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The Christian Delusion 12: At Best Jesus was a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet

01/12/2011

Another winner from Loftus. He argues, like Bart Ehrman, that Jesus believed that the end of the world would come during the lifetime of his followers. This is a conclusion that is easy to see the evidence for, since Jesus says it himself in the earliest of Gospels. As time goes by, though, as we see in both Paul and the later Gospels, what Jesus supposedly said gets altered, just like we would expect to see based on our experience with other failed prophecies of our time.

The common retorts are that Jesus did not mean the real end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem, or that Jesus spoke metaphorically, among other theories. But, given the apocalyptic context of the times, along with language that we can use to triangulate a literal meaning, Loftus argues that the only reasonable interpretation of Jesus’ sayings are that he believed the world would end. I should really learn and memorize the retorts, or at least the evidence. At least I have this book to refer to if I need to find some good answers. I’ll reread Ehrman’s book as well, and that should give me an extra boost of understanding. This may be one of the strongest cases against Christianity.

Kindle Notes:

Either Jesus was a failed prophet or the NT isn’t even somewhat reliable. Either way, this falsifies Christianity. If we cannot trust the NT, then the basis for Christian beliefs fail. But if Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, then surely he wouldn’t get something so important so dead wrong (4103).

I don’t see a real problem in combining Jesus’ role as a social reformer with his apocalyptic message anyway. Dale Allison, probably the leading scholar in the field, shows how Jesus could be both: He did not proclaim the wonderful things to come and then pass by on the other side of the road. He rather turned his eschatological ideal into an ethical blueprint for compassionate ministry in the present, which means that, in addition to saying that things would get better, he set out making it so (4211).

Case in point is that televangelists like Pat Robertson and his ilk are part of the “Christian Right” which seeks sociopolitical change, and yet they also think Jesus will come soon, probably in our generation (4224).

And yet the Jesus cult survived even after these failed predictions. But that isn’t too unusual. Many cult groups survive after experiencing a failed prophecy of the end of times. Whether or not they survive depends on how they reinterpret what took place (4228).

After Mark’s Gospel there are subtle changes made with each subsequent canonical Gospel, as the prophesied eschaton did not happen (4279).

Matthew agrees with Mark that this series of events will happen in that generation, of course (24:34), it’s just that the goal posts have been moved (4286).

In the even later two-part Luke-Acts we find the goal posts are moved a little further (4289).

Such talk of an imminent eschaton is completely removed in John’s Gospel. In Dale Allison’s words, this Gospel: “focuses not on Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven in the future but on the Spirit coming to believers in the present (4315).

[H]is followers preached that he would return immediately-that is, they simply interpreted “the Son of Man” as referring to Jesus himself. Then, when people started dying, they said that some would still be alive. When almost the entire first generation was dead, they maintained that one disciple would still be alive. Then he died, and it became necessary to claim that Jesus had not actually promised even this one disciple that he would live to see that great day (4325).

CHRISTIANS HAVE FAILED TO EXPLAIN AWAY THIS FAILED PROPHECY My working hypothesis has been that the best explanation for the different claims in the NT of the timing of the eschaton is because later authors kept moving the goal posts as time marched on (4344).

Or they’ll claim that when God’s word says “soon” it’s from God’s perspective rather than ours. Robert Price counters such nonsense: But what sort of revelation is it that is couched in terms unintelligible to those for whose sake it is vouchsafed? Given God’s infinite expanse of cosmic eons, what could “soon” possibly mean if it bears no relation to our own use of the word? After all, if God is talking to human beings, he has to use human terms if he wants to be understood. And if he really meant, “I am coming thousands of years in the future,” why didn’t he just say so (4356)?

N. T. Wright, who argues in his book, Jesus and the Victory of God,64 that the prophecies of Jesus took place in his generation just as Jesus predicted. He argues that what Jesus and the early Christians predicted was not a cosmic ending of the universe in their day, but rather socio-political and spiritual change (4360).

The eschatological language in the NT was thought by the early church fathers as depicting literal cosmic events, as seen in Papias (as reported in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:39:12), Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 80), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 5:32-36), Tertullian (AgainstMar- cion 3:24), the Montanists (Epiphanius, Panarion. 49:1:2-3), and Lactantius (The Divine Institutions 7:24-26) (4372).

The fact that no one would know the exact hour when this would happen (e.g., Mark 13:32-37) entails that a singular apocalyptic event was meant, which is contrary to Wright’s hypothesis (4388).

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