Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clarifying Reformed Theology (Part 4)

We are now getting into the topic of Evangelism. This is going to be one place where some of the really major misconceptions tend to arise, and I shall Lord willing try to correct any misconceptions you may have. Please gently bear with me as I try to clarify some things in response to your criticisms:

I think its funny that Calvinists are part of the “evangelical” sect of the Christian faith. If God chooses who gets saved without any input from humans, why fight against His will by evangelizing?

I think you should not forget that it was Calvinists (along with Lutherans) who were the original “Evangelicals” back in the days of the Reformation. :-)

When God draws people into saving faith, He uses means. I think it’s fairly obvious that God doesn’t just “zap” faith into someone’s heart so they suddenly start believing. God certainly has the power to do that, but He has chosen not to work that way. Rather, He has chosen to make use of the preaching of the word as His instrument in bringing people into saving faith. To say that we who preach “convert” anybody is a major misnomer: God is the one in the business of converting hearts, and He uses human preachers as His instruments. I mean sure, there are those rare instances where God bypasses that and reaches out to somebody via dreams or theophanies (which is what has happened to a lot of ex-Muslims who’ve converted to Christianity after seeing Jesus in their dreams), but those are extraordinary means, and God usually utilizes preaching as His method of drawing His children in.

A good example of this is Acts 10:44, where the Word is preached first and the Holy Spirit falls upon those who would believe. Another example is Acts 13:48, where Paul preaches to the Gentiles in Pisidia, and, as it says there, “as many as had been appointed [τεταγμενοι] to eternal life believed.” The order is important, as they believe because they were ordained, not vice versa, and any reputable scholar of biblical Greek can attest to this.

Now, I know some of the more extreme hyper-calvinists have this view that you’re not supposed to evangelize (somehow, the elect are supposed to just show up at your church door one morning), but the mainstream Reformed belief is not that. This is the reason why historically, Calvinists have been the most avid evangelists and foreign missionaries way back in earlier centuries. Don’t believe me? Well, who were the most studious among the reformers to spread the Word of God throughout Europe? Were they not the ones who came out of Geneva? Who founded the first Baptist Missionary Society? Were they not Reformed Baptists such as William Carey? Who were the most instrumental preachers of the Great Awakening? Were they not Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, who were both staunch Calvinists? Who was the prince of preachers? Was it not Charles Spurgeon, who was also staunchly Calvinistic? And how about all the Presbyterian missions that have made inroads in South Korea and other parts of East Asia in the name of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I am pointing all of these things out to show that it is historically naive to suppose that Calvinism has had any detrimental effect on evangelism.

Do they lead unbelievers in a prayer and hope that God makes it “take” if He has already pre-determined that they should be saved?

First of all, I take strong exception to the idea that you evangelize somebody by getting them to “pray a prayer.” This "sinner's prayer" methodology has produced more false converts than any other method of evangelism.

Second, I already told you that God uses means to bring people into saving faith. Now how do you know if they are Elect or not? Easy: They come into genuine saving faith, and they will endure to the end. After all, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, ESV).

Also, do you ever pray for the salvation of your lost loved ones? If so, I submit to you that doing so does not make sense from an Arminian perspective. The main reason for this is that to pray for God to save someone is to assume that God has the power to do something about that unbelief—something that contradicts the Arminian freewill position. Charles Spurgeon put it best in one of his sermons:

But I tell you what will be the best proof of that; it is the great fact that you never did meet a Christian in your life who ever said he came to Christ without Christ coming to him. You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer - for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free-will: there is no room for it. Fancy him praying,

"Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not-that is the difference between me and them."

That is a prayer for the devil, for nobody else would offer such a prayer as that. Ah! when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to pray, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out. I ask you again, did you ever meet a Christian man who said, "I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?" If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, "My dear sir, I quite believe it-and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." Do I hear one Christian man saying, "I sought Jesus before he sought me; I went to the Spirit, and the Spirit did not come to me"?

Read the rest of the sermon as well. You might learn a bit from it. :-)

Of course, those of us who believe in free will see that the saving work of God must be performed by Jesus, preached by Christians, and accepted by sinners. Everyone has their role.

"And what hast thou that thou didst not receive" (1 Corinthians 4:7, KJV)?

In the Calvinist system, in order to give God glory, no one but God can do anything in the salvation process. So Jesus provided the redemptive work, He calls those whom He wants, and He forces sinners to repent.

He doesn’t "force" them. He changes their hearts and makes them willing (cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Think of a woman who was so fantastically fat and ugly that you get repulsed every time you see her. Imagine then, that she had plastic surgery, lost all her extra weight and put on the finest perfume and make-up. Now she's the prettiest woman in the world. When you see her, you can't help but be attracted to her. This isn't the best analogy, but it helps illustrate what it's like for God to change a person's natural disposition.

So why is there so much in the Bible about sharing the Good News with the lost?

Because that is His ordained means of drawing sinners to the Saviour.

Also, God has not revealed to us who is elect and who is not. We don’t have special glasses that indicate to us who is elect and who is not, and we just preach to those who are elect. I don’t know why, but for some reason, a lot of Arminians I’ve met have this idea that Calvinism teaches that we must only preach to those who are elect, as if we had knowledge of God’s secret plans. Look at the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-8, Mark 4:1-8, Luke 8:5-8). I am sure you would not disagree with me that there are different types of soil in the world. Now, if you pay close attention to the parable, you will notice that the sower does not just look for the good soil and scatter the seed there. Rather, he scatters the seed indiscriminately to see where they bear fruit.

The application for us is that we do not know who is the good soil and who is not. So we spread the Word everywhere and see where God makes the seed bear fruit. After all, though we may plant and water the seeds, it is up to God to make the seeds grow (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

Romans 10:14-17 (which oddly enough comes right after Romans 9) very clearly says that the Gospel must be heard and mixed with the faith of the individual to take effect.

The fact that Romans 10:14-17 comes right after Romans 9 makes perfect sense when you take into account what I just said: God chooses, and He uses the preaching of the Word as the means to bring about what He has ordained.

Of course the Calvinist says that our faith comes from God. Yes it does. He is the giver of our faith but He doesn’t exercise it for us. Think about it – if God exercises our faith for us, why did Jesus reprimand the disciples and say, “Oh, you of little faith” 4 times in the book of Matthew? He should’ve been scolding Himself! We must exercise our God-given faith ourselves.

I don’t disagree with a single portion of this, and I challenge you to show me any Calvinist who thinks God exercises faith for us. You won’t find one, and even if you somehow found one who did, I would be the first one to say that he is wrong.

So here is my question – if the Calvinist construct is true and God carries out every detail of the salvation process...

Look at the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:28-30. God foreknows, God predestines, God calls, God justifies, God glorifies. At which point does man add anything of himself? Everything in there is something that God does. Simply put, you cannot break that golden chain.

...why are we commanded to spread the good news of redemption through Jesus? I actually saw where someone answered that question by saying that we should share the gospel out of sheer obedience because God tells us to, not because it does anything. How ridiculous!

I would agree that it would be ridiculous if that was the only reason why one should evangelize. Now, obedience is one good reason why we should do it, but it is just one of many different reasons. I gave you the rest of them earlier.


...or rather, the strawman version of Calvinism that you derived from a single person who happened to have an inadequate answer and does not represent what the vast majority of Reformed Christians believe...

...turns evangelism from a love-based action of mercy where we get the pleasure of partnering in God’s will, into a meaningless “test” by an unreasonable god. Revelation 3:20 is so simple. He is knocking. You must hear His voice and open.

Now, talk about taking scripture out of context. Revelation 3:20 is talking about the church in Laodicea, and how believers there were becoming lukewarm in their faith. Contrary to what many Arminians think, Revelation 3:20 is addressed to those who already believe, not those who are still outside of the fold.

Besides, lack of a doorknob didn’t stop Jesus from calling Lazarus out of his tomb (cf. John 11:38-44).

Anyway, there is a lot more that I need to say, but due to lack of time, I will leave you with this. I will continue writing the rest of my response at a later time. I’ll try to continue tomorrow. If I’m not able to, though, I’ll try for Sunday.

Grace and Peace.


PS: Since we're talking about evangelism here, I'm still doing some Gospel work involving Muslims. Perhaps you can include my work in witnessing to them in your prayers. Calvinist or Arminian, I think we can agree that this is something of utmost importance and supercedes our secondary differences.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prayer Requests...

Please pray that the controversy and lawsuit over the whole Dearborn incident will come to a close soon. We cannot allow despotism to trump freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Please pray for the well-being and safety of the four brave brothers and sisters that got arrested over a week ago--David Wood, Nabeel Qureshi, Negeen Mayel and Paul Rezkalla--that the Lord may continue to abide with them and use them to bring many more Muslims to Christ.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fisher vs. Hackenslash (on the Reliability of the New Testament)

This is a transcript of a debate that I had in the Urban Philosophy chat channel a little less than a year ago against a Richard Dawkins fanatic by the name of "Hackenslash" (who stopped coming to Urban Philosophy after a falling out with Mitchell LeBlanc). This is the debate that really kick-started my misadventures as an amateur Christian apologist. I have blogged this before, but for easy reference, I am reposting the debate transcript here on my blog.

My comments are in green, Hack's comments are in yellow, everybody else's comments are unshaded.

Finally, if anybody wants a copy of the debate notes I used for this debate, post a comment with your email and I'll send it to you.


A transcript of the debate between Fisher (Christian) and Hackenslash (Atheist).

July 8, 2009

Debate Transcript (

Is The New Testament Reliable?

Affirmative: Fisher

Negative: Hackenslash



I would like to begin my presentation with a quote from Drs. Norman Geisler and William Nix:

The influence of the Bible and its teaching in the Western world is clear for all who study history. And the influential role of the West in the course of world events is equally clear. Civilization has been influenced more by the Judeo-Christian Scriptures than by any other book or series of books in the world.
(Source: Norman Geisler and William Nix. General Introduction to the Bible. p. 196)

The Bible undoubtedly has its place in history. It is especially significant as it is a book that billions around the world place their faith in. In particular, the New Testament tells the story of the man Jesus Christ: A man whose influence in history has been so great that 2.2 billion people around the world profess to believe that He is the son of God.

But is this story true? In the past two centuries, there has been an intensified debate over whether it is right for us to put our faith in the scriptures. The question has been posed over and over again, with new arguments and new evidence being brought to the table as our knowledge increases. I would like to present the evidence that supports the Christian position.

To show that these are well-documented and scholarly facts, I will include references to show where the information comes from, so that others may verify them for themselves, not to mention that I rely on well-trained and well-educated scholars and historians. I would contend that the facts as presented can only be explained by the Christian worldview.

First, I would like to go through the manuscript evidence. Some have suspected that the New Testament text is so far-removed from the events that they cannot be trusted as eyewitnesses. On the contrary, the manuscript attestation to the events of the Gospels is second to none. As biblical scholar K.A. Kitchen explains:

Among works of classical (Greek and Latin) literature, the writings of the New Testament–4 gospels, 21 letters, the history of Acts and visions of Revelation–have a manuscript attestation second to none, and superior to most. No one blinks an eyelid at depending for the Latin text of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars (Composed within 58-56 BC) upon manuscripts all of which are 900 years later than Caesar’s time, only nine or ten of the manuscripts being good textual copies. No-one doubts that we still read the real text of the works of Herodotus or Thucydides (450 BC), even though the oldest available full manuscripts (only eight or so) date from 1,300 years later!

For the New Testament, how different and how vastly superior is the manuscript evidence. Some 5,000 Greek MSS (whole or fragmentary) are known, not a mere eight or ten. The most notable MSS are the Codexes Vaticanus and Sinaiticus of c. 350 AD–only 250 years after the end of the New Testament period (100 AD), not 900 or 1,300 years! Older still are the Chester Beatty and Bodmer biblical papyri, including six new Testament MSS of the second and third centuries AD, only 150 years after the New Testament period.

Further back still, there is a Rylands fragment from a manuscript of John’s Gospel (18:31-33, 37f.) datable by its script to about 130 AD–little more than a generation after the New Testament period itself. As this fragment came from Egypt, it is evident that John’s gospel had been composed, recopied and begun to circulate well beyond Palestine before 130 AD. Hence, on this evidence alone, it must have been composed (at latest) by 90/100 AD, and more probably earlier.
(Source: Kenneth Anderson Kitchen. The Bible and Its World. p. 131.)

Also: The fidelity of the New Testament text rests on a multitude of manuscript evidence. Counting Greek copies alone, the New Testament is preserved in some 5,656 partial and complete manuscript portions that were copied by hand from the second through the fifteenth centuries. (Source: Norman Geisler. General Introduction to the Bible. p. 385.)

And if you add manuscripts that were translated in other languages (Latin, Coptic, Syriac and Armenian), then you would have between 25,000-30,000 manuscripts in total.
(Source: Daniel Wallace. The Case for the Real Jesus. p. 83.)

If you are going to cast doubt on the textual reliability of the New Testament, then you might as well be consistent and cast doubt on the reliability of every ancient writing prior to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, since no other book is as well attested to in such a large number of manuscripts as the New Testament.

Next, I will head on to the subject of the New Testament canon, and I will only deal with this topic briefly, lest Dan Brown type conspiracies regarding the NT Canon start coming up. It is a common misconception that the Council of Nicea decided that the New Testament would have four gospels. On the contrary, the Nicene canons do not cover the topic of the canon at all. In fact, the fixed canon of four gospels has been recognized since the second century. Irenaeus, writing in 180 AD, attests to this when he writes:

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.
(Source: Irenaeus of Lyons. Adversus Haereses. Ch. XI.)

Renowned biblical scholar Bruce Metzger confirms this when he states:

When the pronouncement was made about the canon, it merely ratified what the general sensitivity of the church had already determined. You see, the canon is a list of authoritative books more than it is an authoritative list of books. These documents didn’t derive their authority from being selected; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together. The early church merely listened and sensed that these were authoritative accounts.

For someone now to say that the canon emerged only after councils and synods made these pronouncements would be like saying, ‘Let’s get several academies of musicians to make a pronouncement that the music of Bach and Beethoven is wonderful.’ I would say, ‘Thank you for nothing! We knew that before the pronouncement was made.’ We know it because of sensitivity to what is good music and what is not. The same with the canon. 0:54
(Source: Bruce Metzger. The Case for Christ. p. 68.)

Next, I will cover the extra-biblical corroboration for Jesus and His ministry. One must understand that due to the area that Jesus grew up in, it is not likely that that many would take not of Him. Yet, what we do have from non-Christian sources is in and of itself quote noteworthy.

For example, there is the testimony of Flavius Josephus, as found in book 18 of his “Antiquities of the Jews.” This passage has caused quite a lot of controversy over the decades, with some sceptics going so far as to declare the entire passage as a forgery, but I think this is going a bit too far. Anyway, here is the text from Josephus:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man [, if it were lawful to call him a man], for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Christ,] and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him [;for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him]. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.
(Source: Flavius Josephus. Antiquities. Book 18, chapter 3.)

Now, the bracketed portions are probably later interpolations, as they are not characteristic of Josephus’ writing. Besides that, however, the rest of the text is generally considered to be authentic. As scholars have said before:

“Few have doubted the genuineness of this passage.”

“Today there’s a remarkable consensus among both Jewish and Christian scholars that the passage as a whole is authentic, although there may be some interpolations.”
(Source: Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. The Case for Christ, p. 79.)

One thing is certain: The Testimonium cannot be dismissed as a late fabrication. The text is quoted in its entirety by fourth-century Church historian Eusebius in his History of the Church. Eusebius was a meticulous scholar, who thoroughly researched his sources. Despite his obvious enthusiasm for defending and furthering the Gospel, there is no evidence he wilfully used fraudulent source material to prove his point. 0:55
(Source: Timothy J. Dailey. Mysteries of the Bible: Exploring the Secrets of the Unexplained. p. 190)

Finally, it is noteworthy that there are no manuscripts of Josephus’ antiquities that do not have this passage. Thus we can be certain that truly does belong there. So here we have established the authenticity of the passage in general. What does that lead us to conclude? John Meier writes:

Read the Testimonium without the [bracketed] passages and you will see that the flow of thought is clear. Josephus calls Jesus by the generic title “wise man.” Josephus then proceeds to “unpack” that generic designation (wise man) with two of its main components in the Greco-Roman world: miracle working and effective teaching. This double display of “wisdom” wins Jesus a large following among both Jews and gentiles, and presumably—though no explicit reason is given—it is this huge success that moves the leading men to accuse Jesus before Pilate.
(Source: John Meier. The Testimonium: Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible. p. 23.)

It is also noteworthy that elsewhere in his Antiquities, Josephus mentions James, the half-brother of Jesus: he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…

As far as I can tell, nobody doubts that the passage regarding him is authentic. Given this account of Josephus talking about “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” it shouldn’t be surprising at all for him to refer to Jesus and the Christian movement.

And then there are these events, which reportedly took place during Jesus’ death:
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:44, ESV)

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:51, ESV)

Interestingly enough, these events are corroborated by pagan sources:
Phlegon, a Greek author from Caria writing a chronology soon after 137 A.D., reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., 33 A.D.) there was “the greatest eclipse of the sun” and that “it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.”
(Source: Paul Maier. Pontius Pilate. p. 366.)

There is also a certain quote by a historian from 51 A.D. by the name of Thallus. Although the original copy of his work is lost, it is quoted in the writings of Julius Africanus in 221 A.D. Julius quotes:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness, and the rocks were rent down by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.
(Source: Julius Africanus. Chronography. Chapter XVIII, 1.)

Thus, we see that a significant event that occurs at the moment of the crucifixion is recorded for us in two different pagan sources. Surely this should be enough to convince even the most ardent sceptic that the events of the crucifixion are historically grounded

Now, there is then the testimony of Jesus’ burial in the tomb, and the fact that it had been found empty 3 days later: events which as far as I know are well-attested to by both Christian and Jewish witnesses, not to mention most recognized scholars and historians up until now. Paul Maier writes:

Where did Christianity first begin? To this the answer must be: “Only one spot on earth-the city of Jerusalem.” But this is the very last place it could have started if Jesus’ tomb had remained occupied, since anyone producing a dead Jesus would have driven a wooden stake through the heart of an incipient Christianity inflamed by His supposed resurrection.

What happened in Jerusalem seven weeks after the first Easter could have taken place only if Jesus’ body were somehow missing from Joseph’s tomb, for otherwise the Temple establishment, in its imbroglio with the Apostles, would simply have aborted the movement by making a brief trip over to the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea and unveiling Exhibit A. They did not do this, because they knew the tomb was empty. Their official explanation for it-that the disciples had stolen the body- was an admission that the sepulchre was indeed vacant. (Source: Paul Maier. “The Empty Tomb as History,” Christianity Today, vol. 19, March 28, 1975. p. 5.)

However, it is not the empty tomb that convinces the disciples of Jesus that He is risen (with the possible exception of John). This is where we arrive at the post-resurrection appearances. These are recorded by the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, where he writes:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 5:3-8, ESV)

Now, sceptics often explain away this account by saying that everybody in question merely experienced hallucinations. This is the explanation championed by noted atheist philosopher Richard Carrier, who states this:
I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence…is that the first Christians experienced hallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another…In the ancient world, to experience supernatural manifestations of ghosts, gods and wonders was not only accepted, but often encouraged.
(Source: Richard Carrier. The Spiritual Body of Christ. p. 184.)

However, despite what Carrier would have you believe, the hallucination theory is not “consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence.” The theory does not explain why the sceptical half-brother of Jesus or the anti-Christian Saul would experience hallucinations of that type. Moreover, it is extremely improbable that 500 people would simultaneously experience the same illusion. As renowned psychologist Gary Collins explains:

Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in somebody else. Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.

Thus, I would conclude, along with Dr. Gary Habermas, “That these different individuals in each of these various circumstances would all be candidates for hallucinations really stretches the limits of credibility.”
(Source: Gary Habermas. Beyond Death. p. 120.)

Thus, we see this string of facts and evidence that taken as a whole, provide a solid testimony for the Christian faith. I do not think that the naturalist worldview can explain all of these facts with anywhere near the same level of clarity, consistency and persuasiveness as the biblical worldview. If the atheist chooses to balk and deny the faith that has been once for all delivered to the saints, he does so at his own risk, for in doing so he runs against the entire testimony of history. Thank you.


I am going to be arguing on one premise, and providing instances from the NT that show that, as a historical document, it cannot be relied upon. And then I will briefly rebut Fisher’s opening. Is that OK?

Clock on.

I would argue that any source, without independent corroboration of specific statements, cannot be relied upon as a historical source.

So, in order to present my case, I figured I’d go straight for the jugular. In order to show that the NT is an unreliable source without critically robust independent support, it becomes suspect in terms of its actual veracity.

I only need find one instance of contradiction to cast doubt on the veracity of the stories.
So, we’ll start with genealogy

Matthew Chapter 1 V. 6-16. 29 Generations from David to Jesus. Luke C 3 v. 23-31, 43 generations. Between those two lists, only three names are in concurrence.

When Christ tells his disciples where to go after the resurrection: Matthew 28:10 and Mark 16:7 say Galilee, while Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4 say he tells them to stay in Jerusalem.

In the book of John alone, between only two chapters, John flat out contradicts himself, saying in 3:22 that Jesus was performing Baptisms, while in 4:2 he says it was only the disciples who were performing them

I have done a quick sketch in bullets to rebut your opening.

1. Your opening was a massive argumentum ad populum. The influence of a work is no guide to its veracity, so that’s a massive non-sequitur before you even begin.

2. No argument that the bible is a historic document, following on from that and through your opening. Historical, however, is not the same as historic.

3. Argument from manuscript. Contemporary sources only, please/

4, Josephus. Any interpolation renders the whole document suspect

5. Critically robust sources please for the suspension of the natural laws, i.e. miracles.

7. Argument from improbability re hallucinations. Group hallucinations are a known phenomenon.


First off, I’m glad Hack pointed out the genealogies example

It’s one of the most famous arguments. In fact, I used it myself back in my agnostic days, but it can be quite easily explained.

Ben Witherington writes:

It has been traditional to assume that Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (his legal genealogy), whereas Luke’s genealogy traces his lineage through Mary (his natural genealogy). [This solution finds] support from the fact that the Matthean birth narrative focuses more on the role of Joseph than of Mary, while Luke’s narrative makes Mary the more central figure in the drama. It also comports with the ancient conjecture that Joseph is ultimately the source of much of the Matthean birth narratives, while Mary is the source for most of Luke’s material.
(Source: Witherington, Ben III. The Birth of Jesus. p. 65.)

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe expand upon this in their book “When Critics Ask,” where they write:

[The genealogies] are two different lines of ancestors, one traced through His legal father, Joseph, and the other through His actual mother, Mary. Matthew gives the official line, since he addresses Jesus’ genealogy to Jewish concerns for the Jewish Messiah’s credentials which required that Messiah come from the seed of Abraham and the line of David (cf. Matt. 1:1). Luke, with a broader Greek audience in view, addresses himself to their interest in Jesus as the Perfect Man (which was the quest of Greek thought). Thus, he traces Jesus back to the first man, Adam (Luke 3:38)…

..Further, Luke does not say that he is giving Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph. Rather, he notes that Jesus was “as was supposed” (Luke 3:23) the son of Joseph, while He was actually the son of Mary. Also, that Luke would record Mary’s genealogy fits with his interest as a doctor in mothers and birth and with his emphasis on women in his Gospel which has been called “the Gospel for Women.”
(Source: Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. p. 385-386)

Also, the John 3 and John 4 thing is not a contradiction either. It’s pretty easy to simply say that since Jesus works through His disciples, whatever the disciples are doing is attributed to them in general.

As for the Galilee/Jerusalem discrepancies: Is Jesus even talking to the same groups of disciples? Given the number of them, it’s most likely that some were stationed in Galilee, while others remain in Jerusalem.

Finally, I’d like to address this idea of “word-for-word” correspondence, as it is terribly anachronistic and misleading.

The inspired truth of Scripture does not depend on word-for-word agreement among all biblical manuscripts on or between parallel accounts of the same event.

In the first place, the notion of word-for-word agreement is a relatively recent historical development. “In times of antiquity it was not the practice to give a verbatim repetition every time something was written out.” To b e sure, I don’t believe that one passage of Scripture ever directly contradicts other passages. Yet, when someone asks, “Does everything in Scripture and in the biblical manuscripts agree word-for-word?” that person is asking the wrong question. The answer to that question will always be a resounding no.
(Source: Timothy Paul Jones. Misquoting Truth. p. 31-32.)

The variations in the resurrection narratives tend to support, rather than undermine, their authenticity. They demonstrate that there were several independent traditions stemming from some event that must indeed have happened to give rise to them.
(Source: Paul Maier. In the Fullness of Time. p. 180.)

If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses. People would then say we really only have one testimony that everybody else is just parroting.
(Source: Craig L. Blomberg. The Case for Christ. p. 45.)

There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction.
(Source: Simon Greenleaf. The Testimony of the Evangelists. Vii.)

Interestingly, hack has not at all addressed the pagan corroboration for the eclipse

or the earthquake, for that matter

And he claims that the entire Josephus text is suspect, which brings me to my question:

Do you know of any manuscripts that do not contain the testimonium? If so, provide a source for this. If not, then explain why you think a partial interpolation is tantamount to a total one (which goes against responsible historical scholarship).


I will answer your question first, then I have some issues with your rebuttal.

I never said it was tantamount to a total interpolation, only that any interpolation renders it suspect as a critically robust evidential source.

Now, then. Group hallucinations and what we really know. We now that the human brain is an illusion generator par excellence. It can provide us with complete sensory input where there is none. It is also clear that all of our sensory input is tainted by our preconceptions, and by stimuli that we are not even aware of. May I direct your attention to this video.

You can watch it later, but it deals with the influences on us that we are not even aware of.

hallucinations are subject to the same principles, and confirmation bias is a well-understood phenomenon.

Galilee/Jerusalem. You are making that up on the spot. These are different accounts of what he’s supposed to have said, and any conjecture on your part about what circumstances MAY have surrounded it does not support your argument, it supports mine. I only need reasonable doubt, remember.

OK, my question: If the genealogies were traced through different lineages (which would be interesting in and of itself, since Judaic practice always traced through the father), why do they both lead back to David?


David did not have just one son. He had plenty of them. If you look closely, one traces His lineage through Solomon, the other through Nathan (not to be confused with the prophet of the same name).

Also, the bid about Judaic practices is irrelevant for one reason: Luke, the one who is tracing through Mary, is Greek. He is also writing for a Gentile audience. Thus, your parenthesis about Judaic practice is a complete non-sequitur.

Now, I would like to talk about the bit about hallucination


Excellent, because now you’re getting into science.


Group hallucinations do sometimes happen. However, from what I understand, they generally don’t hallucinate the exact same thing, and a crowd of 500 is pretty hard to influence that way

Also, It does not explain why Saul, the great persecutor of Christians, and James, the sceptical half-brother of Jesus, saw Him as well. If anything, they would be primed -against- seeing such hallucinations.

So my question is this: How do you account for James’ and Paul’s visions?


Right, but we don’t have testimonies to their accounts, we only have the assertion that they were there. Further, recent studies on eyewitness accounts have shown major discrepancies

Interestingly, when my brother died many years ago, I saw him everywhere for the first few months. This is well-documented, and coupled with what I was saying earlier about hallucinatory stimuli, renders your points entirely moot. Further, to take your argument seriously, it would have to be axiomatic that miracles are possible, and that the natural laws can be suspended. I believe I asked for critically robust evidence for this in my opening. Care to address that?


The problem with your question is that presuppositions make you rule out any possibility of suspension of natural laws. Thus, even if you were presented with the various such experiences that have been documented even up until recent decades (there’s a wide variety of examples: jewels falling from the sky, the Roman Catholic marian apparitions, Hindu statues drinking milk etc) you would dismiss them out of hand.

(Disclaimer: Just because I gave a certain example of a miracle doesn’t mean that I endorse it. Even if it is likely to be supernatural, I would disagree as to their origin, but that is an inter-theist debate, so I won’t go further into that.)

Also, arguing from a personal anecdote doesn’t count for much when a debate is in question, I think you know that. On that note, you may claim James and Paul are giving personal anecdotes. However, they, unlike you, had no motive or predisposition to hallucinate. It is also possible that they are lying, but why would they? Look what that got them: Nothing but persecution, humiliation and death

And now for my final question: I mentioned before that non-Christian sources documented the eclipse in Luke 23:44, not to mention the earthquake in Matthew 27:51. Do you dispute these corroborations? If so, why?


No. No presuppositions. Here’s the thing, and this is the root of the scientific method. I investigate that which is evident. So, I see what is, and then I formulate a hypothesis, and then I test it. The rules of logic and science determine that I dismiss anything which a) has no explanatory power, b) is not supported by any critically robust evidence and c) constitutes any unnecessary assumption. There is no evidence, as far as I am aware, that such a suspension is possible, so it is discarded, until there is evidence to support the viability of such a hypothesis. This has not been forthcoming.

Further, your response constituted a complete evasion of my question. About that evidence…?

I will be happy to forego my last question, and give the floor to the audience, as long as I get an answer to my first question.


Well, you can always look up the examples I gave you. The Jewels, the apparitions, the Hindu drinking statues.

I haven’t seen those things first-hand though, so I can’t speak for the ones who saw/heard them directly


They can all be dismissed under the rubric of what I have presented, and the principle of the shaving implement of the late, lamented cleric of Norfolk


Also, would you like to answer my final question as well?
I’d like to know what you think of Thallus and Phlegon
If you don’t feel like going through the transcripts, I can paste the quotes back up


A tiny correlation. Further, I have made my case, because all I need is doubt to render your document suspect as a historical source. I leave it open to the judgement of the audience, since my objections were evaded, rather than answered, IMO.


It’s like 3 parts

Hold on

Hack, is my understanding correct at you trying to argue that people were pretty much seeing things when Jesus appeared to them?

Or did I get that wrong

The 500


I am arguing that it is one of many possible explanations that are not considered within the confines of the doctrine. Most of them have a degree of parsimony that far exceeds the biblical account.

So arguing for it against only one other is a false dichotomy.

There is a vast range of possible explanations, and most of the can be explained by group hallucination and the power of suggestion.

Does that answer your question?


Okay. So my question is, would it be more plausible to argue that all of them were mistaken or seeing things, that includes sceptics. Or would it be more plausible that Jesus did really appear to them?


False dichotomy. They could have seen someone who looked like Jesus. They could have been hallucinating. Some of them may WANT to have seen Jesus, which is a powerful suggestive force, and well documented.

The rest may be Chinese whisper, or broken telephone to our US cousins.

Parsimony is a valuable tool in discerning between hypotheses.


That is fine. Thanks for answering. I came to my conclusion. Just needed to hear your input.


So I can provide an explanatory example from multiple fields of science to support my contention. However, I have yet to see anything that would suggest that suspension of the natural laws is possible. Occam’s Razor wins


For both debaters: Hackenslash says that you only need a “reasonable doubt.” By what universal standard, applicable to another human being, and not merely to yourself, is something reasonable or unreasonable – such as a ‘reasonable’ doubt?


Hack is arguing from a personal, subjective standard when he states things “reasonable doubt” and “absurdities.” Heck, even appealing to Occam’s Razor. All of this presupposes the Naturalistic worldview is true. However, I contend that Hack’s explanations for the evidence provided, rather than providing the most “reasonable” explanation, actually strains at the evidence.

For example

Hack says that a predisposition to want to see what the people who saw Jesus saw accounts for their hallucinations But, as I said before, Paul and James actually were predisposed AGAINST such hallucinations. Remember, the former was an opponent of Christianity before his conversion, and the latter was very sceptical of his own half-brother. Granted, they could have lied, but as I said, they have no reason to do so. It only resulted in their persecutions and death.


You mean that they had motive for it not to have happened? This is precisely the thing I’m talking about. This gives enough stimuli to bring on a hallucination, and if you look at the study on witness testimony, you can see that these two combined can provide exactly the circumstances you describe. The working of the mind is increasingly well-understood.

They didn’t necessarily have to lie. They only had to believe. Argument from belief is just as fallacious as argument from popularity My first question has not been answered. I require critically robust, peer-reviewed material that suggests that miracles are possible. If that is not forthcoming, I think we’re done.

I would say that doubt is reasonable when a) the source is suspect in terms of i) veracity ii) tampering iii) corroborative contemporary evidence iv) provenance or b) i) source ii) motive.

The NT actually fails on most of these counts.


My question was: On what universal standard, applicable to any person, id something reasonable – such as doubt – the same question applies to each of your individual reasons listed. On what basis are those objective, not subjective?


Well, if you want me to provide a quick answer to that

We have a set of facts and evidences.

Both sides have a set of presuppositions

My standard of reasonability would be which side’s presupposition can explain the facts better

Facts: I’ve mentioned the testimonies and statements of various persons, both biblical and extra-biblical, Christian as well as non-Christian.

Presuppositions: We both believe certain things about the world, even if those beliefs are non-religious or naturalistic.

So the question is whose worldview fits with the facts


I have no beliefs of any description


So……………………………………….. you’re a Nihilist?


Nihilism, by the way, IS a belief. It is the belief that it’s all pointless.

I have a question:

What are these presuppositions I have, as per your earlier assertion?


Hackenslash What are these presuppositions I have, as per your earlier assertion? <<<>


No, my question is: what makes any of those listed reasons reasonable descriptors of whether something is, or is not, reasonable?


That is not a presupposition. It is an evidentially supported position. There is no reason to suspect that it is otherwise, especially since the scientific method has provided us with the only real answers we have ever had.


in other words – how do you decide those are valid descriptors of “reasonable? by what standard?


RK, by the standard that they it is the only standard which has provided us with real, usable information about how the world works. It is simply a matter of standard of evidence. In my opinion, the NT doesn’t stack up, and there is enough doubt concerning its veracity to render it useless as a historical source. This was the central point of my opening, and one which my opponent has singularly failed to address. The other thing he’s failed to address is my request for evidence that a suspension of the natural laws is in fact possible. He has also failed to do this. All I need is sufficient doubt in the source, and my argument is made.


So, you don’t have an objective basis. Thank you.


That IS an objective basis. It deals with only that for which reasonable evidence can be provided.


You mentioned a few lines ago that only science (i.e. the scientific method) can provide for us knowledge? Have I understood you correctly or is this a straw man?


Although, give me a second. I have drunk much wine, and I need to see to the animals.

I didn’t say that only science can provide knowledge, so in a sense, yes. What I said was that the scientific method has given us the only way of looking at the universe with clear eyes, and has provided for us the world in which we can discuss these things over so many miles.

In other words, it is a mechanism by which we can know, while all other worldviews that have so far been advanced have only provided guesses and conjecture.

That’s not to say that it’s infallible in the short term, but the long term is process of refinement and revision, so it’s self-correcting, in a way that no other system of thought is.


Science by its very nature can only produce results. Those results have to be interpreted by the preconceptions of the scientist. For example, physics, as far as I know, relies heavily upon the theorems about Calculus developed by mathematicians. Mathematics, as opposed to science, starts off with an axiomatic system and reasons deductively, not inductively.

Therefore, science itself is subject to preconceptions. That’s not really a question, I know, but how would you respond?


Science has only one preconception, and that is that we can know, if we keep looking. I can respond thus. Mathematics is axiomatic precisely because we understand the system that describes it. Science is not the same, as it deals with no axia.

That is why the word ‘proof’ is only applicable in mathematics. A proof is an axiomatic construct, ‘proving’ the applicability of certain axia. Hence, the axiom is that the summing of two integers give the product. The proof of that would be 1+1=2 That is what a proof is.


Technically, 1+1=2 is not one of the Peano axioms but rather is derived from them.


And that’s why proof is not applicable in science, and why the highest an idea can achieve is ‘theory’. It is a proof of the axiom Do you see what I’m getting at? Anybody else have a question, or can we wrap up?


I believe so. However, we are still left with the conclusion that science is not the beginning of knowledge. Proper mathematics and logic must known first.


1. Hack, why do you consider Fishers argument is not reasonable? Summarize it, if possible.
2. Hack, Fisher provided many testimonies to support his argument. Is there any reason these do not support him or are irrelevant?
3. Hack, final question. can you give us an example of evidence that would lift reasonable doubt (for you) from Fisher’s argument?


1. Because it is circular, in that it relies on the occurrence of miracles. Unless one can provide evidence that such an occurrence is possible, I have to go with the parsimonious explanation for these events. The demands of parsimony dictate that I rule out anything which constitutes an unnecessary assumption or cannot be supported by critically robust evidence.

2. They all constitute hearsay. The nearest contemporary source is Josephus. His work was pretty good in many respects, but unfortunately all of it is rendered invalid by the least suspicion of interpolation or tampering. Further, his second entry constitutes hearsay, which has been shown to be an unreliable source of historical data.


2. Why do they constitute hearsay?


3. I answered this in my initial post. Provide critically robust evidence that a suspension of the natural laws is even viable for the consideration of scientists to look at.

2. Because they only talked about what other people believed or said concerning the events.


3. I was hoping for something more specific.


More specific than ‘there is no critically robust evidence to support your postulate’? I don’t know how I can be much more specific than that. I would require a robust correlation with reliable contemporary diarists or historians that concurred with the bible. I would also require some evidence to support the ridiculous notion that miracles can occur, and that magic man is responsible. Neither of these has been shown to my satisfaction, and further, my opponent has singularly failed to answer my questions and objections.


Fisher. What do you consider an objective basis for determining anything? What do you consider reasonable evidence?


EoZ, one thing I would like to stress is that we -all- have a certain way of looking at the world. The question is whether this way of looking at the world is consistent, both with itself and the facts. I have mentioned various facts, such as that various 1st century witnesses corroborate the testimonies of the gospel writers, not to mention the testimony of the gospel writers themselves. Of course there is the possibility that they are lying, misinterpreted the facts or have merely imagined what they wrote down. But the question is whether these accusations are warranted. As far as I see, they are not.


Good questions, BTW.

Again with the facts. Where is the critically robust evidence for these ‘facts’?


I don’t agree with calling witness testimony factual.

testimony is just that.

A recount of their perception of what happened.

Which is entirely subjective.

Which does not answer my question.

I asked what your basis for objective reasoning was.


Like I said, internal consistency and corroboration. Unless I’m interpreting your question wrong


It was a general question.

If you were looking at anything.

Not this specifically.

Third question. How is Hack subjective if subjectivity refers to emotions, feelings, and predispositions?


Not sure where I called Hack subjective. BUT, I would say that some of Hack’s statements are subjective, such as his stating “believability” as a criterion for accepting or rejecting a certain account as true. Remember, what is believable for one person may be completely incredulous to another.


You did during the questions.

Someone asked a question and you specifically stated he was subjective.


Which is precisely why I don’t do belief


Ahh right, now I remember

And Hack, everybody believes certain things

Doesn’t matter whether those things are considered “religious” or not.


No, I believe nothing. I can give you the full set, if you like, and a justification for my assertion.


The question is whether those beliefs (and yes, I’m using that term broadly) can be corroborated


Yes. It’s actually the first question I had, but I saved it for last because it’s not exactly important compared to my other two.


I have no beliefs. It is that simple: Beliefs are the eyelids of the mind – David Zindell


Hack, am I real person, Hackenslash?


Ah, the argument from solipsism is about to rear its ugly head


It’s not that. What I’m saying is

You take it for granted that you are debating a human being, though this could easily be an advanced AI or a well-trained chimpanzee.

So if you say I’m a real person, that would be considered a belief.


I have no critically robust evidence to suggest otherwise, and all the evidence from my interaction, and the interaction of those I know, is only a construct. That fails the principles as well, for the simple fact is that my assumption about the rest of the world being out there is evidentially supported, and doesn’t exceed the demands of parsimony. We have only consistency.


“Belief – something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat. ”


So to dismiss you as a real person, given your interaction, would fail the demands of parsimony, and leads only to solipsism, which can teach us nothing.


You can quote definitions all you like. I did offer my justification, but you had already made your mind up that I was wrong.


Gee, that’s one of the things right…

You constantly clamor for facts and evidence. Remember who it is that provided virtually all the references and sources during the course of this debate.


Fisher, there have been many psychological studies regarding the power of suggestion and hallucination. For example, if someone tells you a house is haunted, you are more likely to see a ghost in that house. These studies would argue against your point that scepticism provides a predisposition against seeing something not there. In regards to your original point that what they saw could NOT be hallucinations based solely on the fact of their scepticism, how would these studies stand?


If you had taken me up on my offer of an explanation, you would have been more enlightened. Instead, you chose to decide what it means.

When we have hard evidence from reality, belief is superfluous.

You may have provided sources, but I had no need to provide much supporting evidence, because my point was entirely in the realm of logic, and required no support. Where it was required, I provided video evidence in support of my postulates. Your sources were all non-contemporary and hearsay, apart from the one source I focused on. And you singularly failed to answer my questions. In fact, you didn’t answer my first question, and you haven’t.


Well, if merely seeing something is insufficient for you, Paul also went blind for three whole days after seeing what he saw. Can hallucinations cause blindness? Also, I’m not well-versed in psychology. From what I understand though, even if you can induce a large crowd to experience mass hallucinations, it is highly unlikely that they’ll see the exact same thing.

Hack, do you want to continue, or conclude?


Blindness is a known trigger of hallucination. Perhaps there is a more parsimonious explanation…

I think we’re done.