Dear John, Dear Steven
Thank you for adding a bit more.
Both sides of this discussion (and that’s how I see it) need to be careful in our use of language.
Eg: John’s use of Absolute: absolute love, absolute certainty – it’s the kind of church language that we like and are familiar with. I suppose by it we mean a sense of love (and by that word we would mean agape, a choosing sacrificial, self-giving sort of love) that is unconditional, regardless of our previous sin or behaviour and welcomes us.
Where as Absolute Certainty – I suppose I would take that to mean not unconditional certainty, nor even the sort of certainty that cannot be doubted, but the sort of certainty that shapes a life and gives purpose and meaning and opens us up to that Love. Its that sort of absolute certainty that enabled me to propose to my wife.
You even invite Steven to fall for an old trick asking him if he thinks religion is ‘absolutely misguided’. Its only a trick because the moment he says Yes, he has chosen the easy option of extremism and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of anything any religion might be about. Perhaps it was wise that Steven ignored this point altogether!
Meanwhile, Steven’s use of the word “obvious” is an excellent example of good rhetoric. When I took my philosophy degree we had lots of fun pointing out the inadequacies of the expression ‘common sense’. Likewise the repeated insistence that neither Paul nor the early Christians believed in a corporeal resurrection, as if the repetition makes it read as if this is now established fact. It is an excellent style of arguing though I remain unconvinced.
Steven calls for proof and evidence but won’t seem to allow the gospels to be submitted. He plays the trick of willfully misunderstanding John’s point: the large number of copies of Gospels etc is not offered as evidence of what they say but merely that this is what the early church believed from a very early stage. As opposed to much else that passes for ancient history but was written hundreds of years later and where there are very few copies to check to see how they have been adjusted across the centuries. A really exciting example of this would be to compare the Masoretic Isaiah Scroll (something like 900ad) with the Dead Sea Scroll version – they show an astonishing reverence for the art of accurate copying and this gives us good reason to think that these are the words that started with Isaiah.
And alas St Mark failed to put in footnotes. Unlike modern journalism which is obviously always correct and truthful and gives full references to their sources, Mark fails to meet up to modern standards. Indeed his greek is really quite shoddy, so shoddy that posh scholars had to give it a special name Koinonia Greek (common greek) and Mark’s appalling use of the Present tense is called by scholars The Historic Present. Luke’s Greek is tidier and he gives some signs of his sources but it won’t be enough for Steven. Though I think that the remark from Papias is helpful (that Peter was Mark’s primary source)
The Elisha / Elijah parallels are obvious. As are the Moses, Joseph, Jacob, David ones, goodness me, I think I can spot some Isaiah in there too, Hosea even a bit of Jeremiah. We in the trade refer to this as Typology. So we’re okay with the thought that Mark is writing the History of Jesus from his standpoint and using his form of interpretation.
Alas that doesn’t mean that the feeding of four and five thousand didn’t happen. (odd that Mark should use both when he didn’t need to having invented the ‘fairytale’ point that Jesus is like Elisha. Perhaps there were two separate occasions oh but wait that would undermine Steven’s point). And it is somehow disappointing that Jesus can’t ascend in a more exciting way than Elijah. Luke is an intelligent doctor you would have thought that he could have invented something at least as exciting as the Old Testament writers. Unless of course there were still enough people around to say No, that’s not how it happened.
Now look at me, I’ve written a long winded reply and managed to do the thing that irks me with Steven’s reply. You have asked for proof and I have given you none. Of course, I cannot submit the gospels (you are determined that they are biased and written too late). I cannot submit St Paul because you are convinced that he didn’t know anything of a corporeal resurrection. So I cannot submit written evidence.
This is a shame as we cannot use that hard work done in that old book “Who moved the stone” initially written by a convinced atheist (you can tell by his style of writing) who ended up converting himself (you can tell by the style at the end of the book!).
If I were to produce Jesus, a living person with holes in all the right places then you could say Its not the real Jesus. He could then talk to you (in Aramaic) and you could still insist that he was as good / bad an actor as the bloke from the film Passion of Christ. The only proof I can think of would be one where Steven got to push in the nails and then sat inside the tomb himself to wait.
Meanwhile John has offered what others have felt to be helpful, perhaps not proof in the strictest sense of the word but something that helps. He writes of ‘knowing Jesus to be alive’ of when ‘you see Jesus is alive’. For some of us this refers to a spiritual experience which whilst these can be right or wrong can at least be tested by the life that is lived as a consequence. For others it refers to a weight of evidence, the earliness of the gospels, the integrity of the apostles, the tomb remains empty, yes even the witness of the women, but then broader, the explosion of the church - a peaceful revolution across the known world that came about by persuasion and prayer.
My apologies for such a lengthy reply. I fear I’m about to be quite busy over the next couple of weeks so if I don’t reply before Easter please don’t take it the wrong way.