Akin-ETERNITY3Some people think that only the present is real and that the past and the future don’t exist.

This view—known as “presentism”—encounters problems if God exists changelessly, outside of time in an “eternal now” alongside the changing “temporal now” that we exist in.

We looked at some of these problems recently. For example:

  1. God’s changeless knowledge of what is real would seem to change if only the present is real and the current time changes from one moment to another. Thus, at one point God would know that 12:01 a.m. is the only real moment, but later he would know that 12:02 a.m. is the only real moment, and so on.
  2. God’s changeless knowledge of what is real also seems to change as the contents of the universe assume different configurations over time. Thus, at a point shortly after creation, God would know that stars and planets are not yet real, but later he would know that stars and planets are
  3. God’s creative/conserving action seems to change in that he must stop conserving one configuration of things in the universe to allow another to come to pass. Thus, he must first create/conserve the universe in one condition (such as before stars and planets exist) and then stop conserving it in this state so that a new condition (when stars and planets do exist) can come about.

None of these would be problems if God were inside of time like we are and thus capable of changing in his actions and his knowledge of what is real.

But the Church teaches that God is outside of time and changeless.

These aren’t the only problems with the idea only that the present exists. Here are two more . . .


New Creations from Nothing

Not only does God conserve everything in existence, it seems that God engages in a form of ongoing creation from nothing. In 1950, Pius XII taught that:

[T]he Catholic Faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God (Humani Generis 36).

Our souls thus are not inherited from our parents the way our bodies are. They are “immediately created by God.”

Furthermore, this teaching is understood to exclude the idea that our souls exist before conception.

If that’s the case, then for the vast majority of the history of the universe, God had not created your soul, or mine.

Then, all of a sudden, he started creating/conserving us, beginning at the moments of our conceptions.

Bang! New creations—apparently ex nihilo—long after the initial creation of the world.

But if the only moment that exists is the present, that would mean God accomplished our creation at a different time than he created the world.

If God is outside of time then he must, in the eternal now, be simultaneously creating/conserving both the physical world and our souls.

But if presentism is true and only the present moment of time exists then when God created the world there would be no other place in time to put our souls except its first moment, and our souls would have had to exist at the beginning of the universe.


The Incarnation

Now let’s consider the Incarnation of God’s Son.

If God is outside of time then he must, in the eternal now, be incarnating as Jesus Christ.

But when in time is he incarnating?

If only the present is real then, when God created the universe, God would have had to incarnate at that moment. There was no other time in which the Son could incarnate.

The Incarnation of Christ in Mary’s womb would thus have taken place before the stars were formed, before life was created, and before Mary herself was created.

The only way around this would be to say either that God is not outside of time—so that he could create the universe and then, long ages later, change his mode of action so that he became incarnate—or that there is more than one real moment of time.


The Growing Block Theory

We’ve seen that problems arise if only the present moment of time is real, but that isn’t the only view of time.

Another is the “growing block” theory of time, according to which both the past and the present (but not the future) are real. Time is like a block that grows with the course of events, with the present at the leading edge of the block.

What if this theory is true? Would it encounter similar problems?

We’d need to rephrase some of them, but the same fundamental problems would arise. For example, consider the initial puzzle about God’s knowledge of what times are real.

If we asked this question at the first moment of creation, it would turn out that:

  • In the eternal now, God knows that at the first moment of creation that 12:01 a.m. is real and 12:02 a.m. is not

But if we waited a minute and asked the same question, it would turn out that:

  • In the eternal now, God knows that both 12:01 a.m. and 12:02 a.m. are real.

Again, we’ve got a problem with God possessing changeless knowledge of what is real, because that knowledge would need to continually change as new moments arrive and get added to the “growing block” of real moments.

The same is true of all the other puzzles, such as God changelessly incarnating in Mary’s womb from the eternal now when only the first moment of time was real, long before Mary even existed.

Positing the growing block theory thus does not get us around the difficulties.



What about eternalism?—the view that all moments of history are real and the present (the temporal now) is simply the moment we are presently experiencing?

This view solves all of the puzzles:

  1. In the eternal now, God changelessly knows all of the moments of time he is creating. Thus he knows that 12:01 a.m., 12:02 a.m., 12:03 a.m., and all subsequent moments are real.
  2. In the eternal now, God changelessly knows the configuration of all of the matter and energy in the universe at every moment of its history—and he knows that these configurations are real at the different points in time he is creating.
  3. In the eternal now, God simultaneously creates/conserves everything in creation, including all of the different configurations of what the universe contains at different
  4. In the eternal now, God changelessly creates both the world and our individual souls, but because all times in history are real, he is able to put the creation of the world at one point and the creations of our souls at much later points.
  5. In the eternal now, God is changelessly incarnating as Jesus of Nazareth, but because all times in history are real, he is able to place the beginning of the world at one point and the moment of the Incarnation at a later point.



In view of the problems with presentism and the growing block theory, I find myself concluding that we have good theological reasons for saying that the past, present, and future are all real, and that God creates all of history all at once from his eternal perspective.

This view is also supported by modern physics and by various philosophical arguments.

I don’t agree with everything said by every eternalist. In particular, I reject the claim made by some—particularly among physicists and philosophers—that time is “an illusion” or that it doesn’t pass. Both of these claims are manifestly untrue, and eternalists shoot themselves in the foot when they say such things.

I also recognize that not all theologians, philosophers, and physicists agree with eternalism.

The Church doesn’t have an official teaching on this, and, as I’ve mentioned, orthodox Catholics have different positions on it.

However, I personally don’t see how to get around the puzzles I’ve mentioned here if only the present (or the present and the past) are real.

I thus conclude there are good theological reasons for eternalism.

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Akin-ETERNITY2What is the nature of time?

Three views have been proposed:

  • Presentism holds that only the present is real (so the past and future are not)
  • The growing block theory holds that the past and the present are real (but the future is not)
  • Eternalism holds that the past, the present, and the future are all real

The Church does not have an official teaching on this, and orthodox Catholics take different views.

However, the Church does teach (as we recently saw) that God is eternal—outside of time—and this seems to have implications for the nature of time.

Let’s suppose that presentism is true and that only the present exists.

What would that mean for God’s eternity?


The Eternal Now and Presentism

In this case, we could speak of two moments that are actually real:

  • Outside of time, there is God’s “eternal now”
  • Inside of time, there is the present, which we may think of as the “temporal now”

The former is, by definition, changeless, while the latter changes constantly.

At one moment in the temporal now, it’s 8:00 a.m., but a minute later it’s 8:01 a.m., and so forth. At one moment, you’re waking up, at another moment you’re getting out of bed, etc.

How would an eternal, changeless God relate to a constantly changing temporal now, if that is the only moment of time that exists?

Here we run into what strike me as problems. We’ll look at several of them.


Getting the Universe Started

If presentism is true then, in the eternal now, God would create time—a single moment (the “temporal now”) which constantly changes, alongside his changelessness.

One of the things that is constantly changing about time is what the current time actually is. Suppose that God created the universe at 12:01 a.m. In that case:

  • At the moment of creation, the temporal now is 12:01 a.m.
  • One minute after creation, the temporal now is 12:02 a.m.
  • Two minutes after creation, the temporal now is 12:03 a.m.
  • And so on.

It follows that God knows all of these things in the eternal now. Thus:

  • In the eternal now, God knows that at the first moment of creation it is 12:01 a.m.
  • He also knows that a minute after creation it is 12:02 a.m.
  • And he knows that two minutes after creation is 12:03 a.m.
  • And so on.

By virtue of his omniscience, in the eternal now, God knows what time it will be at all moments after creation—even if those moments haven’t occurred yet.

Now let’s ask a question: Supposing that presentism is true and only the present moment is real, what does God know about what exists?

Notice that we’re not asking about what will exist or what did exist. We’re asking about what exists.

If we ask this question at the moment of creation then we will find the following:

  • God knows that he is real, and that he exists changelessly, outside of time.
  • God knows that the universe is real, and that in time it is currently 12:01 a.m.

But if we ask the same question a minute later, we will find these things:

  • God knows that he is real, and that he exists changelessly, outside of time.
  • God knows that the universe is real, and that in time it is currently 12:02 a.m.

We have a problem.

When we first asked the question, God eternally and changelessly knew that the moment 12:01 a.m. exists.

The second time we asked the question, God eternally and changelessly knew that the moment 12:02 a.m. exists.

We have a contradiction.

If only a single moment of time exists then 12:01 a.m. and 12:02 a.m. cannot simultaneously be real. Consequently, God can’t simultaneously know that they are real.

For God to first know that 12:01 a.m. is real and later know that 12:02 a.m. is real, God’s knowledge would have to be changeable, and God would have to be experiencing time.

He would not be timeless.

The same problem appears if we ask about what times God knows are not real. For example:

  • At the first moment of creation, 12:02 a.m. is not real because it is in the (unreal) future.
  • A minute after creation, 12:01 a.m. is not real because it is in the (unreal) past.

If we asked what God knows about the times that are not real then, when we first ask the question, God would know that 12:02 a.m. is not real (and that 12:01 a.m. is real), but when we next ask the question, he would know that 12:01 a.m. is not real (and that 12:02 a.m. is).

Again, God’s knowledge would be changing with time.


The Underlying Logical Problem

This contradiction happens because we are entertaining the following propositions:

  1. God is real.
  2. Time is real.
  3. God knows what is real.
  4. God is changeless.
  5. Time consists only of a single, changing moment.

These propositions are not all consistent with each other. Up to four of them can be true, but not all five.

If God knows what is real and what is real changes, then so must God’s knowledge, so God is not changeless.

If you want to accept propositions 1-3 then you must sacrifice either proposition 4 or proposition 5.


Ongoing Change

The same problem reappears when we consider other things God knows.

For example, the way the things in the universe are arranged constantly changes with time.

Even if the total amount of physical energy and mass in the universe stays the same, as modern physics holds, that matter and energy is constantly being rearranged.

Thus there was a time before matter and energy was arranged into stars, a time before it was arranged into living beings, a time before it was arranged into our bodies, etc.

We thus might consider the following:

  • At the first moment in time, the matter and energy in the universe was arranged in Configuration 1.
  • At the second moment in time, it was arranged in Configuration 2.
  • At the third moment in time, it was arranged in Configuration 3.
  • And so on.

If we ask our previous question about what God knows is real, it will turn out that—the first time we ask the question—he knows that Configuration 1 is real. But if we ask the same question again, he will know that Configuration 2 is real, etc.

This generates the same kind of problems that we saw above.


God’s Conserving Action

The problem is even worse, because it doesn’t apply just to God’s knowledge. It also applies to his actions.

The Church teaches that the world would not continue to exist unless God sustained it in existence. Thus John Paul II stated:

By creating, God called into being from nothing all that began to exist outside himself. But God’s creative act does not end here. What comes forth from nothing would return to nothing if it were left to itself and not conserved in being by the Creator. Having created the cosmos, God continues to create it, by maintaining it in existence. Conservation is a continuous creation (conservatio est continua creatio) (Audience, May 7, 1986).

This means that, at the first moment of creation, God would generate the universe , with all of the matter and energy in it in Configuration 1.

But then God would have to stop conserving Configuration 1 so that Configuration 2 could come about.

He would then have to stop conserving Configuration 2 so that Configuration 3 could arise.

This would also place God inside of time, since if he were simultaneously conserving all three configurations from outside of time, all three would exist simultaneously from the perspective of the eternal now.

That means all three would be real at once—three different moments of time would exist, contradicting the idea that only a single moment (the present, the “temporal now”) exists.

God would have to be in time if he were to initially create/conserve the moment containing Configuration 1 and then stop doing that to allow Configuration 1 to be replaced by Configuration 2 in the temporal now.

But the Church teaches that God is not in time, so we have another problem.

These aren’t the only problems with the idea that only the present exists. We’ll look at more next time.

(Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

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Akin-ETERNITY1The fact that we live in time and God lives in eternity leads to all kinds of questions. For example:

  • If God is eternal and outside of time, does he create all of history all at once?
  • Does the fact that what is true in time changes mean that God’s knowledge changes?
  • How can God be eternal and yet incarnate as Jesus Christ at a specific moment in time?

To answer questions like this, we need to think about the nature of both time and eternity.


Three Views of Time

Philosophers sometimes talk about three views of time:

  1. The view that only the present is real (so the past and the future are not real)
  2. The view that the past and the present are real (but the future is not real)
  3. The view that the past, present, and future are all real.

The first view is sometimes called “presentism,” since it believes that there is only one moment that truly exists: right now, the present. On this view, the past and the future don’t exist. The moments in the past once existed, and the moments in the future will exist later on, but right now, the only thing that is real is the present.

The second view is sometimes called the “growing block” theory, since it presents time as a block that grows with the course of events. The events that are in the past are real, as are events occurring in the present, at the leading edge of the block, but future events do not yet exist.

The third view is sometimes called “eternalism.” On this view, the past, present, and future are all equally real. The present is the moment of time that we are experiencing right now. We no longer have access to moments in the past, and we do not yet have access to moments in the future, but they still exist.

Which of these theories is true?


Arguments from Physics

A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein proposed that time is essentially another dimension—a fourth dimension, alongside the three spatial dimensions we experience: height, width, and breadth.

He proposed that, together, these dimensions make up a reality physicists now call “spacetime.”

This concept has served physics extremely well. It makes it easy to describe physical phenomena using equations, and it has proved enormously useful to scientists.

Consequently, modern physicists lean heavily toward eternalism.

The idea of time as a dimension has proved so useful, in fact, that even physicists like Lee Smolin—who wants to revisit the idea—acknowledge it is very hard to imagine an alternative that would make sense. (Smolin talks about this in his book Time Reborn).

It thus seems safe to say that, to the extent contemporary physics is a guide, there is significant support for eternalism.

However, the findings of science are always provisional—never final—so they are not definitive for the question.


Arguments from Philosophy

If the results of physics are not definitive, neither are the results of philosophy.

The debate about the nature of time has been going on since the ancient Greeks began wrestling with the question, and no definitive solution has emerged.

An individual philosopher may find the arguments mounted for one position or another to be the most compelling, but—as on most subjects—there is no definitive consensus among philosophers.



What I’d like to do, rather than proposing an argument from physics or philosophy, is mount a theological case.

I want to point out right up front that the Church does not have an official teaching on the nature of time, and I know orthodox Catholics who take different positions on the matter.

However, I think that what the Church teaches about God has implications for the nature of time.

So let’s look at that.


God’s Eternity

The Church teaches that God is eternal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal, infinite (immensus), and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple (CCC 202).

In popular speech, saying that something is eternal means that it lasts for an unlimited amount of time. However, when applied to God, the term “eternal” means something else: It means he is outside of time altogether.

The classic theological explanation of eternity was provided in the sixth century by the Roman philosopher Boethius, who wrote:

Eternity . . . is the simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life (On the Consolation of Philosophy 5:6).

This means that God’s life has no end (it’s interminable), and that he possesses all of that life all at once (in a simultaneously-whole manner). He does not experience it moment-by-moment, the way we do. God’s life thus is not spread out over time the way ours is, meaning that he is outside of time.

As St. John Paul II explained:

[H]is eternity . . . must be understood as the “indivisible, perfect, and simultaneous possession of an unending life,” and therefore as the attribute of being absolutely “beyond time” (John Paul II, Audience, Sept. 4, 1985).

He went on to teach:

God’s eternity does not go by with the time of the created world. “It does not coincide with the present.” It does not precede it or “prolong” it into infinity. . . .

He is eternal because he is the absolute fullness of being which cannot be understood as a sum of fragments or of “particles” of being which change with time. The texts quoted from the Bible clearly indicate this.

The absolute fullness of being can come to be understood only as eternity, which is, as the total and indivisible possession of that being, God’s own life.

In this sense God is eternal: a “Now,” a “Present,” subsisting and unchanging.

This mode of being is essentially distinguished from that of creatures, which are “contingent” beings (ibid.).

God therefore exists in what theologians refer to as an “eternal now” outside of time, a now where time does not pass from moment to moment. It is thus distinct from the “temporal now” we experience, where new moments arrive and then slip into the past.

A consequence of this is that there is no change in God. There is no progression from moment to moment in the eternal now, and so no change occurs in God.

This appears to have theological implications for the nature of time.

We’ll look at those next.

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pope-francis2This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 27 February 2017 to 22 March 2017.


General Audiences




Papal Tweets

  • “The Church wishes to be close to each person with the love, compassion and consolation that come from Christ.” @Pontifex 16 March 2017
  • “Fasting means not only abstaining from food, but also from any unhealthy attachment, and especially sin.” @Pontifex 17 March 2017
  • “I invite you not to build walls but bridges, to conquer evil with good, offence with forgiveness, to live in peace with everyone.” @Pontifex 18 March 2017
  • “May St Joseph, Spouse of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, bless you and watch over you. And best wishes to fathers!” @Pontifex 19 March 2017
  • “t is vital that we sow the seeds of goodness in order to cultivate justice, foster accord, and sustain integration, without growing weary.” @Pontifex 21 March 2017
  • “Even if we may be men and women of little faith, the Lord saves us. We must always have hope in the Lord!” @Pontifex 22 March 2017

Papal Instagram

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prayersIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (March 21, 2017, 1st hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

  • What is a “eucharistic minister”?
  • Do Muslims (and Jews) worship the same God as Christians?
  • Is it necessary to renew your marriage vows at some point? Does it need to be done during a Mass?
  • Who was James “the brother of the Lord”?
  • When should you conclude something is not God’s will and stop praying?
  • If someone has requested that you don’t pray for them after they die, should you honor that request? Can an angry soul take revenge?
  • How to understand the issues of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana?
  • Why is pouring more common in the Catholic Church than immersion when performing baptism?
  • If you’re invited to someone’s house on a Friday in Lent, is it mortal sin to eat the meat they serve?

Click the link to watch the video on YouTube.

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BASKETBALLWould Jesus have been the all-time, all-history MVP if he played basketball?

Did he have to learn his craft of carpentry? Did he have to learn table manners?

There are all kinds of questions one can ask about the way Jesus’ divine and human natures related in his earthly life, and we can’t know the answers to all of them.

But looking at the principles involved can be instructive.

Let’s talk about that.


Carpentry and Table Manners

A reader writes:

We know that Jesus is completely divine and completely human, so did Joseph have to teach him how to cut stone? How to measure correctly?

Did the Blessed Mother ever say something like, “Chew with your mouth closed. Stay in your seat. Don’t interrupt when someone else is speaking”—like I have to do with my children?


What Jesus Knew and When He Knew It

Jesus had both a divine knowledge and a human knowledge.

His divine knowledge was unlimited, and therefore in his divine intellect, he knew everything. He was omniscient.

The question here pertains more directly to his human knowledge. Concerning that, the Catechism states:

[The] human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time.

This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man,” and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience.

This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking “the form of a slave” (CCC 472).

The statement about Jesus “increasing in wisdom” is taken from Luke 2:52, which discusses Jesus’ growth as a young person. Commenting on this passage, Pope Benedict wrote:

[I]t is also true that his wisdom grows. As a human being, he does not live in some abstract omniscience, but he is rooted in a concrete history, a place and a time, in the different phases of human life, and this is what gives concrete shape to his knowledge.

So it emerges clearly here that he thought and learned in human fashion.

It becomes quite apparent that he is true man and true God, as the Church’s faith expresses it. The interplay between the two is something that we cannot ultimately define (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 3: The Infancy Narratives, “Epilogue”).


The Child Jesus

As Pope Benedict indicates, we can’t fully understand the interplay between Christ’s divine and human natures.

However, it would seem that, in terms of learning his craft as a carpenter in his human knowledge, Jesus would have been instructed by Joseph, like any boy being apprenticed in that trade.

What are considered appropriate table manners varies widely from one culture to another, so they are not built directly into human nature. Presumably Joseph and Mary would have taught him these things as well.

Having said that, Jesus would have been intelligent and obedient (cf. Luke 2:51), so it’s not like he would have been an unruly child.

Yet he could do things that were surprising, confusing, and even dismaying to his parents (cf. Luke 2:48), as illustrated by the incident in the Temple when he was twelve (Luke 2:41-50).

Jesus would have appeared to others as an unusual child—unusually intelligent, unusually holy, etc.—but not so otherworldly that people automatically recognized him as the Son of God.

After all, they didn’t automatically see him that way even when he was an adult (cf. 1 Cor. 2:8).



The reader continues:

The theology teacher at the school where I work referenced Aquinas saying that Jesus being human and divine, had to learn as a human—but once he learned he never erred.

The example he gave was this: If Lebron James went back in time and taught Jesus how to play basketball then Jesus would then be the greatest basketball player ever. He would never miss a shot, never lose a game, never miss a free throw, etc.

It seems to me that there are pitfalls on both sides of this question. If Jesus is fully human, then he would HAVE to miss a shot, misbehave, miss cut a piece of wood from time to time—like we all do. And if he’s fully divine, then of course he would never miss a shot, misbehave as a child, miss cut wood or stone, etc.

The Christian Faith holds that Jesus was like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). It does not teach that he wouldn’t need to practice in order to build skills, whether they are skills used in carpentry or sports.


Practicing Skills

Any athlete, or athletics teacher, can tell you that practice is necessary to build skills even once the concepts involved are understood intellectually.

It takes repetition to build the neural pathways needed for a move to become second nature—part of one’s “muscle memory.” And it certainly takes repetition to build one’s muscles up and to develop fine motor control and hand-eye coordination.

It’s not simply a question of understanding the concepts involved. You have to do the work to train your body.

The same thing goes for a skill like touch typing. You can explain the concept in minutes, but becoming a proficient, ten-finger typist—so that you can hit the correct key without having to stop and think about where it is—takes lots of practice.

Playing the piano—or any instrument—is the same.

Also, your body has to be old enough to have the kind of muscles and neurology needed to learn a skill. Before that point, practicing it won’t work.

That’s why there aren’t any toddlers who are professional weight lifters or professional ballerinas, even if they try to imitate the moves of adults engaging in these activities.


Jesus’ Miracles

As the miracle-working Son of God, Jesus could have instantaneously given himself any skill, in any degree, and been the best in world history at anything.

However, in the Gospels Jesus performs miracles in service of his mission, not to show off or do things completely unrelated to his mission.

Except when his mission was involved, he chose to live like others in a non-glorified human condition.

This is what Scripture means when it says he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).


Jesus’ Growth

As one born into a non-glorified human condition, Jesus did not start with all physical perfections. He grew and developed like we do.

He was not born with his adult height, an adult’s bodily agility, an adult’s fine motor skills, or an adult’s hand-eye coordination.

He was born as a baby, with a baby’s height, a baby’s agility, a baby’s motor skills, and a baby’s hand-eye coordination.

He also was not born with specialized skills in his human knowledge involving carpentry, basketball, playing the piano, or other activities.


All-Time MVP?

Even once Jesus did start working on a skill, the Faith does not oblige us to hold that he would automatically have been the best in human history at that skill.

Skills come in degrees, and the degree to which you have a skill depends on your natural aptitude for it and how much effort you have put into practicing it.

Jesus may have had a great deal of natural aptitude, but that wouldn’t mean he had every conceivable advantage.

In basketball, height is an advantage, but the Church does not hold that Jesus was the tallest man in history.

Similarly, the ability to run fast—which is dependent on factors like body weight, leg muscle mass, and how many fast-twitch nerve fibers you have in your legs—is also an advantage in basketball. But the Church does not teach that Jesus had the biggest leg muscles or the most fast-twitch nerve fibers in human history.

Jesus also didn’t eat a special sports nutrition diet, lift weights, or take performance-enhancers.

And—even on our imaginary scenario where Lebron James teaches him basketball—he wouldn’t have spent hours a day practicing on the court. It would have interfered with his mission.

Consequently, as one living in a non-glorified human condition, Jesus would not automatically have been the greatest basketball player in world history from the moment he learned, in his human knowledge, how the game is played.

Of course, as the omnipotent Son of God, he could have become the all-time MVP using his miraculous powers, but that wasn’t his mission.


Mr. Popular?

Finally, the reader writes:

In my mind I am struggling to envision a teenage Jesus who never ever makes a mistake. Nobody likes being around someone who is perfect—someone who never loses a game, never stubs his toe, never over sleeps, never hit his thumb with the hammer.

Jesus, we know, had to be charismatic. People followed Him; people liked him. I can’t seem to reconcile Jesus’ perfection and also being human like us.

I think I view this differently.

While people would notice if someone never loses a game, that would alternately be attractive or off-putting depending on whether you’re on the same team or the opposite one.

Also, whether a sports team wins generally doesn’t depend on the actions of just one person. That’s why they’re team sports. Even if Jesus were the greatest basketball player in history, his teammates (e.g., a ragtag bunch of Galilean fishermen) could lose the game.

In addition, few people would notice that another person doesn’t stub his toe or hit his thumb with a hammer.

And in the ancient world—before alarm clocks, watches, and tight schedules—oversleeping almost wasn’t even a thing.

A person who always got up when he intended wouldn’t be noticed, though people may have simply thought such a person was “an early riser” (cf. Mark 1:35).

What people don’t like are know-it-alls and show-offs: people who have high skill levels and are arrogant about it.

However, Jesus was meek and humble of heart (Matt. 11:29), and people do find it attractive when a person has high skill levels but is humble.

In fact, that’s very attractive, and Jesus’ humility no doubt played a significant role in his popularity.

Of course, even when a skilled person is humble, some will still be jealous. And some people were jealous of Jesus (Matt. 27:18, Mark 15:10).

But then he didn’t come to be Mr. Popular and win everybody over. He came to be “a sign of contradiction” who was set “for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).

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josephusRecently we began looking at claims that the Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37-c. 100) said that his people believed in reincarnation.

This is not true.

As we’ve already seen, there were two general views of the afterlife among Jews in his day.

One view—which was a minority position held by the Sadducees—claimed that there was no afterlife at all.

The other view—which was the majority position and which was held by Pharisees, Christians, and other Jews—claimed the dead would be resurrected on the last day.

For a discussion of evidence regarding these views, see my previous blog post.

In this post, we’ll look at the writings of Josephus himself.


1) What Josephus might have said

Josephus’s surviving works were written to a Greco-Roman audience, following the disastrous Jewish War of the A.D. 60s, when the Jews had a very bad reputation around the Mediterranean world.

Consequently, in his writings Josephus does his best to rehabilitate his co-religionists’ reputation, and sometimes he stretches the truth to do so.

If Josephus had said that Jews believe in reincarnation, it wouldn’t have been because this was true—the evidence against that in this period is just too strong—but because he wanted to make his countrymen seem less weird to his audience, many of whom (being Greco-Romans) did believe in reincarnation.

Even that would be unlikely, though, because all one of his readers would have had to do is ask a local Jew whether their people believed in reincarnation, and they would have gotten a snorting, derisive reply, possibly with the respondent heaping scorn on Josephus.

Josephus was too smart to make such an easily falsifiable claim.

He would have been particularly unlikely to make one because he had Jewish critics, and if there was any reputation he cared about more than that of his people, it was his own.

Josephus was not going to make an easily falsifiable claim that could damage his own reputation!

Consequently, it would be more likely that he would have explained Jewish beliefs about the afterlife in a way that didn’t make them seem too weird, but that wasn’t false.

In other words, he might have soft-pedaled Jewish belief in resurrection, but he wouldn’t have outright falsified it.

As we’ll see, it looks like that’s precisely what he did.


2) Josephus and the Jewish sects

In his autobiography (see Life 1-2[1-12]), Josephus tells us that he grew up in a priestly family and was very studious.

When he was 16, he decided to explore the different Jewish sects and determine which was best.

He therefore explored the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes, as well as staying with an ascetic in the desert named Banus. Then, at age 19, he decided to be a Pharisee.

As a teenager, Josephus could not have made a thorough exploration of the teachings of these groups, especially in that amount of time.

He even says he stayed with Banus for three years, which on its face would have consumed the whole period of investigation (though in ancient reckoning “three years” might mean only two years plus part of a third).

Though he may not have made a rigorous, detailed study of these groups as a young man, he did grow up among them, and he continued to live among them as an adult, and it is certain that he was familiar with their principal teachings and main points of difference with each other.

This would have included an awareness of the dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over whether there is a resurrection or whether there is no afterlife.

As a Pharisee, he certainly would have known that the sect he identified with believed in resurrection, and this makes it extraordinarily unlikely that he would say his countrymen believed in reincarnation.

So why would anyone think he did?


3) Josephus in Whiston’s Translation

In 1736, a man named William Whiston published a translation of Josephus’s works, and this became the standard English edition of them.

Today it is in the public domain, and it is all over the Internet.

Unfortunately, it’s also quite flawed, and in a moment we’ll see an example of that.

In his history of the Jewish War of the A.D. 60s, Josephus explains the different Jewish sects for the benefit of his readers. In doing so, he notes that the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife, and—in Whiston’s translation—this is what he says about the Pharisees’ belief on the matter:

They say that all souls are incorruptible; but that the souls of good men are only removed into other bodies,—but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment (War 2:8:14[163]).

Note the phrase: “into other bodies” (plural).

To an inattentive reader, or one unfamiliar with what the Pharisees actually taught, this could suggest reincarnation—that after death a righteous man’s soul would enter one body, only to die and enter another, and so on—life after life.

However, this is a place where Whiston’s translation is mistaken.

I checked the Greek, and what Josephus actually says is that the soul of the good man enters eis heteron sōma—“into another body” (singular).

What Josephus is talking about here is the reconstituted, resurrected body they will receive on the last day—not a series of bodies received in different lifetimes during history.

It’s the same basic mode of language St. Paul uses when—in the middle of a passionate defense of the doctrine of resurrection—he writes:

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what sort of body do they come?” Foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. . . .

Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:35-36, 42-44, LEB).

St. Paul makes it clear that there is both continuity and difference between the bodies we have in this life and the resurrected bodies we will one day receive.

There is continuity because it is fundamentally the same body: “It” (singular) is sown, and “it” is raised.

But there is also a difference, because its initial condition is natural and corruptible and its later condition is spiritual and incorruptible.

Reflecting this continuity-and-difference, Paul compares our bodies to seeds which are sown in the ground and then transform into mature plants.

Yet the continuity between the two does not stop him from speaking of their two conditions as if they were two bodies—a natural one and a spiritual one.

In reality, it’s one body that experiences a dramatic change in condition.

Josephus is describing the same thing, only he isn’t making clear the continuity between the body we have in this life and the resurrected body—presumably to keep the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection from seeming “too weird” for his Greco-Roman audience.

He thus accurately describes the Sadducees’ disbelief in the afterlife and the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection on the last day, but he describes it in a way that keeps it from sounding too strange for his readers.


4) Josephus on suicide and resurrection

The above passage isn’t the only one which people have pointed to as evidence for Josephus saying Jews believe in reincarnation, however, the others fare no better.

Later in Jewish War, Josephus recounts a speech he gave to his men when they were about to be captured by the Romans and wanted to commit suicide. In counseling them against this, he reports saying:

Do not you know that those who depart out of this life, according to the law of nature [i.e., who die a natural death], and pay that debt which was received from God, when he that lent it us is pleased to require it back, enjoy eternal fame?

That their houses and their posterity are sure, that their souls are pure and obedient, and obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the revolution of ages, they are again sent into pure bodies; while the souls of those whose hands have acted madly against themselves [i.e., by committing suicide], are received by the darkest place in Hades, and while God, who is their father, punishes those that offend against either of them in their posterity? (War 3:8:5[374-375]).

Here there is a plural in the Greek: agnois . . . sōmasin—“(into) pure bodies” (plural).

The reason is that Josephus is trying to persuade a group of men not to kill themselves, and so he’s contrasting the fate of those who don’t commit suicide with the fate of those who do. This is the reason he uses the plural here.

It’s not that a single righteous man will enter multiple bodies over the course of history. It’s that multiple righteous men will each enter a single body on the last day.

What makes this certain is his reference to what happens before hand: The souls of the righteous “obtain a most holy place in heaven” and then at the end of the world—“in the revolution of ages”—they are again returned to bodily form.

This is a description of the normal Pharisaic (and Christian) belief in the soul continuing in the intermediate state until the eventual, eschatological resurrection.


5) Josephus on the rewards of keeping God’s law

In a similar vein, Josephus elsewhere discusses the rewards his people believed they would gain for keeping God’s law as given by Moses.

Surprisingly, this passage has also been appeal to as teaching reincarnation, but a careful reading indicates it does not. Josephus writes:

[T]he reward for such as live exactly according to the laws, is not silver or gold; it is not a garland of olive branches or of smallage [i.e., parsley], nor any such public sign of commendation; but every good man hath his own conscience bearing witness to himself, and by virtue of our legislator’s [Moses’] prophetic spirit, and of the firm security God himself affords such a one, he believes that God hath made this grant to those that observe these laws, even though they be obliged readily to die for them, that they shall come into being again, and at a certain revolution of things receive a better life than they had enjoyed before (Against Apion 2:31[217-218]).

There is even less here than in previous passages to suggest reincarnation.

There is no explicit mention of “bodies”—either singular or plural, in the Greek or the English—and we again have the time cue telling us when the restoration to life will happen.

What Josephus says in the Greek is that it will happen ek peritropēs—literally, “at (the) turning round/revolution.”

This is a shortened form of the Greek phrase he used in his speech to his men, when he said they would be reembodied ek peritropēs aiōnōn—“at the turning round/revolution of the ages.”

The meaning is the same: The resurrection will happen at the last day, at the turning of the ages.

Josephus is simply describing belief in the eschatological resurrection, which was normal among Jews (with the exception of the Sadducees, who denied the afterlife).


6) Confirmation from the Antiquities

Josephus also discusses the major Jewish sects in his longest work, Antiquities of the Jews, and there we find further confirmation. Josephus writes:

They [the Pharisees] also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again. . . .

But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies. (18:1:3-4[14, 16]).

Here again we have the expected contrast between the Sadducees’ denial of the afterlife and the Pharisees’ belief that, after death, the soul will experience rewards or punishment, with the righteous being given new life at the resurrection of the dead.


7) Conclusion

From what we’ve seen, there is no basis for the claim that Josephus teaches that Jews in general, or the Pharisees in particular, believe in reincarnation.

He accurately describes the standard contrast between the Sadducees’ disbelief in the afterlife and the Pharisees’ belief in resurrection on the last day—a view that was held broadly among non-Sadducee Jews, including the early Christian movement.

Josephus does not stress that the righteous will rise in the same body they had in this life—presumably because that would harm his audience’s impression of Jews—but it is clear from what he says that the return to life happens once, on the last day, rather than over and over through history.

It is less clear whether he thinks the wicked will be raised. Although he does not specifically deny that they will be resurrected, one could conclude from what he writes that they will not be.

Despite the fact Daniel speaks of a resurrection of the wicked, the belief that the wicked would not be raised may have been common, and this may have left traces in the language even of Jews who did believe in the resurrection of the wicked (as with the New Testament’s identification of “the resurrection” and “the resurrection to/of life” with the righteous; see our previous post).

The claim that Josephus said Jews believe in reincarnation, however, is simply false.

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guardian angelIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (March 16, 2017, 1st hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

  • Why do the Gospels say that mustard seeds are the smallest seeds when they aren’t?
  • Is it correct to refer to “obedient faith,” and how is faith to be defined?
  • Why did Jesus teach in parables? How to understand Jesus’ statement that he told parables so people wouldn’t convert and be forgiven?
  • Can you go camping if it will conflict with you going to Mass on Sunday?
  • What do “heart,” “soul,” and “spirit” mean?
  • How to explain the Real Presence to a small child?
  • How to invite a fallen away Catholic back to the Faith?
  • Did the apostles go to confession before receiving Communion for the first time?
  • Are you obliged to go to confession in your parish with your pastor?
  • Can Catholics join the military? When is war justified?
  • Can you go to a doctor who performs abortions if you aren’t getting an abortion?
  • What happens to our guardian angels when we die?
  • When did purgatory begin and who was the first person to go there?

Click the link to watch the video on YouTube.

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Afterlife1Every so often I’ve encountered people claiming that the Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37-c. 100) said that Jews believe in reincarnation.

Sometimes this claim is made by New Agers, who want to bolster the antiquity of the idea in Judeo-Christian circles, but I’ve also seen it made by others.

It has always struck me as very implausible that Josephus would say this, but the people making the claim never gave references to where in his writings he was supposed to have said this, making it very hard to check out.

Web searches didn’t turn up anything useful, either.

Recently, however, I hit pay dirt.

We’ll look at what Josephus did say in my next blog post on this subject, but first, some context about Jewish views on the afterlife in this period.


1) The afterlife in the Old Testament

The earlier books of the Old Testament—as well as the archaeological evidence we have—indicate that the Israelites believed in an afterlife. That’s not surprising, because belief in an afterlife is a human universal—something that appears in all cultures.

However, the nature of this afterlife is not fully clear. It appears that they believed most people had a shadowy kind of existence in the next world, about which not much was known.

As the centuries progressed, however, the afterlife came into clearer focus, manifesting in a belief in bodily resurrection on the last day.

The clearest passages referring to this are found in Daniel and 2 Maccabees. In the former, we read:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2).

This attests to a resurrection of both the righteous (those who gain everlasting life) and the wicked (those who gain shame and everlasting contempt).

The passage does not indicate that all people will be raised. In Hebrew idiom, the word “many” can mean either “all” or “many but not all,” so the matter is ambiguous.

In 2 Maccabees, we read the account of seven brothers who were tortured and killed for their faith, along with their mother:

And when he [one of the sons] was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”

After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands,  and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king [i.e., Antiochus IV Epiphanes] himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.

When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” (2 Macc. 7:9-14).

As her sons are being killed, the mother also said:

Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers” (2 Macc. 7:23, 29).

Later in the book, we read about an incident in which Judah Maccabee and his men found some of their colleagues who had fallen in battle because of their sins:

He [Judah] also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin (2 Macc. 12:43-45).

In 2 Maccabees, the picture is much like in Daniel: God will raise the righteous back to “an everlasting renewal of life,” which will involve receiving back from God the bodily members that have been lost.

However, unlike in Daniel, it is not clear that the wicked will rise again, for the persecuting king is told “for you there will be no resurrection to life.”

This doesn’t mean that the wicked won’t be raised. There may be an implied contrast—as in Daniel—between a resurrection to “everlasting life” and one to “everlasting contempt.”

However, the passage may also indicate that the matter was not yet clear in Jewish thought.

It is also worth noting that the author of 2 Maccabees frames his account of Judah’s sin offering in apologetic terms. He considers two viewpoints: (1) belief in the resurrection and (2) the position of a person who is “not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again.” The author concludes that Judah’s collection for the sin offering for the dead shows that he was a believer in the resurrection.

The second position, which rejects the resurrection, seems to reject belief in the afterlife altogether, since if people continued to live on in any form, it would not be useless to pray for them. It would only be “superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead” if there was no afterlife at all.

The fact the author frames the matter in this way indicates that there were likely some in his audience who did not believe in the resurrection and he wants to win them over by showing that the great, national hero Judah did believe in it.

This sets us up for the conflict between the Sadducees and the Pharisees in the New Testament.


2) The resurrection in the New Testament

At the time of Jesus, the two most influential Jewish groups in Palestine were the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

These groups were developing around the time 2 Maccabees was written, and they were divided on the question of whether there is no afterlife.

Thus the smaller group—the Sadducees—challenge Jesus with an argument against the resurrection of the dead (Matt. 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-40). In all three of the Synoptic Gospels, they are identified as those “who say there is no resurrection.”

The more popular group—the Pharisees—did believe in the resurrection, and we see the two groups in open debate with each other over this question in Acts 23:6-10, when Paul divides the two factions against each other over this question.

On that occasion, Luke explains: “the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (Acts 23:8).

This makes it clear that the Sadducees did not believe in any afterlife at all, for not only did they not acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, they didn’t even acknowledge the existence of angels or human spirits.

The Pharisees, however, believed that human spirits existed after death and would, on the last day, be bodily resurrected.

This view was not only shared by the Pharisees but by the majority of Jews, generally. Thus, Martha says of her brother Lazarus:

I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24).

The New Testament is clear that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised to life. Thus Jesus says:

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29; cf. Acts 24:14-15, Rev. 20:12-15).

Here again we encounter a contrast between a resurrection of/to “life” and one of/to “judgment/contempt.”

Although the authors of the New Testament unambiguously believed in the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, the mode of language they use to express their beliefs may reflect a popular usage that was shaped by the fact that not all Jews believed the wicked would be raised.

This may be why the fate of the righteous is described as being raised to new “life,” even though both the righteous and the wicked will both be alive again.

It may also be why Paul on one occasion speaks in a way that identifies resurrection itself with the fate of the righteous, saying that he wants to know Christ “and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11).


3) Other Jewish sources

Our knowledge of Jewish views of the afterlife in this period is not limited to the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Josephus. It is widely discussed in other Jewish writings.

For a general overview of Jewish views regarding the resurrection see the Jewish Encyclopedia’s article on the subject.

We know, in particular, of the conflict between the Sadducees and the Pharisees on the subject:

The Sadducees denied the resurrection (Josephus, “Ant.” xviii. 1, § 4; idem, “B. J.” ii. 8, § 14; Acts 23:8; Sanh. 90b; Ab. R. N. v.). All the more emphatically did the Pharisees enunciate in the liturgy (Shemoneh ‘Esreh, 2d benediction; Ber. v. 2) their belief in resurrection as one of their fundamental convictions (Sanh. x. 1; comp. Abot iv. 22; Soṭah ix. 15) (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Resurrection”).

While the Pharisees clearly believed in resurrection, there were different positions on precisely who would be resurrected:

As to the question, Who will be raised from death? the answers given vary greatly in rabbinical literature. According to R. Simai (Sifre, Deut. 306) and R. Ḥiyya bar Abba (Gen. R. xiii. 4; comp. Lev. R. xiii. 3), resurrection awaits only the Israelites; according to R. Abbahu, only the just (Ta‘an. 7a); some mention especially the martyrs (Yalḳ. ii. 431, after Tanḥuma). R. Abbahu and R. Eleazar confine resurrection to those that die in the Holy Land; others extend it to such as die outside of Palestine (Ket. 111a). According to R. Jonathan (Pirḳe R. El. 34), the resurrection will be universal, but after judgment the wicked will die a second death and forever, whereas the just will be granted life everlasting (comp. Yalḳ. ii. 428, 499). . . .

At first, it seems, resurrection was regarded as a miraculous boon granted only to the righteous (see Test. Patr., Simeon, 6; Levi, 18; Judah, 25; Zebulun, 10; Vita Adæ et Evæ, 13; comp. Luke 14:14, 20:36). Afterward it came to be regarded as an act of God connected with the last judgment, and therefore universal resurrection of the dead became a doctrine, as expressed in the second benediction of the Shemoneh ‘Esreh (tḥyyt hmtym; Sifre, Deut. 329; Sanh. 92b) (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Resurrection”).

However, reincarnation—also known as metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls—was not taught in this period. That only happened in Jewish circles centuries later:

This doctrine was foreign to Judaism until about the eighth century, when, under the influence of the Mohammedan mystics, it was adopted by the Karaites and other Jewish dissenters (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v., “Transmigration of Souls”).

So, what did Josephus have to say about Jews in the first century?

That’s the subject of our next blog post on this subject.

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popr-francis-teachingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 15 February 2017 to 15 March 2017.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)


Papal Tweets

  • “Let us strive to fast during Lent with a smile, rather than a long face.” @Pontifex 10 March 2017
  • “The road from love to hate is easy. The one from hate to love is more difficult, but brings peace.” @Pontifex 11 March 2017
  • “Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour.” @Pontifex 12 March 2017
  • “May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word.” @Pontifex 13 March 2017
  • “Let us pray for one another so that we may open our doors to the weak and poor.” @Pontifex 14 March 2017
  • “The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.” @Pontifex 15 March 2017

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