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Feedback #14

Names and e-mail addresses have been witheld to protect the guilty. If you recognise your letter here, and wish to have your name and address displayed, feel free to contact me.

Received: 12/19/98

It is a pity that one who has such deductive powers of reasoning is so far from the truths that the Bible contains.  Nowhere in Lukes Gospel, nor in Matthews Gospel, does the author say that the accounts are concurrent, or that their are no gaps.  This is an assumption you have made.   

I'm not sure I understand this statement. Surely, if the two authors are recording the same event, then concurrency must be assumed? If not, then we arrive at precisely the conclusion that I tendered: i.e. that the two authors are not recording the same event, and that they are thus in conflict.

As to there being gaps in the narrative, this is a possibility, but a very remote one. If you wish, try to combine the two narratives into one cohesive story, without leaving out or adding anything to either text. I would be glad to post such a harmonisation along with the statement of the original problem.

The truth of the matter is that the Birth of Jesus Christ, as the whole of the Bible, has to be taken on faith as much as reasoning.

Agreed. But this is precisely where we part ways. I refuse to take anything on faith. If the narratives contradict each other, no amount of faith, in my estimation, will make the problem go away.

There are no historical facts to contradict any of the statments made in the Bible:  in fact, science and archeologists continue to prove the Bible true as they dig further into History.  It would behove you, my friend, to trust your heart rather than your head.  That is where the true gospel stands on solid ground.  Accepting Jesus Christ is not something one does by reason, but by faith.

Again, this is precisely what I refuse to do. A little thought will show that there is a very good reason for this: if I am to take any statement on faith, how am I to discern between competing claims to Revelation? Do I take the Koran on faith? The Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad-Gita? How does one decide between truth and falsehood, if subjective emotion is the only yardstick?

Received: 12/23/98 (in response to above)

Thank you for your response.  I have never met someone who refuses to have "faith" in something.  It is indeed perplexing how you can wake up in the morning, if there is no faith that the air will be there for you to breath, or that the sun will shine yet another day.  Do not these things take the simplest forms of faith on our part?

Well, the problem is that we are using two incompatible definitions of "faith". The first definition can be stated as "faith in a person or principle based on prior, proven reliability".  To use your example, I have faith that the sun will rise again tomorrow, because it has done so for countless millennia, and current scientific thinking holds that it will continue to do so for very many millennia to come.

The second definition is provided by the Bible: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb 11:1). In other words, this can be defined as faith in a person or principle without any concrete evidence. This is the type of faith that Jesus alluded to when he said to Thomas "You believed because you have seen. More blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen." (John 20:29).

It is this second definition of faith that believers frequently employ, and it is this type of faith that I refuse to have. Unfortunately, many believers (and, indeed, sceptics as well) are not adequately able to make a distinction between these two definitions of faith, which inevitably leads to confusion when engaging in debate with sceptics.

I also have done some further research into your quetions on the timing and incidences talked about in these scriptures, which you deem contradictory.    I would implore you to read the commentary found at                     http://redbay.com/ekklesia/birth.htm

This will shed some light as to the dating you refferred to as erant.  Also, it is common knowledge that the writers of the Gospels did not record similar events on hundreds of occassions, thereby giving us a more thorough picture of who Jesus Christ was.  Two writers did not even cover his birth, and the two that did simply recorded different events surrounding His birth.  If you will look over the statements surrounding the death of Christ, you will also see different views of the events.  But the death of Christ is the most recorded event in all of ancient history, and cannot be refuted by any source.  As we take the events from all four Gospels, we get a complete picture of what took place.  Even without faith, this is possible, is it not?

Please look over the article I have mentioned, and respond.  I look forward to further dialogue on this subject.

Here are my comments on this article. First, the author states that Jesus was born in 3 BC. He provides no evidence for this position (I assume such evidence may have been presented in the source text), but it is very unlikely. Matthew places the birth of Christ prior to the death of Herod the Great. Most scholars hold that Herod died in 4 BC, based on evidence from Josephus and several other ancient historians. Thus, Jesus must have been born before this time, if Matthew's chronology is correct.

The second point is that the author claims that Cyrenius presided over two registrations (or taxations) of Judea. Again, he gives no evidence for this position, and once more it is highly unlikely. I suspect that the author is relying on the work of Sir William Ramsey, who attempted to prove that Cyrenius was twice governor of Syria based on a partial inscription that he located during an archaeological expedition. Unfortunately, Ramsey's conclusion is not supported by the evidence, and most scholars regard it as mere free-floating guesswork. The fact is that no ancient author records that Cyrenius presided over a Roman census of Syria  before 6 AD, and, in fact, it would not have been possible in any case, since Syria was a semi-autonomous state prior to this time. It was only after the banishment of Herod's son Archelaus that Syria was incorporated into the Roman Empire. This took place in 6 AD.

Finally, the article seems to end just before the real chronological problems begin. You stated earlier that no author states that there are no gaps in his chronology. While this may be true of Matthew, the same cannot be said of Luke. The latter ties his chronology to specific periods of time and events, leading to the conclusion that it is indeed contiguous.

Luke records that eight days after Jesus' birth, he was circumcised according to the Law. (2:21). The family then waited until Mary's period of ritual uncleanness had passed before journeying to Jerusalem (2:22). According to Lev. 12:4, this would have been 33 days after the circumcision of her son. Since Bethlehem is quite close to Jerusalem, this journey would probably have taken no more than one or two days, probably less. At the Temple, the couple offered sacrifices for their son, again according to the Law of Moses (2:23-24). Luke then explicitly states that when this was done, they returned to Nazareth (2:39). Thus, the family left Jerusalem bound for Galilee approximately 45 days after the birth of Jesus. Every day is accounted for in Luke's chronology.

In contrast to this, Matthew inserts an Egyptian sojourn of unspecified duration between the birth of Jesus and their journey to Nazareth (Matt 2:13-23). There simply is no place in Luke's chronology for such an event. The only possible place that such an event could be inserted is after the family left the Temple for Nazareth. However, this then makes Luke a liar, as he explicitly states that the family went to Nazareth after this time.

Received: 12/26/98 (in response to above)

Good point, and well taken.  [See discussion of two types of faith above - Curt.] I am curious to know if you then have any belief in the death and/or ressurection of Christ, since these are more verified in ancient manuscripts than his birth.  In fact, these events have more recorded evidence than many of the ancients who lived around that time period.

I'm not sure what you mean by "more verified". Outside of the NT, there are no external references to the death and resurrection of Jesus that can be said to originate with eye-witnesses. All the references that we have to Jesus and the events surrounding his life and death are based on second-hand sources at best, and contribute very little to our understanding of the facts of the situation.

Personally, I hold that there probably was a person called Jesus, who was executed for suspected rebellion by Pilate. There is a significant amount of corroboration between the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death which leads one to suspect that we are dealing with an actual event. (The trial leading up to the execution is another matter. The narratives are very hard to reconcile at this point.)

As for the resurrection, I find very little evidence that this event actually took place. For one thing, the Resurrection narratives as found in the four Gospels are hopelessly confused. The earlier writings of Paul only compound the problem, since he gives a list of post-resurrection appearances that does not seem to correspond with any of the Gospel narratives. Thus, I suspect that we are dealing with a myth that grew out of the early Church.

How this myth originated is very difficult to say, but we can note that a number of the pre-Christian mystery religions also held that their gods had died and been resurrected. Bacchus of the Romans, and Osiris of the Egyptians spring to mind. Whether this was the source of the Jesus resurrection myth is difficult to say. The bottom line is that I don't find sufficient evidence to believe that such an event ever took place.

I am unable to grasp how anyone can go through life without exhibiting any amount of faith based on pure hope that a situation or course of events have or will take place.  I would giuess that even in your heart there have been times that you have had such a faith.  You are a very knowledgable individual...one who obviously knows his facts, and thereby has a hard time understanding, or even comprehending what is not fact.  herein lies the difference between you and me.

From my perspective, hope and faith are different things. For example, I have a strong hope that life continues in some way after death. I guess all humans do, to some extent, which partly explains the persuasive power of religion. However, I freely admit that there exists no empirical evidence whatsoever that indicates that any part of the mind survives the death of the brain. In fact, at present the evidence indicates quite the opposite - that the mind is generated by the brain, and consequently cannot survive the death of the physical organ.

The reason why I demand empirical proof before accepting any proposition is quite simple - this is the only way that we can assure that we arrive at objective truth. As I think I pointed out earlier, if I am to have a baseless faith in Jesus, what precludes me from exercising a similar faith in Mohammed, or Krishna, or Joseph Smith? If there is no objective way to decide between competing claims to revelation, then your religion is quite literally no better than the next one. The only thing that remains is subjective opinion; in other words, believers tend to believe because of some powerful emotional experience, or simply because of an inherited faith.

If you read a number of conversion stories, you will find very few that state that they were decided by rational facts in favour of one religion over another. Almost inevitably, the conversion story revolves around some personal crisis, or some strong emotional experience. This is true of all faiths, not just Christianity.

The bottom line is that if we do not exercise skepticism in the realm of faith, we have no hope of arriving at the truth.

It is more than obvious that you know your history much better than I do. [See discussion of the two birth narratives above - Curt.] However, the historical evidence you have stated will never stay my faith, because faith does not base itself on what others may say.  Your accounts could be as misleading as you say the biblical account is, so which do you trust? Archeological dating has come under more scrutiny in recent years from what I have read and understand.  And ancient authors from this time period should all be measured together.  Who is to say that the writers you cite are any more accurate than Matthew or Luke?

Well, I think that the important point is that, in the case of Josephus, he does not contradict either of the birth narratives. He agrees with Matthew that Archelaus succeeded his father Herod as tetrarch of Judea. He agrees with Luke that Cyrenius conducted a registration of Syria at the behest of Caesar Augustus. The problem is that Matthew and Luke disagree with each other as to the timing of the birth of Jesus. Josephus is not the problem - the Gospels are.

In Matthews account, the message from God for Joseph to go to Egypt came while the couple and the baby were already in Nazereth.  If you read  verse 11, you will see that the wise men came to a house, not the stable and manger.  The depictions of wise men at the manger are mere tradition and do not follow the biblical record.

I think this is impossible for several reasons.

First, Matthew explicitly states that the wise men were directed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah (2:8). It is here that they meet with the Family. Note that 2:16 seems to imply that this was at least two years after the birth of Jesus.

Second, when Herod discovered that he had been betrayed, he ordered the slaughter of all the infants in Bethlehem (2:16). However, in 2:13, the angel directs Joseph to flee to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. If they were living in Nazareth at this time, there would have been very little point to flee to Egypt, if Herod's campaign of slaughter was directed against Bethlehem.

Third, after the death of Herod, the angel directs Joseph to return to the "land of Israel", a phrase that means Judea, as 2:22 makes clear. It is here that Joseph discovers that Archelaus has become tetrarch of Judea, and decides to detour to Nazareth instead. What this incident tells us is that Joseph and Mary's permanent home (according to Matthew) was Judea, specifically Bethlehem. After the death of Herod, his son Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee. The reference to Archelaus makes it quite clear that Joseph was heading for Judea, his home, when he decided to go to Galilee instead.

If one reads Matthew's account in context, it will quickly become clear that he claimed that Joseph and Mary were residents of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Thus, Matthew never mentions the Census (which occurred some ten years after this time in any case), not does he mention the inn and the manger. He has no need of these devices, since, according to his version of the story, the Family already lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.

As for Cyrenius and Herod, I cannot give a more substantial argument than you have tried to put forth.  I follow my heart.  There are times when not everything can be understood, nor can any source be fully proven.  At these times, I take the road of faith, rather than try to probe for an answer which can never be found truly outside of faith.

In Romans 12:2, the writer says we are all given "the measure of faith".  The only difference between you and me is where we place that faith.

Again, I refer you to my argument that faith divorced of a rational foundation can be used to substantiate any notion, no matter how bizarre. I am fairly certain that the thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult had strong faith in their beliefs just as you do. This did not prevent them from being fatally incorrect.

Received: 12/29/98 (in response to above)

Let me ask you a question.  What if I am right?  What if the only way to God is through Jesus Christ, and his atonement for sin.  Let's take the alternative path for a moment.

The bible clearly states that heaven and hell are both real places.  You say that you do believe that there is some kind of life after death, although you are not sure what that consists of.  If the biblical record is correct, which of course I believe it is, we will all end up in one place or the other, and the choice is ours.

Well, firstly I would dispute the claim that "the Bible clearly states that heaven and hell are both real places". This may be the case in the New Testament, but it is certainly not the case in the Old. Like most religious concepts incorporated into Christianity, the doctrine of Heaven and Hell, and indeed life after death in general, evolved over a long period of time. The earliest documents that make up the Bible have very little at all to say about life after death.

In fact, the Old Testament clearly states on several occasions that point of the Law was to gain prosperity and long life on earth. Not a word is said about life after death. For example, shortly after revealing the Decalogue in Deuteronomy, we find God stating these words:

Deut 5:33 Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.

Note that the reward for serving God is said to be a long and peaceful life. There is no mention of eternal life with God in heaven, simply because such a concept did not exist among the ancient Jews. As far as they were concerned, mankind returned to the dust that he was created from after death, never to be heard from again.

Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Eccl 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

Psalms 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

Isaiah 38:18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

Some writers had a different idea, and mentioned "hell" a number of times. Borrowed from pagan religion, this concept related to the belief that all souls, whether good or bad, went to the same place after death, something like a prison for the souls of the departed. That this concept evolved later is evident from the fact that the word "hell" appears only once in the King James version of the first five books of the OT  - Deut 32:22. It is, in fact, the word "sheol", which is always translated "grave" elsewhere in the Pentateuch. This word later came to signify the place of the dead, similar to the Greek concept of Hades (which is the word used in the New Testament to denote Hell).

The concept of the resurrection, or life after death evolved very late. It is first hinted at in such very late books as Daniel (12:2) and Job (19:26), although there is some question about the interpretation of this latter passage.

The concept of life after death in either Heaven or Hell, appears fully fledged in the New Testament. The intertestamental, or apocraphyl books reveal more of the process of evolution. I would suggest that you have a look at these.

Secondly, I have no belief in life after death. I have a hope that my life will continue after my physical demise, but I find no evidence to turn that hope into a belief.

As far as the mind and the body, it is the spirit within us that is eternal, and which must be prepared for the eternal life it chooses.  Our bodies are only temporary dwelling places for this earth...earth suits if you will.  The spirit will go on after us into either heaven or hell.

Again, I find no evidence for such a belief. All the current available evidence indicates that the the mind is generated by the brain, and ceases to function when the brain does. Whether there is such a thing as the spirit is a concept that lacks any sort of proof.

Salvation from hell comes through Jesus Christ, according to the bible account. My acceptance of Christ as my substitutional sacrifice for sin determines my destination in heaven, and secures my absence from hell.  One who does not accept Christ will spend eternity in hell..a place where no one would want to stay if they knew what it would really be like according to scripture.

Again, I have to ask if the Bible really does teach that salvation comes by Christ. Once more, we find that each author had different ideas. Yes, there are those, such a Paul, who describe salvation as you do above. Still others, even Jesus himself, are a little more cagey.

Mark 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?...Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

It is, of course, possible to reconcile these differing views, but only by disregarding the clear context of each passage.

Many religions believe that simply doing good, or being good will earn you a place in heaven.  If the biblical record is correct, many of these will be dissappointed in the end.  If the biblical statement is false, then those who have accepted Christ as Savior and followed him will accomplish those good things that many others deem necessary for heaven's entrance, and will be heaven bound.  If the biblical statements are true, then those who accept Christ will end up in heaven.  So what harm is ther ein accepting this atoning sacrifice?

Again, the atoning sacrifice of Christ appears to be the opinion of only some of the New Testament writers. James never mentioned it at all.

I suppose that the next discussion we have may revolve around original sin, which you probably do not ascribe to either since the biblical record is "second-hand".

Well, I do not subscribe to the concept because it makes no sense. Nor is it possible to come up with a definition of what sin actually is. Is smoking and drinking sinful? The Church that I used to attend would say yes. Other churches have no such qualms. Is speaking in tongues a sin? Again, my old church would have said yes. Others would strongly disagree. How is it possible to define "original sin" if Christians themselves cannot even agree on the specifics?

How well do you accept the news on the TV or Radio, all of which is second-hand, and many times unsubstantiated?

I accept news stories if I find a reasonable basis to do so. If I heard a story that the US had bombed an Iraqi military site, I would tend to believe it, because it fits the current situation. If I heard a story that aliens had landed on the White House lawn and were currently swapping jokes with the President, I would be somewhat more skeptical, and would obviously demand stronger proof.

Received: 12/13/98

I find your supposition on the birth of Jesus lacking.  Hundred of millions of people form all over the world believe all or part of the Biblical narratives. If you can't accept their beliefs, then why not at least accept that that so many do believe and ask yourself the question why.  Horatio, there are more things on Heaven and Earth than are written about in your Philosophy or your History books. 

Truth is never decided by majority opinion. It matters very little to me how many people believe in the Birth Narratives of the Gospels. The only thing that matters is whether they can prove their contention that Jesus was born in the manner recorded by the gospels of Matthew and Luke. So far, such proof is lacking.

For instance, do you think Herod would have advertised the massacre of the innocents?

Of course not, However, his biographers, most of whom had very little respect for him, would undoubtedly have recorded such an atrocity. In addition, Palestine at that time was in a constant state of political turmoil. An atrocity such as that recorded by Matthew would have sparked a massive rebellion against Herod. No such event is recorded.

History does record that Josepus was such a loyal and straightforward man that I can certainly see why, if there is a conflict between his rendition of the events of the Christian era and those of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that you would prefer the rendition of a traitor over that of some of the most revered men who ever lived.

As I pointed out, there is no conflict between Josephus and the Gospels. Matthew records that Herod was succeeded by his son Archelaus, an event which Josephus records. Luke asserts that the Roman Emperor ordered a census of the region under Cyrenius, the governor of Syria, when Jesus was born. Again, Josephus records this incident and even gives us some background information regarding the events that led up to the census. Thus, Matthew and Luke are both in harmony with Josephus.

However, Matthew and Luke tie Jesus' birth to events that are at least ten years apart. They disagree with each other, not with Josephus.

Received: 12/13/98

I had read your site , and I would like talk you that religion is to feel , and not to reason about.

I am a mormon, brazilian, and I learned through my feelings about the true religion of  God, a many years ago. Pray for God, he listen the children him!

I agree that religion is a personal choice. You are free to believe whatever you want. Everyone has that right.

Unfortunately, there are some people who do not understand that religion, or the lack thereof, is a personal choice, and consequently they attempt to force others to believe the same way that they do. From this warped thinking springs such things as Inquisitions, Whichunts and Holy Wars.

Received: 12/12/98


I understand how you feel about the Bible. After all, I used to believe the same way until I realised differently.  

However, at this point, I do not attach much weight to what people believe, but rather to what they can prove. If you insist that the Bible is without error, you need to advance some proof of that position, rather than simply stating your assertion.  

Received: 12/12/98

I was surfing the net, found your site, and I have something that can answer a few of your questions.  Part of the problem is that no one is going back as far as they can in the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts.  They merely accept blindly what is shoved under their noses as truth.   I have recently undertaken the task of going through the first three chapters in Genesis word for word from the actual Hebrew and have found that what is written in the Hebrew is not what is printed in the King James and the NIV.

The text has essentially been "locked and sealed" until this period in time because the ancients lacked the knowledge of DNA manipulation and couldn't interpret the text accurately because they lacked the technological context. They misinterpreted the word mayim for water because they couldn't relate to the other meaning of the word because it wouldn't have made sense to them. The other meaning is "sperm" and when put in the proper context paints a different story than what we've been told is the truth. 

The truth is plain for all to see in the original Hebrew, but how many people take the time to read the original Hebrew in the proper context?  The main thing is though, it proves without a shadow of a doubt that God is real and has the technological know how to achieve anything He sets His mind to.  I have listed many of the interpreted scriptures on my website. 

I also noticed your page on the Mormons.  What many people don't realize is that in 2Thess 2:10-12 God says that He will send a powerful delusion.  Jesus ordered us in Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John not to listen to anyone coming in His name or claiming to be the messiah until He returned and split the Mt. Olives.  This means anyone.  This throws out the book of Revelations and the Mormon Doctrines, the Muslim and Islamic faith in the Koran, the Urantia people, and all the new agers.  Once you see that, then things start to clear up a little when you start digging around for truth.  God Bless.

Received: 98/12/11

HAVE you been told that the early Church Fathers, medieval theologians, and Reformers argued that the torments experienced in hell are everlasting? If so, it may surprise you to know that some highly regarded Bible scholars are now challenging that view. In Britain, one of them, John R. W. Stott, writes that "Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture."—Essentials—A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue.

[What follows is an excerpt from a Watchtower publication that attempts to show that ther doctrine of eternal punishment is not taught in the Bible. In the interests of brevity, I have moved the tract to here. - Curt]

Thanks for your message. I agree that the Bible in places seems to indicate that Hell is not eternal torment, while other places indicate that it is. What this basically tells me is that there is no consistent position on the subject of punishment after death in the Bible. Instead, what we see is a gradual evolution from very early Canaanite/Jewish beliefs, which held no doctrine concerning life after death, all the way through to the doctrine of conscious torment espoused by, especially, the Book of Revelation and some of the Gospel writers.  

This latter belief entered Christianity, not through Judaism, but rather via Zoroastrianism, the religion of Israel's Persian rulers for nearly two centuries. The Persians, in turn, influenced a small section of Judaism which was very fascinated with dualism and apocalyptism. The Qumram community was one example of such a sect.   Christianity grew out of one or more of these apocalyptic sects, and thus inherited the Persian concept of punishment after death for the wicked.  

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