Posts Tagged ‘Origen’

Why Mythicism Should Not Be Taken Seriously

June 24, 2014

Should Christ-mythicism really be treated as a respectable position? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many of my friends in this field have already taken the official stance that they do not debate people who claim Jesus never even existed. I’m not one of them. I will still debate mythicism, but that is because these people need to be answered if not for them, for those who are watching. That more and more people are coming to this position shows that it is a problem.

Note they’re not coming to the position because they’re doing good research! On the contrary! They’re coming to the position because of poor research! Their main authorities on people on YouTube and people who write blogs and those people they’re interacting with are not reading scholarly material. Some of you could say that I am not a scholar. You are certainly right! What you will find here by contrast to mythicist works is a constant interaction with scholarship. On the podcast, you will hear interviews with Christian scholars who have done the hard work. For now, consider this place a conduit to get the scholarly information. I still urge you to always be open to checking everything that I say.

Yet mythicism is a position that has come about because of the age of the internet where people might read much, but they will study little. These people will accept just without any research the claims of someone on the internet the way the Christians they condemn will accept the claims of Scripture or their minister. Now of course I want you to accept the claims of Scripture, but I want you to also research and test those claims using the best information on both sides.

To show an example of what I am talking about, consider a group shown to me recently of Mythicists in Milwaukee. In a debate with them on the Unbelievable? group, I was told that they had an exposing quote to show me. In fact, the quote supposedly came from an early church father. Who was this father?

Celsus.

celsusjesusmyth

Some readers who have not looked at this issue might wonder what the problem is.

To begin with, Celsus was NOT a church father. In fact, he was an opponent of the early church. To say a statement like him is exposing is like saying a statement from Ken Ham that evolutionary theory is not true is exposing on evolutionary theory or that a statement from Richard Dawkins on why creationism is false is exposing on creationism.

That’s the first mistake there. Anyone who had done five minutes of research would know Celsus was not a church father. Just for the heck of it, I even did a Google search and the descriptions of the web pages in fact told me that Celsus was an opponent of Christianity.

It is hard to say how it could get worse, but it does. Celsus was an opponent of Christianity but he never once denied that Jesus existed. In fact, no early opponent of Christianity ever made such a claim.

And it gets worse from there! Not only did Celsus hold that Jesus existed, he also agreed that Jesus did many works considered miracles. He just attributed it to sorcery that Jesus learned in Egypt.

Yet the case gets even worse for these people! The arguments we were given amounted to the quotes coming from “Against Origen.” Anyone who knows this field knows we don’t have Celsus’s words themselves. We only know what he said because Origen quoted it profusely!

Is there more? Yes there is! The quote itself is not right! Here is what it really says.

“The Jew continues his address to those of his countrymen who are converts, as follows: Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered. Yet how many others are there who practise such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who make gain by their deception?— as was the case, they say, with Zamolxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Tænarus, and Theseus. But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness? That while alive he was of no assistance to himself, but that when dead he rose again, and showed the marks of his punishment, and how his hands were pierced with nails: who beheld this? A half-frantic woman, as you state, and some other one, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or under the influence of a wandering imagination had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, which has been the case with numberless individuals; or, which is most probable, one who desired to impress others with this portent, and by such a falsehood to furnish an occasion to impostors like himself.”

See Chapter 55

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with paraphrasing at times, but if you claim something is a quote, you should make sure that it is a quote.

So what do we have here?

We have a group of mythicists saying that Celsus was a church father (He wasn’t) as if that bolsters their claim (It doesn’t) and that the book comes from a work called Against Origen (That doesn’t exist) and the quote itself is inaccurate!

When I say this position is not to be granted respect in the academic community, I mean it. No one who wants to consider themselves an academic should hold to such a view. The academic community does not take this seriously at all. The claims that are really popular on the internet are not at all discussed by academic scholars in the field.

And that’s not because these scholars are Christian! A great number of them in the field are not! It is because these claims are dead. They do not pass peer-review. They do not get serious treatment. You might as well talk about the Earth being flat or the holocaust never happening.

And if you think I’m making this stuff up about these people using these sources, I am not. Just look for yourself.

Acharya S. and Peter Joseph as sources? Where are the scholars in the field? You will not find them because scholars do not support this stuff!

Now some might think I am giving them undue attention. Sadly, one has to to expose this material, but let it be clear that this position should be treated like a joke. If you meet someone who holds a position on this, just laugh and ask “Do you really believe that?” Let it be the case that people are ashamed of holding to a stance like this one.

Now if you want to hold the position that Jesus existed but He was not the Son of God and/or never claimed to be or He was not the Messiah and/or never claimed to be and that He never did miracles even if it was believed that He did and that He never rose from the dead, then fine. I disagree with those positions, but you will find scholars who side with you on that one.

By all means, mythicists must be answered lest they continue spreading to those who do not do research, but when answering it, do not treat the position with any respect whatsoever. How you respond to the person can differ, but the position itself is not a serious one at all. Make it clear that those who hold to this position have zero respect in the scholarly and academic community.

We could end this by asking this position one question that we already know the answer to.

scholarship

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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Fathers Know Best?

June 18, 2014

What do the church fathers say about Matthew 27? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Norman Geisler has come to picture obsession to the extreme. For years now, he’s been harping on Matthew 27 and really, not producing anything new. In all this time, he could have gone out and read Burridge on why the Gospels are Greco-Roman Bioi or gone to the best scholarly monographs he could find on the passage in Matthew 27, but instead, he just wants to repeat the same material.

So now he’s gone to the church fathers. Now I’m sure we’ll all agree that while the church fathers have authority, they are not the final authority. What matters most is what the Scripture says. Still, it would be foolish to just dismiss all the church fathers. Their views should be taken seriously.

But do they really agree with Geisler?

Let’s start with Geisler’s citation of Ignatius’s epistle to the Trallians.

What does the text supposedly say?

“For Says the Scripture, ‘Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap.Ix, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70).

Why do I say supposedly?

Because there are two versions of the epistle. There is the shorter version and the longer version. Most scholars consider the longer version to be spurious.

So let’s go to chapter 9 of the shorter version. What do we see?

9:1 Be ye deaf, therefore, when any one speaketh unto you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David, who was born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the sight of the things that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth;

9:2 and was truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him up; according to the similitude of which also his Father shall raise up us who believe in him in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not the true life.

Why was the spurious version cited? Why is this not pointed out?

Either A) Geisler does not know and this is an error of ignorance that calls the research ability high into question

or B) It is known and is ignored, in which case facts are being ignored to suit an agenda.

I think it’s best to be generous and go with A.

Let’s now look at the epistle to the Magnesians.

According to Geisler.

“…[T]herefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead”[Chap. IX] (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885). Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations).

While some connect this to Matthew 27, nothing in the context demands it. Further, what does it mean, “When he came?” Nothing is said about the death of Jesus or about opening of the tombs. It could be referring to Matthew 27, but the text does not demand it.

The next statements are from the lost fragments of Irenaeus. The problem is many scholars consider these lost fragments to be spurious. Once again, the problem is the same as in the first citing of the epistle of Ignatius.

Next is Clement of Alexandria. What do we have from Geisler?

“‘But those who had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’ Further, the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’—plainly as having been translated to a better state”(Alexander Roberts, ed. Stromata, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, chap. VI, 491).

But what do we find earlier?

But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept in ward and guard? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.

So a question.

Does Geisler think the apostles went and preached the Gospel to those in Hades? If not, why not? If so, on what grounds since this is a testimony centuries later?

Now of course, it could be that Clement really sees the resurrection of the saints as historical and that must be taken into consideration, but it is not the final authority.

Next comes Tertullian. What does Geisler quote?

“’And the sun grew dark at mid-day;’ (and when did it ‘shudder exceedingly’ except at the passion of Christ, when the earth trembled to her centre, and the veil of the temple was rent, and the tombs burst asunder?) ‘because these two evils hath My People done’” (Alexander Roberts, ed. An Answer to the Jews, Chap XIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, 170).

An obvious problem here is all it says is that the tombs burst open. That could easily happen in an earthquake. There is no mention of saints coming out. Now Geisler could say is that Tertullian did fully have in mind that scene, but that would be claiming to know authorial intent, which he says cannot be known.

Next he says this about Hippolytus

“And again he exclaims, ‘The dead shall start forth from the graves,’ that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead” (Alexander Roberts, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, The Refutation of All Heresy, BooK V, chap. 3, p. 54). The editor of the Ante-Nicene Fathers footnotes this as a reference to the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52, 53 (in Note 6, p. 54.), as indeed it is.

But is it indeed? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. Could it not refer to the future resurrection, especially since it is also in the future tense? Of course, it could refer to Matthew 27, but must it do so necessarily?

What about Origen?

Now to this question, although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than the Gospel narratives, which state that ‘there was an earth quake, and that the rock were split asunder, and the tombs were opened, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, an the darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light’”

Once again, the tombs are open, but there’s no mention of saints getting out and walking around. Again, Geisler cannot appeal to anything else here because he says we can’t know authorial intent.

Geisler also goes to chapter 36. What does the chapter say in that work?

Celsus next says: What is the nature of the ichor in the body of the crucified Jesus? Is it ‘such as flows in the bodies of the immortal gods?’ He puts this question in a spirit of mockery; but we shall show from the serious narratives of the Gospels, although Celsus may not like it, that it was no mythic and Homeric ichor which flowed from the body of Jesus, but that, after His death, one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and there came thereout blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knows that he says the truth. Now, in other dead bodies the blood congeals, and pure water does not flow forth; but the miraculous feature in the case of the dead body of Jesus was, that around the dead body blood and water flowed forth from the side. But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, This man was the Son of God.

Again, no mention here. Strange isn’t it?

For Cyril, I see no reason to doubt that this is referring to Matthew 27 and this must be taken seriously, but it is also about 300 years after the event.

Next is Gregory of Nazianzus.

“He [Christ] lays down His life, but He has the power to take it again; and the veil rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened;5 the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies but he gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again. He goes down to Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words are yours” (Schaff, ibid., vol. VII, Sect XX, p. 309).

This could indeed be a reference to Matthew 27, but it could also have in mind a passage like Ephesians 4. Mike Licona would want to know how this would work with Jesus being the firstfruits of the resurrection. If Jesus is the first to rise in a new and glorified body, how is it that these saints arise in such a body before Jesus? It is a question Geisler needs to take seriously.

We have no beef really with what is said later by the early fathers, but it’s worth noting that the earliest references possible to this do not mention it. In fact, this could be along the lines of what some scholars would say is legendary development. I’m not saying that it is, although we all do know legends did arise around Jesus. That does not mean that they are found in the Gospels of course. Gnostic Gospels and such contained stories about Jesus we would call legends. In fact, some of our Christmas tradition comes from the Proto-Evangelium of James. (Not really a Gnostic Gospel, but rather something that could have been seen as Christian fiction.) It is doubtful that Geisler thinks Jesus struck down bullies with death as a child or extended the length of planks of wood for his Dad or brought clay pigeons to life, but these are accounts found in other works and at times, even some Christians got confused.

We conclude that there is still much research to be done on this question but let it be known the difference. When a question like this is raised, it is better to debate the question without settling it, than it is to settle it without debating. We prefer the former. Geisler seems to prefer the latter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters