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Pressing Jeff Siker for Answers: An Intriguing Query and Response

The comments by Jeff Siker on why he is still a Christian even though he, like me, has a thoroughly historical-critical understanding of the Bible (comments posted from four years ago) sparked some interesting responses.  One reader wrote him directly the following pressing questions, and Jeff wrote a reply that I thought was even more germane, interesting, and helpful than the original posts.

Here are the questions and his response (as he forwarded them to me).  Jeff, by the way, has said he is happy to answer other questions.  So if you have any, let me know, possibly by making a comment on this post.

 

QUESTIONS FOR JEFF SIKER:

I was extremely interested in the republication of your guest post from Jan. 2013 on Bart Ehrman’s blog this week.  You were addressing an issue paramount in my own life: How can I be a Christian knowing what I have learned in the past 70 years? Can you confirm for me what being a Christian means to you? I realize you are busy, so if you need to point me to something specific you have already written, please do so.

But, I really am asking about specifics. Belief in Jesus death vicariously propitiating for universal sin? Jesus being bodily resurrected? Jesus and God being identical (traditional Trinity belief)?  Regarding human suffering, you wrote “In light of his ministry I believe that we are called to embrace human suffering with the hope and faith that God will transform such an embrace into new life.” Can you expand on this? It seems to simply express a personal conviction that suffering is a fact of life and we should simply try to alleviate it.

 

JEFF SIKER’S RESPONSE:

As to your question about how one can be a Christian knowing what we do about the world and the terrible suffering that persists.  To me being a Christian means that I find my fundamental orientation to the world and to God in the person of Jesus as reflected in the NT writings.  I say this while at the same time being fully aware that the portrait of Jesus in the NT is highly ideological and…

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The Trinity in the King James Bible
Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar): A Blast From the Past

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Comments

  1. christophe  January 30, 2017

    Dr Ehrman,

    I would like to know what Dr Siker think about the delay of the Parousia ?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2017

      I’m sure he thinks what most biblical scholars do: teh early Christians expected Jesus to come back very soon, he did not do so, and they changed their understanding of his significance as a result. Siker himself doesn’t think Jesus is coming back on the clouds of heaven: he’s not a literalist.

      • christophe  January 31, 2017

        Thanks for your answer, I have another question: does he think Jesus himself expected the kingdom of God to arrive on earth very soon? And if yes, isn’t it a problem if Jesus was wrong?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2017

          Yes he absolutely does. My sense is that he gives full respect to the notion that whatever else you can say, Jesus was human. Humans can be wrong about things.

      • jhague  January 31, 2017

        Do literalist Christians and conservative Christians believe basically the same or do they have major differences?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2017

          Conservatives tend to be literalists, and vice versa. Or are you asking if they believe the same things as Jeff Siker? No, they would insist on a literal virgin birth, a literal bodily resurrection, a literal interpretatoin of the Bible, and so on.

      • cheito
        cheito  February 2, 2017

        Your comment is awaiting moderation.

        DR Ehrman:

        I have studied some of the arguments that claim that Jesus taught He was returning in his own generation and that the apostles believed it. I don’t agree with the reasoning of their arguments nor their conclusions.

        Reading the scriptures I find that those who hold to the position that Jesus taught, and that the apostles believed He was returning in their generation, are quoting unreliable sources and are ignoring the verses that state certain conditions and events must first take place before Jesus would return.

        Also those who claim that the apostles believed Jesus was returning in their generation don’t take into consideration the interpolations of the scribes, and the fact that the writings of the apostles were to some degree altered, and verses were inserted subtly in strategic places to promote a certain theological view and to deliberately confuse the reader and change the apostles teachings.

        As you know the bible is a collection of books and not all the books are historically reliable. We can’t be sure if Matthew is accurately quoting Jesus. We also don’t know the intentions of the author of the book attributed to ‘Matthew’. This truth also applies to many of the other books we call canonical.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 4, 2017

          The view is found in all our earliest sources, independently of one another. See my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

          • John1003  February 6, 2017

            You quote Zecharaiah 14:12 in that book. Language like their flesh melting while still on their feet. It does seem like odd language too use for someone of that era. I would expect something more like fireballs that come from the sky. Any thoughts in where his ideas come from ? I don’t know if this accurately describes a nuclear weapon but it doesn’t fit into the experience of the writer of Zechariah.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 7, 2017

            I suppose if there is fire coming up from underground the same thing would happen.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  February 8, 2017

            Dr Ehrman, in that book also quotes 4 Ezra 13, ” figure of a man [son of man] .. people gathered from the four winds . . . he had NO weapon of war; but . . . a stream of fire from his lips . . . burned up all of them”

            Now which parts of that are meant to be literal and which metaphorical?
            Obviously there is lots of room to debate, but its clear, to me at least, that parts or most of it are symbolic.

            Now these are the parts I consider literal –
            1. THE SON OF MAN HAS SOMETHING COMING OUT OF HIS MOUTH THAT BURNS PEOPLE
            2. THE SON OF MAN HAS NO WEAPONS OF WAR THAT CAN LITERALLY KILL PEOPLE.
            All the rest is symbolic.

            A fundamentalist/literalist will interpret fireballs as nuclear weapons from the sky or maybe from underground, not sure how they would reconcile those fireballs coming out of a person’s mouth.

            If you take the majority of the above passage as symbolic, and it isn’t unreasonable to do so; then the passage could be a pretty good description of Jesus of Nazareth.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 9, 2017

            I always find it difficult (impossible really) to differentiate neatly between what is literally meant, and what not, in passages such as this.

  2. godspell  January 30, 2017

    It’s funny. In the movies and on TV, we see the dead rise in bodily form so often, nobody raises an eyebrow. How is that a miracle, when it’s the predominant Hollywood cliche?

    The true miracle is that Jesus is still with us, thousands of years after his death. Asking us questions we don’t always have good answers to. He is risen, and he’s asking us to rise with him.

    My own feeling has been for a long time that he was so alive in the minds of his followers, his being dead was so incomprehensible to them, they willed him back to life. They couldn’t let him stay dead. I imagine those visions they had of him were very powerful (and often contradictory). But they were not a lie. No matter what happened to his body.

  3. TWood
    TWood  January 30, 2017

    Where did the “vicarious atonement” or “substitutionary penal death” doctrine come from exactly? Paul? (he seems to teach it, at least in a latent form). I see Jesus “dying for others” in some sense in the gospels… but the actual “penal” doctrine’s origin… I’m wondering where you think its genesis is? I’m guessing it might be in the 16th century with a claim that it’s found in Paul and Augustine… but I’ve never really studied it like I ought to.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2017

      Yes, Paul certainly holds to the view, and it probably pre-dates him. But since he is our earliest author, it’s impossible to know exactly who came up with it or when. My guess is that it was very early in the tradition and a view held by some of Jesus’ own disciples.

      • TWood
        TWood  January 31, 2017

        Thanks. I know Wikipedia isn’t generally a source to be fully trusted, but it has some sources that seem to checkout on this—it says there are four main “substitutionary atonement” doctrines:

        1. The Early Church Fathers’ “Ransom Theory”
        2. Gustaf Aulen’s “Christus Victor Theory”
        3. Anselm’s “Satisfaction Theory”
        4. The Reformed period’s “Penal Substitution Theory”

        Question A: Which one, if any, best fits Paul’s view?
        Question B: Which one(s), if any, best fits the gospels’ views?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2017

          Paul’s views are earlier than all these. He holds to a range of views, that would include the ideas of ransom, redemption, and atonement. The Gospels: much more complicated. Different ones have different views: Mark atonement; Luke death as an example to be followed.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  January 30, 2017

    Siker sounds to me more like a Unitarian Universalist than a Christian, but I’m not one to get hung up on labels. One of the things I find fascinating is how so many people, even non-believers, tend to default to such a rosy picture of Jesus the man, as if they have to give him the benefit of the doubt that we was a “wise moral teacher.” My understanding of cult leaders doesn’t allow for such a perfunctory assumption of benevolent intention. I assume all leaders are, at their core, just as highly complex and contradictory as most human beings. For example, for around 30% of the American population, President Trump can do no wrong. For them, he’s wise, prudent, well-intentioned, and more or less the savior America needs. For anyone else not blinded by such devotion it’s all but clear that Trump is a despicable human being, quite probably being, as one John Hopkins clinical psychology has diagnosed him, a “malignant narcissist”. This isn’t to say that the real Jesus was as atrocious a man as President Trump, but it should give us pause when we make the knee-jerk presumption that Jesus was a saint. Alas, we only have the account of his votaries to rely on.

    • webattorney  February 1, 2017

      The difference is Jesus as portrayed in the Bible has not cussed or demeaned others outright. Maybe if you had spent as many days with Jesus as his disciples had done, you would have been able to see his bad points. Even as an agnostic, the Jesus portrayed in the Bible appears to me to be a thoughtful, learned, brilliant, generally caring, principled, patient person even if he’s not Son of God.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  February 1, 2017

        The Gospels themselves portray Jesus “cussing”. In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus explicitly curses several cities of the Galilee that ignore his message (i.e. deny his greatness). Jesus also curses the Pharisees who challenge him, the Sadducees who don’t believe in the Resurrection of the Dead, and plenty more people. At one point he even curses a fig tree just because it hasn’t bore fruit for him. We’ve become inured to Jesus’ supercilious, bullying attitude because the image of Jesus that has come down to us over the past 2,000 years is one of a gentle, compassionate shephard, rather than the condemnatory, divisive cult leader he probably was.

        “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” — Luke 12:51

        “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” — Matthew 10:34-37

        • webattorney  February 4, 2017

          Not sure but I think there is a difference between “cussing” vs “cursing” or condemning. I don’t see the examples you gave above as painting Jesus overall as a militant leader. Yes, he had strong beliefs and knew that the effect of his thoughts and expressions would cause divisions. All that shows is that he was not submissive. Look, I am an agnostic and read the Bible; and OVERALL I think Jesus was a strong, principled person who possessed many admirable qualities. In short, I don’t see him espousing violence or inciting violence to achieve some goals.

    • Rick
      Rick  February 2, 2017

      I have long thought that the “No he wasn’t God but he was a Really Nice Guy Jesus” to which, it seems, many Christian apostates adhere may be a guilt reaction from having symbolically left friends and family…. I am not saying it is not true; but, neither do I trust the evidence for it in the Gospels. That is, all of the things the Gospel’s purport that he said and did. I once was exited that “Q” might be a source for what he likely actually said but now understand it is not more likely because it was written a bit earlier than anything else. Burton Mack’s cynic sage Jesus really didn’t seem to fit the nice guy view anyway. Neither does John the Baptist – which makes me wonder even more about his student!.

  5. cheito
    cheito  January 30, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    JEFF SIKER’S COMMENT:

    My fundamental conviction is that God is the God of life even in the face of death. Just as God gave life to Sarah’s womb, so God brings life from death. Whether it’s a bodily resurrection, a spiritual resurrection, I have no idea.

    MY COMMENT:

    My conviction is that no one dies to God. He is the God of the living and of the dead as Paul states in:

    Romans 14:9-For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

    As for Christ’s resurrection, I believe it was a bodily resurrection. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus Himself said, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up. He was talking about His body.

    I also believe the Gospel of John is not a collection of oral traditions but the testimony and writings of the disciple whom Jesus loved. It’s clear in john that He, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is the one who testified and wrote the things recorded in John.

    Perhaps it’s true that his writings were published around AD 90-110.
    but that doesn’t change the author of the writings. The persons who put ‘The Gospel of John’ together must have had his writings and they also knew John’s testimony was true.

    John 21:24-This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

  6. wostraub  January 30, 2017

    While I took Siker’s comments on suffering and the need to embrace the suffering of others to heart, they do not answer the fact that the people of the United States — a self-described Christian nation — still choose to ignore (or compound) the suffering of others to a monumental extent. We have perhaps 200 million people who attend church regularly, hearing the compassionate, caring words of Jesus, yet are not moved in the least to understand that they cannot serve God while actively supporting foreign wars of choice, particularly in countries inhabited by people of color. Based on the results of the recent presidential election, most of these people favor the exportation of war armaments and a ban on immigration of foreigners, all out of disproportionate fear for their lives and their belongings. Did Jesus teach that? And of course the KKK is still going strong.

    My question to Dr. Siker would be: if God is really speaking to people of faith in the churches and in their prayers, why do they still behave in ways that cause or increase the suffering of others? Until he answers that question, everything else of his is just sanctimonious claptrap.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2017

      Fair enough. But I don’t think we can condemn a religious belief because those who allegedly hold it are not consistent in acting out upon it. The belief can be right regardless of whether people can be counted on. Part of Siker’s agenda is to get Christians to realize how their actions need to reflect their beliefs.

      • rburos  January 31, 2017

        Then he fits in very well at a Jesuit institution! Faith without works being dead and all. . .

  7. Wilusa  January 30, 2017

    The beliefs Dr. Siker holds don’t make sense to me. But I applaud the direction in which they lead him! “Joining the throngs of people protesting Trump’s actions, recognizing God’s presence in the protest of folks like Martin Luther King, Jr., seeing the importance of standing with those being oppressed by powerful (and in my view evil) interests.”

  8. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 30, 2017

    In one way, I completely understand Jeff’s perspective. Sometimes, I still feel that there’s a guiding force in my life. But then again, some people are suffering so severely that it just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t explain either.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  January 31, 2017

      I just unfollowed a well known scientist for his continual, repeated, and never-ending political rants on twitter.

      It doesn’t bother me that Siker inserted his political viewpoint into the post, but he and I would probably tie up in a face to face conversation.

    • Wilusa  February 2, 2017

      “Sometimes, I still feel that there’s a guiding force in my life. But then again, some people are suffering so severely that it just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t explain either.”

      I also feel that there’s been a “guiding force” in my life, and I believe it’s connected with reincarnation. (But I would never speculate about anyone’s previous incarnations other than mine. I certainly don’t imagine anyone is suffering because they “deserve” it.)

      In my early teens, I became a passionate devotee of the Wagner operas. As a young adult, I traveled to Germany, three years in a row, to attend the annual Bayreuth Festivals where his works are performed. I also traveled from upstate New York not only to New York City, but to Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and London, solely to attend productions of those operas!

      That’s now a completely closed chapter of my life. Has been for decades. But by the time I first went to Bayreuth, I’d become convinced that I was fulfilling the unrealized dream of my most recent previous incarnation, a 19th-century English woman. And that was fine with me, because I saw “us” as parts of a larger whole.

      I still treasure my having had those experiences. But…if it hadn’t been for a series of *otherwise very bad* decisions, by my father and by me, I’m sure I *never would have heard* a Wagner opera! And I think I may somehow have agreed, before entering this incarnation, to accept all the bad for the sake of where it was destined to lead.

      As for my life in general, I have no regrets. I think my main purpose in this life – to be carried forward into my next – was my becoming an agnostic and non-theist, and accepting the concept of reincarnation.

  9. jlparris  January 30, 2017

    Did he really need to say “Sometimes faith and hope prevail (Obama) and sometimes they don’t (Trump!).” “And so in our context this means, in part – at least for me, joining the throngs of people protesting Trump’s actions”?

    It really cheapened the rest of his response, just as the references to the 2d Amendment did an earlier blog post.

    It really is a good idea to avoid politics on this blog, as you will probably manage to offend about half of your donors with whatever position you take. If I wanted a steady diet of this stuff, there are lots of free political sites that say it much better.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2017

      I can’t speak for Jeff Siker, but I think you may have misunderstood what I was trying to say about the second amendment. My puzzlement isn’t over the amendment, but over the fact that fundamentalists have a consistent view (and use) of it. I have the same puzzlement about abortion — why is there “a” fundamentalist view? Neither guns nor abortion are mentioned in the Bible, fundamentalists are principally believers in teh inerrant truth of the Bible, and yet they have consistent virtually unwavering views of such things. That strikes me as an interesting historical phenomenon.

      • John1003  January 31, 2017

        I think most fundamentalist would say that “life begins at conception and abortion would be murder.” One may disagree with their definition of life but it is certainly a direct violation of what the bible teaches.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2017

          I’m not sure what you’re saying is a violation of what hte Bible teaches. Their own views? Abortion? I’m not sure the Bible says anything about either. Or maybe I misunderstood you.

          • John1003  February 1, 2017

            I agree that the Bible does not directly speak to abortion. I also agree that the bible does not equate a fetus to human life. I am saying that a belief against abortion can easily be derived from the bible. “You shall not murder” is the sixth commandment and it is reiterated in the sermon on the mount.. I believe fundamentalist almost universally agree that a fetus is equal to a human life. Thus, the 6th commandment might as well be “you shall not abort your fetus” One may be puzzled over why a fundamentalist would make a fetus equal to a human life, but it only takes that one shared assumption to make it Bible based belief. Maybe just the possibility that it is equal to a human life makes the anti abortion stance a natural and reasonable leap for someone who has a high view of scripture.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 4, 2017

            Yes, the views of both sides of the debate can easily be derived from the Bible.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  February 1, 2017

          I think the fundamentalist view for abortion is an inference made from the bible rather than what’s stated explicitly.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  February 1, 2017

            I should add that a fundamentalist may assert that the bible is explicit about abortion when it really isn’t.

      • DavidBeaman  February 6, 2017

        Although, abortion is condemned in the Didache.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 7, 2017

          Yup! Of course, that one didn’t make it into the New Testament….

  10. RonaldTaska  January 31, 2017

    My questions for Dr. Siker:

    1. How does he understand the core concepts of Christianity: the atonement, the Resurrection, the divinity of Jesus, heaven and hell? What criteria does he use to evaluate such issues? In other words, how does he know what he knows if the Bible is problematic?

    2. How does he not arrive at something that is really just secular humanism by another name?

    3. How is what he is advocating different than what John Shelby Spong advocates?

    His answers are a start, but, in my opinion, there is a long way, a very long way, to go..

    • Bart
      Bart  January 31, 2017

      I think I can answer for him on these points: 1. He does not hold to a doctrine of atonement, he is not committed to a belief in the literal physical resurrection (it could have been a spiritual one); he does think Jesus is divine in some sense; and he is not sure about a literal heaven and doubts there is a literal hell; 2. It kind-a is, but it uses hte Christian story as the model on which to live one’s life and direct one’s thoughts; 3. It’s not that much different in broad outline, though there are big differences in what they think about specifics.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  February 1, 2017

        Dr Siker’s views and Bart’s further elucidation are very much in line with my understanding of Jesus. But for those who want to understand Jesus, then there is a problem eluded to above in how to reconcile Jesus teaching of the immanence of Kingdom of God. To say that Jesus was wrong is not very satisfactory.

        Also saying you don’t believe in Jesus 2nd coming on literal cloud, but think that Jesus taught about a ‘son of man’ coming on clouds bringing a Heavenly Kingdom isn’t consistent. (not sure if those are Dr Siker’s views).

        • Bart
          Bart  February 4, 2017

          I think it’s consistent. This view says that Jesus taught it and he was wrong — nothing inconsistent about that view.

    • clipper9422@yahoo.com  January 31, 2017

      I think one big difference between secular humanism and Christianity/religion in general is that the latter makes claims about things in addition to human values, ie, it makes claims that the rest of reality, or parts thereof, supports those values in some sort of powerful and purposive way.

  11. Wilusa  January 31, 2017

    Maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but it seems to me that Dr. Siker recognizes a core of “wholesome” beliefs and ways of behaving, and chooses to believe in a “Jesus” who exemplified all of them. If that enriches his life, it’s a good thing! But it’s not relevant for everyone.

  12. Eskil  January 31, 2017

    What puzzles me is that historical-critical scholars do not seem to take into consideration Jews’ own views about God’s nature:

    “The Hebrew Scriptures record that the Almighty Himself placed both good and the evil into the world”

    “As a servant of the Almighty, Satan faithfully carries out the divine will of his Creator as he does in all his tasks.”

    https://outreachjudaism.org/who-is-satan/

    I wonder is this because scholars presuppose the Christian beliefs when reading the Bible or do they think that the current Judaism is later development or is this due to the nature of the historical-critical method or due to something else?

    For example, presupposing the Jewish belief that Satan is one of Yahweh’s angels carrying out his divine will gives interesting twist to Luke’s Gospel:

    “Then Satan entered Judas Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve. And Judas went to discuss with the chief priests and temple officers how he might betray Jesus to them”.

    Gnostic thoughts on God’s nature would not seem so odd knowing what Jews are saying about God today.

  13. clipper9422@yahoo.com  January 31, 2017

    I don’t think Christianity can explain or justify suffering but the crucifixion can make suffering seem less unfair because it expresses such a strong conviction that even though God/Jesus may ultimately be responsible for suffering he also suffers along with us. I associate this idea with Jurgen Moltmann.

  14. clipper9422@yahoo.com  January 31, 2017

    In a book about critical thinking by Guy P Harrison, I first came across the idea that maybe Jesus’s crucifixion, while moving and admirable, wasn’t necessarily the greatest sacrifice in history. At least for those with a more or less literal understanding of the NT, Jesus knew he was going to be resurrected in a couple days. Combine that with him knowing that his crucifixion would save millions from everlasting torture. From a certain, very detached perspective, those considerations might make getting crucified a no-brainer for almost anyone.

    From a more realistic and personal perspective, I am far from confident that I could face the pain and uncertainty of crucifixion even under those conditions. And I doubt very much that the historical Jesus saw the prospect of crucifixion in those terms. My main point is simply that a literal understanding of the crucifixion suffers from this incoherency.

  15. tompicard
    tompicard  February 1, 2017

    These blog post ask the question, “can a New Testament scholar be a christian?”
    Well, it all depends on what is your definition of a christian.
    And I would be interested to know yours and Dr. Siker’s definition.

    Now I consider ‘Christian’ someone who attempts to follow Jesus’ teachings, just as I would define a ‘Buddhist’ a person who follows the teachings of Buddha, similarly Muslim and Mohammed.

    If you take the above definition, I am not sure why any New Testament scholar who has invested many years in truly trying to understand Jesus teachings would NOT want to call themselves a ‘Christian’.

    • tompicard
      tompicard  February 2, 2017

      after paying a little more attention, I see Dr Siker wrote
      ” being a Christian means that I find my fundamental orientation to the world and to God in the person of Jesus as reflected in the NT writings”

      So to Dr Ehrman, do you agree with that definition?
      and if so are there parts of that definition that you don’t subscribe to?
      I suppose at least the ‘orientation to . . . God’, any other parts?

      • Bart
        Bart  February 4, 2017

        I think it’s a perfectly legitimate definition. If I believed in God, I would be happy to apply it to myself and call myself a CHristain.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2017

      Yeah, unless they’d prefer not loving their neighbors as themselves….

  16. mathieu  February 1, 2017

    It seems to me, Dr. Siker, as all Christians do, makes up his own variance of Christianity. Not surprising as the bible, which supposedly supplies their moral justification, is such a jumble if ideas and theologies and contradictions. My own view is that the bible was written by men (mostly, maybe wholly) to emphasize some point or idea they were thinking of at the time, and then later collected into a whole by someone else altogether, without regard to cohesiveness. Much like a collection of Aesops Fables.

    That’s not to say that there are not some good ideas/philosophies in there, but it does require some picking and choosing – which, you know, is exactly what everybody does. The danger in that is that if once a person picks their bible of choice they force everyone else to interrupt the bible the same way they do. Hence, I think the reference to Trump is right on the mark.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2017

      I’d say we all make up our views (e.g., about what it means to be “American” or “human”) and live accordingly….

  17. Matt7  February 1, 2017

    Bart,

    I understand the idea of embracing suffering, but I don’t see how God can sit back and watch it happen over and over again, especially given that he knows how to provide relief. For example, according to the BBC, “an estimated 300 million people died of small pox in the 20th century alone”, and the disease “is known to have co-existed with human beings for thousands of years.” If God is all-knowing, then he knows how to produce a small pox vaccine. Nevertheless, he sat idly by for thousands of years while one person after another suffered and died from this dreadful disease. When a vaccine was ultimately developed and used successfully, it did not come as a gift from God, but rather as the result of painstaking research by human beings.

    The Bible tells us to be imitators of God. If the person who developed the small pox vaccine had imitated God and kept the vaccine to himself while millions of people continued to die of small pox (thus providing others with the opportunity to embrace their suffering), would Dr. Siker approve of this behavior? Also, if embracing suffering is such a helpful learning experience, how do we know that we will not continue to have this opportunity for all eternity?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2017

      No, of course not. But as to your last question, I completely agree!

  18. novotnycurse  February 2, 2017

    Skier’s comments make sense.
    I would be sympathetic to this presentation of Christianity.

    I found jlparris’ comment hilarious.
    Keeping politics out of this blog?

    Christian martyrdom (Martin Luther King or Sophie Scholl or Jesus) cannot be disentangled from politics.

  19. Lucytut  February 2, 2017

    In the south where I live, Dr Siker’s theology is called “Christianity Lite”. He would be scorned as not really understanding the gospel.

  20. tompicard
    tompicard  February 3, 2017

    Dr Ehrman
    I have a hypothetical question that I hope you will pass on to Dr Siker.

    What should be the response of Christians holding all these views that he refers to as a low Christology, in meeting a person who claims the same messianic responsibility or mission as Jesus had in proclaiming or ushering in the Kingdom of God, who claims to be God’s son or daughter (but that all other humans share this same relationship to God). A person who cant walk on water, who doesn’t claim divinity, nor to be born of a virgin, doesn’t yearn for a martyrdom as an atonement for others (but neither eschews ridicule and imprisonment for his/her teachings), and doesn’t expect any kind of bodily resurrection?

  21. leo.b@cox.net  February 3, 2017

    I do have a question for both you and Jeff about suffering. Looking at a broad philosophical perspective, what would the world look like if all suffering were eliminated? Every human advancement has come from suffering. Who would define suffering? Is a mother giving birth suffering? Could it be that suffering was designed to be allowed in the world simply for the evolution towards a more perfect world?

  22. DavidBeaman  February 6, 2017

    Thank you, Dr. Siker. You have put into words what I have been trying to formulate for my religious organization. And thank you Dr. Ehrman for your rational comments to those who seemed a bit contemptuous to Dr. Siker’s position. The contempt that is held by some intellectualizing atheists toward people who believe otherwise is difficult for me to understand. It does amuse me somewhat because I see them as fundamentalist atheists. On the other hand, you, Dr. Ehrman, though an atheist, can accept the fact that there are people who believe differently than you do without being contemptuous of them. I appreciate that in a person.

  23. screwtape  February 7, 2017

    “You were addressing an issue paramount in my own life: How can I be a Christian knowing what I have learned in the past 70 years? Can you confirm for me what being a Christian means to you?”

    Why is this question being asked of Dr. Siker and not God himself? Could not God easily answer it ?

    Is he taking a nap?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      My sense is that Siker thinks God could easily answer the question, but it was asked of him (Siker) not God! As to napping, good question!

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