John Loftus' From Minister to Honest Doubter: Critique

In John Loftus, author of From Minister to Honest Doubter, it is clear that we have someone with evangelical zeal to spread his unbelief -- even if he is not particularly well-versed to do it, or honest in doing so. As a response we are providing a collection of material which includes:

By the way, John Loftus here is NOT the same person as the former prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit and author of a book titled, The Secret War Against the Jews. One of the other Loftus' own blog readers made this very error in identification.

(Older) Book Review material that is expanded and revised.

In this section we will offer commentary on From Minister to Honest Doubter on a page-by-page basis. We will only concern ourselves with "argumentative" material and not such things as i.e., Loftus' personal life (there are some comments related to that separately on the thread).

Although this is an "answer key" to Loftus' older book, his newest one repeats some of the same arguments that are unchanged. In addition, many of Loftus' arguments in the new book are simply repeats of threads he posted on TheologyWeb (while he also does not reflect answers given to him there). I see no need, at this point, to provide a similar "key" to the newest book, as we have received absolutely no inquiries about it from readers. In addition, Loftus has not so much as rebutted a single critique from this older answer key.

Loftus released a new edition of his book and there is some material on that at the following locations, and while that author and I don't see eye to eye on other issues, we are in agreement, as a whole, where Loftus is concerned.

here for main review. here for a follow-up. here on the "Oprah Winfrey" aspects of the account.

  • Page 28 -- Loftus has not noticed that current Jewish and evangelical scholarship (Hurtado, Winston, etc.) does regard Jewish belief as monolatrous as opposed to monotheistic. Jews did believe that other elohim existed, but were ineffectual compared to YHWH, so there's no point asking why they didn't deny other gods. He says that "the word for God, elohim, is plural, gods," but what about that the verbs it is paired with, when referencing God, that are in the singular? His source, Hauser, is only partly right that the trinity would not have been in mind.

    Actually, Jewish readers would have been intimately familiar with the concept of plurality within a deity, in the form of hypostases (Prov. 8 is a good example), but there would be nothing to suggest a "party of three" specifically. See more here.

  • 29 -- On Ex. 21:21 -- the use of the word "property", in translation, is somewhat misleading. See here.
  • 32 -- Loftus' option 2 for how the NT used the OT is correct -- the writers used midrash; however, he presents a false option to say that it is "difficult not to canonize their interpretive methods." Richard Hays has made this point as well, and it is right as far as it goes, but what is missing is the point that an exegete would need inspired authority to use these methods as well.

    Loftus asks what Matthew's use of Hosea 11:1 was for. The answer has to do with what Malina and Neyrey call "probabilities." These were a form of support for testimony i.e., verification from general experience.

    Using words and phrases from the Old Testament accomplished a similar purpose i.e., Jesus' "re-enactment" of Hos. 11:1 was regarded as an example of a probability, which supported the view that he was indeed Messiah.

    Loftus is thus in error (anachronizing) saying that it "teaches us nothing at all" about Jesus. Maybe it teaches HIM nothing, but that is, arguably, because he is imposing his modern prejudices on the text.

  • 34 -- this by the way is what "fulfill" means when Matthew, etc., say Jesus "fulfilled" an OT prophecy, meaning it in the sense of "fulfilling" a contract. He enacted (re-enacted) the terms.
  • 36 -- Loftus offers a view of Joshua 10 that is in error, see here.
  • 38 -- this comment by Loftus speaks for itself: "Please, don't send any long bibliographies since I won't read the books on huge lists -- never did." Ask yourself, just how can he say such things, while expecting others to conclude that he has any credibility as a commentator?
  • 72f – Loftus's view of unanswered prayer is partly based on certain modern ideas about the purpose and nature of prayer: See here. Viewing prayer in terms of an ancient model of patronage resolves both the modern ideas and the correctives. Loftus does correctly see some modern solutions as inadequate, but not all of Loftus’s replies to said solutions are adequate.

    1) Sin in our lives. That God is under no obligation to answer the specific prayer of one who sins (and it does not require being “tangled” in it as Loftus says) matches precisely with a patronage model, since a patron was under no obligation to answer the request of a client who showed disloyalty.

    Loftus’s answer that since “Christians are washed in the blood of Jesus, God supposedly sees no sin in them” he fails to support with Scripture. The blood of Jesus spares us the wrath of God, where withholding of positive answer to prayer is not the wrath of God. So, likewise, a client’s acts of disloyalty did not automatically destroy the patronage relationship.

    2) Asking with wrong motives. Loftus tries to “refute” this one with what he alleges are “strong arguments” that there is “nothing a human can do or say that is completely free of selfish motives.”

    He gives the example of “psychological egoism.” Well, it’s not hard to find refutations of that concept: here for example:

    The Refutation of Psychological Egoism: The generalization that everyone acts from the motive of self-interest is false.

    A. Psychological egoism as an empirical theory commits the fallacy of hasty generalization or converse accident. The descriptive psychological law that all persons act from the motive of self-interest is false because there are many disconfirming instances.

    1. Many people have injurious habits such as smoking, worrying or self-defeating behavior.

    2. Many people do their duty when their self-interest lies elsewhere. Many people will help someone in need without thinking of self-gain. Many people will follow religious precepts without personal benefit.

    3. Many people will react in such a manner that their action is done for the "heck of it". . . their are actions done precisely because they are not in our self-interest. We "cut off our nose to spite our face."

    4. Some people will act against their self-interest so that they can follow their conscience. They do what's right even though they won't personally benefit.

    5. Almost everyone will act against their short-term self-interest in order to obtain a greater long-term self interest. Students will stay up all night to get a term paper done even though the short-term effects are disadvantageous (loss of sleep, lack of attention in class, altered circadian cycle and so forth).

    B. If psychological egoism is claimed to have no disconfirming instances then the generalization is a tautology or trivially true statement.

    1. By the way the terms are defined, there is no possible counter-example. Suppose a soldier falls on a grenade to save his buddies. The action can be said to be in the interest of the soldier because he could not live with himself if he did not sacrifice his own life or because he will go out as a hero and so forth. No matter what action is set-forth as an exception to the generalization, we can always rationalize that the action was a self-interested one.

    2. Hence, because there is no empirical test to confirm an action not in self-interest, the claim is empty of factual content. The class "self-interested actions" is extensionally isomorphic with the class of actions. In other words, the claim that all actions are self-interested actions (i.e., the claim of psychological egoism) is logically equivalent to the claim that "all actions are actions."

    3. Since any possible counter-example is assimilated to "self-interested actions" (even self-defeating behavior) the claim is trivial. For "self-interested actions" to be a meaningful class we would have to know what kind of action isn’t self-interested.

    And here:

    A common objection to psychological egoism, made famously by Joseph Butler, is that I must desire things other than my own welfare in order to get welfare. Say that I derive welfare from playing hockey. Unless I desired, for its own sake, to play hockey, I would not derive welfare from playing. Or, say that I derive welfare from helping others. Unless I desired, for its own sake, that others do well, I would not derive welfare from helping them. Welfare results from my action, but cannot be the only aim of my action.

    The psychological egoist can concede that I must have desires for particular things, such as playing hockey, but there is no need to concede that the satisfaction of these desires is not part of my welfare. My welfare might consist simply in the satisfaction of self-regarding desires. In the case of deriving welfare from helping others, the psychological egoist can again concede that I would not derive welfare without desiring some particular thing, but need not agree that what I desire, for its own sake, is that others do well. That I am the one who helps them may, for example, satisfy my self-regarding desire for power.

    A bigger problem for psychological egoism is that some behavior does not seem to be explained by self-regarding desires. Say that a soldier throws himself on a grenade to prevent others from being killed. It does not seem that the soldier is pursuing his perceived self-interest. It is plausible that, if asked, the soldier would have said that he threw himself on the grenade because he wanted to save the lives of others or because it was his duty. He would deny, as ridiculous, the claim that he acted in his self-interest.

    The psychological egoist might reply that the soldier is lying or self-deceived. Perhaps he threw himself on the grenade because he could not bear to live with himself afterwards if he did not do so. He has a better life, in terms of welfare, by avoiding years of guilt. The main problem here is that while this is a possible account of some cases, there is no reason to think it covers all cases. Another problem is that guilt may presuppose that the soldier has a non-self-regarding desire for doing what he takes to be right.

    The psychological egoist might reply that some such account must be right. After all, the soldier did what he most wanted to do, and so must have been pursuing his perceived self-interest. In one sense, this is true. If self-interest is identified with the satisfaction of all of one's preferences, then all intentional action is self-interested (at least if intentional actions are always explained by citing preferences, as most believe). Psychological egoism turns out to be trivially true. This would not give content for defenders of psychological egoism, however. They intend an empirical theory that, like other such theories, is at least possible to refute by observation.

    There is another way to show that the trivial version of psychological egoism is unsatisfactory. We ordinarily think there is a significant difference in selfishness between the soldier's action and that of another soldier who, say, pushes someone onto the grenade to avoid being blown up himself. We think the former is acting unselfishly while the latter is acting selfishly. According to the trivial version of psychological egoism, both soldiers are equally selfish, since both are doing what they most desire.

    The psychological egoist might handle apparent cases of self-sacrifice, not by adopting the trivial version, but rather by claiming that facts about the self-interest of the agent explain all behavior. Perhaps as infants we have only self-regarding desires; we come to desire other things, such as doing our duty, by learning that these other things satisfy our self-regarding desires; in time, we pursue the other things for their own sakes.

    Even if this picture of development is true, however, it does not defend psychological egoism, since it admits that we sometimes ultimately aim at things other than our welfare. An account of the origins of our non-self-regarding desires does not show that they are really self-regarding.

    The soldier's desire is to save others, not increase his own welfare, even if he would not have desired to save others unless saving others was, in the past, connected to increasing his welfare.

    The psychological egoist must argue that we do not come to pursue things other than our welfare for their own sakes. In principle, it seems possible to show this by showing that non-self-regarding desires do not continue for long once their connection to our welfare is broken. However, evidence for this dependence claim has not been forthcoming.

    Faced with these difficulties, the psychological egoist might move to what Gregory Kavka 1986 64-80 calls “predominant egoism:” we act unselfishly only rarely, and then typically where the sacrifice is small and the gain to others is large or where those benefiting are friends, family or favorite causes. Predominant egoism is not troubled by the soldier counter-example, since it allows exceptions; it is not trivial; and it is empirically plausible.

    So, Psychological Egoism can’t simply be accepted as Loftus would imply with his sparse treatment, but he does retreat, then, into a suggestion of predominant egotism [74] with which we would have no dispute – and it would also make 2) an adequate solution.

    I have no disagreement with Loftus’s reply to the third solution. The fourth, “It must be according to God’s will” Loftus tries to get around with an appeal to the standard “problem of evil” canards which we have seen he refuses to debate with me. Much less would we expect him to deal with more in depth treatments like here especially since, as we will see next time, he devotes a mere 4 pages to it.

    Solution five, that people pray for contradictory things, Loftus says that this “qualification alone may cause hundreds of thousands of prayers to go unanswered.”

    Well, we agree – but he doesn’t dispute this solution at all, so I guess he accepts it as allowable?

    Solution six, that God does not answer prayer in our own lifetime, we think has some value, and Loftus does not refute this view, only noting that “we wonder why God doesn’t help and/or rescue us when we hurt so badly” – in essence a personalized version of the PoE.

    Solution seven, that certain requests must be denied, Loftus mentions but does not express any disagreement with. I’d say it has limited application as 6) does.

    Solution eight has to do with prayer changing human free will. I happen to agree that this sort of prayer is misguided; it falls under the principles of 5).

    Related TWeb thread here. Note how Loftus ignores my report that he was already given an answer elsewhere. Notable answers from others:

    Tophet (whom Loftus repeatedly referred to as a woman, in error): Is this who you are, John?

    James 1:2-8 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a doubleminded man, unstable in all he does.

    (Loftus never gave a "yes" or "no" answer to this question.)

    FirstSunday: It's no wonder atheists don't believe in God, it’s impossible to drill through that much concrete. For your future knowledge and edification...prayer is not a candy-store, nor is it a wish-list, a letter to Santa, a "magical incantation" or any of the other non-working definitions atheists have come up with. It is a personal statement between you and God. A generalized "prayer" for the "health" of the monarch - God save the Queen - is NOT a "prayer". Every thinking human on the planet recognizes it as being nothing more than a statement of loyalty and support for the monarchy.

    ApologiaNick: First off, I think we're assuming something about prayer and forgetting its main purpose. Prayer is not our cosmic wish list. Yes. God tells us to present our requests to him, but that is not the sole purpose of prayer.

    Prayer is also a time to reflect on God and who he is and come to a greater understanding of him. No. I'm not advocating prayer as a dialogue either. I never see anything in Scripture indicating that you talk to God and then he talks back and you answer him. I think this belief has done too much damage to Christians who think there's something wrong with them because they don't hear the voice of God.

    Now, do prayers get answered? YES! However, some prayers do go unanswered. Of course, this is focusing on the request side. I will say the sincere prayer for more light would always be answered.

    Now, if God answered yes every time, we would have chaos. (Remember the movie Bruce Almighty?) If he answered no all the time, no one would probably pray. However, when he answers yes, do not expect fireworks to appear outside your house and a big booming voice from Heaven saying "Yo John! What'd you think of that?!"

    In truth, chances are, maybe we should be praying other prayers. Prayers to be more holy, or to have a greater desire to do evangelism, or a greater desire to avoid sin, or that we might better know him who died for us. We might then be surprised how many prayers get answered "Yes”, and yes, I am included in that group.

  • 77ff -- Problem of evil. See here. On page 79, "theodicy" is not a possessive, and it's erroneous to compare adults to two year old children.
  • 80 -- I went through 3 of the 4 FL hurricanes, and I am not crying and I am not "struggling" in faith. I accept it as part of my risk to live in my home state. I have for over 30 years.
  • 110-111

    Hume has been pretty soundly taken to task in a work by Earman (who is not, as far as I can tell, a theist) called Hume's Abject Failure. My take on Hume: here. I don't believe that miracles ARE a violation of natural law, any more than you or me picking up a box is a "violation" of the law of gravity. The dichotomy between natural and supernatural is a post-Enlightenment and arbitrary distinction. "Miracles" are just God acting in nature as we would when we pick up a box. So for me, the claim that one must take for granted the belief in the Christian God to believe in miracles doesn't hold water, at least not in the way you are arguing against. The only issue is the personal identity of the performer (could it have been Allah, not YHWH, who raised Jesus?), but not the functional identity (it must be a "supernatural" being).

    I do think that the evidence is strong enough to accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the best available explanation for the evidence, but the way I explain things does not require any worldview of the sort Davis describes, due to 1-3 above. I don't agree with Geisler that the resurrection, of necessity, establishes God's existence, though it would lend support to the idea in light of the claims surrounding it in terms of who was responsible for the resurrection.

    Related TWeb thread here. Some poignant replies:

    Guacamole: At this point he's already lost me. I accept the fundamental truth of the Gospel pertaining to the final, finished work of Christ and the future advent of his rulership. It's my operating assumption, so that when he says something that is transgressive of that point without an evidence contra that point, i.e., that God has many "sons", that revelation wasn't finished, etc., then I'm going to reject it out of hand; after all, this isn't an entirely novel tack now is it? Contrary to what many atheists believe, when you become a believer you don't put your brain on a shelf and suddenly accept the word of any huckster or charlatan who offers you a miracle story or a new word from God. That's the reason, after all, that Jews don't believe Christians, Christians don't believe Muslims, Muslims don't believe Ba Hai's (sp...sorry shunya), etc.

    In each case a standard point of doctrine is established that the believer will not transgress without very serious evidence. I get the point you are trying to make: then why believe any miraculous claims at all? The problem for skeptics is that believers on the whole are just as skeptical of the (un)miraculous claim of non-believers as they are of competing truth schemes. At that is rather formidable problem. When you strip away all the excess verbiage, non-belief is simply another truth scheme competing for the believer; it's simply another claim attempting to find or manufacture such points of evidence as will move the believer to a different base assumption.

    This paragraph is part of my fundamental problem with non-belief; it proposes a rather patronizing and arrogant pov with regard to a people who carved out civilizations from the cloth of wilderness, invented sciences, mastered engineering and mathematics, forged empires, fashioned artistic masterworks, composed exquisite theologies and philosophies. Nevertheless that skeptic is able to dismiss all this with the condescending verbal flourish of "bronze age tribesmen" or some such, and dismiss 6 millennia of pre-modern achievement and innovation; preferring us instead to think that our ancestors were an unwashed mob of ignorant bassackwards bumpkins who couldn't find their butt with both hands.

    You see, despite all evidence to the contrary; things like Pyramids, astronomy, Nichomachean Ethics, or the invention of beer; the skeptic must believe that our ancestors were an unwashed mob of ignorant bassackwards bumpkins who couldn't find their butt with both hands. The skeptic must believe this because how else could they account for the otherwise credulous habit of ancient man believing in fairy tales. If we suddenly realize that maybe, just maybe, that ancient man wasn't the caterwauling burro of a hominid that skeptics make him out to be, we suddenly have to think that maybe, just maybe, they might have been on to something about this "God/s" business. Can't have that, now can we?

    Rational skepticism, a skepticism founded on logical processes and careful coherent analysis is a virtue. Skepticism that seeks to subvert or distort the intellectual achievements of others is dependent upon a logical fallacy, because it proposes that if the prior believer was somewhat a lesser man than the skeptic, he is therefore credulous and dismissible. It becomes irrational skepticism, and irrational skepticism is a liability. Who knows what some huckster or charlatan will get you to believe.

    ApologiaNick: Has anybody yet considered that as far as I know, if a Muslim said what DJ wants his Muslim to say, that they would be executed? To say that Allah has a son or a partner (The Trinity for them) is the sin of Shirk.

    Secondly, there's nothing wrong with wanting evidence for a claim. Not at all. We're told to test all things. (1 Thess. 5:21) There is only one reason the resurrection is rejected while other events in history with far less support are not. The reason is, it's a miracle.

    We have to reject it because those stupid and ignorant people who gave us laws of logic, the foundations of philosophy today, moral laws, our government systems, astronomical works, trigonometry, geometry, built the pyramids and sphinx and other ancient wonders without modern equipment, those stupid and ignorant people, just weren't so smart.

    Yep. Joseph was an idiot. He just didn't know that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. That's why he planned to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant. The apostles were stupid also. That's why they asked how just 5 loaves and 2 fish can feed so many. Mary and Martha were fully waiting for a miracle. That's why they said that Lazarus would rise on the last day.

    You know why these things are recorded as miracles? Because people had a firm grasp of natural law. The disciples knew well enough that storms on the sea don't just suddenly stop when you speak to them. They all knew that blind men don't just suddenly regain their sight. They knew food doesn't magically multiply like rabbits. These are written because they are exceptions.

    How can you tell if something is extraordinary? You look at the ordinary first. There has to be a ground of comparison. Now DJ will ask "Why not do something today?” The answer is obvious. Why should God give more evidence when the evidence already presented hasn't been accepted.

    And you know what would happen if a miracle happened today in DJ's life? I guarantee you what would happen. It would be explained away. Everything has to fit through the naturalistic filter which automatically means, "It may have been a miracle, but since miracles don't happen, it couldn't have been a miracle. I can't explain what happened, but it wasn't a miracle. Now why doesn't God do miracles today?"

    You know what? I've never seen personally what today would be called a "miracle", no more than I've seen a great world war in my time, yet I believe that both have happened. I have never even heard the voice of God, yet I have no problem believing that God spoke to the prophets.

    And by the way, if my experience is all I have, why should I accept John's writings? He talks about his book filled with his experiences. So what? Why should I accept his experience over the experience of the ancients? Because he's in a different time and place? That's what we call "Chronological snobbery."

    In fact, I have not known anyone personally who has walked away from the faith and become a skeptic. Oh, I've read several claims but personally in my small circle, I know of no one like that. I hear so many saying that, but I just haven't experienced it, so there's no reason I should accept it.

    But we all know that's nonsense. We accept the testimony of strange events for the same reason we accept testimony of minor events. The reason you believe the peasant when she says she saw a car accident is the same reason you believe her when she says she's going to the store to buy bread.

    When you get down to it, it's pride. The ancient people are stupid and superstitious bronze age tribesmen. Dare I say it, but I think the ancients were a lot smarter than most people I meet today.

  • 117 -- lots of the standard arguments about the birth narratives. Nothing not taken care of by: here, here, here, here.

    Related TWeb thread here, though it was derailed by Loftus' amusing typo.

  • 118 -- Ranke-Heinemann is used for the same canard Strauss offered. Like Strauss, Ranke-Heinemann fails to see that Mary's inquiry is one of the mechanisms whereby the conception would occur -- it had not been revealed to her, until after this question, that the conception wouldn't require any help from a man.
  • 119 -- standard error about almah and betulah in Is. 7:14, answered by here. Also, the usual error about the ancients believing women were only a "receptacle" -- see here.
  • 120 -- standard misread on Mark 10:18 as Jesus denying being God. My answer:

    From this passage the idea is sometimes taken that Jesus is denying his own goodness, and therefore, throwing out any chance of being recognized as part of the Godhead. The standard explanation is that Jesus is essentially saying to the ruler, "Do you know what you are implying? You say I am good, but only God is good; therefore, you realize that you are identifying me with God?" [Brooks, commentary on Mark, 162] In Jewish thought, God was pre-eminently good, so that the ruler was indeed offering Jesus a compliment usually reserved for God. Since it is quite unlikely that the ruler truly believed that Jesus was identifiable as God the Son, this looks more like an effort by Jesus to make the man think about what he is saying before he blurts it out or engages in indiscriminate flattery.

    Confirmation and elucidation of this explanation is found in Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (123) in which they explain that in an agonistic (honor-shame) culture, a "compliment" like the rich young man's is actually a challenge and an attempt to put Jesus "on the spot" for they are an implicit accusation that one has been trying to rise above others. Jesus' only alternative was indeed to parry the compliment and redirect it to its appropriate subject (unless he wanted to reveal himself directly and fully, in which case, his claim would have been another challenge of honor to others), thus showing himself honorable by diffusing any accusation that would arouse the envy of an opponent. Thus, it is appropriate that Jesus parry the compliment in a way that does not specifically deny his membership in the Godhead (which, as noted, it does not).

    In short, there isn't anything here that has Jesus denying goodness, or membership in the Godhead -- just teaching an over enthusiast and/or challenger a lesson.

  • Also, the standard issue about John using the phrase "the Jews" as proof of a late date. It is not. Again, from one of my articles:

    [Glenn Miller writes:]

    1.When "Jews" is used of the hostile aristocratic leadership, it is appropriate and truthful to ascribe the primary responsibility (see John 19:11 for the relative roles of Pilate and the High Priest - Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.") for His execution to them.

    2.When "Jews" is used of the general populace, it is used in a VERY POSITIVE sense (and in some passages, in a neutral sense), but is NEVER used as an 'anti-Semitic' slur.

    3.THEREFORE--to assert that John (and the wider Christian community) attributed the death of Jesus to the GENERAL POPULACE known as "Jews" is FUNDAMENTALLY MISTAKEN; and that to accuse certain first-century Jews of being 'anti-Semitic' because of some general Roman cultural trend is entirely without foundation.

    To this we may add the following observation: 4. This usage is NOT limited to the writers of the NT! Josephus regularly uses the phrase, "the Jews" - and he uses it in much the same way: "absolutely or with modifiers which suggest a general reference in context, where the reference is clearly to specific groups of Jews." [Weath.JwLKA, 110 - see pages following for a catalogue of examples.] In addition, Malcolm Lowe, in his article "Who Were the Juduaio?" (NovT XVIII, 101ff) shows that the term "the Jews" was used primarily to refer to persons who were inhabitants of the region of Judaea, so that "the Jews" is no more of a slur than "the Bostonians" or "the Creatans." The phrase was only used secondarily as a religious reference, but then only in opposition to Gentiles. Lowe finds only a small number of places in the NT where "the Jews" is such a religious reference; one, Luke 7:3, is so because Luke has elsewhere used "elders of Israel" to refer to the Sanhedrin. "The Jews" at most is an ethnic designation John uses over and against Jesus and his disciples as Galileans. It is not evidence of a late date. Loftus's scholarship is absolutely horrible on this point, for he obviously only used non-credible sources like Spong to do his research.

  • 121 -- Loftus uses the standard arguments about John's Gospel being different than the others. Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social-Science Commentary on John [9ff] shows the why of the differences: John serves a special purpose as a manifesto for the Christian "antisociety" which has been labeled as deviant by others, notably Judeans. Such documents make use of "antilanguage," a sort of jargon used by a group with a different view of the way things are and ought to be. A modern comparison may be street gangs, prison inmates, or minority groups who consider themselves oppressed, adopting their own slang terms. Hence, we have specialized phrases like "the/this world" emphasized (79 times in John, but 9 in Matthew and 3 each in Mark and Luke).

    John's Gospel is therefore found to be a "resocializing" document intended to establish ties between the convert and his new "ingroup." To this end it features primarily conversations and monologue, the "main form of discourse used in socialization and reality maintenance" -- thus explaining, as well, why John does not follow the Synoptics in featuring public teachings and parables. A Sermon on the Mount would not serve John's purpose. The reader is intended to be a "conversation partner" with Jesus and there is nothing at all strange about John's non-usage of parables, which were clearly meant to be consumed by "outsiders".

    Loftus also cites the variable use of "Father" -- 173 times in John (though I count only 133 uses of the word "father" in John) and 43 times in the other Gospels, in total. This is a confused abuse of statistics. If we count the number of pericopes in which Jesus calls God "Father," we get a rather different impression. Of those "173" (133) times in John, approximately forty-five of those appear in the extended prayer/discourse of Jesus from John 14:1-17:26; at least 14 of those "Father" cites are found in John 5:16-47, and 10 of them in 6:25-71, each of which is an independent unit - so that, by the time you do this kind of compression, you find about 14-15 instances each in John (as a whole) where Jesus used the term.

    The data, then, only appears as formidable as it does because of the way it was counted. Jesus' use of "Father" is no more unusual in John than in the other Gospels.

    Loftus claims that John has a higher Christology than the other Gospels, which is false. All four view Jesus in terms of divine hypostatic Wisdom. Even Mark's Jesus offers an advanced Christology that includes: claiming divine purview to forgive sins (2:5); enacting the role of divine Wisdom by eating with sinners (2:15); claiming to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7 (2:28, 8:31, 9:9, etc.), walking on water, which the OT says that only God can do (4:35ff; cf. Job 9:8, Ps. 77:19); implicitly acknowldging Peter's identification by not rebuking it (8:29ff); saying that one's soul is dependent on one's reaction to him (8:35); and that God is his Father; and that he will come with God's angels (8:38); a self-reference to the Messiah (9:41) and saying belief in him is paramount to eternal life (9:42).

    Loftus also accepts Hick's claim that "Son of Man" was not a divine title, which is false: here

  • 122 -- to demonstrate the allegedly problematic nature of the incarnation, Loftus quotes EP Sanders (a historian, not a philosopher or theologian). Loftus claims "three problems" with an incarnate God:

    1) "God is necessarily an uncreated being. Humans are essentially created beings. Therefore Jesus is both created and uncreated."

    Yes, and -- what? There is no problem here -- the divine person of Jesus is uncreated, the human body inhabited by Jesus is created.

    2) "God is necessarily omniscient...Human beings are not omniscient beings. Therefore, Jesus is both an omniscient and not an omniscient being."

    Loftus apparently never learned about the kenotic emptying while in seminary. In essence, Jesus tied his omniscience behind his back while living. This is standard theology, and he did not learn it. He missed it. (It also answers his fourth point of three (?) about omnipresence)

    3) Loftus notes that God cannot be tempted, while humans can, but we are told Jesus was tempted.

    I would like to respond with an analogy that solves the alleged problem: I can "tempt" Bill Gates by saying, "I'll give you a dollar to lick the gum off my shoe" but is that a problem for him? Temptation involves TWO parties. That is what Loftus misses. "God cannot be tempted" means God cannot accept temptation, not that we can't "tempt" God with an offer of a bargain (that He will not accept).

    Expansion in thread here and some answers also offered to Loftus from myself and others. Several replied, and we offer here the lengthiest as sample from "Guacamole":

    Loftus: 1) God is necessarily an uncreated being. Humans are essentially created beings. Therefore Jesus is both created and uncreated;

    Guacamole: False dichotomy; it is possible for something to be both created and uncreated, depending on the terms of the discussion. In the case of Christ he is uncreated before the incarnation. His body is created starting the incarnation but his body is not "him". His body is merely part of "him", not all of him. At worst, even with an extremely muddled and simplistic view of Jesus, part of him is uncreated and part of him is created.

    Loftus: 2) God is necessarily omniscient—he knows everything. Human beings are not omniscient beings. Therefore, Jesus is both an omniscient and also not an omniscient being. But in the New Testament Jesus didn’t act omniscient. He said he didn’t know the time of his own return.

    Guacamole: It doesn't logically follow that human beings are not omniscient beings. This seems to be a category error. One would think that Jesus incarnation as a human proves that the human Jesus is omniscient. Logically, if the human Jesus is omniscient then at least one human is/was omniscient. Hence it isn't logical to say that human beings are not omniscient without qualification.

    Furthermore it pre-supposes that omniscience is an identifying quality of God. If Jesus is not omniscient and yet he is still God, it's logical to say that omniscience is not an identifying quality of God without qualification.

    Loftus: 3) God is a morally perfect being, and as such could not be tempted to do wrong. Human beings however, can be tempted to do wrong, and are imperfect. Therefore, Jesus could not be tempted, nor do any wrong, and yet we’re told that he was tempted to do wrong.

    Guacamole: I don't think it logically follows that a morally perfect being cannot be tempted to do wrong. If something cannot be tempted to do wrong, if there is not the possibility that it could do wrong if it so desired, then moral perfection is meaningless as applied to that thing. My coffee cannot be tempted to do wrong. Is my coffee morally perfect?

    In addition I don't think that it logically follows that a tempted being is necessarily a morally imperfect one. Christianity is logically coherent in this when it proposes that Jesus was tempted and did not falter, hence manifesting perfect obedience. In Christianity at least, the temptation to sin is not sin. If it is not sin, it doesn’t compromise moral perfection.

    Loftus: 4) God is omnipresent, but Jesus as a human being, was not.

    This functions according to a similar error of logic as objection 2 above, specifically with regard to God's identifying characteristic of omnipresence being subject to qualification.

  • 123 -- Loftus says we need a post-Freudian, post-feminist, etc reading of the Bible. What for? How about a post-Freudian reading of Tacitus? or Confucius? How about we just let these people speak for themselves and stop trying to force them to be what we want them to be?

    Related TWeb thread here which was overall ignored.

    124 -- Loftus's critique of atonement theory doesn't address my own views: here here.

    126 -- using Michael Martin's Case Against Christianityas a source is pretty uncritical. Martin thought that Jesus' command against swearing was a prohibition of profanity. At any rate, Martin also fails to read the issue of "sin in God's presence" in terms of honor and shame, and so his comments do not affect my view of the atonement. With an understanding of honor and shame, penal substitution becomes the only viable atonement theory.

  • 129 -- Loftus tackles the Resurrection with standard arguments already refuted.

    1) Not sure what the issue here is. No one has ever argued that we have an eyewitness to the Resurrection itself, but to the resurrected Jesus. Loftus's conception of the Resurrection body could also use some work. He could stand to check here.

    2) Gospel consistency [130] -- here is the cure for what ails us.

    3) [131] Gospel trustworthiness -- it's the critic's burden to show untrustworthiness, and the best Loftus has to offer is John 21 (which is NOT a "return to the fishing trade") and Kummel's idea that the women would not anoint a corpse three days later (sure, and people don't lay flowers on graves after someone is buried, either). And I don't know where Loftus gets the idea that the Jews did not use spices in caring for the dead. That's just plain wrong.

    He also finds it improbable that the priests and elders would start a story about the body of Jesus. First, Loftus needs the counsel at here as to what Jesus predicted and how it was understood.

    His reasons "why" he thinks the story unlikely are unworthy.

    a) The soldiers would not have reported to the chief priests but to Pilate. That's not true if they were Temple guards, which I think they were, but even if not, that's a useless point because Pilate will execute them at once, whereas they could have held out some forlorn hope from the only people in a position to help them.

    b) Loftus doesn't know why the priests would pay the soldiers to lie. This was an honor claim made by a deviant movement that worked against the interests of the Temple apparatus. As if people did not tell useless and stupid lies under pressure on a regular basis?

  • 133 -- could stand here to resolve that comparison to Muslims and kamikaze pilots.
  • 134 -- Though it may reflect a mainstream position, the use of Picknett and Prince -- authors of such sterling works as The Mammoth Book of UFOs -- offers further evidence of uncritical use of sources. On bias see here. On Spong's "Gospels were midrash" see here.
  • 135 -- again, on the nature of resurrection in Paul, see link above.
  • 136 -- Loftus' note that ophthe is used to refer to visions of angels and God is a poor attempt to make Jesus' appearances into visions. The word is also used to refer to "everyday" seeing (Matt. 27:4, 24; Luke 17:22; John 19:37, etc.) so it is a false move to try to make it into a category of type of appearance.
  • 137 -- the burial scenarios noted by Loftus have been refuted by McCane here.
  • 140f -- some comments on Satan require a reply from here.
  • 143f -- see above link on hell as Loftus addresses a POV that we do not hold.
  • 153 -- Loftus remarks on the incoherence of the Trinity and the Incarnation. I would reply generally that the Trinity is perfectly coherent within the understanding of Jewish hypostatic Wisdom theology, and that the Chalcedonian definition is also comprehensible in terms of ancient concepts of identity. See here.
  • 154 - Loftus says that the atonement can't be defended. I say it is perfectly defensible within the agonistic tenor that governed the ancient world (and still governs 70% of the world today) and their acceptance of noble sacrifice for the whole.

    Spong's assessment of the doctrine is misinformed. See here.

    Other threads and highlights, including moral/character defects of Loftus:

  • Parting Thoughts, Locker Room -- of particular interest is that even Loftus' fellow non-believers told him to mellow. Jaltus' comment is priceless as he attends the school Loftus claimed to attend under William Lane Craig: I wonder if he realized that those of us who are more educated than him ignored his posts because of the low level they were at?
  • Does God foreknow the future? -- copy and paste from his book, though in a subject area not my specialty
  • Faith and Reason
  • On preterism -- Dee Dee Warren's comment says all to Loftus: DJ that has to be one of the most ignorant critiques of preterism I have seen.
  • Christians and guilt -- introducing Loftus to honor and shame, which he promptly forgets about
  • Answering the Big Three by ApologiaNick (our "Nick P.")
  • The Big Blog Lie -- a thread in which I exposed Loftus' setting up of a fake blog about me. Loftus also gets caught in another lie where he denies giving his own book a glowing review on Amazon (which is in itself a testimony to his rather blatant narcissism)
  • Friend of the Disabled -- Loftus is called down for derogatory comments he makes about people with disabilities
  • The Geisler endorsement -- Loftus is brought to task for misusing a negative review of his book by Norman Geisler
  • How Loftus admits that he tries to "overwhelm" opponents with material, even when he does not understand it himself
  • On how Loftus endorses crackpot scholarship
  • More on Loftus' poor scholarship
  • On the breakup of Loftus' blog

    Supplemental Materials

  • A Biblical Response to one of Loftus' posted chapters/messages by W. R. Miller
  • Tekton Toon illustrating Loftus' unique methodological problems
  • The John W. Loftus Basement of Credentials
  • The John W. Loftus Loft of Ignorance
  • John W. Loftus: "This is Who I Am"
  • The John W. Loftus Hall of Huh?
  • The John W. Loftus Hall of High Level Discussion
  • The John W. Loftus Hall of Moral-Free Mentality
  • The John W. Loftus Closet of Logical Fallacies (work in progress)
  • John W. Loftus: Trapped in TheologyWeb!
  • John W. Loftus Versus Christianity
  • The John W. Loftus House of Waffles
  • The John W. Loftus Whining Room
  • A Biblical response to "The Passion of Christ: Why Did Jesus Suffer?" a chapter from From Minister To Honest Doubter: Why I Changed My Mind
  • What does the Bible say about fools? Click this and find out!
  • How Many Doubting Johns Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?
  • Dunnings Syndrome -- does Loftus have it? Full report on this disease here (PDF format)
  • Satan's School for Girlie Men -- review of Loftus' book by Steve Hays
  • Loftus exchange against Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong
  • The John W. Loftus Comfort Zone -- where Loftus needs to go for help. It's in his area.
  • John W. Loftus on The Christian Illusion of Moral Superiority Part 1 and Part 2
  • John Loftus Feels Neglected
  • Reply to Loftus' End of Christianity.
    Doubt is the wavering of belief, not the absence of it. An unbeliever might sometimes doubt his unbelief, but that’s not what Loftus is describing. A doubting Christian is one who has pledged allegiance to Christ, but sometimes has moments when the whole thing seems pretty unlikely. In moments like that I pick up another book laying out the core belief of Christianity (the Resurrection) and the way the evidence for it is at least as good as that for any other historical event. Giving the writers the courtesy of not assuming they’re stupid, I find my wavering answered. Of course if I wanted to disbelieve it, I could. -- a Tekton reader