Is President Obama a Christian? It depends what you mean by ‘Christian’ (COMMENTARY)

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President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia (partially seen at left) and Sasha attend church services at Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.,  on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Photo courtesy of the White House Flickr stream

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia (partially seen at left) and Sasha attend church services at Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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(RNS) When it comes to the question of who is and who is not a Christian, the governor should have remembered that clarity is often served by asking the questioner why the question is being asked.

  • “.. the term “evolution” means several distinct things; many aspects of it are supported by overwhelming scientific evidence…”


    The ENTIRETY of Evolution is fully supported by overwhelming evidence.

    Any proposed American leader who stands before the public and says anything short of that is a national joke!

  • CarrotCakeMan

    It’s sad but true that an overly vocal minority want to decide who is a Christian, and who is not, based on right-wing extreme politics. For example, anti-gays attacked the many Christian denominations that marry same gender couples in the 37 US States that respect their Freedom Of Religion. Anti-gays constantly shriek the lie that their anti-gay sects will be “forced” to marry same gender American couples in a desperate move to deflect from their own attempts to deny the Welcoming and Affirming denominations their Freedom Of Religion. The United Church of Christ had to file suit in federal court in North Carolina because that state’s anti-gay Hate Vote provided criminal penalties for any minister that even performed a commitment ceremony, let alone a legal marriage. It’s time we told anti-gays to respect the Freedom Of Religion of all Americans.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Correct. Walker’s party has made quite the habit of telling their base the lies they prefer to the facts.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    “1 Corinthians 5” is not the words of Jesus, but someone who never met Him.

    Please learn to respect the Freedom Of Religion of all Americans.

  • mike

    The media can do better, indeed, but it doesn’t care about truth or clarity. It cares about sensation.

  • mike

    Road to Damascus.

  • Karla

    CarrotCakeMan- Paul did meet Jesus when Jesus appeared to Him
    which is why he converted to Christianity and changed his name from
    Saul to Paul. You really need to get your facts straight and not twist
    the Bible/the facts to fit into your flawed theology/agenda. God bless.

  • Doc Anthony

    I’ve only glanced at Justin Taylor’s headline — I haven’t even read one word of the actual article yet — and already I’m getting these flashbacks of Clinton’s famous phrase “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’, is.”

    People, by now you already know this nation is in serious trouble. Obama simply was NOT the right choice, not in 2008, not in 2012. Unpaid bills will be sent to collections soon.

  • Doc Anthony

    “…someone who never met him”

    Paul met Him.

    Oh wait a minute — Mike covered it already. All done.

  • @Karla,

    Most of the letters of Paul cannot be attributed to a real person.

    These letters are just a record of an argument between the Marcionites who were Gnostics believing that Jesus was NEVER HUMAN and the furiously defiant Polycarp of Smyrna who certainly wrote Letter to the Phillipians (and may have written others) to defy the claims of the Marcionites.

    The Marcionites were the first Christians. They did not believe Jesus was a real person but was only a spirit like all the other gods before!

    But Polycarp destroyed the Marcionite churches of which there had originally been thousands!

    It appears that Polycarp constructed much of the New Testament and made every effort to insist that a REAL HUMAN JESUS existed in human flesh when there was no evidence for this at all.

    Polycarp of Smyrna even went so far as to insert his own phrases in Jesus’ mouth – all of it forgery – to construct a human Jesus where none really existed.

    These myths about Jesus are embarrassingly and obviously NOT REAL.

  • Doc Anthony

    Oops. Accidentally left out Karla — Karla covered it too. Equal opportunity coverage!

  • Garson Abuita

    “I suspect — though I do not know — that Walker, as the son of a Baptist minister, was not thinking first and foremost about the way in which the president self-identified his religious affiliation. Rather, he may have been thinking of the second possible meaning of the question”

    Walker was thinking first and foremost about Iowa and South Carolina. He could’ve given a simple answer which would’ve covered the self-identity question. For example, I believe every RNS author commenter who claims to be a Christian (except for the obvious jokesters) to be a Christian, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to LGBT-affirming Mormons. The only reason Walker had to parse it was because he was worried about conservative voters focused more on the second aspect.

  • Karla

    Doc Anthony-Thank you Doc! You are doing a great job in your
    witnessing/standing up for and sticking to the Truth! Keep it up!

  • Karla

    mike-Very true/well said!

  • Larry

    Never met him personally or could claim anything the man said as first hand knowledge. Only the alleged “spirit” of him.

  • James Carr

    I think it was great how Walker answered these loaded questions, since the media would spin any personal opinion of his to their liking. Believing in evolution is not a necessity to be a politician, so have the press ask pertinent questions. Creation and evolution are not at odds with each other, for most Christians accept that evolution is merely a part of God’s Creation. The Big Bang did not create itself.
    Why should Walker care if Obama is a Christian? Again, judging the actions of another is not his concern. Obama is a political ball of Play Doh…he remodels himself more times than Madonna.

  • Larry

    “Walker declined to answer, protesting that it’s “a question that a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.””

    In other words, Walker is saying, “I think all of you Creationist Bible thumpers are idiots and supporting you makes me look silly. But I still want you to vote for me.”

    Using acceptance of Creationism as a benchmark for Christian belief is utterly stupid. Only a small subset of Protestantism accepts it. The overwhelming majority of people in the Christian faith reject it.

  • Karla

    Atheist Max- The Bible is the Word of God/it was inspired by God
    cause for that many different people over a 1500 year period to
    make 100% accurate predictions with detail proves Jesus is the
    Messiah cause of prohecy accuracy like Jesus being betrayed
    for 30 pieces of silver and another specific prediction of Him
    starting His public ministry in 483 years which also came true
    along with Psalm 22:16-18 and also Isaiah 53:3-7. Many today
    are tryin to discredit the Bible so check your sources. God bless.

  • Karla

    Larry-He did meet Him because Jesus did appear to Him so you
    are right that is was His Spirit that appeared to Paul so the part
    of Jesus appearing was a/His Spirit but Paul talked to Him/was
    blinded as well so they did meet but is was Jesus in Spirit form.

  • Karla

    Max-The Bible is the Word of God/it was inspired by God cause
    for that many different people over a 1500 year period to make
    100% accurate predictions with detail proves it was inspired by
    God. They predictied Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of
    silver and He would start a/His public ministry in 483 years plus
    Psalm 22:16-18 and Isaiah 53:3-7 show Jesus is the Messiah!
    There are so many Bible prophecies that came true with detail
    how you can still deny that Jesus is the Messiah is just being
    blind/stubborn. You need to check your sources cause many
    people are trying to discredit the Bible. Jesus is very real!!!!

  • Larry

    So we both agree, he never knew Jesus in life.

    In order to believe Paul met Jesus, one has to accept the notion of ghostly visitations. Something there is no credible evidence of happening to anyone. Therefore it can’t be established as a fact, merely a belief based on faith.

    Any attempt to put this story in terms which are objectively credible to anyone outside of Christian belief is impossible.

  • Larry

    I met the ghost of James Madison. This is what he told me about the proper interpretation of the Bill of Rights….

    My statement has about as much objective credibility as Paul’s has as to what Jesus said on any subject.

  • Larry

    Belief in evolution is however essential to distinguish one as being liable to accept rational and scientific evidence over mythology. After all evolution is accepted in the field because it is supported by a century+ of research and evidence.

    It would be nice if the fundamentalist Christians stopped trying to coerce their beliefs in others using the dishonest, ridiculous and pathetic methods of Creationism and just accepted theistic evolution like the rest of their faith.

  • Karla

    Larry-Repentance and faith saves us so yes we need faith which
    you have faith that this whole world formed by itself and you never
    saw it happen so you have faith as well and it takes more faith to
    believe this world formed from nothing then became a everything.

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  • Little Sheep

    They never seem to ask any Democrats who they believe is & is not a Christian.
    This is quite telling ….

  • Doc Anthony

    Quick question for you, Larry: Do you agree with Max’s statement that “The ENTIRETY of Evolution is fully supported by overwhelming evidence?”

  • Karla

    Romans 1:18-32 says that God made it known to us through a/the
    miracle of creation that He is real cause the earth didn’t just create
    itself but people choose to deny Him/God/Jesus because they love
    their sin more so they reject the Truth because they are stubborn
    and have pride/their hearts become hardened because of their sin.
    Bible says to Repent/believe Gospel to be saved! We must Repent!

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Sorry, Mike, there are no witnesses, only Paul’s claim, an obvious attempt to make himself look more important than he was. His writings weren’t even included in the Bible until someone saw a political expedience to it.

    See? Once again, this isn’t about Jesus and His words, it’s about right-wing POLITICS.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Karla, once again, please learn to accept the fact that NO American has to share your “beliefs.”

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Sorry, Karla, how can the Bible be the “Word of God” if you insist it include the writings of Paul? You’ve painted yourself into a corner.

    Spamming this board with the same “You MUST share my beliefs” is not only ineffective, it’s rude, and violates the terms of service here.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    ONE MAN destroyed the Marcionite churches of which there were thousands? Are you smoking those left-handed cigarettes again,Atheist Max? Seriously, dude! And as for the idea that Jesus didn’t exist—Really,Max! Even atheist Biblical scholars long ago discarded that view.I expect much better from you,Max.FOR SHAME.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    At least that’s what Paul claimed, but, once again, he had no witnesses. Sorry, Doc, you’re entitled to believe what you like, and seek out beliefs that fit your political agenda–but everyone else is entitled to reject your beliefs. Please learn to respect the rights of Americans to be free from your religion.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Larry, I would only add no one needs to “believe” evolution. Solid proof is available to anyone who can get to this web page.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Don’t hold back, Larry-tells us how you REALLY feel about the Apostle Paul,that rank liar and inventor of fantasy.Let us have it!!

  • Maybe because Democrats don’t tend to question the religion of, say, George Bush, or Ronald Reagan.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Yes, it tells American voters that Democrats fully honor the United States Constitution and its guarantee of Freedom Of Religion. This habit of the members of the “Gay Obsessed Party” to try to force their peculiar, minority “beliefs” is going to cost them in the next Presidential election the same way it cost them in 2008 and 2012.

  • Re: “On the one hand, it is increasingly clear that the press treats Republicans and Democrats differently when it comes to moral and public policy issues related to religion.”

    Well, yes. Of course they do. The reason is both simple and obvious: Republicans wear their religiosity on their sleeves and trumpet it a lot more than Democrats do. In other words, they make an issue of it. Hence, in their dealings with the media, it tends to come up more often. If Republicans dislike that, they might alleviate it by not blaring their sanctity all over the place.

    Re: “Rather, he may have been thinking of the second possible meaning of the question, namely, ‘Do you believe President Obama is a genuine Christian, one who shows the marks of being truly born again?’ This is a question of theology, not sociology.”

    It’s also a question of mind-reading. Contrary to my Internet handle, there’s no evidence anyone can read minds. Who’s to say Obama doesn’t genuinely consider himself “born again”? Can you or Walker or anyone else ever know this with any certainty? Much better just to leave the whole matter alone and leave it up to God.

    Re: “There is simply no evidence the president is a Muslim, and there is explicit evidence that he is a professing Christian.”

    True enough, and it’s a simple enough answer that it leads to the question of why Walker didn’t say something like this, when he was asked?

    Re: “Evangelicals would want to hear more from the professing Christian. How does he believe one enters into a vital relationship with God? What does he believe about the nature of sin? What does he believe Jesus accomplished on the cross? What role does the authority of Scripture play in his life? Does the person evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit that accords with genuine repentance?”

    I question whether or not evangelicals can ever be satisfied this way. Consider if Obama were to be asked these questions and if he replied to them in the same way that most all evangelicals do. What would happen then? Would evangelicals accept that he’s genuine? Or would they instead decide he lied and just parroted whatever they wanted to hear?

    In fact, I question whether or not Obama can ever say or do anything that any evangelical would ever approve of in any way … other than to resign (which, as things stand, is NOT going to happen). They’re dead-set against him, period, end of story. What, then, is the point of anyone suggesting that Obama could ever satisfy them, should he say or do anything in particular? They’ve already determined that NOTHING he says or does can ever make them happy. That’s it.

  • Ringo,

    I’m saying the evidence for Jesus is simply non existent.
    Every bit of data regarding Paul, Jesus and the Apostles appear to be made up.

    Polycarp of Smyrna may have written the entire book of Mark.
    We know that Mark was not a disciple and we have no idea who Mark or Luke could have been.

    We also know that the story of the Magi is fictional.
    The Magi represent the followers of Zoroaster and their appearance with gifts is a way of saying the new dying and rising god of Jesus shall replace the dying and rising god of Zoroaster.

    It is all just ancient myths – 2000 years old!
    For goodness sake, these are all fables.

  • Larry

    That is what the scientific experts, the people whose job it is to apply such theories to their research, findings and interpretations have been saying for the last century. Best of all, they were willing to subject their work to tests of methodology, validity of results and criticism by peers of equal or greater knowledge of the subject.

    Whatever you are trying to wind up here Doc, please bear in mind that what little “expert opinion” exists for Creationism is largely expounded by people who are not educated and trained in the field of biology, ignorant as to the peer review process or willing to forgo all objective credibility to push their dishonest dogma. (All Creationists are liars by nature as they publicly deny their own faith as the basis of their Protestant Christian belief).

    Ken Ham was quoted as saying that nothing could shake his acceptance of creationism. Bill Nye said, when asked about what it would take to shake his acceptance of evolution, he answered, “evidence”.

  • Larry

    Exactamundo. Nobody believes evolution. They accept it based on the overwhelming evidence of it.

  • The short answer is that the president says what’s convenient at any given moment.

  • Oscar

    No doubt true, as such is the nature of most politicians, for they are driven to win elections, which means they must appeal to as many of their constituents as possible.
    It’s the same the world over.

    As for what religion President Obama subscribes to, does it really matter? Surely his job is to lead and govern, to keep the U.S. economically stable and safe and his personal religious beliefs are hardly anyone else’s business, unless they interfere with him doing his job properly.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    That’s one of the many ways the “religious wrong” show us they reject the United States Constitution, Oscar, they DO have a religious test for office.

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Asking if a person accepts evolution and asking if a person is a Christian are not equivalent questions. The author treats the subjects as mutually exclusive – typical for the evangelical mindset, I suppose – but they are not. As for Walker’s protest over having to answer such a question, yes, the American people deserve to know where a future Presidential candidate falls on the spectrum of divisive issues, even when they shouldn’t be divisive.

    Sadly, the author – despite saying he wants evolution taught – seems more of a mind to “teach the controversy,” which inherently brings with it the spectre of creationism in the classroom. Citing in his linked “suggestions” such ID luminaries (i.e., peddlers of nonsense) as Stephen C. Meyer, who made his career out of deceptive & misleading statements regarding evolution, I am skeptical of the author’s wish for clarity & straight answers. It seems more likely he wants answers he likes, and would like Christian candidates to adopt his language, regardless of its legitimacy in the relevant domain.

    But moving on, there’s this question: “Do you take the president at his word that he is a professing Christian, or do you think he is secretly a Muslim?” This is not, as the author thinks, a legitimate question. It truly should not matter who thought what about his beliefs. The President is (supposedly) everyone’s representative, and evangelical Christians do everyone a disservice with their self-obsessed quest for a President who also heads some kind of American civic church.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Reagan seldom went to church, but the “religious wrong” didn’t question his “faith,” because he shared their political agenda. This is why Americans increasingly call them “Christianists,” to indicate they are more about a political agenda than a religion.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    “Asking if a person accepts evolution and asking if a person is a Christian are not equivalent questions.”

    Much as some persons claim that all “Christians” are all homophobic and want to deny others the same civil rights they enjoy themselves.

  • Shawnie5

    Max, have you completely run off the rails???

    Even the most liberal scholars date Mark to no later than AD 70, and most of the Pauline epistles, including Phillipians, to 15-20 years earlier than that. Neither Polycarp nor Marcion were even born then.

    Marcionism was not even a thing until about the middle of the 2nd century — only a very few years before Polycarp himself was murdered. You’re arguing that within about a space of 10 years or so Marcion established thousands of churches and that the elderly Polycarp destroyed them all. 😀

    Go lie down for a while, Max.

  • Neon Genesis

    The problem with this article’s argument that Scott Walker was supposedly only arguing Obama didn’t hold traditional Christian beliefs is that the article is ignoring the context of which the question was asked, which was in response to the controversy over Rudy Giuliani claiming Obama didn’t love America which Scott Walker also refused to say if he agreed if Obama loved America. The question if Obama loves America has nothing to do with if Obama holds to the Apostles’ Creed or believes in baptism or whatever and it’s dishonest to try and paint Scott Walker as some thoughtful theologian who wasn’t trying to obviously score political points with the more Islamophobic portions of the Republican party.

  • Shawnie,

    Since there is only one tiny, credit-card sized piece of actual Christian writing which dates to late in the first century all bets are off.

    It is anyone’s ‘best guess’ on the true origination of these texts.

    Polycarp’s claims are very suspicious.
    The Marcionites preached of a spirit Jesus and Polycarp was very much against this – and Polycarp APPEARS to have manufactured a story line deliberately saying Jesus was “born of a woman” meaning ‘HUMAN’ at precisely the time of the dispute but not before.

    Look it up yourself.
    I’m not concluding anything here – I’m pointing out that these stories are full of suspect materials. All of it is obvious myth making regardless of who wrote it.

    Almost every act which Jesus is said to have performed has turned out to be a rewritten version of something plagiarized from the Old Testament. That alone should send you back into the research.

  • Shawnie,

    “For everyone who does not confess [that] Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an antichrist,37 and whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross s from the devil, and whoever twists the sayings of the Lord for one’s own
    sinful passions, and says [that there is] neither resurrection or judgment, this one is the firstborn of Satan. ”

    This is a command to dehumanize anyone who questions the claims of Polycarp.
    It was aimed directly at the Marcionites who had insisted they knew the truth about Jesus and said he was NEVER A HUMAN.

    “2 Therefore, leaving behind the idle speculation38 of the crowd and their false teachings, let us turn back to the word which was delivered to us from the beginning, being self-controlled with regard to prayer39 and being persistent in fasts, making petitions of the all-seeing God to lead us not into temptation,40 just as the Lord said, “The spirit [is]indeed willing, but the flesh [is] weak.”41”

    – Polycarp to the Phillipians

  • Shawnie5

    “I’m not concluding anything here…”

    Sure you did. You claimed that Marcionites were the “first Christians” and that Polycarp wrote Philipians as well as other works of the NT in response to Marcion (Marcion actually subscribed to all the Pauline epistles except the pastorals) and that Polycarp destroyed “thousands” of Marcionite churches — all of which is historically impossible.

    Who told you all this nonsense? Do you just gobble up anything that passes by as long as it’s anti-Christian?

  • Shawnie5

    OK, I see what’s happened. You have confused Polycarp’s letter to the Phillipians with Paul’s epistle to the Phillipians. LOL!

    Tell me, Max, how does a “former Sunday school teacher” make a blunder of that magnitude???

  • Shawnie,

    I honestly don’t know why you are so confident about Paul’s letters.
    I guess you don’t even think any of them were forged.

    Polycarp probably wrote Phillipians – I’m not claiming it as fact – But I’m asserting that it is very possible. The Gnostics (and Marcionites) were the first Christians – I’m asserting that it is very likely.

    Paul may not have existed. Frankly, I don’t even believe the Apostles existed.

    A leader of the Gnostics would have written most of Paul’s letters. Because Paul never mentions miracles of Jesus, a human version of Jesus or any of the specific teachings of Jesus – Paul’s versions of Jesus as a spiritual being only do not line up with any of the accounts of the Gospels!

    Since Paul’s letters disagree with Polycarp’s insistence that Jesus was Human, Polycarp wrote Phillipians to correct Paul’s ‘view’ and make it comport with Polycarp and the literalists.

    When I was teaching Sunday School I knew about as much as today’s Sunday School teachers – NOTHING.

    I know much more today.

  • Doc Anthony

    Well, sincere thanks for your answer Larry. I was just curious to see if you were willing to go all the way out on a limb, like Max did. Your response was clearly a “Yes, I am.”

    Problem is, limbs can break and fall when you go all the way out on them. Then you fall right along with the snapped limb, and it’s always a long way down.

    So when you say or agree with Off-
    The-Wall claims like ““The ENTIRETY of Evolution is fully supported by overwhelming evidence”, all it take is ONE current scientific counter-example, to snap the limb.

    Therefore, just for fun, here are TEN current scientific counter-examples (starting with number 10). All fresh and ready for limb-snapping.

    In other words, you and Max done MESSED UP GOOD this time !!

  • Shawnie,

    Polycarp probably wrote Acts of the Apostles placing it more than 100 years after any apostle would have lived. There is no reason to think any of these stories are true.

  • Ponderer

    Spot on! Let the poor President get on with his job without all this religious nonsense!
    Oscar for President next!

  • Shawnie5

    “I honestly don’t know why you are so confident about Paul’s letters.”

    That’s the least of what you don’t know.

    You’re impressed with experts in every other field — why don’t you consult one about why there is no serious scholarly doubt about the authenticity or the dating of the core Pauline epistles?

    Do you think it might be a tiny bit odd for Polycarp to have written the Pauline epistles and the Acts of the Apostles in response to Marcion when Marcion himself accepted all of those works as authentic and inspired???

    Does it strike you as odd for Marcionites to be the “first Christians” when Roman history identifies Christians as existing during the reign of Nero, long before Marcion’s birth?

    How do you figure Paul taught a “non-human Jesus” when he wrote of Him being born of woman and subject to law (Gal. 4:4), His descent from king David (Rom. 1:3), and His crucifixion (Gal. 3:1; 1 Cor. 2:2; Phil. 2:8)?

    “When I was teaching Sunday School I knew about as much as today’s Sunday School teachers – NOTHING.”

    What did you “teach,” then?

    And I repeat, who told you all this moonshine about Marcion and Polycarp?

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  • Karla

    Stephen-If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Bible is the
    Word of God/Truth you are not a Christian and as far as a/the Repenting
    part I always say we at a/the end. We all must Repent including me so you
    are wrong when you say I do not include myself in the Repenting part so I
    hope you will humble yourself/admit you are wrong/open your heart to the
    Truth of He/Jesus is God as part of the Trinity/Godhead/Jesus is Messiah!

  • Karla

    You need to do some more research/get the facts right!

  • melody

    He also said to leave the weeds with the wheat because you can uproot one while trying to pull the other.
    We cannot see someone’s heart. There are many in the Old Testament, like Jacob or Judah, that we would declare lost if we only saw part of the story.
    That’s not to say we should call someone wise and let them influence our lives when clearly they are not.

  • Shawnie:

    There are no first century contemporary references to a historical Jesus anywhere. The usual documents apologists truck out are either obvious forgeries or are otherwise disputed.

    Paul MAY have been an invention of an early Gnostic tied to Marcion.
    There were plenty of people with motives to produce various Jesus stories and clearly the world was full of legends and countless gospels by late in the 2nd century.

    Marcion objected to the nasty God of the Old Testament and knew it was ridiculous to retro-fit the Jesus story onto Yahweh.

    And Matthew’s Gospel was to deny Marcion’s claims and those of the Gnostics – Matthew was an attempt to re-engineer the Jesus story to fit a Jewish heritage and retrofit Jesus into a fulfillment of Yahweh’s prophets. Matthew was very likely an argument AGAINST a trend toward Gnosticism and it was pure propaganda in favor of a Jewish Messiah Jesus!

    But Marcion’s motives was to claim that Jesus was a different spirit altogether and not a man but just another pagan god – and certainly not a connection to the Jewish God. Marcion was motivated to use 10 of Paul’s letters in his Bible. It is no accident that Luke’s version of the Birth of Jesus included a nod to the Magi bringing gifts as an endorsement of Jesus from the fathers of Zoroastrianism.

    It was in Marcion’s interest to create Paul who spoke of Jesus not as a man but as a spirit.
    Later it was in Polycarp’s interest to alter Paul’s letters and produce new ones which hint at Jesus as ‘earthly’.

    I have learned there is very little Authority on these matters of the Bible, Paul, Jesus or the Apostles – we simply do not have enough data and claims of their ‘factual existence’ cannot be certain.

    There is too much fog surrounding the Christian writings and the hundreds of contributors to these texts to know for certain how they originated or in what sequence they were generated – much of it is speculation. All of it is suspicious.

    Of course there were “Christians” of some kind before Marcion. I wasn’t denying that exactly.
    But the Marcionite Churches numbered in the thousands and the Marcion Bible was dominant for a period.

    Polycarp was furious with Marcion and judged him to be of the Devil. Polycarp wanted to eliminate the Marcionites and apply his own spin and Theology onto the Jesus story. Which apparently he did – and we can mark his influence on some of these writings.

    I found these books particularly entertaining and even though they are not full of evidence of facts they are scholarly enough – and provide evidence that we should doubt what we think we know.

    Though I have read the mainstream scholars like Bart Ehrmann – I have read all of his books – I also look at the less conventional authors for their observations even though some are fanciful:

    Hermann Detering: “The Fabricated Paul”
    Robert M. Price: “The Amazing Collosal Apostle”
    Joseph Tyson: “Marcion and Luke Acts; A Defining Struggle”

    It did not help your cause when Bart Ehrmann defended the Historical Jesus with his worst book yet.
    There has been no good book arguing in favor of a real Jesus. Or a real Paul

  • Jack

    Good job, Justin Taylor. You’ve summed it all up well and in few words.

  • Jack

    CarrotCakeMan, how is the prior post disrespectful of “freedom of religion of all Americans?” The poster is exercising freedoms of religion and expression and is not infringing on your right to do likewise.

  • Jack

    Not so fast, Atheist Max. Evolution can mean at least one of three things, depending on the speaker. It could mean (1) biological microevolution (2) biological microevolution and biological macroevolution or (3) evolution of the whole of reality, including the whole of human personhood.

    Any sane person accepts #1 just as any sane person accepts the law of gravity. Many people reject #2, and every person who believes in a Deity rejects #3, including those who accept #2.

    So there needs to be more precision…..hence the author of the article is correct.

  • Jack

    Garson, the problem is that from the perspective of Walker’s background, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are definitely not Christians, Thus if he were asked if they were, he would have had precisely the same problem. Unwittingly, your examples bolster the writer’s point as to the likely problem Walker had with arriving at an answer.

    From Walker’s perspective, belonging to a church makes one a Christian as much as walking into a parking garage makes one a car. This analogy is a famous one uttered by evangelical pastors. And in particular, the kind of belief system Obama apparently supports, one of liberation theology, which is what Rev. Wright preached, has been condemned by both Catholic and Protestant theologians, both conservative and liberal, as misrepresenting the Gospel.

    What Walker was likely thinking was, from his own theological perspective (1) the president affiliates with Christianity but (2) probably subscribes to a theology that substitutes radical political change or liberation for individual salvation, the historic heart of the Gospel.

    Based on Walker’s evangelical definition of a Christian, that would make Obama not likely a Christian, but simply a churchgoer who affiliates with Christendom.

  • Re: “This is why Americans increasingly call them ‘Christianists,’ to indicate they are more about a political agenda than a religion.”

    I’m not sure they’re motivated more by politics than they are by religion. For a lot of them it’s a rather equal admixture of the two. They see government as a tool they can — and should — use to propagate their religion, and they do it because their Jesus told them to (i.e. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” Mt 28:19).

    In the process, they purposely ignore Jesus’ command not to involve themselves with the state (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” Mt 22:21, Mk 12:17; Lk 20:25).

  • This comment is the reason why I said, above, that there is no conceivable way that Obama could ever say or do anything evangelicals would find acceptable. If he says or does things they dislike, this just confirms — in their minds — that he’s an “anti-Christian.” If he says or does something that coincides with evangelical Christianity, they just decide he’s lying or disingenuous, and that too merely confirms in their minds that he’s “anti-Christian.”

    Thanks for proving my point and for demonstrating how evangelicals’ hatried of Obama is an insoluble problem.

  • Jack

    Stephen, you believe in neither Christianity nor Judaism, but you’ve made up your own religion which is centered on Gnosticism which is a third belief system. Mixing Gnosticism with either Christianity or Judaism is quite a problem because both religions believe what Gnosticism denies — the Old Testament view that the material world is real and good and created by a good God, not illusory or evil and created by an evil demigod.

  • Jack

    Most politicians are not the brightest of bulbs, so they can easily be tripped up. The difference is that the media cover for the politicians they like, and not for those they hate.

  • Jack

    Well, then tell the media to quit asking irrelevant questions.

  • Jack

    CarrotCakeMan, with all due respect, you yourself seem obsessed with gay issues. The article we’re discussing is about other subjects.

  • Jack

    Max, the Marcionites weren’t even around when Paul was alive. You’re way too early. Marcion himself was a second-century figure and Paul died in the first century, in the mid-60s AD.

    The Marcionites were not “the first Christians.” The Book of Acts, clearly a first-century document, tells us when the name “Christians” first came up (it was in Antioch)…..before Marcion was even born, let alone an adult putting forth his views.

    Ditto for Polycarp. Both he and Marcion weren’t even born yet. Paul’s letters were written well before their births. Nor was either man born before Paul died.

    Thus your notion that Polycarp constructed Jesus or put words in his mouth is preposterous.

    You are confusing centuries.

  • Jack

    Not so, Larry. There’s no reason to suspect that Paul’s beliefs about Jesus were any different from those of the other apostles, including those who spent time with Jesus during his ministry. As the Book of Acts indicates, there was some disagreement on issues, but not the core issue of who Jesus was and what his mission was about.

  • Jack

    Psychop, Walker was directly asked the question of whether Obama was a Christian….and Occam’s Razor suggests that he processed the question the way most other evangelicals would — ie from a strictly theological as opposed to a sociological standpoint.

    Thus he took it as an invitation to speculate on whether Obama had accepted Christ as his person savior and Lord. And this fits with his noncommittal answer…..a sort of “how the heck should I know?” reply.

    In other words, he declined what he interpreted as an invitation to speculate on someone else’s spiritual state.

    He declined the very thing you seem to be accusing him of doing — attempting to read minds.

  • Jack

    Put another way, posed with the question of whether a given person is a Christian, most politicians will answer it sociologically — ie if the person self-identifies with Christianity through some visible means like churchgoing, past or present, that person is deemed a Christian.

    But if you ask a serious evangelical that question, the question will be processed theologically — and will likely be met with some hesitation unless it is someone they know very well or is someone who is known for being committed to evangelical causes.

  • Jack

    Sorry, I meant to say PsiCop, not “chop.”

  • Jack,

    Carrotcake man is concerned about Republican leaders accepting religious claims as part of their policy making. This article is dealing with exactly that problem.

    Religion has too much influence on our culture – especially our politics – and that awful influence causes a multiplicity of needless problems including the treatment of LGBT people.

  • Jack

    There is no evidence whatsoever that Obama is a Muslim.

    But if he were, so what? Why are his strongest supporters so emotionally vehement about the matter? If being a Muslim is not a terrible thing, why act as though it is?

    Very odd…

  • Jack,

    I’m well aware of the claim that Paul was writing at approximately 50 C.E.

    But that is exactly the problem – it can’t be proven and it is a best guess.

    In fact there is no definitive, conclusive evidence that any of the writings of the New Testament were necessarily written before 100 C.E.

    Meanwhile there is plenty of evidence that the 2nd century was a time of exploding legends and letters and claims.

    This opens up an infinite number of possibilities about where all of these claims for Paul, Jesus and others originated.
    Marcion, Polycarp, Ireneaus, Tertullian – all of them (and many others) had motives at odds with the Jewish leaders to build Jesus narratives. We know this because much of what comprised those ideas did survive.

    All of the most solid evidence points to Christianity being a construction of the 2nd century – Paul and Jesus could have been completely fictional – along with Paul’s letters.

    There is no reason to believe any of it adds up to a true story.

  • Jack

    Max, again, you are confusing one century with another. Polycarp and Marcion were second-century contemporaries. By that time, even John’s Gospel, the last of the four, had long been in circulation. Scholars have known this since at least the 1930s, when a manuscript fragment, dated around 110 AD, of that Gospel, was discovered.

    The majority of scholars believe that all four gospels were written in the first century. Nearly all scholars believe that many of Paul’s letters were written even earlier.

    Given this, and given that neither Polycarp nor Marcion were teaching until well into the second century, it is therefore impossible that Polycarp could have written the Gospels or Paul’s letters, or that the Marcionites were the first Christians.

  • Jack

    Max writes that “all of the most solid evidence points to Christianity being a construction of the 2nd century.”

    On the contrary, all of the evidence — textual and historical — point to the major beliefs of Christianity being formed and propagated in the 1st century.

    The 4 gospels and Paul’s letters, all of which, accordingly to the vast majority of scholars, are first-century documents, together contain every basic creed of Christianity.

    Read the Apostles Creed, for example, and you will find every part of it in those first-century documents:

    I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.

    I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died, and was buried;
    he descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again;
    he ascended into heaven,
    he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
    and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. AMEN.

    Just one key point: Protestants as well as Catholics can recite this creed because the word “catholic” here simply means “universal.” Christians in the first century, as per Paul’s “one body, one spirit, one baptism” formula, clearly believed that the body of Christians throughout the world constituted a single, universal unit.

  • Karla

    Max-You also forget that the Roman soldiers lied and said the body
    of Jesus was stolen after He was raised from the dead because they
    didn’t want the Bible to be true and many people today are lying and
    trying to discredit the Bible. Evolution is impossible! Romans 1:18-32
    says God made it known to us that He is real through a/the miracle
    of creation but many deny God/the Truth casue they love their sin
    so they harden their heart/deny that God/Jesus are real. God bless.

  • Larry

    @Jack. The guy claimed to talk to a ghost!! Nothing about that resembles a fact which has to be taken seriously. Btw nice way to dodge my argument by strawman’ing talk of their beliefs.

    He never met Jesus unless you are willing to accept entirely on faith (and no evidence whatsoever) that ghosts walk the earth and people can talk to them out of the blue.

    It doesn’t matter that THEY believed in ghosts. What matters is there is no reasonable basis for such a belief.

    Even the Bible lets it be known that Paul never Jesus in life. If your assertion depends on belief in the supernatural, you can’t call it a fact.

  • Larry

    Nonsense Jack. You know as well as I do, the question has to do with the theory of evolution. Biological evolution. Something bitterly opposed by a small sect of dishonest protestant nutballs who hate science.

  • Larry

    Doc, you have to be kidding? You can’t honestly believe that website is remotely credible on the subject. That article was written by a lawyer with a masters degree in Earth science. Someone completely incapable of providing a convincing criticism of evolution, as a theory for use in the field of biology.

    You have to do better than that. If you are going to quote a lay source on the subject, find an article from Nature, Scientific American or a scientific academic journal accepted in the field (and not one of those nonsense “Creation science” rags)

    As usual, your “expert opinion” is from someone completely unqualified to make any such criticism. Your website is Creationist garbage. It is not a science site, but a Christian apologia one. pretending to be a science one.

    An attack on evolution requires more than a lying Creationist spouting off. It requires scientific research which passes muster in the field through methodological peer review. Creationists have no use for such a process. Any method which arrives at their Bronze age mythological end will be employed.

  • One of the big problems religion gives us is the stupid argument against science.

    Intolerable nonsense.

  • Jack,

    Paul did not believe Jesus was ever a human.

    “If Jesus had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest.”
    (Hebrews 8:4)

    Whoever Paul was (fictional or otherwise) there is no reason to think he saw Jesus as a man. He knew nothing of Jesus’ miracles and nothing of Jesus’ ministry.
    Miracles and ministry are fictions added to Paul’s version (manufactured) in the war between Gnostics and Literalists.

    There is no evidence against this conclusion.

  • Jack,

    “the Apostles Creed, for example…you will find every part of it in those first-century documents”

    You cannot *Conclusively* name a first century document about Jesus. These claims fall apart.

    It is as if you are trying to prove the existence of Paul Bunyan in the year 2000.

    There is no reason to believe it is true.

  • Jack,

    “Read the Apostles Creed, for example, and you will find every part of it in those first-century documents..”

    There is no *conclusive* evidence that the Apostle’s Creed was created in the first century. All of the attributions could be forgeries or simply manufactured claims.
    We have no autograph record of an original Christian text from the first century except a credit card-sized piece of the Gospel of John – and it could be later than 100 C.E.

  • Stephen,

    “Much of my spiritual authority rests on my knowledge of ancient astro-theology that God directed me to find…”

    What the hell? Religion is clearly an ongoing disaster leading untold millions to have delusions like this.

    Stephen, you don’t have any authority. You have no knowledge of astro theology. You have no instructions from a god.

    Good grief. At least have the decency to not promote complete nonsense.

  • Shawnie5

    Max, long before anyone ever heard of Marcion, Tacitus recorded the persecutions of the early Christians under Nero and their faith in a very human Jesus who was executed in Judea during the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate. There is simply no plausible case to be made for this supposedly original “spiritual Jesus,.”

    For 200 years scoffers have been trying to come up with some solid evidence rebutting the traditional attributions of the gospels and have come up with zippo. And the thing which I always wonder about is, why? Why is it so important to you to late-date the NT? Why can’t you show the courage of your convictions and say it’s all BS no matter who wrote it or when?

  • Stephen,

    “I thought I told you..”

    If I cared about dictators I wouldn’t be challenging wild claims of religion.
    Where is this God which Obama is supposed to claim allegiance to?
    This is not democracy.

    Religion is being used to stifle reasoned and rational debate. Just like you are doing here. I speak against these baseless claims and I would encourage others to treat empty claims with well-deserved mockery.

  • @Shawnie:

    “Tacitus recorded the persecutions of the early Christians under Nero and their faith in a very human Jesus who was executed in Judea during the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate.”

    This is a jumble of claims.

    First, Tacitus is writing in 116 C.E. and the presence of Christians talking about a human Jesus should not be anymore surprising than people today claiming real aliens made crop circles.

    Second, Tacitus is only repeating hearsay. He clearly knows certain Christians existed and they made particular claims. He does not confirm Christus or a crucifixion – only that early Christians in 115 C.E. were claiming Christus and execution. Tacitus does not claim anything about Pontious Pilot himself – he is only repeating a claim which Christians are telling each other.

    Third, Tacitus dismissed the movement as a superstition.
    Nero was the “666” anti-christ in the book of revelation. Yet this superstitious apocalyptic theory lives on fueling ridiculous claims by straw-grasping, tea-reading Evangelicals.

    Why is this important?
    If these Jesus stories are baseless:

    1. then millions of people are needlessly telling gays they are going to Hell.
    2. Lies about Hell are being told to children.
    3. The war against science is needless.
    4. The claims of Creationists are baseless.
    5. Genital mutilation is utterly pointless.
    6. Billions of dollars on churches and indulgences to charlatans could be spent better.
    7. This life might be more appreciated instead of the non-existent next one.
    8. Armageddon need not happen.
    9. Death cult worship could cease.
    10. People could finally claim personal responsibility for their fate instead of pretending a God is taking care of everything.
    11. Religion would lose influence over politics which might then allow humans to begin to address climate change, access to contraception, women’s rights and freedom of speech.

    THAT is why this matters.

  • Shawnie:

    “For 200 years scoffers have been trying to come up with some solid evidence rebutting the traditional attributions of the gospels and have come up with zippo.”

    Completely wrong.

    Paul implored people to keep faith! That is an admission that things didn’t add up in a believable way 2000 years ago! He debunked his own stories!

    Debunking the claims in the Gospels continued with Marcion. He agreed with almost none of them. His disregard for Yahweh was well known, too.

    It continued with Mohammed who succeeded in debunking the claims of the gospels completely in 600 C.E with the Q’uran – Islam is ‘blessed’ (if you can call it that) with faster growth than Christianity which appears to be dying off.

    Even Christians know these gospel stories are completely impossible which is why they require “FAITH” – faith is a confession that the stories are debunked and utterly unbelievable.
    Faith is claiming something that you know ain’t so.

    For those of us who don’t trust ‘faith’ as a way to know anything (what has it done for Mormonism?), facts must be compiled in better ways.

  • Garson Abuita

    I’m talking about politics and PR here though – he could have just said “Yes” and left the details for later. The smart thing for a politician to do when confronted with a trap question is to extricate yourself from it.

  • Shawnie5

    Assumptions everywhere, Max. We don’t KNOW that Tacitus was only “repeating hearsay.” He may well have had access to official records that are now long gone, especially since when reporting rumor he usually identified it as such and in this passage, of course, he does not. But even if he was repeating hearsay, clearly what he was hearing was the earliest Christians’ faith in a very human and historical Jesus. All at a time when Marcion was still playing with toys — if he was born at all.

    “Paul implored people to keep faith! That is an admission that things didn’t add up in a believable way 2000 years ago!”

    Try to at least feign a bit of historical perspective, Max. Paul implored people to keep the faith not because “things didn’t add up” but because standing firm as a Christian in that time and place could literally mean a horrific death either at the hands of the Jews (as in the case of Stephen) or Rome (as Tacitus details). Not to even mention the constant social and economic pressures brought to bear upon Christians who had to navigate daily life in a culture saturated with pagan idol worship and immorality. This state of affairs still continues to this very day in many places. Good grief!

    “That is why this matters.”

    So, if you were convinced of the authenticity and traditional dating of the gospels, you would accept their claims?

    C’mon Max, you know you wouldn’t. In fact, I seriously doubt that ANYONE rejects Christ over issues about whether the gospels date to the 50s, 80s or what have you. As we can clearly see in these discussion threads, most people know nothing about these issues, you included. Jesus told us exactly why the world rejected Him and always would for the most part: “Because I testify of it that its works are evil.”

    “If these Jesus stories are baseless…”

    If that’s what you want to prove, you’d better get busy with a pick and a shovel…because so far just about every piece of evidence turned up by biblical archaeology pushes the dates of the NT writings farther back in time, not farther ahead. Methinks you’d have better luck with your usual Jesus-wanna-kill-everybody spiel — or at least, Jesus-wanna-spoil-your-fun. That’s about what it comes down to for most, anyway.

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