Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 26

So, after officially claiming that these are silver bullet arguments — as noted last time — Seidensticker moves on to creating new ones.  He actually only creates two new ones as far as I’ve seen, and this one is a two-parter, with the first one talking outlining the issue and the second one … uh, talking about how Christians respond to his drop-the-mic silver bullet that presumably there shouldn’t be any sort of reply to?

Yes, it’s not off to a good start as a silver bullet argument when you start off saying that Christians have a reply to your supposed silver bullet argument.  At best, you have to argue that those replies don’t work, and that will always open up a lot of debate over whether they do or don’t.  And silver bullet arguments really shouldn’t be open to debate.

Anyway, the big argument — and the one that the title refers to — is the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and the world, in fact, has not ended:

Jesus said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34).

What are “all these things”? A few verses earlier, he described some of them: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

So (1) we’re talking about something that is truly apocalyptic if the contents of the universe are being rearranged or destroyed, and (2) this will happen within the lives of those hearing him.

We’d know if that happened. It didn’t, and Jesus was wrong.

Most Christians reject this obvious conclusion, which frees them to invent countless end-times predictions of their own (illustrated here).

Here’s the thing:  if most Christians actually reject this purportedly obvious conclusion, then it will definitely be an uphill battle to convince them that this conclusion is both obvious and serious enough to work as a silver bullet argument.  So that admission itself really puts Seidensticker behind the 8-ball.

That being said, that second post is important, because it notes that Christians have noted it and find it a bit problematic:

About “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” popular Christian apologist C. S. Lewis said, “It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”

Seidensticker does go on to cite some other verses that suggest that the end was supposed to be quite soon:

Not only did Jesus think the end was nigh, Paul did, too. He wrote:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [that is, died]. . . . For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:20–23).

The firstfruits were those few fruits that ripened first that were given as an offering to Yahweh. Jesus here is the firstfruits. The full harvest (in this analogy, those who follow Jesus) would follow soon afterwards. Here again we see the imminence of the prediction.

And another one from Paul:

We have another clue that Paul thought the end would come soon. Here, Paul was responding to a question within one of his congregations. The assumption had apparently been that Jesus would return and scoop up all worthy followers. But time was dragging on, and church members were dying. What about them? Will those who’ve died also get the reward that is due those who were still? Paul responds:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15).

In other words, Jesus will take his own, even if some have died. The possibility that Jesus won’t return for millennia, and no one of this early church will still be alive, is obviously not an option.

So the argument works out to be that Jesus and important early Church figures thought that the end times were imminent, and yet the world has still not ended.  The argument is that the statements are both obvious and obviously false, and so if Jesus really said that, then He was wrong about something that He really should have known the answer to.

I agree that this does seem to be at least a bit embarrassing, but there is one big issue with this from the very beginning:  while it might be a clear contradiction, it’s not about what people consider to be the crucial message of Christianity.  That is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”.  What this means is that we can reinterpret those statements or even consider them historical distortions without losing what the key point of Christianity is.  Seidensticker’s historical evidence even suggests a way to do this:

Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet. That’s not simply to say that he predicted the end. He did, but Apocalypticism was an entire worldview popular within Judaism at the time of Jesus. For example, Bart Ehrman argues that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are from a Jewish (not Christian) community, are full of Apocalyptic ideas. The book of Daniel (written in the 160s BCE) is another example of this genre.

Jesus wasn’t an outlier, the lone eccentric in Jerusalem holding a sign saying, “The end is nigh!” He shared a worldview that was widespread in his time. Another clue that Jesus had an Apocalyptic viewpoint is that predicting an imminent end was a common trait of this literature.

If Apocalyptic prophecies where common at the time, its entirely reasonable that word of mouth tales from the time might have added such things into the works we have.  It’s also reasonable to think that some of the translations might have highlighted that as an interpretation even though the original stories were not as clear about an imminent end.  Treating the works as historical readings, then, allows for reasons to reject the purportedly obvious conclusion.  It’s only if we treat the Bible and especially the New Testament as the dictated Word of God that we couldn’t make such moves, but that’s very shaky, if for no other reason than at least Luke is insisting that that isn’t what he’s doing, and it is at least a reasonably accepted Catholic doctrine that they are four different eyewitness accounts (or collections of them).  I know this because I was taught that in my Catholic grade school.

And things get worse for Seidensticker in his own arguments, because he notes that early Christians seem to have noticed this embarrassment:

This author is largely echoing the argument in 2 Peter 3:3–9, which admits that the second coming is late but that God is doing humanity a favor by delaying judgment so that more can be brought into the fold.

The actual text is this:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So if we accept this as a valid part of the NT, then Christians have the answer:  God is waiting for the right time, and it isn’t the right time yet.  And so imminent doesn’t mean to God what it means to humans, and so that we seem to be thousands of years “late” isn’t an issue.  It will happen when it happens, which is pretty much how Christians see it.

So the NT itself, in fact, solves the problem of the end of the world not happening yet.  So given this, Seidensticker needs to move to a different and weaker argument about why, then Jesus got it wrong:

Yet again, this doesn’t explain how an omniscient being like Jesus gets it wrong. If that’s what Jesus meant, he could’ve said that. Omniscient beings don’t change their minds based on new information, because there can be no new information for them.

This, then, actually explains why in the first post he made some much weaker arguments about the supposedly odd limitations of Jesus:

Jesus didn’t know a lot of things. But give the guy a break—it’s not like he was perfect.

    • In a crowd of people, a woman with a bleeding problem touched Jesus’s robe and was healed (Mark 5:25–34). After the incident, “Jesus realized that power had gone out from him” and demanded to know who had touched him. Oddly, Jesus’s power is treated as a limited quantity, like energy in a battery. Doesn’t the Trinity have an infinite supply? But for our purposes, the more interesting question is why he had to ask who touched him. How could he not have known?
    • Jesus said that the end would come soon, but he didn’t know the exact time: “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).*
    • Jesus promised that prayers are answered and that his followers would be able to do magic greater than he. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.
  • Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s faith (Luke 7:9) and amazed at the lack of faith in his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:5–6). Omniscient being aren’t supposed to be amazed.

Stacking arguments like this always makes it seem like the person arguing thinks that the original argument — in this case, that Jesus was wrong about the end times — isn’t as strong as they’d like it to be, so they want to add more lines of argumentation in case that one falls.  It’d be like in a courtroom if the prosecution said that the defendant definitely was guilty of the murder because twenty people say them walk into the building and shoot that person in the head, and then went on to say that they also didn’t have an alibi and threatened that person’s life in public.  Yes, in a courtroom they might do that anyway, but anyone listening will wonder about the latter arguments because if the first one holds up they seem irrelevant (and there’s a danger in adding on weaker arguments because if they are shown to be wrong then it can cast doubt on the stronger ones as well).  But here we can clearly see why Seidensticker needs to include them, because the stronger argument is actually dealt with in the Bible itself, and so even people who believe the Bible is the unerring Word of God will not find the mere fact that the end times have not yet occurred a sufficient argument and so obviously not a silver bullet argument.

Of course, there is a reply to the idea that Jesus got things wrong and should never have gotten things wrong (ie that He wasn’t, in fact, perfect):

4. When the woman with the bleeding illness touched Jesus, he demanded, “Who touched me?” (discussed in part 1). How could the omniscient second person of the Trinity not know? One source explains this by arguing that Jesus “possesses the power of intentional self-limitation.”

Yeah, I’d stand in line for that superpower.

But let’s suppose Jesus knew that he was deliberately clouding his knowledge of humanity’s future. First, why would he do that? What would that accomplish? And second, why would he make a prediction about something that he knew he had limited his understanding of?

Seidensticker mocks the idea that Jesus was self-limited, but the thing is the NT is in fact quite clear that Jesus was limited and wasn’t perfect.  Given His nature, He could easily have prevented the authorities from taking Him to be crucified, for example, and yet all He did was pray for it to pass from him if that worked.  We seen Jesus being angry and even unreasonable at times (cursing the fig tree for having no fruit, driving the money lenders from the temple, etc, etc).  What is key to Jesus is that He, essentially, became human, and thus had many of our human frailties.  This, then, makes Him the exemplar that we are supposed to follow.  The biggest difference between Him and us is that He has utter faith in God — even if that is tested by His crucifixtion — and so arguably we could be like him if we had similar faith (which we often lack).  So that Jesus would limit his foreknowledge to what humans could or should now doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.

So why would He seem so certain about this prophecy if He didn’t know for sure?  Well, putting aside that He might not have been so certain about it, if He didn’t know when it was then it indeed might not happen, and it would be better to get people preparing for it with stronger statements that turn out to be wrong than to hint that it might not happen anytime soon and have them ignore it, as humans tend to do.  In general, a lot of the more extreme comments — even the description of Hell — can be argued as being strong statements to inspire action among humans when explaining the entire thing would be too confusing and likely to be uninspiring.  So it could well be that the growth of Christianity and the faith of the original Apostle’s was sufficient to see that people could be redeemed and the faith could grow, and thus the Second Coming will only happen when there is no such hope.

Ultimately, is the passage predicting an imminent coming that really can’t be considered imminent after all these years a bit embarrassing?  Yeah.  It needs an answer.  However, it doesn’t work as a silver bullet argument because the same source has explained it, there are ways to reconcile the worst aspects of it, and ultimately that specific prediction is not fundamental to Christianity.  While this is a better attempt, Seidensticker himself has to stack arguments to even get it to be a real problem, and that means that it’s not a silver bullet argument.

Next time:  the last one (or, at least, the last one I could find).


2 Responses to “Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 26”

  1. theoriginalmrx Says:

    But let’s suppose Jesus knew that he was deliberately clouding his knowledge of humanity’s future. First, why would he do that? What would that accomplish?

    As CS Lewis suggested, it might be that omniscience is incompatible with being fully human (as humans are inherently limited, etc.)., in which case Jesus would have had to lay down his omniscience in order to become incarnate, just like he’d have had to lay down his omnipresence.

  2. Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 27 and a Summary | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] continuing on from last time with the ones Seidensticker came up with after he decided that these were all clearly silver bullet […]

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