(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.
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.
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)
Monothelitism is a Christological “heresy” which states that Christ has two natures (divine and human) and one will; this is in opposition to dyotheletism which states that Christ has two natures (divine and human) and two wills (divine and human). Why the scare quotes around heresy? First, monothelitism was indeed condemned in 681 at the Third Council of Constantinople making it a formal heresy. However, from a Protestant position, these Councils, while helpful, are not authoritative. This means there is the distinct possibility for the council-members to make an error and unintentionally condemn something that’s not actually contrary to Scripture (alternatively, they could affirm something that is contrary to Scripture).
Is monothelitism an actual heresy running contrary to the fundamental teaching of Scripture? I think that it depends on the relation between will and nature. The motivation for the Third Council of Constantinople was to combat monophysitism: the teaching that Christ has one nature. This certainly is an actual heresy, running contrary to the Scriptural teaching of the hypostatic union. The truths that need to be held in balance are that (1) Christ is one person and (2) he has two natures. This is where presuppositions come into play.
There are two broad camps when it comes to the topic of will: combatibilists and libertarians. Compatibilists generally describe the will as a property of one’s nature. An individual wills to do something out of what her nature is. On the other hand, libertarians generally describe the will as a property of the person. An individual wills to do something out of who she is and not out of what she is . Libertarians would say where there is a will, there is a person (inb4 “where there’s a will there’s a way”).
Now, suppose that you’re a compatibilist and you hear that Christ has two natures; it follows naturally that Christ has two wills. If He only has one will, that would mean He only has one nature which is heretical. Suppose instead you’re a libertarian and you hear that Christ is one person; it follows quite naturally that Christ has one will. If He has two wills, that would make Him two persons which is super heretical.
In other words, monothelitism is a heresy within the compatabilist framework and dyotheletism is a heresy in the libertarian framework. It seems to me that in order to maintain monothelitism as a true heresy, one would have to demonstrate that libertarianism is incoherent in its rendering of wills as properties of persons instead of natures.
 This is not to say that libertarians deny one’s nature playing into one’s decisions. Soft libertarians posit that one’s nature provides the range or spectrum of choices available to an individual in certain circumstances but does not ultimately arbitrate which decision is made. This is in contradistinction to compatibilism which typically posits that the range of decisions consists of one member. This entire paragraph is a broad generalization and I recognize the shortcomings of its brevity.
The chief point to keep in mind about a hypothesis, or theory, is that it is to be cast aside for one that is better the moment the facts indicate the existence of a better. It is the traceless and eternal war of facts against superstition, predisposition, bias, and error which science undertakes to wage. This inductive method is pursued in physical science everywhere, and in the social sciences also, in economics, civics, sociology, and now at length in ethics and religion. Evolution and criticism both erect their intellectual structures with the stones blasted in the wary of the inductive method.
We have no option as defenders of Christianity. Of all people, we must not turn our faces away from an enterprise which first of all sets out in quest of facts. We hold that eternal facts, the most solid of all realities, are the contents of our Christian faith. We maintain that the only adequate hypothesis to account for a vast mass of facts is the Christian hypothesis, and that verification in all its legitimate forms in the personal and moral realm may be applied to the hypothesis successfully.
– Edgar Young Mullins (from Why Is Christianity True?, 1905)
“If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically.” – Douglas Wilson
Mr. Wilson is hitting on an interesting notion in the worldview of naturalism. It seems that if our minds are the products of naturalistic evolution, then there wouldn’t be any reason to think we can think reasonably. Such is the basis for the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Let’s start off with a few definitions.
I think that the argument from contingency (or Leibnizian Cosmological Argument) is one of the more underrated arguments for the existence of God. Let’s start off with some definitions.
Necessity: A being’s existence is metaphysically necessary if it cannot fail to exist; the being exists in all possible worlds.
Contingency: A thing is contingent if it could exist and it could have failed to exist. For example, the Earth’s existence is contingent. It exists but it could have failed to exist (indeed, at one point the Earth didn’t exist). The explanation of a contingent thing’s existence is an external cause.
The Argument Stated
- Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause (i.e. it is contingent).
- If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is what we call God
- The universe is an existing thing.
- From 1 and 3 it follows: The universe has an explanation of its existence
- From 2 and 4 it follows: The explanation for the existence of the universe is God
Last time, I presented a deductive argument which demonstrated that including “Animals died in Adam” in the theological premise set generated a troubling dilemma: either animals are included in the plan of salvation or Christ is not victorious over death. I suggested replacing this controversial premise with “Animal death is incidental” to escape the dilemma. For convention, this premise will be referred to as the ‘incidental hypothesis’. The gist of this second part is pretty simple. Essentially, if the authors of Scripture had a certain view of animal death, then we would expect particular passages.
First, let’s consider the common view held by Neo-Ussherians (aka young-Earth creationists). Suppose that animal death is indeed an effect of sin and one of the bleak realities of this fallen, cursed world. Take a moment to get into the mindset of an inspired author of Scripture. The Holy Spirit has come upon him as he reflects upon the natural order. His thoughts turn to the ecosystem, the circle of life, and animal predation. We would expect him to be overcome with sorrow at the dreadful system in place. He would pick up his pen and lament the death of antelope, zebras, and the like.
Next, let’s consider the incidental hypothesis. All of the conditions are the same except, the author doesn’t view animal death as something wrong with the world. Instead, animal death is something incidental, much like the Sun rising in the East instead of the West. If this is the case, as he reflects upon the circle of life, we would not expect him to be overcome with sorrow. He would mention animal predation as a neutral component of the world. These two statements can be summarized as follows:
(Okay, the title was a bit misleading. I’m only going to address the issue of death before the fall of man and not actually totally rebut the Neo-Ussherian hypothesis)
One of the common touch-points in discussing the age of the universe is the issue that the old earth hypothesis requires animal death to be in the world before the fall of man. The argument is often made by Neo-Ussherians (aka young earth creationists) that having animal death in the world before the fall of man is theologically unacceptable. I will attempt to demonstrate (via two arguments) that this is not the case and, in fact, it is the Neo-Ussherian position which is theologically problematic. First, I will present a deductive argument that leads to one of three conclusions: (a) animal death is incidental, (b) animals are included in the plan of salvation, or (c) Christ was not victorious over death. Second, I will present an inductive argument that aims to show the Scriptural data is more probable on the hypothesis that animal death is incidental. Finally, it is important to note the scope of these arguments. If they are completely valid and sound, they will not completely rebut the young earth hypothesis. The entire purpose is to demonstrate that the issue of animal death before the fall is not a substantial objection to the old earth hypothesis.