Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

The Jesus-wife source is dated to eight-century Egypt: could it be authentic?

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this post from Al Mohler, which talks about the scholarly review of a recent discovery.

Excerpt:

Last week, the Harvard Theological Review released a much-delayed series of articles on the fragment. After a series of investigations undertaken by diverse scholars, the general judgment claimed by Professor King is that the fragment probably is not a forgery — or at least that it dates back to ancient times. The analysis suggested that the fragment dated from about four centuries later than Professor King had first suggested. This would place the fragment, if authentic, in the context of eighth-century Egypt — hundreds of years after the New Testament was written and completed.

The language used by the national media in reporting the story this time reveals the lack of confidence now placed in the fragment. The Boston Globe reported that the tests “have turned up no evidence of modern forgery,” but the reporter had to acknowledge that at least one of the scholars writing in the Harvard Theological Review insisted that the fragment is not only a forgery, but an amateurish effort. The New York Times ran a story that featured a headline announcing that the fragment “is more likely ancient than fake.” Note the uncertainty evident even in the headline.

In her major article released last week, Professor King defended the fragment’s authenticity, but acknowledged that — all previous sensationalism aside — “It is not entirely clear, however, how many women are referred to [in the fragment], who they are, precisely what is being said about them, or what larger issues are under consideration.”

This is a very different message than was sent back in 2012. Professor King now acknowledges that all the references to females in the fragment might be “deployed metaphorically as figures of the Church, or heavenly Wisdom, or symbolically/typologically as brides of Christ or even mothers.” In other words, the fragment might not even conflict with Christian orthodoxy.

The most declarative article in the Harvard Theological Review, however, dismisses the entire fragment as a modern forgery. Professor Leo Depuydt of Brown University argues that the fragment’s authenticity is “out of the question.” He points to several factors, including the fact that a set of typographical errors in the fragment matches a set of errors in an online edition of the “Gospel of Thomas,” an ancient Gnostic text. Depuydt put the chances of coincidence with respect to these errors as one in a trillion. Depuydt states that he “has not the slightest doubt that the document is a forgery, and not a very good one at that.”

Taken as a whole, the issue of the Harvard Theological Review released last week includes some scholars who stalwartly defend the fragment as authentic, some who argue that there is no convincing proof that it is a forgery, and at least one who argues that the case for authenticity is laughable.

Previously when I blogged about this I noted that like sensational fiction writer Dan Brown, Karen King is a feminist, and anxious to insert women into more prominent roles in Christian history.

Mohler picked up on it too:

The larger background includes the fact that Professor King has devoted much of her scholarly career to making a case that the early church falsely constructed an orthodox understanding of Jesus that minimized the role of women. Back in 2003 she released The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, in which she argued that at least some ancient texts pointed to Mary Magdalene as an apostle. In 2012 she told the writer for Smithsonian: “You’re talking to someone who’s trying to integrate a whole set of ‘heretical’ literature into the standard history.”

Professor King, along with others such as Professor Elaine Pagels of Princeton University, reject traditional Christianity and have turned time and again to ancient Gnostic documents, such as were found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi in Egypt, to argue that early Christianity marginalized some theological voices and standardized doctrinal orthodoxy in order to maintain doctrinal purity.

I think this is why media outlets, who are sympathetic with this goal, would trumpet an eighth century discovery over the 1st century gospels. Let me be clear. Nothing from the eight century can be considered authentic if it contradicts multiple, independent first century sources. The only thing driving the media frenzy on this discovery is feminism, pure and simple.

I just want to say that I don’t always agree with Al Mohler, especially on marriage and men’s rights issues, where I think his exegesis of the Bible is overly influenced by liberal feminism. So to have him agreeing with me on King’s “scholarship” is a good thing.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today. (H/T Sanjay M.)

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most atheists are not interested in truth, because they tend to jettison truth whenever it conflicts with their personal autonomy – their desire to seek pleasure apart from moral constraints. But there is another kind of atheist. This kind of atheist is honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erika Harold: Harvard law graduate and former Miss America runs for Congress

Republican candidate Erika Harold

Republican candidate Erika Harold

The Weekly Standard reports.

Excerpt:

The most interesting House primary of the 2014 cycle began in June in the 13th District of Illinois. It pits freshman Republican congressman Rodney Davis against an insurgent candidate named Erika Harold. Davis is a political operative who won his seat last year nearly by accident. Erika Harold is a 33-year-old lawyer. Who happens to have been Miss America.

[...]In addition to the charisma and poise native to good politicians, Harold has exhibited the principled toughness of the best pols. And again, to appreciate this aspect of her character, you need only go back to Miss America.

Her platform as a Miss America candidate included abstinence:

Harold competed three times for the Miss Illinois crown, which she finally won in 2003. Each time, she ran on a platform of abstinence. But one of the arcane traditions of Miss America is that while contestants choose their own platforms when competing for the state crown, it’s the state organization that decides what platform the winner will take to Atlantic City. The year Harold was named Miss Illinois, her state committee settled on a bland platform opposing “youth violence.” (Think of it as “world peace,” for the children.) Harold agreed to oppose youth violence.

After she was named Miss America, however, Harold decided to add abstinence to her platform for the year of her reign. She didn’t abandon “youth violence” but rather included it, along with abstinence, in a broad appeal to kids to respect themselves by standing up to bullies and avoiding sex, drugs, and alcohol. This was, as a matter of both intellectual coherence and moral sense, a significant improvement on the pure “youth violence” platform she’d been handed. The Miss America organization did not like it one bit.

The organization pushed back hard and told Harold to keep quiet—especially about sex. The disagreement made national headlines and culminated in a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, where the newly crowned Harold told reporters, “I will not be bullied. I’ve gone through enough adversity in my life to stand up for what I believe in.” Miss America stared down the pageant and won.

Promotes fiscal conservativism to African Americans:

Harold was already interested in politics. During a Miss America appearance at East St. Louis High School, students asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told them, “My ultimate goal is that I want to be the first black female president of the United States.” While still an undergraduate at Illinois, she volunteered for conservative Patrick O’Malley’s doomed 2002 Illinois gubernatorial campaign. She also volunteered with the Republican National Committee in an effort to promote conservative economic principles in African-American communities. After graduating from law school, she joined a Chicago firm where her practice has specialized in health care law and religious freedom.

[...][W]hile Harold tries to resist easy classification, her ideological markers are highly suggestive of a conservative worldview. There’s the abstinence, of course. She’s fiercely pro-life. She favors concealed-carry gun laws. And she’s on the board of Prison Fellowship Ministries, the program founded by Chuck Colson.

Focused on religious liberty:

The most interesting part of Harold’s legal practice has been her work defending faith-based entities. In one case, for example, she represented a retirement community affiliated with a religious group. The organization featured a cross on its logo and used a Bible verse in its mission statement—which attracted a lawsuit from an advocacy group contending that this amounted to discrimination. Describing this work, Harold says, “It’s a passion of mine.”

Looking across the broader national landscape, Harold sees ample reason to be concerned about religious freedom. “We’re starting to see ways in which our constitutional protections are being encroached upon,” she says. “We all are less free when any group isn’t afforded their constitutional protections.”

And not just less free, but less well off. Harold says that her time with Prison Fellowship Ministries has deepened her appreciation for the good religious organizations can do. “I’ve seen firsthand the need for there to be a space in public life for religious groups to be able to offer service to their fellow man,” she says. When government seeks to quarantine religious organizations, moving from freedom of religion to “freedom of worship” (to use the formulation President Obama favors), “it’s far too limiting in terms of the good they can do for the public, and it’s far too restrictive in terms of the protections which are afforded religious groups by the Constitution. We give something up when we say that certain voices aren’t welcome in the public square.”

Harold says she intends to make religious freedom an issue in her campaign. This is fitting at a time when the HHS mandate, the Hobby Lobby case, and the torrent of litigation about to be unleashed by the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decisions appear likely to make religious freedom a central front in the culture war.

We have such a deep bench, so there’s reason for optimism – if you’re a Republican like me! Here’s another story I found about another young, female Republican candidate Elise Stefanik. I would not be annoyed at all if all of our candidates were women or minorities or minority women. I wouldn’t even be annoyed if our candidates were some sort of dolphin-alligator hybrid monstrosities, (although I prefer pretty lawyers ladies). The main thing I want is that our candidates are conservative. That’s what really matters to me.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today. (H/T Sanjay M.)

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most atheists are not interested in truth, because they tend to jettison truth whenever it conflicts with their personal autonomy – their desire to seek pleasure apart from moral constraints. But there is another kind of atheist. This kind of atheist is honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How prestigious evangelical scholars helped debunk the Jesus wife myth

Journalists hoped that the Jesus-wife story offered by feminist Karen King could be used to bash traditional Christianity, but it was later exposed as a forgery. A recent article by New Testament scholar Peter Williams has an after action report on the affair, and he explains why it was shot down so quickly.  (H/T Tweet from J. Warner Wallace)

Excerpt:

Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, follows through on a recent claim about Christ

On September 18, the news broke of a small fragment of papyrus purporting to record words of Jesus. It contained the striking phrase, ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife …”‘ and then the text breaks off at the right hand margin.

The scholar making the announcement decided that this credit-card-sized scrap was a ‘gospel’ and gave it the bold title ‘The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’. The announcement was made simultaneously at an academic conference in Rome and through pre-arranged media channels by Karen King, Professor at Harvard Divinity School and holder of the oldest endowed chair in the USA. Dr. King said she was not at liberty to identify the owner and that the papyrus was of unknown geographical origin, but had spent time recently in Germany.

King claimed that the papyrus was from the fourth century, but that its content came from the second century. She was careful to state that this had nothing to do with the Jesus of history. Naturally, the media went into a frenzy and began to link it with debates about the ordination of women (BBC), or claimed it was ‘one of the most significant discoveries of all time’ (Smithsonian Channel, subsequently deleted), while Yahoo News led with the headline ‘Jesus had a wife, newly discovered gospel suggests’. The blogosphere and social media were wild with excitement, though some of the most sceptical realised that they were not at liberty to believe in the marriage of Jesus when they doubted his existence.

In my previous post about this, I talked about how Karen King is affiliated with the radical extremist liberal atheist Jesus Seminar group, how reputable scholars immediately found problems with the discovery, and how the mainstream media pushes these sensational discoveries because they have an agenda to discredit Christianity, and Judeo-Christian values. But this time I want to say something different, based on what Peter Williams says here:

[I]t’s noteworthy that British and British-educated scholars like Watson, Bernhard, and Goodacre mentioned above, along with evangelicals Simon Gathercole and Christian Askeland, played a significant role in exposing the problems with the manuscript and claims about it on blogs and in the media. Andrew Brown of The Guardian was commendably quick to notice and publish the doubts being raised.

It is worth reflecting on the progress here. Evangelicals now make up a significant proportion of those with the technical expertise to tackle a subject like this, and some of them had an intellectual firepower on the subject considerably exceeding that of the Harvard professor. I was contacted by Christians in touch with the media and was able to refer them to Simon Gathercole, a leading evangelical expert on apocryphal gospels. The rapid and informed response by Christians probably went a considerable way to deflating the story.

It is now well known by many who are not believers that there is a vigorous conspiracy-theory industry propagandising against the Christian faith. If Christians are seen as standing on history while others follow spin, even what seems like adverse publicity will ultimately end up glorifying God’s name.

I think that we have to understand as Christians that some Christians are more effective than others, because of their knowledge and skills. Instead of sort of going through life willy-nilly (doing whatever feels good, or whatever attracts more people to our church, or whatever makes more people accept us), and making excuses about why we are justified in not studying anything hard, maybe we need to focus more on what actually works. We need to ask ourselves “what actually works in order to honor God and defend his reputation?” and “what kind of knowledge is useful in a debate about the facts and evidence for and against Christianity?”

Belly-dancing for Jesus and poetry-writing for Jesus and worship-leading for Jesus are not as good for Jesus as astrophysics for Jesus or New Testament scholarship for Jesus or philosophy of religion for Jesus or even hedge fund management for Jesus (a job which can pay for many willing students to complete their Ph.Ds). That’s the way the world really works. The sooner we start making our decisions about what to study based the needs and feelings of God instead of the needs and feelings of man, the better off we will be. We need to be careful about spiritualizing our desire to be happy and calling our emotional hedonism “God’s mysterious will”. We have to do hard things, because doing hard things puts us in a position to be effective and influential when it counts.

We have to study things that don’t make us feel happy so that God will feel happy. God’s happiness doesn’t depend on whether we’re happy. Feeling happy is not how we serve God. Feeling happy is not as good for God as debunking lies about him with the authority that comes from studying the issues and knowing the evidence. God is happy when more people people acknowledge his existence, his actual character and his good actions in history. We need to choose to study things that can contribute to those goals. I think we just need to stop projecting our emotions and feelings onto God, and stop thinking that the point of life is for us to have happy feelings of well-being and health and peer-approval. That’s not Christianity, that’s just narcissism.

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