Friday, September 19, 2014

Of Eyewitnesses, Memories, and Mark Hamill

 Today we have a guest piece by frequent contributor W. R. Miller.


A common anti-Christian claim is that people can’t remember details of events after thirty or forty years.  According to biologist Richard Dawkins, “All four of the gospels, by the way, were written long after the events that they purport to describe, and not one of them by an eyewitness.” [1] Detroit, Michigan attorney Bruce Townley [2] writes, “If one follows the majority of biblical scholarship, Mark was written at or near 70 CE. This makes Mark (and consequently Matthew and Luke) 35-40 years after the death of Jesus. How many ‘eyewitnesses’ were still alive over that time period?”[3]  In the Oxford Annotated Bible, Pheme Perkins makes the claim, “Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings." [4]

On the contrary, the evangelists themselves testify to their own eyewitness accounts.

1 Peter 5:1
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed…

2 Peter 1:16-17
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

1 John 1:1-3
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us…

John 21:24-25
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Acts 2:23-24, 32
“This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

Acts 3:15
“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.”

Acts 4:20
“For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard

Acts 4:33
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

Acts 10:39-42
We are witnesses of everything he (Jesus) did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

These are a few of the many verses that appeal to the eyewitness value of Scripture, compiled here.

The evangelists’ testimony is documented in the New Testament.

What is a testament?

American Heritage Dictionary:


“n. Something that serves as tangible proof or evidence" [5]

Oxford English Dictionary:


¶3.erron.= TESTIMONY; witness. [6]

What is testimony?

Oxford English Dictionary:

testimony, n.

1. a.  Personal or documentary evidence or attestation in support of a fact or statement; hence, any form of evidence or proof.

b.  Any object or act serving as proof or evidence. [7]

Websters College Dictionary:

testimony, n.:

1. The statement or declaration of a witness under oath, usu. in court.

2. Evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.

3. Open declaration or profession, as of faith. [8]

Experts in the science of jurisprudence acknowledge the eyewitness value of the testimony of the evangelists.  These include Dr. John Ankerberg, Richard J. Bauckham, Dr. Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University; Principal Ross Clifford of Morling College, Australia; Francis Bowen of Harvard; Thomas Arnold of Rugby; William Paley; John Warwick Montgomery, Emeritus Professor of Law and Humanities at the University of Luton; Simon Greenleaf, Royall Professor of Law at Harvard, “Upon the existing Law of Evidence more light has shone from the New World than from all the lawyers who adorn the courts of Europe,” according to the London Law Magazine; and many others listed here.

F. F. Bruce, M.A., D.D., F.B.A., of the University of Cambridge, wrote, “The evidence indicates that the written sources of our Synoptic Gospels are not later than c. A.D. 60; some of them may even be traced back to notes taken of our Lord’s teaching while His words were actually being uttered. The oral sources go back to the very beginning of Christian history. We are, in fact, practically all the way through in touch with the evidence of eyewitnesses. The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of this firsthand testimony, and appealed to it time and again. ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion. And it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years, when so many of His disciples were about, who could remember what had and had not happened. Indeed, the evidence is that the early Christians were careful to distinguish between sayings of Jesus and their own inferences or judgments. Paul, for example, when discussing the vexed questions of marriage and divorce in I Corinthians 7, is careful to make this distinction between his own advice on the subject and the Lord’s decisive ruling: ‘I, not the Lord,’ and again, ‘Not I, but the Lord.’ And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ but also, ‘As you yourselves also know’ (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective." [9]

At his website (and in his book), police detective J. Warner Wallace of Cold Case Christianity provides a thorough analysis of why the eyewitness testimony of the evangelists is reliable:

Why does Perkins believe the evangelists were not eyewitnesses?  Because, she says, “Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus.”  How would witnessing the miracles of Christ—the feeding of thousands of people, the healing of multitudes of people, calming a storm and walking on water, resurrecting Lazarus and himself—be forgotten forty to sixty years later?

Principal Drummond of Oxford said: “If we suppose that the Synoptic Gospels were written from forty to sixty years after the time of Christ, still they were based on earlier material, and even after forty years the memory of characteristic sayings may be perfectly clear. ... I have not a particularly good memory, but I can recall many sayings that were uttered forty, or even fifty, years ago, and in some cases can vividly recollect the scene." [10]

The Honorable Justice Ken R Handley, AO OStJ QC, observed, “This is a remarkable piece of historical evidence written at a very early date, when eyewitnesses were still alive. Anzac Day this year has reminded us that there are still survivors of the First World War, 81 years after it ended, who remember what happened. I had first-hand experience as a judge of a remarkable parallel. In February 1964, HMAS Melbourne sank HMAS Voyager. In October 1996, over 32 years later, I sat on the Court which heard the appeal by the Commonwealth from the award of damages by a jury to a Mr. McLean who had been a sailor on Melbourne and claimed to have suffered post traumaticstress disorder. Our decision is in the official Law Reports.  (Commonwealth of Australia v McLean (1996) 41 NSWLR 389.)  Survivors gave evidence at the trial and had the clearest recollection of what had happened. Under the Evidence Act 1995, Mrs. McLean was able to say in court in 1996 what her husband had told her in 1964 shortly after the collision. (Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) s 64.)   Hearsay evidence, such as Luke has incorporated in his Gospel and Paul included in his letter to the Corinthians, is now accepted in court in civil cases if it was fresh in the memory of the original speaker. The 32 years in this case was longer than the interval of 20 years or so to the date of 1 Corinthians." [11]

Actor Mark Hamill, best known as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series, has been able to recall dialogue after nearly 40 years almost verbatim.

Here is his audition, in which he speaks the line, “Fear is their greatest defense. I doubt if the actual security there is much greater than it was on Aquilae or Sullust and what there is is most likely directed towards a large scale assault.'

The line is never used in the movie.  Yet, he is able to recite it 22 years later for the BBC programme, Omnibus: [12\

Twenty-nine years after the audition, Hamill recalled in the documentary, Empire of Dreams, [13] “I can remember a line from the screen test which I don't think ever will leave me.  Luke says, 'But we can't turn back.  Fear is their greatest defense. I doubt if the actual security there is any greater than it was on Aquilae or Sullust and what there is is most likely directed towards a large scale assault.'
“And I read that line and I thought, 'Who talks like this?'  So I just did it sincerely.”

The documentary played both the audition and Hamill recalling the dialogue 29 years later.

On June 6, 2014, thirty-nine years after his screen test, Mark Hamill recalled his screen test thirty-nine years after the fact, and once again recited the “Fear is their greatest defense” line. [14]

Hamill—as well as Handley and Drummond—demonstrate that it is possible to recollect minutia decades in the past.

What the evanglists believed was more than minutia.  What they believed was the Gospel, with the power to change lives.

Jesus commissioned his disciples to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [15] Henceforth, the disciples did exactly that, presenting the Gospel orally in the beginning, and in written form years later.

Again, in Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Do you see the word, “witnesses”?

Jesus had also told his disciples, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." [16]

So for the evangelists, memory would not be a problem.  And how could the miracles of Jesus Christ be forgotten, or for that matter, the miracles God did through the disciples?

Perkins also claimed, “Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis." [17]

The eminent legal scholar Dr. John Warwick Montgomery points out, “Far from avoiding contact with secular history, the New Testament is replete with explicit references to secular personages, places, and events. Unlike typical sacred literature, myth, and fairytale (“Once upon a time...”), the Gospel story begins with 'There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.'“

He adds, “Modern archaeological research has confirmed again and again the reliability of New Testament geography, chronology, and general history. To take but a single, striking example: After the rise of liberal biblical criticism, doubt was expressed as to the historicity of Pontius Pilate, since he is mentioned even by pagan historians only in connection with Jesus' death. Then, in 1961, came the discovery at Caesarea of the now famous 'Pilate inscription,' definitely showing that, as usual, the New Testament writers were engaged in accurate historiography." [18]

After many years of research, Oxford archaeologist Sir William M. Ramsay concluded, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statement of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose.  In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." [19]

Such is the trustworthiness—and reliability—of the New Testament accounts.

For more details on the topic, see J. P. Holding, “Dates and Authorship of the Gospels.”

[1] Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, Free Press, 2012, pp. 254-255.

[2]Townley is identified here.

[3] Stated online here.

[4] Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, 2007 edition, “Introduction to the Gospels,” p. 4.

[5] “testament.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 11 Aug. 2009.

[6]Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989. Accessed online August 11, 2009.  © Oxford University Press, 2009.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Websters College Dictionary. © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

[9] The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, Fifth edition, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1960.

[10] Cf. Marcus Dods, The Bible, Its Origin and Nature, 1921, p. 184.

[11] Ken Handley, A Lawyer Looks at the Resurrection”. Reprinted from Kategoria: A Critical Review, v. 15. 1999, pp. 3-4.  Handley’s copious credentials are listed here.
[12] Omnibus--George Lucas: Flying Solo,” BBC-1, March 23, 1997.

[13] Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, 2004 documentary on A&E Network and DVD supplement. 

[14] In the first of three interviews by James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Ben Kenobi in The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels.  Hamill was visiting Disneyland promoting “Star Wars Weekends.”

[15] Matthew 28:16-20.

[16]  John 14:26.

[17] Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, “Introduction to the Gospels,” 2010 edition, p. 1744.

[18] Montgomery, Human Rights and Human Dignity, pp. 143-44.

[19] Ramsey, Luke the Physician, pp. 177-79, 222.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Musicians' Gambit Part 3: Phillips, Craig and Dean

From the August 2011 E-Block.
Our next music group is a controversial one, though we will only touch on the controversy long enough to see to what extent, if any, it touches on music. Philips, Craig and Dean (PCD) is known to be composed of ministers from the Oneness Pentacostal movement. Some have noted their reticence on this subject, and others have questioned the propriety of using their music. That is not an issue we will settle here, but we will be checking to see if "Oneness" theology makes it into their lyrics. 

One song it arguably does appear in -- obliquely -- is this one:

You are not a god
Created by human hands
You are not a god
Dependant on any mortal man
You are not a god
In need of anything we can give
By Your plan, that's just the way it is
You are God alone
From before time began
You were on Your throne
You are God alone 

There's a certain ambiguity in "you are God alone" that under the circumstances warrants a question: Is this line meant in a "Oneness" sense? Of course, mainstream Trinitarianism can accept tht statement and fill it with its own theology, and has done so. But it can be little unnerving to realize that PCD means something else by it -- akin to being fond of a love song, and having it all ruined when you are told the man singing it is talking to his horse. 

Apart from that, the song does contain some surprisingly deep creation theology, but it goes downhill from there and turns into a musical security blanket of the sort more frequently found in Christian music: 

And right now
In the good times and bad
You are on Your throne
You are God alone
Your the only God
Whose power none can contend
Your the only God
Whose name and praise will never end
Your the only God
Whose worthy of everything we can give
You are God
And that's just the way it is
That's what You are 

These include accurate descriptions of the attributes of God, but the uneasy sense of this is that they are listed more for personal reassurance ("my Dad is big and strong") than out of any desire to honor God. I could be wrong, but other songs tend to indicate not, such as this one: 

Father I see that you are drawing a line in the sand
And I want to be standing on your side, holding your hand
So let your kingdom come, let it live in me
This is my prayer, this is my plea

Hand holding? With God? It is but one indignity in song that is otherwise acceptable (even if devoid of signifying content). In this case, though, the indignity is at a fever pitch: 

I don't know how to say exactly how I feel
And I can't begin to tell you what your love has meant
I'm lost for words
Is there a way to show the passion in my heart
Can I express how truly great I think you are
My dearest friend
Lord, this is my desire
To pour my love on You
Like oil upon your feet
Like wine for you to drink
Like water from my heart
I pour my love on you
If praise is like perfume
I'll lavish mine on you
Till every drop is gone
I'll pour my love on you

This picture of God -- a combination of personal psychological counselor and BFF -- is something we've addressed as inappropriate more than enough times little else need be said.

On the other hand, this represents something I have not seen yet:

I feel quite sure if I did my best
I could maybe impress you
With tender words and a harmony
A clever rhyme or two
But if all I've done in the time we've shared
Is turn your eyes on me
Then I've failed at what I've been called to do
There's someone else I want you to see
Will you love Jesus more
When we go our different ways
When this moment is a memory
Will you remember His face
Will you look back and realize
You sensed His love more than you did before
I'd pray for nothing less
Than for you to love Jesus more
I'd like to keep these memories
In frames of gold and silver
And reminisce a year from now
About the smiles we've shared
But above all else I hope you will come
To know the Father's love
When you see the Lord face to face
You'll hear Him say "well done"

It is not clear what the nature of the relationship between the two persons in this song is, and perhaps it makes no difference. However, it is the first time I have seen a song posed as dialogue between two persons, in which it is made explicit that the "relationship" between a person and Jesus is markedly undifferentiated from any between person and person. So the indignity is not new; but the way of explaining it is.

PCD is a group I know well (better than I'd like) because they seem to have become a favorite of music ministers. Perhaps this is because the "praise chorus" is one of their specialties, and it would be good to close with commentary on that aspect of performance, with examples such as:

Who am I that You are mindful of me?
That you hear me
When I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me
It's amazing
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend
Who am I that You are mindful of me?
That you hear me
When I call, yeah
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me
It's amazing, so amazing, it's amazing


Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You
To see You high and lifted up
Shining in the light of Your glory
As we sing holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy

The unique convenience of the praise chorus (if I may be facetious) is that it enables performers to fill three minutes of time with 30 seconds' worth of words. Now the lack of taxing on creativity is bad enough, but it is a matter of psychological truth that the effect of repetition like this is to dull the senses and (if it gets far enough) alter one's state of consciousness. Comparison has been made before between such choruses and the repeating of mantras in Eastern faiths.

To conclude this evaluation: While I didn't find much in the way of Oneness theology in PCD's material, I did find much the same unfortunate sentimentalism we have seen elsewhere. It'd hard to say which would have been worse to find at this stage.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Ride in the Reconstruction Zone, Part 2

From the August 2011 E-Block.
I was wrong. My readings in R. J. Rushdoony will NOT be completed with 3 articles here. It may take as many as five. 

Why? The book I am now reading, Roots of Reconstruction, is a much larger behemoth than I expected at glance, having 1123 pages, of which I read half for the this issue. It's also that Rushdoony can be a demanding (not to say uninteresting) read; I can read material by someone like Joyce Meyer one way and not miss much, but if I tried it with Rushdoony, I might miss something crucial. 

Which is not to say, radical. I am still looking for any of these allegedly horrible things Rushdoony said or wrote; I was reminded while reading of one atheist who alleged that Christian Reconstructionists wanted to reinstitute OT law, including stoning penalties. I have not seen that, though I have seen some puzzling notions about OT law that I hope will be clarified in further reading (more on this below). In the meantime, it's still been like reading George Will or Rush Limbaugh with a Christian flavor. 

I have found much to agree with and material I could have written myself: treatises on self-absorption and selfishness, making God too familiar, education, abortion, economics, elitism, and being not merely a "spectator" in church. That's the bulk of what I have read from Rushdoony: non-controversial, sound, and warranting no comment. Otherwise, there are three negatives so far which I can outline in Rushdoony. 

First, there are times when I wish he would be more strict with documentation. Certain claims he makes are presented anecdotally. He is not always remiss in citing sources, but he could have done much better. 

Second, Rushdoony has so far been maddeningly devoid of what might be called plans for action. We are told we must make God the ruler in every part of life, and put all things under God's dominion, but we are very seldom told how this ought to be done in the particulars. For example, Rushdoony clearly wants to bring God into the realm of politics. But how does he propose this is to be done? Are we simply to elect Christians to office? Are we to revamp the Republic wholesale? He also favors Christian schools, but aside from disapproving of voucher programs, I have so far found little in the way of specific suggestions or directions concerning how Christian education is to be conducted. Perhaps that can be found in other volumes of his, but if so, referernces to those from him would be appreciated. 

Third, there is an oddity in Rushdoony's treatment of OT law. He clearly regards it as to some extent still applicable, but it is never made clear to what extent he thinks this is so, save in case instances. He argues that the laws of tithing and Sabbath observance still adhere, with which I disagree, but for which he makes no substantive case. (Though for the latter, he does argue that observing it affirms our trust in God -- a very pious idea which we see from Chick-Fil-A as well, but hardly any sort of logical argument, as we can affirm trust in God just as readily without it.) He also indicates that various laws having to do with war should still be observed (eg, soldiers could be no younger than 20, as stated in several passages in Numbers), and while one could of course argue the virtues of observing these laws independently, the fact that Rushdoony doesn't justify them as transcending their ANE context does not inspire much confidence.

In one place, he argues that a certain early churchman who later became a heretic, Montanus, should not have become a leader in the church in the first place, because he had been castrated as a priest of Attis, and Lev. 21:17-23 forbids castrated persons in the priesthood. I have my doubts that this law would still be applicable under the new covenant; it was most likely connected to ritual purity, and as Paul so elegantly noted to Peter, we can't still observe that without implying that Christ's sacrifice was not efficacious.
In another place, he refers to as "heretical" the idea that God had one plan of salvation for Jews, and another for Gentiles. But my view is that there is but one plan (loyalty, faith), yet expressed in two covenants.

On the other hand, in discussing one of my favorite OT laws to illustrate atheistic idiocy, Deut. 22:8 (roofs must have parapets), Rushdoony ably explains the purpose of this law in OT social context, and thereby implies that he doesn't think we need to follow it to the letter (though I am sure he would agree with me that it implies as well that we have things like railings on balconies). Later he also correctly understands OT law as "case law". So he certainly does not demand an application of the law with blind legalistic fervor. The question I'd like to see answered is just where he does stand on the spectrum. I can only hope a clear answer will be found in further readings.
Such are my three major reservations. Other than all this, there was a curious irony. Rushdoony praised Franky Schaeffer as one in "excellent continuity with his father's work" and denigrated as hypocrites those who didn't think Franky was up to his fathers' standard. One wonders what Rushdoony would make of Franky now being essentially an apostate.

We'll finish off Roots of Reconstruction next time.