Saturday, January 21, 2006

On Jason's Departure

I want to thank Jason Engwer for all the hard work he has done for this ministry. He has consistently displayed level-headedness in the midst of dialogue that would make most of us lose our patience. And, as a stalwart example of a true apologist, he always has a ready answer.

I well remember the AOL discussion forums that Jason mentioned (though I think it was more like '95 or '96, though I may be confusing that with the Sola-L list). It was in that forum that many of us "cut our teeth" on RC apologetics. Mike Taylor was there as well, though he was representing the other side back then.

Jason will retain posting privileges to the blog and administrative rights to this forum, and I encourage him to post his thoughts as often as he likes.

Jason's departure unfortunately does not alleviate my own lack of time to contribute to the forum, and so at this point I'm ambivalent as to how we'll proceed. The traffic for the foums has dwindled significantly over the past year (I guess we all discovered we have lives outside of the Internet), and that will play a significant part in my decision over what to do with it. Here is the status of each forum:

The Areopagus
I plan to keep this forum open for the time being, though I do not know how long. If anyone needs any of the dialogue here, I recommend copying it soon. If I decide to close the forum, it will be an immediate action.

The Heavenly Realm
The Heavenly realm has seen the least amount of traffic over the past year, and I will be closing that forum soon. If anyone in the HR needs any dialogue there, please copy now. I will keep it open for at least a week so that you can find what you need.

The Real Clear Theology Blog
For the foreseeable future, the RCT blog will continue to be open, though there will likely not be much activity there--at least for now (though that may change).

The NTRMin Website
The website itself will continue to be open, and its articles will continue to be accessible. We have received countless emails thanking us for that material, and I think it is worth keeping around for a while.

Will the status of these things ever change? I will consider changing my decision on the fate of the Areopagus and Heavenly Realm if I see a marked increase in activity from the Adelphoi members. I will consider contributing more to the blog as more and more things are removed from my plate (though I do not see that happening for the next six months). Alternatively, if there is no cange on the demands of my time, and there is no increase in forum activity, I may decide to close the website altogether.

Friday, January 20, 2006


For a variety of reasons, including a lot of work I have to tend to offline, I'm leaving the staff of New Testament Research Ministries. I'm leaving amicably. My decision to leave wasn't a result of any impropriety, personal dispute, or change in theology. I'm leaving in a good relationship with the rest of the staff and in a good relationship with our supporters.

Eric Svendsen has told me that he'll keep the ministry in operation after my departure, but I don't know the details of how the ministry will operate from day to day or who will be involved. Eric has been away a lot lately, as most of you probably know from reading what he wrote about his diminished role in online ministry last November. He could have chosen to shut down these online forums last year or after my departure this year, but he's decided to keep the ministry going. Those of you who appreciate these forums should thank him for that. These forums wouldn't exist if Eric hadn't started them, and he's the one who's primarily been responsible for keeping them going. This is his ministry. Thank you, Eric, for letting me contribute to it and for everything you've done to help me over the years.

I'll still be online. I expect to be posting in online forums every once in a while. But I probably won't be online as often. Instead of being on multiple times each day, there may be days or weeks when I'm not online at all. Some of you may have noticed that I haven't updated my America Online web site much in recent years, aside from the links page. I probably won't be updating it much in the near future either.

I came to this ministry a few years ago, in late 2001. I met Eric a few years before that, I think in either 1997 or 1998, on the America Online message boards. He was kind and generous to me then, and he has been ever since then. He took a significant risk in offering a staff position on this ministry to a layman who was only in his mid-twenties at the time. I've learned a lot from Eric and from other people on and off the staff during my years here, and I'm grateful to all of you.

I had the privilege of working with Tim Enloe and Mike Taylor during my earlier years here. Though both of them have moved on to other things, I still think of them, pray for them, and love and appreciate them. The same is true of those who have helped this ministry, and still help, in moderating the message boards and in other areas, people like Ronnie Brown and Brent Easey. Steve Hays has been generous in helping us in recent months. It's been an honor to work with him. (I imagine that some of you saw his comments recently on his blog regarding his plans to post less this year in order to get some other work done. I've seen some of that other work he's doing, and I can tell you that it's of high quality and worth the wait.) David King has been a blessing. He's been generous in helping us moderate the forums and in posting so much valuable information on the message boards. I doubt that there's anybody who has read the boards for a long time who hasn't benefited from David's work. And I've met a lot of other people here who have blessed me in many ways, too many people to list. We've prayed for each other, counseled each other, and shared our lives in other ways over the years. All of you are in my thoughts and prayers, and I'm sure we'll stay in contact in the years to come.

A lot of things are trivialized in our world today. I don't want to trivialize what's happened during my time with this ministry over the last few years. Ideas have consequences. Influencing people's beliefs is significant. Praying for people is significant. Setting examples for other people to follow is significant. It's a high responsibility and honor to be involved in that sort of work. And if the good work done by this ministry is significant, so is the bad work that I've done. I know that I've stumbled in pride, selfishness, impatience, and other sins many times along the way. I've probably hurt a lot of people without realizing it. I'm leaving without animosity, and I hope only the best for everybody I've influenced.

I hope, most of all, that I've influenced people to have more love for Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of living waters and whose riches are unfathomable. "'Tis what I know of Thee, my Lord and God, that fills my soul with peace, my lips with song" (Horatius Bonar, "Not What I Am, O Lord").

"Neither will I myself shrink from inquiry, if I am anywhere in doubt; nor be ashamed to learn, if I am anywhere in error. Further let me ask of my reader, wherever, alike with myself, he is certain, there to go on with me; wherever, alike with myself, he hesitates, there to join with me in inquiring; wherever he recognizes himself to be in error, there to return to me; wherever he recognizes me to be so, there to call me back: so that we may enter together upon the path of charity, and advance towards Him of whom it is said, 'Seek His face evermore.'" (Augustine, On the Holy Trinity, 1:4-5)

In Christ,
Jason Engwer

Thursday, January 19, 2006

God Is The Gospel

"My point in this book is that all the saving events and all the saving blessings of the gospel are means of getting obstacles out of the way so that we might know and enjoy God most fully. Propitiation, redemption, forgiveness, imputation, sanctification, liberation, healing, heaven - none of these is good news except for one reason: they bring us to God for our everlasting enjoyment of him....And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It's a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel....Each of Jesus' deeds and words and attitudes was glorious, but it is the way they come together in beautiful summation - I called it an exquisite array - that constitutes his glory. But the climax of the glory of his life on earth was the way it ended. It was as if all the darker colors in the spectrum of glory came together in the most beautiful sunset on Good Friday, with the crucified Christ as the blood-red sun in the crimson sky. And it was as if all the brighter colors in the spectrum of glory came together in the most beautiful sunrise on Easter morning, with the risen Christ as the golden sun shining in full strength. Both the glory of the sunset and the glory of the sunrise shone on the horizon of a lifetime of incomparably beautiful love. This is what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 4:4 when he spoke of 'the glory of Christ.' It is the glory of a person....Imagine being able to enjoy what is infinitely enjoyable with unbounded energy and passion forever. This is not our experience now. Three things stand in the way of our complete satisfaction in this world. One is that nothing here has a personal worth great enough to meet the deepest longings of our hearts. Another is that we lack the strength to savor the best treasures to their maximum worth. And the third obstacle to complete satisfaction is that our joys here come to and end. Nothing lasts. But if the aim of the gospel - the aim of Jesus in John 17:26 and the aim of Paul in 1 Timothy 1:11 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 - comes true, all this will change. If God's pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating. No greater treasure can be conceived than the very Son of God. Moreover, our ability to savor this inexhaustible treasure will not be limited by human weaknesses. We will enjoy the Son of God with the very enjoyment of his omnipotently happy Father. God's delight in his Son will be in us, and it will be ours. And this will never end, because neither the Father nor the Son ever ends. Their love for each other will be our love for them, and therefore our loving them will never die." (John Piper, God Is The Gospel [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005], pp. 47, 65, 102)

Single-Source Theories And The Dating Of Revelation

Sometimes people who are arguing against a widespread belief of the early Christians will try to minimize the significance of the belief's popularity by suggesting that it might have become popular by means of the influence of one person. Opponents of premillennialism will sometimes suggest that men like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus accepted the doctrine through the influence of Papias. Or people who reject Matthew's authorship of the gospel of Matthew will suggest that the gospel's universal attribution to Matthew was due to Papias' influence.

It's plausible that an authority such as Paul or John would be able to bring about universal acceptance of something he taught. Papias wasn't an apostle, though, and we don't have any good reason to conclude that he had the sort of influence some people attribute to him. It's highly unlikely that a belief as popular as premillennialism or Matthean authorship of the gospel of Matthew was due entirely or almost entirely to the influence of one man like Papias. Even if it was, why conclude that Papias was wrong? Papias sometimes claims to have relied on multiple sources, so we can't just stop with Papias and blame him for a widespread belief we don't like.

There was a thread that began yesterday on the NTRM boards on the subject of the dating of the book of Revelation as it relates to eschatology. In that thread, I and another poster address some of the internal and external evidence for a dating of Revelation in the late first century rather than the middle of the century.

In this post, I want to quote some of the patristic passages I mention in that thread. Some critics of a late dating of Revelation suggest that the early patristic sources who give the book a late date were relying on Irenaeus for their information. It's also sometimes suggested that Irenaeus may not have been referring to a late date for Revelation, but instead was only referring to how long the apostle John lived. Is it credible to trace all of the late dating of Revelation back to Irenaeus? I don't think so. (And, again, even if we did trace it all to Irenaeus, why should we think that Irenaeus was wrong?)

As I explain in the thread on the NTRM boards, the status of the churches in Revelation 2-3 suggests a late date for the book. The church in Ephesus seems to have undergone a decline since the time Paul was in contact with them. The church in Smyrna seems to have been in existence more than just several years. The church of Laodicea is referred to as wealthy, yet Laodicea was recovering from an earthquake in the 60s. Etc. Below are Polycarp's comments suggesting that the church of Smyrna didn't exist yet when Paul wrote to the Philippians. We should ask whether Jesus' comments on the church of Smyrna in Revelation 2 would make more sense if the church had just come into existence or if it had been in existence for a few decades. Polycarp wrote:

"But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? 'Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world?' as Paul teaches. But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you [Philippians], in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we of Smyrna had not yet known Him." (Letter To The Philippians, 11)

Here's Irenaeus referring to Revelation's prophecies as yet to be fulfilled. Notice that his comments aren't limited to the millennium:

"In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord's disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules the earth shall be partitioned." (Against Heresies, 5:26:1)

Below are some examples of Victorinus and Eusebius dating the book of Revelation to the late first century. Notice that they don't refer to any rival traditions. Notice that they give a number of details surrounding the Domitian dating rather than just making a vague reference to a date. Notice that Victorinus says nothing about getting his information from Irenaeus and makes some comments on Domitian not found in Irenaeus. Notice that Eusebius refers to multiple sources for his information, not just Irenaeus. Notice how the widespread persecutions of Domitian that Victorinus and Eusebius refer to would provide a better background for the book of Revelation than a Neronian dating of the book would.

"He says this, because when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian. There, therefore, he saw the Apocalypse; and when grown old, he thought that he should at length receive his quittance by suffering, Domitian being killed, all his judgments were discharged. And John being dismissed from the mines, thus subsequently delivered the same Apocalypse which he had received from God." (Victorinus, Commentary On The Apocalypse Of The Blessed John, 10:11)

"It is said that in this persecution [of Domitian] the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word. Irenaeus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: 'If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.' To such a degree, indeed, did the teaching of our faith flourish at that time that even those writers who were far from our religion did not hesitate to mention in their histories the persecution and the martyrdoms which took place during it. And they, indeed, accurately indicated the time. For they recorded that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ. But when this same Domitian had commanded that the descendants of David should be slain, an ancient tradition says that some of the heretics brought accusation against the descendants of Jude (said to have been a brother of the Saviour according to the flesh), on the ground that they were of the lineage of David and were related to Christ himself." (Eusebius, Church History, 3:18-19)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Assumption Of Mary And Marian Relics

Pope Pius XII, in his decree Munificentissimus Deus, refers to the Assumption of Mary as "a matter of such great moment and of such importance". He says to people who oppose the doctrine, "let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith". The Pope refers to the assumption as "this truth which is based on the Sacred Writings, which is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the faithful, which has been approved in ecclesiastical worship from the most remote times".

But many modern Catholic apologists will act as if the doctrine isn't so important. They'll also say that the doctrine isn't based on scripture in the sense in which we would normally derive any other concept from any other document. Rather, it's Biblical only in some typological sense or in the sense of being taught by a church whose authority is Biblical, for example. They'll appeal to church authority to support the doctrine, but when you ask them for evidence of that alleged church authority, they'll once again appeal to speculation, allegories, typology, and the like. In other words, they have no defense for the doctrine or for the Roman Catholic system of authority that teaches it.

When there's an attempt to make the assumption of Mary seem historical, however, one of the primary arguments put forward is the claim that none of the early Christians professed to have any bones of Mary or comparable relics from her body. (Some people did claim to have hair strands, breast milk, or other relics that wouldn't necessarily be evidence against an assumption.) Pope Pius XII put it this way in the decree mentioned above:

"Finally, since the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people, we have a proof on the order of a sensible experience."

As I explain in a post elsewhere, that argument for an assumption of Mary is far outweighed by the evidence we have against the concept. In the post I just referred to, I explain how the whereabouts of a person's body could be unknown without our thereby being justified in concluding that an assumption has occurred. Somebody like Epiphanius could write about how he didn't know where Mary's body was, yet say at the same time that nobody knows how her life ended.

Catholics often paint a picture in which the early Christians are referring to the bodily remains of every or almost every Biblical figure, with Mary being the only exception or one of a small number. The truth is, though, that the earliest Christians don't say much about the bodily remains of Biblical figures in general. It wasn't unique to Mary. Even as late as the fifth century, we find John Chrysostom commenting:

"Tell me, are not the bones of Moses himself laid in a strange land? And those of Aaron, of Daniel, of Jeremiah? And as to those of the Apostles we do not know where those of most of them are laid. For of Peter indeed, and Paul, and John, and Thomas, the sepulchers are well known; but those of the rest, being so many, have nowhere become known. Let us not therefore lament at all about this, nor be so little-minded. For where-ever we may be buried, 'the earth is the Lord's and all that therein is.' (Ps. xxiv. 1.)" (Homilies on Hebrews, 26:2, v. 22)

Many claims about burial places and relics arose with the passing of time. It's understandable that people would refrain from making claims about Marian relics in later centuries, when the concept of a bodily assumption began circulating. As the comments of Epiphanius and John Chrysostom illustrate, there could be a variety of reasons for people to not mention bodily relics of Mary (or Elizabeth, Simeon, some of the apostles, etc.). A bodily assumption would be one possible explanation, but other explanations are plausible, and the other evidence involved is contrary to the concept of an apostolic tradition of a bodily assumption.

Catholics ought to acknowledge that a convincing historical case for an assumption of Mary is not to be had. They may appeal to the alleged authority of their denomination to support the doctrine, but a convincing case for that supposed authority isn't to be had either.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"Sheer Savagery"

Jonathan Witt has a post today at his blog on how irrationally evolutionists are responding to intelligent design. He links to an article by William Rusher of the Claremont Institute. Rusher writes:

"But one can't help being a little surprised at the sheer savagery of the evolutionists' attack on intelligent design — which has been duplicated in every other forum where the subject has been discussed....One can't help feeling that there is something more than a scientific dispute going on here. The evolutionists are not acting like scientists confronting an interesting new theory. They are acting, to be frank about it, as if they are scared out of their wits — as if this particular theory threatens to do fatal damage to their whole concept of the cosmos. And, in fact, it does."

Some Storm Clouds On The Horizon For Liberal Secularists

Somebody by the name of Ed Darrell has started posting at Steve Hays' blog on the subject of separation of church and state. Steve has made some good points in response to him here and here.

I think Ed Darrell is the same person I debated often on America Online's A.C.L.U. forum in the middle of the 1990s. As I recall, he went by the screen name "EDarr" or something similar. If the person at Steve's blog isn't the same, then they must be two different people with close names, arguments, and writing styles.

It doesn't seem that Ed has changed much. As I recall, he would often change his arguments in the middle of a discussion, arguing at one point for secularism, then arguing at another point for religious pluralism. He would argue for a secular government, then, when presented with something like prayer before sessions of Congress or the proclamations for religious holidays issued by early American Presidents, he would argue that such activities are acceptable as long as they're religiously pluralistic. But religious pluralism isn't secularism. And citing recent Supreme Court decisions doesn't do much to further Ed's arguments if those decisions are themselves unreasonable.

The Ed I debated on America Online was also an evolutionist. It seems that the Ed at Steve's blog is similarly committed to evolution.

I don't know whether Ed will behave in the same manner in his discussions with Steve as he did in his discussions with me. But if his past behavior and his first responses to Steve are any indication, it looks as though he hasn't changed much. Thankfully, though, the Supreme Court is changing. So is evolution's credibility in our society, including in the scientific community. Ed is riding two sinking ships.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Undiscerning Pastors Misjudge Their Immature Congregations

Some results from recent Barna research:

"On average, pastors contend that 70% of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to transcend all other priorities. Amazingly, as many as one out of every six pastors (16%) contends that 90% or more of the adults in their church hold their relationship with God as their top life priority!...In contrast to the upbeat pastoral view of people’s faith, a nationally representative sample of 1002 adults was asked the same question – i.e., to identify their top priority in life – and a very different perspective emerged. Only one out of every seven adults (15%) placed their faith in God at the top of their priority list. To make an apples-to-apples comparison, the survey isolated those who attend Protestant churches and found that even among that segment of adults, not quite one out of every four (23%) named their faith in God as their top priority in life. Some population niches were more likely than others to make God their number one focus. Among those were evangelicals (51% of whom said their faith in God was their highest priority), African-Americans (38%) and adults who attend a house church (34%). The people groups least likely to put God first were adults under 30 years of age, residents of the Northeast and West, and those who describe themselves as 'mostly liberal' on political and social matters. Regardless of how the population was evaluated, though, there was no segment of the adult population that came close to the level of commitment that Protestant pastors claimed for churchgoers....A question asking pastors to identify the specific standards they use to evaluate the spiritual commitment of congregants showed that few pastors rely upon criteria that reflect genuine devotion to God. Overall, only one measure – how many people are involved in some form of church-related volunteer activity or ministry effort – was listed by at least half of all pastors (54%) as a measure of the spiritual health of their congregation. Only two other criteria – church attendance and some type of life change experience (usually meaning that a person has made a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ as their savior) were named as important criteria by more than one out of every seven pastors."

There's a lot of other significant material in the article. I recommend reading it. I think that the following comments by George Barna are accurate:

"The nation’s adults deserve some credit for recognizing and acknowledging that God is not a top priority in their life. The challenge to church leaders is to stop pandering for popularity and to set the bar higher. People only live up to the expectations set for them. When the dominant expectations are that people show up, play nicely together and keep the system going, the potential for having the kinds of life-changing experiences that characterized the early Church are limited, at best. If churches believe in the life-changing power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, they must hold people to a higher and more challenging standard."

A Craig/Ehrman Debate

Those of you who have heard of Bart Ehrman's recent book on the text of the New Testament (James White has been discussing it on his webcast and on his blog) may be interested in an upcoming debate. William Craig is going to be debating Bart Ehrman on the resurrection this March.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

When Luke Wrote About Mary Having Sex With A Dove, Was He Borrowing From Pagan Mythology?

Dave Wave has posted another response to me at his blog (the second comment here), and that latest response is similar to the earlier ones. He ignores much of what's already been said. He makes dubious historical assertions without citing a single source. He claims that scholarship agrees with him, but cites no scholars. He misquotes the person he's responding to. Etc. I'm not going to reply to Dave's latest material line-by-line, but I will respond to a few portions of his post for the benefit of those who have been following these discussions. As before, his comments will be in red, and mine will be in black.

One of the difficulties involved in interacting with somebody like Dave Wave is that he's so arbitrary and inconsistent. He'll change his arguments in the middle of a discussion, and the reader can get the impression that there must be something wrong with him (the reader) rather than with Dave, even though the problem is actually with Dave. Anybody who has been involved much in debating on any subject, whether religious or otherwise, should know from experience that arbitrary and inconsistent argumentation can be more difficult to interact with than a more reasonable argument that's presented well. Dave's arguments are like a tangled web that we first have to untangle in an attempt to make sense of what he's saying. By the time we've untangled the first argument, we find another tangled argument that turns out to be inconsistent with the first one after we've untangled both. Even after a few weeks of interacting with us, Dave doesn't seem to be making much of an effort to be coherent and consistent.

First, in his latest reply, he tells us that it's unreasonable for Christians to expect pagan parallels to the virgin birth to be so specific as to involve virginity. Dave tells us that it's sufficient for the pagan account to be "miraculous", even if the birth isn't a virgin birth:

"Everybody expected a unique birth for a god-man back then. Christianity provided the world with another one among many. Sorry, but Christianity seems to have accepted the general view of the pagans, that a man, if he is a god-man, is expected to have a miraculous birth. Why exactly you demand something of a mirror image copy of Jesus to be found in pre-Christian pagan literature (because you think unique birth isn’t parallel enough), only proves your ignorance of ancient mythology, and implies you are setting the bar very high so that the gainsayers will not be able to meet you fallacious standard of evidence. No non-Christian mythologist today, that I have ever read, insists that the parallels between Jesus and earlier pagan god men aren’t strong enough to warrant the conclusion that Christianity borrowed heavily from paganism. It’s only Christians, with an agenda to defend Jesus as totally unique in a culture where god-man were a dime-a-dozen, who raise the bar that high."

But later in the same post, Dave tells us that he "never said" what he did say in the quote above:

"Strawman, I never said that supernatural birth was sufficient parallel to say the New Testament accounts were derived from pagan mythology."

Which is it? What Dave tells us in the first quote is the opposite of what he tells us in the second. Like I said before, one of the difficulties in interacting with Dave is that you never know which of two or more contradictory arguments he'll use from one post to another or even within a single post.

Elsewhere in his latest reply, Dave makes one of his strangest claims yet, while commenting on Luke 1:35:

"'overshadow'? How can a woman get pregnant by a dove without having sex with it? Second, did you forget Zeus and Danae? How do you get 'sex' out of a golden shower that impregnates a virgin?"

First of all, where is he getting the concept that the Holy Spirit came to Mary as a dove? What are we to conclude about the mindset of a person who would assume that the Holy Spirit is a dove in Luke 1:35 just because He took the form of a dove in another passage?

And notice how Dave contradicts himself from one sentence to the sentence that immediately follows. On the one hand, he claims that Luke 1:35 is evidence that sex occurred. On the other hand, he goes on to argue that the account of Zeus and Danae didn't involve sex. But the Holy Spirit had no previous pattern of behavior involving having sex with women. Zeus did. Why would Dave assume that sex occurred with the Holy Spirit, but not with Zeus? And why would the early Christians call it a virgin birth if sex was involved? And why has Dave been calling it a virgin birth if he doesn't think the conception was said to have occurred without sex? Why has Dave been telling us that there's a parallel if he now wants to argue that the two accounts are different on this issue of virginity? Like I said before, Dave's arguments are often like a tangled web, and when you untangle them, you always conclude that it wasn't worth the effort.

On the subject of resurrection, Dave once again quotes the passage he's been citing from Justin Martyr, and he writes:

"What part of 'rose again' don’t you understand?"

But I've already quoted Justin himself saying that the parallels he's drawing are only partial parallels, accompanied by some differences. Dave keeps ignoring the other comments of Justin that Gene Bridges and I have documented, and he keeps quoting the same passage he began with over and over again. But any honest, thoughtful treatment of this issue would have to take all of Justin's comments into account, not just some of them. And any honest, thoughtful treatment of this subject would have to take into account the evidence we have from other sources, not just Justin. Even if the comments of Justin that Dave keeps quoting were the only comments we had from Justin on the subject, we would still have to take into account the other comments on the subject made by other sources. And those other sources tell us, repeatedly and in a variety of ways, that paganism not only didn't accept the Jewish and Christian concept of resurrection, but also considered it repulsive. When Justin refers to concepts similar to Jesus' resurrection in pagan mythology, he's referring to vague similarities accompanied by differences. To quote Justin referring to the similarities, while ignoring what he said about the differences and ignoring what we know about the differences from other sources, doesn't make sense. It's the sort of behavior you'd expect from somebody dishonestly approaching these issues, not from somebody approaching them honestly.

Dave also repeats one of his most common themes:

"Was Justin just a complete fool beyond comprehension, for drawing such a parallel where none, according to you, exist?"

I didn't say that no parallel exists. What I've said is that the parallels aren't specific enough to prove borrowing from one source to another.

Dave goes on to use his Caps Lock key to make his point more effectively:


Let's follow Dave's logic here. According to Dave, Christianity shouldn't repeat a common theme found in non-Christian sources. Therefore, if pre-Christian pagan mythology involves characters who eat food, then the New Testament should never refer to anybody eating anything. And if pagan characters die, then nobody should die in the New Testament. Nobody should speak or sleep either. And there can be no discussion of any afterlife of any type, since that concept had been mentioned prior to Jesus' birth as well. How would somebody writing in the first century A.D. go about writing an account of events on earth without repeating any common themes from previous literature?

In closing, I think we ought to ask why it is that Dave has repeatedly tried to avoid evaluating the events recorded in the New Testament by normal historical standards. Why has he tried to prearrange any historical conclusions we would reach by telling us that we should begin with the assumption of naturalism? (He's been inconsistent on that point, as he has been on others, sometimes arguing that we must begin with naturalism and sometimes denying that he expects us to begin with it.) When his argument for naturalism fails, he moves his emphasis to the pagan borrowing theory, so that such vague similarities as "a miraculous birth" or "coming back to life" are sufficient grounds for concluding that Christianity was derived from paganism. He doesn't address the details of the historical evidence for something like Jesus' resurrection. He just asserts that Christianity was borrowing from pagan mythology, based on vague similarities.

Dave made vague references earlier to how he would attempt to explain something like the resurrection. He referred to the possibility of hallucinations or some other sort of psychological disorder. But he didn't say much about the subject. Instead, his emphasis has been on concepts such as naturalism and pagan borrowing, both of which allow him to avoid getting into the details surrounding something like the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. Why is it that Dave has taken this approach? Could it be that he knows that he doesn't have a good case when we look more closely at the historical evidence? Could it be that he's trying to dismiss any examination of the details with a more vague theory, such as naturalism or pagan borrowing, so that he can avoid the details?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Objective Jesus And The Subjective Jesus

Marvin Read has an article today in The Pueblo Chieftan that reflects an irrational view of Jesus that's popular in many modern circles:

"The bottom line is that every person, Christian or otherwise, faithful or unbeliever, draws his own picture of Jesus, and each is as valid (although subjective) as the other. No matter what some preachers say, there is no objective Jesus that anyone is genuinely aware of. There may be one, but on this side of the veil, no one gets to peek. He is, for us, as we draw him."

Surely Read doesn't think that we can't objectively know anything about Jesus. We can't know that He was a male rather than a female? We can't know that He was a Jew? That He was crucified?

We might interpret Read's comments as hyperbole, but then we'd have to ask how much reliable information we have on Jesus. If Read acknowledges that we have some reliable information, how much? And even if some of the information we can attain is difficult to find, why not include the material that's difficult to attain as well?

If you acknowledge something as basic as the historicity of Jesus' crucifixion, you're acknowledging the plausibility of His fulfillment of highly unusual passages in the Old Testament (Psalm 22:16, Isaiah 53:4-6). If you acknowledge a basic fact like the timing of Jesus' death, you're acknowledging that His death occurred within a narrow window of time that would fulfill Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27). If you acknowledge a basic fact like Jesus' historical influence on Gentile nations, you're acknowledging His fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation of an ultimate servant of God who would become a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6-7, 52:15). Facts such as Jesus' death by crucifixion, the timing of His death around 30 A.D., and His influence on the Gentile world are widely accepted facts, acknowledged even by atheists, agnostics, and other people who are far from holding a Christian worldview.

What about other facts that are somewhat more difficult to discern, but are still highly likely to be true? Jesus' Davidic descent, for example, is highly probable, and the Messiah was predicted to be a descendant of David. Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, in line with Micah's prophecy (Micah 5:2), is also highly likely. Jesus' performance of apparent miracles is a high probability, given how widely it was reported and its corroboration by Josephus, the Talmud, and other early non-Christian sources (see here, here, here, and here). The resurrection appearances of Jesus are highly likely as well, given the evidence we have from Paul and other early sources, and there's widespread evidence that those appearances were inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations and other psychological disorders.

Many other examples could be cited, but the point is that we can arrive at a reliable conclusion that Jesus was supernatural, and that He displayed unprecedented power, just by following basic facts that are widely or almost universally acknowledged about Him. (I'm aware that the historical facts would be interpreted in light of philosophical issues in any discussion of these matters, but many of the relevant philosophical issues are similarly not too difficult to establish.) You'll find people who will deny that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, for example, but without good reason, and those same people will almost always acknowledge other significant facts about Jesus (His death by crucifixion, the timing of His death, etc.). Somebody like Marvin Read could point to people who deny that Jesus even existed, in order to argue that even the basic facts about Jesus' life are disputed, but we could likewise point to Holocaust deniers. Should we conclude that the Holocaust is a subjective matter that's "real difficult" (Marvin Read's language concerning Jesus) to discern? Yes, we have much more evidence for the Holocaust than we have for the historical Jesus, but the general principle I'm referring to is correct. The fact that you can find some people who will dispute this or that aspect of Jesus' life doesn't prove that there's reasonable doubt about the matter.

There are some aspects of Jesus' life that we know little or nothing about, such as His years between Luke 2 and Luke 3. But the issue here is sufficient knowledge, not extensive or exhaustive knowledge. There's enough known about Jesus' life to qualify as objective evidence leading to the reliable conclusion that He is who Christianity claims He is.

The problem for people like Marvin Read isn't so much historically identifying who Jesus is. The problem is more along the lines of accepting the implications of His identity. As Read goes on to tell us in his article:

"To be honest, that's my kind of Jesus [the Jesus in NBC's 'The Book Of Daniel'] - the sort of divinity who's easy to be around because he understands the way we are in both our good and not-so-good moments."

When Read tells us that "He is, for us, as we draw him", that's more wishful thinking than a credible historical and logical conclusion.

Abortion's Horrible Numbers

Friday, January 13, 2006

"We're Already Permissive, So Why Not Be More Permissive?"

Parents Bringing Children To Movies That Are Inappropriate For Adults

Arguments For And Against Sola Scriptura

Some of you may be interested in this thread about sola scriptura. I wrote the second post in the thread, and it addresses some common misconceptions.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More About The Bethell/Derbyshire Debate

Before I interact further with the comments posted by John Derbyshire and Tom Bethell, I want to explain why I think this exchange is significant. National Review influences a lot of people who, in turn, influence many other lives (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.). The Corner, the section of the web site where Derbyshire has been making his misleading claims about creation and evolution, is popular and influential. For a long time, Derbyshire and some other participants in The Corner have been making a lot of misleading claims on issues related to creation and evolution, and little has been done by any of the other participants to challenge them. National Review has posted some articles by intelligent design proponents outside of The Corner, but I doubt that they're read by as many people as read The Corner.

At the time I'm writing, John Derbyshire has posted a response to Tom Bethell, and Bethell has posted what appears to be the first in a series of further replies. I would expect Bethell's next responses to be up soon, so my response to Derbyshire will be brief. Bethell has made some good points, and I expect him to continue to do well.

Derbyshire begins his response by referring to Bethell's "rather snotty tone", but goes on to say that "I reread my Corner post, and it seemed to me that I had been a bit snotty myself". I hope that Derbyshire will change his approach, but he's been behaving that way for a long time on issues of creation and evolution. And the remainder of his reply to Bethell suggests that not much has changed yet. Tom Bethell has a good opportunity to change things, though, by demonstrating Derbyshire's errors in public, in a forum in which Derbyshire will be expected to read and interact with the person correcting him. I hope Bethell will make the most of this opportunity. He's done well so far, though I disagree with some elements of his approach.

Derbyshire goes on to refer to how people can accept his view of evolution, yet be religious. I doubt that Bethell meant to suggest otherwise, and Derbyshire's claim that creationists (however he's defining that term) "never" address this subject is false. It's another indication that Derbyshire doesn't know the subject well.

He writes:

"'This sure looks like it was designed by an intelligent agent, doesn't it?' may be dispositive for an I.D. proponent (it is in fact, so far as I can tell, the I.D.-ers' only 'argument'); to a real scientist, it is a challenge."

He makes the comment above in the midst of referring to how people can be deceived by stage hypnotists and how people have been wrong about a flat earth and geocentrism in the past. Notice how Derbyshire has changed the subject. The examples he's citing are instances in which we have other data that give us reason to doubt an impression we had. Bethell wasn't denying that all data should be taken into account and that we should continue asking questions even after we've reached a conclusion. Intelligent design proponents conclude that an intelligent agent is involved on the basis of evidence, and that evidence will continue to be examined and questions will continue to be asked after a conclusion of intelligent design has been reached. The same occurs in archeology and other fields of research that involve detection of intelligent design. I don't know of any proponent of intelligent design who argues that we should conclude that our first impressions are always correct, then cease doing any further research. The problem isn't that intelligent design advocates are unwilling to do further research. The problem, rather, is that we keep seeing more and more evidence of design, and materialistic explanations keep getting more and more implausible, yet people like Derbyshire want us to indefinitely suspend our judgment as we indefinitely look for materialist explanations. If such reasoning was applied to a field like archeology or SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence), those fields would never get off the ground. We couldn't even function in daily life if we applied Derbyshire's reasoning consistently.

He writes:

"It is news to me that anthropologists, paleo- or otherwise, necessarily regard human agency as having non-material sources. My guess would be that some anthropologists do, some don't."

If we don't know whether materialism is involved, and Derbyshire thinks that some anthropologists don't believe it, then how can he claim to know that science is limited to materialism, and how can he think that those anthropologists who don't believe in a materialist view of agency are true scientists?

Derbyshire also comments that human intelligent design is the only sort of design we're familiar with. He tells us:

"In any case, we know only one instance of an intelligent agency — ourselves. A single data point is not much of a basis for generalization."

Then why are scientists, including evolutionists, working in a field like SETI? The concept of intelligent agency isn't limited to humans.

There are other problems with Derbyshire's response to Bethell, but these examples I've given are sufficient to demonstrate that Derbyshire is highly unreliable on this issue. I hope that Bethell will effectively illustrate Derbyshire's errors.

In summary, Derbyshire seems to now be arguing:

1.) That intelligent agency may be materialistic.

2.) That while some scientists may view intelligent agency as non-materialistic, other scientists probably don't. In other words, Derbyshire thinks that scientists probably are divided on the issue.

3.) That we can detect human intelligent design, but not intelligent design from other sources.

But how are Derbyshire's current arguments consistent with his previous ones? They aren't. If Derbyshire isn't sure whether intelligent agency, as he calls it, is materialistic, then how can he claim to know that science limits itself to material causes? If he acknowledges that some scientists view intelligent agency as non-materialistic, then how can he deny that some scientists accept non-material causes as part of science? And if intelligent agency can be called materialistic, then will Derbyshire be willing to accept intelligent design as a materialistic theory? Furthermore, why should we think that detection of intelligent design can occur only with humans? What is it in the concept of intelligent design that inherently leads to such a conclusion? The fact that such a conclusion is helpful to materialists isn't a sufficient justification. How does Derbyshire explain SETI? Why are these scientists, including evolutionists, thinking that they can detect non-human intelligent design?


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tom Bethell Responds To John Derbyshire At National Review Online

National Review Online has opened a new section at its web site, called "Out Of The Corner". It allows further discussion of subjects that had been mentioned in The Corner, but required separate treatment in order to have more space or for some other reason. The first edition of Out Of The Corner gives Tom Bethell an opportunity to respond to John Derbyshire on intelligent design. I don't agree with every aspect of Bethell's approach. I think some of his comments are unclear, and he sometimes uses weaker arguments than he could. But he does effectively make the point that detecting the work of intelligent agents is already part of widely accepted scientific research. I'll be watching for Derbyshire's response. I've thought of some possible evasions he could employ, but we'll see what he does. He can't just ignore Bethell's comments the same way he would ignore an e-mail from a proponent of intelligent design.

Slow To Learn, Slow To Correct

As many of you probably know, one of the most popular lines of evidence cited in support of evolution, Haeckel's embryos, has been known for a long time to be false. I remember when Jonathan Wells discussed this subject in a debate with Massimo Pigliucci several years ago, and Pigliucci told the audience that this sort of mistake happens in science a lot, and that it had already been corrected. But the error continued to be promoted in science textbooks. Why would it take evolutionists so long to correct the error, if they're as accurate and as concerned about evidence as they profess to be? William Dembski reports at his blog today that some textbooks have continued using Haeckel's embryos at least as recently as 2004.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Intelligent Design In The Philosophy Classroom

Remember the many times when opponents of intelligent design said that including the concept in non-science classes would be acceptable? A high school in California has tried it, and Barry Lynn and Americans United For Separation Of Church And State are suing. An Associated Press article on the story suggests that the objection to the course is that it favors religious views over evolution. One part of the article says that all but one of the videos being used in the class advocate a religious position. But if the class is covering a variety of views of origins, won't the majority of views be religious? What sense would it make to expect non-religious views to make up half or more of the content?

Perhaps there's good reason for opposing this class. We'll have to see what further details come out. But none of the details I've read so far suggest that the class is inappropriate. And even if the class is problematic in some way I haven't yet heard about, my sense is that Evolution News & Views probably is correct in arguing that there's a lot of insincerity on the part of intelligent design opponents who claim that they'd be willing to accept the inclusion of the theory in non-science classes. Some may be willing to accept it, but I imagine that many wouldn't. Perhaps Barry Lynn and Americans United would be willing to accept the inclusion of intelligent design under some circumstances, but it looks as though those circumstances would be unreasonably narrow.

The Bible Teaches That Mary Sinned

Earlier today, in response to a post by Evan May at Steve Hays' blog, I mentioned that we have good Biblical evidence that Mary was a sinner. I want to give an example.

I've often mentioned the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary as an illustration of why Roman Catholics don't want us to interpret scripture as we would interpret other forms of communication. They wouldn't want us to interpret Athanasius or a papal decree from Pope Benedict XVI the way they interpret scripture.

This doctrine of Mary's sinlessness is also an example of how selective Catholics are in their concern for what the church fathers believed. For hundreds of years, no church father said that Mary was sinless. Yet, from the second century onward, in both the West and East, we see one source after another either directly or indirectly referring to Mary as a sinner (Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, A Treatise On Re-Baptism, Apostolic Constitutions, etc.). The concept that Mary was sinless for a large part of her life seems to first arise among patristic sources sometime in the fourth century, but it's accompanied by references to Mary's being a sinner at other times and the continuance of the older view that she was a sinner like anybody else.

This patristic belief that Mary was a sinner goes back to scripture itself, if we're to interpret scripture as we would other forms of communication. (Those who allege that we should interpret it otherwise carry the burden of proof.) An example is Luke 2:48-50. Mary mistakenly thinks that Jesus has mistreated her, criticizes Jesus by asking Him why He treated His parents that way, is rebuked by Jesus, and is referred to by Luke as being ignorant of what Jesus was saying. The gulf existing between Luke 2 and the modern Roman Catholic view of Mary is large. We can see it in the attempts of Roman Catholic scholars to offer unlikely renderings of the passage in order to get around the most natural reading, and those attempts at alternative renderings have been criticized by other Roman Catholic scholars.

A group of some of the leading Catholic and Lutheran scholars in the world concluded that "Mary's complaining question in v. 48 seems to be a reproach to Jesus" (Raymond Brown, et al., editors, Mary in the New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978], p. 160). Referring to attempts to avoid the most natural reading of verse 50, they comment, "This whole effort borders on eisegesis." (n. 369 on p. 161) Darrell Bock writes:

"Mary, speaking for both parents, wants to know why he [Jesus] has done such a seemingly insensitive thing. Jesus' reply in the next verse addresses both of them as well. The form of Mary's question may have OT roots (Gen. 20:9; 12:18; 26:10; Exod. 14:11; Num. 23:11; Judg. 15:11). This is the language of complaint....Bovon 1989: 159 notes that the idiom suggests the questioner's [Mary's] belief that an error has been made." (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], p. 268 and n. 18 on p. 268)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Does The Liberal Episcopalian Church Down The Street Keep You From Attending A Conservative Baptist Church?

I've recently seen a number of Catholics using a bad line of argumentation that I've never understood. We're told that a reason for not being Protestant is that there's so much diversity of belief in Protestantism. We're told of how bad it is to be associated with an Episcopalian church that accepts homosexuality or a Methodist church that ordains women, for example.

Let's say that you're a college student looking for a church to attend near your campus. You think that the beliefs of a Baptist church nearby are correct, and the church seems to be healthy in other respects. And there's an Episcopalian church down the street from the Baptist church. It contradicts much of what you believe. It's significantly different from the Baptist church. Does the fact that both churches could be classified as "Protestant" prevent you from attending the Baptist church?

The Protestant classification is secondary. Similarly, we could refer to all Western churches collectively as "Western Christianity", for example, yet I don't know of any Catholic who wants to leave Roman Catholicism because being part of Western Christianity associates him with homosexual Episcopalians and female Methodist pastors.

In many areas of life, not just in religious affiliations, we're associated with larger movements that include elements that we don't support. But an association can be so distant that no reasonable person should conclude that you're showing support for something by being associated with it in that distant manner.

One of the problems with the Catholics who use arguments like the ones I've described seems to be that they don't give much thought to how the same sort of argument could be used against Catholicism. They might refine their objection so as to exclude Catholicism from the objection, but then they're changing their argument, and we would have to ask what significance the new objection has. A lot of Catholics, including converts to Catholicism who have been given many platforms to speak from, don't seem to have given issues like these much thought, even after being Catholic for years or decades.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Narnia" And "Hostel", Side-By-Side

I'm glad that the Narnia movie continues to do well here and worldwide, but here's how Ted Baehr's Movieguide describes this weekend's top movie:

"HOSTEL is an extremely gruesome and despicable horror movie about three tourists in Slovakia in Eastern Europe, who become victims of an underground business that lures people with sex and sells them to sadistic torturers and murderers seeking perverted thrills. HOSTEL is low-budget schlock horror and pornography with a big budget sensibility. Regrettably, its slick production values and edge-of-your-seat thrills will give many children and teenagers a lust for violence, torture, sex, and nudity."

Here's their summary of the movie's contents:

"Strong pagan worldview with an element of revenge, some homosexual content and strong anti-American content where Americans are targeted for torture (which could encourage terrorists and other wicked people) but American protagonist becomes a kind of hero, plus some light moral elements and light references to Christianity, including man risks his own life to help a torture victim; at least 121 mostly strong obscenities, six strong profanities, seven light profanities, toilet scenes, and vomiting; lots of extremely strong and gory violence, including decapitations, slicing throats, graphic bashing of heads to crush skulls, bloody torture scenes, chopping up bodies and throwing parts in a furnace, point blank shootings, woman's eye dangles from its socket and man has to cut it off to ease woman's intense pain, man using drill pierces man's body, fingers and toes deliberately cut off, blood spurts and sprays, woman jumps in front of speeding train and blood sprays people waiting on platform at train station, and murderous torturer works on man's open chest cavity; very strong sexual immorality includes scenes of depicted fornication, depicted lesbianism, depicted promiscuity, depicted prostitution, briefly depicted sado-masochism, and other sexual references; many scenes of upper female nudity, some rear nudity, and shot or two of full female nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking tobacco, using marijuana and hash, and torture victims are drugged and sold to highest bidding torturer to make money; and, revenge, deceit and black market crimes."

And reports:

"'With 'Hostel' and the 'Saw' movies it's a return to really sick, unsettling images, and that seems to be what the young audience is looking for,' said Chad Hartigan, a box- office analyst at Reel Source Inc. in Los Angeles."

This is a highly divided nation in many ways, and it's simultaneously going in a lot of different directions.

Unusual And Unexpected Love

"This early Christian emphasis on God actively seeking to restore to himself, at great cost to himself, those alienated from him by their rebellion was a distinctive position in Mediterranean antiquity of this period….By contrast, pagans often feared that the gods would abandon the world because of its wickedness (Wicker, 'Defectu,' 142); Jewish people felt that the Shekinah could withdraw for the same reason" (Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], p. 571 and n. 354 on p. 571)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Modern Critics Borrowing From Paganism

Dave Wave has written a response to me at his blog. That response is posted as a comment to an earlier post he wrote that wasn't directed to me. I don't know why Dave has chosen to reply to me in such a manner. He does this sort of thing a lot. He'll attribute his quotes to the wrong person, leave out quotation marks, claim that he's going to post something without ever doing it, etc. A lot of what I had written to Dave earlier is ignored in his latest response. Despite the incoherence of much of what Dave writes, I'm going to attempt to make sense of his latest response and interact with it here. My words will be in black, and his will be in red.

He quotes my citation of Bruce Metzger on the issue of how the New Testament writers put their claims in a historical context, whereas pagan mythology isn't historically rooted. Here's how Dave responded:

"Justin already admitted the parallels existed before the time of Jesus, so whether there's actual historical evidence available to us today to corroborate Justin's admission here, is irrelevant."

Notice that Dave is changing the subject. I cited Bruce Metzger on the issue of the historical nature of the New Testament as contrasted with the non-historical nature of pagan mythology. Dave responds by discussing whether Justin Martyr's comments on paganism indicate that the pagan beliefs Justin is addressing predate Christianity. I don't deny that Justin thought that the pagan beliefs in question predated Christianity. But that isn't the issue I was addressing.

"which answers none of the specific parallels cited by Justin, such as a god-man being the 'word' of the god who created him, or Jupiter being at the same time a aprricide and a son of a parricide, or Perseus being born of a virgin, or the motif of god-men performing medical wonders such as Asclepis did, etc, etc."

Notice, first of all, that Dave is repeating his claim about Perseus' being born of a virgin, despite the fact that I, Steve Hays, and Gene Bridges corrected Dave on this issue repeatedly. Dave has assumed that Justin Martyr meant to refer to Perseus as born of a virgin, but we've explained to Dave that Justin doesn't say so. And we aren't dependent on Justin to know what pagans believed about Perseus. We know that Perseus wasn't said to have been born of a virgin. Dave is repeating his errors even after being corrected, and he isn't even attempting to interact with what his opponents have said on the subject.

Notice, also, that Dave is combining a series of pagan figures from a variety of contexts, and he's assuming that borrowing occurred based on the vaguest of similarities. His Asclepius example is particularly ridiculous. Humans get illnesses. They get injured. Such things are common human experiences. The fact that pagans thought of the concept of gods healing people prior to the time of Jesus shouldn't lead anybody to the conclusion that Christian accounts of healing were borrowed from paganism. Healings occur in the Old Testament as well. How can Dave possibly know not only that borrowing occurred, but also that the early Jewish Christians in question borrowed from pagan rather than Jewish sources? Should it be necessary for me, Steve Hays, Gene Bridges, and other people to keep explaining these things to Dave? He knows about the Jewish background to the New Testament, because he goes on to refer to it, yet he keeps ignoring the Jewish background while claiming to somehow know that paganism is the source for the accounts in the New Testament.

"i admit the 'found in Judaism' part, and claim that Jesus' fulfillment of OT prophecy is pure fiction, and so, since he didn't fulfill anything of value to modern apologists speaking with bible skeptics, the resemblence of Jesus to OT things matters nothing."

I've given Dave examples of Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled, and he's failed to refute any of my examples. Some of the examples he hasn't even attempted to refute. But even if I hadn't given him any evidence for prophecy fulfillment, how would an alleged lack of evidence for prophecy fulfillment justify ignoring the Old Testament on issues that aren't related to prophecy? For example, if the Old Testament contains accounts of healings, then how does Jesus' alleged failure to fulfill prophecy justify ignoring the Old Testament healings in order to claim that the pagan Asclepius figure is a source for New Testament healing accounts?

Furthermore, why would the alleged failure to fulfill Old Testament prophecy justify ignoring Jewish texts outside of the canon of scripture? The Jewish background of the New Testament isn't limited to the Old Testament.

"No-true-scotts-man fallacy. Whatever differences there are between say, Perseus and Jesus, do not for a moment erase their both sharing the commonality of being said to be born of virgins or born in peculiar manner of a god impregnating a woman, standard expected info on anybody professing to be a true god-man."

Again, Dave is assuming what needs to be proven with regard to Perseus. If Dave can't show that Perseus was said to have been born of a virgin, then the similarities between Perseus and Jesus become more vague.

As I explained earlier, birth is a common human experience. And a birth will either be natural or supernatural. The fact that pagans often referred to supernatural births doesn't prove that Christianity could only get the concept of a supernatural birth by borrowing from paganism, nor does it prove that no supernatural birth account could be true. Ancient Jewish sources also referred to supernatural births. How does Dave know that Christianity didn't borrow from Jewish sources rather than paganism? How does he know that any borrowing occurred? He needs to address the historical credibility of the Christian accounts rather than assuming that they must be unhistorical just because other supernatural birth accounts were false. We can't assume that one account is false just because other accounts vaguely similar to it have been false.

"Justin's apologetic purpose in citing the parallels (to convince the Greeks that Jesus was just as big a player as any of their god-men, or bigger) could only suffer if he would have pushed the parallels to be more exact than they were in order to show how much Jesus fits their criteria of what a true god-man is."

In other words, Justin couldn't get much more specific, because vague parallels are all that exist. And those vague parallels aren't enough to make your case.

"you haven't proved they were vague"

How do we know that the parallels Dave is citing are too vague? Because those parallels have an obvious logical connection to universal human themes, which means that anybody could come up with the concepts without borrowing from paganism. Because the parallels are not only found in ancient paganism, but also in ancient Jewish sources. Because the pagans themselves considered the parallels so vague that somebody like Justin Martyr had to try to persuade them of those parallels, and they didn't find Justin's argument convincing.

Has Dave given us any eyewitness accounts proving that the earliest Christians borrowed from paganism? No. Has he given us any reports from people who knew eyewitnesses? No. Has he shown any literary dependence? No. Has he significantly interacted with alternate possibilities, such as the possibility of borrowing from Jewish sources or the possibility of actual historical events having some similarities to vague themes in pagan mythology? No.

"to prove they were vague would make Justin look like an utter idiot for making parallels to Jesus for a Greek audience who would immediately know whether he was citing their pagan histories correctly on the matter or not"

The issue isn't just whether Justin was citing the pagan accounts correctly. We also have to ask what he was attempting to prove. If he was only arguing for vague similarities, not similarities so detailed that they would require borrowing, then we don't have to assume that Justin was "an utter idiot" in order to reject the conclusions Dave is drawing from Justin's comments.

As I've documented, Justin accompanies his references to similarities between paganism and Christianity with references to differences between the two. Dave has done nothing to prove that the similarities are so significant as to require borrowing from one religion to another. And he repeatedly fails to interact with the contrary evidence I, Steve, and Gene have given him.

Dave's most emphasized example of alleged pagan parallels is the supposed virgin birth of Perseus, yet, as we've explained to Dave repeatedly, the Perseus account doesn't involve a virgin birth. Even if it did, that account would be just one among a larger number of accounts that involve sexual contact. If the New Testament authors were trying to appeal to pagans by fabricating accounts that resemble paganism, why would they borrow from a pagan account that was an exception to the rule? Why wouldn't they follow the mainstream pagan tendency of depicting births as coming from sexual contact?

And how does all of this alleged fabrication on the part of the New Testament authors coincide with the Jewish setting of early Christianity, the presence of Jesus' relatives in early church history, the historical genre of the gospels, the early Christian condemnations of paganism, etc.? Dave doesn't explain such things, because he can't, and, in some cases, he probably hasn't even thought that far. In one of his recent posts, he commented on how he doesn't deny the historical reliability of Luke, except on the census account. But if the infancy accounts in Luke's gospel are wrong, and the healings, the resurrection, the ascension, the apostolic miracles in Acts, etc. are all unhistorical, then how can Dave claim that he accepts the historical reliability of Luke? Again, Dave's arguments are so often incoherent and inconsistent.

"preaching to the choir, I have also seen those works, and wrote my own rebuttal to them, but alas, I'm not talking to them, but talking to you"

Raymond Brown was "preaching to the choir"? Since modern scholarship in general disagrees with you, including large numbers of liberal scholars who reject traditional Christianity, should we assume that they, too, are all "preaching to the choir"?

"Whether the pagan histories Justin cites were intended as factual biography or are just fictions is entirely pointless."

The genre of the relevant documents is "pointless"? No, if people like Matthew and Luke were in contact with members of Jesus' immediate family, and they report family events in documents written in a historical genre, such facts aren't "pointless". They're highly significant.

You've acknowledged that there are differences between the pagan accounts and the accounts of Jesus' life, and now you're dismissing another difference, a difference in genre, as "pointless". So, if there's a parallel as vague as "healing" (Asclepius healed people, and so did Jesus), or if there's a parallel as vague as "born in an unusual fashion" (a pagan figure was born by means of sex with a god, and Jesus was born of a virgin), you'll claim that such vague parallels are significant. But when there are differences, even differences as fundamental as genre, you claim that those differences are all insignificant. You aren't giving us any criteria by which you reach your conclusions. Rather, you just give us unargued assertions. At least I've given you reasons for why I reach my conclusions. I've discussed how concepts such as having an unusual birth or healing people could be derived from common human experiences. You, on the other hand, haven't given us any reason to think that such vague parallels require borrowing from one religion to another. You just assert that borrowing must have occurred. An assertion isn't enough.

"What makes you say impregnation by a god removes the woman's virginity? How did a Zeus' appearence as a shower of gold, remove Danae's virginity?"

Zeus took the form of a shower of gold to get into the room where the woman was. The woman was later found with a child. Since Zeus had a history of having sexual intercourse with women, the more natural interpretation is that the child came from sexual intercourse after Zeus had come into the room. If you want us to believe that a virgin birth was involved, you need to explain why. So far, you haven't given us any evidence.

"What is it about ancient Greece and Rome and Jerusalem that caused their inhabitants to expect divine births to be from virgins?"

Again, you haven't documented even one case of a pre-Christian virgin birth account in paganism, yet you're referring to such accounts as what was "expected" in Greece, Rome, and Jerusalem. You need to give us more documentation to accompany your assertions.

And if a virgin birth was expected in Jerusalem, then how do you know that paganism had to have been the source that influenced the Christian claim?

"did the story of god impregnating virgins, and virgins giving birth, exist before Jesus lived, yes or no?"

It seems that you're now changing your argument in mid-discussion, as you've done before. Apparently, you're now defining "virgin birth" as any birth that comes from a woman who used to be a virgin. If a pagan god has sex with a virgin, you'll claim that the birth that follows is a "virgin birth", since the woman had been a virgin prior to the sexual contact. But that isn't how Christianity defined the virgin birth. If the woman only needs to have been a virgin prior to sex, then every woman who gives birth after first having sex can be said to have produced a "virgin birth". Virgin births would then be far too common to limit pre-Christian examples to pagan mythology. If every Jewish woman who got pregnant the first time she had sex was producing a "virgin birth", then how can you claim to know that the concept of virgin birth could only have come from a borrowing from pagan mythology?

If, on the other hand, you aren't redefining "virgin birth" in such a way, then you need to document these pre-Christian virgin birth accounts you keep referring to. So far, you haven't documented a single one.

On the issue of whether pagans and Jews were expecting the incarnation of God, Dave writes:

"Oh, so I guess Isaiah 9:6 wasn't Jewish?"

Isaiah lived several centuries prior to Christianity. In the quote of Richard Swinburne Dave is responding to, Swinburne is addressing the timeframe of Christianity's origin. The Messiah wasn't expected to be God incarnate.

Notice that Dave hasn't addressed the pagan rejection of such an incarnation. And he hasn't addressed the popular Jewish view of Isaiah 9 at the time of Christ. Dave has told us that the gospel writers were fabricating accounts in an attempt to be popular with pagans. But if the concept of God incarnating Himself was not only absent in paganism and contemporary Judaism, but was even considered repulsive to pagans (as illustrated in my earlier citation of Celsus), why should we believe that the early Christians were fabricating accounts in an attempt to appeal to pagans?

With regard to the distinction between an incarnate god and God incarnate, Dave writes:

"irrelevant trite differences do not erase the points of similarity Justin cites"

The difference between an infinite God and a finite god is "irrelevant" and "trite"? No, it isn't. Let me use the example of Celsus again. Remember, Dave has appealed to Celsus (incorrectly) on the virgin birth issue, so he should think highly of Celsus' comments on this subject as well. Yet:

"This assertion [the incarnation], says Celsus, 'is most shameful and no lengthy argument is required to refute it' (c. Cels. 4.2). God is not the kind of being who can undergo mutation or alteration. He cannot change from the purity and perfection of divinity to the blemished and tarnished state of humans." (Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], p. 102)

It doesn't seem that the early Christians were fabricating concepts like the incarnation in order to appeal to pagans like Celsus.

"False, the idea of coming back to life after dying was prominent before the time of Jesus. See Osiris, Tammuz, etc, who, although not exactly the same as claimed of Jesus' resurrection, nevertheless prove that the concept of the body coming back to life, however it is fabled to have happened, was indeed known and believed before the time of Jesus."

Now you're telling us that a resurrection isn't necessary, as long as there's a "coming back to life after dying", and you go on to suggest that the body might be involved in at least some cases. But here the comments of Craig Keener that I posted earlier are relevant:

"When the early Christian picture of bodily resurrection derives directly from Jewish eschatological teaching, one casts the net rather widely to make all human hopes for afterlife parallel to it." (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 709)

Dave gives us no documentation regarding Osiris or Tammuz, perhaps because he's just repeating what he's heard without having any documentation. As we've told Dave before, pagan beliefs changed over time, so Dave needs to give us documentation of pre-Christian accounts and explain to us why he thinks that those accounts were the source of the New Testament claims. The concept of resurrection is found in the Old Testament, so Dave will have to both document the existence of a similar belief in pre-Christian pagan sources and explain why we should think that the early Christians borrowed from such sources rather than being influenced by the Old Testament, for example. Since Dave acknowledges that even the Osiris and Tammuz accounts he's heard of don't contain the Christian concept of resurrection, but rather just contain some other form of coming back to life, why should we think that such sources were more influential than the Old Testament? Why should we overlook a closer parallel in Jewish literature in favor of less close parallels in paganism?

"Ok, so the Christians didn't make Jesus to look exactly like some previous resurrected god-man, so? None of the pagan-stories themselves represent god-men with the exact same details either. Does that thus mean that each such pagan story WASN'T borrowed from earlier similar pagan motifs?"

If the Christian differences are Jewish and/or repulsive to paganism, then why should we conclude that a borrowing from paganism has occurred? Dave has failed to give us any reason to think that Christianity was dependent on paganism. He's mentioned vague concepts such as Jesus' having "an unusual birth", but there are unusual births in Jewish sources also, not just in paganism. Dave mentions "healings", but healings occur in Jewish sources also, not just pagan sources. And Dave mentions "coming back to life", but Jewish sources not only had such a concept, but even had accounts that are closer to the Christian view than are the pagan accounts. If these parallels are found in Jewish sources, and the parallels in Jewish sources are closer parallels, and Christianity began in Israel, and the earliest Christians and the earliest pagans responding to Christianity thought that their belief systems were highly opposed to each other, why is Dave pointing us to paganism?

Christianity has far more to do with Jewish influences than it has to do with pagan influences. But even where there's Jewish influence, is borrowing a sufficient explanation? No, because Christianity sometimes develops Jewish concepts in ways that Jewish thought wasn't expecting. For example, a general resurrection was expected in the future, but not the resurrection of an individual prior to that time. The Christian concept of resurrection is highly Jewish, but it isn't just a repeat of common contemporary Jewish thought.

More significantly, the early Christians placed their claims in a historical context, so those claims have to be historically examined. The fact that the concept of resurrection was popular in ancient Jewish thought doesn't justify the conclusion that the early Christians must have been borrowing from Jewish sources rather than reporting a historical resurrection. The Christians' historical claim has to be evaluated by means of all of the relevant historical evidence available. People like Dave Wave can't just point to the popularity of the concept of resurrection in ancient Jewish thought as a justification for dismissing Jesus' resurrection as unhistorical. The fact that a reported event is consistent with popular thought doesn't prove that the event didn't occur. Many events that all of us accept as historical are consistent with popular thought.

"I'm sorry to hear that your scholars don't have a good memory of basic pagan religion 101. Remember Castor and Pollux?"

Maybe you wouldn't be so dismissive of a scholar like N.T. Wright if you weren't so ignorant of scholarship and so ignorant of the subjects we're discussing. Here's what Mythology Guide, an online source on ancient mythology, reports about the alleged "resurrection" of Castor and Pollux:

"Castor was slain, and Pollux, inconsolable for the loss of his brother, besought Jupiter to be permitted to give his own life as a ransom for him. Jupiter so far consented as to allow the two brothers to enjoy the boon of life alternately, passing one day under the earth and the next in the heavenly abodes. According to another form of the story, Jupiter rewarded the attachment of the brothers by placing them among the stars as Gemini, the Twins."

The fact that there were alternate, inconsistent forms of the story circulating should tell you something. And where is a resurrection mentioned? Do you even know what a resurrection is, Dave? It involves the same body coming back to life in a transformed state. Where are you seeing a resurrection in the accounts of Castor and Pollux?

Even if there had been a resurrection in such accounts, why would we think that unhistorical pagan myths were the source of a reported resurrection in highly Jewish Greco-Roman biographies? As if a first century Jew like Matthew would have found the myths of Castor and Pollux inspiring and would have written his gospel under their influence? How did adaptations of the Castor and Pollux myths convert the apostle Paul? Or James? If the early Christians were reporting events that didn't occur, then why do the earliest Christian and non-Christian sources to comment on the New Testament treat the documents as historical reports? Why do the New Testament writers mention the Jewish influences in their lives explicitly and repeatedly, but never mention any of these pagan myths and, instead, speak negatively of paganism? Why did the early pagans hold a highly negative view of Christianity and consider doctrines such as the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection repulsive?

It should be obvious to every reader by now that Dave Wave hasn't given these issues much thought. The problem isn't that N.T. Wright, Raymond Brown, Craig Keener, and the other scholars I've been citing are ignorant. The problem is that Dave is ignorant.

Is Intelligent Design Testable, And Does It Make Predictions?

Among the many false arguments critics of intelligent design raise against the theory, one of the most popular is that it isn't testable and doesn't make predictions. See here for a refutation of that argument, including examples of intelligent design advocates describing how their theories are testable and what predictions they make.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Give The Sinner What He Wants

William Dembski posted this on his blog today. Sadly, the use of the word "Mammon" is just about the only unrealistic part of the parody.

An Unconvincingly Wide Net

Dave Wave continues posting at Steve Hays' blog. The emphasis of his latest comments is on the alleged pagan origins of Christian concepts such as the incarnation, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the ascension. I won't repeat everything I said to Dave on Steve's blog. Steve has posted in response to Dave as well, as has Gene Bridges.

In his commentary on Matthew, the New Testament scholar Craig Keener makes a comment that's relevant here, and he makes the comment while addressing one of the subjects Dave Wave brought up, the resurrection:

"When the early Christian picture of bodily resurrection derives directly from Jewish eschatological teaching, one casts the net rather widely to make all human hopes for afterlife parallel to it." (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 709)

Earlier, Keener had cited Bruce Metzger:

"In all strata of Christian testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 'everything is made to turn upon a dated experience with a historical Person,' [quoting Nock] whereas nothing in the Mysteries points to any attempt to undergird belief with historical evidence of the god’s resurrection." (Ibid., p. 706)

The points Keener is making in these passages are applicable to all of the subjects Dave has brought up. The parallels with paganism are vague, can be found in Judaism as well and with more similarity, are accompanied by many differences, and are accompanied by radically different degrees of evidence.

Contrary to what Dave claims, I don't argue that Justin Martyr was "lying" when he referred to parallels between paganism and Christianity. Rather, I argue, with Keener and modern scholarship in general, that the net has to be cast widely in order to make those parallels. Vague similarities don't prove borrowing.

Glenn Miller has some good material at his web site on the issue of alleged pagan parallels to the virgin birth. He quotes some scholars who have studied the subject (Raymond Brown, David Adams Leeming, and Ben Witherington), and those scholars explain that there is no pagan parallel to the virgin birth. When paganism uses unhistorical myths to portray gods as being born by means of sexual contact, we can't assume that such accounts are the source for Christian Greco-Roman biographies written by people who were in contact with the birth family in question and who write about a virgin birth of God. An unhistorical myth is not a Greco-Roman biography written by people who were in contact with the family in which the birth occurred. A god is not God. And a woman who conceived through sexual contact with a god is not a virgin.

Dave quotes Celsus making vague references to similarities between paganism and the Christian virgin birth account, but, as with Justin Martyr, we aren't dependent on Celsus to know about the content of these myths. Celsus, like Justin, is referring to vague parallels accompanied by differences. And Dave doesn't quote Celsus on issues like the incarnation and the resurrection, where Celsus reflects the common pagan rejection of such concepts. Overall, Celsus does more to contradict Dave's theory than support it, and even the little support Celsus gives Dave is on a subject where we agree with Dave. We don't deny that there are vague parallels between Christianity and paganism. Themes such as birth and death are common to all humans, and we would expect there to be many accounts of unusual events of one sort or another surrounding events like birth and death. You can draw some parallels between paganism and Christianity (as well as between ancient wars and modern wars, one modern politician and another modern politician, etc.). But the parallels aren't such that Christian borrowing from paganism is proven.

I want to close with the comments of some scholars on the subject of differences between Christianity and paganism. Far more could be cited, but these are a few of many examples:

"As such this story [the virgin birth] is without precedent either in Jewish or pagan literature, even including the Old Testament (Machen)." (Ben Witherington, in Joel B. Green, et al., editors, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992], p. 70)

"It is indisputable that there was no Jewish expectation that God would become incarnate. Pagans believed that their ‘gods’ had taken human form from time to time; but their ‘gods’ were lesser gods with limited powers, not God, omnipotent and omniscient. There simply was no precedent, Jewish or pagan, for expecting an incarnation: God almighty truly taking a human nature. And that again is reason for supposing that the first Christians were not reading back into history something which they expected to occur." (Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], p. 115)

"Christianity was born into a world where its central claim was known to be false. Many believed that the dead were non-existent; outside Judaism, nobody believed in resurrection....Lots of things could happen to the dead in the beliefs of pagan antiquity, but resurrection was not among the available options." (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2003], pp. 35, 38)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Prejudiced Homosexual Rights Advocate Discriminates Against Polygamists

Here's an opinion piece in support of homosexual marriage in The Age, an Australian publication. The same sort of argumentation Jonathan Wilkinson uses in this editorial could be used to support incestuous marriage, bestiality, or polygamy, for example. But Wilkinson writes at one point:

"If the exclusionary and prejudiced amendments to the Commonwealth Marriage Act were changed to allow marriage between any two persons, a federal civil union scheme could also be created."

Why "any two persons"? Why only two, and why only "persons", if persons are being defined as humans?

Homosexual marriage is just one step that will soon after lead to further steps. In this nation, court cases along the lines of what I've mentioned (polygamy, etc.) are already underway.

Another Good Source On Jesus' Existence

Yesterday, I mentioned J.P. Holding as a source for lengthy responses to arguments for the non-existence of Jesus. I want to mention another source I'd recommend, Christopher Price. He also has a lot of good material on other subjects.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Archeological Discoveries

Here's a Washington Times article on some recent archeological discoveries in Israel, including some Bible-related material.

Jesus' Existence: Some General Principles

I imagine that most readers have heard by now about the Italian judge who ordered a priest to present an argument for the existence of Jesus. Though historians acknowledge Jesus' existence, the claim that He didn't exist is popular in some places, such as in some online circles.

Since the evidence for Jesus' existence is so extensive, this is a subject that can be discussed at much length, and some people have provided that sort of lengthy treatment, such as J.P. Holding. What I want to do here is give a brief outline, touching on a few of the general considerations we should keep in mind.

We ought to recognize at the start that Jesus is mentioned by a lot of ancient sources, and that there are fewer sources for other figures whose existence the Jesus deniers generally accept. Where does Josephus mention Paul? Where does Tacitus mention John the Baptist? When a source doesn't mention a historical figure, or mentions him only briefly, there's a variety of possible explanations for such a treatment of that figure. Even a highly significant historical figure might be ignored or only discussed briefly by a source because of that source's low view of that figure's race or religion, for example. It's also possible that a source isn't confident about what to make of a particular historical figure, such as a figure like Jesus who is reported to have performed miracles, so the source chooses to remain silent because of that uncertainty. There are a lot of factors involved in making these judgments. It isn't a matter of every historical figure's being mentioned in proportion to his historical significance.

One of the most significant problems with the concept of Jesus' non-existence is the chronology of the extant sources. Even those who deny Jesus' existence acknowledge that there are sources in the early second century, for example, who refer to Him as a historical figure. And they often argue that the earliest Christian leaders, such as Paul, didn't believe in a historical Jesus. Do the math. Would contemporaries of Jesus still be alive in the early second century? Yes, a small number would be. Quadratus, writing in the early second century, even refers to some people who lived down to his time who had personally been healed or raised from the dead by Jesus (Eusebius, Church History, 4:3). Would contemporaries of Paul still be alive in the early second century? Yes. Do the early Christians or their enemies show any knowledge of an argument against Jesus' existence? No. It's unlikely that somebody like Tacitus would uncritically accept whatever he heard from Christian sources. If Jesus didn't exist, there surely would be at least some non-Christians who would be saying so, and Tacitus probably would have heard from them.

Much more could be said, but I'll close with a couple of quotes from some scholars who put this issue in its proper perspective:

"Without immediate political repercussions, it is not surprising that the earliest Jesus movement does not spring quickly into the purview of Rome’s historians; even Herod the Great finds little space in Dio Cassius (49.22.6; 54.9.3). Josephus happily compares Herodotus’s neglect of Judea (Apion 1.60-65) with his neglect of Rome (Apion 1.66)." (Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 64, n. 205)

"New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, who served as an editor for and contributor to a large scholarly work on the Gospels, provides four reasons why more was not written on Jesus in his time: 'the humble beginnings of Christianity, the remote location of Palestine on the eastern frontiers of the Roman empire, the small percentage of the works of ancient Graeco-Roman historians which have survived, and the lack of attention paid by those which are extant to Jewish figures in general.'...What we have concerning Jesus actually is impressive....let's take a look at Julius Caesar, one of Rome's most prominent figures....Only five sources report his military conquests....If Julius Caesar really made a profound impact on Roman society, why didn't more writers of antiquity mention his great military accomplishments? No one questions whether Julius did make a tremendous impact on the Roman Empire....Tiberius Caesar was the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus' ministry and execution. Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death: Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius Maximus, Josephus, and Luke. Compare that to Jesus' forty-two total sources in the same length of time. That's more than four times the number of total sources who mention the Roman emperor during roughly the same period. If we only considered the number of secular non-Christian sources who mention Jesus and Tiberius within 150 years of their lives, we arrive at a tie of nine each." (Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], pp. 127-128)