Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Argument from Religious Experience

This article is a summary my book, the Trace of God by Joseph Hinman (available on Amazon). I recently posted essays showing that the true Christian concept of Supernatural is mystical experience nothing more. Now I show mystical experience is empirical, thus SN is empirical. I wrote this for an academic conference, it was accepted. I posted it in two parts that's I'm uniting them here.

The argument from religious experience is deemed too subjective to be of any real interest to rationally minded skeptics. Yet over the last 50 years, a huge body of empirical scientific work has emerged in peer reviewed journals that strengthens the case for religious experience as a God argument. Unfortunately, this body of work is largely confined to psychology of religion and is virtually unknown to theology or even religious studies. In this paper I examine the research methods used in this body of work, particular attention to the mysticism scale developed by Ralph Hood Jr. (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). I then apply the findings to an argument from religious experience. After demonstrating how the data supports the argument I will deal with two major issues: (1) Is an argument based upon the universal nature of these experiences appropriately Christian, or does it undermine a Christian witness by implying a unilateralist perspective? (2) Do counter causality arguments based upon brain chemistry and structure disprove the argument? Finally, I present “six tie breakers” that warrant decision in answer to the brain structure argument.

In 1948 The British Broadcasting Corporation aired a radio debate between the celebrated philosopher Bertrand Russell (atheist) and the author of a famous and voluminous History of Philosophy, Frederick Copleston S. J., (Christian), concerning the existence of God. [1] Most of the debate centered on issues such as necessary being. Copleston also advanced the moral argument but he gave passing mention to religious experience, specifically the kind of experience called “mystical.”Copleston admitted that the argument was subjective and he couched his appeal on an abductive basis, the best explanation for the feeling is God. Russell intimated that it was the lack of an objective referent that made the argument “rather private.”[2] After that the argument languished in the nether word of “not one of the five proofs.” Critics and apologists have dismissed it for the same reason. In the 1980s Caroline Franks Davis made an excellent attempt at bringing empirical data to the argument, but more and better studies have been done since her book.[3] William Alston Wrote a brilliant work on mystical experience as a logical basis for belief, but he did not tap into the studies that Davis used.[4] The argument continues to be on the back burner in apologetcs, but not because there is no concrete data. There is now a huge body of academic research from peer reviewed journals that makes an empirical basis for the argument possible.

In this article I will discuss the studies and their methodologies, then construct an argument designed to warrant conclusion in favor of the reality of God using this data. The argument makes claims based upon and discuss the scientific basis for the data, answering the major objection that might be lanced against any or all of the arguments from scientific quarters. What makes these arguments ground breaking is that these studies have been largely well known in psychology of religion and are virtually unknown to those who would want to make use of them for apologetic purposes. These arguments are not specific to any particular religious tradition. This argument is not meant to prove the existence of God but to establish that belief in God is rationally warranted. Nor is it intended to prove the Christian God. It seeks only to establish that belief in some notion of God, perhaps the Christian God, is rational and backed by empirical data.

In speaking of “mystical experience” we are not talking about visions or voices. We are not talking about miracles or God speaking to people. We are talking about “the sense of the numinous,” a sense of presence, of all pervasive and overwhelming love, and a sense of undifferentiated unity of all things. Those constitute two different kinds of experience both termed mystical.” The claim is often made that this is an unmediated experience of reality. The veil is taken back on the thing behind the facade of “reality” is experienced directly. The notion of an unmediated experience is debatable and not essential to an understanding of the experience. Mystical experiences come in two media:, introvertive and extrovertive. Intorovertive experiences are without time and space; they are not keyed to any external landmark or visual que. They seem to be beyond word, thought, or image. Extrovertive experiences are often keyed to a land mark and seem like projecting a sense onto the image of nature. [5] For example the sense that God is pervading the physical space in nature around which one views a scene in nature. Or a sense that all the natural landscape around forms some sort of whole that’s meaningful and indicative as an understanding of all reality. Introvertive mystical experience has been identified as “pure consciousness.” This kind of experience lacks content and can’t be tied to a cultural construct or personal influence. [6] While it is the case that these kinds of experiences are interpreted in various ways, and it is the case that various theological explanations tailored to a given tradition are advanced for these, as many as there are mystics to have them, the real diversity comes not from the experience but from the explanations attached to the experiences.[7]Much of the discussion about common core is tied to the texts of a given literature. There are various bodies of mystical literature, the important one for our purposes is the empirical. This is a measurement based empirical scientific corpus such as the work of Hood.

....Many names loom large in that body of literature; Greeley, Maslow, Wuthnow, Nobel, Lukoff and Lu, all major researchers whose studies form the bulwark of the corpus in the field. But perhaps the major researcher in researcher is Ralph Hood Jr., since his Mysticism Scale (or “M scale”) has become the standard control mechanism for determining the genuineness as truly mystical experience for a given subject. There two other scales such as a specific question by Greeley (1974) and the State of Consciousness Inventory by Alexander (1982; Alexander, Boyer, & Alexander, 1987) [8] This is a 32 item questionnaire that is scored in a particular way. Hood's M. Scale is designed to test the veracity of the theories of Philosopher W.T Stace, who advanced the “common core” theory of mystical experience[9] That theory argued for the universal nature of such experiences.. In other words, if actual modern mystics around the world experience the things Stace thought they do, in the way Stace thought they experienced them (see the five point list above) they would answer certain questions in a certain way [10] Hood’s work in the M scale is becoming the standard operating procedure for study of mystical and religious experiences. It hasn’t yet been understood by everyone so we find that people evoking religious experience by manipulating stimulation of the brain don’t use any sort of control, such as the M scale, for establishing a valid mystical experience. Thus they can’t prove they are evoking real mystical experiences.[11] Dale Caird said that “research into mystical experience has been greatly facilitated” [12] by Hood’s M scale. Caird did one of the studies that validated the M scale. Burris (1999) has shown that the M scale is the most commonly used measurement for the study of mysticism. [13]

The M scale enables us to determine the validity of a mystical experience among contemporary people. In other words, did someone have a “real mystical experience” or are they just carried away by the idea of having one? [14] There are two major versions of the M scale, what is called “two factor” solution and a “three factor solution.” The two factors are items assessing an experience of unity (questions such as “have you had an experience of unity?”) and items refereeing to religious and knowledge claims. In other words questions such as “did you experience God’s presence?” Or did you experience God’s love?” In each section there are two positively worded and two negatively worded items. [15] The problem with the two factor analysis is that it tried to be neutral with Language, according to Hood himself. It spoke of “experience of ultimate reality” but with no indication that ultimate reality means reality of God. As Hood puts it, “no language is neutral"[16] One group might want ultimate reality defined as “Christ” while others who are not in a Christian tradition might eschew such a move. In response to this problem Hood and Williamson, around 2000, developed what they termed “the three factor solution.” They made two additional versions of the scale one made reference where appropriate to “God” or “Christ.” They had a “God” version and a “Christ” version and both were given to Christian relevant samples. The scales were “factor analyzed,” they weighed each difference as a factor such as it’s mention of God or mention of Christ. In this factor analysis, where the scale referred to “God,” “Christ” or simply “reality” the “factor structures were identical.” That is the respondents saw “God,” “Christ” and “ultimate reality” as coterminou. That means Christians who have mystical experience understand God, Christ, and Reality as referring to the same things. [17]

All three versions matched Stace’s phenomenologically derived theory. “For all three intervertive, extrovertive and interpirative factors emerged.” [18] Respondents were answering in ways indicative of having both types of mystical experience and deriving interpretive experiences from it, they understood their experiences in light of theological understanding. The only exception was that the introvertive factors contained the emergence of ineffability because there was no content to analyze. Of course where the scale has been validated the same technique was used and tailored to the tradition of the respondent. Buddhists got a version applicable to Buddhists and Muslims got one appropriate to Islam, and so on. The same kinds of factors emerged. This demonstrates that mystical experiences are the same minus the details of the tradition, such as specific references to names. In other words Buddhists recognize Buddha mind as ultimate reality, while Vedantists recognize Brahmin as ultimate reality, Christians recognize Jesus as Ultimate reality, Muslims recognize Allah as ultimate reality, but all say they experience ultimate reality. This is a good indication that the same basic reality stands behind this experience, or to say it another way they are all experiences of the same reality.

Hood wrote a Text book with Bernard Spilka. [19] They point three major assumptions of the common core theory that flow out of Stace’s work:

(1) Mystical experience is universal and identical in phenomenological terms.

(2) Core Categories are not always essential in every experience, there are borderline cases.

(3) Interovertive and extrovertive are distinct forms, the former is an experience of unity devoid of content, the latter is unity in diversity with content.

The M scale reflects these observations and in so doing validates Stace’s findings. Hood and Spilka (et al) then go on to argue that empirical research supports a common core/perennialist conceptualization of mysticism and it’s interpretation.

The three factor solution, stated above, allows a greater range of interpretation of experience, either religious or not religious. This greater range supports Stace’s finding that a single experience may be interpreted in different ways. [20] The three factor solution thus fit Stace’s common core theory. One of the persistent problems of the M scale is the neutrality of language, especially with respect to religious language. For example the scale asks about union with “ultimate reality” not “union with God.” Thus there’s a problem in understanding that ultimate reality really means God, or unify two different descriptions one about God and one about reality. [21] There is really no such thing as “neutral” language. In the attempt to be neutral non neutral people will be offended. On the one had the common core idea will be seen as “new age” on the other identification with a particular tradition will be off putting for secularists and people of other traditions. Measurement scales must sort out the distinctions. Individuals demand interpretation of experiences, so the issue will be forced despite the best attempts to avoid it. In dealing with William James and his interpreters it seems clear that some form of transformation will be reflected in the discussion of experiences. In other words the experiences have to be filtered through cultural constructs and human assumptions of religious and other kinds of thought traditions in order to communicate them to people. Nevertheless experiences may share the same functionality in description. Christians may want the experiences they have that would otherwise be termed “ultimate reality” to be identified with Christ, while Muslims identify with Allah and atheist with “void.” The expressed is important as the “social construction of experience” but differently expressed experiences can have similar structures. Hood and Williamson designed the three factor analysis to avoid these problems of language. [22]This is a passage from my own work, The Trace of God :[23]

In a series of empirical measurement based studies employing the Mysticism scale introvertive mysticism emerges both as a distinct factor in exploratory analytic studies [24] and also as a confirming factor analysis in cultures as diverse as the United States and Iran; not only in exploratory factor analytic studies (Hood & Williamson, 2000) but also in confirmatory factor analyses in such diverse cultures as the United States and Iran (Hood, Ghornbani, Watson, Ghramaleki, Bing, Davison, Morris, & Williamson. (2001).[25] In other words, the form of mysticism that is usually said to be beyond description and beyond images, as opposed to that found in connection with images of the natural world, is seen through reflection of data derived form the M scale and as supporting factors in other relations. Scholars supporting the unity thesis (the mystical sense of undifferentiated unity—everything is “one”) have conducted interviews with mystics in other traditions about the nature of their introvertive mystical experiences. These discussions reveal that differences in expression that might be taken as linguistics culturally constructed are essentially indicative of the same experiences. The mystics recognize their experiences even in the expression of other traditions and other cultures. These parishioners represent different forms of Zen and Yoga.[26] Scholars conducting literature searches independently of other studies, who sought common experience between different traditions, have found commonalities. Brainaid, found commonality between cultures as diverse as Advanita-Vendanta Hinduism, and Madhmika Buddhism, and Nicene Christianity; Brainaid’s work supports conclusions by Loy with respect to the types of Hinduism and Buddhism.[27]

The upshot of this work by Hood is two fold: on the one had it means there is a pragmatic way to control for the understanding of what is a mystical experience and what is not. Using Stace as a guide we find that modern “mystics” around the world are having Stace-like experiences. Thus Stace’s view makes a good indication of what is and what is not a mystical experience. That means we can study the effects of having it. Of course Stace drew conclusions from his own survey vof literature of the great mystics. Now other scales have been attempted and none of them had the kind of verification that the M scale does, but taken together the whole body of work for the last fifty years or so (since Abraham Maslow) shows that religious experience of the “mystical” sort is very good for us. People who have such experiences tend to find positive, dramatic, transformation in terms of outlook, mental health and even physical health.

Over the years numerous claims have been made about the nature of spiritual/mystical and Maslow's “peak experiences”, and about their consequences. Wuthnow (1978) set out to explore findings regarding peak experiences from a systematic random sample of 1000 persons and found that peak experiences are common to a wide cross-section of people, and that one in two has experienced contact with the holy or sacred, more than eight in ten have been moved deeply by the beauty of nature and four in ten have experienced being in harmony with the universe. Of these, more than half in each have had peak experiences which have had deep and lasting effects on their lives. Peakers are more likely also, to say they value working for social change, helping to solve social problems, and helping people in need. Wuthnow stressed the therapeutic value of these experiences and also the need to study the social significance of these experiences in bringing about a world in which problems such as social disintegration, prejudice and poverty can be eradicated. Savage et al., (1995) provided clinical evidence to suggest that peakers produce greater feelings of self-confidence and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Mogar's (1965) research also tended to confirm these findings.[ 28]

The body of work to which I refer consists of about 200 studies (one could say 300 but let’s be conservative). [29]A huge part of that (about 50) is taken up with the prolific work of Ralph Hood. Not all of these studies use the M scale but it has become standard since the 90s. The body of work here discussed stretches back to the 1960s and the studies of Abraham Maslow. The study of mental health aspects has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. Since the deployment of the three part solution of the M scale the studies have been more empirical and better controlled. The effects and their transformative qualities could be understood as rational warrant for belief in God, I have so argued in The Trace of God. [30]


[1] Broadcast in 1948 on the Third Program of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Published in Humanitas (Manchester) and reprinted in Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957). chapter 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989 no page indicated.

[4] William P. Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991.

[5] Walter T.Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics, (New York:The New American Library, 1960).15-18

[6] Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.” In Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Patrick Mcnamara ed. West Port CT: Prager Publications, 2006, 119-235., 127.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jayne Gackenback, “Pure Cobciousness. Mystical Experiences.” Childhood Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration, Spirit Watch, online resource, URL: accessed 3/32016.

[9] Walter T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, New York: Macmillan,1961,44.

[10] Ibid, 128

. [11] John Hick, The New Frontier Of Religion and Science: Religious Experiejhce, Neuroscience, and The Transcendent. UK: Palgrave: Macmillan, 2006, 66.

He does not mention the M scasle per se but shows that they do not use a standard and some use slip shod criteria for evaluation.

[12] Dale Caird, “The structure of Hood's Mysticism Scale: A factor analytic study.”journal for the Scientific study of religion 1988, 27 (1) 122-126

\ [13] Burris (1999) quoted in Hood, op, cit., 128

[14] Hood, ibid, 128

[15] bid.

[16] Ibid, 129

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid, 129

[19] Bernard Spilka, Ralph Hood Jr., Bruce Hunsberger, Richard Gorwuch. The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. New York, London: the Guildford Press, 2003.

[20] Ibid, 323

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid, Hood in McNamara.

[23] Hinman, Trace ...op. Cit., 168 fn72-75.

[24] Ralph Hood Jr., W.P. Williamson. “An empirical test of the unity thesis: The structure of mystical descriptors in various faith samples.” Journal of Christianity and Psychology, 19, (2000) 222-244.

[25] R.W. Hood, Jr., N.Ghorbani, P.J. Waston, et al “Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the Three Factor Structure in the United States and Iran.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40 (2001) 691-705.

[26] R.K.C. Forman, Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness. Albany: State University of New York Press, (1999) 20-30.

[27] F.S. Brainard, Reality and Mystical Experience, Unvisited Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. (2000). See also D.Loy, Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy. Amherst, New York: Humanities Press.

[28] Krishna K. Mohan, “Spirituality and Wellbeing: an Overview.” An Article based upon a Presentation made during the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology, held at Pondicherry India 4-7 January 2001, published in hard copy, Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.On line copy website of the India Psychology Institute. Site visited 9/3/12. URL: Accessed 2/7/2016

[29]Bibliogrophies from which I took the studies include Voyle. LL, Mohan, Franks. gackenback

[30] Hinman, Trace...op. Cit., this is the gist of all of chapter 2, 61-135,especially 92-107.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The price of the book GSI has come down Major development regarding my book, God, Science, and ideology. Price has come down to $30,37 you save $29.62! God, Science, and Ideology by Joseph Hinman is a very important book. Hinman was a PhD candidate in the UT system, his field was history of ideas and he studied the history and philosophy of science. He brings this knowledge to the critique of athye8ist ideology on the internet. Hinman summarizes 20years of arguments with atheist apologist and takes down some of the major atheists figures such as Richard Dawkins,

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Answering the Counter Apologist on "Countering the Contingency Argument...."

This article, by the "counter Apologist" (CA), appears to be an attack upon the form of cosmological argument known as "argument from  contingecy" which would include the modal argument. He does mention this but that's not what it's about.He also gives the principle of sufficient reason a glancing blow but it's not about that either. It's really using the Trinity as an example of various conceptual problems of contingency.[1] This involves necessity and contingency which will designated as "N/c."

He wants to set a ground rule that what is necessary cannot be based merely upon assertion so that contingencies can't be jacked up into necessities.[2] Two examples: God is necessary and God is Trinity thus aspects of God that make God  Triune  must be necessary.God is necessary but that would mean being the same in all possible worlds. However,  the aspects that spell out Trinity are cointingent such as consciousness and number, there must be three members of the godhead by why is three necessary?

This is pretty easy for me to illustrate for theists with an example. If an atheist pointed to the physical universe and our best description of the laws of nature - ie. the relatively short equation describing quantum field theory and then they said “well this is the description of the necessary entity unwriting all of reality”, the theists would object and say “that’s ad hoc!”.But why? Well because it’s not hard to conceive of those equations being slightly different, and the atheist can’t offer any formal, logical derivation showing the necessity of those equations.

All of his arguments are contingent (no pun) upon this point. But here his argument is very mistaken.He assumes we can assign contingency to some aspect like personality based upon our understanding of the thing itself. Personalities as we know them are contingent, yet that is relationship-derived.In other words human personalities are contingent because humans are contingent. Since we live in a world of contingencies any idea we use will be rooted  in that modal operator. We ask how can God have personality when God must be necessary? Not to argue God does have a personality but for the sake of argument I use this concept.

Personalities are contingent when they are human personalities. That does not mean that God could not have a necessary personality, one that can't change in any possible world, not because personalities are themselves necessary but because a personality belonging to God would be necessary since it is an aspect of the divine. By the same token. while God is necessary ontologcally there are divine attributes which are contingent. For example God being my saviour is contingent upon my accepting God's rescue and salvation.But that does not mean God is contingent nor does it make me necessary.That is a conceptual attribute not an ontological one.
Simply put, it’s out of line to draw a neat little circle around the description of what appears to be contingent and then call it necessary.  This doesn’t really provide any explanatory advantage, all it does is arbitrarily call something necessary. My contention is that this is exactly what theists do when they posit god as a necessary being that provides an explanation for all of reality.
This is exactly what we don't do.`` draw a neat little circle around the description of what appears to be contingent and then call it necessary." Christians base the necessity of divine attribute upon God's eternal nature not upon how things look in themselves.We base it upon its relationship to divine essence.

N/c have a causal dimension to their meaning, a contingent being (a being such that if it exists, it could have not-existed or could cease to exist) exists. This contingent being has a cause of or explanation for its existence. ... Therefore, what causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must include a non-contingent (necessary) being.Jul 13, 2004 Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)[3]

 This means that it relies on our experience of the world--beyond the tools of ... that some things are caused to come into existence by other things, and that ... Aquinas supposes that not everything can be contingent in this way, ...[4]

Here is how Aquinas defines N/c

A contingent thing is one that either in fact exists, but might not have, or one that does not in fact exist, but might have. For example, Alumni Hall exists, but it might not have (we can imagine that they just never built it); so Alumni Hall is a contingent thing. Unicorns, on the other hand, do not in fact exist, but it seems possible that they might have; so unicorns are contingent things. There are lots of contingent things: you, me, your parents, my parents, etc. In contrast, a necessary thing is one that in fact exists, but is also something that could not have failed to exist. In other words, it is logically impossible that a necessary being could have not existed. Many people think that numbers are necessary things--i.e., that the world could never have been such that numbers did not exist. Of course, relevant to our present discussion, many think that God is similar to numbers in this way--that is, that God could not have failed to exist, and hence, is a necessary being.[5]
Here we see the causal dimension to the idea:
In the Third Way, Aquinas claims that if we look at the world, we will find that there are contingent beings all around us. We realize that not everything is something that must be, for we observe things before they come into existence, and then see them go out of existence. Aquinas supposes that not everything can be contingent in this way, for he thinks that if everything need not have been, then at one time there was nothing. But, he continues, if at one time there was nothing, then there wouldn't be anything now; for things cannot come into  existence by themselves, but must have been brought into existence by something that is already in existence. Thus, it must not be the case that there are only contingent beings. It must be that there is a necessary being, on which the existence of all other contingent beings depend. For Aquinas, this necessary being is God.[6]
Conciousness,to stay with the example, is neither contingent nor necessary in and of itself. It is either one depemdimng upon it's relationship to the devine essence. Gods coscciousness is necessary becausse it is part of somethinng uncreated and eternal. Human consciousness is contingent because it depends for its exstence upon it's relation to creatioon as a product of creation.

CA says:
I’m going to start with a great example from my Christian friends. After all Chrsitians will posit god as a “necessary being” but then also describe god as a trinity. The idea that god is three persons in one being, which frankly sounds incoherent - but they make a large amount of metaphysical assumptions about the nature of being and personhood so as to avoid those logical contradictions....The problem with this is that by all rights a “trinity” appears to be a contingent property, especially once we grant the assumptions necessary to avoid it being contradictory in the first place. After all, why is god only 3 persons and not 2, 4, 5, or any natural number?
When he says "The problem with this is that by all rights a 'trinity' appears to be a contingent property, especially once we grant the assumptions necessary to avoid it being contradictory in the first place" he's making the flip side mistake he acuses Christians of makimg. He bases contingency upon appearance rather than relationship to the divine. As for the number of persons in the Trinity there could be a reason. Even assuming no meaningful reasoon it is not and not a brute fact; God is the only true higher pupose thus can't be a brute fact.

CA takes on an argument by someone called "the Dray Apologist" and that is based upon the Dry person's concept of the Trinity. Thus ideais heeretical from a Christian perspectio e becauseit posotops a Trimmity in which the second person is created: "God is supposed to exist without limit, but then when the second person in the trinity is created the will somehow increases? If god was already supposed to be the maximal being, how could its will increase?" Yet he claims this id a problem for all Christians,


[1]The Counter Apologist, "Countering the Contingency Argument & Defending Brute Facts," The Counter Apologist blog, (February 14, 2022)

[2]Ibid."First I want to draw some boundaries around what both sides should consider to be “off limits” in terms of how we argue about necessary things. It should be considered improper to draw a neat little circle around an entity and a description of its attributes and then simply say “well this thing is necessary."

[3]Bruce Reichenbach, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.), URL = . Jul 13, 2004 Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Copyright © 2022 by

Bruce Reichenbach Professor Emeritus of Philosophy after teaching philosophy for 43 years at Augsburg reichen@augsburg.eduK

[4]Megan B Wallace, "the Cosmological Argument: Contingent vs. Necessary"(2008)

Megan B Wallace Visiting Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Oberlin College. I recently received my PhD in Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

[5]Ibid. [6]>

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Did God Command the Slaughter of women and Infants? Numbers 31:17-18?

A reader asks: "Will you do an article on Numbers 31:17-18? Because many use that that God is a child killer and promotes rapes and underage marriages."

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.(all quotes NIV unless otherwise noted).
Before going into specifics I must point out that my views on the OT are unconventional. I am not an inerrantist. Thus I do not feel duty bound to make all such verses right with the reader.I do not intend to try and prove that God makes killing infants ok. Here's a quick overview of my take on the OT:

The author of Hebrews tells us:
1:1 "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe."
"Various ways" might well include mixtures of human and divine. This passage suggests to me that Jesus is the standard through which we should read the OT. This is backwards historically.It nakes more exigetical sence than does inerrency.

Ihe traditional inerantist view sees the Bible as a memo from the boss to be read to the entire company on the shop floor. In my view the OT is a record of divine/human encounter. Thus it is a mixture of both human and divine outlook. It is written by humans and thus is stained with their cultural outlook.The truth of God breaks through here and there but amid a sea of human perspective.

The purpose of the OT is to crate a framework in which the meaning of Messiah makes sense beyond it's ethnographic borders and in which the mission of Messiah makes sense.

Obviously if we take Jesus as the lens through which to read the OT we can't accept the notion that the God of love would order the killing of infants. we need not accept this as God's command.That was the scribes making assumptions based upon the barbarus culture of the day.

Turning to the specific passage there are a couple of points I would like to make.

First, some scholars think v18 "But all the women and children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves" carries the connotation that these young girls would be sex slaves for Israelite warriors. One could look at  it through Mary Poppins sunglasses and say they were to raise them as daughters and then marry them off as adults to repectable Israelite gentelemen, but the vast perpondrence of scholarship sees it as sex slave, at least in connotation.  Even the traditional believers embrace this view among its major scholars.[1]

Secondly, one might think the reason for killing the woman was to punish them for having sex.The real reason whch does not justify the act, is because these women lured men of Israel to worhip other Gods throgh their sexual favors.This caused a plague in Israel,thousands died.[2]

[1]"A detailed Historical Examination of numbers 31:18."Discover the Truth, Aug 7,2016.
[2]"What do Christans Think About Bible verses numbers 31:17-18." Quora., Jan 7/2030.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Is there evidence for the infinite loving God?


On Randal Rauser's Blog Daniel Wilcox speaking to atheist  Dana Harpar: "I agree with you and others that there is no evidence for the infinite and loving God of many Christians or for any of the revealed religions at all."I think I've given plenty of good reason to believe in God and to make a leap of faith. Now I will argue if God does exist God is the loving God of revealed religion,ie of Christianity.

I could appeal to devine revelation then argue for the validity of the Bible. That would be a profuntory answer, one expected of any apologist and guronteed to turn off skeptics. Instead I have two arguments:

I.The nature of religious experience.

II.The Phenomenology of Christian love


The nature of religious experrience as a whole demostrates the loving nature of God. I will use Mystical experience (ME) as my argument but it applies beyond that.There are two core aspects to mystical experience: (1) a profound sense of the undifferentiated unity of all things, and (2) A profound sense of God's all pervasive Love. This second aspect is at the core of the experience and is so much a part of it that lift is missing that is a  good reason to doubt that it is a true mystical experience.

Mystical experience is backed empirically to such an extent that it almost constitutes proof of God's existence.200+ studies over 50 years all showing the validity of the experience with no counter study, not one. The experience is overwhelmingly positive and transformative, makes your life better across the board.What I mean by this is illustrated by a sample of one of the studies, a summary of findings from two.This was published on my religious experience argument back in the summer.

Wuthnow study:

*Say their lives are more meaningful,
*think about meaning and purpose
*Know what purpose of life is
Meditate more
*Score higher on self-rated personal talents and capabilities
*Less likely to value material possessions, high pay, job security, fame, and having lots of friends
*Greater value on work for social change, solving social problems, helping needy
*Reflective, inner-directed, self-aware, self-confident life style


*Experience more productive of psychological health than illness
*Less authoritarian and dogmatic
*More assertive, imaginative, self-sufficient
*intelligent, relaxed
*High ego strength,
*relationships, symbolization, values,
*integration, allocentrism,
*psychological maturity,
*self-acceptance, self-worth,
*autonomy, authenticity, need for solitude,
*increased love and compassion

Short-Term Effects (usually people who did not previously know of these experiences)

II. Phenomenology

Love is more than just a feeling of butterflies in the stomach. It is an experience as well as an ideal. It's concept but it os a;so ex[eroenced,phenomenological apprehension.

I don't feel very loving right now, but I don't have to feel any way to talk about love, because love is not merely a feeling. A lot of people think that love is just the special way of feeling about a person, or the warm fuzzy that comes from being with a certain person. Love is much more than just a special way of feeling. It is also a value, a commitment, a sense of orientation toward others, a philosophy, a way of being in the world (an existential engagement).

There are degrees of love and kinds of love. The Greeks called sexual and romantic love Eros From which we get our word "erotic." The kind of love friends feel they called Phileo or "brotherly love" (as in "Philadelphia"). The highest form of love they called Agape. That is usually the kind of love the Bible speaks of when it speaks of God's love for us. 1 John tells us "He who loves knows God for God is love."

Agape Means: the will to value the other, or the will to the good of the other; the desire for the other to have the best. It entails the idea of according the other all rights and human dignity. It is not personal, it's a commitment to all people. Agape is sometimes translated Charity (as in kJ trains 1 Corinthians 13 "if I speak with the tongue of men and of angles and have not charity") but this is more condescending and patronizing than the actual meaning of the term. Charity can be paternalistic in the negative sense, controlling, colonizing, derogatory. Agape is a totally positive thing; one must actually seek the good of the other whatever that may be, even against one's own interest.

Now I will start saying "crazy stuff," these are things that I have theorized about and I guess they make up the radical edge of my own philosophy because they have been scoffed at plenty of times on these boards. But I don't care I'm saying it anyway.

Basis of everything: connection with Being

When I say love is the basis of everything, I mean it really is. I believe that when the Bible says "God is love" it means it literally. In other words, we should put an "itself" there. God is "love itself,": the thing that love is actually the essence of what God is. Now you may ask how can God be both being itself and love itself? Because these two are inextricably bound up together.

Love is giving, the idea of seeking the good of the other, according the other full human dignity equal to one's own, these are ideas that entail give over, supplying the other with something. It's a positivity in the sense that it supplies an actual thing to someone. Being also shares these qualifications. Being is giving in the sense that it bettors itself upon the beings and they have their existence. It is positive in the sense that it is something and not taking something away, it's not a void as nothingness is, but moves in the direction of filling a void; nothingness becomes being, the existence of things.

So love and being are really the same impulse and they both unite in the spirit of God. God is the basis of all being, of all reality. God's character is love; that is God seeks the good of the other and bestows upon us the ultimate human dignity of being a child of God.

Motivating force behind creation

Love is the basic motivating force behind creation. God's motive urge to create was not out of a need due to looniness, but out of a desire to create as an artist, and desire is fueled by love. Art is love, artists love art, as revolutionaries love. Revolutionaries are in love and their revolutions are often expressions of love, what He Guava called "a strange kind of love, not to see more shiny factories but for people." So God creates as a need to bestow love, which entails the bestowing of being.

Now let's not have a bunch of lectures about "perfection" based upon not knowing what perfection is. Let's not have a buck of Aristotle thrown in as though it were the Bible. There is no baseline for comparison from which one can really make the judgment that need is imperfection; especially the sort of need one feels to be creative or to bestow love; that is a different sort of need than the need for food or shelter.

Basis of morality

Love is the basis of morality. Love is the background of the moral universe, as Joseph Fletcher said. Austin said it too. That means all moral decisions are made with ultimate reference to God's love which is the driving force behind morality. Many people think Christian morality is about stopping impurity. These people regard sex as the greatest offense and think that basically sin = sex. But nothing is further from the truth. Sin is not sex, sin is an unloosing nature, or a selfish desire to act in an unloosing manner.

  Love requires selfless giving over OT the other for the good of the other. That means all moral actions must ultimately be evaluated with reference to their motivational properties. That's why Jesus spoke as he did in the sermon on the mount: if you hate you are a murderer. Because the motivation itself is the true essence of the sin, the rejecting of love and acceptance of self as the orbit creates the motive that eventually leads to the act. He is not saying that the act sin OT sinful of course, but that the sin begins with the motive not just with the act. In that sense morality is somewhat teleological, although I normally eschew teleological ethics. I am not saying that the morality of a given act is based upon outcome, but that the end toward which moral motions are given is the goal of doing love.

    Love is too central to the nature of the faith to be floating out as a mindless idea divorced from divine consciousness.

[1] Joseph Hinman,"Argument from Religious Experience (for existence of God),"Metacrock's Blog."(AUGUST 31, 2022)

God, Science, and Ideology by Joseph Hinman is a very important book. Hinman was a PhD candidate in the UT system, his field was history of ideas and he studied the history and philosophy of science. He brings this knowledge to the critique of athye8ist ideology on the internet. Hinman summarizes 20years of arguments with atheist apologist and takes down some of the major atheists figures such as Richard Dawkins,

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Foundational assumptions of Jesus mytheres are wrong

The Jesus myth Position sees Jesus a fictional character largely based upon pagan figures from mythology. It is said that these figures are dying/rising savior gods, born of virgin births and thus each forms a pattern for the fictional Jesus of Nazareth. A typical expression of this view is made below:

Farrell Till:

"I could take saviors like Krishna, saviors like Osiris, saviors like Dionysus, saviors like Tammuz, who presumably lived centuries and centuries before Jesus of Nazareth allegedly lived, and they were born of virgins, they worked miracles, they died, most of them through crucifixion, and they were resurrected from the dead, and their followers were zealous for them." (Geisler-Till debate, 1994)

The most important point to make here is that when one uses actual mythology books and not books written by "mythers," that is books by scholars talking about mythology for its own sake, not trying to prove a point about Christianity one way or the other, the similarities vanish.

Let's examine these claims, and I'm going to use mostly secular, classical or pro-pagan sources to show:

1) Calling them all "saviors" distorts the evidence

None of them are saviors in the manner of Jesus Christ They are all heroes, so they all saved people in some sense. Some of them did offer eternal life to their followers so we can look at that latter. But none of them are saviors in the sense of dying for the sins of the world.

2) "Presumably lived..." is a big distortion, no proof that they did live.

A few of them may have been based on actual people. In fact the Greek Herakles (Hercules) was probably two people fussed together into myth from two different times in history (Charles Seltman, the Twelve Olympians, Thomas Y. Corwell company: 1962, p.175-177). But there is nowhere near the kind of documentation for this that there is for Jesus. We have no writings of anyone who claimed to have known Herakles, we have no writings that even approximate eyewitness testimony, we have no proof that he existed at all. No body of his teachings, not even one saying by him has come down to us through history. Everything about him is totally speculative or mythological. And this is also true for every single figure mentioned; it is probable that Mithra was a real figure, or based upon a real figure but we have no way of knowing. Osiris was pure mythology and we have no idea who he might be based upon, it may be a good guess that Krishna was a real figure at one time, but we know nothing about any of these characters that is not purely mythological.

3) "They were born of Virgins" actually none of them were.

This is a tricky one. Some of these figures were not even claimed to have been produced by Virgins. Others, it depends. That is, none of them were produced without the benefit of sexual contact. For some, such as Herakles that contact came between the mother and god, the mother may never have "known" a mortal man, and so in a technical sense is a 'virgin' but she not conceived without benefit of sexual contact. Jesus Christ was so conceived. The notion of the "Virginal conception" does not say that God was Mary's lover, Mary did not have sex with God, when the Holy Spirit "came upon her" it was more like artificial insemination, not sexual contact. And none of these "saviors" were touted as products of "virginal conceptions" as part of their theological doctrine.

In Raymond E. Brown's highly respected work on the Birth Narratives of Jesus, he evaluates these non-Christian "examples" of virgin births and his conclusions are as follows:

Among the parallels offered for the virginal conception of Jesus have beneath conceptions of figures in world religions (the Buddha, Krishna, and those of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology (Presses, Romulus), in Egyptian and Classical History (the Pharaohs, Alexander, Augusts), and among famous philosophers or religious thinkers (Plato, Apologias of Tyana), to name only a few.

"Are any of these divinely engendered births really parallel to the non-sexual virginal conception of Jesus described in the NT, where Mary is not impregnated by a male deity or element, but the child is begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit? These "parallels" consistently involve a type of hieros gamos (note: "holy seed" or "divine semen") where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman, either through normal sexual intercourse or through some substitute form of penetration. In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus." (The Birth of the Messiah, by Raymond E. Brown, Doubleday: 1993: 522-523)
From a much less sympathetic perspective, the history-of-religions scholar David Adams Lemming (writing in EOR, s.v. "Virgin Birth") begins his article by pointing out that all 'virgin births' are NOT necessarily such:

"A virgin is someone who has not experienced sexual intercourse, and a virgin birth, or parthenogenesis (Gr., parthenos, "virgin"; genesis," birth"), is one in which a virgin gives birth. According to this definition, the story of the birth of Jesus is a virgin birth story whereas the birth of the Buddha and of Orphic Dionysus are not. Technically what is at issue is the loss or the preservation of virginity during the process of conception. The Virgin Mary was simply "found with child of the Holy Ghost "before she was married and before she had "known" a man. So, too, did the preexistent Buddha enter the womb of his mother, but since she was already a married woman, there is no reason to suppose she was a virgin at the time. In the Orphic story of Dionysus, Zeus came to Persephone in the form of a serpent and impregnated her, so that the maiden's virginity was technically lost."

4) "They worked miracles" As mythical figures they did "amazing thing" but none went about healing the sick.

None of the figures that Till mentions above were miracle workers in the sense of Jesus. They did not Rome the country healing people or praying over fish and loaves in order to supernaturally expand one meal into a repast for several thousand people. Mythological events follow them, thus when Mithras kills the Bull wheat springs from its tale. But of course, it is mythology. They were not flesh and blood people whom eye witnesses saw heal the sick. That did not happen in the case of any of these figures.

5) "They died, most of them through crucifixion" This is an outright lie, no credible source shows any of these being crucified. None of the figures that he names died through crucifixion. Some of them became associated with the cross through pagan borrowing after the time of Christ, but in the pure mythical content of their stories none of them were crucified.

6) "They were Resurrected from the dead" this claim is true of some but not all, and even of those not in the manner of Christ.

None of them were seen by real flesh and blood eye witnesses after their deaths. In stories of Dionysus he does come back to life, but only in a mythology and only in relation to dying rising of nature cycles. see below. And not all of them came back to life.

Note on Dec. 25 as Birth of "Saviors"

I can find no record of any mention of the date of birth of any of these figures. More importantly, even though Achyra S and Kane both say that every one of these figures was born on Dec.25, it never says that in the Gospels! Therefore, even if it were true, it would contribute nothing to the "Jesus Story" because we know that the celebration of his birth on Dec. 25 came at least three centuries after the Gospels were written. Christmas probably was laid over a Pagan holiday to give former Pagans a change to celebrate something on their old fest day.

Direct Examination of "Saviors" Proves Similarities Nonexistent

. Most of the alleged similarities between the Jesus story and pagan dying-rising gods are blown out of proportion for skeptical polemic. The far more sophisticated arguments are made by people such as Kirsop Lake(the 19th century Christian liberal theologian). They consist of little details, minute similarities in wording and phraseology, such as has been dealt with above. But many Internet skeptics are not subtle, they go for the big victory and the cheap analysis. It has been claimed by many of these skeptics (Farrell Till for one) that a host of gods from pagan myth were sons of god, born of virgins, and sacrificed as atonement and rose from the dead. In addition there are some small claims in the telling of the story, such as Christ being laid in a manger, which was supposedly done with Dionysus as well. These claims are, in the main, quite false. Let's examine them.

Moreover any sort of identities for these figures would be impossible to track, because they are always changing identities; the family members change from story to story, parents and children and their relationships change form store to store, and the gods merge; Osiris is linked to Dionysus and so on (Marvin M. Meyer, (editor) The Ancient Mysteries : A Source Book , San Francisco: Harper, 1987, pp.170-171).

Let's examine specific figures from real mythology 2 God, Science, and Ideology by Joseph Hinman is a very important book. Hinman was a PhD candidate in the UT system, his field was history of ideas and he studied the history and philosophy of science. He brings this knowledge to the critique of athye8ist ideology on the internet. Hinman summarizes 20years of arguments with atheist apologist and takes down some of the major atheists figures such as Richard Dawkins,

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The Web of Historicity: Everything around Jesus is historical

Most Jesus myther arguments are based upon phony standards that real historians don't use. They expect direct documentation like a birth certificate. They did not have birth cirtificates for rural Jewish pesants in the Gallalee so that is an unrealistic expectation. Using the lack of it as proof that Jesus didn't exist is silly. In the absense of such documentation there are two methods: (1)Demonstarting the historicity of the places and people around Jesus then infurring his existence. (2)Direct attestation by people who knew him or less directly by those who knew people who knew himm. I use both. This article,however, deals with the former. The approach taken is that everything around Jesus, thepeople and places is historical, It's a bog web and Jesusis at thecenter, Why would it be that this web of historicity has as it;s cemteran empty space?

We know that the basic story of the manger and the virgin Mary and Jesus himself circlated in the first century. Early on Jewish Christians passedon these ideas and they can be traced to worship in mystic gratto's of Bethlehem.

For the purposes of worship, the Jewish-Chrsitians of Palestine availed themselves not only of the synagogues, but also developed their ritual in certain 'sacred and mystic grottoes' as reported by the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius of Caesarea. In Their worship in this "Lord's house" in Bethlehem which was carried on until the fourth century, they celebrated two of three mysteries par excellence: Mary's Virginity and her bringing forth the Christ child; ...Hadrian profaned the site by planting a wood over the grotto, but this helped to maintain the tradition of the birthplace of Jesus."[1]

It could be that these grottos recalled the historical reality in bethlehem or the grotto of bethyleim was merely one of many that fit the image and thus began to taken for the historical site. Either way the biographical knwoeldge of Jesus early days date back to forst cemtiry and emmenate from Bethlehem.

Jesus was born in Betheliem but grew up in Nazerath. Skeptics sometimes claim that Nazareth was not inhabited at the time of Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a coupole of historical sorces proviimg Nazerath was inhabilted in first century.

Despite the Hellenization of the general region and the probability that Greek was known to many people it seems likely that Nazareth remained a conservative Jewish village. After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70 it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would only settle in unmixed towns, that is towns without Gentile inhabitants. According to an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima the priests of the order of Elkalir made their home in Nazareth. This, by the way, is the sole known reference to Nazareth in antiquity, apart from written Christian sources...Some scholars had even believed that Nazareth was a fictitious invention of the early Christians; the inscription from Caesarea Maritima proves otherwise.[2]

The book of John gives us one example of a historical location i the Gospels.The pool of Bethseda (John 5:14) in Luke where the angle "troubled the waters" for healing, and Jesus healed the lame man and told him to take up his bed and walk, has been discovered beneath the Church of ST. Anne. There is a pool at the bottom of a flight of stairs and an ancient fresco with a picture of an angel troubling the waters. This find is also documented in Cornfeld's work Archaeology of The Bible,[3] where he supports the conclusions.Skeptics argue anyone can put historical placesin a fictinal sotry, Trite andthis ofitoself is not significant evedence. Butis an exampleofthemay historical dleets making up the web.

Luke's geographical Accuracy.

Luke offers many importat hisotircal points. Look hiimselfis deemed a fine historian. Harnack and others attest to Luke's accuracy in terms of the ship wreck on Malta, the flavor and historicity of the cities he speaks of the, the time period and all other verifiable elements of this nature. "Sir William Ramsay who devoted many fruitful years to the Archaeology of Asia Minor testifies to Luke's intimate and accurate acquaintance and the Greek East at the time with which his writings deal."[4]. Ramsay began as a Tubingen liberal, believing Luke to be a second century production with no validity. By the end of his life he was so persuaded of the truth and validity of Luke that he gave up scholarship and became an Evangelist and apologist using arguments based upon the discoveries he had made.[5]. It cannot be claimed that he was not an "objective" scholar, as he is one of the grates of the field. Dr. Henry J. Cadbury delivered the Lowell lectures in 1953 and produced a work on the Book of Acts in which he hailed Luke as a first rate historian [6]. ,,...,3) Luke's Social Accuity. Neil thinks that one of the most impressive aspects of Luke as an historian is that he always gets the titles right. Many of the titles of local officials which Luke provides us with were not validated until modern times. "The writer of Acts knew the correct titles and used them with varying precision. In the words of Ramsey: 'the officials with whom Paul and his companions were brought into contact are those who would be there. Every person is found just where he ought to be; proconsuls in senatorial provinces, asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessolonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere.' The Most remarkable of these titles is Politarch the ruler of the city used in Acts 17:6...previously this word had been completely unknown except for this passage in Acts. It has now been found in 19 inscriptions dating from he second century..." (Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament:1861-1961, London: Oxford University press, 1964, p.143).Neil argues that titles are the hardest things to get right, modern French writers never get English titles right, and this is something that would easily and surely betray an anachronism (147)Historians of the modern day judge Luke a superb historian.

(This makes him a better historian than Tacitus, and if Tacitus getting the title of Pilate wrong is an argument against his veracity, than surely getting them right must mean something) Skeptics argue that the Apostles could have made up the stories of the Gospel despite the fact that they contain historical information. One, on an internet discussion board, even went so far as to compare the Gospels with Ernest Hemingway novels which have fictional plots set in historical settings. Of course Hemingway lived in the places he wrote about. It would be absurd to think of Luke trooping around ancient Palestine just to be abel to add a few verifiable touches to his account, especially in the days before anyone knew about archaeology. When we consider how many forgeries form this era have no historical evidence, or betray themselves with anachronisms, this argument seems to lack substance.

,,,C. Peter's House

"The house was built in the first century, it became a center of religious activity [in Capernium] already in the second half of the first century Jewish-Chrsitians (or they were called) were numerous and lived continuously in Capernium and kept this tradition alive [the site for the house of Peter--which is mentioned in Mark; their graffiti on the plaster wall of the place of worship testify to their faith in Jesus, the Lord, the Most High, the good, and to their veneration of Peter." (Cornfeld p. 288). The house was taken over by Gentile Christians in the 5th century, and then build a splendid basilica. Now of course the skeptic will say "O, they just chose any old spot and said it was the right place for the pilgrims in the middle ages." But Pilgrims did troop to the Holy land as early as the fifth century, however, as Corfeld shows, most of these sites were already old by the fourth century. The tomb, Peter's house, The Bethlehem Grotto, Mary's house in Nazareth, and many other such sites, were already venerated as far back as the first century. While there is no definitive proof that these sites are the actual locations, the evidence is stronger than it seems at first glance.

,,,D. The empty tomb

Archaeology cannot yet identify with certainty the tomb of Christ, but here is strong evidence supporting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the original site. The site does date back to the fourth century when it was shown to Constantine. Bruce attests to the evidential support.(New Testament Documents) . More important confirmation comes from Gaalyah Cornfeld in Archaeology of The Bible Book By Book. Cornfeld tells us that from early times Christians reverenced the site, but it was desecrated when the Romans put up a statue of one of their gods. Jewish-Christians could no longer worship at the site for that reason, but they continued the knowledge of it until the time of Constantine when they were able to point him to it as the original site of the resurrection. Constantine put up a basilica over the original shrine, the Anastasis. Excavations by V. Corbo found a gold ring with the representation of the dome of the original shrine Anastasis. This indicates that this site was venerated by Christians in ancient times as the site of the resurrection. (and there is an empty tomb under neither it). (See Archaeology of The Bible: Book by Book, New York: Harper and Row, 1976, 271-2).

Bahat, Dan 1986 "Does the Holy Sepulcher Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?" Biblical Archaeology Review 22.3 (May/June):26-45.

"The fact that it had indeed been a cemetery, and that this memory of Jesus' tomb survived despite Hadrian's burial of it with his enclosure fill, speaks to the authenticity of the site. Moreover, the fact that the Christian community in Jerusalem was never dispersed during this period, and that its succession of bishops was never interrupted supports the accuracy of the preserved memory that Jesus had been crucified and buried here." (Bahat 1986:37.)

All of these studies have a very high probability and while none can be proven conclusively, the evidence is very strong that they were all venerated early on


[1]Gaalyah Cornfeld, Archaeology of The Bible Book by Book, New York: Harper and Row, 1976,p.2779-280.

[2]Paul Barnett[BSNT], Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, IVP:1990, p.42. I have a whole page on this subject, Nazerath was inhabilited, see this link:

[3]Cornfeld, Op cit.

[4]F.F.Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?,Nashville:Eerdmans 1994,90.



Sunday, October 30, 2022

How do we know God is not evil?


I've seen atheists ask this in various forms. The most recent I've seen is "prove God isn't evil." I answered that with three arguemnts only to find the atheists pulling the old relativism thing. How do we know good and evil even exist at all they said? Well, first of all, in answering the question about "prove god is not evil," the challenge was in reference to Christian ideas. To even ask the question assumes a Christian framework. You can't say on the one hand "God might really be evil," then say "but there's no such thing as evil." That would have no meaning. God might really be this thing that has no meaning and doesn't exist? What kind of meaning does that have? One get's the feeling of being set up for a cheap trick. Like we say "ok so God is evil ni the sense that there is no such thing as evil. so what?" they say "O you admitted it, God is evil you said it ok that's the end of Christianity!" Those are two completely different questions to answer the one you must bracket the other. first I will present my arguments to prove that God is not evil, and to do that assume the Christian framework for good and evil. Then I will deal with the relativistic stuff (that there is no good or evil).

I am assuming there is such a thing as good and we all have a general idea of what that is. Now I also noted that many atheist in the discussion I allude to above (where the challenge was made "prove God is not evil") were assuming a contradiction in the Bible where on the one hand God says "love your neighbor" and on the other hand he says "slaughter the Amalekites kids." So there's the problem of a contradiction between the values God expresses and the behavior God exhibits. Thus we assume the values expressed are true values of good, and that is a meaningful term, but the question is does God seem to betray the very values that he instigates?

Before giving three positive reasons to think God can't be evil, (that is a logical impossibility) we have to deal with the seeming contradiction in the Bible. In the discussion on a certain message board alluded to above, a friend of mine who is an atheist said this:

Originally Posted by mikey_101 View Post No genocide isn't evil, killing children and homosexuals isn't evil, eternal torture for not believing in one particular religion out of thousands isn't evil, slavery isn't evil. Actually you're right, God isn't evil because God is a reflection of OUR evil. Those are based upon bible verses and bible verses are not creeds, they are not dictum they are not decrees. In short we don't have to bleieve them.

There is NO official Christian doctrine or document or creed or council that say "you must believe every verse in the bible." The fundies say it but they didn't exist until the 1820s. They are merely late commers in Christian history.Each one of those passages must be analogized in the original language and discussed according to the history and culture and textual evidence to show it really belongs in the Bible or not.I can tell you now there is evidence Amalekite passage is added in latter.

The text of 1 Samuel is one of the most heavily redacted in the Bible. As we will see, it's very presence in the canon has been brought into question, but the version we have is probably a corrupted second rate copy, and the LXX is closer, and Q4Sama at Qumran closer still, to the actual original.

Institute Biblical Scientific Studies:

Biblical Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls and OT

"1&2 Samuel

" "For the past two centuries textual critics have recognized that the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1&2 Samuel has much textual corruption. The Samuel MT is shorter than the LXX and 4QSama. The Samuel MT has improper word division, metathesis, and other orthographic problems. Certain phrases and clauses go against the Hebrew grammar rules. Parallel passages vary from each other" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.227-8).

Redaction of Infant Slaughtering Passage

Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible on 1 Sam 15:1-35

"Another story of Saul's rejection: The late source. Compare this section with 13:7-15, Samuel, not Saul is the leading figure once more."

This is the very passage in which Samuel relays God's command to wipe out the infants. So even though I still need to find more specific evidence for that very passage, there is a good chance of proving redaction. While its true that I can't produce an actual MS showing no infant slaughter command, the passage in which that command is given has been redacted. The odds are very high that this command was not part of the original passage, or we can regard it as such. We know that slaughtering infants in evil, and we have no obligation to accept a command as divine that we know to be totally at odds with God's law and God's moral code.

All the other verses must be dealt with in similar fashion, one by one, and an overview entailing a theory of inspiration adopted so that one knows how to approach scripture. For an example on this one might consult my page on the nature of Biblical revelation as an example.

Now I present the three arguments that prove God is not evil:

I. Being is good.

Being is not evil. We are all part of being, we all engage in the act of being. We know from our existence that existing is good and it's not evil. There's no reason to think it is. It's hard for a lot of people to get thier minds around the idea of God as being itself. I've certainly spent a lot of time blogging about the concept. I wont go into it here. It can be found on Doxa in several pages. I'm also just finishing my second book which is on the subject. Wait a couple of years and it will be out.


*God is being itself

being is good.

therefore God must be good.

One objection to this is that some atheists tried to evoke the notion that life is not good. One cna mean this either in terms of "my individual life sux," or in terms of amorality or some form of relativism. That would be cheating the issues here becuase I explain above the original challenge assumes Christian categories of good and evil. Moreover, one can condemn the concept of life itself by one's own experiences. I can have a rotten life (to some extent that's what I make it) that doesn't mean all life is rotten. There is a goodness about life itself. Here I take life as a pragmatic form of existence. Existence in and of itself is "good," if not in a moral sense (which is one confusion of the argument--the mixing of senses between moral and pragmatic) at least just in the sense of the (apparent) goodness of open ended possibility.

II. Love can't be evil.

This is one of those mysterious points that of which atheists are most incredulous. Almost every time they will say "you are logic is so bad" on this point. When pressed they never say why. they can't give me a rule of logic that's violated, nine times out of ten it's a matter of rejecting the concept of a priori. That unusually happens becuase they have self esteem problems, as atheists are known to have.

The nature of love makes it the very definition of Good. What is the nature of the good, it's what love is, being kind, being gentile, caring about others, giving to others, living for others. How do we know this? First we have to realize we are not talking about butterflies in the stomach. Many atheists try to lose the concept of love in the emotions that go with it, which they sweep away as the side effect of brain chemistry. The kind of love experienced in romance, puppy love,infatuation, lust, sexual attraction and the like is what is meant here by "love." Here I speak of agape. This is "God's love" sometimes translated "charity." Although that is not a good translation. Paul Tillich defines it as "the will t the good of the other." I think that is the most apt decryption. The Greek does imply the willingness to assign to others the human dignity due them.

It is more or less an axiomatic tenet that love is the background of the moral universe (consult Saint Augustine, and Joseph Fletcher). I am not sure it can be proved, thus making it "axiomatic." Like most axioms, trying to deny it would be absurd. This is certainly true in terms of Christian theology.

1 John 4:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Don't even think about trying to argue that "you are trying to prove the Bible by the bible." I am not trying to prove the bible, I'm demonstrating the Christian categories which the original challenge assumes (so I have to go by the answer to the challenge). This is exactly what atheists would do to try and prove that an idea was Christian. If we are considering Christian ethics then we must consider that love is the background of the moral universe. Love is the basis of God's character.

That either the issue becomes redundant if we consider the relativist position (which we will soon enough) or it rebounds onto the Christian categories and becomes a matter of what we think about the Bible. With a fundamentalist view of inerrancy it's hard to see how there is not a contradiction in the categories, what God says and what God does. Yet of course that is not the only Christian answer; there are several other views that take up different approaches to the bible that serve as alternatives.syllogism:

Love is not evil

God's nature is love and God is the original source of love

therefore God is not evil.

Thus, from the perspective of the Christian categories each of the above arguemnts individually prove that God is not evil and cannot be construed as evil.

III. Evil can't be the first thing.

Evil is the absence of the good. That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence. evil is rebellion against good. Evil is rejecting the good. all of this implies good is first.God is eternal so God has to be first. A lot of people reject the categories of good and evil becasue they don't like the way they are made. One of the major issues in atheism (even though many atheists don't realize it--a psychological problem) is self rejection leads to rejection of the idea that a loving God would make me the way I am. I was an atheist I know what it is to think that way. The old cliche "God is not finished with me yet" has it's uses and this is one of them.If you don't like the way God made you it's only becuase he's not finished yet. If you rebel against God you are not letting him finish you.

That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence.

Actual Atheist Objection:

"That doesn't follow. A hole is an absence of earth, the existence of a hole doesn't imply there was earth. Counter example to your premise." I this I argued "are you kidding? Isn't a hole defined by what's around it? That's like saying "I don't believe donuts exist, only the holes exist." A hole with nothing around it is nothing.


evil is falling away from, therefore, good is prior to evil

God is eternal and thus is prior to all things

therefore, God can't be evil.

Now we come to the issue of relativism. For those who do not hold to the Christian categories of good and evil but try to define them either by sweeping them away, or by using the terms relative to other standards, how does one come to ascertain the truth content of the Christian categories? The only way one can really do this is empirically. Of course this assumes there's a God. Though many atheists will try not allow such an assumption, it's pointless to ask about God's character if you don't assume there is a God, at least for the sake of argument. I have certainly spent enough time on this blog giving reason enough why one can assume God based upon any number of things. For those tempted to make comments and demand reasons I tell you now, see my 42 arguments, especially no 7 and no 8. I single out those two because they form the basis of the empirical approach. One might also see my essay on phenomenology and Method. Certainly we are talking about taking religious experience seriously. The same reasoning that would allow one to understand God as reality would also allow one to understand God's character as love. It makes no sense to take up a challenge or to even issue one about God's goodness then turn around and say "you can't prove that because you can't prove god exists." Ok so that what sense would it make to argue "god is fictional but he's really evil?" The realization that leads to faith is the same realiation that allows us to understand God's love. It's simply an empirical matter. We experince God's presence, swe sesne God's love. In a life of 30+ years that has never been disproved. Even in times when I lost faith and thought God was disproved, even in times when I lost everything and thought God was evil, he was neither evil, or absent nor unfaithful. (see part 2 here).

excerpt from those last two links:

Looking back on it things actually were better after we left the house. At the time, however, we couldn't see that. Then it seemed like the end. We were scared, we were homeless, we couldn't find an apartment because we had "financial leper" on our credit. Since 9/11 getting an apartment in Dallas was next to impossible. When I first moved away form my parents and went to New Mexico back in 80, no one cared who I was or what my credit was. I gave them money they gave me an apartment. By 2006, however, in Dallas, it was next to impossible even if your credit was good. It really seemed like the end. I began saying "I am dead, I died, they just haven't told the corpse to lay down yet." I also began to say "God has cursed me." "God loves to crush his own guys, this is what I get for caring about my parents." You know I was practicing for the glee club. I was a tower of faith. We did find an apartment, we had a couple of thousand dollars from the guy who bought the house (because he was a Christian he said) even though the mortgage company actually makes them promise not to help the victim, not to give more than the mortgage price in a short sale. It's set up so the the victim losing the house can't get anything for his/her hard earned ears of struggle to buy the house. He bought the furniture and car and then let us keep them. God was faithful to me even when I was not faithful to him. I was calling him a lair and shouting at him and I said worse than that. I called him a monster and told him he loved to hurt people. He didn't care, he's heard it all. I didn't shame God into helping me, he was working to help me anyway, I only held up the process and made it take longer by not trusting and not looking to seek the spiritual instead of freaking out because things didn't look good. Easy to forget, we walk by faith and not by sight. That means its' going to look grim. That doesn't mean anything you just have to trust God. Cultivate your spiritual relationship with God. Cultivate our inner life! It's a life long project, work on it every day.

That requires a life of faith to understand. The first step is to seek. Then it will fall into place. It wont fall into place when you renounce God and make skepticism your watchword. If your principle is to see through everything, as C.S. Lewis said, you wind seeing nothing.

God, Science, and Ideology by Joseph Hinman is a very important book. Hinman was a PhD candidate in the UT system, his field was history of ideas and he studied the history and philosophy of science. He brings this knowledge to the critique of athye8ist ideology on the internet. Hinman summarizes 20years of arguments with atheist apologist and takes down some of the major atheists figures such as Richard Dawkins,

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Biden's Policies are working The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the labor market has added 7.9 million jobs since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.1 His administration has made the revival of a flagging economy its top priority, with an emphasis on providing more assistance to struggling families. In early March 2021, Congress passed the administration’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In the 13 months from March 2021 through March 2022, the economy added 7.2 million jobs.2

please spread ths about

God, Science, and Ideology by Joseph Hinman is a very important book. Hinman was a PhD candidate in the UT system, his field was history of ideas and he studied the history and philosophy of science. He brings this knowledge to the critique of athye8ist ideology on the internet. Hinman summarizes 20years of arguments with atheist apologist and takes down some of the major atheists figures such as Richard Dawkins,

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Deconversion is just losing your faith

The thing about so-called "deconversion" is that it is just losing your faith. I have seen many atheists who try to build it into some enlightenment process where they wised up. Anyway you look at it it's really just a process of becoming disillusioned.

Of course they replace faith with various ideas that pertain to things that bothered them about Christianity. i liked that guy (deconverted man--DM) his positive outlook on Rauser's progressivity.

The thing that always irked me about the phrase "deconversion" is the way some would try to make it into a counter witness. They would try to indicate it was as transforming as religious conversion was for me. I guess if you have not been transformed by your religious faith then the measure of enlightenment pertaining to various issues would seem by comparison to be transforming, The example in our discussion was where the DM said finding that evolution is true was freeing him from belief.

I experienced something like that when I decided I was an atheist and shucked off my Church of Christ upbringing, I felt freed and liberated on many fronts. Evolution was one of them. Yet this is nothing compared to the transformed nature of finding Jesus. That is my own subjective experience but it is backed by empirical data, My first book, the Trace of God was about this. 200 studies in peer reviewed academic journals, document the transforming effects of religious experience. The bottom line is there is no similar body of data showing that losing your faith is life transforming on that same level.

I can't say that finding yorself as an atheist and shedding a beleif sysrem you no longer agree with cannot be a speical time in one's life. But I doubt it can compete with fiding Jesus is real and beginging a personal relaionship with him-- If any really seek to compete and I'm sure many do not.

In case anyone is interested, Here is a link to my essay "HowI got saved and became Metacrock"

Monday, October 24, 2022

Dialogue: an atheist and I; Euthyphro in reverse?

Dialouge with atheist Dana Harper on Randol Rauser's board:

Dana Harper Oct 16 2022.

DH: • a few seconds ago As depicted in the New Testament the main teaching of Jesus was of an imminent Devine judgment and the arrival of God’s Kingdom. Jesus is quoted on multiple occasions; God’s Kingdom would arrive during the Apostles’s lifetime, as in right now. (Matthew 24:34 and Matthew 16:28) (Mark 13:35 and Mark 9:1) (Luke 21:32 and Luke 9:27)


There has been a lot of theological work on that. The main counter theology is called "realized eschatology," The kingdoms did come. It came on the day of Pentecost. Jesus never said the whole world system would be replaced right away. The kingdom is here now it's a spiritual reality, "my kingdom is not of this world."


Jesus did seem to endorse Hebrew Scripture, although he sharply rebuked the teachers of the law. Hebrew Scripture is filled with scientific ignorance, it’s filled with extreme cruelty, sexual violence, and horror. It’s contradictory, makes multiple prophesies which never materialized.


Yes it has all that. The councils ratified the closed canon but they never gave us an interpretative model. Verbal plenary inspiration is not mandated by God it's the idea of some fundamentalist. That does not mean the Bible doesn't contain the word of God. It is a human record of human experiences of the Devine.

DH: The Bible is simply the word of an ancient superstitions people who were using fantasy to deal with their ignorance, fears and anger.

JH Partly so but it's clearly more than that. Pete Segar was an atheist but he new a good piece of wisdom and a hit song when he saw one: Turn turn turn,


They made stuff up and wrote it down, we call that stuff the Old Testament. Jesus comments on the Hebrew Scriptures don’t prove their veracity, it proves Jesus was wrong.

JH Of course Jesus can't be wrong since he is the incarnate Logos. He could be wrong about minor things but not what is inspired. When he Said "you have heard eye for an eye...but turn the other cheek" he is saying we are going to understand the OT differently." I see the OT as a cultural artifact the function of which is to create a frame work in which Messiah is meaningful.


Like the Euthyphro dilemma in reverse.


Euthyphro is for intro classes. Just to get their feet wet in the wading pool or philosphy.

what he means by putting it in reverse: theological dilemma: is it good because God says it, or does God say it because it's good? The point atheist have in asking this is to force the believer to say that God[s decisisons are oribtrary and meaningless. God is dominated by necessity because there is no god it's just men. Reverse would be does God command the bad stuff of the OT because he's bad or is he bad because he commands this stuff?

I think my answers illustrate that God does not mandate bad things, there are hardships impossed by the need to preserve free will and the natural world. Here are two essays by me that might help.

How do we know God is not Evil?

Why does God allow evil: soteriological drama

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Objective morality and The Euthyphro Dilemma

The point of objective morality is to ground axioms in something not liable to vanish with shifting sands of culture.In What would atheists ground their axioms? Feelings? Those are governed by culture. Brain chemistry? That's Hume's Fork, can't get an ought from an is.

I have seen atheists argue moral realism as an answer to the moral argument. That would allow them to say the good exists aprtr God or apart from there being a God.

Taken at face value, the claim that Nigel has a moral obligation to keep his promise, like the claim that Nyx is a black cat, purports to report a fact and is true if things are as the claim purports. Moral realists are those who think that, in these respects, things should be taken at face value—moral claims do purport to report facts and are true if they get the facts right.[1]
First I find realism commits the same fallacy as the atheist argument; no grounding, no reason for the good. No basis for an ought, I'm not sure they even value an ought. Does this mean only God can furnish objective grounding? I wont say nothing else can but I will say God is the most certain source.

Atheists try to impune God's grounding abilities with the Euthyphro dilemma. I think the Euthyphro dilemma was designed for use in a culter with limited gods who were limited by the fates and who acted arbitrarily. The dilemma works on Greek gods because they were arbitrary. Though atheists may argue God is arbitrary he is not

While the skeptic asks, does God command it because it's good? yes of course. Or is it good because God commands it? If as I think the basis of the good is God's love the question is meaningless, God is the source of all love, He created it it's from his character,which does not change according to the Bible.

At times atheists may raise a moral relativity argument in terms of God's role as the foundation of moral  axioms. In other words If good is based upon what God says then God could declare sin holy tomorrow and it would be so. In fact some Christians support this view which is called "Divine command theory." I think the unchanging nature of God is the answer to that argument. But in addition Morality is based upon the good andthegood upon God's character. It's not just an arbitary pronounceent that God could change anytime.But God is the basis of the standard.

[1] "Moral Realism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.First published Mon Oct 3, 2005; substantive revision Tue Feb 3, 2015.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Oral tradition was not uncontrolled rumor

Image result for Oral tradition and early Christian Community

The Form Critical school of Biblical criticism holds that there were no eye witnesses to the Gospel events, it was made up.They also adhere to the Form critical ideology of oral tration as wild rumers. None of this is true. Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. The writers of the Gospels did not invent anything because that was totally opposed to what they were about.[1]

...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated, [22] the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditional 'teaching'. [23] In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions.

Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples.[24] In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.(25)[2]

The form critical movement was motivated by a worldview rooted firmly in the nineteenth century; a view based upon outmoded notions about folklore, history, and oral tradition. They assumed that oral tradition was preferred because their world was ending and it was replaced by written documents when the Churches eschatological expectations dried up.Qumran soured modern scholarship on that view because they had strong escatological expectations and they were prolific writers.[3]

N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:

"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently.[4] For example, see H. Wansbrough (ed.), Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition (JSNTSup 64; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), referring to a large amount of earlier work; Bailey, "Informal Controlled Oral Tradition," 34-54. The following discussion depends on these and similar studies, and builds on Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 418-43; and idem, Jesus and the Victory of God, 133-37.)[5]both by Wright.

Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation. "Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the likes of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told. "And the stories about Jesus were nothing if not important. Even the Jesus Seminar admits that Jesus was an itinerant wonder-worker. Very well. Supposing a woman in a village is suddenly healed after a lengthy illness. Even today, even in a non-oral culture, the story of such an event would quickly spread among friends, neighbors and relatives, acquiring a fixed form within the first two or three retellings and retaining it, other things being equal, thereafter. In a culture where storytelling was and is an art-form, a memorable event such as this, especially if it were also seen as a sign that Israel's God was now at last at work to do what he had always promised, would be told at once in specific ways, told so as to be not just a celebration of a healing but also a celebration of the Kingdom of God. Events and stories of this order are community-forming, and the stories which form communities do not get freely or loosely adapted. One does not disturb the foundations of the house in which one is living."[B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus [6]

Edward Goodspeed, one of the most renowned liberals of his day (20s-50s)argued that Christians were required to  memorise certain texts and repeated them back in pubic.He aegued that this was the highly controled natre of oral traditim. It was not wild rumors or making things up.

Our earliest Christian literature, the letters of Paul, gives us glimpses of the form in which the story of Jesus and his teaching first circulated. That form was evidently an oral tradition, not fluid but fixed, and evidently learned by all Christians when they entered the church. This is why Paul can say, "I myself received from the Lord the account that I passed on to you," I Cor. 11:23. The words "received, passed on" reflect the practice of tradition—the handing-down from one to another of a fixed form of words. How congenial this would be to the Jewish mind a moment's reflection on the Tradition of the Elders will show. The Jews at this very time possessed in Hebrew, unwritten, the scribal interpretation of the Law and in Aramaic a Targum or translation of most or all of their Scriptures. It was a point of pride with them not to commit these to writing but to preserve them.[7]


1 Corinthians 15:3-8 has long been understood as a formula saying like a creedal statement. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

1Cr 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

1Cr 15:5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

1Cr 15:6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

1Cr 15:7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

1Cr 15:8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Oral tradition is a carefully controlled process. The Jews understood how to learn the words of their teachers and preserve them just as they were spoken. All oral cultures understand how to control the process."No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, [8] Neil adds in a fn: IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian Scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled 'The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings' (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form critical method."[9]

N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently. [10]  Jerome Neyrey says,see also- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, - See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva. [11]

A great review of oral transmission within the gospels can be found in James D.G. Dunn's Jesus Remembered. is a useful review of the progress from the form critics to now, and from 210ff he makes some proposals about the synoptics and oral narratives.[12]

From Dunn from his essay "Altering the Default Setting...":

The literary mindset (‘default setting’) of modern Western culture prevents those trained in that culture from recognizing that oral cultures operate differently. The classic solution to the Synoptic problem, and the chief alternatives, have envisaged the relationships between the Gospel traditions in almost exclusively literary terms. But the earliest phase of transmission of the Jesus tradition was without doubt predominantly by word of mouth. And recent studies of oral cultures provide several characteristic features of oral tradition. Much of the Synoptic tradition, even in its present form, reflects in particular the combination of stability and flexibility so characteristic of the performances of oral tradition. Re-envisaging the early transmission of the Jesus tradition therefore requires us to recognize that the literary paradigm (including a clearly delineated Q document) is too restrictive in the range of possible explanations it offers for the diverse/divergent character of Synoptic parallels. Variation in detail may simply attest the character of oral performance rather than constituting evidence of literary redaction.[13]


[1] B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.) Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998,53-55.

[2] Ibid Chilton and Evens foot notes:

22. O. Cullmann, "The Tradition," in Cullmann, The Early Church (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956) 55-99; B. Gerhardsson The Origins of the Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); H. Riesenfeld The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 1-29; Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer. 23. Rom 6:17; 16:17; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Phil 4:9; Col 2:6-7; 2 Thess 24. John 19:35; 21:24-25; cf. 13:23; 18:15-16; 19:26-27; 20:1-10; 21:7, 21-23. Cf. J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 298-311. 25. On parallels with other rabbis and their disciples and other Jewish usage cf. Mark 2:18 = Luke 5:33; K.H. Rengstorf TDNT 1 (1964) 412-43;.TDNT 4 (1967) 431-55.


[4]N.T. Wright, "Five Gospels But No Gospel," Authenticating the Activities of Jesus,op cit 112-113.


[6]B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans op cit 113-115.

[7]Goodspeed, Intorduction to New Testament, Chcago: University of Chicago press, 1937, 126.

[8] Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, 250.

[9] Ibid

[10] NT Wright, op cit, 112-113

He also sights

H. Wansbrough (ed.), Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition (JSNTSup 64; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), referring to a large amount of earlier work; Bailey, "Informal Controlled Oral Tradition," 34-54. The following discussion depends on these and similar studies, and builds on Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 418-43; and idem, Jesus and the Victory of God, 133-37.

[11] Jerome Neyrey, "Group Orientation." Handbook of Biblical Social Values John Pilch and Bruce Malina. 2000, 94-97.

[12]James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; Edition Unstated,July 29, 2003,192-210.

Personally, I find the work of Birger Gerhardsson quite well done and would recommend the relatively small book The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition for those interested in early Christian oral transmission. Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony is very interesting and has opened (or in other cases, reopened) discussions.

For anyone interested, I think journal articles are probably easier to obtain, some of which do not require database access: P.M. Head, “The Role of Eyewitnesses in the Formation of the Gospel Tradition”, Tyndale Bulletin vol. 52 no. 2, 2001, p. 275ff * Michael F. Bird, “The Purpose and Preservation of the Jesus Tradition”, B.B.R. 15.2, 2005, pp. 161-185.* , K.E. Bailey, “Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels”, Themelios, vol. 20 no. 2, 1995, pp. 4-11.* James .D.G. Dunn, “Altering the Default Setting: Re-envisaging the Early Transmission of the Jesus Tradition”, New Testament Studies. vol. 49, 2003, pp. 139-175.

[13] D.G. Dunn, “Altering the Default Setting: Re-envisaging the Early Transmission of the Jesus Tradition”, New Testament Studies . vol. 49, 2003, pp. 139-175.