Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Making Excuses For God

Any monotheistic religion that posits a loving and all-powerful God has a problem: Why does evil happen?

The book of Job suggests evil is God testing us to see if our faith is strong; God is actively involved in tempting you to do wrong to test your faith (and this is why the Lord's Prayer has that bit "Lead us not into temptation"). Later, Satan became the source of evil - which does not sit well with monotheism, but so what? Modern Christianity has got more sophisticated, but in the end makes no more sense.

Here is an article by Frank Turek on why God allows evil, specifically discussing why God allowed the terrorist attack in London, and is a great example of the nonsensical reasoning these people use to delude themselves.
Because evil doesn’t exist on its own; it only exists as a lack or a deficiency in a good thing. Evil is like rust in a car: If you take all of the rust out of a car, you have a better car; if you take the car out of the rust, you have nothing. Evil is like a wound in your body: If you take the wound out of your body, you have a better body; if you take the body out of your wound, you have nothing. (That’s why we often describe evil as negations of good things. For example, we say the attack on London was immoral, unjust, inhumane, not right, etc.) In other words, there would be no such thing as evil unless good existed, but there would be no such thing as good unless God existed.
That is quite an admission. True evil can only exist if God does. There are truly evil things happening in the world, therefore God must exist. If there were no evil things happening, if we all lived in peace and harmony, then that would make the existence of God less certain.

Is that really the Christian position? No. What he is really arguing is that only Christianity gets to call things evil, therefore if we are labelling stuff as evil, then Christianity must be true! Meanwhile, terrible things happen in the world, whether they get labelled as evil or not.

And God chooses to allow them all.

Turns out plenty of other religions also have a concept of good and evil, and the Christian concept may well have come from Babylonia (via Judaism).

But even if it was exclusive to Christianity, that would still be a problem for Christianity - because it shows a huge inconsistency in Christian doctrine.

  • Christianity says the London attack was evil
  • Christianity says it is wrong to allow evil to happen when you could stop it
  • Christianity says God allowed the London attack to happen
  • Christianity says God is perfectly good

These more statements cannot all be true - and yet Christianity claims they are. And it does not matter whether evil really exists or not, either way Christianity is internally incoherent.

Turek on Christian morality

The sexual abuse of children? It’s only wrong if God exists.
Think this through. He is saying that the only reason child abuse is wrong is because of God. Seriously? This guy cannot see that abusing children is wrong in itself?

And this is the mentality of many Christians. This is why the atrocities of the Bible are swept under the carpet. According to this moral view, genocide is fine as long as it is sanctioned by God.

And it is only a short step from there to the terrorist attack in London. Scary stuff.

Turek on Atheism

Regardless of the reasons, evil is a problem for every worldview including atheism. But Christianity is the only worldview equipped to handle it.
How is evil a problem for atheism? Atheism states there is no god, which is why no god intervened during the London attack. Simple as that, Frank.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Beliefs of St Paul the Apostle

Paul's conversion on the Road to Damascus seems pretty certain to have happened. We have an account in Acts probably written by a companion of Paul's, and we have the obvious fact that Paul was a Christian later in life. Both Acts and Paul's letters indicate Paul was originally involved in persecuting Christians.

So what did Paul believe before and after that event?

The Pharisees


Paul was a Pharisee originally, charged with rooting out Christians. Curiously the best source of information about the Pharisees is the Christian New Testament, with Josephus (who was probably a Pharisee himself) being the second of two. Neither are exactly objective!

The defining feature of the Pharisees was the belief in a set of spoken laws, supposedly given to Moses, to accompany the written laws of scripture (this Oral Law was eventually written down in the Talmud). They believed Israel had been conquered because it had failed to keep God's laws, and so were extremely careful to keep his laws in every particular. In Jesus' time, of the many religious divisions within Judaism, the Pharisees were the most popular with the common people, and modern Judaism has its roots in Pharisaic Judaism.

The Pharisees believed that once the Jews were sufficiently observant of the laws, God would send a messiah, a man, a new King of the Jews and therefore a descendant of David, who would overthrow the Romans and usher in a new age of peace. This was the coming Kingdom of God, and is what Christian's anticipate (perhaps without realising it), in the Lord's Prayer, when they say "Your kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven". This coming of the Kingdom of God would be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead.

Here is Josephus on the Pharisees:
14. But then as to the two other orders at first mentioned, the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, - but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.
- Jewish War 2.8.14
The bit "removed into other bodies" I take to mean that the good are given new bodies, rather than to suggest reincarnation (see also here). It was the practice at the time to bury the dead in a tomb until the body had rotted away, and then to put the bones in an ossuary, so clearly the resurrected would need new bodies.

Jesus and the Pharisees

Jesus rejected the Pharisees' strict observance of the law (for example, Mark 2:27), and this meant that Jesus could not possibly be the messiah in the eyes of the Pharisees, and we read of numerous clashes in the gospel accounts.

Paul was one of those assigned to sort out the Christians. The motivation was clear: these Jews were failing to be properly observant, which meant that God was delaying sending the messiah, which meant more years under the rule of the Romans. It was up to Paul, and others like him, to stop Christianity, and so hasten the arrival of the messiah.

Paul's Conversion

Paul went from persecuting Christians to becoming one himself, which is quite a change, but just how much did his beliefs change?

He already believed in a messiah, he already believed in the resurrection of the dead. What changed was the identity of the messiah. And given what he experienced, he had good reason to do so! He was expected a man who would usher in a new age, who would start the resurrection of the dead. Here was a man, resurrected!

This should not be trivialised; Paul originally thought a strict observance of the rules was vital, was required by God, and undoubtedly this was a deeply held belief. He dropped that (and we know he did, given much of his argument with the disciples was about not observing the law), when he saw the vision, so clearly it was a powerful vision.

The strict observance of the laws was a means to an end, and Paul became convinced that that end had been achieved. It logically followed that the strict observance of the laws could be abandoned, and this became Paul's new position, a position that put his at odd with the disciples on more than one occasion.

Paul in Acts

Paul still believed in a messiah, a man, a new King of the Jews and therefore a descendant of David, who would usher in the Kingdom of God, and begin the resurrection of the dead. Thus, straight after his conversion:
Acts 9:20-22 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Here is Paul preaching:
Acts 17:30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge [u]the world in righteousness [v]through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men [w]by raising Him from the dead.”
It is important to realise that Paul was not starting a new religion; he was Jewish, and he was promoting Judaism. Acts 13:16 onwards describes him preaching in a synagogue to Jews, explaining how Jesus fitted the existing religion. This is just some highlights:
Acts 13:16 Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said,
“Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and [b]made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. .... 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My [c]will.’ 23 From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, ...
... 33 that God has fulfilled this promise [h]to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today i have begotten You.’ 34 As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and [i]sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘You will not [j]allow Your [k]Holy One to [l]undergo decay.’ 36 For David, after he had [m]served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and [n]underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not [o]undergo decay. ...

Paul's Epistles

Romans 1:3 concerning His Son, who was born of a [b]descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power [c]by the resurrection from the dead, according to the [d]Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Jesus being a descendant of David was vital to Paul, because he saw Jesus as the messiah, the earthly king of the Jews, and so Jesus had to be a male-line descendant of David. The virgin birth had yet to be invented! Paul frequently called Jesus "Lord"; Jesus was not a god or a part of the godhead, Jesus was the king!

Also, note that God declared Jesus as his son at the resurrection. Paul believed Jesus was the Son of God by adoption, following the tradition of the Jewish Kings (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Psalm 2:2,7), just as Mark did, but while Mark had Jesus adopted as his baptism, Paul believed he was adopted at his resurrection.

That did mean Jesus was divine, but divine in the way the earlier kings of the Jews had been divine; as God's adopted son.
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Jesus was the first fruits, the prototype of the coming resurrection of the dead. It is interesting to compare this to Matthew (Mat 27:52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the [aa]saints who had fallen asleep were raised; ); was this thought to be the second wave of resurrections?
1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” ...
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown [l]a perishable body, it is raised [m]an imperishable body;
Just like Josephus, Paul believed the resurrected would be given new bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised [r]imperishable, and we will be changed.
Paul expected the resurrection of the dead soon, because Jesus was the prototype, the first fruits. He believed the resurrection of Jesus was the first step of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and so the last trumpet would sound within his lifetime (and of course Jesus also predicted it within the lifetime of some of his disciples).

Also of note here is that Paul is saying everyone will get a new body, not just the dead. Why? Because he had seen Jesus, and Jesus' post-resurrection form was quite different to his physical body. Jesus had a new heavenly body, so presumably everyone would get that too.
Romans 8:23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Paul believed Jesus was adopted as the Son of God, but Jesus was the prototype, and Paul was looking forward to everyone (who was worthy) getting the same. Everyone would be adopted as the Son of God when they got resurrected (at least in some sense).
Galatians 4:5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Ephesians 1:5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
The adoption idea is seen here too.
Gal 4:1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a [a]child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is [b]owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and [c]managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the [d]elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under [e]the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under [f]the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir [g]through God.
The passage is a little contradictory, as it suggests God sent Jesus into the world, but at the same time has this idea of adoption as the son of God. Romans 8:3 also has this idea of God sending Jesus.

Christians (eg here) make a big deal about Paul called Jesus Lord, and point out that in the Old Testament, this was how God was referred. But the truth is that Paul clearly distinguished between Jesus a Lord and God, as this text illustrates:

Romans 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It must be acknowledged that there are parts of Paul's epistles that suggest he believed otherwise, but we have to remember that all his writing comes to us via the Christian church, and every epistle exists today only because Christians made careful copies of them, and so it is entirely plausible that each has been massaged to reflect mainstream Christianity. It is important to note that the opposite is not true; it is not plausible that later Christians would have a tendency to introduce adoptionist material into the texts.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Resurrection in Acts

Elsewhere I have cited Paul as the earliest source on the resurrection. The books of Acts has comments that are reported to have been made even early, and it is worth looking at them, if only for completeness.

Paul in Acts 13

Acts 13:29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.
It must be pointed out that Luke was written around 90 AD, perhaps 40 years after the event. No one can remember a conversation from that long ago verbatim; these must necessarily be a case of the author of Luke putting words in someone's mouth. I think it reasonable to assume Luke sincerely believed this was broadly what was said, but that could have easily been coloured by the author's own beliefs.

So does that show that Jesus was buried in a tomb? That could be the case, but a perfectly plausible explanation here is that Paul said Jesus was buried, and Luke, who clearly believed Jesus was buried in a tomb, and after forty years could not recall exactly what Paul said, misquoted him.

If you are claiming this as proof, then you are claiming that Luke could remember exactly what Paul said decades later, and further that Luke was more concerned with accurately recording those words rather than presenting an apologetic. I think both those claims are misguided.

Peter in Acts 2

This is the first text, which is a bit longer:
Acts 2:29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven,
The book of Acts is often attributed to Luke or perhaps another companion of Paul. As far as I know, no one believes the book was written by someone present when Peter was preaching. This is certainly not the best recollection of a man who was there, this is at best second hand information, recorded well over fifty years after it had happened.

In passing, it is worth noting that verse 30 would contradict the virgin birth. When Peter was preaching, the virgin birth had yet to be invented, and Jesus was claimed to be a direct descendant of David; this was a necessary requirement for the messiah, who was the expected King of the Jews, and so had to be of the royal line.

Peter is generally believed to be referring to Psalm 16:10, which is traditionally credited to David:
Psalm 16:10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
According to Luke, Peter has changed this to apply to a distant descendant of David, rather than David himself. I can imagine this was not unique to Peter, and was quite a common belief among the Jews of the time, who longed for a messiah and had to deal with the fact that David was indeed dead, and his body had rotted away a long time ago.

Okay, but what does this tell us about the resurrection (if we assume for the moment that Peter actually said it)?

What we can see is that Peter believed Jesus had been resurrected, that Jesus' body did not see decay and that Jesus ascended to heaven.

The Ascension event is something that only appears in Luke and Acts, which makes me suspicious that Luke invented it. I cannot imagine the authors of Matthew or John skipping this very significant event if they were aware of it (I accept Mark could have). However, what Peter could be referring to is Jesus going to heaven in a more general sense, and presumably the belief at that time was that that had happened.

Obviously Peter believed Jesus had been resurrected in some form; was that a bodily resurrection, as the later gospels would have us believe? Or was it resurrection in a new body, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15? Christians will say that the point about the body not decayed indicates this was Jesus in his original body, but in fact this argues the other way. Paul is very explicit that the resurrected body, the new body Jesus received, would not decay, and this fits perfectly with what Peter is proclaiming here.
1 Cor 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown [l]a perishable body, it is raised [m]an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Peter in Acts 10

More from Peter's preaching:
Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
This again must be second-hand at best, and again recorded decades after the event.

It comes across are rather odd that Peter blames the Jews for killing Jesus, when he and all the rest of the disciples were Jews. It is doubtful that any of them saw themselves as founding a new religion; they preached to their fellow Jews, and that preaching was largely about how Jesus fulfilled the Jewish scripture. They would have considered themselves Jews, not Christians. By the time Luke was writing, the distinction had become rather more important, and the early church was trying to appeal to the Romans.

There are two points I find fascinating here is. The first is that the text says God appointed Jesus. This sounds like the adoptionism of Mark's gospel; Jesus was adopted as God' son at his baptism. Is this a trace of the earlier beliefs?

More germane to the resurrection is that Luke suggests God made Jesus visible to some people. That is not what we would expect from a guy in his original body... but it does fit the narrative of the Road to Emmaus, where two disciples are talking to Jesus, but fail to recognise him. This is not Jesus in his physical body, nail wounds and all, this is Jesus in a new heaven body.

Further reading

Not directly related to this post, but interesting nevertheless:

Monday, 5 December 2016

Isaiah's Prophecy of Jesus?

As Christmas approaches it is interesting to look at the prophecy of a virgin birth in Isaiah.
Isaiah 7:1 Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not [a]conquer it. 2 When it was reported to the house of David, saying, “The Arameans [b]have camped in Ephraim,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake [c]with the wind.

3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son [d]Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the [e]fuller’s field, 4 and say to him, ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and [f]terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in [g]its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” 7 thus says the Lord [h]God: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people), 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you surely shall not [i]last.”’”

10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; [j]make it deep as Sheol or high as [k]heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” 13 Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a [l]virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name [m]Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey [n]at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.
Obviously the prophesy got the name wrong, but explanations for that are a dime a dozen. And the word used for virgin can indicate any young woman (and in any case virgins can can pregnant without any help from God!).

What is more interesting is the context. The nation of Judah was ruled by King Ahaz from Jerusalem, and was threatened by two enemies, Israel (aka Ephraim) and Syria (aka Aram aka Damascus). God has Isaiah tell the king that all will be okay. God then gives a sign to reassure Ahaz: A boy will be born to a young woman, and before that boy has learnt to choose good (i.e., just a few years), the two enemies of Judah will have fallen.

If the author of Matthew is to be believed, this boy was born some 700 years later. If we believe Matthew, then God's reassurance to the king is: Don't worry Ahaz, within 700 years the two nations you fear so much will have fallen.

Which is no reassurance at all!

Israel and Syria did indeed fall, soon after the prophesy supposedly made, to Assyria, from whose control they had just rebelled. The "prophecy" was written a generation later as a warning to Ahaz's son, Hezekiah, advising him not to join other nations rebelling against the Assyrian overlords (advise that was unfortunately ignored).

This supposed prophecy has nothing to do with Jesus; it was made and fulfilled centuiries before. Nevertheless, the author of the Gospel of Matthew pretended it was about Jesus to  support his own agenda, and to this day Christians will cite this text as vindicating their belief in Jesus.

Monday, 21 November 2016

More on Petrine Authorship

Hans Georg Lundahl has replied to my post on Petrine authorship on his blog:


I would like to take this opportunity to reply to his comments.
The question is not why an anonymous Christian would want to pass himself off as the Apostle Peter - two works prove fairly well some did or were thought to have done so.
Well it is an important question, but as you seem to concede it is established that it is not an obstacle at all.
The question is how an anonymous author would succeed in passing himself (as author ego) off as the Apostle Peter.
That is a different question, but yes, it is important too. However, as you say, two works prove fairly well that anonymous authors did believe they would successfully pass their works off as that of the apostles.
The rejection of the Gospel and Apocalypse which both bear that name, show that early Christians did have some checks.
Fair point, but these were not rejected out of hand as soon as they appeared. They were accepted by some Christians and were sufficiently well regarded that we still have both works.

If we look at the epistles traditionally attributed to Paul, most modern scholars now consider the Pastoral epistles to be written by another author. Yes, the early church did have some checks, but the evidence is that those checks were not perfect, and some works got through that were attributed to an apostle but written by someone else.
Now, saying that the Apocalypse of St Peter originally was canon is most probably not true. There were some rival canons before all the 27 books were complete in one collection, and that one accepted by all the Church.
That depends on what you mean by canon. If you consider canon to be only those works accepted by the church since ca. 400, then no. However, there is evidence it was considered canon prior to that, i.e., its mention in the Muratorian fragment.

It seems Clement of Alexandria considered it to be scripture, by the way.
So, this books never made it beyond one or two local Churches, either because another one knew it to be spurious, or because one had not sufficient proofs for considering it genuine.
This is just conjecture. We really do not know how many early churches accepted it, or what their reasons for rejecting it might be (it could have been that its theology was not aligned with that church). However, from the above link:

"There is no mention of it in the Gelasian Decree, which is curious. At one time it was popular in Rome for the Muratorian Canon mentions it (late in the second century?) along with the Apocalypse of John though it adds, that 'some will not have it read in the church.' The fifth-century church historian Sozomen (vii. 19) says that to his knowledge it was still read annually in some churches in Palestine on Good Friday."

This suggests it was considerably more popular than it "never made it beyond one or two local Churches" as you would have us think.
And that latter is, considering God has promised to preserve his word and no Church considers Apocalypse as St Peter canon, one sign it is probably not genuine either.
This presupposes God works to preserve his word. Given the amount of evidence of copying errors in the Bible, this seems unlikely to say the least.
Supposing without proof that Sts Paul and Peter had very diverse theologies.
I thought this was well-established. Acts describes the arguing between Paul and the Christians in Jerusalem. Here are some web pages by, I think, Christians, acknowledging those differences.

Now, I am assuming Peter followed Jesus theology here, rather than Paul's, but given Peter was with Jesus for three years, this seems a valid assumption.
A letter of exhortation is not a personal narrative.
A valid point... but it hardly proves that Peter was the author.
St Peter can have had ample opportunity to explain the Gospel in terms of his personal memories and corroborated by Gospels like Matthew and Luke - Mark being their conflation, under his dictation - to the adressees on another occasion.
I stand with modern scholarship on this, and belief Mark was the original, and Matthew and Luke are derived from it.
But the reason why he can't have been in such a position is, if he had been, the guys who got this letter from an unknown person would hardly have taken him for Peter the Apostle, just because he said so.
So how do you think these guys did check the authorship? Letters were frequency written by scribes and carried by couriers. If the courier said the letter came from Peter, exactly how would that be confirmed?
The idea of someone succeeding to forge a writing by an apostle and get it accepted by the Church, well, why don't you try to forge an order by President Obama (who is still such) or by subsequent President Trump, just to know how easy it is to do so?
And yet modern scholarship seems reasonably sure the Pastoral epistles atre example of just that!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

This is something I wrote two years ago when challenged to a debate by a guy styling himself "War_Eagle" on CARM. He then failed to show up, pretending he never knew about, claiming to have put me on ignore after issuing the challenge. How very brave of him!

To their credit, CARM were then willing to move the thread to the atheism section, where others could respond. However, they do keep that hidden to casual visitors, so you would eed to get an account to see it.

Slavery in the Ancient world

Slavery was institutional in the ancient world. In many cultures, such as ancient Rome, a slave might have a pretty good life, but many slaves, even in the same culture, were treated badly.

For example in Egypt:

The least fortunate captives were sent to work as slaves in the dreadful gold and copper mines of Nubia and Sinai, where, according to the Greeks, water was rationed and men died in great numbers from exhaustion and dehydration in the desert heat. On the other hand not all the prisoners were enslaved: some were absorbed into the army, where Sherden for instance constituted a large part of the bodyguard of Ramses II.
And of course Roman:

Slaves had no legal status; they were property, ‘tools with the power of speech’. A master’s power over a slave was absolute. Life as a slave depended on the type of work the slave did and whether they lived in the city or the country. Life as a gladiator or in the mines was especially hard and dangerous.
Most had been captured during the various wars that Rome engaged in. The enemies of Rome were well aware that if captured, their inevitable destination was the slave-market. Many chose suicide as an escape.
Nor does it seem that the treatment of the slaves who worked the vast farmlands of Italy was very much harsher than or different from that meted out to African slaves on the American and West Indian plantations in the eighteenth century

Slavery in the New Testament

The problem with the NT is more of omission. While it fails to say slavery is right, it also fails to say slavery is wrong, even when the opportunity is there. If a book regarded as a moral guide discusses slavery and fails to make it clear that slavery is wrong, then it fails as a moral guide.
Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.
Here we see Paul telling slaves to be good, but he fails to tell slave owners that they should free all their slaves, that slavery is morally wrong.
1 Timothy 6:1-2 Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.
Here is clear acknowledgement that Christians were keeping slaves at that time. And what is missing is any verse telling Christians that doing so is wrong. Not even a verse saying Christians should treat their slaves well!
Luke 12:47-48 The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. "But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given."
This is an allegory, so not great evidence, but does suggest Jesus accepted the brutal treatment of slaves as part of life.

Slavery in the Old Testament

The OT has two large sections dealing with how to handle slaves, Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25, but it rears its ugly head as early as Genesis:
Genesis 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
"Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers."

26 He also said,
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth."
Right from the first book of the Bible, we have verses saying that one people are entitled to enslave another.

Instructions for Slave Owners in Exodus

Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 "But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 "If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

12 "Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

15 "Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 "Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

17 "Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

18 "If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 "Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

22 "If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

26 "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
One of the first things to note is the different rules for different types of slaves. A male Hebrew slave was to be freed after six years - but not so female slaves or gentiles.

The issue of female Hebrews slaves is complicated, and it gives the impression that daughters were sold to be a wife. Is this moral? The implication is that the girl would then be obliged to have sex against her will, i.e., rape. It also suggests women are to be considered little more than property. On the other hand, it does ensure a future for the girl in which she is provided for.

Verse 16 is about taking free people and enslaving them, and is a clear prohibition. But read it in context of the whole chapter, and it is clear that owning and trading slaves is fine. What this law does is to protect free people from becoming slaves. The last thing the slaver owners wanted was to become slaves themselves, so naturally they made that illegal.

Indeed, verse 20 makes it clear that brutal treatment of a slave is acceptable; as long as the slave survives the beating, the law has not been broken. Verse 26 goes on to say that also the slave must not lose an eye or a tooth. All very noble.

Instructions for Slave Owners in Leviticus

Leviticus 25:39 "‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

44 "‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

47 "‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. 50 They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. 53 They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly.

54 "‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
These instructions also make a clear distinction between Hebrew slaves and gentile slaves. Hebrew slaves appear to be comparable to indentured servants, working off a debt for a limited time. Most of the text is about these Hebrew slaves, but with regards to the gentile slaves, we see in verses 44 and 45 that the Bible permits the buying of slaves, that those slaves become the property of your children when you die and they are slaves for life.

Does The Bible Stand Against Slavery?

There are verses that are quoted as being evidence that the Bible does not condone slavery. I shall take a look at some of them.
Exodus 2:23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
I have seen this verse quoted as though it shows the Bible is anti-slavery. Sorry, I do not get it. God allowed the Hebrews to become slaves in the first place. Here we see God finally remembering his promise. He does not say slavery is wrong, he merely decides it is now wrong for his chosen people to be slaves.

When God has freed his people, they settle down and then in a later chapter, God is giving instructions for how the Hebrews should keep others as slaves. There is no suggest God has a moral problem with slavery at all. Only that he has a problem with his chosen people as slaves.

This is like saying the enslavement of blacks in the US was fine because there were laws protecting the white man!
Exodus 21:16 "Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
This verse is about protecting free men from getting enslaved. Just four verses later, the Bible is saying that it is fine to beat a slave as long as you do not beat him to death, so to claim that verse 16 is a law against slavery is untenable. The same sentiment appears in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy:7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

Exodus 21:26 "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
This is about as good as it gets, with regards to gentile slaves. If they lose a tooth or an eye, they are to be set free. think about what it is not saying. If you whip your slave, then that is fine, as long as he does not lose a tooth or an eye. The implication here is that brutal treatment is perfectly acceptable, but there are limits.
Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
Hebrew slaves seem to have been more like indentured servants. just like the slavery in the US, this was based on racism. You treat slaves of your own race well, the rest can be treated as harshly as you like..
Leviticus 25:10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.
This would seem to be about Hebrew slaves too, as it is talking directly to Hebrews ("you") returning to their clans. Verse 46 in the same chapter makes it clear that gentile slaves were slaves for life ("You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life").
Deuteronomy 23:15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.
This is to be applauded. But what it fails to say is that slavery is wrong.

The Epistle of Paul to Philemon

The shortest of Paul's letters appears to be Paul asking Philemon to free his slave, Onesimus. However, this interpretation has been challenged. It hinges on verses 15 to 16:
15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
Allen Dwight Callahan pointed out that this could easily mean they are estranged brothers, and hence brothers in the flesh, as well as the Lord, and now Paul is trying to reconcile them. More here:

Let us assume, however, that this is not the case. What we see here is Paul asking a Christian slave-owner to release one slave. What we do not see here is Paul saying slavery is wrong, that Christians should not own slaves, that Philemon should free all his slaves.

There is no condemnation of slavery here, or indeed anywhere in the Bible.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Were The Petrine Epistles Authored By Peter?

Traditionally, Peter was thought to be martyred in AD 64 or 65 by crucifixion, and there seems to be some evidence to support this, include a letter by Clement of Rome written later in the first century, and no reason to suppose otherwise. Much of the argument for Petrine authorship revolves around the dating of the letters. A date later than AD 65 clearly indicates a letter was not authored by Peter.

The issue of motive is an interesting one. Why would an anonymous author want to pass of his letter as that of Peter? The most likely answer is that the author was a sincere Christian, who felt his letter was important, and perhaps was what Peter would have said, and gave it Peter's name to lend it authority within the church.

It is worth noting that we do have a Gospel of Peter, which, like the letters, explicitly claims to be the work of the apostle. Christianity nevertheless rejects the Gospel of Peter, so the church itself acknowledges that some texts that claim Petrine authorship were not actually written by the apostle.

Similarly, the Apocalypse of Peter is no longer considered canon, although it originally was, despite claiming Petrine authorship.

1 Peter

There are various reasons for supposing Peter was not the author of 1 Peter. To start with, the theology is Paul's not Peter's.

Secondly, there is no mention of Jesus on a personal level. It does, however, mention the "sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" in a general way (see also 1 Peter 2:21-24 in particular). It reads as someone who knows Jesus suffered, and is aware of the theology, but not as someone who was there at the time. Even 1 Peter 5:1 ("a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed"), where the author claims to be a witness, there is nothing personal; there is no sense of the author drawing on his own experience.

The style of writing and the philosophy exposed is considered by many to be too advanced for a Galilean fisherman. I will acknowledge he could have used a secretary, and his philosophy could have developed over decades in the church. More significant is that he uses the Septuagint as a source for Old Testament quotes, which certainly is bizarre for a Hebrew-speaking Jew.

In 1 Peter 5:1, the author refers to himself as an elder, a position that appeared later in the church, further indicating a later authorship.

In 1 Peter 1:1 the author mentions "the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia," Various sources on the internet (eg here indicate that this sequence of states was established by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. I have found only limited support for that claim outside articles dating the epistle, so count it as suspect:

There is no mention of Mosaic law; this was a big issue in the early church, as Acts and the Pauline letters make clear, and that suggests the letter is later, after the issue had been resolved.

The letter finishes "By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you", and some suggest this indicates Peter dictated the letter to Silvanus, which accounts for the good Greek. However, the Greek indicates that Silvanus was the courier, not the scribe.

2 Peter

While scholarship is divided for 1 Peter; for 2 Peter the situation is quite different!

Very, very few people today would argue for Petrine authorship of this book. The Word Biblical Commentary, which is a conservative commentary series, argues against Petrine authorship. Of all of the books of the Bible, this is the one that is most difficult to defend in regard to authorship.

From an article arguing for Petrine authorship:
J. N. D. Kelly in his commentary on 2 Peter confesses that “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.”1 Indeed, from the very start this epistle has had a difficult journey. It was received into the New Testament canon with hesitation, considered second-class Scripture by Luther, reluctantly accepted by Calvin, rejected by Erasmus, and now is repudiated as pseudonymous by modern scholarship.

This is not just a modern view. Here is Origen:
Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail, has left one acknowledged epistle, and, it may be, a second also; for it is doubted.
Why so much doubt? for one thing, 2 Peter 3:15-16 refer to Paul's letters as scripture; the early church would not have regarded them as such, indicating this was written relatively late.

There is some evidence 2 Peter is based on Jude, again giving a later date. This article makes the case that they are similar because both were authored by Jude (so in 2 Peter 3:1, this is the second letter after Jude, not 1 Peter):

Differences in style and vocabulary indicate 1 Peter and 2 Peter have difference authors.

While 2 Peter was eventually accepted as canon, it was considered "antilegomena" by the early church, i.e., there was much debate as to its status even then.