Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Kay Arthur's Introduction to Induction

From the May 2010 E-Block.


Initially this article had been planned as a sort of profile piece of the sort we have been doing lately, and the first in a series on Bible Study teachers, the subject being the materials of Kay Arthur, in particular the New Inductive Study (NIS) series. To a goodly extent, it remains that. However, it has also become occasion for commentary on a much more widely used teaching method.

The Bible my wife brings to church with her belonged to her mother before she passed away. The cover says that it is an “Inductive Study Bible”. When I first saw this, I had no idea what this meant; "induction" to me was a type of cooking method (one that involves using magnetism to heat cooking vessels). I leafed through the pages trying to figure it out. I saw nothing but a few footnotes (of the sort found in any study Bible) and pages for writing notes. This led me to wonder what I was missing – or whether the “Inductive Study Bible” accidentally left the “study” out.

I have since discovered that “inductive” is rather a coded way of saying, essentially, “You read it and figure it out yourself.” This is confirmed by the introductory material found in each of the three Kay Arthur NIS books we secured for this survey, which consisted of lessons on Galatians/Ephesians, Matthew, and 1-3 John/James/Philemon. According to each of these books, the purpose of the NIS is “to teach you how to discern truth for yourselves...” NIS also recommends an inductive study Bible that “does not contain any commentary on the text.”

Veteran readers will immediately guess that I have certain unease about this methodology, but for those newer to Tekton and the E-Block, I will lay out my misgivings in detail.

The main problem is that this inductive method presumes a rather high degree of perspicuity (that is, accessibility and understandability) in the Biblical text – and to some extent, this is the case. The Bible in many places is very easy to understand, by anyone; in yet other places it is not, even though it may seem to be. This is because, like any text authored in another time and culture, and especially in a culture like the Bible’s, the authors of the text took a great deal for granted in terms of what their audience would understand. (Veteran readers will recall this sort of phenomenon to be called a “high context” setting.)

Unfortunately, our own culture in the modern West is a “low context” setting – meaning, we spell everything out even if it is not necessary to do so. The inductive method of study, in turn, is attuned to low context readers and writers – and thus makes the common error of thinking the Biblical text is low context as well. Put in a nutshell, inductive methods take for granted that everything in the text is “out in plain sight” when it is not always the case.

There are also serious reasons to be concerned about “study” questions like, “What [in this text] spoke to your heart the most?” or “How has this ministered to you?” Thankfully, these are rare in NIS; most of the study questions are helpful, and will do well to teach people how to apply specific Biblical principles in their daily lives. Nevertheless, these few other questions make the text a “self-centered” experience that implicitly indicates that God is somehow personally communicating to each person’s specific situation through a text written towards an entirely different context. In essence, this is the same disastrous exegetical epistemology that accompanies the Mormon doctrine of the internal witness (that is, the “burning in the bosom”).

Indeed, the Matthew NIS says, “Ask your heavenly Father how you should live in light of the truths you just studied.” [9] We are also told: “Don’t forget to begin your study time with prayer. Remember, you have access to the Author, and He truly wants you to know, understand, and live by every word that comes from His mouth.” Isn’t this what Joseph Smith thought too?

Further comments, such as describing Bible reading in terms of “increas[ing] your intimacy with the Word of God and the God of the Word,” compound the problem by adding layers of personal familiarity that are unjustified -- a subject we have discussed in the past Popular Pastors series, and need not rehash here. 
(To make this even worse, we are told in the Matthew NIS that any time we read the Bible, we “enter into more intensive warfare with the devil”. [6] Serious study of the text will not be aided by supposing that the devil himself – apparently a micro-manager like God – is sitting on one’s shoulder during devotionals, looking to lead you the wrong way. Presumably, the devil isn’t the one who recommends commentaries to help interpret the text, as opposed to “inductive” study Bibles.)

The use of the inductive method is all the more puzzling in light of the Matthew NIS’ advice as follows [10, emphasis in original]:

Always examine your insights by carefully observing the text to see what it says. Then, before you decide what the passage of Scripture means, make sure that you interpret it in the light of its context.

And as well, the NIS on 1 John et al as follows [32]:

One of the goals of inductive study is to learn everything you can about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

How can one fully and satisfactorily “interpret it in the light of its context” and “learn everything you can” with an inductive study Bible and no commentaries? 

This may happen with much of the text, it is true, if the message is a simple one; but it will not do with more complex issues. Apparently it has been assumed that the text provides all of the context needed – a form of “radical perspicuity” doctrine. A comment in the 1 John et al NIS says as much [37]:

We know this sounds simple, but too many times Christians reach for a book about the Bible when they could open the Word itself instead.

They could? Sometimes, yes. But even the simplest-seeming texts can bear a load of unknown meaning. “Thou shalt not kill” seems simple enough – until you try to work out how it can be reconciled with God’s orders to kill people. At that point, the Bible itself will not offer the modern reader the contextual solution because the original readers would have been able to take it for granted. A modern reader trying to proceed “inductively” will likely arrive at a contrived and unsatisfactory solution.

The above said, what of the NIS as a Bible Study? I suppose it could be recommended – for “infants in Christ”. I found its methods for memorizing and accessing texts somewhat bizarre: e.g., the reader is told to signify references to the devil by marking over such references with a red pitchforks, or references to “love” with red hearts, and so on, a virtual rainbow schematic of references. But I admit that may be a personal distaste. No doubt it does make referencing easier for those who do not prefer the use of something like a concordance. 

Additionally, one cannot find fault with the admonitions to read texts repeatedly.

I also found very few serious errors in teaching – although this seems to be because there was so little in the way of serious teaching to begin with. The inductive method apparently has something to do with this – a tad ironic, given that at the start of the Galatians NIS, a desire for quick answers that don’t go too deep [13] is regarded as a sign of the sinful human nature. It would seem to me that the so-called “inductive method” is ripe for just that kind of epistemic shortcutting.

Can this do more harm than good? Arguably so. Here’s an example from the Galatians NIS [25]:

Read through Galatians 1:11-17 again. Then read Acts 9:1-25 and note how the verses in Acts complement your understanding of Paul’s conversion.

That’s all the reader is told. And yet, as we know from studies here, the matter of alleged contradictions between Paul’s two conversion stories in Galatians and Acts (to say nothing of those in Acts alone) is considered one of the more intractable NT problems by Skeptics. It is of course not intractable, but it is also not something easily resolved merely by reading the plain text and trying to mesh the stories together. The NIS here sets a virtual epistemic time bomb for the low context reader, encouraging implicitly a way of thinking that will ultimately do more harm than good: All you have to do to resolve seemingly contradictory texts is assume they are complementary.

Other than that, as noted, there were few factual errors; so few indeed that I won’t do my usual schtick of listing a few. The far more serious problem with Arthur’s material here is a problem shared by other study materials. Arthur’s ministry does offer what is said to be more in depth materials; I’ll see if I can get hold of some of those for the next article. However, my final word for now is this: Be cautious about the "inductive" method of study, because like the inductive method of cooking, you may think you can't get burned, and easily end up getting burned.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Personbility of God, Part 3

From the April 2010 E-Block.

For this installment, I had planned to look into passages in which the believer is called a “friend” of God, as in John’s Gospel when Jesus says that he calls us not servants, but friends. The answer was simple enough, and didn’t require much research: “Friend” in such connotations indicates essentially an ally with whom one’s plans are shared, with no overlay of intimacy implied; thus for example Pilate is threatened with the spectre of no longer being a “friend of Caesar” – someone in Caesar’s service, not someone who had frequent personal conversations with Caesar or went to his house for a BBQ.

Unfortunately, with that being all I found, that didn’t make for much of an article.

So, we’ll also use this chance to revisit Part 1 of this series, occasioned by two findings that came along at the right time: John MacArthur’s A Tale of Two Sons (TTS), which interprets the parable of the Prodigal in the way with which we disagreed; and some questions from an earnest reader about that first article. For the sake of readers newly subscribing, we’ll provide context by reprinting the earlier article. Those who have already seen that article and do not need to re-read it may wish to page down to the next hard return line.

Exegetes who view God in a more personal way will generally take one of two approaches with this text.
  1. It may be argued that the father in the story is meant to represent God. Additionally, it may be said that the younger son represents the covenant of grace, while the older brother represents the covenant of law.
  2. Alternatively, it may be argued that although the father is not meant to be God, his reception of the younger son is meant to illustrate God’s loving grace in receiving the repentant sinner.
It is our contention that the first view is completely off base, and the second is more accurate, albeit sometimes too much colored by our understanding of “love” in terms of sentimentality. We will defend this view with a series of questions and answers. Our primary source of information is an essay by Richard Rohrbaugh from the book Jesus and His Parables titled, “A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors” although we are using general background knowledge from the social sciences to validate his findings as well.

Is the father in the story meant to be God? If so, it should first be noted that there is little to commend such an equation, save by begging the question that an analogy to God’s grace is to be found in the first place. Jesus does not say that the father is the Father, though in the form of a parable, this is not strictly necessary. More important is that if the father here is the Father, then we are led to the conclusion that so is the shepherd who left his sheep (15:4-7) and the woman who lost a coin (15:8-9). Do we wish to hypothesize that God leaves us to our own devices (the ninety-nine), unprotected from wolves, while he goes to find one lost sheep? Do we wish to hypothesize that He is capable of losing track of us? This is an important point, moreso than we may realize, for from a cultural perspective, the unfortunate fact is that the father in this parable is a thoroughly inept fool – he commits a number of horrendous breaches of the social code, such as:
  1. Abandoning his place as the head of the family by acquiescing to his son’s unreasonable, insulting demands – thereby also abandoning his honor and authority in the larger village social structure.
  2. Similarly, doing the same with his elder son at the end of the story, begging him to go into the party (he should rather be issuing a direct order to the eldest son to participate).
  3. As even exegetes in favor of the two above positions acknowledge, humiliating himself by lifting his robe and running.
It does not seem likely that Jesus would intend to portray the Father with such unflattering images. The family in this scenario would become disgraced in the eyes of the village they lived in. Indeed, what many commentators have not recognized in the past is that, despite the elder son’s words, the fatted calf is killed as a way of trying to reconcile the family with the rest of the village: A fatted calf would have too much meat for just one family, and the rest of the village would have despised the entire family for setting a poor example that others in the village might be tempted to follow.

Relatedly, are the sons meant to parallel the two covenants of grace and law? The basis for this seems to be little more than that the younger son “repents” when he goes back to the father. But strictly speaking, the son says and does nothing that can be clearly equated with Christian repentance. The phrase “came to himself” is sometimes read this way, but there are no parallel usages in other literature that can validate this meaning, and it needs mean no more than that he came to recognize in practice how far his situation had changed. The younger son’s motivation for return is also not coherent with Christian repentance, for he returns out of need to fill his stomach, and he offers to come work for his father – which would amount to an illustration of salvation by works, if the analogy is to hold. (It is not clear whether he does go on to work for his father, but under normal circumstances, he would be expected to indeed participate in the survival of the family – in other words, work.)

In addition, there is actually little to indicate that the youngest son engaged in sinful activities when he squandered his inheritance. The older son’s charge of spending the money on harlots can hardly be taken seriously; he was not on the younger son’s tail watching what he did in a faraway land. The charge is a case of deviance labeling, a stock insult, as opposed to a clinical observation. The words translated above “riotous living” also tell no such tale of necessity; the word used does mean excess, but this is just as well interpreted in terms of unwise stewardship, of a “boy from the country” not knowing how to manage his finances in the big city. (Rohrbaugh applies the example of modern Third World peasants who spend all their money when visiting cities.)

This may be of little relevance, since the son could arguably still have plenty to repent for, notably the way he treated his father. However, it remains that there is no clear statement of repentance by the son. He admits his error, but this is just as well seen as an admission preparatory to regaining his place in the family – in other words, he is not sorry he did it because he is repentant, but because of the penalty he undergoes.

Thus there is little to recommend an analogy to the covenant of grace, for what parallels may be found are too generalized. Perhaps the most important point is that there is no parallel to the atonement in this parable – and exegetes who admit this claim that to say so is to “miss the point.” But it can be said in turn that the charge of “missing the point” itself begs the question.

What about the fact that the father says that the younger son was once lost and dead, but is now found and alive? In this case, we should be careful of not reading into these terms later soteriology (or even John Newton’s hymnology). The words “lost,” “found,” “dead” and “alive” had yet to acquire such a semantic overlay; let it be kept in mind, for example, that in an agonistic setting, a deviant may be treated as though “dead”. It is in those terms that these words should be interpreted.

So what, it may be asked, do we do with the points of contact Jesus does offer us – of how, in his words in the prior, smaller parables, heaven rejoices over one lost sinner returning? We would maintain that the point of this parable is much the same as the others, effectively operating as qal wahomer: what applies in a less important case will apply in a more important case. The subjects of the three parables are 1) a foolish shepherd who abandons his flock; 2) a woman who has carelessly lost a coin; 3) a foolish, dysfunctional family. The message is thus that if even these three foolish examples give us people who are able to recognize the need to return the lost to fellowship, how much more so should God welcome the repentant sinner?

This is a direct slap in the face to the Pharisees (who, by implication, are foolish for keeping sinners at arms’ length and refusing to welcome them, much less aid them in finding a place with God). It may also subtly indicate that things that outwardly appear foolish and shameful hide within them a God-given principle -- just as the cross appears to have been a case of Jesus (divinity) dying a shameful death, which obscures, to those unwilling to see, God’s triumph through the Resurrection.

The story of the prodigal thus indeed has a message about God’s covenant grace extended to sinners. However, it is not quite the same message being found by those who see in the parable either a father who is meant to be the Father, or an analogy to the covenant of grace – and thus provides little to substantiate a relationship with God in familiar, personal terms to the degree supposed.

With that in review, we now turn to our two new entries.

John MacArthur’s Tale of Two Sons

MacArthur’s commentary on the parable was apparently inspired by his readings of Kenneth Bailey’s material on it, as he lists no other scholarly source. Oddly, thanks to Bailey, MacArthur acknowledges many of the same cultural facts noted above, such as that father was engaged in shameful behavior (see more below), and should have commanded, not pleaded with, the older son (which was a serious violation of the social hierarchy of authority). However, in order to get around the implications of these and other texts, he frequently speculates by adding to the story what is not in the text.

One interesting variation is that MacArthur thinks the father in the story is meant to represent Jesus, not God the Father. [33] However, this does not change any of our points otherwise. [33]

Let’s consider some of the questions from above as MacArthur answers them.
Did the prodigal son actually go out and sin with the money he inherited? Our answer is no. In contrast, MacArthur [60-1] claims the prodigal spent money “in the pursuit of wickedness”.

Naturally, the elder son’s description of harlots forms the basis for his case. MacArthur admits that some commentators think it is a false association the elder son is making; how does he answer this? In his words: “If the Prodigal was completely innocent of that charge, I think Jesus would have said so, because it would have reinforced His case against the elder son’s own bad attitude.”

Yes, that is the entirety of MacArthur’s answer! It is, however, misguided: Jesus would not need to “say so” because his audience would be more than familiar with the practice of deviance labeling, as well as the role envy would play in invoking someone to resort to such labeling. Indeed, the very act of labeling all by itself would have “reinforced the case against the elder son’s own bad attitude.”

From there, MacArthur attempts to reinforce his interpretation with speculative descriptions of how the Prodigal lived in sin, and goes as far as saying, “...if he could spend away the family fortune so rapidly without spending any money on loose women, he probably spent it for something even worse.” This, then, would be an example of adding on to the text what cannot be found there. Clearly, MacArthur’s descriptions is more motivated by his wish to see the Prodigal as “a symbol of every unredeemed sinner...the evil motives that drove the Prodigal are the natural tendencies of every fallen human heart” [79] than it is by what can be found in the text.

Did the Prodigal repent? Our answer was that there was no real evidence of this; MacArthur disagrees. [86] Indeed he assures us that the Prodigal’s confession “was not merely a superficial ploy to regain his father’s sympathy, or a quick-and-dirty scheme to recover the comforts of his old life” but rather a “heartfelt, deep repentance” and indeed “one of the best and clearest examples of true repentance in all of Scripture.”

MacArthur does not appeal to the description of the son “coming to himself” as evidence of repentance, so what does he offer to support the claim that this is “one of the best and clearest examples of true repentance in all of Scripture”? His reasons amount to four, if we divide them charitably.

First, he says, this must have been true repentance because the Prodigal’s response was “thought through”! Let me assure readers that unrepentant criminals are not short on “thinking through” and “rehearsing” their confessions as a calculated way of achieving their selfish goals.

Second, MacArthur notes, true repentance begins “with an accurate assessment one own condition.” [89] That may be so, but so likewise, unrepentant criminals are seldom oblivious to their actual situation.

Third, MacArthur indicates that repentance to salvation involves not just change of mind, but “a fundamental worldview change” and “a powerful, penetrating, soul-shattering, life-altering, attitude-changing, wholesale U-turn.” While we only partially disagree (after all, a Jewish person who repents would require less of a change in worldview than an atheist does!) it is little but imagination for MacArthur to see just in the Prodigal’s “very first thoughts” (!) evidence of a “markedly different man, from the inside out”. That cannot be wrested from the smattering of words offered in the parable.

Finally, MacArthur says [101] that the “ultimate proof his repentance was genuine” was that the Prodigal made his confession directly to his father! It is hard to see how this proves a genuine repentance; after all, to whom would the Prodigal make his confession otherwise in order for it to be most effective? And again, the criminal is far from being someone unwilling to confess to their victims if it serves their purposes.

In sum, none of these points adequately provides evidence of a true repentance (as opposed to a self-serving confession) by the Prodigal.

Other ideological interpolations. I said that MacArthur frequently adds to the parable in order to make it seem more like his interpretation is valid. Here are some examples:
  • 111-112: MacArthur adds in details of the father “scanning the horizon daily” from some high vantage point for his son because, “How else could he have seen him while he was still a long way off?” I can only say that MacArthur has apparently not lived in a flat place like Florida. No vantage point would be needed; or else, it is a simple matter for village gossip to have spread from those working in the fields into the town itself.
  • 113: We are told that the father running “illustrates the truth that God is slow to anger and swift to forgive.” Given that, as MacArthur even admits, an old man running would look like a fool to his fellows (in that culture, old men only proceeded at a stately, measured pace to preserve their honor; and by lifting his robe, he would be “showing leg” and thus violating social codes concerning exposure), it is hard to see this as illustrating such a truth, unless we wish to posit it in a qal wahomer fashion as we have (that is, the lesser example of the father validates the greater example of God/Jesus). Later MacArthur acknowledges that the father humiliated himself, but says (130) that this reflects the humiliation of Christ on cross. Again, this could only be sustained at best as a qal wahomer, especially since the father receives no vindication after his self-shaming.
  • 155, 177f: MacArthur invents the idea that the elder son was not invited to the party for the younger son because he’d be a “wet blanket,” the father having known that he was evil and selfish from his past deeds. Needless to say, none of this is justified by the text. At most, one commentator has pointed out that in asking for a kid to celebrate with his friends, some distance is indicated in that it was normal to celebrate with family. However, the word used, “friend,” is the same one we have noted at the start of this article; it is not clear enough who these “friends” are (they could refer to business associates) to indicate whether celebration with these persons is somehow in conflict with celebration with family. It may be the case, but it is simply not clear. In any event there is no justification for ascribing to the older son any particular evil or selfish past deeds that would distinguish him from any other person. MacArthur attempts to support this imaginative explanation by noting that the elder son claims never to have violated the father’s commands; therefore, MacArthur says, he must be a proud hypocrite. Really? Then what are we to make of Paul’s profession to have been blameless in terms of the law before he became a Christian (Phil. 3:6)?
An Earnest Inquiry

With that, we now turn to our second “guest,” one of our readers who made some earnest inquiries about the prior article. Some of what was offered are questions we will answer; others are objections to our interpretation. I have reformulated some of these points to serve as inquiries that might come from anyone.

Why did the father run to his son and kiss him and hug his neck? That does seem rather intimate, regardless of who the father represents. Why did he do this, and what does it signify?

By our reading the father ran because he was acting as quickly as possible to prevent his son from being stoned or killed by the other villagers who would regard him as a deviant. The fact that he had abandoned his family made him an object of shame; thus as well the “welcome party” was a way of getting the villagers to also accept the son back into village life (and also forgive him for setting the bad example of running away in the first place – something the villagers would fear their own sons might be inspired to do).

The shows of affection were likewise a means of protecting the son from reprisal, and also indicated that the father had accepted him back into the family. Intimacy would play no automatic role in this. However, it remains that these would all be seen as shameful expressions by the father.

If a deviant person was viewed as “dead” or “lost” doesn't that fit in perfectly with the typical analogy as well as the “later soteriology”? Yes, but whether that “later soteriology” is present is the very point at issue.

With the 99 sheep, some commentaries say we should assume the shepherd had someone watching his flock while he was away, so maybe he wasn’t foolish. Maybe. But if that is the case, then maybe we should consider this in light of John 10:11-13:

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.

By this reckoning, the shepherd is still foolish for leaving his sheep in the care of a hireling. Perhaps it is simply best to say that this would be a question, either way, of pressing the parallel too far; this is a danger only if we take it too literally rather than as a qal wahomer.

Friday, July 26, 2013

10 Questions to Ask Your Pastor?

From the April 2010 E-Block.


Even as we are now in the midst of a dialogue with Jason Berggren on the 10 Things he hates about Christianity, we were asked to examine another decalogue making the rounds at present, a list of "10 Questions to Ask Your Pastor." Apparently these are meant to be stumpers that the average pastor won't be able to take care of, which unfortunately, is probably true. 

However, as usual, such lists as produced by atheists are the sort that could never be renamed, "10 Questions to Ask a Christian Apologist/Biblical Scholar," because from start to finish, there are problems inherent in each question. Since this is, as we said, making the rounds today, we thought it might be useful to have an answer key -- and also since it provides us the chance to comment on the nature of the implied tactic of stumping a pastor with questions like these.

1. Why is God called loving or merciful when, in the Old Testament's stories of the Israelite conquest, he specifically orders his chosen people to massacre their enemies, showing no mercy to men, women, even children and animals?

The immediate and obvious flaw in this question is that it begins with a thoroughly anachronistic definition of both "love" and "mercy" as meaning some sort of sentimentality that does no harm to anyone. As we have seen elsewhere, love relates to a concern for the greater good; to claim a problem here, critics must compose a full-fledged philosophical and moral analysis (as Miller has here, in our favor) showing that God was "unloving" in this sense, and that it did not serve the greater good for any particular persons to be killed. Of course, the analysis must also account for the moral and ethical priorities of the persons involved (e.g., agonistic persons who would prefer swift death to life after what they would see as humiliating defeat, which will not be answered by imperialistically imposing our own values on their cultural values).

By the same token, "mercy" is not a refusal to punish, but has to do with gratitude, and in turn in this context, fulfillment of covenant obligations (see here). As such it has absolutely no relevance to times when Israel "massacred" others. These others had no covenant obligations to or from God at the time.

2. Does it make sense to claim, as the Bible does, that wrongdoing can be forgiven by magically transferring the blame from a guilty person to an innocent one, then punishing the innocent person?

On this issue, please see the November 2009 E-Block article, "The Atonement Contextualized." It is enough to say here that this description hardly suffices to represent the mechanics of atonement theory, which involved principles of patronage and identity that are not even addressed by this rather childish question.

3. Why does the Bible routinely depict God as manifesting himself in dramatic, unmistakable ways and performing obvious miracles even before the eyes of nonbelievers, when no such thing happens in the world today?

The problem word here is "routinely". As I have told many critics, if they were to count the number of years in the Bible, then count the number of miracles done in the Bible, and also factor in the total number of people exposed to these miracles (correlating to the total world population in the timeframes referenced), they would arrive at an average that would reflect anything but a "routine" expression of God in miraculous, and if anything, indicate that such manifestations were exceptionally rare, given to a very small number of people in relative terms, and isolated to specific "flashpoints" in history. Thus the basis for the question is incorrect to begin with. We are given very rare, very infrequent experiences such as these, and that is exactly in line with our experiences today.

4. Why do vast numbers of Christians still believe in the imminent end of the world when the New Testament states clearly that the apocalypse was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago, during the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries?

Here of course my own answer is that what was supposed to happen 2000 years ago, did indeed happen. As yet, critics are still struggling to understand preterism, much less refute it.

5. Why do Christians believe in the soul when neurology has found clear evidence that the sense of identity and personality can be altered by physical changes to the brain?

Within this simple question there are a host of unstated assumptions about the nature of the evidence provided by neurology and how to interpret it. I am not an expert in neurology, but neither, very likely, is the person who first formulated this question. The debate over the existence of the soul cannot be settled with sound bites. At the same time, it seems rather despicable to suppose that this is a worthy question to ask a pastor, as opposed to (say) a physician, or a philosopher. Other questions here are at least in the general range of what a pastor should be able to answer, having to do with Biblical interpretation. Asking a pastor questions about metaphysics to this level, and expecting credible results, is simply irresponsible.

6. If it was always God's plan to provide salvation through Jesus, why didn't he send Jesus from the very beginning, instead of confusing and misleading generations of people by setting up a religion called Judaism which he knew in advance would prove to be inadequate?

Once again, a host of unstated assumptions inhabit the query. First, why and how is it assumed that sending Jesus "from the very beginning" would have been less confusing, less misleading, or more productive then sending Jesus at the time he was sent? Has the author of this question composed a detailed analysis of multiple chronological timelines to show that this was the case? I am obviously being facetious, for the point is that it requires omniscience to make this sort of statement with any authority.

Second, from whence comes the idea that Judaism "confused" and "misled" anyone? Who was confused or misled? What is the evidence that if they were indeed confused or misled, the fault was God's and not theirs?

Third, there is no justification for the idea that Judaism was "inadequate". For one thing, this begs the question of what purpose it served: The first covenant was, as Paul puts it in Galatians, a sort of overseer or monitor that prepared the way for the second one. This in turn leads back to the first point: If it is asked why God did not introduce Jesus "from the beginning" then it seems natural to suggest that the first covenant prepared the way for the second one, bringing about circumstances that would result in maximum benefit. In that paradigm, the first covenant allowed for the creation of circumstances within which the second one would be most effective.

The critic may deride this as merely speculative, but let us remember that it is they who began by saying that history, as it stood, was imperfectly constructed by God, so it is they who were the first to "speculate".

7. Since the Bible states that God does not desire that anyone perish, but also states that the majority of humankind is going to hell, doesn't this show that God's plan of salvation is a failure even by his own standard? If this outcome is a success, what would count as a failure?

The primary erroneous premise here is where it is claimed that the Bible "states that the majority of humankind is going to hell..." That is found nowhere in text; some have suggested that it is found in Jesus' "narrow way" teaching, but that reflects Jewish teachings about decisions made all through life, not final soteriological decisions.

In fact, given the premise of the salvation of infants and young children (which is Biblically supportable), and the high prevalance of child mortality in history, the vast majority of humankind is not going to hell. And even outside that group, it is far from clear that a majority is condemned; if so, that must be proven, not merely stated.

8. Why didn't God create human beings such that they freely desire to do good, thus removing the need to create a Hell at all? (If you believe this is impossible, isn't this the state that will exist in Heaven?)

The answer to the last question is essentially no. The persons in heaven are not "created" to freely desire to do good; what creates that circumstance is the combination of the renovation of person (in resurrection) plus their realizations acquired through past experiences in a sinful world. So once again, the question is misdirected.

9. Is it fair or rational for God to hide himself so that he can only be known by faith, then insist that every single human being find him by picking the right one out of thousands of conflicting and incompatible religions?

Once again misdirections abound; it is hard to know how "faith" is being defined here, but it is not the correct definition. At the same time, while there may be "thousands" of religions, all of them together run down to a mere handful of variations put into slightly different combinations. It simply is not that hard to apply one's self to the key questions.

10. If you had the power to help all people who are suffering or in need, at no cost or effort to yourself, would you do it? If so, why hasn't God done this already?

The answer to the first question is no -- because the category of "all people who are suffering or in need" is too broad and is inclusive of persons such as, "those who are in need because they are irresposnible," such that "helping" does little but enable them in their own self-inflicted hardships. Second, God has helped such people already by giving them the minds and the resources to stay out of suffering and need, and to solve it when it does occur. Finally, there is no reason to expect God to so help those who constantly violate His commands, essentially saying to Him, "I don't want your rules" -- yet they also want His aid? Isn't that what we call "ingratitude"?

Of course, my answer here is very simple, but that is fair, because the question itself is a far too simple assertion that evil is an unsolvable problem -- never mind that far greater minds have worked on this issue, so that it is again irresponsible to suggest that someone ought to pose this sort of question to a local pastor!

And now a few observations in close.

The suggestion of the author of this list is that these questions ought to be taken to one's local pastor (or priest, or what have you) not with the intention of solving these questions, but with the presumed knowledge that they will not be able to answer them. Presumably, the compiler supposes that pastors and such are in possession of enough free time -- having been freed of their normal daily burden of counseling the hurting, or overseeing ministerial needs, or planning sermons, that they are able to spare the time for extensive research and commentary, even on non-Biblical questions well outside their purview.

I have said many times that I do think pastors ought to be able to answer these sorts of questions (at least, the ones concerning doctrine), but a less-frequently stated corollary of mine is that pastors are called on to do far too many things they should not be doing -- which includes counseling.

Under the circumstances, as has been stated more than once, the presentation of lists like these is the height of irresponsibility. Why not suggest that the person ask a scholar or an apologist rather than a pastor? Indeed, why just present the questions as they are; why not do a little of one's legwork first?

The obvious answer is that lists like these are not presented in good faith.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

J. P. Holding's Used Car Cavalcade

From the April 2010 E-Block. This one may be comic relief.

Ministries are used to hearing from atheists who say they shouldn't raise funds by certain means, but every once in a while, a professing Christian will come up with the same idea. On the occasion of this issue, when it so happens Tekton is beginning its annual fundraiser, which includes donations in exchange for what the tax folks call "gratuities" (e.g., the E-Block, the site on CD-ROM), it also happened that I got an email from one such who objected. (Of course, many other ministries use similar processes; John Ankerberg is probably the other example I know best.) Given that we strive to aid in the pursuit of competent Biblical exegesis, it seemed worthwhile as well as timely to make this email into an article. 

The email started with the rather ominous questions:

Isn't it forbidden for a christian to buy christian products, sell christian products?

Isn't it forbidden for a christian to buy christian products, sell christian products, support a ' church building ' financially and attend the ' church building ' daily without telling your fellow christian brothers and christian sisters that it is wrong to support the ' church building ' financially ?

As you might expect, since they wrote me in the first place, the answer to this, they say, is "no". But on what basis, Biblically, is this determined?

The Bible says =
Do not peddle the word of God for profit. 2 Corinthians 2:17.
Peddle means = to go from place to place selling

Applicable? Let's look at that:

Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

Applicable? Not exactly. As Witherington notes in his Corinthians commentary, the contextualizing of this reference indicates a comparison to pagan philosophers who shared their knowledge for a fee (e.g., "Pay up and I'll tell you the secret of living well"). It has no possible connection to solicitation of freewill gifts. At the same time, while my work and that of other apologists may receive good reviews, I would hardly esteem it to be "the word of God". Paul refers here exclusively to the Gospel message -- in other words, it would be as though I were charging people for a copy of something like "The Four Spiritual Laws".

Unortunately, after this, the roster of applications goes steadily downhill:

Men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed from the truth who think that Godliness is a means to financial gain. But Godliness with contentment is great gain. But we have food and clothing we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:5 - 6:9.

Hmm, is that what it says? Let's look, and expand that to 1 Timothy 6:3-10:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

So there are particulars that don't match here: 1) Those who "think that godliness is a means to financial gain" are, in fact, also false teachers. 2) Reference is specifically made to persons looking to get rich -- not persons looking to simply earn a living. Indeed, a more contextually aware person might realize that the reference to "food and clothing" indicates a way in which Paul was perfectly willing to accept graces from supporters, as opposed to what we might call liquid assets. (As I've stated once somewhere else, if someone wanted to send groceries rather than a donation, I wouldn't complain -- but the reality is that the vast majority of people today just don't do that as a way to support any sort of charity; as close as we come now is to those that donate cars, boats, and other tangibles, which the charity then sells.)

We can skip over a few more citations, which are warnings against "wealth" and its abuses (Mark 4:18-19, Luke 16:9-11, 1 Timothy 6:17). Once again, while such warnings might apply to someone like a Jim Bakker, they say nothing to a person merely seeking to earn a living without gaining wealth. Then things get even odder:

When you give a Luncheon or Dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Luke 14:12 - 14:14

It is hard to see what the point of this one was meant to be. The situation described indicates one in which invitations were extended in order to get invitations back, as a way of climbing the social ladder. This has no bearing on the performance of ministry.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Luke 12:33

We hardly need comment on the irony of this being cited, as is, by someone who just sent me an email using their own personal computer. Beyond that it is hard to see any application to persons seeking a basic living from ministry. It certainly does not mean "sell ALL your possessions, right now, and give to the poor" because Jesus and his disciples evidently wore clothes.

Given the context of achieving treasure in heaven, and the practice of the early church in Acts, the meaning is more clearly one of sharing resources as needed to meet needs. (Perhaps the irony would also not occur to our friend that a person who immediately sold ALL they had would then become "poor" and require someone to give to them -- and that the poor, once they received whatever it was, would themselves no longer be "poor" and then would be required to give it all right back! It reminds me rather of the Monty Python "Dennis Moore" parody of Robin Hood.)

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8

This might have some application if a person in ministry failed to provide for their family, but our friend didn't send me any objections to my personal practices in this regard, and I daresay I have received no complaints from my beloved Mrs. H nor anyone else related to me.

Jesus answered, " If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Matthew 20:21

Like some atheists, our friend fails to appreciate that Jesus said this to one person and one person only -- the rich young ruler. While we might guess from other teachings that he might have similar messages for other rich people who wanted to follow him, the fact that other disciples who were wealthy were not told to do the same (Nicodemus, Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene) doesn't speak well for this as a universally applicable stricture.

Thereafter, it becomes harder yet to see any applications, and in some cases, even a purpose:

Do not put the Lord you God to the test. Matthew 4:7

How is soliciting support for charitable works "testing" God? Unfortunately, our friend did not explain.

Let us not give up meeting together.... Hebrews 10:25

This has to be the first time anyone has suggested that accepting donations can lead to people no longer attending church.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. Matthew 23:23

Latter means = a) later , b) nearer the end

The entire tithe of the herd and flock-every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod-will be holy to the Lord. Leviticus 27:32

The point of these in context is also hard to discern; it is not even clear whether our friend is advocating tithing, or denouncing it, or what. However, we discussed the relevance of tithing to the NT covenant here.

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, " Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins " Matthew 26:27 - 26:28.

Try as I might, I cannot discern what point is being attempted in this context through this citation. I can only suppose I lack sufficient imagination.

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6 - 9:7

Somehow it seems counterintuitive to cite a passage in favor of giving against those for whom the gifts are generally intended. (So likewise is used Matthew 25:37-40.) However, we have by now seen that exegetical consistency is not one of our friend's hallmarks.

Thus it is that our emailer provided only one verse that even came close to addressing the issue, and that at least half were not even remotely about the issue. Yet we are told in summary:

Answer= yes, it is forbidden for a christian to buy christian products, sell christian products, support a ' church building ' financially and attend the ' church building ' daily without telling your fellow christian brothers and christian sisters that it is wrong to support the ' church building ' financially.

Truly, the words "non sequitur" fail to do justice to this performance. However, our friend does close with a reassurance for us that speaks volumes concerning his nature as a source of sound teaching:

However, I think it is still ok to manually print out the the Holy Bible. Just manually print out the New Testament ( starting on line= 23146 40 1 1 ) if you want to make lots of manually print copies in order to save paper, World English Bible Version WEB is available for download here = . Once you are done downloading the file, you may then copy and paste the Bible into word document, I use font= ' Arial ', font style= ' Regular ' and size= ' 12 '. You can buy ' 5000 blank simply paper ' at Staples and you can buy ' black ink ' at = . The printer I use is a ' HP Officejet J5700 Series '. The ink cartridge I use is a ' HP black ink cartridge 74XL '.

So apparently, our friend would consider it wrong to even sell printed Bibles based on his exegesis.

Well, it's good to know that I'm far from being alone in spreading around these evils!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Last Red Flag

We now check the 7th and last of our atheist critic's "red flags":

7)…100% FACT: no on duty judge, jury, prosecutor, defense attorney, or court would accept what we have of the gospels as evidence for anyone in the bible …RED FLAG!!!!

Whether judges or juries would do this is frankly irrelevant. It is what historians would do with them, and on that account, historians as a whole (apart from fringe crackpots) do accept the Gospels as evidence for Jesus, Peter, and others. Of course not all accept various aspects of what the Gospels report, but our critic here is dealing only in bare "existence" issues.

I should also note that in legal terms, I have stated elsewhere that the Gospels would be accepted in legal terms as the equivalent to a "friend of the court" brief.

The critic's last two complaints may be taken together as they say the same thing in essence:

Bonus 100% FACT: the Jewish Dead Sea Scrolls (written before, during, and after 4 BCE to 30 AD) knows nothing of the NT Jesus or his disciples (the NT Jesus simply don’t exist in them) …RED FLAG!!!!

Bonus 100% FACT: 4 BCE to 30 AD, worldwide, (far as what we have in our hands) is void of the NT Jesus …RED FLAG!!!!

A couple of points here. First of all, no one expects Jesus to be mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The materials found therein are either Old Testament documents, or documents related to the DSS community, such as their secondary canon materials and their community rules. Expecting Jesus to appear in these is just short of the absurdity it would be to expect him to be mentioned in Columella's work on agriculture.

Second, our critic has this rather insane idea that historical testimomy to a person is worthless unless it was written while that person was alive, which is why he cites "4 BCE to 30 AD" as a range. Of course that would render a fair chunk of history, even that written by relible historians by Tacitus, out of bounds.

That ends our look at this critic's fantasies. The Ticker may have irregular posts the next two weeks as I have some minor home repairs to deal with.

Nick Peters has his take.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Snap: Hal Taussig's "A New New Testament"

Despite having nearly 600 pages and being as thick as a phone book, there's virtually nothing of substance to Jesus Seminar founding member Hal Taussig's A New New Testament (hereafter ANNT). One reason is that the bulk of those pages are just the documents (canonical and otherwise) Taussig and his crew decided to select for their carbonated canon. The other is that you won't find any real arguments for there being a new and improved canon in the first place.

Well, let me clarify that. You will find arguments, if you think, "this book makes us feel better" or "this book represents our politically correct values" is an argument. What you won't find is any sort of argument related to any particular book's authenticity, authority, date, or historicity -- and that's actually a signifier of the fact that Taussig and his crew give all these books equal credence essentially because in historical terms, they regard them all as equally worthless: Which is also why what sort of emotional kick they get out of each is the main criterion of consideration.

So, in sum, in ANNT you'll find Taussig giving tearjerker stories about how some extracanonical book that would be best suited as birdcage liner (both in terms of historical and literary quality) made someone he showed it to deliriously happy, but you won't find anything to engage the intellect to any real degree. That means there's also nothing for us to engage here in any detail, either. Call this one a 600 page yawn.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ameri on His Trampoline

On the review of Ameri’s silly little panic piece, Hunting for the Word of God, someone multi-posted a rather lame response from Ameri  in the comments. I don’t allow multiple posts here, so I deleted all but one, but it was pointed out to me that it came from his own website. That means I’ll delete that one too, once this is posted. I don’t know for sure if the person who posted is Ameri himself, or one of his gullible fans, but I’ll proceed to respond here.

I just came across a “snap review” of my book made by  J.P.  Holding, an internet-amateur apologist, who worked formerly as a prison  librarian.

And Muhammed formerly worked as a shepherd. This proves what?

 I am happy to receive critiques on  Hunting, but I did not expect a serious one from Holding whose  commentaries are haracterized by being childishly insulting and for lacking  credibility.  Many Christian  apologists are not even satisfied with the level of his discussions and  arguments.

Gee that’s funny. I have a whole resume’ filled with Christian apologists who are satisfied with my work. So who does poor little Ameri think he’s talking about here? Oh…er…he appeals to a pseudonymous review by some guy who called himself “Mandude” on Amazon Books, who isn’t even an apologist, and who posted a whiny non-review of one of my books. Or actually, the same whiny non-review on several of my books. But of course. That’s far more authoritative.

Ironically, Holding has accused the author of  having “no qualifications in the field of textual criticism”, though Biblical  studies, including textual criticism, is part and parcel of Islamic studies, and  is one of the fields in which the author has worked for years. 

Um, that doesn't mean Ameri knows squat about Biblical textual criticism. And he doesn't. All he does is rape the works of serious textual critics of the Bible, culling out whatever sound bites he thinks helps his manufactured case. At the same time, this doesn’t answer the point that Ameri has no qualifications in the field. That it is “part and parcel of Islamic studies” doesn’t tell us a thing. It doesn’t tell us to what extent he has studied textual criticism, what level of proficiency he has achieved in textual criticism, how many peer reviewed journal articles he has written on textual criticism, and so on. To that extent, it is clear that Ameri is nothing but what the New Testament called a spermologos – a seed picker who passes off the ideas of others as his own.

It is  mind-boggling that Holding, whose only advanced degree is a Master’s Degree in  Library Science, assumes that he, himself, is qualified to write books and  articles on textual criticism, canon studies, theology, philosophy …. without  any academic qualifications in these fields whatsoever! 

Yes, I am qualified to write such books and articles. That is because I am using sources that are qualified in those fields. That is what an information scientist does, and it is what they do properly. It is also why I recognized Ameri as an academic fraud: Because he does NOT use those sources properly. Rather, he uses them prejudicially, to achieve a desired end which isn’t to inform or to educate, but to sway by emotion and fear. Ameri is typical of the “Johnnie Cochran” method of apologetics, throwing bowls of spaghetti against the wall in the hopes that something will stick and make a pretty picture that will make uninformed and gullible readers go “Gawrsh” like Goofy does.

 Why does Holding not accuse Norman Geisler, of lacking qualifications in  textual criticism because he writes on New Testament textual criticism as well  as Islamic studies, or complain that James White, the Theologian, who still  does not know that Sahidic is not a different language from Coptic and still  makes this ridiculous mistake in his book, has no qualifications because he writes on  Textual Criticism and Islam?

Ummmm.....Ameri (or his plagiarizer?) should have clicked Geisler's name in the panel to the right. I've slapped him down more than a few times for talking outside his expertise. I've also done the same to James White, when he and I had a few rounds a few years ago. I also express my disdain for Geisler and White by not recommending many of their works in by bibliographies. I have certainly never recommended White’s books on Islam, or related to anything he says about textual criticism. I have also only recommended some of Geisler’s introductory work on apologetics, but those were co-authored by people like Frank Turek (who in Geisler’s case are actually the real authors), and I give much higher place to others, like Lee Strobel.

I'll lend Ameri a crowbar so he can get that foot out of his mouth. Meanwhile, this is a perfect example of what I mean about him. He shoots off his mouth with sound bites, without doing serious research.

J.P. Holding and the rest of the Christian  apologist team are still using the same weak opening in their  counter arguments:   “I never saw a serious Muslim author and I do not expect to find a serious one!  All the Muslim apologists have a very limited knowledge and spent no serious  time to study the material!” It is an oft-repeated   cliché, that no longer holds water because Muslim scholars are  gaining more and more ground in the inter-faith dialogue in the West year after  year.

Oh wow. So they're going from .050 hitters to .075 hitters. Whoop dee doo. No matter. It’s still the same. I still have yet to see a serious Muslim apologist. Almost all they have ever done is borrow material from atheists or others, and when they do strike out on their own, it’s like watching Cirque de Soliel. The one Muslim I engaged in depth some years ago, Nadir  Ahmed, made an absolute fool of himself arguing with me over Britney Spears, and thinking one of my cartoon characters was a real person. I’m not kidding.

Holding cannot say that the author of the  Hunting does not know his subject, so he accuses him of reiterating “any  statement by any textual critic suggesting the least amount of doubt on any  issue related to the textual criticism of the New Testament, and collecting them  all into one big mishmash, and then smugly posing as though Christians ought to  panic because he's managed to assemble this Frankenstein.” 

Yes, I can say he doesn’t know his subject. All he knows is how to parrot what he reads. That is like reciting the Quran in Arabic when you don’t even speak Arabic. Ameri makes up his own rules for what can be accepted in a text, and the result is a tragic mishmash with almost no coherence.  That’s because his goal is not to inform or to educate, but to achieve the questionable result of dismissing the New Testament record to whatever extent he personally finds it convenient.

First: Being aware of the old cliché  of stiff neck apologists, I made it clear in the introduction to my book  that: “To prevent any accusations that the author is subjective and  relying on weak theories, many authorities in the discipline of textual criticism will be quoted. Most of these authorities are respected scholars, even  by conservative theological seminary standards.” (p.5). Unfortunately, these  angry apologists cannot abandon their old tactics! 

Ameri said that, and he can say it all he wants. It's just an obfuscation. I didn't say he was subjective or relying on weak theories. I said he was cherry-picking. Unfortunately, these angry Muslim apologists cannot abandon their obfuscations!

Second: The history of the transcribing of  the text of the New Testament is really catastrophic, so I cannot  possibly be blamed because the earliest Christian generations were careless  about their holy scriptures. Thus, I was not hunting down “any textual critic  suggesting the least amount of doubt”, I was merely taking due note of the  scholarly job done by the most accredited scholars in the field, to which I added my own insight, which is deeply  rooted in the Islamic perception of the whole issue. The Hunting did not  take all that had been written on the subject for granted. Only documented  assertions found a place in our search for the virgin text. Therefore, it most  definitely does not constitute a mishmash, but is a solid and coherent thesis,  the conclusions of which are defended by many renowned scholars in the  world.

Yes, it does constitute a mishmash, and that is exactly what it is, Ameri’s attempt to describe a manure pile as a rose garden notwithstanding. He merely seed-picked quotes from the most accredited scholars in the field, added his own poor insight and arbitrary rules for textual criticism, and made up a state of panic based on a false idea of what Christians require for their text.

Third: Muslims are usually accused of not  backing up their statements with scholarly academic research.  But when we prove how accurate our information is by quoting the highest  profile scholars of the present day, in textual criticism, early   Christianities, patristic studies, and apocryphal studies, then we are accused  of collecting negative assertions with no consistent  methodology.

I’m sure the reader notices by now that Ameri has this way of saying precisely nothing over and over again. Like I said, all he did was seed pick sound bites. Collecting negative assertions with no consistent methodology isn’t quite what I said, though. What he did was collect negative assertions with the methodology of doing a lot of hand-waving and screaming as he hopped up and down on a trampoline.

Fourth:  The writing of “Hunting for the Word of  God” set out to prove that, while the Qur’an was well preserved, we have,  unfortunately, lost the original text of the New Testament.

Yeah well…know what? No one ever thought we had it. And no one is in a panic over it except a few wackos like Westboro Baptist and some snake handlers. No one cares. No one thinks it is a problem. No one thinks we can’t reach back with the evidence we have and still get the substance of the New Testament and what it originally said. So again, what’s Ameri’s point, other than that he knows how to bash a panic button repeatedly with his forehead to the point that he now has a foot-wide indentation on his skull? All he did was quote mine the best available studies made by the top  scholars of today: Eldon J. Epp, William Petersen, David Parker and Helmut  Koester. Add water, make mishmash.

Fifth: The central assertion in the  Hunting is that we can NOT reach the original text of the New Testament  because our three witnesses are still far from the starting date of the text. I  proved thoroughly how limited these witnesses are and I discussed the actual  methods used in attempts to reconstruct the earliest text, and proved their  deficiency.

And like I said: This is not causing anyone to panic. It isn’t causing anyone to panic because the first manuscript witness for Tacitus is almost 1000 years after he lived, either. So why should we listen to some unqualified hack like Ameri just because he jumps up and down on his panic trampoline? Is he smarter than all those textual critics in all those fields? No, he is not. He’s just a hack with an agenda.

In  another of his assertions, Holding states that:-  “What continually escapes Ameri, however, is that Christians as a  whole don't need a Bible that is handed down as though still dictated word for  word.”

 This makes me really wonder if Holding  actually read the Hunting! The book set out to prove, and proved, that we  cannot trust any of the passages of the New Testament because we have no idea  how the text looked when it was first written. Every verse in the New Testament  is under doubt. That does not infer that it was 100% different than the text we  have on hand today,  it means,  rather, that we do not know, of a  certainty.

What the point is here is hard to say. This doesn’t address what I said at all, and in fact changes the subject, merely repeating Ameri’s same theme of unwarranted and paranoid panic. The sort of mindset Ameri has here is that of a 2 year old who can’t be certain that Mommy is there unless he actually sees her right there, and when she steps in another room, he bawls and wails and cries because, even though he saw her go in the other rooms, can hear her walking and talking, and can even smell her perfume, he can’t have “certainty” that she is there because he can’t actually SEE her. This is the sort of infantile spirituality and epistemology Ameri wants us to possess, and surrender to?

Holding  goes on to claim that:-“  I  didn't find anything in this book that I don't handle in Trusting the New  Testament”.

 To be frank, Holding’s Trusting the New  Testament is mere amateurish writing with a complete lack of  awareness as to what competent scholars have discovered thus far.  Therefore, I do not expect any reader to take his book seriously. 

Ameri blah blah blahs on about this for a few weeks, but it all boils down to, “Nah, I’m too chicken and ignorant to refute it.” Next.

 Holding acknowledges that the New Testament  was not perfectly preserved but that the witnesses we have today assure us that  we have not lost the substance of the  text.This defense is grossly inadequate because  it does not define properly the “substance of the text”, which leads us away
from the issue about which we are  disputing.

Does Ameri perhaps need help finding a dictionary? Given his infantile screaming, I rather thought he sat on one at the dinner table. Let’s see…how about this one?

Substance: That which is solid and practical in character, quality, or importance…

It’s rather shocking that an alleged scholar like Ameri needs this much help defining simple words, but I suppose that’s the way it is when your “scholarship” is really nothing but sound bites.

I do not dispute the substance of the  text, rather I am arguing against the substance of the doctrine of  the church and its prooftexts.

And doing a very poor job of it. Next?

 I do not deny the originality of the  substance of the text because it is hard to imagine a good reason to invent  these textual claims in the obscure zone.

That’s nice. So in other words, Ameri admits that his book was all about a pedantic and useless complaining about not having the text word for word exact. Which was precisely what I said of it.

I argue that Jesus’ divinity, the trinity,  the universality of Jesus’ mission, and many other central tenets in the  Christian theology are based on a miniscule number of passages that have already  been deemed as being later additions to the text through manuscriptural or  philological studies.

Yeah, sure, Ameri. Like your knowledge of things like the Trinity comes off of anything but a cereal box? Nope. The critical passages have not “been deemed as being later additions to the text through manuscriptural or  philological studies,” unless you are ignorant enough to think that, e.g., 1 John 5:7 is all there is to the Trinity. But we can hardly expect a seed-picker to have any depth knowledge of things like hypostatic expressions of the Ancient Near East, now, can we?


We don’t need “these few verses” either. So when Ameri goes on to quote me in TNT about scribal practice, he’s talking to thin air.

 The only problem I have with Holding’s  assertion is that it was made originally by Holding to prove that if we find an error in the holy text, then we only have to blame the scribes not the author.  It is a fantastic way to think outside the  box.

No, it’s a fantastic way to use textual critical principles. And to avoid specifics.
 Moreover, if he is serious,  he needs to refute all the charges against the infallibility of the New  Testament text cited in the Hunting.

No, I don’t. No one defends the infallibility of the current text. That said, I have thousands of articles which include ones on items related to those cherry picked by Ameri, as well as others which deal with similar conceptual issues. So it’s him who has work to do, not me.

To sum up, I declare that:

Paranoid suspicion is not argument, and I have dealt with Ameri’s silly “obscure zone” issue in TNT.

None of the central doctrines of the church are textually proven  unauthentic or dubious. 

 This is where I am. Now Ameri needs to finish grade school and catch up to me.

 Holding insists that The Hunting  author accused “those who practice textual criticism” of inflated arrogance  “just because they won't drop into panic-crisis mode when he thinks they  should.”

This is not an accurate quote! I was not  addressing scholars of 2013, because the majority of them agree with the  Hunting! I cannot understand why it is so difficult for most Christian  apologists to be fair and accurate. 

It wasn’t presented as a quote in the first place, so why Ameri is whining about it not being an “accurate quote” is hard to say. It was a description of his work, and it is accurate. I cannot understand why it is so difficult for most Muslim apologists to be fair and accurate (snort).

The naivety of most of the scholars half a  century ago when they were trying to define the goal of the textual critic  discipline as the reconstruction of the original text is noticeable in the shift  of the discipline’s goal.

Ameri’s alleged point here is that these days, textual critics speak with less certainty than they used to. To which I say: So what? Like I said in TNT, a lot of this has more to do with postmodern thinking than it does with evidence. At the same time, such statements are made concerning the text as a whole, not of individual readings, such that when Ameri presents these quotes as representing a problem for every individual reading, including texts for which there is no dispute or question or deciding variant evidence, he is not being honest. In other words, like I said, he is seed picking to create a mishmash.

Another charge Holding brings is that:  “Ameri doesn't deal with the fact that his paranoid criteria for textual  reliability would render the whole of ancient history a blank slate. He bypasses  that matter quickly and quietly in one paragraph, declaring that "it is  nonsensical to use books for whose texts no one can vouchsafe complete integrity   to prove the faithful transmission of the New  Testament."

 Calling for the originality of the old  texts to defend the New Testament is enough to prove how miserable the case of the transmission of the New Testament is.   Christian apologists need to produce their own witnesses, for their own  text, not to mourn the old texts because the New Testament fails to pass the  test of trustworthiness when examined.

Say what? This isn’t answering my point, but again, dodging it. It is also functionally admitting that I have correctly characterized Ameri as turning all of history into a blank slate, and for failing to deal with this as a problem for his position. Ameri fails to realize that sticking his tongue out and putting his thumbs in his ears and going “neener neener” isn’t an answer to this. He has essentially said that ALL texts of ancient history (Tacitus, Josephus, etc) “fail to pass the test to trustworthiness,” and has failed to defend this extremist position, which he needs to, especially in light of the fact that he is not a classicist or a historian, and he is effectively calling all such scholars academic frauds who are relying on untrustworthy texts for their work. And again, he speaks of “inflated arrogance”?

Ameri will likely not have the gumption to answer this question directly, but I will ask it anyway: Given the condition of the textual tradition of Tacitus’ Annals, should historians scrap it as a historical source? Yes or no?

We do not trust the New Testament  manuscripts and the other witnesses because of their deficiency. Consequently, Christians need to show how we can resolve this annoying problem, and not  generate deluding analogies. 

Righto. The problem is that the analogy shows that Ameri is forced into the uncomfortable and arrogant position of declaring all classical historians who rely on texts like Tacitus as deluded or deceived. But of course, he doesn’t have the nerve to say this outright.  Instead, he evades the issue:

It needs to be made abundantly clear that  it makes no big difference if the reconstructed text of Tacitus' Annals is not identical to the original. Classicists are content to have a text as  close as possible to the original. Conversely, we cannot interact with the  supposed Word of God with such ease. 

Um, but like I said, that assumes that Christians are text-obsessed to the point that we need piddling accuracy down to the letter. We don’t. It also assumes that we don’t have it as “close as possible” to satisfy our needs. We do. Nothing of what is in question causes us to “risk our salvation” as Ameri puts it. There is not one doubted text that affects our “eternal fate.” Ameri expects us to curl into a fetal position over such pedantic technicalities as how Matthew spells someone’s name in a genealogy. All that shows in turn is how infantile and fearful his own spirituality is.

Holding knows full well that the examples  cited in the chapter, “But That Does Not Affect the N.T. Reliability and  Message!” ended any hope of taking the New testament as the inerrant word of God  and it exposed the disharmony between the earliest reconstructed text and  so-called orthodox belief. 

I know full well that no one things the copies we now have are inerrant – has Ameri been to Chicago lately? – and that he failed utterly to touch any “orthodox belief” with his Textual Tilt-o-Whirl fantasies. Ameri accuses me of selecting the “least important” example  cited, but no, I didn’t – because they were all equally unimportant. And Ameri strangely fails to discuss any example that is really important. I wonder why.

I am wondering why many weak-minded  apologetics and fiery racist orators believe that demonizing Muslims with  cartoons  is still a good idea to  bind their eyes so they cannot see the light of the truth. 

Well, what can I say, except that if a Muslim really does find his eyes bound by a cartoon, he or she needs to make his or her spirituality a lot more mature. Apparently Ameri is the sort to have a crisis of faith any time he sees Wile E. Coyote blown up.

These loud-mouthed  apologists need to try, for a change, to counter an argument with an argument,  so that people can listen to them and can weigh their evidence. 

I f and when Ameri makes a substantial argument, and takes on one that I have already offered in TNT, we’ll take notice of it. Until then, we’ll get out the Dirt Devil and take care of those seed husks he left on the carpet.