Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

It Just Fits Together So Well!

puzzle piecesNot long ago, fellow blogger John Zande wrote an excellent post titled “Jesus Christ: Just Not Worth a Sheet of Paper.” It’s actually not as derogatory as the title suggests. Some apologists have suggested that the reason we have no contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life is that paper was so expensive. That’s the argument John deals with in his post.

His post is great — you should read it. But what I actually want to write about is one of the comments that someone left on it. Diana of NarrowWayApologetics.com left a lengthy comment that I decided to include here in its entirety. I identified with it a bit. It reminded me of some of the thoughts I used to have as a Christian:

One of the main reasons people believed Paul was because he explained the reason for Jesus coming into the world. His teachings were amazing. They explained how Jesus “fulfilled the law and the prophets.” I wrote this comment in response to John Zande’s comment on my blog last night. Forgive me for posting it here. Just ignore if you don’t want to read it.

“This passage about Jesus fulfilling the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17-20) is one of the main reasons I believe the Gospel message. The incredible ways that Jesus did this are beyond human ability to create. I don’t think any mystery writer could have weaved together the incredible ways Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets.

I know this post is long, so if you want to skip the parts between the dotted lines, I understand. I just wrote it for anyone who might be interested.

———
First of all, there are many ways Jesus fulfilled the law. In fact, believers are constantly astounded by how intricately Jesus fulfilled the law.

One way he fulfilled the law was by fulfilling the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day of rest that the Jews were commanded to obey. Jesus fulfilled the law of the Sabbath by becoming our rest for us. (Hebrews 4:9-11) He said his burden was light and his yoke was easy. Christians no longer practice the Sabbath. They worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday. They enter into his rest and no longer do religious works for salvation. (They are saved by grace through faith.)

Jesus fulfilled the law when he became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His death on the cross was similar to the Exodus story, which described the lamb, whose blood would be placed on the doorposts of the home, causing the death angel to pass over that home. (Hebrews 9)

Jesus fulfilled the law when he became the unleavened bread of the Exodus story. Leaven is a symbol of sin and false teaching (1 Cor. 5:6-8, Matt. 16:12). Jesus fulfilled this feast by being sinless and being the TRUTH.

Another way that Jesus fulfilled the law was by becoming a tithe (firstfruits) for us. (Leviticus 23:10) He fulfilled the tithe by becoming the firstfruits from the dead when he was resurrected. (1 Cor. 15:20) Christians are no longer bound by a tithe, instead we are told to be cheerful givers. We are also promised that there will be a resurrection for us because of what Christ did for us.

Jesus fulfilled the law when he became a light to the Gentiles. In the law of Moses, the people were commanded to leave behind the gleanings (or leftovers) of the harvest for the poor and aliens. (Lev. 23:22) This would be fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down and the gospel was preached in all languages, offering salvation to all, not just the Jews. (Acts 10:34-35)

These fulfillments of the law were actually the first 4 feasts that would be celebrated every year by the Jews. They would be celebrated according to the seasons. The feasts celebrated during the early rains were the fulfilled at the time of the early church. Three more feasts are waiting to be fulfilled at the end of the age (or at the time of the latter rains). These three feasts are the feast of trumpets (representing the return of Jesus), the feast day of atonement (representing the salvation of the Jews), and the feast of tabernacles (representing the time when we will all be with the Lord).

There are so many other ways in which Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets. And none of it has to do with Jesus expecting or commanding Christians to obey the law to perfection. It has to do with how it’s impossible for anyone to keep the law. That is why Jesus came. How could any human conceive of a way to have even a made-up, fictional character fulfill all these things? And I’ve barely scratched the surface of the way Jesus accomplished these things.

The greatest concern I feel burdened about is how to convey the magnificence of what I’m trying to explain. He was the manna from heaven. He was the living water. He was the high priest in the order of Melchizedek. He is the “I AM.” He is the Word become flesh. He became a slave for us. (Philippians 2:7) He became a curse for us. He became sin for us, so we could become righteous before God. He offers us mercy because his blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. All of this is explained in the scriptures.

I haven’t even begun to explain the way Jesus fulfilled the prophets.

——–

The story of Jewish history and the giving of the law is actually a way to PROVE the reality of God’s plan for the salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ. One random fact doesn’t prove anything, but the cumulative effect of ALL the fulfillments makes the Bible a miraculous book. This is why some of the brightest and best minds in the history of the world have loved and received Jesus. It isn’t a decision based on emotion alone, but a decision based on knowledge. And the more I learn, the more I am in awe of what God did and how he accomplished it.”

To say that the story of Jesus was just created by pasting together myths, fictional narratives, sayings, and borrowed phrases (as Ken Humphreys does) is a ridiculous claim because only a Christ could have conceived of a Christ. Who could have created the amazing Jesus portrayed in the Gospels and explained further by Paul?

Of course, I now see that there are several problems with this line of thinking. In 2015, Star Wars Episode 7 is supposed to hit theaters. Will it shock anyone if the movie syncs up perfectly with the previous 6? The thing is, when there is already an established back story, it’s not impossible to construct a narrative that builds upon it. The fact that we as readers see the parallels between the stories of Jesus and events in the Old Testament is not an accident. The authors intended for us to see those parallels, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t have invented them — even if Jesus was a real person.

Matthew is one of the best books to look to for evidence of this. Matthew is the only book that tells of Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s infanticide. Both events, fleeing to Egypt and the infanticide, seem to be inspired by Matthew’s reading of the Old Testament. Hosea 11:1 says, “out of Egypt, I called my son.” Matthew says that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus’ family returned after fleeing to Egypt. But when you read the entire chapter of Hosea 11, it’s very evident that the passage has nothing to do with the Messiah, but is simply talking about Israel’s period of captivity in Egypt.

Matthew also claims that Herod’s slaughter of infants in Bethlehem was to fulfill this prophecy:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.

But once again, when we read all of Jeremiah 31, this was no prophecy at all. The chapter is talking about Israel’s captivity in Assyria. Nothing else.

The author of Matthew took these passages and used them to add parallels to the story about Jesus’ birth. It didn’t require magic or divine inspiration to do that — it only took knowledge of these passages. Just like the people working on Star Wars 7 don’t need divine intervention to let them know about Darth Vader.

Diana ends her comment by asking who could have created such a compelling story. Who could have created Christ? But why couldn’t we ask this about anyone? Who could have created Darth Vader? He’s quite a compelling character himself. Who could have created someone as magnificent as Santa Claus? Or Paul Bunyan? Or Achilles? Or King Arthur? Just asking this question doesn’t really mean anything. If Jesus never existed, then someone did just create his story. Or if he was a real person, but not divine, then his story was embellished. We have to draw our conclusions about Jesus based on the evidence, including the fact that Matthew seemed to feel the need to create “prophecies” to give Jesus credibility.

354 thoughts on “It Just Fits Together So Well!”

  1. “They did find Noahs ark” – of course, they did, Laurie, they found wood that had been exposed to the elements and to scavengers looking for firewood, for five thousand years – you don’t by any chance sell swamp land in your spare time too, do you?

    Here’s a link for my evidence regarding the ark, now, I’ve shown you mine, you show me yours —

    As for who wrote the Torah, I have several sources, but it’s after midnight here, M’lady, and I intend getting some sleep, so sources for the Documentary Hypothesis will have to wait until tomorrow. To tide you over, if you have a copy and insomnia, you might peruse the Catholic Bible, aka, The New American Bible, specifically the section known as, “How the Bible Came About.”

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  2. Hi Howie, Arch & Laurie, sorry to take so long to get back after the fun and games are almost over, but we had an internet outage, then sleep, then a busy Friday.

    I’m pleased to see the “smarmy” stuff has become a matter of humour rather than seriousness. That’s how I responded from the start, and I still feel it deserves laughs rather than a serious response, so you didn’t need to worry there, Howie. My only query, Arch, is why you saw politeness as “ingratiating” and smarmy? I’m used to having my motivations criticised by online atheists who don’t know me, but why was Howie criticised? Just asking.

    Howie, I appreciate what you said about “This has been a small test on being evidence-based” perspective,and how you said it. I’ll try to explain.

    As one of the few christians on an atheist blog discussion, I am bound to generate some conflict. I vaguely recall from learning about conflict resolution that one of the major causes of conflict are “data errors” – where people are assuming different facts before they even start the discussion. So I tend not to focus on discussing beliefs any more, but try to focus (mostly) on clarifying the underlying facts. If we can’t even agree on the facts, then there is little point in discussing conclusions or beliefs. In that sense, a person’s attitude to factual matters is a test, but I don’t think that ever occurred to me until this discussion.

    The interesting, and sad, thing is that I have found that internet atheists so often don’t want to accept what are basically factual, or expert opinion, matters. For example, you’ll find heaps of atheists who will deny the probable existence of Jesus, or make some very grudging statement like “I suppose there might have been someone named Yeshua, but ….” But there is probably a stronger consensus among historians about a number of facts about Jesus than there is among scientists that evolution occurred or global warming is happening! So why don’t atheists accept the “minimum facts” established by the experts?

    The interesting thing is the reaction to my pressing for an evidence-based approach. You would hope people who claim to be rationalist would either offer good counter evidence, or agree they had not understood correctly, but it almost never happens. Instead I find people try to avoid the issue or obfuscate, or else find some odd maverick study or writer who somehow proves the main body of scientists or historians wrong (again, note the parallel with evolution and global warming). Or else they attack me and my presumed motives by ad hominems – anything it seems, to avoid facing the evidence. It doesn’t worry me – I cut my internet teeth on the ‘Why Won’t God Heal Amputees’ and the ‘Raving Atheists’ forums which are far nastier than Nate’s friendly blog – and so I sometimes keep pressing for an evidence-based response, or sometimes give up to avoid any nastiness.

    Most atheists argue religion shouldn’t be given any special respect (I agree), and that they should ‘call out’ christians for using faith rather than reason. Surely then they cannot object if I press them to live up to their stated ideals?

    I have probably set the cat among the pigeons with this comment, but I think you deserved an answer. You will be able to make your own judgments on the content of any responses. Best wishes.

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  3. @unklee

    The interesting, and sad, thing is that I have found that internet atheists so often don’t want to accept what are basically factual, or expert opinion, matters. For example, you’ll find heaps of atheists who will deny the probable existence of Jesus, or make some very grudging statement like “I suppose there might have been someone named Yeshua, but ….” But there is probably a stronger consensus among historians about a number of facts about Jesus than there is among scientists that evolution occurred or global warming is happening! So why don’t atheists accept the “minimum facts” established by the experts?

    You are a sanctimonious , disingenuous self -serving arse…a sentiment I am willing express where a fair number will be biting their tongues.
    I have absolutely no respect for your approach to these issue as you should be honest enough to state that your faith in this man-god precedes everything else.

    You cherry pick your religion and tip toe around the issues that you know damn well you are unable to provide a rational answer for then run for the cover of your expert consensus, but deftly ignore or sidestep crucial issues.

    That Finkelstein, Herzog and most of the worlds top archaeologists, Egyptologists and other experts in the relevant fields of study, including Christians and the leading Rabbis have clearly demonstrated that Moses the Exodus etc etc is all fiction should be evidence enough for even the most obtuse believer , such as yourself, to acknowledge that once circulated to a worldwide audience,(receptive or otherwise) the ramifications for the Abrahamic religions are colossal.

    Your ”consensus” of experts is worth little regarding the historicity of Yeshua. It is merely an opinion like everyone else and the sources/evidence for study are exactly the same as those available to everyone else, yet those outside your “Golden Circle” are given the brush off because their scholarly opinion does not fit your faith.

    There is no evidence for Nazareth at the time of Jesus and the ‘experts’ you love to trot out make no bones that there are vested interests at heart.

    Bagatti found zip and neither has anyone else to make any conclusive statements for a Jesus of Nazareth in this regard. Besides, the etymology of the word has nothing to do with a town village or ‘city’, and even you are aware of this.

    Study in such fields is progressing all the time and anyone with a internet connection or the willingness to visit a library can find an equal number of highly qualified scholars who will trash your precious biblical Jesus was a real person consensus in a flash.

    If you consider that a relevant degree is the be all and end of this field of study then one need look no further than Richard Carrier.
    Then there is Robert Price and Thomas Thompson.or Atwill or Kenneth Humphries.
    Ken ‘Chief’ has already offered you Spong.
    You are the one who refuse to accept expert opinion. And the current expert opinion states there is NO evidence for the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth.

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  4. Hey Uncle E,

    I totally understand your reply to me. I think some of this is worthy of further discussion but I have an insanely busy workday today and family stuff tonight so I’ll try replying in more detail this weekend.

    As far as Arch, I don’t think he was criticizing me – quite the opposite – I think he thought that I was “throwing back” smarmy attitude to you and playing a game and he got a kick out of what he thought he was seeing in that. He was actually very kind in his response to me when he realized that I was actually making a genuine effort to be polite. To be honest I can’t blame him for thinking I was being “smarmy”. There are times when I make a genuine effort to be polite but I pour it on a bit too much (which I do because on the internet we don’t have the benefit of seeing the body language and voice intonations that would very easily make clear the genuine attitude) and then I can see how it can look disingenuous.

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  5. RE: “My only query, Arch, is why you saw politeness as “ingratiating” and smarmy?” – not politeness in general, only yours – it smacked of manipulation experience that I strongly suspect you have.

    And this, I take it, is an effort to cause an issue between Howie and myself, where there was none:

    I’m used to having my motivations criticised by online atheists who don’t know me, but why was Howie criticised?

    Are you certain those are the only ones? Howie was certainly never criticized by me, nor by anyone else to the best of my knowledge.

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  6. Sorry I’ve been away for a little while.

    In response to the last couple of comments, all we have are opinions. Obviously, each of us feels that our opinion is the *correct* one, but none of us holds the patent on truth. We’re all just doing the best we can.

    When we have these kinds of discussions (which obviously we all enjoy), the audience that really matters is the silent one — the people who are watching this exchange, but not commenting. The rest of us have studied these issues enough that it’s unlikely we’ll change sides. Not to say it can’t happen, but there’s little evidence left of which we’re unaware. Trying to point to a smoking gun as the only piece of evidence that matters and then criticizing anyone who doesn’t accept the same conclusions we’ve come to about that evidence is unfair. Maybe Jesus lived, maybe he didn’t. As Howie, said, the cumulative evidence is such that none of us can say anything definitive about that, no matter how strong our beliefs about it may be. It’s a complex subject bound together with multiple lines of evidence and tons of emotional baggage. Is it any wonder we can’t all agree?

    So let’s please stop badgering one another about who cares about evidence and who doesn’t. It’s my belief that everyone who comments here cares about evidence. Just because someone is a believer does not mean they are unthinking, malicious, blind, stupid, or dishonest. And the same goes for non-believers. If you like, you can peruse my oldest articles and see how much of a fundamentalist believer I was, once upon a time. The one thing I can say about myself is that I have always been a free-thinker, even when I was a believer. I was simply on a journey that took some long detours. Who knows, even now I may not have reached my ultimate destination. And the same could apply to anyone. So let’s please be patient with one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

    Let’s assume that everyone here is trying to have an open mind. The second we stop having an open mind and looking for answers is the very moment that we stop caring about truth and start trying to maintain the status quo. May we all never stop searching for answers and never start thinking we’ve found them.

    And finally, let me speak to this part of UnkleE’s comment:

    The interesting thing is the reaction to my pressing for an evidence-based approach. You would hope people who claim to be rationalist would either offer good counter evidence, or agree they had not understood correctly, but it almost never happens. Instead I find people try to avoid the issue or obfuscate, or else find some odd maverick study or writer who somehow proves the main body of scientists or historians wrong (again, note the parallel with evolution and global warming). Or else they attack me and my presumed motives by ad hominems – anything it seems, to avoid facing the evidence. It doesn’t worry me – I cut my internet teeth on the ‘Why Won’t God Heal Amputees’ and the ‘Raving Atheists’ forums which are far nastier than Nate’s friendly blog – and so I sometimes keep pressing for an evidence-based response, or sometimes give up to avoid any nastiness.

    Most atheists argue religion shouldn’t be given any special respect (I agree), and that they should ‘call out’ christians for using faith rather than reason. Surely then they cannot object if I press them to live up to their stated ideals?

    UnkleE, I think you are justified in wanting people to accept and respect evidence. But if you’re expecting those individuals who don’t to own up to their imperfections, you’re going to be disappointed in most cases. Just as I’ll be disappointed if I expect all Christians to be Christ-like.

    If people claim to base their beliefs on evidence, but then show that they disregard it in their comments, then that will be obvious to everyone, even if those people never admit it. So I would encourage you to just not worry about it. Just give them enough rope to hang themselves.

    /rantOff 😉

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  7. Well… I enjoyed chatting with everyone here, but now that my injury is on the mend, the farm is calling and I have much to catch up on! I will visit again soon hopefully!

    Arch, I haven’t forgotten about your last post and after I catch up here, I will be researching that. So if you have time to post a link in the next week or so, I will do the same shortly after! Have a great weekend everyone, and keep searching!

    😉 me

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  8. Damn it Nate, you did it again! I keep searching for stuff that I disagree with you on and it’s hard to find!! What you have said here is incredibly well put and I think it is important. In fact this weekend I’m going to do a blog post regarding blogging styles and stuff like this instead of commenting further here, because I wonder if your readers might not be interested in it.

    You and I are so opinionated you’d think we’d have found a bunch of stuff we disagree on by now. 😉 So far all I’ve found is that you are a little bit more confident in your conclusions than I am.

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  9. @Howie

    Man, I feel the same way! Every time I read one of your posts or comments, it resonates with me completely. Guess that means we must be right! 😉

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  10. Uncle E: if you are not bored with our side topic yet I’d like it if we continue our discussion over at the post I just made on my blog. The end of my post offers a bit of a reply to you. Obviously if anyone else cares they are welcome to join.

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  11. Some sites have a tiny x to the upper right of the comment window, visible only to the author of the comment, that allows the author to delete an unwanted comment – I would delete the above comment if I could, as this is what I intended to post:

    So if you have time to post a link in the next week or so, I will do the same shortly after!

    @Laurie – I breathlessly await yours on Noah’s Ark, to dispute the one I sent you, debunking that myth – once we’ve resolved that issue, we can move on to the Gospel of the NT.

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  12. Nice post Nate. To further support your case, consider apocalyptic conspiracy theorists. They effortless – and intricately – transpose the imagery of Revelation, Daniel, and Matthew onto modern newspaper headlines. They do this in every generation, mapping the apocalyptic figures and events onto contemporary figures and events. They are always astonished at the alignment and the amazing way that the key fits the lock. And of course, they are always wrong. People confect fulfillments in most effortlessly.

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  13. I blogged through Romans a couple of years back and when realizing that Paul was doing this, too, I wondered about the Matthew passage.

    My post about this…

    I was still desperately trying to hold onto inerrancy at the time, so keep that in mind. The idea that it may not be true was totally not on my radar yet.

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  14. @Brisancian — thanks for the comment! And you’re absolutely right, of course.

    @Alice — Thanks for your comment Alice! I read your post, and very much enjoyed it. It’s a great little snapshot of that point in time where you were starting to see things differently, but hadn’t come to terms with them yet. I love things like that — they’re fascinating. I wish I had done that more with this blog. Instead, I just stopped posting for almost 2 years, while I was re-figuring everything out. I still have some emails from that time, but I wish I had chronicled it here as well.

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  15. “If people claim to base their beliefs on evidence, but then show that they disregard it in their comments, then that will be obvious to everyone, even if those people never admit it. So I would encourage you to just not worry about it. Just give them enough rope to hang themselves.”

    Hi Nate, I like what you say here, but if it was that simple, we’d have nothing left to discuss/argue over! It generally doesn’t work out the way you say, unfortunately.

    “So let’s please stop badgering one another about who cares about evidence and who doesn’t.”

    I like this too. But it is almost a staple of atheist thinking that christians care about faith and not evidence, and I have been hit with it too many times to count. And yet you ask me not to “return fire” when I think it is warranted? Do you think “your side” will stop making such claims on this blog? Would it not be better to request people to not make nasty or sly personal comments?

    Nevertheless, I don’t want to aggravate anyone and I respect what you are saying and will do my best to comply.

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  16. @unk, you might consider this to be one of those “nasty or sly personal comments,” but that’s a risk I’m willing to take – I noticed you saying such things as, “I like what you say here, but…” and, “I like this too. But…” – in doublespeak, does, “I like ___, but” mean, “I don’t like”?

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  17. “I would like things to be that way, but unfortunately they often are not.” vs “I like what you say here, but…” and, “I like this too. But…”

    How does that not mean, “I don’t like the way things are?”

    I mean, it’s OK to not like the way things are, but to say you do, then not – isn’t that a tad hypocritical?

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