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The Socratic Club A club that Lewis founded at Oxford. A forum devoted to general philosophical and spiritual discussion

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Old 12-30-2013, 05:37 AM
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Default What things need to be true in order for Christianity to be true?

To start the thread with a working definition (which may be modified later), I will take ‘Christianity being true’ as meaning that Jesus is truly the Son of God (more than just a man) and that following him is essential to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. I would not count ‘moral truth’ as significant in this context – ie. if someone says that they are a Christian because they agree with Jesus’ teachings, I would not count that as Christianity being ‘true’. I agree with many thinkers’ teachings, such as Gandhi or Socrates, but I am not a ‘Gandhian’ or a ‘Socratian’. I am meaning ‘true’ in an objective, universal sense (that what is ‘true’ must be true for everyone, not that one thing can be true for one person and not for another).

My question is about what historical things must be true in order for that ‘essential core’ of Christian truth to be true. Is it essential to believe, for example, in the Resurrection of Jesus? His miracles? The Virgin Birth? (I will elaborate on the background to my question below).

Please note that I do not intend this thread to be about WHETHER those things are true, but about WHAT things must be true in order for Christianity to be true.

Modern liberal scholarship has frequently seemed to undermine the historicity of the Bible’s account. So, let us suppose that I could be persuaded that most of the key figures and stories of the Old Testament are either mythical (they never existed and are simply fictional characters of Israelite folklore) or legendary (they may have some basis in history, but many of the events described around them are not historical – like King Arthur or Robin Hood). Suppose we could be fairly sure that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and even many of the prophets were either mythical or legendary in this sense. Suppose we could say, as many secular scholars do say, that the Old Testament was written during and after the Babylonian Exile, that the Law (at least as we have it now) didn’t come from Moses but from priests at the time of Ezra, that Jewish monotheism was borrowed from the religions of Persia and that, consequently, the descriptions of the Conquest of Canaan and the prophets calling Israel back to the Law are post-Exile reworkings of legendary characters from Israel’s past, projecting back into the distant past ideas that were actually relatively new, in order to explain Israel’s suffering in Babylon. Perhaps ‘Israel’ was not even truly a nation before the exile, but a mixture of tribes living in the region of Canaan, and the Exodus was a myth.

Suppose, further, that we had significant doubts about the New Testament documents too. Suppose the birth narratives of Jesus are fictitious hagiography made up by Jesus’ followers. Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, was not descended from David (if David even existed), was not born of a Virgin, was not visited by shepherds or magi. Suppose the miraculous events around the crucifixion of Jesus (the darkness, the tearing of the Temple curtain, the coming to life of dead people in Jerusalem) are simply symbolic rather than historical. Suppose that the accounts of Jesus’ life and of the early years of Christianity bears only a loose relationship to historical reality and that most of the letters in the New Testament were written by later Christians and attributed to the apostles.

Would it be possible to continue to believe in the essential truth of Christianity if we accepted this (admittedly rather extreme) litany of possibilities raised by modern scholarship? Or are there some things in that list that we really have to stand against in order to defend the belief in Jesus as the Son of God who can save us from sin?

Once again, please note that I am not here looking for evidence to dispute any of the suggestions above – that is important but is not the topic of this thread. I am simply trying to establish what are the historical facts that are core to Christianity and that, if you deny them, you must logically deny the Christianity’s claims about Jesus, and what are the things where there is room for dispute and flexibility within the believing community.

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Old 12-30-2013, 11:43 AM
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I realize I'm an odd figure on this question.

But, I think that depends on your definition of christianity as set forward by your religious denomination.

If you're someone who is a complete bible literalist, it all must be true, and not only must it all be true, it all _IS_ true, and any evidence to the contrary must have been planted by the devil in order to mislead mankind.

If you're a universalist/unitarian like Thomas Jefferson, you've pretty much removed all the divinity and 'impossible works' from the narrative (as he did in his Jefferson Bible) and are left with great moral teachings. Jefferson did not believe in any of the supernatural elements including the ascension or Jesus being the son of God, but he still referred to himself as Christian, one who follows the teachings of Christ.

If you're catholic, there is a whole catechism that says what you do and don't believe on the fine, granular level. There's also the Nicene creed which wraps it up into a nice quick summary.

For an atheist such as myself, I think the key points surrounding Jesus' life would need to be true, testable, and provable. Namely:

He was born in Nazerath
He was rebellious and got into a verbal altercation/discussion in the temple
He turned water into wine
He fed thousands with 5 loaves and 7 fishes
He walked on water
He was arrested for crimes against the state
He was tried, with his trial being noted as others were of that time in multiple non-biblical sources (he wasn't the only person who claimed to be the messiah)
He was executed using a political method of execution, crucifixion (oddly, this is the interesting part, if he was killed for lying about being the son of god, he would have been hanged. Crucifixion is what the Roman state used on their prisoners, not the punishment used on religious criminals)
He rose from the dead.

I think those would be enough for me, if all of those events could be proven and testable.

But again, it varies. It depends on what the dogma and doctrine says for your specific religious denomination.
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Old 12-30-2013, 12:08 PM
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Pardine

Jefferson could not be described as a Christian in any sense of the word that implies objective truth about Christ. His 'Christianity' is purely about moral teachings and not about factual claims. As for the 'literalist', as you describe, in my experience they are the ones who are most likely to define 'primary doctrines' (on which you have to agree to be a Christian, usually including things like the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, the Second Coming, the Infallibility of Scripture) and 'secondary doctrines' (on which there can be different views, usually including things like modes of baptism, head coverings, interpretation of Revelation). And there is still room for difference among literalists over, for example, whether Job is a historical story; and even though they would tend to say that, for example, Ruth, Jonah and Daniel were true stories, I don't think they would go so far as to say that if they aren't historically true stories then Jesus can't be the saviour of the world or that if you don't believe them historically then you can't be a Christian.

With regard to the things you selected, why did you select those? What is particularly significant about the miracles you selected that those ones must be true but not others? Also, everything you mentioned was about Jesus. Does that mean that the whole Old Testament could be ignored and Jesus still be the Son of God and Saviour of the World?

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Old 12-30-2013, 12:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peepiceek View Post
Pardine


With regard to the things you selected, why did you select those? What is particularly significant about the miracles you selected that those ones must be true but not others? Also, everything you mentioned was about Jesus. Does that mean that the whole Old Testament could be ignored and Jesus still be the Son of God and Saviour of the World?

Peeps
In order:

Jefferson considered himself a christian. A follower of christ. That's between him and Christ.

I selected the most significant miracles that matched his teachings and were not just incidental miracles. I selected enough miracles that lined up with biblical stories that showed him to be in command of the universe and the creator of the universe. Those events would be significant enough for me to prove he was (on the basis of physics, etc. For example, if you instantly turn water into wine, you are basically releasing 538 Megatons of energy. If this event occurred and did not immediately destroy cannan, it would mean to me that he is indeed the master of the elements/atoms of the universe.) The other events were chosen for similar reasons.

In short answer to your question regarding the new testament, yes. The old testament is irrelevant history if you already accept Jesus to be the King of creation and what he has proven himself to be. All Jesus referred to was the future. The point of the old testament is to establish the groundwork for someone like Jesus to appear. The point of the new testament is to argue that that person is Jesus. If I accept that Jesus who accomplished those miracles in a highly observable (for cheating, etc) method is who he says he is by the evidence he provides, then I don't NEED the old testament.
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Old 12-30-2013, 01:56 PM
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Christianity consists of a lot more than just saying "Everybody be nice." Jesus made much larger claims for Himself than just "Hey, aren't I nice?" No one qualifies as a follower of Jesus merely by saying, "Jesus was nice, so let's all be nice." The Apostles did not face violent persecution for being nice.

Christianity DOES depend on PARTICULAR events, notably the Resurrection, being true in concrete fact. Without those events, Christianity is redundant AT BEST.



http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2013/0...-jesus-christ/
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Old 12-31-2013, 12:05 AM
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As CS Lewis was fond of saying, Jesus was either the Son of God or a heretical nut job...there was no room for someone to make his claims and be moderately good, moderately important, or moderately useful.

I believe the minimum standard is based upon the central core diagnosis of mankind as being unable to live up to a standard needed to earn eternal life, that the eternal life must be a free gift not based upon merit, and that the only one capable of bestowing it is God. I accept that...I am Christian.

This really and truly is the issue...for without eternal life, the very most we could hope for is the experience of pleasure and avoidance of pain, both of which would be solely the result of a series of adaptive changes resulting in a higher reproductive success...resulting, I say, because "designed" presumes a designer. In other words, one would have to reduce our lives--however rich and complex--to a series of deterministic phenomena based upon game theory.

It is the idea that life can develop so thoroughly and so well merely as the result of a quirk of chemistry gone amok that seems unlikely to me. Belief in a God is simple by comparison.

Of course one could argue that with God first, he too had to come from somewhere so I merely pass the buck on the origin of life one generation further. But then I say that if time is a volume and not linear that there are only two possibilities...that life has never existed or that it has always existed. We know life exists and if time is not linear (as most scientists will agree) then life has always existed. This pretty much takes the incredibly unlikely aura away from the existence of a God, doesn't it?

My two cents.
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Old 12-31-2013, 04:15 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pardine
I selected enough miracles that lined up with biblical stories that showed him to be in command of the universe and the creator of the universe. Those events would be significant enough for me to prove he was
So the list of things is sufficient to prove to you that Jesus is the Son of God, but is it all necessary?

Quote:
The old testament is irrelevant history if you already accept Jesus to be the King of creation and what he has proven himself to be.
But surely in order for Jesus to be the Son of God, you first need to have a clear idea of which god we are talking about. Otherwise, what is to say that Jesus is not just one among a range of deities? That would not be enough to fit Christianity's core claim that Jesus is the only means of salvation. Also, if Jesus is the saviour of the world, we need to have an idea as to what we are being saved from, which surely requires at least some backstory?

CF - (1) What other events would you list? (2) Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus necessary to the truth of Christianity?

ES - I accept what you say, but my focus in this thread was more on what are the historical claims that we need to make in order for the core claims of Christianity to make sense?

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Old 12-31-2013, 03:42 PM
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There are historical documents here and there. They are few and far between because the whole idea of a Messiah that would free the Jews was considered by the Romans too dangerous to promote in any way, and the mainstream Jewish establishment was afraid this Jesus of Nazareth would stir up the empire and cause no end of trouble.

One of the earliest writings about Jesus was a roman report that "Followers of Chrestus" posed a danger because they were a scary cult that ate the body and drank the blood of their spiritual father.

Then there was an account in the writings of Josephus about Jesus who, "If it even be right to call him a man, for he was the son of the most high."

One account described Jesus as being very unattractive overall, "but in his eyes shone great beauty that defied description".

Many of these accounts were gathered together into a classic book called "The Day Christ Died" by Jim Bishop, which is still in print.
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Old 01-01-2014, 09:50 AM
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That wasn't what I was asking. If you look back at my opening post, what I am trying to establish is whether, for example, Jesus has to have been born in Bethlehem in order for him to be the Saviour of the World. Or whether Moses needs to have been a real person in order for Jesus' teaching to be accurate. And suchlike.

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Old 01-01-2014, 05:28 PM
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It was not _inherently_ necessary for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, but it was _appropriate_ for Him to be born there, due to the town's association with King David. Joseph and Mary didn't scramble to reach Bethlehem because the Old Testament predicted Jesus' birth being there; instead, the Old Testament predicted Jesus' birth in Bethlehem because that _was_ where He was going to be born.

As for "Jesus' teaching being accurate": I could almost say that this is asking the wrong question. _Teaching_ was never the main reason for Jesus' Incarnation. Teaching could be _delegated_ to mortal prophets and preachers; indeed, God _did_ delegate a lot of the teaching to mortal prophets and preachers. But fifty million mortal prophets teaching for fifty _billion_ years would never have made _atonement_ for human sin. The number-one thing Jesus came to Earth for was not the job that mortals could have done for Him; He came to do the job they _couldn't_ do, dying for our salvation and rising again.

Without the heart-transformation which is made possible by Jesus' act of atonement, we would be left only with more teachers asking us all to "be nice" -- with most people refusing to listen.
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