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Continuing my reply to Mr. J.P. Holding's response to my site, we arrive at Part 2 of my original article - the contradictions I have enumerated within the New Testament.
I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Holding was getting tired of responding to me by this point. His reply seems much more scattered than the Old Testament section; it is not in the same order as mine and, in fact, does not even mention all of the New Testament contradictions I point out. If this omission is merely the result of sloppiness on Mr. Holding's part, I'm sure he'll have no trouble correcting that error forthwith. On the other hand, if he feels he cannot adequately respond to some of my points, and is therefore trying to obscure that fact by making it as difficult as possible to compare his answer to my original article...
On Jesus Judging
Has Jesus come into this world to judge? Eric Vestrup, in his response on Mr. Holding's site, says not:
Jesus has been given the potential for judging, Nothing here is said... about the actualization of the judging, which... will take place at the end of the world.However, this claim is flatly false; there is a verse which discusses the actualization of the judging, a verse which my original page cited but which this prewritten reply does not address. That verse is John 9:39, in which Jesus says, "For judgment I am come into this world." This clearly contradicts Mr. Vestrup's statement that "the judgement that Jesus has been entrusted with is the judgement at the end of human history. Jesus' earthly sojourn was to save the world...." Therefore, the contradiction stands.
Who Is For or Against Jesus?
At various points in the Gospels, Jesus says that anyone who is not for him is against him. At various other points, he says that anyone who is not against him is for him. I have already anticipated and addressed Mr. Holding's attempted explanation for this, but since he insists, it will be looked at in greater detail.
In short, if you have no actual answer, change the subject by raising a non-issue in context.I'm not sure what "non-issue" Mr. Holding thinks I've raised. My original response to his response to this brought up what I think is a valid point: To claim that anyone who does not explicitly worship Jesus is against him, as Mr. Holding does, makes Jesus' statements in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50 ("he that is not against us is for us") meaningless - it would reduce them to the useless tautology, "Those who support us support us." For Jesus' statements in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50 to have any meaning, he must be saying that anyone who has not explicitly declared opposition to him is for him. And yet the exact opposite holds true in the other two verses.
Skeptics love throwing together comparisons of the Synoptic tradition and yelling "contradiction!" over minor differences in verbiage.... The sayings differ in form and verbiage, but not in essence -- the message is the same, and the differences are attributable to natural variations in oral tradition.But this is more than a "minor difference in verbiage", because these sayings do differ in essence - they mean exactly opposite things. One says that the "neutral" people, those who are not explicit followers of Jesus, are against Jesus. The other says that those same people are for him. Though the change in wording may itself be minor, it completely reverses the meaning of the statement. Now of course, I would not dispute Mr. Holding's claim that variations in oral tradition could produce such a thing; but if that's what he thinks happened here, I think he should reconsider, because it would mean he has conceded the errancy of the Bible.
Mr. Holding goes on to claim that such "neutral" people do not exist anyway. He says that those who claim to be agnostics are "hiding" behind a premise of neutrality, when in fact they have chosen against. (What about people who are still researching history in a genuine attempt to determine what they should believe? If they get hit by a bus before reaching the conclusion that Jesus is the only way, will they go to Hell?) As for ancient Chinese, Native Americans and others who never even heard of Jesus, we find his response to that buried in a different article (see here and scroll down to the end of Section 5):
My own answer to the question, "What about those who never hear the Gospel?" is, "Those who want to know it, will be given the knowledge needed for salvation. Those who seek God will have God sufficiently revealed to them."I feel bad for Mr. Holding - this must be very awkward and embarrassing for him. Inexplicably for him, the book he places so much stock in - the one he claims to be God's final message to humankind containing all information necessary for salvation - nowhere addresses or even hints at what the answer to this plainly important question is, but instead leaves him to speculate blindly on his own. According to his theology, God's crowning salvation event took place in an obscure local region at a single point in time, leaving millions and millions of people all over the world throughout history to live and die in total, tragic ignorance of the one true god. Based on the repeated Biblical injunctions that only Jesus is the way to salvation, the apparent conclusion is that these people ended up damned through no fault of their own, but merely due to the locale of their birth.
The only way Mr. Holding has of escaping the force of the Argument from Locality is to weakly suggest that God has made himself known to these people, somehow, outside the normal machinery of the Christian system. It must be anathema to him to admit this. (Doesn't it kind of make Christianity unnecessary?) But if there is any such thing as someone who is truly neutral toward Jesus, who is neither for nor against him, these people are it. How could they be otherwise, never having heard of him?
...in the ancient world all things were viewed in dualistic terms and there was no possible middle ground.Here we see Mr. Holding retreating into one of his favorite tactics, but this time it won't help him. If Jesus' pronouncements on salvation are relevant to every era, then surely what it is important is not whether ancient people thought there was a middle ground, but whether there actually is. And I say that middle ground is as follows: native people who lived in the Americas, in Africa, in the Indonesian archipelago, in Australia, in Europe and in eastern Asia, who all were born and died before Jesus ever even existed, or after Jesus' death but before Christian missionaries arrived there to tell them about it. Having no reasonable way to obtain any knowledge about Jesus, these people can only be said to be neither for nor against him - just as Mr. Holding is neither for nor against the true incarnated god, Cezex Belhura'ashkip of Betelgeuse V, who will not even be born for five hundred thousand years and who will live and die eighty light-years from Earth in any case, but who genuinely is the only way to salvation. (Whether Mr. Holding claims he has already made his choice is not relevant. The evidence for Cezex is so overwhelming that he couldn't help believing if only he knew about it.)
The Nationality of the Canaanite Woman
In all seriousness, I must concede this one to Mr. Holding - I admit that here he managed to come up with a possible harmonization that had not occurred to me. I hadn't thought of the possibility that the woman could be both Canaanite and Greek, and there's not enough textual evidence to tell against it. Therefore, I must respectfully withdraw this one - not because I no longer believe it is a contradiction, which I still do, but rather because, as I have previously stated, it would do little good to list contradictions on this page that can be easily harmonized. Such would have no persuasive power against Christians who are convinced of biblical inerrancy; therefore I choose to list only contradictions that cannot be so simply solved, and I can no longer consider this one of them.
However, my having lost this one battle hardly means Mr. Holding has won the war. It would only take one irreconcilable contradiction to prove the Bible is errant, and I have not just one remaining, but many. In fact, out of all the contradictions I have listed, this is the only one I am willing to concede to Mr. Holding; I contend, and will present arguments for the contention, that in every other example my original page discussed, his attempted explanations fall far short of the mark. The very next contradiction I will discuss, in fact, is a particularly good example of this, and I will show how utterly helpless Mr. Holding and his brethren are in the face of some of the most blatant Biblical inconsistencies. This one I grant you, Mr. Holding, but be not proud.
The Withering of the Fig Tree
I will note that, in his reply to this contradiction, Mr. Holding provides a link to an article explaining why he thinks Jesus withered the tree. His explanation is certainly interesting and perhaps even plausible (though some might think it reflects poorly on the morality of a deity who would kill an innocent living thing - a fruit tree that other creatures relied on for food - to make an obscure theological point. But I digress). However, it is a side issue. The question at hand is not why Jesus pronounced this curse, but how quickly it took effect, and why the gospels that recount it contradict each other on this.
In contrast to the last issue, where I admit Mr. Holding found a satisfactory harmonization for the dilemma, his explanation here is a failure right out of the gate. He has no way whatsoever of resolving this one, and it shows in his response, in which he seems to ignore what the text actually says and instead presents a solution to a different, hypothetical contradiction. I can only assume that, when he realized he could not harmonize this, his belief-protection blinders kicked in, delivering a massive jolt of cognitive dissonance that prevented him from seeing what the problem actually is, and thus protecting his weak faith, which is built on the clearly false assumption that the Bible contains no errors.
So what is his solution?
Of necessary consideration, but not always easy to deal with, in terms of understanding the Gospels, is an ancient literary ideal of arrangement that easily explains why the Gospels might give information in what appears to our eyes to be differing chronological order. In actuality the material may or may not be in chronological order....But Mr. Holding has fallen far short of addressing the point. The issue is not whether the various gospel writers simply organized the events of Jesus' life in different orders. The issue here is that two gospel writers recounted the same event and specifically said it occurred at different times. Mark records that the fig tree was not withered until the following morning. But Matthew says that the tree withered immediately, so quickly that the disciples marveled watching it die before their eyes. Mr. Holding's principle of "dischronologized narrative" cannot help him here.
As we have pointed out elsewhere, the Gospels are ancient biographies. Ancient biographies, because they were not strictly history, arranged material either chronologically or topically, depending on the author's purpose. Hence the scattering and re-organizing of the Gospel material is recognizable as a normal process.
...we should not make assumptions unless clear chronological or other markers are present.Mr. Holding is hoist with his own petard, since in this case clear chronological markers are present. His attempted explanation does not even come close to resolving this inconsistency. The contradiction stands. Care to try again, Mr. Holding, or would you rather save yourself some trouble by admitting you're in over your head here?
Should Christians Obey Human Laws?
Mr. Holding's answer to this contradiction is essentially the same as that posed by the CARM ministry, and as such I have already dealt with it, but will do so again in more detail.
Note well: in Acts, the "law" being set down countermanded God's requirements. The Jews told Peter and Co. to shut up and stop spreading the Gospel; that was opposite to Jesus' command to spread it. The other verses do not say, "unless they countermand God's commands" - but we are given credit for having the intelligence to realize that God's orders should not be overruled by any human intervention!Christians are "given credit" to realize that God's command has an exception which is not stated? Pardon me, but I think I'm discussing the wrong religion. I was under the impression that we were talking about Christianity - the religion whose holy text specifically says that human reasoning is invalid and flawed and that humans are not to rely on their own understanding, but to trust the Word of God. (Proverbs 3:5 and 16:25 among others, but I'm sure Mr. Holding knows that.) I would think that what God says goes, and that if he means for there to be exceptions, he'll tell us about them. I would advise Mr. Holding to be very wary about the path he's treading; his own Bible advises him that it leads only to death. (Need I point out that, if it was true that God's followers were supposed to realize that no human intervention can ever overrule God's commands, then Jesus could not have founded Christianity and the Jews would have been fully justified in rejecting him?)
More generally, it is a fundamental logical and legal principle that a law means what it says. And the verse in 1 Peter says people should submit to every ordinance of man. Nowhere, not once, does it make the exception Mr. Holding is so eager to see in it. If he wants to just add that extra exception to it, that's his business, but in that case he should admit what he's doing rather than making this silly argument that he somehow knows what the text really meant to say. Mr. Holding's logic is rather like that of the teenage joyrider who breaks into someone else's car and takes it for a spin, and when caught by the police insists that what he was doing was not "stealing" since he intended all along to return it to its owner in the morning.
For further clarification, let us turn to Romans 13. "There is no power but of God," Paul says; "the powers that be are ordained by God." The chapter goes on to explain that secular rulers are "not a terror" to good people (i.e., those who obey God's laws), but only to evil ones, and each one is a "minister of God".
We therefore see why 1 Peter did not include an exception to governments whose laws conflict with God's laws: because the NT writers assumed that such a situation was impossible. Paul believed that secular authorities could gain their power only by the will of God, and obviously God would not will an evil man into office. Therefore, Christians need not worry: to obey the laws of the "powers that be" was to obey the laws of God. (Given the number of unjust and pagan-ruled governments of the Old Testament and even of the time, it must be puzzling, at least for inerrantists, why Paul chose to write such obviously false statements. Of course, to clear-seeing freethinkers who recognize that Paul was simply bowing to the politics of the time, trying to placate the Romans and turn their anger aside from the fledgling Christian faith, the dilemma dissolves.)
When Paul penned this letter, Nero was emperor, but he was still in the realm of sanity and was a fairly good ruler; Christians were not being persecuted by Rome. Paul is not here concerned with the hypothetical possibility which eventually became reality: That the government would turn against the Christian faith. Had these words been penned ten years later, the instructions would assuredly have been tempered quite differently....The more of Mr. Holding's material I read, the more perplexed I become as to how he can still insist the Bible is inerrant and divinely inspired, especially in light of admissions like the above one. Paul (or whoever wrote 1 Peter) may not have known or anticipated that in only a few years his statements about obeying all earthly authorities would no longer be applicable. But God certainly did - so why did he let it get into sacred scripture?
This applies even more so to verses like those in the aforementioned Romans 13, in which Paul says that earthly authorities are chosen only by the will of God and are his agents to do good, so that those who do the right thing and obey God should have nothing to fear from them. (Didn't he remember that he followed a man who had been unjustly condemned by the civil authorities?) Again, if statements such as these were to become outdated and untrue within a decade, why did God allow them into the canon? Or doesn't Mr. Holding believe that God had anything to do with that process?
As is often the case, skeptics are taking a general principle with a specific historical context and turning it into a timeless universal in order to find contradiction.Forgive my curiosity, but I really must ask: Mr. Holding, if this epistle does not contain timeless universal principles, but rather only contains advice applicable to specific people in a specific time and place - advice that has long since become outdated, in fact - then why is it even in the Bible? I was under the impression that Christian inerrantists believe that the specific books which appear in the Bible were chosen precisely because they do contain universal advice, suitable to all people at all times, that transcends the specific original purpose of their writing. Do you not believe this is so, Mr. Holding? If you don't, then I would ask what you do believe governed the selection of some epistles as canonical and not others. Surely you're not suggesting that the formation of the canon was a scattershot and above all human process driven by the politics of the time. Are you?
On Calling Men Master
So do we call men "master" or don't we? Once again the skeptics don't know there's a difference behind the Greek.Before beginning my commentary on this contradiction, I must point out that Mr. Holding continually resorts to this dishonest and fallacious tactic. In this article and indeed throughout his site, he makes many statements to the effect that the "skeptics" who reject the Bible are ignorant and uneducated and do so only out of their misunderstanding of it, and that those who truly understand the Bible (viz., Mr. Holding and his Christian apologist brethren) can trivially show their objections to be baseless.
But this message is never simply stated. It is invariably delivered with heavy overtones of scorn, condescension and ridicule, rhetorical attacks meant to overawe and intimidate. The meaning implicit for ordinary Christians to take away is that, since Mr. Holding is confident enough to dismiss the other side's arguments so disdainfully, those arguments must genuinely be flawed enough to safely ignore - Mr. Holding's actual substantive reply to them (if any), of course, being entirely beside the point.
Such arguments from authority will not save him, however. Whether Mr. Holding will accept it or not, the fact remains that one can be intelligent, appropriately knowledgeable and intellectually honest, and still not accept the Bible or Christianity. The skeptics' attacks are in many cases far stronger than he would like to admit, and all the bluster and bravado in the world cannot change this fact nor bolster an argument on his part that patently fails to address the issue at hand. I encourage all those who read my site and his to strip away any wordplay on both our parts, to get to the substance and read what is actually being said. I am confident that the truth will prevail, and I am equally confident as to where that truth lies. I also invite all readers to research for themselves what the Bible says about humility, and in reading Mr. Holding's pages, to decide if he is acting as a Christian should in that regard. (As an evil, godless atheist, of course, I labor under no such rules.)
Jesus uses kathegetes meaning guide or teacher. This matches the context of the Matthew, which warns against using titles associated with teaching (Rabbi, Father) and is in the context of warnings against those who teach the law.Reading Matthew 23, I can't see as Mr. Holding's case is nearly as unambiguous as he would like to make it. The chapter could equally well be said to be in the context of warnings against obeying masters in the master/servant sense. An example is verse 4:
"For they (the scribes and Pharisees) bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."This does not sound like a warning relating to teachers of the law. This sounds to me like a textbook definition of the "masters" Colossians, Ephesians and other epistle verses enjoin servants to obey - those who command others to do hard work but do not do it themselves. And yet these are the people Jesus warns us not to obey, telling his followers that only he himself, the Christ and Son of God, may rightfully be called master. The contradiction should be obvious, Mr. Holding's hair-splitting attempts to resolve it notwithstanding.
But for thoroughness' sake, let us delve into the Greek. Mr. Holding claims that kathegetes in Matthew 23 does not mean "master" in the master/servant sense. We will see how accurate that claim is.
Paul uses kurios, an all-purpose word equal to "sir" in modern terms. Jesus uses kathegetes meaning guide or teacher.So simply because Paul and Jesus use different words, they must have meant different things? Mr. Holding evidently has failed to grasp the concept of "synonym". The verse from 1 Peter uses a different Greek word than the two from Colossians and Ephesians, but that does not mean they are not talking about the same concept.
And likewise the verse from Matthew. 1 Peter 2:18, which instructs servants to obey their masters (even unkind or hostile masters) uses the Greek despotes - absolute ruler, lord, master (just like English "despot"). Colossians 3:22 and Ephesians 6:5 instead use kurios - according to Strong's Concordance, "supreme in authority... by implication, Master (as a respectful title) -- God, Lord, master, Sir." Matthew 23:10 uses yet a different word, kathegetes, as already discussed; Mr. Holding proposes to eliminate the problem by translating this as "teacher" rather than "master", also as already discussed.
In short, his entire case hinges on the meaning of this one word. Therefore, it's worth examing its meaning more closely. Strong's says:
kathegetes kath-ayg-ay-tace' from a compound of 2596 and 2233; a guide, i.e. (figuratively) a teacher:--master.A very important point to note: the "teacher" meaning of kathegetes is figurative. The "master" meaning is not. Need I note that Mr. Holding for some reason chose to mention only two of the three explanatory nouns when explaining what kathegetes means, and left out the one that would have ruined his case?
But there is a far more serious problem here, one Mr. Holding has not begun to address. Kurios, which is used by Colossians and Ephebians to describe whom servants should obey, is a term of respect that means, among other things, "God"! Isn't this a far more serious matter than what Jesus talks about in Matthew 23? If we are not even to call men "teacher" or "father" - presumably because those titles are reserved to God - how much worse it must be to call one's fellow mortals by a title that does in fact mean God! If Christians are given credit to make reasonable extrapolations and exceptions to God's law, as Mr. Holding has insisted, then logically he should conclude that the instructions given to slaves in Colossians, Ephebians and elsewhere are blatant contradictions of Jesus' command. And this, of course, is exactly what I have been arguing all along.
The only way Mr. Holding thinks he has of escaping this contradiction is, yet again, to split hairs - his entire case hinges on a minor quibble over the exact subtle connotation of one single word, and even that claim, as I have already shown, is not supportable. (In fact - another point not addressed by Mr. Holding - the term "rabbi" which Jesus warns us not to call men in 23:8 itself means "master"!) This contradicts instructions given in the NT epistles and demonstrates the Bible's errancy in this regard. As I have argued before and will argue again, in many respects it seems as if the NT epistle writers have no knowledge of a human, preaching Jesus who said the things the gospels portray him as saying, and this fact supports the mythicist theory that the gospels are merely fictional allegories, instructional stories written long after the founding of Christianity.
One more side issue should be addressed here. Not surprisingly, in all his splitting hairs and arguing about trifles, Mr. Holding has managed to ignore the one single, glaring point that has been sitting like a white elephant in the middle of the room throughout all this. Where in the Bible is the unambiguous condemnation of human slavery? The answer is, there is none. The OT, in fact, prescribes specific rules for how to buy and sell slaves, how hard to beat them, etc.; and the NT, including the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, never once speaks out against this state of affairs. It accepts it, instead, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. This merely goes to show, as I have always maintained, that the Bible is the product of its primitive times, an outdated relic many of whose ethical teachings are today rightly viewed as cruel, barbaric and no longer applicable or relevant. We as a species have advanced beyond this.
What Will Happen to the Jews?
Does Paul contradict Jesus on the issue of the fate of the Jewish people? Mr. Holding says no, and how dare an ignorant skeptic like me even venture an opinion on the matter:
Skeptics would do well to avoid this kind of commentary, as chapters like Romans 11 involve certain complexities of covenental theology beyond the scope of those into the works of people like Thomas Paine and Earl Doherty.Even compared to the rest of the generalized nastiness, condescension and ridicule abundant on Mr. Holding's site, this especially egregious ad hominem attack stands out. I think the best way to respond will be to paraphrase some of Mr. Holding's own words, which can be found here: This snide remark serves no concrete argumentative point in this context and is added for no purpose other than to be insulting to non-believers and provide a cheering point for gullible Christian readers. (How very typically Christian it is of him to insert it.)
Paul's argument runs for several chapters, the key of which in this case is Rom. 9:6b, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Paul is creating an argument for a new Israel based on salvation through faith (using Abraham as a primary example). His "Israel" isn't the Jews in flesh anymore.For the record, I know perfectly well what scholarship has judged Paul's position on this matter to be, and it does not help Mr. Holding - the contradiction remains, as I will explain. That final statement of his, quoted above, is misleading at best. True, Paul laments that most of the Jews have rejected his new covenant of salvation by faith alone, but most does not mean all. In Romans 9:27 Paul paraphrases Isaiah to the effect that a "remnant" of the people of Israel will be saved. This group of converted Jews will join with the converted Gentiles to become the new, "spiritual" Israel, the new heirs of God's promise (Galatians 3:29). In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that all Christians, Jew and Gentile alike, will become merged together in the "same body", as Ephesians 3:6 states.
But there is a problem with this view, and that problem is Jesus' words in Matthew 8:10-12. Marveling at the faith of the Roman centurion, Jesus says, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." He further adds that "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom (i.e., the Jews) shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Contrary to Paul's theology, Jesus' statement here is unqualified, without any exceptions made. He mentions no "remnant" of Jews whose faith is as great as the Gentiles', nor does he point out that not all of the children of the kingdom were destined for the outer darkness, nor does he mention people from between the east and west who will also end up sitting at the patriarchs' table. He simply says that the Gentiles' faith is greater than any he has found in Israel and that the Jews are going to Hell, and that is that.
Such simple, unqualified statements create a severe problem for Paul's remnant theology. Had he had any knowledge of a human, teaching Jesus as depicted in the gospels (and I have argued repeatedly that he did not), he should have addressed this statement; he should have at least attempted to explain why his own beliefs were not in contradiction with the words Jesus spoke. He did not, and neither does Mr. Holding. Which is it - will a remnant of the Jews be saved, or are they all damned? The contradiction stands.
The Words at the Trial of Jesus
Before beginning this response, I think it is necessary to remind Mr. Holding of something he seems to have forgotten. "Inerrant" means "free from error, containing no mistakes". Period. If some text (such as the Bible) is claimed to be inerrant, and skeptics of that claim point out errors and contradictions within that text, that claim is not rebutted by explaining how the errors and contradictions could reasonably have come about. The only way to rebut a charge of errancy is to show that the claimed error is actually not an error at all. In his response to this contradiction, Mr. Holding seems to have forgotten himself - he does the former, not the latter. While this may explain how the contradiction came about, it does not resolve it. In this regard, Mr. Holding has apparently allied himself firmly with the Biblical errantist camp; and though he denies this later on, claiming that he is an inerrantist who accepts that the Bible contains some minor contradictions, as far as I can tell this is rather like being slightly pregnant.
Now then, though Mr. Holding nowhere that I can see addresses this specific issue, he has written an extensive article discussing the matter in more general terms. The article opens with a critique of the methods of the Jesus Seminar, which I will not address as it is not relevant to this site, and then goes on to present a (very lengthy) comparison of the four canonical gospels to four modern-day biographies of Abraham Lincoln as viewed by a future historian.
The red herring that Mr. Holding is attempting to lay down is quite subtle and therefore will be exposed straightaway. There can be little doubt that Abraham Lincoln really did exist and really did do the things generally attributed to him - that is because he lived at a time from which our records are much better than they were at Jesus' time, and because we have considerable first-hand evidence of his life and deeds. Now, if some sort of asteroid impact or other apocalyptic catastrophe shattered human civilization and destroyed most of our records, and a far-future historian trying to put the pieces back together had nothing to rely upon but scattered, inconsistent biographies of Lincoln written long after his death, using standard techniques of historical scholarship he might well conclude that Lincoln did not exist or that his deeds were greatly exaggerated. This sounds ludicrous to us, but only because we know a priori that he is wrong.
But what if, instead of Lincoln, our future historian was reading similar biographies of an individual who did not in fact exist (how about novels about James Bond, or Captain Kirk?) or whose deeds genuinely were greatly exaggerated? (What if he had found a cache of Scientologist tracts written immediately before or immediately after the catastrophe that depicted L. Ron Hubbard as having healed the sick or returning from the dead?) A person from our time seeing such documents would rightly have dismissed them as fictional, and this time, the same methods would lead our historian to the correct conclusion.
The lesson here? There's no shortcut to the right answer. We can't just skip over the tedious business of scientific investigation simply because we know (or think we know) ahead of time what the truth is. These methods are not perfect, and sometimes they may lead us to a faulty conclusion, but by relying on them we will be right more often than not. To do otherwise is a risk we have no right to take.
As a counterexample to Mr. Holding's Lincoln analogy, consider this one. In similar circumstances to those he described, the far-future civilization possesses a collection of ancient documents, known collectively by the title "Star Trek", that speak of a prophet and savior named James Kirk. Many future individuals have built a large religion around these documents, which they claim are the revealed truth of a powerful deity. Skeptics, however, point out that this material contains numerous internal contradictions; for example, in one of the earliest volumes of the collection, entitled "Where No Man Has Gone Before", Kirk's middle initial is given as R, whereas later volumes consistently give his middle name as "Tiberius". The skeptics say that such discrepancies prove the Star Trek canon to be fictional material that underwent evolution over time. The Trekkians scoff at such arguments, claiming that these trivial differences are merely the result of minor variations in oral tradition and naturally differing viewpoints, and certainly are not evidence against the historicity of their savior. (One can only imagine how the conservative Trekkian apologists would berate critical scholarship like the Kirk Seminar for its a priori conclusion that things like phasers and transporter beams are impossible.)
For thoroughness' sake, we now turn to Mr. Holding's material itself, to show where the comparison between Lincoln and Jesus breaks down. In summary - all the analogies in the world about later records of Abraham Lincoln miss the point. No one has ever claimed that the biographers of Abraham Lincoln were inspired by God, nor has it been claimed that accurate information about Abraham Lincoln is essential to our eternal salvation. Nor, indeed, was it even claimed that the biographies of Abraham Lincoln Mr. Holding cites were written by eyewitnesses or derived directly from eyewitness accounts. But all these things are claimed about the four canonical gospels.
Now, have small contradictions and discrepancies about the details of Lincoln's life seeped into his biographies? Yes, obviously so. Can many of these be harmonized with a minimum of effort? Of course. Do any of them cast any doubt on the core facts of his life? Not really.
But the real question is, why are the answers to these questions what they are? That is where Honest Abe and Jesus part company.
Why do Lincoln's biographies contain small contradictions? Because his biographers are a) only human, b) lived long after his life, and c) frequently are forced to rely on material that is disputed or of uncertain validity especially when it comes to the small details. Therefore, mistakes are likely to arise. But Jesus' biographers a) are claimed to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, b) are claimed to have either been eyewitnesses to the events they record or to have gotten their information directly from such eyewitnesses, and c) are claimed to have been in possession of accurate material about Jesus' life from the very beginning. (All the gospels which contain infancy narratives note that Jesus' extraordinary origins and miraculous powers were recognized from the start.) The gospel writers are supposed to have had much better material, more first-hand material, and better guidance (divine guidance, in fact) than Lincoln's, which correspondingly leads us to expect their works should be that much more accurate.
And why don't these small discrepancies cast doubt on the core facts of Lincoln's life? Because the core facts of Lincoln's life are not in dispute. No biographer seeking to present a complete picture omits his most important deeds, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, nor does any one biographer record startling and significant stories of his life that no other knows of. The gospels, by comparison, are all over the map. Mark knows nothing of Jesus' childhood at all. Matthew records Herod's slaughter of the innocents, the family's flight to Egypt and the three wise men who followed the star, extraordinary events which no other source, secular or biblical, provides any corroboration for. Luke, by contrast, ignores all this and gives us the familar manger scene, again uncorroborated by any other source. John, like Mark, has no infancy narrative, but instead opens with a cosmic Logos hymn.
Nor are such discrepancies confined to the early parts of Jesus' life. After the crucifixion, for example, the four gospels run wild, suddenly losing all they have in common and presenting four different and irreconcilable resurrection narratives. Matthew even mentions what is perhaps one of the most startling miracles in the entire Bible - the mass simultaneous resurrection of the saints and holy men buried outside Jerusalem - something which again no other source either within the Bible or without offers a shred of corroborating evidence for.
In sum, these trivial contradictions do not cast doubt on Lincoln's biographies precisely because they agree with each other about the large details. But this is not the case of the four gospels - the contradictions in the biographies of Jesus' life are far more serious, their omissions far more extraordinary. Furthermore, the importance of the subject matter magnifies the seriousness of any contradiction in the gospels - the stakes are higher, so to speak. No one ever claimed that eternal salvation was dependent on our having accurate information about Abraham Lincoln. But when it comes to Jesus, the smallest error or inconsistency in the accounts of his life could lead thousands or millions of people into faulty doctrine and ultimately condemn them.
And these are not "errors." They are the inevitable product of comparative biography and point-of-view reporting.Mr. Holding, really. The definition of an "error" is a statement that is false. If you have two or more statements that are mutually contradictory, at least one must be false, and therefore at least one must be an error. Perhaps you don't think these errors are serious enough to cast any doubt on the validity of the Bible as a whole (see below), but that is a separate matter. Do us all a favor and don't try to define your way out of the problem.
Even so, you don't need to believe that the Bible or even the Gospels are inerrant to believe that they are a basically accurate historical record. I am an inerrantist, but it neither "picks my pocket nor breaks my leg" to have someone throw some seemingly irresolvable conflict in my face. As I've said elsewhere, if Kings says Ahab's bathtub held 72 gallons of water, and Chronicles says 82, is that really going to stop you from accepting the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ?I made a very similar statement at the beginning of "Foundation of Sand". As I said then and continue to believe now, there are better reasons for rejecting the validity of the Bible than such trivial contradictions as the one Mr. Holding mentions. (Note that this does not make them not contradictions.) The purpose of this essay was to list some of the more serious contradictions in the Bible, those which can and should cast doubt on its validity as an accurate historical record and theological guidebook.
I freely acknowledge that this contradiction is less serious in this respect than most of the others I have presented. However, I chose to include it for two reasons. The first reason is that it's so simple it's impossible to deny. Mr. Holding calls it "seemingly irresolvable", though he gives no reason for the qualifier and indeed has essentially admitted that it is a contradiction. Perhaps such comparatively minor errors will not shake his faith, but there are Christians out there who do believe that the Bible can be "read like a newspaper", as he puts it, and who do believe that every single word, character and penstroke is the absolutely perfect and inerrant word of God. Minor contradictions such as this one are there for those people's benefit, not for his.
The second reason I have included it is as follows. There is a fundamentally more serious issue relating to this contradiction: namely, neither Mark nor Matthew nor indeed any gospel writer or Christian believer was present when this conversation purportedly took place. So how do they even know what was said? Where did they get their information from?
Of course, elaborate ad hoc rationalizations which enjoy not one shred of support from the text could be conjured up to answer this. But the point I am trying to make by including this contradiction is that it is but one specific case of a general pattern that recurs throughout the gospels: gospel writers recording events that no one should have been present to record, yet without any acknowledgement that there was any problem in doing so and without any explanation as to where their information is coming from. The Garden of Gethsemane scene, in which Jesus prays alone while his disciples sleep, is another example. So is the famous Temptation story, in which Jesus confronts Satan while completing a period of fasting alone in the desert. Again and again: The Jews go to Pilate in secret, asking him to set guards on Jesus' tomb. Luke records the inner thoughts of a Pharisee. Matthew tells us that Judas threw his blood money back into the temple out of guilt before committing suicide. (How does he know what Judas did with the cash?) In short, the gospels show every sign of having been written in the omniscient third-person style of narration, which bolsters my claim that they were originally meant as elaborate religious allegories used for teaching and instruction - not as history.
Did the Disciples Know of the Resurrection in Advance?
And off we go again, this time on the issue of whether Jesus' disciples knew in advance that he would be raised from the dead. Mr. Holding says not, despite the fact that belief in specific bodily resurrections was already around at the time, as evidenced by Herod in Mark 6:14:
...one wonders how Herod's bewildered exclamations amount to a "general acceptance of the phenomenon of resurrection"! One man counts as "general acceptance"??Mr. Holding really needs to brush up on his Bible. The parallel version of this story, given in Luke 9:7, clearly states that it was not just Herod who thought this.
The man on the street didn't seem to have that idea ([Mark] 6:15) at any rate.As already stated, this is false, but just for grins let's look up Mark 6:15.
"Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets."What precisely in this verse excludes the idea of still other people having the idea that John the Baptist had been resurrected? (Wouldn't such a thing be required if he was in fact Elijah?) Mr. Holding appears to have cited this hoping no one would call him on it.
Mr. Holding goes on to argue that Jesus' forecast of his death and resurrection may not have been as clear as the synoptic gospel writers make it out to be:
It is worth pointing out here that all of these writers are writing in hindsight having already seen the resurrected Jesus and touched him, and having preached the gospel for a while -- when Jesus said these words (in Aramaic), they were probably rather more ambiguous.Will wonders never cease! Mr. Holding now knows, somehow, that what the gospels record Jesus as having said is not what he actually said; more, he is apparently able to penetrate their paraphrase and reconstruct Jesus' original words. Would that all us poor skeptics had such astonishing exegetical skills. (And to think he complains about the Jesus Seminar!) Do tell, Mr. Holding, how do you know what Jesus originally said? What textual clues lead you to suspect that this is a paraphrase? Do you have any evidence at all for such a claim, in fact, or are you merely arbitrarily altering the Bible in an attempt to escape this contradiction?
If I tell you that I will 1) be arrested 2) go to jail 3) go to trial 4) be found guilty 5) be put in handcuffs 6) be broken out of jail by a flying green quetzalcoatl, does the fulfillment of 1-5 really impress you that #6 is sure to happen?Well, why not? Jesus' disciples had, after all, seen him perform many miracles - healing the sick and the crippled, restoring sight to the blind, producing food and wine, walking on water, calming storms - a slew of astonishing feats exhibiting transcendent power over nature. Some of them had even seen Jesus raise people bodily from the dead (more on that shortly). So, yes, his numerous past displays of miraculous power should indeed have given them every reason to expect that his prophecies of future displays of miraculous power would come true. This is a very obvious point, yet for some reason Mr. Holding does not see fit to address it.
We now come to the crux of Mr. Holding's argument; namely, that what the disciples expected was not an immediate physical resurrection, but rather a "taking up" of Jesus' body to Heaven, followed by true resurrection only at the judgment day.
This would have been a sign that Jesus' life was brought to an orderly conclusion and that he had been vindicated by God. And now we see how it is that the disciples misunderstood and were surprised, and how the enemies still wanted the tomb guarded, and why the apostles were still sorry to see Jesus go, and why Jesus had to tell Mary, "I have not yet ascended to the Father", and why the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit -- all parties knew that Jesus predicted the body would be missing; what they didn't get the point on was the mechanism, because there was no room in their belief system for a specific resurrection prior to the general one.I feel so terrible about responding to this - it's like pulling the wings off a fly. What's the point of being so cruel to someone who plainly doesn't have the ability to fight back? When refuting Mr. Holding presents this little challenge, I just don't feel like I've accomplished much by doing so. Still, he began this, and I suppose it is up to me to carry things through to the end.
Mr. Holding says that the apostles, Jewish priests, and other people of the time did not think in terms of specific, present-day resurrections. He accuses his opponents of not "doing their homework", but he's the one who needs some remedial education, because he has evidently forgotten about three of the most dramatic miracle stories of the gospels: the raising of Jairus' daughter, the raising of Lazarus, and the raising of the dead saints.
Though the first occurs only in the synoptics, the second only in John and the third only in Matthew, all these stories are similar. In each of them, Jesus bodily resurrects an individual or individuals who had been deceased, and the aftermath of the event, if not the event itself, is witnessed by many people.
John chapter 11 tells the story of Lazarus' resurrection. When Jesus goes to revive his friend, he takes his disciples with him (11:16), specifically to show them what he was going to do (11:15). Mary and Martha, Lazarus' sisters, along with a crowd of Jews and (one presumes) the disciples were physically present at the graveyard when Jesus calls, "Lazarus, come forth!" and the crowd is astonished to see a man four days dead walk out of his tomb. Many of the Jews there see this happen and become followers of Jesus on the spot (11:45), while others go to the elders and tell them about it (11:46). If there wasn't room in their belief system for specific resurrections before that, there darn well better have been afterwards.
Likewise Matthew's account of the resurrected saints. In Matthew chapter 27, as soon as Jesus dies, the veil of the Jewish temple is torn top to bottom, there is a great earthquake, and, according to verses 52 and 53:
"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."Since this is quite possibly one of the most striking miracles recorded in the Bible, it's exceedingly strange that no other writer, secular or biblical, so much as mentions it - even Matthew himself does not see fit to give us very much detail about it, for whatever reason. Nevertheless, the point remains: The dead saints were resurrected bodily and went into Jerusalem, showing themselves to many people. How could such a dramatic and miraculous event not have produced a widespread belief and expectation in such immediate physical resurrections happening to others as well? Surely Jesus' disciples heard of this event. (How could anyone in the entire Mediterranean area not have, if this really happened?)
The story of Jairus' daughter is perhaps the most relevant of all. Coming to the house of the dead girl, Jesus allows no one in with him except Peter, James, John and her parents, and even these people he shuts out when he goes into the room to awaken her. It is true that no one directly witnessed this miracle, as they did with Lazarus, but they did witness the undeniable aftereffects: they "laughed Jesus to scorn", knowing for a fact that the girl was dead (Luke 8:53, Mark 5:40); then only a short time later, they saw her walk out of the room, alive. Admittedly Jesus then told the five of them not to tell anyone else about this, but it does not seem to have mattered - Matthew's account, in 9:26, says that "all that land" heard of this.
But whether the common people knew what had happened to Jairus' daughter, or the saints, or to Lazarus, is not even relevant. The trap has already been set, and the crucial information required to utterly demolish Mr. Holding's attempt at a defense has been provided. Now let us return to the issue of whether Jesus' disciples knew what had happened when they came across the empty tomb, and in particular, let us examine John chapter 20. Mary Magdalene comes to Jesus' sepulchre, sees the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and one other nameless disciple return to the tomb and find it indeed empty, the burial clothes lying crumpled; and yet "they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead" (20:9) - despite Jesus' repeatedly telling them that exactly that would happen in the three synoptics.
Mr. Holding has argued that the disciples were expecting an assumption of the body, that the concept of a specific physical resurrection would have been foreign to them. But who came to see the empty tomb? It was Peter - the same Peter who was present when Jairus' daughter was bodily returned to life. If we are to believe the Bible, the same Peter who saw a young girl dead one minute and alive the next walked into Jesus' empty tomb and had no glimmer of an idea what had happened. The same disciples who had been repeatedly told by Jesus he would rise from the dead and who had seen Lazarus walk out of his tomb found the discarded shroud and didn't have a clue. Unless we conclude that Jesus' handpicked followers either had severe short-term memory problems or else were afflicted with terminal stupidity, there is absolutely no way to explain such an inconsistency, and thus the contradiction stands. (Maybe the "rock" meaning of Peter's name referred not to his steadfastness, but to his intelligence, as in "dumb as a box of"?)
[John] and the other apostles, and everyone else (including the chief priests and co.) were not expecting a resurrection -- they were expecting (or for the priests, expecting a claim of) a "taking up" of the body....If this is true, then what are we to make of verses like John 20:2, 20:13 or 20:15? According to them, when Mary Magdalene came across the empty tomb, she did not react with amazement and joy, nor did she assume Jesus' body had been miraculously taken up to Heaven. Instead, she collapsed in grief, believing that Jesus' body had been moved - she said so to Peter, she said so to the angels, and she said so to Jesus disguised as the gardener. Where in any of this is the expectation of "taking up" Mr. Holding is so desperate to convince us she held?
For further confirmation, consult Luke 24:4. Again, the women come across the empty tomb and stand there, "perplexed". If they had known of or expected a miraculous assumption of the body, as Mr. Holding has insisted, how can this be explained? Apparently, "everyone else" did not expect either a resurrection nor a taking up after all, contrary to his claims.
Before I begin addressing this contradiction, there is one interesting side point I would like to make. Today, under modern laws, it is axiomatic that a woman has just as much right to divorce her husband as he has to divorce her. However, this was apparently not the case in Biblical times. According to Mr. Holding's response, which mentions this in passing, around Jesus' time some rabbis believed a man could divorce his wife for something as trivial as burning a meal. But nowhere does he or any of the writers he cites mention any circumstance under which she could leave him. Were there any such circumstances? I'm sure Mr. Holding will appreciate the chance to draw upon his vast store of knowledge to enlighten us on this point; but I certainly don't know of any.
And Jesus Christ - the Son of God, the incarnate deity who came to Earth to teach a radically new moral code based on love, compassion and forgiveness - never once spoke out against this state of affairs. His only mentions of divorce were phrased in terms of what a woman could do to allow her husband to leave her, never the other way around. He never denounced the dictum, enshrined by Judaic laws as formidable as the Ten Commandments, that women were the property of their husbands. He never once said that women were equal to men, or that they had rights of their own. According to Jesus, it doesn't matter if a married woman's husband turns out to be an alcoholic, if he commits adultery, or if he beats her - sorry, lady, too bad, you're stuck with him. God has decreed that you're his property, a thing to be possessed just like a chair or a tablecloth, and you have no right to leave him no matter what he does to you.
In any event, we now deal with the actual contradiction. Just as in the issue of whether Christians need to obey human laws, Mr. Holding's solution is to read into one of the inconsistent verses an exception which simply is not there in the text.
...the most likely reason for the difference is that Matthew was spelling out what Luke and Mark leave implicit within the social context.... both sides agreed on the exception which Matthew adds, and by the same token, Jesus could certainly have safely presupposed it without any fear of misunderstanding.I can't help but wonder if Mr. Holding thinks any Biblical verse means what it says. He certainly seems very confident in assuming he knows what the unstated exceptions to Jesus' commandments are. I wonder if any other Biblical laws have exceptions we weren't told about. Does "Thou shalt not commit adultery" not apply on Tuesdays, maybe? Can we safely disregard "Love your neighbor as yourself" if he borrows your lawn tools and doesn't return them? What about that thing about "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast" - is it okay for people to ignore that rule and become rich as long as they're involved in spreading the word of God full-time? (Oops, I guess many Christians actually do see it that way.)
I'd like to know. Just supposing for the sake of argument that Jesus really did mean in Mark and Luke that divorce and remarriage were never allowable, how could he have phrased it differently so that Mr. Holding would realize and accept this as his intent? What would he have had to say to get Mr. Holding to take his words at face value? The verse itself seems plain enough: "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery..." How are Christians of later generations supposed to know that this isn't really what he meant?
I ask this question in all seriousness. For the edification of all concerned, Mr. Holding, would you mind letting us know how we are supposed to tell when a rule means what it says? Is there a single test we can apply? Or must we trust men like you? If the latter, what assurance do we have that you're not playing fast and loose with God's word? Indeed, Mr. Holding, if you are not a Catholic, then how do you justify what seems to be your doctrine that only with help from highly educated people such as yourself can the ordinary, layperson Christian with no special training understand the Bible? Isn't that the specific claim whose disputation led to the Protestant Reformation and ultimately gave rise to the sect you now follow? Have you decided to undo all that?
What I'd like to know is this. Jesus' moral teachings are, supposedly, applicable to all times and all places. So why (according to Mr. Holding) didn't he phrase them in a way that later Christians lacking understanding of the specific social context of his day could comprehend? Why didn't he phrase things clearly for future generations? His contemporaries would not have misunderstood him if he had explicitly spelled out the exceptions to his decrees.
Yes, Matthew does spell it out. But Mark and Luke do not, and since it is a simple logical principle that a rule means what it says, this makes this a contradiction, plain and simple.
And the contradiction is further multiplied by the verse from 1 Corinthians I cite. Mr. Holding apparently feels comfortable in dismissing this one out of hand; evidently he didn't feel like expanding his prewritten reply to address it.
...as the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and we hardly expect the non-believer to follow Jesus' command....Mr. Holding misses the point. There is no hint given that Jesus' commandments are not intended to be applicable to all circumstances, whether either of the partners is a non-Christian or not. That's why he says "whosoever" and not "any Christian who". By the logic of Jesus' command, if a Christian is abandoned by an unbelieving partner, that Christian should still be forbidden to remarry. But Paul seems not to be aware that Jesus ever spoke on this topic, as he breezily contradicts the Son of God's words by adding yet another exception to the divorce prohibition. He doesn't mention or even refer to Jesus' words, not even to explain why his statements are not in contradiction with them.
On Showing Good Deeds
I have said earlier that I will only list the contradictions in the Bible I consider more serious, and this is definitely one of them. Are we to do our good works in public or in secret? This is a fundamental issue of doctrine - in fact, judging by the verses that address it, it is possible that answering this question correctly may affect one's eternal fate. However, the Bible contradicts itself rather blatantly on this issue, in two successive chapters of the same book no less. Once in his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says we are to do good deeds in public, to glorify God and give light to men. Not long afterward, he then says we are to do them in secret.
As usual, Mr. J. P. Holding begs to differ:
Note that Matthew 5 tells us to do deeds in the same way -- as what? The previous examples are of a city on a hill and a lamp. Lamps and cities don't light for the sake of showing off -- they are passive instruments. They don't seek or take praise; they don't know or care that anyone watches, they just shine and do their jobs. That's our example.Well, Mr. Holding certainly gets full marks for creativity. Unfortunately for him, though, this marvelously inventive explanation goes far beyond the boundaries of what the text justifies. Here's what Jesus really said:
(Matthew 5:14-16)In other words, the "light" of good works should not be hidden. As Jesus said, a candle put under a bushel basket does no good. According to his words here, we are to let the light of our good works "shine before men" - we are not to hide it.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
But the very next chapter says something different:
(Matthew 6:1-4)How obvious can a contradiction like this be before apologists are forced to accept it? In chapter 5 Jesus says that doing good works in public glorifies God. Yet in chapter 6 he says that good works done in public will get no reward from God - therefore, we are to do them secretly. I can't make the inconsistency any clearer than that.
"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.... But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."
On the other hand, the Matthew 6 verse is after a warning about not making a public spectacle out of your giving, and not announcing it with trumpets like the hypocrites do. Now if you are publicly announcing your "good deeds" and being a hypocrite, you are far from letting people see your good works: You are in fact setting a bad example, and being a poor witness for Christ....This argument about "not doing good works to be seen doing good works" is nothing more or less than a red herring. It is irrelevant to the issue at hand. What Jesus says in chapter 6 is simply this: when you do alms, do them in secret. What he says in chapter 5 is simply this: when you do alms, do not hide them, but do them in public. In neither case is any exception made; in neither case is so much as a nod of acknowledgment given to the other. Mr. Holding hasn't even come close to finding a harmonization here, and there's simply no more I need say. To illuminate the inconsistency in its clearest form, I will close by setting these two passages side by side:
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.... But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."
Will Signs Be Given?
Even asking this question seems rather silly, as the gospels are chock-full of assorted miracles, wonders and signs. Yet in all three synoptic gospels, Jesus sweeps these away by asserting, in response to a Jewish query, that there will either be only one sign or no signs at all. My original article dealt with Mr. Holding's attempted response to this, which he has not modified, but since this is the last NT contradiction to be dealt with in this essay, I'll expand my answer to make sure I go out on a high note. If Mr. Holding wants to be hammered into the ground, I'll gladly oblige him.
His attempted solution, which I rightfully dismissed the first time as fumbling about, was to suggest that what Jesus denied the Pharisees was not the same class of sign as is found elsewhere in the NT:
...does [Mark] mean to say that Jesus would not perform any miracles at all? Hardly, since he has Jesus doing them in plenty. A key here is that this account comes right after the miraculous feeding of loaves and fishes -- in other words, Jesus has already performed a honking big sign, and the Pharisees, etc. don't accept it. They doubted not Jesus' ability to do signs, but their origin in God.
What the Pharisees wanted is entirely irrelevant. What is at issue here is what Jesus said in response, and he did not say, "This is an evil generation; they seek a sign from heaven, and it shall not be given to them." No, he does not; he says no signs - period.
Or at least he does in Mark. In Matthew 16, he replies to an identical query with a different answer! Compare:
(Mark 8:11-12)A more screamingly obvious contradiction simply cannot be imagined. If the sign of Jonah (i.e., the resurrection) fulfills the criterion of a sign "from heaven", then why does he not mention it in his blanket statement in Mark where he flatly declares that there will be no signs?
"And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation."
"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them.... A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas."
And other verses make the problem even worse. Mark 16:20, John 20:30 and Acts 2:22, among others, mention multiple signs. (Mr. Holding doesn't resort to his usual tactic of running back to the original Greek - probably because all the above-mentioned verses use the exact same word, semeion).
So what is Mr. Holding's solution? Well, it really isn't clear, but it seems the best he can do is suggest that the Pharisees were asking for something else.
Note that the Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven (the words "from heaven" were often a circumlocution for "from God"; but this could just as well mean "from the sky" -- Keener, 420) -- not just any old sign.But as already discussed, this argument cannot save him. In fact, there is a set of verses where the Pharisees do not ask for a sign "from heaven", but simply ask him for any sign at all: Matthew 12:38,39. Again Jesus refuses them, claiming that the only sign they'll get will be the sign of Jonah, again contradicting the no-signs verse in Mark and the many-signs verses in Mark, Luke and Acts. (If the Pharisees doubted that Jesus' signs came from God, then what exactly were they asking him for in the other verses? Mr. Holding does not tell us.)
In sum, Mr. Holding has failed catastrophically here. The contradiction remains, plain as day, despite his efforts to obfuscate it out of existence. Like so many other inconsistencies in the Bible, when his Christian fundamentalism is faced with this one, he is without answer and without excuse.
Although I and my site are "fairly at the bottom of the priority register" in Mr. Holding's eyes, he has evidently seen fit to begin writing me a further reply that includes a substantial amount of new material. I will not comment on this here - that will be left for a separate future article, if and when I get around to it - except to note one thing. In Part 1 of this reply, I accused Mr. Holding and his inerrantist ilk of being trapped in a mindset that will simply not allow the Bible to be wrong, no matter how obvious the error or inconsistency, and posed them the following question: "What would it take to convince you that you were wrong? What, hypothetically, would the Bible have to say to be contradictory? Can you give an imaginary example of two discrepant verses that you would accept as impossible to resolve?"
To my total lack of surprise, Mr. Holding's answer to these questions completely sidesteps the thrust of them; he totally ignores the latter two and replies to the first with a response that is essentially, "More than you've provided." This is exactly as we should expect from one who has made up his mind and doesn't want to be confused by the facts. He has set his burden of proof infinitely high, so that no evidence real or imaginary could ever meet it - whatever any skeptic poses to him, his answer will always be "That isn't good enough." He will always be able to come up with some strained rationalization to explain why these verses aren't contradictory, if you read word X as actually meaning word Y, or study Ancient Near Eastern languages and modes of rhetorical expression, or tilt the page at a forty-five degree angle away from your face and kind of squint at it with one eye closed. The one thing he will never do is clearly say what it would take to prove him wrong, because he knows that if he set a realistic standard, it would be met - so full of holes is the Bible. Such cognitive dissonance and self-deception are the hallmarks of the mind-enslaving memetic virus that fundamentalism is. Mr. Holding is thoroughly under its thrall, and while I harbor little hope that he will ever come to realize this, it is my hope that some, in viewing my response to his case and judging for themselves how strong it is, will come to the honest conclusion that there is only one way to truth and intellectual freedom - and that way is atheism.
Back to Reply to J.P. Holding, Part 1
Onward to Reply to J.P. Holding, Part 3