Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Full transcript of Craig A. Evans's 2012 comments on the ahistoricity of John

I have just published at What's Wrong With the World a transcript of Craig A. Evans's comments in 2012 concerning both the ahistoricity of the "I am" statements in John and of John's gospel more broadly. These are pertinent now for a couple of reasons. First, Evans has never simultaneously admitted what he said in 2012 and stated that he has changed his mind. Second, Mike Licona has made repeated statements, including in the podcasts recently with Tim Stratton, that indicate that he is inclined (though not fully decided) to adopt Evans's 2012 position concerning the ahistoricity of Jesus' unique claims to deity in the Gospel of John. Licona confusingly calls this a "paraphrase," but in fact the theory in question is a much more radical claim of ahistoricity concerning these sayings, including "I and the Father are one," as Licona's own arguments on their behalf makes clear. Third, the Unbelievable radio show will soon be releasing a podcast of a dialogue in April of this year between me and Dr. Evans on the historicity of John's Gospel, and this transcript provides background for that podcast.

I have provided not only a transcript but also time-stamped links to the video, which is available in full at Bart Ehrman's youtube channel. I strongly encourage anyone interested who has any doubts to please watch the context, as the context makes it utterly clear what Evans is saying.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bible difficulties, Matthew editing Mark, and witness testimony

The fact that Mark, in Mark 6, does not even purport to give Jesus' words but rather that the narrator expressly summarizes Jesus' instructions to his disciples when sending them out and that Matthew actually does give an appearance of direct quotation is some evidence that Matthew is not merely "editing Mark" at this point. The hypothesis of eyewitness testimony absolutely does make a difference to what possibilities are on the table. While it is not impossible that Matthew was merely putting into direct quotation what Mark puts in indirect quotation, we also need to get rid of rigid redaction-critical assumptions that, if an incident is both in Mark and Matthew, Matthew is merely getting his information from Mark. Again and again Matthew may well be adding information, based upon memory, that Mark did not have. In this case, a well-known Bible difficulty concerns the fact that Mark summarizes (in the voice of the narrator) that Jesus said not to take anything except a staff, whereas Matthew says not to "take," inter alia, a staff. 

But as has been noted by old-style inerrantists for a very long time, the Greek word in Matthew is "acquire." Since Matthew may actually have been a disciple, he may actually have remembered that Jesus said not to acquire these items rather than that they were to discard a staff they already had. Luke, who may at this point indeed have been dependent upon both Mark and Matthew, combines the two (using the appearance of direct quotation) by using the general word "take" from Mark and listing a staff, as in Matthew, as one of the things that they were not to "take." But Matthew's more precise use of "acquire" can help us to understand Luke's approximate quotation at this point better as well.

This is not to say that Matthew's quotation is absolutely verbatim, word-for-word, as a tape recorder, either. But it is to say that his use of "acquire" is helpful and may well indicate what an eyewitness remembered more specifically that Jesus said, especially since Mark does not even give the appearance of quoting Jesus directly.

We must take more seriously the hypothesis of eyewitness testimony giving us additional insight into actual events. Again and again, critical scholars ignore this hypothesis, to the detriment of our understanding of Jesus' words and actions. It is overly restrictive to be constantly insisting to the laity that in any such case they must simply accept that Matthew and Luke "edited Mark," as though the hypothesis of additional witness testimony is simply off the table as a useful explanation of what we have. While it is certainly true that witnesses do moderately paraphrase what they have heard and witnessed, that is not all that they do. They also remember additional information. The word "acquire" in Matthew is part of what we observe. The possibility of separate witness testimony to Jesus' use of such a term is a perfectly plausible explanation.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Undesigned Coincidences vs. Literary Device Theory on Bellator Christi

I had the privilege yesterday to be on the Bellator Christi podcast with Brian Chilton discussing the contrast between the view of the Gospels supported by undesigned coincidences and that of the "literary device" theorists.

The link to the podcast is here. It was great fun being on the show and bringing these various strands together. These really are very different views of what kind of documents the Gospels are. I say this not because I start from an unargued assumption that the Gospels are artless, historical reportage but rather because this is what I find the Gospels to be upon investigation. Undesigned coincidences are just one portion of that argument. Brian was an excellent host, and we had a great conversation.

The podcast is a good introduction generally to undesigned coincidences, and the first good-sized segment of the show is devoted to that positive argument.

Brian introduced the discussion by mentioning the fact that the apologetics community is divided concerning the merit of the literary device theories. Brian mentioned that Tim Stratton has recently hosted a series of conversations with Michael Licona about his (Dr. Licona's) views and suggested that listeners give both sides a hearing.

Naturally, this doesn't mean that I was giving a point-by-point response to what Dr. Licona said in those interviews. For my detailed response to Dr. Licona's actual views, which he has not rebutted or confronted, please see the wrap-up post here of my series and browse from there to posts as your interest and time allow.

One point that I did want to reply to, though, is a completely incorrect characterization that Dr. Licona has made of the views that I (and Esteemed Husband, see here) are criticizing--those of himself, Craig Evans, and Dan Wallace, for example. At minute 23 and following here, in one of the interviews with Tim Stratton, Dr. Licona states that none of these evangelical scholars "who have become targets" (as he puts it) are saying that Jesus did not say the things reported in the Gospels but rather only suggesting that Jesus may not have used those words. They are, he says, saying that some of the reports in the Gospels might be a "loose paraphrase."

This is just false, and even a quick look at my wrap-up post will give examples to the contrary. I do reply in part to that point in this interview with Rev. Chilton. Please listen to the entire podcast, but that portion begins at about minute 31 in the podcast, here. I would like to add here to what I said in the podcast that these examples are also not even "loose paraphrases." Jesus' saying, "I thirst" is not even a "loose paraphrase" of "My God, why have you forsaken me." And so forth.

Read the rest, cross-posted, at W4.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book giveaway for Hidden in Plain View

Enter to win by sharing a new lecture by Tim McGrew.

Tim has a new lecture called "Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?" delivered last month at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The video is now available.

Until April 30 we are holding no less than two book giveaway drawings, one for Facebook and on for Twitter, to promote shares of this new lecture by Tim, discussing alleged "literary devices" in the Gospels. By sharing or retweeting, you get the chance to enter a drawing for a free, signed copy of my book Hidden in Plain View. The link in question will also take people to a portal where they can click through to my post series on the same topic.

Here's what you do to enter: On Facebook, get this link and do a unique share of the link.

On Twitter, Retweet this link and follow to be entered.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blessed Easter!

I Corinthians 15
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
[snip]
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Luke 24
32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,
34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and did eat before them.

Easter post here on the importance of the historical, bodily resurrection at What's Wrong With the World.

Blessed Easter!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What if the Gospels are bio-pics?

The "literary device" theory that I have written so much about in the past year holds that it was culturally accepted for the gospel authors to alter facts for either literary or theological purposes. Suggestions to this effect range from altering who said what within a scene to changing the year in which the cleansing of the Temple occurred by a full three years to inventing entire incidents.

At times the debate on whether this is a problem can become mired in the ethics of it: Would it be morally wrong for the Gospel authors to do this?

My brief answer is "Yes, it certainly would be." But I'm concerned that another point, perhaps equally important, not be lost sight of.

Those advocating the "literary device" theory will attempt to deflect any ethical judgement against the Gospel authors on the grounds that this was socially accepted, so it was not morally wrong, since everyone sort of tacitly understood that at any given moment an author of a so-called "bios" might be doing such a thing. In this respect, they will say, the Gospels are like movies that are based on true events. Nobody thinks that it is morally wrong for someone to make a bio-pic or a partially fictional movie, because it's just understood that it might be partially fictionalized. The makers of Chariots of Fire are not lying because they crafted a scene in which Jennie, the sister of runner Eric Liddell, expresses concern that he is too devoted to his running and that this may be taking away from his commitment to God. I have heard that the real Jennie, who was still alive when the movie was made, was a little unhappy that she had been portrayed in this way, since no such conversation ever took place. But oh, well, many would say: We all ought to know better than to take everything in a movie to be non-fictional. In other words, non-naive people just know to put a question mark over most things in a dramatized, partially fictionalized bio-pic, and that's why its makers aren't doing something ethically wrong.

But there is now an epistemic problem. What if the only source we had about that period in the life of Eric Liddell were Chariots of Fire? What if we knew that it was partially fictionalized, that its makers had "taken liberties" with what happened, but we didn't know how far that had gone? What if we had no way to check out the specifics?

Perhaps the most we could then conclude would be that Eric Liddell existed, that he probably won some major Olympic victory (maybe a gold medal, though that might have been "transferred" from a silver medal--you never know), that he lived approximately in the period after WWI, that he was deeply religious, and that there may have been some kind of perceived conflict between his religious scruples and his athletic competition. In the movie it is that he would not run on Sunday. And in real life, we can check out the fact that that was true in real life. But suppose we couldn't check it out, but we knew that the movie was fictionalized. Then we'd have only a vague thought that maybe Liddell was asked to run at such a time or in such a way that he perceived it as conflicting with his religion. Or heck, maybe the conflict was something quite different (diet?).

It would be extremely difficult to be confident about anything much, and even in that previous paragraph I am, to no small extent, making up as I go along what we could be confident about and what we couldn't, and how qualified the whole thing would have to be. After all, bio-pics can vary pretty widely in how much liberty they take.

So if the Gospels were like bio-pics, this would mean that from a factual point of view they are not good sources for the life and teachings of Jesus. To no small extent we would be guessing as far as trying to figure out just how "big picture" we would have to go before getting to the far more minimal historical facts that we could glean from them. There would be a great deal we could not know, as the redactive fog descends.

Now, that would be a pretty big deal, especially since we're being asked (if we're Christians) to be ready to die for Jesus and to commit ourselves to a variety of creedal propositions, even if we just restrict ourselves to so-called "Mere Christianity."

The Gospels are our primary source documents for the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. We don't have other sources in which we can look things up to separate fact from fiction if the Gospels are like bio-pics.

So it would be a pretty radical thing to decide that the Gospels are like bio-pics. I therefore propose that people try to examine the arguments that are given for this type of liberty that the Gospel authors supposedly had. Do those arguments hold up? I've argued at length that they do not.

Please do this instead of spending your time arguing that it wouldn't matter anyway. And please don't distract yourself into arguing that it wouldn't matter because it "wouldn't be unethical." Whether it would be unethical or not, since it would greatly reduce the amount that we can know with any degree of justification about Jesus, we need to figure out whether the Gospels are accurately characterized in this way.

It is astonishing to me, and somewhat disheartening, that it is this hard to get people even to look through the telescope. It seems to me that those spending endless amounts of energy (e.g., on Facebook) arguing that this would be no big deal are apparently determined to let go or let slide the thesis that this is what the Gospels are like. Hey, if it's no big deal, why should we bother finding out if it's true or not?

Wouldn't your time be better spent trying to find out if it's true or not? And at a minimum, wouldn't it be better epistemically if the Gospels, as historical sources, are not like bio-pics, are more reliable than that? So let's try to figure that out. Because there is no good reason to think that they are. See the series.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"I thirst"

As we go into Holy Week, this song is especially meaningful.

It strikes me that perhaps the last time I shared it I didn't even know that the historicity of Jesus' words "I thirst" had been called into question by so-called "evangelical" scholars. What a sad thing that is.

Our Lord not only suffered all of the agony of crucifixion but also expressed physical agony. And the great wonder of it all is that he, who was the king of creation, who made the rivers and the seas, suffered thirst for you and for me.