholic Church did not exist as such until the Great Schism in 1054, when Pope Leo IX excommunicated everyone in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople and Patriarch Michael Cærularius excommunicated everyone in communion with the Patriarch of Rome. This split was not finalized until 1204, when the Fourth Crusade, called by the Pope, sacked Constantinople.

    As far as anti-Semitism, the Eastern Church was just as bad as, if not worse than, the Western Church. This was fueled not only by the anti-Semitism found in Scripture, but also by the fact that most Jews fleeing Christian persecution found refuge in Islamic territories. In the minds of many Christians, especially those in the east who were directly threatened by Muslim advances, this made Jews into enemies of the faith who would, if given the chance, throw open the city gates and welcome Satan’s own conquerors.

    Christian anti-Semitism was firmly institutionalized at an extremely early stage of the religion’s development, likely as early as 100 CE. You cannot blame it all on just Catholics.

  23. rabbitscribe says

    Heddle:

    He didn’t rewrite the New Testament because there was not yet a canonical New Testament to rewrite. All he had was Mark, the first Gospel to be composed, and the authentic Pauline canon. The rest of the New Testament, including forgeries in Paul’s name like 1 & 2 Timothy were not yet widely circulated.

  24. justsomeguy says

    Origen sums up one of my biggest problems with Christianity: the plain unreliability of the bible. He admits that there are “interpretive obstacles,” which in and of itself is not a problem for a piece of literature. All the good literatures have some sort of ambiguity in them.

    The problem is that the bible isn’t *just* literature. It’s history, too (or claims to be), and most importantly, it claims to be an instruction book for how to live one’s life. Ambiguity and mystery have absolutely no place in a list of rules, especially in a situation where the consequences of following the rules (or not) are so massive. I don’t want to GUESS what behaviors are and are not allowed. I don’t want to have to dedicate my life to studying the rulebook just to have a more educated guess as to what the rules are. Nor should I be expected to.

  25. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    I don’t know–do you think the writings of Mark, Matthew, John, Peter, etc should be dropped from the canon, even though they are not discussing that mean old god from the OT, but rather simply because they are too Jewish? – heddle

    I wrote my #23 before seeing this. How is it known that that’s why he rejected them? It appears that we don’t have copies of any of his works, only reconstructions from hostile sources.

  26. says

    And in regards to me at #25:

    One of the most likely roots of Christian anti-Semitism is derived from a special privilege given to Jews in the Roman Empire. They — and if I remember correctly, they alone — were given dispensation from the Imperial Cult. Everyone else was required to offer incense to the gods of the Roman State to demonstrate their obedience to civil law. Because they were the only monotheistic culture in the Empire at that time, Jews were exempt.

    Early Christians asserted that they followed the Jewish Messiah and observed Jewish laws: therefore, they were Jewish and exempt from the civic deism of the day. The Sanhedrin, arbiters of what was and was not Judaism, declared the Christians to be heretics (no different than the Essenes, Zealots and other such messianic groups on the fringes of Judean society) and pointed to the many Gentiles who had been admitted to the movement. The Roman authorities agreed, setting the stage for eventually persecuting Christians as atheists and traitors. This rejection by the Jewish mainstream led to Christianity abandoning all pretense of being Jewish and creating an animosity against Jews that lasts to this day.

  27. says

    Eric,

    Guess we should treat their crazy unChristian theologiical ramblings with equal consideration, eh?

    Actually, as a non-Christian you don’t get any say in the matter–anymore than I get a say as to how slyme-pitters, dictionary-atheists, athiests, gnu-atheists, and atheist-plussers (A+s) are delimited into gradations of atheism.

    However I will point out that both the RCC and the Reformers agreed that Marcion was a heretic.

    Gregory in Seattle

    As for Marcion “rewriting” the New Testament, that is a flat-out distortion: he compiled the first version of the Christian canon;

    This is true–and like most heretics he provided a useful service by forcing the church to respond by establishing the canon. However, even though there was no official canon prior to Marcion, books were being passed about as scriptural, and Marcion either denounced certain books or edited them removing anything “Jewish.”

    But, fair enough, “rewrote the NT” is not the best choice of words.

  28. says

    Actually, as a non-Christian you don’t get any say in the matter–anymore than I get a say as to how slyme-pitters, dictionary-atheists, athiests, gnu-atheists, and atheist-plussers (A+s) are delimited into gradations of atheism.

    I’m extremely reluctant to make declarations about who is a “true” Christian and who isn’t, but that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m an atheist. It’s mostly because Christianity can be darn near whatever the self-professed Christian claims it to be, and there are no real grounds for saying they’re wrong. Atheism, on the other hand, is pretty clear-cut: a person who doesn’t believe in gods is an atheist, and a person doesn’t have to be one to recognize one.

    So my suggestion would be: feel free to call atheists atheists, whoever you are, but don’t go around saying that people who believe themselves to be Christians aren’t (again, whoever you are), because none of us really get a say in the matter.

  29. says

    Why are we arguing about whether Marcion was a “heretic”, when Origen was a “heretic” too (he believed all people, no matter what, are saved and go to heaven)? “Heretic” in this case just means “later people had different beliefs, and denounced this earlier person for not having the same beliefs.” It applies equally to both of them. And let’s not forget that the word “heretic” derives from the Greek word for “choice”, either. As in, choosing to break from dogma. But since Christianity didn’t have established dogma in Marcion’s and Origen’s time, any designation of heresy to them is retroactive.

    It’s all irrelevant anyways. Heddle can prattle on all he wants, but it makes no difference at all whether either one of these guys was a “heretic” or not. The point stands regardless of whether or not they’re heretics. The point is that they both saw the same problem: The Old Testament god is clearly evil. Marcion’s solution was to say that the Old Testament god must indeed be evil (Let’s call this the “No Shit Sherlock” [NSS] interpretation). Origen’s solution was to say god just made himself look evil to test our ability to read the Bible right. If it says something evil, but can’t be evil, then it must say something else than what it says, and sentences that don’t actually say what they say are called “spiritual” because that sounds nicer than “God must be fucking lying to us if that’s how he wrote the Bible–or is he just a piss-poor communicator?” (Let’s call this the “Pretend It says Something Spiritual” [PISS] interpretation.) Later Christians adopted PISS, which made NSS heretical by definition.

    NSS is how we read every other book in the universe. PISS is only adopted in a situation which meets two crucial criteria, both (1) You really want there to be a book that’s always right, and (2) No such book actually exists. If there were a perfect book inspired by a perfect being, there would be no need to pretend it says something other than what it says. If the being is perfect, he/she should know how to communicate. He/she should not need your help to avoid looking like a murderous, greedy rapist. And he/she wouldn’t say “I’m a murdering rapist” and expect you to read that as “I’m NOT a murdering rapist.”

    You only need to PISS a book if it’s imperfect but you want it to be perfect anyways. So if you read a book where a god who’s said to be “good” tells his followers to kill all the men and enslave all the women, and you feel the need to interpret “good god tells people to kill and rape” as anything other than a BLATANT contradiction, then your only option is to PISS the book and tell everyone that this book needs to be PISSed even though nobody ever PISSes any other book (because PISS is a very stupid way to read a book).

  30. eric says

    Heddle

    Actually, as a non-Christian you don’t get any say in the matter–anymore than I get a say as to how slyme-pitters, dictionary-atheists, athiests, gnu-atheists, and atheist-plussers (A+s) are delimited into gradations of atheism.

    Complete bullflop. Calvin was called a heretic by the mainstream church in Paris and forced to flee out of fear of his life. Then a year or two later he was forced to flee France. At the time, the entire protestant movement was considered heretical by the RCC. I don’t have to be Christian to have an adequate grasp of the history of what happened to this particular Chrisitan and how his ideas were received by the people around him. He was considered a heretic by the society around him by their measures.. This is obvious and its historically supported and has nothing whatsovever to do with my beliefs about god.

    The major difference is that Marcion lost his sectarian fight while Calvin won (or partially won) his. The church was mostly able to censor and destroy Marcion’s work, and convert his followers back to the orthodox view, but not so with Calvin’s. Then again, Marcion didn’t have a protestant reformation at his back, and he chose to stay within the political reach of Rome rather than fleeing to a powerful country trying to undermine the political power of Rome, like Calvin did.

    Now, if you want to say we should ignore Marcion and pay attention to Calvin because the first lost his sectarian conflict while the second won, fine by me. But if you’re claiming that we should ignore Marcion’s theology because it was a departure from what was considered orthodox by the church of the time, well, rock, meet greenhouse.

  31. raven says

    Why are we arguing about whether Marcion was a “heretic”, when Origen was a “heretic” too (he believed all people, no matter what, are saved and go to heaven)? “Heretic” in this case just means “later people had different beliefs, and denounced this earlier person for not having the same beliefs.”

    Heretic is just a matter of opinion.

    There is no xian central and never was. At the earliest time, the religion was split into factions and those factions keep growing at around 2 a day to 42,000 sects.

    The only way the xians have to determine who is a heretic is to fight wars. The losers are the heretics. In times past, the ones minus their heads and not moving.

    This is what happens when it’s all make believe and there is no objective way to determine the truth or not.

  32. slc1 says

    I know nothing about Marcion but apparently he suffered the same fate as Arius, who was also declared a heretic.

  33. Michael Heath says

    otrame writes:

    What I find most telling about this is that even in the first couple of centuries after the beginning of Christianity, during a time not known for its attention to decency, human rights, and other modern foibles, the leading theologians of the day felt the need to explain away the awfulness of the OT.

    Makes you wonder how people today who insist it is the inerrant word of gdo missed out on all that.

    It’s my observation that the raw intelligence and critical thinking skills of intellectual religious leaders long ago was stellar. Perhaps because the opportunities in other fields was so limited, especially during the Dark Ages.

    And let’s also not forget they didn’t enjoy knowing what science now understands; nor could they fully appreciate the importance of empirical evidence since the tools to empirically understand reality and the process to validate our understanding was still centuries and a millennium+ away respectively. So relying on human reason to test the traditional beliefs of the culture from which they came from has them looking mighty reasonable to me on many counts.

    In the present we see the fields which contribute to humanity attract really smart people with great thinking skills, whereas today we influential religious thinkers I observe are bozos; like N.T. Wright, Albert Mohler, and William Lane Craig. All of whom should be an embarrassment to even remedial critical thinkers. That’s because the weight of what we now understand has effectively falsified religion as a way to truth or that they ever discovered anything, where smart people who care about truth tend to also care about being right. Except of course for authoritarians and social dominators.

  34. says

    Michael Heath,

    In the present we see the fields which contribute to humanity attract really smart people with great thinking skills, whereas today we influential religious thinkers I observe are bozos; like N.T. Wright, Albert Mohler, and William Lane Craig.

    One of these names is not like the others. I disagree with N T Wright, especially (and vehemently) on the so-called “New Perspective on Paul.” But the man is very, very smart and he writes persuasively and in a style that is both beautiful and scholarly. To call him a bozo must mean that you base it solely on his subject matter, not his skill.

  35. Owlmirror says

    However I will point out that both the RCC and the Reformers agreed that Marcion was a heretic.

    They were also so agreed regarding Michael Servetus, of course.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the case that if Calvinism is true, burning heretics is useless? Heretics are among the damned (so of course they may well come up with “incorrect” Christologies), but no matter how many adherents they gain, they are just the damned preaching to the damned.

    But as long as the (putatively) correct Christology exists, the heretics cannot affect the salvation of those who come to believe that Christology. So why set them on fire?

    Regarding Marcion and antisemitism: It was not Marcion who wrote and preached Eight Homilies Against the Jews

    (also, heddle, I’m still interested in answers to the questions I asked on the other two recent threads)

  36. Michael Heath says

    heddle writes:

    To call him a bozo must mean that you base it solely on his subject matter, not his skill.

    That makes no sense given I just gave kudos to Dark Ages intellectual religious leaders. No, I base my observation on his lack of critical thinking skills. For example, the horrendous quality of this Wright argument which is key to making a historical case that Jesus was God:

    In particular, we have no reason to suppose that after the crucifixion of a would-be messiah anyone would suppose that he had been exalted to a place either of world rulership or divine lordship. Nobody, so far as we know, ever suggested that this was the case after the deaths of Judas the Galilean, Simon bar-Giora, or Simeon ben-Kosiba. Actually, such a suggestion would most likely have been regarded as at best ridiculous and at worst scandalous. The failure of such men to lead a successful messianic movement debarred them from further consideration as candidates for such a position. Even if someone had made such a suggestion, however, they would not then have gone on to say that this person had been “raised from the dead.” Belief in exaltation alone would not lead, in the world of first-century Judaism, to belief in resurrection. If, by contrast, we suppose that the followers of a crucified would-be messiah first came to believe that he had been bodily raised from the dead, then we can trace a clear line by which they subsequently would have come to believe that he must be the Messiah. And if he was the Messiah, then he was also the world ruler promised in Psalm 89 and Daniel 7, and thus he was exalted over the world, and so on. All our texts suggest that this actually was the train of thought that the early Christians followed.
    It will be obvious that I have dealt with only a tiny fraction of the theories that have been advanced as to what happened at Easier, but I hope I have said enough to show that the proponents of any theory that the body of Jesus remained in the tomb while the early Christians said the resurrection had occurred have a formidable task ahead of them, simply in terms of first-century history. What we find, rather, is the universal early Christian claim that Jesus had gone, as it were, through death and out the other side, that he was not just in some intermediate state or wine disembodied existence, but that his body had been transformed m a way for which they, his followers, had been quite unprepared, but with which they had had to come co terms. And they gave this as the reason why they believed his kingdom-announcement had indeed reached its climax, its fulfillment, in his death and resurrection. They gave this as the reason why they continued to regard him as Messiah despite his shameful death. They gave this as the reason for saying that “the resurrection” had in principle already happened. What is more, they wove this belief so firmly into their theology, their praxis, their stories, aid their symbols that (unless we are prepared to stop writing history and start writing fantasy instead) we cannot envisage their communal life without it.
    I propose, therefore, as the result of this broad-canvas treatment of second- Temple Judaism and early Christianity, that there is in fact no other solution to the historical problem than to conclude that something remarkable had happened to the body of Jesus. No other bridge will carry the historian across the river from one pillar to the other.

    I really hope you don’t need anyone to emphasize the text above which fails to the point we should ridicule this as bozo thinking.

  37. says

    Michael,

    Wright is considered by secular and religious scholars an expert of 2nd temple Judaism and in particular 1st century Judaism. I am not stating that as an argument from authority–because in fact I think in many cases N T Wright commits serious theological error. I am telling you that as a hint–because I don’t believe you know what he was arguing for in the piece you posted. I believe you think it is an argument that concludes: ergo historic resurrection. Something like an unsophisticated, awful argument that you might hear from the other two men you mentioned of the quality “people wouldn’t have gone to their deaths if it weren’t true.” I don’t think you actually grasp what Wright’s position is. I think you are blinded, perhaps, by your well-established trailer-park anti-Christian bigotry. The hint I gave is because you cannot understand what he is saying (or his controversial “New Perspective on Paul” unless you know something about 1st century Judaism.

    owlmirror,

    I haven’t done my homework for your other questions and am not sure when I will. I get more excited about questions of science, exegesis, and/or theology. Metaphysics and philosophy (even Religious Philosophy) are tedious for me. That is why I use such a straightforward simple definition of supernatural and am not even sure whether or not I am a dualist. I tend not to think in such terms.

    As for burning heretics I think it is totally wrong and useless, independent of whether or not Calvinism is true.

  38. sharonb says

    Michael:
    Until he makes the leap at the end, I as a professing follower of the Christ don’t have a problem with Wright’s position.
    I do grant, that from a logical position (not speaking to its truth or untruth) the leap of “This is how the early church viewed Jesus and the claim of his resurrection (paraphrase),” to “therefore it must be true (something must have happened to the body, ergo resurrection, ergo Messiah…) is unsupported.

  39. says

    sharonb,

    Wright is not saying “ergo resurrection.” His argument, if I may risk paraphrasing it, is this:

    1) Almost everyone, of all stripes, acknowledges that early Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus. It is not a late addition to Christianity.

    2) Christianity flourished, distinct from Judaism, precisely because (historically speaking) of the resurrection belief. That is, the immediate bodily resurrection of just one particular “great man” would be an alien concept to any of the variations of after-life expectations of 2nd temple Jews. They might accept a “ghost,” or a declaration that Jesus would be resurrected along with others on judgement day. But Jews (including his disciples) would have had no framework to expect an immediate (well, after 3 days) bodily resurrection of this particular man. There were other “Messiahs” and holy men with comparable followings–their deaths resulted in standard Jewish expectations for their subsequent existence as, at most and not universally, a spirit with god awaiting a future resurrection.

    3) Based on this analysis he speculates that one can state with some confidence that something happened to the body. Of course he believes in the resurrection, but he does not take the ergo resurrection step. Michael conveniently left out the conclusion of Wright’s essay:

    But what was it that happened, and how did the first Christians describe it? That is the question that will occupy us in the second lecture, as we look in more detail at the actual rise of Christianity in the light of the key texts from Paul and the gospels.

  40. Owlmirror says

    @Michael Heath, heddle, and sharonb:

    I point, once again, at Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (ed. Neusner, J. 1988), which points out (in contradiction to Wright), that Judaism of that era was not monolithic and uniform (as it is today not monolithic and uniform, actually), and there were many differing and confused ideas about eschatology and redemptive/messiah-figures, and whether these figures should actually be called messiah, or something else, eg, “Son of Man”. Note that this confusion extends to Jesus — was he actually considered the messiah, originally, or was that something retrofitted on to his story as an eschatological/redemptive figure, just to address those who thought that an eschtological/redemptive figure should be the/a messiah?

  41. says

    Owlmirror,

    which points out (in contradiction to Wright), that Judaism of that era was not monolithic and uniform

    That is sooooo not in contradiction to Wright. That, in fact, is a contention of Wright. He argues that the Reformers, and Luther in particular, had a non-nuanced view of 1st Century Judaism. And that this erroneous view led them to the doctrine of the schism: sola fide. If Luther and the Reformers were wrong on sola fide, then the schism was, ultimately, unnecessary. That’s the New Perspective on Paul in a tiny, tiny nutshell. But it shows that Wright (and his supporters) believes that his fuller knowledge of 1st century Judaism, in all its richness, means that his argument must be taken seriously. (And they are right–it must be taken seriously.)

    In this essay he also mentions that differing views of the Jews. He merely argues that the variation did not extend to anything that would have encompassed an immediate, bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  42. Owlmirror says

    I haven’t done my homework for your other questions and am not sure when I will. I get more excited about questions of science, exegesis, and/or theology. Metaphysics and philosophy (even Religious Philosophy) are tedious for me. That is why I use such a straightforward simple definition of supernatural and am not even sure whether or not I am a dualist. I tend not to think in such terms.

    The questions in the “Christian Site Thinks Christian Wins Debate. Film at 11.” thread were not metaphysical and philosophical, but literary: “Do you think the author taking theism seriously?”, and “Can you expand on why you found the story depressing?”

    In the “Pastor Can’t Grasp Public/Private Distinction” thread, I don’t think of the questions as being exactly metaphysical and philosophical, but terminological (what does “supernatural” actually mean?), and about the intersection between a putative supernatural and the physical/empirical/natural. But I realize that can be tricky.

    Did you at least find the response about brain damage vis-a-vis a putative soul useful?

  43. Owlmirror says

    In this essay he also mentions that differing views of the Jews. He merely argues that the variation did not extend to anything that would have encompassed an immediate, bodily resurrection of Jesus.

    I don’t see how he can argue that for certain, given the wide variation in beliefs, and given that “immediate bodily resurrection” does occur in the OT. (2 Kings 4:8–37; 2 Kings 13:20–21), and is “prophesied” in Daniel.

    And who knows what might have been come up with by non-Jews who learned about Judaism. Syncretism led to some very weird conceptions of the different gods of non-Jewish religions. Put the same kind of mystical confabulating mashup-generating mindset to learning about Judaism and trying to fit it in with non-Jewish ideas, and you could well get a myth of a bodily resurrection of Jesus. When you have different cultures interacting with each other, people can get some very strange ideas indeed.

    No, Wright is arguing from incredulity, and making a non-sequitur argument at that.

  44. Michael Heath says

    heddle to me:

    I don’t believe you know what he was arguing for in the piece you posted. I believe you think it is an argument that concludes: ergo historic resurrection. Something like an unsophisticated, awful argument that you might hear from the other two men you mentioned of the quality “people wouldn’t have gone to their deaths if it weren’t true.” I don’t think you actually grasp what Wright’s position is. I think you are blinded, perhaps, by your well-established trailer-park anti-Christian bigotry.

    heddle, it’s not bigotry of me to ridicule N.T. Wright’s argument and call him a bozo because his arguments couldn’t pass remedial logic. You continue to abuse the term, especially given the fact you avoid rather than confront my challenges to you.

    Here’s one of Mr. Wright’s absurdities which you avoid while misconstruing my capabilities:

    . . . there is in fact no other solution to the historical problem than to conclude that something remarkable had happened to the body of Jesus. No other bridge will carry the historian across the river from one pillar to the other.

    I previously held you to a level of critical thinking that had me writing after I first quoted that text from Wright:

    I really hope you don’t need anyone to emphasize the text above which fails to the point we should ridicule this as bozo thinking.

    I see my hope for your capabilities was over-estimated, which is disappointing given I hope the best for you. So now I must ask, do you understand why this Wright’s conclusion is so absurd it’s worthy only of ridicule given Wright’s exalted station in life?

  45. says

    Owlmirror,

    I don’t see how he can argue that for certain,

    He can’t argue it for certain, he is a historian. He is arguing that based on an extensive study of 2nd temple Judaism and especially first century Judaism that, at that period none of the schools, major (The Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. and their different factions) or minor, would have had a concept of resurrection that resembled the Jesus resurrection story. He could be wrong of course–just like any other historian. But his resarch is scholarly and extensive and respected. He is most definitely not a bozo as Heath suggested.

    Michael Heath,

    You are here at your most disingenuous, which is saying something. You present Wright’s conclusion with no analysis of the scholarship that went into it.

    It would be like saying nothing more than “this bozo thinks an electron can be a particle and a wave” without recognizing that that particular bozo had had a history of respected scholarship on a relevant topic. And no, I am not equating physics with history so yes, I know the analogy is flawed. The point stands. You attack the conclusion without studying the argument–which is a historical argument not a religious argument.

    I suspect you don’t actually know anything about Wright other than his wiki page refers to him as a conservative Christian. That is enough, in your version of critical thinking, to conclude N.T. Wright == Sarah Palin.

  46. says

    owlmirror,

    Did you at least find the response about brain damage vis-a-vis a putative soul useful?

    I think I mentioned I never understood any argument that tries to relate anything about brain damage to the soul. It is a huge oversimplification but I can easily imagine that a healthy brain is necessary for the body to manifest the soul’s personality (can’t think of a better word) reasonably accurately. But if the brain is damaged a person may behave in a way that does not reflect his soul. I trust that a god who can create the universe can handle the mitigating circumstances of someone’s brain damage.

  47. Owlmirror says

    He is arguing that based on an extensive study of 2nd temple Judaism and especially first century Judaism that, at that period none of the schools, major (The Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. and their different factions) or minor, would have had a concept of resurrection that resembled the Jesus resurrection story.

    Even if he eliminates the major and minor, he cannot eliminate the fringe, and it is precisely on the fringe that Christianity started.

    Consider Mormonism as an analogy. None of the “schools” — denominations — of Christianity, major or minor, would have had the concepts that Joseph Smith taught.

    And yet, there it is.

    Does Wright address or cite Neusner (1988)?

    But his resarch is scholarly and extensive and respected. He is most definitely not a bozo as Heath suggested.

    If someone suggested that Joseph Smith really did see something extraordinary, would you agree?

    ======

    I think I mentioned I never understood any argument that tries to relate anything about brain damage to the soul. It is a huge oversimplification but I can easily imagine that a healthy brain is necessary for the body to manifest the soul’s personality (can’t think of a better word) reasonably accurately.

    So you’re thinking of the soul as being “primary”, and the brain “secondary”? Where does the soul get its nature/personality from, if not from the configuration of the brain and the experiences of the brain? Does the soul perceive anything without the brain, or remember anything without the brain?

    But if the brain is damaged a person may behave in a way that does not reflect his soul.

    I was asking, in the other thread, about abilities (speech, memory) rather than behavior.

    Does the soul have abilities distinct from the brain?

    I trust that a god who can create the universe can handle the mitigating circumstances of someone’s brain damage.

    Why would brain damage be mitigating circumstances for salvation? Either someone is saved, or damned, yes? Personality and behavior are irrelevant, yes? Or perhaps rather, while behavior is not a certain sign of salvation, certain behaviors would not be exhibited by the saved (“good fruits” vs “bad fruits”)?

  48. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier:

    Here’s one of Mr. Wright’s absurdities which you avoid while misconstruing my capabilities:
    . . . there is in fact no other solution to the historical problem than to conclude that something remarkable had happened to the body of Jesus. No other bridge will carry the historian across the river from one pillar to the other.

    Me to heddle:

    I previously held you to a level of critical thinking that had me writing after I first quoted that text from Wright:
    I really hope you don’t need anyone to emphasize the text above which fails to the point we should ridicule this as bozo thinking.

    heddle continues to avoid:

    You are here at your most disingenuous, which is saying something. You present Wright’s conclusion with no analysis of the scholarship that went into it.

    OK, I’ll spell it out to you.

    First: there is zero evidence, “something remarkable happened to the body of Jesus”. None, zero, nada, zilch. All Wright has are assertions equivalent to those we casually dismiss from religions outside the culturally dominant religion make about their own gods, resurrected god-men, or humans; both in the past and recently.

    Second: It’s a major logical fallacy to claim, “No other bridge will carry the historian across the river from one pillar to the other.” Specifically – a fallacy restricting alternatives. Wright’s entered true wingnut territory, it’s merely dressed up in dense high-minded rhetoric. But rhetorical flourishes are irrelevant to a person demanding reason and evidence; either you have sufficiently framed factual premises to make a compelling conclusion or you don’t. Wright’s conclusions are as dumb as any typical wingnut – they’re just better camouflaged to the credulous who want to believe and therefore believe.

    In addition, it is Mr. Wright who has the obligation to provide evidence Jesus was resurrected as described in the Bible; particularly an extraordinary claim that has never been validated. Mr. Wright is unable to even validate that Jesus existed, let alone validate something miraculous happened to the point it is up to skeptics to disprove his claim as he asserts here.

    Not only can Wright not validate the existence of Jesus or his resurrection, he can’t even provide a scintilla of compelling evidence. And yet he puts the onus on credible historians to disprove him. This is the sort of juvenile behavior you defend; not all that different from idiots who make an argument and then wish to stop the debate by concluding, ” ’nuff said”. Well no, Mr. Wright, you haven’t even begun to put the onus on historians to prove you wrong, not even remotely. Go find some actual evidence and then make your case; we have zero obligation to disprove claims which have no compelling basis though the culture’s dominant religion wishes it were true.

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