Monday, February 21, 2005

Disagreeing with Bill

I should be working on an apologetics post I'm writing, but the distraction was too much. Bill posted his analysis of The Apostle's Creed almost a week ago, and I have finally succumb to the temptations of discussing his answers.

First, let's quote the Apostle's Creed as Bill has it:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth,
And in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into Hell, and on the third day He arose again from theDead, and ascended into Heaven, where He siteth at the right hand of the Father from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Being a rather traditional Christian Packrat, Bill and I have some substantial differences of opinions. I'll quote from a couple of the sections where Bill and I disagree:

the Father Almighty,

My first point of disagreement.

I do not ascribe to an omnipotent, omniscient God. The God of my beliefs is just as circumscribed by the laws of nature as we are. Though He has far greater knowledge than we, He is not omniscient. He plays the hand he is dealt as we all do—it’s just that he has a lot more cards in his hand.

This view leaves us with a bit of a quandry. Did God create the universe? If so, why is God limited by His creation? Bill, do you mean that God is a Deist-style Deity who chooses to "stay out" of supernatural events?

If "God" didn't create the universe, then he is more like Star Trek's Q, a creature who has remarkable powers but no more authority than the rule of the gun. If God is just the first of Nature's many creatures, how could God have created creation in the first place? This scenario reminds me of the scene in Time Bandits where one of the Devil's menions points out that God created him, and after the requisite punishment of said minion, the Devil says that he created himself.

I believe that the Biblical God is omnipotent but limited by His own nature, but He is not limited by our nature or His creation. For example, He has the power to send everyone to Hell, but it is against his nature and therefore He "can't".

I do not believe that he was the Messiah either in the Jewish sense nor in the sense of the later Christian interpretations.

Current cholarship is pushing the provable dating of the Gospels well into the AD 70s, and the supportable dating into the 40s and 50s, especially if Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Christ-era Jewish and early Christian thinkers may not have had a complete grasp on the suffering Messiah concept, but the concept that a Messiah would suffer (ala "Messiah ben Joseph") and die was not completely foreign, just not what the Jewish people wanted to hear (they wanted "Messiah ben David").

If we take the Gospels at their word, Jesus was and believed Himself to be the Messiah, Son of David. If we can't, then we know nothing about Him anyway, and we can't be all that concerned. Let's hold the question begged here for just a second....

His only son,
....Though not explicitly stated, the Apostles’ Creed is organized around the concept of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost....

Again I am in disagreement. I do not ascribe to the Divinity of Jesus. I consider him a the greatest teacher and example for living the world has seen.

I will paraphrase Lewis' dilemma:

As recorded in the Bible, Jesus Christ made multiple claims saying that he was equal to God or was God. If Jesus was not sincere in this, then He was a pathological liar of the highest order (Lewis' "the Devil of Hell"). If he was sincere but wrong, then he was mad ("on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg"). If he was sincere and right, then he is God.

Unlike some, I do not think this is a rigorous proof, but I do believe it precludes the "great moral teacher" believe as Bill presents. Liars do at time present moral truths, and madmen are sometimes right, but that invests neither with any special moral authority.

Of course, this doesn't address Bill's most likely rebuttal to this: Jesus never did say he was God, that was just the invention of his followers. To skip ahead a bit in Bill's post:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,

This is a necessary condition to Jesus’ divinity. However, it comes up against many issues in light of modern knowledge. At the time Luke created the virgin-birth myth, other than the precursor of the sexual act, no one had a clue how babies developed much less that it was a sperm and egg union that led to the embryo. In ancient minds gods could have intercourse with humans as well as humans could with humans. The Titans in myth were the offspring of Zeus (Jupiter) with a human.[Emphasis by Packrat]

First, the Gospels are not myth. They don't fit literary myth molds. Also, as Matt Slick of CARM argues in this article, Luke (and the other gospels) are sufficiently close to 70AD in dating that there just wasn't enough time to develop serious myths.

Second, the apostles and the Gospel writers were all Jews (IMHO even Luke, but even if he's not, his audience primarily is). In the AD 60-80 timeframe, many of the apostles were still alive. There is no way that a learned Jew would tolerate the insertion of a foreign myth into a Jewish religion. The concept of Jesus as God would have been bad enough without a virgin birth created.

There were a core group of Jewish believers just before the destruction of Jerusalem who believed that Jesus son of Joseph was the Messiah. These people considered themselves Jews, and recorded their writings in a Jewish mindset. (I won't even debate the Jewishness of the writers of the New Testament here, but it is sufficiently well documented elsewhere.) They had little motive to make up myth stories that were considered by the religious leadership and the general population heretical. There was no motive to have a Messiah that said a Gentile had the most faith of anyone in Israel, or one that is recorded as talking to a Samaritan woman AND saving an entire Samaritan town. The most faithful and first witnesses to the resurrection were women.

Peter was a coward. Paul was a murderer. Peter and Paul had such a public debate on Gentile conversion that it had to be mentioned not only in Acts, but in one of the Epistles. James didn't even believe in Jesus until after the resurrection. Jesus' family, including appearantly Mary herself, came to take him away as a madman (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35). If it were the apostles, or the early church, who tried to create a myth, they created the most human cast ever seen in mythology.

Finally, an aside: if my son can figure out that animals have to behave in certain ways to make babies, then most certainly people 2000 years ago could as well. This is why the Greeks always had Zeus showing up as one animal form or another to have his physical escapades.

Some other minor points:

He descended into Hell,

I have never figured out where this came from. Possibly from the Epistles, but certainly not from the Gospels.

I have personally always felt that the translation of the Hebrew "Sheol" and Greek "Hades" should be "the grave" or "death", rather than "Hell". Therefore, He descended into the Grave. I don't know exactly how God the Son stayed dead until Sunday morning, but He did.
from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

This must come from the Epistles or other traditions.

Matthew 25:31 details the judgement off the quick, the living. The judgement of the dead does wait until Revelation, unless someone can think of a verse I'm forgetting.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,

Only in the sense of God does his work through us by gentle, mental contact and suggestion. I am not a subscriber to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament both talk about God's Spirit having the characteristics of personality. The one that always stuck out at me was the warning to believers to not grieve the Holy Spirit. Only a person can be grieved.
the Communion of Saints,

I don’t know that this is actually believed by Protestants. I’m not completely sure of what it consists. I know that praying to saints is considered a form of idolatry by many Protestants.

This is where canonization has ruined the English word "saint". Any person who is born again in Christ is a Saint, and therefore is a part of the Communion of Saints where the Saints have a relationship with God through Jesus.
the resurrection of the body,

Nope, but the continuation of the soul after death, yes.

Here I fear that Bill and I will have to disagree. The Bible makes rather clear that the resurrection is bodily, although the body is certainly transformed into something entirely different than what we have now.

Bill, thanks for the post, and the opportunity for reasonable disagreement.

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