Thursday, February 24, 2011


No, not the movie about the alien.

I've been wondering lately about the Apostle Paul. What's all that about?

Jesus had 12 disciples, 11 of whom became apostles, and they picked a 12th to replace Judas. These guys had seen Jesus, been with Jesus, learned (eventually) from Jesus, witnessed miracles, witnessed him in the flesh after his resurrection, and so on.

Basically, these guys were the best people to take the message to the world.

So why the need for Paul?

He hadn't seen Jesus, been with Jesus, learned from him, witnessed any miracles, or even seen him in the flesh (a blinding flash from heaven hardly counts, impressive though it must have been).

I think the conventional line of reasoning says that the disciples were just ordinary blokes, without a theological training, not really capable of writing epistles like those of Paul's, and also they were Jewish Jews, not really best suited for taking the Gospel out into the Greek speaking world.

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it implies that Jesus was either not capable of getting one disciple suitable for the task, or he did not have the foresight to recruit such a disciple. Neither option is very good.

If Jesus was God incarnate, with the most amazing teaching ever heard, then recruiting intelligent and erudite disciples would hardly be a problem.

And even if Jesus 'emptied himself' of his divine foresight, surely God the Father could have manipulated the situation such that Jesus had at least one disciple up to the task of taking the message to the world.

Paul, the very late recruited apostle, seems very much like a 'plan B' to me.

Or, in my more skeptical moments, the theory that Paul and 'the twelve' come from two rival strands of belief that were merged together into 'catholic' Christianity in the 2nd century, begins to seem pretty compelling.

The book "The First Edition of the New Testament" by David Trobisch is fairly high on my 'to read' list. In it, the author presents his thesis that the compilation of the 27 books we have as the New Testament was a deliberate attempt to fuse rival factions into one unified religion. Further, he proposes that the compiler was Polycarp of Smyrna who, in addition to compiling the books, edited several of them to harmonise them and also invented (yes, invented) the book of Acts in order to put the heroes of the rival factions (on one side Paul, on another Peter) on an equal footing and to appear to be working together for the sake of the Gospel.

I will certainly blog about that when I read it!

But for now, here is a link to Trobisch's paper summarising the book: "Who Published the New Testament" from Free Inquiry magazine Vol 28, No 1, Jan 2008.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Where does it say...? #3

This one is a bit philosophical.

I've heard a number of Christian apologists and philosophers on a number of debates (mostly on podcasts) recently stating or implying that God is outside of time. That is, that time is part of creation and God is beyond that.

Where does it say that in the bible?

Furthermore, I have a philosophical problem with the idea of God being outside of time. Basically, I think that belief in a God outside of time is incompatible with belief in a good or loving God. Goodness and love both require action. Action can only occur within time. Thus, if God is in any way good, then he (or that part of him which is good) must be within time, not transcending it.

Take a trivial example. Suppose it is bad to break something and good to fix something. Viewed from our point of view within time, breaking something is bad. But reverse the flow of time and the same action (now in reverse) appears to fix the object, which is good. If God is outside of time then he perceives both the bad breaking and the good fixing equally, and thus the moralities cancel each other out. An agent outside of time must be morally neutral.