Michael Licona on ancient biography and harmonizing Bible contradictions

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

Brian Auten posted the latest lecture by Dr. Michael Licona at Apologetics 315. Brian’s site has the MP3 file (48 minutes, 44.5 Mb). I can make a smaller version for anyone who wants it.

Here is the video and my point-form summary.

The topic:

  • Contradictions do not affect the minimum facts case for the resurrection, although they are troubling
  • Most people respond to alleged contradictions by trying to harmonize them
  • Most verses that appear contradictory can be harmonized successfully
  • Some verses cannot be harmonized successfully without really damaging the texts
  • Christians should not gloss over these few real contradictions nor pretend that they don’t exist
  • How should we respond to the verses that cannot easily be harmonized?

Genre considerations:

  • The genre of the gospels is “ancient biography”
  • Ancient biography is not the same genre as modern biography
Insignificant differences

1. Contradictions vs. Differences:

  • In ancient biography, if a source mentions one person’s name, it does not mean that other people were not present
  • Example: one woman versus two women at the tomb, an account may only mention one woman when there are two
  • That is a difference, not a contradiction

2. Time compression:

  • in ancient biography, writers are allowed to leave out events in order to compress time
  • Some gospels omit details (guy version) and other gospels give more details (girl version)
  • For example, the cursing of the fig tree in Mark and Matthew

3. Narrative flow:

  • the ancient biographer’s style was to link together events into a narrative, even if they are slightly out of order
  • This means that the ordering matters less to ancient biographers than forming a coherent narrative
  • For example, the prediction by Jesus that Peter would deny him

Significant differences:

1. Biography allows for portrait painting

  • When people paint portraits, they sometimes use illustrations or imagery to convey the person’s character
  • For example, Shakespeare adds things to his history of Julius Caesar to make it more dramatic
  • For example, the genealogies in Matthew, the portrait of Jesus in the garden in John

2. Even if there are contradictions in an account it doesn’t mean that the basic facts are undermined

  • For example, even if we don’t know for sure if one thief or two thieves cursed Jesus, no one doubts that he was crucified
  • The basic details of the story are not affected by apparent contradictions

Then there is a period of Questions and Answers.

Are young people getting anything out of their support for the Democrat Party?

When I talk to young people, I am often told that my ideas about what to study, when to work and when to invest are “too strict”. They tell me: “your ideas only work within a narrow scope” and “don’t worry about me, everything will work out”.

Well, I happen to know that there are many crises right around the corner that will make things tougher for the next generation than they ever were for me. Trillion dollar student loan bubble, national debt doubled to $20 trillion, entitle programs going bankrupt, cost of health care and tuition skyrocketing, job growth at 1% quarter after quarter, breakdown of law and order, etc.

So how well are the young people equipped to deal with a challenging environment like this? Are they picking good majors and getting good jobs and controlling their spending and moving out of their parents’ houses?

Young adults failing to launch out of parents' homes
Young adults failing to launch out of parents’ homes

Here’s a new survey from the leftist Pew Research:

Broad demographic shifts in marital status, educational attainment and employment have transformed the way young adults in the U.S. are living, and a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data highlights the implications of these changes for the most basic element of their lives – where they call home. In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.

This turn of events is fueled primarily by the dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who are choosing to settle down romantically before age 35. Dating back to 1880, the most common living arrangement among young adults has been living with a romantic partner, whether a spouse or a significant other. This type of arrangement peaked around 1960, when 62% of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, and only one-in-five were living with their parents.

[…]The Great Recession (and modest recovery) has also been associated with an increase in young adults living at home. Initially in the wake of the recession, college enrollments expanded, boosting the ranks of young adults living at home. And given the weak job opportunities facing young adults, living at home was part of the private safety net helping young adults to weather the economic storm.

The job opportunities in the private sector are bad because of the Obama administration’s high taxes and burdensome regulations, which strangle private sector job creation. Dodd-Frank and Obamacare are two examples of bills that kill job creation. There was a good video put out by Prager University that showed how these taxes and regulations hurt entrepreneurs:

Where are the jobs for the young people supposed to come from, when the young people keep voting against the private sector businesses that create jobs? I don’t know that their parents and professors are explaining to them how the economy works. Taxes and regulations make job creation harder, and then you have nowhere to work, and just live at home.

The “weak job opportunities” that Pew Research mentioned are especially weak for young people who graduate from non-STEM programs. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates are able to find jobs that pay enough. Liberal arts graduates end up serving coffee. And then they vote for more environmentalist regulations and a higher minimum wage, and find themselves out of a job entirely. The jobs just go elsewhere where there are lower taxes and fewer regulations.

It’s really important for young people to get into the workforce early and start building their resume and references with work experience. Two years of work experience is better than graduate school in most cases, too. Saving works much better when you start investing early, so watch your spending.

Every immigrant without a high school degree will cost taxpayers $640,000

Major welfare programs as of 2012
Major welfare programs as of 2012

I am very much in favor of expanding and streamlining immigration processes for skilled immigrants, especially for areas where there is more demand than supply. But I am not in favor of letting in refugees or other unskilled immigrants, especially if they will be eligible to collect benefits paid for by other working taxpayers.

The Daily Signal explains what the cost is:

On Thursday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will release its report on “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration.” According to the report, first generation immigrants as a group increase the nation’s fiscal deficit. In other words, the government benefits they receive exceed the taxes paid.

The National Academies’ report provides 75-year fiscal projections for new immigrants and their descendants. The fiscal impact varies greatly according to the education level of the immigrant. Low-skill immigrants are shown to impose substantial fiscal costs that extend far into the future. The future government benefits they will receive greatly exceed the taxes they will pay.

On average, a nonelderly adult immigrant without a high school diploma entering the U.S. will create a net fiscal cost (benefits received will exceed taxes paid) in both the current generation and second generation. The average net present value of the fiscal cost of such an immigrant is estimated at $231,000, a cost that must be paid by U.S. taxpayers.

The concept of “net present value” is complex: it places a much lower value on future expenditures than on current expenditures.

One way to grasp net present value is that it represents the total amount of money that government would have to raise today and put in a bank account earning interest at 3 percent above the inflation rate in order to cover future costs.

Thus, as each adult immigrant without a high school diploma enters the country, the government would need to immediately put aside and invest $231,000 to cover the future net fiscal cost (total benefits minus total taxes) of that immigrant.

Converting a net present value figure into future outlays requires information on the exact distribution of costs over time. That data is not provided by the National Academies.

However, a rough estimate of the future net outlays to be paid by taxpayers (in constant 2012 dollars) for immigrants without a high school diploma appears to be around $640,000 per immigrant over 75 years. The average fiscal loss is around $7,551 per year (in constant 2012 dollars).

Slightly more than 4 million adult immigrants without a high school diploma have entered the U.S. since 2000 and continue to reside here. According to the estimates in the National Academies report, the net present value of the future fiscal costs of those immigrants is $920 billion.

If you want to take in refugees or unskilled immigrants or sponsor elderly family members, then they should not be allowed to collect benefits paid by other taxpayers. The family that is here already must provide for them, and be held accountable should anything go wrong. Unfortunately, that’s not how the system works now, and it’s not what the Democrats want. They want to import more people who will depend on big government, and then give them the right to vote.

Now, you might think that young American students who expect to find jobs will also expect to keep most of what they earn. It’s very surprising then that they keep voting for a party (the Democrats) that seeks to enslave them with the obligation to pay for other people. I know that the next generation will be paying more in taxes than I ever did during my lifetime.

Black education leaders fight NAACP for access to charter schools

Cato Institute graphs education spending against test scores
Cato Institute graphs education spending against test scores

This story is from the Daily Signal, by Kelsey Harkness.

Excerpt:

A group of 160 black education and community leaders from across the country are pushing back against an attempt by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to halt all future charter school growth.

The coalition, organized by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, sent a letter to NAACP board members on behalf of “700,000 black families choosing to send their children to charter public schools, and the tens of thousands more who are still on waiting lists.”

The letter came in response to a resolution drafted by the NAACP that calls for a “moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools,” arguing that charter schools have “weak oversight” and put schools in low-income communities “at great risk.”

Charter schools typically perform much better than public schools, because they have more autonomy from the unions.

Kelsey explains:

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are required to follow state standards such as Common Core. They do not charge tuition but instead of being run by the government, charter schools are operated by private nonprofit or for-profit organizations.

Typically, local and state school boards are in charge of granting private or nonprofit organizations the ability to launch a new charter school. If charter schools do not meet strict achievement standards, the organization’s charter is revoked and given to a new organization to operate.

In exchange for that responsibility, charter schools generally have more autonomy over their daily operations, including hiring, firing, budgeting, and instruction decisions.

[…]The coalition also cited a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University:

According to the most thorough and respected study of charter school results, conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, black students learn more when they attend charter schools. Black students in charter schools gained the equivalent of 14 extra days of learning in reading and 14 extra days of learning in math per year compared with their black peers in traditional district schools. For low-income black students attending charter schools, the learning gains were even more dramatic—the equivalent of 29 extra learning days in reading and 36 extra learning days in math.

Why would anyone be against giving poor black children a good education? One thing is for sure: it’s always the Republicans and conservatives who are pushing for more school choice, and more accountability from schools to parents. It’s always the Democrats who want to shut down competition and force kids into failing public schools. Who are the real racists trying to keep blacks down? It’s not conservatives.

Why are Christians allowed to eat shellfish but not allowed to have sex before marriage?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Here’s a wonderful article from Peter Saunders.

The challenge:

An argument frequently advanced by those attempting to defend homosexual practice is that Christians ‘cherry pick’ the commands in the Bible – that is, they chose to emphasise some commands while ignoring others.

The Old Testament may forbid homosexual acts (Leviticus 18:2; 20:13) but it also forbids eating seafood without fins and scales (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9, 10).

So how can Christians then justify upholding laws on sexual morality whilst at the same time ignoring the food laws from the very same books of the Bible? Why may they eat shellfish but not be allowed to have sex outside marriage? Isn’t this inconsistent and hypocritical?

The solution is that God enters into “covenants” with his people, and the terms of those covenants change.

Especially dietary laws:

The answer to this question lies in an understanding of biblical covenants.

A covenant is a binding solemn agreement made between two parties. It generally leaves each with obligations. But it holds only between the parties involved.

There are a number of biblical covenants: Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinaitic (Old), Davidic and New.

Under the Noahic covenant, which God made with all living human beings (Genesis 9:8-17), people were able to eat anything:

‘Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything’ (Genesis 9:3).

But under the Sinaitic (Old) Covenant, which God made with the nation of Israel, people were able to eat certain foods, but not others.

Jesus clearly created a new covenant with his followers, where the dietary laws are lifted:

Jesus said that he had come to fulfil the ‘Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44). He would establish this new covenant with new laws, with himself as high priest based on his own sacrificial death on the cross.

This new covenant would completely deal with sin (Hebrews 10:1-18) and protect all those who put their faith in him from God’s wrath and judgement…

[…]‘In the same way, after the supper (Jesus) took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”’ (Luke 22:20). ‘…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10)

People would come under the protection of this new covenant, not by virtue of belonging to the nation of Israel, but through faith in Christ. In fact the function of the Old Testament Law (Sinaitic covenant) was to point to Christ as its fulfilment.

[…]So what then did Christ say about foods? He pronounced all foods clean for his followers to eat:

‘ “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?  For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23)

Jesus was making that point that under the new covenant God required purity of the heart. Internal thoughts and attitudes were as important as external actions.

Food is OK for Christians, but sexual immorality – which includes premarital sex and adultery – are NOT OK for Christians.

I think sometimes when you are talking to people whose motivation is just to get rid of any objective moral law entirely, they tend to ask questions without really wanting a good answer. This is especially true when it comes to the morality of sex. They ask the question not to get an answer, but to justify getting rid of the moral rules governing sexuality. The answers are there for people who are willing to respect God in their decision-making to find. The answers are not found only by people who have a reason to not want to find them.

In case you’re wondering, I am one of those Christian men who takes chastity seriously. Marriage is about having a close connection with your spouse. Sure, I could break the rules and have a lot of fun now. A lot of Christians have a hard time turning down fun. But when I look at Jesus, I don’t see a man who is pursuing fun and thrills. I see a man who sees a need and then sacrifices his own interests to rescue others from peril.

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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