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.

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.

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

Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 2.18.05 PM

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. 

Mark 1:40-45, AEV

For previous posts in this series, please see the series’ index.

In this pericope which is part of a series of healing and exorcism narratives (i.e. 1:21-28, 1:29-34, 2:1-12) Jesus is met by a leper who begs him to heal him of his skin disease. Jesus, risking becoming unclean himself, touches the leper and suddenly the skin disease leaves the man. He then charges him to not say anything to anyone but to go to the priest to make an offering. Yet the man disobeys Jesus’ command and begins to tell everyone what has happeneding, forcing Jesus to remain in remote areas (i.e. “deserted places”; cf. 1:35).


MARK 1:40-45

40 There camea to him a leperb begging him [and kneeling]c and saying, “If you will it, you are able to make me clean.”  41 Moved with compassiond and having stretched out his hand, he touched him and said to him, “I will it. You are clean.” 42 And suddenly the leprosy left him and he was clean. 43 Strictly warning him,e he immediately sent him awayf 44 and said to him, “Be sureg to not say anything to anyone, but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing that which Moses commanded as evidence to them.”h 45 But having gone out he began to proclaim freely and spread the word, so that Jesusi was unable to go into a city, but remained in deserted places. And there came to him people from all over.


TEXTUAL NOTES

a Greek, erchetai. The use of the present tense here is similar to how in English we use indentation to indicate a new paragraph.

 b Greek, lepros. The term used in the New Testament does not necessarily refer to leprosy as we understand it but rather is a generic term for one who had a skin disease, particularly one that would have made them ceremonially unclean and therefore unable to enter the temple (see Leviticus 13-14).

c Greek, kai gonypetōn. Both NA28 and UBS5 place kai gonypetōn in brackets to indicate that it appears in some ancient manuscripts like Codices א (Sinaiticus), L (Regius), and Θ (Koridethi) but does not appear in others including Codices B (Vaticanus), D (Bezae), and W (Washingtonianus). For more, see Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition (UBS, 1994), 65.

d Greek, splanchnistheis. This is the reading of Codices א, A (Alexandrinus), B, and others. However, Codex D reads orgistheis, “he became angered.” This is a possible reading and one favored by some scholars including Bart Ehrman. See his essay “A Leper in the Hands of an Angry Jesus” in Amy M. Donaldson and Timothy B. Sailors (editors), New Testament Greek and Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Gerald F. Hawthorne (Eerdmans, 2003), 77-98. See also Robert Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, WBC vol. 34a (Thomas Nelson, 1989), 41.

e Greek, embrimēsamenos. This emotionally charged participle is omitted by both Matthew (Matthew 8:4) and Luke (Luke 5:14).

f Greek, exebalen. This is the same verb used throughout Mark to describe exorcism of those who had been possessed by demons. Here the sense is not as harsh as in those other places.

g Greek, hora. Literally “See that” or “See to it that.”

h Greek, eis martyrion autois. Robert Guelich renders the phrase “as evidence against them,” noting that “the normal function of [martyrion] with the dative [i.e. autois] to connote incriminating evidence against a defendant…strongly supports that rendering here” (Guelich, 77). But against whom? In context, Jesus has told to the healed man to go to “the priest” and not “the priests.” Perhaps it is a reference to the context of the Markan community in which there were charges that Jesus ignored entirely the Mosaic law. Or perhaps it is a reference to the community of which the leper was a part so that his offering for his cleansing is a witness against those who had treated him as an outsider. The text just isn’t clear enough to offer a definitive answer. My translation is intended to convey that the offering for his cleansing was proof that he was indeed clean, not as evidence against his opponents.

i Literally, “he.”

Musings on Mark: The Johannine Calling Narratives of John 1:35-51

In the Gospel of Mark, the first four disciples that Jesus calls to follow him (akoloutheō) are Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20). All four of those men were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus walked by and all four of them dropped their nets to follow him. Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke include this calling narrative. Matthew (4:18-22) follows Mark’s version almost verbatim while Luke (5:1-11) makes some rather interesting changes.1 Despite their differences, all three of the Synoptics are univocal in their portrayal of Jesus’ disciples as fishermen and that this is what they were doing when Jesus found them.

But not the Gospel of John. While we may infer their status as fishermen from the end of the Gospel (21:1-4),2 we do not get this impression from the beginning. And this is because the calling narrative of John’s Gospel looks nothing like that of Mark’s.

Disciples of John the Baptist

One of the main differences between the Markan calling narrative and the Johannine narrative is its location. Whereas in Mark the setting is the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16), in John the setting is “in Bethany across the Jordan” (John 1:28). While the exact location of this Bethany is disputed3 it is clear that it is not in Galilee (cf. 1:43). Rather, John’s work is generally associated with the region of Perea, an area under the control of Herod Antipas who also ruled the region of Galilee.4 In the Johannine Gospel, John baptizes in Bethany and in “Aenon near Salim” (3:23), another town whose location is unknown but from the given context is somewhere near the Judean countryside and close to sufficient water for Jesus to perform baptisms (3:22).

With the Sea of Galilee not in the picture, there are no fishers for Jesus to call to become fishers of people (Mark 1:17). So from where do Jesus’ first disciples originate? According to the Johannine author, some of Jesus’ first disciples were actually disciples of John the Baptist!

The next day [cf. John 1:29-34] John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed [ēkolouthēsan; cf. Mark 1:18] Jesus (John 1:35-37).

In what follows (1:38-42) we discover that one of the disciples’ name is Andrew and that he has a brother named Simon (1:40). So Andrew is in the Gospel of John a disciple of John the Baptist before he begins following Jesus. This detail – one that seems rather important – is nowhere to be found in the Markan text.

The calling of Simon in the Gospel of John consequently differs from what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Rather than being found fishing in the Sea of Galilee with Andrew, he is instead in a location other than where both Jesus and Andrew were (cf. 1:39). The narrative thus has Simon coming to find Jesus at the prompting of Andrew rather than Jesus finding Simon and calling him himself (1:41-42).5 

Substituting James and John

Another striking difference between the Markan and Johannine calling narratives is that John’s Gospel makes no mention of the calling of James and John. In fact, James and John are only alluded to with the moniker “the sons of Zebedee” (John 21:12; cf. Mark 1:19-20). In each of the Synoptic Gospels their calling plays an important part of the narrative and they as characters engage in conversations with Jesus that result in teaching moments about the fate of Jesus’ followers (i.e. Mark 10:35-45). Yet in John’s Gospel they are mentioned but once and then not even by their own names but by their father’s.

Instead of a calling narrative concerning James and John we find a calling narrative about Philip and Nathanael. Philip is known from the Synoptic Gospels where we find him mentioned in the list of disciples (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14). Nathanael on the other hand is not attested in the Synoptics at all and is wholly a Johannine character. But he is surely a member of the Twelve since he is among those listed in 21:2 which include disciples about whom we know from the Synoptics like Simon, Thomas, and James and John.

The narrative structure of 1:43-51 is similar to that of 1:37-42.

  • Philip, like Andrew, begins to follow Jesus (1:43).
  • Philip, like Andrew, seeks out another (i.e. Nathanael) to follow Jesus (1:44).
  • Philip, like Andrew, says that, “We have found [heurēkamen; cf. 1:41]” a messianic leader.6
  • Nathanael, like Peter, comes to Jesus (1:47).
  • Jesus, simply seeing Nathanael, announces his true character – “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (1:47) which is similar to Jesus’ renaming of Cephas upon simply seeing him. (See note 5.)

Nathanael’s amazement at Jesus’ insights is to acknowledge that he is “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” (1:49). Yet Jesus is quick to say that compared to what Nathanael will see, Jesus’ statement in 1:47 (cf. 1:48) is small peanuts (1:50): “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51). This plays into the Johannine motif of the role that signs play in having faith in Jesus (John 20:30-31; cf. 21:24-25).

An Attempt to Reconcile

The Johannine calling narratives reveal that their author wrote with theological and rhetorical interests at heart. Because of this, the Markan and Johannine narratives are in direct conflict with one another. But this has not prevented attempts to reconcile the tensions. For example, Eric Lyons in a post entitled “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?”7 claims that “John is describing a totally separate incident from the one the synoptists describe.” The Synoptic narratives are about the call of the disciples to become apostles whereas the Johannine narrative is about their relationship to Jesus as Messiah.

John records Peter and Andrew’s first meeting with the Christ. The synoptists, however, testify of a later meeting, when Jesus called them at the Sea of Galilee to become “fishers of men.”

But this apologetic only results in a more confusing narrative and doesn’t take the language of John’s Gospel seriously.

The Johannine narrative takes place over a series of days (1:29, 1:35, 1:43, 2:1), culminating in Jesus’ appearance with “his disciples” (2:2) at a wedding in the Galilean city of Cana (2:1-11). Undoubtedly, among his disciples were Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael who had just interacted with Jesus both temporally in the days before and narratively in the preceding context. In the narratives that follow, there is no sense that these disciples have abandoned Jesus for the Sea of Galilee: they follow him to Capernaum (2:12), to Jerusalem (2:13-25), and so on. At what point does Jesus have to go back to Galilee to call the disciples to be “fishers of people”? As Raymond Brown noted,

The standard harmonization is that Jesus first called the disciples as John narrates but that they subsequently returned to their normal life in Galilee until Jesus came there to recall them to service, as the Synoptics narrate. There may be some basic truth in this reconstruction but it goes considerably beyond the evidence of the Gospels themselves. In John, once the disciples are called, they remain Jesus’ disciples without the slightest suggestion of their returning to normal livelihood. Nor in the Synoptic account of the call in Galilee is there any indication that these men have seen Jesus before.8

In other words, the Gospel narratives do not allow any such reconciliation. In both, the disciples continue with Jesus without interruption. Lyons contrived explanation simply doesn’t work.

No Harmonization Needed

In truth, no harmonization is needed. If the Johannine author was working from traditional material then it is clear that there was a version of Jesus’ first interactions with Andrew and Peter that differ from that found in the Markan narrative. And if the author was working with some version of Mark or Luke9 then he has clearly reshaped preexisting narratives to suit his own particular purposes, especially with regards to his rather high Christology. In either case, a harmonization simply isn’t possible. The authors of the Gospels of Mark and John were clearly writing with different criteria in mind.10  These are portraits, not snapshots, of Jesus. And they are portraits painted with the brushes of later authors in historical situations different from Jesus’ own.

NOTES

1 Not only does Luke’s version of the calling narrative come after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, in the narrative it is stated that Jesus gets into Simon’s boat (Andrew is nowhere to be found) and that James and John were Simon’s fishing partners!

2 The Johannine addendum shares particular similarities with the Lukan calling narrative of Luke 5:1-11. For example, in both the Lukan and Johannine accounts we see Simon mentioned without Andrew and we also find James and John, although they are referred to as “the sons of Zebedee” (John 21:2). Both accounts also include a miraculous haul of fish (John 21:6; cf. Luke 5:5-6) as well as a specific response from Simon (John 21:7; cf. Luke 5:8).

3 See Rainer Riesner, “Bethany Beyond Jordan,” in David N. Freedman, editor, Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 1:703-705.

4 See Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Baker Academic, 2003), 1:449-451.

5 There may be more going on with Simon’s name change in John 1:42 from “Simon son of John” to “‘Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” Not only is it Andrew rather than Simon who affirms that Jesus is the Messiah (1:41; cf. Matthew 16:16), Simon’s change of name to Cephas/Peter occurs far earlier in the Johannine narrative than in the Matthean. Bradford Blaine, Jr. has suggested some Christological motivations for “transplanting the naming episode to the front” of the Gospel of John.

First, Jesus has not met Peter and yet knows enough about him to give him the name “Cephas” which means “rock.” In this way, “John highlights both Jesus general foreknowledge (cf. 4:25; 6:6; 14:26; 16:30, etc.) and his specific foreknowledge concerning the fates of the disciples (14:16; 15:20 and 16:32).

Second, Peter’s statement of Jesus’ identity and that he is the one who has “the words of eternal life” (6:68-69) in the midst of many of Jesus’ disciples leaving him (6:66-67; cf. 6:60-65) serves as a “profession of loyalty in a time of crisis” and not simply as a confession like what we find in the Matthean text. Jesus’ role as Messiah has already been acknowledged (1:41) and the name change is not connected to a Petrine confession. In other words, the Johannine Jesus has already established Peter’s faithfulness.

Third, “by bringing the name change to the front of the Gospel but leaving the confession [i.e. 6:68-69] in its ‘original’ context…John introduces the familiar character of Peter without letting him overshadow Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael.” Consequently, the Johannine author creates “a powerful chain of witness” in the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry.

See Bradford B. Blaine, Jr., Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 38-39.

6 If we compare Andrew’s statement to Peter – “We have found the Messiah” (1:41) – with Philip’s statement to Nathanael – “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (1:45) – we see an example of narrative exposition. Philip in essence explains what the word “Messiah” means to the Johannine community: the one about who the Hebrew scriptures wrote, seen in its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth. So then for this community there is no doubt who the Messiah is: it is Jesus!

7 Eric Lyons, “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?” (2007), apologeticpress.org. Accessed 16 January 2018.

8 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (Doubleday, 1966), 77.

9 There is some evidence that John may have known of the Synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, including both direct verbal parallels and knowledge of Synoptic episodes. See L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 354-355. See also Thomas L. Brodie, The Quest for the Origin of John’s Gospel: A Source-Oriented Approach (OUP, 1993), 67-120.

10 The clearest sign of this is that there is not even a whiff of the secrecy motif that is so prevalent in Mark’s Gospel found in John’s. From the outset, Jesus is declared to be the Messiah and the one about whom the Hebrew scriptures had foretold (John 1:41, 45). This is absent from Mark’s Gospel as virtually no human characters – especially not the disciples – understand who Jesus is.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.