ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

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steve
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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by steve » Fri Mar 20, 2009 10:48 am

Hi Emmet,
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Continuing your citation from Luke 16: "... and every one forces into it - but it is easier for the heaven and the earth to pass than for one serif of the law to fall."

steve wrote:
I do not believe that any part of the law failed. I also do not believe that Jesus destroyed the law. But I believe that He did fulfill it. That is, He inaugurated the new order that the ceremonies of the law anticipated, rendering them obsolete.

kaufmannphillips replied:
At the risk of being pedantic, the preferable rendering of the word is "fall," not "fail." Interesting that out of ninety occurrences of the Greek word, the KJV renders it as "fall" 88 times, and as "fail" only this once. Theological skew?
I am not aware of how the difference in translation would favor one theological view against another. To speak of such a thing as a law “falling” is as obscure an expression as is speaking of a law “failing.” Both involve metaphors. The meaning of either term would seem equally to require interpretation. Since Jesus made a very similarly-worded statement in Matthew 5:17f, it would seem that the general meaning of both statements would have to do with the law prematurely slipping from its place, prior to its fulfillment. My comments would remain the same, regardless which verb is used.

(a) So, then - Jesus' command "can mean little else than that they might, at times, be served foods that they, as Jews, would otherwise regard as unclean," but "since they were sent only among the Jews on this occasion, there is a very good chance that nothing unclean had been put before them by their hosts."

Yes. They were instructed concerning a situation that might quite possibly arise. Yet, there is a good chance that such a contingency did not arise. I do nto see what would be problematic about saying both statements.
steve wrote:
As for Peter's having this objection after Jesus having given these instructions previously, such cluelessness is not uncharacteristic of the disciples.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Then again, Peter - like the other disciples - is thought to have the holy spirit by this juncture.
And this was one occasion of the Holy Spirit leading him “into all truth,” as Jesus promised that the Spirit would do (John 16:13). That was the effect of the vision on the housetop, along with the verbal instructions from Jesus that followed. However, like any of us, prior to the Spirit giving a special revelation, Peter was limited to his normal mental powers…which were not always impressive. Even years later, he seemed to find some of Paul’s concepts “hard to understand" (2 Pet.3:15-16). Possessing the Holy Spirit does not change everything about a man’s native aptitudes.
(a) The Torah covenant does not distinguish between ritual law and non-ritual law. The consequence for violating the shabbath - a mere ritual, one might say - was capital punishment. And the New Testament of most Christians argues that "whomever will keep the whole law, but will stumble in one [point of it] - he has become guilty of all [points of it]."
You are right that the Torah itself does not distinguish explicitly between categories that we might call “moral” and “ritual.” However these two terms do describe actual differences in the rationale behind God’s giving different laws. The prophets recognized a hierarchy vis-à-vis “sacrifices,” on one hand, and such things as contrition, humility, justice and mercy, on the other (e.g., Psalm 51:16-17; Micah 6:6-8; Hos.6:6). The offering of sacrifices is in the category of “ritual law,” and the others are “moral laws.” Though the Bible does not use this terminology, it provides serviceable labels for making a legitimate distinction.

It is in the New Testament that this distinction becomes even more clear, as certain of the Mosaic laws are viewed as “prophetic” anticipations of Christ, encoded in ceremonies and rituals. According to the New Testament, these served a “shadows” of something more substantial and more permanent than themselves (Col.2:16f/ Heb.8:5; 10:1). There is no impropriety in the common designation of these as “ritual” or “ceremonial” laws.

There are other laws that spring from a more permanent and changeless root, which is God’s own goodness and character. They appear to be summarized in statements like Mic.6:8 and Matthew 23:23. Such commands define the framework of a timeless and unchanging “morality” because they reflect the character of the timeless and unchanging God, whom we are always to imitate (Lev.11:45/ Eph.5:1). Though He may modify his covenant and change the rituals a thousand times, His character does not ever change, and always defines what righteousness is.

It is true that obedience to God is always a moral issue. But this is not the same as saying that there was a moral (changeless) basis for every command God ever gave, nor that all commands are equally permanent. On one occasion, God told Isaac not to go down to Egypt (Gen.26:2). He later encouraged Jacob to go down to Egypt (Gen.46:3-4)—the very thing He had formerly commanded Isaac not to do! Going to Egypt, is not, in itself an intrinsically “moral” or “immoral” action. God’s commands with regard to it may differ with circumstances. Whatever God commands, whether of a moral or a ritual nature, becomes mandatory (a moral obligation) for man to obey, simply because it is God’s express will. Nevertheless, God sometimes changes His commands of a non-moral sort.

For another example, God commanded the generation of Israel that left Egypt to go into and conquer Canaan. Later, because of their rebellion, He forbade them to do that same thing. When they heard the alternative, they decided to obey the earlier command after all, but their belated obedience to the defunct command was now regarded as disobedience and presumption. Man is morally obligated to keep the current commands of God.

When a set of laws have come to their fulfillment, and have served their intended purpose, so that God Himself no longer requires them to be observed, they no longer describe a moral obligation for man.

James, in speaking of “the whole law” is referring to that which he had already described as “the law of liberty” (1:25) and “the royal law” (2:8). He identifies this law with the command to love one’s neighbor (a moral law). When he later speaks of the need to keep “the whole law,” and not only a part, the examples he chooses to illustrate his point are the commandments against murder and adultery (both moral laws). James headed up a church where there were very many brethren who were zealous for the law—and we have historical reasons to believe that this zeal reflected his own sympathies as well. Yet, when he wrote to Christians of their duty to keep the law, he limited it to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is called the “law of liberty” because one who has such love will, freely and without compulsion, act justly, mercifully and faithfully toward his neighbor—thus fulfilling all of the moral commandments.

This is another way to distinguish between “moral law” and “ceremonial law.” The moral laws are the ones that a person would perform instinctively, if he loves another as he loves himself. Rituals are not instinctive, no matter how loving you are. You would not intuitively know to keep the seventh day holy, to offer lambs (but not dogs), or to circumcise on the eighth day. These must be spelled out as a seemingly-arbitrary code, or else even the best people would never think of doing them.

Thus, the New Testament identifies righteousness with observance of moral laws, not the rituals of the Sinaitic Covenant.

The difference that I (and many others) make between laws that are ritual” and those that are “moral” is speaking of the intrinsic rationale for the commandment. If it is ritual, it is symbolic. God is at liberty to decide when symbolic actions may be changed or scrapped. This is not so with moral issues, which, because they are determined more by what God is like, rather than what God arbitrarily commands, can never change.

The New Testament does not directly speak of the two categories of Old Testament laws, but when one examines those laws that are dismissed by the New Testament, they all happen to be ceremonial in nature (as I have defined that category above). Those laws of a moral nature (as I have defined that category above) are brought over into the New Testament morality unchanged. Thus the failure of the Old Testament writings to make this distinction does not render it inappropriate for New Testament believers to acknowledge these categories.
(b) Let us imagine that the Elijah-claimant attempts to reinstitute practice of Torah ritual, "turn[ing] ... the heart of the sons to the fathers." Or let us imagine that the claimant spiritualized observance of baptism and the Lord's Supper. We may imagine the sorts of response - and/or we may note historically the sorts of response enjoyed by the Armstrongites and the Quakers.
If this Elijah claimant could show that Jesus and the apostles had predicted his coming, that the Christian faith had always led people to look forward to his appearing, and that he had such striking personal credentials as to demonstrate that he was the very one predicted, then a Christian would have reason to be impressed with his claims. As things stand, there is no such person predicted by Jesus and looked for by Christians throughout their history. The modern expectation, held among some Christians, that Elijah will come in the future, simply ignores Jesus’ teaching that Elijah came already, as predicted.
steve wrote:
Someone behaving like that would likely get himself crucified!

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Cute is a limited substitute for substance, my friend. Please do not sidestep the issue: in that scenario, how are we to respond?

My answer did not lack in substance. I had given the answer you were seeking in my previous answer (about the Elijah claimant). If I was not sufficiently clear, I will put it differently:

I believe that Moses and the prophets had instructed Israel to look for just such a Messiah as Jesus. If one complains that Jesus did not come as a political leader, I would suggest that there are many indications in the Old Testament that the Messiah’s arrival will bring about a change of this nature. According to interpretations that early Jewish Christians (including some Pharisees) found justified of certain Old Testament information, the Messiah…

1) …would be another like Moses (Deut.18:15, 18). Who needs another Moses, unless there is to be another covenant and another law given? It does not take a new Moses to enforce the laws that Moses passed down. That only requires a faithful scribe, like Ezra;

2) …would mediate a new covenant (Jer.31:31-34). As was argued by at least one Jewish Christian teacher, there is no need for a new covenant if the old one is definitive and final. Furthermore, according to Jeremiah, this new covenant would be spiritual (inscribed on the heart), not political or religious (like the covenant associated with Israel’s founding as a political and religious nation, which was inscribed on stones).

3) …would include Gentiles who would participate along with Israel, seemingly on terms different from those required of proselytes under the Old Covenant—i.e., without the ark of the covenant (Jer.3:15-18), and (according to rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul), without circumcision.

I realize that the majority of rabbis would take exception to the interpretation given to these predictions by the Jewish believers in Jesus. But what of that? Rabbis were continually in disagreement with each other on many points. As a Jewish friend of mine likes to say, “Where there are three Jews, there are four opinions!”

The early Jewish believers also felt justified in their recognition of Jesus as their Messiah and in their interpretations of these predictions because of His resurrection from the dead.
One fundamental liability of Christianity - at least, in its mainstream form - is its dissonance from the simple vectors of the faith that it imagines itself to fulfill. G-d spends centuries teaching his people to worship only him - a singular G-d whom Solomon says "the heavens and the heavens of the heavens do not contain" - and then he throws them a curve-ball by showing up in a human body, with a distinct personhood of its own?
That Yahweh would appear in a human form (e.g., Genesis 18:1ff—or, alternatively, in a pillar of cloud, or in a burning bush) was not a concept absent from the Tanakh. Nor did such theophanies contradict the fact that the heavens cannot fully contain God. God can be everywhere at once, and specially manifest in limited earthly venues. This is not contrary to, but a continuation of, Old Testament concepts.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Where does the NT text indicate that Jesus "touch[ed] lepers and women with issues of blood, etc., without contracting ritual defilement"? …Where do the precepts of the covenant require quarantine for ritual defilement - that is, in such a way that we would find the lack of its observance noticeable in the gospel narratives?
As you know, any Jew would be defiled for various periods of time when touching a corpse (7 days), or a bleeding woman (until evening), or a leper. If Jesus was going about, indiscriminately touching such people (as He seemed to do), this would seem to interfere with His ability to conduct His public ministry without constant interruption. He would not be able to enter the temple, and (I assume) not the synagogue either. As I understand it, He would then defile anyone whom He touched while He was ritually unclean.

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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by kaufmannphillips » Sun Mar 29, 2009 6:08 am

Hi, Steve,

Thank you for your response, particularly in the midst of your trip.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Continuing your citation from Luke 16: "... and every one forces into it - but it is easier for the heaven and the earth to pass than for one serif of the law to fall."

steve wrote:
I do not believe that any part of the law failed. I also do not believe that Jesus destroyed the law. But I believe that He did fulfill it. That is, He inaugurated the new order that the ceremonies of the law anticipated, rendering them obsolete.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
At the risk of being pedantic, the preferable rendering of the word is "fall," not "fail." Interesting that out of ninety occurrences of the Greek word, the KJV renders it as "fall" 88 times, and as "fail" only this once. Theological skew?

steve wrote:
I am not aware of how the difference in translation would favor one theological view against another. To speak of such a thing as a law “falling” is as obscure an expression as is speaking of a law “failing.” Both involve metaphors. The meaning of either term would seem equally to require interpretation. Since Jesus made a very similarly-worded statement in Matthew 5:17f, it would seem that the general meaning of both statements would have to do with the law prematurely slipping from its place, prior to its fulfillment. My comments would remain the same, regardless which verb is used.
Yes, both English verbs require interpretation in this statement. But it is obvious that the semantic ranges of "fail" and "fall" differ from one another. To wit, a device may fall aside from use without having failed its purpose. As such, a rendering of "fail" poses less of a stumbling-block to the notion that the law has fallen aside than would be posed by rendering the simple meaning of the Greek verb. And if the translators of the KJV were not of a similar opinion, then why else would they have departed from their usual practice when rendering this verse? More than 97% of the time, they rendered the Greek verb as "fall," and only in this one instance did they render it as "fail."

As for comparison with Matthew 5 - the parallel is not exact, and we engage the texts with different inclinations. You are inclined to regard both sources as accurate and both statements as complementary - indeed, parallel. I am inclined to allow for inaccuracy through migration in phrasing (say, through oral tradition, or through written redaction); I am also inclined to allow for dissonance between the two sources. Here, our differences in inclination makes a significant difference in our interpretation. You are inclined to import the gloss from Matthew 5, rendered "till all be fulfilled," in the KJV. I am not inclined to do so.

But then again, Matthew 5 actually reads "until all things might come to be" in Greek - a reading that is distinguishable from various construals found in the KJV and in other popular English versions. Once again, the semantic range of the Greek text is obfuscated by the theological agenda of the translators. They could have rendered the Greek in a straightforward manner, but they chose to render the construal they preferred, rather than carrying across the plain text and letting the English reader engage it.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
So, then - Jesus' command "can mean little else than that they might, at times, be served foods that they, as Jews, would otherwise regard as unclean," but "since they were sent only among the Jews on this occasion, there is a very good chance that nothing unclean had been put before them by their hosts."

steve wrote:
Yes. They were instructed concerning a situation that might quite possibly arise. Yet, there is a good chance that such a contingency did not arise. I do nto see what would be problematic about saying both statements.
I like them stated together, where they can contextualize each other.
steve wrote:
As for Peter's having this objection after Jesus having given these instructions previously, such cluelessness is not uncharacteristic of the disciples.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Then again, Peter - like the other disciples - is thought to have the holy spirit by this juncture.

steve wrote:
And this was one occasion of the Holy Spirit leading him “into all truth,” as Jesus promised that the Spirit would do (John 16:13). That was the effect of the vision on the housetop, along with the verbal instructions from Jesus that followed. However, like any of us, prior to the Spirit giving a special revelation, Peter was limited to his normal mental powers…which were not always impressive. Even years later, he seemed to find some of Paul’s concepts “hard to understand" (2 Pet.3:15-16). Possessing the Holy Spirit does not change everything about a man’s native aptitudes.
So we have a man who is clueless before receiving the spirit, and clueless after receiving the spirit - and shall we say clueless even after receiving the special revelation of the spirit (q.v., Galatians 2)? Yet we are to trust him when it comes to the revelation of the spirit? How many other clueless men have wrongly imagined or wrongly understood a revelation from on high?
kaufmannphillips wrote:
The Torah covenant does not distinguish between ritual law and non-ritual law. The consequence for violating the shabbath - a mere ritual, one might say - was capital punishment. And the New Testament of most Christians argues that "whomever will keep the whole law, but will stumble in one [point of it] - he has become guilty of all [points of it]."
Steve, you wrote a lengthy response to this comment. I will address bits from it here:
steve wrote:
You are right that the Torah itself does not distinguish explicitly between categories that we might call “moral” and “ritual.” However these two terms do describe actual differences in the rationale behind God’s giving different laws. ... The New Testament does not directly speak of the two categories of Old Testament laws, but when one examines those laws that are dismissed by the New Testament, they all happen to be ceremonial in nature (as I have defined that category above). Those laws of a moral nature (as I have defined that category above) are brought over into the New Testament morality unchanged. Thus the failure of the Old Testament writings to make this distinction does not render it inappropriate for New Testament believers to acknowledge these categories.
There are plenty of things that New Testament believers do not consider inappropriate, on the sheer basis of the New Testament itself. But in this case, you have indicated that neither the Old nor the New Testaments articulate this dichotomy of moral and ritual law. You believe these documents to be divinely inspired, and a guide to the believer, so do you regard this as mere coincidence? If G-d had wanted such a theological distinction to be made, mightn't he have seen fit to articulate it in your bible? Or might he have had good reason not to articulate such a hermeneutic?

This sort of moral/ritual dichotomy will precipitate questions that many parties have not considered. For who is to say whether a particular law is moral or ritual? Is the economic restructuring of the Jubilee year a moral law or a ritual law? If a moral law, then would not Christians now be beholden to keep it? Then again, is the prohibition against certain male homosex a moral law or a ritual law, given its social context? If a ritual law, then might not twenty-first century Christians be exempt from keeping it?

It is presumptuous to assert that "New Testament believers ... acknowledge these categories." Rather, there are New Testament believers who taxonomize what they find in the text in such a way as to fit these categories. There is no scriptural imprimatur for the conclusion that these categories rightly apply, so as to be acknowledged.
steve wrote:
It is in the New Testament that this distinction becomes even more clear, as certain of the Mosaic laws are viewed as “prophetic” anticipations of Christ, encoded in ceremonies and rituals. According to the New Testament, these served a “shadows” of something more substantial and more permanent than themselves (Col.2:16f/ Heb.8:5; 10:1).
Such is not the only instance of ahistorical, eisegetical manhandling of scripture during the late Second Temple period. Amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have pesherim that take canonical texts and construe them out of context to address the anachronistic concerns and interests of their author(s). In the writings of Philo, we find an engagement of scripture that takes after a Hellenistic precedent, where Homeric poetry was allegorized to reconcile it with later sensibilities. In Colossians and Hebrews, the writers evoke Platonic formalism and its expression in the famous parable of the cave, in order to recast the significance of earlier texts.

These maneuvers afforded their users the means to move beyond the plain natures of classic texts, thus recycling material into new applications that the users considered worthy of esteem. But these maneuvers essentially rape the source texts - telling us volumes about the latter-day agendas of various eisegetes, but next to nothing about the sources' intrinsic meaning.

The "Mosaic" rituals had substantial significance in their immediate context, irrespective of how they might be construed by the pious (or impious) imaginations of parties many generations later. And the New Testament sophist wrongly articulates the relationship between the two paradigms: it is not the "Mosaic" rituals that are shadows of an anticipated Christian epic; it is the Christian mythos that is a shadow of the earlier form - derivative from what light had fallen upon first.
steve wrote:
It is true that obedience to God is always a moral issue. ... When a set of laws have come to their fulfillment, and have served their intended purpose, so that God Himself no longer requires them to be observed, they no longer describe a moral obligation for man.
Your apostle would not fully agree, of course. "[T]o the one counting something to be profane- to that one it is profane. ... [T]he doubting one, if he should eat, has been condemned - since it is not from faith, and all that is not from faith is sin." The laws remain a moral issue for those who regard them as a moral issue.

Accordingly - how certain ought one to be that their covenantal obligations have been altered, before they dare to transgress the stipulations of their commitment to G-d? We should keep that in mind as we move forward.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
[T]he New Testament of most Christians argues that "whomever will keep the whole law, but will stumble in one [point of it] - he has become guilty of all [points of it]."

steve wrote:
James, in speaking of “the whole law” is referring to that which he had already described as “the law of liberty” (1:25) and “the royal law” (2:8).
The object of the statement is not a material concern here; rather, it is the legal paradigm being employed. One might reasonably imagine that the writer would have considered the principle to apply to all codes of law, viz., that one needs only to violate a single article to be regarded as in violation of the code.
steve wrote:
This is another way to distinguish between “moral law” and “ceremonial law.” The moral laws are the ones that a person would perform instinctively, if he loves another as he loves himself. Rituals are not instinctive, no matter how loving you are. You would not intuitively know to keep the seventh day holy, to offer lambs (but not dogs), or to circumcise on the eighth day. These must be spelled out as a seemingly-arbitrary code, or else even the best people would never think of doing them.
This argument does not gain so much traction as one might imagine. On one hand, ignorant love can yield a variety of immoral behaviors, even from persons who are sincerely loving others according to their instincts and according to their sense of equitability. On another hand, just because a ritual law of the torah might not be instinctive for you, does not mean that it could not have been instinctive to persons living in the law's original milieu. For example, how instinctive would animal sacrifice be to a modern American? But it would have been instinctive to most denizens of an Ancient Near Eastern culture.

But then again - how instinctive is it to worship one G-d, and no other? The behavior of the ancient Israelites would seem to suggest that it was not terrifically instinctive for them, in their milieu. Yet, is this kind of worship a moral issue, or a ritual one?
steve wrote:
The difference that I (and many others) make between laws that are ritual” and those that are “moral” is speaking of the intrinsic rationale for the commandment. If it is ritual, it is symbolic. God is at liberty to decide when symbolic actions may be changed or scrapped.
Once again, one traipses into the arena of externally-imposed taxonomy. Is symbolism necessarily without a moral rationale? Let us take the law of keeping the shabbath - is it symbolic, or moral? Clearly, the Old Testament identifies it as symbolic. But is the practice of providing periodic respite to all social classes and to all domestic animals a matter that is devoid of moral value? One could argue that the respite could be assigned to every sixth day or every eighth day, with no variation in moral value. But do we know this for certain? Any more than we "know" the variation in moral value between tender committed heterosex and tender committed homosex? Could it be that G-d is aware of an essential rationale for a seven-day sabbatical cycle, and considers it of some moral significance?

The secondary taxonomist imagines to fully know the rationale of G-d, and becomes not a doer of the law, but a judge of it.
steve wrote:
I believe that Moses and the prophets had instructed Israel to look for just such a Messiah as Jesus.
The first half of that assertion is especially untenable. If one were to work from the Pentateuch exclusively, how would one discern a directive to anticipate a messiah like Jesus?
steve wrote:
[The Messiah] would be another like Moses (Deut.18:15, 18). Who needs another Moses, unless there is to be another covenant and another law given? It does not take a new Moses to enforce the laws that Moses passed down. That only requires a faithful scribe, like Ezra;
Your rhetorical question here is misfounded. To begin with, the key contrast in Deuteronomy 18 is between a relayer of the word of G-d - like Moses - as opposed to interpreters of omens. Any subsequent prophet -if he were legitimate - would speak the word of G-d, like Moses; there is no need to construe a further likeness.

Furthermore, an Ancient Near Eastern authority (divine or otherwise) would never have limited his governance to his basic code of law; at various junctures, he would issue additional specific commands to his retinue. Accordingly, subsequent prophets might be needed to relay incidental commands from HSHM to his servants, the people of Israel; there is no need to construe their role as involving the imposition of another covenant or other standing laws.

And finally - on what basis does one apply this discussion of a prophet to the Messiah? Is it applied that way in the Old Testament text itself?
steve wrote:
[The Messiah] would mediate a new covenant (Jer.31:31-34). As was argued by at least one Jewish Christian teacher, there is no need for a new covenant if the old one is definitive and final. Furthermore, according to Jeremiah, this new covenant would be spiritual (inscribed on the heart), not political or religious (like the covenant associated with Israel’s founding as a political and religious nation, which was inscribed on stones).
Well, Steve, your bible states that "The things being hidden are YHWH our G-d's, and the things being uncovered are ours and our sons' for ever - to do all the words of this torah" (q.v., Deuteronomy 29:29). Why don't you show me where the Old Testament indicates that the laws of his covenant with the Jewish people are temporary and due to pass away?

The imposition of a new covenant does not mean that the provisions of previous covenants are annulled. Did the Abrahamic covenant annul the Noahic covenant? Did the Mosaic covenant annul the Abrahamic covenant? Did the Davidic covenant annul the Mosaic covenant? "Covenants" are simply contracts of the Ancient Near Eastern milieu. At any given time, nations and individuals could be committed to several of these contracts simultaneously. A new covenant would not necessarily displace an old(er) one.

And regarding the latter bit - as you know, Deuteronomy emphasizes circumcising the heart, both in the context of the young nation (q.v., 10:16) and in the context of return from exile (q.v., 30:6). And if you look closely at Jeremiah 31, you will see that its new covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (q.v., vv. 31 & 33). This passage is about the seed and nationhood of Israel (q.v., v. 36f.). Curious to see it fulfilled (putatively) in a religion populated almost exclusively by gentiles.

Oh, and one last thing here - on what basis does one apply this discussion of a new covenant to the Messiah? Is it applied that way in the Old Testament text itself?
steve wrote:
[The Messiah] would include Gentiles who would participate along with Israel, seemingly on terms different from those required of proselytes under the Old Covenant—i.e., without the ark of the covenant (Jer.3:15-18), and (according to rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul), without circumcision.
Would you care to enumerate your list of "rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul"?

But there is scarcely a need to do so. The temple complex at the time of Jesus already had a court of the gentiles. Gentiles were not required to be circumcised to participate in the Jewish faith, albeit as non-Jews.

This one may be a relative softball for you - on what basis does one have the Messiah include gentiles participating along with Israel? Is there a text to that effect in the Old Testament?
steve wrote:
The early Jewish believers also felt justified in their recognition of Jesus as their Messiah and in their interpretations of these predictions because of His resurrection from the dead.
Many people feel justified about many things, but not all of these feelings are justified.

Even if Jesus were resurrected from the dead, this would not necessarily authenticate interpretive maneuvers by his partisans. If Patrick Swayze were suddenly healed from his terminal cancer, this would not validate somebody's contention that he is a great lover prophesied in the book of Canticles.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
One fundamental liability of Christianity - at least, in its mainstream form - is its dissonance from the simple vectors of the faith that it imagines itself to fulfill. G-d spends centuries teaching his people to worship only him - a singular G-d whom Solomon says "the heavens and the heavens of the heavens do not contain" - and then he throws them a curve-ball by showing up in a human body, with a distinct personhood of its own?

steve wrote:
That Yahweh would appear in a human form (e.g., Genesis 18:1ff—or, alternatively, in a pillar of cloud, or in a burning bush) was not a concept absent from the Tanakh. Nor did such theophanies contradict the fact that the heavens cannot fully contain God. God can be everywhere at once, and specially manifest in limited earthly venues. This is not contrary to, but a continuation of, Old Testament concepts.
To begin with, Genesis 18 does not explicitly indicate that HSHM appeared to Abraham in human form.

Beyond this, there is a difference between a theophany and an incarnation. Theophany is appearing; incarnation is becoming.

And then there remains the problem of distinct personhood.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Where does the NT text indicate that Jesus "touch[ed] lepers and women with issues of blood, etc., without contracting ritual defilement"? …Where do the precepts of the covenant require quarantine for ritual defilement - that is, in such a way that we would find the lack of its observance noticeable in the gospel narratives?

steve wrote:
As you know, any Jew would be defiled for various periods of time when touching a corpse (7 days), or a bleeding woman (until evening), or a leper. If Jesus was going about, indiscriminately touching such people (as He seemed to do), this would seem to interfere with His ability to conduct His public ministry without constant interruption. He would not be able to enter the temple, and (I assume) not the synagogue either. As I understand it, He would then defile anyone whom He touched while He was ritually unclean.
To my knowledge, if Jesus were ritually defiled in a secondary manner (by touching something or someone defiled), he would not in turn defile other people by his mere touch; also, I have found no proof that a person in his era would have been restricted from entering a synagogue while in such a state of defilement.

That being said, Jesus probably was not "going about, indiscriminately touching such people." Like most responsible adults, he probably was discriminating about when and how he touched other persons. But like most responsible adults, he probably was sensitive to how extenuating circumstances might behoove one to touch another person in a fashion that usually would be avoided.

Thank you once more for your time and your thought.
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"The more something is repeated, the more it becomes an unexamined truth...." (Nicholas Thompson)
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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by steve » Mon Mar 30, 2009 10:48 am

Hi Emmet,

Most of our disagreements on this spring from the differing assessments we make concerning the authority of Christ and His apostles (as well as our differing judgments about the transmission history of the relevant texts). Since you do not regard the words of these authorities as definitive of truth, we are not capable of reaching agreement through mere arguments. I have given a rationale for the Christian answers to your challenges, based upon the teachings of the highest authorities that Christians acknowledge. So long as the insights of these witnesses do not register with you as authoritative, the kinds of questions you are here posing cannot be answered to your satisfaction.

Therefore, the next question that must be determined before we can fruitfully continue this discussion is whether Christians have adequate cause to accept these authorities. You obvious do not think so (though I really don't fully understand your reasons, and would be interested in hearing the negative case against Christ, based upon historical evidences).

My own exploration of the evidences has furnished me with great confidence in the basic accuracy of the testimonies of the evangelists. Such evidences can be resisted for as long a time as the skeptic prefers to resist them, but that does not speak of the inadequacy of the historical evidences to an open-minded juror.

I have always been interested in hearing a good Jewish argument against the genuineness of Saul's experience on the road to Damascas. Obviously, one might explain it in psychological/psychiatric terms, or even attribute sinister motives to the man in suspecting his intention to infiltrate and undermine the Christian movement. However, neither of these theories account for his later miraculous activities, and his martyrdom, half so admirably as does the Christian interpretation.

Of course, Christians also believe that the miraculous activities of Christ, and the phenomenon of HIs empty tomb, are more reasonably accounted for by the Christian interpretation than by competing explanations. The reference to many important witness that we find in 1 Corinthians 15, written as little as 23 years after the fact, is significant to the investigator whose mind is not already made up against the Christian conclusions.

Of course, Christians have always pointed to the fulfillment of prophecy as well, as a reason for accepting the Christian identification of Jesus with the Messiah. That a number of the claimed fulfillments may appear to be stretches which would not be convincing except to one already sympathetic with the Gospel does not change the fact that numerous prophecies, taken together, seem to point to Jesus more than they could possibly be made to apply to any other historical figure.

I will now attempt to respond to some of your most recent points:
So we have a man who is clueless before receiving the spirit, and clueless after receiving the spirit - and shall we say clueless even after receiving the special revelation of the spirit (q.v., Galatians 2)? Yet we are to trust him when it comes to the revelation of the spirit? How many other clueless men have wrongly imagined or wrongly understood a revelation from on high?
Perhaps very many. You have a different view than I have of the manner in which the Holy Spirit illuminates, and the degree to which He overrides, the mental capabilities of the spiritual man. This difference, apparently, will have to remain intact for the time being.

There are plenty of things that New Testament believers do not consider inappropriate, on the sheer basis of the New Testament itself. But in this case, you have indicated that neither the Old nor the New Testaments articulate this dichotomy of moral and ritual law. You believe these documents to be divinely inspired, and a guide to the believer, so do you regard this as mere coincidence? If G-d had wanted such a theological distinction to be made, mightn't he have seen fit to articulate it in your bible? Or might he have had good reason not to articulate such a hermeneutic?
It is not necessary for the New or Old Testament to explain the subject analytically, as I have attempted to do. The New Testament simply gives Christians the simple rule: "Jesus is the Lord: Whatever He requires, do that." As it turns out, Jesus reaffirmed the need for His disciples to obey what I have labeled the "moral" code of the Old Testament—those things which would reasonably fall under the summary command, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." He, and His apostles, whom He appointed to instruct the church, did not place the burden of mosaic rituals upon the Gentile believers.
This sort of moral/ritual dichotomy will precipitate questions that many parties have not considered. For who is to say whether a particular law is moral or ritual? Is the economic restructuring of the Jubilee year a moral law or a ritual law? If a moral law, then would not Christians now be beholden to keep it? Then again, is the prohibition against certain male homosex a moral law or a ritual law, given its social context? If a ritual law, then might not twenty-first century Christians be exempt from keeping it?
These questions are rightly raised, and examined, on a case-by-case basis. Christians certainly ought to consider how the Torah speaks to the believer in light of the Christian revelation.


These maneuvers afforded their users the means to move beyond the plain natures of classic texts, thus recycling material into new applications that the users considered worthy of esteem. But these maneuvers essentially rape the source texts - telling us volumes about the latter-day agendas of various eisegetes, but next to nothing about the sources' intrinsic meaning.
Of course, this statement presupposes a certain cynical view of the motivation of (and a certain arbitrariness on the part of) the New Testament authorities, which no one, upon the grounds of evidence, is obligated to share with you.


Your apostle would not fully agree, of course. "[T]o the one counting something to be profane- to that one it is profane. ... [T]he doubting one, if he should eat, has been condemned - since it is not from faith, and all that is not from faith is sin." The laws remain a moral issue for those who regard them as a moral issue.
My apostle would certainly agree with my statement to which you are responding. Even the passage you cite agrees with my position. My understanding is that the only moral issues of the law that define Christian duties are those which reduce to the love commandments. The passage in Romans 14 (as well as the similar discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 through 10) makes my very point—namely, that these laws of cleanness and uncleanness are not mandatory for Christians, except in circumstances where love would require a Christian to voluntarily comply with them out of concern for the sensitivities of others.

Paul says that, if one's conscience is clear on the matter of eating controversial foods, he is free to eat them in uncontroversial settings (that is, where no one present would object). However, if the person does not have a clear conscience about eating them (or about any other activity) then to do so is to consciously choose to disobey an imagined command of God. Because the person perceives the action as disobedience to God, and does it anyway, his act would be as unloving toward God as would be the violation of an actual command.
Accordingly - how certain ought one to be that their covenantal obligations have been altered, before they dare to transgress the stipulations of their commitment to G-d? We should keep that in mind as we move forward.
Fair enough. One must not trifle with such matters.

The object of the statement is not a material concern here; rather, it is the legal paradigm being employed. One might reasonably imagine that the writer would have considered the principle to apply to all codes of law, viz., that one needs only to violate a single article to be regarded as in violation of the code
.

I think you are correct in finding this to be James' point.

This argument does not gain so much traction as one might imagine. On one hand, ignorant love can yield a variety of immoral behaviors, even from persons who are sincerely loving others according to their instincts and according to their sense of equitability. On another hand, just because a ritual law of the torah might not be instinctive for you, does not mean that it could not have been instinctive to persons living in the law's original milieu. For example, how instinctive would animal sacrifice be to a modern American? But it would have been instinctive to most denizens of an Ancient Near Eastern culture.

But then again - how instinctive is it to worship one G-d, and no other? The behavior of the ancient Israelites would seem to suggest that it was not terrifically instinctive for them, in their milieu. Yet, is this kind of worship a moral issue, or a ritual one?
Love and worship would mean different things to those who have received divine revelation from what they would mean to those who never received such. I am not making "love" the new religion. "God" is our religion; "love" is the duty imposed by our religion (that is, by our God). The scriptures are God's revelation of what He means by the command to "love." Monotheism is probably not intuitive in mankind. Nor is chastity. It is the revelation of the true God Himself that enlightens our lives. In the light of that revelation, we can understand what love's response must be.

Once again, one traipses into the arena of externally-imposed taxonomy. Is symbolism necessarily without a moral rationale? Let us take the law of keeping the shabbath - is it symbolic, or moral? Clearly, the Old Testament identifies it as symbolic. But is the practice of providing periodic respite to all social classes and to all domestic animals a matter that is devoid of moral value? One could argue that the respite could be assigned to every sixth day or every eighth day, with no variation in moral value. But do we know this for certain? Any more than we "know" the variation in moral value between tender committed heterosex and tender committed homosex? Could it be that G-d is aware of an essential rationale for a seven-day sabbatical cycle, and considers it of some moral significance?
One thing that Christians do know, is that following Christ's teaching, out of devotion to Him, will never displease His Father.

If one were to work from the Pentateuch exclusively, how would one discern a directive to anticipate a messiah like Jesus?
The Jews (other than the Sadducees) did not work from the Pentateuch exclusively. It was not the last word from the God of Israel. Later revelation in the Old (and the New) Testament filled-in many details that were not clarified in the earliest legislation.
Well, Steve, your bible states that "The things being hidden are YHWH our G-d's, and the things being uncovered are ours and our sons' for ever - to do all the words of this torah" (q.v., Deuteronomy 29:29). Why don't you show me where the Old Testament indicates that the laws of his covenant with the Jewish people are temporary and due to pass away?

The imposition of a new covenant does not mean that the provisions of previous covenants are annulled. Did the Abrahamic covenant annul the Noahic covenant? Did the Mosaic covenant annul the Abrahamic covenant? Did the Davidic covenant annul the Mosaic covenant? "Covenants" are simply contracts of the Ancient Near Eastern milieu. At any given time, nations and individuals could be committed to several of these contracts simultaneously. A new covenant would not necessarily displace an old(er) one.
It is my understanding that the reference to Yahweh "breaking the covenant" (Zech.11:10) with those who rejected His Shepherd would be relevant to the question of whether the coming of the new covenant necessarily involved the scrapping of the older one. If you require something from the Torah, then Deuteronomy 28 and 32:21-22 seem to suggest that the marriage covenant between Yahweh and Israel is a conditional one, not excluding the possibility of a "divorce." Obviously, since I recognize the authority of the Christian scriptures, Hebrews 8:13 would also inform my opinion on this.
And if you look closely at Jeremiah 31, you will see that its new covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (q.v., vv. 31 & 33). This passage is about the seed and nationhood of Israel (q.v., v. 36f.). Curious to see it fulfilled (putatively) in a religion populated almost exclusively by gentiles.
I know that it is God's covenant with Israel. However, passages like Psalm 50:5 & 16 suggest that the covenant belongs to the faithful remnant of Israel, not to all Jews regardless of character. That faithful remnant always receives God's true prophets. Those who received Jesus as God's sent One came into this covenant in the upper room with Christ. As for the abundance of Gentiles in the movement, Isaiah 54 should have adequately prepared Israel for that development.
Oh, and one last thing here - on what basis does one apply this discussion of a new covenant to the Messiah? Is it applied that way in the Old Testament text itself?
The Messiah is, in my opinion, the Shepherd "David" who is sent when God makes the everlasting covenant with Israel (e.g., Ezekiel 37:24-26)
Would you care to enumerate your list of "rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul"?
No. I don't know the names of many rabbinic scholars of any stripe. Saul, however, could hardly have been without companion scholars in the early church who agreed with him. Even if he was alone among rabbinic scholars in his interpretation, yet his revelations from Christ give him a unique credibility among Christians.
This one may be a relative softball for you - on what basis does one have the Messiah include gentiles participating along with Israel? Is there a text to that effect in the Old Testament?
Besides passages like Isaiah 54 (mentioned earlier), there are several other relevant texts from the Tanakh, which Paul cites in Romans 15:9-12. That's just for starters.

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kaufmannphillips
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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by kaufmannphillips » Fri Apr 03, 2009 5:42 pm

Hi, Steve,

Thank you for your response.
steve wrote:
Most of our disagreements on this spring from the differing assessments we make concerning the authority of Christ and His apostles (as well as our differing judgments about the transmission history of the relevant texts). Since you do not regard the words of these authorities as definitive of truth, we are not capable of reaching agreement through mere arguments. I have given a rationale for the Christian answers to your challenges, based upon the teachings of the highest authorities that Christians acknowledge. So long as the insights of these witnesses do not register with you as authoritative, the kinds of questions you are here posing cannot be answered to your satisfaction.

Therefore, the next question that must be determined before we can fruitfully continue this discussion is whether Christians have adequate cause to accept these authorities. You obvious do not think so (though I really don't fully understand your reasons, and would be interested in hearing the negative case against Christ, based upon historical evidences).

My own exploration of the evidences has furnished me with great confidence in the basic accuracy of the testimonies of the evangelists. Such evidences can be resisted for as long a time as the skeptic prefers to resist them, but that does not speak of the inadequacy of the historical evidences to an open-minded juror.
(a) We need something other than an open-minded juror, whose responsibility (in American jurisprudence) is to give every reasonable benefit of doubt to a party that is being tried. American tradition takes this approach in its courts, preferring to let a hundred criminals go free rather than incarcerate an innocent man. But this lopsided paradigm would be ill-applied to every decision in our lives. If we are having our transmission repaired, do we want a mechanic who makes a dozen semi-plausible excuses? What if we need a surgeon, or a babysitter? Rather than an open-minded juror, we need a prudent investor.

A prudent investor does not require a compelling case against Christianity in order to withhold from it; rather, a prudent investor requires a compelling case for Christianity in order to buy into it. How so? Christianity makes extraordinary claims - extraordinary claims about persons, extraordinary claims about events, and extraordinary claims upon the lives of persons who accept these extraordinary claims. It does not behoove a prudent investor to buy into extraordinary claims unless they are proven false. Rather, extraordinary claims warrant extraordinary evidence.

(b) One significant part of a negative case against Christianity is its ill fit with preceding Jewish faith. Because Christianity grounds itself upon a preceding ediface of revelation, it must fairly accord with that ediface, or it has undercut itself.

Now, it would be out of order to hold that Christianity accords with preceding Jewish revelation, simply because some Christian authority says so. Rather, one must first examine the preceding Jewish ediface - on independent terms, without regard for Christian construal (or for anachronistic rabbinic developments, for that matter). Then one must evaluate whether or not Christianity fairly accords with the preceding ediface. If this question cannot be answered to satisfaction, then the supposed authority of Christianity is seriously undercut.

In our previous exchange here, I have already begun to press against Christianity's fit with the faith it grounds upon. If your patience and energies allow for it, I will continue to do so in our discussion here.
steve wrote:
I have always been interested in hearing a good Jewish argument against the genuineness of Saul's experience on the road to Damascas. Obviously, one might explain it in psychological/psychiatric terms, or even attribute sinister motives to the man in suspecting his intention to infiltrate and undermine the Christian movement. However, neither of these theories account for his miraculous activities half so admirably as does the Christian interpretation.
One may propose a psychological explanation, coupled (or not) with a physiological dimension. If Saul were under some manner of physical stress (hunger or fatigue), this could have contributed to whatever he experienced. Then again, it would seem that this was not the only mystical experience in his lifetime. Some persons are prone to visions or the like; in some cases, this may be a matter of delusion, or of fertile/credulous imagination.

But in any event, this is a slender reed for a prudent investor. How many millions of persons have had mystical experiences? Even if we were to limit our field of consideration to persons who are generally healthy and sincere, should we imagine that all of these experiences bear authentic messages from heaven? Similarly, there are thousands of claims to the miraculous. The claims about Saul are hardly more demonstrable than numerous claims made by individuals of varying religious affiliations. Shall we buy into Paramahansa Yogananda because of his charming account of mystical experiences and miracles?

And beyond this - even if Saul had experienced some sort of authentic vision on that occasion, this would not necessarily validate every theological opinion of his thereafter.
steve wrote:
Of course, Christians also believe that the miraculous activities of Christ, and the phenomenon of HIs empty tomb are more reasonably accounted for by the Christian interpretation than by competing explanations. The reference to many important witness that we find in 1 Corinthians 15, written as little as 23 years after the fact, is significant to the investigator whose mind is not already made up against the Christian conclusions.
(a) Now truly - do Christians believe such to be reasonable, or do they reason such to be believable? Perhaps we might check an impromptu barometer: if any other religious claimant can provide similar evidence, will Christians believe them too? Let us say that some other religion can supply four biographies - three being not precisely in agreement with one another, and one being comparatively eccentric. And let us say that they can supply pious letters from a half-dozen sources, some of whom were also biographers. And let us say that these sources claim certain extraordinary events took place, and were witnessed by thousands of people, albeit in a foreign country that no present-day person can visit or correspond with. Will Christians find it reasonable to believe this religion? Will they believe its metaphysical explanations for the phenomena it describes to be reasonable? And how will they choose between such lustrous candidates for their religious loyalty?

(b) Moving on - a prudent investor is going to need extraordinary reason to buy into "orthodox" Christian interpretation.

(1) The basic matter of considering miracles attributed to Jesus is not terrifically different from what we have discussed in the case of Saul.

(2) When it comes to the empty tomb, a prudent investor will prioritize a host of reasonable explanations before coming to the explanation held by Christians. Why? Because people lying happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people fantasizing happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people hallucinating happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people being confused happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people making mistakes happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people stealing bodies happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people spontaneously recovering from grave trauma happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. And because we have little access to the primary settings of post-crucifixion events, to examine physical data and interview witnesses carefully about what they experienced and the circumstances in which they experienced it.

(3) As for I Corinthians 15, Paul invokes thirteen specific witnesses (excluding himself), and a horde of anonymous witnesses - when writing to individuals who, living in Greece, are unlikely to meet more than a handful of said witnesses to gauge their personal character and competency, and the nature of their experience (e.g., did the anonymous horde experience Jesus walking in their midst, speaking to each one in a personal manner; or did they experience Jesus momentarily upon a nearby hilltop, waving to them?). And a prudent investor in the present is farther removed yet from the witnesses than Corinth.
steve wrote:
Of course, Christians have always pointed to the fulfillment of prophecy as well, as a reason for accepting the Christian identification of Jesus with the Messiah. That a number of the claimed fulfillments may appear to be stretches which would not be convincing except to one already sympathetic with the Gospel does not change the fact that numerous prophecies, taken together, seem to point to Jesus more than they could possibly be made to apply to any other historical figure.
(a) Overstretched and unconvincing claims do not speak well to the trustworthiness of those who advance those claims.

(b) It is not necessary for said assemblage of prophecies to apply to a figure who has already appeared in history.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
[Y]ou have indicated that neither the Old nor the New Testaments articulate this dichotomy of moral and ritual law. You believe these documents to be divinely inspired, and a guide to the believer, so do you regard this as mere coincidence? If G-d had wanted such a theological distinction to be made, mightn't he have seen fit to articulate it in your bible? Or might he have had good reason not to articulate such a hermeneutic?

steve wrote:
It is not necessary for the New or Old Testament to explain the subject analytically, as I have attempted to do. The New Testament simply gives Christians the simple rule: "Whatever Jesus requires, do that." As it turns out, Jesus reaffirmed the need for His disciples to obey what I have labeled the "moral" code of the Old Testament—those things which would reasonably fall under the summary command, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." He, and His apostles whom He appointed to instruct the church, did not place the burden of mosaic rituals upon the Gentile believers.
(a) Jesus is also portrayed as citing the command "You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind" - a command which does not reduce to a moral code with the exclusion of ritual behavior (particularly for Christians who consider it obligatory to baptize in water and/or to celebrate a Eucharist or Lord's Supper).

(b) The "Mosaic" covenant does not require gentiles to keep a covenant which they have not entered into. But your language is unnecessarily pejorative; one person's "burden" is another person's delight. Some people would view having a child as a burden; others would not - and some would view not having a child as a burden.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
These maneuvers afforded their users the means to move beyond the plain natures of classic texts, thus recycling material into new applications that the users considered worthy of esteem. But these maneuvers essentially rape the source texts - telling us volumes about the latter-day agendas of various eisegetes, but next to nothing about the sources' intrinsic meaning.

steve wrote:
Of course, this statement presupposes a certain cynical view of the motivation of (and a certain arbitrariness on the part of) the New Testament authorities, which no one, upon the grounds of evidence, is obligated to share with you.
As opposed to presupposing a certain angelic view of their motivation and interpretive practice?

One person's cynicism is another person's realism. My comment was not restricted to New Testament writers; it was applied to a number of parties from that same general era. It is simply realistic to consider the possibility that New Testament writers thought and behaved like other parties in their milieu (and like numerous interpreters beyond their milieu as well). Many of these parties may have been sincerely pious, but their methods speak for themselves. When the interpretation of a passage is not substantially derivable from the passage itself - fairly, within its context - it is eisegetical.

You might prefer to understand what New Testament writers have done by who they are. If these people are "authorities," then it doesn't matter what they do - it is legitimized by virtue of their authority. But it is prudent to understand who these people are by what they have done. Their interpretive maneuvers undercut their putative authority.

How so? For one thing, a mind that eisegetes written scripture - which exists in a static form, available for perusal and consideration - will quite as easily inject concepts into personal memory and oral tradition. These media are rather more pliable, and once concepts have been eisegetically inserted into them, this can contribute to migration of form: things become remembered and retold, not as they were, but as they have come to be thought about. Such undercuts the reliability of memories and traditional statements of witness that are held to undergird a faith. For if Christian "authorities" are eisegetical in their handling of static witness - which we can compare to their handling and evaluate - how can they be trusted in their handling of pliable witness, which we cannot compare and evaluate?

Finally, if you would like specific evidence pertaining to New Testament writers, we might begin with Matthew 2:15 & 18, and Galatians 4:21ff.
steve wrote:
It is true that obedience to God is always a moral issue. ... When a set of laws have come to their fulfillment, and have served their intended purpose, so that God Himself no longer requires them to be observed, they no longer describe a moral obligation for man.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Your apostle would not fully agree, of course. "[T]o the one counting something to be profane- to that one it is profane. ... [T]he doubting one, if he should eat, has been condemned - since it is not from faith, and all that is not from faith is sin." The laws remain a moral issue for those who regard them as a moral issue.

steve wrote:
My apostle would certainly agree with my statement to which you are responding. Even the passage you cite agrees with my position. My understanding is that the only moral issues of the law that define Christian duties are those which reduce to the love commandment. The passage in Romans 14 (as well as the similar discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 through 10) makes my very point—namely, that these laws of cleanness and uncleanness are not mandatory for Christians, except in circumstances where love would require a Christian to voluntarily comply with them out of concern for the sensitivities of others.
You are thinking here about what Paul says to Christians in general; I am thinking of the implication of his statement for Christians who "[count] something to be profane." When it comes to a Christian who regards these laws as obligatory to themselves, Paul would not have them eat and be condemned, would he? And so, even from the viewpoint of a Christian "authority," these laws describe a moral obligation that remains incumbent upon some men - those of a certain conscience.
steve wrote:
This is another way to distinguish between “moral law” and “ceremonial law.” The moral laws are the ones that a person would perform instinctively, if he loves another as he loves himself. Rituals are not instinctive, no matter how loving you are. You would not intuitively know to keep the seventh day holy, to offer lambs (but not dogs), or to circumcise on the eighth day. These must be spelled out as a seemingly-arbitrary code, or else even the best people would never think of doing them.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
This argument does not gain so much traction as one might imagine. On one hand, ignorant love can yield a variety of immoral behaviors, even from persons who are sincerely loving others according to their instincts and according to their sense of equitability. On another hand, just because a ritual law of the torah might not be instinctive for you, does not mean that it could not have been instinctive to persons living in the law's original milieu. For example, how instinctive would animal sacrifice be to a modern American? But it would have been instinctive to most denizens of an Ancient Near Eastern culture.

But then again - how instinctive is it to worship one G-d, and no other? The behavior of the ancient Israelites would seem to suggest that it was not terrifically instinctive for them, in their milieu. Yet, is this kind of worship a moral issue, or a ritual one?

steve wrote:
Love and worship would mean different things to those who have received divine revelation than they would to those who never received such. I am not making "love" the new religion. "God" is our religion; "love" is the duty imposed by our religion (that is, by our God). The scriptures are God's revelation of what He means by the command to "love." Monotheism is probably not intuitive in mankind. Nor is chastity. It is the revelation of the true God Himself that enlightens our lives. In the light of that revelation, we can understand what love's response must be.
And so, if both ritual and moral obligations depend upon revelation for one to know them properly, instinct does not suffice as a "way to distinguish between 'moral law' and 'ceremonial law.'"
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Once again, one traipses into the arena of externally-imposed taxonomy. Is symbolism necessarily without a moral rationale? Let us take the law of keeping the shabbath - is it symbolic, or moral? Clearly, the Old Testament identifies it as symbolic. But is the practice of providing periodic respite to all social classes and to all domestic animals a matter that is devoid of moral value? One could argue that the respite could be assigned to every sixth day or every eighth day, with no variation in moral value. But do we know this for certain? Any more than we "know" the variation in moral value between tender committed heterosex and tender committed homosex? Could it be that G-d is aware of an essential rationale for a seven-day sabbatical cycle, and considers it of some moral significance?

steve wrote:
One thing that Christians do know, is that following Christ's teaching will never displease His Father.
Christians "know" this? Or Christians believe this?

How many Mormons "know" that following Joseph Smith's teaching will never displease G-d? How many Catholics "know" that following the teaching of the Church will never displease G-d?
steve wrote:
I believe that Moses and the prophets had instructed Israel to look for just such a Messiah as Jesus.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
The first half of that assertion is especially untenable. If one were to work from the Pentateuch exclusively, how would one discern a directive to anticipate a messiah like Jesus?

steve wrote:
The Jews (other than the Sadducees) did not work from the Pentateuch exclusively. It was not the last word from the God of Israel. Later revelation in the Old (and the New) Testament filled-in many details that were not clarified in the earliest legislation.
(a) Your assertion was that "Moses and the prophets had instructed Israel to look for just such a Messiah as Jesus." So where does Moses give this instruction? If you want to use material beyond the Pentateuch, then please articulate how you ascribe it to Moses.

(b) Tangentially, I am interested in where you might have acquired the idea that the Sadducees worked from the Pentateuch exclusively. I am aware that this is claimed in a Matthew Henry commentary, but I would like to know if there is any further substantiation to that idea.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Well, Steve, your bible states that "The things being hidden are YHWH our G-d's, and the things being uncovered are ours and our sons' for ever - to do all the words of this torah" (q.v., Deuteronomy 29:29). Why don't you show me where the Old Testament indicates that the laws of his covenant with the Jewish people are temporary and due to pass away?

The imposition of a new covenant does not mean that the provisions of previous covenants are annulled. Did the Abrahamic covenant annul the Noahic covenant? Did the Mosaic covenant annul the Abrahamic covenant? Did the Davidic covenant annul the Mosaic covenant? "Covenants" are simply contracts of the Ancient Near Eastern milieu. At any given time, nations and individuals could be committed to several of these contracts simultaneously. A new covenant would not necessarily displace an old(er) one.

steve wrote:
It is my understanding that the reference to Yahweh "breaking the covenant" (Zech.11:10) with those who rejected His Shepherd would be relevant to the question of whether the coming of the new covenant necessarily involved the scrapping of the older one. Obviously, since I recognize the authority of the Christian scriptures, Hebrews 8:13 would also inform my opinion on this.
(a) Concerning Hebrews - I am aware that you regard the Christian scriptures as having authority, but I asked where the Old Testament indicates such-and-such. Is it so difficult a thing to let the Old Testament speak for itself?

(b) Concerning Zechariah - let us consider the verse carefully: "And I took my staff, Handsomeness, and I cut it - to vacate my covenant which I had cut with all the peoples." There are two important questions here: "who is 'I'?"; and "who are 'all the peoples'?"

(1) When it comes to the first question, the flow of the chapter indicates that the "I" is not HSHM, but the prophet himself; the shift in pronominal identity takes place at verse 7, where the prophet tells that he followed the command in the oracle at verse 4.

(2) When it comes to the second question, "peoples" in the Hebrew plural often indicates the involvement of extraneous people-groups - frequently being other than the people of G-d, but sometimes taken together with the people of G-d. Specifically, in the 43 instances where "all the peoples" appears in the Old Testament, the connotation is multiethnic and never refers to Israel/Judah alone. In contrast, when "all the people" covenant with G-d in the history of Israel/Judah, we find it in the singular (see 2 Kings 23.3; 2 Chronicles 23.16, cf. 2 Kings 11:17; cp. Exodus 19.8, cf. v. 5; 24:3, cf. v. 7; Deuteronomy 27; Nehemiah 8).

(Shall I complain again about the KJV, seeing as it renders Zechariah 11:10 in the singular, and not the literal plural? Now, whyever would it do that?)

Beyond this pattern of usage, we may note the reference in verse 6 to "ones inhabiting the land." When this kind of language is used in the Old Testament, quite often the referents are the non-Israelite/Jewish peoples of the region (see Genesis 34:30, Judges 1:32f., 2 Samuel 5:6, Jeremiah 47:2, Nehemiah 9:24; cp. Exodus 34:12 & 15). One might regard the language as carrying an idiomatic tinge.

(3) Accordingly, what we have in Zechariah 11:10 is the prophet vacating a covenant he has made with multiethnic peoples - not HSHM vacating a covenant he has made with his people.

So what is the significance of the passage, in its context? When it comes to the earliest post-exilic decades, our information is quite limited. But it would seem that two of the major concerns for early post-exilic Yehud were relations with Canaanites, Perizzites, Jebusites, etc., and relations with the northern neighbors (see Ezra chh. 4, 9-10; Nehemiah chh. 4, 6, 13). So the passage here may be engaging - primarily or secondarily - relations with these outsiders.

This approach is bolstered by the Septuagint, where the correspondents to the Masoretic "the poor ones of the flock" (vv. 7 & 11) are "the Canaanitis" (v. 7) and "the Canaanites" (v. 11). And it takes into account the historical question of northern identity, when it comes to the estrangement in v. 14: some of the northern neighbors may have regarded themselves as Israel in this period, howbeit rightly or wrongly, and some parties in early post-exilic Yehud may have felt similarly about them.

The episode in chapter 11 may be about handling issues of relations with these outsiders. Some of them may have considered themselves part of G-d's flock, through intermarriage or ritual participation or whatever. In this passage, though, G-d is portrayed as budgeting some of the herd for destruction; Zechariah is sent to shepherd them, as a means of liquidating some of these "assets," and he vacates a covenant he has made with their ilk. (When did Zechariah make a covenant with these sorts? This is where more information about the context might be appreciated.) Thereafter, he severs the bonds between Israel (so-called) and Yehud; delightfully, the Hebrew term for "bondings" here can also mean "spoilings" or "corruptings" - indicating what the author thought of close relationship between Israel (so-called) and Yehud.

(4) But you might prefer to apply this passage to some circumstances four centuries hence. Such would encounter its own challenges. What would the prophecy have meant to its immediate audience in the fifth/fourth century BCE? Who are the three shepherds that are cut off in one month, and who has cut them off? Who are "all the peoples (plural)" that the vacated covenant was made with? How are the bonds between Israel and Judah severed?
steve wrote:
[The Messiah] would mediate a new covenant (Jer.31:31-34).

kaufmannphillips wrote:
[O]n what basis does one apply this discussion of a new covenant to the Messiah? Is it applied that way in the Old Testament text itself?

steve wrote:
The Messiah is, in my opinion, the Shepherd "David" who is sent when God makes the everlasting covenant with Israel (e.g., Ezekiel 37:24-26)
Where is "David" in Jeremiah 31? That was the passage we were discussing; it is the one that articulates a "new covenant." Ezekiel 37, on the other hand, does not articulate a new covenant per se; neither does it state that a covenant would be mediated by "David."
steve wrote:
[The Messiah] would include Gentiles who would participate along with Israel, seemingly on terms different from those required of proselytes under the Old Covenant—i.e., without the ark of the covenant (Jer.3:15-18), and (according to rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul), without circumcision.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Would you care to enumerate your list of "rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul"?

steve wrote:
No. I don't know the names of many rabbinic scholars of any stripe. Saul, however, could hardly have been without companion scholars in the early church who agreed with him. Even if he was alone among rabbinic scholars in his interpretation, yet his revelations from Christ give him a unique credibility among Christians.
I ask that you use an honest hin in your rhetoric, Steve. If a pharmaceutical company were to say "doctors like Stephen Colbert recommend Vaxadrine," should they not know at least one other doctor who recommends that product?
steve wrote:
[The Messiah] would include Gentiles who would participate along with Israel, seemingly on terms different from those required of proselytes under the Old Covenant—i.e., without the ark of the covenant (Jer.3:15-18), and (according to rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul), without circumcision.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
This one may be a relative softball for you - on what basis does one have the Messiah include gentiles participating along with Israel? Is there a text to that effect in the Old Testament?

steve wrote:
Besides passages like Isaiah 54 (mentioned earlier), there are several other relevant texts from the Tanakh, which Paul cites in Romans 15:9-12. That's just for starters.
Um - where in Isaiah 54 do you get the Messiah including gentiles participating along with Israel? Exegetically, that is? Could you also look carefully at the source texts referenced in Romans 15:9-12, and explain from them exegetically how they indicate the Messiah will include gentiles participating along with Israel?

Thank you once more for your time and thought, Steve.
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"The more something is repeated, the more it becomes an unexamined truth...." (Nicholas Thompson)
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steve
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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by steve » Tue Apr 07, 2009 2:06 pm

Hi Emmet,

You wrote:
Rather than an open-minded juror, we need a prudent investor. A prudent investor does not require a compelling case against Christianity in order to withhold from it; rather, a prudent investor requires a compelling case for Christianity in order to buy into it. How so? Christianity makes extraordinary claims - extraordinary claims about persons, extraordinary claims about events, and extraordinary claims upon the lives of persons who accept these extraordinary claims. It does not behoove a prudent investor to buy into extraordinary claims unless they are proven false. Rather, extraordinary claims warrant extraordinary evidence.
I have heard this claim often from skeptics, but I have a hard time sympathizing with its sentiments. A prudent investor with money to invest may investigate many options before deciding where to invest his money, or he may choose not to invest it at all. He may wrap it in a napkin and bury it in the ground, if he wishes, and, while he will have gained no profit from it, he will, by his conservatism, at least guarantee that he will not have lost his capital.

The investment of our lives is not that way. Life is either invested, or else it is simply “spent.” We cannot hold onto it. We can invest it deliberately or lose it, by default. In that sense, Christianity does not call upon us to invest any more heavily in it than does any other philosophy—or none at all. The passage of time will eventually take from us every moment, every penny and every breath—and we will have stewarded it all, either prudently or foolishly.

The choice to devote our lives to following Christ will cost us everything—but so will any other choice we can make for our lives. We may either live our lives (and lose them) without a philosophy or a goal, or else we can choose one of the existing options. These options have generally been catalogued under the headings of various worldviews or religions. To my knowledge, the options are: 1) nihilism, 2) naturalism/materialism, 3) pantheism/monism, and 4) varieties of theism. If there are other options, which are not branches of these general categories, I have not encountered nor had occasion to consider them.

For reasons that we both accept (and can therefore save time by not arguing), we have both concluded that the fourth category is more reasonable and believable than the other three. Thus we judge it wise (as prudent investors) to pursue different theistic models.

A prudent investor, who has already decided, upon rational (and possibly other) grounds, that the pursuit of the true God represents a desirable investment of life can hardly complain if he finds that theism makes claims that seem extraordinary to non-theists. However, once we have accepted as probable the existence of a supernatural deity, no one can say, at the onset, what supernatural things such a deity might do, if He wished. Miraculously parting the Sea of Reeds to rescue His favorite people might well be within the range of His activities. For all we could predict, He might also choose to take on a human form and perform among men various wonders, not unlike the miracles performed by the prophets, by Jesus, and by the apostles. He might even undergo a death and resurrection.

It is the claim that God exists that skeptics regard to be the “extraordinary claim.” Once we have gotten over that hurdle, nothing else that God might do can, a priori, be regarded as extraordinary, until such a time as we may have had occasion to see for ourselves (or to examine the testimonies of credible persons, who may have witnessed) His activities.

I would regard credible witnesses to be those who 1) show no signs of mental illness or instability, 2) were present to see an event to which they are testifying, 3) have given us no previous occasion to regard them as liars, and 4) have no perceptible motivation to deceive (i.e., nothing to gain by making something up), and 5) were, perhaps, previously disinclined to believe in the things that they later witnessed. Such witnesses may, after all, turn out to be mistaken in what they think they have seen, of course. But insofar as we must consult any witnesses at all (and often we must do so, if we are to learn anything), these are the kind that I tend to trust.

The testimony of such witnesses first provided me with the incentive to invest in their story. What I found for myself, having made the investment, more than confirmed that they had told the truth.

When I think of people (like yourself, for example) who have chosen to invest their lives in some other enterprise, I always wonder by what convincing witnesses they have come to be persuaded of the prudence of their investment, and in what way their experience has vindicated the wisdom of their decision.

You wrote:
Now, it would be out of order to hold that Christianity accords with preceding Jewish revelation, simply because some Christian authority says so. Rather, one must first examine the preceding Jewish ediface [sic] - on independent terms, without regard for Christian construal (or for anachronistic rabbinic developments, for that matter). Then one must evaluate whether or not Christianity fairly accords with the preceding ediface. If this question cannot be answered to satisfaction, then the supposed authority of Christianity is seriously undercut.
That Christianity accords with the preceding Jewish revelation is not the complete claim of the New Testament. Christianity includes additional revelation that modifies some features of the preceding revelation. Its claim is that, if the preceding revelation could be viewed through the eyes of the Spirit who inspired it, it would be seen to have anticipated the Christian revelation. Jesus imparted that Spirit to His disciples, which accounts for their unique perception of the meanings of Old Testament prophecies.

The Christian case is not devasted (nor even surprised) by the fact that the Jewish experts who lacked the Spirit (I would not expect many rabbis to claim to possess the Spirit, unless they also claimed to be prophets) disagree with the Christian interpretations of the prophecies. These Jewish scholars often disagree even among themselves, and the fact that they reject Christian interpretations fits predictably with the fact that they are not Christians. Were they to adopt the Christian interpretation, we must assume that they (like many others of Jewish background, including some former rabbis) would be Christians as well.

One assumption of Christianity is that previous revelations are sometimes modified by subsequent revelation. Our discussion, above, of dietary laws provides a case-in-point. On this particular topic, the Jewish revelation itself contradicts or modifies previous divine revelations (e.g., the mosaic kosher laws modify Genesis 9:3, which itself modified Genesis 1:29-30).

The irony I find in your position is that you accept the validity of the “preceding Jewish revelation” as a starting point, and then criticize Christians for accepting the further “Christian revelation.” You and I both seem to accept that there have been “revelations” given by the Creator. You accept one of them, and I accept more than one. I know of no reason for questioning the Christian revelation, which would not equally warrant a questioning of the Jewish one.

Is it “out of order” for the Jews to accept the preceding Jewish revelation “simply because some authority [like Moses] said so”?

If God establishes one norm for a group of people that is applicable to a particular timeframe, and then, when He sees fit, changes it, without explanation as to why He did so, this would be within the range His prerogatives. So long as nothing in the new revelation is inconsistent with God’s essential nature and character, He might have some surprises for us.

If this statement leads you to ask why I don’t accept such subsequent claims of revelation as that of the Mormon Church, I would have to say that, once again, it is a matter of weighing the credibility of the witnesses. Additionally, that “revelation” (in that it advocates polytheism) contradicts the very nature of God.


You wrote:
In our previous exchange here, I have already begun to press against Christianity's fit with the faith it grounds upon. If your patience and energies allow for it, I will continue to do so in our discussion here.
If I must opt out of the discussion in the future, it will not be for lack of energy (and probably not for lack of patience), but for lack of time. I am in the midst of preparing five different Powerpoint presentations under a tight deadline, which, for me, is very time consuming.

You wrote:
One may propose a psychological explanation [of Saul’s conversion], coupled (or not) with a physiological dimension. If Saul were under some manner of physical stress (hunger or fatigue), this could have contributed to whatever he experienced. Then again, it would seem that this was not the only mystical experience in his lifetime. Some persons are prone to visions or the like; in some cases, this may be a matter of delusion, or of fertile/credulous imagination.
Some people are prone seizures and hallucinations, but some are prone to being contacted by God also (e.g., Moses). I think Paul was an intelligent fellow—and (being Jewish) was probably a "prudent investor." He was aware of the deceptive phenomenon of false revelations (2 Thess.2:2, 9). His assessment of his experiences—on the road to Damascas and subsequently—resulted in his investing heavily in the genuineness of the revelations he received. While one may choose to believe he was mistaken, I cannot find any reason to discredit his experience—being, as it was, followed by a career characterized by miracles resembling those of Jesus and the other apostles. That even the demons recognized his authority, along with that of Christ (Acts 19:15), also impresses me.

You wrote:
But in any event, this is a slender reed for a prudent investor. How many millions of persons have had mystical experiences? Even if we were to limit our field of consideration to persons who are generally healthy and sincere, should we imagine that all of these experiences bear authentic messages from heaven? Similarly, there are thousands of claims to the miraculous. The claims about Saul are hardly more demonstrable than numerous claims made by individuals of varying religious affiliations. Shall we buy into Paramahansa Yogananda because of his charming account of mystical experiences and miracles?
Once again, there is such a thing as satanically-empowered miracles. Paul acknowledges this, but he apparently expects his readers to be able to recognize the difference between the demonic wonders of a man like Simon Magus, and those performed by Paul and the apostles as confirmation of their message (2 Cor.12:12).

How can one know the difference? One way is to apply the test that Moses provided in Deuteronomy 13:1-3. If a miracle is given as confirmation of the legitimacy of a god other than Yahweh, then that “miracle” is not to be trusted.

I realize that Jews believe Christians to proclaim a different God from Israel's Yahweh. Perhaps traditional explanations of the trinity by Christian theologians have contributed to the confusion. As I see it, the Old Testament abounds with activities accomplished by the Word of Yahweh and the Spirit of Yahweh. To refer these as “persons” (as in traditional trinitarian formulations) may present an unnecessary stumblingblock (the Bible does not use such language), but to acknowledge that God’s Word and Spirit are in some sense viewed as extensions of Himself should not occasion undue controversy. To postulate that one of these (the Word of Yahweh) was made to "tabernacle" among men in the form of a human may stretch the capacities of our imaginations, but it cannot be maintained that this has necessarily introduced a God different from the Yahweh of the Tanakh.

You wrote:
And beyond this - even if Saul had experienced some sort of authentic vision on that occasion, this would not necessarily validate every theological opinion of his thereafter.
Your statement, as it stands, conforms to strict logic. But it does not take into consideration the implications of the specific vision we are considering. If the reports are correct, Jesus, at the time of giving that vision, also gave an assignment of apostleship to Saul, along with the standard equipment of apostleship (again, 2 Cor.12:12). This would include the opening of the understanding to understand the Old Testament scriptures (Luke 24:45).

Paul claimed that the message he preached came to him by revelation (Gal.1). Even if true, this would not guarantee his infallibility in presenting or in finding scriptural support for his message. However, there was apparently some shared insight among the apostles as to the applicability of certain prophecies to certain Christian doctrines, because Paul would present his Old Testament “proof texts” with the full assurance that Christian audiences would find them convincing. If we say that this is only due to to the gullibility of the Christian audiences, we are then assuming that they were less intelligent and more gullible than are we—an assumption for which I can find no warrant.

I believe that, once one has apprehended the framework of the apostolic ideology, the scriptures they used can be seen to be appropriately applied in their arguments. If you should respond that this requires a very large assumption concerning the validity of the apostles’ framework, I admit that it does. It is an assumption that Christians believe to be well justified by the special nature of the apostles’ calling and gifting. One can hardly expect that a skeptic who rejects the deity of Christ Himself would be disposed toward recognizing the special authority of the apostles. The latter comes with the territory of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.


You wrote:
Now truly - do Christians believe [the Christian interpretation of the resurrection appearances] to be reasonable, or do they reason such to be believable? Perhaps we might check an impromptu barometer: if any other religious claimant can provide similar evidence, will Christians believe them too? Let us say that some other religion can supply four biographies - three being not precisely in agreement with one another, and one being comparatively eccentric. And let us say that they can supply pious letters from a half-dozen sources, some of whom were also biographers. And let us say that these sources claim certain extraordinary events took place, and were witnessed by thousands of people, albeit in a foreign country that no present-day person can visit or correspond with. Will Christians find it reasonable to believe this religion? Will they believe its metaphysical explanations for the phenomena it describes to be reasonable? And how will they choose between such lustrous candidates for their religious loyalty?
If the scenario you describe would arise in the absence of the evidences that already exist for Christianity, or if the new idea provided evidences equal or superior to the evidences for Christianity, then I think we would be foolish and blind to lightly disregard the metaphysical viewpoint to which the evidence points. We do not (or at least I do not) credit the primary Christian evidences because of a prior commitment to Christianity (though we might, subsequently, credit some of the less-impressive evidences because of our Christian commitments). We credit the claims of Christianity because of the weight of the evidences, further bolstered by a personal encounter with the One at the center of those claims.

You wrote:
Moving on - a prudent investor is going to need extraordinary reason to buy into "orthodox" Christian interpretation.
Given the variety of possible worldviews into which one may invest, I would think one would require extraordinary evidences for any view, if it is to be chosen over its ordinary competitors. It is the judgment of this investor that the evidential support for the claims of Christ is vastly superior to that which can be rallied to the support of any competing system.

You wrote:
The basic matter of considering miracles attributed to Jesus is not terrifically different from what we have discussed in the case of Saul.
True. Both rest upon the testimony of credible eye-witnesses. It is hard to imagine a better foundation for belief in such things, apart from being there to see them with your own eyes.

You wrote:
When it comes to the empty tomb, a prudent investor will prioritize a host of reasonable explanations before coming to the explanation held by Christians. Why? Because people lying happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people fantasizing happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people hallucinating happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people being confused happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people making mistakes happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people stealing bodies happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people spontaneously recovering from grave trauma happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. And because we have little access to the primary settings of post-crucifixion events, to examine physical data and interview witnesses carefully about what they experienced and the circumstances in which they experienced it.
It is often impossible to reconstruct a historical situation by appeal to what events happen a lot more than other events. History (and our own life experiences) is full of unique events which do not conform to a pattern of what happens a lot more than something else happens. The best evidence available of any historic occurrence is access to credible eye-witness testimony. Most of the alternative scenarios suggested in your paragraph can be eliminated by taking the explanation of the facts of the case requiring the least ingenuity. When you add to the mix the personal interactions with the risen Christ that are a normal characteristic of those who have met Him in every age, the weight of evidence for the resurrection explanation is incalculably enhanced.

I said “normal” in order to contrast what I am describing (which includes my own experience) with any sub-normal variety of religious experience within the general category of Christendom. I have never talked to you about the nature of your previous Christian experience (which, from the nature of your present arguments, I take to have been non-existent). I know you once professed Christian faith, and even served as the pastor of a church, but, like many others of whom the same could be said, it would appear that you never encountered Jesus for yourself. For this (and for all others like you in this respect) I am truly sorry. It definitely places you at a disadvantage in a discussion such as this one, I think.

You wrote:
As for I Corinthians 15, Paul invokes thirteen specific witnesses (excluding himself), and a horde of anonymous witnesses - when writing to individuals who, living in Greece, are unlikely to meet more than a handful of said witnesses to gauge their personal character and competency, and the nature of their experience (e.g., did the anonymous horde experience Jesus walking in their midst, speaking to each one in a personal manner; or did they experience Jesus momentarily upon a nearby hilltop, waving to them?). And a prudent investor in the present is farther removed yet from the witnesses than Corinth.
Each potential investor must assess the evidences for himself, and invest accordingly.

You wrote:
Overstretched and unconvincing claims [concerning Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies] do not speak well to the trustworthiness of those who advance those claims.
“Overstretched” is in the eye of the beholder.

You wrote:
It is not necessary for said assemblage of prophecies to apply to a figure who has already appeared in history.
This is quite true. But if one has arrived who admirably fulfills them, it would seem superfluous to look for another.

You wrote:
Jesus is also portrayed as citing the command "You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind" - a command which does not reduce to a moral code with the exclusion of ritual behavior (particularly for Christians who consider it obligatory to baptize in water and/or to celebrate a Eucharist or Lord's Supper).
Loving God means seeking to do what best pleases Him. To discover what it may be that would please Him, we would be wise to consult His commands and instructions—especially His most recent ones. If He commands the continuous observance of certain rituals, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper (a question to be debated separately), then those who love Him will keep such commands.

steve wrote:
Of course, this statement presupposes a certain cynical view of the motivation of (and a certain arbitrariness on the part of) the New Testament authorities, which no one, upon the grounds of evidence, is obligated to share with you.

You wrote:
As opposed to presupposing a certain angelic view of their motivation and interpretive practice?
When men give every evidence of honesty and virtue in their lives, and are willing to live lives of poverty, self-sacrifice and torture for their message, it seems unwarranted and uncharitable to accuse them of sinister motives which they give no evidence of possessing. I do not ordinarily judge people so uncharitably. Why should I make an exception in this case?

You wrote:
One person's cynicism is another person's realism. My comment was not restricted to New Testament writers; it was applied to a number of parties from that same general era. It is simply realistic to consider the possibility that New Testament writers thought and behaved like other parties in their milieu (and like numerous interpreters beyond their milieu as well). Many of these parties may have been sincerely pious, but their methods speak for themselves. When the interpretation of a passage is not substantially derivable from the passage itself - fairly, within its context - it is eisegetical.
Realism needs to take reality into account. What we are exploring together is whether the claims of Christianity conform to reality or not. If they do, then what the stubbornly skeptical individual calls “realism” may merely be bigotry.

You wrote:
You might prefer to understand what New Testament writers have done by who they are. If these people are "authorities," then it doesn't matter what they do - it is legitimized by virtue of their authority. But it is prudent to understand who these people are by what they have done. Their interpretive maneuvers undercut their putative authority.
I agree with this entire paragraph, with the exception of the last sentence. Their interpretive maneuvers would only undercut their putative authority if it could be demonstrated that their interpretations were not correct (it is not enough to object that they are unorthodox). Exegesis requires that all relevant factors be considered in the interpretation of a passage. If the apostles were correct in seeing many of the Old Testament statements as requiring a spiritual interpretation, then those who neglect that factor would be handicapped in their efforts to correctly exegete.

You wrote:
Finally, if you would like specific evidence pertaining to New Testament writers, we might begin with Matthew 2:15 & 18, and Galatians 4:21ff.
My last comments, above, are relevant to some of these examples. I have dealt with the difficulties that you are raising to these verses in my lectures, and elsewhere (probably even on this forum). If we are going to say that Matthew and Paul were deceptively pulling verses out of context, without a presumed framework of thinking that (to them) validated their application of the passages, then are we to also assume that they hoped not to be caught in the act? Were they not writing to audiences who, they hoped, were acquainted with the Old Testament and with the texts they were citing? I think they were. Before we conclude that their applications of these passages were fallacious, we must do a better job than I think you are doing of ascertaining the manner in which these writers are making the applications, and what philosophical rationale lay behind their interpretations. Once these things have been discovered (not an impossible task to those willing to make a charitable investigation), we will then (and not until then) be in a position to assess the strength of the points they are seeking to make.

steve wrote:
My apostle would certainly agree with my statement to which you are responding. Even the passage you cite agrees with my position. My understanding is that the only moral issues of the law that define Christian duties are those which reduce to the love commandment. The passage in Romans 14 (as well as the similar discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 through 10) makes my very point—namely, that these laws of cleanness and uncleanness are not mandatory for Christians, except in circumstances where love would require a Christian to voluntarily comply with them out of concern for the sensitivities of others.

You wrote:
You are thinking here about what Paul says to Christians in general; I am thinking of the implication of his statement for Christians who "[count] something to be profane." When it comes to a Christian who regards these laws as obligatory to themselves, Paul would not have them eat and be condemned, would he? And so, even from the viewpoint of a Christian "authority," these laws describe a moral obligation that remains incumbent upon some men - those of a certain conscience.
I apparently edited my post at some point after you excerpted my remarks. I realized that I had not answered your main point, and added another paragraph below the one you have cited. You can see my comments there.

steve wrote:
Love and worship would mean different things to those who have received divine revelation than they would to those who never received such. I am not making "love" the new religion. "God" is our religion; "love" is the duty imposed by our religion (that is, by our God). The scriptures are God's revelation of what He means by the command to "love." Monotheism is probably not intuitive in mankind. Nor is chastity. It is the revelation of the true God Himself that enlightens our lives. In the light of that revelation, we can understand what love's response must be.

You wrote:
And so, if both ritual and moral obligations depend upon revelation for one to know them properly, instinct does not suffice as a "way to distinguish between 'moral law' and 'ceremonial law.'
I was not referring to mere animal instincts as a guide to what loving behavior looks like. Human instincts are honed by civilization, experience, and (in the case of Bible-believers) revelation. My point is that moral behaviors can be recognized as such (perhaps only after they have been pointed out to us, if we are dull-witted) upon adequate reflection. Ceremonial requirements cannot be justified by mere reflection. They must be revealed. Even after they are revealed, the reasons for them may remain permanently opaque. Our love for God tells us instinctively that we should worship Him in whatever manner pleases Him. It is revelation, not instinct, that must inform us of the details.

What I am saying is that, when we reflect upon the revealed moral laws, our hearts tell us, “Of course! What other course of action could a good God require of man?” But when we read of the revealed ceremonial laws, we are often likely to say, “Well if that don’t beat all!”
steve wrote:
One thing that Christians do know, is that following Christ's teaching will never displease His Father.

You wrote:
Christians ‘know’ this? Or Christians believe this?
Your objection to the word “know” here simply arises from the difference in your past experience with Christianity and that of normal Christians. “Knowing God” is the normal experience for those who enter the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34).

I will acknowledge that the line between belief and knowledge is a blurred boundary. Everything that we think we “know” really amounts to something we have come to believe very thoroughly. I can say that I know the sky is blue. That does not mean that this knowledge is anything more than a very high level of confidence (or belief) that my eyes do not deceive me.

At a certain level, belief stands upon such grounds that its denial would require infinite skepticism, to the point even of delusion. I can say that I have come to know Jesus and God with the same certainty with which I can say I know I am an American citizen. There is a remote chance that I don’t even exist, and that I am only a dream of the cosmos—but if we must reserve our use of the word “know” for such matters as will not allow any degree of absurd challenges, then we will have to expunge the word from our vocabulary.


You wrote:
Your assertion was that "Moses and the prophets had instructed Israel to look for just such a Messiah as Jesus." So where does Moses give this instruction? If you want to use material beyond the Pentateuch, then please articulate how you ascribe it to Moses.
In saying “Moses and the prophets” I would have thought I would be understood to not be referring to Moses alone. The testimony of Moses and the prophets represent different parts of one whole revelation, given progressively over a long period of history. I consider the writings of Moses to belong to the prophetic tradition of Israel, but what was hinted at in Moses is further described in later revelation.

You wrote:
Tangentially, I am interested in where you might have acquired the idea that the Sadducees worked from the Pentateuch exclusively. I am aware that this is claimed in a Matthew Henry commentary, but I would like to know if there is any further substantiation to that idea.
I am sure you are aware that this statement is very commonly asserted about the Sadducees. My understanding was that it is based upon a (possibly ambiguous) passage in Josephus. I cannot cite the passage at the moment, nor is it a main point of any argument I was making.


You wrote:
Concerning Hebrews - I am aware that you regard the Christian scriptures as having authority, but I asked where the Old Testament indicates such-and-such. Is it so difficult a thing to let the Old Testament speak for itself?
Apparently it is a rather difficult thing—hence the rabbinic traditions that the Orthodox felt the need to affix to it.

You wrote:
Concerning Zechariah - let us consider the verse carefully…
This you have done very well. Many of your observations are most interesting and helpful in understanding how a Jewish interpreter would exegete the passage. You may even be correct in your exegesis. As you know, my understanding of the passage is informed by the New Testament use of the passage, upon the value of which you and I will probably never agree.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
[O]n what basis does one apply this discussion of a new covenant to the Messiah? Is it applied that way in the Old Testament text itself?

steve wrote:
The Messiah is, in my opinion, the Shepherd "David" who is sent when God makes the everlasting covenant with Israel (e.g., Ezekiel 37:24-26)

You wrote:
Where is "David" in Jeremiah 31? That was the passage we were discussing; it is the one that articulates a "new covenant." Ezekiel 37, on the other hand, does not articulate a new covenant per se; neither does it state that a covenant would be mediated by "David."
I don’t believe that David is mentioned in Jeremiah 31. That is why I included Ezekiel 37, where he is mentioned in connection with the “everlasting covenant”—which, following the Christian revelation, I equate with the New Covenant (see Hebrews 8:7ff and 13:20). I make no apologies about following the Christian revelation. In my judgment, it is as reasonable to apply these two passages to the same covenant as it would be not to do so.

You are right that Ezekiel 37 does not specify that David mediates the covenant. Nor does it deny it. The New Testament affirms it.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Would you care to enumerate your list of "rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul"?

steve wrote:
No. I don't know the names of many rabbinic scholars of any stripe. Saul, however, could hardly have been without companion scholars in the early church who agreed with him. Even if he was alone among rabbinic scholars in his interpretation, yet his revelations from Christ give him a unique credibility among Christians.

You wrote:
I ask that you use an honest hin in your rhetoric, Steve. If a pharmaceutical company were to say "doctors like Stephen Colbert recommend Vaxadrine," should they not know at least one other doctor who recommends that product?
I will not take your bait. You would like me to say, “Wait a minute! Stephen Colbert isn’t a doctor!” so that you could reply, “Neither is Saul of Tarsus a rabbinic scholar!”

You would be mistaken, though, unless you know more about his background than he knew. Unless he was hallucinating, he was a particularly precocious protégé of Gamaliel.

You wrote:
Um - where in Isaiah 54 do you get the Messiah including gentiles participating along with Israel? Exegetically, that is? Could you also look carefully at the source texts referenced in Romans 15:9-12, and explain from them exegetically how they indicate the Messiah will include gentiles participating along with Israel?
Not at this time. That would be very time-consuming. And not only that, it would be impossible to do to the satisfaction of one who has no confidence in the spiritual insights and authority of the apostles of Christ.

If you say I am not making an adequate case to convince you of these things, I would clarify that I am answering your various requests that I present my reasons for seeing these matters as I do. That is all I am attempting. If I had perceived you to be asking me to convince a determined skeptic that the evidence for Christianity is such as to preclude every conceivable challenge of its critics, I should not have wasted my time in any such attempt.

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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by kaufmannphillips » Tue Apr 07, 2009 10:13 pm

kaufmannphillips wrote:
In our previous exchange here, I have already begun to press against Christianity's fit with the faith it grounds upon. If your patience and energies allow for it, I will continue to do so in our discussion here.

steve wrote:
If I must opt out of the discussion in the future, it will not be for lack of energy (and probably not for lack of patience), but for lack of time. I am in the midst of preparing five different Powerpoint presentations under a tight deadline, which, for me, is very time consuming.
Thank you, Steve, for your lengthy response to a lengthy posting. I do intend to post a thoughtful response, but like you, I have a hefty workload at hand; I have more than a dozen papers to write in the next month or so. It will probably be a number of weeks before my next installment here.

Thanks again, Emmet
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"The more something is repeated, the more it becomes an unexamined truth...." (Nicholas Thompson)
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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by steve » Tue Apr 07, 2009 11:42 pm

Thanks! Then we can come back "fresh" after a break.

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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by kaufmannphillips » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:08 am

Hi, Steve,

OK - back for a bit here.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Rather than an open-minded juror, we need a prudent investor. A prudent investor does not require a compelling case against Christianity in order to withhold from it; rather, a prudent investor requires a compelling case for Christianity in order to buy into it. How so? Christianity makes extraordinary claims - extraordinary claims about persons, extraordinary claims about events, and extraordinary claims upon the lives of persons who accept these extraordinary claims. It does not behoove a prudent investor to buy into extraordinary claims unless they are proven false. Rather, extraordinary claims warrant extraordinary evidence.

steve wrote:
I have heard this claim often from skeptics, but I have a hard time sympathizing with its sentiments. A prudent investor with money to invest may investigate many options before deciding where to invest his money, or he may choose not to invest it at all. He may wrap it in a napkin and bury it in the ground, if he wishes, and, while he will have gained no profit from it, he will, by his conservatism, at least guarantee that he will not have lost his capital.

The investment of our lives is not that way. Life is either invested, or else it is simply “spent.” We cannot hold onto it. We can invest it deliberately or lose it, by default. In that sense, Christianity does not call upon us to invest any more heavily in it than does any other philosophy—or none at all. The passage of time will eventually take from us every moment, every penny and every breath—and we will have stewarded it all, either prudently or foolishly.
Prudent investment involves risk management, and risk management involves allocating one's resources in light of the relative prospects of ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. A prudent investor may take out a measure of flood insurance, to offset the risk posed by an extraordinary event of flooding; but in a normative context, a prudent investor does not mortgage their house in order to maximize flood insurance premiums, because it is unlikely that there will be a worthwhile return upon this.

Christianity calls upon the investor to risk ordinary investments - e.g., familial relations, financial resources, social standing - for investment into extraordinary claims. Now, this does not necessarily preclude the prudence of such an investment. To return to our illustration, if one had encountered compelling evidence that a saboteur was soon to dynamite the dam upstream, then one might reasonably pawn their grandfather's watch and place a call to increase their flood insurance. But for a prudent person, such an extraordinary move would require extraordinary evidence.
steve wrote:
It is the claim that God exists that skeptics regard to be the “extraordinary claim.” Once we have gotten over that hurdle, nothing else that God might do can, a priori, be regarded as extraordinary, until such a time as we may have had occasion to see for ourselves (or to examine the testimonies of credible persons, who may have witnessed) His activities.
"Once we have gotten over that hurdle," it is no great challenge to mark certain boundaries to G-d's ordinary behavior. Does G-d ordinarily rain fire from the heavens? Ordinarily, no - or we would have regular reports of firefall. Does G-d ordinarily heal blindness by way of a miraculous human agent? Ordinarily, no - or this sort of thing would not be newsworthy. Does G-d ordinarily incarnate, self-identify, and martyr himself? Ordinarily, no - or human history would be salted with numerous sinless humans and awash in their blood.

G-d's potential activity does not equate to his ordinary activity. Thus, when we encounter reports of his acting in a way beyond what one could reasonably argue to be his ordinary mode of activity, we enter into the arena of the extraordinary. And really, now - how many Christians regard Jesus to be less than extraordinary?
steve wrote:
I would regard credible witnesses to be those who 1) show no signs of mental illness or instability, 2) were present to see an event to which they are testifying, 3) have given us no previous occasion to regard them as liars, and 4) have no perceptible motivation to deceive (i.e., nothing to gain by making something up), and 5) were, perhaps, previously disinclined to believe in the things that they later witnessed. Such witnesses may, after all, turn out to be mistaken in what they think they have seen, of course. But insofar as we must consult any witnesses at all (and often we must do so, if we are to learn anything), these are the kind that I tend to trust.
Eyewitness testimony is, however disappointingly, quite fallible: I link this pertinent article about the plasticity of recall.

The witnesses of the New Testament may have believed every word they spoke or wrote, thoroughly. But this does not mean that they were reliable. There is no shortage of persons who are imaginative and/or credulous. Such persons are liable to remember events as they have perceived them or as they have retroactively conceived them, in both cases through filters of significance that their minds have adopted.

As individuals with pastoral experience can attest, persons who experience a life-shattering event will often attempt to find some sort of theological construct for grappling with its impact; the same can happen with persons who have gone through a life-changing inspirational experience. Such persons may seize upon prefabricated constructs, or they may graft together pre-existing ideas with creative elements of their own. But in the end, their reminiscences are likely to involve more than the sheer elements of what actually happened; they are liable to have been molded, supplemented, selectively filtered, and/or refracted by creative interpretation of what happened.

We may imagine - quite fairly - that many of the parties who contributed to early Christian tradition had undergone great inspiration and/or tremendous devastation in their experiences surrounding the life and death of Jesus. It would not have been peculiar for their subsequent thought to be filtered through theological constructs that they developed as part of grappling with their experiences. Along with this, we may acknowledge that their cultural environment afforded mythmaking, epic hopes, and the creative retooling of old religious legacies to contemporary purposes; this is apparent from history and literature of the era. Such might make it even easier for a person of normal mental capacity to embroider both their personal memories and anecdotes that they retained from hearsay.

You may not be receptive to this line of thought. But the prudent investor must consider: is it more likely that the extraordinary claims of the New Testament are reliable, or is it more likely that the sources behind the New Testament behaved like many other human beings have in analogous circumstances (cf. the grappling-construct found in Seventh-Day Adventist thought about "The Great Disappointment"; the post-conversion Sabbateans & Donmeh)?
steve wrote:
The testimony of such witnesses first provided me with the incentive to invest in their story. What I found for myself, having made the investment, more than confirmed that they had told the truth.

When I think of people (like yourself, for example) who have chosen to invest their lives in some other enterprise, I always wonder by what convincing witnesses they have come to be persuaded of the prudence of their investment, and in what way their experience has vindicated the wisdom of their decision.
(a) You made an investment of your total life, based upon the witnessing of men you had never met, whom you could never cross-examine, and indeed - if I am not mischaracterizing your linguistic skills - whose remaining witness you could not engage without depending upon the questionable mercies of translators (whom, in turn, you probably had never met or cross-examined).

(b) Assuming that your latter paragraph is a thinly-veiled prod - my own investment does not hinge upon credibility of witnesses. Rather, it is a matter of personal experience. I find observance of the Torah - or should I say, more precisely, the "Wilderness Code" - to be profitable. The profitability of the Code does not depend upon outside witness, and can be weighed on its own merits.

And so you have a personal witness and I have a personal witness. And a Buddhist and a Hindu and a Muslim may have their personal witnesses. How is one human to compare their personal experience to that of another? None of us are interior to the experiences of the other.

That being said, let me divert to respond to another comment:
steve wrote:
I have never talked to you about the nature of your previous Christian experience (which, from the nature of your present arguments, I take to have been non-existent). I know you once professed Christian faith, and even served as the pastor of a church, but, like many others of whom the same could be said, it would appear that you never encountered Jesus for yourself. For this (and for all others like you in this respect) I am truly sorry. It definitely places you at a disadvantage in a discussion such as this one, I think.
(a) Not an altogether unique Christian response to my life's-story, but comparable to asserting that a divorcee must never have really loved their former spouse or have been committed to them. People's understandings and outlooks can change. Could your own faith in Jesus never be controverted? And if it were, would that mean that your earlier Christian experience was "non-existent"?

(b) I am not sure how you would define "encounter[ing] Jesus for [my]self," but my erstwhile understanding of every such encounter would be liable to distortion by the filter I was operating with at the time, and my reminiscences of every such encounter would be liable to distortion by my present filter. Likewise for you in your encounter(s) and reminiscence(s).

(c) As for operating "at a disadvantage" - to my knowledge you have never practiced the Torah for any extended period of time. Yet this does not keep you or many Christians like you from imagining that you know what the Torah is about.

Regardless of what you think about my "previous Christian experience," I experienced the Christian life to a significantly greater extent than you have experienced Jewish life. The embarrassment for you here is that I have walked a lot further in your shoes than you have in mine.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Now, it would be out of order to hold that Christianity accords with preceding Jewish revelation, simply because some Christian authority says so. Rather, one must first examine the preceding Jewish ediface [sic] - on independent terms, without regard for Christian construal (or for anachronistic rabbinic developments, for that matter). Then one must evaluate whether or not Christianity fairly accords with the preceding ediface. If this question cannot be answered to satisfaction, then the supposed authority of Christianity is seriously undercut.

steve wrote:
That Christianity accords with the preceding Jewish revelation is not the complete claim of the New Testament. Christianity includes additional revelation that modifies some features of the preceding revelation. Its claim is that, if the preceding revelation could be viewed through the eyes of the Spirit who inspired it, it would be seen to have anticipated the Christian revelation. Jesus imparted that Spirit to His disciples, which accounts for their unique perception of the meanings of Old Testament prophecies. ...

One assumption of Christianity is that previous revelations are sometimes modified by subsequent revelation. Our discussion, above, of dietary laws provides a case-in-point. On this particular topic, the Jewish revelation itself contradicts or modifies previous divine revelations (e.g., the mosaic kosher laws modify Genesis 9:3, which itself modified Genesis 1:29-30).
(a) I would contend that the cultural milieu "accounts for [the disciples'] unique perception of the meanings of Old Testament prophecies." Familiarity with interpretive practices around and near their time will afford an understanding of how New Testament writers could arrive at their opinions, without necessarily involving divine inspiration. Literacy in their context allows one to recognize their work as yet more of the interpretive fantasy that marked Second Temple-era and early Rabbinic Judaisms.

(b) Even if one allows "that previous revelations are sometimes modified by subsequent revelation," this does not alleviate the necessity for the later revelation to accord with the prior one. Gauging accordance is, admittedly, a matter of discernment.
steve wrote:
The irony I find in your position is that you accept the validity of the “preceding Jewish revelation” as a starting point, and then criticize Christians for accepting the further “Christian revelation.” You and I both seem to accept that there have been “revelations” given by the Creator. You accept one of them, and I accept more than one. I know of no reason for questioning the Christian revelation, which would not equally warrant a questioning of the Jewish one.

Is it “out of order” for the Jews to accept the preceding Jewish revelation “simply because some authority [like Moses] said so”?

If God establishes one norm for a group of people that is applicable to a particular timeframe, and then, when He sees fit, changes it, without explanation as to why He did so, this would be within the range His prerogatives. So long as nothing in the new revelation is inconsistent with God’s essential nature and character, He might have some surprises for us.
(a) I apologize if my statement led to misunderstanding here. I do not keep Torah because it is divinely revealed; it may or may not be so, to greater and/or lesser extents. And I do not consider the entirety of the Hebrew bible or of rabbinic tradition to be divinely revealed.

So I do not "accept the validity of the 'preceding Jewish revelation' as a starting point," but I can criticize Christianity on this sort of internal basis, because it does "accept the validity of the 'preceding Jewish revelation' as a starting point."

(b) Both "revelations" should be questioned. To do otherwise would be imprudent and inconsistent with a due consideration for truth.

(c) Yes, it would be "'out of order' for the Jews to accept the preceding Jewish revelation 'simply because some authority [like Moses] said so'."

(d) Once again, gauging whether "nothing in the new revelation is inconsistent with G-d's essential nature and character" is a matter of discernment. But it is methodologically appropriate to engage what Christians consider to be the preceding revelation independently, on its own terms, and then to gauge its accordance with what they consider to be a later revelation.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
One may propose a psychological explanation [of Saul’s conversion], coupled (or not) with a physiological dimension. If Saul were under some manner of physical stress (hunger or fatigue), this could have contributed to whatever he experienced. Then again, it would seem that this was not the only mystical experience in his lifetime. Some persons are prone to visions or the like; in some cases, this may be a matter of delusion, or of fertile/credulous imagination.

steve wrote:
Some people are prone seizures and hallucinations, but some are prone to being contacted by God also (e.g., Moses). I think Paul was an intelligent fellow—and (being Jewish) was probably a "prudent investor." He was aware of the deceptive phenomenon of false revelations (2 Thess.2:2, 9). His assessment of his experiences—on the road to Damascas and subsequently—resulted in his investing heavily in the genuineness of the revelations he received. While one may choose to believe he was mistaken, I cannot find any reason to discredit his experience—being, as it was, followed by a career characterized by miracles resembling those of Jesus and the other apostles. That even the demons recognized his authority, along with that of Christ (Acts 19:15), also impresses me.
(a) Interfaith 101: To invoke the stereotype of Jewish business acumen is a bit gauche. But if one wants to characterize Jews as "prudent investors," then one may note that both then and now and throughout the centuries, most Jews have not invested into Christianity.

(b) There is no shortage of figures from various religions who reputedly exercised metaphysical power. Anecdotes concerning such activities can scarcely serve as a basis for trusting one religious figure over another. Elsewise you should be "impresse[d]" by a raft of fakirs, zaddikim, etc.

Further in this vein:
kaufmannphillips wrote:
But in any event, this is a slender reed for a prudent investor. How many millions of persons have had mystical experiences? Even if we were to limit our field of consideration to persons who are generally healthy and sincere, should we imagine that all of these experiences bear authentic messages from heaven? Similarly, there are thousands of claims to the miraculous. The claims about Saul are hardly more demonstrable than numerous claims made by individuals of varying religious affiliations. Shall we buy into Paramahansa Yogananda because of his charming account of mystical experiences and miracles?

steve wrote:
Once again, there is such a thing as satanically-empowered miracles. Paul acknowledges this, but he apparently expects his readers to be able to recognize the difference between the demonic wonders of a man like Simon Magus, and those performed by Paul and the apostles as confirmation of their message (2 Cor.12:12).

How can one know the difference? One way is to apply the test that Moses provided in Deuteronomy 13:1-3. If a miracle is given as confirmation of the legitimacy of a god other than Yahweh, then that “miracle” is not to be trusted.
(a) Am I to imagine, then, that you only identify two categories of possibility: divine miracles and satanic miracles? Are there no fantasized miracles, owing their accounts to pious imagination, superstition, storytelling, and/or charlatanry?

(b) Why not continue your citation of Deuteronomy to verses 4f.?

"You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst." [ESV; emphasis added]
steve wrote:
Paul claimed that the message he preached came to him by revelation (Gal.1). Even if true, this would not guarantee his infallibility in presenting or in finding scriptural support for his message. However, there was apparently some shared insight among the apostles as to the applicability of certain prophecies to certain Christian doctrines, because Paul would present his Old Testament “proof texts” with the full assurance that Christian audiences would find them convincing. If we say that this is only due to to the gullibility of the Christian audiences, we are then assuming that they were less intelligent and more gullible than are we—an assumption for which I can find no warrant.
New Testament writers were able to "present [their] Old Testament 'proof texts' with the full assurance that Christian audiences would find them convincing" because they and their audience lived in the same cultural milieu and accepted the same set of interpretive hermeneutics. These hermeneutics, however palatable to a first-century audience, are grossly liable to eisegesis; they cavort beyond the reasonable sense of a scripture in its context, indulging sundry cockeyed treatments of the text (one may consider the phenomena of gematria, allegory, and pesher).

Now, the development of such cavorting does not speak to deficient intelligence per se; there can be some creative genius to it. But fair interpretation is not a matter of creative genius - it is not a matter of inventing something brilliant, but of identifying the significance of a text in its own context and translating that significance to a present-day application.

As for "gullibility" - counsel is willing to stipulate that there are many gullible people in the present world as well.
steve wrote:
I believe that, once one has apprehended the framework of the apostolic ideology, the scriptures they used can be seen to be appropriately applied in their arguments. If you should respond that this requires a very large assumption concerning the validity of the apostles’ framework, I admit that it does. It is an assumption that Christians believe to be well justified by the special nature of the apostles’ calling and gifting. One can hardly expect that a skeptic who rejects the deity of Christ Himself would be disposed toward recognizing the special authority of the apostles. The latter comes with the territory of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.
(a) One can hardly expect that a Christian whose life's work has hinged upon the authority of the apostles would be disposed toward recognizing a lack of validity to their framework.

(b) So how does one know the authority of the apostles? From their calling by the authoritative Christ. But how does one know that Christ is authoritative? On the authority of the apostles.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
When it comes to the empty tomb, a prudent investor will prioritize a host of reasonable explanations before coming to the explanation held by Christians. Why? Because people lying happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people fantasizing happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people hallucinating happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people being confused happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people making mistakes happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people stealing bodies happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. Because people spontaneously recovering from grave trauma happens a lot more than people coming back to life from the dead. And because we have little access to the primary settings of post-crucifixion events, to examine physical data and interview witnesses carefully about what they experienced and the circumstances in which they experienced it.

steve wrote:
It is often impossible to reconstruct a historical situation by appeal to what events happen a lot more than other events. History (and our own life experiences) is full of unique events which do not conform to a pattern of what happens a lot more than something else happens. The best evidence available of any historic occurrence is access to credible eye-witness testimony. Most of the alternative scenarios suggested in your paragraph can be eliminated by taking the explanation of the facts of the case requiring the least ingenuity.
I have engaged the questionable reliability of eyewitness testimony above. When eyewitness testimony makes extraordinary claims, without extraordinary corroboration, then it is reasonable to entertain hypotheses within the bounds of ordinary phenomena. One may then weigh a series of juxtapositions: is it more likely that people lied, or that somebody came back to life from the dead?; is it more likely that people fantasized, or that somebody came back to life from the dead?; etc.

As for "the facts of the case" - as I indicated, we have a significant lack of means to investigate the substantiality of the purported "facts."
steve wrote:
When you add to the mix the personal interactions with the risen Christ that are a normal characteristic of those who have met Him in every age, the weight of evidence for the resurrection explanation is incalculably enhanced.
"Incalculabl[e]" is right. For how is one to discern "personal interactions with the risen Christ" from the myriad of mystical experiences claimed by adherents of other faiths? One person interacts with Christ; another, Krishna; another, Coyote; yet another, their Grandma Karen.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
You might prefer to understand what New Testament writers have done by who they are. If these people are "authorities," then it doesn't matter what they do - it is legitimized by virtue of their authority. But it is prudent to understand who these people are by what they have done. Their interpretive maneuvers undercut their putative authority.

steve wrote:
I agree with this entire paragraph, with the exception of the last sentence. Their interpretive maneuvers would only undercut their putative authority if it could be demonstrated that their interpretations were not correct (it is not enough to object that they are unorthodox). Exegesis requires that all relevant factors be considered in the interpretation of a passage. If the apostles were correct in seeing many of the Old Testament statements as requiring a spiritual interpretation, then those who neglect that factor would be handicapped in their efforts to correctly exegete.
When I taught undergraduate and graduate OT Exegesis some years ago, I attempted to incorporate something like what you have suggested - a charismatic subset of exegesis. On the face of it, this may seem attractive. Yet "spiritual interpretation" is not fundamentally derived from the text, but rather from mysticism. As such, it is not properly a matter of exegesis.

The next question, then - does pure revelation and/or inspiration depart from exegetical boundaries in its interpretation of scripture? To do so would be to afford precedent to gravely dangerous patterns of interpretation.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Your assertion was that "Moses and the prophets had instructed Israel to look for just such a Messiah as Jesus." So where does Moses give this instruction? If you want to use material beyond the Pentateuch, then please articulate how you ascribe it to Moses.

steve wrote:
In saying “Moses and the prophets” I would have thought I would be understood to not be referring to Moses alone. The testimony of Moses and the prophets represent different parts of one whole revelation, given progressively over a long period of history. I consider the writings of Moses to belong to the prophetic tradition of Israel, but what was hinted at in Moses is further described in later revelation.
It is not given that "Moses and the prophets represent different parts of one whole revelation, given progressively over a long period of history." If you can't cite Moses to the effect of your claim, then don't invoke his name. You could just cite "the prophets," but even that would be misleading, since many of "the prophets" give no instruction whatsoever about "just such a Messiah as Jesus."
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Concerning Hebrews - I am aware that you regard the Christian scriptures as having authority, but I asked where the Old Testament indicates such-and-such. Is it so difficult a thing to let the Old Testament speak for itself?

steve wrote:
Apparently it is a rather difficult thing—hence the rabbinic traditions that the Orthodox felt the need to affix to it.
In either case, the difficulty is with letting the Old Testament not say what one wants to hear.
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Would you care to enumerate your list of "rabbinic scholars like Saul/Paul"?

steve wrote:
No. I don't know the names of many rabbinic scholars of any stripe. Saul, however, could hardly have been without companion scholars in the early church who agreed with him. Even if he was alone among rabbinic scholars in his interpretation, yet his revelations from Christ give him a unique credibility among Christians.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
I ask that you use an honest hin in your rhetoric, Steve. If a pharmaceutical company were to say "doctors like Stephen Colbert recommend Vaxadrine," should they not know at least one other doctor who recommends that product?

steve wrote:
I will not take your bait. You would like me to say, “Wait a minute! Stephen Colbert isn’t a doctor!” so that you could reply, “Neither is Saul of Tarsus a rabbinic scholar!”

You would be mistaken, though, unless you know more about his background than he knew. Unless he was hallucinating, he was a particularly precocious protégé of Gamaliel.
Actually, part of Stephen Colbert's shtick is that he makes much of his honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree from Knox College. I will not pillory you for lack of familiarity with that slice of pop culture.

But again: should they not know at least one other doctor - even an honorary one - who recommends that product?
kaufmannphillips wrote:
Um - where in Isaiah 54 do you get the Messiah including gentiles participating along with Israel? Exegetically, that is? Could you also look carefully at the source texts referenced in Romans 15:9-12, and explain from them exegetically how they indicate the Messiah will include gentiles participating along with Israel?

steve wrote:
Not at this time. That would be very time-consuming. And not only that, it would be impossible to do to the satisfaction of one who has no confidence in the spiritual insights and authority of the apostles of Christ.

If you say I am not making an adequate case to convince you of these things, I would clarify that I am answering your various requests that I present my reasons for seeing these matters as I do. That is all I am attempting. If I had perceived you to be asking me to convince a determined skeptic that the evidence for Christianity is such as to preclude every conceivable challenge of its critics, I should not have wasted my time in any such attempt.
I doubt that I am any more determined a skeptic than you are a determined Christian, Steve. Recurringly, I reconsider my stance toward Jesus. My thought has changed before, and it could change again.

Can you honestly say likewise? Could you be convinced to relinquish your Christian thought?

=======

Well, I did not respond to every facet of your post, but what I have here is still of some length. Please respond to little or to much.

Thank you for your time and your thoughts, Steve.

Shalom, Emmet
========================
"The more something is repeated, the more it becomes an unexamined truth...." (Nicholas Thompson)
========================

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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by steve » Mon Jun 08, 2009 3:00 pm

A brief reply is the best that I can offer at this time.

In our latest posts, a number of references have been made to the bases for our respective beliefs (or doubts) attributable to our respective experiences and encounters with Jesus Christ. When I said that you (and a great number of men in Christian ministry) would appear not to have had such an encounter, I was not questioning the sincerity of your (or their) earlier love for Christian concepts, nor even for Christ Himself. Thus your analogy of the divorcee being wrongly accused of never having loved his wife is not parallel. If a man is blind from birth, he may, for a time, be persuaded (through the testimony of sighted individuals) that colors exist. He might also, upon later reflection, abandon this belief. If such a man were to assert that there exists no such thing as color, we could not deduce from this denial that he had never truly believed in color, nor even that he had not been thoroughly enamored with the concept of colors. We could certainly conclude, however, that he had never seen color. Otherwise, his denials could never arise.

On this matter of experience, in your attempts to equate what I am talking about with what you regard to be similar experiences of adherents to other religions, you presuppose that I am talking exclusively, or primarily, about mental impressions and good vibes I have felt about Jesus. I have had such subjective impressions, of course, as have all true Christians. However, I am not so irrational a man as to base my worldview on a few such inner experiences. I have as much at stake in being in touch with reality as has any other man. One can hardly suggest that my being a vocational minister will have given me incentives to remain gullible—since I could make a much more comfortable living in any number of other professions, whereas my present vocation has always kept me in humble circumstances.

When I speak of confirmatory experiences with God, I am talking about God's objective involvement in my life, in such concrete areas as finances, and comprehensive care of myself and my family for nearly 40 years (so far). I will not take the time to catalogue even the smallest part of these experiences here, but suffice it to say that I have raised five children and supported a family for over three decades without visible means of support, because I considered, at the outset of my ministry, that, if Jesus is real, I can take Him at HIs word and can live as the apostles and early Christian ministers did—i.e., without concern for finances, letting no person but God ever know my needs, never asking any remuneration for any ministry performed, and believing that Jesus told the truth when He said that one who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness will have lack of no necessary thing. Jesus told the truth, and His intervention to meet every need of mine and my family has meant that, while very seldom having any surplus after bills are paid, I have been able to live without insurance, without debt and without ever consciously developing a support base.

I only bring this up because it is a totally objective and external confirmation of the truth of Jesus' promise, which has resulted in an experience of God in my life that is in no sense restricted to mental impressions. I can anticipate a skeptic's attempts to neutralize this evidences with such arguments as the following:

1. "That people send money to men in ministry is not miraculous. It is, in fact, what Christians are accustomed to doing generally. It is how their churches and pastors and missionaries have always been sustained. Going into the ministry more or less guarantees that some people will send financial support." This is somewhat true. However, it does not answer to the facts of my own case. I have never sent out a letter nor announced in any setting that I or my family were in financial need (though we often were). Our needs varied from month to month and from year to year. Some months, our needs were less than $1000, and other months our needs were in excess of $5000 or even $10,000. Nobody but God and I knew how much was needed, and no appeals were ever made for finances. Yet, if our needs were $1000, that is the amount that came in. If our needs were greater, that would be the amount that would come in. The same number of people were aware of my ministry, and favorably disposed toward it, in the months when the lower amount came in as in the months when the greater needs were met. The majority of the gifts have been from one-time donors, not established, regular supporters. In fact, I never had so much as one regular supporter until about nine or ten years ago—and I still have very few. Over the several decades, no one orchestrated the perfect correspondence of need to provision—and no one could have done so—except God.

2. "People besides Christians often experience coincidental good fortune, in terms of receiving unpredictable generosity or providence." I agree, and thank God for it, too. Jesus said this also, when He said that the Father sends such things as rain and sunshine even on the evil and upon the ungrateful. However, I am not talking about occasional coincidences. I am talking about a period of over 400 consecutive months, wherein no living soul knew of my needs, but provision came from a variety of sources each month, more often than not, in almost the exact amount needed at the exact time it was required. Though I have lived in relative poverty, I have been financially advantaged over most Americans, in that I have been debt-free. If you know of anyone of another religion who has such a long-standing testimony, I would be very interested in meeting them. I know of a number of people with testimonies just like mine. They have all been Christians.

I often mention this aspect of God's proving Himself real in my life, although I could also appeal to an almost endless number of statistically unlikely answered prayers for needs that were not of the financial sort. The superiority of the financial testimony to some of these others is that it has been constant for my entire adult life. The other testimonies are also impressive, but much more sporadic.

As I see it, It is the stated basis for your beliefs that lacks uniqueness. You like the "wilderness code" because "it works well" for you. Thus, you are the one making a claim exactly parallel to that which can be made by adherents to almost every religion, or to no religion at all. In my opinion, then, I actually have a much more solid basis for investing in my beliefs than you have for investing in yours. You have little more than a pragmatic basis for believing your views to be correct—a basis which every human being with a well-ordered life shares, even if their beliefs may be diametrically opposed to yours.

You asked if anything could shake me from my belief in Christ. I have often wondered about this myself. Given the lifelong experience that I have had with the living Jesus, I would say that perhaps I could be moved from my beliefs by the same kind of evidence that could convince me that my whole life and existence is a fantasy being dreamed by a rock. Mental hospitals have such people living in them. If I should ever so lose touch with reality as to come to disbelieve in Jesus, please have me committed to such a place...I might be a danger to myself.

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kaufmannphillips
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Re: ARE ALL FOODS CLEAN?

Post by kaufmannphillips » Fri Jun 12, 2009 3:24 pm

Hi, Steve,

Thank you for your response.
steve wrote:
I have never talked to you about the nature of your previous Christian experience (which, from the nature of your present arguments, I take to have been non-existent). I know you once professed Christian faith, and even served as the pastor of a church, but, like many others of whom the same could be said, it would appear that you never encountered Jesus for yourself. For this (and for all others like you in this respect) I am truly sorry. It definitely places you at a disadvantage in a discussion such as this one, I think.

kaufmannphillips wrote:
Not an altogether unique Christian response to my life's-story, but comparable to asserting that a divorcee must never have really loved their former spouse or have been committed to them. People's understandings and outlooks can change. Could your own faith in Jesus never be controverted? And if it were, would that mean that your earlier Christian experience was "non-existent"?

steve wrote:
In our latest posts, a number of references have been made to the bases for our respective beliefs (or doubts) attributable to our respective experiences and encounters with Jesus Christ. When I said that you (and a great number of men in Christian ministry) would appear not to have had such an encounter, I was not questioning the sincerity of your (or their) earlier love for Christian concepts, nor even for Christ Himself. Thus your analogy of the divorcee being wrongly accused of never having loved his wife is not parallel.
In your initial comments, you stated that "[my] previous Christian experience ... [you took] to have been non-existent." This statement justified my comparison.
steve wrote:
If a man is blind from birth, he may, for a time, be persuaded (through the testimony of sighted individuals) that colors exist. He might also, upon later reflection, abandon this belief. If such a man were to assert that there exists no such thing as color, we could not deduce from this denial that he had never truly believed in color, nor even that he had not been thoroughly enamored with the concept of colors. We could certainly conclude, however, that he had never seen color. Otherwise, his denials could never arise.
Well, we might conclude that the man had never seen color because he was "blind from birth," but depending upon the nature of his blindness he might yet have experienced colors in the form of phosphenes. The man's denials would not necessarily have to correspond to his experience, for he might have come to understand his experience as untrustworthy; though he may have experienced phosphenic colors (shall we say), he might have decided that these were figments of his imagination, and not authentic experiences.

Let us entertain another analogy. An individual has been raised in a Montana town where stories are told of a polar bear who lives in the woods. During this individual's adolescence, he has an unusual experience while hiking, and is convinced that he has caught a glimpse of this bear. However, in later years, he reconsiders his experience. He thinks to himself, "Polar bears don't normally live around here. Maybe it was really an albino black bear. Or maybe it wasn't a bear at all; it could have been a mountain goat standing on a big rock. Or maybe it was somebody playing a trick on me. How good a look did I really get? I really wanted to see that famous bear; might I have run wild with my imagination?" Regardless of what the individual really had experienced, he ultimately could deny his earlier understanding of that experience, due to his later reasoning. The denial is not necessarily indicative of the experience, one way or the other.
steve wrote:
I have as much at stake in being in touch with reality as has any other man. One can hardly suggest that my being a vocational minister will have given me incentives to remain gullible—since I could make a much more comfortable living in any number of other professions, whereas my present vocation has always kept me in humble circumstances.
(a) You also might have a stake in not being in touch with reality.

(1) To begin with, regardless of the relative modesty of your financial circumstances, attempting to move into another profession might be unattractive. The job prospects for a person who has developed no secular resume for ~40 years might be less than enticing, particularly in our present economy. It might be quite difficult to find employment with your background, and/or strenuous to bear the manual labor that might be required for an entry-level position.

(2) The social cost of departing from Christianity might also be significant. What percentage of your intimate and casual relationships are grounded in a shared faith, and what would happen to these relationships if you rejected Christianity? It is one thing to have to work long hours stocking shelves at Safeway; it is another thing to find your calls and e-mails ignored, and to have to build a new network of community. Besides this, you receive a measure of respect in your current life. Leaving the faith, you would garner contempt and disregard among Christians; among non-Christians, you would be just another Steve in the stream.

(3) And dislocation from the external world might be a lesser concern, compared to the psychological upheaval that you might encounter. Having abandoned your fundamental worldview, you might face basic questions of being: "Who am I? What is my purpose? Do I have a purpose? What gives my life meaning? Have I wasted my life? Should I try to make amends for the ways I have misled people in the past? What use am I to anybody, and what do I do with myself, now that my best skills and knowledge appear to be tangled up in a falsehood?" And you might face emotional distress stemming from your severance from Christianity: feelings of loss, doubt, fear, guilt, discouragement.

(n) But all of these things may be secondary matters for consideration; they may and/or may not be factors that your mind consciously and/or unconsciously takes into account. That is - if, indeed, you ever significantly challenge your faith. On this note:

(b) In my previous post, I wrote: "One can hardly expect that a Christian whose life's work has hinged upon the authority of the apostles would be disposed toward recognizing a lack of validity to their framework." Such a lack of disposition need not boil down to a question of motives; rather, one might reasonably expect that ~40 years of intense familiarity with a paradigm and of thinking in certain patterns would yield a mindset. Accordingly - at mental, emotional, and instinctive levels, you might be constitutionally ill-poised to question your faith in a significant manner.

On one hand, your mind has been steeped in the sorts of mental and rhetorical maneuvers that are used by your New Testament writers. After ~40 years, one might imagine that your mind has become so accustomed to these maneuvers that your senses of reasoning, affection, and intuition generally correspond to their patterns. Thus, it might be hard for you to conceive of or even appreciate a serious challenge to their mental and rhetorical maneuvers - since you so thoroughly share their worldview.

What is more, you have spent ~40 years processing your own life-experiences through this sort of mental filter, so it would be natural for the input you have retained to have been sifted and interpreted by your mind in a way that fits your/their worldview. ("Everybody has his filter, which he takes about with him, through which, from the indefinite mass of facts, he gathers in those suited to confirm his prejudices. And the same fact again, passing through different filters, is revealed in different aspects, so as to confirm the most diverse opinions. ... Rare, very rare are those who check their filter [Henri deLubac].")

With ~40 years of mental patterning and filtered experiences, one might imagine that your emotional and instinctive selves would have developed so that even before entering into rational consideration of an issue, you begin with a conscious and/or subconscious psychological predisposition toward a particular resolution - one that accords with your Christian paradigm. To what extent are you naturally going to be disposed toward entertaining hypotheses that run counter to nearly four decades of your personal development, and that - from your Christian perspective - place you in danger of eternal punishment and alienation from G-d?

(x) And so, rather beyond hypothesizing a Snidely Whiplash motive for your "gullib[ility]," there are common and reasonable considerations that justify the statement that "One can hardly expect that a Christian whose life's work has hinged upon the authority of the apostles would be disposed toward recognizing a lack of validity to their framework."
steve wrote:
When I speak of confirmatory experiences with God, I am talking about God's objective involvement in my life, in such concrete areas as finances, and comprehensive care of myself and my family for nearly 40 years (so far). I will not take the time to catalogue even the smallest part of these experiences here, but suffice it to say [etc., etc.].

I only bring this up because it is a totally objective and external confirmation of the truth of Jesus' promise, which has resulted in an experience of God in my life that is in no sense restricted to mental impressions. I can anticipate a skeptic's attempts to neutralize this evidences with such arguments as the following: ...
(a) This is not the first time for you to introduce the diction of "skeptic." Having been Christian, I know this is a dirty word, and a useful tool of rhetoric for you. But I am not ashamed of the label; rather, those who are not true skeptics should be ashamed of their irresponsibility. "Skepticism" derives from the Greek term skeptomai - to look about carefully, to consider. Accordingly, every person who cares for the truth should be committed to a stance of skepticism - of carefully observing and evaluating, and then carefully continuing to observe and to re-evaluate.

It is not a true skeptic's concern to "neutralize ... evidence." Rather, it is the skeptic's responsibility to examine evidence and to evaluate its potential significance. Neither vindication nor neutralization are suitable aims here, because these sorts of aims prejudice the inquiry.

(b) As a skeptic, I will acknowledge that your testimony of extended providence is remarkable. However, it is also my responsibility to weigh this piece of evidence in conjunction with the host of other evidences for and against Christianity. Upon review, I imagine that you and I might both agree that it does not suffice to demonstrate the trustworthiness of Christianity.

How so? In our exchange, we have a number of potential avenues for discussion: historical, theological, mystical, and miraculous (perhaps not an exhaustive list). Your account of extended providence falls into the latter category - the miraculous - and we might both agree that the miraculous does not suffice to demonstrate a fullness of religious validity. On one hand, if one posits the activity of other spiritual powers besides G-d, one or more of these might have produced your miracle.

On the other hand, G-d himself may have performed this sort of miracle for his own broad-ranging purposes. As G-d engages the intricate web of causality, he may find that sustaining your ministerial activity is beneficial to the development of his cosmic plan. Though your teaching may be gravely flawed in some respects, you may lay groundwork for a development that serves the divine purpose. And so your miracle may be something on the order of G-d raising up a Cyrus or a Zoroaster - men who may have been less than fully trustworthy in their religious activity, yet may have contributed in a valuable way toward the unfolding of G-d's plan.
steve wrote:
As I see it, It is the stated basis for your beliefs that lacks uniqueness. You like the "wilderness code" because "it works well" for you. Thus, you are the one making a claim exactly parallel to that which can be made by adherents to almost every religion, or to no religion at all. In my opinion, then, I actually have a much more solid basis for investing in my beliefs than you have for investing in yours. You have little more than a pragmatic basis for believing your views to be correct—a basis which every human being with a well-ordered life shares, even if their beliefs may be diametrically opposed to yours.
You may misunderstand my outlook, Steve. Like many Jews, I do not hold that Judaism is the only valid way to know and serve G-d. Judaism is primarily addressed to a limited group of people. Non-Jews may have their own valid relationships with G-d, apart from Judaism. There are some values that are universally relevant from a Jewish perspective, but these do not all have to be engaged within the paradigm of Judaism in order to be valid.

My quibble with Christianity is not based on the unique validity of Judaism. If Christianity were different in a number of key respects, it might be as valid a religion as Judaism. My quibble is with elements of Christianity that are theologically objectionable, on an internal basis and/or from a Jewish perspective. A decent evaluation will conduct an unflinching examination of such elements on their own merits, beyond appealing to putative authorities and/or miracles.
steve wrote:
You asked if anything could shake me from my belief in Christ. I have often wondered about this myself. Given the lifelong experience that I have had with the living Jesus, I would say that perhaps I could be moved from my beliefs by the same kind of evidence that could convince me that my whole life and existence is a fantasy being dreamed by a rock. Mental hospitals have such people living in them. If I should ever so lose touch with reality as to come to disbelieve in Jesus, please have me committed to such a place...I might be a danger to myself.
(a) You speak of your "experience ... with the living Jesus." I would welcome some more information about the nature of this experience. Have you seen "the living Jesus"? Had verbal conversations with him? Or is your experience primarily a matter of inference, as in the case of your financial providence?

(b) A person who is not seriously receptive to re-evaluation of their beliefs and to the possibility of correction is a person who holds a high opinion of their own infallibility, or who lacks adequate regard for truth. Such a person is not only a danger to themselves, but to others as well.
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"The more something is repeated, the more it becomes an unexamined truth...." (Nicholas Thompson)
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