False Teachings-Many biblical teachings exercise an influence on believers not unlike that of a tranquilizer on the unsettled. Euphoria is generated at the expense of reality. It would be nice if many of the following statements were true; but, unfortunately, denying conditions is no way to cope with vicissitudes: (a) "(God-Ed.) executes justice for the oppressed (and-Ed.) gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind, the Lord raises up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But he thwarts the way of the wicked" (Psalm 146:7-9) and "He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3) and "The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, he casts the wicked to the ground" (Psalm 147:6) and "O Lord, who is like thee, thou who deliverest the weak from him who is too strong for him, the weak and needy from him who despoils him?" (Psalm 35:10) and "call upon me (God-Ed.) in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee..." (Psalm 50:15). The number of oppressed, starving, blind, crippled, and fatherless people who could testify to the inaccuracy of these comments is almost limitless. Millions of sufferers have never experienced relief. (b) Equally soothing but no less erroneous are statements to the effect that the world's wicked will receive their just deserts. "Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity?" (Job 31:3 RSV) and "The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy" (Psalm 145:20) and "The Lord is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked" (Psalm 129:4) and "The violence of the wicked will sweep them away because they refuse to do what is just" (Prov. 21:7 RSV) and "it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God" (Eccle. 8:13 RSV) and "There is no peace saith the Lord, unto the wicked" (Isa. 48:22). Who would not desire a world in which the worst received their due; but justice is not written on the wind, only in the acts of men. We are told "the fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short" (Prov. 10:22) and "bloodthirsty, deceitful men will not live out half their days" (Psalm 55:23 NIV). Unfortunately, all too often the wicked seem to live forever. We are told that "if the wicked's children be multiplied, it is for the sword: and his offspring shall not be satisfied with bread" (Job 27:14). Yet, in many cases they are the last to see combat and the first to be fed. The just are deceptively told that "though the wicked heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; he may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver" (Job 27:16-17). If only this were true! And we are told "the face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth" (Psalm 34:16), when Hitler and Al Capone will be remembered long after most of us have come and gone. (c) In some verses the righteous are assured aid will be forthcoming. "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Psalm 34:17-20 RSV) and "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall" (Psalm 55:22 NIV) and "...Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments: His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed" (Psalm 112:1-2 RSV) and "The fear of the Lord leads to life; and he who has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm" (Prov. 19:23 RSV) and "...we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him" (1 John 3:22). In truth, anyone reasonably well acquainted with the world situation knows better. Cemeteries are filled with righteous people who lived in hope to the bitter end. (d) In many instances punishment of the wicked is directly linked to justice for the righteous: "The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked" (Prov. 10:3 RSV) and "The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land" (Prov. 10:30 NIV) and "He who is steadfast in righteous will live, but he who pursues evil will die" (Prov. 11:19 RSV) and "If the righteous is required on earth, how much more the wicked and sinner!" (Prov. 11:31 RSV) and "O fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have not want! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing" (Psalm 34:9-10 RSV) and "Trust in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it" (Psalm 37:3-5 NASB). Again, one need only observe life to see that precisely the opposite is often the case. The righteous starve, are uprooted, die early, receive no relief on earth, and are plagued with ills; while the wicked often satisfy their cravings, live long, receive little punishment, and have fewer troubles than most. The Bible, itself, provides a good example. "And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an unright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?...So went Satan forthi from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with more boils from the the side of his foot unto his crown" (Job 2:37). No ill befalls the righteous and they are requited on earth? Job would probably consider this rather humorous. (e) "If they (kings-Ed.) hear and serve Him, They shall end their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures, But if they do not hear, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge" (Job 36:11-12 NASB) and "A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days" (Prov. 28:16 RSV). There are far too many exceptions to these maxims to give them credence. Indeed, many of the best rulers have had the shortest, most tragic, lives. (f) "and these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:17-18). Many believers have followed these precepts to the detriment of themselves and others. (g) "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray...Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him anointing him with oil...and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up..." (James 5:13-15). On page 6 of the Nov. 1983 issue I stated the following: "The national news media is currently reporting a case in which a fundamentalist minister will not allow his daughter to receive medical treatment for her cancerous condition because of his interpretation of the Bible, (i.e., James 5:13-15)...One need only read James to see scripture supports his position...Depending on the capabilities of medical personnel, a child could very well die because someone got hold of a Bible...My heart goes out to the child, although I fear the worse." As you might have guessed, Pamela Hamilton died recently. (h) "Blessed is he who considers the poor! The Lord delivers him in the day of trouble; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive.... The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness thou healest all his infirmities" (Psalm 41:1-3). This isn't any more accurate than that promised the righteous. It should be; but it isn't. (i) "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord" (Psalm 18:22 RSV) and "She (a good wife-Ed.) does him good and not harm, all the days of her life" (Prov. 31:12 RSV). It's safe to say that millions of men could testify to the inaccuracy of these comments. (j) "But the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath; they cry not when he bindeth them. They die in youth, and their life is among the unclean" (Job 36:13-14). We can all think of hypocrites who did not die young. In fact, the longevity of some borders on the obscene. (k) "Such are the ways of all who get gain by violence; it takes away the life of its possessosrs" (Prov. 1:19). That somehow destiny is going to punish wrong-doers is a forlorn hope of biblicists. They just can't believe fate is not going to solve their problems, that they have to create their own remedies. (l) "My son, keep your father's commandment and forsake not your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart always; tie them about your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you..." (Prov. 6:20-22 RSV.) Although this should be correct, it isn't. The advice many fathers and mothers give their progeny is anything but proper. People often say that parents should "straighten out" their children when, in fact, millions can't even straighten out their own lives. Broken homes, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, profanity, abuse, deprivation, and a host of other parental involvements show that vast numbers are unqualified to guide their offspring. Telling children to always follow their parents is no way to proceed. (m) "The FOOL hath said in his heart, There is no God, Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good" (Psalm 53:1). Believers are enthralled with this verse and although the existence of God can be debated, the performance of good works by many atheists is not subject to rational dispute. (n) "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccle. 1:9) and "That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been..." (Eccle. 3:15 RSV). If there is nothing new under the sun, I'd be interested in knowing when someone walked on the moon prior to 1969 or climbed Mt. Everest prior to 1953. Moreover, how does one reconcile this with "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth" (Isa. 65:17) and "...the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man" (Jer. 31:22)? (o) "A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who utters lies will perish" (Prov. 19:9 RSV) or "not escape" (Prov. 19:5 RSV). Exceptions to this are far too common for it to be taken seriously. (p) "Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right" (Prov. 16:13 RSV). Thousands of subjects have been killed by their kings and rulers for stating what is right. (q) "Even in your thought, do not curse the king, nor in your bedchamber curse the rich; for a bird of the air will carry your voice..." (Eccle. 10:20 RSV). For the sake of us all; it's good that George Washington ignored this belief. - "...for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry..." (Eccle. 8:15 NASB) and "Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything (Eccle. 10:19 RSV). I'm not sure the playboy crowd would go that far. (s) "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with a rod, you will save his life from Sheol" (Prov. 23:13-14). "If you beat him with a rod he will not die." I should hope not! This philosophy is deplorable and opposed by most authorities in the field. Prov. 26:3 ("A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the back of fools"), Prov. 29:19 ("By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not give heed"), and Eccle. 7:3-4 RSV ("Sorrow is better than laughter, for by madness of countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth") belong in the same category. (t) "For bodily exercise profiteth little..." (1 Tim. 4:8). Nearly every sports and exercise program in the Nation testifies to the inaccuracy of this comment. (u) "Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill" (Eccle. 9:11 RSV). This belongs among verses that are so inaccurate they aren't worthy of serious consideration. (v) "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity" (Eccle. 12:8) and "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities: All is vanity" (Eccle. 1:2). According to Webster's Dictionary "vanity" means futile, worthless, or idle. If so, then why do believers care about anything? They don't adhere to the logical outcome of their own teachings. (w) "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil" (Jer. 13:23 NIV) and "What is crooked cannot be made straight..." (Eccle. 1:15) and "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6 RSV). If these verses are true, one might just as well abolish all behavior modification programs for adults. (x) And lastly, "A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death, than the day of birth" (Eccle. 7:1 RSV). The day we die is better than the day we are born? I don't accept that for a moment and doubt many biblicists do either.
On page 83 in So the Bible is Full or Contradictions Carl Johnson sought to reconcile John 14:27 ("Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you...") with Matt. 10:34 ("Think not that I come to send peace: I come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father..."). He states that, "Jesus did come to bring peace to those who trust Him and obey Him. `Therefore being justified and obey Him, the gospel message will cause hostility and strife and will`set man at variance who trust and obey Him, which he seeks to prove by quoting Rom. 5:1. The latter says those And where is the evidence that Matt. 10:34 only applies to those who do not trust and obey Him? It would be nice from Johnson's perspective if such were the case; but it isn't. He concludes with, "The first reference speaks of the peace Jesus gives to His own and the second reference speaks of the persecution His followers may expect." Yet, nothing whatever is said about persecution, nor is there any reason to limit the second verse to followers only.
DIALOGUE AND DEBATE
Letter #90 from VT of Huron, California (Part a)
(In part 2 of the Dec. 84' commentary BE quoted Luke 12:4 ("Be not afraid of them that kill the body and after that have no more that they can do") and followed with several examples of Jesus hiding, escaping, or fleeing-Ed.) If one stops at Luke 12:4 they will not get the true meaning. The exegesis is not complete. Luke 12:5 says, "But I will make it clear to you (BAS) whom ye shall fear (KJV) the only one you need fear (PHI). Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power (the power) to cast into hell (KJV)....
Editor's Response to Letter #90 (Part a)
You have added nothing to the resolution of the problem, VT, unless you are claiming the one who has power to cast into hell is the Jews and Pharisees in opposition to Jesus. Jesus said fear "him," i.e. Satan, not fear "them." Are you saying the Jews and Pharisees had power to cast others into hell? Only if this were true could Jesus have been consistent when he escaped, fled, and hid from them.
Letter #90 Continues (Part b)
(In part 3 of the Dec. 84' commentary BE noted that Jesus said we should keep the OT commandments of loving thy neighbor as thyself and, yet, later said he was giving a new commandment. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). The question was then asked that if loving thy neighbor as thyself was an OT commandment, how could it be a new commandment-Ed.). ...Jesus made it "New" by giving to it a new standard, and a new motive; "Love one another; even as I have loved you." His love was to be shown in his death for others; such self-sacrificing love shown by his followers would be the witness to the world of true discipleship. See Charles Erdmans Expositon of the Gospel of John....
Editor's Response to Letter #90 (Part b)
You are rationalizing, VT. You mean the new love differs from the old in that we must not only be willing to, but actually, die for others? If giving one's life is the new standard, then your continued existence shows you have chosen to ignore it.
Letter #90 Continues (Part c)
(In part 7 of the Dec. 84' commentary BE asked how Luke 16:9 ("Make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness") could be reconciled with Luke 16:13 ("ye cannot serve God and mammon-Ed.). I believe the Wycliffe Commentary is of great value here! The Lord implied that earthly property can be used to help others, whose gratitude will ensure a welcome in eternity. Luke 16:11 says, "If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon who will commit to your trust the true riches?" The use of material wealth is a test of character. Those who cannot use it wisely do not deserve to have spiritual responsibilities entrusted to them.... I believe this is about the final word here. What else need we say?
Editor's Response to Letter #90 (Part c)
A great deal, VT, because the commentary you quote is certainly not the final word. First, by what rationale do you conclude that the Lord implied that earthly property can be used to help others, whose gratitude....? What part of the statement justifies your assumption? You even admit it isn't stated, only implied. I see nothing in the verse or context regarding helping others who gratitude will ensure a welcome in eternity. Second, as I stated in the March issue, "You also face the unenviable task of explaining how Jesus can be our moral beacon while teaching people to befriend unrighteousness." Be wary of apologetic commentaries. Nost of the standard works are masterpieces of rationalization. A lot of reasonably intelligent people have spent a great amount of time, energy, and money making the irrational seem feasible. After all, if you can convince people that men rose from the dead, sticks turned into serpents, donkeys talked, and the earth stood still, you can make anything, no matter how incredible, seem true. With a reasonable degree of ingenuity and creativity, the sky's the limit.
Letter #90 Continues (Part d)
(In part 8 of the Dec. 84' commentary BE noted that Jesus said men are better than sheep, yet repeatedly called his followers sheep-Ed.). Sheep is a Jewish metaphor as yoke is a Jewish metaphor. There are many word pictures in the Bible. Originally all language was purely pictographic. What else need be said?
Editor's Response to Letter #90 (Part d)
Why do you keep asking what else need be said, VT, especially in light of the fact that you have evaded the problem. Granted it's a metaphor. Obviously Jesus didn't mean his followers were actually four-legged, furry creatures. The fact is that to equate men with sheep is an invidious and highly demeaning comparison, especially in light of traits commonly attributed to sheep. As a follower of Jesus you should be as incensed as I would be if the president referred to citizens as sheep.
Letter #90 Concludes (Part e)
(In part 9 of the Dec. 84' commentary BE noted that Jesus said that if I bear witness of myself, my witness in not true (John 5:31) and later said in John 8:14 that if he bore witness it would be true-Ed.). ...In the Jewish, Greek, and Roman law the testimony of a witness is not received in his own case.... (In John 5:31--Ed.) Jesus yields to the rabbinical demands for proof outside of himself....
Editor's Response to Letter #90 (Part e)
Jesus said his witness was not true, VT. He didn't say it was merely inadmissible. The distinction is crucial. If Jesus had said his testimony was inadmissible because Roman law required at least two witnesses, there would have been no problem. But he went further and said it was not true. If what you say is true, then he made such a poor choice of words that that, in itself, would bring into question his credentials.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Letter #91 from MP of Tulsa, Oklahoma (Extracts from several letters)
Dear Dennis. (a) The other day I was arguing about the Flood with a student from Oral Roberts University. He conceded that the Flood may not have been worldwide, but just covered the part of the world they knew about, Mesopotamia and the surrounding region. I countered by saying that if those ancient people were mistaken about and ignorant of the nature of our planet, perhaps later people in the same cultural tradition (Jesus' Jewish contemporaries) were greatly mistaken about the nature of Jesus. If the Bible errs about the Flood, it could err about everything else. (b) I have a problem to pass along. In 1 Kings 3:12 RSV God promised to Solomon, "Behold, I give you a wise and descerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you." Does this make Solomon smarter than Jesus? - Also consider Paul's assertion that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4) in light of 2 Thess. 2:11-12 ("God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (d) Biblicists maintain that we have all inherited a sinful nature from Adam, who rebelled against God and became corrupt. But we are all descended from Adam through Noah, whom the Bible describes as being "perfect" and "righteous." By the same logic, shouldn't we also have inherited Noah's perfection? (e) Hab. 1:13 says about God "Thou are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity. "Yet, according to Job 1 & 2, Satan-the very source of evil-had little trouble in visiting God. If God cannot "behold evil," why does he permit Satan to come to him? (f) I have found that when I present some really objectionable passage from the OT, a typical response is, "But that's part of the Old Law, and we aren't bound by that any more." You mean God's laws become invalid when they're old? (You might mention that the Ten Commandments are also part of the Old Law-Ed.) (g) Lastly, if the Garden of Eden was perfect before the Fall, why did it need to be tended (Gen. 2:15)?
Letter #92 from DW of South Pasadena, California
Dear Dennis. I just got around to reading your 26th issue.... Your explanation of why you focus on the Bible itself was very well written and has my strong agreement. Suggesting that Jesus could have stolen the silverware as he left was a priceless response, a very humorous counterpoint. You are right that when the opposition makes unwarranted assumptions, you should point that out, and respond on that level. If the opposition selects an outrageous position out in left field, it gives you justification for setting up on the right field foul line (especially if the audience sees you don't really plan to stay there). The more sensible readers will eventually see where a legitimate center of field is.... Good tactics.
Letter #93 from JS of Romeo, Michigan
Dear Dennis...In the sample issue I received you listed 2 Kings 2:11 (Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind) as contradicting Heb. 9:27 (It is appointed unto all men to die once). Here, I would have used John 3:13 (No man has ever gone into heaven-a quote from Jesus Christ) instead of Heb.9:27.
Letter #94 from AW of Sacramento, California
Hello Dennis. I heard your interview over KGNR radio.... Your effort is a timely one for many viewpoints have been set forth as being the unerring words of God. There is a need for objectivity.... If your newletter will assist in enabling people to keep an open mind then it serves a very useful function. It appears that Jesus of Nazareth knew that all that had been attributed to Moses was not so, for on more than one occasion when referring to statements which appeared to the books attributed to Moses he said, "you have heard it was said" and again rather than attributing such statements to God he would say, "Moses said..." And in the letter to the seven churches of the revelation Jesus urged the reader to "listen to what the Spirit says to the churches" rather than urging them to read the Bible.... Also you will recall that Jesus mentioned that he would send upon his followers "the Spirit of truth" which would guide into all truth. John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13. He would likely not have spoken of doing this if all truth could have been obtained from solely reading the pages of the Bible.
Editor's Response to Letter #94
The problem I have with criticisms such as these, AW, is that although they are logical and reasonable inferences, they don't necessarily have to be true. Apparently you seem to realize as much judging from such comments as: "It appears that Jesus of Nazareth knew" and "He would likely not have spoken." Remember, biblicists give no quarter and generally expect none. They are going to challenge you on every point. If you have ever debated them, you know such encounters have all the earmarks of war. Their views and ours are light-years apart and each looks upon the other as error personified.
Issue No. 30 June 1985
Isaiah 52-53--For over 15 centuries Christians have analyzed the OT with meticulous care extracting every verse that could possibly be interpreted as a messianic reference to Jesus of Nazareth. They have injected unintended meaning into scores of verses and, in so doing, distorted sizeable portions of Scripture. As Thomas Paine aptly stated, "...I have examined all the passages in the NT, quoted from the Old, and so-called prophecies concerning Jesus Christ, and I find no such thing as a prophecy of any such person, and I deny there are any... I have given chapter and verse for everything I have said, and have not gone out of the books of the Old and New Testament for evidence that the passages are not prophecies of the person called Jesus Christ" (The Life and Works of Paine, Vol. 9, p. 206) and "The writers of the gospels state some trifling case of the person they call Jesus Christ, and then cut out a sentence from some passage of the OT and call it a prophecy of that case. But when the words thus cut out are restored to the places they are taken from, and read with the words before and after them, they give the lie to the NT" (Ibid. Vol. 9, p. 269). Among those sections of exceptional importance is Isa. 52-53. One would be hard-pressed to find an OT messianic prophecy that carries more weight with biblicists. Indeed, if it can't endure critical analysis what prophecy could. Isa. 52:13 to 53:12 is replete with verses allegedly attributable to Jesus; yet, in every instance, one can see they are inapplicable. Evidence tends to prove the servant being discussed is Israel or the Jews. In any event, it certainly isn't Jesus as the following show: (1) "Behold, my servant shall prosper (Isa. 52:13 RSV). When did Jesus prosper? How can a condition of prosperity or success be predicated of the Godhead? (2) "He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high" (52:13). This was not fulfilled in Jesus either. His humanity was condemned to death in an inglorious manner. This verse implies he was not high and exalted before, which would be contrary to his divinity. It also contradicts Isa. 53:3 ("He is despised and rejected of men") and Isa. 57:15 which says God (Jesus) is high and exalted continually. Exaltation is not a condition he will attain. (3) "...his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men" (52:14). If Jesus was God, how could his features have suffered disfigurement and when was his visage marred more than that of all others? This verse also contradicts the alleged description of Jesus given in Psalm 45:2 ("Thou are fairer than the children of men"). (4) "...the kings shall shut their mouths because of him" (52:15 RSV). What king ceased to speak because of Jesus? (5) "For he shall grow up" (53:2). This should have been translated, "he grew up," as is done in the RSV, which would show someone living before Isaiah was under discussion. (6) "...he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (53:2). (a) Like 52:14 (See #3 above), this contradicts the description of Jesus in Psalm 45:2 and Jer. 11:16. (b) If this describes Jesus' condition at death, there is nothing singular about it, because it applies to all dead people. (7) "He is despised and rejected of men" (53:3). (a) According to 52:13, he was to be "exalted and extolled, and be very high." (b) How many people really hated Jesus as opposed to the number of tribes who hated the Jews? (8) "...a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief..." (53:3). (a) Jewish scholars claim "grief" as used here only refers to bodily ailment in Scripture. Jesus had no bodily ailment. Nowhere in the NT does it say Jesus had so much as a headache prior to the cross, nor is his death ever referred to as a sickness. (b) The Jews had no conception of a suffering Messiah. They thought of him as a king or ruler over willing subjects and subduing his enemies. (9) "...we hid as it were our faces from him" (53:3). The Jews did not hide their faces from him but condemned him many times and the Gentiles accepted him. (10) "his visage was so marred" (52:14) and "we hid," "he was despised," "we esteemed" (53:3) and "he hath borne," "smitten of God and afflicted" (53:4) and "he was wounded," "he was bruised" (53:5) and "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted" (53:6) and "He was taken and cut off" (53:8) and "he made his grave" and "he had done no violence" (53:9). All these past tense verbs show that Isaiah is referring to an earlier individual, not someone living 700 years in the future. (11) "yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (53:4). Jesus was smitten by men not God. Would God smite and afflict his son, Christ, especially when the two are supposedly identical? (12) "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities" (53:4-5). (a) This refers to Israel. Prophets often designated humiliations and adversities as sicknesses and wounds. Isa. 1:5-6, Jer. 10:19, 30:17-18, 33:6-8, Lam. 2:13, and Hosea 6:1 all describe the Captivity as attended with calamities described as bruises and wounds. (b) Contrary to Matt. 8:16-17 ("...they brought unto Jesus many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaias, the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses") which claims to fulfill this prophecy, 53:4-5 says nothing about casting out devils or curing sicknesses as does Matt. 8:16-17. (13) "Behold my servant shall deal prudently" (52:13). (a) There is no reason to believe that the servant referred to is Jesus. "Servant" refers to anyone who works hard for God. It is used in reference to Moses (Num. 12:7, Job 1:8), all the prophets (Amos 3:7), and all of Israel (Lev. 25:42). The servant is expressly identified with Jacob or Israel in Isa. 41:8-9, 42:19, 44:1-2, and 49:3. Judging from the context, it refers to the Jews or Jacob, God's people, not Jesus. (b) The phrases applied to Jehovah in connection with the servant ("he that formed thee" and "I have redeemed thee") suit Israel alone, not Jesus. Jehovah is often called Israel's Redeemer. (c) How could Jesus (God) be God's servant? Would it make sense to call Christ God's servant, or would a prophet call him a servant? How could Jesus (God) be termed the servant of anybody? It would be an indignity to apply "servant" to the godhead. (d) Although debatable, Jewish scholars seem to feel that "deal prudently" actually means "to acquire knowledge;" yet, how could an all-knowing God acquire knowledge as this would imply he previously lacked wisdom. (14) "he was wounded for our transgressions" (53:5). According to Christian theology, Jesus was not so much bruised or wounded for man's transgressions as he was killed. (15) "He was oppressed,...yet he opened not is mouth:...so he openeth not his mouth" (53:7). According to John 18:21-23 ("Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said. And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?"), John 18:33-37 ("Then Pilate...said to Jesus, Art thou King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?...Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am king"), and Matt. 27:46 ("Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,...my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"), Jesus not only opened his mouth when oppressed but was struck in the process. He even cried for help. (16) "...for he was cut off out of the land of the living" (53:8) contradicts Psalm 116:9 which says, "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living." (17) "for the transgressions of my people was he stricken" (53:8). Yet, Jesus was supposedly stricken for all people, not just my people. (18) "And he made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death" (53:9). (a) When was Jesus buried with anyone? (b) When was Jesus with the rich in his death or buried with the rich? (c) This description contradicts the glorious burial predicted in Isaiah 11:10 ("And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse,...and his rest shall be glorious"). (d) Actually, in so far as Jesus is concerned, the prophecy was reversed. Jesus made his grave with the righ by being buried in the sepulchre of the rich Joseph of Arimathoea (Matt. 27:57), and was with the wicked, crucified thieves (not rich people) in his death. (19) "because he had done no violence" (53:9). John 2:15 ("And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables") and Mark 11:15 clearly prove the inapplicability of this verse to Jesus. (20) "...neither was any deceit in his mouth" (53:9). Anyone who seriously believes this refers to Jesus should read the commentaries in issues 24, 25, 26, and 27. (21) "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him" (53:10). (a) Would God be pleased to bruise Christ, his only begotten son and equal or to put him to grief? (b) Applying this verse to Jesus would seem to prove that he did not come of his own accord to meet death. The pleasure was not in him but in the Creator. (c) If Jesus wished to save the wicked from perdition, then he assumed responsibility for his sufferings, and it is wrong to argue that God willed it. (d) And this verse is clearly in opposition to the description of God given in Lam. 3:33 ("For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men"). (22) "...when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" (53:10). But wasn't the body of Jesus offered as a sacrifice, not his soul? (23) "he shall see his seed" (53:10). (a) Throughout the OT "seed" always meant children or physical descendants. Yet, Jesus had no children. (b) If "seed" refers to Jesus' disciples then the prophet should have written "sons" because "seed" refers to those produced by carnal acts. (24) "...he shall prolong his days" (53:10). (a) The verse means he shall live long; whereas, Jesus did not live to an old age. He died when he was approximately 33 years old. (b) Actually Psalm 55:23 is much more applicable. "But thou O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." Jesus did not live out half his days. (c) It's difficult to see how this could be applied to a divine being since the idea of longevity is inappropriate to an eternal Diety. (25) "And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand" (53:10). Jesus has come and gone yet the world that God desires has never materialized. (26) "He shall see the travail of his soul" (53:11). I thought only the flesh of Jesus suffered, not his soul or divinity. (27) "Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great" (53:12). (a) If Jesus is not great, then who are the great? (b) When did Jesus ever divide a portion with the great? (c) Who could divide him his portion, since he is God? Who is the I? (28) "...and he shall divide the spoil with the strong" (53:12). (a) Jesus divides spoils? Would a perfectly good being be dividing spoils? Nowhere do we read that he plundered or divided spoils with the strong. (b) This verse implies Jesus was not one of the strong which would contradict John 17:2 ("As thou hast given him power over all flesh"). (29) "...he poured out his soul to death" (53:12). (a) I thought only the flesh of Jesus underwent death. (b) Jesus did not die willingly for his creatures. He feared and prayed as is shown by Matt. 26:37-39 ("And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death:...and he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..." and Matt. 27:46 ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"). (30) "This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord" (54:17). Here servants is plural, showing that more than one servant is referred to in Isaiah 53. (31) And lastly, immediately before Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Isaiah is predicting the gathering of the exiles and just after Isa. 54:1 he is talking of the glorious promises descriptive of the same events. Therefore, logically, all inbetween is speaking of the same thing. The conclusion to be drawn from all the above is that if Isa. 52-53 is the strongest reference to Jesus in the OT, then the case for messianic prophecy is weak indeed.
In Evidence that Demands a Verdict apologist Josh McDowell cited many OT messianic prophecies and showed how they were allegedly fulfilled in Jesus. In nearly every instance, his scholarship exemplifies what Thomas Paine alluded to earlier. Several examples are noteworthy: (1) On page 152 McDowell cites Matt. 21:11 ("and the multitudes were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee") as a fulfillment of Deut. 18:18 ("I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command him"). Several problems are created when Matt. 21:11 is viewed as a fulfillment of Deut. 18:18. (a) The latter could be applied to any one of hundreds of prophets. Why assume it's Jesus" (b) If God and Jesus are identical, why would God need to put words into Jesus' mouth or command him to do anything? In effect, he would be doing it himself. (c) McDowell neglected to mention Deut. 18:15 which refers to the same individual: ("The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of these of thy brethren like unto me, unto him ye shall hearken"). God said the Prophet will be "like unto me" whereas Jesus is supposed to be God, not like God. (d) How could "unto him ye shall hearken" apply to Jesus. The Jews did not follow him; they killed him. (2) On page 147 McDowell cited Luke 3:23, 34 ("Jesus...the son of Jacob...") as a fulfillment of Numbers 24:;17 ("...there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy the children of Sheth"). How one could apply this to Jesus is difficult to imagine. (a) Jesus had no sceptre except a mock one, nor could he be considered the sceptre. (b) He did not smite the corners of Moab or destroy the children of Sheth. (c) When the Messiah comes all the Gentile nations are to fall, not just Moab and Sheth. (d) If this refers to Jesus why are the Moabites and those of Sheth singled out as a people to be conquered by him? (e) Two verses later it states, "Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city" (Num. 24:19). Yet, Jesus never had dominion and never destroyed "him" or those who remained in the city. (3) On page 150 McDowell cites Matt. 2:1, 11 ("Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem...and they fell down and worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts...") as a fulfillment of Psalm 72:10 ("Let the kings of Tarshish and of the islands bring presents; The kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts"). Yet none of this is applicable to Jesus. (a) Where does it say the Magi were kings of Tarshish, Sheba, or Seba. Luke 2 specifically states they were shepherds abididng in the fields. (b) How could they have visited Jesus in Jerusalem when he was in Bethlehem. Imagine kings coming to visit an obscure babe in a manger! (c) What islands are east of Jerusalem? (d) McDowell omitted the next verse ("Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him") which never occurred either. (4) On page 147 McDowell cites Luke 3:23-34 ("Jesus,...the son of Isaac") as a fulfillment of Gen. 21:12 ("But God said to Abraham...through Isaac your descendants shall be named"). He conveniently ignores the fact that "descendants" is plural, not singular, and could apply to any one of a hundred people. Why assume this is a specific reference to Jesus just because he is a descendant of Isaac. (5) And on page 154 McDowell cites Matt. 27:37 ("And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews") as a fulfillment of Psalm 2:6 ("but as for me, I have installed My King upon Zion, my holy mountain"). How these two are related is perplexing, indeed. Putting a king upon Zion hardly equals putting up a sign, especially when Jesus is not becoming a king but a corpse and the sign is intended for ridicule only. Moreover, "have installed" could not be referring to a future individual because it's a past tense verb.
DIALOGUE AND DEBATE
Letter #95 from Ken Bonnell of Los Angeles, California
(Ken sent BE a newspaper clipping in which a man asked a catholic priest the following: A sin against the Holy Spirit, mentioned in Matt. 12:31--"All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him,..." is said to be "unforgivable." I thought every sin is forgivable? The priest answered as follows..Ed.) The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit, mentioned by Our Lord, is interpreted to mean "final inpenitence." If a person decides that she or he is so evil that not even God can forgive a sinful life, then of course, the Holy Spirit is shut off from imparting forgiveness. The "unforgiving" in such a case is on the part of the sinner and not on the part of God, for actually all sins of whatever kind are forgivable, if the sinner will but repent and confess!
Editor's Response to Letter #95
Dear Ken. The priest's answer is, of course, pure rationalization. There is nothing whatever, either expressed or implied, showing that the attitude of the person involved toward the degree of sinfulness determines whether or not a sin is forgivable. What biblical verse could one use to prove the individual rather than God determines when a sin is forgivable? To say, "if a person decides that she or he is so evil that not even God can forgive a sinful life, then, of course, the Holy Spirit is shut off from imparting forgiveness," not only limits God's powers but flies in the face of biblical teachings. The priest said this was "interpreted to mean." Indeed, it was! Pure interpretation.
Letter #96 from IF of Vacaville, California
Dear Dennis. I read your response to my letter in the April issue of BE regarding the non-existence of Jesus about 2,000 years ago. BE's purpose is solely showing the contradictions and inconsistencies of the bible? Empirically as well as scientifically, it can be shown the bible is hogwash and no one expects passages in the bible to admit it. Reasoning can also prove the falsity of that book. As an example, did Noah journey to the Artic so that we can have the man-eating polar bears, journey to Australia for kangaroos, to Antartica for penguins.... In like fashion Jesus is not an historical being as no Greek, Roman, or Jewish historian of the time wrote about a diety performing miracles. The gospels were written long after Jesus was supposed to have died, so how could the writers quote him verbatim?.... You are limiting yourself to biblical quotations, thereby defeating the purpose of biblical errancy--to show the absurdity of the bible.
Editor's Response to Letter #96
Dear IF. I know this is an area of great interest to you so let me restate my position by making several observations: First, BE does not focus solely on contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible. It concentrates on any internal information having to do with the Book's validity. Inconsistenciies and contradictions are only the primary element. Anytime you bring in scientific or historical data to disprove the Bible you are going to confront scientists and historians on the other side whose arguments will not be as weak as those of apologists confined to Scripture per se. For example, you said Jesus was not an historical figure because no Greek, Roman, or Jewish historian mentioned him. Surely you must realize what the opposition will say. The mere fact that historians fail to mention someone does not prove he didn't exist. One might just as well say my grandmother didn't exist because she doesn't appear in historical writings either. All one can prove, as BE intends to show eventually, is that there are no non-Christian writings of antiquity which can be accurately applied to Jesus and those often employed are readily refuted. Your comment about the gospels would be leaped upon with equal relish, IF. You mean we can't quote George Washington verbatim because he lived hundreds of years ago? Biblicists could say the gospels are verbatim representations of what was said. They didn't say those who compiled the conversations and wrote the gospels were physically present when it occurred. Second, BE does discuss extra-biblical data occasionally. The examples you gave of the problem associated with Noah and the animals on the Ark were discussed in a prior issue. However, as with the Creation Story, BE's only attempt was to show the myriad of scientific problems one must confront if he adheres to the biblical approach. No attempt was made to disprove Creationism or the Flood Account. Why? Because as soon as I offer scientific data, opponents will do likewise and we begin matching libraries in fields very few people are qualified to discuss. And, even more important, how many really care? Third, I don't expect passages in the Bible to admit the Book is hogwash, but when two passages say something diametrically opposed, each is, in effect, asserting as much. I'm not limiting myself to biblical quotations; I'm limiting myself to that which is most relevant and persuasive to the average believer.
Letter #97 from VT of Huron, California
Greetings: your comments and opposition to the TRUTHS set forth in the Bible is (in my opinion) really UNFORGIVABLE. It is certainly unfortunate that you ever got started doing this kind of thing.... Your mentor, `ole Thomas Paine would be so PROUD OF YOU.... You don't believe the Bible is God's word, and yet you are willing to spend all your time and energy running it down.... You must get a great deal of satisfaction out of your VOCATION.
Editor's Response to Letter #97
Greetings VT. What "truths" are you referring to? Perhaps we should go through past issues of BE to find some? I'm glad you said "in my opinion" because in my opinion, and that of countless others, it's anything but unforgivable. You are correct when you say that it's unfortunate I ever got started in this. It's unfortunate for all those who project the Bible as something it most assuredly is not. I don't spend all my time running down the Bible VT, nor is this my vocation. I just feel that exposing the Bible is something that must be done. Believe me when I say I can think of many books I'd rather be reading. Scripture is often boring, monotonous, repetitious, infantile, and obscure. Many parts are so vague that one guess is as good as another as to what was meant. The fact remains, however, that it is the book for a substantial segment of the population. That's "where they are" and one can't persuade them to come to a more rational stance without first showing them the error of their ways.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Letter #98 from MP of Tulsa, Oklahoma (Part a) Extracts from several letters Dear Dennis. Regarding Letter #87 from IF of Vacaville, California, the author seems a little confused. Apart from mathematics (my field), you cannot consistently prove negative propositions about factual matters....it's a waste of time to argue about the nonexistence of Jesus. I agree with you that it's much more effective to show biblicists that Jesus' actions and "doctrines" are less than perfect.
Editor's Response to Letter #98 (Part a)
Dear MP. Perhaps I didn't make my position as clear as I should have. I did not mean to say that discussing extra-biblical topics, such as the existence of Jesus, the history of the Canon's formation, pagan influences, etc. are a waste of time. Certainly not. For some people such arguments are quite impressive. All I said was that our efforts should primarily be directed toward those topics which are of greatest interest to the largest number of people and most susceptible to proof. A contradiction or logical inconsistency is far more difficult for a biblicist to combat than arguments over what occurred thousands of years ago.
Letter #98 Concludes (Part b)
I attended a student Bible study in one of the dorms the other night. The topic of the night was, "Why worship God?" The leader of the group would assign each person a verse to read on that subject and then would ask him to explain it. When it came my turn, I stated that I was puzzled by the Bible's attitude toward God, since poor old Job worshipped God fervently and led a blameless life, only to be rewarded by God allowing Satan to do all sorts of terrible things to him and his family. One girl responded that we cannot judge God because we cannot see the big picture or something to that effect. I responded by asking how it was for the long-term good of Job's children to be killed by Satan with God's permission. (Here the argument threatened to turn to theodicy, but I tried to keep to the Bible). Another woman said that you cannot understand the spiritual by looking at the physical. I pointed out that Jesus made no such distinction, since he talked about mustard seeds, mountains, fig trees, coins, etc. The expression on these peoples' faces was priceless, like I was the bastard at the family reunion. We were supposed to apply the Bible to our lives, not think about it.
I'm involved with other projects also. Not that I expect to deprogram anyone, but I have been calling a Christian radio station named KXOJ. The deejays will talk to you off the air. I've argued one of them to the point that he won't talk to me any more. He says that I am doing the work of Satan. Another, a woman about my age, will still talk to me, but she seems to be an intellectual zero. When she asks me why I'm doing what I'm doing, I respond that when you cross-examine a witness on the stand, the first thing you do is check his testimony on things that can be independently verified, before you believe his extra-ordinary claims; such is my attitude toward the Bible. But she seems to be one of those emotional, feelgood Christians.
Editor's Response to Letter #98 (Part b)
Keep up the good work, MP. You are going in among them rather than taking shots at-a-distance. I know what you are going through. I do it myself. Your comment about Jesus' repeated references to material objects was rather shrewd. I can see why they were taken aback.
Issue No. 31 July 1985
Isaiah 42:1-20--Besides Isaiah 52-53 (In last month's Commentary) other sections of the OT are also extolled as prime examples of messianic prophecy. The 42nd chapter of Isaiah and Gen. 49:10-12, for example, are often quoted in messianic literature, despite their absence of any applicability to Jesus of Nazareth. Isaiah 42 couldn't be referring to Jesus for any one of several reasons: (1) "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him:..." (42:1). (a) The past tense verb shows someone living earlier is under discussion. (b) would God call Jesus his servant? (c) How could Jesus be upheld to anything or need upholding? (d) How could God put his spirit on his equal, Jesus ("I and my Father are one--John 10:30). (e) Also puzzling is how God could have a soul. (2) "he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles" (42:1). (a) In Matt. 15:24 Jesus said he was not sent but unto the lost sheep of Israel, which would exclude Gentiles. (b) In Matt. 10:5 Jesus specifically told his followers not to go to the gentiles. (c) Jesus had no authority among the gentiles. (3) "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street" (42:2). (a) Yet, Jesus wept (John 11:35). (b) He cried aloud and lifted up his voice in public thoroughfares and open spaces. Scourging tradesmen and upsetting their tables is not a display of quietude. Matt. 27:46, 50, Mark 15:34, 37, 39, Luke 23:46, 19:41, and John 7:28, 37, 11:43, 12:44 show this verse has nothing to do with Jesus. (4) "a bruised reed shall he not break and the smoking flax shall he not quench...." (42:3). This contradicts Psalm 2:9 ("Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel") which is also applied to Jesus. (5) "He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law" (42:4). Jesus did fail and was discouraged as Matt. 27:46 ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me") and John 11:35 ("Jesus wept") show. (b) He has never set judgment in the earth. (c) Extracting any degree of rationality from this verse is rather difficult since it's comparable to saying he will not fail until he has succeeded. He will fail the moment he succeeds in establishing justice. (6) "Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? Who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant? (42:19). (a) Would God say Jesus is blind and deaf or more deaf and blind than others? Would God virtually denounce Jesus in uncomplimentary terms? (b) How could a perfect being be blind or deaf? (c) Would God call Jesus his servant? (7) "seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not" (42:20). Would God describe Jesus in this manner?
Gen. 49:10-12--Gen. 49 also contains some allegedly messianic verses which are equally invalid. (1) :The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (a) Apologists view Jesus as Shiloh even though the sceptre departed from Judah 600 years before Jesus was born. If Shiloh is Christ then the prophecy is false, for the king of Judah (Zedekiah) was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:7) and all the leading Jews were taken away to Babylon, all of which took place 588 years before the birth of Christ. (b) If the sceptre continued all during the pre-Jesus period, then it still departed nearly 50 years after Jesus' death with the destruction of the temple. The sceptre did not depart from Judah when the so-called Shiloh (Jesus) came; it happened 50 years later when Jerusalem fell to the Romans. (c) During the existence of the 2nd temple there is no indication that a descendant of Judah governed Israel or Judah. (d) Authorities disagree as to an accurate translation of this verse. Some feel it should say "until he comes to Shiloh." They assert that Shiloh is not a man or a messiah. It's a place. Every time "Shiloh" appears in the OT after Gen. 49:10 it's clearly referring to a location. It was seat of the national sanctuary before it was moved to Jerusalem. Shiloh was where the national gatherings took place before Jerusalem was taken by David. (e) When did the people gather unto Jesus? (f) Gen 49:10 is ascribed to Jacob which is questionable in light of the fact that Judah did not receive the sceptre until David ascended the throne hundreds of years after Jacob lived. (2) "he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine" (Gen. 49:11-12). Verses 11 and 12 aply to the same person mentioned in verse 10. One cannot help but ask when Jesus washed his garments in wine or the blood of grapes. Jesus Disqualified--One of the most interesting aspects of messianic prophecy is the degree to which Christians have selectively employed every verse which could possibly be twisted in such a manner as to prove the messiahship of Jesus while systematically ignoring those proving the contrary. They use any verse in the OT that could be related to Jesus in a positive way but avoid all those that could just as easily be used to refute his credentials. Many disprove his messiahship better than those used to prove it. Many debunking his mission are clearer and stronger than those in support: (1) Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3). Jesus was called the son of man on numerous occasions. (2) "How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm" (Job 25:6). Jesus often called himself the son of man. (3) "What is man, that he can be clean? Or he that is born of woman, that he can be righteous" (Job 15:14 RSV) and "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one" (Job 14:4 and "...how can he be clean that is born of a woman? (Job 25:4). The allegedly pure Jesus supposedly came from impure and sinful Mary. Virgin or not, Mary was still a sinner under Original Sin. (4) Christians don't hesitate to apply the 22nd Psalm to Jesus but conveniently ignore verse 6 which says, "But I am a worm, and no man..." (5) The suffering servant discussed by Isaiah is supposedly Jesus yet Isaiah 42:19 says, "Who is blind but my servant? or deaf as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant?" (Wasn't Jesus supposedly sent as a perfect messenger from God? (6) Jesus was a man in whom many trusted and still trust; yet, the OT admonished: (a) "Cursed be the man that trusted in man" (Jer. 17:5) and "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man" (Psalm 118:8). (7) "...yet I have not seen the righeous forsaken or his children begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). Then Jesus couldn't be righteous because he was forsaken by God and many of his followers beg for bread. (8) "...the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh" (Dan. 2:11). Yet, Jesus was allegedly the God/man dwelling in flesh. (9) Jesus was called the son of man; yet, Psalm 8:4 RSV ("...what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him") and Psalm 144:3 NASB ("O Lord, what is man, that Thou dost take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that Thou dost think of him?") belittle the son of man. (10) And lastly, "There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor" (Naham 1:11). Jesus was called a counsellor in Isaiah 9:6.
What is Needed--We often hear from readers struggling with the question of how one can most effectively cope with religion in general and the Bible in particular. This is undoubtedly a major problem and judging from the enormous influence of both has not been adequately addressed. Indeed, the Bible's supporters dominate the scene on virtually every front. They have tremendous amounts of wealth and millions of supporters, while those at the other end of the spectrum are deficient in nearly every area but accuracy. As of now it's been a decidedly one-sided contest, although war would be a more accurate term. While the Falwells, Swaggarts, Grahams, and Robertsons marshall their forces like generals in battle, much of the oppostion is either apathetic or innocuous. Biblicists not only untilize scores of radio and television stations with hundreds of regular programs but employ a national television network rivalling CBS and NBC. Thousands of inaccurate religious comments are broadcast daily without rebuttal, while opponents have almost no regularly scheduled anti-Bible programs in the entire Nation, let alone a station or network. Equally important is the fact that fundamentalists and evangelicals have many sympthizers in the media. We have had great difficulty gaining access to the airways, especially on call-in radio stations. Even though owners, managers, sponsors, producers, and hosts may not attend church on a regular basis, Ideologically speaking, they are closer to fundamentalism than BE. Getting on-th-air is difficult, obtaining a repeat performance is an accomplish of even greater magnitude. Exceptions exist, of course, but they are clearly in the minority. Several hardworking supporters of BE have discovered as much for themselves. They have either been flatly refused an opportunity to be heard via BE or given a protracted run-around. Even when given access to the public I have often been viewed in the same light as dancing bears and sword-swallowers, a novelty act for entertainment only. Usually not much time has elapsed, however, before hosts have begun to realize they have a serious problem on their hands and poignant biblical criticisms aren't going to be destroyed with a flip of the tongue. Generally the powers-that-be shift from refuting to denying me a hearing after the programs's completed. Those who believe censorship is not widely practiced against critics of the Bible are victims of deception. They need only oppose the Bible themselves to see what will or will not happen. Ten years ago I wouldn't have believed it either. But personal experience is a potent teacher. If my performance were poor, my arguments weak, my speaking ability deficient, or my audience bored, I could easily understand why second invitations were not forthcoming. But in every instance precisely the opposite has occurred. The switchboard has nearly always resembled a Christmas tree. Supporters also have reported that BE's posters have been regularly removed.
In answer to the original question of how to oppose the Bible's influence, we would propose that a national network by created organized in a manner not unlike that of several Christian organizations. It's purpose would be to confront, debate, and contend with the opposition, especially before listeners whose views are still in a state of flux. There are millions of fence-straddlers with doubts and questions. Members would have to know the Bible's contents as well as its proponents and be fully aware to its weaknesses and relevant extra-biblical data. Training programs, institutes, conferences, etc. could be used to teach the Bible's inaccuracies and the most effective techniques by which to counter the opposition. Immense study and research would be prerequisites. But that would be easier than fulfilling the second requirement, namely, obtaining a hearing before a mass audience, especially on a repetitive basis. That's the real challenge. As long as you keep your views to yourself and read what confirms your beliefs, the problem is contained. But when you seek to convert, confront, or influence others, sparks begin to fly and opposition arises. Of necessity, members would have to make up in vocalism what they lack in numbers. Those who don't feel comfortable as debaters or educators could call stations, write letters, protest the content of programs, suggest speakers, and otherwise make their presence known. If nothing else, members could contribute funds for speaking engagements, travel, printing, phoning, postage, and other expenses. As many are aware, BE is not an abstruse, theoretical journal, but an assertive news letter operating on the offensive and geared to a mass audience. A major problem with some anti-religious publications is that they are written by academicians for adademicians and miss the population in general. They often repeat the same points to those already convinced and rarely organize people in such a way as to effectively confront the fundamentalist agenda. Readers are provided numerous examples of creeping fundamentalism and the religious threat, up to and including a president who often echoes a Baptist preacher, while the real question is ignored, i.e., what needs to be done about a deplorable situation that seems to be worsening. Gathering information on a regular basis is fine; but shouldn't it be employed in a meaningful manner? Will such an organization be formed? I doubt it. Why? Because the numbers, resources, determination, and sticktuitiveness significantly exceeds that displayed by its opponents. Equally inportant is the fact that many people opposed to the Bible simply aren't interested in the Book. Frankly, it bores them. They can't bring themselves to read what is clearly the most important, the most influential writing in the Nation today. Their attitude is that if others want to believe such nonsense, let them. I'll just live and let live. Unfortunately, millions believe the Book and operate accordingly. They vote, influence political figures, affect the economy, impact the schools, etc. all of which touches everyone. If you believe Armageddon is coming, why oppose nuclear war or support disarmament? If you believe Paul's teachings on females, why support the women's movement? If you believe in salvation by faith rather than works, why devote your energies to the improvement of man's condition? After all, it's what you believe that's crucial, not what you do. The problem with live and let live is that the activities of the Book's adherents constantly impinge upon others, usually adversely. If only critics of religion in general and the Bible in particular weren't so conditioned to dominance by the other side! Imagine what would occur if the roles were reversed and critics had all the resources, including the media, that fundamentalists now enjoy. The response of biblicists would be anything but mild.
DIALOGUE AND DEBATE
Letter #99 from IF of Vacaville, California (Part a)
Dear Dennis. Your reply to my letter #96 appearing in the June issue of BE actually doesn't make sense. Scientists and historians "on the other side," meaning there are scientists and historians who can prove the truthfulness of the Gospels? Do such beings exist? How could Roman, Greek, and Jewish historians possibly fail to write about a man performing many miracles that only a supernatural could perform? Why would they ignore such a person? Would it not be a feather in their caps to report wonders that were never done before? Historians never wrote about your grandmother because she never accomplished miracles or anything else outstanding. But you had to have your grandmother, although unknown, to be in the world, your antecedent. George Washington can be quoted because people were not as primitive as 2,000 years ago when illiteracy was 98 or 99%. Then when the gospel writers had to depend on hearsay, versions begin to vary tremendously over decades. There were certified shorthand reporters in those days. Besides, you know the gospels contradict each other....
Editor's Response to Letter #99 (Part a)
Dear IF. Clearly we both hold the Bible in low esteem. In that regard we are unanimous. The problem lies in determining the best method by which to minimize its influence. I have no problem with your arguments. They seem reasonable, but they aren't concrete, certainly not as concrete as internal contradictions and dilemmas. You ask how Roman, Greek, and Jewish historians could have failed to miss a man performing miracles. The fact is, they could have. Granted it's not probable; but it is possible. Many extraordinary events have occurred in history and historians weren't present to record them. Surely you aren't contending every momentous event throughout time has been noted by historians. My primary objection to your approach is that it provides biblicists an avenue of escape. Contradictions do also, but the escape hatch is much narrower. The problem with historical arguments is that apologists can always say, as one told me on-the-air, "That shows how much your historians know. Read mine. They know what really happened." And since none of us were alive then, it often becomes a matter of whom you want to believe. The same problem exists with respect to the George Washington situation. You admitted illiteracy then was 98 or 99% which means there were some literate people. Biblicists will simply say that it was these literate few who did the quoting. Remember, knowledgeable apologists aren't going to grant you anything. You have to fight for every point. After debating these people many times, I can vouch for their determination. Encounters have all the earmarks of a court battle between lawyers. Nearly every significant point is contested, few stipulated. If you can't prove it, you'll sometimes wish you hadn't mentioned it. Good homework is axiomatic. Incidentally, when did I say they had scientists and historians who could prove the truthfulness of the gospels? I say they had scientists and historians; I didn't say they could prove anything.
Letter #99 Concludes (Part b)
In the book "Deceptions and Myths of the Bible" by Lloyd Graham it is stated there were 16 virgin-birth saviors prior to Christ. You won't find this statement in the bible which shows this concept was prevalent amongst religion makers for centuries before this supposed Christ. An atheist needs other sources besides the Bible to refute priestcraft.
Editor's Response to Letter #99 (Pat b)
As I mentioned in a prior issue IF, I have no objection to mentioning this kind of information. I occasionally use it myself. For some individuals it's of great importance. But the weight, probability, and significance of data must be kept in proper persepctive. What do you think apologists are going to say to such information? Always ask yourself: What is the opposition going to say and how easy will this be to counter? Put yourself in the opponent's head and look at things as he would. The obvious reply in this instance is that the other 16 are fakes. This would probably be followed by a litany of the miraculous deeds and messianic prophecies accomplished and fulfilled by Jesus. You, on the other hand, would be obligated to prove Jesus was no different from the rest, which would necessitate biblical data. I may be wrong and don't mean to belittle your knowledge, IF, but I don't think you have crossed swords with very many apologists, especially those of the better informed variety.
Letter #100 from RB of Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania
Dear Dennis.... To be gently critical of a comrade, a common complaint that I hear from fundies, non-fundies, and non-theists is that you are too picky about minor points, e.g. focusing on inconsistent but conceivably reconsilable scriptures so much (The solidly and hopelessly contradictory ones seem to get lost among the inconsistencies that are the more trivial ones, yet important ones nonetheless).... The thing that I really want to express here is that I think that this attitude, which is perceived by some as overly critical and dogmatic, is on psychological grounds a bit counter-productive as educational strategy. One slip-up on a minor point and your credibility suffers; then your audience is turned out. My preferred arsenal of arguments against inerrancy is compact, consisting of Biblical contradictions that have resisted my mightiest efforts at rationalizing as Devil's Advocate as well as resisted the best tries by my fundie friends. The list is growing and I find that a small barrage of a few old classics (e.g., the Matt. vs. Luke genealogies of Jesus, the Mark vs. John hour for the crucifixion or reconciling the four Gospels' accounts of Easter morning) with many more in stock, can plant a seed of thought that in time often makes an honest thinker out of a cult follower and bibliolater. (Of course, your publication's format does demand a massive barrage. Still, to some of shear immensity of your critical effort effects their minds much as too much light effects the pupil of the eye--it closes them down). We not only must seek to address a thinking audience, but must try to teach an habitually non-thinking one to learn these first awkward steps.
Editor's Response to Letter #100
Dear RB. Your thoughts are well considered and worthy of analysis. Let me make a few comments. First, although your point was tendered many issues ago by another reader, it merits another reply. Granted, BE is a technical publication and major criticisms sometimes get lost among the minor; but the problem has always been one of determining which is which. One man's blockbuster is another's trivia. So, for this reason I've decided to present everything and let readers judge and extract as they choose. BE is meant to be a resource which can be drawn from at will. Leaving something out is unwise because it might be the very point that attracts someone's attention. Second, to some extent I can see why "overly critical" may be of concern to some, but "dogmatic" is another matter. By what rationale some have come to this conclusion is difficult to surmise in light of the fact that controversy is an inseparable part of BE and biblicists are heard on a regular basis. How much chance would I have of writing in Christianity Today, Our Sunday Visitor, Christian Century, or any one of hundreds of other religous periodicals? Third, I've slipped up on points before and I'll probably do so again. Anyone seeking the perfect publication or the perfect writer had better forget about reading, period. They might as well stay tuned out. Fourth, your strategy of focusing on a few key problems is good; indeed, it's quite effective in most cases. For other encounters, however, I'd be better prepared. You'll need BE. And lastly, those who look upon BE as too much light may eventually view fundamentalism as the fire itself.
Letter #101 from CF of Easton, Pennsylvania
Dear Dennis. How can matter or gases in space that has no life somehow come alive? If you reject God creating life as we know it, and you ask for reasonable, rational answers from others, please address this question. Can you cite some scientific study that can produce life from non-living material?
Editor's Response to Letter #101
Dear CF. We receive scores of extra-biblical questions such as this. Reminds me of discussions I had while majoring in philosophy years ago. I don't remember ever mentioning God and the creation of life but I'll respond anyway. I can't cite a study such as you request, but are you prepared to say that you know scientists will never be able to produce life from non-life? Are you saying that it's impossible because man presently lacks the ability? Is your perspicacity such that you can peer centuries into the future? You're going far out on a thin limb. Since we are on the topic, let me ask you a question. This periodical is far more concerned with the Bible's validity than God's existence, but I've always wondered why God does not have to have a creator while matter does. Why couldn't matter have been the only thing existing, changing, and evolving throughout eternity? If matter must have a creator, why doesn't God? Topics such as this actually belong more in the realm of theology and philosophy than Biblical criticism.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Letter #102 from RW of Riverside, California
Dear Dennis. In your June 1985 issue with the commentary on Isaiah 52-53 I would like to add this comment: The Ethiopian converted by Philip read from this portion: "...and like a lamb dumb before HIS shearer." And from this Philip preached Jesus to the man, etc. (Acts 8:32). But when we turn to Isaiah 53:7, we read: "...and as a sheep before HER shearers is dumb." Not a major contradiction, of course, yet one is definitely he and the other she.
Letter #103 from Mark Potts, 8510-A East 66th Pl. So., Tulsa, Ok. 74133. Several
Dear Dennis. Since the Bible says that God is everywhere ("Do I not fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord"--Jer. 23:24), and the Holy Spirit is God, why does the Holy Spirit have to enter people? In Mark 9:23 Jesus says, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." And in Mark 11:24 he says, "what thing soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." (Matt. 26:39). But he was crucified anyway! Are we to conclude from this that Jesus displayed insufficient belief to deliver him from death?
Letter #104 from John Sikos of P.O. box 443, Romeo, Michigan 48065-0443 (Part a)
Dear Dennis. Thank you once again for your back issues of BE. I've read every word of issues 1 through 28 at least twice. I must say, your sample issue does BE no justice. I did not expect an enlightening treasury of wisdom this thorough. Excellent. In at least five letters I've written so far (one of my hobbies is to correspond with religionists) I've used your works as one of my sources.... I love your continued dialogues with stubborn religionists. Letter #1 and subsequent communications from the same author are a case in point. As late as Letter #79 you still do not give up with thse kinds of people. Please do not become weary of printing such debates in future editions--no matter how repetitious they become, no matter how futile your efforts may seem; repetition is one of the methods that I think eventurally draws stubborn people to their first staggering steps toward rational thought. I also enjoyed the brief glimpses of the Koran and the Book of Mormon in issues #22 and #23. While these are extra-biblical topics, I believe they do have some effect on fundamentalists....I've seen many a religionist give a blank look when confronted with the fact that other books also claim to be the word of God. "Why is your book more valid than their book?" I ask. They give no answer. Once a Baptist told me: "Their story talks about a messiah who died. Our's talks about a messiah who raised Himself from the dead. (To Be Continued)
Editor's Response to Letter #104 (Part a)
Dear John. Your comments are very kind, although I think repetition is minimal. Your Baptist acquaintance does no know his own book which repeatedly says Jesus was raised by God. He didn't raise himself. (Acts 2:32, 3:26, 5:30, 13:30, Gal. 1:1, and Rom 8:11)
Issue No. 32 Aug. 1985
Did Jesus Exist (Part One of a Two-Part Series)--Although BE does not normally discuss extra-biblical subjects, exceptions have been and will continue to be made. One of the most important in this regard pertains to whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was a real, live, flesh and blood individual who walked the earth approximately 2,000 years ago. If he didn't Christianity would be dealt a blow from which it could never recover. The most significant aspect of this matter is that there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth in any non-Christian writings of antiquity. One can peruse all the great literature of that era and find nothing proving the man even existed. "There is no history written at the time Jesus Christ is said to have lived that speaks of the existence of such a person, even as a man" (The Life and Works of Paine,Vol 9, p. 271). "We know nothing certainly of Jesus Christ. We know nothing of his infancy, nothing of his youth, and we are not sure that such a person even existed" (Interviews, Ingersoll's Works, Vol. 5, p. 273. Anyone wishing to believe in the reality of Jesus will have to rely upon the New Testament and the NT alone. There is no other source. Biblicists heatedly deny this, of course, and quote many well-known Greek, Roman, and Jewish writers to prove their case. Since the question of whether or not the pivotal figure in Christianity really lived is of first magnitude in importance, each of the key apologetic quotations deserves consideration. The first and probably the most notable comes from the Jewish historian, Josephus, who allegedly said, "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold there and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day" (Jewish Antiquities, Book 18, Chp. 3, Sec.3). The problems inherent in this paragraph are numerous and fatal to its credibility: (1) The alleged author, Josephus, was a devout Jew which would cause anyone familiar with the basic principles of Judaism to ask: Would a devout Jew imply that a man was not a man, that he was divine? Would he say that a man did miracles, was the Christ, and rose from the dead? And would a devout Jew say the messianic prophecies expressly referred to a man at that time? (2) The works of Josephus are voluminous and exhaustive. They comprise nearly 20 books. Whole pages are devoted to petty robbers and obscure seditious leaders. Nearly 40 chapters are devoted to a single king. Yet,Jesus is dismissed with a mere dozen lines. (3) The passage is not found in the early copies of Josephus. Not until the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (320 A.D.) do we come across it. This is the same Eusebius who said that it is lawful to lie and cheat for the cause of Christ: "I have repeated whatever may rebound to the glory, and suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace of our religion" (Chp. 31, Book 12 of Prae Paratio Evangelica). (4) The early Christian fathers such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen were acquainted with what Josephus wrote and it seems reasonable to conclude that they would have quoted this passage had it existed. Apparently Eusebius was the first to use it because it didn't exist during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Chrysostom often referred to Josephus and it's highly unlikely he would have omitted the paragraph had it been extant. Photius did not quote the text though he had three articles concerning Josephus and even expressly stated that Josephus, being a Jew, had not taken the least notice of Christ. (5) Neither Justin in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, nor Origen against Celsus ever mentioned this passage. Neither Tertullian nor Cyprian ever quoted Josephus as a witness in their controversies with Jews and pagans and Origen expressly stated that Josephus, who had mentioned John the Baptist, did not recognize Jesus as the messiah (Contra Celsum, I, 47). (6) The famous historian Gibbon claims the passage is a forgery as do many theologians. (7) The passage interrupts the narrative. Immediately before it Josephus tells of a rising of the Jews due to bitter feeling at the conduct of Pilate, and its bloody suppression by the ruling power. The words immediately following the passage are: "Also about this time another misfortune befell the Jews" and we are told of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Tiberius on account of the conduct of some of their compatriots. What is the connection between the reference to Jesus and these two narratives? That there must be some connection if Josephus wrote the passage about Jesus goes without saying in view of the character of the writer. Josephus was always careful to have a logical connection between his statements and from a rational standpoint there is no occasion whatever toput the passage about Jesus in the connection in which we find it. (8) The language of this passage is quite Christian and most of the passage is blaphemous from the Jewish perspective. (9) Josephus nowhere else mentioned the word Christ in any of his works, except in reference to James, Jesus' brother (Antiquities, Book 20, Chp. 9,1). (10) And lastly, the Arabic translation of the text, which many consider more accurate, is: "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and (He) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders." The texts are markedly different in that: (1) The 1st says he was the Christ, while the Arabic text says perhaps he was. (2) The 1st says he appeared to them the 3rd day; the 2nd say, they reported that he had appeared. (3) The 1st says he was dispensing truth with pleasure; the 2nd says nothing about dispensing truth. (4) The 2nd account never implies that he was anything other than a man. (5) And finally,the 2nd account says his conduct was good, while the 1st says he was a "doer of wonderful works," which could be interpreted as miracles.
A second major historian whom apologists often quote to justify their belief in an historical Jesus is the Roman Seutonius (77-140 A.D.) who said, "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (the emperor, Claudius) expelled them from Rome" (The Life of Claudius, Sec. 25.4). This couldn't refer to Jesus either because (1) The name in the text is not "Christus" but "Chrestus," which by no means is the usualdesignation of Jesus. It was a common name, especially among Roman freedman. Hence, the whole passage may have nothing whatever to do with Christianity.(2) Surely no one will contend that Christ was inciting riots at Rome 15 years after he was supposedly crucified at Jerusalem. And why would Jews be led by Jesus to begin with? (3) This passage contains no evidence for the historicity of Jesus, even if we substitute "Christus" for "Chrestus." Christus is merely the Greek-Latin translation of messiah and the phrase "at the instigation of Christus" could refer to the Messiah generally, and not at all necessarily to the particular messiah, Jesus, as an historical figure.(4) "Chrestus" was not only a familiar personal name, it was also a name ofthe Egyptian Serapis or Osiris, who had a large following at Rome, especially among the common people. Hence "Christians" may be either the followers of a man named Chrestus, or of Serapis. Historians know what evil repute the Egyptian people, which consisted mainly of Alexandrian elements, had at Rome. While other foreign cults that had been introduced into Rome enjoyed the utmost toleration, the cult of Serapis and Isis was exposed repeatedly to persecution. The lax morality associated with their worship of the Egyptian gods and the fanaticism of their worshippers repelled the Romans, and excited the suspicion that their cults might be directed against the State. (5) Vopiscus said, "Those who worship Serapis and the Chrestians,.... They are a turbulent, inflated, lawless body of men." Is it not possible that the reference to Chrestus and the Chrestians has been too hastily applied to Christus and Christians? The "Chrestians," who were detested by the people for their crimes,..., are not Christians at all, but followers of Chrestus, the scum of Egypt, the apaches of Rome, a people on whom Nero could very easily cast the suspicion of having set fire to Rome. The month's third and final author used to prove Jesus existed is Pliny the Younger. In his correspondence with the Emperor, Trajan (around 113 A.D.) which is concerned with the question of how Pliny, as Proconsul of the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), was to treat the Christians, Pliny said, "I have laid down this rule in dealing with those who were brought before me for being Christians. I asked whether they were Christians; if they confessed, I asked them a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; if they persevered, I ordered them to be executed.... They assured me that their only crime or error was this, that they were wont to come together on a certain day before it was light, and to sing in turn, among themselves, a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath--not to do anything that was wicked, that they would commit no theft, robbery, or adultery, nor break their word, nor deny that anything had been entrusted to them when called upon to restore it.... I therefore deemed it the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave women whom they call deaconesses. But I found it was nothing but a bad and excessive superstition.... the sacred rites which had been allowed to lapse (by them--Ed.) are being performed again, and flesh of sacrificed victims is on sale everywhere, though up till recently scarcely anyone could be found to buy it." Why apologists quote this passage is hard to understand: (1) It proves nothing in regard to the existence of Jesus, but only affirms the existence of Christians. (2) If the passage is referring to Christians, then it is also saying Christians sold the flesh of their sacrificial victims. (3) Roman laws accorded religious liberty to all. Before Constantine there was not a single law opposed to freedom of thought. (4) Trajan was one of the most tolerant of Roman emperors. (5) Pliny is universally conceded to have been one of the most humane of men. That Pliny would have tortured two women is highly unlikely. The person and character of women in Pagan Rome were held in high esteem. (6) The letter implies Bithynia had a large Christian population which is improbable at that early date. (7) The passage implies Trajan was not acquainted with Christian beliefs and customs even though Christians were quite prominent in his capital. (8) For Christians to be found in so remote a province as Bithynia before acquiring notoriety in Rome is unlikely. (9) Pliny says they sing a hymn to Christ as to God which Christians in Pliny's time would consider blasphemous since Jesus was no more than a man to them. His divinity was not established until 325 A.D. (10) This letter is found in only one ancient copy of Pliny. (11) The German literati, the most learned, say the epistle is not genuine. (12) The genuineness of this correspondence of Pliny and Trajan is by no means certain. The tendency of the letters to put the Christians in as favorable a light as possible is too obvious not to excite some suspicion. For these and other reasons the correspondence was declared by experts to be spurious even at the time of its first publication in the 16th century. (13) The undeniable fact is that some of the first Christians were among the greatest forgers who ever lived. This letter was first quoted by Tertullian and the age immediately preceding him was known for fraudulent writings. Tertullian and Eusebius, the people infavor of the passage's genuineness, were by no means the most reliablesources.
On page 83 in Evidence that Demands a Verdict apologist Josh McDowell provided another quote from antiquity that is often submitted: "...Astherefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was not dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned"(Antiquities, Josephus, 20.9). But McDowell failed to prove this passage specifically referred to Jesus of Nazareth or that the James mentioned was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. James and Jesus were common names then. Moreover, the earlier quote by Josephus says, "He was the Christ." Now he is"the so-called Christ." Which represents the real Josephus? If this James is the brother of the Jesus of Nazareth, why would he have been stoned while Jesus was allegedly crucified?
On the same page McDowell quotes Seutonius who said, "Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition" (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2). Again, the presnce of followers of Jesus no more proves he existed than the existence of believers in Zeus proves he existed.
On page 84 McDowell offers a very weak letter written by a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son Serapion in which is stated, "...What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burying Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished." McDowell neglected to mention that the Jews only assisted in the death of Jesus according to the Bible and Jesus was never a king over them. So how could he have been the king discussed?On page 82 McDowell quotes Lucian of Samosata who said, "...the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world...." Yet, many people have paid the supreme sacrifice for introducing new cults. Why assume it's Jesus? And lastly, on page 83 McDowell quotes the unreliable Tertullian who stated, "(The emperor--Ed.) Tiberius accordingly, in those days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from the truth of Christ's divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all the accusers of the Christians" (Apology, V. 2). McDowell then admitted that, "some historians doubt the historicity of this passage." A reasonable degree of intellectual honesty would have brought forth the admission that nearly all historians doubt its authenticity. We are supposed to believe that Caesar Tiberius, himself,forced upon the Roman senate a belief in the divinity of Jesus.
DIALOGUE AND DEBATE
Letter #105 from CF of Easton, Pennsylvania (Part a)
(In reference to the discussion of Isa. 53:8--"...for he was cut off outof the land of the living"--in June's Commentary, CF says--Ed.). Dear Dennis.If the servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jews as you suggest then how do youexplain this servant being "cut off from the land of the living"--Isa. 53:8.If the Jews were cut off, why are they still here?
Editor's Response to Letter #105 (Part a)
Dear CF. Where did I suggest the Jews were the Suffering Servant underdiscussion? That is a Jewish belief, not mine. I said it wasn't Jesus. Inever said, nor do I know, who it was.
Letter #105 Continues (Part b)
You also said in Letter #30 "Nowhere in the NT does it say Jesus had somuch as a headache prior to the cross...." You wrote this in reference toIsa. 53:3 "unacquainted with grief." I would like to ask you something. Wouldyou be willing to allow yourself to be blindfolded and struck repeatedly andwalk away without a headache? The face of Jesus was struck in thismanner--Luke 22:63-64. This would be a good test of your faith or non-faith.Editor's Response to
Letter #105 (Part b)
Letter #30 was written a long time ago, CF, and has nothing to do withJesus having a headache. I think you meant Issue #30, Sec. 8. Luke 22:63-64says, "And the ones that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when theyhad blindfolded him, they struck him on the face...." Why do you assume hewas repeatedly struck on the face? Many people have been hit in that mannerwithout getting a headache. Why do you assume that's a necessary outcome? Ihave been hit in the face several times and not received a headache. The onlyversion I have that says he was even struck in the face is the King James. Inany event, you missed my point. "Prior to the cross" meant prior to thoseevent immediately related to the trial and subsequent treatment of Jesus, notto the actual nailing of his hands and feet. I'm well aware of the biblicalaccount of the mistreatment that immediately followed his conviction.
Letter #105 Concludes (Part c)
Is it also true that you were not allowed to set up a booth at an atheistconvention?
Editor's Response to Letter #105 (Part c)
Yes, BE has not only been denied space for a booth but refused permissionto advertise in atheist periodicals. That's ironic because ChristianityToday, Christian Century, Commonweal, and other Christian journals havereviewed our literature and also denied us an opportunity to advertise.Although perplexing, apparently some atheists view Be as religious while manyof the religious view us as atheistic. The latter have been quitevituperative.
Letter #106 from IF of Vacaville, California
(In last month's dialogue IF asserted that extra-biblical topics shouldbe accorded greater importance in BE and historical evidence should be usedagainst the Bible's supporters--Ed.) Dear Dennis. In your reply in July's BEyou say many extraordinary events took place in history and historiansweren't present to record them. Please educate us as to the extraordinaryevents historians never recorded. Tell us about hearsay events that have comedown to us without having historians partaking. Yes, I believe everymomentous occasion was recorded by historians. Do you know any occasions thatwere not noted by them?...I know that bible apologists are very determinedbut determination doesn't make for the truth. How could the gospel writersquote Jesus verbatim decades after he was supposed to have died and some ofthe writers weren't even born into the world? Whom were they quoting? On whatsatisfactory authority?...If the 16 virgin birth saviors prior to Christ werefakes why can't Jesus' virgin birth also be fake? Jesus in the gospels wasnever quoted saying he was born of a virgin. His mother never told him?Amongst my friends discussion of religion is taboo. They are church goingpeople or synagogue going. They want a God even if one never existed. Theywant that invisible crutch to lean on light years away....
Editor's Response to Letter #106
Dear IF. Several of your points deserve comment. First, are you seriouslycontending every momentous event in history has been noted by historians? Howcould this be possible in light of the fact that the earth alone, accordingto most scientists, is approximately 4 billions years old, while man has onlybeen present approximately l million years, 1/4,000th of the time. Moreover,historical records are a relatively recent phenomenon in man's existence andcertainly many events viewed by early man were not recorded for posterity.Your argument reminds me of the philosophical problem we discussed incollege: If a tree fell in the forest and nobody was present to hear it, wasthere a noise? The answer is, of course, yes. Man's presence isn't apre-requisite for events to occur. I can't relate events unrecorded byhistorians any more than I can prove the tree made a noise; but I'd befoolish to believe otherwise. Second, you have repeated an earlier assertionto the effect that Jesus couldn't be quoted verbatim decades after he wassupposed to have died. As I mentioned in reference to George Washington, it'squite feasible. Why do you insist on making this an impossibility? And third,Jesus' virgin birth could easily be a fake too. We agree. But as I mentionedbefore, apologists would probably follow this with a litany of biblical deedsperformed by, and prophesies fulfilled by, Jesus, which would set him apartfrom the others.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Letter #104 Concludes from Last Month (Part b)
...From experience, Dennis, I can tell you that the religionists,especially the fundamentalists and pentecostalists, slowly but surely cuttingup the Bible is the ONLY method that will edge them step-be-step towardreality. All the talk about it being absurd that God has "always existed" andfelt bored and decided to create an earth to play with etc., have no effecton these people. Trying to exalt humanism and materialism do no good eitheras these religious types have already been programmed not to respondfavorably. Only going to the Bible and opening it and not being afraid to useit works.... I once had a religionist declare that I must "prove" that logicand human reasoning are more reliable than the inspired word of God. How canwe deal with these people, who I'm sorry to say were made this way by others(parents, churches) through no fault of their own?...Christians teach thatyou must believe on FAITH. As a radio preacher once said, "Faith is theEvidence." (He repeated himself four times consecutively). Since there is NOevidence, one must put one's faith in the scriptures. Faith is the ONLYevidence. (Another pearl of doublethink! I wonder if Hearsay is Prooftoo.)...After words like these are pumped into the heads of innocent mortals,it is not difficult to see why religionists insist on holding firm stubbornlywhen confronted with rational people like us...After all it's only Satantrying to deceive me, they think.... Almost from the start children broughtup in this kind of setting learn to filter all facts through religiousmuddlement. If reality contradicts the Bible, then reality is wrong.... Andsince science by definition does not deal with spiritual matters, it cannotchallenge the Bible. So why listen to science? I have seen the above kind of"thinking" steal many people away from the world of normal men. A watch theysay implies a watch maker. (They use scientific terminology to convincethemselves of the validity of their own statement). The earth "implies anearth maker. So, I ask: "Does God imply a God-Maker?"
Letter #107 from FG of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dear Dennis. Thanks for #31. I have an editorial question. Why not typeBE double column? It is easier to read and reference.... You said, "What isNeeded" (pages 2 & 3) and I find it lucid and compelling. Do you have anyidea, however, of the magnitude of the herculean labor you propose? You mustundo almost all the religious right has done in the past 7 years--and againstthe sympathies in government. (The Federal bureaucracy has been stocked withfundamentalists for several year now....
Editor's Response to Letter #107
Dear FG. Both of your points are will taken. I haven't used the doublecolumn approach because it would be more difficult to type and reduce theamount of information given. I could also pull in the margins and have moredivisions between sections and paragraphs, but that, too, would reduce thebody of information. If more pages were added then costs would rise, as wouldalso be true if word-processors, printers, and other devices were employed toimprove BE's appearance. I know the mechanical aspects of the publicationcould be enhanced, but the bottom line has always been money and time. I'mnot wealthy, nor am I becoming so.You are also correct in regard to what I suggested in last month's Whatis Needed? Great effort would be required to undo, not 7, but many years ofinculcation. I haven't seen any current program that's any more than a mildirritant to religionists in general and fundamentalists in particular, butI'd be willing to listen to any ideas you may have.
Letter #108 from JG of Chicago, Illinois
Dear Mr. McKinsey.... I enjoyed your article on how the problems of theinfluence of the Bible and religion in general should be addressed. I thoughtI'd comment on your ideas and share a few of my own thoughts with you....Atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other freethinkers must stop thephilosophical hairsplitting and ideological debate and unite.... The troubleis that freethinkers are by their very nature tolerant and reasonable.Dennis, you are so right in describing the "let others believe in thatnonsense if they want to" attitude. If only freethinkers would wake up to thefact that right-wing Christianity is a psycho-social disease.... It is athreat to the basic assumptions and ideals of a pluralistic democracy and hasno place in the 20th century; it should be destroyed like the cancer that itis. And I must say BE is as good a form of "chemotherapy" as I've seen....(In regard to appearing on the radio--Ed.) there is in our nation an unspokenbut all-pervading law that it is unacceptable to offend anyone'spreconceptions.... I don't think it is so much a question of mass media folksbeing "closer to fundamentalism than BE"; I think it's more a question oftheir collective tendency to broadcast to the least common denominator toavoid offending anyone.
Editor's Response to Letter #108
Your last point may be correct, JG, but I'm still inclined to believe otherwise.