Answer to rmwilliamsjr at James McGrath’s “Exploring Our Matrix” Blog Post: “The Bible’s Authors Were Inspired by God”

Below I have copied the words that commenter rmwilliamsjr posted.  Within the text I have inserted [bracketed italics] which answer his question.

for the LORD your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the LORD’s name always.  [I’m not sure where you’re pulling this from; it looks out of context.]

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  [This is from 2 Samuel 7:12.  It is a prophecy from God through the prophet Nathan to King David.  Note that God promises to “raise up” – this speaks of the resurrection.  The promise regards David’s descendant – or seed.  The promise is that this descendant will one day be king.  There have been many claimants to the title of Israel’s messiah, some of them even legitimate descendants of David, but none were ever raised from the dead.  Most ancient Jews thought that the term “raise up” was figurative until Jesus actually demonstrated that it was intended to be fulfilled literally.]

6 Your throne, O God,[a] will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy. [This is from Psalm 45.  It refers to the resurrection of Christ and His ascension into heaven.  It refers to the kingdom – which was part of God’s promise to David regarding his descendant.  The phrase “set you above” is, of course, an allusion to the resurrection.  That the person addressed is called “God” or “god” is reference to the fact that the throne being provided is in heaven.  Angels were called “gods” or “sons of God.”  This leads to the next prophecy below.]

Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”  [This is the beginning of Psalm 110.  David is speaking of his descendant according to the flesh.  Everyone in Israel knew that the messiah would come from David’s line.  When God says to that heir, “Sit at my right hand” He is inviting the heir to a heavenly throne.  In this way, the messiah can not only be David’s descendant (and therefore subordinate to David) according to the flesh (that is, the earthly or physical realm), he would become David’s superior (“my lord”) according to the spirit (that is, in the heavenly or unseen realm) by virtue of resurrection and ascension to heaven.]

5 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous [a]Branch;
And He will reign as king and [b]act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.  [This is from Jeremiah 23.  There, once again, is the promise to “raise up” the descendant of David.  The promise is to make the descendant king – which being the first person raised eternally from the dead would have a tendency to do.  “Branch” is another name for Messiah and is used in other Old Testament promises as well.]

Mic 2:13 The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them.  [“Breaker” is  a messianic title like “Branch.”  Note that he “comes up” – some translations say “go up” – and the reference is to resurrection.  “Breaker” would indicate a “breaking through the bonds of death” – an unprecedented move.  Again, these references to resurrection were not commonly understood as meaning this until Jesus demonstrated it.  The prophets who wrote the promises, however, were aware of what they were implying (in this regard see 1 Pet 1:10-12).  The reference to “king” confirms that the Davidic heir is here in mind.  The “them” refers to all the human dead who will arise because Jesus leads them.  As Jesus goes to heaven, so do all the dead whom He takes there.  In this regard, see Everyone Is Going to Heaven.]

Mic 5:4 And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.  [Some translations say “arise” instead of “stand.”  Either way, it’s the resurrection that God has in view (Death did not conquer Messiah; though He fell, He was made to “stand” again or “arise.”  The phrase “great unto the ends of the earth” refers, as do similar phrases above, to the expanse of this kingdom.  Ruling from heaven, instead of just an earthly throne, would be worldwide in scope by its very nature.]

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.  [This is Malachi 4:2.  Once again, we have an allusion to the resurrection in “the sun” that will “rise.”  Note also that throughout all these passages we have seen an emphasis on “righteousness,” which, of course, characterizes the life that Jesus lived.  The reference to “healing” also would be part of the unique set of characteristics that distinguish Jesus as a messianic candidate above all others (yes, I used the term “above” allusively.]

which of these has anything to do with a dying Messianic prophet being reborn as a God?

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46 Responses to Answer to rmwilliamsjr at James McGrath’s “Exploring Our Matrix” Blog Post: “The Bible’s Authors Were Inspired by God”

  1. Beau Quilter says:

    Mike,

    rmwilliams’ first quote, that you can’t identify, is Deuteronomy 18:5, which is the first verse in the list of verses you cited to us as relevant prophecies.

    Thank you for taking time to provide your explanations that each of the remaining verses are prophecies of Jesus, but your explanations seem quite obscure to me. You’ve mostly taken any vaguely “up” references, such as “raising”, “arising”, “come up”, etc. as referring to the resurrection or ascension. You’ve also taken references to God or God’s throne or being at the right hand of God as indications of heaven, and, presumably, the ascension (does God only exist in Heaven? did the Jews of the Old Testament even have a notion of heaven like that you find in the New Testament).

    And all of your descriptions go far beyond the plain meaning of the text. They look like the sorts of conclusions people draw from Nostrodamus. The only difference is that Nostrodamus’s original text is (intentionally?) obscure, while these OT passages have perfectly reasonable meanings for their original OT hearers, meanings that have nothing to do with Jesus.

    In fact this has been a very illuminating discussion for me. I’m fairly well read, when it comes to the Bible, but when you mentioned that the Hosea passage was an arbitrarily obscure passage for us to pick at, I thought to myself that you had a point. I thought, perhaps, we should look at prophecies that might more clearly point to Jesus.

    Now that I’ve seen the best you have to offer, I’m more convinced than ever that there are no prophecies that point to Jesus. The only way to get a prophecy of Jesus out of an OT text is to twist the original meaning of the text.

    There certainly aren’t any “amazing coincidences” here.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      I left out a keystroke in the Deuteronomy citation. It should have been Deut 18:15, not 18:5. (I’ve since corrected my original notation.)

      “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

      This is Moses speaking. You see again the allusion to resurrection and to the role as spokesman for God. This speaking role was, of course, allusive to Moses’ own role. Joshua was seen as a sort of initial installment or down payment on this promise (the figurative sense of “raise up”). And this is often the case with biblical prophecies. (The first fruits of such a promise provide a type or shadow of the fullness to come, reinforcing the intent and seriousness of the promise.) But that Joshua did not exhaust its fulfillment (notwithstanding Thomas Payne’s protests to the contrary) was widely understood among first-century Jews (John 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). Note also that Mary and Joseph were instructed by an angel to name their baby “Jesus” which is, of course, “Joshua” in Hebrew. All these various strands of biblical promise, type, shadow, and allusion come together in a single person: Jesus of Nazareth.

      • Beau Quilter says:

        Actually, Joshua fulfills the prophecy quite nicely, and is probably all the original writer had in mind. It’s true that later Jews often applied prophecies to their own messianic figures (including many who were not Jesus).

  2. Beau Quilter says:

    I couldn’t help but chuckle at the “raising offspring prophecy”. My parents often advised me on the importance of raising my children well. What an amazing coincidence! How could they have known that I would take my daughter to Europe in an airplane this summer!

  3. Mike Gantt says:

    If your parents had so advised you centuries and even millennia before your daughter was born, and centuries before air travel was practiced, while other relatives from intervening generations, still hundreds of years before your daughter was born, added to that advice promises regarding a number of other aspects of your daughter’s life – some seemingly incompatible with each other, until her life actually demonstrated the compatibility by a unique experience never before achieved by any other human being – then i think there might be a basis for comparing what your parents told you to the promises made by the prophets of Israel about the Messiah.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      If all that you just cited were true about Jesus, you would have a point. But the “prophecies” concerning Jesus are all verses taken completely out of context. Each one taken individually has no more merit thant the example I gave with my parents. Collectively, they have even less merit.

  4. Beau Quilter says:

    Mike, I know that I must sound dismissive to you, but, seriously, these explanations sound no better (and maybe even more suspect) than the prophecies contemporary new agers pick out of the vague verses of Nostradamus.

    I can see how someone who already had a presumptive belief in a resurrected Jesus could go back and look for “clues” in the Old Testament. But this does not qualify as evidence by any stretch of the imagination. It has all the appearance of wishful thinking.

  5. Mike Gantt says:

    I was asked for messianic prophecies that spoke of resurrection. I gave some.

    I was asked to explain how they spoke of resurrection. I did.

    You’re responding, however, as if I had laid out a comprehensive case for how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the many messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Your response does sound dismissive, and inappropriately so. It was as if you asked me to throw a pass and then criticized me because I didn’t field an entire football team.

    If you are serious about wanting to give reasonable consideration to messianic prophecy consider reading a book like The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. or Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy by J. Barton Payne. Even apart from reading such books, you can know that messianic prophecy was a real phenomenon from history outside the Bible. For if there were no coherent messianic prophecy there could have been no messianic candidates to claim they were fulfilling it.

    The other component you may not be giving due consideration is the moral dimension of Israel’s prophets and prophecies. The subject of the future was not a matter of static prediction, and certainly was nothing like fortune-telling or mentalist acts. Rather, the moral integrity of one’s thoughts and behavior were active functions in both the giving and the discerning of prophecy. Only with a humble and repentant heart is it possible to piece together God’s message through the prophecy of Jesus Christ. The hard-hearted will never get it.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      Consider also this short post: The Jigsaw Puzzle That Is the Old Testament Portrait of Messiah

      (Though again, it’s my throwing a pass, not fielding a team.)

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Thank you for your considerate answer, Mike.

      I haven’t read the Kaiser book, though I’ve browsed the Payne Encyclopedia. At the moment I don’t plan to read them, because I’ve read enough theology in my time to conclude that such readings of the Old Testament are not reasonable and require huge leaps of faith, which I do not possess. (I’m sure you have little interest in reading theological tomes on the Quran or the Book of Mormon).

      I’m aware that there are some messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, variously interpreted by Jews over the centuries. I’m also aware that only Christians read them (and add additional verses to them) in a particular way that (to them) presages Jesus.

      To me (and quite a number of scholars) the variant interpretations of ancient texts as prophecies of contemporary events centuries later, only reveal the confirmation bias of the interpreters. Especially (in the case of the Christian gospels) when so many of the OT references are so completely out of context.

      My original post on Jim’s blog was to point out the weakness of your statement that messianic prophecies present an amazing coincidence.

      I don’t expect you to agree or field the entire football field. There is simply nothing in your response that would lead one without former bias into thinking that these verses were connected to a future event in any meaningful way. I am not interested in reading further for the same reason that I’m not interested in reading any further on the inspiration of the Quran – I see no compelling reason to pursue such a line of thought.

      I know you believe otherwise, but I can only say that I am being reasonable – not hard-hearted.

      • Mike Gantt says:

        It’s not merely the fulfillment of messianic prophecy but the concomitant and contemporaneous testimony to Christ’s resurrection (including the willingness of witnesses to sacrifice reputation, wealth, and life in giving that testimony) that makes such a deep impression on me and calls for my belief.

        The truth claims of Christ bear resemblance to the truth claims of Islam, Mormonism, or Nostradamus at only the most superficial level – so I am perplexed at why a well-read person would not recognize this. Nevertheless, you have examined what you have examined and you have decided what you have decided. May I then ask, however, whose truth claims do you find impressive? That is, what do you think explains who we are and why we are here – and to whom are you indebted for this view?

        • Beau Quilter says:

          I’m afraid that simple answers are enough for me. I am a man. I am here because my mother gave birth to me. I am indebted to myself for this view (and my mother, although you I can see the resemblance for myself).

          I am not trying to belittle the question. I am trying to demonstrate that the question “why am I here,” is a religious question, containing the inherent assumption that some higher power has created us for a purpose.

          The only answers to “why” that make sense to me are the local answers. If I have a purpose, it is one that has been assigned by myself or my community.

          • Mike Gantt says:

            I’ll let pass without further comment the irony of your calling a question Christopher Hitchens would have been perfectly willing to answer, as would be a number of other unbelievers, “religious.”

            What I am curious about is, given your disdain for the subject matter, why you would frequent a blog written by a professor of New Testament?

            • Beau Quilter says:

              You don’t have to let things pass, Mike. I’m not trying to win any points. Just have a discussion. I think you are right to correct me. Nonbelievers do answer the question, because (you are right, I was wrong), even if religious believers do have a religious answer to the question, it can be answered without religion.

              Your question is a good one. I was a Christian for most of my life. Christian teachings had an enormous effect on the path my life has taken, and I recognize that the Christian religion has had an enormous effect on the history of civilization.

              I don’t believe in the supernatural aspects of the Bible, but having been steeped in it since childhood, I find that I’m still quite interested in the text and its history. I’m also interested in the way that religion affects individual personalities, because I remember how easily I ignored or tried to explain away biblical inconsistency when I was a Christian.

              I had grown up singing every hymn in the book. As a five year old, I stood up and led my congregation in “Trust and Obey”, waving my hand in the air and singing every verse by heart (not even understanding all of the words). The Bible is not completely without truth.
              Proverbs 22:6 explains quite clearly why it took so long for me to rethink let go of Christianity:

              “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

              It certainly worked for most of my life.

        • Beau Quilter says:

          In answer to your perplexment, there are many well-read men who do not subscribe to the truth claims of Christ. It should not be surprising.

          Just as important, those who do subscribe to the truth claims of Christ are so diverse in their beliefs of what, exactly, that truth entails, one has to wonder just how much clarity there is in the original source.

          Every ancient religion has miracle and magic stories. There is no evidence for miracles or magic today, and that is enough for me to find all these ancient stories completely lacking in credibility.

          • Mike Gantt says:

            I didn’t say I was perplexed because you described yourself as well-read and didn’t believe the truth claims of Christ, but rather because you seem to think that the truth claims of Christ are different in no important ways from those of Islam, Mormonism, or Nostradamus. You wouldn’t have to trust Christ to notice those differences.

            • Beau Quilter says:

              Well, I’ll grant you Mormonism. I personally find it unbelievable and frankly frightening that our nation could vote the nuclear codes to a man who believes such lunacy.

              But as far as ancient religious claims are concerned, you will have to be more specific about what truth claims you think are viable in Christianity but not in other religions. You mention:

              ” the willingness of witnesses to sacrifice reputation, wealth, and life in giving that testimony”

              But we do not have the testimony men who knew Christ? The gospels were clearly not written by apostles or witnesses. They claim the authority of witnesses, but most religions make such claims. Even if true, we have people who sacrifice reputation, wealth, and life even today for the sake of Islam, or the claims of Harold Camping. Most religions have martyrs who die for their beliefs.

  6. Mike Gantt says:

    Do you really not see a difference between the first-century martyrs for Christ and Islam’s suicide/homocide bombers? Forget their competing truth claims for the moment and just consider their behavior.

    As for Harold Camping, he’s living to a ripe old age collecting business profits. What has that in common with Paul being beheaded or Peter being crucified upside down? Again, just focus a moment on behavior and leave aside the rightness or wrongness of the beliefs that drove the behavior.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      I agree we should leave out the rightness or wrongness of the behavior for the moment. I didn’t mention suicide/homicide bombers. There are, actually, far more muslims who are martyred for their beliefs each year, while committing no violent acts of their own.

      I am not so interested in Harold Camping, as I am in all of the people who gave up their time, money, and reputation to welcome the end of the world according to his predictions.

      As for the martyrdom of the apostles, it proves very little. As I’ve already pointed out. Multitudes have been martyred throughout history for beliefs to which I don’t subscribe, (and for beliefs to which you don’t subscribe).

      A secondary point: I have no particular reason to doubt the martyrdom of the apostles, but there’s very little evidence for their executions or the circumstances surrounding them. Contrast that with the wealth of modern news reports about people dying for each their professed faiths (which include all of the major world religions). The point is simply that martyrdom does not constitute evidence of truth claims.

  7. Mike Gantt says:

    Well, we’ve managed to eliminate Mormons and Harold Camping from reasonable comparison to first-century witnesses of Christ – so that’s progress. (Again, we’re just talking about the nature of the claim rather than the veracity of the claim’s contents.)

    As for your retreat to “Multitudes have been martyred throughout history for beliefs,” this is the sort of superficial comparison I said was necessary to say that the truth claims regarding Christ are the same as all other religious truth claims. If you peer only a little deeper, however, you see that those who bore witness to Christ were making a claim that 1) he had been raised from the dead*, and 2) that this fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. All they had to do to keep from getting killed was to stop making those claims. I’d say the vast majority of the “multitudes have been martyred” group you’re talking about are folks who have been killed just for being who they are – something they had no ability to change (e.g. the Jews under Hitler’s Germany).

    Of the groups you originally mentioned, I think we’ve eliminated all but the Muslims. (Oh, I’m just assuming you don’t want to press the case for Nostradamus since he didn’t die for his beliefs and left his heirs a monetary inheritance that seemed to satisfy them). As for Islam, didn’t Muhammad write his own book (rather than rely on one written long before he was born) and mount an army to enforce his kingdom (rather than allow himself to be crucified while instructing his followers not to use the sword in spreading his word)? Do you actually consider this an inconsequential difference?

    *I’m imagining – and it’s just me imagining, mind you – that if I hadn’t actually seen – or wasn’t completely sure I had seen – someone risen from the dead, and all that was necessary to stop me from being tortured and killed was to stop saying I had seen someone risen from the dead, it would be pretty much the easiest thing in the world to stop saying that I was sure I had seen someone risen from the dead.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Hello Mike

      I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. My hard drive crashed and I’ve been without a computer the past few days. (It was actually refreshing! It’s sometimes good to remind oneself that, without technology, life goes on!)

      Mike, you are now making a very specific argument for the evidence of the apostles’ martyrdom. I think you are saying that the apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, that their claims were confirmed by messianic prophecies, and that their refusal to recant their beliefs in the face of being tortured and killed is a confirmation that they were not lying.

      That’s fine, but remember that we began this page with a discussion of whether Old Testament prophecies were clear presages of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It was in that context that I made comparisons to those who interpret Nostradamus, Joseph Smith, and Harold Camping. I’ll grant that Mormonism’s claims are among the wackiest of the examples (although an incredibly huge number of followers in this fast growing religion would disagree). But I will continue to stand by my contention that those who use Old Testament verses as prophecies of Christ, interpret them with as much vagueness and absence of context as those who interpret Nostradamus to predict modern events, or as Harold Camping when he interprets the New Testament to predict a date for the end of the world.

      So when you say I must “eliminate” these examples and “retreat” to other martyrdoms, you are completely misrepresenting our discussion, which is annoying because it makes me feel as though you’ve stopped listening to the discussion and are just trying to win points.

      But – on to your argument about the martyrdom of the apostles. First of all I cannot imagine why you think you can dismiss martyrs in all other major religions as “folks who have been killed just for being who they are”. If you just say that this is true of “most” martyrs, then your statement holds true of Christianity as well. But are you really suggesting that Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists (you’ve conceded Muslims) have never purposely held firm to their beliefs in the face of torture and death?

      And as for your argument that Mohammed didn’t die as Jesus did, it is beside the point. I am not arguing that Jesus is like Mohammed. I am arguing that their followers are equally willing to die for their beliefs, whether the belief that God’s son rose from the grave, or the belief that God’s prophet was chosen to mount religious jihad.

      You seem to be saying that the apostles’s death was more meaningful evidence because they could have saved their lives by claiming that they had not seen Jesus resurrected, but did not. What evidence do you have that the apostles could have saved themselves from death by denying the resurrection? What evidence do you have that the apostles were martyred at all; or even if they were, that they were not among the “folks who have been killed just for being who they are.”

      I have no trouble conceding that early Christians died proclaiming their beliefs. Other world religions can make the same claim, despite your dismissal of them.

      But saying that early Christians died for proclaiming that they had seen Jesus resurrected right in front of their own eyes (and could have saved themselves by “taking it back”) is a claim that has little, if any, evidence (whether or not such a claim would prove about the truth claims of Christianity).

  8. Mike Gantt says:

    I’m not interested in winning points; I’m interested in winning hearts. I honestly thought you were conceding the points I referenced. I wasn’t trying to corner you or “best” you.

    You’ve found a place to stand from which any truth claim about God which is accompanied by a persecution claim appears morally equivalent to the claims of Paul and the Twelve. I’ve offered you ample evidence as to why such claims can and should be distinguished. If you’re unwilling to grant that distinction there’s nothing I can think of to do to further induce you.

    For my part, I marvel more and more and more at the claims of Christ and only wish I’d come to my current perspective much earlier in life. It’s not just the claims themselves, but also they ways they are made and the particular people who initially made them that have captivated my attention and allegiance and decisively distinguished them from all others. As an agnostic, I was not inclined to go this direction.

    I think we’ve come as far as we can on the topic at hand. I’ll just leave you with this thought in parting: Everyone is going to heaven.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Mike

      I have to say I do not see what you mean by “ample evidence”; I can honestly say that I am unconvinced because of the lack of evidence, not because of being “unwilling.”

      There is actually something I didn’t “pick up” in your argument before: the idea of “moral equivalence.” I thought we were just talking about the validity of persecution or death as evidence of truth claims.

      Are you saying that the truth claims of other religions with adherents who face persecution and death are invalidated because they are not morally equivalent to Christianity? If that is the case, then why bring martyrdom into the argument at all? Why not simply argue that Christianity is morally superior to all other religions?

      If moral equivalence is crux of your argument (forgive the pun), well, then you’ve introduced a completely new argument – and we haven’t even started down that road . . .

      Incidentally, since you are a Christian, I am glad that you are a universalist. I find the belief in eternal torture repugnant.

  9. Mike Gantt says:

    You are misapplying my reference to “moral equivalence.” My point was to say that you are making all cases of martyrdom morally equivalent, not that you are making all religions morally equivalent.

    All martrydoms are reprehensible and regrettable, but they are not all morally equivalent from the standpoint of the person being martyred. I explained why. Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis, or Irish Protestants and Catholics who died at the hands of each other, or Muslim terrorists who died at their own hands, cannot all be equated from the standpoint of the person martyred. If you’re unwilling to acknowledge such differences (which seem strikingly obvious to me and independent of the truth claim itself), then there’s not much else I can say.

    By the way, I not only believe that everyone is going to heaven – I also believe that judgment is upon us and that we must therefore repent.

  10. Mike Gantt says:

    I’d like to add another distinguishing characteristic to the truth claims regarding Jesus Christ:

    The fundamental point of Jesus’ teaching was that we should trust in the goodness of our Creator God, love Him, and love one another. Other human beings, including founders of religious movements, have perhaps taught along such lofty lines. Never, however, has it been recorded that anyone in history ever lived out his or her principles to the ultimate degree that Jesus did. I say this because the reward given to Jesus for all the kindnesses I just described, and for all the miracles of kindness He had performed, was to be nailed to a rough wooden cross about three years into His ministry. Throughout this ordeal He never threatened or reviled His persecutors. In other words, He fully lived out the very love He had been preaching – and all in the face of the most extreme provocation.

    Excerpted from Jesus of Nazareth.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      The author of “Jesus of Nazareth” obviously never heard of the 16th century Guru Arjan Dev Ji of India, who was chained naked to a post for two summer months in the heat of the sun. Sand was heated red hot and piled at his feet, while boiling water was periodically poured over his head. As he was slowly tortured to death, he repeated mantras to the Sikh Waheguru, saying that his will was sweet. He also forbade his followers from defending or avenging him.

      He is not the only religious leader to die a tortuous, yet complaisant and forgiving death.

      • Mike Gantt says:

        I was comparing Jesus to other “founders of religious movements.” I don’t deny that adherents to a religious tradition can manifest exemplary behavior – sometimes greater than that of the founder Himself. (It’s practically proverbial that Mormans are, generally speaking, more moral than Joseph Smith, and that followers of televangelists can be more moral than the televangelist.) In the case of Christ, however, no follower ever demonstrated more exemplary behavior than the founder.

        Even an apostle might had one other guy to look to who understood and appreciated the sacrifice he was about to make. Jesus had no one at hand who understood what He was doing.

        • Beau Quilter says:

          Well I was responding to your quotation from “Jesus of Nazareth”:

          “Other human beings, including founders of religious movements, have perhaps taught along such lofty lines. Never, however, has it been recorded that anyone in history ever lived out his or her principles to the ultimate degree that Jesus did.”

          I was simply pointing out that Guru Arjan Dev Ji (among others in religious history) proves this statement short-sighted and incorrect.

          I have more response to this below.

          • Mike Gantt says:

            I stand by my statement.

            So far as I know Guru Arjan Dev Ji did not call all people to himself, inventing the principles by which he was calling them to live. Neither do I see evidence from associates who lived with him for years testifying to his sinlessness and faithfulness to all the principles which he innovatively taught them.

            I tip my hat to Guru Arjan Dev Ji. He sounds like a better man than I am. But a better man than Christ? No.

  11. Beau Quilter says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Mike, I see what you are saying. I understand that some martyrs are killed in battle or killed with no chance to save themselves by recanting their beliefs. You are saying that someone who dies such a death has not stood the same moral test as someone who is given the chance to save themselves by denying their beliefs and refuses to do so.

    The 12th century Talmudic scholar Rabbi Ephraim ben Yaakov recorded that at least thirty Jews were burned alive by the crusader Theobald, Count of Blois. According to Yaakov, “As they were led forth, they were told, “You can save your lives if you will leave your religion and accept ours.” The Jews refused. They were beaten and tortured to make them accept the Christian religion, but still they refused. Rather, they encouraged each other to remain steadfast and die for the sanctification of G-d’s Name.”

    This basic story was repeated during the Spanish Inquisition. Many of the Jews who were tortured and killed were not simply hapless victims, but men and women who refused to save themselves by converting from their beliefs.

    Here’s a more modern example. In a period from the late 1970’s to the late 1980’s, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, the Jamat-i-Islami party tortured and massacred the Jumma people of the region. Among the Jumma tribes there were both Hindus and Buddhists targeted by the Muslims. There are dozens of recorded incidents in which both Hindus and Buddhists refused to recant their beliefs and become Muslims, when threatened to convert or die.

    You can find examples such as these all over the world throughout history, and represented by every major world religion. I never referred to hapless victims or terrorists as “morally equivalent” to the apostles. I am talking about people who specifically refuse to save their lives by recanting their beliefs. Their are plenty of records both ancient and modern of such people. Are they “morally equivalent” to the vaguely attested traditions of apostolic martyrdoms? I am amazed that you could think otherwise!

  12. Mike Gantt says:

    Well, we appear to be making some progress here.

    The two examples you give are indeed closer in kind to the apostles than, say, Muslims dying in a jihad on the people in the World Trade Center. However, there are still distinctions to be made in the apostles’ case.

    Unlike your two examples, the apostles would not have had to give up their social identity, their families, and their way of life in order to escape persecution. All they had to do was stop testifying that a dead man was now alive, and that the Hebrew Scriptures corroborated it. They could remain Jews, they could keep their families and whatever worldly good they may have had. They could keep all their social ties and whatever respectability they had earned within their culture. Moreover, they were spread out all across the Mediterranean, going about two by two or even singly. The ease with which they could have escaped the sword was staggering. This distinction is more nuanced that the previous cut, but it is real and relevant nonetheless.

  13. Mike Gantt says:

    By the way, even though I’m insisting on the uniqueness of the apostles’ martyrdoms, I want to be clear that I am not saying that their martrydom proves their claims – only that it merits particular attention to their claims.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      In most of the examples I’ve given, martyrs could have kept their families and belongings by denying their faith (and my examples are the tip of the iceberg; you should read more about the histories of other religious groups). As for the apostles, after leaving (mostly) lowly occupations, becoming the leaders of their religious movement, and spending decades establishing churches, do you really think they could have kept “kept all their social ties and whatever respectability they had earned” by denying their faith?

      I think you are pulling at straws to make the apostles martyrdom “unique”, and in so doing, stretching what scant sources you have beyond their ability to support you. Origen and Eusebius passed on traditions of the Apostles’ death in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Beyond their reliability, are these accounts as specific as you suggest? Do Origen and Eusebius say that the apostles were offered their lives in return for denying Christ?

      As you concede there are many examples of brave adherents to other religions, but Guru Arjan Dev Ji was one of the 10 Sikh Gurus upon whom Sikhism is founded. He wasn’t the first of the Sikh Gurus, that was Guru Nanak Dev, but the successors are bound up so closely in Sikh memory and sacred writings, that, at times, they are all referred to as Guru Nanak.

      And if it is the idea of a god dying for his followers that makes Jesus unique, this idea is preceded in religious history by Prometheus (tortured for giving mankind fire) and other archetypes.

      Ultimately, you can certainly succeed in arguing that Christianity is a unique religion; but so are all major world religions. I don’t see anything in Christianity’s uniqueness that lends much credence to its truth claims. And as I read more about other religions (such as Buddhism currently), I am discovering that Christianity really doesn’t even have superior claims to moral or philosophical enlightenment.

  14. Mike Gantt says:

    In most of the examples I’ve given, martyrs could have kept their families and belongings by denying their faith (and my examples are the tip of the iceberg; you should read more about the histories of other religious groups).

    The examples you gave – Jews in the Inquisition and the Jumma tribes in the last century – would have required conversion to Christianity and Islam respectively.  This certainly would have overturned all their prior family and social relationships (depending partially on just how many converted).  They would have been considered traitors by their former people and interlopers by their new.  Don’t get me wrong: I sympathize with these people and decry the injustices done to them.  But to suggest that recanting for them was an uncomplicated decision is just ignoring the facts.

    As for the apostles, after leaving (mostly) lowly occupations, becoming the leaders of their religious movement, and spending decades establishing churches, do you really think they could have kept “kept all their social ties and whatever respectability they had earned” by denying their faith?

    What you say might have some merit if the apostles became endangered only at the point in their lives that you imply by the way you phrased your question.  The reality you’re overlooking is that they were in such danger long before decades had passed, long before they were considered leaders, even before there was a church.  They were under threat from the very beginning, and that’s when it would have been easiest to just forget what they had seen – or at least stop declaring it at the top of their lungs in the middle of every city.

    I think you are pulling at straws to make the apostles martyrdom “unique”, and in so doing, stretching what scant sources you have beyond their ability to support you. Origen and Eusebius passed on traditions of the Apostles’ death in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Beyond their reliability, are these accounts as specific as you suggest? Do Origen and Eusebius say that the apostles were offered their lives in return for denying Christ?

    1st century documents (mostly called the New Testament) reveal that these threats of death occurred from the first days of the preaching about Christ’s resurrection.  See Acts 2-4.

    As you concede there are many examples of brave adherents to other religions, but Guru Arjan Dev Ji was one of the 10 Sikh Gurus upon whom Sikhism is founded. He wasn’t the first of the Sikh Gurus, that was Guru Nanak Dev, but the successors are bound up so closely in Sikh memory and sacred writings, that, at times, they are all referred to as Guru Nanak.

    All I’ve read about Guru Arian Dev Ji is the Wikipedia article.  In it I find nothing that refers to any universal truth claims he may have made, and certainly not what applicability such truth claims might have to me.  Jesus, being a product of ancient Israel, came with a message for all humanity.  This is where I think you are missing the point about martyrdom.  As I’ve said, a particular martyrdom needs to be analyzed to see if it merits our attention.  I don’t believe that the apostles’ martyrdom was the only one in history to merit our attention.  I believe that this guru’s does as well.  However, having given it some attention, I don’t see what it has to do with me – or with anyone I know.

    Find out what makes some one willing to risk death.  Then decide whether that something applies to you.

    Jesus died for sinners.  As soon as I gave that message serious thought, I realized it applied to me.

    And if it is the idea of a god dying for his followers that makes Jesus unique, this idea is preceded in religious history by Prometheus (tortured for giving mankind fire) and other archetypes.

    Jesus of Nazareth was not preached as a god dying for his followers.  Rather he was preached as the deliverer long promised in the Hebrew Scriptures by Israel’s prophets.  The realization that He was God came only decades later.

    Ultimately, you can certainly succeed in arguing that Christianity is a unique religion; but so are all major world religions.

    If everything is unique, nothing is unique.  Unique has no meaning when everything is the same.

    I don’t see anything in Christianity’s uniqueness that lends much credence to its truth claims.

    You’ve made that clear.  It astonishes me, but I get it nonetheless.

    And as I read more about other religions (such as Buddhism currently), I am discovering that Christianity really doesn’t even have superior claims to moral or philosophical enlightenment.

    Almost one out of three of the 7 billion people on the planet confess to being Christians.  The other two out of three people who look at them, and, for the most part, don’t see the life that Christ and His apostles taught and lived.  On that basis the two out of the three can  be forgiven for not embracing Christianity.

    In fact, I don’t promote Christianity at all.  Organized Christianity is man-made religion.  I promote Jesus Christ and Him alone.  (Church Is Not the Answer; Christ IsSeeking the Kingdom of God Instead of ChurchPracticing the Presence of Christ)

    God is not impressed by the moral codes we admire, but rather by the moral lives we live.  If you think Buddhism offers higher morals that Christ, then by all means follow Buddha.  For me, however, I can imagine no higher morality than that which Christ taught and lived.  “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  If you’ve given your life, you have nothing left to give.  I just don’t see how Buddha – or anyone else – can top that.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Regarding martyrs of other religions:

      “But to suggest that recanting for them was an uncomplicated decision is just ignoring the facts.”

      Your statement applies equally well to the apostles.

      Regarding the apostles:

      “They were under threat from the very beginning, and that’s when it would have been easiest to just forget what they had seen – or at least stop declaring it at the top of their lungs in the middle of every city.”

      Not sure what your point is here. And the same is true of the martyrdom examples I provided from other religions.

      “1st century documents (mostly called the New Testament) reveal that these threats of death occurred from the first days of the preaching about Christ’s resurrection.”

      This just feels dishonest to me. Now you’ve backed up to change your argument to one that “death threats” make the Apostles’ claims credible. In the first place, this claim can also be made of other religious adherents. More importantly, you’ve been saying all along that the apostles were martyred and could have saved themselves by recanting their belief. I made the clear point that you have virtually no evidence for this claim, and now you simply make a different claim. I’m beginning to believe that you don’t care about the trustworthiness of your statements.

      “If everything is unique, nothing is unique. Unique has no meaning when everything is the same.”

      Agreed. Adds or subtracts nothing to your argument that the martyrdom of the apostles adds credibility to the truth of their claim.

      “If you’ve given your life, you have nothing left to give. I just don’t see how Buddha – or anyone else – can top that.”

      Read history. I’ve already given you examples of people outside Christianity who do give up their lives, and you can find a plethora more with very little searching.

      I don’t know why my incredulity astonishes you. I don’t think you are looking at your own claims honestly and objectively. I narrowed your original arguments virtually to nonexistence, and you ignore the lack of evidence I point out and simply change the argument. I think you are completely failing to take this discussion seriously.

  15. Mike Gantt says:

    I think you’re reacting less to what I’m saying than to what you think I’m saying.

    That is, you have a perception of what I think about the claims I’m making. At some points you’ve been accurate, but at other points you’ve been off. I’ve tried to correct your impressions. In some cases this has been successful, but in other cases not.

    This makes for a difficult discussion. I don’t mind trying to work through issues, but to have you accuse me of dishonesty or frivolity is counterproductive – not because I mind being slandered, but because for you to entertain such notions further distorts your perception of what I’m saying.

  16. Mike Gantt says:

    Checkpoint: My perception of your view is this:

    1. There are many religious truth claims in the world.
    2. Because martyrs are commonplace to such claims, their presence adds nothing unique to any of the claims.
    3. Therefore…

    As you can see, I need help finishing the third item. But I also want you to tell me if I have the first two correct.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Well, we’ve taken several turns in this discussion, but this might reflect a part of the conversation.

      I would agree with 1.
      I would change number 2 to “Because martyrs are commonplace to such claims, their presence does not serve as evidence for the validity of these claims.”

      I don’t have a number 3. Do you?

  17. Mike Gantt says:

    I was just trying to re-group and be productive.

    You didn’t accept my worldview (truth claim, including source) so I was trying to see if I could better understand yours. You’ve answered me here similarly to how you answered me before. That is, you are more articulate and forceful about what you don’t believe to be true than you are about what you do believe to be true. This doesn’t leave me a way to productively advance the conversation.

    • Beau Quilter says:

      Of course this conversation began with your response to Jim’s blog post “The Bible’s Authors Were Inspired by God”, and a discussion there of Hosea 11.1, which led to the scriptures that you talk about at the top of this post.

      So we’ve taken a few turns since then, and seem to have lost a direction for the discussion.

      Perhaps, we should let this particular discussion wind down for now?

  18. Wow someone should Pray for Beau and Jim that the Lord’s Grace opens their eyes before it’s to late for them. Just Remember what ever you believe, At the moment of your death (If you have the time and presence of mind to do so) Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and repent of your sins and ask Jesus into your Heart and hopefully we can continue this discussion in Heaven.

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