- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 8, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199580448
- ISBN-13: 978-0199580446
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.5 x 5.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,219,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Was Jesus God? 1st Edition
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Review from previous edition: "Richard Swinburne, the former Nolloth Professor at Oxford, adroitly marshals the evidences of natural theology to affirm the cogency of the Christian faith... Was Jesus God? is an entertaining, bracing, compelling book and welcome proof that not all of our
academics have turned their backs on what Hopkins once called 'the fine delight that fathers thought."
--Edward Short, Inside Catholic
About the Author
Richard Swinburne was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Keele, Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford, and Fellow of the British Academy.
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Some people ask what does it matter if Jesus was God or if Jesus was the literal Son of God?
Richard Swinburne brings in the philosophical power and describes in great detail why this all makes sense. Swinburne is far beyond most philosophers in knowledge, wit and expertise so it might take a few reads, before you can clearly understand what this brilliant man is stating.
The dissection of the Nicene Creed and events before and after that is where this book really takes off. Swinburne is precise to the point of where you really open your mind and say to yourself "ah why didn't I think of that before, that makes more sense".
Second. his writing style is very poor. As a writer myself, I have to reread whole pages because I'm not understanding what he's getting at on certain points, or how he got there. That, or I'm just stupid and missing his points entirely.
That being said, the overall content of this book is pretty interesting. It'd definitely get a better rating from me if it was presented better.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 2008 book, “Are there good reasons for believing that there is a God? I have argued elsewhere… that the general character of the natural world (and in particular the fact that it is governed by laws of nature which lead to the evolution of human beings) makes it probable that there is a God. But why should we suppose that God… is the Christian God? I plan to answer that question in this book and to show that, if there is a God, then the main doctrines which the Christian Church teaches … are very probably true… This book can be read as a sequel to ‘Is There a God?’ or independently of it.”
He begins the first chapter with the statement, “I assume in this book that… there is a moderate probability that there is a God of the kind worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims… I am not even assuming that the existence of God is more probable than not… I shall set out the central theological doctrines of Christianity … and give a priori reasons for believing them to be true… Then … I shall argue that … the historical evidence about the life and Resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent teaching of the Church makes it very probable that these doctrines are true.” (Pg. 5)
He asserts, “Generally it looks as if it is not logically possible for God to know infallibly beforehand what a free agent will do… But since God is omnipotent, it is only because the permits this that we have free will and are sometimes situated in circumstances where we are subject to irrational desires or have a choice between what we believe to be equal best actions. God is himself responsible for there being limits to his knowledge of how we will act; and he can take away our free will and so these limits to his knowledge of the future, whenever he chooses.” (Pg. 9) He adds, “So if God commands us to do some action, it will be our duty to do it. Maybe there are limits on what God has the right to command; having created humans as free rational creatures, perhaps he does not have the right to tell them what to do every minute of their lives. But, if so, being perfectly good, he will not command anyone to do what he has no right to command.” (Pg. 12)
He states, “It seems to me that religious experience provides a good reason for believing---so long as that experience is overwhelming, and you don’t know of any strong objections to the existence of God. If we didn’t believe that what it seems to us obvious that we are experiencing… is really there… we couldn’t believe anything. And the testimony of others that there is a God also provides a good reason for believing---so long as everyone tells us the same thing, and we don’t know of any strong reasons why they might be mistaken.” (Pg. 15)
Of the problem of evil, he argues, “if the only suffering in the world were that caused by humans… many of us would not have very much opportunity to make those crucial choices which are so important for forming our characters. Humans need the pain and disability caused by disease and old age if we are to have the opportunity to choose freely whether to be patient and cheerful, or to be gloomy and resentful, in the face of our own suffering; and the opportunity to choose freely to show or not to show compassion to others who suffer, and to give or not give our time and money to helping them. God cannot do the logically impossible: he cannot give us the freedom to hurt each other and at the same time ensure that we won’t.” (Pg. 20-21) He continues, “in my view God’s right to impose suffering is also limited: he must provide lives for us in which there is more good than bad… if there are any humans in whose lives (not as a consequence of their own choices) the bad exceeds the good, God has an obligation to give to those humans at least a limited life after death in which the good exceeds the bad; and in his omnipotence he can and must do this.” (Pg. 21-22)
He endorses the doctrines summarized in the Nicene Creed (Pg. 26), including the Trinity: “At each moment of everlasting time the Father must always cause the Son to exist, and so always keep the Son in being… The love of the Father for the Son must include a wish to cooperate with the Son in further total sharing with an equal; and hence the need for a third member of the Trinity, whom… we may call the Holy Spirit.” (Pg. 29) He adds, “there could not be two or more independent divine persons. So only the Father can be ontologically necessary… But since the perfect goodness of the Father requires the other two divine persons to exist just as inevitably as the Father exists, they are what I will call ‘metaphysically necessary.’ … All three members of the Trinity are metaphysically necessary persons, but the Father alone is ontologically necessary.” (Pg. 31) He further asserts, “You might think… the more divine persons the better… But then any fourth divine person would not exist necessarily… and hence he would not be divine. So there cannot be a fourth divine person.” (Pg. 33)
Of the ‘filioque’ controversy that split the Eastern from the Western church, he observes, “No one has been able to give any sense to ‘proceeds from’ except as meaning ‘was caused by,’ and so no one has been able to make any clear distinction between ‘being begotten by’ and ‘proceeding from.’ Since clearly the Son can only help to bring about the Spirit in virtue of the nature which the Father gives him, I cannot see that there is any difference between ‘proceeds from the Father and the Son’ and ‘proceeds from the Father through the Son.’” (Pg. 36-37)
Of Jesus’ self-awareness, he suggests, “It might be that in his own human thinking God Incarnate was not always conscious of his own divinity, but he would clearly need to be conscious of it some of the time in order to show his followers that he believed himself to be divine, and so to give them good reason to believe that God had identified with our suffering… in becoming incarnate a divine person must remain omniscient, but he could allow his human actions to be guided only by his humanly acquired inclinations to belief… when he acts in a human way, he need not always be fully aware of having more power than that.” (Pg. 46) Much later, he states, “scholars are, I believe, correct in holding that Jesus did not say explicitly and openly during his earthly life … ‘I am God.’ But… If God was to become incarnate … he needed to take a human nature… and a human body in addition to his divine nature…” (Pg. 102)
He notes about Original Sin: “there is more to our bad condition than mere actual sin. There is an element inherited from our ancestors and ultimately from our first human ancestor, whom… we may call Adam. We inherit a proneness to wrongdoing which … I shall call ‘original sinfulness.’ Our original sinfulness consists of the bad desires which we have inherited from our ancestors… This inheritance is partially ‘social.’ If our parents behave badly, that influences us to behave badly. But the inheritance is also genetic… we also inherit something analogous to the guilt of our actual sin… we were not the agents of our ancestors’ wrongdoing, but we have inherited a responsibility to make atonement for this debt of ‘original sin’ as far as we can---perhaps by making some reparation.” (Pg. 55-56)
He contends, “There is no reason to expect that God would provide for us a total moral code… We might therefore expect him to give us more moral information than we have been able to discover for ourselves, but not perhaps so much as to deprive us of the possibility of choosing whether or not to work out the more detailed consequences for our lives of what he has told us. And there are plenty of detailed moral issues about which there is no one traditional Christian view.” (Pg. 73)
About “the Afterlife of the Incorrigibly Bad,” he argues, “only those who love doing actions which are good for their own sake would be happy [in Heaven]… God has good reason to allow people to hurt others in this world… But there is no good reason for God to allow people to go on hurting others in another world after their characters are formed. So those who have allowed themselves to become totally bad people will be a collection of unfulfilled desires… which would constitute living in Hell. God could, of course, give them new good desires, but that would involve imposing on them a character which they had persistently and knowingly chosen not to have. So perhaps God would eliminate such people if that is what they wanted. But… he must respect that choice and permit them to permanently reject him and all that he stands for.” (Pg. 80)
He acknowledges, “There is a lot more to be said about the historical evidence for and against the Virgin Birth. But if you do not on other grounds think it moderately probable that there is a God… likely to intervene in history by becoming incarnate and to show that he had done so… you must surely conclude that the historical evidence is inadequate. But if you agree that it is moderately probable … and also that there is significant evidence of God’s signature on the life of Jesus as its end in his Resurrection, then that increases significantly the probability that God provided a (less evident) signature … at its beginning.” (Pg. 99)
He seemingly accepts the notion of Conditional Immortality: “If talk about a fire is to be taken literally or even as an analogy for the destiny of the wicked, the consequence of putting the wicked in such a fire would be their speedy elimination (they would be burnt up). Only in one place in the Gospels is the punishment itself declared to be ‘eternal’: Matthew 25:46. Of course, the point of Jesus preaching all this was to move all people to repentance, so that there would be no bad left to be punished… a good God might well allow people to opportunity permanently to reject him… maybe, if that’s what they wish, God would then allow their elimination, as some of Jesus’s words imply would be their ultimate fate.” (Pg. 109-110)
While he admits about the Resurrection accounts that “our sources give somewhat different lists of who saw Jesus where and when,” he insists, “there is not difficulty in resolving the major apparent differences between the sources about who saw Jesus where. Minor differences are to be expected for the general reason… [of] the fading of memories and difficulty of communication between different historians.” (Pg. 116-117) Later, he asserts, “if there is a modest prior probability that … Jesus had lived the right kind of life… we don’t need too much witness testimony to make it probable that Jesus rose from the dead… there is significant historical evidence of a kind which it is quite probable we would have if Jesus rose from the dead.” (Pg. 127) He also argues, “Only with some uncertainty about whether God had become incarnate… can we show any serious dedication to the good by pursuing what is probably the right way to live when we may be mistaken.” (Pg. 131)
He acknowledges, “Even when we are concerned with passages of Scripture about whose meaning … there is little dispute, two substantial difficulties remain. The first is that there are passages inconsistent with each other, and so with any Christian doctrine based on one of these passages. The second is that… there remain many passages inconsistent with the results of modern science and history.” (Pg. 147)
He concludes, “given the evidence that Jesus founded a Church and that a major purpose of this was to provide a means through which God would ensure that future generations had available a correct account of the teaching of Jesus and what was important in life… God will provide the Church with guidance to ensure that what it teaches as central doctrine over many centuries is true… So I conclude that all the doctrines of the Creed… are overall probable…” (Pg. 168)
I was considerably disappointed in this book, as compared to Swinburne’s earlier books (which I loved); his arguments are much less intellectually rigorous, and he often seems nearly guilty of engaging in “special pleading”—tailoring his arguments to fit a pre-conceived conclusion. Nevertheless, this book will interest many interested in philosophical Christian apologetics.