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.