How to argue like a Christian

Argue

If you’ve ever tried discussing matters of faith with a True Believer™, you’ll know how difficult it can be; like wrestling with a jellyfish – and just about as poisonous.

So here’s a guide for the unwary; 10 of their favourite lines (5 this time, 5 next), all of which I’ve experienced more times than I care to remember.

“You don’t know your Bible!”

Point out that Jesus’ ‘good news’ was nothing like Paul’s or that they were both wrong about the Kingdom arriving in the first century and this old canard gets trotted out. Even if you quote chapter and verse, a clear indication you do know the Bible, they still produce it. What they mean is ‘how dare you quote the bits of the Bible we true believers don’t like and prefer not to acknowledge.’

“You’re quoting out of context.”

I’ve posted about this one before. Seemingly as a sceptic you have no discernment when it comes to selecting Bible verses. How ever many you reference – one or a hundred – they will tell you it’s not enough; that you’ve not, somehow, caught the true meaning of what the Bible is saying, which is, naturally, what they say it means. Unsurprisingly. quoting isolated verses is something the Righteous themselves like to do all the time…

“The bible says…”

It doesn’t matter what point you make, this will appear somewhere in the Christian’s response, followed, of course, by some random verse from the book in question. Christians seem to regard it as the ultimate clincher, the way to silence any opponent, as if quoting the bible to those who recognise neither its credibility nor its authority persuades anyone of anything.

“You’ve no right to criticise Christianity when you can’t ‘prove’ how something came from nothing/how life arose/evolution.”

It’s unlikely anyone can explain these biggies in 140 characters or a Facebook comment, but we can direct those issuing the challenge to scientific works that offer viable theories soundly based on the evidence available. Needless to say our Christian smart-Alec is unlikely to read them, claiming instead that one’s inability to comprehensively explain the Big Bang or evolution ‘proves’ it must have been – watch the sleight of hand here – YHWH.

“‘People like you’ only want to wallow in your own sin (which is why you won’t let me have my own way).”

Now I like to wallow as much as the next man, but outside the Christian bubble, ‘sin’ is a fairly meaningless concept, designed only to induce guilt in others. Which means the point of this unpleasant finger pointing is to side-step any discussion and to dismiss whatever point you might want to make. What this retort really means is ‘you have an ulterior motive for saying what you’re saying and, in any case, your inherently evil nature doesn’t entitle you to have an opinion.’

More next time…

The original ‘good news’ had nothing to with any mystical salvation plan (part two)

Disciples2

Last time, I provided evidence that Jesus’ original ‘good news’ had nothing to do with any mystical salvation plan constructed around his supposed resurrection. My six references demonstrated that, even after his death, the disciples adhered to Jesus’ original message: God’s Kingdom was coming soon and they were going to rule over it. Here are six more reasons we can be sure this was the case:

7. Our earliest sources, Q and the gospel of Mark, do not give much credence to the resurrection as an actual event: Q records no sayings of the risen Jesus and Mark has no resurrection appearances; it ends with the women who discover the empty tomb deciding not to tell the disciples about it. In Mark’s gospel, then, the disciples are not even aware the tomb is empty, let alone that Jesus has returned from the dead. We can conclude from this that the community that produced Mark’s gospel, the supposed resurrection was not significant in and of itself.

8. Paul tells us that the disciple’s gospel was not the same as his, despite the fact he too believed the Kingdom wasn’t far off (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The disciples, he says in 2 Corinthians 11.4-5 and Galatians 1.6; 2.11-21, were preaching ‘a different gospel’. Different from his, certainly, but the same as the ‘good news’ Jesus proclaimed: Jewish people should prepare for the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth (Mathew 9.35; 15.24), when, as Jesus himself had promised them, the disciples would judge the restored tribes of Israel and rule over them. It is, as we have seen, out of the question that they would jettison this aspect of the ‘good news’, given to them by Jesus himself.

9. Because the disciples – and Jesus’ brother James – saw the new Kingdom as intended for Jews only, as Jesus had before them (Matthew 10.23), they insisted that any Gentile converts must be circumcised; must become Jewish (Galatians 2.7). Paul, of course, objected to this requirement and throws tantrums about it in his letters (Galatians 5.1-12; Philippians 3.3). But like Jesus, the disciples saw no place for Gentiles, the unrighteous, in the new age; those who didn’t convert would, of necessity, be dispatched to eternal punishment (Matthew 25.31-46).

10. As far as the disciples were concerned, therefore, it was entirely for their own good that converted Gentiles be circumcised (Galatians 6.12-13) as this was their only guarantee of a place in the new Kingdom. What this tells us is that a salvation formula, such as that dreamt up by Paul, had no part in the disciples’ ‘good news’.

11. Wherever they appear – in Paul’s writing, the gospels, Acts – the disciples are portrayed as being at odds with an incantational, faith-based Christianity. The Bible attests, even with Paul’s new religion superimposed, that they held to a different gospel, a different sense of what Jesus’ life meant and a different notion of their place in the coming Kingdom. And wouldn’t they be the ones to know? They knew Jesus, spent time with him, listened to his teaching, bought into his misguided mission and had sufficient understanding of it to spread his ‘good news’ to fellow Jews, both while he was still alive and afterwards (Matthew 10.23; Luke 9.1-2).

12. The New Testament is testimony to the failure of everything Jesus and the disciples stood for; their ‘news’ that God was soon to turn the Earth over to the meek and that they would then rule the only people who mattered, the twelve tribes of Israel, with everyone else thrown into outer darkness (Luke 13:28). Jesus himself, of course, would return at some point to be top dog, God’s representative on Earth – his anointed one. None of this happened.

If only it had been allowed to rest there, we might not know today of Jesus and his mad ideas. Instead, Paul stepped in, reinterpreted the whole ridiculous enterprise and bequeathed the world a set of different but equally absurd beliefs. And the rest is history: religious wars, pogroms, inquisitions, suppression, superstition, clerical child abuse, Pat Roberston. Is this the Kingdom that Jesus and his closest associates foresaw? Decidedly not. But it is their legacy.

Good news? What good news?

Disciples

Here’s what we know so far:

  1. There is no evidence the disciples were martyred.

  2. There is no evidence the disciples were martyred simply for believing that someone they knew had returned from the dead. In the age in which they lived such a claim wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. The gospel accounts themselves record instances of resurrections other than Jesus’ and of miraculous manifestations of the dead. This was how people thought.

  3. There is no evidence that believing a dead man was alive again was a capital offence. Really, who could possibly care? Even Paul did not suggest that, as Saul, he liked to persecute early believers because of this belief.

  4. The gospel preached by Jesus and his disciples was completely different from that promoted by Paul. Their good news was about the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, when the Romans would be overthrown and every injustice made right (Luke 13.30). And while they may not have made it public, Jesus and his friends believed they would be the judges and rulers of this new system.

  5. This ‘good news’ existed long before Jesus died and long before Paul came along to change its nature entirely (Matt 10.23).

  6. Matthew and Luke, while including resurrection stories inspired by ‘visions’ like Paul’s, preserve, as does Mark, Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching. His promise of the coming Kingdom and his private teaching that he and his disciples would rule the new age together remain a significant part of the synoptic gospels.

  7. Jesus was executed for his seditious views (Mark 15.2, 9 & 32; John 19.19-20)

  8. It is likely, if they were martyred at all, that the disciples were killed for the same reason.

There are further indications in the New Testament that the original ‘good news’ had nothing to do with a mystical salvation plan and that the disciples clung to this original message – they’d heard it from Jesus himself, after all – even as other interpretations began to supersede it. We’ll look at these indications next time.

The Eye-witness Fallacy

MaryM2

The falsehood that the gospels are in some way eye-witness reports just won’t go away. There is no evidence they are or even that they are based on reports by eye-witnesses. Scholars speak of ‘sources’ for all elements of the gospels (Mark, Q, M & L); these were almost certainly pre-existing written and oral traditions from before the gospels’ creation.

This really is problematic for those propagating the idea that the gospels are eye-witness accounts. If they were even so much as based on eye-witness reports, then why would they need to rely so heavily on other traditions? If, as is claimed here, the scattered gospel communities who wrote them were in some sort of immediate contact with the fanned-out eye-witnesses, then they would have no need to use sources and traditions from elsewhere. Yet they do; Matthew and Luke borrow extensively from a shared source (Q) and also from Mark, particularly for their resurrection stories.

This is akin to someone today interviewing witnesses to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, – a similar interval to that between Jesus and the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John – and then, before publication, replacing what the eye-witnesses say they saw with the more far-fetched elements of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. If there were eye-witnesses to hand, there wouldn’t be any need to do this. It doesn’t make the slightest sense that the gospel writers would do so. Yet they do.

As far as the stories of the resurrection are concerned, it is much more likely they are based, not on any eye-witness accounts, but on the scant mentions of the mystical, risen Christ of the kind we find in Paul’s letters, filtered, primarily, through Mark. As such, they are a fleshing out (almost literally) of hearsay reports of a limited number of visions that, by the time the gospels came to be written, had embedded themselves in the traditions of the early church.

The disciples would not have died for a lie (part one)

SonOfMan

The disciples would not have died for a lie, or so Christians like to argue.

Would they not?

Fanatics today do and it is more than likely the disciples believed their lie was true, if indeed they died for it at all. There’s not much evidence that they did. But if they did, maybe the lie they believed to be true was not the one today’s Christians think it was.

There is no evidence anywhere that Jesus’ original followers were martyred because of their faith in a physically resurrected Jesus – for their beliefs, maybe, but not necessarily because they believed Jesus had returned in bodily form from the dead. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that they holed up in Jerusalem to await his return through the clouds as the Son of Man, with a phalanx of hostile angels by his side (Heaven was, after all, just on the other side of those clouds). This was the crux of their beliefs.

How do we know?

There was significant tension between the disciples and Paul, which Paul himself relates, not only because he was convinced his message should be taken to the Gentiles but because of the very nature of that message. Paul and the disciples meant different things by ‘the gospel’. Paul’s irritation that others were preaching a different gospel is apparent in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 where he calls the original disciples, ‘false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ’ and bitterly refers to them as ‘the most eminent apostles’. He is arrogant enough to suppose, and to proclaim, that he has it right and they are wrong.

Paul’s good news was about the resurrected Christ of his visions, who magically made those who put their faith in him righteous in God’s eyes. As he puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Paul also believed this supernatural being would soon descend from the skies when he would give believers new bodies (Philippians 3.20) but this is a very different figure, and agenda, from the Jesus known to the disciples.

What then of Paul’s insistence, in 1 Corinthians 15.5 (written circa 55CE), that ‘the Twelve’ experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did? Firstly, of course, we have only Paul’s word for this. We have no first-hand corroboration (just the opposite in fact) and Paul had a vested interest in showing how significant his own experiences were. What better way to do so than by claiming Jesus’ original followers had had the same sort of hallucinations? Secondly, we don’t know what these ‘visions’, if they had them, meant to the disciples. Their belief would undoubtedly have been in a physical, bodily resurrection (cf: Daniel 2.12; Matthew 27.52), not in the beam-of-light manifestation of hallucination; this was much more Paul’s thing. Perhaps this is why any words uttered by vision-Jesus (for surely he would have spoken to his old chums) were not considered significant enough to be included in the earliest written record, ‘Q’.

The fully-realised resurrection appearances found in the gospels, then, in which Jesus declaims ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ and ‘go and make disciples of all nations,’ are very clearly later developments, based, not on Q but on the visions suffered by Paul and others of influence and ‘written back’ into the gospel accounts.

Despite claiming that the Twelve experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did, Paul is critical of the disciples for preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus even, from the magical salvation-formula gospel he expounds. So what did the disciples believe – what was this other gospel that Paul disparaged so much?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

Still more of the Bible written sdrawkcab

The first mention of the Last Supper and the ritual established at it is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11.23-26):

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

As David Madison points out, Paul happily admits he invented this – or, rather, he worked it up from one of his hallucinations. He certainly didn’t hear it from the people who’d known Jesus when he was alive; it’s unlikely they would have subscribed to such barbarity. As Madison shows, the idea of consuming blood, even symbolically, would have been anathema to most Jews (Deuteronomy 12.23 etc); it’s a ritual that originates in pagan worship. It’s there, for example, in Mithraism, which flourished in, among other places, Tarsus, where Paul came from. Evidently, celebrating Christ’s sacrifice by eating his body and drinking his blood took hold in the churches Paul established and by the time the gospels came to be written, its origin story was sent back in time to be part of them. This kind of thing happens in comic books all the time.

It’s quite possible that the stories of the resurrection developed the same way. We know that later followers of Jesus had visions that they interpreted as being of ‘Christ’. We know this because Paul refers to his experience a few times and also implies that other people had visions similar to his own. Were these hallucinations the only ‘sightings’ of the Risen Christ? We have no first-hand, eye-witness accounts of any other sort. Given that bodies don’t ever rise from the grave, especially not after a couple of days, it is more than likely they were all imaginary. It looks suspiciously like later encounters of Christ – all entirely within people’s heads – were written back into the gospel accounts to become the resurrection. Some of these were ‘firmed up’ to seem like encounters with a real person, which led to the invention of the empty-tomb, while others weren’t; a number make little attempt to convey an encounter with a real flesh-and-blood individual.

Bur wait, you say. There were believers in the resurrection before Paul. Surely the original followers of Jesus – the disciples, Mary Magdalene – saw the Risen Jesus. That’s why they believed in him, why they gave their lives to his cause, why they were prepared to die for their faith.

Well, no. We don’t know that this is what the original followers of Jesus thought or experienced. Why don’t we? Because:

  • The original followers left no records (or did they?)
  • Their community was wiped out by the Romans in 70CE.
  • Their brand of the faith, whatever it was, was obliterated by Paul’s Christ cult.
  • They had plenty of other reasons for believing in Jesus.

Seemingly Jesus told them he’d be back soon, bringing God’s Kingdom with him (Matthew 16.27-28 etc). And then, as he promised, the meek would inherit the Earth and his original followers would the rule the planet with him (Matt 19.28). Good enough – though completely daft reasons – why, after his death, these same followers holed-up in Jerusalem to await his re-appearance (through the clouds no less). The unlikely resurrection scenario, if they were even aware of it outside of their difficult meetings with Paul, must have seemed a poor second to the possibility of ruling the world in the here and now alongside their returned Lord and Master.

So, it’s entirely plausible that the resurrection, like Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction and the body-and-blood ritual of the Last Supper were invented decades after he lived by those in the Christ cult. It has long been known that the experiences of those in the early church, particularly those promoted by Paul, were written back into the gospels when they came to be created years after Jesus’ and the disciples’ deaths. Much of what you read there is fiction, propaganda served up, and believed to this day, as history.

 

How much of the Bible was written backwards?

We know for a fact the book of Daniel was. The term for creating a prophecy after the event it purportedly predicts is Vaticinium ex eventu (Latin for ‘devious sleight of hand’). The creators of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament were rather fond of Vaticinium ex eventu. Daniel’s prophecies, supposedly written in the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian exile about events that would occur later – much later – were actually created during the second century BCE. This was, of course, after most of them had occurred, which is how Daniel manages to predict most of them with reasonable accuracy. The remaining prophecy, however, written before the events it purportedly predicts is hopeless, completely way off; it foresees the resurrection of God’s people and the establishment of his Kingdom on Earth in the early part of the first century. As we know, this didn’t happen, though Daniel’s madcap ideas influenced the creators of the Jesus cult who all thought they were living in the end times. Jesus’ term for himself, ‘Son of Man’, is lifted straight from Daniel.

This is how most prophecy in the Bible works; it’s either written after the event, Vaticinium ex eventu style, or, when it’s genuinely written beforehand, doesn’t – surprise, surprise – ever come to pass.

Which bring us to Jesus own predictions of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He explains to his disciples in some detail in Mark 13 what to expect. He suggests too that soon after the destruction, the Son of Man will arrive through the clouds to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, once and for all (well, maybe not all – just for ‘righteous’ Jews). It is no coincidence that Mark’s gospel was written about 70CE, just after the temple was destroyed, which makes it easy for Jesus to outline in some detail what the event would like, describing, as he is, what it was like.

Did I say Jesus? No, not Jesus, but the anonymous author of ‘Mark’s’ gospel who implants his knowledge from 70CE back to 30CE and on to Jesus. He – the gospel writer – also has Jesus refer to the opposition some believers were experiencing in the 70s and to the ‘reader’ of his warning. As David Madison notes in Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief , ‘reader’ is an anachronism too; Jesus had no ‘readers’ when he was alive. The whole prophecy is later fabrication. Its author is typically less successful – completely unsuccessful in fact – in his prediction that soon after the events he describes, the Son of Man would return to put everything right (Mark 13.26-27). So, as we might expect, there is a reasonable degree of accuracy from the bit of the ‘prophecy’ written after the event, but none at all when it genuinely looks to the future.

But it’s not just prophecy this affects. It looks very much that key episodes in the Jesus story were invented (long) after his death, assuming he existed in the first place, and were added into the gospel stories many more years later. John’s gospel is almost entirely like this. The Jesus of the fourth gospel bears no relation to that in the synoptic gospels; in John he has morphed into the Christ of late first-century Christian belief, spouting fantastical gibberish about himself, like ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ and ‘I and the Father are One’. The Christ of faith is superimposed on the itinerant Jewish peasant executed for sedition.

It happens in the synoptic gospels too. In Matthew 28.19, the post-mortem Jesus commands his followers to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ undoubtedly quoting a later liturgical formula; the notion of the Trinity explicitly referenced here was unknown in Jesus’ own time and indeed in Paul’s. Similarly, the disputes with the scribes and Pharisees represent the writing back into the gospels of later Christians’ difficulties with the religious hierarchy.1 Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount meanwhile is demonstrably a later creation, not translated from Aramaic but written in Greek.2 Other absolutely crucial aspects of the Jesus story – it is easy to see how a case can be made for his not having existed at all – are also retrospective additions. We will come to them next time.

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1 ‘Perhaps the best way to explain Matthew’s extensive criticism of the Jewish authorities is to say that his own community continued to experience opposition from non-Christian Jews, especially influential scribes and rabbis of the local synagogue(s), who accused them of abandoning Moses and the Law, of becoming apostate from the Jewish religion through their ill-advised faith in Jesus.’ Bart D. Ehrman, chapter 6, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.
2 Richard Carrier, On the Historicity Of Jesus, pp 465-466, cited in Madison, p300