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What Are the Parallels Between Jesus and the “Divine Men” of the Ancient World? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Mythicists claim that the stories about Jesus were merely copied from other pagan myths circulating around the Roman Empire in the first century.  If this is true, it does cast some doubt on the uniqueness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and it certainly makes one wonder if all the stories about Jesus were borrowed from other sources.

In order to discuss this claim, I will call to the stand one Bart Ehrman, a man who is no friend to Christianity.  Ehrman was interviewed by Ben Witherington in a seven-part series last summer after Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist?, was published.  When asked in the seventh interview post what his research revealed about the alleged parallel stories, Ehrman first affirms that there are some similarities:

There are several points that need to be made, I think, about all the parallels that exist between the stories of Jesus and other supposed “divine men” of ancient Greece and Rome. The first is that there were indeed a number of similarities between the ways Christians talked about Jesus and the ways pagans (and in some instances, Jews) talked about other “sons of God.” There is no point denying this (it comes as a huge surprise to my students). We have stories of other “divine men” from antiquity who were thought to have been supernaturally born; to have been preternaturally wise, religiously, while still youths; to have engaged in itinerate preaching ministries; to have done miracles such as miraculously feeding the hungry, casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead; and at the end of their lives to have ascended to heaven. These other stories do exist (and not just about Apollonius of Tyana.)

Not surprisingly, there were other stories in the ancient world of men supernaturally born, who engaged in preaching ministries, who performed miracles, and who ascended to heaven.  In fact, even though I am not a historical scholar, I would wager to say that these kinds of stories have existed throughout the history of mankind, even up to the present day.

What should we make of these parallels?  Do they lead us inevitably to the conclusion that the stories about Jesus were manufactured, that Jesus never existed?  Ehrman argues that

the fact that Jesus was talked about in ways similar to how others were talked about does not mean that he (or they) did not exist. Some of these stories are told about figures who are absolutely and incontrovertibly historical (Alexander the Great; the Emperor Vespasian; Apollonius; and so on). If you wanted to tell stories about a figure you considered to be more than human, to be in some sense divine, these are the kinds of stories you told.

As Ehrman rightly points out, these kinds of stories were often told about real, historical people.  Given that fact, concluding that Jesus never existed, as the mythicists do, is a completely unwarranted move.  We cannot determine that a person never existed because they were said to have been born supernaturally, performed miracles, and ascended to heaven.  If this is the criteria we use to determine whether people existed, we are going to have to redact a lot of historical figures from our history textbooks.

In part 2 of this series, we will continue to look at Ehrman’s exploration of this topic in Ben Witherington’s blog post.


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Comments

  • tildeb

    It is unfair to suggest that mythicists assume Jesus was ONLY a myth. This is simply not true. What many mythicists do say, however and with a great deal of academic weight, is that it seems doubtful there was only a single man described in the NT. Writer, theologian, retired minister, and reincarnated New Atheist Eric MacDonald:

    In his words,

    “What is decisive, to my mind, against the existence of a single figure around which the Christian myth crystallised, is the fact that the gospel narratives are so conflicting, especially when it comes to the mythical parts, but the teaching conflicts too, and no one person is plausible as the speaker of all the words uttered by the gospel Jesus. The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are entirely incompatible, and the resurrection narratives are no better; and in neither case are the disagreements such as might be expected from witnesses whose testimony is not entirely consistent. Perfect consistency almost always points to collusion, but differing about where Jesus would and did appear — whether in Jerusalem or Galilee — is simply too big of a mistake to support belief that the resurrection narratives are the result of eyewitness testimony.”

    He then quotes a rather famous mythicist, JD Crossan:

    “There is a Jesus as a political revolutionary by S.G.F. Brandon (1967), as a magician by Morton Smith (1978), as a Galilean charismatic by Geza Vermes (1981. 1984), and a Galilean Rabbi by Bruce Chilton (1984), as Hillelite or proto-Pharisee by Harvey Falk (1985), as an Essene by Harvey Falk (1985), and as an eschatological prophet by E.P. Sanders (1985) … But that stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment. It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography. [quote from John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant, xxviii, in Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, 198]”

    Back to Eric:

    “Ehrman’s Jesus is, like E.P. Sanders’ or Albert Schweitzer’s, an apocalyptic prophet, but not, note, a political revolutionary, a Galilean sage, a magician, a proto-Pharisee, an Essene or even a cynic sage or Mediterranean peasant (which seems to be Crossan’s favourite characterisation), and Ehrman’s characterisation of him as an apocalyptist scarcely amounts to a contribution to a growing consensus of opinion about the historical Jesus, since all the other supposed Jesuses are still somehow in play within the community whose consensus is held — with some justice — to be determinative for what we can confidently say about history. Does that make Jesus into a purely mythical figure? Well, no, it doesn’t, but it does tend to make the evangelical Jesus (the Jesus of the evangelists or gospel writers), if he was an identifiable historical person who lived in first century Galilee and Judaea, more of a cipher than a man.”

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    My understanding of a mythicist is that it is a person who denies that the Jesus spoken of in the four Gospels ever existed. I think Crossan would be surprised to hear you call him a mythicist, as he believes that there is some historical truth in the Gospels.

    There is a continuum of scholarship from those on the conservative end who believe that everything written about Jesus in the four Gospels is historically accurate, to those on the liberal end who believe that a small subset of what is written in the Gospels is historically accurate. Ehrman’s point is that there is no reputable scholarship that says that nothing written about Jesus is historically accurate – that is the mythicist position.

  • Boz

    How does Eric MacDonald’s argument differentiate between two scenarios: (1) Multiple people upon which the dozens of gospels are loosely based, and (2) One person upon which the dozens of gospels are loosely based, with additional fabrications?
    ?

  • Boz

    I think a lot of miscommunication comes from ‘mythicists’ that are merely unpersuaded that Jesus had any magical abilities.

  • tildeb

    Well, Boz, link over and just ask him.

  • ggodat

    Nice, you use the quote from a professed reincarnated atheist…. Does he have proof he was reincarnated? You want me to believe that but not believe that Jesus existed or rose from the dead? How are the 2 different as supernatural events?
    Tildeb, i am amazed at the effort you put forth to deny the deity of Christ but throw out any shred of intelligence you may have in belief of someone who says they are reincarnated.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Some of these stories are told about figures who are absolutely and incontrovertibly historical (Alexander the Great; the Emperor Vespasian; Apollonius; and so on).

    This strikes me as very odd. Vespasian and Alexander may be as securely historical as any figure from the ancient world can be, but the evidence for Apollonius of Tyana is far less impressive. It may well be reasonable to think his existence more likely than not but “absolutely and incontrovertibly historical” seems like more than a bit of a stretch.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    The parallels in the stories do not establish the non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth. They simply require us to look elsewhere for proof of his existence. When you scrape away the supernatural stories that were told about Alexander and Vespasian, you still have a significant historical footprint. When you scrape away the supernatural stories about Jesus, you scrape away the only reason stories were ever preserved about him in the first place. Supernatural stories about Alexander the Great arose after his death as a result of the significant achievements of his natural life. Natural stories about Jesus’ life were preserved (and invented for all we know) because of a belief that arose in his postmortem supernatural accomplishments.

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  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    tildeb,

    “What many mythicists do say, however and with a great deal of academic weight,”

    What’s the academic weight? Is it that there are academics who have an opinion, or is there any real scholarship to point to? You of all people point to the need for observable objective truth to derive knowledge, not imaginative reasoning from a mere presupposition. I don’t think there is any real scholarship of the sort you require on this matter.

    You might say you are just showing some opinions for the sake of discussion, that’s fine, but it is the “great deal of academic weight” that is contrary to what you normally say.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Does he have proof he was reincarnated?”

    I don’t think he means what you think he means by ‘reincarnated’, thus rendering your point moot.

  • tildeb

    The academic weight I am referring to is strictly to historical scholarship regarding the bible (and the historical inconsistencies found throughout the Gospels) rather than the much more popular and widely quoted theological scholarship (even if that may be an oxymoron).

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    This historical scholarship I believe you are referring to starts with a presupposition that is biased (begging the question) from the start. Inconsistencies are seen as inconsistencies because they are pressumed to be inconsistencies. That doesn’t take you far from where you start and is okay scholarship within itself as an angle to examine – something to write about, but it doesn’t help much at providing useful knowledge. It is only good for providing more confusion. Especially when the secular biblical historians don’t agree themselves and have as many theories as there are historians studying it. I’m just saying, mere opinion doesn’t say much and I’m suprised you give into it as having any weight. You might think they are grounded in their presupposition because it agrees with your worldview, but their conclusions are all over the place. If they all agreed, you might then have a point that their scholoarship may have some weight.

  • zuma

    This question might cause a doubt to many people. However, if one could prove that Jesus’ existence and His death as well as His resurrection is in accordance to what has been foretold in the Old Testament, answer would be obvious that He was once in existence.

  • tildeb

    Inconsistencies are seen as inconsistencies because they are pressumed (sic) to be inconsistencies.

    No, Walt. They are historical inconsistencies, meaning personal accounts studied show glaring inconsistencies of historically verifiable events, dates, and places between the personal accounts of those who claim knowledge of this man Jesus. One needs to look no further than the Gospels themselves to start to find direct contradictions like in the birth narratives. These contradictory accounts are not ‘presumed’ at all: they are clearly visible to all who bother to compare and contrast. To now claim these visible contradictions are to blamed as opinions of the reader is ludicrous.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/T3QBMWRBGZJPTKIB2MZKKBIXCM Zuma

    John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” Read carefully of the above verses. As the phrase, as many as received him, is mentioned in John 1:12 with the phrase, the sons of God, it gives the implication that christians are themselves the sons of God too.
    Jesus Christ did give the twelve disciples the power over all devils and these have received the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost. The following is the extract:
    Luke 9:1, “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.”
    The following is the extract that God did grant christians with supernatural power:
    1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”
    As christians could be considered as the sons of God as mentioned in John 1:12 and that christians, especially the twelve disciples, did perform supernatural power, it is rational for Jews or other races to talk about the existence of divine menor the sons of God since there are none other than christians themselves that were granted by God to have supernatural power in the past.

  • ggodat

    then why use the term reincarnated? WHy not use converted? I would tend to use words that dont make me seem crazy….
    ps. go Chelsey

  • tildeb

    I used the term ‘reincarnated’ because Eric had to go through the death of his wife and witness first hand (including insufficient reasons offered in a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury) the brutality she was forced to endure entirely under the guise of legalized religious morality to be born again into the clarity of reality… meaning that he first had to experience the detrimental effect of his religious belief in action that promoted horrendous suffering of a deeply loved mate before he could see it for what is was. His religious belief had to die before his mind – and honest human morality – could wake up as a New Atheist. No ‘conversion’ took place, meaning going from one state of belief to another; instead, he stopped believing in a god altogether because of experiencing the Euthyphro dilemma.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    Why does my response to this keep disappearing?

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I’m not familiar with the torture situation you are mentioning, but I do know the Euthyprho dilemma comes from an incorrect understanding of the nature of God. What atheist writings I am aware of on the subject fall into that misunderstanding. Whatever this man experienced, was not Plato’s dilemma.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “then why use the term reincarnated?”
    Why claim to be ‘born again’ when you haven’t actually been pushed through a uterus a second time? Personally I’d go for ‘deconverted’ if you lose your faith.

    But anyway, I’m sure some atheists believe in reincarnation. Atheism isn’t inoculation against believing in stupid things. And sure, any such atheist isn’t really in a position to point and laugh at theists. They might be an atheist, but they’re not a sceptic.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Walt, not sure what the problem is. I’m certainly not deleting anything.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I don’t know if my edit notifies tildeb, but I edited the response above where I asked the question of why my response keeps disappearing to add at least part of what I was trying to post previously. I left a link out to a vimeo video with my explanation of why there is no inconsistency between the narrative stories.

  • ggodat

    You said “Atheism isn’t inoculation against believing in stupid things”…
    Thanks for admitting this!
    I understand your point (same question Nicodemus asked of Jesus). “Born Again” means born of the Spirit of God, but to someone lacking understanding it would seem crazy.
    Did we just agree on something??

  • ggodat

    tildeb, i have witnessed people whose family members have died of cancer and left young children motherless, people who have been murdered and left children fatherless, people in Honduras that have nothing and rarely have food…Yet none of them have lost their faith in God! Evil things happen and contrary to your belief, that affirms God’s existence. I find it funny that you describe an “honest human morality” that had to be woken up.. What human defined this morality and why to you think they have the authority to define it for all people? Human morality sucks! We are like pigs rolling around in the filth. I want no part of any Human morality because it holds NO ONE accountable.
    Eric denied God’s existence not because he had some revelation whereby he finally understood that God didn’t exist, Eric simply wanted to live life on his terms and not subject himself to the authority of God. Same thing as a rebellious child!

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    What method do you use to determine whether there is an inconsistency between two (or more) accounts regarding the same situation?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “We are like pigs rolling around in the filth”
    Speak for yourself!

    “Thanks for admitting this!”
    Why should this be an admission. My atheism is a result of my scepticism. It’s possible to be an atheist and not be a sceptic. It is scepticism that I recommend, not atheism. I’ve never advised anyone to be an atheist, or claimed it’s a good idea per se. If someone offers a bad reason to be a theist (or indeed to be an atheist) then I’ll call them on it. Doesn’t mean that theism in itself is wrong, just that I think they’re offering a bad justification for it.

    “why to you think they have the authority to define it for all people”

    How come a God gets to define it?

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    If a person is in two places at the same time, doing two different things at the same time (where it is not possible to be two similar events), or anything else that is logically impossible, then there is an inconsistency. Also, if the stories fit together without any twisting of the meaning of either text, you cannot say you have an inconsistency. The birth narratives are a case in particular where they fit together perfectly with no forcing. None of the events, nor details, are contradictory, or even inconsistent.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    Thanks. I hope you understand tildeb was referring to historical analysis that does not utilize the “any logical possibility” methodology contained in the theological spectrum in determining inconsistencies.

    Simply put, you are using a different method when using the same word—“inconsistency.” Under historical analysis (more likely than not there is an inconsistency) the birth narratives are inconsistent on a number of points. Using theological analysis they can be logically harmonized (albeit with a bit of dancing in my opinion), and therefore are consistent.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I do not believe I am using the word “inconsistency” any different than any rational historian. I don’t believe we are talking about whether these stories are true, but whether they are consistent. It seems tildeb was indicating there are inconsistencies between the two narratives. She has long established that she believes the Bible as a whole to be inconsistent with her worldview, but the implication was that there was some inconsistency between the two narratives. That is what she seemed to be saying anyway.

    Thus, I stil ask, what are the inconsistencies? If one is going to say two narratives are inconsistent, there must be a basis for the statement. Since I haven’t found one, I’m asking for at least one, because either I have missed it, or it is being misunderstood. Obviously, I believe the narratives are being misunderstood. I can guess that the perceived inconsistency has to do with Nazareth and Bethlehem. But, before I show how they are not at all an inconsistency, I ask in case there is one I have missed. If she meant inconsistency in the way that you mean, Dagood, then she needs to clarify that, but then she didn’t need to say there is as inconsistency between the two narratives, but that both of the narratives, as well as the whole Bible, are inconsistent with her worldview.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I’m going to try this link again: http://bit.ly/QZ7xIw
    The whole thing might be interesting where I talk about the Isaiah Scroll from Qumran, the space shuttle, and such, but the most relevant to this discussion is in the last ten minutes.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I wonder where the dancing was needed? I’ll admit in some places there seems to be dances, but not here. So, where do you think there is dancing?

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    1) I never discuss particulars in accounts until we either agree on a method OR understand we approach inconsistent historical accounts from different methodology and will therefore necessarily come to different conclusions, thus obviate the need to discuss particulars. I do not use “any logical possibility” as a method when attempting to align apparent inconsistent accounts (I know of no historian who does. Ever.) I use “what is more likely to a neutral party.”

    So why bother discussing particulars when we will always reach different conclusions? If it makes you feel any better, I would agree under your “any logical possibility” the alleged historical accounts in the Bible can be aligned. Of course, so can all the accounts on Nero’s fire, the entire Mormon historical claims, Hannibal crossing the Alps, and just about any other historical event where we have two (or more) inconsistent accounts.

    (I will confess this was the first time I had heard your claimed resolution regarding Nazareth vs. Bethlehem in that the wise men visited Nazareth.)

    2) I thought tildeb made it clear there was a difference between “historical” and “theological” scholarship regarding inconsistencies. (The words were italicized.) I am highlighting the difference is in methodology—“any logical possibility” vs. “more likely scenario.”

    3) As for dancing, I am surprised you are unaware regarding the differences between the birth narratives. An oft-trod area of skeptics and inerrantists debating contradictory accounts.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    There may be a misunderstanding. I am not talking about logical possibility, but inconsistency between two narratives as being truly an inconsitency if it is logially impossible. Those are different things. We’ve discussed logical possibilities before. You asked for my method and I really don’t think I said anything about logical possibilties. If you have a logical impossibility to claim, then you have a clear inconsistency.

    So, I’ll agree it is a waste of time to be discussing details with regard to whether the narratives are consistent with your worldview. I know that is non-starter with you and tildeb. But, all I was asking about was the so called “inconsistencies” between the two narratives.

    If the brith narratives are oft trod area and inconsistencies between the stories are claimed, then all I can say, is what I first said to tildeb, it is a matter of seeing what they want to see, rather than what is really there. I am not aware of any true inconsistency specific to those two narratives.

    And, by the way, the wise men visiting Nazareth is the only consistent explanation without any jumping through hoops.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    I purposely asked how you determine an inconsistency between two or more accounts regarding the same situation. I didn’t limit it to written accounts. I didn’t limit it to biblical accounts. I didn’t limit it to religious accounts. I purposely left it wide open. Your response was (in part), “anything else that is logically impossible.”

    It appears to me saying “an inconsistency exists between two accounts if anything is logically impossible” is the same as “no inconsistency exists as along as there is a logically possible solution.” Apparently you are claiming that is not the same; how those two things are different is beyond me.

    My (or ours, or tildeb’s) worldview is irrelevant. I am NOT asking if the narratives are consistent with my (or yours or tildeb’s) worldview—I am asking for a methodology to determine inconsistency in any account. Whether the account is secular, Islamic history, Jewish history, Christian history, in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, in Time Magazine, influenza, in abstenia, in every historical account and so on.

    One’s worldview is irrelevant. If I am Mormon, and stay consistent with a methodology, I should be able to review and determine inconsistency in Islamic, Jewish, Christian and yes…even Mormon accounts. Let alone Secular, American, European, Asian, etc.

    It is only a non-starter because our methods are different.

    Or perhaps I will try it another way:

    Walt Tucker: If you have a logical impossibility to claim, then you have a clear inconsistency.

    Right. I understand that is your methodology. Mine is “If you have two accounts where it is more likely than not to a neutral party there is a consistency, then you have an inconsistency.” See the difference?

    So you could argue all day long it is logically possible for the wise men to visit Jesus in Nazareth (it is) and this doesn’t impact me at all because that is not the methodology I use! The same way I could point out it is more likely to a neutral party the Matthean author intended to convey Jesus was in Bethlehem at the time of the Magi’s visit (it is) and this doesn’t impact you at all because that is not the methodology you use! So why bother going through the hoops when one of us is talking apples and the other oranges?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Methodology does not ever trump worldview or metaphysics. I am amazed you would say that. There is no such thing as a presuppositionless methodology, so for you to argue that all we need to do is agree on a methodology where “neutral parties” can agree, is hopelessly naive. There is no neutral party. The only way we can proceed is to get our presuppositions out on the table for everyone to see before we ever start to discuss methodology.

  • ggodat

    You just cant address a question with an answer can you? I’ll answer the “Why God gets to define morality” question when you explain how man could ever be in authority to define absolute morality and what man was it and how did he/she get the authority in the first place?
    And, pigs don’t realize they are pigs they just keep rolling arount in the filth. But i’m sure you cant see the comparison to mankind in that…

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    I know I am naïve. I always hope Christians can see by utilizing a consistent methodology—the same we use in courtrooms, historical analysis, and (with supreme irony), the same the Christian uses when confronting other religious views—they will come to understand by staying consistent within a methodology we can change our worldview upon learning it is incorrect.

    If we allow our worldview to impact our method, we will never change our mind. We will (as the inerrentist does in this situation) modify our method to conform to what we need to maintain our worldview. And once we do that, we will never know if we are incorrect.

    While I hope we could agree on a methodology regarding inconsistency in historical accounts, past experience has informed me it is infinitesimally likely. Further, past experience has taught me without such agreement, speaking on particulars…with inerrantists…on events within the Bible, is wasted time and effort. We will speak past each other. If we both understand we use different methods we can at least acknowledge that understanding and focus energy elsewhere.

    The presupposition I use in my method (the same all historians use) is that humans make mistakes. Apparently, we cannot even agree on that, because no mistake can ever be allowed in a biblical account.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    Pigs are clean creatures; they’re kept in filthy conditions by humans.
    That aside, the problem with your claim is that you’re telling me you’re filthy, and that you can’t say on your own what is immoral, but you ARE capable of identifying correctly a supreme moral arbiter. If you’re so debased, how would you know moral authority when you see it?

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    First, tildeb said, “One needs to look no further than the Gospels themselves to start to find direct contradictions like in the birth narratives.” where a contradiction is purely a logical thing and that was what I was addressing even though I used the word she had been using, “inconsistency.”

    I agree worldview is not relevant when merely comparing two accounts. But since you keep saying “historical” I’m assuming you are comparing the accounts to a worldview. “Historical” analysis has nothing to do with comparison of the two accounts. Rather, it the ought to be based on comparison of the two texts. That is literary as well as logical analysis of looking for inconsistencies.

    You said, “It appears to me saying ‘an inconsistency exists between two accounts if
    anything is logically impossible’ is the same as ‘no inconsistency
    exists as along as there is a logically possible solution.’ Apparently
    you are claiming that is not the same; how those two things are
    different is beyond me.” I think that is funny, you being a lawyer and all. Two narrative accounts can have a logical possiblitity and still have inconsistencies. Yet, if there is a logical contradiction yielding an impossiblity, they can’t be said to be consistent with each other.

    I’m not saying just that it is logically possible that the wise men visited Nazareth, I’m saying that that is the only conclusion you can come to given the two narratives. Even a neutral party would see that. Is it possible they are two entirely different accounts? That is possible, so a neutral party could come to that conclusion as well. But, it is ridiculous to say that the accounts actually contradict, regardless of the neutrality of a reader, if they actually do not. It isn’t a matter of whether there is a possible solution, it is that they flat out don’t contradict period – which makes tildeb’s statement false, regardless of whether if follows “historical” analysis or not (otherwise historians can come to false conclusions by calling someting contradictory that is not). No one has to believe it to be true to see that. What happens, is the those who argue there IS a contradiction say so because that is the way they WANT to interpret it, not becuase that is the way it IS. That is how I started the discussion with tildeb. And of course, if they happen to be true, there has to be a logical answer, but that wasn’t even my point all along.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Again, historical science is built upon metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions, not vice versa. One of the reasons you find yourself talking past Christians is because you are not dealing with your presuppositions. You are pretending they don’t exist when they are dramatically impacting your methodology. Your conversation with Walt in this comment series is a prime example.

    You are already convinced that God does not exist, that miracles don’t occur, and that the New Testament writings, which talk about God and miracles, are therefore not historically accurate. And then you apply your methodology.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    1) In reviewing historical events, such as Nero’s fire (that has three varying accounts), I determine there is an inconsistency if it is more likely there is an inconsistency to a neutral party. The accounts are not harmonized by any historian because they lack a logical impossibility—we understand humans make errors and there is error within. We do not harmonize the accounts by manufacturing some logical possibility as to how all three could happen. We shrug and understand the inconsistency.

    Notice there is nothing about God(s) or miracles or New Testament writings. Therefore anyone’s position regarding the same is irrelevant to utilizing the method. And no one thinks anything of this.

    Every day I am involved in determining whether money is owed by reviewing varying accounts from numerous parties. The same methodology is used. Many days I am equally involved in determining whether a person committed a crime by reviewing varying accounts from numerous parties and doing so from a very similar methodology (“beyond reasonable doubt” as compared to “more likely.”)

    Notice there is nothing about God(s) or miracles or New Testament writings. Therefore anyone’s position regarding the same is irrelevant to utilizing the method. And no one thinks anything of this.

    When refereeing soccer, I am often confronted with two very differing accounts from opposing players as to what just happened. I make a determination utilizing the same methodology (although in that situation I happen to be the neutral party.)

    Notice there is nothing about God(s) (unless his name is being used in vain) or miracles or New Testament writings. Therefore anyone’s position regarding the same is irrelevant to utilizing the method. And no one thinks anything of this.

    My children occasionally present me with situations where determining how the remote was broken or why the lawn was not mowed involving differing accounts. Again, I employ this methodology.

    Notice there is nothing about God(s) or New Testament writings and only occasionally are miracles invoked. Therefore anyone’s position regarding the same is irrelevant to utilizing the method. And no one thinks anything of this.

    In social situations I hear differing tales of interactions or what happened when or who was involved. Again, this methodology is employed.
    Again there is nothing about God(s) or miracles or New Testament writings. Therefore anyone’s position regarding the same is irrelevant to utilizing the method. And no one thinks anything of this.

    But once in a while I (foolishly, perhaps) happen to discuss an event that happens to be recorded in a person’s sacred writings. There, for the first time, I am informed it is my presupposition that impacts the methodology. There, for the first time, I am told the methodology I use in my professional life, in my family life, in my social life, in my recreational life and in all my other research is marred by this supposed presupposition!

    Honestly, this appears to be the Achilles heel of Christian apologetics. It is a frank admission the apologist’s methods used and the facts involved are insufficient to convince anyone who is not already convinced to believe what the apologist is claiming. It is no more than preaching to the choir.

    I never worry about the other person’s presuppositions. I am (again, perhaps foolishly) persuaded regardless of their bias or presuppositions, they can be convinced by effective demonstration of the facts. Clearly I have higher hopes than most Christian apologists.

    If this method is so effective we utilize in every other field with regular consistency—why is it ONLY when dealing with a particular theological difficulty does the believer cry “Your presupposition impact the methodology!”? I submit it does not—rather the believer fears the method’s results and this is the only way to head it off at the pass.

    2) You may have forgotten I am a deconvert. I believed in God. I was a Christian for over three decades. I believed the Bible’s stories were history. I held to inerrancy. My presupposition was firmly grounded in God’s existence, the occurrence of miracles, and the historical accuracy of the Tanakh and the New Testament. And it was then I applied the methodology I used in my professional, social, recreational and all other aspects of life.

    I was utterly shocked when New Testament (and Tanakh) historicity failed.

    You have it absolutely backwards. I presupposed God, miracles and biblical historic before applying the methodology. Believe me, I understand why Christian apologists fear my method—I see where it led me!

    3) I asked for a general method—not one specifically tailored to New Testament writing. I wanted to see if Walt Tucker has a method in place for ALL historical analysis, not just those involved a particular sacred text’s account.

    As it turns out, the accounts referred to are the birth narratives (presumably of Matthew and Luke.) I am not a mythicist—I am persuaded the personage of Jesus existed. I have no problem, qualm or “presupposition” regarding his birth, except perhaps I do presuppose he was born.

    I don’t care whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum or any other locale. Makes no difference whether it was 6 BCE, 4 BCE, 6 CE or even dead on year 1 CE. No difference to me whether his family travelled to Egypt, or went to the temple yearly or whether there were shepherds or magi or prophets or kings at his birth. None at all whether Herod attempted to kill Jesus at his infancy.

    Yet I do see inconsistencies in the two birth narratives regarding many aspects. NONE have to do with God or Miracles—more to do with the where and when.

    So…ironically (again) the very concerns you have regarding my presuppositions are irrelevant regarding the very things we would discuss on inconsistencies!

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    I asked for your method to determine an inconsistency between two or more accounts regarding the same situation. I hoped you would provide a general methodology, applicable whether we were discussing yesterday’s events, or events 3,000 years ago. Applicable whether the events were in Rome, Paris, Hong Kong or Timbuktu. I feared you would limit it to only the apologetic codswallop of defending inerrancy. Alas, I think my fears were realized.

    You indicated two things you were looking for. First, there would be an inconsistency if:

    a) One person at two places at the same time (a logical impossibility);
    b) One person doing two different things at the same time (a logical impossibility); or
    c) “Anything else” that is logically impossible.

    Let’s deal with this while we are here. Notice the first two items are superfluous; the third item—anything else logically impossible—already covers them. Indeed you recognize this by the language “anything else” that the first two items are logically impossible.

    Second, you indicated there could not be an inconsistency if “the stories fit together without any twisting of the meaning of either text.” This leaves far too many questions. Who determines “meaning” What determines “twisting”? What determines “fit”?

    [Although I hesitate to do this, perhaps an example as to the difficulty presented. An experiment. Take Matthew 2 and ask some random person to read verses 1-23. Without suggestion or commentary, ask them what city the Magi visited Jesus. Do it with another random person. And another. Christian, non-Christian, Hindu or Jew. Doesn’t matter. Ask them to read it and answer the one question, “What city did the Magi visit Jesus?”

    Every single person you ask will say the Magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem. Every one. It is how the story flows. It is how the story develops.

    Now…I understand you submit the Magi visited Jesus in Nazareth. But no one—NO ONE—will read that text and come up with that answer without it first being offered by you. I ask this—who is determining meaning? Is the text being twisted? Who is determining fit?]

    This method provides little insight to determining inconsistency. Defendant’s claims, in trials, never have logical impossibilities. They weave together a tale perfectly suited to conform to the facts provide by prosecutors yet with the important distinction the defendant is innocent. Some “third party” intervened. They didn’t do what was accused. Etc. Yet juries all the time have no problem finding such tales are inconsistent with the prosecutor’s position.

    Why? Because this is not the method we use in any field other than theological.

    But now you have stated:

    Walt Tucker: Two narrative accounts can have a logical possiblitity and still have inconsistencies.

    Leaving me back to my original question with a slight addition –What method do you use to determine inconsistencies between two or more accounts regarding the same situation when there is no logical impossibility? You seem to state such inconsistencies exist—I am looking for your method to determine it.

    Finally, let me clarify something:

    Walt Tucker: But since you keep saying “historical” I’m assuming you are comparing the accounts to a worldview. “Historical” analysis has nothing to do with comparison of the two accounts. Rather, it the ought to be based on comparison of the two texts. That is literary as well as logical analysis of looking for inconsistencies.

    By “historical” I am referring to all events happening prior to this very instant. By “historical analysis” I am referring to the very basic question—“What happened?” “Accounts” can be written, or oral or pictorial. I understand what you want to emphasize is limited to written accounts—I am not making such a limitation.

    Notice my method is applicable to ALL history—including five minutes or five millennium ago. Including secular or religious. Including Protestant, Catholic, Islam and Scientology. It is applicable in a variety of fields. It attempts objectivity as much as humanly possible. It provides a means to change one’s mind. It is consistent regardless of one’s worldview or presuppositions (indeed it is effective to change one’s worldview or presuppositions, thus demonstrating it is not beholden to them.)

    I am looking to see if you have a method equally as forceful. If you don’t, that is fine. But please understand, there is no need for me to discuss such things as the etymology of “Nazarene” in the Greek when you will eventually (under your method) dismiss everything I say because it fails to conform to your method.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I don’t think what I’ve been saying is limited to the Bible. If I heard two stories about the same event from two different people, I would assume they to be two perspectives of the same event. If any detail differed, then I would say there was an inconsistency and a possible error. That detail may indeed have a logical impossibility of being true, but that the overall stories are both of the same event is still logically possible. If there is no logical impossibility, even in detail, but they are two quite different angles of the same event, then I would not presume one person to be in error. I would have no way in knowing. That all the details fit together, as is the case with the birth narratives, then I conclude there are no inconsistencies. I would do the same with any historical documents. I would not conclude an error unless I had found something that had to be an error. Otherwise, I’m prejudging.

    I grant you that if a person reads only the Matthew account (and it ought to be a person who is not influenced by the public Christmas stories which ARE in error), they will assume that Magi visited Bethlehem. I would have assumed that as well given only one story. But, if you give an unbiased person who is not previously familiar with the stories, both texts and ask them to to pay attention to details and then say what happened, they ought to come up with the Magi visited Nazareth. Granted they have to think about it a little bit, but anything else is not only inconsistent in a detail, but logically impossible for both stories to even be basically true.

    So, my “method” is not just a biblical method, but one I think makes sense for any two descriptions of an event.

    It may not be true with you, Dagood, but many skeptics look for inconsistencies in the Bible, jumping on them prior to really examining them. This is the issue of the presuppositions that do come into play with regard to the Bible.

  • ggodat

    Just answer the QUESTION!!! How can ANY man define what is right and wrong and by what authority? You cant! End of thread…

  • Andrew Ryan

    And by that logic, how can ANY man correctly identify a source and authority for what is right and wrong either! You can’t answer! End of thread. If you’re so hopeless at telling right from wrong, how can you hope to tell a perfectly moral being from an evil one? And how does any being define itself as being perfectly moral and grant itself that authority anyway? End of…

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Thanks, Walt Tucker. I was looking for something a bit more definitive regarding a methodology. Without such, I am glad we didn’t discuss the problems within the birth narratives.

    Have a Great day!

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    What I provided is definitive for what we are talking about. What you have mentioned has to do with glaring errors about the same detail between two testimonies or between a testimony and what you expect where they indeed contradict or are suspicious. But in your method, you have no way to know that there are contradictions in the birth narratives because you have nothing to base them on other than your opinion of what you expect and suspicion of the texts. The texts don’t give the same details by where the contradiction can be detected. I think it is unfair for you to claim that my method is not definitive when your method can result in false conclusions based on opinion rather than only on the facts. If A->B, C->D, and if B and D are the same detail and B=not D, then A contradicts C, is in a sense what you have advocated and I agree with it for the examples you have given. What I’m saying is if A->B, C->D, and B and D are mutually exclusive details and both are subsets of E. Then B and D cannot contradict because they are mutually excusive and thus A->a subset of E and C->a subset E without contradiction. It is possible, but not conclusive, that both A and C are describing E correctly within their sphere of details. If there is a contradiction, we cannot know. In your method. You have assigned B= not D without sufficient warrant other than personal opinion. Thus for me to agree with your method would result in me making a presumptive conclusion that may be false. I sure hope that is not done if I am ever to need of a lawyer. However, if the lawyers who govern this nation are any example, I guess logic is not as important as personal opinion.

  • ggodat

    I’m glad we revolted from your silly nation because it is clear to me that you have no morals then. You just admitted that you are a moral relativist and anything you think is right is jut your opinion and therefore you clearly have no issues with percieved evil in the world, again because for you evil cannot exist, only your opinion of others actions.
    You are the hopeless one…

  • ggodat

    you need to spend more time production editing and less time debating. You are not good at one of them…

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker: But in your method, you have no way to know that there are contradictions in the birth narratives because you have nothing to base them on other than your opinion of what you expect and suspicion of the texts.

    Alas, in my brevity, I have failed to adequately explain my method. (I really only initiated this conversation to see what yours was.) After reviewing all the facts, including expert opinions, and reviewing the arguments both for and against a contradiction, if a person neutral to the prospect—i.e. it makes no difference to the person whether there are contradictions or not—finds it more likely there is a contradiction than the stories align, then there is a contradiction.

    Yes, it has been my past experience most inerrantists claim there is no such thing as a “neutral” party, but that is only because contradictions are so important to the inerrantists. Luckily there are scholars, and liberal Christians and non-inerrantists who adequately fulfill the role to demonstrate the viability of the method. Simply put, plenty who do not care one way or another and recognize the contradiction.

    Further, I am pretty good at determining how neutrals would rule on questions, based upon my profession. If you think it really just boils down to “my opinion” then…*shrug*…not much I can do to persuade you differently. Nor do I really expect to.

    As for “nothing to base them on,” I am bemused by that particular statement. Let’s try a little test. How does God warning Joseph in Matt. 2:22 impact your proposed resolution the magi visited Jesus’ house in Nazareth?

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    On their way back to the land of Israel from Egypt, they were warned not to stop in Judea along the way. Galilee and Nazareth are mentioned for the first time and thus are written in a manner of introduction. That doesn’t mean they weren’t originally from Nazareth, as Luke says, or that they had not returned to Nazareth before being told to held for Egypt. The reason the went to Egypt is that Herod may still come after them if he discovered Jesus was still alive.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    I did not ask what resolution you propose for Matthew 2:22—I asked what impact Matthew 2:22 has on your proposed resolution regarding Jesus living in Nazareth at the Magi’s visit. This highlights the difference in our methodology. Each and every argument, fact, writing, nuance, implication, etc. has an impact within my methodology, because EACH must be considered as how it would persuade a neutral party.

    It would seem, while you shy away from claiming it is your methodology, you continue to search for any possibility to resolve any apparent difficulty. A demonstration:

    You claim the Magi visited Jesus in Nazareth. O.K., let’s follow that thought. Herod had previously been informed the child was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:5), and requested the Magi give him directions. As we know, the Magi did not. (Matt 2:12). Therefore, Herod decides to kill every two-year-old and younger in Bethlehem. An angel informs Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod is trying to kill the child. (Matt 2:13)

    If Jesus was in Nazareth—why? Herod is busy killing babies in another city (indeed, another country!) Jesus is in no danger. Joseph is in no danger. Herod doesn’t know a thing about them being in Nazareth. Once Herod is done Slaughtering the Innocents, there would be no need to continue to look for Jesus. This is 1st Century Palestine. Not 21st Century with camera’s in 7-11’s. No one to report Jesus is alive—no one even knows what he looks like! The best Herod could figure at the time was in Bethlehem and less than 3 years old. Remember, Herod needed the Magi to point Jesus out!

    If a 1st Century person was hearing this tale, they would be scratching their heads. “Why is Jesus in danger? He is in another country!” The only way the recipients of this story understand the danger, is if Jesus was in Bethlehem at the time.

    Secondly, if God wanted them to leave Herod’s jurisdiction, the quickest route from Bethlehem would be south to…Egypt. If Joseph was living in Galilee, the quickest route would be east to the Decapolis. If they were in Nazareth, why send them all the way to Egypt when much shorter, easier and convenient to go a few miles to the East?

    Thirdly, the quickest route from Galilee to Egypt is through…Judea! God would literally be taking them from a place of safety (Galilee) and having them travel right to where the danger was occurring (Judea)! Does this make any sense?

    Continuing our saga…after Herod dies (4 BCE), his kingdom is divided into three sections—Archelaus was given Judea. Matt 2:22 says Joseph was afraid to go to Judea because of Archelaus. If Joseph was from Nazareth—why would he care about Archelaus? Archelaus had no jurisdiction over Galilee! Nazareth was in Galilee. It makes no sense to talk about Joseph’s fear of the Judean ruler, when Joseph was not from Judea!

    So why would Joseph need instruction from God to go to Galilee, if Joseph was from Nazareth?

    God: Herod is dead!
    Joseph: Great, now I can go home.

    Joseph: But wait…I’m afraid of Archelaus. True, he is not the ruler of Galilee. True, he has no jurisdiction over me.
    God: Why don’t you go home?
    Joseph: Oh, thanks! I wish I had thought of that!

    Walt Tucker, your proposed resolution (to get out of this pickle) is that God instructed them “not to stop in Judea.” I have no idea what this means. Do you understand 1st century travel? What do you mean “not stop.” No potty breaks? Can’t spend the night in a hotel? Can’t stop for gas? Why is God instructing Joseph to “not stop” in Judea? Do you think there was an APD out on Jesus with an artist’s conception? Why would God care whether they “stopped” in Judea?

    Worse, it would appear God doesn’t have a map. If God (and Joseph) were so fearful of Judea there is a far simpler solution—go around! Again, you have God sending Joseph into an apparent place of danger, when it could be easily avoided!

    Even more humorous, this proposed resolution introduces another conflict with the Lukan account! If God instructed Joseph to not even stop in Judea, and Joseph was so afraid of Archelaus, why is it they went to Jerusalem every year? (Luke 2:41) It is common for a resolution to a perceived conflict only introduces another conflict.

    Now, as you read through this, Walt Tucker, I know exactly what you are doing within your methodology. You are thinking up possible situations. You are adding language not there, twisting the meaning of the text, and doing everything possible to avoid error.

    “Hmm…God instructs them to go to Egypt? *snap fingers* In case Herod decides to kill ALL the two-year olds in all of Palestine.”
    “God instructs Joseph, so Joseph goes to Galilee? *snap fingers* I know—God was instructing them to not stop in Judea, nothing about re-locating to Galilee.”
    “Hmmm…now we have to deal with Luke saying they go to Jerusalem every year…*snap fingers* Luke 2:41 technically only says ‘parent’ so they left little Jesus with the babysitter until he was twelve.”

    When convenient, the inerrantist will add language—“God said not to stop in Judea”—and when convenient the inerrantist will demand we stick with ONLY the specific language—“It only says the PARENTS went.” An inconsistent method designed to do one thing and only one thing—maintain inerrancy at all cost of credibility.

    Within my method each of these items is reviewed as to its impact on a neutral party—a person who doesn’t care whether Jesus was in Bethlehem or Nazareth at the Magi’s visit—what would they think?

    We have an account where the Magi and Herod are informed Jesus was in Bethlehem, and Herod decides to kill all the babies in Bethlehem. Jesus is warned to get out of his house. Makes the most sense within the story Jesus was in Bethlehem—not some other safe location. When Herod dies, and they want to return, they are concerned about going back for obvious reasons. Why would they be concerned about going back to a jurisdiction outside Archelaus’ control?

    To a 1st century hearer this story (and its obvious allusion to Moses) only makes sense if Jesus is in actual danger—in Bethlehem—immediately prior to the Slaughter of the Innocents.

    This is why our discussions will go nowhere without an agreement in methodology OR an understanding there is such a difference in methods that discussion on particulars is useless. I am looking at these accounts very differently than you are. It is the difference between “historical analysis” and “theological analysis.”

  • tildeb

    I really must comment on Bill’s assertion that “Methodology does not ever trump worldview or metaphysics. I am amazed
    you would say that. There is no such thing as a presuppositionless
    methodology…”

    Of course methodology trumps metaphysics and worldview when by its use it helps us to achieve reliable and consistent knowledge about reality that works in practice. The explanatory power of science comes from its interaction with
    reality. Metaphysics and worldview possess no such methodological checks and balances, which helps explain why they have failed on their own to produce equivalent knowledge… or any practical knowledge. That’s not my opinion; that’s simply the fact.

    Look, in order for research to be creative, it must be open to new ideas and speculations – meaning we must unburden ourselves of a priori metaphysical assumptions and worldviews as much as possible – and rely on reality to tell us by way of attaining knowledge about it that works if our avenues of inquiry are worth further study. No scientist worth the name simply throws away evidence and validation against reality in order to maintain a worldview or metaphysical assumption contrary to some theological assertion, in spite of repeated attempts by those most threatened by the method of science to present it as equivalent to the method that informs their various religious beliefs. If this were true in reality, then these other alternative methods based on worldviews and metaphysics would produce equivalent knowledge. They don’t. And this reality is brushed aside and waved away as if unimportant by those who don’t want to face the fact that these alternative methods are NOT equivalent and so the products produced are NOT equivalent. And they are not equivalent because methods matter. Any conclusion is only as good as the method of inquiry that leads to it. If the method doesn’t work, the conclusions are not trustworthy and, when tested against reality, consistently fail. And this is exactly what we find with metaphysical claims based on a methodology we know does not work. Worldviews informed by an equivalent disregard for methodology likewise do not work. In shorthand , the rule is that epistemology (meaning method of how we know stuff) informs ontology (meaning the conclusions we reach).

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    You know my methodology, I merge the two accounts. You ask questions and disregard the text. The end of the story doesn’t make one pause, but when looking back over the whole account, it is obvious Galilee was never mentioned, so, it is introduced. That explains why it is written the way it is.

    I thought you watched my video given you knew about the magi visiting in Nazareth. I explain those things there. As I stated before, I would not have the conclusion I have from one account alone. But putting the two I see they actually fit. If there is an contradiction, THEN, I might jump through hoops, twist, and add langauge give I am an inerrantist. However, I DID NOT DO THAT here. What I have done is explain the sequence that results from merging the stories. I then offer my explaination as to what I think it going on, but that is an interpretation of the story, not adding to the story to make them work. For example, not stopping on Bethlehem is a fact of the merged stories. Why? Only God really knows. I don’t think they were doing a bathroom break, but was a place to visit some acquantainces on the way back home. They were first told to return to Israel, not Judea. Judea is a part of Israel, but can be on the way to Nazareth depending on what road you take. It could have just been a warning to not do it if they were even thinking about it.

    As far as Herod being clueless, that was explained in the video. If the magi could follow a star to a specifric house, they didn’t need to ask Herod for directions. The star first took them to Jerusalem. Why? Again, only God knows, but it seems to be to make a statement about Jesus being a king. Herod asks where the child was born. Indeed he was born in Bethlehem. But according to Luke, after going to Jerusalem, then went back home. So, it is pretty obvious they weren’t still in Bethlehem, or that they bought a house there given they weren’t from there. It would be easy for them to return to Nazareth without Herod knowing. But, notice that the magi follow the star after getting directions. Why follow the star if they had directions? Because, it was their more reliable source and it had taken them that far reliably. The star is so reliable (and as I say in the video, I don’t think it was a literal star, but something like the Shekinah Glory – yet, an interpretation, but one that is reasonable given the Exodus account), that it takes them to the very house where the child was. Meanwhile, Herod thinks Jesus is in Bethlehem and thus that is where he decides to kill the children. The magi have already left and gave no word to him that Jesus was actually in Nazareth. So, why did Jesus need to go to Egypt? As I said in the last post, I believe it is because (an interpretation) Herod would likely have eventually found out the truth about where Jesus was and would have gone up to Nazareth and done the same. What other explanation makes any sense?

    Now, if Jesus went straight to Egypt from Bethlehem as you say, then we DO have a contradiction, because Luke says they went to Jerusalem and then returned to Nazareth.

    I wouldn’t call my analysis theological because I’m not bringing any theology into it. But, I do believe both accounts to be true and you may believe, I presume, that they are two stories that many have some truth, but most is not. If we have two indepdent made up stories, then I’d go with your method because I would already be presuming they are not going to line up.

    So, I’ll agree that we will not agree on methodology and discussing the story details is not all that profitable. What I wish for you to understand, though, is that it is your presuppositions and mine that are separating us, not the stories themselves. Because as I claimed from the beginning, there is no contradiction, or inconsistency. Your neutral observer would have to be shown both stories and told they are two accounts of the same event, and then see if they think the contradict or are different details of the same story. Rather than answering where the contradiction is (initially), all you have done, or want to do, is argued “method.” That is fine, but you disagree with my method because of presuppositions, not because there really is any contradiction in the stories.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    To bring metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions into decisions about soccer fouls and deciding whether your kids are lying to you is silly, as you rightly point out.

    But when it comes to a sacred text – a text that makes claims on your very life, on your ultimate destiny, on where you ultimately came from, on whether or not you were created for a purpose by an intelligent agent – presuppositions absolutely do enter the discussion, and powerfully.

    If you truly believe that you are able to be perfectly neutral (whatever that means) when it comes to handling matters of profound human import – heaven and hell, God and creation, salvation, the afterlife – then I have learned something truly unique about you. All I can say is that from my perspective, after having read your writings for a long time, your presuppositions do drive your methodology in a deep and fundamental way. Nobody writes about the kinds of subjects you cover, in the way you cover them, in the depth you cover them, without extremely firm beliefs about ultimate reality.

    I will end my comment with this. I have read and listened to many legal and historical scholars who have applied the methodologies of their disciplines to the Jesus narratives, and have arrived at almost exactly opposite conclusions to you. If methodology can escape presuppositions, then what is going on here? How can people using the same methodology come to different conclusions?

    Metaphysics and epistemology.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    You’re reduced to attempting to insult my nationality now? This does nothing for your argument or your credibility.

    And Bill, I note that you’re quick to censure non-Christians whose posts you see as contravening your guidelines, but give a free pass to Christians even when their behaviour is somewhat ‘unChristian’

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    Thanks for thinking I am unique…alas, I am not worthy of the compliment. All lawyers implement the methodology of determining how arguments convince neutral parties. We must, in order to appropriately inform our client whether to settle a matter or whether to plea bargain. If we cannot make such determinations, we are useless.

    Bill Pratt: I will end my comment with this. I have read and listened to many legal and historical scholars who have applied the methodologies of their disciplines to the Jesus narratives, and have arrived at almost exactly opposite conclusions to you. If methodology can escape presuppositions, then what is going on here? How can people using the same methodology come to different conclusions? [emphasis in original]

    What I have seen are legal and historical scholars abandoning the very principles they would use in their professional life when approaching topics where they have a personal agenda. I do NOT see the same methodology being consistently used in multiple disciplines. I have no idea why you thought I considered my examples of children disagreements and soccer fouls as “silly.” Quite the contrary, I utilize this exact same method in social aspects, recreational aspects, professional life and research endeavors.

    I understand such topics as inerrancy may have huge import to you; I can assure you soccer fouls have an equal import to Soccer moms!

    I am curious…if I am using the same methodology (what is more likely to neutral person) yet coming to a different conclusion to some of these scholars…can you point one out? Can you point out a legal scholar who uses “more likely to a neutral person” and comes to the conclusion the Gospel accounts are inerrant? Since you claim they are coming to “exactly opposite conclusions” than I, using the same method.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Why are you bringing up inerrancy? I can’t see that I have raised this issue even once in my post or in my comments. Inerrancy is a theological issue, not a historical issue. I have never claimed that historians would arrive at the theological doctrine of inerrancy solely due to their following historical methods.

    Do you think a person has to first accept inerrancy before they can accept that the Jesus narratives in the Gospels are historically accurate?

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    I’m sorry, Bill Pratt.

    Walt Tucker and I were discussing contradictions in the birth narratives, and I pointed out the difference in methodologies—mine was based upon historical analysis (derived from an obvious legal method) whereas Walt Tucker’s was based upon inerrancy (“any possible solution.”) As you accurately point out (agreeing with tildeb! and the impetus of this whole discussion)—the “inerrancy” approach is a theological analysis, not a historical one.

    When you said, “How can people using the same methodology come to different conclusions?” I presumed you were questioning how other legal and historical scholars used the same methodology as I—more likely to a neutral person—yet came to the “exactly opposite conclusion” (your words) regarding contradictions in the gospel accounts. Now you seem to agree historians would never arrive at inerrancy using their historical methods. The same thing I have been saying all along.

    Apparently you agree no legal or historical scholars using the legal method of more likely than not would maintain the accounts fully align. Leaving me puzzled as to your question regarding people using the same methodology coming to “exactly opposite conclusions.”

    Bill Pratt: Do you think a person has to first accept inerrancy before they can accept that the Jesus narratives in the Gospels are historically accurate?

    Generally historically accurate?—no. Specifically and completely historically accurate?—at this point I would have to say, “yes.” The only persons I have seen who claim such historical accuracy are inerrantists. And it cannot be a coincidence such persons abandon the inerrancy method when dealing with other contemporary historians such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Deo, Josephus, Philo, etc.

    Until I see otherwise, it certainly seems inerrantists are the only ones to utilize this method, and then ONLY in reference to their own sacred writing.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I’m realizing how pointless it is to have a discussion. My method was NOT based on inerrancy and possible solutions. I restated that several times and you still continue to hold to that position. All I was talking about was contradiction between the two accounts regardless of whether they were true or not. How many times do I have to say that before you understand what I was saying?

    But besides all that, it is impossible to have an entirely neutral party without presuppositions of some sort. Epistemology dictates such. Even to try to have a serious discussion about contradictions between to texts, your presuppositions have slanted what you even think the discussion was all about. Isn’t it even possible outside of biblical texts to have to accounts of an event and show, whether you believe them or not, that they don’t contradict?

    If I am a little edgy, I’ve been studying for an Old Testament mid-term on methodology I will be taking this afternoon of all things and I see how circular secular opinions are and then see this comment saying something different than was the case. When will people realize their opinions must have a foundation in order to make any sense (not just being true, but coherent)? Making up methodologies doesn’t work if they are not grounded on simplie logic and critical thinking to start with.

    Okay, I took a deep breath. Shouldn’t have checked my email. Back to studying. Have fun arguing nonsense.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Inerrancy is a theological doctrine that simply states that the Bible does not err in what it affirms. In reading your discussion with Walt, it centered around whether the birth narratives are inconsistent or contradictory. Walt was simply arguing that the birth narratives can be harmonized using nothing more than standard historical methodology. Different authors will choose to accentuate different aspects of the same event and there are no facts that contradict each other in the two accounts.

    You argued that they could not be harmonized using standard historical methodology. You argued that specific differences in the birth narratives should lead a person to claim that one or both of the birth narratives is reporting historically inaccurate information.

    I don’t see where inerrancy comes into the discussion, except as a way for you to psycho-analyze Walt, and claim that inerrancy is really behind his conclusions, even though he claims it is not.

    When I mention legal scholars and historians using their methods to come to opposite conclusions than you, I am referring to the fact that these scholars have studied the New Testament and other contemporary documents of the period, and found that the central historical claims about Jesus are most likely true, given the available evidence. These conclusions have nothing to do with inerrancy.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker: My method was NOT based on inerrancy and possible solutions.

    Walt Tucker: But putting the two I see they actually fit. If there is an contradiction, THEN, I might jump through hoops, twist, and add langauge give I am an inerrantist. However, I DID NOT DO THAT here.

    Oh, I hear what you claim Walt Tucker, but more importantly, I watch what you argue. You (and Bill Pratt) cry over and over how presuppositions impact one’s approach to claims, and how impossible it is to get over such presuppositions, and how inconceivable it is one could attempt to approach neutrality on subjects (not coincidentally, subjects you hold near and dear to your belief system) but then you want to claim your belief in inerrancy has no impact on your approach in resolving an apparent inconsistency between the birth narratives?

    Hmmmm….

    You claim you are not using “any possible situation” yet every time an issue is raised you……provide a “possible situation”!

    I point out how God warning Joseph to leave, even though (according to you) he was in no danger—being in another city and country than Bethlehem—you provide the “possible situation” that someday, maybe, Herod might decide to go after Jesus. Even though the text provides no reason for Herod to do so, and only makes sense for God to warn Joseph to leave an area of immediate danger. Even though, under your “possible situation” if Herod did somehow find out where Jesus was living, God could then warn Joseph. (And I didn’t even bring up the timing issue. For this to even come CLOSE to Lukan dating, Slaughter of the Innocents would be in 4 BCE—the same year Herod died. Herod didn’t have time to find Jesus in Nazareth.)

    I point out how God instructed Joseph to not go back to Judea (where Bethlehem was), and you provide the “possible situation” that God was warning Joseph to not STOP in Judea.

    I point out how Matthew indicates Joseph was afraid of Archelaus, which makes no sense if Joseph was from Galilee (Nazareth) and you (wisely) ignore it. I point out how Luke has Joseph and family going to Jerusalem every year, which makes no sense under Matthew’s claim Joseph was scared of the ruler in Jerusalem. You ignore it.

    You claim you don’t “jump through hoops, twist or add language” yet you add the language of God instructing Joseph to not “Stop” in Judea. You add the possibility Herod might find out (for some unknown reason) Jesus was in Nazareth. You twist the textual meaning of Joseph being afraid of Archelaus.

    Walt Tucker: Isn’t it even possible outside of biblical texts to have to accounts of an event and show, whether you believe them or not, that they don’t contradict?

    Sure! However, there are a variety of methods to do so. You and I (clearly) utilize two (2) different methods. Therefore, if I “show” two accounts don’t contradict under my method, they may under your own. And vice versa. Hence the terrible import of understanding each other’s methodology.

    Walt Tucker: Making up methodologies doesn’t work if they are not grounded on simplie logic and critical thinking to start with.

    Quite right. My methodology happens to be sufficient for the American legal system to determine ownership of billions of dollars and who should be put to death for crimes. Pretty important topics. My method is utilized across the board in historical analysis on a variety of topics, both secular and religious. Your method (what little I can ascertain) and constant excuse of presuppositions is only able to convince those already predisposed to believe it anyway.

    While both may be logical (and we would both probably claim is critical thinking), if we cannot agree on a method, then any discussion about particulars becomes…as you rightly point out…nonsense.

    I did warn you…

    DagoodS: So you could argue all day long it is logically possible for the wise men to visit Jesus in Nazareth (it is) and this doesn’t impact me at all because that is not the methodology I use! The same way I could point out it is more likely to a neutral party the Matthean author intended to convey Jesus was in Bethlehem at the time of the Magi’s visit (it is) and this doesn’t impact you at all because that is not the methodology you use! So why bother going through the hoops when one of us is talking apples and the other oranges? [emphasis in the original]

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    While my point in the discussion was not to show the texts are true, it does seem to me that if it can be shown how two things are not contradictory, that indeed they have been shown to be non-contradictory. If someone says there is a contradiction, as tildeb said, then it seems one should show the contradiction. No one has. Rather there was an appeal of one account to a neutral party, rather than both accounts. And the reality is that there is not really anyone truly netural when determing facts since interpretation is required for understanding the facts and interpretation is based on experience and presuppositions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    But your methods of showing they are not contradictory are indeed ‘jumping through hoops’, as DasgoodS has pointed out. You’re coming up with any possible explanation, no matter how unlikely, to square the two accounts. It really does appear that you’re starting with the assumption that they CAN’T be contradictory, and then coming up with an explanation to fit that assumption, rather than comparing the texts objectively.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    Matthew’s birth narrative contradicts Luke’s birth narrative. One or both is not historical. There are a number of contradictions, (the date being the most discussed, I would think), however, because I was focusing more on methodology than specifics, I talked about Walt Tucker’s location discussion.

    Matthew, as written, as the author fully intended to convey, indicates Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lived there for about two years, and was warned to leave before Herod killed off all the baby boys in Bethlehem. According to Matthew, once Herod the Great died, Joseph was understandably afraid to return to Bethlehem, so God instructed them to go to Nazareth.

    Luke, as written, as the author fully intended to convey, indicates Joseph & Mary were originally from Nazareth, went to Bethlehem for a very short period (less than a month), had Jesus, and then returned to Nazareth. Joseph & family travelled to Jerusalem every year at Passover with no fear of Archelaus .

    Just on their face, these two tales do not align. Jesus can’t live in both Bethlehem and Nazareth for his first two years.

    Now the question is raised whether these stories—unalike on their face—align so the contradictions disappear. Is this a telling of the same tale from differing aspects?

    Inerrancy MUST come into the discussion. If inerrancy is the claim (theological or otherwise) the Bible—including the Gospel accounts—does not err in what it affirms, these accounts cannot be in err. They MUST both be historically true, according to an inerrantist. (Unless someone is stating these are not meant to be historical accounts by the authors…but no one has raised that issue.) In short, the inerrantist must align the stories—she or he can NEVER state there is a contradiction because that would entail the Bible being in error at one point in what it affirms.

    Bill Pratt: I don’t see where inerrancy comes into the discussion, except as a way for you to psycho-analyze Walt, and claim that inerrancy is really behind his conclusions, even though he claims it is not. [emphasis in original]

    I am a little surprised by this statement.

    Bill Pratt, I beg you to re-read this discussion. Over and Over and Over and Over you and Walt Tucker have claimed a person’s presuppositions affect their methodology or how they review various claims. Over and Over and Over, I have claimed methodology can overcome even presuppositions and therefore presuppositions are irrelevant. When I decide to hold you to consistency—that presuppositions affect methodology—you cry, “Foul!”?

    Which is it—do presuppositions affect methodology or do they not? If they do not, why keep indicating it? If they do, why can’t we dissect Walt Tucker’s inerrancy belief affecting his methodology?

    Walt Tucker forthrightly admits he is an inerrantist. Does that affect his methodology? I realize he claims it does not—I indicated my own presuppositions did not affect my methodology and you resoundingly rejected my claim. Why is it when Walt Tucker says it—it must be true; but when I say it—it is not true?

    Bill Pratt: When I mention legal scholars and historians using their methods to come to opposite conclusions than you, I am referring to the fact that these scholars have studied the New Testament and other contemporary documents of the period, and found that the central historical claims about Jesus are most likely true, given the available evidence.

    But that is not what you said. You said:

    Bill Pratt: I have read and listened to many legal and historical scholars who have applied the methodologies of their disciplines to the Jesus narratives, and have arrived at almost exactly opposite conclusions to you. …. How can people using the same methodology come to different conclusions? [emphasis in original]

    Are they using the same method as I, but coming to “exactly opposite conclusions”? If so, it should be relatively easy for you to point out a scholar who used “more likely than not to a neutral person” (i.e—using the same methodology) and came to an exactly opposite conclusion (i.e.—the birth narratives do not conflict.)

    Frankly, if that was so easy, one wonders why anyone would have a problem with my methodology in the first place.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker: If someone says there is a contradiction, as tildeb said, then it seems one should show the contradiction. No one has.

    Well…yes and no. Under your method—no. No one has (nor ever will) show a contradiction. Under my method—yes. The contradiction is easily seen and substantially bolstered when reviewed with other variances not addressed here.

    Walt Tucker: Rather there was an appeal of one account to a neutral party, rather than both accounts.

    No…there would be an appeal to all accounts, the historical background, the understanding of the culture, political system, governmental make-up, Jewish belief, Hebrew, Greek, the arguments for contradiction and the arguments against contradiction and then what a neutral party would most likely determine whether there was a contradiction or not. I didn’t bother going through the complete analysis since it would never, ever, ever make a bit of difference under your methodology.

    Walt Tucker: And the reality is that there is not really anyone truly netural when determing facts since interpretation is required for understanding the facts and interpretation is based on experience and presuppositions.

    Should we give up and have no objectivity within methodology whatsoever? The reason I cannot stop at “what is more likely” because the very next question would be “More likely to whom>?” If I say, “More likely to me” then I would agree my own presuppositions and biases come into play. I am bringing in my own preferences. However, if (as we do all the time in the legal system, even though we understand it to be somewhat a legal fiction, like “reasonable person”) I review it under the auspices of what a neutral person would most likely do, I MUST take into consideration alternative arguments, other preferences, other positions.

    I can no longer ignore what others may counter; nor how effective such counter-arguments are.

    But again, this is all academic, because you have do not agree with my method (which is fine), so this discussion has been ‘round and ‘round with little headway.

    I obviously enjoyed it (I kept coming back) but I think it reached its conclusion here.

  • ggodat

    Kind of like evolutionists saying they believe in the Laws of Thermodynamics but then coming up with hair brained ideas to make them invalid….

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I fail to see the “jumping through hoops” on this one. I have not gone through any extreme measure to “make it work”. If one statement says a car was going north leaving a crime scene on its way to Portland and another says it was going south on the way to Los Angeles, then I could see having to jump through hoops if I were to believe they were both somehow true. You don’t have that in this case and I’m amazed you guys don’t see the difference.

    In this case, you have silence in one text as to what happened between the birth and when the magi showed up and the other text fills in the details. Silence does not mean contradiction unless one wants to assume something that is not in the text.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    I am curious. Let me grant for the sake of argument that the two birth accounts, at face value, do not perfectly align. What follows? in fact, let’s grant that there are numerous details in the Gospels that appear inconsistent. What follows from these inconsistencies?

    If I was a seriously doubting Christian, and you had me right where you wanted me, ready to de-convert me after I admitted that there are indeed seeming inconsistencies in the Gospels, what is the next thing you would say to me to push me over the goal line, to de-convert me?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    For those interested in a thorough and scholarly treatment of the Jesus birth narratives, take a look at the Christian Thinktank article,“Contradictions in the Infancy stories?”

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    So are these legal and historical scholars using the same method as I, but coming to almost exactly opposite conclusions, or not?

    Bill Pratt: …in fact, let’s grant that there are numerous details in the Gospels that appear inconsistent. What follows from these inconsistencies?

    We continue to apply the same historical method that discovered these inconsistencies, in the same manner as we would in any historical study. Including applying the historical method to biblical accounts.

    Bill Pratt: …what is the next thing you would say to me to push me over the goal line, to de-convert me?

    I have no goal to push or deconvert. One deconverts on their own, for their own reasons. The next thing I would say to you is the same I would say whether you were a Christian, non-Christian, agnostic, Hindu…whatever. Continue to apply the same historical method to biblical claims as you would any other.

    See…that is the very point of my method—I find it useful regardless of where you are in the deconversion spectrum—at the point of having deconverted, or at the edge or at the point of not ever having considered it at all. Same method regardless.

    Thanks for the article. Interesting it decided to skip certain facts already brought up here. And it disagrees with Walt Tucker in claiming the magi must have visited the family in Bethlehem.

  • tildeb

    DagoodS has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting here (much appreciated!) so I’m going to butt my nose in to make a point.

    Once we have compelling reasons to doubt the veracity of a text claimed by many to be inerrant – which we have from contradictory accounts found within the text – then we have compelling reasons to recognize a rather startling fact: how do we determine which bible bits (or any ‘holy’ text for that matter) are historically valid and which one’s should we take as metaphorical (See cartoon for Oct 17, 2012 to drive the point home)?

    Think about this problem for a minute (by all means take longer if you need extra time).

    We don’t know how to differentiate the historical from the metaphorical because we have no reliable way to do this.

    What does this mean?

    Well, if someone claims to believe in, for example, an historical resurrection/genesis/flood/exodus/etc., then on what basis does that person use – what method, Bill and Walt, – to make the determination?

    This is not a small problem.

    Lo and behold, we find a very consistent answer when it comes to religious beliefs: faith. By synonym, we define this as an a priori assumption that the claim is true but, more importantly, understand that we are to exempt this claim from any independently reliable method to determine if it actually IS historically true. It is historically true, the claim goes, because I believe the claim is true and not because reality shows the claim to be true.

    Clearly, this method of relying on faith does not work in any other human endeavor to reveal reality reliably that we can then apply in various ways that work consistently to produce knowledge that works for everyone everywhere all the time. That I believe Honduras will win the World Cup is not made any more usable or accurate because I believe it to be true;. my belief – especially in how well sports teams will perform – is a very well known assessment that does not reveal reality reliably well. Others continue to insist that my belief still requires the right amount of money to purchase a cup of coffee. In other words, my belief is in no way indicative of revealing reality… any more than is the belief offered by the devout.

    The method of inquiry that relies on faith to carry the burden of proof is well known to be insufficient to revealing historical reality.

    This is why the most important question to ask of any account is not What do I believe is true? but HOW do we know if the claim is true?

    If the method relies on faith, we know any answers are at best unreliable. And once we know this, we know we need to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism for any following claims made on such obviously shaky ground.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I tested a guy this morning at breakfast on this. I had him read both accounts. He picked up in Matthew that chap 2 starts with “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem” and also noticed that it never said in Matthew that anybody was in Bethlehem in the entire narrative (the brith is not described in Matthew). Even at the end he noticed they were not to go to Judea rather than specifically Bethlehem. In otherwords, they might have wanted to go to Jerusalem on the way back to Nazareth. That is entirely reasonable.

    The article might be valid about chronology – that is definitely the case of the entire gospel accounts. But I am amazed that this scholar did not pick up on what a painter/laborer picked up on.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    Actually I said they visited Nazareth. The only way they could have visited Bethlehem was to be within a few days of the birth where the family may have visited or rented a house until they could go back. But then you have an issue with going to Jerusalem or going to Egypt. If we force that, then there is a problem. So, Nazareth is the only logical possibility, even given chronology liberties mentioned in the article.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Walt, I think there are several ways to explain the alleged discrepancies of the birth accounts. You may be right about your solution. I don’t know. I think that what is far more interesting is what follows from the fact that there are apparent inconsistencies in the Gospels.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Seriously, you would just tell me to continue with my method? Let’s say I continue the method and I find that there are more inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, but I also find that there are far more consistencies than inconsistencies. What would your advice be to me? Do a few inconsistencies cancel out all the consistencies? Is it necessary that if I continue to use the method that I will abandon historic Christianity? That I will become an atheist? That I will deny the supernatural exists?

    Help me see the path here, because it’s not clear to me. To get from finding some alleged inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts to full-blown anti-theism (that’s where you ended up on your journey, using your method) is a massive non sequitur to me.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    I shouldn’t respond, but this is too humorous (probably only to me.)

    One apologist claims there is no contradiction and it should be obvious to the skeptic the Magi visited Nazareth.
    Another apologist claims there is no contradiction and it should be obvious to the skeptic the Magi visited Bethlehem.

    How ‘bout the apologists stop worrying about the skeptic and start concentrating on convincing each other about what is “obvious”! *grin* If it was so obvious and all…

    The conflict between the article’s solution and Walt Tucker’s solution does highlight two points:

    1) The theory “presuppositions determine outcome” is sufficiently exploded. If two Bible-believing, inerrancy-holding Christians come to two different conclusions regarding what city (and country) the Magi visited, it would appear presuppositions have nothing to do with the determination.

    2) The methodology proposed by the inerrantist is prone to false-positives– implementing the method derives too many false answers. The Magi did not visit Jesus at both Nazareth and Bethlehem, but using this method provides both possibilities as a result. While any method can obtain false-positives, we like to reduce such false-positives—not increase them exponentially!

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    Are those legal and historical scholars using the same method as I, but coming to almost exactly opposite conclusions, or not? (I keep asking because I am curious.)

    Bill Pratt: Do a few inconsistencies cancel out all the consistencies?

    Sigh. Why is it always this “all-or-nothing” approach? How about a few inconsistencies demonstrating…there are a few inconsistencies? And the consistencies demonstrating there are some consistencies. It isn’t ALL consistent or ALL inconsistent. It is a mixture of both.

    Perhaps we could then explore further as to why there are inconsistencies (e.g. differing doctrinal or theological approaches to a particular problem) or why there are consistencies (e.g. placement in a particular time, or copying from another author), but this would require us to begin utilizing a consistent method to differentiate between the inconsistencies, the consistencies, and the unknown whether inconsistent or consistent.

    Bill Pratt: Is it necessary that if I continue to use the method that I will abandon historic Christianity? That I will become an atheist? [emphasis in original]

    No. I would point out numerous scholars, historians and individuals who maintain Christianity while abandoning such concepts as inerrancy. People such as Dr. James McGrath. (I would also point out even conservative scholars such as Dr. Wallace and Dr. Licona have been criticized for abandoning inerrancy when attempting to approach inconsistencies.) However, after having these discussions over the past years, I do think many Christians fear exactly that—by implementing any methodology providing for plausible error in the Bible the very next stop on the Bus is no less than atheism—and therefore these Christians immediately reject any such methodology.

    It continues to stem from this all-or-nothing approach. The idea either the Bible is inerrant OR there is no god. No other possibility is seen or contemplated. Therefore, the inerrancy discussion is tantamount to God vs. no God in their mind. (Tangentially, I often see the same discussion regarding evolution: either evolution is true OR God exists. Many cannot contemplate the possibility of evolution being true AND God exists.)

    As for my story—it was not the loss of inerrancy ultimately resulting in my atheism; it was the use of methodology. For lack of a better analogy, think of methodology as a “disease” and inerrancy as being one (of many) “symptoms.” Even though there is only one disease, it affects numerous areas, causing multiple symptoms.

    As I pointed out, I utilize “more likely than not to a neutral person” so much in my professional life; it is intrinsically interwoven into my being. I do it without conscious thought. Unsurprisingly, it spills over to my social, recreational, and family life as well.

    One day, lo these many years ago, as a Christian I was actively involved in a discussion on inerrancy. I was searching for a means to maintain inerrancy in the face of skeptical opposition—a way explaining to the skeptic why we believe inerrancy. Within the discussion, it struck me for the very first time—the method I use in every other aspect of life, I was abandoning in matters of faith!

    Why? If I thought it such a good method (I did), and I thought Christianity was ultimate truth (I did), why hadn’t I applied it? Surely if the method was sufficient to demonstrate something as insignificant as to whether a person was entitled to $1,000 after a contract dispute, Christianity would more than withstand its scrutiny.

    And so I applied my method to inerrancy. To my shock—inerrancy fell! Inerrancy can only sustain by faith. After my method demonstrated the difficulty in inerrancy, with fear and trepidation, I applied it to other Christian principles such as inspiration, canonization, authorship, dating, problem of evil, textual criticism, historical Jesus, etc. While on some, Christianity prevailed, on many it fell again and again and again.

    This was why I ended up an atheist. Would you necessarily travel the same path? Of course not—you are a different person! I do not know any deconvert who followed my specific path. For some the impetus may have been Documentary Hypothesis, for others evolution, for others the problem of evil. It is the variety of life.

    As the internet never forgets, I can pinpoint the moment of epiphany. This was my post: http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives/showpost.php?p=1622474&postcount=97 on a forum thread long forgotten, written while I was still a Christian. (The whole thread happens to be a discussion on a debate involving a familiar face!) You can see my thought process there, as a Christian struggling with implementing this method.

    I have never provided that link before—too embarrassed, I think.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    I consider your faulting Walt and the Christian Thinktank for coming up with different positions on the birth narratives to be, shall we say, disappointing. Christian scholars are not part of some cult which meets together in the dark of the night to collude on all of their answers so that they can present a united front to the forces of skepticism.

    A more rational response is that there is not enough evidence to guarantee that anybody is right about the birth narratives, and that there are multiple plausible interpretations of the birth narratives that do not involve contradiction.

    As far as presuppositions go, I never said that they determine the outcome. I said that they have a great influence on the outcome when the questions being considered touch on profound human interests (existence of God, deity and resurrection of Jesus, life after death).

    Your conclusion that “presuppositions have nothing to do with the determination” is completely unfounded. All you mention is that two Christians who hold inerrancy have offered differing accounts of the birth narratives. So what? Inerrancy hardly exhausts all of the presuppositions that these guys hold. Just because they may have on in common does nothing to prove your conclusion. I’m sure you can see that.

    My point about presuppositions to you is that your presuppositions drive you far more than you are willing to admit on this blog. Mine drive me as well, but I admit that, and you don’t. You seem to believe that you are able to be “neutral” on matters of heaven, hell, God, creation, and sacred Scripture.

    I want you to understand that every time you say something about your neutrality, given your voluminous past writings on this blog (almost 100% of which are negative and critical), all of us Christians roll our eyes. We’re not buying it at all.

    If you had written a roughly equal number of comments agreeing with posts on the blog, we may be more interested in entertaining your claims of neutrality. Alas, you have a lot of writing to do to balance out the situation. You’ve dug a deep hole for yourself.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    I’m sorry, Bill Pratt, was I not supposed to read the article? Or was I supposed to read it and not notice the contradiction with Walt Tucker’s position? Or was I supposed to notice but not comment?

    Let me clarify what I mean by neutrality. In our legal system, we want a neutral determining the outcome—an entity that neither gains nor loses regardless of outcome. The Jury neither receives nor pays out regardless what it awards to either party; the Judge does not serve prison time for convicting the defendant. We even provide for judges and jurors to be excused from cases where they cannot be neutral–where they may have interest in the outcome.

    When I say, “more likely to a neutral person” I am NOT declaring my own neutrality (indeed, far from it.) I recognize, like all humans, there are issues and concepts I can be neutral and there are issues I cannot. What I am saying is to consider how the arguments would persuade a person who IS neutral toward the outcome. I understand (and mentioned) most apologists do not think such a person exists because of the apologists own heightened interest in the topic. While I tend to disagree, I think it important to continue to point it out, so we inject as much objectivity as possible within our methodology.

    I’ll explain another way…

    Bill Pratt: …and that there are multiple plausible interpretations of the birth narratives that do not involve contradiction. [emphasis removed]

    O.K., this is a nice sentiment. However, there is an overlooked assertion here needing to be unpacked. You use the term “plausible”…..”plausible” to whom? Who determines the multiple interpretations of the birth narratives are “plausible”? Notice how this extremely important facet is left unaccounted? Is it you determining plausibility? You freely admit your own presuppositions impact your judgment. Is it me determining plausibility? I’m a big disappointment.

    The reason I continue to state, “more likely to a neutral person” is to get us thinking how the arguments impact a person who has no stake in the outcome—who does not care whether the magi visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Rome or Capernaum. Who can find for any (or no) city and maintain their same belief without a hiccup.

    Frankly, I am a little surprised by the amount of virtual ink spilled in this entry. Apparently whether the magi visited Bethlehem or Nazareth touches on “profound human interest.” (your words.) If you believe that, I can see why you cannot be neutral on the topic, nor can you consider any other person neutral.

    Personally, I think both narratives are completely made up. Matthew utilized progymnasmata and his incessant prophetical theme to create a scenario easily recognized by 1st Century Hebrews to depict Jesus as the next Moses and Messiah. Threat from authority as a child and then coming out of Egypt. The signs, the greater city, the acknowledgement of kingship, etc.

    Luke (who has Matthew’s account, don’t forget) decides to low-key Jesus’ birth, removing the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Magi and the star, but retains the Bethlehem birth and Nazareth childhood. This is not exactly ground-breaking information, having been recognized by numerous historians and scholars.

    To me, I don’t care whether Matthew intended the Magi to visit Bethlehem or Nazareth. Remember, I think the story is made up either way–Matthew is free to have the Magi visit wherever and whenever since it is not historical! However, in implementing the same method I use in any other historical claim, I am convinced a neutral person would determine it more likely Matthew intended the visit to be at Bethlehem than Nazareth. By parsimony alone, it coheres all the story elements, why God warned Joseph, why Jesus was in danger (like Moses), why they went to Egypt, why Joseph was afraid of Judea, why God instructed them to live in another country—all elements make more sense if Jesus was in Bethlehem immediately prior to the Slaughter of the Innocents.

    *shrug* but you consider my approach to be negative and critical. If all those historians and scholars were using my same methodology, as you previously claimed, do you consider their approach to be negative and critical?

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