On the Mind of the Pharisee 1.2.8

“The Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and chairman, Department of Philosophy and Theology, at Liberty University”, Gary Habermas, relies heavily in his teaching on an argument for the historical reality of the resurrection that is from a human point of view fallacious, and from a divine point of view near-blasphemous.

In essence, this argument appeals to the authority of the opinions of “scholars”. Habermas is fond of saying that a dominant percentage of scholars presently uphold things that he takes to cohere with his beliefs (“scholars” is a term he defines in terms, not of objective knowledge or wisdom, but of university degrees, publications, and acceptance by one or another academic community). The fallacy is transparent: he admits that this wasn’t always the case, that there has been a shift in opinion. It follows that, in so far as the opinions of scholars carry significant rational weight, then for the same reason it is rational now to believe thus and so, it was irrational or at least less rational, to hold these same beliefs when these scholars thought differently. And if and when majority opinion shifts again in the future…

With the benefit of hindsight, we see it differently, but if the man-made scholarship of the time was to be believed, Yeshua was entirely in the wrong: he was not a trained rabbi, he broke the ten commandments and the established rules of Judaism at will, he blasphemously forgave sins, he implied that he was the son of G-d… In short, he did more or less everything with which the religious authorities of 1st century Judea charged him with, and from an orthodox perspective was deserving of repudiation and even death. This is why the scholastically inclined Paul in his early career was persecuting Christians.

Paul knew full well that Yeshua and his followers were in opposition to what he had been taught at the feet of Gamaliel (a member of the Sanhedrin and one of the most learned rabbis of the day).

Habermas is a prime example of someone whose words purport like the words of the pharisees of Yeshua’s time to be those of an advocate of divine truth, but whose internal spirit is humanistic. I have proposed elsewhere that the average member of the Skeptics Society would in earlier times for their combination of conservatism and zeal have been ideal inquisitors and witch-smellers, and it can be proposed similarly that, had Habermas lived in Yeshua’s time, his role he might well have been a pharisee or sadducee, and one of those baying for Yeshua’s blood. Unjust? No: a) Yeshua was entirely on the wrong side of the man-made scholarship of his time and b) Habermas takes his advice from the man-made scholarship of his time. The truth of a) we know from the biblical account, b) is clear in the story of Habermas’ return to Christianity after a period of unbelief. By his own admission, what dissuaded him in the first place, and what brought him back, was man-made scholarship. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but that this ground is dangerous ground is shown by the fact that Yeshua’s response during the course of the temptations was, not to argue the point with the devil in humanistic terms, but merely: “For it is written…”

Scholars don’t like to think about it, but whole edifice of human reason is revealed in its own terms to be a house of cards the moment it occurs to the scholar that, while all reason works by using statements accepted for one motive or another as true in support of other statements, no statement can authentic itself, and so all of these statements must rest at every point on nothing more firm than some representation of the sentiment “For it is written…”. Yeshua had a single and simple point to make during his dialogue with the devil, and it was this: “You’re wrong because what you say disagrees with the one true source, end of story.” The proof of the validity of Yeshua’s position is not theoretical, or to be determined by the egoistical hot air of philosophical debate (theoretical validity without a pragmatic test is like lip-stick on a pig), but practical: if you don’t live your life according to the dictates of the true source, then like the man who built his house upon the sand, you will ultimately be washed away.

While he and prominent new testament scholar Bart Ehrman disagree as to the question of the resurrection, both Habermas and Ehrman have arrived at their contrary positions using human reason (like Habermas, Ehrman lost his faith in Christianity because of human reason, and unlike Habermas failed to find a humanistic way to re-convince himself). Of course human reason has in this self-centered day and age an important role as a rhetorical device by means of which to win those caught up in with themselves and their own delusional ideas. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9: 20-22:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from G-d’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Acts 17: 16-34 shows that he could become also a great Greek philosopher to win the Greeks:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and G-d-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.  Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.”  (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The G-d who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. G-d did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.  In the past G-d overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”  When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Evidently Paul could express himself eloquently in the language of the philosophers, but he did so only in order to expose the inadequacy of their philosophies, and to make his own non-philosophical case. 1 Corinthians 3: 18-20 gives his true opinion of human reason:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in G-d’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in G-d’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”

They’re ostensibly in opposing camps, but Habermas and Ehrman have dedicated their lives to human reason, and have accordingly both been seduced by the destructive notion that the pathway to truth is through human reason. A lesson of the life and death of Yeshua, and of the conversion and the later teaching of  Paul, is that the overriding tendency of man-made wisdom is opposition to G-d and the production of strong delusions. The cure for these delusions is, not the piling on of further man-made wisdom, but the end of man-made-wisdom, and the restoration of faith.