The miracles of Jesus were parlor tricks

There are many references in the gospels to large crowds that followed Jesus:

 24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
 25 And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan. (Mat 4:24-25 KJV)

35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
 36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. (Mat 9:35-36 KJV)

And rising up, He went from there to the region of Judea, and beyond the Jordan; and crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. (Mar 10:1 NAS)

29 And as the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah. (Luk 11:29 NAS)

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.

15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. (Luk 4:14-15 KJV)

37 And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about. (Luk 4:37 KJV)

15 But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. (Luk 5:15 KJV)

The crowds believed Jesus worked authentic miracles, and allegedly stayed around him so long that they neglected to eat:

 30 And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them:
 31 Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.
 32 Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way. (Mat 15:30-32 KJV)

If Jesus achieved that level of fame by doing authentic miracles as opposed to parlor tricks, this strongly anticipates that his death would have been followed by great crowds flocking to this grave.  No such luck. Jesus’ death was a public spectacle, thus apologists cannot justify his lonely grave site by saying maybe most of his followers didn’t know what happened to him:

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the multitude any one prisoner whom they wanted.
 16 And they were holding at that time a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.
 17 When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
 18 For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up.
 19 And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”
 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death.
 21 But the governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”
 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!”
 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
 24 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.”
 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Mat 27:15-25 NAS)——-cf. Mark 15:8, Luke 23:23

A crowd saw Judas betray Christ:

 47 While He was still speaking, behold, a multitude came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. (Luk 22:47 NAS)

Jesus’ popularity concerned Pilate enough that a guard was placed at the tomb of Jesus:

62 Now on the next day, which is the one after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate,
 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’
 64 “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”
 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.”
 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. (Mat 27:62-66 NAS)

Peter says the Jews knew about the miracles of Jesus:

 22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— (Act 2:22 NAS)

In spite of all this alleged popularity of Jesus and public knowledge of his death, all 4 gospels make clear that not much more than a few women and several disciples attended his grave site.  Matthew 28 says the grave was attended by the two Marys and the disciples.  The textually undisputed parts of Mark 16 say the grave was attended by the two Marys + Salome.  Luke 23-24 says the grave was attended by several woman and Joseph of Arimathea.  John 20 says Mary, Peter and John attended the tomb.

Apologists may trifle and say “just because it doesn’t say lots of people flocked to his tomb, doesn’t mean they didn’t!”  Yeah, and just because I never said I flew to the moon, doesn’t mean I didn’t.

The tomb story of the gospels makes clear that Jesus’ grave was neither attended by anything close to the “great multitudes” the gospels elsewhere state had followed Jesus, nor that any such multitude tried to so attend.  For these reasons, it appears that signs Jesus performed that gained him popularity, were just parlor tricks that were sufficient to make him popular, but insufficient to make the ‘crowds’enshrine his memory as often happens to popular religious leaders.

Another explanation is that Jesus’ grave site was rather lonely because he never did have too many followers during his life, and the gospel texts that attribute large crowds of followers to him, are merely exaggerating his popularity, not too different from a t.v. advertisement for Benny Hinn.

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Prohibiting sin without violating free will

Will we retain the ability to sin after we die and go to heaven?

If you answer “yes”, then sin will never be fully eradicated, which is contrary to Paul who said we will become incorruptible at the resurrection (1st Cornthians 15:52), and contrary to the Book of Revelation teaching that humans who don’t sin are inside the New Jerusalem, and those who sin are outside (Rev. 21:14-15).

If you answer “no”, then since God doesn’t require the now-departed saints to have freewill in order to accept their love and worship as authentic, then he could have made Adam and Eve with the same type of will these now-departed saints have (authentically loving God, but incapable of choosing evil), and the whole problem of evil could have been solved before it started.

Somebody will say God uses human evil to achieve a greater good, but the question is not whether God can use human evil to achieve a greater good, but why God desired to give humans freewill when that was not the only way to achieve all his holy purposes.

The only way out of this argument is to say God desired for evil to happen, and that makes you a nasty Calvinist, serving a Hitler-type god who tells people to stop sinning, while intending that they continue sinning anyway.

Can god accomplish his goals without using evil?

This post is only for non-Calvinist Christians.

Conservative Christians think “God’s mysterious ways” is a card that trumps any argument that comes their way for which they don’t have an answer.  If God doesn’t want little kids to be raped to death, then why doesn’t he interfere with the perpetrator, or distract them to other matters? “His mysterious ways”.

Even if you believe God uses evil to accomplish a greater good, isn’t it also true that God could accomplish whatever goals or good he wants, without using evil?  Does it make sense to say that the only way God can increase the probability that a littel girl will grow up to take the job of rape crisis counselor, is if he allows that child to be raped?

The bible says God is easily capable of motivating people to do what he wants them to do:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, (Ezr 1:1 NAS)

The bible says God will force people who don’t believe in him against their will to do his bidding:

2 “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him,
 3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.
 4 “And I will turn you about, and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, 

 17 ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Are you the one of whom I spoke in former days through My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for many years that I would bring you against them? (Eze 38:2-4, 17 NAS)

(if gog and magog had already decided by their own freewill to attack Israel, how can the metaphor “hooks into your jaws” be an appropriate way to characterize God “allowing” these pagan nations to do what they already planned to do?)

The bible says God can keep a person from sinning:

 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. (Gen 20:6 NAS)

The bible says God can make his intentions so overbearing on a person that it successfully wears down their resistance:

 7 O LORD, Thou hast deceived me and I was deceived; Thou hast overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.
 8 For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted In reproach and derision all day long.
 9 But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. (Jer 20:7-9 NAS)

With all of this ability and power, it would appear foolish for a bible-believing Christian to assert that God needs to allow evil to achieve his purposes.  Of course he doesn’t need to allow evil.  He could simply do to everybody, what he does to the people described above, and motivate them, using “hooks in their jaws” where necessary, to obey his will.  And if God needs evil to achieve his purposes, then he is not fully omnipotent.

So since God clearly has the ability to make people do his bidding, by reason of bible passages that show he respects human freewill a bit less than you think he does, why does God just stand around watching little kids getting raped, and doing nothing about it?  I think the answer is obvious.  We see inconsistency between the will of God in the bible and what happens in the world, because there is no god, or the god who exists has less power/less desire to control evil, than as described in the bible.

Hyper-Calvinists will assert there is no inconsistency since the bible says God creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7), tells us we are still responsible for everything we do (Matthew 16:27), then tells those who argue that God’s power makes him solely responsible for evil, to just shut up (Romans 9:19-20)

But alas, this post was for non-Calvinists who seriously think God wishes that people would stop sinning.

Apostle James was not above lying

When Paul comes to visit the Jerusalem congregation, James and the Elders express worry about his arrival becoming known to the congregation in general, due to a rumor they know their congregations hold, namely, that Paul discourages Jews outside of Jerusalem from circumcising their male children:

 17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
19 And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;
 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
 22 “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
(Act 21:17-24 NAS)

Was that rumor about Paul true or false?

Before you answer, notice carefully that James and the Elders express a belief that the rumor is false (i.e., ‘and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you’, v. 24).

Because James clearly expresses his belief that the rumor is false, most inerrantists automatically conclude this rumor about Paul was indeed false.

But if Paul himself has anything to say about it, that rumor was more than likely true.  Inerrantists might say that Paul’s epistles never state that he discouraged Jews from circumcision, but Paul begs to differ.  In three different epistles, he makes clear that he advises against circumcision (1st Corinthians), those who get circumcised will lose their salvation (Galatians), and that he equates his own circumcision during infancy with ‘garbage’, ‘loss’ and ‘human excrement’ or ‘unspeakable filth’; (Philippians):

18 Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. (1Co 7:18 NAS)

2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Gal 5:2-4 NAS)

4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:
 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;
6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,
(Phi 3:4-8 NAS)

“Rubbish” (Greek: skubalon)

Friberg Lexicon

24633  sku,balon, ou, to, anything that is to be treated as worthless and thrown out, translated according to the context dung, rubbish, garbage, offscourings (PH 3.8)

Louw-Nida Lexicon

6.225  sku,balon, ou n: worthless or unwanted material that is rejected and normally thrown out – ‘rubbish, litter, trash.’ kai. h`gou/mai sku,bala i[na Cristo.n kerdh,sw ‘I consider it all rubbish in order that I may gain Christ’ Php 3.8.

Gingrich Lexicon

5837  sku,balon
sku,balon, ou, to, refuse, rubbish, dirt, dung Phil 3:8.* [pg 183]

Matthew Henry

When he embarked in the bottom of the Christian religion, he ventured all in it, and suffered the loss of all for the privileges of a Christian. Nay, he not only counted them loss, but dung, skybalaoffals thrown to dogs; they are not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when they come in competition with him.

New American Commentary

Third, in 3:8 Paul expressed his conviction more firmly with the verb “consider” and the object “rubbish” (skybala).25 There is increasing intensity, as though the mere thought of that decision brought a renewed appraisal that his former life was useless compared to what really mattered.

 —–25 Some scholars are prone to translate this as “garbage.” It is used for “dung,” however, and the strongest possible contrast makes best sense of this passage.

Melick, R. R. (2001, c1991). Vol. 32: Philippians, Colissians, Philemon (electronic ed.).

Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 131).

Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Word Biblical Commentary

καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα, “but I consider it all as unspeakable filth.” Paul did not lament this loss. For him it was a welcomed relief. In fact it was the freeing of himself from something that he unwaveringly continued to consider σκύβαλα, “unspeakable filth.” The derivation of this word, σκύβαλον (used only here in the nt), has never been cleared up. Although traced to the expression τὸ τοῖς κυσὶ βαλλόμενον, “that which is thrown to the dogs” (queried by Bockmuehl, 207–8), it seems to have meant by usage (1) “dung,” “muck,” both as excrement and as food gone bad; (2) “scraps,” i.e., “what is left after a meal”; or (3) “refuse,” “trash” (Koperski’s translation [Knowledge, 154]). It is also used to describe a pitiful and horrible thing, like a half-eaten corpse, or “filth,” such as lumps of manure. Thus, when Paul uses it here as the final object of his studied threefold use of ἡγεῖσθαι, “to consider,” it provides the climax of a crescendo. According to F. Lang’s analysis (TDNT 7:446–47; against Lightfoot, Michael),

The perfect ἥγημαι (v. 7) relates to conversion; since this Paul has learned to regard all his former κέρδη as ζημία … for Christ’s sake. The present ἡγοῦμαι (v. 8a) confirms that this is his judgment now. The second present ἡγοῦμαι (v. 8c) strengthens this by substituting σκύβαλα for ζημία. The intensification lies in the element of resolute turning aside from something worthless and abhorrent, with which one will have nothing more to do. The choice of the vulgar term stresses the force and totality of this renunciation.

Therefore, Paul’s deliberate choice of the word σκύβαλα, “unspeakable filth,” over ζημία, “loss,” shows the utter revulsion he now feels toward those “advantages” he surrendered. It is quite improper to weaken its meaning in any way by translation or by interpretation (cf. Martin [1959]; idem [1976]; see also Vincent, who draws attention to how some of the patristic writers, embarrassed by this passage, attempted to modify the meaning of σκύβαλα).

nt New Testament

TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., tr. G. W. Bromiley Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., ET (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76)

Martin, R. P. (2004). Vol. 43: Word Biblical Commentary : Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary (Page 192). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

It usually escapes the notice of commentators and most inerrantists that in Philippians 3:8, Paul says he counts his former Jewish life as rubbish “in order” that he may gain Christ.  Paul clearly expresses here his belief that for a Jew like himself to “gain Christ”, they must first regard their former Jewish standing as “rubbish”.  Paul could not have more intentionally scandalized Jewish Christians than with his words in Philippians.

Can you imagine what would have happened, had Paul, upon arriving at a Jewish Christian congregation (that remained “zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20)), bluntly admitted to them that he viewed his own Jewish circumcision during infancy as the equal of human excrement?

“That’s not happiness to see me, is it?”

For all these reasons, James likely knew the truth about Paul’s disdain for the “Law”, and therefore he knew he was helping Paul create a misleading impression of Paul’s beliefs by scheming to have Paul go along with the requirements of a Nazarite ritual (Acts 21:23 ff).  No different than an atheist going to church and praying out loud for others.  Its called lying.

Merriam-Webser

lie verb

to be untruthful directly or indirectly

Inerrancy Werewolf, and the silver bullet of Acts 21

Inerrantists assure us with various arguments that it makes sense to trust as historically true everything the first century church provided for us in the New Testament.  But a story in the book of Acts counsels against such high confidence.

Acts 21 tells a story about Paul stopping by Jerusalem during his missionary travels.  James and the elders of the Jerusalem church state that Paul’s arrival is a problem because their congregation has heard that Paul instructs Jews outside of Jerusalem to refrain from circumcising their male children.  For this reason, James and the elders, presuming this rumor to be false, assure Paul that he can effectively refute the rumor and quell the congregation’s anticipated problems with him if Paul will just pay the expenses of, and participate in a Nazarite ritual with, several men:

 17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
 18 And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
 19 And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;
 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
 22 “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
 23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
 (Act 21:17-24 NAS)

Here is the question for the inerrantists:  Was this rumor about Paul true or false? 

If that rumor was false, then this is an undeniable example of how the first-century church could have held false views about an apostle.  The fact that James and the elders never suggest a quick speech by Paul denying the rumor, and instead advise that he can quell the rumor by participating in a Mosaic ritual, seems to indicate that James and the Elders think this rumor is strongly held by their congregation, and therefore, a mere verbal denial by Paul would be insufficient to convince them the rumor was false.  The only way to account for this extreme measure proposed by James and the Elders, when otherwise a solemn denial by Paul should have been sufficient, is to admit that, if the rumor was false, that congregation still had good rational warrant to believe it anyway.   In that case, not only did the first-century church hold a false belief about an apostle, but they held that false belief firmly

Apologists have good reasons for fearing to admit that a false rumor about Paul was held firmly by the first century church:  If they could be so easily deceived about their own contemporary Paul, what makes apologists so confident in the ability of the first-century church to tell the truth about the apostles?

If that rumor about Paul was true, then we are presented with two options concerning James and his Elders.  Because they blindly presume this rumor was false (i.e, ‘and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you’ v. 24), they were 1) themselves deceived about Paul, or 2) they knew the rumor was true, but intentionally chose to make it appear false by having Paul act in a way that had potential to convince the Jerusalem congregation that the rumor was false.

If James and the Elders were deceived about Paul, now we don’t have just a first-century “congregation” that holds incorrect beliefs about Paul, we have the highest leaders of the Jerusalem church, an apostle James and his subordinate “elders” holding an incorrect view of Paul, making even more irrational today’s apologists who insist every bit of information on the apostles that came to us from the first century church is historically true beyond question.

If James and the Elders knew the rumor was true, but schemed Paul’s participation in one of their Nazarite rituals as a public relations stunt to fool others into thinking the rumor was false, now we cross the line from the authorities in the first century church being incorrect, to being intentionally dishonest.  If James and his Elders had no problems trying to insulate their congregation from historical reality, inerrantists and conservative Christians are silly to presume that everything stated in the NT is historically true beyond question.

So…was that rumor about Paul true or false?

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All arguments posted to this blog by its owner porphyryredux remain the intellectual property of such owner.  The arguments may not be quoted elsewhere verbatim unless credit is given to the blog-owner ‘porphyryredux’ and a link provided to the post containing said argument.  Copyright porphyryredux, 2014

Paul became a Christian without repenting

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If the book of Acts is telling the truth about Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, then repentance is not essential to salvation, as Paul’s repentance is neither expressed nor implied in any of the three accounts in Acts of this conversion experience.

In Acts 9, Paul is commissioned by Christ to be a Christian witness with no hint of Paul repenting:

 3 And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him;
 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
 5 And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,
 6 but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.”
 7 And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one.
 8 And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.
 (Act 9:3-8 NAS)

In Acts 22, v. 16 has Annanias advising Paul to arise and be baptized, but no hint Paul actually did so:

 6 “And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me,
 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
 8 “And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’
 9 “And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.
 10 “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’
 11 “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
 12 “And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.
 14 “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth.
 15 ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
 16 ‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ (Act 22:6-16 NAS)

In Acts 26, Jesus is appointing Paul to be minister and witness of the risen Christ with no hint that Paul himself repented:

 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.
 14 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
 15 “And I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
 16 ‘But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;
 17 delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
 19 “Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. (Act 26:13-20 NAS)

Someone will say that because Paul called Jesus ‘Lord’ during his Damascus-road experience (Acts 9:5), it is necessarily implied that he repented.  But since the bible teaches that not everybody who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ necessarily gets saved (Matthew 7:21), its a pretty good argument that not everybody who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ has likely or necessarily repented. 

It does not matter if Paul repented afterward, this argument shows biblical support for the thesis that a person does not necessarily have to repent before they become a Christian.  One logically possible escape route is that Jesus, as a sovereign God, chose to commission Paul to the gospel ministry before Paul became a Christian.  How many of the Christian readers ever thought for even a single second that Paul didn’t become authentically born again until sometime after he started preaching the gospel?

And if we start entertaining such desperate apologetics ‘explanations’, we will wind up with something most Christians never suspected at all, that a person could become born again before they repent.  Does the bible teach that repentance must precede salvation, yes or no?

Book of Revelation denies Paul’s apostleship

This one is for inerrantist futurists who think the book of Revelation was written after the original apostles began approving of Paul.

Jesus chose 12 apostles:

 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.
 (Mat 10:2-4 NAS)

 When Judas betrayed Christ, leaving 11 apostles, Acts 1 says Matthias took the place of Judas:

 15 And at this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,
 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
 17 “For he was counted among us, and received his portion in this ministry.”
 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no man dwell in it’; and, ‘His office let another man take.’
 21 “It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us–
 22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us– one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
 23 And they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
 24 And they prayed, and said, “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen
 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
 (Act 1:15-1 NAS)

In that case, that would make Paul the 13th apostle.

Paul says he did more work than all the other apostles:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1Co 15:10 KJV)

But the book of Revelation, authored after Paul became known as an apostle, says the foundation of the holy city contains the names of the 12 apostles:

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev 21:14 NAS)

The author of Revelation asserts the existence of false apostles:

 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; (Rev 2:2 NAS)

The question is:  What conclusions can be safely drawn from the fact that, the author of Revelation, who knows about apostle Paul, nevertheless continues to give the number of apostles as 12?

Some have said Revelation is figurative, but the fact that there really were exactly 12 apostles at one time, opens the door to the possibility of a non-figurative intent in giving the number of apostles as 12.

Because the immediate context places all unredeemed sinners in the lake of fire around the time the New Jerusalem is formed(21:8), it would appear that the reality of that city’s foundations having the names of the 12 apostles is something that will be true long into the future from now, near or after the day of judgment.  That means the New Jerusalem is not a specifically Jewish thing, it is merely the Jewish Christian way of describing what the earth will be like after the unsaved are consigned to eternal torment.

In other words, the New Jerusalem, or the world when it contains only saved souls, may be said to rest on the foundation laid by Paul just as much as it is said to lay on the twelve apostles.  The New Jerusalem is not limited to something founded solely by the original 11 + Matthias.

If Paul really did labor more than the other apostles, and if they knew of him long before the book of Revelation was written, then it is completely unexpected that the author of that book should symbolically describe the new earth, containing only saved people, as laying upon the foundation of the “12” apostles, if he believed that Apostle # 13 labored more than the other apostles did.

What is even more bizarre is that the New Testament attributes very little establishment of Christianity to the original 12 apostles, or the original 11 + Matthias.

Unless you can show that the New Jerusalem is some type of place that Paul never had a hand in establishing, the failure of the Revelation author to specify that there are 13 apostles constitutes a denial of Paul’s apostleship.

Some have tried to fix the number problem by saying Paul was number 12, and Peter making Matthias number 12 in Acts 1 was contrary to the will of God.  However, there is not the slightest hint in the context of Acts 1 that the apostles drawing lots to fill up the 12th position was contrary to the will of God.  It is difficult to believe that, if that procedure by the original 11 had been contrary to the will of God, the narrative just records what happened with no hint of such.  We have to wonder what other narratives in the NT describe things that were contrary to the will of God, but which fail to explicitly state so.  Evidence that the election of Matthias was within the will of God is:

  • All 11 apostles are of “one mind” in prayer (Acts 1:14)
  • there were at least 100 others there (v. 15)
  • Peter’s standing up in the midst of the brethren (v. 15) indicates he believes he is going to be making an official decision, implying that he believes God approves.
  • The phrase “that is, Field of Blood” (v. 19) appears less likely the type of qualification Peter would have stated, and appears to be an explanatory statement inserted by Luke, the author, which now means Luke regards what Peter did as important
  • Peter characterizes the fall of Judas with references to passages in the Psalms (v. 20)  that say nothing about Judas, implying that Peter could thus find in scripture that which the surface level text does not reveal, and was thus filled with the Holy Spirit at that point.
  • “they put forward two men” in v. 23 seems to be saying it was agreed by most of the apostles and the 100 or so others that those two men were the best candidates, necessarily implying that the whole crowd believed what was happened met with divine approval.
  • “they prayed” in v. 24 again refers to the bunch of them and not just a few, signifying they were all under the impression that asking God to reveal who was to replace Judas was a justified prayer in the circumstances.
  • “they drew lots” in v. 26 strengthens the argument that this whole procedure was believed by most of those present to be a necessary procedure calling for a bibical method of determining God’s will. (‘The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD. (Pro 16:33 NAS)).

For all these reasons, Apostle Paul is Apostle # 13, thus the Revelation-author’s reference to the final state of the earth having a foundation with the names of the “12” apostles, constituted a denial that Paul, apostle # 13, contributed in any way  to the founding of that symbolic city.

The absurdity of properly investigating modern miracle claims

Apologists think they score big on the objectivity scale by insisting that skeptics and atheists do their own research into the claims for miracles that appear in Christian books.  A large list of miracle-claim references may be found in Craig Keener’s two volume set “Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)”.

But if we are realistic about the time and money required to be expended in the effort to properly investigate a single modern-day miracle claim, it becomes immediately clear that the apologist advice that skeptics should check out those claims, is irrational for all except super-wealthy super-single super-unemployed super-bored skeptics.

A proper investigation is the kind that guards as much as possible against fraud.  For that reason, the investigation should attempt to authenticate as much of the evidence as possible.  There is a very good reason why courts, for example, require evidence to be authenticated before it becomes admissible: authentication reduces the chances of fraud, even if imperfectly, and so authentication makes sense.  Will any apologist seriously suggest that a good investigator will not worry about authenticating evidence?  What’s next?   Bigfoot is a real animal, because of all the videos and pictures of it on the internet?

What would authenticating evidence consist of?  Easy:  What sort of evidence is the miracle-claimant providing?

Her own testimony?  Find her and interview her. Find people who have personal knowledge of her credibility and interview them too.

Pictures or video?  Find and interview the photographer.

People who claim to be eyewitnesses?  find them and interview them.  Find people who have personal knowledge of these witnesses’ credibility and interview them too.

Medical documentation? Get a signed release of information permission form from the healed person, give it to the doctor who signed the alleged medical document, and get all of the medical history on the miracle-claimant you can, to make sure the document released to the public is authentic, and there is no “more to the story” that might challenge the assertion of miracle.

Some other author or investigator who has already written books or articles favorable to the miracle claim?  Ask her for a copy of all her evidence.  Ask them to explain if they failed to pursue a particular lead that might have produced a credibility problem.

Here is a reasonable hypothetical scenario that would likely occur in the event a skeptic chose to do a serious investigation into a single alleged miracle:

You read a Christian book that provides references on people who claimed miracles.  You Google the name of one such person, and you find a webpage purporting to document the healing.  There are links to medical documents and statements and emails of eyewitnesses.

Concerning the medical documents, just because you found it on the internet doesn’t mean it is authentic, right?  So a good investigator will want to authenticate medical records, and that involves getting permission from the claimant for the doctor to release their medical file, a major hurdle, it involves getting permission from the claimant for other physicians to release their other medical files to you so there is nothing about their medical condition that might falsify the claimed healing, and that is usually an unassailable hurdle (nobody typically allows release of their entire medical files to strangers outside of the legal context).

Like any insurance adjuster or criminal investigator, you will want a second medical opinion where the current documentation only gives a single medical report.  Two problems:  First, for the average American, they cannot afford to pay a physician to independently examine somebody.  We all have medical insurance because we cannot afford regular medical costs.  Second, supposing you were rich and could afford this, and you found a physician near where the miracle-claimant lives, you need to convince the claimant to consent to such secondary examination.  Apologists cannot rationally argue that, for the skeptic who gets as lucky as this, surely the claimant would consent.  Therefore, it may turn out that all the time the skeptic spends on getting the money to pay this other doctor, and all the time he spent locating that doctor and setting up the examination, were for nothing due to the miracle-claimant’s refusal to submit to a secondary examination.  

Most of us do not have the amount of time or money that would be required to get us to the point of asking the miracle-claimant to submit to a secondary medical examination.  Many investigations would cease at that point.

How about the eyewitnesses?  Here’s how investigating them would likely play out:

That webpage containing the alleged medical file also provides links to witness statements and their email addresses.  You email them.  As is usually the case, some email addresses remain current, others no longer work.  As might be expected, you email 5 witnesses and only 3 respond.  So you spend more money using people locater services to locate the missing eyewitnesses.  As usually happens, those two either don’t respond despite your sending email to their last known email address, or they respond and say they will not discuss the matter.  How would it impact the investigation if only 3 of the 5 alleged witnesses can be found?  Sure, disregarding the importance of the other two is convenient for apologetics and evangelism purposes, but how do we evaluate just how significant or insignificant interviews with the missing witnesses would have been?  Isn’t it true that where a witness can testify to something, their failure to testify reduces the objectivity of the verdict?

Those who respond assure you in their email response that their witness statement quoted on the website accurately reflects what they said.  How do you know the person responding by email really is an eyewitness, or is who they say they are?  Surely people never lie on the internet, right?  Surely people never lie to make a miracle-claim look more believable, do they?  A proper investigation would require you to authenticate those witness statements, and that means convincing the alleged eyewitness to provide you with their full legal name, address and phone number, for the same reasons that any criminal investigator would want the same three items from anybody who says they saw the crime happen.  If you were the victim of a crime and the investigator told you they located an eyewitness who provides an alibi for the suspect, would you want the investigator to get this eyewitness’s full legal name, address and phone number? 

As is usually the case, not everybody that you request such information from, will give it out, even if they can correctly identify you, since for all they know, maybe you are just a scam artist pretending to be interested in a miracle claim solely to get their personal information.  So among the three responding witnesses, 2 of them give you their full legal name, address and phone number, the third chooses to cease communication with you.

There is a very good reason why civil and criminal courts require that the witness who authored a document take the witness stand.  Attempting to discern whether somebody is lying involves more than just what they are willing to write down and sign their name to.  The fact-finder is allowed to present evidence impeaching their credibility.

Suppose the two eywitnesses left in this hypothetical are willing to grant you a personal interview so you can obtain the equal of a confession on the witness stand.

But as a good investigator, you want to make sure your interview time is better spent than in simply listening to the eyewitness repeat exactly what they said in the statements attributed to them on the website.  So you wish to obtain evidence enabling you to probe their general credibility.  That means getting names and phone numbers of other people who know the eyewitness, such as neighbors, co-employees, family or friends.   Apologists cannot provide any guarantee that people who are willing to be interviewed concerning facts in their personal knowledge, would likely give out contract information on other people, so this is another point at which the investigation might be halted, and the money and time spent getting to that point, wasted.  Why interview a witness if you have no information allowing you to probe their general credibility?

But suppose both witnesses provide you this personal information anyway (!?).  You are a good investigator, you prefer the method of interview that guards against possible fraud more so than interview by phone or email, you prefer a face-to-face interview for the same reason courts of law require witnesses to testify in the physical presence of the jury.  Here is what it would cost on average to conduct witness interviews, assuming you don’t live in the same state as they:

  • Plane Ticket – $1000 (you can’t take the bus because you have work and family responsibilities requiring quick return)
  • Motel – $140 for two days/two nights to complete interview (cheaper motels are likely unsanitary).
  • Food – since investigator is traveling by plane, she likely wont be hauling along enough groceries to last the two days it would take to complete this interview, so to avoid restaurants she must buy groceries that are ready to eat and can be kept in a motel room not necessarily equipped with a refrigerator.  Two days worth of such food – $10
  • Camera and Video  – If you doesn’t already have a digital cam with video capability, $100
  • Rental car for two days – $100 (if you have to get home within two days, you are ill-advised to just hop on a city bus in a town you never lived in and find your witness this cheaper way).
  • Rental car gas for two days – $60

And here’s the bad news:  that’s more than a thousand dollars just for one single claimed miracle.  When the California-based skeptic has to spend $1000 investigating a single miracle claim originating in Maine, there will be more miracle-claims for her to investigate down in Texas.  Who would seriously argue that the skeptic is obligated by reasons of objectivity and fairness to keep shelling out $1000 a pop for every single miracle claim apologists cite to?

And here’s even worse news.  It could easily be that the witnesses live in different states, in which case you’ll be purchasing at minimum at least one more plane ticket, one more motel for at least two more nights, and one more two-day rental car.

The more witnesses available to be interviewed, the higher go the expenses of the good investigator who doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned.

In short, if skeptics got lucky and managed to find the needle in the haystack, and came across a website documenting a miracle, and found witnesses willing to be interviewed, the minimal expenses for investigating this one claim would run from $1000 to $3000 just for a single claim.

Apologists, desperate to cut the skeptic’s costs as much as possible so as to leave them “without excuse”, will suggest ways to cut the costs as described above, but even if we assume such interview could be completed in one day for $100, how many times do apologists think skeptics would be obliged to pay $100 to investigate a miracle claim?  If you believe at least 10 miracle claims are true, does rationality require that the skeptic spend $1000 just to investigate those?  What if the skeptic doesn’t have that kind of money?  Do you suggest he move his family to cheaper housing, sell the car and take the bus, sell their expensive possessions at a garage sale or pawn them, save the grocery money by eating only at the local bum shelter, take a second job, etc, ?  Objectively investigating miracle claims becomes kind of stupid at that point, wouldn’t you say?

What bright ideas do you have for the married miracle skeptic whose wife homeschools their children, who has only one job?  Maybe he should be willing to place his fiances in jeopardy just to go investigate a miracle claim?  Maybe he should put his kids in public school so the wife has free time to take a job thus generating more funding?

What about the skeptic who thinks spending her limited time and money on her family is far more important than financing miracle investigations?  Is she irrational for that reason?

If skeptics need to stay open to the possibility of miracles merely because they cannot rationally go around investigating each and every miracle claim, then must you, the Christian apologist, stay open to the possibility that miracles don’t happen, on the grounds that you don’t have the time or money to investigate every single naturalistic argument skeptics have ever come up with?

If you can rationally presume the best evidence of naturalism is already known and doesn’t prove the case, then skeptics can rationally presume the best evidence of miracles is already known and doesn’t prove the case.  If you don’t have to answer every last naturalistic argument, skeptics don’t have to answer every last miracle claim.

When apologists say skeptics and unbelievers have a responsibility to examine the evidence in support of miracle-claims, they do not seriously appreciate how much time and money would need to be expended to do professional level investigation (i.e., the type of evidence-gathering that guards against possible fraud as much as civil and criminal investigations try to, i.e., personal interviews, plane tickets, locating the witnesses, locating and interviewing the character witnesses, etc.). 

Us skeptics have lives and families, and for those of us who have good paying jobs, we already invest the money in our families, so we still cannot afford to spend a minimum of $100 and the loss of two days away from family and jobs, each and every time a miracle claim with identifiable witness is alleged somewhere by some Christian.

And if apologists are consistent, they will insist that skeptics have a burden to investigate documented miracle claims, and since those can be found all over the world, the cost in time and money to the skeptic to properly investigate miracles occuring halfway around the world from her skyrocket far beyond $100 or $1000.

And the bad news is that it doesn’t matter if we investigate a single claim and come up with good reasons to remain skeptical of it….there are thousands of other miracle claims complete with identifiable eyewitnesses and alleged medical documentation that we haven’t investigated.

If the apologist does not want the skeptic to be irrational and stupid, then the apologist does not want the skeptic to conduct the type of thorough investigation of any modern-day miracle claim that has the best chance of exposing fraud.  They just want us to see a picture on the internet of the outline of Jesus in a taco shell, then suddenly discover on that basis alone which version of Christianity is the “right” one.  LOL

Triablogue and God healing amputees

The boys over at the Christian apologetics site ‘Triabalogue’ attempt to deflect a popular anti-Christian criticism, namely, why among the numerous stories of God healing people, there are no medically verified cases of an amputee regrowing their missing limb(s).  The Healing of Amputees.

The critic’s basic argument is that, assuming god is the omni-everything that the bible says he is, the lack of medically verified regrowing of limbs among those who claim documentation of miracle-healing, is suspicious, given that the regrowing of a missing limb, clearly beyond the abilities of current science, would be the acid test of the miracle-healing claim.  Critics conclude that the reason we never see any medically documented cases of limb regrowth is precisely because there is no god in existence to do such healing in the first place.  Healing from cancer can be naturalistically explained away as cancer doing what it often does, going into remission.  Healing of the blind and deaf can also be explained naturalistically, either the body healing itself in ways most people aren’t familiar with, or the miracle-claimants lying about their former status as deaf or blind.  But regrowing limbs?  There is no faking that once it has been positively verified that the claimant was indeed an amputee and their new limb was not a surgical reattachment or transplant.

I think my fellow skeptics are unwise to pursue this particular argument, since, as proven from the article at Triablogue, this particular criticism emboldens apologists to lure us into areas of pure speculation.  They will raise issues about whether God has an obligation to heal, or whether healing missing limbs will do greater good for the world, other Christians speculate that healing an amputee might force overwhelming evidence on the skeptic and leave no room for faith, or they will speculate that such healings have been claimed, and pretend the skeptic is under obligation to investigate such claims at any cost.

I argue in another post that the minimum expenses and and time lost from work/family necessary for skeptics to track down important evidence and otherwise do a seriously thorough investigation on miracle claims, make it absurd for apologists to saddle skeptics with the obligation to “go check out the claims”.  If the apologists at Triabolgue are serious, they would obligate a skeptic living in America to expend whatever resources necessary to get to southern Africa (‘Gahna), properly interview all witnesses and get back home.  Absolute nonsense.  No Christian is going to travel half way around the world to investigate a claim that the ultimate miracle debunking has happened, so they have no business expecting skeptics to go halfway around the world in effort to properly conduct an independent investigation of a miracle-claim.