Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The Life of the Flesh

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).


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

We have already seen how spectacularly weak Comfort’s approach to the biblical texts tends to be. And not only does he routinely misunderstand the Bible, he also exhibits a less than rudimentary knowledge of science. In the twenty-first century, both are without excuse. Biblical scholarship and science are clicks away on the Internet and so for Comfort to make the errors that he does reveals either one who argues in bad faith or one who simply wishes to remain in his cognitive bubble. Comfort may somehow fall into both camps.

The next claim Comfort makes in Scientific Facts in the Bible is that Levitical law revealed that

blood is the source of life. Up until 200 years ago, sick people were “bled,” and many died because of the practice. We now know that blood is the source of life. If you lose your blood, you will lose your life.1

As support for this, Comfort quotes Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But does this text support Comfort’s claim? And is it really a sign that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge?

The Importance of Blood 

Human blood is actually a mixture of a variety of organic structures including plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells are what give blood its color as the hemoglobin on them binds with iron which then binds with oxygen which causes oxidation. And this brings us to the primary purpose of blood: oxygenation. When you breathe in oxygen, the blood pumping through your body absorbs it in the lungs and transports it to all the cells in your body via capillaries. The oxygen in turn is processed by the cells’ mitochondria which turn that oxygen into energy for those cells. If you are deprived of oxygen you die because your cells’ mitochondria are not provided with what they need to produce energy to keep those cells alive.2 

But ancient people had no idea what red blood cells were, let alone things like oxygen molecules or mitochondria. But they did know that if you slit the throat of a sacrificial animal or stabbed your enemy in the chest with your sword that the resultant loss of blood invariably meant the loss of life. Humanity quickly learned that blood was vital to the life of an organism. The reason for this was because it was how the gods had created humanity. The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish describes how Marduk, the one who defeated Tiamat, plans to create humanity telling the gods, “Let me put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.”3 Then at the prompting of the Igigi (i.e. the great gods), Marduk uses the blood of Qingu, a warrior of Tiamat, to create mankind.4

Blood Eating in Priestly Literature

The association between blood and life is strongly correlated by the biblical authors. In the original creation envisioned by the Priestly author (i.e. Genesis 1:1-2:4a), humanity and the animal kingdom were not permitted to consume meat (Genesis 1:29-30). But this changed as humanity became more corrupt and the earth became “filled with violence” (Genesis 7:12), causing God to destroy the world with a Flood save for Noah and his family. This reset on the creative order brings with it new rules and regulations that in some ways parallel those of the original order. One key difference between the original and the reset is that humanity was now allowed to consume meat (Genesis 9:3) but comes with a prohibition: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4).

Other P literature reiterates this prohibition. In Leviticus 3 we read of the “sacrifice of well-being” (Hebrew, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm) wherein an Israelite offers an unblemished animal at the tent of meeting. The Aaronid priests take the blood of the animal and dash it on the sides of the altar and then the animal is burned such that its fat and blood are wholly consumed. After going through the protocols for various kinds of animals, P says this, “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Why? Because P knows the prohibition given by God to Noah: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). The zebaḥ šĕlāmîm was not intended to be one of expiation but rather was meant to be a way to provide consumable meat to the Israelites.5

Further instructions for the zebaḥ šĕlāmîm are given in Leviticus 7. There we again read a prohibition against consuming blood. But this time is comes with a warning “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kind” (Leviticus 7:26-27). The penalty for consuming blood is to be “cut off” (Hebrew, krt), that is, die prematurely.6 

Blood Eating in the Holiness Code

Having observed certain differences in themes and vocabulary between Leviticus 17-26 and the rest of the book, many scholars have dubbed that section as deriving from a separate source and call it “the Holiness Code” (H).7 Within it are a variety of regulations that were intended to set Israel apart from its neighbors, to make them qōdeš (“holy”).8

“The LORD spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy [qĕdōšîm], for I the LORD your God am holy [qādôš]” (19:2; cf. 20:7, 20:26).

It is within the first chapter of H that we see the text at the center of our inquiry in this post. Let’s briefly consider the context of the words of Leviticus 17:11.

If we were to outline Leviticus 17 we would notice a pattern.9

  • Introduction (17:1-2)
    • Prohibition (17:3-7)
      • Animals eligible for sacrifice must be sacrificed at the tent of meeting (17:3-4) so that Israel might stop offering sacrifices to goat-demons (17:5-7).
      • Both Israelites and resident aliens must not sacrifice to anyone but Yahweh at the tent of meeting (17:8-9)
        • Central Prohibition (17:10-12)
          • The blood of all animals is not to be consumed (17:10) because the blood is functions as a ransom for human life in sacrifice (17:11-12).
      • Reiteration of Central Prohibition (17:13-14)
        • The blood of game is not to be consumed because blood is life (17:13-14).
    • Regulating governing consuming carcasses (17:15-16)
      • The regulation (17:15)
      • Consequences for disobedience (17:16)

As the outline suggests, 17:10-12

is…the axis upon which the chapter revolves. 

The merest glance at the content leads to the same conclusion: all five paragraphs [of Leviticus 17] deal with the legitimate and correct manner of disposing of the blood of those animals which may be eaten. The first two speak of sacrificeable animals – which, in the view of this chapter, must indeed be sacrificed – and the last two speak of animals which, though they may be eaten, may not be sacrificed. At the center, between the first two and the last two, stands the axiom upon which all four depend: that partaking of blood is prohibited. The first two lead to this axiom and provide its rationale; the last two derive from this axiom and implement it.10 

And the rationale for the central prohibition of 17:10-12 is this: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11).

So why does the Levitical law prohibit the consuming of blood? Because blood was not intended for consumption but for the making of atonement. To eat blood is to use it in an inordinate way.  That’s what lies behind the prohibition. It has absolutely nothing to do with any advanced scientific revelation that blood is the body’s oxygen transport system. It had to do with the observation that 1) the loss of blood leads to death and 2) the claim of the Priestly author that blood in animals is that which atones for sin. In other words, the claim is religious, having to do with the sacrificial cult and not scientific, having to do with the composition of blood and its biological function.

Sorry, Ray. You’re wrong again.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 For an excellent overview of blood, see Chris Cooper, Blood: A Very Short Introduction, e-book (OUP, 2016), 68-113.

3 The Epic of Creation, Tablet VI, in Stephanie Dalley (translator), Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (OUP, 1989), 260.

4 Ibid., 261.

5 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday, 1991), 222.

6 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, e-book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 42.

7 See Henry T. C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” in David N. Freedman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 3:256-257.

8 See H. P. Müller, “קדש qdš holy,” in Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (editors) and Mark E. Biddle (translator), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1103-1118.

9 Adapted from Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 1449.

10 Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood in Leviticus 17,” in Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan, Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 43.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

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Book Review: ‘The Case for Miracles’ by Lee Strobel, part 6

“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19, NRSV).


To view all posts in this review series, please go to its index.

Strobel’s volume has taken us on a journey beginning with skepticism (a la Michael Shermer) all the way to a consideration of the fine-tuning of the universe (a la Michael Strauss). And now we come to what is perhaps the most important miracle in all of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To discuss such a pivotal event, Strobel interviews J. Warner Wallace, a homicide detective turned pop-apologist.

INTERVIEW #6 – J WARNER WALLACE

Wallace is no doubt familiar to many Christians and non-Christians due to his books which include Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. His work in law-enforcement has left him with the impression that he is qualified to rigorously examine the Gospels of the New Testament to check their validity. And his claim of a youthful atheism gives him a degree of “street cred” with the apologetic community. Beginning at age thirty-five, Wallace “subjected the gospels to months of painstaking analysis through various investigative techniques, including what detectives call ‘forensic statement analysis'” (190). His investigation led him to the conclusion that “Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt” (190).

Examining the Gospels

As Strobel begins his interview with Wallace he is given a Bible that Wallace had marked up during his investigation of Christianity. “I went to the gospel of Mark,” Strobel writes, “and saw that it was thoroughly annotated” (193). According to Wallace, he used forensic statement analysis to analyze the Gospels and with regard to Mark’s Gospel he “was looking for the influence of Peter” (193). The examination of the Gospel accounts took six months and at the end Wallace concluded that “the gospels recorded true events” (193).

“But that presented a problem for me.”

“Why?”

“Because they talk about the resurrection and other miracles,” he said. “I could believe the gospels if they said Jesus ate bread, but what if they said the loaf levitated? C’mon, I couldn’t believe that. I didn’t believe miracles could happen, so I rejected them out of hand.” (193)

But Wallace was able to do away with his anti-supernaturalism by simply considering the origin of the universe and the existence of absolute moral values. With that removed, it became far easier to believe that a dead man came back to life.

Wallace notes that he tested the Gospels “through the analysis of eyewitness testimony” (196) and asserts that each of the Gospels have eyewitness testimony standing behind them in one way or another.

“There’s good evidence that John and Matthew wrote their gospels based on their eyewitness testimony as disciples of Jesus. While Luke wasn’t a witness himself, he said he ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning,’ presumably by interviewing eyewitnesses. According to Papias, who was the bishop of Hierapolis, Mark was the scribe of the apostle Peter – and my forensic analysis of Mark’s gospel bears that out.” (196)

In addition, the Gospels were all written relatively early which means they are reliable. “I’ve seen witnesses in cold cases say their memories from thirty-five years ago are like it happened yesterday – why? Because not all memories are created the same,” Wallace tells Strobel (197). We may forget some dates but others stick out more than others and that is apparently what we find recorded in the Gospels.

Strobel asks Wallace what he thinks about the discrepancies between the Gospel accounts. “[D]on’t they cast doubt on the reliability of the eyewitness testimony?” he asks (198). Wallace doesn’t think so. Rather, if they were all in absolute agreement we would have grounds for suspicion. If the Gospels “meshed too perfectly, it would be evidence of collusion” (198).

“Think of this: the early believers could have destroyed all but one of the gospels in order to eliminate any differences between them. But they didn’t. Why? Because they knew the gospels were true and that they told the story from different perspectives, emphasizing different things.” (198)

Recalling the work of Michael Licona in his book Why Are There Differences Among the Gospels?1 Strobel notes that when it comes to the various discrepancies in the Easter stories it seems that the authors are using a technique known as “literary” spotlighting whereby

an author focuses attention on a person so that the person’s involvement in a scene is clearly described, whereas mention of others who were likewise involved is neglected, the author has shined his literary spotlight on that person….In literary spotlighting, the author only mentions one of the people present but knows of the others.2

And there is also the phenomenon of “undesigned coincidences” when independent eyewitnesses offer details that explain other independent eyewitnesses. Wallace offers the calling narratives in Matthew and Luke as evidence of such a coincidence with the latter answering the question as to why Peter, Andrew, James, and John so quickly abandoned their livelihoods in the former. “When the testimony is put together,” he tells Strobel, “we get a complete picture” (201).

Wallace comes to the conclusion that the Gospels are reliable and if they are reliable then it means that Jesus must have been raised from the dead. But there are two issues that must be addressed before coming to a sure conclusion on Jesus’ resurrection: the death of Jesus and the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples. Doing away with various hypotheses of Jesus not dying upon a Roman cross, Wallace concludes that the crucifixion of Jesus and his death upon the cross is “virtually unanimously accepted” by scholars (204). He also does away with any notion that Jesus was not buried in a tomb following his death, a claim made by some scholars including historian Bart Ehrman,3 or that there was some conspiracy among the disciples to steal Jesus’ corpse or lie about it. In fact, it is surprising to Wallace that the disciples were willing to die for their belief in a resurrected Jesus.

“[T]hey had no motive to be deceitful. In fact, we have at least seven ancient sources that tell us that the  disciples were willing to suffer and even die for their conviction that they encountered the risen Jesus.” (206)

Why would they die for something they knew to be false? Of course not. “They knew the truth about what occurred,” Wallace tells Strobel, “and my experience is that people aren’t willing to suffer or die for what they know is a lie” (206). Wallace also dispels the idea that the disciples hallucinated a risen Jesus, telling Strobel that “groups don’t have hallucinations, and the earliest report of the resurrection said five hundred people saw him” (207). Furthermore, the person who was the least likely to have a hallucination of Jesus was the apostle Paul yet he records that he was the recipient of just such a visit by the risen Jesus (207).

What does this add up to for Wallace? It is all evidence against philosophical naturalism and for supernaturalism. Since “the gospels passed all the tests we use to evaluate eyewitness accounts” it forced him to believe that Jesus had indeed been raised by God from the dead (208).

“The more I understood the true nature of Jesus, the more my true nature was exposed – and I didn’t like what I saw. Being a cop had led me to lose faith in people. My heart had shriveled. To me, everyone was a liar capable of depraved behavior. I saw myself as superior to everyone else. I was cynical, cocky, and distant.” (208)

But Wallace’s faith in Jesus changed him into something altogether different.

Before ending their time together, Strobel asks a question that Michael Shermer asked him during his interview: why don’t the Jewish people accept the idea of resurrection? Wallace offers Strobel three reasons. First, they feel they are too smart for it. Second, there are emotional issues having to do with conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Finally, they are proud of their following of the Torah (209). “Humans love works-based systems because they can measure their progress and compare themselves favorably with others,” Wallace said (209). But a true investigation into the claims of Christianity reveals that Jesus did indeed rise from the grave in Wallace’s estimation. And some Jews have discovered just that (210).

Wallace’s Assumptions

It should go without saying that Wallace’s take is devoid of any serious scholarship. Wallace himself is nothing more than a pop-apologist who seems to think his experience in law enforcement has made him something of an expert on the New Testament. Consider his claim that he used “forensic statement analysis” on the Gospel of Mark (193). Forensic statement analysis examines the language a person uses to determine their proximity to an event. One law-enforcement consultant agency describes it as

a process by which a person’s own written or spoken words are scientifically analyzed to determine truth and deception. Given the opportunity a person’s words WILL betray them, in spite of their prior training, education and best efforts to avoid detection.4

But this rests on the assumption that a person is an eyewitness to something. This is simply not what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Nowhere do we ever get the impression in Mark’s Gospel that his account is either that of an eyewitness or even based upon eyewitness testimony. As Luke Timothy Johnson observes,

The current favor accorded Mark began with pioneering literary-redactional studies. They showed that Mark’s peculiar emphasis on Galilee (esp. 14:28; 15:41; 16:7) was a theological symbol. Likewise, Mark’s anachronistic use of the term “gospel,” euangelion, revealed a self-conscious awareness of the multilayered theological nature of his narrative (see 1:1, 14, 15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9). As a result, Mark’s Gospel was seen less as a direct witness to the life of Jesus or to the period of oral transmission than as a witness to the Christian communities of Mark’s day.5

We must also note the literary artistry the Markan author used when composing his Gospel. For example, we find throughout Mark intercalations or “sandwich stories” wherein the author begins a story, interrupts it with another, and finishes the story that he had begun. Such a technique “serves to create suspense and also either to contrast one narrative with another…or to interpret one narrative by another.”6 We also find chiastic patterns, triads, and much more.7 In other words, Mark is trying to tell a story. No doubt, it is a story in which he finds meaning and even truth but it is a carefully constructed story nonetheless and it cannot be considered “historical” in any modern sense of the word.

A Test Case on Eyewitness Testimony

We can put his claim that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony to the test. Consider the Markan and Johannine Passion narratives. In the Gospel of Mark, heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that Jesus had been abandoned by his followers. Not only does he predict it will happen (Mark 14:27-31) but it becomes part of the narrative itself when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (14:50-52) so that when he is crucified he is utterly alone with only his female followers “looking on from a distance” (15:40). But not so in the Gospel of John. While Jesus does predict that the disciples will desert him (John 16:32), at the crucifixion “the disciple whom he loved” is there are the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother (19:26-27). If Mark’s account is based upon Peter and John’s account on John, how could they get this all so wrong? Was Jesus all alone as in Mark or was “the disciple whom he loved” present as in John?

And on what basis does Wallace make the assertion that in Mark’s Gospel “Mark’s first and last mention of a disciple is Peter, which is an ancient bookending technique where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness” (196). Why should that be the case? All such an inclusio would suggest is that Peter plays an important role in the narrative of the Gospel, which he does. To assert that this means Peter was behind the Markan narrative is a non sequitur. It may also show Petrine importance in the Markan community, i.e. that he was a known leader of great importance. Again, there is no need to assert then that Peter is behind it all.

Gospel Discrepancies

Wallace thinks that if the Gospels had “meshed too perfectly, it would be evidence of collusion” (198). That is ironic considering that over ninety percent of Mark’s Gospel is reproduced in Matthew’s. If that isn’t collusion I don’t know what it is. But the discrepancies between the Gospel of Mark and Matthew at times reveal their two differing agendas. For example, the Markan Jesus forbids divorce (Mark 10:1-12) despite the allowances made in the Torah. But in Matthew’s redaction of Mark, there is no total prohibition of divorce but rather an exception in keeping with the Torah (Matthew 19:1-19). This is because Matthew’s Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). But the Markan Jesus, though an observant Jew, feels to free to do away with some of the Torah’s demands (see Mark 7:19) so that Gentiles need not follow the law.

What About the Resurrection?

Yet none of this means that Jesus did not rise from the grave. It does mean that getting to whatever historical event that lies behind the resurrection narratives of the Gospels requires peeling back layers of tradition and literary elements. This is what Wallace fails to appreciate or even acknowledge. The Gospels are not impassioned retellings of what really happened but rather they are stories about what those events meant. Often they are based on nothing more than a block of tradition whose origin can hardly be traced. Were they based upon an actual resurrection? Or were they based upon visions of a risen Jesus? Or both? Or neither?

Whatever the case might be, if it did happen, the resurrection of Jesus would be undoubtedly a miracle that would cause even the most ardent skeptic to sit up and take notice. Or at least it would me. Yet nothing in Strobel’s interview of Wallace gave me pause to consider that Jesus is alive.

I suppose pop-apologetics just doesn’t do it for me.

NOTES

1 Michael R. Licona, Why Are There Differences Among the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017).

2 Ibid., 20.

3 Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), 157. Ehrman writes,

The point of crucifixion was to torture and humiliate a person as fully as possible, and to show any bystanders what happens to someone who is a troublemaker in the eyes of Rome. Part of the humiliation and degradation was the body being left on the cross after death to be subject to scavenging animals.

Ehrman doubts the burial story of Jesus for a couple of other reasons as well: criminals were generally tossed into common graves and Pontius Pilate wasn’t known to be all that accommodating a prefect. See pages 160-164.

4 Forensic Statement Analysis,” law-tech.net. Accessed 6 February 2019.

5 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Kindle), third edition (Fortress Press, 2010), loc 3334.

6 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 18.

7 See ibid., 16-19.

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.

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).

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

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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.

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 – 2.1.19

“I propose the final edition of Genesis is the result of a similar process by an editor of the Holiness school of pre-exilic Israel, who combined and organized these various materials into a continuous and meaningful whole.” – Bill T. Arnold


  • Over on her blog @thclosetatheist has posted her review of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator. It is a rather scathing indictment of Strobel’s tendency to parade as a skeptic despite going all-in for theism. She refers to Strobel’s creating “the illusion of skepticism” and how often his toughest objections to those he interviews are nothing more than things like “Amazing, tell me more,” etc. She also points out that Strobel doesn’t interview top scholars or scientists in their respective fields but those who have some degree of popularity in the world of evangelicalism. This is Strobel’s habit and one seen clearly even in his latest book The Case for Miracles. (I mean, he interviews J. Warner Wallace, for crying out loud!)
  • @StudyofChrist, whose ability to produce excellent content on YouTube sickens me, discusses some more ways in which many have sought to reconcile the Matthean and Lukan genealogies of Jesus, including the notion that Joseph was adopted by Heli, the possibility of Leviarite marriage being a factor, and the problems with Julius Africanus’ take. Finally, @StudyofChrist concludes that the best approach is to “embrace the differences” between the two genealogies and recognize that there are theological motives in play. I second that motion!
  • Rachel Martin at NPR recently conducted an interview with Robert Alter on his magnum opus, his translation of the entire Tanakh. I’ve read Alter’s The Five Books of Moses and it was insightful, readable, and beautiful. I’ve also read significant portions of his translation of Job and loved what I read there as well. So as soon as I move I plan on getting his translation of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Phil Long, whose work I highlighted last week on Acts, has a short post on “The Times of Refreshing” found in Acts 3:20. He notes that the phrase is a “Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom” and brings up a variety of texts – biblical and extrabiblical – that point to the age of the eschatological reign of God in the world.
  • Over a decade ago biblical scholar Bill Arnold wrote about his view of the composition of the book of Genesis in his 2009 commentary on it. A shortened summary of his take entitled “Reflections on the Composition of Genesis” demonstrates that Arnold is in general agreement with the findings of the Documentary Hypothesis that the text of Genesis is made up of three sources: J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), and P (Priestly). He compares the creation of Genesis to the creation of the Synoptic Gospels wherein both written and oral sources were brought together to form a coherent whole.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 1.25.19

  • Over on his blog Charles Payet has a post entitled It’s the End of the World as We Knew It. Overall, it is a rather pessimistic piece and one with which I cannot help but sympathize. The very real threat of climate change, for example, almost guarantees that the world my children will inherit will be far more difficult than the one I have. Payet notes this and writes, “Now, I have no desire to ever have grandchildren, because humanity is destroying the planet, and Christians and Muslims are leading the way with their denial of science and reality.” He is right because while there are many Christians and Muslims who aren’t science deniers, the overwhelming majority of deniers come from the religious Right. Their views on science are colored by their theological assumptions. This will invariably result in a world that is far more dangerous than the one we see today. (On a side note, if you don’t follow Payet on Twitter you should. He is an accomplished dentist and from what I’ve seen appears to be something of a polymath despite having ADD. Plus, he’s just a really nice guy. There aren’t enough of those around anymore.)
  • Chris Hansen continues his series examining pop-apologist J Warner Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity. Wallace claims that the Gospel “accounts puzzled together just the way one would expect from independent eyewitnesses” when he first read them “forensically” (343, 344, electronic edition). But as Hansen points out, the Synoptics all show literary dependence and so they cannot be independent eyewitnesses: “So, apparently there was a level of harmonization going on, just what Wallace doesn’t want.” In other words, Wallace’s argument breaks down based upon Wallace’s own criteria. And this guy was a homicide detective?!?!
  • Last August astrophysicist Hugh Ross and retired chemist Peter Atkins engaged in a dialogue on the Unbelievable podcast with host Justin Brierly. The topic for discussion was the origin of the laws of nature which Ross attributes to a divine mind. Atkins, an atheist, does not see that as an adequate explanation and considers it to be “intellectual laziness.” Ross tries to make the Bible a prognosticator of future scientific discoveries and Atkins rightly calls him out on it. Atkins makes some appeal to a multiverse and Ross rightly calls him out on that. As a debate it was a wash but I did find some of what was discussed fascinating.
  • @ElishaBenAbuya has a new blog where he is moving over posts from his old one. He recently published a post on Zechariah 12:10, a text that apologists think is a prediction of the crucifixion of Jesus. That view is not without precedent as the Johannine author quotes it in John 19:37. A lot could be said about that reference as well as how the translator of Zechariah 12:10 in the Septuagint interpreted the passage. I may write a blog post on it in the future.
  • Phil Long, who blogs over at Reading Acts, wrote a series of posts last week on the book of Acts as history, story, and theology. Though Long’s conclusions about Luke’s historical writing are a bit too conservative for my taste, he raises some interesting questions and makes some helpful analogies.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.