A review of “Making the Case for Christianity” by John Bombaro and other LCMS Lutheran theologians, Part 3

The second chapter is entitled, “The New Testament Gospels as Reliable History”.  This chapter is written by Mark Pierson, an LMS Lutheran and professor of Theology and Philosophy at an LCMS university.  He is currently pursuing a PhD in New Testament Studies.

I am not a theologian.  I do not have a masters in Theology or Philosophy as does Mr. Pierson.  But I read enough of scholarship that I can recognize bad, biased scholarship when I see it.  And Mr. Pierson’s scholarship in this chapter is very, very poor and very, very biased.

Let me give you an example:  “Since Paul died in c. 65 AD, Acts would be dated before then.”  —Mark Pierson, page 58

Are you serious?  The Book of Acts written prior to 65 AD??

This is something a fundamentalist Baptist preacher would print in his church bulletin, not something a seminary trained theologian should say.  As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, prior to the internet, a pastor or theologian might get away with making a comment like this because the laypersons in the audience did not have the time to go to a library and do a literature search on this assertion.  Such an endeavor would have taken weeks to months!

But today, with the availability of the Internet, anyone can do a quick search to verify the accuracy of this statement.

Note in Mr. Pierson’s statement that he does not say that a minority of mostly fundamentalist NT scholars hold this position, (which is the case).  No.  He makes his statement as if it is the scholarly consensus.  Mr. Pierson makes his statement that the Book of Acts was written prior to 65 AD as if this statement is accepted fact.  Shame on him.

Most NT scholars believe that the Book of Acts was written in the late first century, most likely no earlier than 80 AD.  Don’t believe me?  Go on the Internet and find out for yourself.

As I have mentioned previously, most of us evaluate truth claims which involve issues in which we ourselves are not experts, by obtaining the consensus position of the experts in that field and accepting their expert opinion.   Only a minority of NT scholars believe that the Book of Acts was written prior to 65 AD.  Mr. Pierson did not say this.  He should have.  His statement is misleading and biased.

It is interesting that Mr. Pierson starts out this chapter by attacking former Christian/turned agnostic, NT scholar, Bart Ehrman, for being biased.  Using a Biblical analogy:  Mr. Pierson needs to take the “log” out of his own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from the eye of Mr. Ehrman.

In Mr. Pierson’s introduction, Mr. Pierson makes this statement:  “Christianity ultimately amounts to a sham if the Jesus of history  was (and is) not the same Jesus whose ministry, death, and resurrected are narrated in these texts.”  The Apostle Paul said essentially the same thing.  I believe that by the end of my review of “Making the Case for Christianity” I will demonstrate that although the evidence is reasonably good for the existence of the Jesus of history, the evidence for the existence of the Gospel authors’ god/man,  born of a ghost-impregnated virgin, who walked on water,  rose from the dead, and eventually levitated into outer space, is scant to non-existent.

Jesus the man is historical.  Jesus the god/man with magical powers is a legend.

Here are the major, poorly supported, assumptions presented by Mr. Pierson in this chapter; presented as facts, many of which the majority of modern New Testament scholars have concluded are false:

1. The apostle Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John son of Zebedee wrote the four Gospels.

Not only do the majority of NT scholars not believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels, the majority of NT scholars do not believe that the Gospels were written by ANY eyewitnesses!  Don’t believe me?  Google it.

2.  Because we have thousands of copies of the original four Gospels, more than any other document from Antiquity, this plethora of copies supports the historical veracity of the stories told in those Gospels.

Wrong.  If we had thousands of copies of Homer’s Iliad that would not mean that we should all believe in the historical reality of Cyclops and Greek gods.  The existence of thousands of copies of the Gospels does not in any way confirm the historicity of the events told in these ancient books.

3.  Papias provided good evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels.

Mr. Pierson makes the following shocking statement on page 55:

“The earliest reference to Gospel authorship comes from Papias, a bishop following good historical methods.  Around AD 80, while eyewitnesses of Jesus were still alive and teaching, Papias, after making careful inquiries and relying on oral testimony, noted that Peter’s oral teaching was recorded by Mark, and that Matthew himself also composed a work about Jesus.  This is not mere rumor, nor is it likely that Papias gullibly accepted a tradition that “had been made up” as (Bart) Erhman suggests.  Rather it comes from an early date and from someone who deliberately collected data from any who qualified as a ‘living and surviving voice.’  This means that the first and second Gospels can be tied to two of Jesus’ closest disciples.”

Wow.  WOW!  What sloppy, sloppy, sloppy scholarship.

Dear Reader, go on the internet and google “Papias”.   One of the first things you will see is his approximate year of birth.  What does it say?  When do most scholars believe that Papias was born?  Answer:  70-75 AD!  Yet Mr. Pierson tells us that in circa 80 AD, Papias was “making careful inquiries…”.  Wow!  I didn’t realize that five/ten year olds could make “careful inquiries”!!!!

This is just preposterous.  The true date of Papias’ writings were circa 120-130 AD, not 80 AD.  So how many eyewitnesses to the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus would still be alive in 120-130 AD?  Answer:  Not many, if any.

And nowhere in the writings of Papias does he ever state that he interviewed actual eyewitnesses for his information.  Nowhere.  In actuality, Papias states that his information came from third or fourth hand sources.  So who told Papias that John Mark had written a book containing the memoires of Peter?  Answer:  We don’t know!  And get this:  Papias never quotes from this book written by John Mark so we have no idea if the book we today call “the Gospel of Mark” is the same book that Papias was referring to.

Assumption, after assumption, after assumption, my friends.

And to top it off, even later Christian Church Fathers did NOT consider Papias a reliable source of information.  Just where does Mr. Pierson get his claim that “Papias followed good historical methods”?  And as far as Papias’ claim that Matthew wrote a Gospel, his actual claim was that Matthew wrote a gospel in Hebrew.  Only a fringe minority of NT scholars (if any) believe that the original version of the book we today refer to as “The Gospel According to Matthew” was written in Hebrew.

This is really sloppy scholarship, folks.  The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod should be ashamed to have its name identified with this book!

4.  Eyewitnesses to the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus were still living at the time of the writing of the Gospels.

Give us a list of names, Mr. Pierson!  We have pretty good evidence that both Paul and Peter were dead by the late 60’s.  If the first Gospel, Mark, was written in circa 70-75 AD, as many scholars believe is very possible, what evidence do you have that ANY person who had witnessed the crucifixion and the alleged post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive in 70 AD?  And even if some of these eyewitnesses were still alive, how do we know that these eyewitnesses who lived in Palestine had access to Gospels which most scholars believe were written in Rome and Antioch?  How long did it take these gospels to reach Palestine?  Isn’t it entirely possible that copies of the first gospel Mark did not reach Palestine until the end of the first century, seventy years after Jesus’ death?  How many ninety and one hundred year old eyewitnesses were alive at that time?

Bottom line:  It is possible that eyewitnesses were alive at the time of the writing and distribution of the Gospels and were able to “proof read” these texts.  But, it is also possible that they were all dead or if still alive, unavailable to review these documents for accuracy.

So can Christians name any first century or early second century source which states that eyewitnesses were still alive when the Gospels were first written and distributed?

Answer: No.  They cannot.  Christians can only point to later, very questionable, Church traditions.  We therefore have no idea how or when the other ten Apostles nor any of the other alleged eyewitnesses died.  It is yet another Christian assumption to presume that eyewitnesses to the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus were still alive when the first Gospel was written, let alone when the later Gospels and the Book of Acts were written.

5.  The fact that Jesus was never mentioned by any of his contemporaries should not surprise us.

“(Bart) Ehrman declares that if Jesus was really as important as Christians assert, ‘we would expect to find scores of accounts’ about him ‘written by contemporaries outside the group of his closest disciples.’

…It is remarkable that Jesus should be mentioned in (later) secular accounts at all.”   —Mark Pierson, page 61

Really?  Philo of Alexandria, who lived at the same time as Jesus, mentions Pilate extensively.  So why didn’t he ever mention Jesus, the greatest of all Messiah-pretenders whom Pilate condemned to death?  Jesus of Nazareth, the man who single-handedly brought all of Palestine to the brink of revolt…if we are to believe the Gospel accounts; the man who caused the mighty Pilate to fear the anger of the Jews who wanted Jesus dead; the self-professed Son of God who raised people from the dead, including the daughter of a Roman official; the self-proclaimed King of the Jews and messiah who caused the city of Jerusalem to rock with anticipation of the impending new Kingdom of Israel and the defeat of the Romans during his triumphal entry parade on Palm Sunday; the man who upon his death, an unheard of three hour solar eclipse blacked out the sun across the entire planet (or at least in Jerusalem); major earthquakes accompanied his death; the Temple veil tore down the middle; and last but not least, scores of dead people were shaken out of their  tombs, to walk the streets of the capital city….if we are to believe the Gospel accounts.

But Philo is silent.

Nope.  No reason for Philo to have mentioned Jesus.

6.  The Jews living in first century Palestine kept their oral traditions very accurately, therefore we can be confidant that the oral stories about Jesus were very accurately maintained until they were later written down by the Gospel authors.

This may have been true of the Jewish religious elites in regard to the Torah and the Talmud but are we really to believe that a bunch of uneducated fishermen and other peasants maintained the same accuracy regarding stories about their dead friend and leader?  And what about when these stories were passed from one country to another, from one language to another, from one decade to another?  Remember, the majority of scholars believe that the four Gospels were written many decades latter, by non-Jews, in far away foreign lands, who were not eyewitnesses.  Are we really to believe that no embellishments to the original Jesus story ever crept in during these many decades?  How can anyone be sure?

Assumptions, folks.  Assumptions.

Again, just because we have many, many copies of the original Gospels this in no way means that the stories told in those originals were historically factual.  Only if conservative Christians like Mr. Pierson can convince his readers that a group of first century peasants maintained the accuracy of the supernatural-laden story about their dead leader, in oral form, over many decades (approximately 40 years), across the boundaries of multiple countries and continents, retranslated from the original Aramaic, passed from person to person to person to person, can they maintain the illusion that the Gospels are accurate, eyewitness accounts of historical facts.

Update 11/2/2016:

Gary:  For proof that the majority of NT scholars do NOT believe that Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John the son of Zebedee wrote the four Gospels , and, that the majority of scholars believe that the first Gospel (Mark) was written circa 70 AD (meaning that the Book of Acts was most likely not written prior to 65 AD as Mr. Pierson above states), here are some excerpts and links:

“The traditional authors of the canonical Gospels–Matthew the tax collector, Mark the attendant of Peter, Luke the attendant of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee–are doubted among the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars. The public is often not familiar, however, with the complex reasons and methodology that scholars use to reach well-supported conclusions about critical issues, such as assessing the authorial traditions for ancient texts. To provide a good overview of the majority opinion about the Gospels, the Oxford Annotated Bible (a compilation of multiple scholars summarizing dominant scholarly trends for the last 150 years) states (pg. 1744):

Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk. 1.4; Jn. 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.

Unfortunately, much of the general public is not familiar with scholarly resources like the one quoted above; instead, Christian apologists often put out a lot of material, such as The Case For Christ, targeted toward lay audiences, who are not familiar with scholarly methods, in order to argue that the Gospels are the eyewitness testimonies of either Jesus’ disciples or their attendants. The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions, in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure–Jesus Christ–to confirm the faith of their communities.”

https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/why-scholars-doubt-the-traditional-authors-of-the-gospels/

 

Biblical historian Gary Greenberg:  “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write the Gospels says biblical historian Gary Greenberg in his latest book, Who Wrote the Gospels? Why New Testament Scholars Challenge Church Traditions. At least, not the Matthew, Mark, Luke or John of Church tradition, he adds. Controversial as this view is, he notes that it is widely accepted among New Testament scholars. Yet few members of the lay public know about this modern scholarly consensus, let alone why scholars hold these views…”

 

Early Christian Writings:  “It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

It is also the consensus position that the evangelist was not the apostle Matthew. Such an idea is based on the second century statements of Papias and Irenaeus. As quoted by Eusebius in Hist. Eccl. 3.39, Papias states: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” In Adv. Haer. 3.1.1, Irenaeus says: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.” We know that Irenaeus had read Papias, and it is most likely that Irenaeus was guided by the statement he found there. That statement in Papias itself is considered to be unfounded because the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek and relied largely upon Mark, not the author’s first-hand experience.”

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/matthew.html

 

Boston College (RCC university):  “Although some scholars disagree, the vast majority of researchers believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70.”

 

American Bible Society:  “From a historical perspective, the vast majority of biblical scholars believe Mark’s Gospel to be the earliest written narrative about Jesus, written in or about 70 CE.”

 

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12 thoughts on “A review of “Making the Case for Christianity” by John Bombaro and other LCMS Lutheran theologians, Part 3

  1. An LCMS Lutheran pastor kindly sent me this email regarding my review of “Making the Case for Christianity”:

    Dear Mr. Matson,

    I thank you for your comments. As a former Christian, I am sure you will appreciate it that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod subscribes to the historical and theological correctness of Holy Scripture. Your arguments on the attached material suggest the time lines and substance of the “alleged” materials in the New Testament Gospels and Epistles are somehow flawed. There has never been a widely accepted refutation of any of the historical and evidential substance and content of the Bible. Disproving Jesus as the Christ is impossible! Professor Ehrman is not a source (nor are the Internet and Google) scholarly sources that would refute the materials that have contributed to the reliability of Scripture. Since he denies the virgin birth, the pre-existence of Christ from eternity, the death and resurrection of Jesus, he has rejected the basic fundamentals of Christianity – and not with good scholarship on his part.

    May I suggest reading Guthrie’s book on the interpretation of the New Testament to clarify your understanding of Scripture’s historicity. May I also recommend Paul Maier’s book on the writings of Josephus – a first century historian, appointed by the Romans and the Pharisees to record the events surrounding the life and death and resurrection of Jesus (among other things). He was not a Christian, but one who was engaged in the First Century attempts to disprove the claims of the Gospels.

    I am always amazed that, if Jesus – the Son of God and Messiah – was a hoax, the men and women who willingly died for the confession, rather than deny the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ died for something people like Ehrman consider to be a fabricated lie. That doesn’t seem to plausible, considering the hundreds of martyrs who died for their Confession of Jesus as Lord and God.

    I will pray for you.

    Rev. Dr. Roger Paavola, President
    Mid-South District, LCMS

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    1. Thank you very much for your response, President Paavola,

      I certainly agree with you that disproving that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ (the Jewish Messiah) is impossible. It is impossible because this is a theological question, not an historical question.

      I have no issue with Christians believing in Jesus’ divinity by faith, but when they tell non-believers that they have “objective” evidence to support the central claims of Christianity, which the LCMS authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” have asserted, then I think they should be held to the same standard of evidence that every other field of scholarship demands. Isn’t that only fair?

      Mr. Pierson, one of the LCMS authors of this book, has made several statements of fact in this chapter of the book which are flat out false. The majority of scholars do NOT believe that the Book of Acts was written prior to 65 AD. A small minority of scholars believe this, most of them fundamentalists, but this is not what Mr. Pierson said. He made a statement of fact, when it is not a fact; it is not even the view of the scholarly majority. Mr. Pierson made the outrageous statement that Papias, using good techniques of collecting historical evidence, recorded eyewitness testimony in 80 AD. 80 AD! My goodness. Papias was only FIVE years old in 80 AD.

      Mr. Pierson is deceiving LCMS readers and making the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod look like a bunch of fundamentalist hicks—which I know from speaking to numerous LCMS pastors during my time as a member of the LCMS, is NOT the case.

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      1. One other point, Rev. Paavola,

        Most skeptics such as myself do NOT believe that the early Christians were lying; that they perpetrated a hoax. Most of us believe the early Christians were no different than the many new, radical religious sects that frequently pop up today: The exuberance of the converts in regards to their new belief system clouds their reason and judgment. They are not lying. They are simply mistaken.

        Most skeptics such as myself believe that the early Christians sincerely believed that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead. The question is, why? We believe that it is much more probable that the post death “appearances” of Jesus were imagined than that they were real. We believe that since many thousands of people down through history have imagined seeing a recently departed dead loved we shouldn’t be at all surprised that this occurred in the first century among a small group of mostly uneducated, highly superstitious, peasants.

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  2. Another LCMS pastor left this comment:

    Gary,

    It sounds like a personal issue between you and Pr. Bombaro. I would urge you to seek reconciliation with him, rather than trying to embarrass him in view of his peers. You both, as well as the church, will benefit from this.

    You are both in my prayers,

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    1. And here was my email response to this LCMS pastor:

      Hi Pastor,

      Thank you for your reply.

      When I deconverted from Christianity, Pastor Bombaro told me that the reason I had deconverted was due to the fact that I had not read “good” scholarship. He gave me a reading list, starting with his “soon to be released” book entitled, “Making the Case for Christianity”. I am simply doing what he asked.

      However, I am not only reading the books he recommended, I am reviewing them on my blog. I am reading one chapter at a time and posting reviews. My review of the first chapter of “Making the Case for Christianity” was positive. The LCMS author of the first chapter presented his case for the existence of a Creator very well…except, he made a fundamental error in logic: He assumed that evidence for a generic Creator is evidence for the ancient Hebrew god, Yahweh.

      I was shocked to read the sloppy scholarship in chapter 2. I wasn’t expecting it. If this is the level of scholarship in LCMS universities, the LCMS should be ashamed of its curriculum.

      I am asking for LCMS pastors to evaluate my review of this book in order to see if the majority of LCMS clergy hold such out-dated, fundamentalist views on NT scholarship.
      Thank you for your input. Please place any further comments in the blog comment section below the post.

      Best regards,

      Gary

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  3. An LCMS pastor sent me a very kind email this morning, saying that he hoped that I would be “reconciled with Christ”. Here is my response:

    I understand your perspective, Pastor P., but my goal is not to “find Christ” but to find the truth. If the claims of Christianity are true, I will embrace them and return to the Church. However, at this point I believe that the evidence strongly points to the claims of Christianity being false. Pastor Bombaro told me that I hold this view due to not having read enough scholarship. He gave me a list of books to read, beginning with his own, “Making the Case for Christianity”. I started reading his book and find sloppy scholarship. I am calling him out on it. It needs to be addressed. If this is what most LCMS pastors believe about NT scholarship, then they all need to take a refresher course. The overwhelming majority of NT scholars do not believe that the Book of Acts was written prior to 65 AD. The majority of scholars do not believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels. There is ZERO good evidence that any eyewitness to the alleged resurrection appearances of Jesus was still alive when the first Gospel was written, which would have given the Church the opportunity to have an eyewitness proof-read the Gospels for accuracy.

    These are critical issues, Pastor! This is not Bible trivia. The foundation of the Christian religion rests on these alleged historical events. If LCMS pastors cannot provide better evidence for these historical claims than what is presented in Dr. Bombaro’s book, LCMS laypersons who have access to the internet, especially young people, will start packing up and leaving the denomination (and Christianity) in droves.

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  4. An email from another LCMS Bishop/District President. I am very impressed with what he has to say.

    Essentially, the Bishop is saying that Christianity is based on faith, not on evidence. If more Christians would espouse this view, there would be no incentive or need for skeptics such as myself to debate this issue. Faith cannot be challenged. It is a subjective, personal choice. I may see it as foolish and superstitious, but that is just personal opinion. I cannot prove faith wrong. My issue, and that of most skeptics, is with Christians who claim that they can prove the supernatural claims of Christianity with “objective evidence”, as the LCMS authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” state in the foreword to their book. When this bold assertion is made, we say: Bring on the evidence, Christians!

    Here is the Bishop’s entire email, as he requested:

    Mr. Matson,

    You sent an email to me regarding the scholarship used in the book, “Making the Case for Christianity”. I am somewhat curious as to why you would write me. Nevertheless, I spent some time reading your story this morning, and feel moved to respond, if ever so briefly.

    I am very sorry that you were hurt by the actions, by the lack of action, and by certain positions espoused by your Pastor, as well as by the lack of concern demonstrated by members of your congregation. This seems to be a subtext of much of what you write. It is unfortunate, but in a sinful world this is a common story. There really is no solution to the disappointments suffered at the hands of sinners, except forgiveness. Whatever else you may have given up in your journey away from Jesus, I hope that you still believe in some form of forgiveness. In fact, this is one reason I am a Christian. I know I am not what I should be. I need forgiveness. Jesus is the only place I find it to be real. I wonder if in your studies you would at least acknowledge that Christianity is unique in this aspect. All other religions teach that you must, in some fashion, get right with god by your own efforts. Christianity says you cannot do it. Jesus does it for you. He forgives me. He also works forgiveness in me for those who have sinned against me. Although you may not have Him as a resource any longer, you may at least find a self-preservative motivation to “forgive” and move on. As it is, it seems from some of your writings, that this pain is consuming you.

    In response to some of what you wrote about the book, “Making the Case for Christianity,” I will not invest the time to answer each charge. I will make two general comments. First, you seem astute enough to recognize that there is a broad spectrum of positions on biblical study. No one escapes the context of their prejudices. For every underlying assumption you recognize in Vieth, Pierson, Bombaro, there is an equal and opposite underlying assumption in Ehrman and “the vast majority” of scholars. My faith in Jesus certainly informs my understanding of the Scripture. Your faith in human reason informs your understanding of Scripture. You cannot claim an objectivity that is inherently purer.

    That will bring me to my second point. The prospect of apologetics should be entered into with fear and trembling, for the very reasons you have noted. Some apologists get themselves into trouble by granting human reason more power, in the spiritual realm, than it actually can carry. Thus they are open to your charge of unproven assumptions. Others seem to feel they can snow the general population with big words and convoluted syllogisms. Thus they are open to your charge of faulty reasoning. There are some historical and rational underpinnings of the Christian faith that deserve to be brought to the marketplace of discussion, but none of them have the capacity to convince or convert. In fact, as you point out, some do much more damage. For example, I wish apologists would stop using the old, “How could so many believers be wrong? What about all the people who gave their lives because they believed in Jesus?” argument. By that reasoning Islam, and any number of other religions, would have to be equally true. Placing your faith in those who have faith is a dead end. In my analysis it will land you square in the spot where Gary Matson Jr. is.

    In the end, faith is in the person, Jesus. He did the will of my Father. He loves. He forgives. No, I cannot prove it to you. No one can. I believe Him, and thus, His Word to be truth; historical, absolute, and rational truth. You will undoubtedly poke fun at such a simplistic faith, but the Church was built on, and will only remain the Church, (Christianity), as it remains true to that simple faith. The vast majority of biblical scholars have turned “Christianity” into something unrecognizable. In an effort to remain viable, credible, relevant, the vast majority of Christian confessions have turn the Gospel into the same quid pro quo spouted by every other religion.

    Mr. Matson, if you feel it necessary to throw another unsuspecting Pastor into the teeth of your blogosphere please do so using the entire context. Otherwise you may keep this between hurt and a hurting man.

    In His Service,

    Terry Forke
    President Montana District LCMS
    Pastor, Trinity Harlowton

    “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)

    “Therefore everything in the Christian church is so ordered that we may daily obtain full forgiveness of sins through the Word and through signs.” (Large Catechism)

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  5. I think that Rev. Forke as answered you in the best way that anyone could answer you. His response is Confessional, and faithful to his pastoral vocation. I would only add that, if the Gospel could be understood solely by worldly reason, then it would not be of faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you could accept it by your efforts, then Luther would have been entirely wrong to have stood against Rome regarding the Gospel, and Paul would have been wrong to stand against the Jews for his teaching that the Gentiles did not need to become circumcised. The entire message of salvation by grace through faith is void if faith is not required.
    I am not surprised by what you claim regarding the testimony of Religious Studies scholarship, since they come from a perspective that rejects the proposition that “all Scripture is “theopneustos” – inspired by God.” I am intrigued that you would embrace the “mass delusion” idea, since that is as unprovable as anything that your former pastor might have claimed in his book. In fact, based on human nature and social tendencies, the idea that people would risk the loss of family, friends, and social status, AND, under certain Roman AND JEWISH governance, life itself, is far less believable than the message that Christ is risen.
    In closing, I join him in praying that you might remember your baptism, and what Christ did in you at that time, and for eternity.

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    1. Thank you for your comment.

      You said, “In fact, based on human nature and social tendencies, the idea that people would risk the loss of family, friends, and social status, AND, under certain Roman AND JEWISH governance, life itself, is far less believable than the message that Christ is risen.”

      Tens of thousands of persons who are members of various minority religious sects have endured intense persecution, torture, and even death for their beliefs. Dying for what one believes to be true does not make that belief true.

      As far as “mass delusion”, I would like to hear more regarding your view on this. History is full of examples of large numbers of people believing something to be true that they later find out is not. If you are referring to the “five hundred” seeing Jesus at once claim, I would like to point this out:

      —What are the names of these five hundred witnesses?
      Answer: We don’t know.

      —How did Paul know that there were five hundred witnesses?
      Answer: Paul says that he received this information from others (At a minimum, second hand information, but maybe third/fourth/fifth/etc. hand information). He never says that he personally knew even ONE of these alleged witnesses.

      —Paul said that most of these eyewitnesses were still alive. How did he know this?
      Answer: We don’t know. It is possible that that this statement was also based on what Paul “had received” from others.

      —But this statement is in the Early Creed, which many scholars believe was written a few short years after the death of Jesus. Therefore the earliest disciples would have believed this claim.
      Answer: Possibly. But even if they did, that doesn’t mean that five hundred people saw a walking/talking dead body. It is possible that five hundred people, at the same time, in the same place, saw a flash of light…and believed they had seen Jesus. Paul gives us zero details as to what these alleged 500 witnesses saw; where they saw it; or when they saw it.

      For all we know, the Eleven apostles and the “five hundred” all saw what the 26th chapter of Acts says that Paul saw…a bright light.

      And that’s it.

      It is possible that the detailed, fantastical, post-death appearance stories, as told in Luke, Matthew, and John did not develop until years later after most witnesses to the crucifixion were dead. The author of Mark doesn’t even include these stories in his Gospel! Probability says that the detailed appearance stories in the later Gospels are later embellishments.

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  6. Another email:

    Gary,

    I believe the best feedback for your reviews would come from Dr. Bombaro and the other authors. May God grant you hope and peace in Christ!

    Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan
    President, Missouri District, LCMS
    660 Mason Ridge Center Drive Suite 300
    St. Louis, MO 63141

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  7. Another email:

    Hi Gary,

    If you have been an active member at Grace LC, SD for the past 3-4 years, we have probably met. I have been there for a presentation on behalf of LIA and for our Servants of the Word Convocation.

    I am truly saddened that you have left your Christian faith. And, to agree with you on one point, no one could snatch you away from God. Your turning your back on Him was your decision (I’m sure prompted by and encouraged by Satan). You truly can reject the gift of Christ and salvation.

    I am not nearly the apologist as some of my brothers in the OHM. I am a believer by faith. And, I’m a cradle Lutheran, having been baptized within 30 days of my birth in an LCMS congregation.

    As I’m certain that Prs. Fisk, Rossow, Bombaro, and others have given you great council and volumes to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, I’ll leave you with just a few thoughts. You will never reason yourself into belief in the One True God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your brain (and I don’t say this in a malicious or demeaning way) is too tiny. You will never (nor will anyone else) fathom the depths of knowledge and wonder of God. This is stated very clearly by Dr. Luther in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”

    This is what all true Lutherans confess. It is not by “proof texts” or by “figuring it out” that one comes to faith – it is through the power of the Holy Spirit who works in our hearts to convict and convert.

    I will pray for you and your family – it’s all I can do. And my prayer will be that one day the angels in heaven will rejoice as Gary, the sinner, repents and is welcomed home.

    Peace in Christ,

    Rev. Bruce J. von Hindenburg
    The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Inglewood, CA
    Circuit Visitor – Circuit 5, PSD, LC-MS

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    1. Hi Pastor Von Hindenburg,

      Thank you for your kind email.

      Yes, we have met at Grace Lutheran during one of your missionary presentations. We had a fascinating discussion about your relative, the German general and President, Paul von Hindenburg. I also wrote you a substantial check for your “Bibles for Africa” campaign. 🙂

      You are absolutely correct, if the God of the Bible is who the Bible says he is, I cannot come to faith in him by reason but I am a fool for rejecting him. However, if the God of the Bible does not exist, then it is you who is being foolish, dear Pastor. You are dedicating your entire life to a superstition. I do not say that to insult you as I know you are a very kind, compassionate man. I say it to you because I believe that the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that this is the truth: the supernatural is not real. The supernatural claims in the Torah, the Koran, and the Bible are nothing but ancient people’s wild imaginations.

      I hope you will read my entire series of reviews on Dr. Bombaro’s book on my blog to see this evidence and then respond in the comment section below each post.

      Best wishes to you and your sweet wife,

      Gary

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