Deconstructing Christian Apologetics

The following treatise is a partial transcription of a debate held between myself (Jason) and a Baptist pastor (Jonathan) over the concepts of Heaven and Hell, highlighting a number of Jonathan’s assertions of the truth as he believes it to be, along with my post-debate deconstruction of his apologetic arguments.

Dear Jonathan,

I am going to start with this quote, as it lays the context for every argument, both yours and mine, which follows.

I don’t know a single biblical theologian of world-rank that thinks the virgin birth is literal history, and I think it’s time we say that to the world-at-large. And you might find one at some of these fundamentalist schools, but they wouldn’t be recognized as scholars in the academies of Christian learning.

John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark (retired), @9:45 Allan Gregg in Conversation (2008)

So, let’s dive right in to the statements (of dubious fact).

On the dating of the Book of Daniel

7:05 Jonathan: For a long time, 50-70 years ago, it was a very normal thing for people to get around and date Daniel at 167…The reason I say it is exciting…even though that was the accepted scholarship that began in Germany, now it’s actually very few people who would hold that particular date for Daniel, for historical and archaeological reasons.

17:07 David: From a Christian perspective, Jonathan, is there a concern about the time that these books are written and the order that they are presented?”

Jonathan: So, in a sense, no. And, this is in terms of the theory that is being put forward to this type of dating, which, I don’t think, based on the evidence, is correct….So, the answer is no, for that reason.

38:35 Jonathan: Over against that, the date of 167 is troublesome now, because some of you have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Qumran community. When they uncovered the Dead Sea Scrolls you’ll know this was overlapping the same period as the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans, and so when they located this, if the theory about Daniel being so late is true, Daniel would be separate from the other documents and it probably wouldn’t be in there because it’s the same period. But, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Daniel was already part of the codices, part of the documents, which means it was already part of the accepted Scriptures before the 167 date that Jason gave. . . .Without a question, less than fifty years.

What I am trying to say to all of you is the accepted scholarship . . . are towards an earlier date of Daniel . . .


Yale University, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism & Interpretation

. . . So, now it’s the chance to say, well do I date it late, because I find the theology inconvenient . . .

Church Lady

. . . or do I date it earlier, because all the evidence demands that I do so?

People have dated the materials, with radio carbon dating; they also have textual scholars, who are not all believers, saying these are the dates of the documents.

Sorry, Jonathan, but I will take a Yale professor’s informed declaration, over your completely unqualified, unsubstantiated, and baseless claims on this point. Note Professor Collins states, quite emphatically, “No legitimate biblical scholar . . .” which, as I will illuminate shortly, is exactly the type of scholarship you carefully avoid in favour of your dodgy references.

Now, let’s examine your claims.

One: Who are these “very few people who would hold that particular date for Daniel, for historical and archaeological reasons”?

Presumably, you mean the overwhelming majority of leading academic scholars, who just happen to disagree with your current worldview? It is interesting to note that you believe this makes up very few people.

Two: Who are these people whom you, without reference or citation, merely claim make up “the accepted scholarship . . . towards an earlier date of Daniel”?

You never specifically stated who these mysterious scholars were who give Daniel an earlier date, you simply claim, with certitude, that this is the case. Perhaps this was a convenient lie of omission? Anyway, a brief internet search turns up the shadowy scholarship you claim constitutes the majority of current scholarly opinion.

Presumably—boy, I sure do use that word a lot—you are referring to Dr. Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University? Southern University, whose About Us page states:


Does this stated school policy strike anyone as being wholly impartial and open to critical thinking, especially of facts which would contradict biblical teachings? No, I didn’t think so, either.

Moving on, Dr. Hasel, whose undergrad and first Master’s Degree were from Andrews University, a carbon copy of Southern, published an article in 1992 making the claims you cite about Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Further, this position is reaffirmed by the Associates for Biblical Research, whose website makes the following statement:


Again, I ask, does this sound like they are applying rigorous methodologies to produce unbiased, legitimate scholarship to you? Presupposing the answer, before you go find the evidence, is, to you, credible? No, I didn’t think so, either.

Presumably, then, you are basing your entire argument, and your casual, off-the-cuff dismissal of the dating of Daniel to 167 BCE, and your matter-of-fact statement that few people believe this anymore, on Hasel’s article and this post from the ABR?

Most importantly, the existence of Daniel in the DSS disproves the skeptical position that Daniel was originally written in the 2nd century BC. This position has been taken by skeptics to avoid the detailed prophecies in Daniel that ultimately came to pass, strong evidence for the divine authorship of Scripture.

I’ll pause for a moment, while the magnitude of both the willful self-delusion and the intentional deception of your statements to the group sinks in for everyone.

Ready? This! is your evidence, for which you categorically stated: “Do I date it late, because I find the theology inconvenient, or do I date it earlier, because all the evidence demands that I do so?”

Compounding your logical fallacy, you doubled-down again at the end, stating:

46:15 Jonathan: It’s just not legitimate in history to do that, unless there is something exclusively saying, ‘this is why it’s a forgery, this is why it was written. And, with Daniel, they always say, ‘we don’t like the afterlife being so early in the Hebrew Scriptures, it sure would be nice if we could put it in the Maccabean period, therefore, we say it’s written in the Maccabean period.’ . . . So, I’m okay with coming up with all kinds of stories, but it would be encouraging for your case if there were some strong evidence to back it up; other than higher criticism, based on inconvenient theology.

Really? Did you seriously make that argument? How do you not to see the blatant irony in that statement? The only reply I can muster is, Oh. My. Gawd. Nice to meet you Pot, I’m Kettle.

So, let’s recap what we know so far:

  • 25 years ago, a solitary, nobody professor, from an apologetics school, writes an article challenging the dating of Daniel, based on flawed dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls; which, as Professor Collins stated above, are actually one hundred years later than Hasel, and you, claim.
  • Based off this solitary, nobody professor, from an apologetics school, you—and other apologetic ‘scholars’ who, like a drowning man desperately clinging to a lifebuoy, have perpetuated this fantasy—actually convinced yourselves that this, then, constitutes the majority of “accepted scholarship” which led you to make the wholly unqualified claim that very few people actually consider the date of 167 BCE to be valid anymore.

On Daniel being the only apocalyptic book of the Old Testament

First of all, I used the term: apocalyptic. You, however, used the word apocryphal; more than once.

10:58 Jonathan: Secondly, that it’s the only apocryphal-type writing. Isaiah, which has apocryphal passages, Ezekiel has them, Joel has those passages, Amos, Zechariah. . . . They talk about things in an apocryphal way, quite clearly, similar to Daniel.

Amos, Joel, Ezekiel & Zechariah refuted –
John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star

I will grant you the benefit of the doubt that this was just a slip of the tongue. After all, I myself admit I misspoke a few times. I mistakenly referred to Augustine originally as Augustus. I said Daniel 12:2 is the only passage speaking of an afterlife, when, more accurately, it is the only passage to speak unambiguously of a resurrection. Mea culpa, and I stand by my integrity and admit when I made a mistake.

However, this was a pretty amateur mistake for someone who has a more in-depth, and higher, level of formal education in the Bible than I do. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip?

Apocryphal, adjective:

  1. of doubtful authorship or authenticity.
  2. Ecclesiastical: a. (initial capital letter) of or relating to the Apocrypha. b. of doubtful sanction; uncanonical.
  3. false; spurious.

Now, I know you were using it in the capacity of #2a, which would still be technically incorrect. We were not discussing extra-biblical (Apocrypha) books, but to the genre of revelation. But, I can’t help but wonder, if, maybe, deep down, you have a suspicious feeling that #1, #2b and #3 might really apply. I jest, relax. Have some sacramental wine and put your feet up, my friend.

As to my claim on Daniel being the only book with an apocalyptic genre, I was referencing the same Yale professor, John Collins, used above to refute your spurious claims that no one holds the 167 date anymore. Additionally, this quote also reinforces my later point on the re-ordering of the books in the Christian Old Testament for very deliberate reasons.

Daniel contains the only example in the Hebrew Bible of the apocalyptic genre that was of great importance for ancient Judaism and early Christianity. In Christianity Daniel is regarded as the 4th of the Major Prophets and follows those of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In the Hebrew Bible Daniel is placed in the Writings. The canon of prophetic writings may already have been closed or the Rabbis saw the book as having more in common with the Writings than the Prophets.

A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

On the point of Christian knowledge beyond a basic understanding by the laity

20:58 Jason: How many Christians are actually doing that? How many are questioning and looking at the scholarship?

Jonathan: I can only speak for myself, and I am here to represent that minority.

Jason: But, it would be a minority, you agree?

Jonathan: No.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies:

The Bible is the most widely purchased, extensively read, and deeply revered book in the history of Western Civilization. Arguably, it is also the most thoroughly misunderstood, especially by the lay reading public.

Scholars of the Bible have made significant progress in understanding the Bible over the past two hundred years, building on archaeological discoveries, advances in our knowledge of the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages in which the books of Scripture were originally written, and deep and penetrating historical, literary, and textual analyses. This is a massive scholarly endeavor. . .

. . . Yet such views of the Bible are virtually unknown among the population at large. In no small measure this is because those of us who spend our professional lives studying the Bible have not done a good job communicating this knowledge to the general public and because many pastors who learned this material in seminary have, for a variety of reasons, not shared it with their parishioners once they have taken up positions in the church. . . . As a result, not only are most Americans (increasingly) ignorant of the contents of the Bible, but they are almost completely in the dark about what scholars have been saying about the Bible for the past two centuries.

Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted

Tufts University, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy & Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies:

Even some conservative seminaries staff their courses on the Bible with professors who are trained in textual criticism, the historical methods of biblical scholarship, and what is taught in those courses is not what the young seminarians learned in Sunday school, even in the more liberal churches. In seminary they were introduced to many of the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God. It is interesting that all our pastors report the same pattern of response among their fellow students: some were fascinated, but others angrily rejected what their professors tried to teach them. Whatever their initial response to these unsettling revelations, the cat was out of the bag and both liberals and literals discerned the need to conceal their knowledge about the history of Christianity from their congregations.

Daniel Dennett, Preachers Who Are Not Believers

On references to Hell in the Old & New Testaments

23:30 Jason: There are no references to Hell in the Old Testament.

Jonathan: In the Old Testament we have a variety of terms that people usually understand as Hell; the usual one is translated as Sheol. You know the first appearance of that?

Jason: Yes, but what was it originally? What did it become?

Jonathan: The first appearance of that is in Deuteronomy . . .

 (Actually, the first appearance is Genesis 37:35 – I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning. Thus his father bewailed Joseph.)

. . . and it’s the idea of not just Hell as a grave, which is where it is very often used, but also as an idea of punishment and burning.

Jason: Not in Deuteronomy it’s not!

Jonathan: If you look, there is a reference there.

Jason: The concept of Sheol as a shadowy netherworld exists in the Old Testament. But, not once does Hell show up as a place of punishment. Not once!

David: That’s a fairly strong claim.

Jonathan: I disagree and I would love to give examples, but David says I can’t use my Bible. Deuteronomy, the first occurrence; you can look there. You can also look in Numbers to see the punishment aspect of it there.

Presumably, you are referring to:

Deuteronomy 32:22 – For a fire is kindled by my anger, and burns to the depths of Sheol; it devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Numbers 16:30, 33 – But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord. . . . So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

So, exactly how, are these references to what we would think of as Hell? Exactly how are these references, in any way, to a place of punishment and torment?

Sorry, Jonathan, but you are really stretching the truth, and your interpretations. The first reference has absolutely nothing to do with death and/or punishment. The second merely refers to perishing. There is nothing about eternal torment; unless, of course, your version of the Bible purposely makes this association in its translation.

Salve Regina University, Associate Professor of Religion:

 We begin our investigation with a brief overview of the biblical references to hell. There is no hell in the Hebrew Bible. The proverbial pit of fire where sinners are tortured for all eternity is absent. {emphasis added} All the dead, righteous and unrighteous, share a common destination, a subterranean world known as Sheol. The Hebrew Bible does have a Heaven, but it’s the abode of God and the angels, not mortals except in special cases, like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) who bypassed death and Sheol and went directly to fellowship with God.

T.J. Wray & Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan

25:42 Jason: Paul makes no mention of Hell. Eternal punishment does not enter into Paul’s theology. He calls his opponents Satanic, but there is no mention of Hell in his theology.

Every mention of Satan in the Pauline corpus involves the Devil working through a human to thwart Paul’s mission and prevent believers from attaining that quality of personal and social life, “life in the spirit that allegiance to Christ offers.”

The seeds of heaven and hell were scattered here and there, in the Enoch and Elijah legends, in the traditions about prophets transported to the heavenly court and in the widening chasm between Judahites experience and their theology. After centuries of unfulfilled hopes, Jewish thinkers in the Second Temple period began to consider the possibility that the Day of Judgment occurred not in this life but in the next.

The idea of “hell” does not appear until the New Testament. The actual word never appears, as “Hell” is a Germanic word, the name of an underworld goddess, Hel. The New Testament uses the terms Gehenna and Hades.

Paul never mentions Hell at all, though he has plenty to say about the fates of sinners. For Paul, those who received Christ would experience resurrection, (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Sinners and those who reject Christ would simply cease to exist, (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sending sinners to hell does not enter into Paul’s theology.

T.J. Wray & Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan

Jonathan: To the quick references that Paul never mentions it, there are explicit mentions in 2 Thessalonians . . .

Jason: Forgery. Not a legitimate book of Paul’s!

Jonathan: Whenever we have a statement it’s ‘there are no . . . or there is none . . . you will not find . . .’ Whenever I suggest to say it’s here, the answer will be, ‘actually, that was late, or a forgery.’ And whenever you ask why, the scholarship is ‘because it’s a late doctrine.’

Jason: Because it is describing events that are after the time in which that person lived; that’s why.  That’s how they know it’s a forgery. 2 Thessalonians is describing an era in which there is an organized church. Paul does not live in an era where there are organized churches. He’s writing letters to individual communities.


I am always giving the same answers to your suggested passages, because my answers are actually providing the generally accepted scholarly explanations. You appear to be willfully blinding yourself to the irony of your making the same arguments in reverse, to deny the scholarship, in order to prop up a flimsy Christian apologetics interpretation. Whenever I  say ‘this is the scholarship’ your answer will be ‘but I believe it, because the Bible says so.’ However, as I pointed out above with your reference to Hell in Deuteronomy and Numbers, it doesn’t actually say what you told everyone that it did.

Trinity Facts

I noted, as I am sure others did as well, that each time I made a statement of fact about a scholarly claim that contradicted one of your beliefs, you tended to smile and roll your eyes, as if to say, oh here we go again. In addition to where you did this on the points I have laid out above, during the Q&A when we were asked about the Trinity, I made mention that this was not an official Christian doctrine, but only one of many sectarian beliefs, until it was affirmed by the Council of Nicaea in 325. This is an unimpeachable fact of history, yet you seemed to be repulsed by the mere mention of it, as if the existence of inconvenient truths are really not anywhere to be found on your radar, but are blissfully ignored.

Regarding this point, perhaps you might like to familiarize yourself with Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, which was written for religious scholars, such as yourself, and is of a technical nature beyond the scope of the general reading public. It will inform you of the facts in evidence, of which you seem to be unaware.

Another fact, of what I am sure will be an inconvenient truth for you, is that Constantine offered tax breaks to sway the dissenting Bishops at the Council into agreeing with the Nicene formulation. Don’t believe me? Then perhaps you will trust Gregory of Nazianzus, Archbishop of Constantinople, also known as Gregory the Theologian, a Cappadocian Father and a Doctor of the Church, who said:

The pretext was souls, but in fact it was desire for control, control, I hesitate to say it, of taxes and contributions which have the whole world in miserable confusion.

To paraphrase Dr. deGrasse Tyson, facts are true whether they contradict your theological beliefs or not.


On the myth of Christian persecution

28:20 Jonathan: It’s no surprise, that for a long time these were small groups. I think everybody knows and agrees that historically it was an era of persecution. You can read about it in the New Testament, but you can also read it in the history of the world and the early church fathers.

Playing the victim card, much? That is outright Christian propaganda. The persecutions were small and limited, not widespread, nor as vicious as Christians like to pretend they were.

University of Notre Dame, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity:

[The] Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs, of Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs . . . Christians were never the victims of sustained, targeted persecution.

Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

As to the Church fathers you mention, presumably you are referring to Eusebius of Caesarea, whose Ecclesiastical History has been, essentially, discredited as a source of historical accuracy, and is viewed, mainly, as a panegyric.

Yale University, Dunham Professor of History and Classics:

Hostile writings and discarded views were not recopied or passed on, or they were actively suppressed . . . matters discreditable to the faith were to be consigned to silence.

Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire: AD 100-400

University of Basel, Professor of Cultural History:

Eusebius is no fanatic; he understands Constantine’s secular spirit and his cold and terrible lust for power well enough and doubtless knows the true causes of the war quite precisely. But he is the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity. {emphasis added} His tactic, which enjoyed a brilliant success in his own day and throughout the Middle Ages, consisted in making the first great protector of the Church at all costs an ideal of humanity according to his lights, and above all an ideal for future rulers.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Age of Constantine the Great

On the legitimacy of the academics upon which ALL your arguments rest

Gleason Archer – Apologist, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

(Is anyone else sensing a trend developing here? Andrews, Southern, Trinity. To give everyone a frame of reference, William Lane Craig went to Trinity. But, I digress).

His defense of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy by proposing harmonizations and exegesis regarding inconsistencies in the Bible made Archer a well-known biblical inerrantist. He stated: “One cannot allow for error in history-science without also ending up with error in doctrine.”

D.A. Carson – Apologist, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Carson is a founding council member of The Gospel Coalition, a “fellowship of evangelical churches” founded in 2005. It has a very strong Calvinist bent.

Douglas Stuart? (audio wasn’t clear, but Google returns this result, consistent w/ your theme) – Apologist, Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary (is there anyone left who didn’t see this coming?)

Kenneth Kitchen – Apologist, University of Liverpool (finally, a mainstream institution and not a Bible college)

Kitchen is an evangelical Christian, and has published frequently defending the historicity of the Old Testament. He is an outspoken critic of the documentary hypothesis, publishing various articles and books upholding his viewpoint, citing several types of proof for his views showing that the depictions in the Bible of various historical eras and societies are consistent with historical data. Kitchen has also published articles for the Biblical Archaeology Review. (As with ABR, BAR is yet another site that uses a pro-“Bible & Spade” presuppositional approach to “evidence” which neatly fits with apologetic beliefs).

James Barr – Non-apologist, Oxford University

Barr is skeptical of the influence of Zoroastrianism on Second Temple-era Judaism.

So, in total, you gave the name of a only a single scholar who is not an apologist. Yet, you decided to cite his paper from 1985 which makes the claim that Zoroastrianism did not influence Judaism; which is a completely ludicrous argument, given the Jews were captives in Babylon and freed by Cyrus the Great, as your own Scriptures amply testify. As you delighted in telling me, this claim had to be peer-reviewed to make it into the Journals. Yes, and his peers (Boyce, Russell, Shaked, et al) have all thoroughly refuted this utterly ridiculous premise.

Given the nature of your arguments, I would, therefore, like to acquaint you with the following terms; perhaps you might notice a pattern emerging in your reasoning.

Circular Reasoning – A type of reasoning in which the proposition is supported by the premises, which is supported by the proposition, creating a circle in reasoning where no useful information is being shared.

Confirmation Bias – Occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

I will state frankly, and for the record, that I reaffirm what I said to you in private that evening: I think you are being dishonest with yourself by blindly refuting the copious amount of rigorous scholarship available; but, rather, strictly adhering to your rigid apologetic interpretations. I like you, Jonathan. I find you to be a truly genuine (very rare to find in this world), albeit misguided, and likeable fellow. But, someone has to be honest and forthright with you, and not politely dance around the elephant in the room. It’s time to rip off the Band-Aid.

Perhaps your half-truths and mis-directions about ‘this passage says this’ or ‘no one believes that dating’ or ‘we can all agree we poor Christians were so hard-done by’ might work on your parishioners and the less well-informed, but you can’t pull those tricks with me, because I know better. And, I will always be ready, and able, to wave the BS flag on your play.

That said, always happy to debate you again, my friend.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One response to “Deconstructing Christian Apologetics

  1. Pingback: Hell… is other people | Diogenes of Mayberry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s