Who Overheard Jesus and Pilate?

(Alternate Title: The Problem of Private Parlance Pericopes)

There is an interesting objection to the reliability of the Gospels centered on the problem of private conversations. There are several interactions, the objection goes, wherein the details of the events are privy only to the participants of those events. The writers of the Gospels neither participated themselves in these events nor plausibly had access to witnesses of these event. Consider for example the conversation between Jesus and Pilate described in John 18.

Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

  • John 18:33-38 (NASB)

This is a pretty detailed account for a guy who was not there to hear the conversation. Could it be the case that the author of John wove this vignette from whole cloth? Before we jump to that conclusion, let’s survey the potential candidates for John’s information.

The Witnesses

First, Pilate would have the information regarding this information. Is it likely, however, that he would willingly participate in an interview with the early Christians? Admittedly, I am not an expert in this area, but it does seem highly improbable that a man of Pilate’s stature and background would take time out of his day to tell some fisherman what he discussed with their murdered Messiah. I think we can safely assume Pilate was not John’s source.

Second, there may have been bystanders. The text is unclear as to how private this conversation actually was. The term Praetorium is sometimes translated as “palace” or “headquarters” indicating that this was a large building presumably occupied with many of Pilate’s servants as well as military personnel. It does seem slightly unlikely that Pilate would take a criminal into a completely private room without any security. Thus, it is throughly plausible that a member of Pilate’s court overheard the entirety of the conversation, later converted, and shared their story with the believing community. Over time, this permeated into the oral tradition and eventually became encapsulated in John’s Gospel. While this is less of a stretch than John interviewing Pilate, it does seem slightly ad hoc.

Lastly, we have Jesus. Jesus would certainly have the relevant information about the conversation seeing as he was a participant. Moreover, Jesus certainly would not have a problem talking to John or any of the other disciples about what happened. In other words, Jesus was not a hostile witness. He seems to be the perfect candidate. Why would he not be considered a legitimate option? Here, we reach the crux of the problem.


The problem that a sceptic is going to have with Jesus being the witness is that Jesus was killed after this conversation, before he could tell anybody else. But, notice how this is circular! The only reason that Jesus could be invalidated from being a witness would be if he did not rise from the dead. But, if he did not rise of the dead, then the Gospels are not telling a true story in the first place. In other words, to raise this objection to the veracity of the Gospels requires assuming the Gospels are not veracious in the first place.

But isn’t the Christian reasoning in a circle, too? Isn’t she assuming the Gospels are true to defend the Gospels are true? Here, we need to clarify that the objection is an internal critique.

You Christians have an inconsistency in your source documents. You claim they are eyewitness testimonies, but even on your own view, there isn’t an eyewitness to this conversation!

On this count, the Christian can retort that she has the explanatory resources to remain internally consistent. Since the Gospels were written after the resurrection of Christ and the 40 days of teaching described in Luke 24, Jesus is a legitimate source to fill in some of the gaps, particularly during the Passion Week events. Note that the scope of this response is limited to internal consistency.

What’s the point? It means that the “covert conversation challenge” is not an independent objection  to the veracity of the Gospels; rather, it is dependent on an objection to the resurrection of Christ: whether that is a general philosophical argument against miracles or specific historical case.

Every #RaviTAMU Question

(Or at least every question I could find)

This is a post that I started over a year and a half ago. I found it in my drafts. Here you go!

April 1, 2014

Ravi Zacharias came to Texas A&M for the 2014 Veritas Forum. A part of the lecture included a Q&A populated by questions on Twitter under the tag ‘#RaviTAMU’. Unfortunately, Ravi did not address all of them despite some of them being really thought provoking. Today, I scoured the #RaviTAMU tag and copied all the questions I could find. I’ve grouped them into similar categories.

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Reflection and Clarity on the Molinism Debate

Wednesday, I participated in a debate on Molinism v Calvinism. I tag teamed with Richard Bushey against TurretinFan and Josh Sommer. It seems inappropriate for me to evaluate if our side “won” or not – that should be left to the audience. Nevertheless, there are a few issues I think deserve comment. In general, most of the debate hinged on definitional issues rather than true disagreements. There seemed to be a significant amount of talking past each other. In addition, I did not make my points with the greatest clarity. I would like to elucidate more clearly so future discussions can be more profitable.

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Molinism v Calvinism Debate

Richard Bushey (thereforegodexists.com) and I defend Molinism in a 2v2 debate against Josh Sommer (seeinggodministeries.com) and TurretinFan (turretinfan.blogspot.com).

Here is the mp3 for download.


Debate Review: Seidensticker & Tarico v Markuly & Raschco

Recently, there was a debate on the topic “Does God Exist?” at Western Washington University (WWU). The participants for the negative were Dr. Valerie Tarico and Bob Seidensticker (of the Cross Examined blog). The participants for the positive were two professors from Seattle University. Dr. Mark Markuly, Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry, and Rev. Mike Raschko Ph.D, professor of Catholic Systematic Theology. My evaluation of the debate will be broken into three parts. First, a quick summary of the main arguments and counter arguments. Second, a few technical comments on the debate. Third, my analysis of the arguments presented.

The video of the debate can be found on YouTube

Quick Summary

The debate was structured as follows.

  • 10 min opening for each speaker alternating Affirmative then Negative
  • 3 min rebuttal from each speaker in same speaking order
  • Open Q&A

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Some Concerns on Infant Salvation

Whether infants who die are redeemed or condemned is certainly a knotty problem and one that deserves to be treated soberly. Here, I will not attempt to tease out the various issues and reach a conclusion. Rather, I am going to examine a particular objection to a particular view and try to draw out some of the lurking presuppositions. In full disclosure, I do not have a position on this topic and I am weighing the various options carefully given the gravity of the implications.

The position in view is the “all babies are saved” perspective (I will refer to this as “infant universalism”). As with the other views, it has its strengths and weaknesses; however, there is a common objection to this view that I do not think makes much sense. This objection goes “if this view is true, then, abortion is the greatest Heaven filling practice of all time”. There are at least two problems that I see with this objection.

First, this seems to be an argument from consequence: an argument that derives the falsity of a premise from the consequences of that premise. This is a fallacious form of argumentation because the palatability of the conclusion does not impact the truth of the conclusion. If infant universalism is true, then, it does seem that abortion is a Heaven filling practice. This certainly seems to be uncomfortable but that does not make infant universalism false. There is a similar objection that legalists like to raise against the sufficiency of grace: if you do not have to do anything to be saved, then people will do whatever they want since they can just ask for forgiveness later. To be sure, this is not a perfect parallel; nevertheless, the fact that people abuse grace (an unfortunate consequence) does not impact the truth of the doctrine. I think the same can be said here of infant universalism.

Second, there seem to be some questionable presuppositions behind this objection. What is it that makes abortion an ethically unacceptable action? I do not think that eternal destination is the primary criterion or any meaningful criterion at all. Objections to abortion are usually in terms that that practice involves the unjustified killing of another human, not because these humans will be deprived of a chance to respond to the gospel message. If this is the case, then the practice of abortion is ethically unacceptable even if infant universalism is true. But if eternal destination bears no weight on the ethically acceptability of abortion, then aside from emotional effects, the “Heaven-filler” objection is rather moot. Moreover, it seems rather unobjectionable that adult Christians enter the glorified state after their Earthly death. If it were the case that eternal destination did bear weight in the ethical acceptability of actions, one could equally say that large-scale executions of Christian adults are Heaven-filling devices.

I can see how infant universalism makes abortion into a Heaven-filler; however, I don’t see how this makes infant universalism false nor whole sale legitimizes abortion.

Cain’s Wife & Why the Pure Genetics Defense Fails

The Problem Stated

The question of where Cain got his wife is an age old question. On the one hand, one could posit that Cain married one of his sisters [1]; however, invoking incest to solve this problem is an uncomfortable option for many people, especially given the prohibition on incest in the Book of Leviticus. On the other hand, one could posit that Cain married a woman outside of his family; however, this entails that Adam and Eve are not the sole biological progenitors of the entire human race. In a cursory investigation, it appears that the majority of Christians think the biological primacy of Adam and Eve is too high a price to pay to resolve this issue and accept the first option: that Cain married his sister. In response, there have been efforts to resolve the tension generated by the incest problem. One popular solution is what I will call the “pure genetics defense”. This solution posits that incest was originally acceptable because Adam and Eve had pure genes and no substantial mutations occurred as a result of incest. As time went on, the mutations accumulated, so, God put a restriction on incest in Leviticus as a result. As an example, check out this explanation by Ken Ham. I think that this argument fails on two counts.

Feasibility Objection

This objection applies primarily to old earth creationists who hold that a sole-biological-progenitor lived about 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. It seems that if God imposed the incest restriction to curb genetic mutations, He would’ve done it much earlier on this view. In other words, it seems rather unlikely that these mutations only became a problem in the last 3500 years and not the preceding 146,000. I suppose one could posit that God providentially preserved genetic integrity for the first 98% of human history and then let decay take over; it just seems rather ad hoc. This defense simply does not seem to be simultaneously available if the OEC and YEC are defending mutation rates that vary by several orders of magnitude. Thus, the plausibility of the pure genetics defense appears to be inversely proportional to how old one thinks humanity is.

Theological Objection

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Is Evolution at Odds with Atheism?

I defend Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism in this discussion with Erik. Note: the first part is rough because my internet is wimpy and I kept cutting out but it stabilizes about 10 mins in.

Check out my article on the EAAN here.

Warrant, Purpose, and Evolution (Darwin Day)

For Darwin Day, a brief reflection on evolution, teleology, etc.

In the perennial creation/evolution dialogues, there tends to be a lot of conflation between what I will call the “means” and the “motive” (I’m sure there are fancier academic terms for these categories, but, this isn’t a research paper). The “means” will refer to the mode of transforming material to its final state and the “motive” will refer to the purpose or reason for this occurrence.

So, where is the conflation? The intro video from creation.com offers a good example. The speaker states “Creation or evolution? Design or time and chance?”. The hidden presupposition is that (1) direct creation by a deity entails design and (2) biological evolution entails purposelessness. However, this isn’t the case at all. The means by which biological diversity arises does not have much bearing (if any) on the motive. In other words, establishing the veracity of a certain means does not establish the veracity of a certain motive.

Suppose that purely materialistic processes are proven to be inadequate to explain the origination and development of life on Earth. Does this demonstrate design? I am not sure. For example, the satirical Flying Spaghetti Monster is claimed to have created many of the features on Earth by accident as a result of a hangover [1]. It seems unlikely that this form of creation is what one would call well designed or at least designed in the sense that many creationists want to demonstrate. In this regard, it seems rather apparent that the means of creation do not demonstrate anything about the motive for creation. A complete scientific falsification of evolutionary theory would still seem to be vulnerable to the objection that the Intelligent Designer created the universe without any real overarching purpose (perhaps s/he was bored, drunk, insert your favorite arbitrary reason).  This would be the case if it weren’t for the fact that, at least in the Christian worldview, this designer has spoken [2].

The fact that God has spoken is, I think, the source from which motive is truly derived. God created the universe specifically as the means for calling His elect to justification and conforming them to the image of the Son [3]. While certain degrees of purpose or telos can be derived from the natural sciences [4], it is the revelation of Scripture that provides the Christian with the warrant for God’s motives in creating the world. The upshot here is that if there are independent reasons for accepting God’s existence and the truth of Scripture, then, the reality of design can be warranted independent of the means by which biological diversity arose. Conversely, the reality of evolution as the means of achieving biological diversity shouldn’t undermine the conviction of purpose.

How then can this “designed evolution” be conceived? The typical response is that the process of evolution does not appear to be designed or have any particular goal, so, to call it designed is a contradiction in terms. However, I think that a rebuttal can be formulated by analogy. How often is the course of human history perceived to be completely out of control or undirected or even going opposite of expectations? By all appearances, human history does not have an obvious end goal. Nevertheless, aren’t Christians still committed to the idea that God is in control of the events of human history, guiding them to an expected end? Of course, but the warrant for this isn’t found from examining history and deriving a purpose. Rather, it is warranted by what has been revealed in passages such as Isaiah 46:8-10

“Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
    remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
    the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.

If God is in control of a seemingly purposeless enterprise such as human history, then, it seems perfectly consistent to posit His control over the similarly seemingly purposeless enterprise of evolution.

What’s the point? First, this is not a positive case stating this is the way things are or even the way I think things are. Rather, it’s to illustrate that the idea of purposed/directed evolution appears to be an intrinsically consistent idea or at least as consistent as purposed/directed human history. Second, this isn’t to say that there aren’t independent objections to this idea. One could posit scientific difficulties to the theory of evolution or posit hermeneutic difficulties concerning Genesis 1-3; however, these concerns are, as mentioned, independent of the objection that purposed evolution is self-contradictory.

It has been said that the investigation of Christian evidences…

It has been said that the investigation of Christian evidences is on the whole unsatisfactory, because the point to which it is intended to lead the inquiry is known beforehand. This objection is very much in accordance with the habit of mind which loves a considerable degree of uncertainty, and which wishes to make the first elements of truth a mere field for speculation. But if this objection be good, will it not apply to other subjects also? For instance, in mathematical studies we know very well as soon as a theorem is enunciated what the point is which the teacher intends to prove. We are not instructed how to demonstrate that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, in order that this should afterwards be in our minds a debatable question, but we learn the demonstration that this may thenceforth be held as an established and unquestionable fact. Just so is it as to the evidence for the records of our religion. We do not prove the genuineness of the New Testament books on any grounds of mere opinion, so that what seems established today by be overturned tomorrow, but we demonstrate it by evidence, which loses no part of its value by lapse of time, any more than time can weaken the force of a mathematical demonstration.

– S.P. Tregelles (from A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament, 1851)