Contradictions Part 5: Out of Egypt

The first post in this series can be found here.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, we aren’t told how or why Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem. We also aren’t told exactly how old Jesus was by the time the wise men came, but it’s possible that he was already a year or two old. And by the time they do arrive, Joseph and Mary are staying in a house (Matt 2:11). In 2:13-15, an angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt because of Herod. Then, once the threat was over, we’re told in verses 19-23 that they moved from Egypt to Nazareth, as though it was the first time they had ever been there. In fact, verse 22 says that Joseph wanted to go back to Judea, but was afraid of Herod’s successor.

Luke’s account is pretty different. In Luke 2:4, we see that Joseph and Mary were already living in Nazareth, but had to go to Bethlehem for a census. Several scholars have been puzzled by this reasoning, but that in itself is nothing conclusive. Luke agrees that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he says there was no room in the inn, so Jesus was laid in a manger after his birth. Luke has shepherds that visit, but there’s nothing about Herod or the wise men.

According to Luke, the family of three stays in Bethlehem until Mary’s time of purifying was over (Lev 12:1-8); this would have been about 6 weeks. Then they travelled to Jerusalem to perform the purification rituals. Once that was completed, they returned to Nazareth (Luke 2:39).

This is not merely an instance where Matthew provides more information than Luke – Luke actually doesn’t allow an opportunity for going to Egypt – nor does there seem to be any reason to. In Luke’s account, Joseph and Mary obviously weren’t concerned about Herod, because they went right into Jerusalem. In order to agree with Matthew, we could say that after their trip to Jerusalem, they returned to Bethlehem, where they met the wise men and were warned about Herod. But this disagrees with Luke 2:39 (where they go straight back to Nazareth), and it also doesn’t make any sense. If their home was in Nazareth, as Luke says, why would they return to Bethlehem?

We could also try to find agreement by saying that they left Bethlehem for Jerusalem, went to Nazareth, and then fled to Egypt. But Matthew says that Herod’s murder of the infants only happened in Bethlehem, so there would be no need to leave Nazareth. In fact, if they left Bethlehem to escape the infanticide, why not just go straight to Nazareth?

Here’s what I think: Jesus was from Nazareth. Jews believed that the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), as seen in John 1:46, when Nathanael asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth. So Matthew and Luke both needed to have Jesus born in Bethlehem. Matthew simply had Joseph and Mary start out there. But then he needed a reason to have Jesus come to Nazareth, so he devised Herod’s slaughter of the infants, which no historian ever recorded, even those who weren’t fans of Herod. In creating the infanticide, he also found an opportunity to work in the “out of Egypt” “prophecy” that we talked about earlier.

Luke decided to start Jesus out in Nazareth and used a census to bring him down to Bethlehem. Again, most scholars have been puzzled by this since it also seems a little contrived. [Note: After all, Luke says they needed to go to Bethlehem for the census because Joseph was of David’s lineage. But David lived a thousand years before these events – can you imagine the upheaval that would occur if every family had to go back to the hometown of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grand father (could be more, depending on the genealogy you use) every time there was a census?] Once Luke had them in Bethlehem, it simply makes sense for Mary and Joseph to wait there until they could present Jesus at the temple. From there, they simply went home to Nazareth.

The bottom line is that these accounts are widely divergent when it comes to the details. The most likely explanation seems to be that they were written by two people who knew that Jesus was from Nazareth, but came up with different ideas about how he could have been from Bethlehem too.

In the next post, we’ll look at the conflicts surrounding Jesus’s genealogy.


  1. Incredible research. I’ve studied the bible in great detail, especially the gospels, and I’ve never noticed this conflict. Just a note, when reading about geneology, at least in my translation, both lines seem to follow Joseph, but supposedly one follows Mary — this is how it was explained before I read it. If you know the answer, please provide a little info. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Yes, people often try to explain the genealogies by saying that one of them is through Joseph and one is through Mary. But you’re right — both genealogies claim Joseph. So the answer to this is that Luke’s genealogy (though some people claim it’s Matthew’s) is actually talking about Mary’s line because Mary was the only child of Heli. Therefore, Joseph would be considered his “son” by marriage. But there’s no real evidence that this scenario is correct. In fact, Luke expressly lists the genealogy as going through Joseph, so this explanation is nothing more than supposition. There is a passage in the Talmud that claims Mary was the daughter of Heli, but this comes much later than the gospels and (to me) seems to just be hearsay spread by people who were trying to rationalize the gospels. Plus, even if it were through Mary, it wouldn’t explain why both genealogies converge on Shealtiel and Zerubbabel — that wouldn’t be biologically possible. So of course, other suppositions are thrown in there to try to reconcile that issue.

    Some people also try to explain the discrepancy by saying that both genealogies really are through Joseph, but that he was the product of a levirate marriage. This would mean that he had a biological father and a “legal” father (someone who was probably dead before he was born). But this again is just supposition. I’m not aware of any evidence that actually supports it.

    And of course, if the Bible really were inerrant and inspired, then it should provide the answers to these issues already. And the fact that they’re different isn’t the only problem with them. I should have my post about it finished up later today or tomorrow.


  3. Good post. Yes it is clear as can be that the entire Bethleham narrative is a contrivance used to back peddle Jesus into a prophecy. Of course given the fact that the gospels admit that certain acts were carried out specifically to fulfill prophecy this tendency to contrive prophecy fulfillment should not surprise us.

  4. It’s actually easy to explain.
    In Bethlehem Jesus is a baby(brephos) and as stated they go to their home in Nazareth after the purification(6 weeks or so). They go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover where Bethlehem is close by. They have to stay somewhere so it’s logical to stay close to Jerusalem in a house in Bethlehem. At this time, Jesus is now a child(paidion). Don’t forget that Matthew 2 starts “after His birth”. It is at this time that the Magi come “from the East”. The Magi trick Herod, causing him to (kill all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under), according to the time which he had determined from the magi. They therefore fled to Egypt when Jesus was somewhere around 2 yrs old.
    I think what throws everyone off is that every Easter the Magi are there at the birth. But the Scripture clearly shows they came later.

  5. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the comment. The explanation you offer is certainly interesting — it’s not one I’ve heard before. I wouldn’t classify it as an easy one though, there’s a lot of speculation required to make this pan out.

    First of all, Passover is not mentioned at all. So it’s really just speculation to say that’s why they were in Bethlehem. Plus, Bethlehem is about 6 miles from Jerusalem, and it’s hard to understand why they would stay that far away if the purpose of their visit was to observe the Passover.

    Also, if they were only visiting Bethlehem when the wise men came, why didn’t God just tell Joseph to go back home to Nazareth instead of going to Egypt? That would have kept them just as safe, and it would have allowed them to be in their own home.

    When it comes down to it, Matthew gives no indication that Nazareth plays a role in Jesus’ early life at all. And don’t forget that when Joseph and his family return from Egypt, Matthew says that they wanted to go back to Judea, but only settled in Nazareth because they were afraid of Archelaus. Why did they want to go to Judea if Nazareth was their home? And Matt 2:23 clearly indicates that this was the first time they were moving to Nazareth.

    I’m sorry, but there’s just not a good way to reconcile these issues. It’s pretty clear that Matthew and Luke are drawing their information from two different sources (or they’re just making up their own accounts).

    Thanks again though — I do appreciate your comment, and I hope you’ll come by the blog again soon.


  6. Nate,

    Haven’t really had time to comment here for quite some time. But, just a quick thought on this. Ed’s explanation and several other explanations of presumed contradictions are sufficient – even if they are speculative. As long as there is a possible explanation then the ability to claim a clear contradiction is undermined. This is true in every day life. We don’t assume (and certainly don’t assume as demonstrable) our friends are lying or being duplicitous even if we see some sort of contradiction we ourselves cannot explain in their actions. If we do, that will undermine those relationships. When they give us an explanation that accounts for everything – we wind up being the ‘bad guy’ for having prejudged them. It’s happened to everyone at some point.

    I also think that even without sufficient explanations of a contradiction, that it is not enough to demonstrate a significant problem. This is the same issue that many in the scientific community raise about Intelligent Design folks who ostensibly set forth a “God of the gaps” theory. There are areas where there is no explanation as to how a form of life or aspect of the universe came about – a “gap” in explanation by modern science. Some ID folks – I’m in disagreement with this perspective – say the only explanation is to postulate God. Of course, the problem is, what happens when science comes up with a scientific explanation? Well then, they have filled in the “gap” and the presumed “problem” goes away. Scientists have repeatedly noted this logical problem with the ID position and they are right. But, that sword cuts the same way in the opposite direction with presumed “unexplained” contradictions in Scriptures. As soon as a reasonable explanation arises, the assumed contradiction on which one has based their faith, or rather un-faith, is gone.

    A classic example of this is when Isaac Newton could not fully explain planetary wobble – which would/should cause them to spin out of orbit. He postulated God. When the French scientist LaPlace wrote his theory – he gave a scientific explanation and famously stated, “I have no need for God” (a slap at Newton). The fact that Newton could not explain the problem did not mean there was no explanation; or that God was operating in every “gap” in scientific knowledge. Some things to think about. Thanks!

    All the best … Jeff

  7. Jeff,

    I guess that I disagree… kind of… you say that if a reasonable explanation can be given, then that should be enough. But I guess that there is a debate over what is reasonable. As you said, the sword cuts both ways. So if there is a reasonable explanation for the bible to be false, then it must be; and if there is a reasonable explanation as why the bible is true, then it must be. See the problem?

    But what is reasonable? Like Newton, we can use God for every unknown, because for God, anything is possible and therefore could be viewed as “reasonable.” Should God be used for everything unknown? The fact remains that there are apparent contradictions in the bible, and the “reasonable” explanations that attempt to resolve them are inventions of man and are not provided by the bible itself.

    I guess people could debate over these issues all day forever and always have, but I’d like to know what a “real contradiction” is, because the bible seems to have some, to me. If the apparent contradictions in the bible are not real contradictions, then i’d like to see and example of a real explanation if you would provide one. At the moment, I am convinced that a “reasonable” explanation can be given to bridge across any contradiction. I could be wrong of course – I have been before.


  8. Hi Jeff,

    I was out of town last week — sorry for the delayed response. I think you make a very good point. But the problem I have with this particular issue is that I’ve never heard a reasonable explanation. Even Ed’s has a glaring problem in that Matthew 2:23 says that Joseph and his family only went to Nazareth because they couldn’t go back to Judea. To me, it seems very plain that this was the first time they had ever settled in Nazareth, which completely contradicts Luke’s version.

    But I also think it’s important to note that if the Bible really is from God, and God really wants everyone to believe it, then why would he allow even seeming contradictions? An honest communicator tries to make his message as clear as possible. If God is the perfect communicator, how could his message be misleading?

    Furthermore, if we can say that a future explanation of this problem is possible, therefore, keep believing in the Bible, why can’t other religions do that with their “contradictions”? Maybe one day we’ll find archaeological evidence that substantiates Joseph Smith’s claims that Jews once settled in America.

    Anyway, I do think your overall point is reasonable. I’ll try to keep it in mind as I study these issues.



  9. Really good discussions here, Nate. I’m loving them.

    “If God is the perfect communicator, how could his message be misleading?”

    You forget another possibility – we are imperfect “understanders”. I still think, Nate, you’re expecting the Bible to make perfect sense to all people of all times. There are too many variables here – time, language, knowledge available, etc – for this claim to hold any water. Contradictions for us likely were not contradictions at the time, and the reverse would also be true given the huge multi-faceted gap between ancient Jerusalem and modern America. All people do not have the same point of reference. In order for God to communicate perfectly to us we would have to all have the same point of reference. That’s not possible unless only one people of one time of one culture existed. You are operating on an assumption I believe to be false – that God can do anything. I don’t think this is true. God cannot make a circle that is square. He cannot make a human that is a rabbit. He cannot be perfect and sin. He cannot make communicate the same information to me and to Judas Iscariot and expect us to both understand it the same way. He couldn’t even communicate the same information to my sister and I and expect us to understand it the same way.

  10. I said “one people of one time of one culture”. I really should have said God could only communicate to us perfectly unless he only created one person. That’s the only way “everyone” would have the same perspective.

  11. Hi Josh,

    Thanks for the comments, and again, I really appreciate your taking time to read these.

    I don’t know if you have kids or not, but I’m going to ask you to do a thought experiment. Imagine you have two children: an 8-year old girl and a 3-year old boy (the gender here’s not important, I’m just trying to help with the visualization — pick whatever you want). You live near a street with a decent level of traffic on it. Your children want to play out in the front yard — how do you communicate to them the importance of safety?

    To illustrate your point above, it’s very true that you can not communicate with an 8-year old and a 3-year old the same way. So should you just communicate in a way that your 8-year old understands and leave your 3-year old’s fate a bit more to chance? As a father, I think you would communicate to both of them in whatever way is most appropriate. There’s no reason why you have to limit your communication to one statement — talk to both of them! And with the 3-year old, you might even decide to not let him play in the front yard unless you can be out there with him.

    There are many ways you can handle the situation, but the one thing you won’t do is give one kind of communication that can’t be readily understood by one of your children. If you were talking to them about the merits of football, then you wouldn’t care as much if your 3-year old didn’t understand you. But when you’re talking about life or death, you can’t afford to take such a chance.

    Do you agree?

  12. I do see what you’re saying, but I think you’ve actually lent more credence to my point than your own. I believe, as has been suggested to you in other comments, that God has adequately communicated the message of what he accomplished in history, and why he did it. To borrow from your illustration, you’re asking the parent to communicate in a way that the 3-year old and 8-year old all have the exact same information. And, if they don’t have all the exact same information, then the father has failed in communicating the message to both of them. You agreed, in your illustration, that the message would have to be communicated differently to them, and its seems you even implied that the 3-year old may not even understand much of the reasoning behind the communication, or even that the entire scenario would have to be removed from the 3-year old’s understanding in order to keep them safe. My point is exactly what I think you illustrated – we cannot expect that communication to one group of people would translate perfectly to another separated by time, culture, and language. We can, I think, reasonably conclude the message has been preserved, but the details will get lost because we cannot make ourselves see from the perspective of the ancient Jew.

  13. Ah, but that means the 3-year old is left at a much greater risk of being hit by a car. I didn’t give the illustration to say that it was okay to communicate in such a way — I was saying that no decent father is going to leave his 3-year old to such a fate.

    That’s why the Bible such a poor communication. Too much is at stake (eternity) to leave our fate up to chance. If God is a loving father at all, he would want each of us to understand exactly what his will for us is. But anyone who looks at the world will see that that’s never been the case. Even people within the same religion will disagree about what God wants, not to mention those who believe in different (or no) gods altogether.

    When we accept the failings of the Bible and say that we shouldn’t expect any different, because God couldn’t write a book that would clearly communicate to everyone, then that’s only further reason to think he never wrote a book to begin with.

  14. Hey Nate-
    See my response to William over at, I think it’s Contradictions Part 8.
    I really do love these discussions because I love to be challenged intellectually and to try to meet that challenge. However, in reality, I absolutely see your point and I think either position is reasonable to hold. I’ve given, in my response to William, what I consider to be a very brief explanation of why I think the imperfect communications in scripture are, from my perspective, irrelevant. It all hinges on Jesus, whether or not the scriptures can be validated.
    This isn’t meant, necessarily, to derail conversation. I just want to boil it down to what, for me, is the real issue.

  15. looks like i’m quite late to this conversation, but just today was doing some research and came across the site. interesting discussion, and i’d like to add a few thoughts about the bible in general, and then specifically about the nativity stories found in matthew and luke.

    many people have seen the so-called contradictions in them. i used to criticize the bible because of such contradictions, and one day a question came to mind that caused me to re-think my criticisms: were the individuals who ultimately decided on the books of the bible – particularly the 4 gospels – really so ignorant or sloppy that they allowed stories to be included that said completely different things? wouldn’t they be opening up the entire faith to what would be well-deserved criticism that the christian faith was based on nothing but fabricated stories? why would they have done that?

    if the leaders of the early church decided that both nativity accounts should be in the bible, i at least had to be open to the possibility that they did so intentionally. i began looking for ways of reconciling (synchronizing) seeming contradictions that were at least plausible, without stretching things beyond reason.

    regarding the nativity stories, what i believe could have been left out is a “move” from one home (nazareth, where mary was from) to another home (bethlehem, where joseph was from). i believe this move could have occurred after luke 2:39 (when Jesus would have been approximately 6 or 7 weeks old), but before matthew 2:1 (when Jesus could have been up to 2 years old). If this move actually took place, the two accounts could be fairly easily synchronized.

    why would this “move” not have been recorded? i don’t know, but there are lots of things not recorded. consider the first 30 or so years of Jesus’ life. we don’t have volumes – just a few chapters. the gospel writers have told us the important pieces – at least, what was important to them and apparently the early church that found these gospels to be true.

  16. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your comment!

    You know, in some ways, you’re right that if Jesus’ family moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem at some point between his birth and Herod’s infanticide, it would help explain the differences. But I think there are a few issues we’d still have to gloss over to make it work.

    For one thing, as you acknowledge, there’s no scripture to make us think such a move occurred. And our only reason for suggesting it is because the accounts conflict with one another. In a way, you’re essentially saying that the error is so obvious it must not really be an error. I’ve actually heard someone say that very thing before, but I don’t find that to be a believable objection. That line of thinking would mean that the more ludicrous a story, the more we should believe it, because surely someone wouldn’t say something so crazy unless it were true. Of course, in practice, things don’t usually work out that way.

    I also think that the other elements of the narratives make it difficult to work in an extra move for Jesus and his family. As I pointed out above, when Matthew talks about their family coming back from Egypt, he says this:

    And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

    So Joseph tried to go back to Judea. It was only his fear that brought him to Nazareth. Now according to Luke, as well as your theory, Nazareth is a place they had already lived in. Yet Matthew says “a city called Nazareth,” as though it were a new place to them. Furthermore, Matthew says it was to fulfill a prophecy — one that would already have been fulfilled if Jesus had lived there earlier.

    And what about Herod and the wise men? Both groups focus on Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus, but why? According to Luke, he was only born there as a fluke and would have been back in Nazareth. If we incorporate your theory, then Jesus’ family moves back to Bethlehem for some reason, and that’s the only thing that brings them in contact with the wise men. It’s funny, in a way, that both groups (the wise men and Herod) assume they will find Jesus in Bethlehem when his real hometown was Nazareth. If your theory is true, then it’s only coincidence that brings them all back together again, not because Bethlehem was Jesus’ real hometown as they all assumed.

    Finally, you made this point:

    wouldn’t they be opening up the entire faith to what would be well-deserved criticism that the christian faith was based on nothing but fabricated stories?

    But isn’t that exactly what has happened? And if the Bible was divinely inspired at all, wouldn’t God have wanted to avoid such criticism even more? The fact is, there are many areas in the Bible that are just as problematic as this one. So if God is not the author of confusion, could he really be the author of the Bible?

    Thanks again for the comment. If you have any other thoughts on these passages, please feel free to share them. And I hope you’ll feel free to jump in on any of the other threads as well!

    – Nate

  17. thanks for your quick and thoughtful response. a few quick responses back:

    1. if a story is ludicrous, then surely it should not be believed. but why is it ludicrous that a move would have been made from nazareth to bethlehem? nazareth was a small town, probably with little work for a carpenter like joseph. like day laborers of today, he simply may have been following the work – which likely would have led to a more populous area such as jerusalem (not far from bethlehem). i’m not saying this definitely was the reason, but it seems unfair to suggest that since something was left out, it could not have happened. if i say, “i moved from pennsylvania to texas when i was 10, and i graduated from high school in el paso” (which is true), and then later you come to find out that i lived in houston for a few years before moving to el paso (which is also true), did i lie? did i mislead? hopefully not. i simply gave fewer details at that time.

    2. i think matthew says “a city (or town) called nazareth” because up until that point, he himself had not mentioned nazareth. matthew was not assuming that people had his account side-by-side with the account of luke. in fact, matthew may not have been aware of luke’s account.

    3. God cannot avoid criticism. if there was one account of the nativity, or the exact same account told in two or three of the gospels, people would say, “we can’t trust that… it’s just one person’s story of what happened. why didn’t God have two or three different people tell it in their own way?”

  18. Dave,

    I wanted to take the liberty to jump in an offer a short response if I may – I’m sure nate will provide a more detailed response when he finds time…

    1. A simple more from Nazareth to Bethlehem isn’t ludicrous in and of itself, but nothing in the bible says this. You’re forced to fill in the blanks with something (or anything) to make the 4 accounts jive – because as they are, they do not. We have to smooth out the rough edges for the bible.

    2. Very true, but it would have also been extremely easy to simply add ,”Mary’s home, Nazareth” or something similar to erase any resemblance to a problem. And while other people bacjk then wouldn’t have all the gospels to compare side by side, surely God would know what they’d look like side by side and surely he’d know people one day would have them all to compare side by side. It would have been such an easy fix.

    3. Say 3 people were being interrogated by the police for an alleged part in an alleged crime. One says we left Quebec, passed through Ottawa and made it to our final destination in Winnipeg. Another says that they were going to Winnipeg after leaving Ottawa. And the other says that they left Quebec, went to New York because they thought someone was going to kill them, and after staying there until it was safe, head on over to Winnipeg…

    We could make those stories mesh if WE filled in all the blank spots and ignored the fact that the details supposed being innocently left out weren’t tedious insignificant details like “we stopped for 5.5 minutes to use the rest room here…” or “we stopped for fuel there…” I think the differences are pretty clear. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt that the detectives would smell something pretty fishy about such wide variances in the stories. Either the men colluded on a few facts (forcing them to add their own details if they felt compelled to talk), or didn’t collude enough and some were hiding more than others.

    Diverting to New York, from Canada (like going to Egypt) because someone wants to kill you is such a significant detail that it is at the very least deceptive to omit. Think of anyone you know who would have done this, for those reasons, but didn’t tell you about that part of it. How would you feel?

    But, if the differences were in little things like one guy didn’t mention the types of clothing worn, but one guy did – yeah, that’s okay, no biggie. Yet those are not the sort of differences we’re talking about.

  19. Hi Dave,

    To your first point, it’s true that a move from Nazareth to Bethlehem is not ludicrous. But that’s not really what I was referencing. I was talking about your original point that the people who assembled the Bible wouldn’t make such an obvious error as to include 2 conflicting stories; therefore, even though they seem to conflict, they must not. I don’t buy that argument.

    With your third point, I think you’re offering a false dichotomy. When two people tell the same story, they aren’t forced into only two options: either tell the exact same story as someone else, or tell a conflicting version. There’s a lot of room in between. As William said, if Matthew had just mentioned that Joseph and Mary had lived in Nazareth once before, then no real problem would exist between the two accounts. Or if Luke had told us of the extra move that you’re suggesting, then no problem would exist.

    Instead, we seem to have two different authors who both knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth. Here are the timelines they give us (you can click it for a larger view):

    Why were Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem? According to Matthew, it seems that they lived there. According to Luke, they were there for a census. Why did they go to Nazareth? According to Matthew, it’s because they were run out of Bethlehem and couldn’t go back, even after Herod died. According to Luke, it’s because they lived there. What happened in between those two points? According to Matthew, they’re visited by wise men, then flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s death sentence. According to Luke, they travel to Jerusalem for a ritual, then return home — end of story.

    The two accounts couldn’t be more different. Worse, the way they’re given, they actually contradict one another. If Luke’s account is correct, there’s no need for Joseph and his family to go to Egypt at all. Nor is there really time to, unless we invent a move from Nazareth to Bethlehem that no account references.

    Can someone find ways to patch up these problems enough to maintain their belief? Sure. But the most likely scenario is that Matthew and Luke are telling different stories, whether they got them from different sources or just made them up. Problems like this one rightly cause people to question the legitimacy of the Bible. And if God actually inspired it, and he wants people to believe it, I have a hard time seeing why he would have allowed these two accounts to go on in their present state.

    Thanks again.

  20. hi nate, i suppose we’re at a bit of an impasse. what you call “contradiction,” i call “so-called contradiction” because i see how the stories can be meshed, really without much to add to what is already there (i.e., a move sometime between luke’s return to nazareth – what you rightly call “end of story” for luke – and the arrival of the wise men in matthew; there could have been a year or more in between these two events). if matthew insisted that in no way were either mary or joseph ever associated with nazareth prior to returning from egypt, while luke was clear that mary was from nazareth, that would be a contradiction. but the recording of different events at different times does not seem to meet the definition of “contradiction.”

    i do think it’s a good question about why luke and matthew each omit various events that are important (e.g., the flight to egypt, as william notes). but to me, that’s what it is – “a good question” – not a problem or a deception. i keep in mind that matthew and luke were historians trying to help people understand what has come to be known as the gospel – the good news of salvation. they put in some details, and left other details out. more than likely, there are other items left out by all four gospel writers, because essentially these are very short accounts.

    a question that seems relevant here is how God inspires the writings in the bible. just a wild guess :), but i’m beginning to think that you (and william) don’t believe it’s inspired at all. and, if by “inspired,” you mean that God took control of the minds of matthew, mark, luke and john, and forced them to write each word, each letter of their gospels – well, i don’t believe that either. but could God have inspired them to write truthfully about what they knew of Jesus – in matthew’s case, by following him around for three or so years; and in luke’s case, by the investigation he undertook? yes, i believe so. in any case, i’m guessing we have a difference of thought here.

    one last thing for this post – and again, a difference of thought – with all of the people who had their hand in writing the bible, and ultimately giving the bible its final form somewhere around the 4th century – i find it hard to believe that someone – anyone – would not have stood up at that time and said, “um, has anyone noticed the glaring contradictions we have in matthew and luke? we might want to eliminate one of those gospels. or maybe we could change one to overlap more with the other.” indeed, if there was deception intended (as william suggests), that could have been easily solved. it seems, rather, that the compilers of the bible saw in all four gospels a complementary set of accounts that made sense.

    enjoying the dialogue…

  21. Dave, I respectfully disagree. I think it is much more than a good question. I’m sure nate could provide a picture or spreadsheet that illustrates the issue a little better, but when you pull your bible out and read them side by side, it seems contradictory.

    Both Mathew’s and Luke’s accounts give different reasons for going to Nazareth and to Bethlehem. Luke says that Mary didnt go anywhere until her time of purification, and then went to Jerusalem, while Mathew said that Joseph was instructed by an angel, after the wise men left, to flee to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod’s death – and that he was afraid to go to Judea, so he settled in Nazareth of Galilee.

    the only reason anyone can say these two stories go together is by adding (prohibited by the bible) their own theories as to how they can actually fit together.

    No, these are different stories with the same main characters.

    And I dont think that deception was intended. I DO think that if all the events took place as you assume, that someone was trying very hard to leave some important facts out. In this case, I just think that neither really knew what really happened, and that Mathew specifically wanted some prophetic backing to lend credibility with the jews.

    and again, if i may echo something nate has already said, your last paragraph seems to be more or less saying that this is such an obvious mistake that it must NOT be a mistake, because someone would have caught it. This doesn’t seem like a very solid defense.

    I will add, only because you touched on it, that I did use to believe the bible was inspired by god. I was a devout believer and active in my church until I began to see these sort of problems (and there are much more) and couldn’t ignore them any longer. I eventually realized that faith in the bible was not the same as faith in god, but more like faith in man since man had written, translated, copied and handed me the bible – not god.

    I’m also enjoying the discussion. Thanks for the willingness.

  22. Hi Dave,

    I’m enjoying the discussion too — thanks again for your comments!

    And yes, William and I don’t believe the Bible was inspired at all. We used to, however. We were both fundamentalist Christians (though I think from different denominations), but we had similar journeys away from Christianity. I was very devout and dedicated for a long time, and I knew the Bible very well, but only from a devotional standpoint. Meaning, I didn’t take the time to rigorously examine its consistency; I was reading it for its doctrinal content. One day, I ran across some articles that claimed it had failed prophecies and contradictions (I believed in inerrancy), and after spending a great deal of time in study, I came to agree.

    Anyway, that’s one of the reasons that I’m not surprised one of these accounts wasn’t tossed out during the selection process. Many Christians view it the way I used to: “I may not understand exactly how these two things fit together, but they obviously must, because God inspired them.” It’s similar to the reason you’re giving for thinking both accounts must be legitimate; otherwise, why would they have been included? I can totally see the Bible’s compilers operating with the same line of thought.

    And in fact, there were people who were bothered by the differences. The Diatesseron, for example, was a second century attempt at combining the 4 gospels into one complete narrative, and Tatian (the author) harmonized several of the areas that seemed to conflict.

    The reason I think these conflicts are important is that the Bible is supposedly God’s one, true message to mankind. It’s supposed to be the difference in our eternal destinies. If God truly is fair, righteous, and merciful, then he would want to make sure his message to us is as clear and identifiable as possible. The myriad problems in the Bible subvert that goal. In other words, my opinion of God is high enough that I just can’t attribute the Bible to him.

  23. william, you wrote: “Both Mathew’s and Luke’s accounts give different reasons for going to Nazareth and to Bethlehem. Luke says that Mary didnt go anywhere until her time of purification, and then went to Jerusalem, while Mathew said that Joseph was instructed by an angel, after the wise men left, to flee to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod’s death – and that he was afraid to go to Judea, so he settled in Nazareth of Galilee. the only reason anyone can say these two stories go together is by adding (prohibited by the bible) their own theories as to how they can actually fit together.”

    a few points:
    1. luke really doesn’t say that mary didn’t go anywhere unit her time of purification, though i tend to think she probably did hang around bethlehem through that time, given that this was joseph’s ancestral home.

    2. luke goes onto say that, after the events in jerusalem, they went to nazareth. all of this – from birth to arrival in nazareth – probably took about 2 months, perhaps a bit less.

    3. matthew, as you note, talks about the wise men. when did the wise men arrive in bethlehem? we are not told, but we do know from the story that herod issued orders “to kill all the boys in bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” why would he not simply have issued orders to kill any child who was not yet able to crawl or talk? probably because the wise men had arrived long after the events that take us through luke 2:39. and probably not just weeks, but months, maybe even a year or more. and it was only then that the family fled to egypt.

    4. why did they wind up in nazareth? according to luke, because it was “their own town.” indeed, that’s where mary was from. but luke gives us that particular reason involving events just 2 months or so since Jesus was born. according to matthew, because they were scared to go back to bethlehem. but matthew gives us that particular reason involving events two or more years since Jesus was born. different reasons at different points in time.

    as someone who did not grow up in the fundamentalist tradition, i have only a slight idea of how you grew up thinking about the bible. someone once told me it’s seeing the bible like a high stack of blocks, and if one of the blocks is removed (e.g., a contradiction is found, or a doctrine is questioned), the whole thing has the potential of tumbling down. i guess i see the bible a bit more like a spider web. you can cut a few strands here and there and the web isn’t going to come unraveled. you say that the bible prohibits adding theories. i don’t believe that’s what it says. in revelation, we are instructed not to add to or take away from the words of that particular book. but i don’t think the bible keeps us from using our minds (as we are doing on this site) to develop theories about what happened.

    finally – and this speaks more to nate’s most recent post – even if God made his word as clear and precise as can be, do you really believe that would solve all our problems? one look at the 10 commandments is enough to convince me – indeed, to convict me – that i am stubborn, easily drawn away from God’s ways, and all-in-all, not a very good person – even though i know, as much as i can know anything, what God says there.

    i’m interested to know, if either you or nate care to share, what do you believe about God?

  24. I agree totally with Nate. As a Christian, I never questioned the contradictions of the nativity story (or any other paradoxes within its pages, for that matter). I was taught the Bible was God-inspired so there had to be a reason why the authors wrote as they did. However, once I got away from the biased teachings of the church, I began to look at the words through different eyes. My powers of reasoning kicked in and I soon realized that something was amiss.

    Nate has asked repeatedly why God didn’t instruct his scribes to present stories that made sense for all and for all time. IMHO, it’s a very good question.

  25. nan, i think all of us look at the words through “different eyes.” we each have our own religious, family, and cultural experiences that tend to bias our views. that’s in part why there are so many denominations, many times based on doctrinal differences that develop from how different people see different passages, stories, etc.

    based on what i understand about humanity, God couldn’t – without taking away our free thinking – have presented stories that made sense for all and for all time. what is the answer? keep at it, i suppose. hopefully, we’re not just trying to convince one another, but also get it worked out in our own minds. one day, we’ll all stand before God (at least, that’s what i believe), and i trust that love and grace will prevail.

    one note for you, nate, and william – i grew up in a mainline church. never having been grounded in a fundamentalist view of the bible, i went to college and grew very skeptical of it. then, through a long series of events, “my powers of reasoning kicked in,” and i wondered why i had not been shown before how the bible makes sense. i find our different paths interesting.

  26. Dave, thanks. I’ll try to respond.

    1 & 2 Fair enough. I can leave these points. I do think that a simple reading of the passage in Luke leads one to believe one series of events while a simple reading of Matthew leads one to believe a different series of events. It is only when we notice the differences that we must invent different theories and possibilities as to how they fit together, so as not to be contradictory.
    But I have a question for you on this point. Can you provide an example of a contradiction that could not be dismissed in such a way?

    3. In Mathew we do know that Jesus and his parents were still in Bethlehem when the Wise men found them. Now, if they all went to Jerusalem after a few weeks to a couple of months as Luke would indicate, how could they still be in Bethlehem for as much as 2 years? I guess they could have doubled back to Bethlehem, after leaving Jerusalem, but this is another theory pulled out of thin air and also seems like quite a stretch.

    4. Maybe… or maybe it’s just wrong…

    5. Duet 12:31 & 32 – don’t add to God’s commands; Prov 30:6 – add not to his words… True, if the bible is god’s word, then certainly he’d want us to use our minds to understand it. If it were not his word he’d certainly want us to use our minds to recognize that fact. My point (and I should have made it better, sorry) was that adding in different scenarios, that MAY be correct, to salvage the inerrancy of the passages is added by us, by man, and not by god – those theories are not his, but ours. They could be right, and could equally be wrong. The bible is supposed to be complete, yet it obviously isn’t since every believer is forced to add in supposed scenarios in order to make conflicting passages harmonize.

    6. “…even if God made his word as clear and precise as can be, do you really believe that would solve all our problems?” I’m not sure, but I think it would have solved the problems we’re discussing here.

    7. “one look at the 10 commandments is enough to convince me – indeed, to convict me – that i am stubborn, easily drawn away from God’s ways, and all-in-all, not a very good person” I’m not quite sure that I follow this point. What about the 10 commandments makes you think you’re so bad? I don’t mean this is any disrespectful way, but I think the 10 commandments could have been much better… and keep this in mind, the Sumerians had similar laws, yet more detailed, well before Moses. If men could think them up, why did God need to provide them after other cultures already had them?

    8. What do I believe about God? Good question. I used to believe the bible but since then I’m not sure there is a god, although there may be. But even so, I’m not sure that he’d resemble the Christian god in much at all. And god could simply be the force that set everything into motion.

  27. “based on what i understand about humanity, God couldn’t – without taking away our free thinking – have presented stories that made sense for all and for all time.” – Dave

    I wanted to comment on this as well, if you’d allow. You know, the bible gives several instances where he allowed miracles to be performed in both the OT (Abraham, Isaac, Gideon, etc) and the NT (Saul, Thomas, etc) to help other believe, but now we’re to believe that we not only will not have miracles to verify the bible, but we cant even count on concise, fool proof, water tight stories to help confirm the claims made in the bible?

  28. Just want to throw something in here — “free thinking” and “free will” (which is what most Christians believe God grants) are two different things. I am a “free thinker;” that is, I’m inclined to form my own opinions “rather than depend upon authority, especially about social and religious issues.” I suppose one could say I have “free will” (the ability or discretion to choose) to do this, but for me, the two have different meanings.

    So your comment that “God couldn’t — without taking away our free thinking – have presented stories that made sense for all and for all time.” doesn’t hold water for me.

    I’m sure you’re reluctant to admit that the Bible was written for a particular people who lived in a particular time. But that’s the fact of the matter, For me, the problem arises when people who have lived during the intervening years try and mold it to fit their time and circumstances,

  29. i’m not reluctant at all to admit that… in fact, i think that’s why, 2,000 years later, it’s so difficult for us to understand at times. but i also do believe that the bible has a message for us today. has it been misused, or misapplied? certainly. but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

    we’re getting beyond nativity story here, but the message of salvation is for all. does it make sense “for all and for all time”? it clearly does not make sense to a whole bunch of people, but it is for all. God could force us to think a certain way about this message, but does not.

  30. I think Nan brings up an excellent point here. To have true “free thinking” requires information. More information always helps people make better-informed decisions. Spiritual truths would be no different.

    And I do think the point you’re making is probably in reference to free will. I’ve heard this argument a number of times, but I don’t find it compelling. I have 3 young children. When I tell them to clean their rooms, they know beyond a doubt who I am and what I have instructed them to do. Yet, they still have the free will to either clean their room or not. Their knowledge of me and my desires in no way incapacitates their free will.

    In fact, if I know they understood me, then when they don’t follow my instructions I don’t have to worry that they did so out of ignorance.

    You asked how God could communicate with us in a way that everyone would understand. You may be right that there’s no way the Bible could meet such a standard. So why would God use it? Supposedly, he spoke to people individually, once upon a time. Why not do that today? And if there’s really no way for him to clearly communicate with all of us, then why in the world would he hold us accountable for anything?

    As far as my view of God, I’m an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe in a God, though I think it’s possible one could exist. If one does exist, I doubt that he would be overly concerned with what I thought about him, especially as he’s never made himself known to me (I’m only using the masculine pronouns for simplicity, not because I think God would have any gender restrictions). But it took me some time to get to this point — I would have thought such an outlook was crazy when I was a Christian. When my doubts about Christianity grew too substantial to maintain my faith in it, I moved to an agnostic deism. From there, I slipped down to agnosticism and atheism.

  31. it is true, in the bible, that miracles helped some come to faith, or have confirmation of their faith. but others saw miracles and did not believe.

    commenting on the 10 commandments: i’m not suggesting other cultures or religions have nothing of value. what i’m suggesting is that the 10 commandments are clear. however, i do not follow them faithfully. indeed, by Jesus’ standards which he lays out in the sermon on the mount, i break them daily.

    so, what’s the point of this? you say the bible could be clearer, and what i’m saying is that no matter how much clearer it might become to you – say, if it was written in a way that would appeal to your mind and heart – there would be other people who still would find reasons to doubt it and dismiss it. it’s clear enough on many points, and yet we fail to understand and follow.

  32. nate, for me, it starts with the resurrection of Jesus. either that happened, or it didn’t. if it didn’t, then i’ve got nothing. i am like the man, to use an image from earlier, with a stack of blocks that gets knocked down. it if did happen, then i can begin to trust some things, such as Jesus’ miracles, His words – which lend credibility to the old testament – and His love. and when apparent conflicts or contradictions arise, rather than come at them with the perspective of discounting them, i come at them front he perspective of finding a way to explain them. in my mind, limited as it is, the nativity stories pose no problem for me. there are other things that i have a harder time with. but it all starts with the resurrection.

    perhaps i have overlapped “free thinking” and “free will” too much. i suppose what i’m trying to say is that no matter how much information we have about a religious book, or a historical event – there will almost always (or always?) be various interpretations of it. it’s unavoidable. i agree that there are simple instructions that are hard to miss. indeed, there are simple instructions in the bible that are hard to miss (“love your neighbor”). but once we begin reporting on events, things do get a bit muddier.

  33. So why does the resurrection convince you? It’s an extremely unlikely event, obviously. So why do you believe it happened?

  34. The point? Hmm. Well a few things first.

    I wouldn’t say that I’m looking for something that appeals to me, except maybe as it appeals to my sense of reasonable, fair, authentic, etc.

    And some things in the bible are clear and are worth striving for, but because some things are does not mean all are.

    And the bible CLAIMS some believed and some didn’t believe… It’s an unsubstantiated claim of supernatural proportions – those tend to require some pretty significant backing, otherwise we’d all believe every religion, every legend and every fairytale. But my point in bring that up is to demonstrate providing miraculous iron clad proof does not diminish one’s freewill – unless you want to say that everyone in Hebrew’s chapter 11 had no freewill in regard their service and obedience to God?

    I believe the point here, with each other, in this discussion is to exercise and to examine our minds, ourselves, and our positions. I think through diligent search (ironically the bible and I agree here) we come closer and closer to the truth – at least that is our aim. Perhaps during these discussions something can be pointed out that may make one of us or each of us revise or completely alter our present views – and if not, there are very likely those who do not comment who will gain from these exchanges.

    But I’d like to hear your response to nate’s question, “… could I ask why you feel so certain that the Bible is God’s message at all?

  35. ah, sorry. I’m obviously several comments behind. Disregard my last question request… I see you’ve already answered it. I’ll wait for you to answer nate’s second question before i try to add anymore.

  36. william, didn’t mean to say “what’s the point?” as in “i’m throwing my hands up.” i should have said, “what is the point i’m trying to make?”.

    nate, i can get to the resurrection in the near future…. but gotta run now.

    respect all your thoughts, even though we disagree over much.

  37. LOL, Dave, I feel stupid… That made me laugh it’s so obvious now… sorry.

    I’m enjoying the discussion with you. Take care.

  38. I’m curious to understand how you square away all the controversy surrounding Nazareth, Nate?

    Not least of all, Luke’s geography, which is all over the place especially his description of Nazareth as a ‘city with a synagogue. This alone comes into direct conflict with what miniscule archaeological finds have been recovered.

    I realise to try and have any sort of discussion re this whole Bethlehem, Nazareth, Magi, birth and running off to Egypt conundrum one must take as a given something about this story but this all changes immediately one brings into question the veracity of Luke’s description of the ”city”. or if it even existed in any form during the time of Jesus’s supposed ministry.

  39. nate, i am guessing you have seen reasons like this before, but here is, in a nutshell, why i am convinced of the resurrection:

    1. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. indeed, more than that, He claimed to be God in the flesh. if someone was going to rise from the dead, unlikely as it is, this would be a good candidate.

    2. He explained that He would die and rise again. either He was telling the truth, or He was a lunatic.

    3. He apparently appeared to many people after his resurrection. In 1 corinthians, paul explains that after Jesus was resurrected, “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 corinthians 15:5-8; NRSV) notice that paul puts it out there – “most of whom are still alive.” in other words, paul was saying to the corinthians, “not only have i seen Him, but many others have too, if you need some corroboration.”

    4. many were so convinced of his resurrection, because they were certain they actually saw him, that they independently were willing to die for this truth.

    will leave it at that for now.

  40. Oh my.

    1. Where did JESUS (himself) claim to be the Messiah? And indeed, more than that, where did HE claim to be God in the flesh?

    2. Did HE actually say HE was going to die and rise again?

    3. Don’t you find it a little strange that Jesus would appear to only his followers? Also, as a side note, how long did Jesus hang around after his resurrection?

    4. Scripture and verse?

    And finally, do you know of any reports outside of the bible that mention a man returning to life? Seems if such a miraculous event actually took place there would be something recorded about a dead man walking around and talking to people (at one point, 500 at a time).

  41. when you say “oh my,” i’m not sure what you are saying exactly, but i sense it’s not good. nevertheless, i will respond.

    1. in john 4:25-26, Jesus affirms a woman’s statement about the messiah. on numerous occasions in the gospels, Jesus makes statements that He is God. as one example, see john 10:30 & 10:33.

    2. see, as one example, mark 9:31.

    3. i don’t really find it “strange,” but we do have to speculate on about why Jesus chose to appear to certain people and not others. if paul is correct, Jesus did appear to 500 at one time – some of them may not have been His followers. he did appear to paul himself (well after his “ascension”), who was most certainly not a follower.

    40 days (see acts 1:3)

    4. acts 12:2 records the death of james. there are passages in the bible that discuss the willingness of some of the disciples to be imprisoned and even die for their faith.

    it is through tradition, not the bible, that we have confirmation of the death of the other disciples (pretty good article on this at:

    i do not know of any other sources for this event.

  42. Hey Ark,

    Good to hear from you. Honestly, I don’t know how to square away the problems with Nazareth. The archaeological evidence doesn’t lend much credence to the gospel accounts, but I don’t know much more about it than that. The problems between the accounts were bigger issues to me, so that’s probably why I focus so much on them. You bring up some good points…

  43. Hi Dave

    Thanks for providing your reasons. When I was a Christian, most of my faith rested on the inerrancy of the Bible. I believed that the inerrancy itself served as a sign for us today. In several places, the Bible states that miracles were given to help people believe. I was part of a denomination that believed the time of miracles had passed, so we viewed the perfection of the Bible as our “miracle” to help us believe. After all, how likely is it that such a book could be completely error free? When I found out it wasn’t actually inerrant, my faith didn’t last much longer.

    As I was going through my deconversion, I spent time thinking about the reasons that you just listed, but they weren’t enough to convince me.

    1) Jesus may have claimed to be divine, but Nan also brings up a good point. It’s hard to know for sure if he really claimed such a thing. Most scholars believe Mark was the first gospel and John was the last, and given that timeline, the claims of divinity do seem to increase as time goes on. Maybe that’s just how the writers chose to recount their versions, but it also fits with the theory that the stories grew over time (as stories tend to do).

    2) Similar to the point above, stories written after his death say that he prophesied his death and resurrection. Maybe he did. But it’s also very possible that this was added to the story later.

    3) A lot of stock is given to Paul’s 500 witnesses, but who were they? When and where did this happen? There’s actually no way to verify his claim here, even when he says many of them are still living. Without knowing who they are and where they live, it’s impossible to verify the story. Plus, Paul is writing this to people who already believed — it’s not really touted as evidence to persuade those who are skeptical. I imagine no one in his audience had any inclination to investigate his claim. Why would they, if they already believed him? Instead of being 500 witnesses, this is really just one. If we can even claim it as one, since Paul never knew Jesus in life, and his encounter with Jesus was a vision, not a physical encounter.

    4) There are a couple of stories in the Bible of people who died for their faith in Jesus. And there are traditions that say other apostles died for him as well. But there’s not much evidence for them. Furthermore, even if they died for their faith in Jesus, does that mean they were right? People have given their lives for every belief/religion out there, but they can’t all be true.

    For me, the quality of the evidence is simply not strong enough to make me believe all the miraculous claims in the Bible. And the problems in the Bible (and with the doctrines of Christianity) are too numerous for me to overlook. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have that position. If God exists, then he gave us our ability to reason. I find it hard to believe that he would punish those who use it, no matter what conclusion they ultimately come to.

    Nan will probably come back around to the point about Jesus staying for 40 days before his ascension, but I thought I’d comment on it too. Luke does say (in Acts) that Jesus was there for 40 days. Matthew 28 makes it seem like it wasn’t so long, but it’s hard to say for sure — he gives no real timeline. To me, the more troubling issue is much like the one of Jesus’ birth. Matthew, Mark, and John say that Jesus wanted his disciples to meet him in Galilee, and that they did. However, in Luke 24:49, Jesus tells them to stay in Jerusalem until they have received “power from on high.” This seems to reference the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, which happens after his ascension. If they were to stay in Jerusalem until that event, how could they have all met up in Galilee?

    Again, I don’t know if that’s what Nan was heading toward, but that’s what her question reminded me of.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  44. dear arkenaten, regarding your questions about nazareth and luke:

    i’m not sure what you mean by saying that luke’s geography is “all over the place.” could you give an example?

    it is true that archaeological evidence related to nazareth is not extensive, and it is controversial. some evidence has come to light that nazareth – at the time of Jesus – was home to a roman garrison, and therefore more important than has previously been thought, even by christians. i certainly don’t have the expertise to weigh the various claims made, though luke’s credibility as a historian continues to grow as archaeology uncovers more about people and places mentioned by luke.

  45. hi nate,

    we could go back and forth all day about certain claims and whether or not they increase or erode support for Jesus’ resurrection. numbers 1-4 are good examples of both of us saying, “well, it could mean this, but it might mean that” – and each of us knows the answer we prefer. either one of us is right, or we’re both wrong, but we can’t both be right.

    i do not think that your position is unreasonable, and hope that nothing i’ve said gives the impression that i think that. i do think both of our positions are faith-based. in my case, i have faith that God exists and that Jesus is God who came in the flesh. in your case, you have faith that either there is no God or that God is nothing like what we see in the bible (i am stating what i think you have said you believe; please correct me if i am mis-stating your position). the existence of God is not provable; nor is God’s non-existence; and there are good reasons for both beliefs. the same goes for Jesus’ resurrection. i happen to think there are more and better reasons for the beliefs i hold; otherwise, i would be agnostic or atheist, i suppose.

    you said, “If God exists, then he gave us our ability to reason. I find it hard to believe that he would punish those who use it, no matter what conclusion they ultimately come to.” i do think our words and actions will be judged, but that’s not the end of the matter. 1 corinthians 13 is pretty clear that when all is said and done, many things will pass away, including knowledge. in the end, faith, hope, and love will remain, and the greatest of these three is love. i’m not sure i fully comprehend the passage, but it seems to me that God’s desire is for all to be saved, and that God’s grace is bigger than many people, including many christians, can imagine.

    i do want to make one comment about point 4. it is true that people of most if not all religions have given their lives for their religious beliefs. i do find it compelling, however, that people who actually knew Jesus died for Him, not because of a doctrine, but because of their conviction that he was risen. they would not give up that belief, even though it gained them nothing (from a worldly point of view) and cost them everything (again, from a worldly point of view).

    as to your last comment about the post-resurrection timeline, i have never looked at that in any serious way, so i have no comment at this time. i will check it out over the course of the next week, and if i have anything at least half-intelligent to say, will do so at that time.

    lastly, do you have a christian friend who you could bring in to help me out here? i can’t keep up with all this! :)

  46. i’m not sure what you mean by saying that luke’s geography is “all over the place.” could you give an example?

    (Luke 4.28-30) is a good example.
    Where the ”multitude” wanted to sling Jesus off of a cliff.
    That would have been a walk of around 4 kilometres. Not impossible but I wouldn’t have bothered tramping so far if i wanted to do someone in for simple blasphemy. I’d be knackered b y the time I got there. And then another tramp of 4 clicks back home? Stoning would have done just as well.

    Furthermore, if this was his home town then everyone would likely know him. Where were his family? His brothers and sisters and cousins and aunt etc. Would you allow an unruly mob to lay their hands on one of your kids/ family?

    Besides, if he was born of a virgin the whole bloody village would have known about it inside five minutes after Gabriel had made his house call.
    And of course, there was the incident at the temple when he was 12. So all in all those residents of “Nazareth” would have known him pretty well.

    some evidence has come to light that Nazareth – at the time of Jesus – was home to a roman garrison, are probably referring to the bathhouse thing they found a while back yes?
    Did you ever read any follow-up (non christian) reports from secular archaeologists who don’t have any ties with the likes of the IAA, by chance?

  47. Also, another thing of consideration in Jesus’ resurrection story is jesus being touched after his resurrection but before his ascension.

    We all know of the account where Doubting Thomas touched jesus’ wounds for proof (John 20:24-29). Also in Matt 28:9 it had some disciple holding feet while they worshiped him. But in John 20:17 he said not to touch him because he had not yet ascended.

    Either jesus just didnt want Mary to touch him and was making up reasons for her not to, or he ascended once after speaking with mary and then came back to let the others touch him and then ascended again, or it’s just another problem with a made up story.

  48. Dave, you wrote – “i do think both of our positions are faith-based. in my case, i have faith that God exists and that Jesus is God who came in the flesh. in your case, you have faith that either there is no God or that God is nothing like what we see in the bible…”

    I wanted to comment on this for clarification. While neither position may have iron clad proof, the differing positions are not equal positions of faith.

    Here’s an example: Let’s say that I believed in unicorns and bigfoot, and you did not. can you prove that they do not exist? because you cannot prove their non-existence, does that mean you have faith they do not exist? Obviously this is very different than the belief in their existence.

    Many people say that atheism is faith (I’ve even heard some say that it takes more faith than believing that the bible is god’s word). They say this in order to try and make their positions equal to those they disagree with. They are not the same. The Bible makes huge claims which take faith to believe. It is the lack of faith, of evidence, or explanation that people do not believe.

    But again, iron clad proof? No, I guess not… But then, it’s hard to point somewhere and say, “ah ha, there it isn’t.” On the other hand, if we’re talking aliens, bigfoot, and unicorns, it is well expected to be able to say, “ah ha!, there it is,” to prove the claim. I just think it takes something similar to prove god, or at least, which god and book to chose from.

    anyhow, there is a difference. I dont mind people using the term “faith” to describe my position, as long as they understand the difference with my position and their faith.

  49. I’ve been playing with merging the two stories from matthew and Luke of the birth of jesus, which has been kind of fun, but again, when reading them as their own accounts, neither really seem to give room to be merged with another.

    nate, did you say that someone had merged the two or that there is a translation/adaptation that does this? if so, can you cite it so that i might compare mine with it?

    So far, mine is only really an outline. I’ll see if i can post the spreadsheet…

  50. Hi William,

    There are probably some attempts at combining the two accounts, but I’ve never really looked for any. I was referring to the Diatesseron, which was a 2nd century attempt to combine all 4 gospels into one narrative. I’m not sure how the birth narratives were handled in it, but I do know that the genealogies were either omitted, or one was chosen over another. That point always stuck out to me, because some Christians claim that no one was bothered by the divergent genealogies back then. Obviously, that’s not the case.

  51. arkenaten, your claim was that luke’s geography is “all over the place.” i was left with the impression of a man with a poor understanding of geography. however, the example you gave doesn’t dispute the geography; rather, it questions the history of what actually took place. though my guess is that you really don’t think anything like this took place at all, i still will make the comment that i suppose luke could have written that they tried to stone Jesus right there and then, but He escaped. that would have been just as good of a story. we have to determine, then, whether luke’s goal was to make stuff up, or whether he was interested in finding out what happened and faithfully recording it.

    i wouldn’t allow one of my family members to be abducted as far as i could help it. but i’m not superman, and there are some really tragic examples of this kind of thing happening all the time.

    not sure i understand the comment about gabriel’s house call. why would that necessitate the whole town knowing?

    i have not done much research into the archaeological digs at nazareth. from what i’m reading, the evidence is not all in, and because of finances, politics, etc. there remains a lot to discover. if you have a suggestion for an article, please pass it along.

  52. Good points William.

    I often have wondered how different the writings “attributed to Matthew and Luke in particular and all the writers of what we refer to today as the Bible” would be if 1.) Their audience was 90 + % literate 2.) If they knew their writings would be distributed to millions of people in a collective book 3.) Their audience had the Internet to research and verify

  53. william,

    on your discussion of the “touching”: this is an interesting point that i had never thought of. i don’t know why Jesus would have given two separate instructions. but i would not jump to the conclusion that this is a made up story. indeed, if it were made up, i would conclude that little discrepancy would have been edited out (i realize that perhaps you, nate, and others don’t buy this).

    if i’m hearing your other “faith-based” comment correctly, the burden of proof is upon those of us who believe in Jesus. i accept that. however, neither i nor anyone else will ever be able to offer an air-tight case, for example, on the resurrection of Jesus. all i can do is look at the evidence that surrounds it and figure out what best explains the evidence.

    to use an analogy, if i was driving along and saw a sign in the desert that said “future home of ferris wheel”; and an hour later i passed a couple of trucks going toward that area that had ferris wheel parts; and then a month later i passed the same place and the sign was gone and there was no ferris wheel, but i spoke with someone who said they rode the ferris wheel; and i said to that person, “but i didn’t see the ferris wheel myself,” and he said to me, “well, it was there. would you like to come and meet a few others who rode it?”… i could probably come up with a number of theories about the existence of the ferris wheel, but what theory best fits the evidence?

    of course, analogies are imperfect. one of the main problems with my analogy is that it is contemporary. going back 2,000 years complicates matters, but i still need to use my reason (and as i told nate, i don’t at all think that you and others are not using reason) to determine what best fits the evidence.

  54. lastly, do you have a christian friend who you could bring in to help me out here? i can’t keep up with all this!

    Haha! You’re doing admirably, if that’s any consolation! I know it’s tough to be outnumbered in these kinds of discussions — it’s happened to me on some Christian blogs a number of times. I do actually have some good friends here in blogland that are Christians — they may not be aware of this conversation, but maybe one of them will jump in soon.

    Anyway, you’re right that we could go back and forth over some of those points, and it probably wouldn’t get us anywhere. And I don’t want to dig too much into some of those points anyway, out of respect for you. Those were your reasons for why you believe, and I appreciate your sharing them with us.

    As briefly as possible, let me try to explain why I believe as I do. Like William, I think there’s a difference between the levels of faith required for agnosticism or even atheism compared to the faith required for theism. I won’t elaborate anymore on that, because he explained it very well.

    I view agnostic atheism as the default position. Not atheism in the sense of stating there is no god, but in simply not having an active belief in a god. To use William’s example, we’re all a-sasquatchists, because none of us believes in bigfoot. We might be hesitant to say that bigfoot absolutely does NOT exist, because that requires a high level of proof that’s difficult to come by. But it’s perfectly reasonable to say that we don’t believe in bigfoot because we haven’t been given enough evidence to overcome our skepticism.

    In the same way, I haven’t been given enough evidence to overcome my skepticism of any of the various deities people believe in. I used to be a Christian, and while I was a dedicated Christian and had formed my beliefs through thought and study, my faith had still been primed by my upbringing. When I finally had cause to question my beliefs, I realized that I had built a magnificent structure on sand — I had never gone back to examine the basic evidence of Christianity. I had assumed its truth because everyone I’d ever known had believed it. Instead, I had focused on learning what God wanted us to do — in other words, I had focused entirely on what the Bible was trying to teach rather than whether the Bible was actually from God. When I went all the way back to square one, I realized that I didn’t have enough reason to believe it.

    Christianity makes some massive claims. Just like every other religion, it explains our existence by attributing it to God. Furthermore, it claims that this God is very interested in our thoughts and actions. That once upon a time, he interacted with people personally. Sometimes, he commanded one group of people to slaughter another group of people. He was very concerned with things like circumcision, sexual preference, and what kind of food people ate.

    Eventually, this God sent his son (who was also himself) to live as a human and be offered as the ultimate sacrifice to appease his own wrath and sense of justice. And for all of us to be accepted by this God, we need to believe that he did those things. For evidence, we’re given written accounts that are largely anonymous — yet we don’t have the originals, only copies of copies of copies. These will disagree with each other in places. Some entire passages will be questionable because they will only show up in later copies. Hundreds of years will pass before most people ever have access to all these accounts, and even then, most people will be illiterate.

    Once people are able to read the accounts for themselves, some of the accounts will seem to contradict other accounts. Some of the prophecies will seem to be utter failures. And one gospel in particular will claim that all kinds of things fulfilled prophecies, but when examined, it will be evident that those passages were never prophecies at all. The writings will occasionally contradict history and science as well.

    This collection of writings will also be the primary avenue for people to learn God’s will. If they don’t learn it correctly, they can’t be saved. To make it more complicated, God will allow many people to be born into cultures that are fiercely dedicated to other religions. These people will need to become mature enough to shed their own dogma, and then wade through the seeming false prophecies, the seeming contradictory passages, the seeming bad science and history to eventually find the “truth” that is Christianity.

    In a nutshell, this is why I find religion (and Christianity in particular, since it’s the one I’m most familiar with) to be so unbelievable. Sorry this comment was so long!!

  55. Dave,

    I think the ferris wheel analogy has another problem too. It might be odd for a ferris wheel to be in the desert, but it’s still very possible. If someone told you that they rode an alien spaceship and could introduce you to other people that had also ridden it, would you be as likely to believe them?

  56. no, not nearly as likely. but i think there are more pieces to the puzzle of Jesus and his resurrection – both before and after – than there are for an alien spaceship ride.

    haven’t had time to go over your longer piece, and have to run now. but i did read the first part about being respectful to me. i do appreciate the respect i have been shown on your blog by your and others. and, no worries, i don’t feel that it would be disrespectful to question or otherwise disagree with the reasons i’ve listed. these reasons are either true or false. there are much more subjective, personal reasons for my faith as well, that i haven’t put out there because those are not really helpful to our discussion.

    would love to hear from one of your friends!! :)

  57. no, not nearly as likely. but i think there are more pieces to the puzzle of Jesus and his resurrection – both before and after – than there are for an alien spaceship ride.

    Maybe. At the same time, there have been countless UFO sightings, many many abduction claims, and some odd stories like Roswell and the “Battle of Los Angeles” from WW2. Plus, if you’re alluding to the prophecies concerning Christ, that was a major consideration for me as well when I was going through my deconversion. After going back through them more critically, I was not nearly as impressed with them as I had been before. Matthew, especially, takes a lot of liberties with scripture to find his “prophecies.”

    And I put the call out to get you some reinforcements — hopefully they’ll stop by! :)

  58. “Jews believed that the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem”

    In addition to the so-called “prophecies,” there’s another, lesser-known reason for the Messiah to have been born in Bethlehem, that fits very well into the Jesus/Yeshua myth.

    This, from my own website:
    “35:21 ‘And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.’”
        The “tower of Edar” would have been known by its Hebrew name, “Migdal Eder,” meaning, “Tower of the Flock.” Much, much later, we will hear of Mary Magdalene, or, Mary, the Migdalene, meaning that she came from the area of the tower, or migdal.
        In ancient times, this was a military tower erected to view into the valley on the edge of Bethlehem (Ephrath, Ephratha, or it’s Egyptian derivative, Ephratah). The original history of the watch towers is lost in the mists of pre-history, doubtless built and maintained by one of the many nations that conquered the Levant, only to have been themselves conquered by the next generation of tyrants. Real estate agents in those days, made a fortune.
        As times passed, the watch towers located along that road came to serve a dual purpose, at times used for the safety of the country, but also used to watch over large flocks of sheep.
        The flocks in Bethlehem were raised for very special purposes.  The shepherds that cared for these flocks would have been specially trained for their job, as a special flock of sheep were raised by rabbinical shepherds from Jerusalem. These shepherds were very knowledgeable of the ceremonial laws of cleanliness and took very seriously their job that the sheep were to be protected from harm or injury of any kind.
        Bethlehem was the birthplace of these lambs and since their final destination involved being offered as a religious sacrifice in the temple at Jerusalem, special care had to be taken that they were not blemished.  Only a perfect lamb would be acceptable. These people’s god wasn’t satisfied with factory seconds. Regarding his human creations, he admits he made junk, but he expects only perfection in return.
        Migdal Edar was a two-story tower that was covered to protect the watchman who looked over the horizon to be on guard for any impending danger from both human and animal enemies. The lower level of the tower was specifically used as the place where the lambs from the flock were born. It was ceremoniously clean and orderly.
        According to historic writings, underneath the watch tower itself was a cave-like lower portion.  This is where the ewes would be taken to be protected and cared for while they delivered their newborn lambs. Temple ritual would have required that the birthing place for these lambs be ceremonially clean, so a lamb used for sacrifice would likely not be born in a dirty environment as we would think of a stable in our Western mindset.
        When a lamb was born, it was immediately wrapped in swaddling clothes (described historically as strips of cloth) to keep it from injuring or otherwise blemishing itself and placed in a small stall or manger, where it could temporarily recuperate until it gained strength. This was done so the lambs would be protected from harming themselves on their unstable legs. Then, at some point, they would be examined by a priest to ensure they were fit for use as a sacrifice. This was the only function of the lower level of the Migdal Eder.
        The flock of sheep was kept outside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was a holy place, set apart for the sole purpose of birthing the temple sacrificial lambs.

    As can be seen, it took a lot of work to incorporate sufficient details into the Yeshua myth as to make it appear as though it was an event millennia in the making.

  59. There were so many points to which I wanted to comment, but there were no “Reply” buttons – oh well –

    The differences in the stories lie in the fact that both Matthew and Luke took freely from Mark, but there’s no indication that those anonymous authors ever read each other’s work, and no opportunity to synchronize their efforts.

    As for the trip to Egypt, apparently Matthew felt it was essential to create the imaginary vacation, in order to satisfy Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

  60. @Dave

    First, sorry I’m a little slow with my response to your response, but I do have other things going on in my life besides reading and posting on blogs. :-) And, too, I needed to do a little research.

    1. Yes, John does record Jesus’ statement that he and the Father are one. However, if you will note in John 17:22-23, Jesus makes a request of “the Father” that all may be one. Is he asking that everyone be God in the flesh? Rather, I think he is saying he is one with the Father in purpose and it is his desire that this same unity exists among all believers.

    As for Jesus saying he is the Messiah, I think it’s important to point out that the early writings of Paul predate the gospels by several years. His first few epistles were written around 10-20 years before Mark (who wrote the first gospel) and at least 40-50 years earlier than the gospel of John (generally dated anywhere from 90-125 CE). Taking note of this, it was Paul who first made the claims that Jesus was the “the Christ.” As he spread his version of Christianity, this soon came to be the general consensus and thus became part of the belief of the gospel writers. Particularly John, whose gospel is said to be the most “spiritually-based” (as opposed to “historical”).

    2. Well, yes, this verse could indicate that Jesus was talking about his return to life, but again, the gospels were written after Paul had his say and he’s the one who talked about Jesus dying and returning to life. (BTW, his reasons for doing so are based on his need to convince the gentiles that Jesus was a dying/rising savior.)

    3. The gospels do report people seeing Jesus, but in what form? On three different occasions, he was not recognized (why not?). On another, he appeared as a “ghost.” Yet Thomas is said to have touched him and Luke writes that he ate and drank with the disciples. And Paul? Nowhere does it say that Jesus appeared to him. What he saw was a talking “light from heaven” that claimed to be Jesus.

    40 days? Hmmm. Luke’s gospel says he was around for only a few hours, John reports he was only seen up to a week after his death. It was the writer of Acts that reported he was present for 40 days. Which one is right?

    4.Not sure that this is an indication of James dying for the faith. It sounds more like a political death to me since all it indicates is that he “belonged to the church.” I tend to agree that the reported “deaths for the cause” are more tradition than fact.

    And finally, the reason you don’t know of any other sources is because there aren’t any.

    @Nate (and others),

    Hope you’ll forgive me for taking away from the original subject of this blog posting.

  61. hi nate, just had a chance to read your longer post, and though i don’t personally accept some of what you have said (e.g., failed prophecies), much of what you have said resonates with me (e.g., assuming Christianity is true, God allowing people to be born in non-Christian cultures with the implication that they will never have a real chance to learn of Christianity).

    i may be wrong, but at or near the bottom of what you are saying is the true presupposition that many Christians believe huge amounts of people will be spending eternity in hell. if that is a major objection you have, it is an objection i share. i think the ideas of hell that many christians have are more like dante’s inferno than the bible. like many other things we have discussed, that idea is either true or false; i believe it to be false, and that the biblical evidence for it to be mis-interpreted.

    there’s lots of directions to go from here, and we’re all beginning to stray far away from the logic/illogic of the nativity stories… since you are the moderator of this blog, is all of this ok with you? or do different discussions need to be held in other places (i have not taken the time to view other areas)?

  62. “On three different occasions, he was not recognized (why not?).”

    SO glad you picked up on that, Nan, I had intended writing extensively on it at some point in the future.

    Note also that when Mary Magdalene sees him in the garden, and first believes him to be the gardner, then finally recognized him, she falls to her knees in an effort to throw her arms around his legs, but he cautions her not to touch him, “For I am not yet ascended to my father.” What do you suppose he means by that? In the sense of the word that I understand “ascend,” it really hard to touch someone AFTER they’ve ascended!

    I could swear that at some point in the past, I read that passage as, “Do not touch me, for I am not yet become flesh,” which could mean he had not yet “solidified” from a “spiritual” form, but I’ve not been able to find it since, in any version of the Bible.

  63. Nan,

    In John’s account, I don’t get the week time constraint when I read it. John says he appeared to the disciples, and then appeared to them again 8 days later when Thomas was with them. That’s all in chapter 20. Ch 21 says he appeared to them again while they were fishing in the Sea of Tiberius (in Galilee), and we don’t know when that was. I don’t particularly see a timeline disagreement between Acts and John.

    However, the gospels definitely give different impressions. In Luke, the impression is given that Jesus was only there that one day. In Acts, it says he was there for 40. John doesn’t really say, nor does Matthew. But what’s interesting in Matthew and John is the intermittent nature of his appearances. Where is he going when he’s not with the disciples? He appears to some of them in Jerusalem, but then they don’t see him for a while. Then he appears to them in Galilee, but according to Matthew, it seems that he doesn’t spend much time with them before ascending.

    If his resurrection was physical, why doesn’t he stay with the disciples the entire time? What’s he doing during that 40 day period? There’s nothing substantial enough here to call foul over anything in particular, but it does strike me as very odd.

  64. Hi Dave,

    I’m fine with letting the conversation go wherever it goes. Thanks for checking though!

    And yes, people’s positions on Hell and what salvation actually means are all over the board. I was raised to believe in a literal Hell, but I’ve since come to see that such a belief was built over a long period of time. It’s certainly not what the Israelites believed.

    Since you don’t believe in Hell, what do you believe the point of the gospel is? What’s it saving people from? Is there a Heaven, and if so, will everyone be there?

  65. @Dave

    however, the example you gave doesn’t dispute the geography; rather, it questions the history of what actually took place.

    Luke claims that Nazareth was built upon a hill and they want to sling him to his death from it.
    Nazareth is not built on a hill and the nearest point to throw anyone down is 4km away.

    It is also worth remembering that the population Luke’s ”city” has been conveniently scaled down from a few thousand to include a 25 family hamlet to a one family farm to the site of a nearby Roman Garrison hypothesis you mention ,which has been roundly refuted btw but I’ll’lll be blowed if I can find the link.

    So if we say for argument’s sake it was a tiny hamlet, straightaway this is in conflict with Luke.
    If we go with the city as stated, there is no archaeological evidence at all.

    Were the residents unaware that they had a god in their midst?
    Did the parents make no mention of the visit by the Magi?
    What about the slaughter of the innocents and the family;s flight to Egypt.
    That story must have been known and still the residents of this Nazareth are unaware that they had a god man living in their midst even after they returned home.

    It becomes more and more difficult to square away the Lucan account with reality.
    And even Catholic archaeologist Father Bellarmino Bagatti found nothing to support Luke’s version and neither has any other archaeologist.

    In other words…someone made it up.

  66. @ Dave
    Just in case…( not everyone reads the bible :))here’s the passage.

    When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But upassing through their midst, he went away.

    My emphasis.

  67. however, the example you gave doesn’t dispute the geography; rather, it questions the history of what actually took place.

    Luke’s account states that Nazareth was built upon a hill. It isn’t. And the nearest place that they could have possibly cast him down from was 4kms away.

    Luke also states Nazareth was a city with its own synagogue.
    Over the years this has been downscaled until it was considered a one family farm.
    If the latter is correct where did the multitude come from?
    What happened to the synagogue Jesus spoke in?

  68. One of the recurring bits of schtick that comes up on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ involves one of the boys posing a preposterous question along the lines of, “If the material in Superman’s caped suit is from Krypton and therefore indestructible how did Ma Kent cut the pieces to sew it in the first place?” Then, they all proceed to outdo each other by coming up with explanations that are ever more absurd and hysterical.”

    When it happens on TV, I laugh my ass off; but it’s happening here which is plain sad — and it causes me to doubt both the intelligence and the faith of my Christian brethren. (Not that I haven’t been doing THAT for fifty years and more!!!)

    Back when I was a mere youth getting religious instruction, I was told that the gospel writers had Jesus born in a manger to show his solidarity with the poor, given homage by kings to demonstrate his dominion over the entire world and fleeing to Egypt to indicate his compassion for the foreigner. None of my teachers ever suggested that the accounts included those details because they were literally true.

    In the seventh chapter of John (Oh no, now you’ve got ME doing it! I’m actually dredging up scripture to make a point — Egads!) the religious authorities are depicted as saying, “Search the scriptures. Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”(v 52) but the entire POINT of the chapter is to indicate that the people who didn’t ‘get’ Jesus were the ones who take things literally.

    Jesus himself made this claim: “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” He basically ignores the entire debate about whether he comes from Bethlehem or Nazareth or from deep in the heart of Dixie. His teaching is that the place he’s “from” is “from God” which is a claim that can’t be tested literally.

    So don’t try!


  69. but cap’n, isn’t your answer just as much an effort in trying to make the bible/jesus workout as Dave’s? You just see the flaws and Dave is trying to make it be without flaws.

    It’s still the same bible you’re defending. You’re just one step removed. You say it’s messed up, but it wasn’t intended to be taken literally. problem solved… well then couldn’t it mean most anything then? and how do we know what parts mean what?

    Dave is saying that each account must be true so he squishes ‘em together, and tosses in a few other parts or tosses a few out as needed.. problem solved… except it isn’t really.

    all this leads me to a question I’ve asked believers many times before and no one has ever bothered trying to answer it. What contradiction couldn’t be explained away in the manner you two are doing with this? can you provide an example?

  70. “It’s certainly not what the Israelites believed.”

    A point that Christopher Hitchens once made, was that much of the Bible was what an elite group of Israelis would have liked the Israelites to have believed, but the actual beliefs of the average, illiterate Israelites were all over the place, as evidenced by all of the Asherah poles that had to be destroyed.

  71. “His teaching is that the place he’s ‘from’ is ‘from God’ which is a claim that can’t be tested literally. So don’t try!”

    While I can’t test where he’s from, in light of the fact that no one has ever proven he ever existed, I believe I can definitely prove he’s not, “from God.”

    Luke 20:37, which I won’t bother repeating here, has Yeshua grouping all four of my favorite people into a single sentence: Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel, all of whom modern day archaeologists have concluded, based on cumulativly hundreds of years of research in the field of biblical archaeology, never existed. Anyone sent by an omniscient god, would have known that.

  72. William, have heard – and many jokes start this way, but this isn’t one of them – about the store clerk in one of the major bookstores here in America, who was recently fired for filing the store’s Bibles in the Fiction section? It was in the news just last week. I think she had the right idea.

  73. yes, i do remember hearing about that, though I don’t recall where. When i was a christian something like that wouldn’t have bothered me – of course I would have thought they were mistaken or ignorant… Oh, how the tables have turned.

    I wonder if it were the koran that were put in the fiction section if the christians would have had any heartache. I think I know the answer – at least for the vast majority of Christians.

    Well, truth is truth whether we recognize it or not – and it’s the same with fiction. Put it on whatever shelf you like – it doesn’t change what it is.

  74. @William

    “It’s still the same bible you’re defending.”

    I have, as you may or may not know, visited Nate’s very interesting ‘site many times — and I’ve made many comments. Over and over I have made comments to the effect that Christians often make the mistake of putting their faith in the Bible instead of putting their faith in God.

    God is perfect, infinite and everlasting. The Bible is flawed, limited and very much a product of the era and culture in which it was composed. As far as I can tell, a great number of people have elevated the Bible to such an unwarranted position of reverence that they are at great risk of committing the sin of idolatry.

    Allow me another analogy. The Bible is like a drug store. Obviously, the purpose of a drug store is to make sick people well; but if patients were encouraged to go into the dispensary and pick medicines out at random and take them at random times and in random dosages they would not get well. They would get very, very sick. Very likely they would die — and many a believer has died a spiritual death because s/he misused the Bible (or followed the guidance of a preacher who was misusing the Bible.)

    To continue with the analogy, we know that the drugs in the drug store will only help you if they’ve been prescribed to you by a competent physician and you administer the drugs exactly as instructed by your doctor. That is how it is with physical health and that is how it is with spiritual health. Unless you’re guided by someone who actually has faith in God, the Bible will never make you well — only sicker.

    Please visit my blog,, and read a few of my posts. You will see that I do, in fact, “administer” scripture all the time — but I worry about folks who read the passages without getting a proper interpretation.

    Call me arrogant but I know myself to be a person who has faith in God. I can make good use of the Bible — many people who have no faith and have never really repented are “using” the Bible and making idiots out of themselves — idiots that you atheists have no trouble ridiculing.


  75. great to see all the comments… i do apologize for not trying to respond to more comments, i simply do not have the time. wanted to get to one of arkenaten’s posts:

    1. you said, “Luke claims that Nazareth was built upon a hill and they want to sling him to his death from it. Nazareth is not built on a hill and the nearest point to throw anyone down is 4km away.”

    the geography is not exactly simple, and the matter is complicated by tradition (the traditional site for the slinging that may not, after all, be the site). nazareth is built on a hill, though not the top of the hill… and nearby there is a perpendicular cliff that is a good candidate for the actual site.

    2. “It is also worth remembering that the population Luke’s ‘city’ has been conveniently scaled down from a few thousand to include a 25 family hamlet to a one family farm to the site of a nearby Roman Garrison hypothesis you mention ,which has been roundly refuted btw but I’ll’lll be blowed if I can find the link.”

    the nazareth of ancient history has not been nailed down by archaeology. of course, this is not an uncommon thing, and archaeology in Israel (as well as many other places) is sometimes a slow-moving enterprise.

    3. “So if we say for argument’s sake it was a tiny hamlet, straightaway this is in conflict with Luke. If we go with the city as stated, there is no archaeological evidence at all.”

    i am not ready to say “no archaeological evidence at all,” as the roman garrison theory may be “roundly refuted” by one person? two people? anyone?

    4. “Were the residents unaware that they had a god in their midst?
    Did the parents make no mention of the visit by the Magi?
    What about the slaughter of the innocents and the family;s flight to Egypt.
    That story must have been known and still the residents of this Nazareth are unaware that they had a god man living in their midst even after they returned home.”

    the residents were either unaware or unbelieving. even if mary told her neighbors about the magi, they may not have believed, particularly because that happened years before in bethlehem. with all the violence in israel at that time – by the kings, and by the roman empire – the slaughter of the innocents may not have been more than a news blip, and that from years before.

    5. “It becomes more and more difficult to square away the Lucan account with reality.
    And even Catholic archaeologist Father Bellarmino Bagatti found nothing to support Luke’s version and neither has any other archaeologist. In other words…someone made it up.”

    today, it is difficult to find someone who is neither a christian apologist nor someone out to discredit the bible, who might judge luke fairly. this was awhile ago, but sir william ramsay – a skeptical prof. of archaeology from oxford – thought his research on paul’s journeys as described in the book of acts (written by luke) would reveal luke to be an inaccurate historian; instead, he was amazed at luke’s accuracy, and his research led him to become a christian.

    one last comment/question: i find some of your statements to be “sweeping” in their pronouncements – words and phrases like “roundly refuted” and “nothing,” as if these matters are clear cut, black-and-white issues. maybe you could comment as to whether you really believe that, or if this is rhetoric?

  76. william, you wrote: “What contradiction couldn’t be explained away in the manner you two are doing with this? can you provide an example?”

    maybe i’m not getting your question. this seems a little like asking me to look at a big bowl of fruit and tell you which item in the bowl is not a fruit.

    also, i don’t think i’ve tossed out anything yet. i may have to say “i don’t know” to something, or, as you have suggested, add some things in. in doing so, i may be wrong about this or that speculation. i have been wrong once or twice in my life :).

  77. nate, you asked: “Since you don’t believe in Hell, what do you believe the point of the gospel is? What’s it saving people from? Is there a Heaven, and if so, will everyone be there?”

    actually, i do believe there is a hell, i simply don’t think that there will be any person burning there for all eternity. if there is more interest in this topic, i will try to write more, but for now, suffice it to say that i find only slight biblical evidence for the “eternal damnation” position, and a lot more evidence for people being saved by God’s grace. the image of hell, when it is used, typically is an image of perishing, i.e. ceasing to exist, like something being burned up in a fire. the position i lean toward, without holding onto tightly, is what often is called annihilationism. when the bible uses the words “perish” and “destroy”, as it does on numerous occasions when life after death is discussed, i believe that’s exactly what is intended – annihilation – rather than meaning “living in hell forever.”

    the gospel and salvation are for life with God for eternity. i really don’t know if everyone will be there. i believe there will be more people there than lots of christians might think – perhaps even a few agnostic atheists ;). the gospel also is for life here and now. following the way of Jesus might not yield power and popularity, but i do believe it yields peace and joy.

  78. “i do believe there is a hell”

    Dave, why do you think that hell only pops up when the Jews meet the Greeks, with their concept of an “underworld” where the dead go after they’ve finished living?

  79. @ CaptainCatholic: Your position, sir, is unassailable–just as is the position of the Guerrilla fighter–have no position to take and your position can’t be taken; where the opposition brings force, melt away so that he has nothing to hit, then strike back in a way he has no defense for.

    Seriously, what defense is there for “ahh, but you misuse/misinterpret the bible”? Everyone uses that line and they all have the correct interpretation. I was brought up believing that “the bible interprets itself” if you pray, study, meditate, and have faith…”here a little, there a little; precept upon precept; line upon line”. Of course, we were told the correct way in which “the puzzle that is the bible” is assembled.

    I have to agree w/ KCChief1 about the ultimate utility of having an instruction book for mankind (or a medicine cabinet for mankind) that isn’t clear. But, I suppose we all know that–even JC said that the parables were NOT to make things more clear, but more UNclear so that only those called by God could understand.

    You seem to argue that, considering the flawed nature of the bible, we shouldn’t bother ourselves over ultimately unimportant contradictions…whereas I’m coming from the angle of “if even basic narratives of something as important as the Birth of the Saviour are contradictory, how can one have faith in any of it? How does one decide what to believe and what to label as faulty? Doesn’t I Tim. 3 say ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for reproof, instruction in righteousness, etc?” But, of course, if you choose not to defend that scripture (back to the military analogy), then the blow of Logic spends itself in futility.

    Clever, but unconvincing and unhelpful. I mean, if it is all unfalsafiable Faith, then why do you (or why should anybody else) think Christianity is correct and not Islam or Judaism or Hinduism? And why Catholocism as opposed to one of the dozens of forms of Protestantism?

  80. I responding via iPhone right now. I’ll make some general comments here and give you a more thorough response later.

    You seem to have made a number of assumptions I don’t share. One obvious example is that you’re looking at this conversation as ‘combat’. I suppose you expect that everyone on the thread. no matter their belief, is looking for vindication: “Ah hah! Gotcha!! I’m right, you’re wrong, I win!”

    Not interested.

    Nate selected ‘Finding Truth’ as his blog name. ‘Combat’ isn’t going to help anybody find truth. Debating just causes everyone to dig in to their original position and listen less for something useful that someone else might say.

    Jesus, by my understanding, revealed the truth (or some aspect of it) to his disciples, intending that they would promulgate that truth to others after he died.

    I don’t see any reason to believe that Jesus gave reading assignments to his disciples. You might say that he taught without a textbook. He quotes scripture from time to time, but he also makes claims for which there is no Biblical support. He’s surrounded by people who attempt (with as little success as today’s religious folk) to fit an understanding of everything they experience in life into the narrow confines of scripture.

    There main beef with Jesus is that he refuses to be as Biblically constrained as they are! Jesus lived and died a devout Jew, but he was constantly pointing out the fact that there were plenty of non-Jews who had more faith and understanding than the authorities in his own Faith Tradition.

    But you know all of that already….


  81. Paul,

    I’ll checkout your blog when I have a moment. Thanks for the invite.

    I will say that, while I think your particular view on Christianity is more appealing in the sense that it doesn’t seem to begrudge or demonize those who don’t share in that same particular view as much as the fundamentals I grew up with, I do still think it has its flaws.

    As I stated earlier, in many ways it is a similar defense as Dave’s and others – as well the more fundamental, literalist groups I was once party to.

    We used to defend the bible by trying to force sense and logic out of passages that clearly conflict. You, seeing the problems in the bible, just side step the force and take up the “it doesn’t mean what it says, but means this or that…” or “you’re just not understanding it correctly, etc” because to you it IS god’s word and since god is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes then the bible must be true in a spiritual or figurative sense – since it obviously isn’t literally accurate – where Dave and the groups I knew want it to be true in a literal sense.

    The problem I have with your view is like Esell points out, you make a defense without actually having to make any real points. You’re defending the bible by saying god never meant it to be taken literally. Well which parts? How do you tell which parts are literal and which are not? Why cant all the parts about jesus be figurative – just some personification of morality?

    Why couldn’t Islam and all other religions also be true? The bible may look like it condemns any other religion, but does it? Maybe we’re not reading it with holy enough eyes. This type of argumentation can go on forever about anything an no one can “disprove” it, so it’s the perfect defense if you don’t really want to be accountable for anything or get anywhere.

    What is the process for understanding the bible correctly, if it can’t be understood like any other book?

  82. Dave – “maybe i’m not getting your question.”

    We’re, or we were, discussing the differences in Matthew’s and Luke’s birth stories. I’m saying that if we read each account as they are written, then they appear to conflict with one another. I believe them to be contradictory.

    You say that we should mesh them together to get a better or more complete understanding of the events.

    I think that in order for you to be correct, you’re having to ignore a few details from each story while creating a few more to make a combination of the two differing stories into one big more detailed story.

    I am asking if anyone who maintains that position that could provide an example of a contradiction that couldn’t be explained away in a similar way.

    For example, someone could offer the following as a contradiction: Source A: Peter went to school Tuesday morning. Source B: Peter went to the hospital Tuesday morning and then went home.

    Someone could say these are the same stories from different perspectives because Peter could have gone to school, but then went to the hospital soon after and then went home because he was sick.

    Or they could say that Peter went to the hospital and then went to school (still morning time) and went home after that.
    Or someone could say that Peter is a med student and the hospital is his school, and after his education went home…

    Or like Paul’s position, sources A & B weren’t talking about physical places or literal times of the day. The point is that Peter went places and did things and learned things. We should learn from peter and not be idle or content to rest until we have also been productive…

    I’m sure we could imagine others. And I’m asking if there is any contradiction that we couldn’t explain away by inventing connecting pieces. Do you have any example?

    I ask because I cannot think of one. I ask because I think it also illustrates how much you’re having to create (and how much Paul is having to dodge) in order to prevent these stories from being in conflict. I ask because I want to point out that the bible (god’s word) needs a lot of human help in order to be in harmony. What contraction couldn’t be defended in a similar fashion?

  83. And Paul, I think better analogy is the bible is like the directions for a particular drug, where god is supposedly the producer and author of the drug and its directions.

    The directions are written in such a way that no one agrees on how exactly to take the drug and then the drug manufacturer gets to blame the user for not following a cloudy set of instructions – when in reality, the drug manufacturer is to blame for publishing unclear directions for something so important.

  84. william, i’ll do my best to answer, though i’m not confident i fully understand what it is you are seeking.

    if one birth account said: “Jesus was born on december 25, 0004, in nazareth, at st. mary’s hospital,” and another account said that “Jesus was born on december 25, 0004, in bethlehem, at st. joseph’s hospital,” that would be an example of something that was clearly contradictory.

    typically, we don’t really have that kind of detail, however, and so connecting pieces need to be at least considered.

    what details do you think i’m ignoring in either matthew or luke related to the nativity?

    finally, in your example, one way to clear up the “contradiction” is to go ask peter what happened. unfortunately, we do not have that luxury with the bible.

  85. Dave, thanks for the response.

    And you’re right, I would also say that was a good example of a contradiction, but people could say that the different accounts you posit are going off of different calendars – so no contradiction on that point.

    They could say that St Joseph’s hospital is just a Bethlehem branch of St Mary’s in Nazareth, so in a sense, they’re both correct on the hospital.

    Or perhaps Mary was an unfortunate woman who went into labor at one hospital but had to be transferred when jesus was stuck in the breach and needed the medical attention of the specialized doctor’s at the other hospital.

    But that’s one of the points. When we have conflicting accounts, we could invent anything to keep them from conflicting – especially if we can use the “anything is possible for god” trump card, and then tell any skeptics that they cannot prove their made up band-aid is untrue.

    And correct. We don’t have access to Peter, to Paul’s 500, to any of the “eye witnesses” to cross-examine and we don’t have god or jesus or angels speaking with us directly to confirm the bible or to let us know whether we’re understanding it all or not. We have the bible and what we can compare to it – whether it be itself, known history or through science. There are instances where it fails in each.

  86. william, well, i suppose we’re at or close to the heart of our debate here. it has to be judged whether or not it is appropriate at all to do any kind of interpretation of the bible; and if so, how much? what is reasonably acceptable, and what crosses the line into what most people would consider invention? as i think we both know, i find that the two nativity accounts can be synchronized, without adding much at all (a move somewhere between Jesus’ ages of a couple of months and two years), while you and others seem to find that addition beyond acceptable.

    i am aware that many people believe the bible fails. i used to be one of them. there are examples in the bible that still bother me, or i have to say, “i don’t know” (though the nativity is not one of those examples). but for me, that doesn’t mean the bible fails. more likely, it means i fail to understand. and as i mentioned much earlier, if there is a point(s) of failure in the bible, for me it doesn’t mean the whole thing comes tumbling down.

    thanks for making me think. in fact, i believe my brain is about to explode.

  87. Dave, I’ve enjoyed the discussion. It’s been a good one. And I don’t mean to say any interpretation is problematic – i don’t think that. but as you said, somewhere there is a line between interpretation and invention.

    And you say that you used to be skeptical of the bible – to what degree?

    And what exactly gave you confidence in the old book?

    Like nate, I used to be a fervent believer and a very active christian. I wouldn’t say that one thing did it in for me, but i guess it several things that got me to looking deeper and several more that pushed me over the edge.

    I eventually realized the bible was simply a book that was written, compiled, copied and distributed by men – so my faith had really only ever been in the claims of men – not god.

  88. Dave,

    This recent exchange between you and William has been really interesting. Since some of the contradictions we’ve mentioned were a bit new to you, allow me to make a shameless plug and invite you to read the series I’ve done on contradictions. In fact, you might get something out of the one I did on prophecy as well. Both can be found in my About section.

    Once you’ve gone through those, I’d recommend that you read this one again, as well as the two passages that recount the nativity story. To me, the number of problems in the Bible is overwhelming, once they’re all considered (not that my posts include a full list). And the way Matthew and Luke each tell this story shows me that the only two points they had in common were Bethlehem and Nazareth. None of the connecting details match.

    If you can, try to temporarily put aside the thought that people would have stripped these stories out if they were truly contradictory, and just look at the stories for what they are. Most people are loathe to remove stories from the Bible — after all, as mortal men, who are we to judge? So if I were you, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the fact that they both still appear in the Bible.

    Anyway, that’s my suggestion to you, if you’re interested. Feel free to comment on any of the threads you happen to read, if there are points you’d like to discuss. When I first started studying these issues, it took finding several flaws before I could finally admit that that’s what they were.

  89. @Dave.

    Sadly there is no archaeological evidence that matches luke’s description. Absolutely none.Your defence is no different from any other apologist.

    This city with its ”multitude” its ”synagogue” and ”temple” is not mentioned in any pre christian literature. Not a whisper or allusion.

    Are you aware of the Nazareth Farm Report?

    Origen who lived just up the road was aware of the story but didn’t know of the place. Neither did Eusebius and if my god lived in a village town hamlet city less than a day’s donkey ride ( from Caeseria) I think I would want to pay the place a visit. Wouldn’t you?

    The Peutinger map features the Mount of Olives and more than 3000 other place names, but no Nazareth.

    Josephus, who at one time lived in Sepphoris which is 6 kms up the road never mentioned it once. Yet he apparently knew of your man god courtesy of that fraudulent document the Testimonium Flavianum

    The geography of the area does not in fact match Lukes description. Ánd what would be the point of marching jesus all the way there to this cliff to sling him off when a stoning a la Stephen would have been quite sufficient and the accepted means to deal with a blasphemer.

    And please bear in mind that the word city is used to describe Nazareth.

    To continue to offer any sort of evidence to someone who is obviously inculcated with the biblical version is a waste of my time.

  90. “Most people are loathe to remove stories from the Bible — after all, as mortal men, who are we to judge?”

    Evidence of that, is the fact that the Priestly (P) Source wrote the first Chapter of Genesis to replace the one written 400 years earlier by the Yahwist (J) Source, feeling that the J Source had created a god that was too anthropomorphic. After all, he popped down to earth “in the cool of the day” for chats with young Adam and Eve, sewed clothes for them on the celestial Singer, and later chatted with Cain as to the location of Abel – the priests in Babylonian captivity, who wrote the P Source, didn’t believe their god would act with such familiarity, so they reinvented him. The great Redactor, combining all of the works into the Torah around 400 BCE, reluctant, as Nate said, to throw out any books, included both versions of the creation myths, thus defeating the P Source’s purpose.

  91. @Arch

    Wow, I’d never heard this before. I knew about the “sources” but didn’t know this is how they came about. What is your reference source? Would be interested in reading more.

  92. Am I having trouble understanding everyone or is everyone having trouble understanding me?

    The Bible is a means to an end. The goal isn’t to read the Bible, or to memorize the Bible, or to believe the Bible, or to interpret the Bible.

    The goal is to transmit the gospel, from one person to another. This can also be expressed as the goal being for the Church to fulfill its mission to ‘teach all nations.”

    The Church takes the position that it has a great deal of freedom when it comes to HOW it teaches. One of the gazillion things the Church has done over the years is to gather a bunch of writings from the ‘early days’ and compile them into a single volume. This is called the Bible, or the New Testament, or the Christian scriptures, or — as you might have it — “Favorite Fairy Tales”.

    Jesus didn’t instruct anyone to produce a Bible nor did he forbid it. It’s as if he said, “OK guys, you’ve all got brains in your heads, you figure out for yourselves how to fulfill the mission of teaching that I’ve given you.”

    What Jesus actually stipulated was repentance, the Forgiveness of sins, baptism and the Eucharist. I’m sure he realized we’d have plenty more to decide about beyond those direct instructions but he entrusted the work of building a Church to imperfect and limited human beings.

    Why, since the work is being done by imperfect and limited human beings, should anybody be surprised that there are lots if things about the Bible that are really, really good and a lot that’s … er… shall we say less than good?

    I’m still on my iPhone so it’s hard to write long comments….


  93. Paul, let’s look at it this way. Where do you learn about jesus and the christian notion god if not the bible? To me it looks like you’re getting your info from the bible and then tossing out the bible because it’s too hard to intelligently defend. It’s confusing.

    And if it’s the chruch that makes the calls, you still run into the same problems because they’re also just people who also got their info from either the bible itself or of we go far enough back from the same fouled up sources that gave us the bible.

  94. William hits the nail on the head. How can anyone be a “Christian” if not for the stories about Jesus that are in the bible?

    BTW, it’s my understanding it was Paul that taught the practice of the Eucharist, not Jesus.

  95. William, you’ve expressed what I was thinking, but didn’t say, due to my upcoming New Year’s Resolution, for which I’m currently practicing, to avoid arguments with fence posts.

    No offense, Cap’n, merely a metaphor –

  96. @Dave

    “the residents were either unaware or unbelieving. even if mary told her neighbors about the magi, they may not have believed, particularly because that happened years before in bethlehem. with all the violence in israel at that time – by the kings, and by the roman empire – the slaughter of the innocents may not have been more than a news blip, and that from years before.”


    This is so silly it makes me want to cry. Honestly. Do you actually think that these contorted speculations relate, even in the remotest way, to me making room in my heart for God?

    I’m cringing, thinking about you thinking about a conversation between Mary and her Nazarene neighbors where Mary claims that she, and Joseph and the baby Jesus were visited by three travelers from the East and feted with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

    I know nothing that will help us figure out where Jesus was actually born and I care less than I know. The point of telling a story about God becoming a baby and being lain in a manger is to help you make sense of the gospel. The fact that you’re scouting around, trying to find historical evidence to prove that this is what actually happened makes me wonder whether you’ve missed the point entirely.



  97. Alright, enough lurking. Too much to say. Sorry for the length.

    I get it. This is the perspective I held two years ago. I wanted to look at the big picture and focus on the message. Don’t get caught up in the details. The details are messy, the big picture is beautiful. Keep the main thing the main thing. This is where I was and then I realized something. When I added up all the details, it turns out they didn’t mesh with the big picture. I had created my own version of Christianity and if the bible was only useful for my subjective picking and choosing, why was I using it as a foundation for understanding God in the first place? Why should I think that the authors had any special insight that I should draw from?

    The details are important because they inform the big picture. We shouldn’t start with an assumption about what the big picture is and then gloss over the details. We should construct the big picture from the details. If the details tell us that God ordained what are very likely conflicting records of his incarnation then we have to question whether God is really behind the story. And if God isn’t behind the story, then why should we be so sure that the humans behind it have a correct understanding of God?

    I haven’t yet seen anybody attempt to explain why the “different stories” explanation is better than the “different timelines” explanation for the conflict. Let me try:

    It all starts with the synoptic problem. Matthew and Luke share a common core (aka Mark) but that core doesn’t include the nativity. So at some point those portions of the text came from different sources. Our first mention of Matthew tells us it is a collection of sayings in Hebrew. That doesn’t sound like our modern Matthew. The patristic sources also tell us that the Nazoreans and Ebionites relied on a Hebrew version of Matthew. So how did Matthew come about? First, it would appear that the sayings were combined with Mark to arrive at a greek gospel (proto-Matthew), but there still wasn’t a nativity. Next, we notice that Matthew is clearly targeted toward a Jewish audience. But who did the targeting? Well, Matthew 2:23 gives us a pretty good clue – Jesus ended up in Nazareth to fulfill the prophesy that he would be a Nazarene. The Nazoreans and Ebionites were predominantly in Israel and observed Jewish laws but held that Jesus was the messiah. They disagreed, however, about one key thing. Nazoreans held that the messiah was God’s son from birth. The Ebionites held that the messiah was adopted as God’s son at his baptism. So, if you’re a Nazorean and you have the Jews on one side rejecting Jesus as the messiah and the Ebionites on another side rejecting his divine birthrite, what do you do? You appeal to a common authority – the scriptures. You claim that Jesus was born of virgin according to Isaiah. You have Jesus come from Bethlehem, according to Micah (even though you only know he came from Nazareth). You parallel Jesus to Moses (the messiah prototype) by sparing him from infanticide and tie this into Jeremiah. You claim that God’s son was called out of Egypt according to Hosea (another Moses parallel). Put it all together and, presto, you’ve got yourself a nativity.

    What about Luke? Luke came along and got his hands on Mark and perhaps the proto-Matthew. Neither has a nativity. Still, there are other sources to draw from and clearly the whole virgin birth thing has made the rounds (just like it had for other man-gods). Luke’s sources have these interesting songs and extra info about John the Baptist’s birth but they don’t explain how Jesus could be Jesus of Nazareth yet come from Bethlehem. Everybody knows the messiah had to come from Bethlehem. Well, there was this census a long time ago that caused people working away from home to have to temporarily go home. Maybe that could be leveraged to explain how Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He is, after all, in the line of David like any messiah would be. So, put it all together and, presto, you’ve got yourself a new nativity.

    Is a lot of this speculation? Yes. I can’t prove that this is what happened, but I have done my best to incorporate as much of the data as possible. Isn’t that what makes an explanation good – that it does the best job of fitting all the data? I think so, and this story is the one that has done the best at minimizing cognitive dissonance for me.

  98. @Nan

    “BTW, it’s my understanding it was Paul that taught the practice of the Eucharist, not Jesus.”

    Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is the first record we have of somebody detailing the way Jesus commanded us to celebrate the Eucharist. It’s in the 11th Chapter, v 23-28.

    Paul, however, makes it clear that he’s not presenting something of his own invention but giving a summary of the way that believers had been practicing it for years — ever since Jesus himself instructed the apostles.


  99. hi nan, i’ve been meaning to get back to your comments. like you, i apologize for taking so long, but we probably ought to stop apologizing and simply realize we’ll all get to it if we want and when we can.

    1. you said: “Yes, John does record Jesus’ statement that he and the Father are one. However, if you will note in John 17:22-23, Jesus makes a request of “the Father” that all may be one. Is he asking that everyone be God in the flesh? Rather, I think he is saying he is one with the Father in purpose and it is his desire that this same unity exists among all believers.”

    in the context of john 17, i agree with you, that is what Jesus is saying.

    there are a variety of other places in the gospels where Jesus indicates that He is God. For example in Mark 14:61-64, where Jesus says, “I am” (which i think has a double meaning) to the question of whether He is the Christ.

    2. you said: “As for Jesus saying he is the Messiah, I think it’s important to point out that the early writings of Paul predate the gospels by several years. His first few epistles were written around 10-20 years before Mark (who wrote the first gospel) and at least 40-50 years earlier than the gospel of John (generally dated anywhere from 90-125 CE). Taking note of this, it was Paul who first made the claims that Jesus was the “the Christ.” As he spread his version of Christianity, this soon came to be the general consensus and thus became part of the belief of the gospel writers. Particularly John, whose gospel is said to be the most “spiritually-based” (as opposed to “historical”).”

    or, Jesus and his disciples really did say He was “the Christ,” which started the whole thing.

    3. you asked: “And Paul? Nowhere does it say that Jesus appeared to him. What he saw was a talking “light from heaven” that claimed to be Jesus.”

    granted. if his letters and acts are to be trusted, however, something big happened that was not simply in paul’s mind. i recognize that you and others feel they are not to be trusted.

    4. you asked: “40 days? Hmmm. Luke’s gospel says he was around for only a few hours, John reports he was only seen up to a week after his death. It was the writer of Acts that reported he was present for 40 days. Which one is right?”

    the writer of luke and acts are one and the same. i believe that person to be luke, though that is disputed by various scholars. not sure what you have read in john that says “only seen up to a week.” the gospel ends by saying, “Jesus did many other things as well,” which leaves things pretty open-ended.

    5. you said: “Not sure that this is an indication of James dying for the faith. It sounds more like a political death to me since all it indicates is that he “belonged to the church.” I tend to agree that the reported “deaths for the cause” are more tradition than fact.”

    but they are traditions with some evidence. the fact that christian martyrdom was fairly common until christianity became the religion of the empire gives some more credence to the tradition. it’s not unreasonable to believe that they died for the faith.

    6. “And finally, the reason you don’t know of any other sources is because there aren’t any.”

    yes, i know, and even if there were other sources, they would probably be under attack as well. your original point was this: “And finally, do you know of any reports outside of the bible that mention a man returning to life? Seems if such a miraculous event actually took place there would be something recorded about a dead man walking around and talking to people (at one point, 500 at a time).” i would like to add that, similar to your point, something might have been recorded about the finding of Jesus’ body. i don’t know of any such record.

  100. paul, i’m feeling awful… from wasting one person’s time, to making you cringe. i recall having that same effect on women when i was in my 20s. ah, but i digress.

    i have nothing to add to what others have said about the importance of the bible to our understanding of Jesus and to the christian faith.

    i do agree with you that there is a point to all of it – as you said, “to transmit the gospel.” john’s gospel, 20:31, is very clear on this (maybe you said this already… sorry if that’s a repeat). i just think the bible is a critical part of this point.

  101. nate, i will take you up on your shameless plug, but i’m not sure when. i was also hoping to look into the apparent contradictions on post-resurrection appearances, which i am guessing may be taken up in your “contradictions” piece, so i may do that all at once.

    what i truly like about this site is that it’s not what often happens in discussions about religion – “you believe your way, and i’ll believe mine.” i mean, that is reality – each person is free to believe what he/she wants to believe – but saying something like that at the beginning of a discussion doesn’t help anyone really delve into anything and gain understanding. so thanks for your blog and the way you invite discussion.

  102. Ahhh, thank you Paul–you explained a bit for me. I really, truly, was somewhat confused about your position. But this helps:

    Jesus didn’t instruct anyone to produce a Bible nor did he forbid it. It’s as if he said, “OK guys, you’ve all got brains in your heads, you figure out for yourselves how to fulfill the mission of teaching that I’ve given you.”

    Perhaps all Christianity has painted itself into a corner here. All my life I’ve heard that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible itself claims “all scripture is given by inspiration”. But, of course, there was no “bible” when those words were uttered (yes, assuming they were uttered by the person recorded as uttering them, etc). Every version of Christianity that I know of has always taught “the HOLY Bible”.

    Sorry for my Combative tone earlier (recently been reading military history…)–you are right about “FINDING truth” and that truth can be elusive, at best. However, I must say that if the point is to Spread the Gospel, then The Church has a very difficult job for itself, for the only known “source” of the gospel message is a very flawed collection. To believe in its narrative, esp. knowing that it is a flawed book, appears to me to be the same as choosing to believe in Eru Iluvitar b/c the Silmarillion teaches about him (with rather fewer contradictions, I might add ;-) ).

    I’m not being (or not trying to be) argumentative here, but I think you can possibly see how it would be difficult to accept the “truth of the gospel” when our only knowledge of it comes from such a flawed collection of accounts. As a Secular Humanist, I tend to have some expectations of “logic” and “evidence” about a proposition I’m expected to accept. I tend to think this isn’t asking too much (of course I wouldn’t, would I? lol).

    But again, it gets to the point of why accept Christianity as true? Why not Judaism or Islam? If the “truthfulness” or “accuracy” of the “holy” book that is our only source of the religion is not something to be concerned with, then what is there? Simply accept what we were taught as children and have faith? That would be unfair to all those who must be convinced of the truth of the gospel in order to be Saved.

  103. All one has to do is read books from 2 of the premier NT experts of our time, Raymond E. Brown (Catholic) and Geza Vermes (Jewish) . Their books ,”The Birth of the Messiah” (Brown) and , “The Nativity…..History and Legend” (Vermes) .

    They each go into great detail to analyze the Birth Stories. Vermes agrees with W.D. Davies and D.C. Allison that, “The Infancy Gospels are not the stuff out of which History is made”.

    Borrowing OT Scripture to support the Birth Stories , Raymond E. Brown says, ” The conception of prophecy as prediction of the distant future has disappeared from the most serious scholarship today, and it is widely recognized that the NT fulfillment of the OT involved much that the OT writers did NOT foresee at all”.

  104. Travis, I can relate to your journey, although it sounds like mine went a little faster once I started noticing the details. I still marvel at how quickly that castle of sand sank into the sea.

    You presented an interesting scenario for how the gospels could have been developed. I have not personally studied too much on that topic, but if nothing else it shows just how many ways the stories can be “rationalized” – either to uphold or to tear down.

  105. @Dave

    “paul, i’m feeling awful”

    I feel your pain, man! I get that same pain a lot whenever I get into these on-line discussions.

    I’m very heartened that you took my comment in the spirit that you did. I also have a suggestion (that has served me well over time) that might help you feel less awful.

    I try to think about religion and spirituality in these terms — I think about “an idea” instead of “my idea’; “an understanding” instead of “my understanding”; “a belief” instead of “my belief”.

    I was honest when I said that I cringed. Perhaps you will more fully appreciate the respect I actually do have for you if you consider that I cringed at “an understanding” instead of “Dave’s understanding.”

    Dave, I hope, will avoid the mistake of letting his ego get too caught up in the business of choosing one idea over another. You should give yourself the freedom to let go of a thought that served you in the past once you realize there’s a different thought that will better serve you in the present.

    In Christ,


  106. @eSell

    “Every version of Christianity that I know of has always taught ‘the HOLY Bible’.”

    You, like a lot of people, have been sold a bill of goods and I can assure you that the person who sold you that bill of goods was a Protestant.

    I don’t want you to think that I’m a bigot. I certainly don’t discriminate against Protestants, I don’t hold the opinion that they won’t be saved if they don’t convert to Catholicism, I’m quite sure that God loves Protestants as much as She (or, if you must, “He”) loves Catholics (or atheists, for that matter!), I certainly believe that baptism in a Protestant Church is as valid as baptism in the Catholic Church. I consider Protestants sisters and brothers in Christ.”

    My beef with Protestants isn’t personal; it’s just that there as some really fundamental divergences and one group is professing the truth while the other is off the mark. I will say with compete conviction that believing the truth will bring joy into your life whereas believing something less than the truth will keep you miserable.

    I’ve got to believe one thing or the other. I can’t believe both; and I certainly want to believe the teaching that will bring joy into my life.

    There is a REASON why Protestants say that Christianity is based on the Bible, or derives its authority from the Bible and it’s a reason that anyone who understands human nature can readily see.

    Luther was the first (the first we know of, anyway) and many followed him in thinking that he’d figured out a way to avoid the problems of having to accept the authority of flawed human beings. In Luther’s day, the authorities in the Catholic Church were greedy, stubborn, egotistical, vindictive and lecherous and he was appalled at the idea of having to submit to their authority.

    With me so far?

    Now, you may ask, why were the leaders of the Church like that? The reason is that people have always and everywhere been “greedy, stubborn, egotistical, vindictive and lecherous.” It’s not possible to find people without finding the characteristics that come along with human nature. In other words, we’re all assholes. You can verify that proposition for yourself whether you read the Bible or you don’t. The fact that everyone is an asshole isn’t something I believe because I read it in a book. I believe it because I’ve considered my own lived experience.

    Actually, there are TWO kinds of assholes. There are assholes who know they’re assholes and there are assholes who hold on to the delusion that they’re NOT assholes. Obviously, the deluded ones are the ones causing the most trouble.

    Phew! Let me take a breather here. You probably want one too. So, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em…

    Later, Dude,


  107. my “ego”??? who, me???

    one person once said, “I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.” i do have respect for your opinion and the opinions (beliefs) of the others on this site – and, i have my opinions (beliefs) too. that’s why i’m here. owning those is important. if you can’t trust that i actually believe what i’m saying, and i can’t trust the same of you – that we’re just having a nice, philosophical discussion – that may have value, but doesn’t have as much interest to me as what happens on this site.

    not sure what thought you believe might serve me better in the present, unless maybe it gets back to “ego.” dying to self is what is needed to better serve. believe it or not, i have changed my ideas over the years – for the better, i think – but do have a long way to go.

    blessings, dave

  108. @Dave

    I am simply not being blunt enough. The fact that you could even CONSIDER that a story about three kings, or three wise men, or what have you, who travelled thousands of miles to pay homage to a baby in a manger is literally true is convincing evidence to me that your religious teachers have taken out a lien on your brain. You no longer have the full use of your own intelligence. It’s a sad, sad thing for you; but what’s even sadder is that there are millions of others who are similarly impaired.

    The “atheists” on this ‘site are attempting to pull you out of your fantasy world by urging you to use logic. I think they’re wasting their time. I work as a mental health clinician. I have lots of clients who suffer from fixed delusions. It’s very sad, but I’ve learned to stop trying to argue them out of their odd ideas. There’s a reason, a reason that has nothing to do with logic, why you’re out on a limb the way you are. You hang on to your literalism because you’re afraid. Ultimately, I suspect, you’re afraid of God. You imagine Him to be as narrow as your teachers — which, as far as I’m concerned, proves that you have no faith.

    You don’t have enough faith to erase the notion that God is controlling, and powerful, and punitive, and judgmental, and vindictive. Yeah, I’m making all kinds of claims, here and — if I were actually going to try to know you as a whole person — I would keep my mouth shut and find a way to actually listen to you, and to actually learn to care about the suffering you’re in. I’m mouthing off because I’m on the internet.

    Maybe I’m applying “tough love”; even though I know that it’s not going to work. You and I are just throwing words back and forth but I want you to know WHY I’m sad about your situation. You will reject my sympathy, but that’s neither here nor there. You may never believe this, but I truly want what’s best for you and I want you to be happy and I want you to get your brain out of the cage it’s in.

    I love the story of the Epiphany. The fact that it’s not “really” true actually makes it better! It focuses my attention on something far more profound than the trivial issue of what three ancient wanderers happened to see when they stumbled into Palestine.

    I want to know that the Prince of Peace has come into our world and that all the nations will become subject to goodness, and mercy, and compassion, and generosity, and self-sacrifice. I want to hope that our world actually can be fixed. I want to be encouraged to look beyond the frightening visage of our violence and hatred and find a way to see the spark of the divine in all the people I meet.

    That’s what I want, and it’s SOOOOOOOOOOOO much better than three knuckleheads genuflecting before an infant’s crib. That’s what I think you miss by being a literalist. That’s why I’m sad for you. That’s why I cringe.

    In earnest,


  109. Paul, I don’t think that’s a very fair assessment of Dave’s position. If one believes in God and believes that God is supernatural and capable of speaking things into existence, then believing miracle claims is no big deal. That’s not an indication that someone has failed to use their intelligence.

    Dave’s at a point where he can accept the possibility of God doing any and everything that the Bible claims. For a while, he has accepted that those claims are true, but now he’s apparently willing to reexamine that position. There’s nothing wrong with where he’s at or the approach he’s using.

    At least, I don’t see a problem with it, for what that’s worth…

  110. paul, this is somewhat amusing coming from you.

    unless I am just completely mistaken about your brand of christianity…

    Where do you learn anything about Jesus if not from the bible?

    It looks like you’re criticizing Dave for reading the bible as it’s written, while you’re a believer who takes select parts as being literal (I assume you at least think jesus is literal) and the rest figurative (even though it’s written as if it’s literal).

    I don’t have the rank to order a captain around though, so I may just be speaking out of place.

  111. @Nate

    You are an excellent blog host. Fair minded and generous. I like that, and I’ve noticed in the past how good you at “nipping in the bud” potentially hurtful exchanges.

    I don’t want Dave to feel hurt anymore than you do. I’m not lashing out at him, really I’m not. My frustration is with literalists in general, not with him in particular — and I’m thinking that you realize that.

    I’m sure that you, when you were in the midst of your literalist funk, would have been hurt by a comment such as I just made, You’re a nice guy. Dave’s a nice guy. I’m an asshole — but I’m elaborating on that in another string…

    I made a point that I’m going to repeat here. By taking the position that the Bible is a compendium of supernatural occurrences, literalists miss out on the message that needs to be learned.

    Look, I know that there is a lot of weird unexplainable shit that goes on in the world. I realize that it isn’t fair for me to rule something out simply because I think it’s improbable — but I notice, time and time again, that if you take the position that the miraculous stories in the Bible are accurate reports you end up, at the end of the day, with events that are actually quite trivial.

    Let’s say a guy actually and literally braved the wind and the rain and took an evening stroll over the Sea of Galilee. What would it matter? Am I to be inspired to believe that God is mighty? Well, if the existence of a universe that actually functions according to stable natural laws isn’t enough to convince me that God is mighty, why would I come to believe in God because I notice those ‘stable natural laws’ are suspended?

    How much is a trip across a lake worth? That’s how much that story would be worth if it were literal — but it’s much,much more valuable than a ferry’s fare and literalists miss the whole point.

    The place where Jesus is calling Peter (and calling you!) to put yourself out on the line and to trust that what he says is true isn’t a place in time and space — any more than heaven can be located in time and space.

    Literalists are actually materialists. They don’t realize it, but their position is actually anti-God.


  112. “You should give yourself the freedom to let go of a thought that served you in the past once you realize there’s a different thought that will better serve you in the present.”

    Yes, Dave (voice of H.A.L., here –) do as the good Captain suggests – let go of your obsessive need for reason and rational thought and cling firmly the supernatural, after all:

    “An athiest is a person who has no invisible means of support.”
    – Aldous Huxley –

    Can’t have that, now can we?

  113. Clearly, CC, you’re hanging with the wrong crowd – I know a LOT of people who aren’t assholes! I feel sorry for you, and much better understand why you cling to your fairy tales, where everything is sunshine, lollipops, and happily-ever-afters.

  114. paul, i know you are not lashing out at me. really, it’s funny to me that when i said “i’m feeling awful,” you apparently took that literally. it’s funny to me that you have labeled the theology i hold, along with my personality. there’s a whole lot more humor i find, but probably the funniest thing of all is your comment earlier about “the respect” you actually do have for me. i would suspect your delusional patients have the ability to see right through you. you make some good points, and have a valuable perspective…. but to be blunt, at least in your writing, you’re way too condescending.

    p.s. perhaps unintentionally, you continue to avoid the question that keeps getting posed to you, best summed up by william: “Where do you learn anything about Jesus if not from the bible?”

  115. “I work as a mental health clinician. I have lots of clients who suffer from fixed delusions.”

    I’m not surprised –

    “Insanity is believing your hallucinations are real. Religion is believing that other peoples’ hallucinations are real.”
    – Dan Barker –

  116. I see what you’re saying, Paul. And I do know that you’re not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings — you’re just venting your frustration with the mindset, not the individual. I completely understand that.

    At the same time, I don’t think the literalist position is completely ridiculous. If God did create everything, then he is immensely powerful, as you said. And if he wanted to talk to us, what’s stopping him from doing so? In a nutshell, that’s the literalist position. Trust God and what he says, whether it makes complete sense or not — after all, he’s God. Who are we to judge what he says?

    Of course, upon closer inspection, this is rife with problems. First of all, God hasn’t told us anything (at least not all of us — I know some people believe God talks to them, but I’m leaving that aside for now). The Bible claims to be his revelation, but it was written by men. The Catholic church claims to speak for him, but they’re just people. Just as you said, you can’t escape the human element.

    This is where the literalist position should break down, especially when they begin to see the problems that exist in the Bible. Sadly, many people aren’t confident enough in their own ability to examine the problems and see them for what they are. But in my opinion, this is also where the Catholic position should break down. Just look at all the problems the Catholic Church has spewed out onto the world. If they really had a divine uplink to the Almighty, shouldn’t it be a bit more apparent?

    I don’t necessarily fault either position for their starting place. I just have trouble seeing why people continue along those paths once the evidence starts rolling in.

  117. “I just have trouble seeing why people continue along those paths once the evidence starts rolling in.”

    Probably because most of them simply refuse to accept the evidence. It’s so much easier to stay in our “comfort zone.”

  118. The impression with which I’m left, William, is that Captains Courageous here believes in the Hebrew god and his little boy, but not in the literature that tells of their existence – quite a leap, when you think about it – without the back-up literature for substantiation, then why not Odin and Thor? Cronus and Zeus? Osirus and Horus? Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy?

  119. And for those who think that nobody believes in Odin or Thor anymore think again:

    Ah but the number of people who believe that are incredibly small though – but don’t forget that both Judaism and Christianity started out with a very small number of believers (and stayed that way for many years) and many now believe those religions to be true, so in that respect the number of believers shouldn’t sway us when it comes to religion.

    Besides being an Odinist comes along with an extra appreciation of some very awesome movies.

  120. @Dave

    First of all, Dave, I can understand why you’d call me out for being condescending. Your observation is right on the money. I really can come off as condescending in the way I post comments on blog entries which, in a real sense, is a case of me slandering myself because I don’t actually feel that way — it’s just that at times I’m most interested in putting something out in as powerful and clear a way as I can. Yes, I know I’m being provocative, and blunt, and candid, and even over simplistic sometimes. When I do that I’m trying to hammer home an idea that I think is important — and I think it’s important to think about the spirituality you lose out on when you’re being a biblical literalist.

    I bring up this example only because it’s so commonplace in the faith life of Catholics. When I went to Mass yesterday the priest had this to say about the readings: “You know, there really are some lovely things in John’s first letter. His second and third letters, however, aren’t really worth the paper they’re printed on.” Folks on this board would accuse him of being a ‘cherry picker’ but I see it differently. I see a man who has a faith life and can speak about what he knows from first hand experience. When he reads a book he can decide for himself how well the author is expressing the things he knows to be true. I do that as well.

    “[Y]ou continue to avoid the question that keeps getting posed to you, best summed up by william: ‘Where do you learn anything about Jesus if not from the bible?’”

    I learned about Jesus, and continue to learn about Jesus, from other people — other members of the church. We Catholics talk about the fact that faith is ‘caught’ more often than ‘taught’. Yes, we read the Bible but the Bible isn’t an “argument settler” as it seems to be among the literalists. We use scripture passages as a jumping off spot for conversation. Sometimes our contribution to the conversation — like the priest I was with yesterday — is to say, “this isn’t at all useful.” We’re free to do that because our faith informs our reading of the Bible rather than the other way around.

    When I was a child I learned about Jesus from my parents, and from my extended family. We’d pray together, and talk about faith matters, and pose questions to each other, but we only rarely read the Bible. When I was a teenager I sought out people who were really living their faith and I see now that I learned to be a disciple just by “hanging out” with them.

    We talk of repentance — and for us repentance is an everyday, life long practice. We talk about becoming made over to be like Christ. Prayer is about yielding to God’s will and surrendering our own. Yes, all these concepts can be found in the Bible but the Bible isn’t the REASON I follow these practices. I follow the practice of prayer and repentance because I learned it from others and came to believe in it because I could see how it affected the people I was learning from.

    We talk about the faith of the Apostles because, by our understanding, a believer catches the faith from others, who themselves caught the faith from the people who preceded them, and on and on, generation before generation, until you get back to Jesus sharing his faith with the Apostles. Faith is passed from one believer to the next the same way one candle is lit from another.

    That’s how I “learn anything about Jesus”. That’s why I feel free to read the Bible and then reflect on how true it is according to my own lived faith and the faith of the people I am learning from.

    Does that answer the question. I don’t mean to “avoid” it.


  121. I think that’s too simplistic, arch.

    Paul believes the way he does because it works for him. His approach to faith is quite different than the way I was brought up to think about it, but in a way, I get where he’s coming from.

    For me, I just don’t see enough evidence to believe in a god — at least not any of the “revealed” deities. So I don’t agree with Paul, but I can see that he has reasons for his beliefs. To me, that’s not just seeking out confirmation bias.

    By the way arch, your previous comment about Peter Pan was priceless! I rarely “laugh out loud” from comments, but I did over that one! :)

  122. Oh, and Paul, thanks for posting that. It really helps me understand where you’re coming from much better. I don’t personally know many Catholics — this part of the country is mostly some flavor of Baptist or Methodist.

  123. “I learned about Jesus, and continue to learn about Jesus, from other people — other members of the church.”

    “When I was a child I learned about Jesus from my parents, and from my extended family. We’d pray together, and talk about faith matters, and pose questions to each other….”

    “When I was a teenager I sought out people who were really living their faith and I see now that I learned to be a disciple just by ‘hanging out’ with them.”

    Glad for the laugh, but as for the rest, must disagree –

  124. paul, i appreciate your last post, which helps me and i think others to better understand your viewpoint, a viewpoint with which i find much to agree. i believe that most if not all of us learn from those around us. our view of the world, our understanding of God, is not simply shaped by a book. i think it is the methodists who hold to a four-fold understanding of christian faith, that includes: scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. that’s a pretty good recipe.

    i understand that spirituality – a living faith – can not be confined to a book. i have the immense privilege of being part of a church that helps provide food and clothing for people (in a relatively poor area), assists women in domestic violence situations, sponsors an addiction recovery group, and runs a weekday preschool that is affordable. and all of that without making faith or church attendance a precondition for participation in these things. hope others are not going to misconstrue this. i’m not saying we’re doing everything right; i’m not saying that those who are not christian aren’t doing good things; i’m simply saying that if one has faith, it ought to be lived out, and i get to see it happening daily.

    here is what i am reading between your lines, though, with which i disagree: if there was no bible at all, and all that we had was oral tradition and the lives of others to count on, that our christian faith would be as strong, meaningful, and vibrant. am i correct in saying that’s what you believe?

  125. Ahhh, now I see. OK, I am sorry I was getting upset with you, Paul. I appreciate your honesty…

    We Catholics talk about the fact that faith is ‘caught’ more often than ‘taught’.

    It is clear that you were taught a set of beliefs as a child; those who taught you either knew the Bible was flawed and contradictory and so taught you that it was all MEANT to be allegorical…or else they had always been taught it was only meant to be allegorical by their parents/friends/priests.

    Caught, not taught… . Richard Dawkins has a bit to say about that.

    East is East and West is West and ne’er the twain shall meet…people who rely on Evidence and people who are comfortable with an unfalsifiable Faith with nothing substantial to back it up are two different mindsets. Using the “look at the universe–clearly God exists” argument does not work (you had said this when asking “why should a story of a man walking on water impress me when the whole Universe is there to show me God is Mighty”…the point of the story was to prove the Jesus was from God/was God, not to prove “God is Mighty”). The existence of the universe MIGHT be evidence of (a) god(s), but that is a long way from proving it is the God of the Religion you believe in.

    Knowing and accepting that the only source for your religion is just as factually accurate as the Silmarillion (and Eru Iluvitar) and still believing it is beyond my meagre mental powers.

  126. Paul, thanks for the description. I believe I do have a better idea of where you’re coming from now.

    I still, of course, disagree, but even so, I was very interested while reading. One of the reasons I still disagree is that you are still getting your information from people. People are fallible and are also not god – and those who claim to be conduits to god still can provide no divine evidence for such.

    I think the convenient thing about your position is that if someone (one of these people you get your lessons from) says something contradictory or erroneous in anyway, you can simply dismiss that as human error; a type of individual cherry picking. And furthermore, these people (when going back far enough) either got their information from the bible or from those who wrote the bible.

    I don’t want to appear augmentative. I feel like I gained a lot from what you have written, and I personally think that approach sounds better than the one I grew up with; however, I still think it’s misguided and incorrect. I think that if you delve a little deeper below the surface you will see that you can grow in all the admirable Christian traits (in much the same way you describe) without being under the Christian shadow… and it will likely even make more sense.

  127. Captain C – I just ran across this in a discussion of “New Atheism” over on Mak’s blog, and thought you’d enjoy it – see, I’m always thinking of you:

    “A new atheist is just any old atheist that the Catholic church can’t legally set on fire anymore.”
    ~ PZ Myers ~

  128. @ Paul

    We Catholics talk about the fact that faith is ‘caught’ more often than ‘taught’.

    An excellent analogy, Paul.
    Although Christianity is not an S.T.D, this sounds like what happened to the South American Indian tribes (among other poor unfortunates caught unawares) after Cortez and the Jesuits arrived.
    Once they ”caught” Catholicism they were pretty much F***** anyway.

  129. @Ark


    I’d love to know whether you suppose that if the Spaniards and other European settlers who came to the Americas in the 16th and 17th Centuries had been atheist they wouldn’t have been carriers of the infectious viruses to which they were immune but the natives were not?

  130. @Paul

    I suppose if the “Settlers” were “Atheists” the outcome would likely be the same. The only difference is they wouldn’t have tried to convince the natives this was a “Gift from God”. :-)

  131. Personally, CC, I’m more curious as to how this hemisphere would have eventually turned out, if the Spaniards would have stayed the hell home, or the Native Americans had insisted on Green Cards.

  132. @Paul
    Sadly, pretty much all of white expansionism back in the day was for God & Country. And that god was the Catholic one.

    The one you are still trying to peddle as the Real Deal even now.
    One would have thought the mindless followers of this god would have worked it out by now?
    Seems this is not the case, eh Paul?
    Although I’ll venture that there are an awful lot more Priests, Pastors, Vicars, Nuns, and whathaveyou that are atheist and know it is all a crock, but are keeping quiet.
    Not much fun being an out of work former member of the clergy.

    If atheists had encountered the Mayans, and Aztecs etc I don’t doubt there would have been conflict but I suspect the approach would have been different and also the outcome.

    One thing is for sure, there wouldn’t be a bloody great statue of some make-believe itinerant eschatological halfwit on top of sugar loaf mountain.

    Almost 80% of Jews have pretty much ditched Yahweh and the Torah, so what’s your problem?

    If it looks like horse manure and smells like horse manure then chances are this is what it is, and it makes no difference how you try to dress it up with your New Age Catholicism and funky day-glo approach to the bible; it stank than and it stinks now.

  133. It’s interesting to think about how history might have turned out if more people had been atheists early on. The Catholic Church certainly has a large number of atrocities to answer for, but we don’t need to gloss over the paganism it replaced either. It’s not like that was a “kinder, gentler” set of beliefs. Much of it was just as harsh toward outsiders as the Old Testament is.

    As time goes on, humanity is relabeling more and more religions as “mythology.” I think that trend will continue, but it takes time. And we have to remember that it’s not easy for people to shed their personal beliefs. That doesn’t make them idiots, liars, or insane; their unwillingness to drop long-held positions is very human.

  134. And being free of religion doesn’t guarantee a peaceable or loving individual – especially back in the 14 and 1500′s.

    Now, when all of our needs are satisfied and we have disposable income to buy stupid and trivial things, it is easier to be more empathetic and peaceful. Take away any necessity or even things that we may want badly enough, and either greed or the will to survive could make anyone eliminate what stands between them and it.

    I tend to agree with KC. Had the first explorers into the new world been atheist, I don’t think much would be different.

  135. “when all of our needs are satisfied and we have disposable income to buy stupid and trivial things, it is easier to be more empathetic and peaceful.”

    Amazing how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs works, isn’t it, William?

  136. That doesn’t make them idiots, liars, or insane; their unwillingness to drop long-held positions is very human.

    Well, maybe not insane, but when one considers the numbers affiliated to the Clergy Project, for example, there is an enormous amount of responsibility attached to those that continue to perpetuate the falsehood that is religion, and here we are only talking about the ones who have come out the metaphorical closet but still remain mum in order to preserve their jobs and social network.

    These folk, while I might acknowledge a certain aunt of sympathy , are liars nonetheless. And I would venture that the rot goes very, very deep indeed.

  137. You make a good point. It’s a difficult situation those guys are in, but I think it could do a lot of good if they would come out about their beliefs and not continue giving support to falsehoods.

  138. @Ark

    Thanks for the link to the Clergy Project. I was very interested to take note of the way they define ‘believer’ and ‘non-believer’:

    “The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for active and former professional clergy/religious leaders who do not hold supernatural beliefs.”

    This little ‘mission statement’ helped me put my finger on something that everyone else on this thread (“believer” and “non-believer” alike) seems to accept as a given but I reject entirely.

    There is nothing more important or valuable to me than my faith in Christ. Let’s not have any misunderstanding about that. But….!! I am probably as skeptical about claims of supernatural phenomena as any of you. In fact, from what I can see, most of what you guys seems to want to debunk is stuff that deserves to be debunked.

    I’ve said this many times, I’m sure you’ve all heard me say it; but I’m going to repeat it here because I want to emphasize where I’m coming from. “What I like about atheists is that the god they don’t believe in is the god I don’t believe in.”

    As I said, I’m skeptical but I’m not going to claim 100% certainty that “supernatural phenomena” doesn’t exist. I leave myself the ‘out’ of allowing that there’s all kinds of weird shit that goes on in the world that I can’t explain. My biggest (well, my second biggest) problem with the “supernatural” is that it’s hard to pin down what the word even means.

    Case in point. Let’s say I invite Nate to my daughter’s wedding and during the reception I take him aside and confess that I’m worried I’ll be bankrupted trying to pay for all the booze the guests are knocking down. Nate, being the swell guy he is, might help me out by placing his hands over a sixty gallon fish tank and turning the contents into Seagram’s Seven. Lucky fish! Naturally, I’m thrilled now that I’m able to keep all the alcoholics in my family well watered without losing the house; but once word gets around about what happened we’re going to have to deal with the people who claim that Nate has supernatural powers — which will be plenty annoying to all of us, especially Nate.

    Obviously, there’s no scientific explanation for Nate’s little trick — but how does that make it “supernatural”? Who’s to say that once we learn more about science we won’t HAVE a scientific explanation? Is it supernatural until we figure it out? And besides, if people started to claim that Nate was accessing a realm that is imperceptible in the known universe would they be talking about anything more ‘supernatural’ than the things physicists regularly say about ‘dark matter’?

    Beyond that, even if we accept the idea that Nate’s accomplishment is supernatural, what should we conclude about Nate? I’m no more willing to trust my soul to him after he’s turned water into whiskey than I was before. An aptitude for parlor tricks doesn’t prove that a guy is trustworthy — it probably indicates the opposite!

    So, where does that leave me? I’m religious. In fact, I’m super-religious. I’m Captain Catholic!! But a belief in the supernatural isn’t a factor in my faith. This comment is already too long for me to elaborate, but I’m convinced that a belief in the supernatural is an IMPEDIMENT to faith.

    So, I ask you to help me sort this out….

  139. Thanks for the comment, Capt! I get more and more fascinated by you every time you write something.

    The way you describe your Catholicism is very similar to how I describe my atheism. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I like to leave open the possibility that it exists. Like you said, “supernatural” may not even be the correct word — when we use it, we’re usually just talking about things we can’t explain. I think it was Robert Heinlein that said sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

    I want to think more about your comment before I say anything else… you’ve left me lots to consider!

  140. Arthur C. Clark, Nate – however, there is this:

    “To the scientist the word ‘supernatual’ is a contradiction.
    Everything that is in the universe is natural;
    the supernatural is the natural not yet understood.
    And that which is called the supernatural is often the figment of a
    disordered, undisciplined or undeveloped imagination.”
    – Elbert Hubbard –

  141. Actually, Cap’n, you’re in a not-easily-occupiable position – a half-breed theist/atheist, by which I mean you are certainly a theist, but without all of the hocus-pocus baggage with which most theists saddle themselves.

    I recently ran across a gentleman on another site – a gentlemen known only as “William,” – whom I informed I was not from “Christian Mingle” by any means, but that I knew another (big assumption here) gentleman, a “captaincatholic,” (and gave him Nate’s URL), so if anyone named William does indeed contact you, know, a) it is at my recommendation (however much credence that buys him), and b) he is the only theist I’ve met thus far, who shares your atypical views.

  142. Captain: You threw us all a nice monkey wrench on this last comment of yours. I also thought I was reading the comment of an atheist during some of it. And by the way I got a good kick out of the way you described Nate at the wedding – I even visualized it!

    I also don’t rule out there being “weird shit that goes on in the world” – I like to label it transcendental stuff. In fact I even go further and say that I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some strange reality beyond what we currently think of as natural. (And yes, I’ve also pondered the difficult definition of supernatural just as you’ve described.) But I would be surprised however if it turned out that there are anthropomorphic “spirits” as many religions of the world have described. And I also don’t see the benefit of claiming we know anything about that “stuff” that might be there.

    So what is it then you believe about Jesus and God? Do you believe they are spirits that exist in the natural realm, or do you believe that they are just metaphors made by humans to help us connect with reality? Or let me not second guess – why don’t you try and describe?

  143. @CaptainC, if I understand your last comments, why would you have a deep faith in Christ if he is just a “Natural Person” since you don’t believe in the “Supernatural” ? What can a faith in Christ do for you ?

    I am a Deist only because I believe the creation of the universe had a cause. I certainly don’t have a faith in anything or anyone because I don’t believe in Divine Intervention .

    Just curious…..

  144. I have heard of “religious scientists” who “compartmentalize” their Skeptical Science side and their, shall we say, Less-skeptical Religious side…but this does seem a difficult position to hold.

    Perhaps I don’t know enough about Catholicism, but I really don’t understand how one can be a Catholic AND skeptical of the Supernatural. How are Saints made? “Evidence” of Miracles said to be done by long-dead So-and-So.

    This reminds me of the Scottish comedian (I think…) Frankie Boyle. He’s an atheist, but generally considers himself a “Catholic” b/c “once a Catholic, always a Catholic–even if you’re an atheist you’re merely a “bad Catholic”. (que laughter and applause)

    Catholicism stands for a certain set of beliefs and doctrines…like the Pope–infallible or not? Vicar of Christ or not? Having little faith in the Authority of the bible (a justifiable position, as Nate’s series points out), you have put all your faith in the people who Indoctrinated you as a child (as Dawkins likes to say…not Christian/Jewish/Muslim children, but Children of X/Y/Z parents). That seems less justifiable, esp. in light of what appears to be your otherwise Skeptical outlook.

  145. @ Captain Catholic.

    There is nothing more important or valuable to me than my faith in Christ. Let’s not have any misunderstanding about that. But….!! I am probably as skeptical about claims of supernatural phenomena as any of you. In fact, from what I can see, most of what you guys seems to want to debunk is stuff that deserves to be debunked.

    So, where does that leave me? I’m religious. In fact, I’m super-religious. I’m Captain Catholic!! But a belief in the supernatural isn’t a factor in my faith. This comment is already too long for me to elaborate, but I’m convinced that a belief in the supernatural is an IMPEDIMENT to faith.

    Jesus H! What a load of bollocks!

    This is like an alcoholic trying to hide a bottle of jack behind his back while slurring,
    “Honest, I really don’t drink a having problem.”

  146. I recall suggesting she was looking for a mutual admiration society, but it’s also known as a circle-jerk. No dissenting opinions allowed – which I find interesting, in light that she is in complete disagreement with her more rigid parents over homosexuality and the early OT fables.

    Well, she certainly won’t draw a crowd that way, but of those she WILL draw, you can bet they’ll all agree with her.

  147. @Arch

    “If anyone named William does indeed contact you…”

    You’re not only the thinking man’s thinking man — you’re a matchmaker for cyber-friendships.

    Who could ask for anything more?


  148. @Howie

    “So what is it then you believe about Jesus and God?”

    It’s my belief about human beings that informs my belief. I believe we’re spiritually blind, we’re fucked up, we’re sinners, we’re assholes. What’s worse, I think we have a high opinion of ourselves and about what we’re capable of doing.

    When I say “capable of doing”, I say it with the full realization that we’re capable of making iPhones and building Pyramids and flying off to the moon and painting Sistine Chapels and writing Hamlets. Astounding capabilities I agree.

    What we’re not capable of doing is figure out how to live our lives in a way that will make us happy — but we keep trying!

    Christianity, the way I understand it, isn’t unique in its belief of God or a god. It’s the God we believe in that sets us apart because we believe in a God who’s bleeding to death, nailed to a cross. Most of the folks who say they believe in God actually believe in Zeus. They’re looking for somebody’s ass to kiss and hoping to get what they want.

    Getting what you want isn’t even an option for Christians. We can only hope to learn to want what God wants — believing that God wants what’s best for all whereas we can only want what’s best for us. When we assert ourselves, when we become men and women of prominence and prestige we become weak when viewed as God views us. God rules the universe with mercy, with yielding, with self sacrifice.

    That’s what I believe.

    This is what I believe about the supernatural:



  149. Paul, in a lot of ways, I am starting to think of you as a cultural-Catholic, not a practicing one. I don’t think you would describe yourself that way, and I’m not trying to argue the point with you — just trying to explain the impression I’m getting.

    I think you would enjoy a book I’ve read, called The Little Book of Atheist Sprituality. It’s written by a French philosopher who was raised in Catholicism and still loves the traditions, though he no longer believes in them. His book actually has a lot of really nice things to say about Christianity, and Catholicism in particular. In some ways, it reminds me of your position.

    And considering your view of God and humanity, have you ever looked very much into Eastern philosophies like Buddhism or Jainism?

    Thanks, by the way, for posting the link to your article — I’ll definitely check it out.

  150. ah, Cgi (Chialphagirl). She’s commented on some of nate’s blog posts before and has one of her own. She recently posted something on a new direction and another one on beating dead horses (not real horses mind you).

    She explained that she is no longer interested in having people make comments contrary to her’s… although I may be making it sound a little more childish than it actually was… anyhow, shortly after those posts she locked her blog, only allowing access to approved members. maybe she’s trying to act as her own god to her own heaven of bliss, where there is no controversy or contentions.

    If you do as she asks, she may also smile on you and grant you access.

  151. I wonder if her subjects have any memories of those of us who didn’t make the cut? You know, so they can maintain their bliss? ;)

  152. I don’t recall that he had one, William, which would indeed make two of you. Ironically, I am archaeopteryx everywhere, except on WordPress sites, where I am forced to take the name, archaeopteryx1, for the stupidest of reasons – archaeopteryx was already taken, BY ME!

    When I first considered beginning a website to debunk the Bible, I considered a WordPress blog, and registered with WordPress as archaeopteryx, then changed my mind and went with another company. Much later, when I felt the need to comment on someone’s WordPress site, I tried logging in, but it would seem I had forgotten the password I had used those years ago, and when I tried re-registering as archaeopteryx, I was told I couldn’t, as that name had already been taken – again, BY ME! So, it’s archaeopteryx1, much to my chagrin.

    There should be a statute of limitations, whereby if a name goes unused for so long (and I have never commented under archaeopteryx), it should revert to the public domain. No one should be able to hang onto a name indefinitely, and not use it. Even me.

    Feel free to file that story under Dana Carvey’s Church Lady’s, “Well, isn’t that special!”

  153. “What we’re not capable of doing is figure out how to live our lives in a way that will make us happy — but we keep trying!”

    ABSOLUTELY, CC, and that’s what makes us such remarkable creatures – it’s also why we would never be happy in a heaven, no matter how much we think we might like to go there – what we’re really trying to do (unrealistically, IMO), is extend our lives. The truth is, that we animals we call Human will never be happy without a problem to surmount, a mountain to climb, a puzzle to solve, and if such a perfect, uneventful place like your heaven DID exist, the majority of us would be ready to commit suicide – if a spirit could do that – after a month or two.

  154. CC, RE: “Chi”
    “Chialphagirl” is a lovely little Christian girl, early 30′s, married, two small children, who has a blog she calls “Fluid Theology.” She is/was very broadminded for a Christian, believing many of the same things that we atheists do.

    One day, Ark upset her, and in anger, she banned him from her site. Then she decided she was no longer going to entertain any other points of view than Christian issues, and posted a list of “dassen’t do’s” at least twice as long as the one your god felt necessary. I indicated I could no longer post there, which she lamented, calling me, “one of the good ones,” then, a few days later, I found myself banned as well.

    I later learned from a theist, whose email address I had, that she had gone still further, and decided she would only entertain points of view that agreed with her, and seems to have banned anyone who doesn’t. I suspect she’s going to have a lot of spare time on her hands.

    Charming lady, actually, but like Bruce Banner, you don’t want to make her angry – you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry!

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