"Ebon Musings" Refuted

Update 10/20: The "Ebon Musings" website link now leads to some sort of online pharmacy. However, it appears the content was moved to Patheos. I don't know or care whether the material I address below was also moved, so I'll just leave this posted.

It seems that the only heaven skeptics ever want to enter is Sound Bite Heaven.

The website called "Ebon Musings" is owned by one Adam Marczyk. You won't find that name conspicuously posted on the site (I found out by other means), and he doesn't seem to be trying to conceal his identity, but we'll refer to him as Ebon for the duration since that seems to be his preference.

Much of the site is devoted to creation/evolution issues; much else is devoted to issues covered sufficiently here and in sites we link to, for example:

Most essays relevant to our subject area are less than 5 printed pages in length. Ebon also enacts the role of Crichton's temporal provincialist, as this assessment shows:

But not all of them can be explained this way, and for the rest the explanation is simple - the Bible just isn't well written. Many of its authors were uneducated, illiterate desert nomads with a poor grasp of basic literary principles such as plot, theme and characterization, and to make it worse, many of them were more intent on making what they wrote fit their own outlook rather than making it consistent with what was already written. The work of literature they collectively turned out, while contradicting itself in numerous places and lacking in logic and coherence, is the best that could be expected under such circumstances.

Considering that scholars of ancient literature consider the Bible a masterful work, one wonders where Ebon gets such an evaluation. Ebon is doing little but following the dictum to "read the Bible like a newspaper" (other than maybe using a concordance now and then).

This leads to our second matter at hand. Ebon clearly is aware of this site, for in a primary article on Bible contradictions, Ebon cites a couple of my answers as examples to reply to. Yet he apparently didn't feel compelled to write responses we have offered (directly or by links) to a number of other issues. Although numerous alleged contradictions are examined, almost all of which I address on the site, my own responses are referred to less than half a dozen times.

Let's look at a few issues, then. Ebon later responded to a few points of our; we reply within appropriate essays rather than here.

The first cite has to do with the alleged contradictory creation accounts. This is a matter we have dealt with in some detail here, but rather than deal with the evidence of dual creation accounts in other ANE cultures, linguistic and grammatical data, chiasms, and dischronologized narratives, Ebon selects an answer offered by the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry which, while ultimately correct in summary, does not explore the matter to the same level of detail that our article does.

Not that Ebon's answer to CARM is much to speak of; it only amounts to "Yes, it is a contradiction! Read it for yourself!"

And then we come to the first mention of this site. It has to do with our response to the alleged conflict on graven images. Aside from peculiar "why didn't God just snap His fingers and do away with the images" commentary, we have this:

Numerous apologetics sources, for example this one, have made the claim that the commandment in Exodus 20:4 is only intended to prevent the worship of idols, and that images not made for worship are acceptable. Maybe that was the intent, but it does not say that. It doesn't say it's OK to make graven images or likenesses as long as you don't worship them - it says no images, no likenesses. Period. What part of "Thou shalt not" do apologists like J.P. Holding find so difficult to understand?

My reply is, "What part of the definition of 'image' does Ebon not understand?" As I quite clearly stated (and explored in detail in The Mormon Defenders), "an 'image' in ancient thought is not merely something that has an appearance, like a statue or a picture, but something that serves as a focal point for the presence and power of a deity."

This isn't answered at all; Ebon merely restates the original argument using the assumed definition of "image" as "anything like a statue or picture." Ebon clearly does not have the resources or the ability to provide a relevant reply.

Other issues:

On the NT, we find:

Then we get to alleged contradiction between Old and New Testaments. Nothing new:


Ebon issued some responses to my commentary initially. Here is our reply.

Ebon wants to know why I bothered with his site in the first place. The simple answer is that it's simply my policy to respond to any responses regardless of their level. Beyond that, like many who have preceded him, Ebon begins by making some note of what he perceives as my view that his attacks on Biblical errancy are "beneath" me.

I have dealt with this charge repeatedly and succinctly: There is so much repetition in the collective arguments of Skeptics that dealing with each echoed attack as though it were fresh is impractical as well as unreasonable, so that I would indeed be fully justified in dismissing Ebon's work out of hand were it not my desire to do otherwise.

Ebon also takes a little space to defend himself against "ad hominem". Ordinarily I would simply refer objections about ad hominem here, but Ebon makes enough ado about nothing that noting his approach seems worthwhile.

Does quantity equal quality? I think not. I would rather make my essays short and memorable than long and dull (partly to conserve space on my website, of which I have a limited amount). In most cases, the issues I raise do not require too much writing to cover in sufficient detail anyway; but when such detailed treatment is necessary, I do not hesitate to provide it, as I hope this rather long reply will show.

Ebon doesn't seem to understand what is written. I am not suggesting that the brevity of the arguments affects the quality, but that the brevity permits many poor arguments (taken on their own merit or lack thereof) to be presented in a small space. I suggest that in addition to this, Skeptics frequently try to tackle issues that require in-depth study with superficial treatment, and Ebon is no exception. We would have no more patience with someone who was not a Greco-Roman scholar or historian but had the nerve to examine the works of Tacitus and offer definitive statements about it with the same shallow level of analysis.

Desiring to make essays "short and memorable" is not a sufficient reason for incomplete work, and the claim that the issues covered did not "require much writing" is only a further demonstration of Ebon's non-use of credible, detailed scholarship. In a real sense quantity can define quality, though, for to treat a complex topic with brevity will inevitably result in low quality.

The essence of freethought is continual questioning and verification; arrogant self-assurance is the fundamentalists' domain. Though I have done what I think is a reasonable amount of my own research on religion and related issues, I know that there is always more to learn. I founded Ebon Musings to increase my own learning as much as to disseminate my thoughts to others, and I hope that in neither of those goals do I come across as arrogant or cavalier; I strive at all times to maintain a minimal standard of civility and academic respectability. I have no interest in insisting I am right if the facts prove me to be wrong, and I will not deny that Mr. Holding's response has shown up some minor errors I have made. I am duly grateful to him for pointing these out so that they may be corrected. However, I still feel that his replies do not satisfactorily resolve most of the issues I have raised, nor do a few mistakes on my part alter the major thrust of my point. I will not respond to every article Mr. Holding cites in his response to me. My site is not a full-time ministry, I have my own material to work on, and in most cases the answers to his claims should be perfectly obvious to anyone who gives the matter a bit of thought. Nevertheless, to make it clear that I give serious issues the detailed consideration they deserve, I have written this reply to him.

We, too, do continual questioning and verification, and it is that very process which enables us to recognize Ebon's work as incomplete and lacking in basic scholarly acumen. It is not sufficient to cite lack of time -- if one lacks time, one should not address subjects beyond one's training at all, or at the very least not venture to address such an enormous range of topics in such a short space.

We do acknowledge Ebon's admissions of error, but as in fact will be seen his responses only further demonstrate why he has no credibility when commenting on such matters. He is laboring under an illusion that his work is that of someone who is able to justly address the issues concerned. That he does not find our replies "satisfactory" is a symptom of this lack, not the evaluation of a qualified commentator.

Blush though I do to admit it, I have never read the writings of freethought icons such as Ingersoll and Paine. They are on my reading list, but that list is also quite long... Perhaps Mr. Holding should consider that, rather than slavishly follow each other's leads, some freethinkers have done their own work and independently come across these errors and contradictions in religion.

If Ebon has read as much Skeptical material on Usenet as he has written, the influence from Ingersoll and Paine is likely despite his self-professed unfamiliarity with them as primary sources. For that matter, we have been informed that Ebon's Usenet alter ego has at least quoted both Ingersoll and Paine, indicating some exposure to (and potential influence by) their thinking.

In few places is the argument from authority so blatantly and fallaciously deployed as it is here. Since many people with suitably impressive letters after their names have declared the Bible to be the greatest thing ever written, how dare I disagree. Of course, these eminent scholars are all Christians who might have just a teensy bit of bias here.

Ebon could use the advice of a site we recently quoted -- a site devoted to analysis of debating tactics:

Argumentum ad verecundiam (argument or appeal to authority). This fallacy occurs when someone tries to demonstrate the truth of a proposition by citing some person who agrees, even though that person may have no expertise in the given area. For instance, some people like to quote Einstein's opinions about politics (he tended to have fairly left-wing views), as though Einstein were a political philosopher rather than a physicist. Of course, it is not a fallacy at all to rely on authorities whose expertise relates to the question at hand, especially with regard to questions of fact that could not easily be answered by a layman -- for instance, it makes perfect sense to quote Stephen Hawking on the subject of black holes.

Under this rubric, our note about what scholars say -- regardless of their orientation, about which Ebon is wrong anyway (the assessment referenced comes from a cross-section of Jewish/Christian/other, liberal/moderate/conservative scholars), referring to them is a perfectly acceptable methodology. Note further:

At least in some forms of debate, quoting various sources to support one's position is not just acceptable but mandatory. In general, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Even if the person quoted has no particular expertise in the area, he may have had a particularly eloquent way of saying something that makes for a more persuasive speech. In general, debaters should be called down for committing argumentum ad verecundiam only when (a) they rely on an unqualified source for information about facts without other (qualified) sources of verification, or (b) they imply that some policy must be right simply because so-and-so thought so.

Ebon tries to make it out that our use of scholars is the same as (b), but that is wrong -- it's not that way simply because they "think so" but because they've done the legwork and the study to make a qualified judgment.

If Ebon can't handle the conclusions of scholars who "know their stuff", either with his own knowledge or by finding contrary scholarship that directly answers our points, he's just avoiding the issues when he drops slanderous hints about "bias" and "confessional interest" -- it is just as easy to throw back a charge of "bias" and "interest" for whatever point of view Ebon chooses to promulgate, and accomplishes just as much in terms of actually answering arguments.

On "reading the Bible like a newspaper":

If I am guilty of this, there is a good reason for it - I set out to refute the many fundamentalist Christians who claim that one can do exactly this, just read the Bible as if it were a newspaper with no understanding of the social or historical context of the time necessary. (Jack Chick is probably a good example of this group.) Regardless, in most cases I feel that Mr. Holding's more convoluted and obscure explanations still do not adequately resolve the issues I have raised. As for concordances, I cannot comprehend why Mr. Holding seems to have a grudge against them. (We can't all be experts in ancient Greek and Hebrew, after all.) Could it be that he resents them for leveling the playing field, as it were?

Ebon's somewhat curious defense here amounts to, "Guilty as charged." He admits to a fundamentalist approach to interpretation, driven by the wish to be relevant (in a way) to his fundamentalist readers, even as he utterly fails to respect the Bible as a document that simply must be interpreted within its context, for lack of doing adequate research.

His comments regarding concordances are another instance of poor interpretation. I said nothing against using them; I spoke of using them alone with no other depth-sources. This is like using a dictionary, and little else, to study American culture.

I was unaware that Mr. Holding's site was considered by all Christians to be the gold standard of apologetics, so I apologize for that. I hope he isn't offended that I didn't use the answers his website offered for every contradiction. However, I know that if I had responded to only one website's apologetics, I probably would have been accused of refuting the weakest ones out there (no offense, Mr. Holding).

We said nothing about "gold standard" but if Ebon doesn't choose his targets for refutation on the basis of their relative quality, then what is the basis? The irony is intensfied, however, inasmuch as in the years since this writing, Tekton has indeed received recongition from major names (Lee Strobel, Norman Geisler, and others) as a "gold standard" source, so that it appears Ebon's own basis for evaluating opposition was not particularly well-designed.

Even so, when Ebon chooses a target that is manifestly of lower quality than another of which he is aware, or does not choose to (or fails to) ascertain whether other answers of better or differing quality might be available in such places as he has made access, it brings his own judgment and honesty into question all the more. I would not deliver such an accusation at all, actually -- I don't assume that people have time to surf the web for more, but it seems clear that once he knew of this site, he obviously had the responsibility to check our material for answers on the specified issues.

Ebon goes on to excuse himself for uncharacteristically (?) using ad hominem. Apparently he refers to his webpage alter ego rather than to his Usenet persona (terms such as "fool" "moron" and "idiot" occur commonly in the midst of Ebon's Usenet material, according to search results provided by an associate of mine).

Hereafter materials will be dealt with in the text of essays linked, with these exceptions.

First, Ebon less-than-gracefully concedes the issue of the nationality of the Canaanite Woman (Canaanite or Greek?) even though he goes on to say that he still considers the text contradictory while conceding that harmonization is possible. (It might occur to him to see how "Greek" is used in the NT to refer to Hellenized or Greek-speaking persons.) He adds:

However, my having lost this one battle hardly means Mr. Holding has won the war. It would only take one irreconcilable contradiction to prove the Bible is errant, and I have not just one remaining, but many. In fact, out of all the contradictions I have listed, this is the only one I am willing to concede to Mr. Holding; I contend, and will present arguments for the contention, that in every other example my original page discussed, his attempted explanations fall far short of the mark. The very next contradiction I will discuss, in fact, is a particularly good example of this, and I will show how utterly helpless Mr. Holding and his brethren are in the face of some of the most blatant Biblical inconsistencies. This one I grant you, Mr. Holding, but be not proud.

That's fine. And we in turn give the same answer as we gave to someone who said much the same thing:

I would like to remind the reader that whatever [Ebon] may accomplish in his little corner of the world, there are still tens of thousands of books out there written by people who either are not believers in inerrancy or are indifferent to it for the purposes of their text even if they do believe in it, but that nevertheless support the conclusion that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and that the Bible is an overall reliable historical record of the dealings of God with the people of Israel, and more so as we approach the New Testament. Therefore, all that [Ebon] would have accomplished is to show that the Bible is not inerrant, but he would still have to confront the problem of overall reliability.

What are the odds, I ask, that [Ebon] or anyone else could successfully refute the hundreds of other writers and their tens of thousands of books, articles, and speeches that have supported the general reliability the Bible and the divinity of Jesus Christ? What would [Ebon] do, we wonder, to refute the works of the likes of John P. Meier, Ben Witherington, N. T. Wright, or James D. G. Dunn - disbelievers in any sort of inerrancy who nevertheless affirm that the data gives positive proof that Jesus Christ is Lord?

My point, then, is that even if [Ebon] should win on any point, or any number of points, he would not have disproven Christianity. In fact he will not have even joined the battle to do so.

Second, on Romans 11:26, Ebon bristles at our observation that Skeptical critiques appear to exhibit a lack of knowledge of covenant theology, dismisses present scholarship on Paul, and then immediately switches horses and argues that Jesus' statement that "the children of the kingdom (i.e., the Jews) shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" should be taken as an absolute pronouncement (Matt. 8:10-12). Ebon paraphrases the quotation: "He simply says that the Gentiles' faith is greater than any he has found in Israel and that the Jews are going to Hell, and that is that."

There is simply no need to take the words of Jesus in that manner, in other words referring to all of the children of the kingdom. If it did, all of Jesus' disciples were hell-bound, as was he, as a Jew, and he was wasting his time ministering to anyone in Judaea. Again, Ebon's objection rests on his foundation of wooden-literal, decontextualized interpretation and insistence on reading these as "simple, unqualified statements."

Shall we next be told that John 2:20 ("Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?") means that all Jews everywhere at the same time, all over the Roman Empire, said this to Jesus?

Third, on the divorce exception rule, Ebon may want to read again for updates: there were provisions for a woman to divorce at the time, and it was hardly necessary anyway (under the same high context rules) for Jesus to go out of the way to say things about it. Ebon's general objection about the Bible being "anti-woman" is addressed more tha sufficiently here.

In terms of actual answer, though, Ebon offers little. He writes: "I ask this question in all seriousness. For the edification of all concerned, Mr. Holding, would you mind letting us know how we are supposed to tell when a rule means what it says?"

Yes: Do reaearch to find out.

"Is there a single test we can apply?"

No, the answers don't come without real work.

"Or must we trust men like you? If the latter, what assurance do we have that you're not playing fast and loose with God's word?"

You don't have to if you don't want to, but if you have doubts, do the research and provide an answer.

"Indeed, Mr. Holding, if you are not a Catholic, then how do you justify what seems to be your doctrine that only with help from highly educated people such as yourself can the ordinary, layperson Christian with no special training understand the Bible? Isn't that the specific claim whose disputation led to the Protestant Reformation and ultimately gave rise to the sect you now follow? Have you decided to undo all that?"

Actually, no; that isn't exactly what led to the Reformation. And the Reformation could hardly have anticipated a society where people would rather spend 8 hours a day in front of a TV set and trust sources like Wikipedia over credentialed scholars.

Put it this way: There is no way any teaching could be phrased "clearly for future generations" without compromising the understanding of the then-present generation. Even the most general teaching must be applied by examples. Those examples will almost always change as the world changes. Unchanging immediate transcendental application is a logical impossibility. Refusal to do research is not admissible. We have the gift of hindsight the ancients could not have had. It shows extreme selfishness to demand that the text be made clear to us at the price of those who lived in the past.

Fourth, we had no article on Babel, the last one noted above, so we will answer here. 1 Corinthians, in context, is referring to God's wish that His church should be organized rather than chaotic (admonition to conduct an orderly church gathering followed by—literal—"God is not of confusion but of peace". From that, Ebon derives a supposedly biblical claim that God does not cause confusion.

This is just reading into the text what one wishes to find. There isn’t really any need to explain Babel in terms of the verse in 1 Corinthians, since the context should restrict us to an ecclesiastic/theocratic application.

Based on his literal reading of 1 Corinthians, however, Ebon concludes that the Bible contradicts reality. Based on the "confusion" of mankind regarding Biblical instruction, he concludes that the author (God) is confused, giving us another peek at his (a)theological argument to the effect that a divinely inspired work cannot be misunderstood. Ebon also says, midstream:

Before beginning my commentary on this contradiction, I must point out that Mr. Holding continually resorts to this dishonest and fallacious tactic. In this article...and indeed throughout his site, he makes many statements to the effect that the "skeptics" who reject the Bible are ignorant and uneducated and do so only out of their misunderstanding of it, and that those who truly understand the Bible (viz., Mr. Holding and his Christian apologist brethren) can trivially show their objections to be baseless. But this message is never simply stated. It is invariably delivered with heavy overtones of scorn, condescension and ridicule, rhetorical attacks meant to overawe and intimidate. The meaning implicit for ordinary Christians to take away is that, since Mr. Holding is confident enough to dismiss the other side's arguments so disdainfully, those arguments must genuinely be flawed enough to safely ignore - Mr. Holding's actual substantive reply to them (if any), of course, being entirely beside the point.

From here we are re-assured that informed Skeptics do exist, though given Ebon's dismal record so far, he hasn't joined the ranks as yet, in terms of Biblical interpretation. Of course it is only fallacious and dishonest to do this if Ebon assumes that "skeptics" who reject the Bible are educated and know what they are talking about. Which is the very point at issue.

Predictably, Ebon begins by giving himself some congratulations for the way his previous writings have withstood the critique published on the Tekton site. Ebon says that his arguments have been made as well as he wished to make them, and to that I reply that perhaps he has advanced his arguments as well as he is able, which isn’t saying very much.

He expresses confidence that "reasonable people" will see how the Tekton counter-replies "fail". If the Tekton replies have failed in the way he suggests, then we should expect Ebon to have little difficulty illustrating that fact through the course of his replies, without any resort to factual inaccuracy or logical fallacy.

Ebon next says that my "interest in having an honest and open discussion is doubtful at best" for he says I "shamelessly dodged a challenge of mine, to explain what the Bible would have to say to be errant." On the contrary, the reply above is sufficient and Ebon is unable to meet it. Ebon is simply engaged in the attempt to deflect attention from the failure of his own arguments, the ones for which he just finished trumpeting success.

What need is there to extract the allegedly dodged question regarding the demands for a successful errancy argument, if the initial arguments are such a roaring success? The demand is easy: The argument that has no fatal flaw is a good argument. Ebon produces flawed arguments.

This is followed by a paragraph decrying the fact that Tekton does not habitually link to Skeptical materials, tied to the extrapolated generalization that Christians are closed-minded. Ebon achieves some spectacular irony with his loud denunciation of our alleged tendency to loudly denounce the competition: He thinks I am shielding readers, yet I find my readers, intelligent enough to use search engines, writing TO me after they find the Skeptical sites on their own.

Once again Skeptics alone seem to have this problem of not knowing how to find things and assume that everyone else is just as lacking in ability. Nevertheless, I consider linking to most sites of Skeptical order akin to the US Geological Service linking to the Flat Earth Society.

Ebon admits grudgingly that I did, on his request, link to his site, but then objects that the one I link from "contains very little actual discussion of the contradictions I present or replies to my counterarguments. Most of that is found on separate pages discussing each individual contradiction, and while the index page hyperlinks to these pages, they do not link back to it."

So now Ebon assumes you, the reader, are so lacking in thought that you who have followed this interchange will not even think to check back to the opening article for the link, and now he also has the temerity and arrogance to suggest that every single page on this site which refers to his site ought to have a link back to his site.

This is not only ludicrous, it is obnoxiously offensive. Ebon's only reason for this demand is your assumed inability: "Anyone who came across one of these individual pages first probably would not know what Mr. Holding was talking about and almost certainly would not be able to find my original site without prior knowledge of it."

Anyone who would not know how to search for the site based on inputting unique words would not be swayed by Ebon's material to begin with.

Let me give some tips. In the item labelled nomaster.php, I quote Ebon in full in this paragraph:

But there is a far more serious problem here, one Mr. Holding has not begun to address. Kurios, which is used by Colossians and Ephebians to describe whom servants should obey, is a term of respect that means, among other things, "God"! Isn't this a far more serious matter than what Jesus talks about in Matthew 23? If we are not even to call men "teacher" or "father" - presumably because those titles are reserved to God - how much worse it must be to call one's fellow mortals by a title that does in fact mean God!

Go to Google.com, and plug in, in quotes, these phrases: "far more serious problem" and "Mr. Holding". Put a space between the two phrases when you type them in the window. At this point, Ebon's traffic is so low that you will have to hit the "more results" link, but Ebon should find the third entry that pops up familiar, since he wrote it.

We are sorry, but Ebon's inability to do a competent search does not equate with some idea that we are "hiding" things because we do not engage in tender hand-holding. Next we will be asked to give precise directions to every book we use as a source, providing a complete list of every library in the nation that has it, and the location on the shelf.

As a close, Ebon posed the question: "What would it take to convince you that you were wrong?"

It would take more, much more, than Ebon has provided; it would take something completely inexplicable by the various cultural, literary, and social factors we have explored; it would take more research than this from someone who is willing to dismiss scholarship with actual answers but with charges of bias, "straining," or dishonesty. And at present, we see little reason to suppose any such problem will be coming from the direction of Ebon Musings.

Ebon only confirms this judgment by accusing us of "sidestepping" and pretending our answer is no more than "More than you've provided." It is far, far more than that, and a proclamation comparing our answers, grounded in serious scholarship, dismissing "study [of] Ancient Near Eastern languages and modes of rhetorical expression" as equal to "tilt[ing] the page at a forty-five degree angle away from your face and kind of squint at it with one eye closed" speaks for itself in terms of Ebon's familiarity with the practice of academic research, especially in the field of Biblical scholarship.

We now move to Ebon's summing up of the situation. He avows that he continues to disagree with the Tekton position on inerrancy, and he gives a reason why: "...if I had to identify a single flaw of his that was primarily responsible for this, it would be this: his persistent and arrogant refusal to ever admit defeat."

So, I'm wrong because I won't admit that I'm wrong? I truly don't follow the reasoning. Maybe Ebon is simply admitting that he has permitted his own bias to cloud his evaluation of the exchange—yet he goes on to say that (I) persist in maintaining that I'm correct "no matter the evidence arrayed against (me), no matter how soundly (I am) trounced, no matter how hopeless (my) case is." Ebon simply neglected to provide any examples of suitably contrary evidence, sound (or otherwise) trouncing, or a hopeless case.

Fittingly, Ebon next segues into alleging that style of the Tekton rebuttal is un-Christian. Tekton is what it is and it is what it is for reasons that are valid. Humility is a construct of modern individualism; the ancients knew their strengths and limitations and proclaimed both unabashedly, as do I. There is little sense in wasting time pretending you might be wrong or right if you are not. In any event, attacking the tone does not address the arguments.

Almost beneath notice is Ebon’s tactic of attempting to discredit the Tekton arguments via his own personal attack: "His repeated use of ad hominem attacks, his sneering demeanor, his contemptuous and dismissive tone, his scorn and derision of anyone who differs from him - such patterns of expression permeate his site, and are often deployed, as above, to intimidate opponents and so camouflage arguments that are patently weak, faulty, or irrelevant."

Absent examples of weak, faulty, or irrelevant arguments, and absent actual proof that his way is "better" in the long term, we are left with Ebon’s personal attack. Not that he delivers the taste of his own medicine as he supposes: the quality of Ebon's riposte is certainly not up to snuff.

In regards to more substantive material, it is my impression that Mr. Holding essentially has only one argument, only one defense to skeptical attacks and charges of contradiction. This defense recurs throughout his site, phrased in a variety of different ways and appearing in a number of different guises, but it always boils down to the same thing. This defense, as I have pointed out before, is essentially, "The Bible doesn't mean what it says."

The above is actually Ebon’s roundabout way of describing his persistent tendency to approach the biblical literature with a wooden-literal rule of interpretation. The text means whatever it means to him, scholarship and textual considerations notwithstanding. Apparently he thinks that when I speak of such things as "dischronologized narrative" or "proverbial literature" or a "negation idiom", I am taken to be making these things up as I go along. Implicitly he compares this to alleged use of similar tactics by corporations in bookkeeping, though in the realm of mathematics, such results would be unlikely to obtain, and Ebon may actually be passing off a satirical article as reporting the "real thing".

Ebon, who labels me a fundamentalist, is in fact himself a "fundamentalist atheist" -- a member of the very species he decries, but wearing spots rather than stripes. When Ebon speaks of one "viewing the world through any lens but their own rigid preconceptions, and removing their ability to ever admit error or uncertainty in any matter of theological significance," he describes himself.

In closing, Ebon still wants to know what would convince me that I am wrong concerning the Bible. The answer remains the same: A coercive, non-fallacious argument. In other words, far more than he provides, and ever will be able to provide.

Ebon on "Faith"

Ebon also has a selection trying to tell us how contradictory the Bible is on how to be saved. Faith? Works? Fries? There's a lot we have here that needs to be looked at: our item on faith as loyalty; our item on the Semitic Totality Concept for starters. We start our own after Ebon sums up with the claim of contradiction:

I am not a fundamentalist Christian, nor a fundamentalist atheist; I do not believe, as these groups do, that even the slightest error or mistake in the Bible renders it entirely worthless.

Ebon, however, is indeed a "fundamentalist atheist", in that he brings a wooden-literal framework of interpretation to bear on the Bible. The notion that "even the slightest error or mistake in the Bible renders it entirely worthless" constitutes fundamentalism, Christian or otherwise, is only one piece of the pie.

In principle, I have no problem with the idea that the Bible was once God's word to humanity, but that minor changes and mistakes have been subsequently introduced by human copiers. But for the Bible to be worth anything, I believe it is more than reasonable to expect at least the most important parts of it would have to have been kept free of error, even if human influence has crept into the rest. However, this has not been done, and therefore there are only two possible conclusions: either the Bible was the work of a very apathetic and unconcerned deity, or else it was the product of human minds and human hands from the very beginning.

On his path to the bifurcation fallacy, Ebon has skipped past the key point: He needs to establish his foundational premise, above: "However, this has not been done". We’ll be waiting for the time he returns to that key point.

Let us examine what the New Testament has to say on the issue of salvation. We will find that all the verses which address this topic fall into one of four categories:

To begin, note that Ebon has cooked up for himself an initial problem by having categories that overlap. Category four is compatible with each of the former categories, even in the Calvinistic sense in which Ebon intends the category to be understood. But let's leave that aside for now and see how Ebon goes with his flow:

Option #1: Salvation by Faith Alone -- According to many modern-day evangelical (so-called "born-again") Christians, the only thing a person has to do to be saved is to sincerely say the following prayer, or something equivalent to it...At the conclusion of this short prayer (it took me about 10 seconds to say it), we are told, Jesus Christ will enter a person's heart, cleanse their soul of sin and take control of their life, guiding and instructing it from that point on. Nothing else is required to be saved, these Christians believe, and there is no other way to be saved. Though the new convert is likely to do good deeds from then on as Jesus transforms his personality, good deeds are not required for salvation, nor do they help attain it; they are merely the outward expression of inward faith, and it is faith alone that saves - so these Christians believe.

Ebon cites among other passages Eph. 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5. We only question one of these, Romans 1:16, but can leave that aside.

Option #2: Salvation by Faith and Water Baptism -- However, there are other verses that say differently - verses that, when enumerating the requirements for salvation, add an additional requirement that the passages already mentioned say nothing about. For example: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." --Mark 16:16 (KJV)

To start with -- Ebon still hasn't learned not to use Mark 16:9-20, even as he will go on to say (with no evaluation of arguments) that this is one possible answer, and somehow, some way thinks it is only a "non-inerrantist" answer.

But let's grant Mark 16:9-20 for the sake of argument. Ebon appears to claim that the above verse says "differently"--but does it? In the Biblical context that Ebon provided already (faith in Christ unto salvation), let’s consider Mark 16:16 along with some comparable statements.

Mark 16:16 has the same requirement for salvation as do the preceding examples, that is, belief ("He that believeth . . . shall be saved"). It also mentions baptism ("and is baptized"). So, how significant is this, logically speaking? Assuming for the sake of argument that belief really is the requirement for salvation, which of the following meet the requirements for salvation?

It should be somewhat obvious that all of the above meet the essential requirement, assuming that it is belief. Naturally, Ebon will say that the texts, via “and is baptized” and “and weareth” and the like appear to add requirements.

Again: Is that actually the case? Revisit Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

It would appear that this is setting up an obvious contrast between belief and unbelief, actually. If the verse had read “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth and is baptized not shall be damned” then Ebon would be right. As it is, however, we have no Biblical reason (logically speaking) for counting baptism as a requirement for salvation. This remains true no matter how many Christian denominations make the same error that Ebon makes...especially in light of Semitic Totality.

But Ebon does has another card to deal:

"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." --John 3:5 (KJV)

This verse from the Gospel of John, spoken by Jesus himself, makes it absolutely clear that water baptism is a requirement for salvation. It draws a distinction between baptism of water and "baptism of the Spirit," and makes it plain that both are required: those who lack either one "cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

To Ebon, the words of Jesus to Nicodemus make it “absolutely clear” that water baptism is a requirement for salvation, even though baptism isn’t even mentioned in either the passage or its immediate context. Ebon is practicing the time-honored error of eisegesis, or reading into the text, the same as our friends elsewhere in Momronism. Nicodemus was taken aback at the notion of being “born again”, thus in the context “born of water” means either physical human birth (even today the phrase “her water broke” is associated with giving birth) [Valvoord, Zuck BKC p.281] (thus if you were never physically human, then you can’t be saved) or else relates back to Jewish metaphors of God's cleansing power, using water imagery.

Amazingly enough Ebon knows this and even links to my reply on baptism -- but can't apparently figure out what I said. He says, " I do not doubt that such a connection (between water and cleansing) existed, but how Mr. Holding makes the leap from there to the conclusion that the baptism mentioned in John 3:5 is not a literal one, I confess myself puzzled." We, on the other hand, are puzzled as to how “baptism” has been magically inserted into John 3:5. It isn't there.

Mr. Holding also claims that a reference by Jesus to water baptism would have only confused Nicodemus, the Jewish priest who would not have known what it was - a claim that is clearly false, as John 1:19-26 records the Jerusalem priests sending emissaries to John the Baptist to ask about his identity and his work, and in any event there are many occasions in the gospels where Jesus has no compunction about speaking in ways that confuse all those around him.

Again: There is NO WAY it could have referred to Chistian baptism of the sort under discussion. John's baptism wasn't Christian baptism. For Ebon to be right it would mean that Jesus is telling Nicodemus to go get dunked by John. But if that's on the level, how is it that disciples of John (Acts 19:3-5) underwent water baptism again when they became Christians?

Indeed, the existence of John the Baptist, his declared mission, and Jesus' interactions with him, which are mentioned in all four gospels, raise difficulties for those who deny the necessity of baptism. In all three synoptic gospels, Jesus is depicted as undergoing baptism himself, and John (3:22, 4:1) represents Jesus and his disciples as baptizing others. While this does not by itself establish baptism as a requirement for salvation, it is difficult to understand why all four gospels would place so much emphasis on something that was of no real importance. Why would Jesus himself be baptized, Christians should ask themselves, if not to set an example?

Ebon should have realized that he was blazing a rabbit-trail when he wrote: “While this does not by itself establish baptism as a requirement for salvation […].” Yes, a Christian (or anybody, for that matter) might wonder why baptism figures in the New Testament documents; that doesn’t make it relevant to the topic of salvation.

For an answer to the "why" Ebon needs to understand that symbolic, demonstrative and purposeful action was a characteristic (and still is) of ancient cultures.

And as already mentioned, there are Christian churches today who do believe baptism is a requirement for salvation, that it "washes away" original sin and helps a believer gain admittance to Heaven. Most prominent of these are the Lutherans, who generally reject the "age of accountability" doctrine and preach the necessity of infant baptism, arguing that even infants are sinful, and even a child who dies without being baptized will be damned.

One final attempt to deal with this problem comes from CARM , whose argument on the issue is essentially, "We know the Bible says X, therefore the verses which seem to be saying Y must be saying something else." This amounts to assuming inerrancy in order to prove inerrancy, and will not suffice.

The use of clear statements to help interpret statements that are not as clear (to us, not the original readers) is standard practice for interpretation and exegesis of any work. Ebon has failed to make the case that baptism is a biblical requirement for salvation.

Option #3: Salvation by Faith and Works

No Christian sect denies that faith in God and Jesus is necessary for salvation. But is that enough? Or must faith be supplemented with a component of action - must we do good deeds in the world?

The writer of the Epistle of James seems to believe so:

"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.... Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." --James 2:14-17,24 (KJV)

The conclusion that the writer of this epistle is trying to urge on followers is an obvious one. Faith without works is "dead" and cannot save; men are justified by good works as well as faith, not by faith alone.

Ebon is unaware that this claim has been put to bed (see here) many times. The justification spoken of by Paul and that spoken of by James are two different things. Ebon commits a fallacy of ambiguity by missing the distinction.

The most common evangelical reply to this is that James is not saying that good works are necessary for salvation, but that faith in God produces good works by definition, and so the two are inseparable. But this will not suffice. The writer of the epistle himself refutes this position in verse 2:19. As he explains, his argument is not that faith produces good works which are not truly needed - indeed, he says that "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." His argument is that faith alone is not enough for salvation - after all, he says, the demons also have faith in God, but they are not saved by it.

Ebon disregards the meaning of faith as loyalty (as noted above) and ignores Semitic Totality as though it were an ANE fitness program. The verses that Ebon cites do not “explain” anything with regard to salvation, but with regard to public testimony and the expected link between saving faith and resulting works. Put in terms of the earlier illustration:

In other words, the public justification of salvation is not accomplished without works. Divine salvation is not James’ focus.

Nowhere does the writer draw a distinction between the type of faith demons have and the type believers have. Instead, the distinction he points out is that believers do good works, and demons do not.

If Ebon were able to consider Semitic Totality, a concept he disregarded in the very article he links to, he would realize that the absence of works alters the type of faith (saving vs. non-saving). Contrary to what Ebon thinks, the contrast between the two types of faith (loyalty and trust, as noted) is marked: One type is knowledge of the truth, the other is exercise of that knowledge into salvific faith which does not require works, but instead leads to works. In short, Semitic Totality.

In response to this, some apologists argue that James' statement "by works a man is justified" is in regard to fellow believers, not to God. This is not tenable.

The type of justification is the same as would be displayed to fellow believers or to unbelievers (or even to God). That is, the evidence that faith is of the saving variety, as the evidence of loyalty and trust is action for the object. James is speaking with respect to the public witness of works that is the expected result of saving faith.

Ebon himself comes near to explaining this in his description of salvation by faith alone, via his stipulation that his version of the sinner’s prayer be offered sincerely. If one prays that he is sorry for his sin, and subsequently acts as though he was never sorry, doesn’t this call his sincerity into question?

Sincere repentance should be expected to have a result. This is parallel to the point that James makes.

When the word translated above as "justified" (Greek dikaioo, to render, show or regard as righteous) is used in other contexts in the New Testament, it is always used in the sense of being justified before God. (Examples: Romans 3:20, 3:24, 3:28, 5:1, 5:9; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:7). It is never used to imply justification in the sight of one's fellow Christians.

Has Ebon given a counterexample other than Paul?

The immediate context is the primary method for determining the usage of a term in context. Only when the primary context fails to provide the meaning should secondary context be considered. Ebon appears to have made his case on the back of another ambiguity, in fact. Works are the evidence of saving faith no matter who is watching (believer, unbeliever, God), yet Ebon simply asserts that if the context suggests God, then justification equals salvation.

The usage of dikaioo is in stark contrast to condemnation in Matthew 12:37. By Ebon’s reasoning, according to Matthew we should expect that condemnation is not by unbelief alone, but by unbelief plus works. To borrow Ebon’s phrase, this is untenable. Context and parsimony favor the view that the Pauline NT (secondary) contexts be downplayed in favor of the view that the justification referred to is evidential, not salvific.

To further illuminate the contradiction here, let us consider what is surely not an uncommon occurrence - the deathbed conversion. Suppose a dying man, with his final breath, is convicted of his sins, sincerely repents and cries out to Jesus to save him, and then dies, without ever doing any good deeds in the name of his newfound faith. Will he go to Heaven or not? By the logic of the verses listed in the first section of this essay, his salvation is as assured as that of a person who repented at any other point in their life. But according to the Epistle of James, since this man never had the chance to do good works, his faith is "dead" and cannot save him. We are left to conclude that he is therefore damned.

On the contrary, if the faith of the dying man was of the type that results in good works, then it is saving faith. That he had no time to express that loyalty physically is of no relevance, any more than a contract would not have been honored by someone merely because they died with the pen in their hand before they could sign.

If, on the other hand, that faith is the type that results in the man doing precisely as he did before his deathbed confession, then that faith is not really faith at all (it is “dead” faith).

Why does Ebon not consider that the faith itself is described as “dead” rather than the one exercising empty faith? Because he imports his interpretation into the text (eisegesis).

As a final point in favor of this interpretation, consider the words of a famous past Christian. Modern-day inerrantist apologists are stuck with the canon of the Bible, as inconsistent as it is, and will go to any lengths rather than admit that it contains a contradiction. But theologians of the past were not so concerned with protecting the canon above all else. Martin Luther, the key founder of the Protestant Reformation that led to the creation of all Protestant sects, read the Epistle of James and saw in it exactly what modern-day apologists insist it does not contain: a requirement for believers to do good works. He called it an "epistle of straw," and said that it was "flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture" (see ), which Luther believed contained a call for salvation through faith alone.

Luther was wrong about the content of James, insomuch as he thought that it contradicted Paul. Did he know Semitic Totality? No, he didn't. It would have relieved him of a substantial burden. Ebon's "authority argument" is far from impressive.

However, James is not the only biblical book which teaches that salvation depends on works; in fact, there are others that teach it even more explicitly. To show this, a brief digression on evangelical beliefs is required.

A discussion of evangelical beliefs is necessary to establish that other books in the Bible teach the necessity of works to salvation? That is hard to believe.

Christian evangelicals believe that God is the epitome of justice, righteousness and holiness, and therefore he cannot tolerate any sin (which is the opposite of these characteristics) whatsoever in his presence. By his nature, God is bound to send all sin to Hell. However, evangelicals believe that humans are inherently sinful creatures, unable to prevent ourselves from committing the acts that God cannot abide. This places us in a dilemma, they believe, since it means that none of us can attain Heaven by our own efforts. If God were to judge us on our deeds alone, everyone would go to Hell. The only solution, they conclude, is the blood of Jesus Christ, which "covers up" our sin and allows God to forgive us and let us into Heaven. Again: Were we judged purely by our actions, we would all be damned, and God would be fully justified in pronouncing such a fate upon us.

In light of this belief, it must be quite shocking for evangelical Christians to open the book of 2 Corinthians and read the following:

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." --2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV)

Under a theology in which enough good deeds can outweigh a person's evil deeds and gain them access to Heaven, this verse makes perfect sense. Under the evangelical theology of innate depravity, what this verse is telling us is that everyone who has ever lived or will ever live is condemned to eternal damnation, because if we receive "what is due us" for the things we have done, that is the inevitable result. The point of evangelical Christian theology is precisely that by accepting Jesus, a person will not receive what they justly deserve, but that God will forgive that person by his divine grace.

Ebon has failed to consider that heaven and hell are not necessarily all-or-nothing destinations, with different punishments meted out in hell, and various rewards given in heaven. His entire laboriously constructed point falls on that overlooked issue.

Other verses, some spoken by Jesus himself, confirm that our eternal fate will be decided based on our deeds in this life:

"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." --Matthew 16:27 (KJV)

"And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." --John 5:29 (KJV)

Ebon forgot to see John 5:24, just a few verses prior:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

In context, Jesus is teaching salvation by faith (loyalty); the context connects “believeth on him that sent me” with “done good”.

"[God] will render to every man according to his deeds, to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life...." --Romans 2:6,7 (KJV)

Ebon offers another verse removed from its context. The greater context of Romans overwhelmingly emphasizes salvation by faith (Romans 1:17 and 3:22 to name but two nearby verses). Faith is followed by works -- inevitably. Separating the two is a modernist notion.

All these verses say the same thing - that at the time of judgment we will be punished or rewarded as our deeds deserve, that those who have done evil will be damned, and those who have done good will be granted eternal life. Paul in Romans says that God will reward those "who by patient continuance in well doing" seek eternal life. Jesus in the Gospels of John and Matthew says that those who have done evil (again, in the evangelical worldview, this means everyone) will be damned, and those who have done good (in the evangelical view, no one) will be glorified.

Evangelicals teach that everyone will be damned? I must have missed the meeting where that was explained.

These verses are clear: We will be judged by both our faith and our works. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.

The above deserves to be separated from the rest, since Ebon got something right. The Bible (Romans, in this case) does teach that people will have their works judged. Heaven or Hell need not be the extent of sentencing. Ebon appears to exclude this option from consideration, however.

Option #4: Salvation by Predestination

The five key points of the predestinationist Christian sect called Calvinism can be summed up with the acronym "TULIP":

Readers of this site will know these points and what we think of them; see here for an entry. Ebon does incorrectly call the P "Preservation" rather than Perseverance. He also unwittingly errs with the statement, "Calvinism came first." Compared to Arminius, maybe so. Compared to what is in the first century, no.

We'll leave it to Ebon to decide whether he can take our material on (he has not, in over 10 years); we have no interest in his material on either 16th century system.

Apologetics site the Christian Think Tank has offered an alternative interpretation for these verses, claiming that they should be rightfully seen as God's selecting individuals for earthly tasks, not eternal destiny. This interpretation is a non-starter, unless the claim is that earthly behavior has no relation to eternal fate, because the "task" God "selected" for Pharaoh was to hold his chosen people in cruel slavery, and then, after being forced to let them go, to head out after them with an army determined to either re-enslave or massacre them, and finally to be drowned in the closing of the Red Sea in the course of that pursuit after having his heart "hardened" by God on numerous occasions. Does this sound like the kind of person who will end up in Heaven?

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh had hardened his heart. Everything that occurs once the Israelites head out away from Egypt would seem to be in the realm of Pharaoh’s own choosing.

The Christian Think Tank also suggests that the main focus of this passage is on groups, rather than individuals, that are chosen for salvation or damnation. Since groups are made up of people, this makes no difference whatsoever, and in any event the specific reference to Pharaoh, an individual, again disproves this.

It makes a critical difference that a group is involved. Suppose that all the male cheerleaders for the Tennessee Titans get sent on a trip to Greece. Ebon, seeing his trip-of-a-lifetime within his grasp, joins the group of male cheerleaders in order to participate in the trip.

Was Ebon chosen as an individual for the trip? Of course not. He was chosen on the basis of group identity. Group-identity in the ancient mind is an essential part of interpreting these passages.

In conclusion, what do we have? We have a Bible whose writers apparently could not agree among themselves, a book that presents no fewer than four mutually contradictory paths to salvation, each of which is declared to be the only true one. They cannot all be correct. If salvation is by faith alone, it is not by faith and baptism; if it is by faith and baptism, it is not by faith and good works, and if it is any of these three, it is not by predestination. Throughout history, there have been and still are various Christian sects advocating in favor of all four of these possibilities. What is the source of this confusion?

Alas, the source of confusion is to be found in the looking-glass, as we have shown. One final note, he says: "Instead of looking forward to another life, we should spend our time improving this one for all humanity - that is the meaning of atheism."

I wonder...did Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung get that memo?

Our final word here will be on the question of the Trial of Jesus, specifically with respect to the reports of what was said and with reference to harmonizing of the accounts. In the course of his commentary, Ebon misconstrues the purpose of our Abraham Lincoln comparisons, the point of which was to emphasize that the reports, while differing in detail and presentation, are nevertheless accurate in what they relate, and may be harmonized easily and in ways that are just as applicable to the Gospels. Ebon makes clear that he misses the point by claiming that the issue of Jesus is different since there are claims of inerrancy and inspiration involved.

What he actually makes clear is that he is exercising a special standard for evaluation of the Bible text. As for Ebon's alleged contradiction and how it relates to the Lincoln satire, perhaps we should add the observations of Luke:

Luke 22:70 (NIV) They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied, "You are right in saying I am."

No doubt if all we had were the accounts from Matthew and Mark, Ebon would rapidly conclude that a supposed marrying of the accounts such that the question of the high priest contained the answer that Jesus obliquely affirmed was an ad hoc hypothesis. Yet, that is just what Luke reports in his gospel. So, where's the slippery slope that Ebon warns us about?

In each account, the priest grills Jesus, and in each account Jesus gives an oblique/affirmative answer to the question regarding his identity. Should there be any doctrinal or historical confusion regarding this point? Seemingly not, and I suspect that the slippery slope that Ebon want us to perceive is that if the accounts are not transcendentally amenable to interpretation, then the accounts cannot be trusted to accurately convey doctrine or history.

It is regrettable than Ebon cannot conceive of inerrancy in any other terms than KJV Onlyism or of fundamentalist atheism. It is also regrettable that he misses the larger point of the Lincoln analogy, that it is a matter of simplicity for us to decide a priori that the Gospels are wrong, just as it was easy for Phonias Futz to conclude the Lincoln bios were wrong, based on nothing more than inherent and biased presupposition and lack of knowledge.

Ebon suggests that Futz may as well conclude that James Bond, Captain Kirk, or L. Ron Hubbard's materials were non-fiction. If the comparison is meant to the Gospels, it fails from the start. The Gospels were written in the genre of narrative biography; there are no missing pieces (as one might suggest a Star Trek episode's commercials or credits may be missing) that would allow us to assume otherwise.

Ebon, who pedantically tells us that the "lesson" is that there's "no shortcut to the right answer" and we "can't just skip over the tedious business of scientific investigation simply because we know (or think we know) ahead of time what the truth is" has himself committed (elsewhere as well) an error resulting from his own "shortcut" around Biblical scholarship that he apparently took because he skipped the "tedious business" of looking into the appropriate background material. And so justifies our continued evaluation of him.

He may also wish to compare his analogy to the parody done by a classical scholar of our acquaintance on Napoleon, considering the work of Raglan, and this Abe Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. He will come to see how easy it is to do as he does.

We'd also recommend that for kicks he look up "Shatnerology" in Google.

And why don't these small discrepancies cast doubt on the core facts of Lincoln's life? Because the core facts of Lincoln's life are not in dispute. No biographer seeking to present a complete picture omits his most important deeds, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, nor does any one biographer record startling and significant stories of his life that no other knows of. The gospels, by comparison, are all over the map. Mark knows nothing of Jesus' childhood at all. Matthew records Herod's slaughter of the innocents, the family's flight to Egypt and the three wise men who followed the star, extraordinary events which no other source, secular or biblical, provides any corroboration for. Luke, by contrast, ignores all this and gives us the familar manger scene, again uncorroborated by any other source. John, like Mark, has no infancy narrative, but instead opens with a cosmic Logos hymn.

Ebon lacks knowledge of a few other differences: Notably, that unlike the Lincoln biographers, the Gospel authors did not have unlimited, cheap paper and ink to use. He can learn more about this, and about ancient procedures of composition that restrained ancient writers the way modern writers are not restricted, here.

In sum: The Lincoln "errors" are not errors, and neither are difference in the Gospels (other than by imposing a modern, precision-obsessed definition of "error" that would also exclude any use of hyperbole, for example, if we wish to take that view that the text must transcend all possible subjective definitions of error, even that of a hyper-literalist). Both Lincoln's materials and the Gospels can be easily and readily harmonized (especially when ancient compositional issues are taken into account).

Ebon then threatens that there are "Christians out there who do believe that the Bible can be 'read like a newspaper'" and "do believe that every single word, character and penstroke is the absolutely perfect and inerrant word of God. Minor contradictions such as this one are there for those people's benefit, not for his." So in essence Ebon is admitting that he doesn't mind putting up easily debunked suggestions of error for no other purpose than to disturb the faith of the less educated.

After this Ebon changes the subject and offers a non-dilemma asking how Gospel writers knew certain events took place when they were not present. He preps for an answer by immediately supposing that only "elaborate ad hoc rationalizations which enjoy not one shred of support from the text could be conjured up to answer this."

What makes a scenario "elaborate" is not laid out, and why we need textual support for a reasonable supposition is not answered. Historical detective work does not often require long reaches, and neither do any of the examples Ebon cites that I can readily identify.

"The Garden of Gethsemane scene, in which Jesus prays alone while his disciples sleep, is another example." No, it is not.

"So is the famous Temptation story, in which Jesus confronts Satan while completing a period of fasting alone in the desert." Oh? Jesus didn't have the ability or time to tell his disciples about this incident afterwards?

"The Jews go to Pilate in secret, asking him to set guards on Jesus' tomb."

Jesus had members of Herod's household (8:3) in his retinue, and members of the Sanhedrin as secret disciples, and converted priests (Acts 6:7); there was not enough data available to get this basic story, to say nothing of people who later "spilled the beans" when the "jig was up"? This was, after all, a collectivist society where everyone minded everyone else's business.

"Luke records the inner thoughts of a Pharisee." Presumably Ebon means Luke 7:39; I suppose he never would think that Luke might interview people to compile his account. This is no harder than a newsman getting someone to say, "I thought I was dead when I saw that man running towards me screaming and holding a mallet."

"Matthew tells us that Judas threw his blood money back into the temple out of guilt before committing suicide. (How does he know what Judas did with the cash?)" Not hard at all; see Acts 6:7.

"In short, the gospels show every sign of having been written in the omniscient third-person style of narration, which bolsters my claim that they were originally meant as elaborate religious allegories used for teaching and instruction - not as history." In short, Ebon neglects consideration of the dimensionality of human behaior and historical reportage. Maybe he ought to read through Josephus and ask how that worthy knew of certain people's thoughts, frames of mind, or statements or events at private meetings or other points where he was not present -- and doesn't say how he found out.