Sunday, December 20, 2009

Conservative Scholars "Make Do" with the Historical Jesus

ChrisB offered the following comment on my post about responses to the Christ myth theory from the conservatives in The Historical Jesus: Five Views. “All this is really telling us is that you would like more information. Well, so would I, but we have to make do with what we have.”

I find Chris’ use of the phrase “make do” quite revealing because it suggests that the goal remains unchanged even if the means are less suitable. If I cannot afford a car, I still have to get to work so I “make do” by riding the bus or walking. If I cannot afford steak, I still have to eat so I “make do” with hamburger or peanut butter. If the evidence is insufficient to say with any certainty how some first century Jews came to believe in a resurrected Messiah, the Bible believing Christian still has to affirm that the historical Jesus is the Jesus of orthodox Christian faith. For conservative scholars, “making do” means paying lip service to objective historiography while finding some way to define the historical Jesus solely in terms of the gospel accounts.

I think I find Luke Timothy Johnson’s approach in Five Views most interesting. He freely acknowledges that the gospels “are replete with accounts of 'events' that in principle fall outside the ability of the historian to declare: virgin birth, voices from heaven, exorcisms, healings, transfiguration, resurrection.” He does believe that it can be established “that Jesus existed as a Jew in the first century, that he was executed by Roman authority in Palestine, that a movement arose in his name and proclaiming him as risen Lord spread across the Mediterranean world within twenty-five years” along with a few other basic facts. However, he doubts history’s ability to get much farther.

For Johnson, the solution to this dilemma is to read the gospels as literature and Jesus as a character in a narrative:
Rather than ask first concerning a word or deed of Jesus, “did Jesus really do this or say that?” the reader asks first, “what does attributing this saying or that deed” do to shape the meaning of the character of Jesus within the narrative?
Johnson believes that this makes the gospels into useful sources.
In this approach, the Gospels are treated not as limited and problematic sources for historical reconstruction but as invaluable witnesses to and interpretations of—precisely in their integrity as narratives—the human person, Jesus. The Gospels are read literarily rather than historically.
According to Johnson, understanding the literary character leads to understanding of the historical person:
Precisely because of their obvious divergence in their interpretations of the human Jesus, the Gospels are all the more valuable as witnesses on those points where they agree—even if their understanding of the point differs.
As Johnson’s alchemy proceeds, the literary character becomes historical fact.
Finally, the Jesus whom we engage and come to know as a human character in the canonical Gospels is also the historic Christ. It is this fully rounded literary character that provides the basis for the “Christ-Image” in literature, so recognizable a way of being human that it can be mistaken for no other.
It is a marvelous piece of prestidigitation. Perhaps Johnson can apply his techniques to root out the facts about other characters whose true history has been obscured by legend. Surely he can tease out the truth about King Arthur from Excalibur, Camelot, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. No doubt the facts pertaining to the rogue of Sherwood Forest lie somewhere between Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Kevin Kostner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It is too bad that historians have not discovered this technique before.

Like Johnson, James D.G. Dunn is willing to admit that the gospel accounts pose problems for a historian. He acknowledges that “normal historical means can hardly confirm” the resurrection. However, he denies that the historian should draw a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith:
In direct contrast to this deeply rooted suspicion of faith as a barrier to and perversion of any historical perspective on Jesus, my proposal is that the quest should start from the recognition that Jesus evoked faith from the outset of his mission and that this faith is the surest indication of the historical reality and effect of his mission.
Where Johnson made do with a literary character, Dunn makes do with the faith that the historical Jesus inspired:
One thing we can be sure about: that Jesus made an impact in and through his mission. . . . What has not been given sufficient recognition or weight, however, is the effect of this impact. These disciples encountered Jesus as a life-transforming experience: they followed him; they left their families; they gave up their livelihoods. Why? Because they had believed Jesus and what he said and taught. Because they believed in Jesus.
Frankly, however, I think it is precisely the faith response of his disciples that calls into question the Jesus of history and affirms the Jesus of myth. In all the surviving letters from first century Christians, not a single one indicates that the writer's faith was based on what Jesus said or taught. Not a single one indicates that its author had been influenced by a parable Jesus told or a miracle he performed. Their faith is shaped entirely by their understanding of the resurrected Christ. The itinerant preacher who wandered Galilee is absent.

Rather than “making do” with the evidence, perhaps we need to “make peace” with the evidence. We need to acknowledge that there are many possible historical explanations for how the stories about Jesus came to be written the way they were ranging from a Jesus who is largely legendary to a historical Jesus who said and did many of the things that are attributed to him. Our sources are not sufficient to allow us to do much more than outline some of the possibilities. Choosing any one of them as most likely is by nature speculative and choosing any one to the exclusion of all others is silly.

79 comments:

  1. So Dunn thinks Jesus had such an effect that 'These disciples encountered Jesus as a life-transforming experience: they followed him; they left their families; they gave up their livelihoods'

    I wonder what Haile Selassi did that transformed the lives of Rastafarians?

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're making a circular argument. You say, throw out the Gospels, now we know nothing about Jesus.

    But we don't throw out the Gospels. They are first century documents recounting events from the life of Jesus of Nazareth. They don't disappear just because you think early Christians should have quoted them more.

    Though we certainly do talk about the events and teachings of Jesus, modern Christians also get hung up on "their understanding of the resurrected Christ."

    You want more? Fine. But you can't just pretend the Gospels aren't there.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ChrisB: You say, throw out the Gospels, now we know nothing about Jesus.
    .
    With all due respect (and I may be quite wrong, of course) I don’t see Vinny saying this at all! If I understand this blog entry, it is NOT to throw out the Gospels, but rather to question what we do with them. Yes we have the Gospels—but what are they? Are they recounting historical events? Are they partially recounting historical events? Are they recounting mostly legendary development? Are they completely legendary?

    And (again, if I have it correct) much of our problem rests in our trying to decipher out what the Gospels are, by using the Gospels themselves. Although we can get a taste—just a taste—of the times’ culture, society, government, economic situation, language and gamut of other beliefs when the Gospels were written, we are still left sifting through insufficient data to make definitive conclusions.

    ChrisB: They are first century documents recounting events from the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
    .
    I’m not trying to rabbit trail this blog entry, but this short sentence is demonstrative of the problem. Were these first century documents? Even if we could narrow it down to that 100-year period, were they written pre-70 CE or post-70 CE, and would what impact the writers? Were these written to/by first generation Christians? Second generation? Third generation?

    Or take the other datum in this sentence—“Jesus of Nazareth.” Did Nazareth exist in the first century? Did Mark originally have Jesus from Capernaum, and was Mark 1:9’s “of Nazareth” an interpolation? What is the etymology of Nazarenos and did it mean a person of a belief, or a person from a location? (I.e., a “Nazarene” would be a person from “Nazar,” whereas a person from “Nazareth” would have been a “Nazarethene” or a “Nazarethite.”)

    Would it make a difference if Jesus did not come from Nazareth? Did Matthew change Jesus’ place of birth because Nazareth was too humble?

    The only reason I am pointing this out is to show that even in a sentence of very few words, and only two points—“first century documents” and “Jesus of Nazareth”—we see a huge variety of positions. As Vinny correctly said, do we “make peace” and recognize many of these questions remain unanswerable with the knowledge we have, or do we “make do” and force the data to relentlessly fit our dogma?

    ReplyDelete
  4. ChrisB: You say, throw out the Gospels, now we know nothing about Jesus.
    .
    With all due respect (and I may be quite wrong, of course) I don’t see Vinny saying this at all! If I understand this blog entry, it is NOT to throw out the Gospels, but rather to question what we do with them. Yes we have the Gospels—but what are they? Are they recounting historical events? Are they partially recounting historical events? Are they recounting mostly legendary development? Are they completely legendary?

    And (again, if I have it correct) much of our problem rests in our trying to decipher out what the Gospels are, by using the Gospels themselves. Although we can get a taste—just a taste—of the times’ culture, society, government, economic situation, language and gamut of other beliefs when the Gospels were written, we are still left sifting through insufficient data to make definitive conclusions.

    ChrisB: They are first century documents recounting events from the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
    .
    I’m not trying to rabbit trail this blog entry, but this short sentence is demonstrative of the problem. Were these first century documents? Even if we could narrow it down to that 100-year period, were they written pre-70 CE or post-70 CE, and would what impact the writers? Were these written to/by first generation Christians? Second generation? Third generation?

    Or take the other datum in this sentence—“Jesus of Nazareth.” Did Nazareth exist in the first century? Did Mark originally have Jesus from Capernaum, and was Mark 1:9’s “of Nazareth” an interpolation? What is the etymology of Nazarenos and did it mean a person of a belief, or a person from a location? (I.e., a “Nazarene” would be a person from “Nazar,” whereas a person from “Nazareth” would have been a “Nazarethene” or a “Nazarethite.”)

    Would it make a difference if Jesus did not come from Nazareth? Did Matthew change Jesus’ place of birth because Nazareth was too humble?

    The only reason I am pointing this out is to show that even in a sentence of very few words, and only two points—“first century documents” and “Jesus of Nazareth”—we see a huge variety of positions. As Vinny correctly said, do we “make peace” and recognize many of these questions remain unanswerable with the knowledge we have, or do we “make do” and force the data to relentlessly fit our dogma?

    ReplyDelete
  5. agnostic could be somebody who doesn care or is not in a hurry...

    ReplyDelete
  6. ChrisB,

    I don’t want to throw out the gospels, but having them doesn’t tell me whether I really know anything more about Jesus than I know about King Arthur as a result of having Camelot. The writings tell me how their authors understood Jesus, but I still have to figure out the extent to which those understandings can be traced back to a historical person. I may have to accept that the historical Jesus is no more recoverable than the historical King Arthur.

    Dagoods has pointed out some of the relevant issues. When were the gospels written? How many times were the stories retold before being written? Who were the authors? None of these are simple choices between the truth and falsity of the traditional view. For each there is a range of possibilities. Some of the ranges might include some probability distribution. For others, the data is insufficient to allow any meaningful estimation of relative likelihood.

    I am also limited by my own knowledge and experience. One such limitation is that I have never experienced a verifiable miracle. I don’t know how to tell the difference between a historically accurate report of a supernatural occurrence and one that is an embellishment or a complete fabrication.

    On the other hand, I do have experience with people who see miracles everywhere. I have known people who see God’s supernatural power at work when they hit all the green lights on the way to church; people who prefer supernatural explanations regardless of the plausibility of natural ones. Such people also willingly accept the miracle stories they hear and pass them along uncritically.

    I also know how claims get puffed up in transmission. A scholar like Dunn or Johnson acknowledges the problematic nature of the gospels while offering some reason to feel optimistic about accessing the historical Jesus. A popular apologist picks up the optimism but drops the reservations. Some pastor picks up the optimism and turns it into certainty. By the time a lay person uses the argument, it is being presented as a proof that is widely accepted by all but the most radical skeptics.

    I also know from experience that such people can prove impervious to correction. Dagoods and I had a go around awhile back with an apologist who claimed that there was an unbroken chain of witnesses to the traditional authorship of the gospels starting with Clement of Rome. After much debate, he finally retracted a couple of his most obvious misstatements but continued to cling to the gist of his position. The last time I visited his blog, I found that he was still making the same kind of exaggerated claims.

    Beyond what I know from experience, history can tell me a lot about how religious ideas and miracle stories spread. I can see that stories spread within the lifetime of supposed miracle workers like Francis of Assisi. I can see that religions like Mormonism spread and grew very quickly with no verifiable evidence whatsoever. I can see that miracle stories were readily accepted in first century Mediterranean culture and reported as fact by historians.

    So the unfortunate fact is that I do not know whether I know much of anything about Jesus in a historical sense by virtue of having the gospels. Everything I know tells me that one of the perfectly logical possibilities is that these stories could have arisen with little to no basis in historical events. I cannot eliminate the possibility that everything in the gospels is true and accurate, but nothing I know about the world suggests to me that this is particularly likely. The point is not that I want more evidence. The point is that I could considerably narrow the range of possibilities if I had evidence that the epistle writers knew the gospels and believed them to be true.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dagoods,

    BTW, I would say that you captured the gist of my arguments quite well (and improved them as you usually do).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Dunn claims Romans 15:3 is a point in favour of a historical Jesus that refutes Price.

    Let us have a look...

    'For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.'

    Paul turns straight to scripture for his information about Jesus, and claims scripture was written to teach endurance and encouragement.

    So where did the Jesus go?

    Could Paul not find one word by Jesus to give encouragment and teach endurance?

    Not one single solitary word of Jesus, but Paul gets everything from scripture.

    And Dunn has the ability to read this and never ask himself 'Where did the Jesus go?'

    Dunn actually puts forward this very passage as fitting his model of an historical Jesus who said real things!

    It is just amazing.Utterly astounding. I can hardly believe just how blinkered some people can be.

    ReplyDelete
  9. VINNY
    In all the surviving letters from first century Christians, not a single one indicates that the writer's faith was based on what Jesus said or taught

    CARR
    Romans 10:17
    Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

    This is an argument from 'silence'.

    In other words, Paul says exactly the opposite of what you would expect him to say, so his words are deemed to be 'silence'.

    People are bound to be silent if you never listen to them speak.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This has been an interesting conversation, but some assumptions are made, or not made, that change the story.

    I don't find it particularly important that attributing the belief of the epistle writers to words of Christ to be problematic since they were talking about Christ. Using Scripture from before His ministry serves to support their preaching of His life and ministry. There seems to be througout most, if not all the epistles, an established knoweldge of Christ as the point. The letters clarify and correct and are but smidgeons of what was preached to the people directly. One would have to be purposely in denial to assume that Christ's words were never related during those face to face sessions. But, Paul does speak of all those who witnessed Christ's death and then spent time with Him after His resurrection and then His ascension. He says Christ appeared to over 500 people, many of whom were still alive to verify the point at the time of the epistle's writing.

    You must keep in mind that unlike other religions, everything was happening out in the open with many witnesses to the events. Anything that wasn't true would have been immediately dismissed and overturned by other witnesses. And as far as what Paul knew, he was a persecutor of Christians and as an educated man, would be aware of what was being said about Christ by His followers.

    Also, the Bible does not exist in a vaccuum. There are other historians of the period who wrote of Christ and spoke of the things said about Him. For myself, these things support the belief that the Bible provokes. And there are plenty of authoritative sources that speak of the the reliability of the books of the NT.

    Frankly, the discussion seems to make a point of trying to force answers to questions that I don't think really need to be asked regarding Who the epistles describes.

    ReplyDelete
  11. By the way, when did you change the name of your blog, and why?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Marshall,

    I don't see anywhere where Paul identifies anyone who witnessed Jesus' death or identifies anyone who had any contact with Jesus prior to his resurrection appearances. Nor does he describe anyone as "spending time" with Jesus between his resurrection and ascension.

    As far as Paul seems to know, the other apostles were just guys who seen the same kind of apparitions of the risen Christ that he had, not guys who had spent time with Jesus during his life or between his resurrection and his ascension.

    It is not until the Gospel of Mark is written, perhaps as much as forty years after those resurrection appearances, that we find stories that identify specific people as speaking with Jesus during his life or witnessing his death. At that point, I don’t see that we have any evidence that there were any eyewitnesses available to contradict those stories.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Marshall,

    I started my blog when the Culture Campaign blog turned off its comment function, but I was never all that happy with the name. Since then, I have gotten into a broader range of issues than I used to argue about there.

    The new title come from a question that Clarence Darrow asked William Jennings Bryan during the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. I think it reflects the same basic leanings.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Vinny,

    I just came across this recent William Lane Craig audio that may be of interest to you and seems relevant to the current discussion. Craig is asked about the rate of legend growth and the question references AN Sherwin-White. His answer starts around 6:30 into the audio.

    What constitutes the 'historical core' is obviously what will be in dispute between believer and skeptic (although I am unsure how far the believer will allow for any 'mythological tendencies' in their own sacred texts).

    ReplyDelete
  15. "I don't see anywhere where Paul identifies anyone who witnessed Jesus' death or identifies anyone who had any contact with Jesus prior to his resurrection appearances."

    You're overlooking 1 Cor 15:3-8 where he not only identifies Peter and James, but "the Twelve" and makes a point to say that of the more than five hundred brothers to whom Christ appeared after the Resurrection, many were still alive at the time of the epistle's writing so that the readers could go and ask if they so chose.

    There is also the point of Paul's character to consider, as well as that of other epistle writers. That is, this speculation assumes they don't know what they're talking about or even possibly lying. Together with the earlier suggestion that the people to whom the letters were written had already had face to face teachings, far more than what any letter would ever possibly cover, whether in the first or 21st century, it would seem one would have to consciously take the position that there is no connection between the Jesus of the letters and the Jesus of the Gospels. It's almost like "So what if there's butter on my fingers. I didn't touch your popcorn." except with even more implied.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Marshall,

    I haven't overlooked that at all. As I said, Paul says that certain other individuals that he knew also witnessed appearances of the risen Christ. However, he doesn't say anything about any of them having any contact with Jesus prior to that point. He doesn't say anything about any of them following Jesus around Galilee or seeing him in Jerusalem prior to his crucifixion. For all Paul tells us, their first and only contact with Jesus was an experience like Paul had on the road to Damascus. He doesn't say that any of them were Jesus' disciples during his life.

    ReplyDelete
  17. doubting,

    Thanks for the heads up! A couple years ago, I did some posts on how apologists had mischaracterized A.N. Sherwin-White. I will have to take another look at it.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Marshall Art,

    The epistles were written to in-group followers to address in-group problems. We have no evidence they were passed on to antagonists of Christianity (and THAT is speculating there were antagonists) to debunk. In fact, Pliny the Younger’s puzzlement at what Christians believe is demonstration Christianity was not being disseminated to possible opposition.

    Secondly, Paul was writing to particular people with particular problems in an attempt to persuade them. These are argumentative letters: “we implore you” (2 Cor. 5:20), “I beseech you” (Rom. 12:1) “I beg you” (Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 10:2), “I give advice” (2 Cor. 8:10), “But I say” (1 Cor. 7:8)

    Thirdly, Paul uses every means at his disposal. He uses scripture, (Rom. 4:3, 10:11; Gal 3:8), creed (1 Cor. 15:3-7), commands and opinions, (1 Cor. 7) Examples, (Rom. 9, 2 Cor. 11), nature (Rom 1:20), argument and conscience. (1 Cor. 10 & 2 Cor. 4:2)

    What is curious—nay, astounding!—is the failure to use Jesus’ words or works within this argument technique. Either Paul didn’t think Jesus’ life would be authoritative to the recipients, OR Paul didn’t know the Jesus of the Gospels. Paul spends a lengthy chapter (1 Cor. 15) attempting to persuade the reader they will be resurrected. They already knew the creed regarding Jesus’ appearances--yet apparently that was not enough! Did Paul use the story of Lazarus and the Rich man? (Luke 16:19-31) Or the story of post-death judgment? (Matt. 25) Or Jesus telling the thief on the cross how today they would both be in paradise? (Luke 23:43)

    Paul argues the Mosaic commandments can be summed up as “love your neighbor as yourself” to two different groups (Rom. 13:9 and Gal. 5:14) yet doesn’t mention Jesus said this? As the second commandment? He talks of loving each other like a brother (Rom. 12:10), but never mentions Jesus telling the disciples they will be known by their love? (John 15) Argues on marriage and divorce, but fails to mention Jesus’ statements regarding this issue? Or lawsuits, again no mention of Jesus’ statements? Not a thing from the Sermon the Mount (plain), no parable, no use of a single New Testament character as an example. Worse, he claims the Jews look for signs (miracles), and says, “But we don’t give them any!” (1 Cor. 1:22). In contrast to Mark (that says no signs) and Matthew/Luke (that say one sign—the sign of Jonah) and John that has so many signs, it designates them by number!

    I disagree there is “an established knoweldge of Christ as the point.” There is an esoteric acknowledgment of Christ’s existence, and sacrifice—but the question is whether there is knowledge of Christ of the Gospels throughout. There we find nothing.

    Worse, 1 Cor. 15 indicates Paul has no hesitation to repeat what he previously stated to the recipients face-to-face; therefore one would question why he would hesitate to repeat other statements, sermons, parables or examples of Jesus.

    It is almost to the point of bizarre to imagine Paul saying, “Jesus said the greatest commandment is to Love God, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:36-39) but when he wants to reiterate the point…twice…to two different groups he drops the bit about Jesus saying it (apparently that was not authoritative enough) AND drops the bit about loving God being included.

    We are not speculating the earliest epistle author (Paul) was lying. We are saying the evidence points out Paul had no knowledge whatsoever regarding the Jesus stories in the Gospel.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Not only does Paul never quote Jesus in support of his arguments, it appears that none of his opponents ever did either. Whether Paul's pagan converts needed to be circumcised was a big point of contention, but apparently none of Paul's opponents ever thought to cite Jesus' teaching about every "jot and tittle" of the law enduring. Despite confronting false teachers at every turn, Paul never had to discuss the authenticity or interpretation of any saying that one of them had attributed to Jesus.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Greetings to one and all: In that most precious name. That name which is above every name, the name: "Jesus"

    There's tremendous power in that name. I'd suppose we'll never fully realize all that can truly be accomplished, by us simply calling out that name in true faith.

    There's an old, old, gospel song that goes like this: Faith in the Father, faith in the Son, faith in the Holy Spirit, great victories are won. Demons will tremble and sinners will awake, faith in Jehovah will anything shake.

    For you who have never come into this realization, if you're reading this, just give him a welcome into your heart and life. You will both feel and see an awesome difference. You will have also purchased the ticket to heaven (by accepting, therefore making him welcome to come into your life. You will also sup from His cup that contains living water. (As did the woman at the well of Bethesda.) John 4:10

    Much love,

    Your brother in Christ Jesus, who is both our Lord, and Savior.

    www.eloquentbooks.com/BeyondTheGoldenSunsetAndByTheCrystalSea.html
    http://www.eloquentbooks.com/OffToVisitTheProphetElijah

    ReplyDelete
  21. Vinny,

    As I have never considered the argument you are putting forth before, indeed it is quite new to me, I've had to do some research to further support what I've already stated from my own humble knowledge. This article covers what I what I think I understand your argument to be. Also you'll note that it also speaks of Paul's familiarity with people who knew Christ before the resurrection, such as Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. It then goes on to discuss why Paul didn't use quotes of Jesus in his epistles, presenting some of the same arguments I tried to put forth. I must say again that I've never considered the fact that Jesus quotes don't appear, nor do stories of his ministry (miracles and such), but having been made aware, I'm not sure it's really that significant especially in light of the explanations put forth such as in the link I've now provided.

    ReplyDelete
  22. But Paul does mention miracles!

    1 Corinthians 1
    Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified

    Jews wanted Christianity to be one of those religions that had stories of miracles.

    Paul scoffs at such silly demands. Miracles? What did they want? A Jesus who walked on water?

    ReplyDelete
  23. Marshall,

    I appreciate you weighing in on this because it is interesting to know how the average guy in the pew reacts to these questions when confronting them for the first time. Since I realize that apologetics is not your forte, I will avoid the kind of sarcasm and abuse that we heap upon each other when arguing politics.

    Consider the following scenario:

    Jesus was an itinerant preacher in first century Palestine who sufficiently annoyed the Romans that they nailed him to his cross.

    Some of Jesus followers claimed that they later saw Jesus alive.

    Paul considered these claims heretical and persecuted Jesus' followers in the name of orthodox Judaism.

    Paul has a vision on the road to Damascus and decided that this Jesus really was the Messiah and Paul comes up with the idea that his death was a substitutionary atonement.

    Without consulting with any of Jesus' original followers, Paul went out spreading the word about Jesus dying for the remission of sins all over Asia Minor. The converts that Paul made knew very little about what Jesus said or did prior to his crucifixion because Paul himself didn't know anything beyond what he picked up when he was persecuting Jesus' followers.

    For me, these are the questions:

    Was Paul's message based on what he worked out for himself or was it based on things that Jesus actually said and did?

    Were the gospels based on stories that Jesus' original followers passed on or were they composed to fit Paul's message by men whose knew little about what Jesus actually said or did because they had been converted by Paul who knew little about what Jesus said or did?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Greetings to one and all:

    After reading some of these comments that have been made about Christianity on this post, I feel that I should make another comment on here.

    I do this, not to contradict anything that anyone else has said within their comment, but to only give a little better understanding for those who need this and are able to accept it as well.

    Most of the times I don’t even bother to read what others have said, I just make my comment and move on. For, as Salvation is concerned: the Bible lets us know we’re to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Meaning: it is a very serious part of life, which, many began to realize when, or just before, breathing their last.

    The Bible cannot be compared with history of things and people who have lived in time past. Even though some have made some most astonishing accomplishments, have also contributed much to humanity during their stay within this life.

    Even so, the Bible and its teachings come under an altogether different category. In no way can one, be compared to the other. One is based upon what has been done in the past, which is the history of mankind. The Bible on the other hand, is for the spiritual guidance and to steer mankind in the right direction.

    If this goes right over anyone’s head it’s because you’re not really ready for this, at this time. Maybe later in life you will be…but not at this time, if ever.

    For you see there truly is a spiritual realm and a natural realm. One can not be compared to the other. Going to church will sometimes be helpful in this respect, and at other times it will not be.

    The reason for this: the spiritual leader may be just as far off track as the one’s who go there in hopes of learning, or coming into spiritual enlightenment... Keep in mind you’re not helping others by seeking and finding spiritual enlightenment, you’re seeking something that will be both beneficial to you and your family and other’s you will come in contact with before making your departure from this life.
    Here’s hoping this little bit of sharing of info about the contents of the Bible and the spiritual world, will hopefully be, to at least one person, who seemingly makes a post on this blog from time to time.

    Warm Regards

    William Dunigan

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you, Marshall Art, for the both the article and your forthright nature regarding this claim being new to you.

    I would have to say the article does not quite articulate my position. The question is two-part:

    1) Did Paul know of the Jesus as recorded in the canonical Gospels? And
    2) If so, did he consider Jesus’ words and works as authoritative?

    In my opinion, Paul did NOT know the Jesus of the Gospels, as Mark is a historical fiction and was not written when Paul wrote his epistles. In other words, the story of Jesus involved legendary development, and Paul’s writing as at the very bottom level of the development. (Particularly 1 Cor. 15)

    Even if one claims Paul did know the Jesus of the Gospels, this creates a possibly more problematic situation, as Paul would appear to not consider Jesus’ words as sufficient authority! One has a hard time consistently maintaining Paul’s belief Jesus was equal with God or part of a triune God in that scenario.

    The article’s arguments are not helpful. For example, it argues oral tradition sufficiently sustained the tales. But I am not claiming oral tradition is insufficient—I am claiming there was no oral tradition in the first place reflecting Jesus of the Gospels!

    Think of it this way. We have other Gospels—the Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas, Signs Gospel, Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and so on. We understand these gospels continue the legendary development of Jesus. No one (that I know) is claiming the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was a story existing in only oral form in the First Century, and did not get written down until the Second Century (or later.) I would say the stories in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas didn’t exist until written by the author.

    In the same way, my claim is that the stories of Jesus as recorded in Mark didn’t exist at the time of Paul’s writing. Whether oral tradition sufficiently sustained stories is irrelevant if the stories didn’t exist in the first place!

    The article points out Luke does not use Jesus stories in Acts. It fails to differentiate the difference in purpose between Acts and Paul’s epistles. Paul was attempting to resolve issues by use of doctrine. Acts was attempting to recount historical events subsequent to Jesus’ life. [Not to mention Acts was a subsequent part to a previous writing. Luke would have no need to repeat himself in part 2; it would be like the second novel of Harry Potter re-explaining why Harry didn’t live with his parents. We already knew that from the first novel.]

    Acts would have no need to recount Jesus’ stories; Paul has multiple situations he could use them.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Let’s apply these arguments to one example—the “love your neighbor.”

    My position is that the concept “love your neighbor” sums up all the commandments was a Pharisaic statement utilized in the First Century. It was within the Pharisee’s school of thought, if you will. Paul, in discussing with two different audiences, utilizes this proverb in Rom. 13:9 and Galatians 5:14.

    Subsequently, Mark utilized and expanded on this statement when writing his Gospel, claiming the first commandment is to Love God (Mark drew this from Deut. 6:5) and the second is to love your neighbor (taken from Lev. 19:18 and the Pharisaic statement.) [Curiously, Mark apparently did not know the commandments, as he included “Do not defraud” as one of them! Mark 10:19]

    There was no preserved oral tradition for Mark to recount—there was no tradition to that point. Matthew then used Mark to incorporate in his Jesus story. (Mt. 22:39) Luke drops it; John doesn’t know of it. (A rabbit trail for another time.)

    Marshall Art, ask yourself these questions:

    1) Did Paul know the story of Jesus regarding the first/second commandment being Love God then love your neighbor?

    If not, how good could the passing of tradition orally be? How many times did Jesus speak of love? The Sermon on the Mount (plain). The story of the Good Samaritan. The commandments in Mark and Matthew. The long chapters of John 13, John 14, John 15.

    I am not talking some archaic point only mentioned once in one Gospel. This is a theme replete throughout all the Gospels, and pointed out as significant. If Paul didn’t know of its existence, after the article claims he spent time with Peter and John and James, I question how the article could then claim oral passing of tradition was accurate.

    2) If Paul did know the story of Jesus regarding love/commandments—what possible explanation could be given for not making reference to Jesus saying it?

    Why would Paul dig backwards to a Pharisee’s statement and say, “See? See? This is a great proverb as to how to sum up all the commandments.” Christians claim Paul sees Jesus as God; as divinity itself. Paul demonstrates he will use commandments from God (1 Cor. 7), Paul demonstrates he will write what he has already stated to his audience (1 Cor. 15) and Paul indicates he is passing on information he received. (See arguments from the article.) (Although there is a question as to whom Paul is claiming he received the information, whether directly from God or from other humans.)

    If Paul knew this story, he would use it. It is that simple. There is no reason for him NOT to and every reason to do so.

    Worse, this is one example, when there are many more. Yet throughout ALL of Paul’s writing—not a single parable. Not a miracle. Not an example. Not a quote from a sermon. At some point, we have to face the fact Paul either didn’t know, or didn’t find the Gospel stories authoritative.

    ReplyDelete
  27. 1 Corinthians 3
    Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.

    All those oral traditions about the teachings of Jesus, all those oral traditions about the miracles of Jesus, all those oral traditions about the life of Jesus....

    Did Paul really regard that as 'milk', not to be compared with 'solid food'?

    How could Paul have passed on all those oral traditions about the teachings of his Lord and Saviour - and then call them 'milk'?

    ReplyDelete
  28. You guys give me much to think on, but mostly as to why I should find all this relevant. I still think you make some assumptions without basis regarding who knew what when as well as the idea that because a scholar sees a trend in oral tradition in one area, such as other historical figures, that it must apply to all historical figures.

    I have further ideas about why I think your conclusions are wrong, though I'm not quite ready to present them now. But I do think that there is a perfection upon which you insist must be in place in order to trust what you're reading, a perfection that you would not require for any other piece of history in order for you to take as factual. There is also the possibility that the discrepencies are the result of shortcomings in later scholars, rather than the authors of epistles and gospels.

    Again, all this is somewhat scattershot response based on first impressions of your collective comments. More later.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Perfection?

    You mean we sceptics demand the Gospels do not have the same sorts of Frauds and Lies that are found in the Book of Mormon and the Koran?

    ReplyDelete
  30. One more thing regarding Vinny's response:

    Jesus actually pissed of the Jewish elitists who got the Romans to put Christ to death. An important distinction. Pilate found no fault in Jesus and seems he'd have preferred not having to deal with Him at all.

    The idea of substitutionary atonement was not new at this point as it was a common thing in Judaism. It was part of their rituals. Paul would get the connection between the ritual and it's symbolism foretelling the coming Messiah due to his own knowledge of Jewish history. Or, his road to Damascus experience could have made the connection quite clear to him. I would insist that he'd have learned quite a bit about what the early Christians believed during his time persecuting them so that his eventual meeting with disciples and apostles after his conversion only cemented his understanding. In addition, one cannot dismiss the possibility that his RTD experience also endowed him with complete understanding of all he needed to know about Christ.

    It's difficult to really debate these issues due to the fact that one side deals with a belief that the miraculous plays a part and the other side insists on treating that all as myth. It's as if two separate discussions MUST be endured in order to allow each side to completely make its case. If I have to argue without miracles or God's power, I'm at a loss. In the same way, the non-believer is at a loss if forced to accept miracles as factual occurrences.

    But all in all, I think it's irrelevant that ancecdotes from Christ's life are never used in the epistles since the most defining event of His life is His perfect sacrifice and resurrection. I've had a debate at my blog regarding the purpose of Christ's life as regards salvation. In some ways, you discussion here actually helps to support the contention that Christ crucified is indeed the single most important point of His existence.

    ReplyDelete
  31. MARSHALL
    It's difficult to really debate these issues due to the fact that one side deals with a belief that the miraculous plays a part...

    CARR
    It is exasperating , isn't it?

    You can feel Paul's exasperation when he wrote 'Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified...'

    ReplyDelete
  32. Marshall thinks things 'could have been' this way , and 'would have' been' and there is 'a possibility'.

    So no actual evidence then, just could-haves, might-haves, possibilities, and nothing whatever in the way of evidence to discuss.

    Marshall is right. Dialogue is really difficult, especially when one side just makes up 'could-haves' and feels under no obligation to provide any evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Marshall Art,

    “Relevant” (in legal terms) means “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be with the evidence.” (FRE 401) It is the gateway for all admissible evidence in a courtroom setting.

    It is far more speculative to claim Paul knew Jesus’ words, works and biography, but didn’t use them in his epistles than to claim he didn’t know them. We use the evidence we have to “make peace”—not “make do”—with the fact Paul shows no evidence of knowing the Jesus of the Gospels. (Absent a brief mention of the Eucharist and 1 Cor. 15.) [As a brief aside, the question of Miracles and use of Signs, as pointed out by Steven Carr, is troubling, but even without that, we have no mention of Jesus’ words—like the example I uses of loving God and loving your neighbor. One need not believe in miracles to see Paul didn’t use these words when it would have been extremely beneficial to do so.]

    While you may “insist” Paul learned the tenets of Christianity while persecuting Christians (I wonder if you realize this completely undercuts the historicity claims of the Resurrection?)—again as Steven Carr points out, you don’t provide any proof of this.

    That is the point of this blog entry. That is why these statements we have addressed at length are relevant—we are “making peace” with the evidence, not “making do” by trying to smash it into a particular dogma.

    ReplyDelete
  34. "So no actual evidence then, just could-haves, might-haves, possibilities, and nothing whatever in the way of evidence to discuss."

    Which is exactly what I'm seeing from your side of the issue. You begin with a premise that because something YOU think is lacking in Paul's epistles is important that it requires evidence from the other side to defend. No evidence from YOUR side that clearly compells me to do so, only speculation.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Dagoods,

    My question was with the relevance of this "discovery" to one's belief that Paul knew what he was talking about, or to what extent his knowledge of Christ actually was and how he got it. Again, it is interesting to have it pointed out that he didn't use Christ's words or anecdotal stories about Him in his epistles, but that it means anything beyond that is where I question relevance. Why suggest it means anything beyond what it is, unless there is some desire to dispute the entire notion of who Christ was and what He did according to what is presented in the Bible? If that's your goal, you do have an interesting argument, but one that requires its own set of assumptions in order to make it work. That's all I'm saying after being newly introduced to the concept.

    You mention not using Christ's words, but then that seems like the opposite of the argument with which I am more familiar, that Christians use the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible. Does this differ from what Paul is perhaps doing by not referring to Christ in his letters? Again, it does not mean he hasn't done so in face to face sesssions.

    Also, just to clarify, I didn't say that I "insist" Paul learned of Christ one way or the other. I only "insisted" that the possibility exists but doesn't seem to be considered by your arguments ("your" meaning "your side").

    I'll also need an explanation why the following might be so:

    "(I wonder if you realize this completely undercuts the historicity claims of the Resurrection?)"

    I might figure it out by myself, but I'm doing this all on the fly while doing other things as well.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Marshall Art,

    Ha ha! Lucky for me, I wrote something out on the topic here.

    If you prefer the short version—if Paul was versed (pardon the pun) in the historical claims of Christianity prior to his Damascus Road experience, then a person who had far greater access to the claimed events was not persuaded those events happened! Therefore these debates and arguments and rhetoric regarding Minimal Facts as espoused by Habermas, Licona, and Craig are useless as the claimed facts were unpersuasive.

    In other words, the debates should be, “You have to have a Damascus Road experience to be convinced, because not even Paul, who had access, opportunity and motive, was persuaded by what I am about to say.” The historicity of the Resurrection was not believed by Paul—a mid First Century Judean Jersualemite. A person with far greater access than any of us.

    Alternatively, if Paul did not know the claims of Christianity, this undercuts the polemic (you use it yourself) of: “You must keep in mind that unlike other religions, everything was happening out in the open with many witnesses to the events. Anything that wasn't true would have been immediately dismissed and overturned by other witnesses. “ If Paul didn’t know, then it wasn’t “out in the open.” I understand that is not your position—you hold Paul DID know of Jesus prior to his conversion—I merely point that out for lurkers.

    Marshall Art: Why suggest it means anything beyond what it is, unless there is some desire to dispute the entire notion of who Christ was and what He did according to what is presented in the Bible?
    .
    Ah…there’s the rub. And the point of the blog entry. How do we discover “who Christ was”? We can only use the materials provided. Yes, we all are left with speculation—the question arises as to what is more plausible, probable and likely?

    Here, try it backwards. We all agree there is legendary development in the story of Jesus. No one (that I know) holds ALL the Gospels written are true—From Mark to Judas, including Matthew, Luke, Thomas, Hebrews, Signs, etc. and every one in between. Because Mark did not have a birth narrative or Resurrection appearances, Matthew “filled in the blanks.” Luke did too, only with different stories. So did John. Now we have a “blank” between Jesus’ birth and his baptism. So the Infancy Gospel of Thomas “fills in the blank” with apocryphal stories about young Jesus. The Protevangelium of James “fills in the blank” of Mary’s background. The Gospel of Peter “fills in the blank” of what happened precisely at Jesus’ resurrection.

    Every one of us reaches a point where was say, “Enough! There is legendary development here.” The question is: where do we reach that point, and what method do we use to declare that the point?

    ReplyDelete
  37. As I work backwards, I see legendary development from Mark to Matthew. From Mark to Luke. And then I look for stories before Mark—to see if there is further legendary development before Mark. Surprisingly, what I find is a dearth of information—only the barebones of 1 Cor. 15 which does not correspond with any subsequent stories. If we looked for divergence as the “point” where legendary development initiated, we would lose everything from Mark onward! (There is also a significant problem with signs, etc.)

    So I look to Paul to see what “Jesus” could be found there. Sure Paul could have known the same Jesus as the Gospel. Sure Paul could have communicated that orally. Sure Paul could then (for reasons that remain unclear to me) have completely and utterly avoided using Jesus in any single epistle, even going to great lengths to argue unnecessary points if Jesus was authoritative.

    But that is “making do;” not “making peace.”

    We don’t have that. None of it. Working with what we actually have: Paul doesn’t utilize the Jesus of the Gospels. I think the stronger argument is that Paul does not KNOW the Jesus of the Gospels, but if one wants to maintain he does, then they would have to address the issue of Paul not using Jesus as authoritative.

    Marshall Art: You mention not using Christ's words, but then that seems like the opposite of the argument with which I am more familiar, that Christians use the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible. Does this differ from what Paul is perhaps doing by not referring to Christ in his letters? Again, it does not mean he hasn't done so in face to face sesssions.
    .
    Ah, but the complaint is when Christians attempt to assert the truth to non-Christians! Of course Christians would use the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible to Christians. Paul (as I pointed out earlier) was writing to an In-Group. He has no need for philosophical justification and rhetorical argument. If, what you claim happened, he used Jesus’ words, works and miracles face-to-face, why would he be so recalcitrant to use them in writing when he was writing to the same people?

    It is similar to your saying you will talk to your Christian friend about Jesus (and they believe you) but when you e-mail him/her you say, “Hey, a neat thought occurred to me. Do you realize the entire 10 commandments can be summed up as ‘Love your neighbor’?” without once mentioning Jesus! Why not? You use Jesus face-to-face. You and your Christian friend both find Jesus to be authoritative. Why…when you are writing…does Jesus disappear, and you find yourself scratching for examples from the Tanakh, and arguments and metaphors?

    Yes, Marshall Art, it is “possible” Paul mentioned the Jesus of the Gospels in face-to-face sessions.

    I am not looking for “possible.” “Possible” is the most boring, easy argument there is to make. Do you realize it is “possible” Jesus was entirely a myth? Does that make it persuasive in any way to you—just the fact it is “possible”? Of course not—you want argument and proof and demonstration.

    In the same way, I am looking for something more than “possible” here. I am looking for “probable” and “preponderance.” Anyone can do “possible”—that is “making do.”

    ReplyDelete
  38. Marshall wants evidence?

    Feel free to disregard the evidence of your own eyes at Miracles

    Or feel free to ignore Paul scoffing at Jews for demanding that Christianity be a religion that had had miraculous signs...

    Feel free to ignore alleged eyewitness accounts of Jesus taking off into the sky , and disappearing into a cloud on his way to Heaven - reflecting the superstition that Heaven was above the sky.

    The New Testament is a product of the superstitious times it was created in - from possessed pigs, spitting on eyes to cure blindess, getting money by looking in the mouth of a fish, and literally believing angels appear when you are dreaming.

    It is childish nonsense to take that seriously.

    ReplyDelete
  39. MARSHALL
    Does this differ from what Paul is perhaps doing by not referring to Christ in his letters? Again, it does not mean he hasn't done so in face to face sesssions.

    PAUL
    Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready..

    CARR
    Yes, I guess Paul gave these people 'milk' - all the stories of the teachings and deeds of Jesus, because they were not yet ready for the 'solid food'.

    That makes sense....

    ReplyDelete
  40. Suppose that Paul did learn about Christianity while persecuting Christians. Is it possible that he used torture to obtain confessions? If so, he may not have had very reliable information about Jesus. Did he use informants? If so, they may have been willing to make up any crazy story to take suspicion off themselves. I think history tells us that religious persecutors usually have some very strange ideas about the religious beliefs of those they are persecuting, e.g.,, Jews drink the blood of Christian babies. I can imagine Paul questioning some suspect who says "I'm not a Christian, but my next door neighbor is and he told me that Christ appeared to 500 of them all at once."

    The idea of substitutionary idea was a part of Jewish ritual, but it seems to be Paul who came up with idea of the Messiah as a sacrificial offering. The Jews of the day expected the Messiah to be a conquering hero.

    So Paul had this vision on the road to Damascus which convinced him that he is persecuting followers of the true Messiah. After than he wouldn't need any information from anyone and he says in Galatians that he immediately started preaching. It was several years before he met any of the original apostles and he seems to be quite adamant that he did not learn anything from them. Given Paul's superior education, his success at making converts, and his previous propensity for violent intolerance of heretics, I think Paul might have done most of the talking.

    ReplyDelete
  41. The whole "make do" portion of the post seems to be an overreaction. That we probably won't be finding any more first hand accounts of the life of Jesus seems uncontroversial and irrelevant.

    "We need to acknowledge that there are many possible historical explanations for how the stories about Jesus came to be written the way they were ranging from a Jesus who is largely legendary to a historical Jesus who said and did many of the things that are attributed to him."

    No, we don't. We can view the evidence and conclude that the most logical explanation for the evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead. That gives him a rather sizable amount of credibility.

    And you tip your hand by limiting the range of options. How about the possibility of accepting all of what was attributed to him in the Bible?

    "Not only does Paul never quote Jesus in support of his arguments . . ."

    Huh? He claims direct revelation from Jesus. See Galatians 1, for example.

    "Choosing any one of them as most likely is by nature speculative and choosing any one to the exclusion of all others is silly."

    What is silly are empty po-mo statements like that.

    "Without consulting with any of Jesus' original followers, Paul went out spreading the word about Jesus dying for the remission of sins all over Asia Minor. The converts that Paul made knew very little about what Jesus said or did prior to his crucifixion because Paul himself didn't know anything beyond what he picked up when he was persecuting Jesus' followers."

    That is a made up argument. Again, read Galatians for just one refutation of that.

    I'm disappointed, Marshall. I took it from your email that there were some legitimately interesting dialogue going on here. This is just typical liberal (read: fake) Christianity.

    As usual, I'm a big defender of religious freedom. I just think it is intellectually dishonest in the extreme for people with theologically liberal views to call themselves Christians. It mocks the cross and the blood of the martyrs. They didn't die for a "legendary" Jesus. If you think He's just legendary, please move on.

    I'd start with the fact, people -- http://tinyurl.com/ykzpu42 .

    ReplyDelete
  42. "I don't see anywhere where Paul identifies anyone who witnessed Jesus' death or identifies anyone who had any contact with Jesus prior to his resurrection appearances."

    Again, read Galatians. I'm sure there are other places but I just happened to be reading that book this week and the references were fresh. Seriously, do you guys even read the Bible?

    "So where did the Jesus go?

    Could Paul not find one word by Jesus to give encouragment and teach endurance?

    Not one single solitary word of Jesus, but Paul gets everything from scripture."

    Read Acts 20:35 (ESV) — In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

    Or does that not count because it was not in his letter, even though he said it?

    "In my opinion, Paul did NOT know the Jesus of the Gospels, as Mark is a historical fiction and was not written when Paul wrote his epistles. In other words, the story of Jesus involved legendary development, and Paul’s writing as at the very bottom level of the development."

    There's liberal scholarship for you. Assume that Mark is fiction, then conclude that Paul must also be fiction.

    "While you may “insist” Paul learned the tenets of Christianity while persecuting Christians (I wonder if you realize this completely undercuts the historicity claims of the Resurrection?)—again as Steven Carr points out, you don’t provide any proof of this. "

    Amusing. Your foundation is a "just so" story about what you insist should or shouldn't be in Paul's writings (which begs the question and assumes that none of the NT is inspired by God, but one fallacy at a time) and then you accuse Marshall about not providing proof?!

    "It is not until the Gospel of Mark is written, perhaps as much as forty years after those resurrection appearances"

    Typical liberal dating. Try some logic and reasoning and you'll realize you are way off -- http://tinyurl.com/yjlna4o

    "Because Mark did not have a birth narrative or Resurrection appearances, Matthew “filled in the blanks.” "

    That's just unoriginal speculation assumed as fact.

    "Holds pearls / shakes dust."

    ReplyDelete
  43. Again, read Galatians. I'm sure there are other places but I just happened to be reading that book this week and the references were fresh. Seriously, do you guys even read the Bible?

    I have read Galatians and I know that in it Paul mentions James, John and Peter. However, he never says anything about any of them having any contact with Jesus during his earthly ministry or being in attendance at the crucifixion. Nor does he say anything about them telling him anything about Jesus. On the contrary, he says that "those men added nothing to my message." Of the gospel he says, "I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."

    If in fact, Paul thought that these men had spent three years listening to Jesus teach, it is hard for me to believe that he could have dismissed them in such a summary fashion.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I don't think he's dismissing them so much as merely stating that he was already "up to snuff" on what was going on. As he said he had all revealed to him, this could actually mean ALL. That he could immediately go about preaching the Word (after regaining his eyesight) would support this.

    Now, starting from Dagoods' first response, I would say that's a pretty good argument, except for the fact that the Pharisees weren't convinced by anything they saw or heard regarding Jesus. They were too busy feeling their time was up as control freaks and convinced themselves that any miracle was of Satan and not God. Thus, for Paul to have held a similar attitude of disbelief before Damascus Road is not surprising. Consider also that the fact of Jesus resurrection wasn't believed by any of those who saw Christ as any kind of threat. Consider also how many miraculous events took place in the OT and still the Hebrews would act contrary to what one would expect.

    " If Paul didn’t know, then it wasn’t “out in the open.”"

    Despite what you meant for this statement, I reprint it here only to say that there is a difference between knowing and believing. Overall, the Pharisees knew of the miracles of Christ, knew of His claims and His teachings, but did not believe He was who He said He was.

    As to the various Gospels, those within and without the Bible, we would digress toward the separate argument of why the four were included and why the rest weren't. Not interested in doing that here. But to answer the question of how do we know Christ, you answered it yourself. We go with what we have, which would be the four Gospels and the following epistles. That which was not included was generally dismissed as being either repetitive or unreliable. So to consider them would be unwise without something to show why they should be.

    "I think the stronger argument is that Paul does not KNOW the Jesus of the Gospels, but if one wants to maintain he does, then they would have to address the issue of Paul not using Jesus as authoritative."

    Only if one insists that Paul didn't know the Jesus of the Gospels. The story of his conversion indicates he DOES know the Jesus of the Gospels. How many guys named Jesus were leading their own religous tradition at that time that lead to persecution by the Jewish elite? As such, and as an Apostle, HE was authoritative and the connection between him and the risen Lord was known to those who received his letters. This argument seems both more logical AND stronger in my opinion.

    continuing....

    ReplyDelete
  45. I think you are again making assumptions in using the word "recalcitrant". Your hypothetical actually works for me. Using OT tracts shows that what Jesus is teaching is not a new and different message from God, but the same one. Indeed, that was Paul's strategy for his defense when arrested. At the time, the Romans allowed Judaism to be practiced to avoid unnecessary and costly problems. It was "grandfathered" in, so to speak. New religions were put down. Christ Himself only tried to explain how the people SHOULD have been regarding the Scripture of the time, not creating something new. He was clarifying it. Paul was doing much the same thing and to use the OT to support what he was saying was not only sound practice (in relating the old with the "new"), but following Christ's example in doing so. I find this to be a likely possibility and it takes more of the period into consideration.

    But you say you're not looking for what is "possible". Yet, your whole argument is based on a possibility: that Paul did not know the Jesus of the Gospels. He did not reveal every detail regarding what was revealed to him. But he preached in an authoritative manner as one who knows what's what.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Steven Carr,

    First of all, forgive me if I take your comments as mostly snark. But that's how they read to me. I'll respond to your latest nonetheless.

    From your link "Miracles" the first statement is this:

    "Christians routinely dismiss many stories in the Book of Mormon and the Koran as being obviously stolen from previous stories."

    I don't think that's accurate. I think most Christians, in not so many words, dismiss the stories as crap. Certainly some stories of the Koran are taken from the OT. They claim a similar beginning and Muhammed had first sought to be a preacher of Judaism. So similar stories would not be out of the question. Similarly, Mormonism sees itself also as and extension of something that went before it. So similar stories wouldn't be surprising there as well. So what? Does that, to you, mean none of the stories are true? You could find even more religions with stories similar to the Bible; flood stories, virgin births, etc. Funny how so many differing cultures have the same stories! Rather than indicate they're all crap, it really indicates that perhaps the core ideas are true, with the trick being which is the most accurate. Archeology would suggest the Judeo/Christian version is the best supported. The rest of your comment is just stupid and childish.

    As for your next posted comment, I'll leave you to research what Paul meant. I don't think you're ready for meat either.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Vinny,

    Dagoods doesn't want to deal with "possibilities". But let's assume yours has some weight. It would seem to me that if Christ revealed himself to Paul, it isn't likely He'd let Paul continue to believe anything that wasn't true, don't you think? What would be the sense of Christ converting Paul but allowing him to go about preaching crap? It's not logical.


    Of course this only assumes that Paul beat out some wacky stuff from Christians he'd persecute. There is an ancient Roman historian who speaks of early martyrs willingly going to their deaths for what they believe. The idea of anyone going to their deaths for a lie is hard to buy, especially since there was no profit in it for anyone, including anyone a martyr might leave behind. Most of the apostles died in this manner, believing Christ was Lord and that He rose from the dead.

    My position wasn't that Saul of Tarsis necessarily got his info from Christians exclusively, but that he was at the least, trained in what was being taught by them and believed by them. So his job, in my understanding, was for the most part to simply put an end to their preaching, get them to recant and return to the "truth" of Judaism or kill them if they don't. But his real understanding came on the road to Damascus.

    ReplyDelete
  48. MARSHALL
    Overall, the Pharisees knew of the miracles of Christ, knew of His claims and His teachings, but did not believe He was who He said He was.

    PAUL

    (who claims to be a Pharisee - see Acts)
    1 Corinthians 1
    Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified

    Jews wanted Christianity to be one of those religions that had stories of miracles.

    Paul scoffs at such silly demands. Miracles? What did they want? A Jesus who walked on water?

    Of course, Marshall just ignores this evidence from the Bible - preferring to live in his fantasy world where Pharisees like Paul knew all about the miracles of Jesus.

    But just never mentioned any of them.

    And then scoffed at Jews for demanding that Christianity should have stories of miraculous signs.

    I have posted this 3 times now, and Marshall simply cannot produce an answer.

    He has lost this discussion big big style, as his own Bible trashes his fantasy world.

    And, of course, the Miracles are frauds and lies as anybody with a pair of eyes can see.

    But you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make a Christian read the Bible and see what frauds are written on the pages.

    Marshall simply claims that we expect plagiarism because miracles happen in all sorts of cultures , so we would expect similar stories.

    Some people can rationalise away any evidence.

    But what do you expect of people whose beliefs are based on government cover ups?

    Marshall claims the authorities covered up the resurrection, just like people claim the government covered up Bush administration involvement in 9/11, just like people claim the government covered up alien landings at Roswell.

    Just like scientists are covering up the true facts about global warming.

    If somebody's beliefs depend upon the authorities covering up what really happened, you can guarantee that person will explain away anything he doesn't want to acknowledge.

    Marshall prefers to live in a fantasy world where his god comes to earth to tell Peter how to get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish.

    Before flying off into the sky on his way to Heaven.

    Believers don't even find such stories childish, although they would laugh at stories of Buddhist monks talking to animals.

    ReplyDelete
  49. It would seem to me that if Christ revealed himself to Paul, it isn't likely He'd let Paul continue to believe anything that wasn't true, don't you think?

    That may be true but I don’t find it particularly helpful. If the Angel Moroni actually revealed himself to Joseph, then it isn’t likely that the Mormon believe anything that isn’t true. Personal visions are not valid sources of historical evidence.

    There is an ancient Roman historian who speaks of early martyrs willingly going to their deaths for what they believe. The idea of anyone going to their deaths for a lie is hard to buy, especially since there was no profit in it for anyone, including anyone a martyr might leave behind. Most of the apostles died in this manner, believing Christ was Lord and that He rose from the dead.

    I am sure that those martyrs died for their sincerely held beliefs, but the ones that are described in Roman writing lived long after the time of Christ. None of them were dying for anything they believed based on first hand knowledge. While the apostles had first had knowledge, the stories of their martyrdom often arose only centuries after their deaths.

    ReplyDelete
  50. MARSHALL
    There is an ancient Roman historian who speaks of early martyrs willingly going to their deaths for what they believe.

    CARR
    Oh dear... Scratch a Christian and he will give you myths and legends and call them facts.

    I guess the disciple John really was plunged alive into boiling oil, and was totally unharmed....

    People are willing to go to Guantanomo Bay for their belief that the Bush Administration provoked 9/11.



    As it happens, Paul, who was there explains what issue Christians were persecuted on, and how they compromised their beliefs to avoid persecution for the cross (NB) not resurrection of Christ.

    Galatians 6:12
    Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.

    Name one Christian who was ever even charged with preaching a resurrection.

    Even Christian converts scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses, as can be seen by Paul writing to the Corinthians to explain to them that Jesus 'became a life-giving spirit'

    ReplyDelete
  51. Marshall Art,

    I want to say, it is very pleasant discussing with you. It is a sad commentary that such amicable conversation, despite adamant disagreement regarding the topic, is so rare as to be noteworthy. Yet it is. So when it does occur, we should acknowledge it with warmth.

    Thank you.

    Of course, back to discussion! *wink*

    Let me clarify what I mean by not wanting to deal with “possibilities.” I look at claimed events on a scale of burden of proof: no proof, iota of proof, possible, plausible, probable, preponderance, clear and convincing, beyond a reasonable doubt and finally—absolute.

    What I see far too often in these discussions (regardless of one’s theistic stance) are claims of “It is possible that….” and then anything can be stated after that. Peter Kirby once said [paraphrased], “Any idiot can propose a possibility. It is not much harder to provide an explanation. Even a two-year-old holding a ball over a broken lamp can provide an explanation absolving himself. But to provide a proof, an argument supported by facts and logical conclusions—THAT takes a great deal of work.”

    I look for arguments. Support. References. Demonstrations. The article you pointed out tried to do that, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

    Look at our alternate theories: I claim Paul did not know the stories of Jesus of the Gospels when writing his epistles. You indicate Paul did know the stories, told them to the people face-to-face, but did not include them in his writing.

    Here are the bullet points in favor of my position (we’ve already fleshed out most of them):

    1. No quote from Jesus’ sermons.
    2. No parable of Jesus utilized.
    3. Paul uses examples in his argument, but only uses Tanakh—not Jesus’ ministry.
    4. Paul uses Tanakh as authoritative—but not Jesus’ words.
    5. Paul explicitly states Christianity does NOT use miracle stories. (Steve Carr’s point.)
    6. Paul writes about Jesus, indicating he previously spoke this face-to-face. (1 Cor. 15.)
    7. Paul writes on topics Jesus discussed, without reference to Jesus.
    8. Paul indicates he received his information from God—not from men. (Gal. 1)

    Now you claim Paul did say these things to them in person, just not in writing. And the point in your favor:

    1. It is possible he did.

    I am looking for something more substantive. Something more than “It is possible.”

    ReplyDelete
  52. Marshall Art,

    With all due respect, you should look outside the Bible and biblical commentaries to investigate the history of First Century Judea.

    I have no idea why you would say the Pharisees would think “their time is up as control freaks.” Do you understand the religious/political situation of First Century Judea? First of all, according to Richard Carrier, there were over 30 different Jewish sects at this time. Including Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Essenes, the Qumran society, Herodians, and Scribes. There were three (3) different countries—Judea, Galilee and Perea. Galilee had a king (Herod) whereas Judea had a Roman procurator. The Procurator appointed the Head Priest to sit in Jerusalem.

    The Sadducees (primarily through Annas’ family) had been consistently appointed High Priest, and were the High Priests prior to 70 C.E. According to Josephus (you ought to read Josephus to get a very different picture of Pharisees), the Sadducees had the political power, but the Pharisees had the support of the populace.

    Further, Judea was troublesome for the Roman Empire, with constant rumbling ever since the census of 6 C.E., eventually leading to the Jewish wars. It was in constant percolate of revolt (See Judas the Galilean.)

    Perhaps you can understand my puzzlement as to why the Pharisees would care one bit about the Christian religion. It was no threat to become the new Sadducees, forcing the Pharisees to stay number 2. It has less numbers and less significance than numerous other beliefs—specifically the Essenes. It was not convincing Jews, and turned relatively quickly to converting gentiles.

    What possible reason could the Pharisees have for persecuting the Christians?

    Try this mental exercise. Ignore Acts for a moment; pretend it doesn’t exist. What support do you have of a concerted Jewish effort to persecute Christians mid First Century? None! We have the individual claims of Paul (Gal 1:13-14). We have Tacitus indicating Roman persecution of Christians. But we have nothing indicating Jewish Persecution of Jews!

    (In fact, if one cites Josephus for the claim James, the brother of Christ was killed by Ananus—in that story Christians were welcomed in the Temple and supported by the Pharisees!)

    I agree Rome allowed Judaism to be practiced, and even tolerated some of their views (like prohibiting images.) But there is nothing to indicate Rome “put down” new religions! Again, you are reading the Bible and not any other historical documents. Can you give a source for this claim?

    I wouldn’t head to “wouldn’t die for a lie.” We (Vinny, Steven Carr and I) have studied this claim extensively and probably know the claims/arguments and counter-arguments far better than you do. For example, if you don’t know the relationship between Josephus, Apocalypse of James, Hegesippus and Martyrdom of Polycarp when it comes to the death of James, the brother of Christ—you probably haven’t studied this enough!

    ReplyDelete
  53. So as not to provoke the belief that I've bailed on this discussion, know that I only stopped by to check the progress since my last visit. I appreciate the demeanor exhibited by both Vinny and Dagoods and am eager to continue. Steven Carr just seems like an asshole, so I'll likely ignore him until he says something substantive. I don't see much of it from him to compel further response from me at this time.


    More later

    ReplyDelete
  54. Marshall Art,

    No excuse necessary. The wonderful thing about the ebb and flow of internet discussions is when real life requires time away; the discussion is still there to be picked up.

    I thought of a story that may help explain my position.

    I was required to take piano lessons as a child. I hated lessons. I abhorred the required daily practice. Each day involved a confrontation between mother and me over practice:

    “Practice your piano.”
    ”Later.”
    ”Do it now!”
    “In a bit.”
    “NOW!”
    “Let me finish reading this chapter.”

    Eventually punishments were imposed and privileges were restricted. I still resisted practice with every ounce of will possible.

    Now once or twice a week, mom’s work schedule resulted in her coming home an hour later than I. On those days, I assured her I had already practiced when she wasn’t there. (Yeah…pretty smart, eh? *grin*) After a month, she sat me down and basically said, “How dumb do you think we are? Every day, when I see you, it takes a howitzer to get you to practice. But the days I don’t see you...when it is convenient for you to claim it to be true…you say you come right home and practice right away.” She didn’t believe I faithfully practiced when she wasn’t there.

    I feel the same way about Paul. When I see him—when I read his writing—he doesn’t use the Jesus recorded in the Gospel. But I am told by apologists when I don’t see him (when it is convenient to their argument) he used that Jesus.

    I know many Christian apologists like to claim we skeptics are predisposed against miracles, or are wedded to naturalism, or are looking for excuses to discount Jesus. That may be true for some, but the reality is we treat these claims, just like we treat any other claim. If Paul doesn’t use the Jesus of the Gospels in the writing we have—especially in light of the many instances there would be good reason to do so—we presume he didn’t use them in person, either.

    Doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist. Doesn’t even mean the stories about Jesus as eventually written in Mark weren’t circulating at the time of Paul. All it means is that Paul didn’t know them.

    We treat these writings—we “make peace” with them—the same way my mother treated my claim about practicing the piano. For the same reasons my mother didn’t believe I practiced out of her sight—because of what she saw when I was IN her sight—I question Paul knowing the Jesus of the Gospels. We don’t assume Paul talked about Jesus out of our sight when we do not see him talk about Jesus in our sight.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Marshall continues to ignore what Paul claimed that Jews demanded miraculous signs and that he was not in the business of meeting such demands.

    Marshall has no answer to my arguments, as can be seen by his inability to refute anything I say.

    How we would just love to be able to refute me.

    But he can't.

    So he just calls me names.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Steven Carr just seems like an asshole, so I'll likely ignore him until he says something substantive.

    I hear you.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Of course, I don't call people names.

    I just remind them they believe a book where their god came down to earth, and told people how to get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish.

    No wonder I get called names.

    I challenged Marshall to 'Name one Christian who was ever even charged with preaching a resurrection.'

    His response was to call me an asshole.

    ReplyDelete
  58. His response was to call me an asshole.

    I noticed that Steven, but I would bet that he is not the first person to respond to your challenges that way and I would further bet that you have developed a reasonably thick skin about such things.

    ReplyDelete
  59. You have to don't you?

    If you ask people for evidence when they have none, they are going to turn nasty.

    Especially if they are asked for evidence about possessed pigs, or people taking off into the sky, or swapping Bible verses with Satan in the desert.

    ReplyDelete
  60. If you ask people for evidence when they have none, they are going to turn nasty.

    A lot depends on how you ask them. While I am sure that there are many people who think that I am an asshole, I usually manage to avoid getting called one.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Marshall Art pointed out this conversation, and so I hope none of y'all mind my dropping in -- probably briefly -- to throw in my two cents.

    Most of what I have to say is directed to Vinny, but I'd like to briefly begin with Steven Carr, who has repeatedly invoked I Cor 1:22-23 to suggest that it casts serious doubt on whether Paul knew about Christ's miraculous activity.


    Steven:

    "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified

    "Jews wanted Christianity to be one of those religions that had stories of miracles.

    "Paul scoffs at such silly demands. Miracles? What did they want? A Jesus who walked on water?

    "Of course, Marshall just ignores this evidence from the Bible - preferring to live in his fantasy world where Pharisees like Paul knew all about the miracles of Jesus.
    "

    Even if we were to ignore the fact that the New Testament attributes miracles to Paul himself -- blinding a man in Acts 13:6-12, raising the dead in Acts 20:7-12, and healing the sick in Acts 28:7-10 -- we would have ample evidence from I Corinthians alone to reject the conclusion you've drawn.


    The context of what you quote suggests that Paul was talking about the preachers, not the message.

    It appears that the Jews were demanding signs, not in the message that was being preached, but from those who were doing the preaching, and it appears that the Greeks desired clever arguments from the preachers.

    It seems that Paul's claim is that the CHRISTIAN PREACHERS didn't produce signs or clever speeches, not that the CHRISTIAN GOSPEL lacked accounts of miracles or wisdom.

    The Jews expected signs, NOT from the gospel message, but from those who brought the message.


    We know that Paul doesn't dismiss miracles outright from the rest of the letter, where Paul approvingly alludes to the miraculous, time and again.

    In reciting what appears to be an extremely early creed, Paul asserts the historicity of the greatest and central miracle of Christian faith, the Resurrection -- that Jesus "was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (I Cor 15:4).

    In warning against partaking of the Lord's Supper unworthily, Paul attests to God's present-day judgment against the readers, to acts that are punitive rather than beneficial but are no less miraculous because of it.

    "Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." - I Cor 11:28-30

    And in listing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the next chapter, Paul writes that to one is given "gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles." (I Cor 12:9-10)


    So, in this very letter, Paul claims that Christ was raised from the dead; that those who partook of the Lord's Supper unworthily were getting sick and even dying; and that the Spirit gives some gifts of healing and to others the working of miracles.

    But you think that I Cor 1 proves that Paul scoffed at the idea that Christianity is "one of those religions that had stories of miracles."

    I think you've taken the verse out of context to make it say what even the rest of this letter contradicts.

    ReplyDelete
  62. (To argue as Steven does, one might as well say that, because Christ told the Pharisees "no sign will be given to this generation" in Mark 8:11, that gospel rejects the accounts of Christ's miracles, when the gospel routinely records His miracles, with at least one miracle -- often two or three -- recorded in EVERY ONE of the first eleven chapters, including the feeding of the four thousand in 8:1-9, just before the verse cited above.)

    ReplyDelete
  63. Vinny, your basic claim seems to be that "Paul never quote[d] Jesus in support of his arguments."


    1) That is, strictly speaking, not entirely true.

    Neil (4Simpsons) cites Acts 20:35, but even among his own epistles, Paul quotes Jesus in the upper room, His instituting of the Lord's Supper (I Cor 11:24), specifically to argue against taking the bread and cup flippantly and unworthily.


    2) While direct quotes from Christ are very rare in Paul's letters and recorded speeches -- but, again, not entirely absent -- there seems to be quite a good deal of evidence that, as Dr. Michael Thompson put it, "decisively favors the conclusion that dominical teachings significantly influenced Paul."

    In his commentary on Romans for the Bible Speaks Today series, John Stott lists fifteen parallels with Christ's teachings within the ethical exhortations of Romans 12-15, including:

    - "Bless those who persecute you" (Rom 12:14, cf. Lk 6:28)

    - "Feed your hungry enemy" (Rom 12:20, cf. Lk 6:27)

    - "Give everyone what you owe him; pay taxes" (Rom 13:7, cf. Mk 12:14, 17)

    - "Love one another" (Rom 13:8, cf. Jn 13:34f.)

    - "Stop passing judgment on one another" (Rom 14:10, 13, cf. Mt 7:1)

    - "No food is unclean in itself, all food is clean" (Rom 14:14, 20, cf. Mt 15:10 and Mk 7:19)


    3) I'm not certain that lengthy quotes of Christ's parables, for instance, would have always been appropriate, since the circumstances were significantly in a couple respects.

    Christ was teaching to an almost exclusively Jewish audience, confronting Jewish religious leaders who questioned who He is. The Apostles were addressing a mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles (with the proportion of Gentiles increasing), confronting false Christian teachers who didn't question that Jesus is the Christ, but questioned other aspects of His identiy (e.g., His humanity, I Jn 4:2-3) or the details of what He accomplished -- whether, for instance, the salvation brought by His death needed to be augmented by circumcision.

    Obviously that sort of question wouldn't have come up before Calvary, at least not explicitly in those terms.

    And Christ taught that the parables were used for outsiders (Mk 4:11-12, 33-34).

    One could speculate that Mark added that claim to explain why the epistles generally lacked parables, but that strays from your central theory that, TAKEN JUST AS THEY ARE, the Gospels and the Epistles don't stand well together.

    Since Christ taught that His parables were intended for outsiders, one wouldn't expect many of them quoted to the epistles written to those who already believed. Instead, one would find them in books that were intended to document Christ's life and ministry (see Lk 1:1-4) and books that were explicitly evangelistic (Jn 20:30-31).

    [continued]

    ReplyDelete
  64. [continued]

    4) Most importantly, Vinny, I think you might be making the wrong assumptions about the Apostles and their authority.

    APOSTLES AREN'T HERALDS, THEY'RE AMBASSADORS.

    A herald would be given a message by the king to proclaim to others in his absence, either his subjects or other nobles. The herald would go where he was sent and read what he was given.

    An ambassador wasn't given one short, specific message to read in the king's absence. He was given the king's AUTHORITY TO MAKE DECISIONS in his absence, to go where he was sent and decide things on the king's behalf.

    A herald takes the king's message to Vienna, reads the message and comes back to London, possibly with a response. An ambassador takes the king's royal seal to Vienna, negotiates some treaty and agrees to that treaty on the king's behalf -- or he doesn't, and he declares war on the king's behalf.

    Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would lead His followers into all truth (Jn 16:12-15), implying that there was more to learn and proclaim than what He explicitly taught before He left them.

    And, in His statement about the keys of the kingdom of heaven, He declares to Peter (and possibly the Twelve), "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19). That implies a somewhat more active role than merely repeating what Jesus explicitly taught.

    Either way, the Apostles certainly didn't act as if their task was merely carrying a testimony of what Jesus spoke and did, but rather explaining the meaning behind it and addressing situations He didn't address. While the Evangelists were not so aware, the Apostles did seem explicitly aware that they were writing texts to be added to the Scripture that Christ upheld to the smallest penstroke: Paul commanded his readers to read his letter, implicitly as if it were another book in Scripture (Col 4:16, I Thess 5:26-27).

    The dearth of direct quotes of Christ and narrative descriptions of His life, including miracles, makes no sense if the Apostles were merely His heralds in His absence.

    But it makes complete sense if they were His ambassadors in His absence, which does appear to be the sort of authority they claimed for themselves.


    In other words, while I believe Roman Catholicism is wrong about apostolic succession, they're right about apostolic authority -- about the right to speak "ex cathedra" if not necessarily the source of that right (Christ Himself rather than the church).

    ReplyDelete
  65. Vinny, you ask two other questions that I'd like to address, even if I have no current plans on visiting this thread frequently.


    1) "Was Paul's message based on what he worked out for himself or was it based on things that Jesus actually said and did?"

    Given everything else you've written here, the last part of the question seems to imply a focus only on Jesus' earthly life and ministry, on what He "actually said and did" before the Crucifixion.

    This presents a false dilemma that rules out special revelation from God, and Paul's own writing indicates this third way that you exclude.

    Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by asserting a unique authority from Christ Himself.

    "Paul an apostle -- sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead -- and all the members of God's family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:" - Gal 1:1-2

    He is sent by God and Christ through no human intermediaries (notice the implication then about Christ's deity) and Paul lists himself as so sent, apart from the members of God's family who were with him.

    In the rest of the letter's opening chapters, he defends his gospel as the result of direct revelation.

    "For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." - Gal 1:11-12

    He then goes on to sketch a brief autobiography to prove that his gospel was given independently from everyone else, including the Apostles in Jerusalem (1:13-24), but his gospel was still identical to theirs (2:1-10). Peter, James, and John added nothing to what Paul was preaching (2:6) but rather extended to Paul the hand of fellowship (2:9).

    The clear implication of this autobiographical summary is what Paul asserts explicitly in Gal 1:11-12: the gospel he preached was independent from the others yet identical to their gospel because it ultimately came directly from Jesus Christ Himself.

    He didn't "work out" the gospel by himself, nor was he told what Jesus did and said by the others.

    He was sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead; the gospel he proclaimed is not of human origin; he did not receive it from a human source, nor was he taught it, but he received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

    His authority was directly from Jesus Christ, and His gospel was directly from Jesus Christ.

    That's his answer for your question. Whether you want to speculate about some other "real" explanation is entirely up to you, but if Paul is telling us the truth, it's spiritually dangerous to dismiss his claims.

    I've come to believe that Paul's claims about himself present (to a lesser degree, of course) the same "trilemma" that Jesus's claims present, the three-part dilemma C.S. Lewis noted.

    Jesus claimed to be God. If that claim is false, then Jesus wasn't a good teacher: Jesus was insane or incredibly evil.

    Well, Paul claimed to be hand-picked by God (Jesus) to proclaim God's message. If that claim is false, there's no sense approaching anything he said as the writings of a good teacher: Paul was either insane or incredibly evil, and so Paul's authority should be dismissed completely.

    [continued]

    ReplyDelete
  66. [continued]

    2) "Were the gospels based on stories that Jesus' original followers passed on or were they composed to fit Paul's message by men whose knew little about what Jesus actually said or did because they had been converted by Paul who knew little about what Jesus said or did?"

    This presents another false dilemma, as at least two Gospels present a clear third option that you don't even consider.

    "Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed." - Lk 1:1-4

    "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." - Jn 21:24-25

    One gospel's writer made the claim of "investigating everything carefully from the very first," and another gospel's writer claimed that that gospel is the result of a single testimony from a single disciple -- presumably John, referenced obliquely as the one Jesus loved.

    I'm not sure any speculations about the gospels' origins are worthwhile if they begin by dismissing the books' own claims about themselves.


    About both the source of Paul's gospel and the origin of at least two of the four Gospels, the New Testament is already quite clear.

    "Rather than 'making do' with the evidence, perhaps we need to 'make peace' with the evidence."

    I cannot see how one "makes peace" with the New Testament by discounting at the outset its claims about the Apostles and its claims about itself.

    ReplyDelete
  67. I see lots of quote mining of passages in Paul where Paul never even dreams of saying that anybody called Jesus had said such things.

    No wonder Christian apologetics is in such disrepute when people try to get away with things like that....

    BUBBA
    It appears that the Jews were demanding signs, not in the message that was being preached, but from those who were doing the preaching....

    CARR
    I see.

    So Jews didn't demand that Jesus had done miracles, but demanded that Paul did miracles.

    Jews would have been quite happy with a Jesus who had done no miracles, but would have scoffed if somebody evangelising them was not able to raise the dead.

    Pull the other one.

    Paul was clearly complaining that Jews were scoffing at the lack of miracle stories about this Jesus.

    All Paul had to offer was the pathetic 'miracles' that Christians always claim other Christians can do, but can never be verified by outsiders.

    ReplyDelete
  68. BUBBA
    "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." - Jn 21:24-25

    CARR
    Oh dear, dear....

    Can you imagine Bubba's howls of laughter if Mormons claimed things were true, because an unknown Mormon had scribbled in the back page of another Mormon's book that it was all true?

    And yet he puts forward an anonymous Christian author, adding a bit on to the end of another Christian's work a claim that it is all true.

    This is ridiculous.

    Who actually thinks such things are evidence?

    Listen.

    Scribble as much as you like in your Bible that it is all true. It won't make a blind bit of difference to the fact that you have no evidence.

    In fact, even do anonymous scribbling like that anonymous 'testimony' in the last chapter of 'John'

    Anonymous testimony isn't worth a toss, as Bubba would tell you if any Mormon started claiming other anonymous Mormons testified it was true, but can't say who they were.

    ReplyDelete
  69. And 'Luke' simply copied 'Mark', carefully making sure the reader would not know where he was plagiarising from.

    And then 'Luke' changed whatever he wanted to in Mark, and hid behind a cloak of anonymity.

    This is deception, illustrating the lies and deception of the Gospellers.

    If your writers can't even be honest enough to sign their names to their works, but instead plagiarise other anonymous works, then no wonder they are full of Frauds and Lies

    ReplyDelete
  70. Steven, briefly:

    "Paul was clearly complaining that Jews were scoffing at the lack of miracle stories about this Jesus."

    While claiming, in the same letter, that Jesus rose from the dead? While attributing to the Holy Spirit gifts of healing and working miracles?

    The context argues strongly against your position.


    About anonymous testimony, you're free to reject those claims in the Gospel of John, about the Gospel of John.

    But I don't think it's reasonable to exclude those claims even as a possibility, which is the point of the question that was asked:

    "Were the gospels based on stories that Jesus' original followers passed on or were they composed to fit Paul's message by men whose knew little about what Jesus actually said or did because they had been converted by Paul who knew little about what Jesus said or did?"

    The gospel ITSELF presents an obvious third alternative.

    The gospel's own claim isn't true JUST BECAUSE it's there, but it is there and should be considered as an alternative just as, indeed, the claims about other texts, found in those texts themselves, should be acknowledged as possibilities, however plausible or implausible.


    Between your snark about this quite uncontroversial point, and your unwillingness even to address the textual evidence that Paul believed in both Christ's resurrection and the Spirit's gifts of healing and miracle-working, I don't think you're in much position to attack the character of those who wrote the New Testament.

    ReplyDelete
  71. Bubba,

    Thanks for stopping by. That is a lot to chew on and I will try to get to it all.

    Let me first say a word about the false dilemmas that you have identified:

    (1) I don't think that we can in any historical sense know whether Paul actually received a direct revelation from God and/or Jesus Christ. Whether Paul worked the message out for himself or whether it was supernaturally revealed to him, we are still unable to establish its historical continuity with what anyone believed before him.

    (2) I think my first option, i.e., that the gospels were based on stories that Jesus' original followers passed on, would include Luke's claims since he is saying that he investigated the stories that had been passed on. I could probably rephrase the option in such a way as to include the possibility that the Gospel of John really was written by the beloved disciple without changing its meaning significantly. My point is that the stories either (1) have their roots in first hand accounts of Jesus or (2) were created by converts who did not have access to first hand accounts. I think that appeals to the traditional authorship of the gospels would fall within the former.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Marshall Art,

    I am glad you showed this to people who post responses. I think it generates a more well rounded conversation, showing more than one person’s perspective.

    Bubba,

    I know you addressed this to Steven Carr, but I think the point is important I believe he is trying to make. (Curiously, what others view as snark; I envy as ability to be succinct. While one may not like how Steven Carr presents it, I do find truth in his statements. I say the same thing, only with verbal diarrhea.)

    I will address three areas:

    1) What is important about “signs”
    2) Myth development on Jesus’ signs.
    3) Myth development on Jesus’ Messiahship.

    Understand what I (and I think the others) are NOT saying; We are not saying Paul didn’t address miracles. We are not saying Paul didn’t know any Jesus. We are not saying Paul didn’t know the resurrection.

    What I am saying is that Paul did not know of the Jesus as recorded in the Gospels—the traveling rabbi, confronting, blind-healing, parable using, preaching Jesus.

    1) What is important about “signs.”

    As we all know, “signs” to Jews meant miracles. Supernatural events foretelling a spectacular event. Josephus records “signs” foretelling the Jerusalem destruction, for example, in Jewish Wars, Book VI, Chapter 5.3 where a star in the shape of a sword, a cow giving birth to a lamb and other “signs.”

    Bubba, while I appreciate Paul was concerned about the personage of those making claims (on many occasions,) at least part of 1 Cor. 1:22-23 has to do with content. He was not referring to the apostles doing “signs.” Look at the previous verse, “God was please through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believer.” Notice he referred specifically to content, not to WHO was preaching.

    Secondly, Paul was making a comparison/contrast to content that makes no sense under your argument it was about the person making the claim. Notice the contrast:

    Jews = Signs
    Greeks = wisdom
    Christians = Christ Crucified.

    Paul is directly comparing those three things. Under your argument, that means Paul was saying, “The Jews want us to show a sign, the Greeks want us to show argument, but we show them we are crucified.” ??? It is not about the person making the claim (at least not solely)—it must also be about content. It doesn’t make sense, otherwise.

    Simply put, the Jews, if informed Jesus was the Messiah, seeing the Roman Empire was still standing, would naturally look for a miraculous sign to confirm why he was the Messiah, since this was what they would naturally look for.

    Paul says they don’t give them that. Which, as even pointed out by yourself, is curious in light of the many miracles claimed to have been done openly by Jesus throughout the Gospels. (Note, the Resurrection miracle was NOT done openly—Jesus only show himself to those who already believed.)

    ReplyDelete
  73. 2) Myth development of Signs.

    You were correct to point out Mark 8:11 indicates Jesus says, “No sign will be given to this generation.” However, what you don’t do is point out how Matthew and Luke copy the same situation.

    Matthew (and then Luke) change the statement to their being only one (1) sign—the sign of Jonah. (Mt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29) John takes them one step further, by claiming Jesus did MANY signs—so many he counts them! See John 2:11; 2:18-19; 4:54; 20:30. (Notice that last verse in particular that says the signs are written so that you may believe. Curious how the gospel writers record their reason for recording signs was to persuade, and Paul says to NOT use signs to persuade!)

    So what we have with signs, in chronological order is:

    Paul: 0
    Mark: 0
    Matthew: 1
    Luke: 1
    John: Many.

    We can see the myth developing there. Besides the contradiction between the Gospels, it makes little sense to claim Paul knew the Jesus of John, and said, “The Jews demand a sign, but we won’t give them any.”

    The theory Paul did not know the signs of Jesus of the Gospel answers the evidence we have. The theory he knew it, but stated otherwise only adds complications.

    3) Myth development of Jesus’ Messiahship.

    Scholarship indicates (and is fairly persuasive, in my opinion) that the when of Jesus becoming Messiah was also under development. That various groups debated when Jesus became Messiah.

    Paul writes under the presumption Jesus became Messiah (“Christ”) at his death/ resurrection. To Paul, the events of Jesus’ life are not important…unnecessary…because that is not his defining moment. The moment was in his death/resurrection. Hence the reason he preaches “Jesus crucified;” not “Jesus the great speaker.”

    Mark has Jesus become Messiah at his Baptism. Doesn’t care about his childhood, where he came from, his upbringing. Only from his Baptism on.

    Matthew and Luke, of course, have Jesus become Messiah at his birth. They place signs (stars, virgins, angels) as portent to his anointing. And John, of course, forever the greater development, places Jesus as Messiah/son of God prior to his birth.

    Again, we watch the myth develop as the time of Jesus’ becoming Messiah is slowly moved back the later the story.

    This would, again, conform to why Paul was not interested in preaching Jesus’ ministry in any way. Why Paul wouldn’t care what Jesus’ ministry was.

    I will respond later to other points you raised, I just wanted to address this “signs” thing first.

    ReplyDelete
  74. Bubba,

    Regarding points (1) and (2):

    (1) Strictly speaking, I don't think that the author of Acts describing Paul quoting Jesus is the same thing as Paul doing it himself in a letter he wrote.

    Paul does quote Jesus' words at the last supper, but he says that he received them from the Lord rather than hearing them from anyone who knew Jesus.

    (2) I agree that the parallels are there, that doesn't really tell us whether the gospel writers used Paul as a source.

    I will get to the rest of your points tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  75. And Bart Ehrman emailed me saying that many scholars doubt that 1 Corinthians 11 contain the words of Jesus, who allegedly said them just hours before his whereabouts were betrayed. (Good timing on his part. If he had waited 1 day, it would have been too late)

    ReplyDelete
  76. Argument from Silence

    The strength of arguments from silence (what we are doing here: “Because Paul was silent as to Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospels, he either didn’t know it, or didn’t consider it authoritative.”) rests on two factor’s weight:

    1) How unusual the event; and
    2) Whether the medium deals with such events.

    Consider the claim a professional golfer got a hole-in-one on every Par 3 within a professional tournament. (For you non-golfers, this is eight holes-in-one in four days on a difficult course.) Now, a person points out how Golf Digest does not report this event. This is a particularly strong argument from silence because of both factor’s weight:

    1) It has never happened before. Unique.
    2) Golf Digest reports on golfing events.

    But now imagine someone claims Cosmopolitan did not record the event, so it must not have happened. While one factor remains weighty, the other does not:

    1) It has never happened before. Unique.
    2) Cosmopolitan does not report on golf.

    Here the argument from silence is not very strong. (And, of course, we can image events that are usual, such as “Bob got a hole-in-one on the local community golf course” not being reported in Golf Digest not being a strong argument from silence, because the first factor has no weight, while the second one does.)

    ReplyDelete
  77. This may seem pedantic, but I think it important for a lurker to understand where we are. We seem to be in universal agreement regarding the weightiness of the first factor. Jesus’ ministry—his teaching, parables, miracles—was extra-ordinary. The question is in the second factor—would Paul have dealt with such events.

    We have seen numerous arguments (here and elsewhere) as to why Paul would not:

    1. He already spoke of Jesus ministry face-to-face.
    2. Other writers didn’t include Jesus’ ministry (Acts)
    3. Some of Jesus words (parables) were for outsiders
    4. Apostles were ambassadors; not heralds.

    And our arguments as to Paul would:

    1. He uses examples.
    2. He argues using authority (Scripture)
    3. He reports commands from God.
    4. He refers to areas Jesus dealt with.
    5. Jesus’ words would bolster his argument (and in some cases make it unnecessary to even make the argument!)
    6. He does refer to events in Jesus’ life—1 Cor. 15.

    Now, we can back and forth and respond to the four points made against the argument from silence or bolster our own arguments. But we don’t need to.

    Bubba, you concede the game when you make the argument Paul DID allude to Jesus’ ministry. This is granting the second factor’s weight. If Paul alludes to Jesus ministry (as you claim) then to claim in the next breath he would not allude to Jesus ministry is…hmm…not sure how to say this politely….talking out of both sides of the mouth.

    We have substantial weight in both factors:

    1) Jesus ministry is extra-ordinary
    2) Paul deals with the areas of Jesus ministry.

    To use my golfer example, it is as if the person claims ”Cosmopolitan doesn’t report on golf and besides, just last month it ran an article on the 10 greatest golf accomplishments ever.”

    Which is it? Which one are you claiming—would Paul report on Jesus if he knew him or wouldn’t he? I cannot see how you can do it both ways.

    And by-the-way (I can’t resist), the claim of alluding is very, very thin. Did you look up the verses and compare them? For one example (because I already mentioned it) Rom. 13:8 saying “love one another” alluding to John 13:34. Curious Stott stops there. If we continue, Rom. 13:9-10 goes on to say all the commandments are summed up in “love your neighbor.” Stott doesn’t point out this directly contradicts Jesus claim all the commandments are summed up in “Love God and Love your neighbor.” Matt. 22:37-41.

    If Paul was alluding to Jesus, why was Paul contradicting him? And how does this conform to a consistent theory? As an “ambassador” can they contradict the President? (Note, it is even worse in a client/patron society. A client could never contradict a patron, nor would they claim something outside the scope of the client/patron relationship.)

    ReplyDelete
  78. Bubba,

    A final point. It is not that we dismiss the gospel or epistles self-claims. It is that they are not persuasive in light of all the evidence.

    As an analogy, think about UFO abduction stories. The people self-claim they were abducted by aliens. While we may start there, we also take into account other evidence, such as the lack of corroborating evidence (argument from silence), myth development (the aliens look like aliens from movies), contradictions, inconsistencies, motivations, etc. Despite the self-claim we conclude the abductions didn’t happen.

    I can assure you, having read them for years, Vinny, Steven Carr and I have considered the self-claims. That John was written by the beloved disciple. That Luke “faithfully” recorded his investigations. That Matthew was written by the disciple. That Mark obtained his material from Peter.

    We have arrived at our conclusions through study. Not wanton desire to be “liberal.” Not to justify our hard-drinking, drug-dealing, pimp-hand lifestyle. (In case you can’t tell, that was a bit tongue-in-cheek. *grin*)

    We can talk about “possibilities” all day. Sure there is more than just what Vinny listed. Maybe Jesus wrote the gospels. It is possible they were a 3rd Century Roman invention. Maybe Paul invented Christianity. Maybe Peter and James did. Maybe Jesus was a myth. We can go on and on.

    Rather, I prefer to look at probabilities. Compare theories and see which is more bolster by the evidence; which theory answers more (but never all) questions. I am persuaded it is more likely the gospels were not written by the self-claims in comparing the probabilities, despite the self-claims. I am persuaded Paul did not know the Jesus of the Gospels.

    Because the argument would be more persuasive to a neutral party. Because the theory of myth development demonstrated answers more questions.

    ReplyDelete