Jesus: Fact or Fiction
A Dialogue With Dr. Robert Price and Rev. John Rankin
Montclair, New Jersey
January 11, 1997
Transcribed by Pieter Crow
DR. ROBERT M. PRICE is Adjunct Professor of New Testament atDrewUniversity and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy, Religion, and Classics atMontclairStateUniversity. He holds a masters degree in theology from Gordon-Conwell, two earned doctoral degrees in theology fromDrewUniversity, and is the author of numerous scholarly publications. Formerly a defender of the Christian faith, Dr. Price describes himself today as an agnostic.
REV. JOHN C. RANKIN, president and founder of the Theological Education Institute (TEI), holds graduate degrees in theology from Gordon-Conwell and Harvard. In 1993 he founded the Mars Hill Forum, held on college campuses and other sites, where he hosts the nation’s leading cultural spokespersons who wish to test his evangelical worldview with their toughest questions, and he insists on not knowing the questions ahead of time. Raised an agnostic Unitarian, Rev. Rankin describes himself today as an evangelical Christian.
Opening Statement Robert M. Price
I remember a particular Superboy comic book in which the Boy of Steel somehow discovers that in the future, he is thought to be as mythical as Peter Pan and Santa Claus. Indignant at this turn of events, he flies at faster than light speed and enters the future to set the record straight. He does a few super-deeds and vindicates himself, then comes home. So Superboy winds up having the last laugh — or does he?
Of course, it is only fiction! The people in the future were quite right! Superboy is just as mythical as Santa Claus and Peter Pan.
This seems to me a close parallel to the efforts of Christian apologists to vindicate as sober history the story of a supernatural savior who was born of a virgin, healed the sick, raised the dead, changed water into wine, walked on water, rose from the grave and ascended bodily into the sky.
I used to think, when I myself was a Christian apologist, a defender of the evangelical faith, that I had done a pretty respectable job of vindicating that story as history. I brought to bear a variety of arguments I now recognize to be fallacious, such as the supposed closeness of the gospels to the events they record, their ostensible use of eyewitness testimony, etc. Now, in retrospect, I judge that my efforts were about as effective in the end as Superboy’s! When all is said and done, he remains a fiction.
One caveat: I intend to set forth, briefly, some reasons for the views I now hold. I do not expect that the mere fact that I was once an evangelical apologist and now see things differently should itself count as evidence that I must be right. That would be the genetic fallacy. It would be just as erroneous to think that John Rankin must be right in having embraced evangelical Christianity since he had once been an agnostic Unitarian and repudiated it for the Christian faith. In both cases, what matters is the reasons for the change of mind, not merely the fact of it.
Having got that straight, let me say that I think there are four senses in which Jesus Christ may be said to be a “fiction.”
First (and, I warn you, this one takes by far the most explaining): It is quite likely, though certainly by no means definitively provable, that the central figure of the gospels is not based on any historical individual. Put simply, not only is the theological “Christ of faith” a synthetic construct of theologians, a symbolic “Uncle Sam” figure. But if you could travel through time, like Superboy, and you went back to First-Century Nazareth, you would not find a Jesus living there. Why conclude this? There are three reasons, which I must oversimplify for time’s sake.
1) In broad outline and in detail, the life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels corresponds to the worldwide Mythic Hero Archetype in which a divine hero’s birth is supernaturally predicted and conceived, the infant hero escapes attempts to kill him, demonstrates his precocious wisdom already as a child, receives a divine commission, defeats demons, wins acclaim, is hailed as king, then betrayed, losing popular favor, executed, often on a hilltop, and is vindicated and taken up to heaven.
These features are found world wide in heroic myths and epics. The more closely a supposed biography, say that of Hercules, Apollonius of Tyana, Padma Sambhava, of Gautama Buddha, corresponds to this plot formula, the more likely the historian is to conclude that a historical figure has been transfigured by myth.
And in the case of Jesus Christ, where virtually every detail of the story fits the mythic hero archetype, with nothing left over, no “secular,” biographical data, so to speak, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical figure lying back of the myth. There may have been, but it can no longer be considered particularly probable, and that’s all the historian can deal with: probabilities.
There may have been an original King Arthur, but there is no particular reason to think so. There may have been a historical Jesus of Nazareth, too, but, unlike most of my colleagues in the Jesus Seminar, I don’t think we can simply assume there was.
2) Specifically, the passion stories of the gospels strike me as altogether too close to contemporary myths of dying and rising savior gods including Osiris, Tammuz, Baal, Attis, Adonis, Hercules, and Asclepius. Like Jesus, these figures were believed to have once lived a life upon the earth, been killed, and risen shortly thereafter. Their deaths and resurrections were in most cases ritually celebrated each spring to herald the return of the life to vegetation. In many myths, the savior’s body is anointed for burial, searched out by holy women and then reappears alive a few days later.
3) Similarly, the details of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection accounts are astonishingly similar to the events of several surviving popular novels from the same period in which two lovers are separated when one seems to have died and is unwittingly entombed alive. Grave robbers discover her reviving and kidnap her. Her lover finds the tomb empty, graveclothes still in place, and first concludes she has been raised up from death and taken to heaven. Then, realizing what must have happened, he goes in search of her. During his adventures, he is sooner or later condemned to the cross or actually crucified, but manages to escape. When at length the couple is reunited, neither, having long imagined the other dead, can quite believe the lover is alive and not a ghost come to say farewell.
There have been two responses to such evidence by apologists. First, they have contended that all these myths are plagiarized from the gospels by pagan imitators, pointing out that some of the evidence is post-Christian. But much is in fact preChristian. And it is significant that the early Christian apologists argued that these parallels to the gospels were counterfeits in advance, by Satan, who knew the real thing would be coming along later and wanted to throw people off the track. This is like the desperate Nineteenth-Century attempts of fundamentalists to claim that Satan had created fake dinosaur bones to tempt the faithful not to believe in Genesis! At any rate, and this is my point, no one would have argued this way had the pagan myths of dead and resurrected gods been more recent than the Christian.
Second, in a variation on the theme, C.S. Lewis suggested that in Jesus’ case “myth became fact.” He admitted the whole business about the Mythic Hero archetype and the similarity to the pagan saviors, only he made them a kind of prophetic charade, creations of the yearning human heart, dim adumbrations of the incarnation of Christ before it actually happened. The others were myths, but this one actually happened.
In answer to this, I think of an anecdote told by my colleague Bruce Chilton, how, staying the weekend at the home of a friend, he was surprised to see that the guest bathroom was festooned with a variety of towels filched from the Hilton, the Ramada Inn, the Holiday Inn, etc. Which was more likely, he asked: that representatives from all these hotels had sneaked into his friend’s bathroom and each copied one of the towel designs? Or that his friend had swiped them from their hotels?
Lewis’s is an argument of desperation which no one would think of making unless he was hell-bent on believing that, though all the other superheroes (Batman, Captain Marvel, the Flash) were fictions, Superboy was in fact genuine.
3) The New Testament epistles can be read quite naturally as presupposing a period in which Christians did not yet believe their savior god had been a figure living on earth in the recent historical past. Paul, for instance, never even mentions Jesus performing healings and even as a teacher. Twice he cites what he calls “words of the Lord,” but even conservative New Testament scholars admit he may as easily mean prophetic revelations from the heavenly Christ. Paul attributes the death of Jesus not to Roman or Jewish governments, but rather to the designs of evil “archon,” angels who rule this fallen world. Romans and 1 Peter both warn Christians to watch their step, reminding them that the Roman authorities never punish the righteous, but only the wicked. How they have said this if they knew of the Pontius Pilate story?
The two exceptions, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy, epistles that do blame Pilate or Jews for the death of Jesus, only serve to prove the rule. Both can easily be shown on other grounds to be non-Pauline and later than the gospels.
Jesus was eventually “historicized,” redrawn as a human being of the past (much as Samson, Enoch, Jabal, Gad, Joshua the son of Nun, and various other ancient Israelite gods had already been). As a part of this process, there were various independent attempts to locate Jesus in recent history by laying the blame for his death on this or that likely candidate, well known tyrants including Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, and even Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BC! Now, if the death of Jesus were an actual historical event well known to eyewitnesses of it, there is simply no way such a variety of versions, differing on so fundamental a point, could ever have arisen!
And if early Christians had actually remembered the passion as a series of recent events, why does the earliest gospel crucifixion account spin out the whole terse narrative from quotes cribbed without acknowledgement from Psalm 22? Why does 1 Peter have nothing more detailed than Isaiah 53 to flesh out his account of the sufferings of Jesus? Why does Matthew supplement Mark’s version, not with historical tradition or eyewitness memory, but with more quotes, this time from Zechariah and the Wisdom of Solomon?
Thus I find myself more and more attracted to the theory, once vigorously debated by scholars, now smothered by tacit consent, that there was no historical Jesus lying behind the stained glass of the gospel mythology. Instead, he is a fiction.
1) We deem them myths not because of a prior bias that there can be no miracles, but because of the Principle of Analogy, the only alternative to which is believing everything in The National Inquirer. If we do not use the standard of current-day experience to evaluate claims from the past, what other standard is there? And why should we believe that God or Nature used to be in the business of doing things that do not happen now? Isn’t God supposed to be the same yesterday, today, and forever?
2) The apologists’ claim that there was “too little time between the death of Jesus and the writing of the gospels for legends to develop” is circular, presupposing a historical Jesus living at a particular time. 40 years is easily enough time for legendary expansion anyway, but the Christ-Myth Theory does not require that the Christ figure was created in Pontius Pilate’s time, only that later, Pilate’s time was retrospectively chosen as a location for Jesus.
a) See Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History on the tendency in oral tradition to keep updating mythic foundational events, keeping them always at a short distance, a couple of generations before one’s own time.
b) And even if there were a historical Jesus and we knew we had eyewitness reports, the apologists fail to take into account recent studies which show that eyewitness testimony, especially of unusual events, is the most unreliable of all, that people tend to rewrite what they saw in light of their accustomed categories and expectations. Thus Strauss was right on target suggesting that the early Christians simply imagined Jesus fulfilling the expected deeds of messiahs and prophets.
3) It is special pleading to dismiss all similar stories as myths and to insist that this case must be different. If you do this, admit it, you are a fideist, no longer an apologist (if there is any difference!).
Second, the “historical Jesus” reconstructed by New Testament scholars is always a reflection of the individual scholars who reconstruct him. Albert Schweitzer was perhaps the single exception, and he made it painfully clear that previous questers for the historical Jesus had merely drawn self-portraits. All unconsciously used the historical Jesus as a ventriloquist dummy. Jesus must have taught the truth, and their own beliefs must have been true, so Jesus must have taught those beliefs. (Of course, every biblicist does the same! “I said it! God believes it! That settles it!”). Today’s Politically Correct “historical Jesuses” are no different, being mere clones of the scholars who design them.
C.S. Lewis was right about this in The Screwtape Letters: “Each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to.” But, as apologists so often do, he takes fideism as the natural implication when agnosticism would seem called for. What he imagines the gospels so clearly to “say” is the mythic hero! When, in his essay, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” Lewis pulls rank as a self-declared expert and denies that the gospels are anything like ancient myths, one can only wonder what it was he must have been smoking in that ever-present pipe of his!
My point here is simply that, even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.
Third, Jesus as the personal savior, with whom people claim, as I used to, to have a “personal relationship” is in the nature of the case a fiction, essentially a psychological projection, an “imaginary playmate.” It is no different at all from pop-psychological “visualization” exercises, or John Bradshaw’s gimmick of imagining a healing encounter with loved ones of the past, or Jean Houston leading Hillary Clinton in an admittedly imaginary dialogue with Eleanor Roosevelt.
I suppose there is nothing wrong with any of this, but one ought to recognize it, as Hillary Clinton and Jean Houston, and John Bradshaw do, as imaginative fiction. And so with the personal savior.
The alternative is something like channeling. You have “tuned in” to the spirit of an ancient guru, named Jesus, and you are receiving revelations from him, usually pretty trivial stuff, minor conscience proddings and the like. Some sort of imaginary telepathy.
In fact I don’t believe most evangelical pietists mean anything by “having a personal relationship with Christ” than a fancy, overblown name for reading the Bible and saying their prayers. But if they did really refer to some kind of a “personal relationship,” it would in effect be a case of channeling. I suspect this is why fundamentalists who condemn New Age channelers do not dismiss it as a fraud pure and simple (though obviously it is), but instead think that Ramtha and the others are channeling demons. If they said it was sheer delusion, they know where the other four fingers would wind up pointing!
Especially in view of the fact that the piety of “having a personal relationship with Christ” and “inviting him into your heart” is alien to the New Testament and is never intimated there as far as I can see, it is amazing to me that evangelicals elevate it to the shibboleth of salvation! Unless you have a personal relationship with Jesus, buster, one day you will be boiling in Hell. Sheesh! Talk about the fury of a personal savior scorned!
No one ever heard of this stuff till the German Pietist movement of the Eighteenth Century. To make a maudlin type of devotionalism the password to heaven is like the fringe Pentecostal who tells you you can’t get into heaven unless you speak in tongues. “You ask me how I know he lives?” asks the revival chorus. “He lives within my heart.” Exactly! A figment.
Fourth, Christ is a fiction in that Christ functions, in an unnoticed and equivocal way, as shorthand for a vast system of beliefs and institutions on whose behalf he is invoked. Put simply, this means that when an evangelist or an apologist invites you to have faith “in Christ,” they are in fact smuggling in a great number of other issues. For example, Chalcedonian Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Protestant idea of faith and grace, a particular theory of biblical inspiration and literalism, habits of church attendance, etc. These are all distinct and open questions. Theologians have debated them for many centuries and still debate them. Rank and file believers still debate them, as you know if you have ever spent time talking with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or a Seventh Day Adventist. If you hear me say that and your first thought is “Oh no, those folks aren’t real Christians,” you’re just proving my point! Who gave Protestant fundamentalists the copyright on the word Christian?
No evangelist ever invites people to accept Christ by faith and then to start examining all these other associated issues for themselves. Not one! The Trinity, biblical inerrancy, for some even anti-Darwinism, are non-negotiable. You cannot be genuinely saved if you don’t tow the party line on these points. Thus, for them, “to accept Christ” means “to accept Trinitarianism, biblicism, creationism, etc.” And this in turn means that “Christ” is shorthand for this whole raft of doctrines and opinions, all of which one is to accept “by faith,” on someone else’s say-so.
When Christ becomes a fiction in this sense he is an umbrella for an unquestioning acceptance of what some preacher or institution tells us to believe. And this is nothing new, no mutant distortion of Christianity. Paul already requires “the taking of every thought captive to Christ,” already insists on “the obedience of faith.” Here Christ has already become what he was to Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, a euphemism for the dogmatic party line of an institution. Dostoyevsky’s point, of course, was that the “real” Jesus stands opposed to this use of his name to sanction religious oppression. But remember, though it is a noble one, Dostoyevsky’s Jesus is also a piece of fiction! It is, after all, “The Parable of the Grand Inquisitor.”
So, then, Christ may be said to be a fiction in the four senses that 1) it is quite possible that there was no historical Jesus. 2) Even if there was, he is lost to us, the result being that there is no historical Jesus available to us. And 3) the Jesus who “walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own” is an imaginative visualization and in the nature of the case can be nothing more than a fiction. And finally, 4) “Christ” as a corporate logo for this and that religious institution is a euphemistic fiction, not unlike Ronald McDonald, Mickey Mouse, or Joe Camel, the purpose of which is to get you to swallow a whole raft of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors by an act of simple faith, short-circuiting the dangerous process of thinking the issues out to your own conclusions.
If you’ve ever heard me answer a question, you know I overanswer them by a yard. I’ll probably do the same thing in posing questions. What can you do when you’re a motor-mouth.
These are three questions that I thought might be kind of interesting to talk about. So let me hit number one here. You could think of it as Dr. Rankin does.
The first one. Paul Tillich said that the historical Jesus can never be known with certainty. And that it’s rather what he called the Gospel picture of Jesus as the Christ, the Christian preaching of Jesus Christ, that brings new life to the Christian. Now, what I’m thinking is, why is that not good enough? Why do Evangelicals think it all has to have actually happened, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, in space-time history? What is lost in the more liberal theological approach to that? So that’d be the first one. Why does it all have to have happened historically to be powerful for Christianity?
Second one. Francis Schaeffer again used to say that the Christian need never fear following the evidence wherever it leads because he will never, in a striking phrase, fall off the edge of the earth. That is, he will never find his faith destroyed by the facts. And yet, Schaeffer turns right around and gives a list of approved positions Christians may hold on creation and evolution, the only ones allowed by the Bible. In my experience, Tillich again is right that fundamentalism destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth. Research is by definition open-ended. How can there be any sincere research — for example, the historical Jesus question — when the outcome is dictated in advance by one’s faith? How can there be real open-minded research when you know already your faith will be borne out?
Third one. Slightly different wavelength. Anyone who’s read the promotional flyer for this evening must have been struck by the fact that both of us have come from opposite ends of the religious spectrum and passed each other in the middle as we changed places, even spending time at the same seminary. I once read a book called “The Psychology of Religious Doubt,” which tracked individuals going from a conservative faith to a liberal one, and some that went from a liberal to a conservative one. The author concluded that each way the pilgrimage was an integrative journey away from a style of belief that didn’t meet the person’s emotional needs, toward one that did. And I’m just curious. Do you think that has anything to do with what happened to the two of us?
Opening Statement John C. Rankin
Bob, thank you very much. It’s interesting, when I was a young boy, I remember listening to the radio and these debates over labor unions, and about the rank and file. And I would listen to this as an 8- or 9-year old. And I finally asked my father, I said, Dad, what is the rank and file? Is that buried somewhere deep in the bowels of Washington? And why are they disputing over it? Is that one of our relatives? So when Bob was talking about a rank and file believer, I am certainly a rank and file believer. In fact, when I open up my web page on the internet in about a month, it will be “therankinfile“. So I couldn’t miss the joy of that element.
What I’m going to do is I’m going to briefly review my answers to the three questions, suspend them for a minute, give a foundation of my assumptions, and come back and fill in the answers.
Number one. Why does it have to be historical when Paul Tillich can come to a sub-historical conviction of the ground of being of the ultimate concern? The reason it has to be, to use that phrase historical, is that the only basis you have in all of human civilization for concern to historical verifiability, begins in Genesis chapter 1. If you take Genesis and compare it to every other religious origin text, you have verifiable history compared to mythological archetypes. And therefore, the entire assumption of the Jewish New Testament is history and eyewitness accounts, all the way through. So I would say it’s not that it has to be, but that is the reality of Scripture on its own terms. And we have to decide if we take Scripture on its own terms or we rework it in our own image, such as some of the historicists are doing today, a diagnosis Bob made that I agree with at that point.
Number two. To sum up shortly, why are fundamentalists not open-minded? Well, I don’t describe myself as a fundamentalist. That is a sociological term that refers to those who fled culture in their barb-wire camps of self-protection following the rise of modernism in the late 19th and early 20th century. I define myself as an Evangelical in the classical reformational sense. And when I talk about the assumptions of my worldview, I will talk about the love of hard questions being absolutely central to a biblical, evangelical worldview. And the reason I host the Mars Hill Forums and the reason that I have people like Bob give me unrehearsed questions is because I am not close-minded. It’s because I am so convinced that if God is true then you can investigate anything. And I love the spontaneity of not knowing the questions ahead of time.
Also, I believe that if something is true, like good scientific method, you are always testing it. And the scientific theory says, if you test it ten thousand times and it’s right under the same circumstance, and add one more time when it’s wrong, your theory is gone. And so I am willing to take what I believe and test it ad infinitum and ad nauseam, depending upon your perspective.
And thirdly, the psychological perspective of ships passing in the night. It reminds me, when I was visiting the secular humanist association in Boston, I had interviewed Paul Kurtz on my radio show, the founder of the world’s largest secular humanist organization, did a forum with him later. And I introduced a question and I introduced myself as an agnostic Unitarian who had become an Evangelical. And Paul Kurtz himself was once a Unitarian. We went in different directions. And afterward people gathered around me at this humanist convention. This one guy looked at me and he said, boy, you and I must have been ships passing in the night. So very similar to what Bob was saying at that point. And another fellow walked up to me, much more advanced in years, looked at me and says, how could you as an agnostic possibly become a believer? It doesn’t happen that way. Now, I could have gone into a thesis but I decided to be concise. And so I said, well, I was an agnostic, I asked an intellectual question of an awesome universe, and God revealed himself to me by divine revelation as a 14-year old. And the discussion ended at that point. So when it comes to the question of psychology, I am going to be arguing that my whole basis of faith is the basis of intellectual rigor responded by the One who spoke the universe into being.
So that’s a very quick summation of my answers. Now let me fill them out from some presuppositional elements.
First of all, if we’re going to talk about Jesus, and if we’re going to talk about Scripture, we must, regardless of our assumptions about its inspiration or lack thereof, deal with Scripture on its own terms. If we don’t deal with Scripture on its own terms, whether we think it’s inspired straight, or redacted by a bunch of mythological archetypes, if we don’t deal with Scripture on its own terms, we are not being fair to the text that tells us about Jesus. So that’s the first observation.
Secondly, is when we talk about “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?,” we have to ask ourselves what is fact and what is fiction. This goes back to my earlier comment about the basis for history, which I’ll talk about as well, as I progress. Namely, I am going to argue that if you look at every religious origin text on the face of the planet, without exception, that only Genesis has a definition of fact that is testable and provable and subject to the scrutiny of eyewitnesses. If you look at every other religious origin text, they arrive out of mythical archetypes. They don’t have the concern for verifiability. So if we ask the question “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?,” we are asking a quintessentially Christian question. And so isn’t that interesting that it would be a skeptic asking a Christian question about Jesus Christ.
And so we have to ask ourselves, if we reject Christianity at any level, what is our source? Where do we go back to the understandings of origins, to the beginning of the universe, and to a construction of truth that leads us to be concerned for factual data? And I will argue that no matter what worldview there is, you trace it back to its source, you have the Bible versus everything else. Only the Bible has a view that is concerned about fact, history, science, law, and so forth.
Therefore, this brings me to my basis of “Only Genesis.” I will argue ten ethical components very shortly that equal the nature and the assumptions of the order of creation in Genesis. And I will say that Genesis is prior to all the mythological religions. But I’m going to argue it from an ethical direction first. We talk about the historical elements, which I’m glad to get into, I’m going to argue it ethically. And I’m going to ask all of us here, regardless of our background, whether or not we like the ethics that we find in Genesis. And if we can find the ethics anywhere else. And how does that impact us in the view of fact and fiction and how we guide our lives.
To understand Scripture on its own terms we need to grasp three doctrines: very simply, creation, sin, and redemption. Another way of speaking about that is the order of God’s creation, the reversal of that order which is sin, and the reversal of the reversal, which is redemption. Now if you look at every religious origin text, apart from Genesis, they have no concept of an order of creation. They all assume brokenness and sin and pain and suffering as the starting point of their collective memories. And so only Genesis starts with an eternal God who speaks into being a beautiful universe with man and woman as the height of his creation. And everything being good. But the nature of the good God, his goodness is a gift and a gift doesn’t force itself. So God gives us the freedom to accept or reject his goodness. And therefore that’s sin. And then redemption is reversing the reversal and God coming in the middle of a broken world and re-empowering us to choose life, but not forcing us to do so.
And so that’s the assumptive framework at the beginning of Scripture. You get rid of Genesis 1 through 3 and Scripture falls apart. The Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, the whole intellectual enterprise going back over 150 years to discredit the historicity of Scripture, has all been based on getting rid of the opening chapters of Genesis. Because if they’re correct, you get rid of them, it falls apart. If Genesis 1 through 3 holds, it all holds together.
Therefore, to understand Scripture, to understand history, to understand who Jesus says he is, or who the writers of the Gospel say he is, we have to understand Genesis 1 through 3. It’s the interpretive framework for all of the Bible.
In the order of creation, there are four topics. I’ll come back to this a little bit later. And I submit to you that these topics are the topics in which everything there is to be understood is to be understood. Very simply, God, life, choice, and sex. That’s the entire content of Genesis 1 and 2. It’s the content of the abortion debate today. Pro-choice ideologues, and I have done Patricia Ireland, Kate Michelman, done gracious forums with people like this all over the country, and they’ll agree with this statement: they believe that sex should not be restricted to heterosexual, monogamous marriage. Their view of sex drives their view of choice. Then pro-life on the other half of the equation, almost without exception, Net Hentoff being one luminary who is an exception, will believe that life is a gift of God, and therefore life is to be protected. So the whole debate over abortion is God, life on one side, and sex, choice on the other. And so you see how these issues, which are the entire content of Genesis 1 and 2, define the reality of some of the social contests that we have today.
In the beginning God, the whole trajectory of creation is human life as his image bearers. The first words in human history of God to man are words of freedom, ethical and moral choice. And the highest expression of freedom of choice is marriage, because in marriage we have sexual union, in which we have the power to pass on to our offspring life, choice, and sex. And so when we talk about fact, when we talk about reality, we talk about history, that is Genesis.
Not only that, that is the assumption of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Now Thomas Jefferson certainly can not be advertised as an Evangelical. Any of those of you who are familiar with his scissors and his New Testament, he cut out all the miracles because they didn’t fit his rational model. And yet, in the Declaration of Independence he says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, chief of which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Now, this God, life, choice, sex paradigm is nowhere explicitly laid out in church history, and yet it’s everywhere assumed. And even the rationalist Thomas Jefferson assumed them as the basis for defining the terms of what produces civil rights, and religious liberty by the time we get to the first amendment.
So Creator is God from Declaration to Genesis. Life is life.Libertyand choice are parallel. And most college students would agree that the pursuit of happiness and sex are also parallel. But the question is, what is the pursuit of happiness? Is it MTV? Or is it John Locke’s philosophy thatJeffersonborrowed. And the Locke-ian perspective was that pursuit of happiness could only happen in community rooted in family. So for example, the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments talk about life, liberty, and property. And the word property is substituted for pursuit of happiness. Property as a legal term, pursuit of happiness as a philosophical term. And the understanding is that economic strength is found when a man and a woman love each other and build their family around that mutual fidelity. Indeed, the Greek word for household, eukonomos, is the word from which we get economics. And the whole idea is that once you have integrity of family, mutual trust, economic power, and property rights, you then have the ability to pursue happiness. And so it’s interesting, when you talk about fact and reality, the very facts of Genesis are the facts of the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment.
When I was doing a forum with Barry Lynn, who heads up Americans United for Separation of Church and State at theUniversity ofVirginia, we were disputing on a plan I had to resolve the prayer-in-the-public-schools debate. I won’t get into that right now. But I looked at him and I said Barry — he’s not only an ACLU lawyer, he’s also a UCC minister, United Church of Christ — and I said Barry, is there any other source on the face of the planet for civil rights apart from Genesis 1 and 2. And he said no. He’s a person who disagrees with me on abortion rights, homosexual rights, some issues of separation of church and state, and yet he, too, had to acknowledge, the only basis for religious liberty, for the First Amendment, is only Genesis. So that’s the reality of Genesis on its own terms at that level.
Very quickly, in Genesis 1 and 2 there are ten positive dimensions that are given there that again are the basis for reality.
Number one is God’s nature. In Genesis you have an eternal God who speaks into being a finite universe and makes us in his image to enjoy his character. You compare that with every other so-called god and goddess and they are finite, petty, jealous gods and goddesses beating up on each other. They came out of an eternal god that didn’t care they existed, didn’t know they existed, and then we are made as their slaves who are all swallowed up into a pool of mutual dissatisfaction when it is all over. That’s the overwhelming consensus; there are exceptions.
But if we talk about the mythological archetypes, let’s look at the number one religious origin text that is set against Genesis. And that’s the Enuma Elish, otherwise known as the Babylonian Genesis. What you have in the Babylonian Genesis, is you have the assumption of an eternal, purposeless universe, out of which somehow — this is an assumption in the text, it’s not described to us — you have pantheons who are fighting against each other. And in the process, a super-goddess, Tiamat, is beaten up by a second-tier god, Marduk. He kills her. His army beats her army. When he kills her he takes her body, dissects it, and do you know what he does with it? He makes the universe. I thought you’d like to know where the universe came from. OK, then the defeated members of the pantheon of Tiamat’s army are made into slaves to Marduk’s army. They complain this is beneath their dignity. And they say, why are you making us, great gods, into slaves to do your menial tasks? So Marduk, in an act of mercy, kills their number one god, Kingu, and out of his blood he makes, guess what? You and me. And the reason he makes man and woman is so that we can be slaves to the defeated gods and goddesses.
Let me ask you something: does that increase your vital sense of self-esteem? That you were made out of the blood of a defeated god to serve the whimsy of a defeated pantheon? You see, if you look at the ethics of all these mythological archetypes, they can’t hold a candle to what Genesis says. They can’t hold a candle to the reality of understanding an order of creation and a good God who made us.
Some other elements here. Communication. Only Genesis has a positive view of communication which is honest, open and non-manipulative. And what is communication? What are you taught atColumbia? What are you taught at other places in the media? You’re really taught to manipulate. You’re taught to be dishonest. Not so Scripture. Communication is to serve human relationships to be honest.
Number three as I just indicated by way of God’s nature, is only Genesis has a positive view of human nature. We are the image bearers of God, the crown of his creation. We are worth something.
Number four. Only Genesis has a positive view of human freedom. And this really testifies to me the ethical nature of the contrast between Genesis and all comers. The first words of the sovereign God to Adam are have a feast. In feasting you shall feast. And if you look at the language all the way through Scripture, the verb to eat, the whole idea of freedom is an unlimited menu of good choices. Inquire, explore, enjoy. But don’t eat poison because if you eat poison you’ll die and your freedom won’t be worth too much to you. In other words, obey the boundaries. Don’t jump off cliffs, OK, unless you know how to hang glide. And you’ve gotta learn that first. And then be a good hang glider. There are boundaries to our freedoms.
If you look at the definition of freedoms in pagan worldviews, they are all freedom from violation, whereas this is a freedom for pursuing the good, a freedom for creativity. And the reason pagan worldviews have a freedom from violation is they have no order of creation. They have no basis whatsoever to know the good that preceded the bad. They are embroiled in the reality of human sin.
Number five. Only Genesis has a positive view of hard questions. The Queen of Sheba coming to Solomon, Jesus’s teaching style. He asked more questions than he gave answers. Why? He wants us as image bearers of God to own what we believe. No second-hand faith. And no faith that is just visceral. “How do I know Jesus lives, he lives within my heart.” I’ve never liked that hymn. And do you know why? It starts with feelings and not with the fact of Scripture on its own terms. It was responding to the modernist movement of the time. That was written I believe around 1930 give or take. And yes, I believe he lives within me by the power of his Holy Spirit, but it’s based on the prior realities of history and the Scripture’s nature and the risen Christ.
Number six. This was my thesis atHarvardDivinitySchool: only Genesis has a positive view of women and sex. Every world religious origin text apart from Genesis treats women as dust, dirt, demons and animals. Only Genesis treats women as equal image bearers of God with men.
Number seven. Only Genesis has a positive view of science and the scientific method. The scientific method says if you’re wrong once out of a thousand times, you are wrong completely. Only the Old Testament prophets held themselves to that standard, compared to the Greek mystics or whatnot. And Jesus said, if you find me wrong once you can find me wrong completely if you don’t see me doing what my Father is doing. And the whole assumption of the biblical worldview is the sun, the moon and the stars are not gods and goddesses, that every other religious origin text assumes. They are inanimate objects that give us light and heat and markers for our seasons. It’s the basis for rigorous inquiry of the universe in which we find ourselves.
And then number eight. Only Genesis has a positive view of history. The genealogies start with Adam and they go all the way up to the present. They name time, place, and relationship all the way through. The mythologies do not do that. And we talk about the historicity of Jesus, if this man is not historical, what kind of mythological archetype was it that was so successful, it beat out… [end of tape 1, side 1] …
[Number nine. Only Genesis has a positive view of law which opposes tyranny.]
[Number ten. Only Genesis has a positive view of the First Amendment.] … religious liberty. Only Genesis as the biblical foundation allows dissent of people who believe otherwise. And therefore, freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and redress of grievance is quintessentially found in Genesis.
So very simply back to the whole question of the historical element of Jesus. Jesus fulfills Genesis and the Old Testament. He appeals to it on the issue of marriage and adultery. He says he’s fulfilled everything in the Old Testament. He has fulfilled and says he fulfills — or the writers say he fulfills, to take Bob’s perspective if the writers say it — that which is the only source for fact in history among all religious origin texts.
And also this goes to the next point, and that’s the Jewish nature of the New Testament. That is an exquisitely Jewish document that assumes all these elements about history, law, science and so forth. And then the four eyewitnesses of the Gospel are also based on exactly this same assumption.
I’ve got about one minute left according to my watch.
Back to the three questions very briefly. Paul Tillich is a man, along with many scholars of his time — Barth in a different direction, Bonhoeffer in another direction — who were trying to pick up something in the wake of Bultmannian religion. Bultmann said it’s all myth. He said there’s no supernatural. And yet they were trying to have an object of faith. And so I saw Paul Tillich in his major thesis, “The Courage to Be,” how can I have the courage to believe there’s a God when all the evidence isn’t there? So he was striving to have that view. And therefore he said, well, I still can believe in spite of history. And actually, I think that’s a lower form of intellectual integrity. OK, at that point he’s saying I want to believe in spite of history. Well wait a minute. How important is history to us? We talk about “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?,” we have to ask ourselves what is important.
And then I think also, when we talk about the aspect of fundamentalists being close-minded. You know, there are a lot of fundamentalists who are close-minded, but by golly, there’s a whole bunch of theological and political liberals who match them inch for inch in their close- mindedness. I see it in both directions. So from a biblical worldview I was raised as an agnostic to ask hard questions. It was the pursuit of those questions, the love of those questions, that makes me grow in my evangelical faith day by day.
And in terms of “The Psychology of Religious Doubt” and going in both directions. I may have gone in a direction I wasn’t raised in, but by the same token, I have thirty- five evangelical Presbyterian ministers in my lineage between 1661 and the present. So maybe I’m just continuing the direction. And so maybe psychology’s a little bit different at that level.
But the bottom line is, as a young kid I saw an awesome and astounding universe. And I asked of God, or I asked of the universe actually, an intellectual question, where did it come from? God revealed himself to me as a 14- year old and therefore has given me a love and pursuit of hard questions. And so on this basis, Jesus: fact or fiction? Fact. And the only place you can find a definition of fact is the Bible. And if you say he’s fiction, you’ve got no basis apart from the Bible to say so. Thank you. [applause]
JOHN: Well Bob, thank you very much. This is delightful. I’d like to ask you one question. At the beginning, are we coming through? OK? At the beginning, you talked about mythological archetypes and you talked about all the stories of Jesus and the supernatural and whatnot. I want to ask you a question about the supernatural.
When we use the phrase supernatural, I use that in the sense of supernature. So for example, when I was doing a forum with Paul Kurtz, the secular humanist, I said, Paul, I said, do you have any example in all of human knowledge of a lesser order producing a greater order? Or nothing producing something? And this goes back to the understanding of the big bang theory, which I hold as the best scientific hypothesis. And my question was, what produced the big bang? Now, if all observable data — unless you can show me otherwise — shows cause and effect, and greater order producing lesser order, must there not be a greater order that spoke the universe into being, its order, its balance, our personality, and our moral nature? And if that’s the case, if a force or God spoke the universe into being, does not that force or God have the ability to be supernature in his or its involvement in our lives?
BOB: Well, if an entity could create the world, then of course it would be capable of anything else. But I am not sure the world is an effect. It seems to me that may be circular to assume that it must have come from somewhere. Why is it unthinkable, as some Christian theologians even said, that the physical universe could be eternal though always changing. I don’t know that invoking a kind of an X to explain a Y is much of an answer. Is it a problem where the world came from? I don’t think so necessarily.
JOHN: Is it a point of interest for you?
BOB: Sure. Yeah.
JOHN: OK. I was talking to a French astrophysicist once at a secular humanist conference I attended. I go to these conferences. They’re a lot of fun. And I asked him the same point. He took out a piece of paper and said, oh, the answer is simple. And on the piece of paper he drew a little circle and said, see this circle? This is the universe. I thought, isn’t that neat, right in my own hand, OK. So there was the circle and there was the universe. And then he pointed an arrow to it from a prior circle. And he talked about, you know, universes that expand and contract, expand and contract. And he kept showing universes that produce universes. Until finally he came to the future universe which was really one of our past universes. And so he had essentially a Hindu argument of a cycle. And I said, OK, so you’ve got a cycle. But what is bigger than that cycle? What is bigger space-wise? What is prior to it?
So to me, I can not escape Ecclesiastes 3:11, that says we have eternity in our hearts. So for example, we know that we exist in a world of space, time, and numbers. I remember as a little kid, I used to try to conceive of the end of space. And I would imagine myself with Flash Gordon. I guess that dates me. You know, flying to the end of the universe. And I would get there. And do you know what I found? A brick wall. The problem was, not only who built it, but what was on the other side of the brick wall. In other words, I’m glad for limitations of space because it provides for my existence. But I can not conceive of something beyond space.
The same way with numbers, as my youngest child, my daughter says, Daddy, what’s the biggest number? And I say,Brittany, it’s infinity. But that’s a philosophical construct. And so she says, OK, Daddy, what’s infinity plus one? Well, that’s infinity, which is also another philosophical construct. Infinity means without number. We can not get to the biggest number. We can’t wrap around it. And yet we’re glad for the limitation of numbers.
And then also time. As my 16-year old said about ten years ago, he said to me, Dad, he said, when we go to heaven we’re going to live forever, right? I said yes. He said, well, you know forever’s a long time. What are we going to do? Aren’t we going to get bored? And the whole idea is that we live in the limitations of time, space and numbers, and yet there has to be something bigger than that. There has to be what I would say is supernature, because time, space and number is nature.
So, when we see the mythological archetypes — and sort of you’re reacting against their supernatural — are you reacting against what you see is the mythology of the New Testament? Or are you reacting against the concept of the supernatural and the possibility of God who made us and loves us?
BOB: Well, for one thing, I don’t know that there has to be anything bigger than the world and space and time. But the issue that I see with invoking the myths, and so on, is the principle of analogy and history. That I certainly, a mere mortal, have no way to pontificate on whether there is or isn’t a supernatural, whether miraculous things ever happened or not, never having been there. But the only way historians can render the kind of judgment they claim to render, probabilistic judgments. They don’t claim to be oracles, knowing somehow what happened, but probably is this report or that report accurate. You have to assume an analogy with present experience, or anything goes.
If somebody says that Hansel and Gretel is true, and you say, wait a minute, witches with ginger bread houses? Well, just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Well, yeah, I guess they could. But is there any reason to think so? When I see a bunch of stories about Attis, Adonis, etc., which are overt and obvious myths that no one would deny, and then there are good reasons to say they’re myths. And they seem so similar to these stories. Whereas on the other hand today we have no experience of such a thing. Now that wouldn’t be true, let’s say, with the exorcism stories of Jesus or with faith healing. I mean there are analogies to those. That’s not a problem. Whatever explanation one wants to have, supernatural, psychosomatic, doesn’t matter historically. You could see things like that happening.
But if you’ve got the same god doing the same things, why do you have no healer or evangelist walking on water? Why does Mother Teresa not change water into wine? Or call down fire from heaven? If there are people that have the courage of the prophets, well, certainly no problem believing that people did in the ancient past. But if no one does these spectacular feats, and we can’t see how they could, then it seems to me reports of such deeds in the past are probably legends. I mean, we do have what we know are legends of that. We don’t have documented reports of it, so since the historic can only speak in terms of probability, I’d say that we’re dealing with a bunch of probable legends.
JOHN: I want to ask you one question, then answer the question you gave, and then turn it over to you to ask me some questions. But I just wanted to follow up on one point you said a moment ago. There’s no reason to have something bigger than time, space and numbers. Is that what I heard you say?
BOB: Yeah, though I’m not quite sure what it would mean. Bigger in what sense? More numbers added on? I don’t think you do mean that from what you said.
JOHN: What I mean is I think we acknowledge the limitations of time, space and numbers as our 3- dimensional, at least 3-spacial dimensional universe that we normally operate on. And what I’m saying is that since numbers cannot end, and space cannot in the human mind conceptually end, OK, or even mathematically to my knowledge, and time as well, it seems to me that here we are, for example, I don’t think you chose ahead of time to be conceived and born. In other words, we are here in the face of an extraordinary universe that is bigger than what we can grasp. Could you say that is bigger than what we can grasp?
BOB: Oh certainly. Yeah.
JOHN: If that’s the case, that to me is a humble admission there is something bigger, prior and deeper. And so to me, that itself on intellectual terms of humility, you mentioned humility. I say amen to humility. When we don’t know something, we don’t know something. And in the face of a universe that’s bigger and prior to us, in terms of our ability to measure reality, it leads me to an intellectual conclusion there must be a supernatural, a supernature, something prior to and bigger than. But I just wanted to explore that a little bit.
You asked the question about if these supernatural elements happened in the past, why do they not happen today? In “National Geographic” about a year and a half ago, there was a bunch of people, National Geographic reporters and photographers, who were interviewing some voodooists inWest Africa. Now what I thought was very interesting about this, was the way they framed it was they didn’t want to be offensive to the voodoo culture. And therefore all religions are equal. And so they gave them very great respect. As people they deserve as full respect as anyone.
But what was interesting was they reported, and this was in “National Geographic,” which is not where I would look for supernatural evidence as a general rule. They talked about this voodoo witch doctor in the middle of a circle of about thirty people. They have pictures of it, maybe thirty feet across the circle. And he looked and pointed at a woman holding a chicken in her hand. And as he did and called out a curse in the presence of the National Geographic people and the people there, the chicken’s neck snapped in half.
OK, you look at something like that — that’s from the demonic side from my understanding — but by the same token I think if you go into third world cultures, much less so in an Athenian culture, I think I could show you, if you are willing to talk about it, evidence after evidence of the presence of the supernatural, of healings in Jesus’ name, of power and so forth. So I believe that it’s present. But by the same token, I believe that we, you and I, are raised in such an Athenian culture that really disbelieve that. That as Jesus says, you know, your faith has made you whole.
So I really believe, yes, that the supernatural still happens today. I’ve seen it in many evidences. I’ve had miraculous healing in my life at several points. But I’m also a diabetic, OK. And the fact is that all the healings that Jesus did, we talk about Lazarus being born twice, he also died twice, because after Jesus raised him from the dead, he died later. Why? Because the very simple reason the resurrection body, once sin is purged, is what God’s aiming for. So the touching of the supernatural is not to be a one-time remedy. It’s a taste of the future yet to come. But if you want to ask some further questions.
BOB: Well, I don’t deny that there are remissions and things for which we ought to be grateful where people’s diseases vanish. But the thing is, since we don’t exactly know what’s going on there, or these crazy voodoo type of things. There are a lot of unexplainable things. The problem is, but that’s where I again have the problem with fideism when you’d think agnosticism would be called for. Here are unusual phenomena. And sometimes they can be explained away.
Like I think, I forget the man’s name, Andre something. He was a stage illusionist and an evangelical Christian and debunked these Philippine psychic surgeon guys. The word hasn’t gotten around to a lot of people yet. They still are suckered in by it. Well that sure looked real good to a lot of people. And that was like a third world sort of a thing. I wonder. I don’t know that it didn’t happen, but there’s a case where the first time I ever heard of it, I heard it was debunked. And I don’t know. I mean the evidence isn’t all in yet. Even if it does happen, can we say there you go, God did it?
JOHN: Well, you know, when you talk about agnosticism, from my perspective agnosticism is a good word. It says when you don’t know something, you admit you don’t know something. But the reason you say you don’t know something is because you want to know, OK? So we can be agnostic about the workings of gravity until we find out that they work to go back into prior times. And there is no question the Bible diagnoses this. That there are charlatans mimicking everything that is true. You saw the Egyptian magicians in the face of Moses, in terms of the biblical witness. And so, I in my experience, I think most people who claim to have supernatural power are charlatans. And I think a lot of Christians engage in it also. But the counterfeit should not distinguish from the real. And I would be delighted at that question, in personal interaction between you and me, to actually investigate some of these things where I feel the reality is there. And if the reality were there, that you saw something that was uniquely in the power of Jesus’ name, not available in another name, would that cause your agnosticism to consider moving toward — not gnosticism, historically and philosophically — but toward knowing and believing there is a God who loves and cares and revealed himself in Christ?
BOB: Well that would be a big jump. I think of something I think Lessing said, that if I say I’m holding a ball in my hand, and I’m now going to make the ball disappear to prove that 2 plus 2 equals 3, and I actually do make the ball disappear, 2 and 2 still doesn’t equal 3.
JOHN: Because of the false syllogism.
BOB: Yeah, I don’t see how, I mean, it’s such a leap from saying, OK, there’s something that surprises me, I don’t know how to explain it, to say, oh, well I must accept now one possible explanation, that God caused it as a miracle.
JOHN: When you read the response of the Pharisees to Jesus healing the man born blind. According to the story on its own terms, those Pharisees saw a man that every eyewitness evidence told them had been healed, since he was born blind, in terms of the story on its own terms. You may disagree the story is historical. But that’s the inner integrity of the story. And yet they didn’t believe. So I guess it’s very possible that we could see all the evidence of belief and still not believe because of will power.
BOB: But there’s not enough evidence for that. Like I have no problem with, I don’t find it a distasteful notion to believe. But it seems to me, it’s very much like when people say, well look, there’s pyramids in South America, there’s pyramids inEgypt, you see, there must have been an Atlantis. Well wait a minute. We don’t know how they built the pyramids. Like Charleton Heston on TV, it must have been UFOs. Wait a second. You know, it’s possible, but…
JOHN: Wait wait wait wait. Does Heston say that? Or Leonard Nimoy?
BOB: Oh sadly, yes.
JOHN: Oh, OK.
BOB: He’s got the Starship Enterprise dropping the Sphinx and everything.
JOHN: No no no no. That’s Nimoy. Leonard Nimoy.
BOB: No, Heston does it too. Yeah, sad.
JOHN: Oh. News to me. I’ve learned something.
BOB: Space aliens built the Sphinx? It’s really sad. Unbelievable.
JOHN: Oh, OK.
BOB: It’s possible. I mean, there’s a lot of strange…
JOHN: That’s too bad for someone who played Moses. [laughter]
BOB: I know, I thought the same thing. That’s why he’s on those gun control ads too: my people here are the ten amendments.
JOHN: Now that’s another syllogism.
BOB: The problem is that it’s possible there’s life in outer space, and that some of these people on the Oprah show that claim to have been on UFOs. I guess something strange happened to ’em. Or you haveRoswell eyewitnesses. OK, something odd happened. But wait a minute. Not nearly enough evidence is in to say, OK, it must be flying saucers. And the same thing here. I’m not one of these guys like a psi-cop, who think you’ve gotta beat to death every paranormal thing. No, who knows? There’s more things in heaven than on earth. But then to leap to the conclusion, oh, see, it’s God and reformed theology and biblical innerrancy are true. Wait a minute, that’s a whole different thing. So my problem is it’s a hasty judgment, it seems to me.
JOHN: Which is interesting, because coming from an agnostic perspective, I didn’t know a lot of that stuff. And the conclusions I’ve had have come through basically from dealing with Scripture on its own terms as reasonably as I can. Let me ask you real quickly. When I gave a definition that the only basis you have for history, science, law and whatnot is Genesis compared to every other religious origin text, am I on target? Or am I being fictional?
BOB: I don’t even, forgive me, but I don’t even understand that. Because the Bible seems to me to clearly partake of the same myth pool there. You can find God killing the dragon and creating the earth from its carcass in Psalm 74, Psalm 89, implicitly in a couple of places in Isaiah and Job. It seems to me in the Garden of Eden story, it’s exactly parallel to the Prometheus myth where Yochver Jehovah is a jealous, peevish God who lies to Adam and Eve and tells them they will die if they eat his fruit. They don’t.
JOHN: Ah, but but but but but…
BOB: The narrator says the serpent is correct.
JOHN: …but here’s the whole point. Death theologically is not the physical termination of life. It is the brokenness of relationship. And physical death is a consequence.
BOB: Is it possible that’s what that simple statement intends? You’re reading so much into it.
JOHN: Well, no, my book is nearly done, called “First the Gospel, Then Politics.” I examine all that with exegetical patience. Now, understanding the things in Psalm 89 and other places like that, and we could go into that. But let’s come back. And let’s come back to what I said about the view of history. For example, let’s take history. It says there’s a first man, a first woman, their children, all the way through to the present, eyewitnesses within the biblical context all the way through. A concern for history. A concern for eyewitnesses. A concern for fact. And you don’t find…
BOB: I don’t see it in the Bible. It seems to me to partake of all ancient historiography, which was rewriting history to legitimate a present circumstance.
JOHN: But the rewriting of history from known people back into legend has no such genealogy all the way from the beginning.
BOB: From known people? Seth and Enos really lived? Methuseleh’s an eyewitness?
JOHN: See, this is the assumption. The religious origin texts don’t even make that assumption. They don’t have the concern for that historical verification.
BOB: But if this is what the bible writers consider historical verification, they’re just wrong. I mean, a guy lived 969 years? This is evidence of historical eyewitness?
JOHN: Well that’s interesting to me. Because what you are saying is you must have some view of judging it’s historically wrong. What is the source you have for judging history?
BOB: The principle of analogy. If I read about Superboy flying into the future…
JOHN: But where does the principle of analogy come from?
BOB: Present experience, because…
JOHN: OK, present experience. So what you’re saying then is your experience, which is the product of a lineage that produced you, interprets over and against what produced you.
BOB: I don’t, that’s retreating into needless abstraction. I don’t see Billy Graham able to call down fire from heaven on his enemies. I don’t see him walking on the water.
JOHN: Well, Jesus told the disciples not to do it also. So I don’t think Billy would want to.
BOB: Yeah, hopefully not. But the thing is, why does none of this happen? If the things Jesus is shown doing…
JOHN: That’s a fair question, but that’s not what I’m asking. See, what I’m asking is that you have a conviction for the needfulness of historical witness, eyewitness accounts, fact and whatnot. And I’m trying to say, all of us are influenced by what precedes us. And we trace it back to some source. And the only source on its own terms with a concern for verifiable eyewitnesses, you disagree with it. I’d love to talk to you about Methuseleh afterwards, OK? And my understanding there, OK? But what you’re saying is you’re concerned for these things. And are there any other sources apart from Genesis?
BOB: But I don’t think the Bible is concerned with that. Certainly not Genesis.
JOHN: Absolutely. That’s why it starts with one historical man. In its view, it views Adam and Eve as historical.
BOB: A guy named “man”? Who a snake talks to? [snickers from audience] Is this seriously intended as history?
JOHN: Well, if you take the view that God is supernatural…
BOB: Then anything is possible. I mean…
JOHN: Well, and then you look at the ethical nature, which is the basis for the First Amendment and civil rights.
BOB: God lies to Adam and Eve, which he plainly does.
JOHN: He lies? How?
BOB: And even the narrator of Genesis says that their eyes were opened. And as God says, they have become like one of us. The serpent is the one that tells the truth. God is the one that doesn’t.
JOHN: See, this all goes back to the tree of the knowledge of life, ah, tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. The knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor, Hebraicism, that means the knowledge of everything. Everything there is to know is between the polar opposites of good and evil.
BOB: Andre Wellhausen said that too, yeah.
JOHN: And only the uncreated creator can know that. And so he says to Adam…
BOB: Well, the author of the myth.
JOHN: Well. Well…
BOB: I mean, the author can tell you whatever it is because he made it up.
JOHN: OK. That’s your assumption, and I have my assumption: the text. We’ll talk about the text, no matter who wrote it or where it came from. The text has God, viewing God, as the only one who can understand evil and not be tempted or polluted by it. And therefore in the goodness of giving to Adam an unlimited menu of good choices, the heavens and the earth to fill and subdue and to enjoy forever, he says don’t disobey and try to become the uncreated creator.
BOB: You’re readingSaint Augustine into it. There’s no such explanation. It just says keep your mitts off the fruit or you’ll die that day.
JOHN: You know, I’m not readingSaint Augustine because I didn’t read him on this one. I’m reading the exegetical text on my understanding.
BOB: Oh, no, no. There’s no such explanation as to why they’re not supposed to eat the fruit. It just says, don’t do it or you’ll die. You’ve kind of a…
JOHN: Because the Hebraicism is, the knowledge of good and evil is something only God can possess. It is bigger than space and time.
BOB: But there’s no such thing in the…
JOHN: That’s the assumption of the text by the Hebrew language.
BOB: Oh, no.
BOB: Oh, no.
JOHN: And not only that, but look at this. God says to Adam — the text says God says to Adam from your perspective — he says, in feasting you shall feast, an unlimited menu of good choices. But don’t disobey God, your creator, or you will die. And the simplicity is, since the goodness is given and since you didn’t make it, the goodness is don’t eat poison or you’ll be dead.
BOB: Then it isn’t poison. The guy lives 800 years afterward.
JOHN: But see, once again, that’s the eisegetical understanding of death.
BOB: Huh? Oh, come on.
JOHN: See, the tree of life was to live forever, from the assumption.
BOB: And he kicks him out before he can do it. God says, we gotta get him outta here, because if they eat…
JOHN: Since he has rebelled, if he is to eat of the tree of life, he can’t do it because he’s got a sinful, broken relationship apart from God’s presence, and it actually would end up killing him in the long run. And so God is putting him outside of the garden for his well being, for the redemptive process to begin.
BOB: Oh, come on. You’re just reading in truckloads of theology into this.
JOHN: Well, I think I’m reading truckloads of exegesis into it, but, very good.
Questions from the Audience
QUESTIONER: My question is to both of you. And it’s two parts. Number one, if this is fiction, [on] what do you base the morals for life? And number two, what is the hope after death? I’m asking both of you.
BOB: Well, it seems to me that all meaning is by definition fiction. It goes beyond matter, just beyond brute stuff. And we create meaning. And it seems to me that Locke and the others talk about a social contract.
QUESTIONER: When I’m talking about meaning, is ethical meaning? In other words, why be good?
BOB: Well, because that is the way to maximize a helpful life in which we can all coexist the best and thrive. That even Thomas Aquinas said for instance, God doesn’t just arbitrarily decide thou shalt do this and not do that. It comes from the way the world and society works. Stealing is wrong because look at the results. Murder is wrong. We just can’t have that and have a society.
QUESTIONER: But if this is all fiction, what makes it wrong?
BOB: You mean, what makes murder wrong? We decide we cannot put up with it. It’s off limits. It has results we all reject. That’s wrong enough. I don’t know that there needs to be some kind of platonic rightness and wrongness to it. I don’t think there is. And with life after death, I think there probably is none. This life is very precious and that’s fine with me.
JOHN: I would say at that point, obviously you know where I come from as a Christian. The moral nature is in Scripture and there is life after death. And life after death is the continuity of the choices we make now. But I think, Bob, when you say that all meaning is fiction, and we create meaning, I have to ask myself, then everything is open for individual interpretation. What it means is we have no ability to establish a moral consensus of good law in our midst. Because everyone is their own god, small “g”, unsupernatural for your well being. We are all our own final arbiters of authority in what is good and evil. And if that’s the case, isn’t that the prescription for anarchy?
BOB: I don’t think there’s any problem with us gaining the knowledge of good and evil. We must be the ones to decide. That’s the whole idea of a democracy. We don’t assume we have a true ideology. It’s the majority rule with protection of the minority.
JOHN: Well, except that a democratic process is rooted in biblical ethics. And it’s rooted in religious liberty. It has no other source except for a biblical worldview.
BOB: Is that where Socrates and Pericles got it?
JOHN: Socrates and Pericles. Do you want the democracy which was really nothing more than an oligarchy of a few privileged landowners, men?
BOB: Like Exxon and so forth? Same thing today, it’s a limited…
JOHN: Well, I’ll tell you there’s a lot of people — they called themselves Democrats, Republicans, otherwise — who are trying to make it into that. But theoretically the access for all people to vote is very different. And it was moving toward a biblical understanding of the enfranchisement of all people.
BOB: In the Bible?
QUESTIONER: I feel comfortable with the idea that there’s some power greater than me. There’s something around, I don’t know what it is, but I can’t comprehend the universe. Big bang, I can’t comprehend it. I can’t comprehend before it or after it. I can guess. I can read. I can see what other people guess. Would you say that God as you see him is all powerful?
QUESTIONER: OK. Now, when Christ came back, it would seem to me, that if God wanted to make an issue, he would have walked into the Sanhedrin and he would have said, listen, try again fellas ‘cuz you screwed it up the first time. Didn’t do that. They met a fellow on the road somewhere and after awhile they said, hey, you know, that might have been Jesus. I mean it’s so vague. And if God wants to make an issue, you don’t make an issue and be vague about it. I mean, you come in and you clobber them over the head and you say, now try again. And if they can’t do it the second time, you know, they may understand it the third time.
JOHN: This is a very delightfully posed question. Because what you’re doing, Sir, is you’re making an assumption that if we don’t do it God’s way he’s going to clobber us over the head.
QUESTIONER: What’s that?
JOHN: You’re making an assumption that if we don’t do it God’s way and get it right, he will come and clobber us over the head. Now what is so powerful about the nature of God’s power, you asked me if he is all powerful, yes. If you look at the entire definition of God’s power in Genesis, it’s the power to give, to bless, and to benefit you and me as his image bearers. Accordingly, his power is good and does not force itself upon us. And if we want to choose what is wrong and reap the consequences, he loves us enough to let us say no. So what’s interesting is many fundamentalists are accused of trying to shove religion down the throats of the others. And maybe some of them try to do it. But, if we ask God to come in and clobber us to make things right, we’re asking him to shove religion down our throat. What I see as the exquisite nature of God’s power is, he speaks the universe into being. And his power gives us moral freedom. If we choose what is good we receive it. If we choose what is evil, he will let us choose what is evil. And therefore the whole redemptive thrust of Scripture is God persuading us. And when Christ dies, he dies to pay the penalty of our folly to help us choose what is good. And Bob, if you want to respond to what I say.
BOB: I gather perhaps the question was how can God hold us responsible for believing that which remains an ambiguous, open question. Shouldn’t he have made it more definite and clear that he exists, etc., if we are held responsible for believing it? Is that what you were getting at? That’s just what I took from it.
JOHN: I think he was getting at that. And Simon and Garfunkel, my favorite cultural prophets: a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. In other words, if you look at the history of the Exodus, and you come to the point of Joshua’s final sermon, and he says choose this day. If it seems more reasonable to choose the other gods, go for it. As for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh. And they said, we know that God is good. He acted in history. He gave us water from the rock, manna from the heaven, and he provided for us through the wilderness. And so what happens at the end of Moses’s life and Joshua’s life, is God’s demonstrating to them, according to the biblical self-understanding, he has revealed himself and demonstrated himself, so people can know to choose between good and evil. So I think the Bible on its own terms is exceedingly unambiguous at that point. The question is whether or not we believe the Bible.
QUESTIONER: This question is posed for both speakers. Just your opinion, gentlemen. This is a two-fold question. Firstly, if you study self-proclaimed prophets in the past, maybe Mohammed, Joseph Smith, or even the neo-prophets, per se, David Koresh, Jim Jones, even to a certain extent, Menachim Schneerson. Where do you see their ministries as opposed to the ministry of Jesus Christ? And the second part of that question, why after 2000 years is Jesus Christ’s Gospel still preached around the world?
BOB: Well, I think people like Smith and the prophet Mohammed have been greatly maligned, though I don’t happen to accept doctrines they taught. But I don’t see them as bad influences, necessarily. Mohammed gave rise to an alien cultural tradition to me, that I would not prefer to live in. But he seems to me to be a force for good. Joseph Smith does as well. Of course, with Koresh and Jones you’re dealing with lunatics and fiends. If there’s a false prophet there’s a couple of good candidates. But with Jesus and why he is still as important worldwide, it’s very dangerous to take the longevity or the currency of an opinion as evidence for its truth. I mean, suppose you ask the same question when Christianity was thirty years old. TheIsis cult or the Mithris religion would have to count as true. The Mithris religion still exists here and there. That’s much, much older than Christianity. Islam is neck-and-neck in numbers with Christianity, but you can’t take a nose count to determine the truth. I think Christianity, Buddhism and all the major religions have gained a great foothold and continued partly because they had state support at a crucial juncture in their history. If they’d had nothing to say, that wouldn’t have helped. They all do have great things to say. And Christianity certainly has many wonderful things to say. But you can’t really isolate it. The same question would come up with several of the others. If you want to say, like, survival of the truest, you’d have Taoism, Buddhism and various others that are equally true, older and still around and doing well.
JOHN: I would say very briefly that Mohammed was vulgarized by a tri-theism he ran into for some heretics picked out of southernTurkey: god the father, god the mother, and god the son. And he had what I would describe as an occultic experience in a cave where Allah revealed himself, quote unquote. There’s only one God Allah and his prophet Mohammed. And in the Koran, which purports to be a further revelation of Scripture, it contradicts Scripture powerfully. And the most powerful place it contradicts it, is it gives the basis for forcing religion by the sword upon others. Which is the strength of Christianity in that for the first three hundred plus years they did not. They suffered, they were killed, they were martyred, they died. And the perversion of Christianity was in 390 A.D. with Theodocious when he force baptized the pagans to bring them into the church. And that’s when Christianity in my estimation lost its power and became state supported. But what’s incredible is they thrived best when they were not state supported. And Mohammedism thrived only by being state supported by the sword and conquering Christendom of the time. Joseph Smith on the other hand is a very dishonest man. He was a 19-year old man, I believe that was his age, has an occultic experience with seeing-stones in a cave inPalmyra,New York, not far from where my wife was born and raised. And I’ve been past there. And if you look at some of his definitions of prophecies, he was inconsistent with Scripture at so many points. And he makes himself into being almost greater than Jesus. And it’s interesting, well I won’t get into Mormonism at that point. But I say that the biblical view of falsehood is if you’re wrong once out of a thousand times, you’re false. It’s like a mathematical and-statement. Every element must be true. And so I believe that those are the criteria by which the Old Testament prophets and Jesus holds himself accountable. And I think the reason that Jesus is the hinge point of history, is because he is the hinge point of history.
QUESTIONER: Dr. Rankin, how did God reveal himself to you?
JOHN: When I was 14 years old I went off to a prep school in westernConnecticut that had the Episcopal liturgy. I assure you, for a Unitarian, the Episcopal liturgy was a strange bird. All the genuflections and the incense on Communion Sunday and whatnot. And when I went into chapel, I made up my mind I didn’t believe this stuff. I wouldn’t participate in this stuff. And so I didn’t. So while other people were genuflecting and praying and taking communion, I was reading the words they were singing and reading the words being recited. In the process, it reflected upon something I used to think about as an 8- or 9-year old. And I remember around that age, I used to think of the awesome expanse of the universe and I just was blown away by it. And I was just thinking, what is the source of the universe? And so intellectually I had that passion as well as relationally. And so, I remember stepping outside of chapel early one evening in the fall of 1967 just after Halloween. And it was a wonderfully cold night. And if you know anything about prep school students, if you want to be macho, you don’t dare put an overcoat on until it’s at least 15 degrees or colder. Plus the fact they’re a bother. But anyhow, I remember what a cold, piercing, beautiful night it was. And the milky way was painted like a paint brush across the heavens that night, the air was so clear. And I stood there and I said to myself, you know, if there’s a God, then he must have made all this for a purpose. That purpose must include my existence and the very reason I’m asking this question. If there’s a God I need to get plugged into him. So I was motivated intellectually and by awe and wonder at the beauty of the universe. And then also, cause and effect. If God made me, that must be important for the wellbeing of my life. And so that could be called a prayer, but I didn’t know to whom I was praying. It was rather a resolution in the sight of a beautiful universe. And so I made a point in my mind that I was going to check this out with no agenda for time table. I came into chapel early one evening several nights later. And I remember those days in the fall of 1967. Out of 152 boys at a boy’s school, I was number 151 in sheer mass. Not only that, I had a reputation for a big mouth. So sociologically, being on the third string of the fourth football team, maybe I needed the solace of coming into chapel early. But I came in early that night. I was the only one there. I sat down in the balcony and I said, good evening God. Under my breath I said, wait a minute John, how can you say good evening God if you don’t know he exists. And I immediately became aware he existed at a level deeper than my intellect and prior to it, without me knowing why. Then simultaneously I became aware of that whole balcony being filled with an extraordinary presence, long before I read about the Shekinah glory of the Old Testament. And the presence was warm, powerful, and inviting. And it was God saying come to me. His presence was overwhelming. It wasn’t just psychological. It was physical. It involved my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And so as I said, wait a minute, I don’t believe, and then I felt God’s presence, I said, yes I do, and that presence descended upon me and filled me top to bottom. One person one time said that qualifies you as a mystic. Well, I don’t know about that. But I will say, an intellectual question of an awesome and beautiful universe brought me a divine experience. And then as I read the liturgy and read the Gospels, I confirmed everything from that point on forward, with a love of hard questions being insatiable at the same time.
QUESTIONER: A comment first about C.S. Lewis. Lewis doesn’t like leave it just hanging, like, Jesus, wow, he’s like the one real corn king that happened to exist, but that he appears in a culture where corn kings are totally alien.
BOB: He’s wrong. He should read the Bible. Ezekiel already knows of such things.
QUESTIONER: Let me finish my point. And that Jesus unlike Adonis or Osiris is born in a roughly estimatable year under a certain governor ofJudea. And no one knows where Adonis was born or when Osiris was born. My other question is that a lot of good has come from Christianity and the other religions. But why should we have any respect for Jesus at all when his claims were megalomania to the umpteenth degree, saying things like the whole world is screwed up, and unless I die and am raised from the dead, then the world is doomed. Just why would we respect somebody, that’s like David Koresh type stuff. The things that Jesus said, and dozens and dozens of them walking around as if he had moral perfection, forgiving people’s sins. Why do we respect him 2000 years later? We should just write him off as a nut case or a deceiver, rather than trying to be intellectually respectable, like make Jesus, yes, he’s the founder of a world religion and we respect him, rather than just be honest and say the guy was crazy or he is an evil deceiver and doesn’t deserve any respect at all? You could both respond to that.
BOB: It seems to me that Lewis is wrong on all points there. Even the trilemma argument you mentioned is an argument of Lewis. You cannot just assume that Jesus said everything. You might be able to demonstrate that he said everything in the Gospel of John, though I would be very surprised if you could. But you can’t just assume biblical innerrancy and then ask in light of that, why don’t you believe the claims of Christ? It’s just as debatable as whether Jesus said what I take to be transparent statements of Christian theology anachronistic for Jesus. The thing with the no datable business, the idea that we know when Jesus lived is a function of the historicizing of Jesus. And I’ve mentioned already that there are different guesses in ancient Christian and Jewish documents as to when he did live. Plus Plutarch and others debate when Hercules lived. They thought he was a historical figure. And there were different guesses but they didn’t think these guys had never lived. Lewis and others make the mistake of thinking the corn kings, so called, were mythical figures in the sense no one ever thought they had lived. That’s not so. It was very much like the Gospels, less detailed, but they thought these guys had all lived in historical times. They could show you the tomb of Adonis, and so on, onCrete. I mean it’s very parallel. Lewis just, I’m afraid, did not do his homework on some of these things. He pontificated on them.
QUESTIONER: …pretty close to the time about Jesus at least being born inPalestine in pretty recently to when he was writing.
BOB: He mentions that he wrote around I think 125 to 150. Tacitus knows what… [end of tape 1 side 2] …filling in the reader on what these Christians say in case they don’t know who it is. He says it’s been railroaded by Nero. We know early Christians at some point thought that but that isn’t really the issue.
JOHN: Before I briefly give my two cents worth, I just want to respond, Bob, to something you said. A phrase about assuming biblical inerrancy. I never assume biblical inerrancy of anyone who listens to me. What my major conviction is is to understand Scripture on its own terms. And this brings us into the whole historical element. So when this gentleman is bringing up the element about Jesus’s self-view, he is assuming the historical trustworthiness, and obviously you’re not. So I’m content to make the discussion on what the Scripture views Jesus as. And what he is saying at this point in that context, if the writers of the Gospel had Jesus saying these fantastic things that really could be written off as a nutcake, what kind of self-esteem did they have in this person unless this person was true? That he was going to come again, he was going to judge. And so, that’s an observation on Jesus. In terms of Osiris, say for example the Iliad and the Odyssey, which I’ve begun to re-read. Or something I’ve read more recently, the Mayan Popolvoo, what is very interesting about these texts is they have very clear mythologies. Then they move into quasi-historical, and then historical figures. And they can never really distinguish between the two in the process. And so what my understanding is, is that they are concerned, as all human beings are, for tracing genealogies and having an historical identity for community that exists, whether it’s in Central American or whether it’s in the ancient Near East. But when it goes back to the origins they have no clear sense of revelation and historical origin and historical parents. The Bible, in contrast, has that assumption all the way through, regardless of what people think of the Bible. That is the Bible’s self-view.
QUESTIONER: I’m a man from the third world. I didn’t know English until, I started to learn English when I was 40 years old. And I really enjoy your lecture. Assuming that you have convinced me, I have a question for you and then another question for you. I come from a culture that is very oriented to animism. And I regret to have taught about Jesus as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And I like to ask you if you would join me tonight maybe with fifty or hundred people this audience maybe we can ask a ten dollar check for a crusade to bring all your good words. And tell people that Jesus Christ is a fiction figure, is a myth, is a untruthful man. Yes, that my question. I started my question. And I like you to ask, and I will follow you with all my energy. And I can translate it into allLatin America with this good news that you are bringing here. Would you join to me?
BOB: I have no agenda to change people’s mind. I don’t think they’ll necessarily be better off agreeing with me. I’m just explaining why I think it’s a viable theory that Jesus may not have been an historical figure. I don’t regard it as a kind of religious dogma in reverse, that I want to convert everybody to. It’s just here’s something I happen to think. And here’s some of the reasons. It’s a view that is not often discussed. And I think it’s interesting to air it.
QUESTIONER: But I see a contradiction between what you have said and what you have done. Because you are trying to convince us. You have a message. You have an agenda.
BOB: Well, I’m trying to show its a reasonable view.
QUESTIONER: Let’s do it worldwide. It’s a good reason. Because that Jesus is a liar.
BOB: I don’t think that. I’m not saying that.
JOHN: Well, you said the God of Genesis is a liar.
BOB: Oh, yeah. He’s depicted that way. That’s so.
JOHN: Whom Jesus depends on.
QUESTIONER: I have a question for you.
QUESTIONER: Would you be ready tonight to negate the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord of Lords and as God himself. If I bring a K-15 and I say I’m going to kill you if you don’t deny, if you affirming what you believe.
JOHN: No. I’ll die. The bottom line reality is that, Bob, you and I do have agendas.
QUESTIONER: Yes. JOHN: And I think it’s honest to place our agendas on the table. The truth is, there is much in the Elmer Gantry side, fiction or fact, among certain evangelists where they have used unconscionable coercive ethics to make people believe. And they’re denying the very Gospel they say they believe in if they do so. I believe the Gospel is so good and excellent, beautiful on its own terms, I lay it out. And I labor for people to have informed choice. But I would not blink an eyelash in the face of a gun or anyone else who would try to make me change because I believe.
QUESTIONER: Because as a man from the third world, is a real sad part of the history that we are writing here. Because it’s a historical day. That God-man, that stepped his feet on the dusty roads ofPalestine, and who died for us, is being now painted as an unspeakable man.
BOB: You don’t understand my position. I’m not saying that.
QUESTIONER: OK, tell us then the whole story.
BOB: I’ve simply said that the story of Jesus may well be a fiction and a myth. It would be a myth that depicts many good things.
QUESTIONER: So you are not sure of that?
BOB: Oh, I’ve said certainly not provable.
JOHN: At the beginning you said it was not provable.
BOB: I’m not trying, I don’t hold this as a dogma.
QUESTIONER: Why don’t you go out and make more research about it and come to us who believe in Jesus Christ?
BOB: Well, historians weigh theories. We don’t promote dogmas.
QUESTIONER: On the historical point, I’d like to ask both of you. I’ve heard it raised that the miraculous stuff about Jesus wasn’t spoken of, wasn’t written of ’till 30, 40, 50 years after he supposedly lived. From your point of view, I’d like to know why you think that is? How come there is no contemporaneous reports by historians at the time? And from your point of view, is that true? That there is no documented history. I mean, anybody can say anything. I could make the claim that when I was 20 years old I ran a mile, the three-minute mile. And that would be pretty miraculous.
QUESTIONER: But I don’t think anybody would believe it. The stuff that’s been said here is far more miraculous, and yet people believe it. So what’s it based on? Is there contemporaneous accounts of it? And if there is not, why not? And what’s the history that we’re talking about? What’s the documentation? That’s what I’d like to know.
JOHN: What’s very interesting about the Gospels is you’ve got four eyewitnesses from four perspectives with four different purposes for writing the Gospels for different audiences and different points they wanted to highlight. And three of them are disciples of Jesus who are eyewitnesses. Luke, the fourth, is not. Luke says he undertook a very rigorous historical study to interview I believe it was hundreds, if I remember correctly, of eyewitnesses in order to compose a historical document. Luke was a Greek, coming into belief, and he was also a historian and also a physician. And so what you have is you have the immediate contemporaneous eyewitness of that. Now, within skeptical intellectual contexts, going back to the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis of the Old Testament, they tried to make the dating of the text sometimes up to a thousand years later than what the texts say of themselves. And the same is true with New Testament redacting criticism. They’re trying to say that it was written much later than it really was. And so that’s an honest point of debate.
QUESTIONER: What’s your evidence that it was written contemporaneously?
JOHN: Well, you know, I would say you go into the text and you look at the reality. You know what to me the biggest evidence is? Is the utter reality of the human stories and the utter attention to detail. And the fact that there are many things that people think are inconsistent, and yet later when they learn more of the context, they learn the different angles. They’re not inconsistent. In other words, what you have in the biblical self-view is utter candor. It doesn’t make its saints plastic. It gives the facts for what they are. At the intellectual basis all the way through it’s consistent with that. And the other observation, which is a major point tonight, is that only a biblical worldview, back to the assumptions in Genesis, has a concern for verifiable history. And those assumptions are all the way through, every warp and woof of the New Testament documents. And I really think that it is skepticism coming posto facto that’s trying to make them less contemporaneous. And one final observation. There is very scant reference to Jesus, if much at all — I guess that’s saying the same thing — very scant reference in the non-biblical sources. But there’s no reference to the existence of Socrates, other than we have for the testimony of Plato. And what’s so very interesting is, the way Jesus is portrayed by the Gospels themselves, demanded attention and response. And if you responded to him honestly, you would repent and believe, which the Pharisees didn’t. And according to the Gospels’ testimony they tried to stamp out the knowledge of the resurrection and so forth. So my observation is the secular source is the last thing they wanted people to know about was Jesus. And if they historically were honest, they would have ended up believing in Jesus and joined Luke’s research project.
QUESTIONER: Let me follow up from the other side. How do you respond to that? Were these guys, Matthew, Mark, were these guys contemporaneous? Were they actual people? Can you go into that a little bit?
BOB: I seem to be reading a different Bible. The four Gospels are anonymous. We have names attached to them at all only by Ireneous in about 170 A.D. Pabius writing a bit earlier than that is sometimes supposed to have talked about Mark and Matthew. But I’m not convinced he’s even talking about the same documents. But these are writers that also purvey ideas such as that Judas Iscariot, after he betrayed Jesus, swelled up to the point that he could not pass through a street ‘cuz his head was bigger than a truck. We get the evidence about the authorship of the Gospels from guys that purvey cartoons as history. There is no evidence that they were eyewitnesses, nor do their works read that way. It just seems to me, to be blunt, that you’re reading of the Gospels is completely deductive based on dogmas about inspiration that are not even suggested in the Bible. The idea that Luke was an eyewitness when he says, well you said Luke was not. Nobody even thinks Mark was a disciple. He’s not in any of the lists.
JOHN: See, once again it comes to your presuppositions about how you approach this. I would be glad to look at whatever material you want to, to go back to trace the sources and the nature of the eyewitness account, Ireneous, the whole nine yards. But also, at a deeper level, I really disagree with your view of the Scripture on its own terms. On its own terms these Gospels are very Jewish, the assumption of history, the assumption of eyewitnesses, and the community that received them assumed them to be on those terms.
BOB: We don’t know that.
QUESTIONER: I would really like for the three of us to get together and pursue tracing what he just said. Whenever you want to do that, I would love for the three of us to sit down and do it.
JOHN: It would be delightful.
QUESTIONER: When shall we do it?
JOHN: Well let’s talk afterward.
QUESTIONER: OK, good.
QUESTIONER:Yes Dr. Rankin, I have a question for you. As a confirmed agnostic I have a problem with your view of history.
JOHN: They confirm these days? [laughter]
QUESTIONER: Yeah, I’m confirmed. My friend think’s I’m crazy, but that’s OK. Your view of history, the Old Testament saying that it’s fact. For example, the Jewish Exodus fromEgypt. There is no empirical evidence gathered by archeology, by anthropologists, scientists, LANDSAT satellites, when archaeologists use satellites now, etc. There’s no proof of the Exodus, this Jewish people being slaves to the Pharaoh, building the pyramids. There’s no evidence of that. In recent evidence of the last five years…
JOHN: You’re saying from your perspective: no extra- biblical evidence.
QUESTIONER: There is no empirical evidence to back up the Bible. If people did leaveEgypt, millions of people, or even a hundred thousand people, there would be empirical evidence in the Sinai. They can find Roman army sites, campfires where Bedouins had a village or a site a thousand years ago. They can’t find anything to prove that all these people passed through the Sinai. Yes, so how do you?
JOHN: I would give a very simple two-fold answer. Number one, the first thing is Scripture on its own terms submits itself to eyewitness all the way through. So we have to deal with the fact they viewed themselves on those terms as being historical. And no other religious origin texts do. Secondly, you’re moving outside my expertise in terms of having facts and dates on hand. But I have access to it. I’m glad to get your card or give you my card afterward. And I’m glad to go and get the resources for you.
QUESTIONER: One other quick question. I won’t try to be long winded. How does language, translating one language into another, affect interpretation? Example, the virgin birth. There is debate on what the term virgin birth means. From both of you.
JOHN: It can affect it tremendously because all language is a creature of culture. Unless you know the norms of the culture and its assumptions, and its types of humor and its puns and whatnot, you’re not going to translate accurately. The word translated in the Greek for virgin, from the Hebrew word, means young woman.
JOHN: And the word young woman in the Hebrew context meant a virgin, because a young woman meant someone who was not yet married in Hebrew culture, only non-married.
QUESTIONER: I didn’t know that.
JOHN: So you can violate with bad translation. But I think honest translation shows the assumption was a virgin.
QUESTIONER: But how do you know that when the language is transferred from the Hebrew into the Greek, then to the Latin, how do you know…
JOHN: Well the Latin had nothing to do with it there.
QUESTIONER: …how do you know that it’s a correct interpretation?
JOHN: You know, once again it’s a question of how do we know any language is honestly transmitted. And all I can say is the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are the most examined texts on the face of the planet, by a ratio of probably billions to one when you really come right down to it. And it continues to stand on its integrity despite a lot of very good questions, or maybe not so well motivated questions. And I would say that if you get into the study of linguistics, which to me is utterly fascinating, and you translate back and understand cultures, and the more I understand linguistics, and the more I understand Hebrew as a language, its distinction from Greek, its holistic, ethical, earth-bound, relational qualities, the more I’m impressed that we have an accurate translation.
BOB: There is some reason to think that virgin birth could have meant that she was just precociously married and pregnant. Gazer Vermesh discusses this in his book, “Jesus the Jew.” He’s an expert on Aramaic. I know no Aramaic, so this is certainly second hand. But that has been suggested that it was a common term meaning that someone, even in theUnited States, when my mother was a kid, she remembers women getting married at twelve years old. And that sort of thing happened there. And if a child bride was pregnant more quickly than usual, Vermesh says it was sometimes called a virgin birth. But there’s no way to know. It’s just a possibility.
QUESTIONER: All right. One other quick question.
JOHN: Let me respond to something there. And I’m responding to you as well. These are delightful questions. And what the questions require is the text and the evidence in front of you in mutual community. I would be delighted to come back down here for a forum where we choose one or two very well specified questions that we do the preparation research ahead of time. And sit down around the table and look at the evidence. I think that’d be good stuff.
QUESTIONER: There’s one other question which would be interesting for another of your forums. There’s a lot of evidence coming out now, particularly from scholars in theHoly Land, about the form Christianity has taken today and Judaism has taken today. One view, it was a radical form, they were rebels fighting an occupation. And these Jewish and Christian leaders at the time of the Roman occupation said, well, if our butts are going to survive, we’re have to do this, if our movements are going to survive. Do you think that is, how can I say, how much truth there is to that?
JOHN: Well you know, that’s new information to me. I haven’t heard that argument. What I do know that is somewhat related but very impressive, is that until the fourth century, the churches and the synagogues in the towns throughout the ancientNear East were always built next to each other. And the interface between Jews and Christians was fantastic until Theodocious in 391 forced baptized non-believers. And so, the Christians were viewed very friendly terms as a sect of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, until post-Theodocian times.
QUESTIONER: There are Roman army camps where they have Jewish temples, Christian temples, mixed with pagan temples.
JOHN: Yeah. And so whether or not there’s any idea of a conspiracy to all run off to Masada together, or toQumran, or something like that or some other postulate, I have no idea.
QUESTIONER: I’ll talk to you later on. The archeological side of it is a lot of gray areas where the evidence doesn’t coincide.
JOHN: Yeah. Once again it’s the whole issue of open- mindedness. Let’s go for it.
QUESTIONER: Well thank you. You’re a very good speaker. Both of you. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: Hi. This is a question for Bob. Earlier, I think it was actually in the answer to the first question, you mentioned something that each one of us were the people who determined what is right or wrong. That truth is something that is democratically elected. I guess my question is, is if we decide as countries, as nations, and history shows all kinds of nations rising against other nations because they disagree. But if we decide what is truth, what is right, what is wrong, why are we so incapable of keeping it?
BOB: Well those are two different issues. For instance, you could raise the same question of if the Bible or the Koran or the Divine Principle, take your choice, is the divine word of God, and objectively true, whatever that would mean, why do we have such trouble living up to that? I mean, there’s like Romans 7, to know what is right and to do it are two different things. As a dieter I know that real well. And so I think that’s two different questions. But what would be the alternative for people deciding for themselves what is right and wrong?
QUESTIONER: Well, isn’t there the sense in which there is a being called God who determines what is right and wrong?
BOB: Actually, even if that is so, it seems to me in practice it doesn’t make any difference because look at the debates over positions one ought to take as a matter of biblical ethics. It’s not clear on several issues. And then there are other issues that do not arise in the Bible. So at least on a lot of issues, like abortion for instance, I happen to think abortion is murder, at least second degree murder. I am not pro-abortion. Yet I have to admit the issue simply does not come up in the Bible. So when people say the Bible’s against abortion, what they really ought to say is they infer from issues the Bible does address that this probably would not go over big with the biblical writers. But that’s an inference. So that’s a huge issue and we just can’t quote the Bible one way or the other on it. So you’re still in the same boat really, even if the Bible is the inspired word of God.
QUESTIONER: But we can’t say there is no absolute truth without stating an absolute truth. So my question then, and both of you are welcome to answer this, I’m really asking you, Bob, can we know absolute truth?
BOB: I’d say we can not. I would never say that we can know that there is no absolute truth. That would itself be an absolutistic claim. I’m just saying that it does not appear that there is any way to know this. And I also wonder if the notion is coherent. Just the way people will try to embarrass theologians and say, can God make a rock heavier than he can pick up? It’s not a good question. It’s based on an incoherent assumption. Can God draw a square circle. It’s gibberish. Well, the idea of absolute truth, meaning that it’s not something that’s meant to someone. I have a hunch you’re dealing with a similar incoherence. I think it’s a problem with the notion of absolute truth. But there is perhaps such a thing. I do not yet see how one could know it. If it’s revealed, how do you know it’s revealed? You can take a leap of faith, but you might end up in the arms of Jim Jones as easily as Jesus.
JOHN: Except there’s a distinction in the ethics between the two.
BOB: You only know that once you’ve jumped. It’s going to look right to you.
JOHN: No. No. You can know that ahead of time I’m convinced. What’s interesting is the word absolute, I don’t know its etymology off hand, but there’s a sense in which absolute can be used in a Greek sense that is almost unmarred by human relationships. It can almost become an unhuman term. Is there absolute truth in the Hebrew sense of the word? I would say absolutely. If you look at Einstein’s theory of relativity, I was remarking this morning at a seminar I was teaching, that when I read the theory of relativity, I realized I was reading it at about one tenth the rate I read theology, because of my background and discipline. But as I was reading the theory of relativity, unless there are absolute equations in which to base math and physics and science, nothing holds together. You can’t have anything relative unless it relates to something. It relates to something that is fixed, something that’s trustworthy, and something that’s true. And to me what we have in terms of the order of the universe right now, in terms of the way in which the ecosphere works and the planet goes around the sun and so forth, these are all things that are relatively absolute at the minimum level. They hold in place so we can relate, so that we can do various things. The deeper question I think you’re asking is the moral question, namely, if we have no revealed sense of what is right and wrong, then everyone basically is ultimately there own arbiter. And we have a prescription for chaos at that point. I think you have no other alternative. Real quickly, Bob, I can’t wait for you to respond to my book, “First the Gospel, Then Politics,” on how I treat abortion. You’re going to see an angle you haven’t seen. And I think you’re going to come to a conclusion that because of the way in which unborn human life is viewed, as given by God, that the Bible is completely in favor of all that supports life from conception on forward and completely un-in-favor of anything that would destroy it. And yes, there is a certain inference, but the inference is powerful.
QUESTIONER: Good evening. My question is directed basically toward John. I am speaking as a believer. My background is Jewish and I became a believer twenty-five years ago. The continuity of Jewish Scripture into Christian Scripture is one of the strong reasons of my faith. In the nature of having nonetheless opened my mind to be challenged in the faith, as you referred to earlier, my question is this. The Scripture seems to offer, if you put it this way, a window on the human experience. You’ve put Adam and Eve quite literally. Other believing Christians look at it maybe metaphorically or symbolically. But nonetheless the Scripture provides a window on the human experience from Adam and Eve and on. Within that window you have people who can communicate to each other a certain semblance of society, community and so on, certain civilization where they can plant and raise animals for food and development and growth of that community. And the lineages all exist. We are now in a modern world in which we have science which provides another window on the human experience. And they have people who presumably do not live before Adam and Eve, but they are like Homo Sapiens, Neanderthal man and so on. This is a window that describes a human story which people can not talk, had limited ability to communicate. Too long? I’m sorry. And I’m trying to reconcile that science story of humanity in which there really was not a human being existing on the level of civilization that even Adam and Eve had. That scientific story with the biblical Scripture.
JOHN: Very simply, and I was teaching on this this morning, I believe biblically according to the framework theory in the understanding of the days of creation, which is a literary device in Genesis 1 and 2: an ancient universe, an old planet, a recent humanity, and we are all descendants of Adam and Eve. Those who believe in these primitive tribes, I believe the evidence shows that they are people who migrated away fromMesopotamia and lost histories of culture and descended into a primitive level. And therefore we are all descendants of Adam and Eve. So that’s a very short quick answer.
QUESTIONER: The cave man and that kind of…
QUESTIONER: That’s a regression, in other words.
JOHN: Exactly. Absolutely. It’s a fruit of sin. It’s a fruit of broken relationship with God and with godly relationships. And we see this demonstrated throughout society in different places. Cultural anthropology demonstrates this. But it depends on what assumption you bring to bear when you are looking at these cave drawings. But I’m convinced the evidence shows an ancient universe, an old planet, a recent humanity, we’re all descendants of Adam and Eve.
QUESTIONER: I know what Bob would say, so… [laughter] So I asked John ‘cuz it’s really a comparison of the science to the bible view.
JOHN: I argue that the Bible, Genesis, is the only basis for a scientific worldview. And I would encourage you to go with every gusto you have into good, solid science. And so as questions come up, let’s talk about them.
QUESTIONER: Is that your theory in describing this? Or is there anything out there that…?
JOHN: Oh, yeah, I am certainly coming to my conclusions based on what I’ve studied. But when I talked about the framework theory theologically and what it describes, what it talks about and what it doesn’t talk about. It doesn’t talk about six 24-hour days in which God created the universe. It talks about a literary device of the week for a moral order of the universe, where God has order and he sets us above that order. That’s the structure. And then we rest at the completion of our work.
QUESTIONER: No, I understand that. I’m only trying to deal with that caveman.
JOHN: OK. OK. Yes, I believe it does so, because it is saying very quickly…
QUESTIONER: What kind of literature is there to support what you’re saying?
JOHN: Well, then I’d have to go into library resources. Write me and I’m glad to track that down for you. In terms of what ratifies the Bible’s self-description of civilization jumping quickly into iron working and so forth, Adam and Eve’s lineage, that you had culture and society and language and arts from the word go. And the cave man is actually someone who migrates away from that. Migrates away from God’s covenant relationship. Because many people who migrate are the outlaws, the anti-social, and the romantic adventurers who don’t carry culture with them. And the more that you migrate out, you could be those who wind up at the end, of no culture, no history, no tradition. And for example, all the Native Americans had no metallurgy whatsoever on this entire continent. And the genetic research shows that all Native Americans are descended from four women’s gene pools, which can go back to four men and women crossing the Bering Straight without technology and science. And they were incredibly smart. The pyramids down in terms of the Aztecs or the Inca irrigations and whatnot. Incredibly smart people but without certain resources and therefore lived more primitively.
QUESTIONER: Thank you very much.
QUESTIONER: Dr. Price. If it is reasonable not to believe or take historically John 1:14, the word was made flesh, as an historical fact that took place in time and space, then is Christianity possible for you? And if so, what is its meaning?
BOB: Well, I don’t think that’s even given as an historical statement, isn’t it? How would it be historical to say that the divine logos is born as a human being? Would that be, I mean that’s kind of a value statement about an unverifiable, I mean, to say that Jesus is the Son of God, you’re making a kind of philosophical type claim, aren’t you? Rather than an historical one?
QUESTIONER: See, I would want to believe and I think I do. I would have to take that statement as an historical fact in order for my Christianity to be possible and grounded on some type of reality and not just this wonderful story that I want to believe because it makes my life here a little bit better.
BOB: So it’s not so much that particular verse. You mean that if there were no real Jesus as an historical person…
QUESTIONER: Correct. That the word, the wisdom of God was made flesh in an historical being.
BOB: Well, this is a tough question that I think J. Gresham Machen wrestled with in a book called “Liberalism and Christianity.” Or the other way around, I forget. Once you begin to revise and retool Christianity and come up with modernism, does it deserve the name anymore when it winds up so different? And I don’t know how you would determine such a thing. Because who owns the copyright to it. It’s hard to say that if someone thinks they’re a Christian, or Buddhist or whatever, to say to them, oh, you’re not, because I’ve got this textbook definition. I don’t know who owns the copyright. But, however, I believe I catch the intent of what you’re saying. I did for many years try to come up with a revised theologically liberal form of Christianity. And I find it personally not to be viable and don’t consider myself to be a Christian. I still respect Christianity as I always did, Islam, Judaism and so on. But I personally don’t feel I believe enough of it, or agree with enough of it, to claim the name anymore.
QUESTIONER: OK. Quickly, Dr. Rankin, in terms of philosophy as a human endeavor, the search for the truth, unless you want to be a philosopher, masochist and go crazy,…
JOHN: I’ll pass.
QUESTIONER: …would you say that in order for philosophy to be a serious human endeavor, you have to take that statement, the word was made flesh, literally?
JOHN: Oh I do. Because philosophia is the love of wisdom. And I really believe that the wisdom of what you have in Scripture is the only basis for religious liberty, political liberty, for toleration of people who disagree, for civil rights, all the things in western history that we regard as good. It’s the only basis in Scripture for history and science and law. And so yes, the reason you study philosophy is to have wisdom by which to order our moral lives. I mean that’s the basic thrust of it. So yes, and that’s what I’m arguing, is only a biblical worldview starts with the assumption of verifiable history. None of the other ones do. And so if Bob has rejected Christianity, my question is, well, what then do you accept? And when he talks about accepting things about historical fact and verifiability, I then say where do you get the source from it? It’s inescapably biblical once again. And one brief response here. I thought, Bob, your use of copyright is delightful. That’s a historically myopic term invented in the last couple of hundred years. Because the early writers of both the Old and New Testament had no sense of copyright. They wrote what belonged to the community. And that’s why more than one person could sign a document and still call it the book of Moses, and still have Joshua’s input, or something like that. Or the redactors in the New Testament in terms of the traditions they bring together.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
QUESTIONER: I wanted to ask whether you treat the Bible as one book? Is the Bible one book?
BOB: Not in any real, meaningful sense. It’s a set of books, almost every one of which is a kind of a patch- work quilt because of what you mentioned, the redactors and collections, traditions from all various ages, written and rewritten. And so you have to look at the transmission of particular stories and so on which makes it much more complicated. But I don’t think you can find too many instances of a single biblical teaching, like a teaching on which there is biblical unanimity even. So I think it is really a mixed bag with many voices.
QUESTIONER: ‘Cuz you were saying you gave before a similar thing that a lot of people say: you use the Bible to prove the Bible. When you’re actually critiquing books against books that were written centuries apart from several different authors, and different geographies and things. And one other point I wanted to make about mythologies in the life of Jesus, you see if anything, not a replaying of the Adonis myths and stuff, but really a fulfillment of the typologies of the tabernacle in the Old Testament and in the temple. So in the tabernacle you have the symbols of Aaron’s rod that budded, the symbol of resurrection, you have the manna, the word of God come down from heaven, and you have the law kept in the tabernacle as it kept in Christ. So you see, when you begin to look at the typologies in the life of the Jewish people, that Jesus, for lack of a better word, the mythology of the life of Jesus, this was really fulfilling those things, and not Adonis myths and Osiris myths. Would you comment on that?
BOB: It’s not an either or.
JOHN: If I could just respond to that question real quickly before we do the final thing. I just want to say I do view the Bible as united, as 66 books written over quite a number of centuries. When my book is done, coming out shortly, some weeks I hope, “First the Gospel, Then Politics,” the ethical dimensions I talked about is what I show as its unity. The one response here you’re talking about, Bob, about the redactors, when I use redactors, I’m talking about redactors not separate from community, but when in the community that had no individualistic copyright attitude. And therefore they are in God’s community receiving what was revealed and processing it, and publishing it in a non-modern sense of publication.
Closing Statement Robert M. Price
Well, my presentation has not tried to promote a dogma, as some have heard. I think that may be a result of just sort of hearing what you’re used to hearing, perhaps. I don’t mean to preach any notion as infallibly true. I seek in any teaching I do to provide information and perspectives, and urge people to make up their own minds. It would be unspeakably foolish for anyone to accept what I say because it sounds good or because I say it. That would be the last thing I would want. I believe that it’s the truncation of human intelligence and freedom to believe anything on authority. If you’re interested in any matter, you’re obliged to seek out the information and the appropriate methodology, not to have second-hand beliefs on anything.
So if you wind up accepting any opinion I have put forth here, that’s your business. It does me no good if you do, does me no harm if you don’t, nor do I seek to convert anyone. However, that approach is what’s important to me, the evaluation of evidence. And I continue to do as Albert Schweitzer said, to oppose the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics. It was my concern, learned from Christianity, to venerate the truth that made me eventually reject Christianity because it seems to me to play fast and loose with it. [applause]
Closing Statement John C. Rankin
Thank you, Bob, and thank you for a delightful evening. Thank you for all those who asked questions. It’s interesting in Bob’s final comments, when he talked about authority and we just do not accept something because, quote, of an authority. We do not accept a second hand belief. I agree with that. And I agree and I believe that the nature of the Bible is first-hand evidences for first-hand relationships. And having been raised as an agnostic and having come to faith, it’s all been first hand and continues to be first hand.
And I think ultimately the question we’re dealing with when we look at “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?,” is the bottom line is, there is no other person in recorded history, whether or not we ultimately decide it is historical, in recorded history who demands, but not demands, but whose very representation requires of us a response. Because you can go to all the other so-called gods and goddesses, historical figures, but when you look at the recording of who Jesus Christ is claimed to be, you have the most compelling figure in all of history. And I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to challenge the historicity of the one upon whom western history’s concept of history is based. And again, to go back to my original perspective here about Genesis, which Jesus roots himself in. That’s the only basis for a historical worldview, for science, for law, for hard questions, for testing the empirical evidence, for proving something to be true on the basis ethically as well as scientifically of the scientific method. If it’s true it will always be true.
Now, the other reality is that apart from God’s grace we are sinners and we have clouded perspectives of realities. And I think that many times it depends on what agendas we bring to Scripture itself. And the only agenda I’m trying to bring is that I’ve encountered in my life the reality of Jesus Christ; I have studied the Scriptures and I find in the Scriptures the most delightful ethical basis for love of God and love of neighbor. I find no other basis. And one central element for the love of neighbor is that we love people enough to let them disagree with us, because biblically, ethically, God loves us enough to let us not accept that love.
And so when we come to authority and power, I have a vastly different definition of authority and power than most of this world. Power is not for self- aggrandizement. It’s not to tell people what to do. It’s not to brandish it for other people. Power is the power to give and to bless and benefit those you have the power to give and bless and benefit. And that is the very nature of Yahweh-Elohim in Genesis 1 and 2, in contrast with every other god and goddess, Marduk, Tiamat, on down. Their powers are limited, finite powers of petty, jealous destructive gods and goddesses, whose highest view for us is to be slaves to a defeated pantheon. Whereas in Scripture, the view is we are the crown of God’s creation, to which I say amen. Thank you. [applause]