The Weekly Roundup – 2.15.19

“Slavery is part of the cultural fabric of the world that produced the Scriptures. Though some debate whether servitude or even debt-slavery should be used to describe the institution instead, the presumption of right to sexual access marks Hagar’s status as enslaved.” – Wil Gafney

  • Chris Hansen has another post in his series covering J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity. In this post, Hansen addresses the common pop-apologetic non sequitur that because the New Testament authors got some details correct (i.e. place names, historical figures) that therefore they are correct on the details of Jesus’ life and ministry and therefore Jesus was really raised from the dead. The sarcasm and snark in Hansen’s review had me chuckling a number of times. It is well worth your time for that alone!
  • Mark Goodacre, an accomplished New Testament scholar, has written a couple of posts over Bart Ehrman’s blog on the subject of “editorial fatigue.” Well, it is really from Goodacre’s book The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze which Goodacre allowed Ehrman to post on his blog. The first post describes what it is and offers an example from the Gospel of Matthew that shows that he was no doubt working from the Gospel of Mark. The second post offers examples from the Gospel of Luke which also shows the Lukan author was working from the Gospel of Mark.
  • Biblical scholar Wil Gafney wrote an entry on Hagar over at bibleodyssey.org. In it she discusses the meaning of Hagar’s name (i.e. “the alien”) and how Hagar’s story relates to the main focus of those texts wherein she appears. Hagar, as Gafney points out, is a sex slave who is used by Abraham to produce an heir and then despised by Sarah for it. She’s a means to an end and nothing more. But Gafney calls on us to think about Hagar more just as she did in her book Womanist Midrash (WJK, 2017).
  • Back in August an interview with Elaine Pagels – an amazing scholar whose expertise on Gnosticism is world renown – appeared on the Religion News Service website. In it she discusses the loss of her husband and son, her experience of sexual assault while a graduate student, and her most recent book Why Religion? A Personal Story (HarperCollins, 2018).
  • Last week I highlighted some of the recent episodes of the Mira Scriptura podcast. I was finally able to get through the rest of those episodes this week.
    • Episode 24 covers the story of Ahab and Obadiah. In the accompanying blog post, @MiraScriptura suggests that the opposing narrative had Obadiah – Ahab’s chief-of-staff so to speak –  at odds with Elijah the prophet. The opposing narrative had Obadiah as someone else’s chief-of-staff and so the conflict becomes one of us (Israel) vs. them. @MiraScriptura also goes into the famous contest between the prophets of Baal and Elijah.
    • Episode 25 covers the story of the leper NaamanThis episode is my favorite of this series. @MiraScriptura thinks that the opposing narrative held that Naaman wasn’t a leper and that the reference to his “flesh” was to his child. The biblical text makes the child into a “little maid” that belonged to Naaman.
    • Episode 26 covers the narrative concerning Elisha at DothanWho was spying for whom? Was Elisha working for the king of Syria or was he always faithful to Israel? The narratives differ.
    • Episode 27 covers the Ben-Hadad prophecyAgain at issue is for whom Elisha was working: Israel or Syria?
    • Episode 28 covers the death of Elisha. The biblical narrative is fascinating on its own terms (especially 2 Kings 13:20-21). The opposing narrative per @MiraScriptura has Elisha’s death be the end of him. Yet the biblical text has Elisha performing a miracle even though he’s dead.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Jonah and the…

The story of Jonah found in the book which bears his name is one of the best known in all the Hebrew Bible. Unwilling to warn the Assyrian capital of Nineveh of coming judgment, Jonah stows away onto a ship that is going the opposite direction of the city. When Yahweh hurls ” a great wind” upon the sea, those in the vessel begin to fear for their lives. They begin to throw cargo overboard with the hope that it would make the vessel less susceptible to sinking. The ship’s captain goes down into the hold and finds Jonah fast asleep. Flabbergasted at this, the captain orders Jonah to call out to his god so that they might all survive. What happens next is bizarre in its own right.

First, the sailors begin casting lots to figure out who created the mess they were in. The lot falls on Jonah who admits “he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:10). “What shall we do to you?” they ask him (1:11). Jonah instructs them to treat him as they had their cargo and toss him overboard. If they do so, he tells them, the storm will cease and they will be well. But they don’t. They continue to row but the storm continues to grow. They plead with Yahweh, “Please, O LORD, we pray, do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you” (1:14). Jonah is tossed over the side of the ship. The storm dies down and then men offer a sacrifice to Yahweh. And then

the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (1:17).

The Masoretic Text (1:17 ET = 2:1 MT) refers to the animal as dg gdwl. The Hebrew word dg is not a word that comes up a lot in the Hebrew Bible but without a doubt it refers to fish. The adjective gdwl lets us know that this isn’t an ordinary fish: it’s big.

The dg gdwl in the Septuagint

In the Septuagint’s rendering of the passage the dg gdwl is referred to as kētei megalō. We easily recognize megalō as meaning “great” or “large.” But kētei is more obscure and in some ways a surprise. In Genesis 9:2 where the MT tells us that the fear of humanity would be upon all animal life including “the fish of the sea,” the Hebrew word there is the same word used in Jonah 1:17 (2:1) – dg. But in the LXX the word isn’t kētous but ichthyas, a generic word for fish. Assuming the MT reflects accurately the Hebrew original of the text of Jonah, this means that the translator(s) of the LXX did not think that all dg were kētos and that some dg were ichthys. But what in the world is a kētos?

The first appearance of kētos in the LXX comes in Genesis 1:21 where we read in the MT that God created htnynm hgdlym, “the great sea monsters.” The LXX renders htnynm hgdlym as ta kētē ta megala, a construction very similar to what we find in Jonah 1:17 (2:1). The Hebrew word tnyn is used to describe serpents (Exodus 7:9, 7:10, 7:12) or mythical creatures like Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1). But not every instance of tnyn is rendered as kētos in the LXX. In fact, in some places like in Exodus 7 tnyn is rendered by another Greek word: drakōn. That word should be familiar to anyone who enjoys Game of Thrones. But we do see elsewhere in the LXX that the translators felt that mythical creatures from Ancient Near Eastern lore were kētos. For example, in Job 26:12 the MT’s reference to “Rahab” which is compared with “the fleeing serpent” in 26:13 is in the LXX to kētos (cf. Job 9:13). And in Daniel 3:791 we see reference to kētē kai panta ta kinoumena en tois hydasi, “sea monsters and all those that move in the waters” (my translation).

Thus it appears that the LXX uses kētos to refer to mythic sea creatures and it stands to reason that whoever translated the Hebrew text of Jonah into Greek viewed the dg gdwl not as a big fish but as a great sea monster.2

Jesus, Jonah, and the dg gdwl

Though the prophet Jonah features in both the Gospels of Matthew (12:38-42) and Luke (11:29-32), it is only in the Matthean that the story of Jonah and the dg gdwl is mentioned. The scribes and Pharisees request from Jesus a sēmeion, “a sign.” But Jesus responds with some rather harsh words: “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign [sēmeion], but no sign [sēmeion] will be given to it except the sign [sēmeion] of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39). What sēmeion is this? Jesus explains: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). So the sēmeion of Jonah is about the death and resurrection of the Son of Man.

As you no doubt noticed, the Matthean Jesus tells the Pharisees that Jonah spent three days and nights “in the belly of the sea monster.” “Sea monster” in the NRSV translates the genitive of the same noun we found in Jonah 1:17 (2:1, LXX) – kētous. In the New Testament, it is the only time the term appears. And other translations do not render kētous as “sea monster” but as “great fish” (ESV) or “whale” (KJV), perhaps in a bid to avoid something as fanciful as monsters. Why the existence of sea monsters is less believable than a man surviving inside of one is beyond me. Given what we know about how people viewed large bodies of water in general, there was constant fear of great creatures lurking beneath the waves. Of course, if you intention is to make the story of Jonah historical then you run into the issue of what the creature was and in our modern scientific society we know sea “monsters” don’t exist.

So What Swallowed Jonah?!?

So if you’re reading the Hebrew text of Jonah then what swallowed Jonah was a pretty big fish (dg gdwl). If you are reading the LXX of Jonah then what swallowed him was a big sea monster (kētei megalō). And if you’re reading the words of Jesus through the lens of Matthew’s Gospel then what swallowed him was a sea monster (kētous).

And that cleared up nothing.

NOTES

1 In the LXX, the book of Daniel features additions not present in the MT, including a large expansion of chapter three. See R. Timothy McClay, “To the Reader of Daniel,” in Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (editors), A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title (Oxford University Press, 2007), 991-994.

2 In other ancient Greek literature kētos is used to refer to sea monsters including Scylla, a six-headed beast mentioned in The Odyssey (12.97).

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Artfully Structured

Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 43-44.

The Gospel of Mark is artfully structured. It consists of individual pericopes, each of which makes its own point. Through their arrangement into a gospel they acquire a “surplus of meaning”: in the framework of the story of Jesus they point to the mystery of Jesus’ person, which is revealed only in the entirety of the story. The individual narratives are therefore, on the one hand, superficially constructed into a plausible chronological and geographical order, but at the same time they are interpreted by a christologically motivated ordering. A geographical and a christological outline overlie each other.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Lost in the Weeds: SJ Thomason Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 2

To see all posts in this series, please refer to its index.

Thomason’s “rebuttal” of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus1 continues, this time focusing on the end of chapter one as well as on chapter two. The post entitled “Does Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Give Reasons to Doubt the New Testament?”2 is more pop-apologetic tripe from the Queen of the Quotemine herself. I’ve had a couple of shots of whisky so I’m ready to dive in.

But First…

Thomason begins her post with a quotation from an edition of Misquoting Jesus that I do not possess. However, she was apparently able to “dig it up” and provides it for her readers. Yet something is amiss with what she provides. In the quotation she places in bold the following words from Ehrman.

If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement—maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.

The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.3

But I found another apologetics website that also reproduces this quote from Ehrman and found that it too had placed all the words Thomason had placed in bold minus the words “maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.”It appears yet again5 that Thomason is using other people’s material without providing proper attribution. This is par for the course.

The last paragraph of the quote (per Thomason) reads as follows:

From my point of view, the stakes are rather high: Does Luke’s Gospel teach a doctrine of atonement (that Christ’s death atones for sins)? Does John’s Gospel teach that Christ is the “unique God” himself? Is the doctrine of the Trinity ever explicitly stated in the New Testament? These and other key theological issues are at stake, depending on which textual variants you think are original and which you think are creations of early scribes who were modifying the text.

Thomason responds by writing that

the New Testament teaches the doctrine of atonement in a variety of passages (e.g., 1 John 2:2; John 3:16, 10:11; Hebrews 7:27; Romans 5:10, Galatians 3:13). John’s Gospel highlights Jesus’ divinity more than any of the Synoptics by emphasizing His miracles and the “I AM” statements. The Old and New Testaments offer support for the Trinity in a variety of passages. Click here for information concerning the Old Testament: https://christian-apologist.com/2018/09/26/is-the-holy-trinity-found-in-the-old-testament/

She has, of course, missed Ehrman’s point. He is referring to specific texts with specific textual variants. They are:

  • Luke 22:19-20. Some ancient texts lack the words of 19:b-20 which read “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper saying, ‘This is the cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
    • As Ehrman points out later in Misquoting Jesus, the key issue is that the Lukan Gospel does not see Jesus’ death as that which makes atonement. In fact, in Luke’s redaction of Markan texts which do depict Jesus’ death as salvific (i.e. Mark 10:45; 15:39), he makes very specific changes that either downplay it or eliminate it. It is possible (in Ehrman’s view) that the manuscripts which do feature the words that the bread represents Jesus’ body “which is given for you” and the cup represents his blood which is “poured out for you” are later insertions meant to combat Docetism.6
  • John 1:18. Both the UBS5 and NA28 (and previous editions) have the words monogenēs theos which are rendered variously in modern translations based upon those editions of the Greek text. For example, the NRSV renders it “God the only Son” while the ESV has “the only God.” But older translations like the KJV read “only begotten Son” since this is the reading in the Textus Receptus and the manuscripts upon which it is based.
    • Ehrman points out that the Johannine author frequently uses the term “unique Son” (i.e. “only begotten Son”, KJV) throughout his Gospel but never “unique God” except here. Ehrman posits “that some scribes – probably located in Alexandria – were not content with this exalted view of Christ [i.e. “unique Son”], and so they made it even more exalted, by transforming the text. Now Christ is not merely God’s unique Son, but he is the unique God himself!”7
  • 1 John 5:7. The KJV, based upon the Textus Receptus, reads as follows: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” But our most ancient Greek manuscripts simply do not have this reading at all.
    • Ehrman discusses that the so-called Johannine Comma is not original and that its presence in the Textus Receptus can be attributed to pressure put on Erasmus to include it.8 Yet without it, there is no explicit statement about the Trinity in the entirety of the New Testament.

Whether or not it is the case that other New Testament texts teach these doctrines is beside the point. The question is, Why do these variants exist? Their addition or deletion likely came with motive given their importance. So why?

Before we move on, it should be noted that Thomason’s claim that the Old Testament offers support for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is entirely without merit.9 As Chris Hansen so aptly put it, “Ask any Rabbi on the planet, you know the people who have studied the OT longer than Christianity has ever existed.”10 I doubt she will.

Let’s continue.

On Literacy

Ehrman discusses the issue of literacy in the Greco-Roman world, stating that “under the best of conditions, 85-90 percent of the population could not read or write.”11 Well, that isn’t exactly what Ehrman said but that is certainly how Thomason presents him. Ehrman was referring specifically to Athens, relying on the work of William Harris.12 In the Roman Empire of the first century, Ehrman notes, “the literacy rates may well have been lower.”13 In Roman Palestine literacy rates could have been anywhere from a high of ten percent to a low of three percent.14 And there were specific occupations that required the ability to read and write like scribes, tax collectors, etc. It is doubtful fishermen would have learned to read and write Greek, a language that was not their native one.

In the book of Acts, Peter and John are described as “uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). The term the Lukan author uses for “uneducated” is agrammatoi, a combination of the negative particle and the noun grammatos which is itself related to the verb graphō (“I write”).  In the New Testament agrammatoi is a hapax legomena but it is used in other Greek literature to refer to someone “without learning” or to one who is “unlettered” (i.e. illiterate).15 Yet Thomason suggests that agrammatoi might mean something other than, well, what it means.

Luke uses the Greek word “agrammatoi,” which can be translated as ignorant, commoner, layman, or ordinary person. The term does not necessarily suggest illiteracy, as Ehrman suggests. It could also mean that he was not well-educated in the finer points of the rabbinical interpretation of the Jewish Torah (Helyer, 2012, p. 19).

Heyler had written that

[t]he disparaging view of the Jerusalem religious leaders that Jesus’ disciples were “uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4:13) probably “means no more than that they were ignorant of the finer points of the rabbinical interpretation of the Jewish Torah.”16

But this is all wrong. The “disparaging view” is not one of the religious leaders but of the Lukan author himself. So it is the author describing them as “uneducated and ordinary,” not anyone in the narrative. Furthermore, the contrast between expectation and reality is set up by their realizing that Peter and John are illiterate nobodies but are able to speak quite eloquently. But how are they able to do so? The audience knows: “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” (Acts 4:8).

It should be noted also that the Lukan author shows a great deal of familiarity with both Greek and Septuagintal literature. Can Thomason pin point anywhere in either Greek literature or the LXX where her suggested meanings are attested? The Lukan author refers to Peter and John as agrammatoi as well as idiōtai, an adjective from which we get the English word “idiot” (though the English word conveys a different meaning than the Greek). Idiōtēs is used in Greek literature to refer to someone who is a plebian or who is a layman as opposed to a professional.17 The apostle Paul employs it when discussing those who do not have the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:16, 23, 24), i.e. they are ordinary people since most do not have such a gift. Paul also uses it in describing his lack of rhetorical skill (2 Corinthians 11:6). The fact that the Lukan author couples agrammatoi with idiōtai says that he is trying to communicate just how much of an underdog Peter and John were. And yet the Spirit made them so much more.

Thomason concludes this section with the following:

Of these assertions, one must note that (1) education levels of Christians were not claimed to be significantly less than those of their Roman or Greek pagan counterparts; (2) unlike the pagan tradition, the Christian and Jewish traditions were book-based; and (3) the prescience of the Judeo-Christian tradition in backing their belief systems in written Scriptures should be highlighted. Despite the fact that only ten to fifteen percent of early Christians could read, they understood the importance of retaining written evidence.

On (1) this is true but wholly irrelevant. On (2), this is an oversimplification. The “pagan tradition” (whatever that means) included many works of great literature. It is true that as far as religious views are concerned both the Jewish and Christian traditions were book-based but I fail to see the importance of noting this. On (3), I have no idea what Thomason is talking about. What does “the prescience of the Judeo-Christian tradition” even mean? Furthermore, the fact that there is “written evidence” doesn’t mean that what those texts record are true.18

A Mountain of Manuscripts

Thomason moves on to the subject the number of New Testament manuscripts we possess as well as the number of textual variants about which we know. There is very little actual interaction with Ehrman at this point and Thomason instead relies heavily on pop-apologists Josh and Sean McDowell. She writes,

Ehrman claims we have around 400,000 textual variants in our copies of biblical manuscripts, but despite what seems like a large number, they (1) do not substantively modify the meaning of the text (which I will detail below), and (2) are not significant relative to the extraordinary number of historical manuscripts we have retained from ancient times.

Ehrman notes in Misquoting Jesus that there is some debate on the number of textual variants in the extant manuscripts ranging from 200,000 all the way to 400,000.

We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all. Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.19

This is impressive but Thomason is correct in noting that these variants “do not substantively modify the meaning of the text.” A lot of these variants are things like whether the Greek conjunction kai belongs or whether there is an extra letter in a noun and the like. But Thomason is not correct that these variants are insignificant “relative to the extraordinary number of historical manuscripts we have retained from ancient times.”

In what follows, Thomason lays out a case for the reliability of the New Testament based upon the available Greek manuscripts. As is often noted by apologists, we have well over 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, a large amount when compared to other ancient literature. But the problem with this argument is that the number really isn’t all that impressive for a couple of reasons.20

First, the overwhelming majority of New Testament manuscripts do not date to the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or even eighth centuries CE. They mostly date to the ninth century or later! So yes, we have thousands of manuscripts but most of them aren’t all that early.

Second, the large-scale representation of Christian texts relative to non-Christian is the result of the intentional focus medieval Christian scribes had upon biblical texts. The consequence of this is that texts like Homer’s Iliad or Herodotus’ Histories were neglected and copied less frequently. Do the math.

We should also note that the presence of many manuscripts does not equate to their validity in recording actual events. As Matthew Ferguson writes,

Put simply: accurate textual transmission can preserve the historical accuracy of a work that was originally historically reliable, but it can do nothing to improve or save the historical accuracy of a work that was originally based on ahistorical legends.21

This cannot be stressed enough, especially since it is a common apologetic trope.

“Dubious” Passages

On pages 63-68 of Misquoting Jesus Ehrman discusses textual variants involving the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:12) and the long ending of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). Thomason in her discussion includes 1 John 5:7 but I cannot find where Ehrman addresses that text in that section of Misquoting Jesus. Thankfully she acknowledges that Ehrman’s view on these texts are “accurate,” a breath of fresh air as far as I’m concerned. But she misses the point on why these texts exist at all. Why did someone feel the need to include a longer ending to Mark’s Gospel? Were they uncomfortable with the way 16:8 ended with no resurrection appearances? Why did a later scribe create the Trinitarian formulation of 1 John 5:7? Was he cued in by references in context to other threes? These are the kinds of questions textual critics seek to answer. But not Thomason. She writes,

If these passages do not directly impact your belief that Jesus was crucified, died and buried – and on the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures, it is unlikely their inclusion in the New Testament based on later additions will make any difference to you. They do not impact Christianity’s core tenets concerning Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation we are offered for accepting Him as our Lord and Savior.

She’s right. There are other places where particular texts teach particular doctrines such that we do not need these variants. But again, the issue is why they exist in the first place.

Her Conclusion

Thomason finishes her piece with the following.

Given market demands for accurate information and the availability of a multitude of ancient evidence that has been used to reconstruct our original New Testament books, it seems exceedingly unlikely that any substantive errors are present today. Thank you for your time.

The gaping hole in Thomason’s logic is that we do not have an “original” New Testament with which to see if there are any substantive errors or not. We do know that there are many variants but we simply do not know with certainty what the New Testament originally said. That isn’t to say that what we have represents the complete opposite of what was written. I think it is safe to say that we have most the puzzle pieces. But Thomason is using this as evidence for the New Testament’s historical accuracy and in so doing she goes beyond what the evidence allows.

Summary

In truth, her interaction with Ehrman’s work was minimal and her claims are standard pop-apologetic nonsense that has been repeated so often by people like Frank Turek, J. Warner Wallace, and the rest that they’ve become boring. Devoid of context, their arguments are impressive. Add some context and you’ve effectively dismantled their positions.

Context is apologist Kryptonite.

NOTES

1 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why(HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

2 S.J. Thomason, “Does Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ give Christians Reasons to Doubt the New Testament?” (2.11.19), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 11 February 2019.

3  See the screenshot of Thomason’s website below (taken 2.11.19).

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 5.46.24 PM

4 The Elusive Ehrman Quote” (2.12.18), christianapologetics.org. Accessed 11 February 2019. Screenshot reproduced below (taken 2.11.19).

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 5.51.24 PM

5 See also my posts “SJ Thomason Gets It Wrong (As Usual)” (7.19.18) and “Preaching to the Choir: On Pop-Apologists and Their Craft” (10.28.18), amateurexegete.com.

6 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 165-167. See also Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition (German Bible Society, 1994), 148-150.

7 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 161-162. See also Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 169-170.

Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 81-83. See also Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 647-649.

9 See my post “Evangelical Eisegesis: SJ Thomason, the Tabernacle, and the Trinity in the Old Testament” (9.30.18), amateurexegete.com. See also D.M. Spence’s post “The Trinity Is NOT Found in the Old Testament” (10.8.18), dmspence.com. Accessed 12 February 2019.

10 Chris Hansen, “SJ Thomason: And How Apologists Are Generally Wrong” (2.11.19), cmepshansen.wixsite.com. Accessed 12 February 2019. Hansen also points out Thomason’s heavy reliance upon the work of pop-apologist J. Warner Wallace, a sign that Thomason is unwilling (and perhaps unable) to engage with serious biblical scholarship.

11 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 37-38.

12 William V. Harris, Ancient Literacy (Harvard University Press, 1989).

13 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 38.

14 L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 95.

15 H. G. Liddell, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (OUP, 1889), 8.

16 Larry R. Helyer, The Life and Witness of Peter (Intervarsity Press, 2012), 19. Helyer cites an entry by Ralph Martin that I have not had opportunity to track down but which does not require commentary for my point. Martin’s (and Helyer’s) view is also that of John R. W. Stott in his commentary on Acts entitled The Message of Acts (Intervarsity Press, 1990), 98, as well as F. F. Bruce in The Book of Acts, NICNT (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 102.

17 Liddell, 375.

18 It is doubtful that given literacy rates that these texts were intended for evangelistic purposes either. By and large, the Gospels spread through word of mouth where neighbors spoke to neighbors and people travelled the Empire speaking of Jesus to those they encountered. William Harris writes, “The illusion that Christianity was spread mainly by means of the written word is possible only for those who exaggerate the literacy of the high Empire” (Ancient Literacy, 299).

19 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 89-90.

20 See Matthew W. Ferguson, “Leveling a Mountain of Manuscripts with a Small Scoop of Context” (10.26.12), celsus.blog. Accessed 12 February 2019.

21 Ibid.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Re)Considering Christian: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 5

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11)


To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

I took a variety of classes my freshman year at Pensacola Christian College covering topics like world history, the New Testament, speech, pastoral ministry, and more. World History 101 and 102 were taught by Dr. John Reese, an engaging and knowledgeable professor who served as a consultant for the classes’ textbook titled World History and Cultures: A Christian Perspective.1 The opening chapter of that textbook asserts that the creation of the universe took place in 4000 BCE, that evolution and humanism are destructive and rebellious ideas, and that human diversity stems from what happened at the Tower of Babel. It closes by saying,

History is primarily the account of God’s dealings, in blessing or judgment, with men and nations. It is a written record of what man has done with the time God has given him. The dispersion of mankind complicates history, but as we study the facts of history alongside the revealed truth in the Bible, we can see God’s providential hand guiding all events, helping us to better understand the past. By focusing on God’s plan, we will see how history leads to Jesus Christ.2 

This view of history permeated the lectures delivered by Reese who held a teleological view of human history: the goal of history is Jesus Christ.

IMG_1219
An article from World History and Cultures.3

New Testament

World History was a required course at PCC as was New Testament 101 and 102. Both NT101 and NT102 were taught by Dell Johnson, a diminutive man with a rather shrill voice who would pace the floor when he taught.

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A picture of Dell Johnson from the Spring 1999 issue of PCC Update.4

Johnson was a fairly popular teacher and for good reason. He was always very animated and would help us learn information through songs. I learned the names of the twelve disciples easily thanks to a catchy tune he taught us. During one lecture Johnson dressed up as the Lukan character Zacchaeus and acted out the story of Luke 19:1-10. He told us he did it to teach us how to make the Bible come alive for children but I think he just enjoyed dressing in first-century CE garb.

Evangelism

Whereas NT101 and 102 were required classes for all students regardless of major or gender, the weekly Evangelism Seminar was required only for Evangelism majors like myself and female students were not allowed. During this class we would learn about famous evangelists of the past like George Whitefield or Charles Finney and often we would have guest speakers who would teach us evangelistic technique or the meaning of “revival.” At times one of the juniors or seniors in the class would be invited to speak during a class period to get some practice. But as I listened to my peers speak I noticed that they all sounded similar both in style and in cadence. I soon figured out why.

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Binder for PCC’s Evangelism Seminar.

One of the frequent guest speakers at PCC’s chapel services was an evangelist by the name of Dave Young. Young was an alumnus of PCC and upon graduation became an itinerant evangelist with his organization the Dave Young Evangelistic Association. Young had a very distinctive pattern of speaking5 and because he was also a frequent guest speaker in our evangelism class that pattern ended up one picked up on by students in the Evangelism program. The program was churning out clones of Dave Young.

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Notes from Chuck Cofty, a former marine turned evangelist. Note the not so subtle misogyny.

Summer 2002

As my freshman year was ending I learned that my home church back in NY had hired a youth pastor. I can remember feeling a bit hurt by that decision for a couple of reasons. First, when we started the youth group we had done so in a way that allowed the students to lead while adults acted as chaperones. Hiring a youth pastor felt like a usurption of our vision. Second, I felt like I was being replaced.

Admittedly, feeling hurt because they had hired a youth pastor was completely irrational. Not only was I not there to lead the youth group since I was away at college, I wasn’t even in the youth group anymore! Nevertheless, when I came home in May of 2002 I wanted nothing to do with the youth pastor. And when he was also given oversight of the newly formed “college and career” group I decided that I wanted nothing to do with that either. There was also some degree of jealousy. The youth pastor was an intelligent, charismatic, and very likeable guy who was also the son of a prominent KJV Only evangelist that I admired. I felt like I just couldn’t compete and that my time in the spotlight, as it were, was fading. Who needed me when they had him? My personal insecurities led me to be a real jerk and I greatly regret my response.

Yet this experience taught me something invaluable: I am replaceable. To learn that the world could go on without my presence was at once humbling and infuriating. What I failed to appreciate is that I helped lay the foundation of something greater than myself but as a nineteen year old know-it-all with a theological chip on his shoulder I just couldn’t fathom it.

Next Time

In the next post we will go over the next two years of my college career and look at some of the classes I took. And soon we will do an overview of my time as a youth pastor and my move from evangelical Christianity to atheism.

NOTES

George Thompson and Jerry Combee, World History and Cultures: A Christian Perspective, second edition (A Beka Book, 1997).

Ibid., 8.

Ibid., 4.

4 “An Idea That Came from God: PCC History from 1989-1998,” PCC Update (Spring 1999), 4.

Here is a short video of Dave Young speaking. Watch it and then imagine nearly every single person in your class speaking in the same exact manner.

Lost in the Weeds: SJ Thomason Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1

To see all posts in this series, please refer to its index.

Last year I wrote a five-part series on Heather Schuldt’s terrible attempt at taking on biblical scholar Bart Ehrman.1 Now pop-apologist SJ Thomason wants to have her moment in the sun as she responds to Bart Ehrman’s fifteen year old book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.2 Her first post entitled “Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Misleads Readers from its Inception”3 is standard pop-apologetic rubbish. Let’s briefly explore why.

Paul, 1 Thessalonians, and the Dating of the Gospels

Thomason begins by addressing Ehrman’s claim that the first epistle to the Thessalonians can be “dated to about 49 C.E., some twenty years after Jesus’s death and some twenty years before any of the Gospel accounts of his life.”4 The pop-apologist claims Ehrman is “intentionally stretching the dating.” But is he?

Despite Thomason’s confidence in dating Jesus’ death to April 3, 33 CE, historians and New Testament scholars aren’t entirely sure exactly when he died.5 Helen Bond notes that

[t]he commonly held assumption that Jesus died in either April 30 or 33 is based on astronomical calculations relating to years in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday….All we can say with any confidence is that Jesus died some time between around 29 and 33 CE (any later and Pauline chronology becomes problematic).6

Elsewhere Ehrman has shown a preference for 30 CE7 and other scholars tend to lean that way as well.8 If Paul wrote the first epistle to the Thessalonians around 49 CE then this would indeed be “some twenty years after Jesus’ death.”

Thomason next makes two arguments for an early dating of the Gospels. First, she asserts that Paul knew of the Gospel of Luke because in 1 Timothy 5:18 we find the words of Jesus from Luke 10:7 quoted. I have dealt with this issue elsewhere and will not revisit it here.9 Second, Thomason believes that since the Gospel authors fail to mention explicitly the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and that the author of Acts doesn’t discuss the deaths of either Paul or Peter then they must have been written before these events. But she has elsewhere indicated that she believes the Gospel of John was written sometime around 90 CE.10 Yet the Johannine author never mentions the fall of Jerusalem. So why does Thomason accept the standard scholarly date of 90 CE for the writing of the Gospel of John but not the standard dating for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke? I have already written a post on the dating of the Gospels and so I invite the reader to take a look at that post.11 Needless to say, Thomason’s scheme is off and Ehrman’s view stands.

Other Gospels

Thomason next takes issue with Ehrman’s discussion of other Gospels that were written besides those found in the canonical New Testament. She says,

On page 24, Ehrman makes the claim that “many others” were written, citing Luke 1:1 and his reference to “many” “predecessors.” His examples of many others on page 24 are three Gnostic gospels: Philip, Judas Thomas, and Mary Magdalene.

It is important to note the dating of the three Gnostic gospels that are cited by Ehrman, a point he curiously excluded: Philip was written in the third century, Judas Thomas was written in the middle to late second century, and Mary Magdalene was written in the late second century.

Ehrman does fail to mention the dating of these later Gospels but the context makes it plain he considers them to be written after the canonical Gospels: “Other Gospels, including some of the very earliest, have been lost.”12 Ehrman’s main point is to note that Christians wrote additional Gospels because they “were concerned to know more about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of their Lord” and therefore “recorded the traditions associated with the life of Jesus.”13 Their canonicity is a non-issue for Ehrman’s point and so Thomason’s subsequent discussion is a red herring.

Setting aside Thomason’s simplistic view of how the canon developed, it is interesting to note what she says about the Lukan author’s claim that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1).

The fact Luke stated that “many have undertaken to draw up an account” does not mean many were successful in completing their undertakings. It may mean that many started and only a few – or two – finished.

But notice what the author says in Luke 1:3 – “I too decided…to write an orderly account.” Since Luke evidently completed his account, it stands to reason that there were other completed accounts as well.

I won’t touch on her discussion of Q since she evidently doesn’t know what Q is or how it functions with regards to the Synoptic Problem. Heather Schuldt revealed similar ignorance regarding Q and here is what I said about it.

[T]he purpose of Q was to account for passages not found in Mark but found in Matthew and Luke and this leads to a huge problem for Schuldt. The existence of Q is tied to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority entails that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources in composing their narratives. But why would Matthew – an actual disciple of Jesus – need to use any source, especially Mark’s who wasn’t even a disciple? If Matthew was an eyewitness then there would have been no need to utilize Mark (let alone Q) as his source! Schuldt then has undermined the very position she was trying to promote!14

Ditto for Thomason.

Extra Epistles

Finally, Thomason discusses Ehrman’s mentioning of “lost letters” that were written between Paul and the churches to whom he ministered. But as Ehrman explains, his “point is that letters were important to the lives of early Christian communities.”15 In fact, the entire point of the first chapter of Misquoting Jesus is to explain the “bookishness” of Christianity as seen in the New Testament documents.16 So why in the world does Thomason say the following?

The fact we do not have those or other early letters does not discount the validity of the letters we do have. We have no evidence that any substantive letters are missing – or that early church fathers lamented particular missing letters. One can reasonably conclude no substantive information is missing.

This is nothing more than a strawman set up by Thomason. Nowhere does Ehrman suggest that these missing letters means that what is not missing is somehow invalid. As Ehrman himself explains, the section titled “Christianity as a Religion of the Book” (pages 20-29) was his attempt at “summarizing the different kinds of writings that were important to the lives of the early Christian churches.”17 Imputing to Ehrman a subversive motive that simply isn’t there speaks volumes about Thomason’s inability to read fairly or engage with what she has read in good faith.

Summary

So far, the pop-apologist is not off to a very good start. I do not have high hopes that her future posts will get any better.

NOTES

Amateur Exegete, “Index to Series ‘Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman” (11.9.18), amateurexegete.com. 

2 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

3 S.J. Thomason, “Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Misleads Readers from its Inception” (2.9.19), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 9 February 2019.

4 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 22.

5 For an overview of the issues pertaining to the chronology of Jesus’ life and ministry, see John P. Maier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1 (Doubleday, 1991), 372-433. See also E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), 282-290.

6 Helen K. Bond, The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (T & T Clark, 2012), 150.

7 Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012), 56.

8 See John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (HarperCollins, 1992), 218; Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 290; Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (Vintage Books, 1999), 149; Maier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1, 407.

9 See “On SJ Thomason’s Argument for Dating the Gospels Early” (12.28.18), amateurexegete.com.

10

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11 Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1” (11.2.18),  amateurexegete.com.

12 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 24. Emphasis added.

13 Ibid.

14 Amateur Exegete, “Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1” (11.2.18),  amateurexegete.com. Accessed 9 February 2019.

15 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 23.

16 Ibid., 17.

17 Ibid., 29.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.8.19

“The assertion by the opposing narrative that Elijah’s wife was a prostitute and later, that Elijah ate her son, does seem a little over the top and may indicate that the opposing narrative itself was propaganda and was responding to an even earlier narrative. But that is a mirror-reading of a mirror-reading, and it’s difficult to say with any certainty.” – @MiraScriptura


Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.