2014-06-09

Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple: Rationalizing a Miracle

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by Tim Widowfield

Christ Cleansing the Temple, c 1655 (J. Paul G...

Christ Cleansing the Temple, c 1655 (J. Paul Getty Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disorderly Conduct

While researching the similarities and differences between Mark’s and John’s account of the Cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem, I came across some fascinating observations by David Friedrich Strauss in The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. As you no doubt already know, the cleansing of, or what many Historical Jesus (HJ) scholars today often call a disturbance at, the Temple is an event recounted in all four gospels, which imagines a lone Jesus disrupting all business occurring in the outer courtyard.

HJ scholars who claim Jesus was some sort of apocalyptic prophet prefer to believe the event really happened, because it fits in with the eschatological message of their reconstructed Jesus. On the other hand, taking the stories at face value raises many issues. Bart Ehrman, in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, writes:

Most scholars recognize that some aspects of our accounts appear exaggerated, including Mark’s claim that Jesus completely shut down the operation of the Temple (if no one could carry any vessels, it would have been impossible to sacrifice and butcher the animals—which was after all what the Temple was for). As we have seen, the Temple complex was immense, and there would have been armed guards present to prevent any major disturbances. Moreover, if Jesus had actually created an enormous stir in the Temple, it’s nearly impossible to explain why he wasn’t arrested on the spot and taken out of the way before he could stir up the crowds. For these reasons, it looks as if Mark’s account represents an exaggeration of Jesus’ actions. But exaggerations aside, it is almost certain that Jesus did something that caused a disturbance in the Temple — for example, overturned some tables and made at least a bit of a ruckus. (Ehrman, p. 212, emphasis mine)

So for Ehrman, the Temple “disturbance” almost certainly happened, but not the way the gospels tell it. Instead, he would argue, the gospels contain a nugget of truth inside an otherwise unbelievable story.

Meanwhile, other NT scholars don’t buy into the historicity of the event. For example, in A Myth of Innocence Burton Mack called the story a “Markan fabrication.” (See p. 292.) For more on the historical aspects of the cleansing, read Neil’s excellent post: “Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical.”

Identifying the form

Before we go any further, let’s recall an often forgotten rule in biblical studies: To understand what a story means, you must first determine what it is. And so I come back to Strauss’s analysis of the alleged Temple event. With respect to Origen’s take on the Temple tantrum, he wrote:

As regards the nature of the event, Origen long ago thought it incredible, that so great a multitude should have unresistingly submitted to a single man, — one, too, whose claims had ever been obstinately contested: his only resource in this exigency is to appeal to the superhuman power of Jesus, by virtue of which he was able suddenly to extinguish the wrath of his enemies, or to render it impotent; and hence Origen ranks this expulsion among the greatest miracles of Jesus. (Strauss, p. 401, emphasis mine)

Origen wrote:

And we must give attention to whether casting out all those selling and buying in the temple would have been beyond the position of one thought to be the son of a carpenter, unless perhaps, as we also said there, he subjected them all by divine power, for according to the other evangelists, they heard harsher words than John uses. (Origen, p. 294, tr. by Ronald Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Books 1-10, emphasis mine)

It was certainly a manifestation of supernatural will — of “divine power” — if it happened. Both the Synoptics and John explicitly say that Jesus accomplished the purification alone. In John, it appears as if the disciples are hovering off-stage, not so much watching as remembering the event, trying to understand it through the lens of scripture. Both sources recount the incident as a complete success. In Mark, he stopped all traffic. In John, he drove out all the sheep and oxen with a homemade whip.

A miracle?

And even though Roman troops were watching from the Antonia Fortress, as were the priests, we presume, from the Temple steps, Jesus left the scene without a scratch. It’s as if you went to an NFL game in the Meadowlands and single-handedly cleared the parking lot of all tailgaters, turning over their barbecues, and dumping out their beer. If you got past the first group alive, it would be astonishing. If you finished the task unscathed and managed to keep from getting arrested, that would be a miracle.

Strauss cites the unusual features of the story, including the fact that the gospels normally depict Jesus as avoiding public displays and violent outbursts. Hence, “it is not easy either to reconcile this conduct with his usual aversion to everything revolutionary, or to explain the omission of his enemies to use it as an accusation against him.” (p. 402) By the time of the trial before the Sanhedrin, it would appear everyone had forgotten the demonstration at the Temple.

An allegory?

Origen suspected that we should understand the purification story as an allegory.

[I]t is not surprising that Origen casts a doubt on the historical value of this narrative, by the expression, εἴγε καὶ αὐτὴ γεγένηται (if it really happened), and at most admits that the Evangelist, in order to present an idea allegorically, καὶ γεγενημένῳ συωέχρήσατο πράγματι (also borrowed the form of an actual occurrence). (Strauss, p. 402, bold emphasis mine)

Take note: Borrowing the form of an actual occurrence means that the gospel writers used the form of an historical event to convey a religious truth by means of symbolic language. It is a parable masquerading as history.

Origen further suggested we should understand references to the Temple as referring to the body of Christ.

(239) What I have said is not unrelated to the temple and those who were driven out by the Savior who says of the event, “The zeal of your house will devour me.” Nor are my words unrelated to the Jews who ask for a sign to be shown to them, and the Lord’s response to them, when he joins a word about the temple with one about his own body, and declares, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” 

(240) For these irrational and commercial things must be driven away from this temple which is the body of Christ, that it might no longer be a house of merchandise. (Origen/Heine, p. 308, emphasis mine)

A misunderstanding?

Of course, for most Christians between Origen and Strauss, the story was simply a fact — a true, historical event, preserved in the gospels, taken on faith. But the Enlightenment gave rise to a group of interesting characters who tried to rationalize everything in the Bible. That is, they accepted scripture as true, but thought everything that looked miraculous could be explained rationally.

The poster boy for rationalism run amok, Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus, is easy to make fun of today.

Paulus’s explanations for the miracles of the Gospels—and he can explain them all!—may seem fairly outlandish to us today; but for many people of the Enlightenment, they made a lot of sense, at least, a lot better sense than the claim that the Gospels recorded miracles that actually happened. After all, anyone can make a mistake and we all know people who have been confused or misled or gullible. These are all among our everyday experiences. But how many of us know people who can multiply loaves, walk on water, or rise from the dead? (Ehrman, p. 27, italics his)

From what I can tell from reading Schweitzer, Strauss, and others, it doesn’t appear that Paulus had a particularly large number of followers. If anything, his work persists as a kind of anti-rationalist focus of ridicule.

Yet Paulus, like Origen, correctly saw the stories of Jesus clearing out the Temple and disrupting all traffic as a miracle. Jesus couldn’t have done it all by himself. Strauss remarks:

Hence Paulus is of opinion that a number of others, equally scandalized by the sacrilegious traffic, made common cause with Jesus, and that to their united strength the buyers and sellers were compelled to yield. (Strauss, p. 401-402)

But he rightly points out that Paulus’ rewriting of the story smothers it. It’s “fatal to the entire incident,” he writes, because “it makes Jesus the cause of an open tumult . . .” To put it more bluntly, it turns Jesus into a common rabble-rouser — the leader of a riot instead of a prophet acting on behalf of God.

Three alternatives

. . .the people who snicker at Paulus when it comes to the rationalization of Jesus’ walking on water or his resurrection do the same thing when it comes to the cleansing of the Temple. The only difference is what they consider plausible.

So far we’ve covered three possible ways to understand the cleansing of the Temple.

  1. Accept it as completely true, i.e., as a public miracle with prophetic overtones.
  2. Take it as an allegorical story with historical trappings.
  3. Pick the parts of the story we like and invent other parts, using our own standards for plausibility.

In other words: believe it unconditionally, interpret it allegorically, or rewrite it arbitrarily. Today’s HJ scholars of the apocalyptic prophet persuasion don’t accept the first two options. Thus, ironically, the people who snicker at Paulus when it comes to the rationalization of Jesus’ walking on water or his resurrection do the same thing when it comes to the cleansing of the Temple. The only difference is what they consider plausible. “Surely, something must have happened,” they assert. And so they pick the few bits of the text that suit their purposes, and discard the rest.

Similarly, scholars who support the zealot theory of Jesus think the gospels are hiding something. Like Paulus, they insist that Jesus and his followers effectively staged a revolt, but the true story didn’t make the final edit. Reza Aslan writes:

As provocative as his entrance into Jerusalem may be, it pales in comparison to what Jesus does the following day. With his disciples and, one assumes, the praiseful multitude in tow, Jesus enters the Temple’s public courtyard — the Court of Gentiles — and sets about “cleansing” it. In a rage, he overturns the tables of the money changers and drives out the vendors hawking cheap food and souvenirs. He releases the sheep and cattle ready to be sold for sacrifice and breaks open the cages of the doves and pigeons, setting the birds to flight. “Take these things out of here!” he shouts. (bold emphasis mine)

Aslan, Reza (2013-07-16). Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 1284-1288). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Notice the details that Aslan rejects and the ones he invents (cheap food and souvenirs?). Was Jesus acting alone? Not according to Aslan. It’s Paulus’ rabble-rouser Jesus all over again.

What did the evangelists say?

For a change, I suggest that today’s scholars look at stories in the gospels as they are presented and take them seriously. Is the story of the Temple cleansing historically true? Absolutely not. Origen was right — it has the form of history, but John and Mark are conveying theological “truths” of a different order. They’re not telling us what Jesus did so much as who Christ is.

Like Paulus before them, today’s scholars think they’re discovering historical evidence by rationalizing fiction. However, instead of bringing us greater understanding about the historical Jesus, their efforts do nothing but suck the life out of the New Testament. It’s history done by hacks. It’s exegesis with a meat-ax.

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54 Comments

  • Giuseppe
    2014-06-11 13:41:49 UTC - 13:41 | Permalink

    They’re not telling us what Jesus did so much as who Christ is.

    Very good post.

    The same problem I see with the recent book of prof. Mauro Pesce about the death of Jesus. This scholar thinks that Jesus was really fearful to die, withouth knowing that his desperation is entirely specular to the indolence of his disciples at Ghetsemani, to make the nth theological/literary/allegorical point. (and who saw Jesus while he wept there?).

  • Giuseppe
    2014-06-11 14:03:13 UTC - 14:03 | Permalink

    They’re not telling us what Jesus did so much as who Christ is.

    The clues selected from Ehrman, Aslan, etc., to answer the question (‘what Jesus did?’), as in the above analysis, are thus divorced from the whole Gospel in which they must surely be viewed and of which they form an integral part. By asking ‘what Jesus did?’ one forces the texts to answer ‘this and that’; they have no other choice because, on the basis of the few clues selected and the viewing of these few clues in isolation, they are incapable of denying that there was such a figure that did that exact thing just as they are incapable of confirming it.

    Instead, true scholars as Widowfield, as this post reveals, are not interested in the question ‘Did Jesus really do this or that?’ but in more important questions like ‘What is the author of a given text’s perception of Jesus?’.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-06-11 16:41:04 UTC - 16:41 | Permalink

      I agree with you. But you shouldn’t call me a scholar. I’m just a guy who scribbles on a blog.

  • Wentham
    2014-06-11 14:58:23 UTC - 14:58 | Permalink

    But what would you say to the suggestion that whole idea was precisely, to deliberately hack the NT to death?

    Showing it is much less magical than anyone thought, helps others to begins moving on past superstitions, to science, someone might say. By showing it was probably about much less than anyone thought. And letting us move on.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-06-11 16:47:05 UTC - 16:47 | Permalink

      I’m not sure if that’s the logical result. For many people, I think it leads to a false sense of understanding. We think we know a whole lot more than we really do. For example, I still marvel at how many people think Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist. Their hacked up little bits of the NT somehow “prove” that Jesus was baptized by JtB, which “proves” he must have been an disciple of John, which “proves” Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.

      It’s as whimsical and ephemeral as the canals on Mars.

      • Wentham
        2014-06-13 12:25:08 UTC - 12:25 | Permalink

        I’d agree that naturalistic readings of miracles are at least a double-edged sword: on the one hand, they aim to disprove major parts of the Bible. But the other, to be sure, they seem to assert there is some kind of slight reality behind it all.

        But there are interesting cases. Like where we say that the whole idea of Christian resurrection, comes from dying-and-rising gods; which come in turn from the reality that plant life dies in the Winter, but comes back in the spring. (As Bulfinch noted with regard to Proserpine or Persephone).

        In such a case, a naturalistic reading of a “miracle” reinforces Mythicism.

        I guess we need to go case-by-case on these.

  • 2014-06-11 19:29:28 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

    The cleansing of the temple probably harked back to the 6 AD tax revolt led by Judas of Galilee. Could it be just a coincidence that Jesus was supposedly born at that same time in the gospel of Luke? Who knows? Jesus historicist and NT biblical scholars like Bart Ehrman always fall back on the NT to prove Jesus existed – and all the while knowing that the texts are totally unreliable. Still, they have the bible exegesis thing going on about this verse and that verse – when, in fact, there is no way of knowing if those passages even existed in the original or not, or if they have been altered. And, even if they did exist in the original, we still wouldn’t know if they were true. After all, “the church” is well known for lies, interpolation and cover-up and even when they had a chance to write a true book of Acts they chose to write a false history instead. Why? Who knows? I doubt that the writers even knew and they may have just made up a history just because they didn’t know.

    • Dale
      2014-06-12 20:02:43 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

      Speaking of Judas the Galilean, before his tax revolt at the time of Quirinius (when Luke places Jesus’ birth), he actually performed a sort of cleansing of the temple shortly before Herod the Great died (when Matthew places Jesus’ birth). Herod put a huge golden eagle above the main gate of the temple as a tribute to Rome. Judas and his followers entered the temple and cut the golden eagle down. Many of the men were caught and killed. No miracle here.

    • Geoff
      2014-06-14 15:14:14 UTC - 15:14 | Permalink

      I tend to see the Temple Cleansing as based on Josephus’ recounting of Jesus Ananias’ disruption of the Temple, foretelling woe on Jerusalem. It is interesting, as you note, that while Jesus historicists claim that the Temple Cleansing led directly to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the incident is never brought up in the trial. This is also dissimilar from the Jesus Ananias story in that his hearings before Jewish authorities and the Roman governor was directly related to the disruptions in the Temple.

      • 2014-06-17 15:19:23 UTC - 15:19 | Permalink

        So, here we have a couple of examples of why bible Jesus caused a disturbance at the temple…people already knew stuff like that happened and it just seemed to them like maybe that was something Jesus would do. “What would Jesus do?” comes to mind. However, nobody agreed on what Jesus said on the cross…if he really existed he probably said (between screaming and crying), “Have mercy, please, have mercy, mercy…”. But, since he wasn’t real, he could quote scripture and instruct John to take care of his mother (for the next couple of days) when he should have said, “be right back”.

        • Wentham
          2014-06-18 13:12:23 UTC - 13:12 | Permalink

          Another earlier text that “foreshadows” the martyrdom of Jesus – or is even the source of it – would be 2 Mac. 7. The martyrdom of the seventh son specifically. From c. 180 – 110 BC.

          There 1) a mother oversees 2) the heroic death 3) of her son. 4) Who dies to save his country, 5) Israel/Judah. In most translations (like the NAB), this mother hints that 6) her son is not even entirely a normally born human being, but might be sired by a god.

          This is undoubtedly one of the key texts that, narrated by a confused oral peasant culture for a hundred years or more, would have eventually been added to, accreted to, so many other tales. To form the Jesus Legend.

          (The Simon tradition is undoubtedly important too. Particularly its Platonistic elements possibly)

      • Wentham
        2014-06-18 13:40:10 UTC - 13:40 | Permalink

        Quite right. Events, rebellions around 6 to 4 BC, were likely the most immediate cause of the Jesus Legend. Which would mean that “Jesus” was “born,” oddly, the day that his real sources died. Perhaps the forerunners or Jesus-prototypes died – and the legend was born.

        By the way, some scholars assert that in effect the Temple was in effect really a tax-collecting organization. The Hebrew word for “sacrifice” is related to “tax.” The idea was that you must contribute a portion of your income or agricultural produce to your “lord” in Jerusalem. As payment for his protection.

        When the Romans tried to take over the Temple though, there would have been confusion and anger about who was now being paid tax or tribute or sacrifice: the Roman lords, or the Jewish one (s). So implied within this, is the story of cleansing the temple of tax-collectors. Particularly foreign ones. Hence money-“changing” from one currency to another.

        In addition though, there was also growing Platonic or spiritual idea that religion should not have anything at all to do with money or material tribute.

  • GaryU
    2014-06-17 01:43:07 UTC - 01:43 | Permalink

    “Temple tantrum”
    Beautiful!

  • Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)
    2014-06-18 23:18:37 UTC - 23:18 | Permalink

    Robert Price occasionally mentions a theory that the story of the cleansing of the temple is derived from the historical event of Simon bar Giora driving the forces of John of Giscala from the temple.

    • pakeha
      2014-06-22 10:05:36 UTC - 10:05 | Permalink

      That’s one I hadn’t heard before.
      Thanks for an excuse to read more about the Zealot Temple Siege.

  • Wentham
    2014-06-19 12:50:48 UTC - 12:50 | Permalink

    Sounds interesting!

    There were many temple cleansings it seems. Possibly most of them are relevant: any given religious hero to establish his status, has to do this perhaps. It’s seemingly “pro forma” or mandatory for any would-be religious zealot.

    Vladimir Propp suggested that nearly all folk tales of heroes, follow a standard formula involving dozens of similar elements. Maybe ritual cleaning is one of them.

  • Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)
    2014-06-19 22:29:30 UTC - 22:29 | Permalink

    I forgot to mention that the theory also includes the triumphal entry as based on bar Giora.

  • 2014-06-20 02:24:33 UTC - 02:24 | Permalink

    There seems to be an obsession here with Jesus and Christianity. Isn’t easier for atheists just to do what some atheists do and say that He never existed? I know atheists have trouble with miracles. For a Christian a miracle occurs often. I know they do in my life. So realize when you are talking to Christians that we just don’t base our faith on miracles of the past, God is still actively performing them in our lives now. PTL I thank God for Jesus Christ who atoned for my sins and gave me peace with God the Father, and life eternal.

    • reboho
      2014-06-20 16:32:12 UTC - 16:32 | Permalink

      Yeah, what’s wrong with you atheist guys that actually want to understand how the documents and origins of religious privilege came about and how the use of that privilege by fanatics and governments has created the world we live in today so I can come in and drop any bomb I want and feel superior and smug while remaining blissfully ignorant of anything discussed here.

    • Greg
      2014-06-20 17:48:00 UTC - 17:48 | Permalink

      It’s not about what’s “easier for atheists”, it’s about the critical evaluation of a narrative. With all due respect your modern experience of miracles is quite independent of the Bible which, by itself, is just a work of literature. There is more to studying literature than either accepting all of a text’s claims at face value or dismissing it all as wholly fabricated nonsense; intentions, context, symbolism, higher meanings, etc. are all factors that should warrant analysis without being labeled “obsessing”.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-06-20 19:22:52 UTC - 19:22 | Permalink

      Neither Tim nor I see our primary audience as “Christians”. We are not interested in attacking or undermining Christianity — there are much better sites doing that — but in understanding historical origins.

      But if you want to assure atheists that miracles do occur “often” in your life I don’t think you will succeed in showing us that they occur any more frequently than happy coincidences occur in the life of nonbelievers or in the lives of believers in other faiths.

      • Greg Pandatshang
        2014-06-21 00:20:55 UTC - 00:20 | Permalink

        When I put my hand to my chest, I notice about one miracle per second.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-06-21 07:05:00 UTC - 07:05 | Permalink

          Then your definition of miracle is so broad as to be meaningless; it means there is no difference between a miracle and a natural event. I think the confusion comes over emotional responses to the wonder of existence. One can be firmly convinced that there is nothing other than the natural universe and the life-forms that have evolved on earth and still be overwhelmed with awe and wonder of it all — with no need to attribute any of this to a one or more deities. Science itself leads us to understand more of how everything works, how it has all come to be like this, and simply to learn more about what it is we are witnessing — and the more we understand the more our wonder and awe can increase. Attributing it all to a deity or several deities somehow hijacks this appreciation — we transfer our awe to an imaginary being and lose sight of just what really is the true magic of what we are coming to understand.

          • Wentham
            2014-06-21 18:35:07 UTC - 18:35 | Permalink

            Sounds good.

            Some people are at first disappointed at the at-first seemingly mundane and reductionist side of naturalistic explanation. But if we experience wonder looking into the full complexity of Science and Nature, and Natural History, then the missing sense of wonder returns.

            Nature is amazing.

    • 2014-06-22 02:57:31 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

      I must say I do find it amusing when I hear atheists dismiss life as somehow starting, and somehow continuing without God. Do you really know how you sound? “Considering themselves to be wise they became as fools” …Romans 1 Sorry guys, but that’s exactly how you sound to me. God made it all, and God sustains it all. That is sooooooooooooooooooooo obvious to the majority of the people on the planet, as well as those in heaven, and those in the earth. All of creation knows this, except for a small percentage of rebellious men and women. That is sad. But its not to late to turn to Him. There is peace and forgiveness of sins with the Lord.

      • Tim Widowfield
        2014-06-22 06:23:05 UTC - 06:23 | Permalink

        You might want to get that “o” key looked at.

      • Steven Carr
        2014-06-22 06:46:47 UTC - 06:46 | Permalink

        So there is only a small percentage of rebellious men and women.

        No wonder there are so many wars and famines.

        We can only blame religious people, who far outnumber atheists.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2014-06-22 09:49:33 UTC - 09:49 | Permalink

        Spoken like anyone who has known only an Islamic or Christian way of thinking about creation. I doubt most Chinese would agree with you, along with many Buddhists and Hindus, and large ratios in those degenerate Scandinavian countries, . . . . . and that’s just surveying the current scene. (Monotheism only became the “right way of thinking” for the “Western”/Near Eastern world from Late Antiquity on.)

        It’s tragic that still today there are those who cannot appreciate the wonder of life, the universe and everything and who let ancient books from pre-scientific days tell them how to think and how to look down upon those who disagree as “fools”.

      • pakeha
        2014-06-22 17:40:33 UTC - 17:40 | Permalink

        Have you ever wondered why meteorites contain no ‘new’ minerals?

        In any case, what’s really wrong with discussing the origins of Mark’s narrative?

      • reboho
        2014-06-22 19:01:39 UTC - 19:01 | Permalink

        Too bad you stopped reading Romans with the first chapter. Had you continued to chapter 2 you would understand that your condemnation of those here will come as condemnation upon yourself. Your comments lack humility, so it’s obvious you haven’t read Philippians 2, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, Proverbs 22, 1 Peter 3 etc. Your “Christian superiority complex” does nothing for your witness, instead it only confirms what many suspect, that belief is nothing more than a life unexamined.

        Have you considered your own words? Is it so obvious when we know that life evolved, that the universe is billions of years old and our own planet is itself younger than the universe but still billions of years old? What’s obvious is that we are initiated into dogma from an early age, that built into the belief system is a prohibition to questions and examination. You would do well to spend more time on this website instead of stopping by long enough to lob bricks over the wall. If your faith is so sure, couldn’t it withstand examination? Aren’t you at all curious how the book you hold dear came to be? What’s obvious from your posts is that peace doesn’t come any easier to believers.

        There is peace when you loosen the chains of faith and except that this amazing life is all there is and you should live that life accordingly.

        • 2014-06-23 22:48:47 UTC - 22:48 | Permalink

          I’m sorry if I offended your delusional world view. I’m not one to compromise the truth to make people feel better about themselves. The Truth is: without forgiveness of sins you and anyone else will die in their sins. That is eternal death. I am warning people of that eventuality so that they might escape His judgment and turn to the Lord. What I do, I do in faith before the Lord, motivated by love for God, and neighbor. Confidence/strong faith often are offensive to atheists, since they really don’t believe in anything. Judge me if you choose, but I know that God is with me (by His Holy Spirit), I have no need to receive approval of man. PTL

          • JohnG
            2014-06-24 00:39:00 UTC - 00:39 | Permalink

            “I’m sorry if I offended your delusional world view.”

            Hmm. Interesting use of ‘sorry’ there. I suppose you mean it in the sense of pity rather than regret, but amusing all the same.

          • Steven Carr
            2014-06-24 07:24:42 UTC - 07:24 | Permalink

            So Christianity is a system of threats.

            Can I offer some useful advice if you want to increase the number of Christians and decrease the number of non-Christians in the world.

            If you want converts,try scaring children. They are more easily scared by threats, and if you threaten them at an early age, they are likely to become Christians from sheer fear.

            It doesn’t work so well with adults, so for best results, scare the children.

          • reboho
            2014-06-25 00:04:15 UTC - 00:04 | Permalink

            Oh, did I offend your gentle sensibilities? As I said before, you skipped Romans 2. I didn’t insult you, I challenged you on your witness and your knowledge of your faith. You failed to address my points and assert instead that I’m delusional without knowledge. I’m sure your lord and saviour is proud of your ability to diagnose my character and my sinfulness.

            All you seem to be able to do is regurgitate apologetic talking points and quite frankly, I see your rhetoric as less than strong and is a weakness of character, a weakness that drives you to troll and have to assert what you consider truth, not to save the unbeliever but instead to reassure yourself that you are correct. If you thought about it and the tables were turned you’d realize you lash out from weakness.

            Honestly, if you’re not going to comment on the original post you are quite frankly cowardly hiding behind your “concern” for our souls in order to display your ignorance on the subject. I don’t come here to be reassured, I come here to be challenged, to gain knowledge that I know I will never find on religious websites. For the most part, I have little to add the conversation since my knowledge is limited. I feel comfortable commenting when trolls such as yourself appear because I was once an ignorant believer such as yourself.

            I treated the bible as my own personal iChing, I could spout verses and dogma just as you do, only I actually tried to engage instead of insult. My crisis came about because I actually listened to the rote responses I was reciting and watched the faces of the people I was engaging. I didn’t see a defiance in their faces, I saw disengagement, I saw disbelief, I saw incredulity. More verses didn’t help because they had once been believers themselves.

            I didn’t bring a genuine belief to my witness, I brought a set of learned responses that only after examination did I realize that I didn’t believe what I was saying. I was hiding my insecurity behind a bravado of superiority and knowledge of talking points. I was actually so good at it that I was able to convince myself. I wasn’t nearly as ham handed as you but I was just as annoying.

            Since you’re so good at diagnosing our flaws, I will turn the table and say this. You are approaching your crisis of faith, your insecurity overwhelming your ignorance. It will be a hard day but it will be a liberating day. I hope for your sake it comes soon. I imagine that the longer it takes for your epiphany the more painful the regret.

          • 2014-06-25 00:08:47 UTC - 00:08 | Permalink

            Unfortunately nothing anyone else says can shake your view because your fundamentalist logic is circular. You know you have the truth because you are of God and you know you are of God because you have the truth. You believe your judgement of us is right because it is the word of God. Your thinking is cocooned, trapped in a bubble. There are many like you — all thinking different things about God and doctrine but all just like you are now in your “spirit-filled bubble”.

            The difference between you and me is that I have been where you are — I used to preach the same message as you with the same conviction; I know exactly where you are coming from — but you clearly have not been where I am now. (Otherwise you could never say I “really don’t believe in anything”.)

            Your relationship with your image of god and the role you are acting out now secures your proudly humble identity alongside the biblical prophets and saints and you live in hope for an ultimate favour from God for your self-sacrificing works and message of love for us now, especially if you can make yourself as obnoxious as possible and thus earn what you will interpret as some sort of “persecution from the ungodly” for your efforts.

          • Greg Pandatshang
            2014-06-26 22:09:32 UTC - 22:09 | Permalink

            To be blunt, this strikes me as a “trolls for the Prince of Peace” type situation. What one might call “troll-y fishing” (“I will make you trolls of men”). All in all, probably better not to feed same.

  • John
    2014-06-21 20:10:56 UTC - 20:10 | Permalink

    Regarding miracles, I gather that the universe is just “weird.” While I tend to think of “miracles” as being happy coincidences, I also think one’s state of mind or being can have a physical influence on a person’s environment through the Observer Effect.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)

    Thus, I suspect that if one has (for example) a Christian mind, then the environment may somehow “respond” to it in a way that confirms the observer’s beliefs. I suspect that in this sense people can “make” reality.

    I also gather that, regardless of one’s state of mind or being, one’s physical presence simply has a physical effect on the environment through gravitational attraction, brain waves, transfer of energy and the intimate connection of life with the elements, which I suppose can be summed up with Wentham’s “nature is amazing.”

    At the same time I’m still half-superstitious, in that I half-suspect (or half would like to think) that there may be something to “signs” and “omens” and Jung’s idea of “meaningful coincidences,” but I reckon that perhaps more logically these kinds of things are due to the Observer Effect.

    • Wentham
      2014-06-23 12:53:31 UTC - 12:53 | Permalink

      I think if we look long and hard enough, we find that weird coincidences finally make sense.

      When you see “signs,” see if it is evidence of some natural phenomenon.

      For example? I was watching the infamous Benny Hinn once, when he claimed he had just healed a deaf person. Over the massively amplified public address system, he asked a deaf person if (s)he could hear; the deaf person said yes.

      Benny declared a miracle. But of course? Lots of “deaf” people do have some hearing; and can hear massively amplified voices.

      What creates most “miracles” is simple ignorance of rational scientific method.

      Always look for a rational and scientific explanation.

  • John MacDonald
    2014-06-22 17:14:30 UTC - 17:14 | Permalink

    I sometimes wonder if, when Paul refers to James as “the brother of the Lord,” that the phrase “brother of the Lord” is a nickname, like with Simon the Zealot (see Luke 6:15) or Sons of Thunder (see Mark 3:17).

    An early tradition of the Jesus movement is preserved in Mark where Mark has Jesus say “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:35).” Maybe in Paul, James has the title or nickname “The brother of the Lord” because James was a great example of someone who always did the will of God. This interpretation would agree with Origen who said in Contra Celsum 1.47 that James was called the brother of the Lord by Paul because James was very righteous, not because he was Jesus’ sibling.

  • Wentham
    2014-06-23 13:00:44 UTC - 13:00 | Permalink

    I think you’re right.

    Apologists though are insisting that 1) we should ignore MARK 3.35. Apologists here seem far too selective and one-sided to be sure. They are ignoring too much internal evidence. Not to mention external evidence.

    2) Next they claim too that the particular phrase in “brother of the Lord,” is used only to denote only a biological brother. Though there are lots of arguments against that too.

    One simple argument is that a) the Bible often uses literal phrases metaphorically. Or then too, b) when the Bible itself is in question, then whatever one phrase says, is not really strong evidence of anything at all. We need external verification.

  • 2014-06-26 00:31:11 UTC - 00:31 | Permalink

    There is no “circular argument”. This is just a mantra atheists use to dismiss the power of God and the word of God. Jesus made it clear enough: “those who are of God, hear God’s words”..John 8. Abraham also made the same point when talking to the “rich man” who was in hades and wanted someone to go back from the dead and warn his brothers of the horrors of that place: “No, they have the law and the prophets, let them hear them. If they do not listen to the law and the prophets then they will NOT listen even if someone were to return from the dead.” In addition, atheists dismiss the Spirit of God. His Holy Spirit guides and directs Christians. I feel His Holy Spirit guiding my thoughts and actions in different ways and at different times, with His approval or disapproval. You cannot say: “I have been where you are”. You are a natural man, not a spiritual man, a reprobate, an unregenerate. You are dead spiritually, whereas the believer has been made alive in Christ, quickened by God to discern good and evil, and to do those things that please the Lord. PTL

    • pakeha
      2014-06-26 11:52:25 UTC - 11:52 | Permalink

      Thanks for showing us just how someone who “has been made alive in Christ, quickened by God to discern good and evil, and to do those things that please the Lord” interacts with others on the subject of the cleansing of the temple.
      Why do you think Jesus wasn’t arrested/detained/lynched during this incident?

      • 2014-06-28 00:54:27 UTC - 00:54 | Permalink

        Clearly it was not yet the appointed time. But there is no doubt that His opponents remembered this among other things that He said or did to expose their hypocrisy, which eventually led to His arrest. But it only occurred in His time, not mans, and on His terms, not mans.

    • reboho
      2014-06-27 19:18:07 UTC - 19:18 | Permalink

      Don’t really think this troll is worth it but it is a bit amusing that there is a denial of “circular argument” and in the next sentence gives us the “those who are of god hear god’s words”.

      So, those not of god will never hear god’s word? Doesn’t god have to call you to be saved? Doesn’t John 6:44 and John 6:65 say that god has to call us? So, how can you say that we reject god if he himself has not called us? Doesn’t 1 Cor. 1:23-24 imply that god has specifically hardened our hearts even though we have heard the word (and discuss it on this very website)? Doesn’t John 6:37 say that Jesus will accept any that god has given to him? So, why do you chide when it appears that your silent, invisible sky god is not wanting to speak to us at this time?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2014-06-27 21:37:38 UTC - 21:37 | Permalink

        I sometimes respond to people like this (sometimes I delete them, too — depending on the way the wind directs my whim) and have little to no expectation of a reasoned dialogue with them as a follow up. We tend to respond to ideas when time and circumstance are right for us. That’s how it was with me. Moreover, I have posted criticisms of arguments and attacks from others not expecting any reasoned engagement with them because I don’t think it does any harm to have on record a response for certain innocent bystanders to notice.

        • reboho
          2014-06-28 01:57:17 UTC - 01:57 | Permalink

          I really didn’t want to respond but the circular logic criticism followed by circular logic was classic case of being self unaware. I’m done with the troll, doesn’t respond original subject and doesn’t read what is directed toward them. Pardon the interruption, back to more important things since I came here to read more serious discussion. Thank you for your blog and all the knowledge that flows therein…

      • 2014-06-28 00:43:10 UTC - 00:43 | Permalink

        Actually Jesus said: “Many are called, few are chosen.” So indeed, He does the choosing. I am very much aware of this as I speak with non believers, however, only God knows if someone will turn and repent from their rebellion. I put the Word out, The Spirit of God does with it what He wills. God uses His Word to in many ways.., to plant, to water, to condemn, to harvest (save) or to inspire, to feed, or to convict of sins. Your argument is addressed in Romans 9, where the Spirit anticipating the godless response wrote through Paul: “You will say then, why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “why do you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? ….” There is more here in chapter 9 but I won’t quote it all in this post. Atheists lack humility before the Lord. They lack meekness before Him. They do not fear the Lord. They are indeed rebellious. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. Having said all that. It is not to late to turn from your rebellion to the only hope for man… Jesus Christ, The Son of God, The Savior of the world. Blessed be His name.

        • fRED
          2014-06-28 15:41:22 UTC - 15:41 | Permalink

          Perhaps more attention to the word “humility” (i.e., the absence of pride or self-assertion) would be more effective in gaining converts. On the other hand, if everything is in God’s control, then all the proselytizing is really pointless. I would be a liar if I claimed to believe in Jesus when so much Christianity doesn’t make sense to me. Nonetheless, I am searching and will trust my “soul” to Providence. Shalom.

          • 2014-06-30 21:35:56 UTC - 21:35 | Permalink

            Fred, I appreciate your honest response. Indeed, keep searching. for Messiah told us: “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you, ask and you will receive”. You sound Jewish, so I encourage you to ask the God of Israel (the only God) if Yeshua/Jesus is The Promised One. If you ask Him sincerely, you may be surprised what happens. May you find peace for you soul. Shalom

            • Tim Widowfield
              2014-06-30 21:54:07 UTC - 21:54 | Permalink

              OK, we’re done here. I’m all for a free and open discussion, but I’m not interested in funding a platform for proselytizers. Be on your way now, Mark.

            • pete
              2014-06-30 23:36:42 UTC - 23:36 | Permalink

              Mark,

              There has been a relatively new development in how the Old Testament
              should be interpreted, and this new vector of historiography is fatal
              to Christology as well as components of Christian theology:

              The events of Genesis are not historical. There is no rational basis
              to believe in the “fall of man” or “original sin”. There will never be a
              sudden discovery of evidence which supports the events of Genesis.
              This means that there is no need for a “savior”, an “atonement” or
              any other action which creates a reconciliation between God and humans.

              Not only that, but the almost complete lack of historicity in the Torah itself is “fatal” to Christianity. If Jesus actually said anything about Moses, the “law”, or any other part of the Torah, claiming that it was historical, then he demonstrates ignorance and therefore is not divine. If he is NOT actually quoted, or even loosely paraphrased (based on vague references to confused oral traditions),then no one in the modern age is obligated to orientate their life around Christian doctrines.

              Lastly, the poverty of historical value in the Old Testament deflates that portion of Christology which deals with Messianic prophecies. Jewish scholars like Isaac Troki already invalidated the idea that Jesus was the indisputable Messiah, but now, with advances in Biblical studies, the “power of Christ” has been unplugged.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-07-01 10:38:11 UTC - 10:38 | Permalink

                And for this reason there are enough theologians/biblical scholars today who use the same personal attacks, misrepresentation, and supercilious dismissal of “minimalism” as they do of “mythicism”.

  • Wentham
    2014-06-26 13:10:42 UTC - 13:10 | Permalink

    Happened too fast? He overturns a few tables, and leaves?

    Everybody’s in shock; nobody every saw anything like this jerk?

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