« Links Mentioned on the 8/05/16 Show | Main | How Should I Talk to My Gay Friend about the Bible and Homosexuality? »

August 06, 2016

Comments

Amy,
Thanks for writing this. The challenge is that non-believers will say, "Due to the secular record, I can accept that Jesus was a person who existed in history. I'm a bit less likely to accept he was crucified. I can not accept that he rose from the dead. I don't see objective evidence that he did so."
These people do not accept Christianity as true. They hear stories of first-hand accounts, people dying for a "cause," supposed eye-witnesses, confirmation through prophesy supposedly be fulfilled. They will not accept the Bible as proof of the "fact" that the Bible should be proof. Thoughts?

Whenever the subject of differing religions comes up, my brother-in-law always says something like, "Religion is just a matter of opinion." I've never been able to get to the bottom of what he means by that. Does he mean there's no objective truth to the matter, and it's all a matter of personal preference? Or does he mean there's no objective evidential way to get to the bottom of which, if any, religion is true or false, and the best we can do is guess? I don't know. Talking to him about it is like digging around for something under the water--it only stirs up a cloud of mud.

I wonder if a lot of people just don't think this through, and they aren't clear themselves what they're saying. That's why it's hard for us to figure out what they're saying. I've been called persnickety because question the words people use and insist on precision, but I only do it because otherwise I have no hope in understanding what people are saying. People in general are very vague. They get angry with me for not understanding them, but then they get angry with me for trying to get some clarity on the matter by parsing their words. Ugh!

I really like Amy's write up on this and I was thinking about this same topic recently during a discussion on religious freedom the concept of separation of religion and state.

While I do agree with Amy that cultural relativism does play a role I disagree somewhat as I think it has a lot to do with the epistemological problems in evaluating the truthfulness of any particular religion over another.

This is why the US has religious freedom enshrined in its constitution as opposed to encouraging the state to obligate citizens to follow the "true religion". One primary reason is that there is no clear or widely accepted methodology to determine which religious sects or theologies are the "correct" ones.

So we choose to leave religion in the realm of personal preference since there is often no "objective" evidence or methodology that can prove religious claims, especially ones that can be very mysterious or speculative in nature.

Of course, Amy is absolutely right that many religious claims are either true or false. Muhammad either received divine revelation or he didn't. The same thing is true for Paul of Tarsus and Joseph Smith. But, when you ask believers why they accept these things as true it is very common to get "subjective" answers like "It feels true" or "It's how I was raised" or "I just believe based on faith".

Obviously many Christians here on STR do promote giving "objective" arguments or reasons for their faith. But must we not admit that for the vast majority of religious believers one meets in the real world the reasons they give for belief are very personal and subjective?

Another big problem is that it can be shown that the primary reason for the faith of most people is due to their upbringing (of course there are exceptions, but as a general phenomenon you can demonstrate this pretty solidly) and thus makes it very personal and central to many people's culture and/or personal identity. This makes a lot of people put religion in the "personal opinion" area and off-limits for"objective" debate.

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:11–12)

Until Christians first do as the Bereans, they are only presenting their opinions about their mentors views.

That thing Sam said, with some Dave mixed in.

Some Non-Theists don't *want* to unpack their own semantics all the way down to the bitter ends of their own explanatory termini, whatever they may be. As causal language and other syntax becomes blurred, even illusory, as all sorts of metaphysical baggage begins to surface, this or that reductio ad absurdum presses in. So, often, many Non-Theists will evade precision, or become angry, or else equivocate. Simple example: The fundamental nature that is [Reality] just sits there until such baggage surfaces, and then our Non-Theist friends foist, inexplicably, [Reality + 1].

Sam's quest for clarity and precision and Dave's quest for cogent segues throughout the body of Scripture as our foundation allow reasoning to do her proper work in such situations, and are therefore helpful in shedding some light on the nature of the Christian's [1] demands for lucidity and for [2] rejecting absurdity at each step of the journey.

That in itself allows the topic of or nature of "objective truth" to rise to the surface.

After that, or perhaps before that, well, it's a well known fact that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

So it takes both, the two eyes of logic and love, through which to see the whole show, through which to even speak of sight.

One of the reasons I'm a Christian is the fact that whether I journey with top-down deduction or with bottom-up induction, I am invariably carried into the irreducible contours of, irreducible Image/Imago of, those two inescapable eyes of brutally repeatable logic and brutally repeatable love ~ ad infinitum

Amy is correct that Christianity is either objectively true or objectively false. The resurrection happened or it didn't. End of story.

The problem is that the evidence for the resurrection is not strong enough to support the claim. In order for one to accept something that defies all known natural laws, one should have extremely strong evidence to support the claim. In the case of Christianity, or any religion for that matter, it does not exist. Instead, the "evidence" is manuscripts of questionable authenticity that are often at odds with each other.

Few, if any, Christians believe because of evidence; they believe because they've been raised to believe or because believing gives them peace. This is clear when one asks them what evidence would cause them to abandon their beliefs. The answer is inevitably that nothing would ever cause the Christian to abandon his or her belief. That is the response of someone who is not willing to view their beliefs from a rational perspective, someone who is not willing to weigh new evidence to examine their beliefs.

Trade away ultimate or cosmic logic for an ultimate or cosmic reducito ad absurdum?

How does one even “go about” doing “that”?

Is there evidence which could cause me to give up my belief in logic? In reason? In love? Well of course not. What a misguided question. How would I even go about “giving up” irreducible reason? Or irreducible logic? Or irreducible love? That is to say, how would I even “go about” giving up my belief in the immutable contours of the real? There just is no evidence which could cause me to disbelieve in the irreducible contours of, irreducible Image/Imago of, those two inescapable eyes of brutally repeatable logic and brutally repeatable love as reason herself thereby compels us onward and upward.

After all, it is through such that we even speak of sight.

I suppose this or that collocation of ultimate or cosmic reductio ab adsurdum-s would be an alternative, but then I could never know what such evidence would even look like, nor could I even know such a thing given the deflationary truth values by which it must make its case in front of me, by which it opines and pleads and foists against the Necessary.

Trade away ultimate or cosmic logic for an ultimate or cosmic reducito ad absurdum?

Of course not.

In fact, I couldn’t pull it off even if I wanted to.

Lots of folks try. Its like watching one of those TV's Funniest Home Video thingy-s.... there comes that point in the video when you want to cover your eyes, I mean you just KNOW that it's going to be SO BAD, but at the last minute you peak, because you just KNOW that the punch line is on the way!

;-)

scbrownlhrm,

I would ask the Muslim the same question and he would give the same answer: nothing would dissuade him. So now we're at an impasse. Both of you are intransigent in your positions, so how do we determine which of you, if either, is correct? Neither of you relies upon physical evidence. Both of you simply appeal to what you believe. What are the criteria necessary for determining who is correct and what is objectively true?

Well, if not Reason, Logic, and Love, then who knows!

The Muslim has reasoned that the Koran is true. He loves you enough to try to convince you to convert to Islam. He might even resort to violence to do so because it's better for you to suffer pain in this life than the fires of Hell for eternity.

Now what?

Wait a sec...

You mean you want us to abandon reason, logic, and love?

No. The Muslim has arrived at a different conclusion than you have by using his own reason, logic and love. What criteria do you use to determine which of you is correct? Both views cannot be objectively true.

Different conclusions?

Huh?

But I still use reason, logic, and love to figure stuff out...Don't you?

Or is there another truth-finder not on the list?


You: Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Muslim: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet.

Different conclusions.

Who's correct? You both used reason, logic and love to come to your own conclusion. What criteria do you use to determine the truth? Both conclusions cannot be true.

>> Instead, the "evidence" is manuscripts of questionable authenticity that are often at odds with each other.

Questionable, based on liberal interpretation which has sought late dating for Gospel documentation. Since the late nineteenth century, such schools placed the Gospels as second century documents.

The Chester Beatty papyrus destroyed such speculation.

Now the year 70 A.D. is the benchmark. No Gospel developed by then. In spite of the fact that the internal evidence of Luke's Gospel and the Acts declare it a researched document of singular authorship and completed by 65 A.D. It acknowledges eyewitnesses, which could be traced to Matthew and Mark. This would make them documents of the 50's A.D. This by deduction from the similarities of accounts. the so-called "at odds with each other" fails to acknowledge specific views, one angel or blind man who specifically is named or offers a message over against two cited. Licona has a beautiful analogy of this situation dealing with a wife's news of winning the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, noting the single check bearer in a rendition to the husband, the check bearer and a cameraman to a friend. Such discrepancies are not contradictions.

As a study of apparent dissimilarities in accounts, take two newspaper accounts and compare. My favorite is the view points from two newspapers from different towns covering the sports encounter between their respective high schools. The variation would be fascinating, but they will get around to give a final score, the losing side never adjusting the facts to make their school the winner. There is a similar integrity in the four Gospels.

Questionable authenticity? Note the following:

In the 90's A.D. into the second century, the Didache was written. Heavy into a Judaist version of the Christian faith, this document offers two factors: 1) a heavy influence of Matthew's Gospel, and 2) The complete title: The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, indicates a necessity of holding an apostolic basis for proper teaching.

In the mid second century, Montanus presented a canon including only the Gospel of Luke and Pauline epistles as a reaction to the overly-Judaist positions of the Ebionites. He was denounced for his truncated canon.

In the 150's, Tatian produces the first harmony of the Gospels, the Diatessaron.

In the 180's, the Muratorian Canon holds the majority of the New Testament, only disregarding those of doubtful apostolic sources (Hebrews, James, the short epistles of John, 2 Peter, approximately 12% of NT).

Throughout the times of the Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Papias, Polycarp, some include Hermas and Barnabas of Alexandria, Justin Martyr), the quoting of apostolic materials covers all Gospels, Paul, John.

And this takes us up to 170 A.D.

By 200 A.D., a consistent recognition of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as apostolic authors was solidified.

Thus, the manuscripts have definite authenticity and can be welcomed as eye-witness accounts.

And modern liberal speculation? The Jesus Seminar?

Keep an eye out for the documentation from the seventh cave in the Qumran collect of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Particularly 7Q5. It could have the impact the Chester Beatty Papyrus had on nineteenth century schools of interpretation.

>> Few, if any, Christians believe because of evidence ...

The last three to four column inches might have blown this opinion out of the water.

Aaron,

No. Not until you tell us what truth-finders are valid.

I've listed reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc.), logic, and love.

You seem to think disagreement has some sort of import on the nature of truth.

Why?

You also haven't defined objective truth.

What is it?

DGFischer,

You have clearly done a great deal of research on early Christian history and details concerning New Testament texts. Indeed you and some others do make the case for a belief in Christianity based on historical arguments. I do think it's certainly a fair attempt.

But I would like to defend the point Aaron Ginn is trying to say as I do have a lot of agreement with him.

------
>> Few, if any, Christians believe because of evidence ...

The last three to four column inches might have blown this opinion out of the water.
-----

Of course there are some believers like yourself who study Christian apologetics and do attempt to answer questions with some kind of objective argument or evidence.

But do you really think you are the norm? I don't know if you live in the US or another country, but among believers in the United States I definitely think people like you are clearly the exception, not the rule. The majority of people who attend church haven't read their Bibles all the way through or even study it regularly.

In my own experience and conversations I find that American Christians struggle to even define or answer basic questions concerning what their beliefs and theology are, let alone defend it as truth in a coherent fashion.

I mean really, if I were to visit a random church in America and ask 100 believers who wrote the Bible and how canon was determined how many do you think could answer?


So I don't think it's unfair to state that the majority of religious adherents believe for subjective reasons or because they were raised that way.

Research by Pew and others can show that where someone is raised is the most influential factor in determining their religious affiliation, and this is especially true for Christianity, as almost 9 in 10 of believers worldwide come from Christian majority countries.

So yes, I agree exceptions like yourself must be recognized. But as a general rule I think Aaron Ginn's point is both fair and correct.

The Non-Theist's reasoning with a premise / conclusion on the nature of the interface with between knowledge and culture amounts to the following fallacious summation:

Growing up in a scientific culture, one believes in scientism wrt objective knowledge (which he doesn't define), therefore scientism is true.

Even more....

In America if you go into a hundred random shopping centers and ask 100 random adults about the application of GR with respect to SR they won't have a clue, so.... wait for it... "therefore".... neither GR nor SR provide us any insight into the nature of things.

Well, it's true, so why not point it out:

We can even say that when it comes to gravitational waves, our 100 random shoppers believe in such things by blind appeal to authority, having no real understanding of it themselves.

Wait for it.....

"Therefore", we now have *evidence* that *both* the shopper's beliefs about GWs *and* GWs themselves are, given the evidence, untrue and simply fail therefore to provide us any insight into the nature of things.


As a study of apparent dissimilarities in accounts, take two newspaper accounts and compare. My favorite is the view points from two newspapers from different towns covering the sports encounter between their respective high schools. The variation would be fascinating, but they will get around to give a final score, the losing side never adjusting the facts to make their school the winner. There is a similar integrity in the four Gospels.

So you're comparing the Gospels to newspapers? Shouldn't the ultimate revelation of god be held to a slightly higher standard? Did the fig tree shrivel up immediately when Jesus cursed it or did it take a day? Did Jesus rise on the third day or was he in the tomb for three days? How many people went to Jesus tomb and who exactly did they see there? It's discrepancies like these that call into question the whole story. If you can't get the small details correct why should I trust you on the Really Big Things of Highest Importance?

I don't have the expertise to dispute your dates on authorship, but if you compare the earliest gospel, Mark, to the latest, John, there is no possible way that these two accounts could describe the same person. In Mark we have a Jesus who runs around telling people to be quiet about who he is. He appears more human than godlike. In John, we have a Jesus who is more like a Zen philospher who openly declares he is Yahweh. This is exactly the path we would expect the development of a myth to follow. We start with a story largely grounded in reality. As the years pass, that story develops into a tall tale of mythical proportions.

The simplest explanation is usually closest to the truth. The gospels are myths promulgated by a largely superstitious people. To make claims that they are literally true would require extraordinary evidence. That evidence doesn't exist.

Premise: I tell people ABC about me in various settings and DEF in various settings. Same with instructions.

Conclusion: I never existed.

__________________


That's those random shoppers for you.

Darn malls. They're ruining us I tell ya!!

In America if you go into a hundred random shopping centers and ask 100 random adults about the application of GR with respect to SR they won't have a clue, so.... wait for it... "therefore".... neither GR nor SR provide us any insight into the nature of things.

Apples and oranges. We have empirical evidence that GR ans SR are actual things that exist in the real world. We have nothing to suggest that a god does.

Something is objectively true if it reflects reality. The only proven method for discerning reality is science and empiricism. The claim that God exists is an objective claim but it cannot be demonstrated to be objectively true. Perhaps someday God will have the courtesy to provide evidence he exists, but that day has not arrived to this point.

Aaron,

Not following. Was in the middle of buying my slurpy in the mall.

Sorry about that.

Plus, by your criteria I never existed.

Anyway.... What is objective truth again?

"True men of God" have been at this for thousands of years and still can't manage to get things straight amongst yourselves.

If it is the objective word of God, intent on edifying His precious creations, why would He need you to explain it to us?

Through all the years, and all the scholarship, and all the pious pretension, a single unifying explanatory paradigm emerges:

It is all made up; every bit of it the product of human hubris and ancient ignorance.

When studied from that vantage point, the existence of thousands of titles in a Christian bookstore, and hundreds of differing apologists attempting to make a living on the internet, begins to make a lot more sense.

There will always be those who come along to sell us what we can have for free...

>> So yes, I agree exceptions like yourself must be recognized

Gosh, thanks for the props, but ...

In my circle, I am rather small potatoes. Just one who knew of STR (got my apologetical start at Apologetics 315) and enjoyed the interchange of ideas.

>> I mean really, if I were to visit a random church in America and ask 100 believers who wrote the Bible and how canon was determined how many do you think could answer?

Rather well, I would imagine. I come from a Lutheran synod that is strong in the advocacy of the LDS (Lutheran Day School), the Lutheran high school, the Lutheran college. We are not alone in this educational venture. We pale next to the Catholic system, and I know that the Baptist groups have always developed a credible education system. there are probably more Christian bodies with their schools.

We are usually harried by those who lend too much credence in Brownesque da Vinci Code intrigues. My post was the typical rejoinder against the faulty historical fictions and conspiracy theories.

>> The majority of people who attend church haven't read their Bibles all the way through or even study it regularly.

Ah, Jameswattsfan, all too true. But Biblical study is a life long pursuit. Give them time. All I do know is that 9 of 10 of my former students would give you a run for the proverbial money in a game of Bible Trivia (or Jeopardy! if I remember the more precocious of my charges).

I am not so exceptional as you might find me. Others of my old colleagues gained the magna cums ...

Maybe I'm just the more precocious of that bunch.

A wonderful day to you.

DGF,

Thanks for your comments. As usual, they were very helpful ~~~

>> In Mark we have a Jesus who runs around telling people to be quiet about who he is. He appears more human than godlike.

Ah, Aaron, in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus heals a man with an evil spirit, Peter's mother-in-law from a fever, many more healings, capped off with the healing of a leper. Your ideas of "appears more human than godlike" needs to be re-examined. And yes, in that same initial chapter, Jesus left the scene of these miracles to be alone, desiring to preach rather than heal. Jesus wished to be heard, not ogled and prompted for miracles. He wished to avoid crowds of thrill-seekers and absolutely did not want to have incorrect notions of the Messiah to crop up.

>> Did the fig tree shrivel up immediately when Jesus cursed it or did it take a day?

It's called telescoping, extending or reducing the scope of time to draw to the point the miracle was to teach. This same manifestation can be seen in Matthew and Mark's depictions of the raising of Jairus' daughter, Matthew announcing the death immediately, Mark in route to Jairus' home.

>> Did Jesus rise on the third day or was he in the tomb for three days?

Study the cultural sense of time passing as practiced in Jewish culture. Buried on Friday. Rose on Sunday. Friday ... Saturday ... Sunday. Three days by Jewish recognition. This concept of duration of time from starting to stopping points has helped scholars determine the difficult problem of the Judean and Israelite kings of the Old Testament.

>> It's discrepancies like these that call into question the whole story.

Unless there are resolutions to such matters, then discrepancies would not have such impact.

Fig Tree:

First, DGF’s observation:

Quote:

“It's called telescoping, extending or reducing the scope of time to draw to the point the miracle was to teach. This same manifestation can be seen in Matthew and Mark's depictions of the raising of Jairus' daughter, Matthew announcing the death immediately, Mark in route to Jairus' home.”

>>>It's discrepancies like these that call into question the whole story.

Unless there are resolutions to such matters, then discrepancies would not have such impact.

End quote.

The fig tree event is buried inside of two trips, not one trip, to the temple, and that’s critical, and, two routes were (most often) taken given the time of the day, and, both topical and chronological literary tools are employed.

While there are plenty of commentaries on this with sound clarifications, two references for some basic context:

[1] Apologetic press dot org at http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=764

[2] Christiancourier dot com at https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/790-fig-tree-incident-a-contradiction-the

Here’s [1]…….

It is not uncommon for people who study the gospels to misconstrue matters of chronology that are contained within the four accounts. The fact of the matter is, the gospel writers never claimed to have recorded all of the events of Jesus’ life in the exact order in which they occurred. Unless an action or event is denoted by a specific marker (such as “the next day,” “ on the morrow,” “on the Sabbath,” etc.), there can be time gaps between the verses. One example of this is the account of the withered fig tree in Mark 11:12-14,20-21 and Matthew 21:18-20…..

……In Mark, the Lord cursed the fig tree, but the account does not say when it withered. The disciples saw it withered the next day, and Peter remembered what the Lord had said. Matthew’s account says that the Lord cursed the tree, and it withered immediately, but it does not say when the disciples saw it. Matthew 21:20 merely says “And when the disciples saw it…,” with no regard to the exact time. Based on the wording, the disciples could have seen it withered at the exact time Jesus cursed it, the next day, the next month, or even the next year. The verse in Matthew provides no time span between when it withered and when the disciples noticed.

However, Mark 11:12,19-20 does give the exact span of time between the curse and the time the disciples noticed it—one day. Since the gospels do not claim to be in exact chronological order, both Matthew and Mark offer a portion of the story. The best thing to do is to extrapolate—from both passages—exactly what happened. Both Mark 11:12 and Matthew 21:18 record that Jesus was hungry, and both recount how He approached a fig tree and, finding no figs, cursed it. Matthew then records that it withered immediately (21:19), and Mark records that the disciples heard Jesus curse the tree, but he does not say whether or not they noticed the tree withered at that time (11:14). Mark then continues the narrative of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem (11:15-19). Both writers then recount the astonishment of the disciples at seeing the fig tree withered, with Mark designating it as the next day (11:20-21) and Matthew not specifying how much time passed between 21:19 and 21:20.

Another question to consider (and perhaps the one that is addressed most often in a discussion of the withered fig tree) is whether or not Jesus cursed the tree before or after the temple was cleansed. Since Matthew records this event before the cursing of the fig tree (21:12-19), and Mark places the cleansing of the temple after Jesus cursed the tree (11:15-19), it is supposed that one of the two writers was mistaken. The truth is, however, Matthew’s account is more of a summary, whereas Mark’s narrative is more detailed and orderly. Christ actually made two trips to the temple (Mark 11:11,15), and cursed the fig tree on His second trip. Mark reveals that the cleansing of the temple “did not take place on the day that he [Jesus] entered Jerusalem in triumph, but on the day following” (Barnes, 1997). Matthew, on the other hand, “addresses the two trips of Christ to the temple as though they were one event,” which “gives the impression that the first day Christ entered the temple He drove out the buyers and sellers as well” (Geisler, 1992, p. 354). Mark’s more detailed account reveals that Jesus actually made two trips to the temple. Thus, as Albert Barnes noted: “Mark has stated the order more particularly, and has ‘ divided’ what Matthew mentions together” (1997).

When viewed in this light, these alleged contradictions between Matthew and Mark are seen simply as a matter of Matthew’s account being more summarized than Mark’s. And while Matthew has no timetable for the events, Mark shows that the disciples noticed the withered fig tree on their return from the temple.

References: Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft). Geisler, Norman L. and Thomas A. Howe (1992), When Critics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books).

Here’s [2]……

The problem of an alleged “contradiction” between Matthew and Mark, in this particular situation, lies in the fact that the Bible critic does not understand the perspective from which each of the Gospel writers approached the incidents.

The sequence of events on that Monday and Tuesday of the Lord’s “Passion Week,” before his crucifixion on Friday, was as follows.

[First] On Monday morning (following the Triumphal Entry on Sunday), Jesus and his disciples made their way from Bethany, east of Jerusalem (where they had spent the night), back toward Jerusalem. Along the way, the Lord saw a leafed-out fig tree that was barren of any fruit. In Palestine fig trees ordinarily bore the fruit first, then they subsequently leafed out. The oddity of this tree afforded Jesus the opportunity to teach a lesson that was applicable to the Jewish nation. The nation feigned spiritual piety, but there was no “fruit” demonstrating such. In fact, many of the Jews were poised to crucify their own Messiah before the week was over.[We have discussed this episode elsewhere. See: "Why Did Jesus “Curse” the Fig Tree?". For the present, we are concerned only with the chronological sequence of the events. It is this issue that has been questioned by skeptical critics.]

Observing this fruitless tree, Jesus pronounced a “curse” (i.e., a withering judgment) upon the tree as a symbolic preview of that punishment which ultimately would befall the Hebrew nation (A.D. 70).Immediately the fig tree began to wither away.

The Lord and his disciples then proceeded on to the capital city. They entered the temple compound, and Christ observed the moneychangers plying their wares. With righteous indignation he cast them out from the sacred area, charging them with defaming the house of God. Finally, the Savior and his men returned to Bethany to spend the night there.

[Second] On Tuesday morning, the little band again made their way toward Jerusalem. It was at this point, according to Mark’s record, that the disciples noticed the withered fig tree. They marveled about the matter and Christ used the occasion to encourage them to strengthen their faith.

The “Problem”

This is where the so-called “problem” occurs – with reference to Matthew’s Gospel.It is alleged that the apostle places the “cursing” of the tree, and the disciples exchange with the Lord about this incident, on the same day, and following the cleansing of the temple, thus creating a conflict with Mark. But does he?

Competent scholars have long recognized that some accounts in the Scriptures are topically arranged at various points, rather than conforming to a strict chronological sequence. For example, Genesis 1 is a chronological arrangement of the events of the first six days of the creation week. Genesis 2 also deals with the creation events, but the record is topically arranged, with a major emphasis on mankind. There is no conflict; there is merely a different purpose in the narratives.

Many writers have noted that some portions of Matthew’s Gospel are arranged topically, rather than chronologically. D.E. Hiebert observes: “The contents of Matthew, while revealing careful arrangement, are not readily arranged in a systematic outline. The arrangement of the material is largely topical and the central portion of the gospel revolves around five discourses by Jesus” (p. 67). Thiessen provides the following break down. “The first four chapters of Matthew are chronological; chs. 5-13 are topical; and chs. 14-28 are again chronological, with the exception of 21:18, 19” (p. 138).Of course Matthew 21:18-19 is the very text that is questioned, chronologically speaking, by the critics.

First observe that Matthew does not say that the “cursing” of the fig tree was on the day following the cleansing of the temple. He simply says that it was “in the morning as he returned to the city” (21:18).Mark’s account makes it clear that the “morning” was Monday morning, following his visit on Sunday. Second, Matthew, for convenience sake, combines the “cursing of the tree” and the subsequent “discussion with the disciples,” without affirming that these events occurred on the same day. One must not read specificity into an account when it is not there.
William Hendricksen has a very succinct discussion of the matter. In his commentary on Matthew, he writes:

“That the Gospel writers were not mere copyists but independent authors, each using his own method, appears very clearly in the present instance [21:18-22].Since part of the Fig Tree story occurred on Monday and part on Tuesday (Mark 11:11,12,19,20), with the cleansing of the temple taking place (on Monday) between these two parts, it is clear that this story could be handled in two ways: (a) chronologically or; (b) topically. Mark follows the first method, describing the first part of the Fig Tree story, the part that took place on Monday morning, in 11:12-14; then, the cleansing of the temple, later that same day, in 11:15-19; and finally, the second part of the Fig Tree story, the part that happened on Tuesday morning, in 11:20-24.Matthew, on the other hand, uses the second method. He wishes to tell the entire story all at once, in one connected and uninterrupted account. In doing this he does not come into real conflict with Mark, for his (Matthew’s) time indications are very indefinite” (p. 773).

D.A. Carson comments similarly: “If the Triumphal Entry was on Sunday, then, according to Mark, the cursing of the fig tree was on Monday; and the disciples’ surprise at the tree’s quick withering, along with Jesus’ words about faith, were on Tuesday. Matthew has simply put the two parts together in a typical topical arrangement” (p. 444).See also R.C.H. Lenski (p. 811).

There is one final circumstance that deserves comment. Some have wondered why the disciples did not notice the withered tree as they departed Jerusalem on Monday afternoon, in returning to Bethany. Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that they did not observe that detail until Tuesday morning. R.C. Foster has clarified the matter. When the Jews traveled eastward, from Jerusalem to Bethany, they took a more winding route, facilitating an easier climb around the Mount of Olives. The westerly route, from Bethany to Jerusalem, however, was a steeper (downhill) and quicker passage. And so the return to Bethany on Monday evening almost certainly was by a different road (Foster, p. 1104).

A consideration of all the relevant data, as to the respective purpose and style of each writer, clearly shows that Matthew and Mark do not conflict with reference to this event in the Lord’s ministry.

The comments to this entry are closed.