1. We have added a Gift Upgrades feature that allows you to gift an account upgrade to another member, just in time for the holiday season. You can see the gift option when going to the Account Upgrades screen, or on any user profile screen.
    Dismiss Notice

Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Masada

    Masada Koi-san!

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2005
    Messages:
    12,509
    Location:
    Osaka
    There was (and may still be) a strand of Christianity which holds that since God is all merciful and forgives all sins there cannot be 'Hell' as we conceive of it. There's another strand which was a bit of a toure de force in Christianity which had a slight variation on that theme, it held that all must eventually be forgiven for their sins, irregardless of what they did or did not do in life -- so 'Hell' might be debunked on that point. Dante's Hell, it seems, is optional. That's a bit further afield that Annihilationism and Conditional Immortality and goes by the name Universal reconciliation and is part and parcel of Christian Universalism, or so I understand.
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,793
    Location:
    Somerset
    [Maimonides] Thanks for the explanation - as usual!

    Both Matthew and Luke describe the circumstances of Jesus' birth (Mark and John introduce him as an adult). However, the stories they tell are very different and not easy to reconcile.

    I'm not sure about this. I think that Dante was influential but mainly as a populariser of Thomism. I think that Paradise Lost was also influential, but on popular piety rather than on anything original. I can't really think of any examples of the kind of think you're talking about.

    I don't know what you mean by that.

    I'm sure it lends credence to what he's saying. However, one of the problems with this passage is that the resurrection appearance to five hundred witnesses isn't mentioned in any other source whatsoever, so we know nothing about it. It seems inexplicable that Luke should not see fit to mention it in Acts, for example! This is just part of the notorious problem of getting some kind of consistent story by comparing all the resurrection accounts in the New Testament.

    I'm afraid I must disagree completely with Moss on this one. Let me be clear what "heaven" and "hell" actually are, to start with.

    The primitive Christian belief was in the resurrection of the dead. Christians believed that, at the end of time, everyone would be physically raised from the dead, judged, and sent off to their eternal reward. This is the "new heaven and new earth" described at the end of Revelation. It is an idea that comes straight from Pharisaic theology, and this is why it is so important in Paul's writings, since he was a Pharisee and interpreted Jesus' resurrection as a Pharisee would: as a sign that the end of time was nigh.

    However, as MagisterCultuum says, many people in antiquity believed that the soul was immaterial and immortal, and that it survives the death of the body. Many Christians also believed this and indeed just took it for granted. There are also some passages of the Bible that seem to support it (mainly the story of Dives and Lazarus). So a complex belief developed which combined these two ideas - the idea of the resurrection of the dead and the idea of the immortality of the soul. Many Christians believed that when you die, your soul goes somewhere nice (or nasty), but only temporarily. When Christ returns, your body is raised and reunited with your soul, and then you go off to your eternal reward (or punishment). We can see hints of this in earlier writers such as Tertullian, but it becomes fully explicit in Augustine.

    On this view, "heaven" and "hell" refer not to the individual's final destination but to the interim state after death but before resurrection. Augustine believed that the soul, in this state, is granted a sort of foretaste of its final destiny, so that the souls of those who will be saved exist in a blissful state and the souls of those who will be damned exist in a painful state.

    These ideas became more codified in the Middle Ages, when purgatory was also introduced (this is another temporary state between death and resurrection, but an unpleasant one where the soul is purified to make it ready to be with God for all eternity). It also became official doctrine in the fourteenth century that the souls of the saints, currently in heaven (since saints skip purgatory), are directly united to God (and therefore worth praying to).

    At the reformation, many Protestants argued that the whole immortality of the soul thing, complete with the doctrines of heaven, hell, and purgatory, was just paganism that had become unfortunately introduced into Christianity. The doctrine of "soul sleep" therefore became popular, according to which there is no life after death, no heaven, and no hell - until the time when Christ returns and everyone is resurrected. This, it was felt, is a more biblical view of the matter. Martin Luther subscribed to this and so did Matthew Tyndale, who wrote:

    So the answer to Flying Pig's question is, yes, certainly one can be a Christian without believing in heaven and hell - at least if Martin Luther counts as a Christian. Personally I think that the notion that resurrection is biblical and immortality of the soul is pagan is too simplistic, although there is truth to it. However, I also think that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is much harder to defend rationally than the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. It seems to me more probable that God should, through his omnipotence, raise the dead at the end of time in one big miracle than that we should all have an immortal soul, with all the well-known difficulties associated with that view.

    Moss seems to have taken the question to be about merely life after death, though. Can one be a Christian without believing in any kind of life after death? Well, there are certainly people who call themselves Christians who do so - Don Cupitt and the Sea of Faith people are the most obvious, but I think there are plenty of others, including many who believe in the objective existence of God and other traditional metaphysical doctrines, who still don't believe in either the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body. I don't see why they shouldn't be called Christians for that. They would, of course, consider the Bible's talk of "eternal life" and "resurrection" to be mythological language which expresses something more immediate and earthly. Most existentialist theologians (which is to say, most theologians of the middle part of the twentieth century) would probably adopt an interpretation along those lines. It's just part of demythologisation.

    Finally, as for the fate of the damned, there is of course an ancient tradition in Christianity that divine punishment is temporary and that ultimately everyone will be saved, even those languishing in hell or in the pit of fire described in Revelation. There are plenty of arguments for this from a Christian perspective which I consider to be very good. Famous ancient universalists include Clement of Alexandria (probably), Origen (probably), Titus of Bostra, and St Gregory of Nyssa. Later, this view was largely suppressed, at least in the western church, but obviously in modern times it has become far more popular. I should think the vast majority of theologians in modern times have not subscribed to the doctrine of genuinely eternal damnation. Some of those might subscribe to the doctrines of annihilationism or conditional immortality that MagisterCultuum mentions, but I think that most probably just think that ultimately everyone will be saved - since that is what God wills, and God's will cannot be thwarted.

    (Of course, hardline Reformed traditionally deny that God wills the salvation of all - early modern theologians such as Pierre Jurieu argued that God actively wants most people to be damned - but I don't think you'll find many defenders of that view today.)
     
  3. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    May 1, 2002
    Messages:
    6,584
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Plotinus...you and I aren't disagreeing, at least about the Heaven part.

    (which is why I put Heaven in parenthesis "Heaven" - I didn't feel like explaining all of the different views that people hold of the resurrection of the body). And obviously Arminianism and Calvinism and liberal and conservative churches today disagree a lot about the theological implications of pre-destination, free-will, election, ect...

    I would disagree with you on this; however:

    By that definition, almost anyone can call themselves a Christian that believes in God. Which is fine, people can call themselves whatever they want. However; if you disregard the Bible and scripture...what's the point? Where's the Christianity in the theology?? They believe in God, but Christianity seems to imply "Christ" in it's definition, doesn't it? And doesn't it also imply that Christ was more than just a good teacher? Because, after all, I agree with C.S. Lewis that if Christ wasn't divine, he was quite crazy.

    Edit: Have you read Timothy Keller's - The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism? If so, any thoughts on it? (if not, I encourage you to read it).
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,793
    Location:
    Somerset
    I don't follow the argument. Yes, clearly being a Christian is going to involve thinking that Jesus is important (I phrased that as vaguely and widely as I could). Now that alone does not, I would say, imply that Jesus was more than just a good teacher. But I'll grant that most Christians (all right, "all", for the sake of argument) would say that he was. But that isn't the same thing as thinking that he was divine. The Arians certainly thought that Jesus was far more than just a good teacher, but they didn't think he was divine. Does that mean they weren't Christians? I can't think why it would.

    And I don't see the connection of any of that to the Bible. One may think Jesus more than merely human; one may even think him divine and agree with Chalcedonian orthodoxy regarding his person in every detail; but disregard the Bible entirely, without being inconsistent. Of course, in practice there probably aren't many people with that view, but there's nothing inconsistent about it.

    People have, perhaps, argued about what makes someone a Christian ever since the apostles had shouting matches about gentiles. Personally I don't really see any reason not to categorise someone who calls themselves "Christian" as a Christian. That is a sociological approach to categorisation rather than a theological one. Someone who is a Christian may hold that some of the people who call themselves Christians are wrong about various things - perhaps various very important things - and perhaps may even hold that some of these people will not be saved. But still I wouldn't see any reason, even from that standpoint, not to call them "Christians" at all. Of course since I'm not a Christian I certainly don't see any such reason. I don't think one can pin down the definition of "Christian" to any particular doctrine or set of doctrines, certainly not ones as tendentious as the divinity of Christ or the authority of the Bible; attempts to make these definitional of Christianity are ultimately just partisan attempts to make one group of Christians "proper" Christians and the rest not "proper".

    Part of the reason for that is that the same doctrines, or at least the same words, mean very different things to different people. The vast majority of Christians today affirm the faith expressed in the Nicene Creed on a regular basis, and they all do so quite sincerely, but believe me, they do not all interpret it as meaning the same thing.

    As for C.S. Lewis' argument, there are philosophical theologians today who defend it. But personally I think it is a terrible argument. Not just one but both of its major premises are arguably false and at the very least uncertain, so it is valueless in proving its conclusion, as far as I can see.

    I haven't read it. I've just had a look at his website and read the introduction though. It seems like an intelligent and very fair-minded approach. He is surely right that many criticisms of various doctrines are based on prejudices or dogmas which should also be examined. I also like his insistence on mutual understanding and rational debate. It sounds from his introduction that he has quite a narrow understanding of what Christianity itself is, though. It always worries me when authors (generally evangelicals of a more or less conservative nature) use words like "orthodox" or "historic" to refer to doctrines associated with their own brand of Christianity - that again is partisanship. There is nothing wrong with arguing for such doctrines or defending them, but don't misrepresent them.
     
  5. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2002
    Messages:
    10,955
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    I think you misrepresent Lewis' argument if we're talking about the "mad, bad or God" trilemma. AFAIK it was supposed to be an answer to the "Jesus was a hippie and a great moral teacher" types, not an independent argument.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,793
    Location:
    Somerset
    I'm not sure what you mean. Certainly Lewis presented it as a response to those who argued that Jesus was a good man but nothing more - but it's supposed to prove that he wasn't just a good man and nothing more. But I'm not convinced by his reasoning.
     
  7. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    May 1, 2002
    Messages:
    6,584
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Just for reference, here's the Lewis quote (From Mere Christianity):

     
  8. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2005
    Messages:
    18,464
    Location:
    Quinquagesimusermia
    Yeah, it's pretty weak. The trilemma is as follows:

    The problem with this is that it assumes that Jesus did speak as if he was God. It can simply be that the statements by Jesus recorded in the Gospels are being misinterpreted, and do not constitute claims to divinity. Or it can be that the historicity of these claims to divinity are false. Some of the statements certainly could have been invented by the authors of the NT, seeking to glorify Jesus. It's a false trilemma.
     
  9. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2005
    Messages:
    49,301
    Location:
    Stamford Bridge
    But assuming that what is written in the gospels is true, it sounds about right to me. (if your assessment of the trilemma is right)
     
  10. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,865
    You also can say that while Jesus did have a delusion in his divinity, the moral norms he preached were sound.
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,793
    Location:
    Somerset
    Well, first, the Gospels don't represent Jesus as going about claiming to be God. In fact, clear affirmations of Jesus' divinity are hard to find in the Gospels, and they are all a bit ambiguous to some degree. Those who argue that, in the Gospels, Jesus claims to be God, generally argue along the lines that Jesus did or said things that effectively or implicitly represented a claim to divinity. But any argument along those lines is going to be weakened simply by the fact that, at the very least, we cannot be sure what these sayings or actions would have meant to Jesus and his listeners.

    Apart from all this, of course, the assumption that Jesus really said and did all the things attributed to him in the Gospels is rather a large assumption, and probably not one that anyone not already committed to belief in Jesus' divinity will be prepared to make.

    Now I know that Stephen Davis, at least, has written on this issue and argued that even the bits of the Gospels which most critics accept as preserving authentic sayings of Jesus represent implicit claims to divinity. But I think this is a weak argument, for two reasons. The first is the one I gave above, that we can't be sure that these sayings or whatever really would have carried such overtones. And the second is that it still assumes that those sayings are authentic. But there's no way anyone could be sure of that. If most critics do not dispute the authenticity of Saying A, that does not mean that Saying A is authentic - it just means we have no particular reason to suppose that it is not. Of course there can be degrees of probability here, and there are perhaps some sayings or actions attributed to Jesus which are very probably authentic, but even then we can never be sure that we have the precise form of words.

    However, besides all this, I think the argument really falls down on its major premise, not its minor. No matter how much we may argue about whether Jesus claimed to be divine or not, I don't see any reason to suppose that, if he made such a claim, he must have been either insane or actually divine. To suppose this is to transfer the mindset of modern, western, middle-class people to first-century Palestine. How do we know that anyone sincerely but mistakenly claiming divinity, in that society, must have been mad? Take the Dalai Lama. He believes himself to be not only a reincarnation of all his predecessors but an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. If the person living next door to me made such a claim I'd probably think him mad, but that's because such a claim would be so out of kilter with how people in our society think. For people from the Dalai Lama's society it is not, and indeed the Dalai Lama is obviously neither mad nor an arrogant fraud. Could we therefore frame a parallel version of Lewis' "trilemma" to "prove" that the Dalai Lama really is the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara? No, because for someone from his background, to claim sincerely to be the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is perfectly consistent with being sane (irrespective of whether the claim is true or not). How can we know that something like this doesn't apply to first-century Palestine?

    It's important to bear in mind that the claim that this argument is supposed to be establishing - that Jesus really was God - is quite a startling and, on the face of it, improbable claim. You need very good and well supported premises to support a conclusion with such intrinsic improbability. But the "trilemma" does not have very well supported premises - on the contrary, it has premises which are both controversial and far from evidently true, and both of them could well be simply false. That, in my view, makes it a bad argument.
     
  12. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2005
    Messages:
    49,301
    Location:
    Stamford Bridge
    I'm curious... the infamous line: "Forgive them father, for they don't know what they do" (quoting from memory, so it may be slightly inaccurate).. does that not appear in the Bible then?

    BTW your thoughts on the Dalai Lama are spot on. I don't usually post in this thread - but I tend to read it often, for interesting insights like that.
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,793
    Location:
    Somerset
    Certainly it does! But why would that be a claim to divinity? He's saying that the soldiers executing him don't realise that they are carrying out a perversion of justice, and he's asking God to forgive them. Nothing divine about that, admirable though it may be. At least, that's a perfectly reasonable interpretation.
     
  14. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,054
    Location:
    In orbit
    (I've shortened the quote a bit for reasons of clarity.) It seems quite obvious that Jesus - a Jew, and a zealous one at that - could not, in all probability, claim to be God; that would be utter blasphemy in Jewish eyes. (And quite rightly so, in accordance with the First Commandment.) It is only in early Christianity - that is, when Judaism and Christianity develop in alternate directions - that the claim that Jesus be God does arise. Interestingly, this had then not yethappened when the gospels and Paul's letters were being written down. (In other words, the doctrine of Jesus' divinity had not yet been developed or, more accurately, had not yet become dominant.) Even when the doctrine of Jesus' divinity had developed, it was not uncontested, to say the least, possibly for precisely this reason. I reckon it would take the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (that there is one God, but three persons) to reasonably present the case of Jesus' divinity. I suppose that is a relic of Christianity's Judaic roots still extant today - just as the entire 'Old Testament' is, which makes up the bulk of the bible.

    At any rate, from the gospels it would appear that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (i.e. Christ, the Saviour) - and even this emerged only gradually, judging from his delivered teachings as per the gospel texts.
     
  15. Sidney Magal

    Sidney Magal Latin Lover

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2009
    Messages:
    201
    Location:
    Brazil
    I guess my question got lost a couple of pages ago. I'd like to know more about why god created the world. If any of you could just tell me the name of this field in theology, I'd be happy to do some searching by myself. Thank you very much.
     
  16. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2005
    Messages:
    49,301
    Location:
    Stamford Bridge
    Yeah, that makes sense. So there's nowhere in the Bible where it is explicitly stated that Jesus is the son of God, then?

    So where did this notion come from?
     
  17. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2007
    Messages:
    15,971
    Location:
    Kael's head
    Plotinus has frequently said that while it does call him the Son of God (or just The Son), that at the time it was written that would be a normal way to refer to any righteous man. Neither then nor today do Jews have a problem with the idea that "we are all God's children." Also "son of ___" in the ancient world could often also mean a follower of someone rather than an actual physical descendant. (Iirc, at least one place in the Aeneid refers to all the Trojan escaping to Italy as Aeneas's sons (using the actual word for son, if you count the adjective typically translated as son of Aeneas then it probably calls them that hundreds of times), even though it makes it clear that only Iulus was his physical progeny.)
     
  18. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2002
    Messages:
    10,955
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    John 8 is the first I could call up when quickly leafing through wherein Jesus seems to claim divinity or at least very many of its trappings: I am from above, I am not of this world, you shall know I am the Son of Man when I am uplifted/exalted, my Father sent me, the Father is with me, I am with the Father, if God were your Father you would love Me, he who is of God hears God's words but you're not listening to me so you're not of God, Abraham rejoiced to see My day, before Abraham was I AM...

    And what's with that "Son of Man" prophecy from Daniel that keeps appearing in the Gospels, anyway?
     
  19. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,054
    Location:
    In orbit
    I'd refer back to the previous post. (The Christian concept of Son of God has become quite distinctive from the Judaic concept of Son of Man over time. Also, taking sample texts - especially from John, the last of the gospels - is hazardous at best as concerns any personal claim of Jesus to divinity. The gospels weren't intended as historical documents - which they are regardless -, but as propaganda fides; no literal quotes of Jesus can be attested directly and what biblical quotes may be judged in accordance to Jesus' own teachings cannot be directly inferred from the NT without proper linguistic/philological research - which has been conducted, and to an extent still is being conducted. I'm sure Plotinus can explain all this in quite more detail.)
     
  20. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    May 1, 2002
    Messages:
    6,584
    Location:
    Minnesota
    So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven... (Matthew 10:32)

    Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (Matthew 10:40)

    Those are just a couple of examples. Does Christ specifically say, I am the son of God? No (although John's gospel is certainly the one that tries to make that point the most). However, it can certainly be implied that Christ is Lord and has an intimate relationship with God since he is saying that whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

    Edit: There are also his followers assertions - Matthew 16:16 - Peter calls Jesus, Christ, son of the living God. And the demons fell down before him calling him the son of God as well...
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page