“Is This a Powerful New Apologetic Argument?”

comments form first comment

Bob Seidensticker looks at my “Too Good Not To Be Trueargument against Jesus-legend theory, asking “Is this a powerful new apologetic argument?” He finds it lacking. I find his assessment lacking.

Here’s why. To begin with, he says,

He would say that Jesus was God and therefore the creator of everything. Let’s ignore the fact that the Trinity was an invention centuries after the gospels and consider what God supposedly created.

The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t enter in to my argument. I don’t know why he brought it up. I’m not sure why he would have said the following either, but this time it’s not because the point is irrelevant, but because it’s manifestly not true.

In Genesis 1, God reshapes existing Play-Doh to make the water-dome world of the Sumerians. The stars are insignificant in this story and their creation gets half a verse, though science tells us that the universe is 1027 times larger than the earth.
The actual universe is impressive, but God’s art project is minor by comparison. Sure, let’s add Jesus/God, but remember the tiny “universe” he’s credited with creating.

First, the Play-Doh thing is just as false as it could be, as I have written previously. The “tiny universe” jab is an amazing bit of chronological snobbery, laden with all kinds of presumptions and assumptions regarding what literature in a distant corner of the world should have been like several thousand years ago. What’s most remarkable is how confident he is that he’s right about it! Amazing.

Seidensticker goes on to discuss various other highly other-centered, self-sacrificial figures in history and literature. Fine; that’s how I started my Touchstone article.

Then he tells us Jesus’ self-sacrifice wasn’t much: ” Jesus didn’t experience any agonizing choice; he simply knew the right path and took it. His sacrifice was a painful weekend—frankly, not that big a deal.” This reflects ignorance and/or bias. Jesus’ sweat was mixed with blood: hydrohoresis, a condition only seen under conditions of incredible agony. And that was before it all began! And he really died on that cross; he was really cut off from the living and from the Father. That was after he made the choice to set aside the privileges of his godhead and subject himself willingly to birth as a baby and life on this crazy earth (Phillipians 2:5-11).

Then Bob tells us there were other heroes who belong on a list of supremely powerful and supremely self-sacrificial: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Neo, Shiva, and Prometheus. I don’t know what level of detail I need to go into on each of these. They just don’t match up to the perfect other-centeredness and supreme power of Christ.

Bear in mind that the question is whether the legendary provenance the skeptics proposed for Jesus makes any sense. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Neo were not the product of legend; Shiva was. Shiva, the “Destroyer,” is hardly a perfect character. Prometheus is a tragic figure precisely because of his lack of power, so he doesn’t belong on this list. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Neo could arguably be considered intentional Christ figures, and they had nothing like Jesus’ reported power; at any rate, they were not the product (as Jesus would have been, if legend theory were true) of a non-community of cognitive disfunction.

Bob asks, “What did Jesus do?” and he finds the answer wanting. Though I could dispute most of what he says about that, the main thing is that it misses the point completely. Suppose there are controversial points of possible imperfection in Jesus. That doesn’t change the fact that there is one supremely unique point of perfection in his character: his simultaneous possession of ultimate power and practice of perfect other-orientedness. That’s the fact that the skeptics’ legend theory has to account for, and which doesn’t fit at all in their version of the Jesus story.

So in sum, what Bob Seidensticker has provided us has been an exercise in getting facts wrong while missing the point.

I remain interested in finding out whether there’s a good critique available for this argument.

top of page comments form

70 Responses to “ “Is This a Powerful New Apologetic Argument?” ”

  1. If you’re wondering why Seidensticker mentioned the Trinity, let me explain. For your argument to work, you apparently need the legendary Jesus to be all-powerful. But, the Gospels do not tell us outright that Jesus is all-powerful. Instead, it seems like you would need to say something like this: The Gospels tell us Jesus is God, and God was understood by the authors to be all-powerful. Enter Seidensticker’s remark: the Gospels do not actually tell us that Jesus was God. That doctrine—part of the larger Trinity doctrine—developed much later.

    Anyway, you can always complain that Obi-wan Kenobi doesn’t match up to Jesus in this or that way. But, a Star Wars fan can tell you that Jesus doesn’t match up to Obi-wan Kenobi in the ways HE likes most. (For instance, Kenobi was clear and unambiguous in his training of Anakin and Luke, whereas Jesus spoke in riddles which his disciples could not understand half the time.) This is why Seidensticker accuses you of being a “Jesus fanboy.” You think Jesus is the very best character ever, so much that you cannot understand how human beings could possibly invent such an amazing bunch of stories about him. What Seidensticker is reminding you is that not everyone thinks the behavior of Jesus matches up to your vision of perfect goodness or selflessness.

    For my own part, I would add that even if the Jesus character really is perfectly good and selfless in his behavior, your argument is still based on your own personal incredulity. You apparently think it too much of a stretch to suppose that human beings could develop stories about a perfectly good/selfless/powerful man without making an obvious mistake. Well, okay, but I don’t see why that couldn’t happen. If there were such a legend—not the Jesus legend, since Jesus is not perfectly good or selfless, nor is he all-powerful in the four Gospels—I should have no problem attributing its invention to human storytellers.

  2. A Man said to a Jewish man that before Abraham was, I AM.

    The Jew has only one response: Death for this Man for His claiming to be the singular Us of Genesis Who creates the world.

    There are about a dozen or so of such blasphemous vectors.

  3. I ‘m going to have to think about your argument a little more Tom because I’ve yet to be moved by it. Sadly Bob’s post has had more impact on me. To think that this is his best shot at an honest evaluation of your argument and of Christianity in general.

  4. Ben, for my argument to work, what I need is for Jesus to be incredibly, overwhelmingly powerful, not omnipotent. He was clearly that powerful in all the Gospels.

    Another attempted takedown fails by way of misunderstanding the argument. Was I that unclear?

    But, a Star Wars fan can tell you that Jesus doesn’t match up to Obi-wan Kenobi in the ways HE likes most.

    Again, this misunderstands the argument. It’s not about what either of us likes or doesn’t like. It’s about a particular form of ethical perfection. (If you don’t think that using great powers only for the good of others doesn’t count as an ethical category, then we have other things to talk about.)

    Jesus spoke as he did for good reason. That was more brilliant than you realize.

    “Personal incredulity” is the skeptics’ fallback position. If you and I had both seen Jesus feed the 5,000 you would have said it was only my own personal incredulity that led me to believe something was going on that validated Jesus as a worker of miracles.

    And don’t you see how you are responding with your own belief-attitude? You say, “Well, okay, but I don’t see why that couldn’t happen.” The difference between you and me is that I enunciated a series of reasons for my position, and all you’ve said is you don’t see it. It’s an argument an unsupported expression of personal credulity.

    Have you actually considered what kind of community the skeptical scholars propose for the provenance of Jesus? You must be credulous indeed to think it would have been possible for them to have done what they did, and to think you can make a convincing case for it just on the strength of, “Hey, why not?”

  5. The skeptic misses the point of the titanic size of what he is struggling to label as legend: Seamless metaphysical coherence across 5000+ years.

    We find no ontological claim on Earth which rivals the following:

    The singular ontological metaphysics echoing across 5000+ years in seamless coherence from the Singular-Us of Genesis’ Great I AM through this very day is that of Love purposing in man His Own Image.

    Cosmic enormity – the vast universe – is not Power’s delight, end-point, focus, in Scripture’s A to Z, but rather we find that the God Who is love begets yet more love, ad infinitum, and there purposes to fashion man in His Image, and that purposing, that fashioning, is thus the central wellspring, principle, of scripture’s A-Z.

    A Man said to a Jewish man that before Abraham was, I AM. The Jew knew precisely what Jesus there stated and he has only one response: death for this Man for His claiming to be the Singular-Us of Genesis Who creates the world. There are about a dozen or so of such blasphemous vectors (reinventing the wheel for the skeptic’s feigned ignorance is unnecessary).

    We come here to Omnipotence, the Great I AM of Being and of such in the ontology of both Being and Love’s Motions amid the triune geography of Self, Other, Us.

    It is unfortunate that the skeptic feigns a void of the I AM in Christ’s Self-Descriptives. Just as it is unfortunate that a primary feature of sheer scope is missed. We find but one story – one ontological metaphysics – echoing across 5000+ years – wherein Omnipotence sums to Being, where Being sums to Love’s motions amid the Self-Other-Us of Genesis’ Singular-Us, where such Motions sum to Love’s Eternally Sacrificed Self actualized to the bitter ends of Time and Physicality as Genesis’ Singular-Us sums to Immutable Love begetting yet more love – Man in His Image – as All-Sufficiency Himself makes of Himself both the Means and the Ends by which In-Sufficiency’s painful deficiency of being fades to non-entity.

    We find in Genesis’ Singular-Us the ontology found in John’s opening chapter, those three states of affairs of Being. In the Great I AM of Genesis’ Singular-Us we find that Being Is Being, we find that Being is With Being, and we find that Being is Timelessly Begotten within Being as Self-Other in timeless reciprocity beget love’s Singular-Us Who is the Great I AM. Unceasingly it is the case: The Word is God. The Word is with God. The Word is Begotten.

    Across 5000+ years Omnipotence merges in Being and Being merges in the timeless motions amid Self-Other-Us as Immutable Love ends all regressions. The OT’s endless stream of promises – prophesies – of a Far Better, an Excellent wherein All Nations, All Men find in and by God their own corporate oneness unfold within the NT and the singular ontological metaphysics of 5000+ years finds Man’s Means and Man’s Ends in seamless coherence from A to Z.

  6. Billy @3, that’s fine. I hope the fallacies and misconceptions in Bob’s argument aren’t influencing you in that direction, though. Or do you have some specific points at which you think I’ve gotten him wrong?

  7. Tom,

    Thanks for responding. I appreciate it when a blogger is willing to follow up his post in the comment section.

    First, I would ask that you please be a bit more careful in declaring that we have all misunderstood your argument or missed the point. For example, I agree that you can weaken your original argument (I mean the one in Touchstone) to make Jesus VERY powerful instead of ALL-powerful. But, please remember that in your original argument, you claim, for instance, that Jesus created everything. Clearly, you have in mind the Trinitarian-esque notion that Jesus is God. So, pointing out that Jesus is not God in the Gospels is quite relevant. You can defend your argument by explaining how it is fixable, but notice that it does need fixing!

    Also, you write: “It’s not about what either of us likes or doesn’t like. It’s about a particular form of ethical perfection.”

    Sure, for YOU it’s about ethical perfection. But other things are important too, right? Obi-wan Kenobi is darn near morally perfect, so, even assuming Jesus is absolutely morally perfect, they are still neck-and-neck in that department. (One could even argue that Obi-wan IS morally perfect, not just NEARLY morally perfect.) But Obi-wan blows Jesus away when it comes to clearly articulating himself, and he is better than Jesus in other respects too. (Let’s see Jesus perform a Jedi mind trick, and then I’ll be impressed!) So, Obi-wan is quite an amazing character, much more so than Jesus. Yet, human beings were able to invent this amazing character. Why do you think it’s more difficult for human beings to have invented so many elements of the Jesus character?

    Oh, and if you think that Jesus had good reason to speak as he did, okay, but unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

    You continue: “The difference between you and me is that I enunciated a series of reasons for my position, and all you’ve said is you don’t see it.”

    Not at all. I have argued several points, a couple of them in defense of Seidensticker, and a couple of my own criticisms. Let me summarize the latter:

    (1) Your assessment of Jesus’ morality and power is way off. Jesus is NOT particularly good or selfless in the Gospels, nor is he especially powerful compared to other heroes of fiction.

    (2) Even had your assessment been correct that Jesus is really really good/selfless and really really powerful, you would still have a critical gap in your argument where you would need to show (beyond appealing to personal incredulity, which is not a good reason) that human beings are unable to develop detailed legends about a sufficiently moral and powerful character.

    Granted, I haven’t given much of an argument for (1) yet, because, firstly, Seidensticker has already done so to some extent (and you declined to respond to that part of his argument), and secondly, because I think (2) is much more important point.

    As for (2), you seem to want to respond by saying you have “enunciated a series of reasons” for the crucial inference. But, I do not see them. Instead, in your original article you discussed some various conjectures of legendary development, followed by asking rhetorical questions like, “could the magnificent character of Christ really have bubbled up from a fount of that sort?” Well yes, in my judgment it could have easily done so, and you have provided no reason to think otherwise. That is, you don’t actually give reasons (aside from your own incredulity, I suppose) for thinking the Jesus character is unlikely to have arisen from legendary development. Then, to summarize your rejection of the legend hypothesis, you wrote: “It lacks, if I may say so, the ring of plausibility.” Okay, for you perhaps it does. For me, it seems VERY plausible, indeed all but certain. Until you can adduce reasons for this part of your argument, it won’t track.

  8. I hope the fallacies and misconceptions in Bob’s argument aren’t influencing you in that direction, though. Or do you have some specific points at which you think I’ve gotten him wrong?

    Bob’s post only succeed in disappointing and annoying me.

    As to your argument, if I’m being fair I don’t think that I gave it a chance. I read it in a hurry. To paraphrase Lewis, these days I appear to be undually influenced by the weather and the state of my digestion.

  9. Ben, thank you for that response. I want to make sure I’m being clear, since maybe I wasn’t originally. Here are some additional clarifying/correcting points.

    You say,

    But, please remember that in your original argument, you claim, for instance, that Jesus created everything. Clearly, you have in mind the Trinitarian-esque notion that Jesus is God. So, pointing out that Jesus is not God in the Gospels is quite relevant.

    No, I have in mind the first chapter of John, as it is written. It is one of the four documents that legend theory must try to account for.

    Additionally, Jesus is very consistently presented throughout the Gospels as having the characteristics of God. The Trinitarian conclusion that Jesus is God actually flows out of the data that has been provided. See:
    http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/christology-synoptics/biblical-theology/van-pelt-blomberg-schreiner
    http://biblearchive.com/blog/2012/christ/the-deity-of-christ-in-the-synoptic-writers/
    http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-3/JETS_37-3_333-350_Doriani.pdf

    (Still, if backing the claim down to something like, ‘Jesus is only presented as having the power to still the waves with a word, to raise the dead, to heal the sick, to multiply food beyond measure,’ counts as a fix in your mind, feel free to deal with it on those terms. The claim of deity is well established in my mind, yet controversial in others’. My argument works either way.)

    Sure, for YOU it’s about ethical perfection. But other things are important too, right? Obi-wan Kenobi is darn near morally perfect, so, even assuming Jesus is absolutely morally perfect, they are still neck-and-neck in that department. But Obi-wan blows Jesus away when it comes to clearly articulating himself, and he is better than Jesus in other respects too.

    Then if there were controversy over the provenance of Obi-Wan Kenobi, then any proposed theory would have to explain his kind of perfection (such as it is), too. Perfection needs explaining whenever it shows up in unexpected places.

    There is at least one aspect of Jesus, as reported in the Gospels, that I should think anyone, believer or non-believer, could see as actually being perfect. All you have to do is read the sources. He had power beyond all human comprehension, as reported there, and (again, as reported there) he only used it to serve others. That is a form of perfection; and it’s presented here in a degree unmatched in all other literature. That needs explaining. If Jesus doesn’t display other perfections in your view, that’s fine: this one still needs explaining.

    Oh, and if you think that Jesus had good reason to speak as he did, okay, but unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

    I knew that. (You knew that I knew that, right?)

    You had said this was a sign that Jesus was a faulty teacher. You made a claim, I’ve countered it, and now you’ve essentially repeated the claim. At this point, I don’t think you’ve done anything at all to establish your position.

    But remember: whether Jesus displays every perfection or not, there remains one that does need explaining.

    You counter-argue me on, “The difference between you and me is that I enunciated a series of reasons for my position, and all you’ve said is you don’t see it.” I was responding specifically there to this: “Well, okay, but I don’t see why that couldn’t happen.” That’s the point at which my statement, “The difference between you and me is that I enunciated a series of reasons for my position, and all you’ve said is you don’t see it,” applies, not to the rest of your comment.

    This is factually false:

    (1) Your assessment of Jesus’ morality and power is way off. Jesus is NOT particularly good or selfless in the Gospels, nor is he especially powerful compared to other heroes of fiction.

    Superman can fly through space. Jesus created space (John 1). Jesus raised people from the dead. Jesus never used his extraordinary powers to serve his own needs.

    (2) Even had your assessment been correct that Jesus is really really good/selfless and really really powerful, you would still have a critical gap in your argument where you would need to show (beyond appealing to personal incredulity, which is not a good reason) that human beings are unable to develop detailed legends about a sufficiently moral and powerful character.

    My argument is not that I know this is impossible for “human beings.” My argument is that it (a) has never been done by anyone else in all history, and (b) the skeptics’ theory for how it happened this time doesn’t fit. Not even close. Please see the article again.

    Until you can adduce reasons for this part of your argument, it won’t track.

    Until you raise an objection against my actual argument, I won’t know whether you’ve found a valid one.

  10. Tom,

    I don’t understand why you think John 1 says Jesus created everything, unless you think that the Word is Jesus, whereas John only says the Word is God, and that Jesus is the Word made flesh, i.e. the “son” of God (Jn 1:14). But, this is not clear, and it is not a part of the other three Gospels in any case.

    And no, I do not agree that Jesus is powerful “beyond all human comprehension” in the Gospels. Nor do I agree that he used this power only for others. For instance, in Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus uses his magic to help him and Peter pay their temple taxes. In Matthew and Mark both, Jesus magically destroys a tree because he is angry about it having no fruit for him to eat. In Matthew, Mark, and John, Jesus walks on the water, to no apparent benefit of anyone else. And, that’s just what I can list off the top of my head. No doubt we could find other examples, with a little searching.

    Even if I did agree on the selflessness of Jesus, so what? Why is it bad (or even just less good) to take care of oneself in addition to others? And much more importantly, why is it harder for human beings to create stories about such a character?

    Anyway, let me move on to the most important point. I said before that your argument has a critical gap which you attempt to fill by appealing to personal incredulity. You APPEAR to agree that personal incredulity won’t cut it, because you claim your argument is instead as follows:

    “My argument is that it (a) has never been done by anyone else in all history, and (b) the skeptics’ theory for how it happened this time doesn’t fit. Not even close.”

    This is a very slight improvement, but still not enough. Regarding (a), how does it follow that the legend hypothesis is false or unlikely? Are you saying that an event is unlikely to be historical if it is sufficiently unique? But historical occurrences are notoriously unique. Nobody but Alexander the Great has ever conquered the Achaemenid Empire. Nobody has ever produced anything like the Koran but the early Islamic community. Etc. So, I don’t see how (a) constitutes a reason to think the legend hypothesis is false.

    As for (b), this seems to me just a cover for personal incredulity. You claim that the legend hypothesis “doesn’t fit,” but HOW doesn’t it fit? Maybe I missed something, but in your original article I don’t see you actually ARGUE that the legend hypothesis doesn’t fit. Instead, I see you ask rhetorical questions like, “could the magnificent character of Christ really have bubbled up from a fount of that sort?” Then you summarize at the end by saying you find the legend hypothesis to “lack the ring of plausibility.” What do you mean here, if not an appeal to personal incredulity?

  11. Tom,

    It seems to me that while Omnipotence and Perfect, Immutable Love are glaringly subsumed in the whole show that is the 5000+ year seamless ontological metaphysics behind and within Christ, your premise that even without that we find a genre that is unparalleled does seem to work after all.

    If we – for the sake of the premise – just rip out all the glaring ties to Omnipotence and Immutable Love in the Great I AM’s Singular-Us, and so on, I must say that I still do not find the combination of that level of power (nature, death, and – it seems – space-time dimensions do not rule, but are ruled) amalgamated with that level of self-sacrifice (that my enemy may have……).

    So far I’ve not seen any critic give us any explanation comprised of, well, actual historical evidence that shows why (real) Jews of that century would engage in such suicidal story-telling to other (real) Jews unless they saw things justifying such speaking. Nor have I seen any critic present another literary character which takes both power and love to those degrees hand-in-hand.

    In my earlier post I was seeking to draw attention to what I think the assertion of legend must come up with and that is a sound, evidence based refutation of the sheer scope of what is – actually – a 5000+ year seamlessness and coherence across multiple intellectual, academic, existential, prophetical, and metaphysical arenas. Christ’s glaring link to Omnipotence is a link to moral perfection and to all-power, all of which converge at the Cross, which makes a startling statement about that Omnipotence, about that All-Power. “Let Us make man in Our Image” finds glaring intellectual and philosophical ties to that [whole set] and – even – to the litany of OT prophesies speaking towards all men of all nations actualizing in those ends. Such strong vectors robustly cohere the 3000+ years of the OT as well as the 2000 years since. In fact, Perfect Love becomes inescapable as we realize just what Man’s Means and Man’s Ends are in the whole show that is the 5000+ year ontology found summed in Christ. (…the manifestation of Love’s Eternally Sacrificed Self).

    Regarding my brief attempt here in comment #6, while suicidal story-telling among Jews and unparalleled uniqueness are challenges the critic has not met even if we leave out Omnipotence and Immutable – Perfect – Love, I offer that we need not surrender Omnipotence nor Perfect Love (Moral Excellence). In fact, we ought not. The presence of each in the Gospels (and – of course – from Genesis’ Singular-Us to Revelation’s actualization of man in His Image) is far, far more than justified and reasonable, and is in fact glaring, and thus utterly unique. When we attempt to speak of Moral Excellence (Perfect Love) we find in the Trinity the very fabric and substance of that Sum, and Immutably so. However, while the impeccable, gritty logical coherence therein is a joy to describe and point out, it seems that such descriptive language aimed at surfacing That Sum suffers a degree of loss should one tackle it with a kind of one-sided, loveless, math-like style. Moral Excellence, that is, Perfect Love, is that, however, it is – also – more than just that. Hence the employment of some figurative constructs earlier.

    The only genre of this kind on planet Earth is the whole show that is the sum and substance of the 5000+ year ontological metaphysics seamlessly converging behind and within Christ.

  12. Whether or not folks miss the point of the argument, it is clear that almost every critical comment involves side-stepping one of its premises — by claiming that the moral genius of Jesus is not self-evident.

    Of course, there is no surprise that those who hold morality to be relative or illusory can make such a claim.

    However, as we have seen, even those who (would appear to?) acknowledge the objectivity of morality seem to be remarkably untouched by this premise. How is this possible? Shiva? Prometheus? Really?

    Surely the manifest absurdity of such comparisons calls into question the seriousness or the honesty or the morality(?) of their champions! For those so inclined to make such comparisons, I have an exercise in intellectual honesty for you: read the gospels. Really. And do yourself a favor: read with honesty.

  13. Ben,

    Jesus’ deity comes through clearly in John, over and over again. The connection between the Word of the first paragraph and the one in 1:14 and 1:18 is inescapable. And the links I gave you in my last comment were all pointed toward the Synoptics.

    Feel free to disagree that Jesus is presented as powerful beyond human comprehension in the Gospels; but do so only on pain of not reading what’s most obvious there. To disagree with that is to display an inability to read—unless you want to quibble over the precise meaning of “beyond human comprehension,” in which case see the parenthesis in my last comment to you.

    How does it follow that the Legend hypothesis is false or unlikely? The same way it follows that if some student told her teacher, “My homework spontaneously combusted on the hall table,” the teacher would conclude it was false or unlikely. Homework doesn’t spontaneously combust on hall tables,, and non-communities of cognitive dysfunction don’t produce characters who display exceedingly great moral perfection.

    Every event in history is unique. That has nothing to do with my argument. It’s the way in which it is unique, coupled with the skeptics’ explanation for it, that makes this one particularly meaningful.

    But let’s pause a moment and clarify terms. Would you please define “personal incredulity” for me? In your definition, please distinguish it from legitimate incredulity, for example of the sort that says, “I can’t believe your homework burned up spontaneously on the hall table.”

    You see, to say something “lacks the ring of plausibility” is not necessarily personal incredulity. Sometimes (often, actually) it’s a statement about the thing and its actual plausibility, not about the psychology of the person making that assessment.

    I do in fact think it’s an objective statement about the thing and its plausibility. You think it’s about my psychology. How would you define “personal incredulity” to distinguish between the two?

  14. Ben @ 12,

    …whereas John only says the Word is God, and that Jesus is the Word made flesh, i.e. the “son” of God (Jn 1:14). But, this is not clear, and it is not a part of the other three Gospels in any case.

    Why the scarequotes around the word, “son”? This is where the obfuscation occurs not within the writings of the four Gospels. While it may be that you do not accept that Jesus is the Son of God, all the Gospels writers did. The honorific “Son of God” is used and applied to Jesus in all four gospels and not in just one as you claim above.

    In your second paragraph, you again have no foundation on which to stand. Each of the three examples are not just displays of power but have object lessons attached to each. So they were done for the benefit of others as object lessons.

    ——————————————-

    By the way I found your insistence that Obi Kenobi was the greater teacher to be hilarious:

    (For instance, Kenobi was clear and unambiguous in his training of Anakin and Luke, whereas Jesus spoke in riddles which his disciples could not understand half the time.)

    In other words, Kenobi spoon-fed his disciples while Jesus taught in order to make his disciples think. [For my money, Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (the original one), was heads and shoulders above Kenobi. Plus you really need to go back and watch the Star Wars films if you think the Kenobi’s teaching were clear and unambiguous. And finally not to go too fanboy, Yoda was the teacher of the Force par excellence and he was hardly clear and unambiguous.]

    As an aside, how is forcing someone to believe that which isn’t true (“These are not the droids you are looking for.”) considered a morally positive act? Kenobi lies, deceives, kills, he acts rebelliously toward his master, he places Padme in danger by stowing away on her ship making her appear as a confederate in the hunt for Anakin, he stands helplessly by as Padme dies (so much for those amazing Jedi Mind tricks being the all-in-all power. Sure he can push objects with his mind but he can’t prevent someone from dying or bring her back to life), etc.

    How do any of these actions make Kenobi “darn near morally perfect…” much less “neck-and-neck” with the absolute moral perfection of Christ?

  15. Ben,

    Sorry to say, but it appears to me that you have missed the whole point of Tom’s article and his gracious effort at addressing Bob Seidensticker’s critique posted on Bob’s website. And please note, I am not speaking for Tom but giving you my own thoughts and analysis.

    Tom’s original commentary addresses the challenge posed by Jesus-deniers and atheists and some Bible scholars, including Bart Ehrman in his recent book, that Jesus’s divinity is an-add that was created through “legend” after his death. Tom addresses the “legend” argument by pointing out that there exists no where in literature or legend a person who is as morally perfect and other-oriented as Jesus, who also has the power to perform miracles that Jesus had. The question here is this: Could a process of legend creation (since it is a process) have resulted in such a thorough and detailed number of accounts of a man who could do what Jesus did to demonstrate to his followers that he is/was divine?
    At the crux of this argument is the fact that Jesus’ disciples and followers knew him to be divine because he commanded powers that only come from God.

    You yourself, perhaps inadvertently, argue against the legend hypothesis. You make this point: “In Matthew, Mark, and John, Jesus walks on the water, to no apparent benefit of anyone else.” How could an account of such a miraculous event arise, that was of “no apparent benefit to anyone else (other than those who witnessed it) through “legend”?

    Bob Seidensticker and you both seem to want to focus the discussion on attacks against Jesus’s perfection rather than on his many demonstrations of his divinity in an attempt to refute the “legend” argument. This won’t work, because whatever flaws you might think that you find in Jesus’ perfect moral character do not negate his divinity.

  16. But Ben, I’m still really, really interested in how you define “personal incredulity,” to distinguish it from sensibly doubting something could be true when it really probably couldn’t be. (See above.)

  17. Tom,

    In answer to your question, by personal incredulity I just mean the person’s disbelief. In this case, I am referring to your disbelief that the early Jesus movement could have developed a legendary character with the kinds of qualities you’ve been discussing. This is contrasted with our belief that homework doesn’t burn up spontaneously insofar as the latter is justified, whereas the former does not appear to be justified at all.

    You write: “non-communities of cognitive dysfunction don’t produce characters who display exceedingly great moral perfection.”

    Really? How do you know? Apparently, you are inferring this from the premise than no such communities have done so before nor since. But even if we grant that premise—and, let me say once more that I don’t accept it for a second!—nevertheless, I do not see what justifies the inference from premise to conclusion.

    Recall my earlier analogy: Nobody has ever conquered the Achaemenid empire before nor since Alexander is alleged to have done it. Shall we therefore conclude that the Achaemenid empire was never conquered? Obviously not. So, there must be something else to justify your inference that the Jesus legends were not produced by early Christian communities. But what? I do not see how to make your inference work.

  18. Tom,

    Another point I thought of that we need to consider regarding the legend hypothesis. Arguments about post-Christianity literature, mythology and fiction that are characters that resemble Jesus or are Christ-like in their moral characteristics shouldn’t “count” toward the theory that Christ’s divinity was an add-on included in the gospels but not believed in by his followers. So down with the Star Wars comparisons!

  19. Thank you, Ben, for explaining personal incredulity.

    In answer to your question, by personal incredulity I just mean the person’s disbelief. In this case, I am referring to your disbelief that the early Jesus movement could have developed a legendary character with the kinds of qualities you’ve been discussing. This is contrasted with our belief that homework doesn’t burn up spontaneously insofar as the latter is justified, whereas the former does not appear to be justified at all.

    Do you realize what you’ve done there, though? It’s really quite helpful. You’ve made the justification for the belief the issue. It should be. “Personal incredulity” is a move that makes my psychology the issue, which it should not be. The question is not why I believe it but whether I have good reasons for believing it.

    Or, let me say it another way:

    You say that the difference between personal incredulity and justifiable disbelief is, quite simply (and obviously), whether the belief is justified. Now, earlier you had accused me of appealing to personal incredulity. You even said “your argument is still based on your own personal incredulity.” But if you’re going to establish that successfully, you have to show that my belief is not justified. Otherwise it’s just your personal claim about my personal incredulity.

    And that is, as I said, very helpful. Let’s keep on the actual issues, and let’s explore whether the evidences lead to one conclusion or the other. Then, if you still disbelieve me, I can consider your disbelief to be a case of your personal incredulity, Since, after all it would be a disbelief that was not justified.

    I turned that around on you, not to play a game with you, but just to highlight how unhelpful this talk about “personal incredulity” really is. Because after all, I’m quite sue, that your reaction to that was, “but my argument is justified.” Which, if true, would mean that you have a position that is not based on personal incredulity. On the other hand, if I have a position that is justified, then my position is not based on personal incredulity. All that follows straight from your definition of the term.

    So let’s get on with talking about the issues, and not about personal psychology.

    Back in a moment.

  20. You say:

    Nobody has ever conquered the Achaemenid empire before nor since Alexander is alleged to have done it. Shall we therefore conclude that the Achaemenid empire was never conquered? Obviously not. So, there must be something else to justify your inference that the Jesus legends were not produced by early Christian communities. But what? I do not see how to make your inference work.

    I confess to not being a student of the history of Alexander or the Achaemenid Empire. I am quite sure, however, that if historians had reason to believe that Alexander had never raised an army, they would have reason to doubt he ever conquered the Achaemenid Empire. That is to say, history is, among other things, an explanation of effects that arise from causes, and where no cause is imaginable for a certain effect, historians will typically conclude that the effect didn’t happen.

    That’s a little hard to wrap our heads around, because in this case, the effect really did happen, to the best of our knowledge. Alexander really was a conqueror. So let’s consider a different example. Consider the effect, “John F. Kennedy’s assassination was accomplished through a grand conspiracy.” Historians have looked through the evidences of what led up to his assassination, and most of them have concluded that there was nothing there to indicate that such a conspiracy could have been responsible for his death. They have concluded, therefore, that his death was not the result of a conspiracy.

    There were other lines of evidence leading to that conclusion, of course. Suppose that were the only one, however. Suppose there were no other information for us to go on besides the historical precursors that did or did not exist, that could have made the effect Kennedy was assassinated by a grand conspiracy possible. If there were no historical precursors that could have made it possible, historians would have every right to conclude that there was no such conspiracy, even in the absence of any other supporting evidence.

    You see, your analogy of Alexander is not the only one in all of history. It’s not all that effective as an analogy, because it doesn’t address the same kinds of issues that my argument addresses: the putative precursors to the putative effect. In the case of my argument, the putative precursors involved what I’ve called a “non-community of cognitive dysfunction. The putative effect is “Jesus as mere legend.” My position is that the kind of Jesus who was produced and whose record we see in the Gospels is not the kind of character that any non-community of cognitive dysfunction could have produced.

    Besides all that, your objection there makes a new mistake. You say, “Apparently, you are inferring this from the premise than no such communities have done so before nor since.” Please read more carefully. I spent considerable time pointing out that the kind of community that purportedly did this is just the wrong kind of community to imagine being the only one ever to have that ability.

    Frankly I wonder whether the success of this argument depends on how well read a person is. I can only wonder about it (I won’t draw premature conclusions), because I have no information about your background in reading.

    It’s obvious to me, though, simply because I’ve read a fair bit, that cognitive dysfunction does not produce moral excellence. It’s obvious to me that a non-community doesn’t produce coherent literature to the degree that this is coherent on this one point of perfection. It’s obvious to me that moral perfection on the scale of Jesus Christ, the one who gave his all for others, does not arise from a community that is trying to protect its a$$ from destruction by the forces of outsiders. It’s obvious to me that the superb of moral example we have in Jesus Christ is inconsistent with having been produced by a bunch of rum-dums who made it all up, some of whom were either intentionally lying or (at least) irresponsibly careless about the truth.

    It’s obvious to me that the author does not produce literature greater than himself.

    It takes technical knowledge to produce a technically knowledgeable paper. It takes wisdom to produce wise literature. It takes ethical depth to produce literature with ethical depth.

    These things are blindingly obvious to me. Maybe they are not that way you. Maybe you think that just anybody can produce just anything. Well, maybe on one level they can. I said something about this in my touchstone article. I could make up a character who was really powerful and really self sacrificial, and I could do it with no thought at all. What I couldn’t do is make that character interesting, compelling, or important-seeming. I suppose I should have made a bigger point of that in my article but this non-community of cognitive dysfunction not only made a character who was incredibly powerful and unfailingly self-sacrificial, but also the most historically important and universally compelling character in all literature.*

    Nice work for a bunch of faith-heads whose main motivation was to reduce their cognitive dissonance.

    Either that, or Jesus himself was that kind of character, which continues to be much more believable to me.

    * Universally compelling? Yes. Ask yourself which world religion wouldn’t include Jesus in its list of important and great people.

  21. Jenna,

    Thanks for the response. Let me try to address your concerns.

    You ask: “Could a process of legend creation (since it is a process) have resulted in such a thorough and detailed number of accounts of a man who could do what Jesus did to demonstrate to his followers that he is/was divine?”

    Well, sure. Why not? It doesn’t seem any more unlikely than that a process of legend creation resulted in the accounts we have of, say, King Arthur, or Romulus and Remus. And yes, I understand that these legendary figures differ dramatically from Jesus. But, what about those differences are relevant to the question at hand? Tom thinks it’s important to look at the selflessness and power of Jesus. But what makes those qualities unlikely to have been attached to a legendary figure? I just don’t see the relevance of focusing on those particular attributes.

    But let me address the other part of your post, in which you raise your own argument (which seems to be distinct from anything Tom presented). You write:

    “How could an account of such a miraculous event arise, that was of ‘no apparent benefit’ to anyone else (other than those who witnessed it) through ‘legend’?”

    First, let me say that I don’t see how it benefited anyone but Jesus, who was prevented from drowning. How do you think it benefited the witnesses? Did they learn some lesson by watching Jesus perform this miracle? That’s not how it seems to me. In the Gospels, it seems like just another amazing feat of supernatural prowess, and nothing more.

    Second, I’m not sure what you want me to say, other than, “people invented it.” That’s pretty much all we know about how the story arose. Unfortunately, none of us were around at the time, so we can’t say what motivated them to invent it, or for instance whether there is perhaps some kernel of truth at the heart of the story which got wrapped up with fantastic exaggerations and/or elaborations. All we know is that the story was told, and I don’t see any reason to discard the legend hypothesis in this case.

  22. Ben @ 25,

    “First, let me say that I don’t see how it benefited anyone but Jesus, who was prevented from drowning. How do you think it benefited the witnesses? Did they learn some lesson by watching Jesus perform this miracle? That’s not how it seems to me. In the Gospels, it seems like just another amazing feat of supernatural prowess, and nothing more.”

    Please re-read the following:

    Matthew 14:25-33

    Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

    We have one disciple who was also able to walk on the water until he gave into fear and we have members of a monotheistic faith worshiping Jesus while declaring him to be the ‘Son of God.’ This seems odd for “just another amazing feat of supernatural prowess, and nothing more.”

    “All we know is that the story was told, and I don’t see any reason to discard the legend hypothesis in this case.”

    You mean aside from a rejection of the supernatural. If the supernatural is possible, which makes more sense: that the stories are true or that an advanced game of telephone resulted in a Faith system that changed the world?

    As others more immersed in mythology and legend than I have attested, the stories of Jesus are unlike any myth or legend before or since. They have changed the lives of billions of people across cultural boundaries, religious boundaries and generational boundaries. The story of Jesus was, is and will continue to be above all other stories.

    Take some time and support your claims that “[i]t doesn’t seem any more unlikely than that a [sic] process of legend creation resulted in the accounts we have of, say, King Arthur, or Romulus and Remus.”
    If you have the wherewithal, compare the manuscript evidence for King Arthur and for Romulus and Remus and compare them to that for the Jesus Christ and the New Testament.

    If you want to cling to your Boghossian faith in the legend theory, that’s your choice, but excuse those of us who don’t.

  23. I’m confused about something. Is this about Jesus as he was described originally (which I doubt we actually know), or about the current characterization of Jesus, which has surely changed over time?

  24. Not changed over time? Well, although I’m sure you have reasons for believing that, I think you’re wrong, and that the picture we have of Jesus now has been influenced by human growth and development–which is how legends are created, right?

  25. I have evidentiary and documentary reasons for being quite convinced that the documents I’m speaking of are unchanged from the beginning, except in minor ways that have no effect on the meaning of the text.

  26. The picture of Jesus we have now has been filled out by subsequent work in Christology, theology, soteriology, and more; you’re right about that. But the story of Jesus—which is what this is about—was never so complicated as to need that kind of in-depth working-out. What it was then, it is now; provided that we give proper place to the context of time and place of course, which we have the scholarship to do.

    I don’t think that’s very controversial, by the way. The question among serious scholars isn’t whether the story is what the story was. It’s where the story came from.

  27. Ordinaryseeker,

    Not changed over time?

    No. Not changed over time. It is the general conclusion of Biblical scholars that the NT we read today is a 99% accurate representation of the original text. Remember, the historicity of the NT makes it the most well attested ancient document in all of human history and that by multiple orders of magnitude of any other ancient text. There are over 25,000 manuscript copies in numerous languages and a “paper trail” of manuscripts that dates into the 1st century. The idea that the NT has been altered over time is simply without factual basis.

  28. Are “serious scholars” the ones you agree with? Because I remember from my undergraduate study that there is, in fact, disagreement among scholars as to what parts of the Bible remain from the original. And isn’t that how stories change over time–small prices changing from the original?

  29. OS, name some scholars who doubt that the Gospels we have in our Bible differ substantially and meaningfully from the Gospels that were written. This is about those four documents.

    Even Bart Ehrman, who tries to make it sound as though Jesus was misquoted, would agree that the documents we have are substantially and meaningfully the same as the originals.

    There is no serious controversy over this. Those who doubt it are not regarded as credible among NT-era historians, including skeptics.

  30. I have been enjoying reading your blog very much. I love Christian apologetics and that fact that it is becoming more popular these days. My son has written an apologetics play that you might be interested in.

    I have a very unique comment:) I followed the link to the article you referred to in this blog post. As I was reading it, an add for a book caught my eye for the book, CROSS EXAMINED: UNCONVENTIONAL SPIRITUAL JOURNEY. I read as much of the book as I could on Amazon, and then ordered the ebook. I should have known that it was written by an atheist and that the purpose of it was to show that Christianity was not true. But I was in major denial because I really was in the mood to read a novel that could teach me about Christian apologetics.

    Since my son has written a short play about Christian apologetics–and it is actually quite good and funny–I have thought that fiction would be a good way to get apologetics message across. The movie, “God’s Not Dead” is a great start. So I dove into the book thinking I could review it and recommend it as well.

    I really did not know until I went to the blog of the writer that he was an atheist. I thought maybe the book was designed to help students talk about how to really dive deep into the study of apologetics. I know–denial is strong! So when I found out the author was the same person who was refuting your argument about why the Jesus story could not be a legend, I realized how I had found the book.

    I am glad I read the book. I am glad that the counter arguments that the free thinking hero of the story shared with the Christian who became converted to atheism presented were not strong at all. Yes, I am inspired to go deeper in my studies, but I am also relieved that my faith is not shaken:)

    Thanks for your great work. I hope some day you will write some kind of response to this book. Basically you will just need to read the counter arguments and respond to them.

    If you want a copy of my son’s play, please let me know. I’m sure he would love to share it with you. He is putting together a group to perform in in the next 6 months or so.

  31. Patricia, you might be interested in the book

    The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. It’s a work of apologetics based fiction that centres around an imagined conversation between the author, Randal Rauser, and an atheist he strikes up a conversation with in a coffee shop.

    While I don’t agree with all of the Rauser’s conclusions (it probably wouldn’t be much fun if I did) it’s a book I like to recommend.

    http://www.amazon.com/Swedish-Atheist-Apologetic-Rabbit-Trails/dp/0830837787

  32. Tom, at one point you say:

    “It’s obvious to me that the author does not produce literature greater than himself.”

    I’m afraid that this is statement is fairly weak, which makes your use of “obvious,” “plausible,” and so on seem like personal credulity or incredulity.

    Take Hemingway, for example. As an individual, he was pretty problematic (alcohol, suicide, etc.), yet he created some very powerful literature. Or Milton: he was domineering, bitter, partisan…yet created Paradise Lost. And those kinds of examples could be multiplied.

    I’d like your argument to work, I really would. But I do think it seems to hinge frequently on personal incredulity. I really have tried to read your argument carefully, several times, but I’m still not finding it satisfying.

    (to be continued…)

  33. With your patient indulgence, I’d like to go through what I think you’re after in syllogism form:

    C= Character of surpassing ethical virtue
    L= Legend
    J= Jesus

    No C is L
    All J is C
    Therefore, no J is L

    I think that some folks are trying pretty hard to cast doubt on the minor premise, but they mostly seem to have to do that by poor or tendentious reading (e.g., on Jesus’ walking on the water). So, let’s just look at the major premise.

    What is the logical demonstration of No C is L? The way to discover this is to find the middle term (x):
    No x is L
    All C is x
    Therefore, No C is L

    So, what is the middle term in your argument? It can help that “No x is L” is logically equivalent to “No L is x,” since that seems to be what you’re after: “No legend is…”

    And it might help to define “legend” here: it seems to me that what you’ve defined it as is something like: “a character produced by gradual processes in a community motivated by its own interests with no concern or method for communicating accurate or coherent ideas.”

    If that’s the definition of legend, then is “x” something like: “self-consistent and compelling universal recognition as virtuous”?

    That gives us the expanded proposition “No L is x”:

    No character produced by gradual processes in a community that is 1) motivated by its own interests and 2) has no concern or method for communicating accurate or coherent ideas is self-consistent and compelling universal recognition as virtuous.

    This does seem to be to be what you’re after. Notice, though, how complex the terms are: the concept of “legend” has at least three, if not four, elements.

    This seems to be what you’re after, then: these are the kinds of elements you go through in your article. So, after a little more analysis, your argument does seem a little more satisfying. But the fact that even in syllogism form it break down to a fairly complex idea may limit its effectiveness…

  34. Tom, on the off chance that you are not aware of itmy browser console reports a large amount of errors on your site. Most notably styles are not being applied to your site. There are also some HTML errors present (unclosed tags and the like).

  35. Thanks for that analysis, JWDS.

    Your point on Hemingway was a good one, and worth thinking about. I wonder, though: you speak of his ethical weaknesses; and as I recall A Farewell To Arms, it didn’t rise above those particular kinds of weaknesses. As for Milton, I’m not so sure, so that’s worthy of further thought.

  36. Tom Gilson,

    Thank you for the response.

    Please understand, when I talk about “personal incredulity,” I’m not saying it is always unjustified. Maybe your personal incredulity really IS justified. But, that is something you would need to show. Simply expressing your incredulity isn’t good enough; that is to say, it does not itself constitute justification. Hopefully, you will agree with that uncontroversial fact.

    But, as far as I can tell, much of your would-be argument seems to me merely an expression of your incredulity. That’s fine as far as it goes, but don’t expect it to be convincing to others. And, don’t expect it to be justified, unless you have some reasons to back it up.

    I would like to take some time to re-read your article, because it’s possible you really did attempt to lay out a justification, and I just didn’t understand your case. Perhaps you could help me out by summarizing your argument in a very short point-by-point outline. But, on my first read a few weeks ago, I remember being struck by the lack of an attempted case for certain crucial details of your position, namely the idea that the early Christian community would not have produced a legendary character with the special attributes you believe we find in Jesus.

  37. Ben, you’re expressing your personal opinion, which is fine, but I’m not sure you’ve dealt with my comment #22, where I argued that “personal incredulity” has no value as an argument. Please look there before continuing.

    Also:

    Maybe your personal incredulity really IS justified. But, that is something you would need to show.

    Actually, Ben, I have (a) denied that this is an argument from personal incredulity, so that remains something that you need to show, and (b) whether it’s personal incredulity or not, what I need to show is whether my conclusion is justified; which is what the article was for.

    In other words, if you disagree with the article’s conclusions, then engage with the article’s arguments. Personal incredulity is not one of them.

  38. toddes,

    Sorry for taking so long to respond to you. In your post #16, I think you misunderstood me. I’m not saying Jesus isn’t the Son of God in the Gospels—obviously, he is! Rather, I’m saying that Jesus isn’t God in the Gospels. That is, there is a difference between being God, and being the Son of God. There is also a difference between the Jesus being God, and being the Word made flesh, where the Word is both God and with God.

    But, what I find most interesting about your comments is the following. You wrote: “As an aside, how is forcing someone to believe that which isn’t true (“These are not the droids you are looking for.”) considered a morally positive act? Kenobi lies, deceives, kills, he acts rebelliously toward his master, he places Padme in danger by stowing away on her ship making her appear as a confederate in the hunt for Anakin, he stands helplessly by as Padme dies (so much for those amazing Jedi Mind tricks being the all-in-all power. Sure he can push objects with his mind but he can’t prevent someone from dying or bring her back to life), etc.”

    Yes, I think it is morally excellent for Kenobi to use his powers to deceive the stormtroopers in order to prevent them from carrying out the evil imperial orders to find and capture Leia (whereupon she would certainly be killed, and the death star protected to secure its genocidal purpose). Do you really think it would have been morally better for Kenobi to stand idly by and let that happen? Really?

    So, yes, Kenobi lies and deceives. And that is to his credit, when its purpose is to protect the innocent. It is also to his credit when he kills murderers to prevent them from committing more murders, in his official capacity as protector of galactic peace and security.

    The so-called rebelliousness is a bit tricker, but I think it is appropriate in certain circumstances for an apprentice to contradict the will of his master. An apprentice must be able to exercise some measure of independence, especially late in his apprenticeship, or he will not be prepared to go his own way when the apprenticeship is finally concluded.

    Please also note, all of these qualities—deception, lethal violence, and rebelliousness—we find in either Jesus or God. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus deceives others by deliberately hiding from them his identity as the Son of God. He even commands his disciples to participate in the deception! And, while it is true that he does not EXPLICITLY lie, you should remember that a lie of omission is still a lie. Lethal violence is found everywhere in the OT, from God’s hand. And of course we all know about the adolescent Jesus’ rebelliousness when he ditched his parents to hang out at the Jewish temple.

    Now, surely you think all of these behaviors are morally excellent. But, that just goes to show the difference in our opinion. I’m being completely honest when I say that I find the behaviors of Kenobi to be morally excellent, whereas you evidently think they are the opposite. How can we resolve such disagreements? Is a rational resolution even possible? That is an interesting question, and I do not have an answer. However, I SUSPECT not.

    Oh, and also, I wasn’t saying that Jedi mind tricks make Kenobi more powerful than Jesus. Rather, I just think it is a very cool and special ability, and one which Jesus either does not have or does not use. I think it’s a lot cooler to have special abilities like that than to have the sheer raw power of Jesus. (It reminds me of how I appreciate the abilities of Batman more than I do of Superman.)

    As for your post #26, I’m probably not going to respond to those criticisms, and that is mainly because they do not actually apply to my position. For instance, I do not suggest that “an advanced game of telephone resulted in a Faith system that changed the world.”

  39. Tom Gilson,

    I am glad you agree that personal incredulity has no value in an argument! After all, that seems pretty darn uncontroversial. And, I am glad you deny that your argument (and hopefully also you deny that any PART of your argument) is from personal incredulity.

    The problem is, when I read your argument, certain crucial details seem unjustified. Instead—again, as far as I can tell—you just express your incredulity. So, that’s why I keep pressing this criticism.

    Eventually, I will read the short version of your argument, then re-read the long version. Perhaps I have overlooked your attempt at an ACTUAL justification, and perhaps I will discover it when I do the re-read. But, thus far, I can’t find any such justification that you have presented.

  40. I’m saying that Jesus isn’t God in the Gospels. That is, there is a difference between being God, and being the Son of God. There is also a difference between the Jesus being God, and being the Word made flesh, where the Word is both God and with God.

    It would seem like your grasp of the Trinity and your understanding of some very basic Biblical interpretation is at least somewhat limited. The understanding of the “Word” as referencing Christ is entry level Biblical interpretation of the implication of the Gen. 1 and John 1 texts. The John 1 text that describes how “…the Word is both God and with God” is a central text for understanding of the concept of the Trinity. The idea that “…there is a difference between being God, and being the Son of God.” is true but doesn’t support your assertion that “..that Jesus isn’t God in the Gospels.” (It’s that Trinity thing again.)

  41. BillT,

    You are certainly welcome to interpret the Gospels as saying that Jesus is God. But, that would be your personal interpretation, which is not shared by myself nor many other readers of the Gospels. (It is perhaps shared by your fellow Trinitarians, but that is neither here nor there.)

    The Gospels say that Jesus is the Son of God. They do NOT say that he is God. If you want to infer that the authors intended us to understand Jesus as God, okay, but, again, that’s your personal, Trinitarian interpretation.

  42. Ben, the deity of Christ is no one’s “personal interpretation,” unless “personal interpretation” could be considered synonymous with “the interpretation shared by billions of people now and for hundreds and hundreds of years before now.” I should think that you would consider that rather stretching the meaning of the phrase.

    Your opinion, on the other hand, is uninformed, unsupported, and premature. Have you ever interacted with the arguments in a book like, say, Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ? Unless you have, and until you do, you are speaking from ignorance and you have nothing credible to say on that subject.

    ******
    You’re making a habit of telling us we are coming here with personal incredulity and personal interpretations. What that looks like from here is nothing more than a mere slogan, a dodge, a convenient way of expressing agreement, intended to zing your opponent yet without having to communicate any substance. Please be advised that we can tell the difference between substance and the lack thereof.

    If you’re inclined to disagree on a subject you haven’t studied, my advice is that you ask probing questions instead. Just a word to the wise.

  43. Ben,

    The Trinity is as central a concept to Chritianity as almost any that one could name. You have a right to believe what you want but the idea that Jesus is God and the concept of the Trinity is believed by the vast majority of Christians and vast majority is probably an understatement. This concept has been part of Christian thought since Tertullian and the writings that explain and confirm it would fill a library. If you want to deny the Trinity it’s your burden of proof to explain the validity of your position. Using a non Tinitarian position to argue against Tom’s proposition is to argue using a concept of Christianity we don’t believe in. If you’re going to do that why bother. Just deny it all and be done with it.

  44. Tom Gilson,

    You say that I am “making a habit” out of my accusations of personal incredulity. Well, yes, I am pressing that criticism, because I think it is an important one. I’m not sure how you think that’s a bad thing.

    Anyway, I am confused by your last comment. I kicked off this whole conversation by noting that “the Gospels do not actually tell us that Jesus was God.” In your response, you did not dispute this. Instead, you explained how you don’t need Jesus to be God in order for your argument to work. To recall your own words: “for my argument to work, what I need is for Jesus to be incredibly, overwhelmingly powerful, not omnipotent.”

    Now, suddenly, you have chosen to dispute this initial criticism. I find that very odd. But, okay. Let’s say Jesus is God in the Gospels. He’s clearly not God in the Synoptics, and it’s not obvious exactly what he is supposed to be in the fourth Gospel. However, I will grant you that point for the sake of argument. (It’s not going to get you very far.)

    I read the “short version” of your article. Thank you for that. Let me remind you, I want to know the justification for thinking a legendary character such as Jesus was not developed by early Christians. I can identify three attempts at such justification in your short version.

    First, you say that nobody has ever done it before or since. In your words: “No one else has demonstrated the ability to compose a character anything like that. … That’s a hint…that his greatness surpasses the reach of human imagination…”

    Second, you suggest that, since this happened four times over, it becomes all the more unlikely. In your own words: “the authors had four distinct opportunities to get it wrong—to introduce some flaw into Christ’s self-sacrificial, other-centered character—but none of them did.”

    I am having a hard time understanding your third attempt at justification, but as best I can tell, you seem to be trying to show that the particulars of the legend-creation process suggested by skeptics contradict what we know about how the early Christian communities (or “non-community,” if you prefer) operated. In your own words: “The skeptical version has no coherent back-story. It fits nowhere in what we know of human nature, of literature, or the context of the times.”

    It is this third attempt at justification where I think you are unwittingly appealing to personal incredulity. But, maybe I am wrong. I will have to re-read the long version of your argument, and get back to you.

    But, before I do, can you please tell me, am I correct about the above three points? Are those the prongs of your case for showing that a legendary character such as Jesus—with all the qualities you ascribe to him—wasn’t developed by the early Christians? Have I gotten any of them wrong? Am I missing a fourth (or fifth, etc.) prong?

  45. BillT,

    Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying the Trinity isn’t a central concept in Christianity. Obviously, it is! However, it did not appear until long after the Gospels were written.

    Notice also that Tom Gilson denies outright the Trinity is relevant to his argument. From the OP, he writes plainly: “The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t enter in to my argument.”

  46. However, it did not appear until long after the Gospels were written.

    The doctrine of the Trinity was not formalised until the First Council of Nicea. I hope that you are not suggesting that this is an argument against the truth of the Trinity, Ben. It’s simply a historical observation.

  47. Billy Squibs,

    I am not attempting to argue that the Trinity is false. That would be terribly off-topic. Instead, I’m trying to understand and critique Tom Gilson’s argument against the legend hypothesis. And, as he himself has said very plainly, the Trinity is not part of his argument.

  48. Ben,

    You challenged the concept of the deity of Christ that is supported by the concept of the Trinity as well as Christ’s own words. You stated that “I’m saying that Jesus isn’t God in the Gospels. That is, there is a difference between being God, and being the Son of God.” which is refuted by the concept of the Trinity. You tried to use the I above as an argument to challenge the ideas in the OP. Thus, raising the validity of the Trinity was a valid refutation of your argument whether Tom used it or not.

  49. BillT,

    The Trinity is simply not part of Tom Gilson’s argument, and that is what I am here to discuss. So, I have nothing more to say on that subject.

  50. “The Trinity is simply not part of Tom Gilson’s argument, and that is what I am here to discuss.”

    Well do let us know when you are going to start that instead of challenging the deity of Christ, misunderstanding the Gospels and failing to comprehend some basic Biblical interpretation.

  51. Ben @52, if you’re “not sure how that’s a bad thing,” please re-read #44. Please let us know when you’re done pressing your case for personal incredulity, and are really ready to talk about matters of substance.

    Or, if you really want to make a case for personal incredulity, then make it. Don’t just wave words at it, as you’ve been doing. Telling me that my case is built on personal incredulity is not the same as establishing that it’s so.

    The thing is, we’ve already agreed that personal incredulity is defined by whether one’s disbelief is justified. I’ve already encouraged you to move on to that question and to drop this PI business, since it’s a distraction.

    It’s still a distraction.

    I’ll be glad to answer your relevant questions in #52 if you’ll cull them out of the PI irrelevancies there and ask them again. I won’t do that sorting for you, though.

    Further you say, “He’s clearly not God in the Synoptics.” That is decidedly false. Please re-read the second and fourth paragraphs of #50. I will not spend time defending the deity of Christ here when there is a more immediate issue, which is your breezy self-assurance regarding topics on which you are uninformed.

  52. Tom Gilson,

    I don’t know why you would have a problem answering my questions about your case. You say you would like to discuss your argument, but you seem unwilling to do so. Instead, it seems like you would rather opine about my alleged “breezy self-assurance” and the definition of the term “personal incredulity.” (By the way, I do NOT agree that personal incredulity is always unjustified.)

    You keep saying I have misunderstood your argument. Well, in post 52 I tried to explain how I view it, and asked you if that view is correct, or, if not, how it is incorrect. You have refused to answer. I find that very strange.

    So, let me repeat my questions. Recall from before:

    First, you say that nobody has ever done it before or since. In your words: “No one else has demonstrated the ability to compose a character anything like that. … That’s a hint…that his greatness surpasses the reach of human imagination…”

    Second, you suggest that, since this happened four times over, it becomes all the more unlikely. In your own words: “the authors had four distinct opportunities to get it wrong—to introduce some flaw into Christ’s self-sacrificial, other-centered character—but none of them did.”

    I am having a hard time understanding your third attempt at justification, but as best I can tell, you seem to be trying to show that the particulars of the legend-creation process suggested by skeptics contradict what we know about how the early Christian communities (or “non-community,” if you prefer) operated. In your own words: “The skeptical version has no coherent back-story. It fits nowhere in what we know of human nature, of literature, or the context of the times.”

    Now, I am asking, is this a correct summary of your argument against the legend hypothesis, given your view of Jesus? In other words, let’s say I grant that everything you think about the Jesus character is true—e.g., that he is perfectly other-oriented, and perfectly powerful, etc. Given that foundation, are the above three points an accurate summary of your argument against the legend hypothesis? If not, what am I missing? Or, what have I misinterpreted?

  53. Ben,

    I don’t know why you would have a problem answering my questions about your case. You say you would like to discuss your argument, but you seem unwilling to do so.

    Wrong. I explained what I was unwilling to do and what I was willing to do. Please don’t draw false conclusions.

    Thank you for moving on from the “personal incredulity” issue.

    Your summary just now is a pretty good one. It doesn’t include everything, of course. I can’t really tell how you’re mentally filling the remaining blanks, and I’m not sure whether you’ve misinterpreted anything or not; but as far as it goes, this is a good condensed form of my argument.

  54. By the way, my claim is that Jesus is perfectly other-oriented in his use of his extraordinary power.

    At this point I should clarify something about what I’m not claiming. I’m not resting this argument on Jesus’ deity. I’m not making it depend on Jesus’ perfect other-orientedness in his other interactions not involving his extraordinary power. The reason is because I think (a) his other-orientedness in his use of his extraordinary power really ought to be uncontroversial; i.e., he used it strictly for others’ benefit, not his own; and (b) I think the case I’m making can be made successfully with uncontroversial information like that, so there’s no need to enter into more controversial topics.

    I do think Jesus was perfectly other-oriented in all his interactions, and that he was and is God. I’m just not resting this argument on those kinds of things.

  55. Tom Gilson,

    Please don’t think I have moved on from the personal incredulity issue. I plan to come back to it, but first I want to make sure I understand your argument correctly.

    At any rate, thank you for your answer. Now, I will re-read the long version, and get back to you later.

  56. Please don’t think that PI is going to help you along with your argument. What you want to investigate, Ben, isn’t my psychology. It’s my argument. Whether I’m personally incredulous or not is irrelevant to the entire rest of the world. Whether my argument rests on that putative incredulity is irrelevant, too. What matters is whether my argument rests on a reasoned and reasonable foundation.

    Now, you may think that my argument’s move from the supposed facts of the legend hypothesis to the conclusion, “that’s implausible,” is a move of incredulity. But recall the definition you yourself gave for PI: it’s defined by whether the conclusion, “it’s implausible,” is justified by the facts.

    And that’s all that matters. Is the conclusion justified by the facts?

  57. Tom Gilson,

    I think you have misunderstood me, which may explain why you are so hung up on this personal incredulity issue. I agree, your psychology is not the issue—at least, not exactly. And I agree, whether or not you are believe the legend hypothesis is irrelevant to your argument. And, I agree that what matters is whether your argument rests on a reasoned and reasonable foundation. What matters is, as you say, whether your conclusion is justified by the facts.

    So, evidently, we have no disagreement in any of those things. And later when I re-read the long version, I am going to spend some time looking more carefully at your attempted justification, to make sure I understand it correctly.

    But, what I fear is that you are making gut judgments about what is likely or unlikely. It seems to me that you have this imagined view about how the early Christians must have operated under the legend hypothesis, and it just strikes you as unbelievable that they could have developed a legendary character such as Jesus.

    Now, gut judgments like that aren’t always bad. That’s pretty much how we have to do most ancient historical inquiry. There is no mathematical formula for computing the likelihood that such-and-such ancient historical account is accurate or true. Instead, we often have to use our best judgment, and our intuition. But in this case, it seems to me that your judgment is way off from mine, and (more importantly) from many scholars’ who have spent years investigating the issue.

    Moreover, I think it’s important to be clear about where we have to inject our own best judgment, in lieu of a clear and unambiguous objective justification. So, again, that’s something I’ll be watching for when I re-read your argument.

    EDIT: One last thing. I hesitate to mention this, because I really don’t want to get stuck on pedantic points. But, you wrote the following:

    “But recall the definition you yourself gave for PI: it’s defined by whether the conclusion, ‘it’s implausible,’ is justified by the facts.”

    I gave no such definition. Personal incredulity has nothing to do with justification—and that’s the problem! Here is the actual definition I gave: “by personal incredulity I just mean the person’s disbelief.”

  58. Ben,

    Again with the uninformed opinion:

    But in this case, it seems to me that your judgment is way off from mine, and (more importantly) from many scholars’ who have spent years investigating the issue.

    Show me one scholar who has investigated the question in this form. Good luck trying.

    I’ve been asking around for some time, among the most highly qualified scholars. This is a genuinely new question, never broached before.

    Your memory is short, too, I’m sad to have to note. You say,

    I gave no such definition. Personal incredulity has nothing to do with justification—and that’s the problem! Here is the actual definition I gave: “by personal incredulity I just mean the person’s disbelief.”

    You forget that I asked this question,

    But let’s pause a moment and clarify terms. Would you please define “personal incredulity” for me? In your definition, please distinguish it from legitimate incredulity, for example of the sort that says, “I can’t believe your homework burned up spontaneously on the hall table.”

    And you answered,

    In answer to your question, by personal incredulity I just mean the person’s disbelief. In this case, I am referring to your disbelief that the early Jesus movement could have developed a legendary character with the kinds of qualities you’ve been discussing. This is contrasted with our belief that homework doesn’t burn up spontaneously insofar as the latter is justified, whereas the former does not appear to be justified at all.

    Either your definition of “personal incredulity” includes justification or else it’s indistinguishable from ordinary disbelief, as in, “I can’t believe your homework burned up spontaneously on the hall table.”

    In other words, the issue is justification.

  59. Followed by those that are biased, of course.

    I admit my bias. Your confidence in your inaccurate and uninformed contra-Christian opinions betrays yours.

  60. Tom Gilson,

    *sigh*

    Look, I’m about ready to give up trying to get you to understand my criticisms. Instead, all I want to do at this point is make sure I understand you correctly. So, I don’t think I’m going to argue much with you anymore, if at all. Instead, I’m going to re-read the long version and maybe ask you some more questions about it. Hopefully you are willing to answer them.

    Suffice it to say, your responses to my criticisms don’t seem to make much sense half the time. For instance, you quote me directly, where I clearly lay out what I mean by the term “personal incredulity.” You also acknowledge post 65 where I elaborate on it further. And yet, you continue to insist that I mean something I do not. Honestly, I don’t understand what the problem is. But, it’s not terribly important, so, I’m going to try to just let it go after this.

Comments close automatically on posts older than 120 days.