Sunday, May 27, 2018

On credentials, Philosophy, and NT studies

I dislike credentialism intensely. On the very rare occasions when I point out that a particular credential of mine is relevant to a certain argument, I do it at most to induce the other person to listen closely to the argument and to take seriously the possibility that I might be right, even if it goes against some idea the other person might have. I attempt never to substitute a reference to my credentials for argument.

In my current work in NT studies, I ask people, even beg people, to consider the arguments and the information, first and foremost. There is my book, Hidden in Plain View, which argues from undesigned coincidences for the conclusion that the Gospels (and Acts) are normal reportage, close up to the facts. There is my 2017 series on the work of Michael Licona (see wrap-up post as a portal, here). There is my recent debate with Craig Evans on the Gospel of John. There are my webinars for Apologetics Academy (here and here). And there are many other posts on a variety of topics in New Testament studies. There is the recent lecture by my husband, Tim McGrew, criticizing the literary device views. That is where I want to direct people's attention.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that the arguments are what we should be looking at.

A recent meme (as one might call it) is that neither I nor Tim is qualified to address these issues of literary devices in the Gospels at all because we lack relevant credentials. For a while I have mostly ignored this meme in public, hoping to induce people to pay attention to the arguments by placing those arguments front and center and asking people to take them into account. I have also argued explicitly that the field of NT studies in particular is inbred, subject to perpetuating epistemic pathologies, and needs an outsider perspective. Moreover, the meme has been going about in venues that are difficult to address--rumors about what is being said behind closed doors, statements on Facebook, and so forth. Most of the explicit claims that we are unqualified or that I am unqualified are being made in public by the followers of prominent scholars rather than by the scholars themselves.

Michael Licona did once indicate clearly and in public that (in his opinion) I am unqualified, in an older version of what now appears as this post. At first he publicly invited me to see and presumably share the initial version, but he replaced it after a few days. In the deleted version (which I have) he made much of my mere PhD in English literature and its alleged entire irrelevance to New Testament studies. He characterized English as my field and talked a good deal about how my knowledge of that field would not transfer to New Testament studies. He stated that I had "no training in the relevant field" and expressed surprise at my daring to "walk confidently" into the field of New Testament studies. His surprise is surprising, since I had published a critically acclaimed book in that very field in that same year! A fact that, of course, he did not mention. Though I have that earlier version, the only public traces in the current version are the almost eerie absence of any reference to my lengthy and fairly prestigious publication record in philosophy (also absent from the first version) and the insertion of a reference to my PhD in English in parentheses.

In the old version of his response, he implied (by a reference to Norm Geisler) that I should opt to discuss these matters in an "academic setting" where we would engage in "gracious and respectful dialogue" and implicitly (by comparing my approach to that of Norman Geisler) characterized my work as "attack[ing] [him] on the Internet." My careful, detailed, scholarly blog series on his book was at that time in its early stages. When it was finished, his subsequent refusal to engage with my arguments even when we were offered space for dialogue in just such a venue--the philosophy of religion journal Philosophia Christi--and his manner of refusing, made it scarcely a huge leap to the conclusion that he considered that I was unqualified and undeserving of engagement, causing one reader to point out the contrary. But given the deletion of the earlier version of his post in September, until recently there was no publicly available statement from Licona to this effect.

It is only more recently that Licona has publicly made this insinuation once again, in a series of podcasts with Tim Stratton of Freethinking Ministries. At minute 2:29ff and 4:30ff (episode 14) and about 2:50ff (episode 15) he states, and even repeats several times within short periods of time, that his only critic(s) are not in the field of NT studies. Referring (obviously) to me he says (2:53, episode 15), "The most vocal is not a gospels expert or even a New Testament scholar." Credentialism is a notable emphasis in these podcasts, repeated whenever the subject of his current critics arises. It becomes almost amusing at one point, because (about minute 2:13, episode 15) the host asks Licona if he could briefly summarize the point of contention between himself and his critics. Licona literally does not answer the question. Instead he spends about half a minute merely saying again that there are not a lot of critics and reiterating the support of New Testament scholars for his work and the alleged lack of relevant credentials of any of his critics. When he stops and clearly doesn't intend to say anything more, Tim Stratton is forced to try to construct something to characterize the nature of the debate. ("What about the fear that you're saying that we can't take the Word of God literally?") He has to do something like that--make up some characterization of the disagreement--because Licona literally sidestepped the request for him to do so! Instead, Licona took that answer time to tout again his endorsements and to push credentialism to dismiss any critics, and me in particular.

Throughout the podcasts Licona and the hosts never name either Tim or me, but it would be the merest carping to try to say that we are not (or that I am not) the referent(s) at various points. At minute 2:50 (episode 15), he says, "There have been a few negative criticisms on the Internet." My lengthy, careful series, with arguments, hardly qualifies as merely a "few negative criticisms," and the use of "on the Internet" is purely dismissive, as though posting serious, substantive content on the Internet automatically renders it non-serious and unworthy of a response.

At minute 24  (episode 15) Licona says, "We should be willing to engage with our critics. Of course that doesn't mean that one is required to respond to every blogger on the Internet," with the none-too-subtle implication that I am unqualified because I am merely some "blogger on the Internet." Trying further to qualify the requirement to be willing to engage one's critics (since he has already said expressly in another venue that he will not engage my arguments), Licona hastens to say (24:16) that one should be willing to "engage scholars in the relevant fields" (both "in" and "relevant fields" being defined by himself) and then qualifies further "especially if they offer criticism in respected, peer-reviewed journals in the relevant fields." This seems to put a lot of hedges up and to provide a lot of excuses for not responding to any critic deemed not to be "in" a relevant field and whose criticisms have not been made in precisely the right type of journal (as adjudged by Licona) rather than "on the Internet." At minute 25:29 (episode 15) he stated that he took criticism by, e.g., Craig Blomberg or Darrell Bock seriously "because they are serious scholars in the field of New Testament studies." At minute 26 he says he feels obligated to respond if a "serious New Testament scholar or classicist, one who's respected in that field" offers criticism. There can be little doubt in the mind of anyone honestly following all of this that Licona's intent in all of these qualifiers is to explain by way of negation why he refuses to engage with my arguments.

So now the credentialist cat is out of the bag and can be publicly addressed.

Somewhat similarly, in my recent debate with Craig Evans (transcript here), Evans says,
Maybe she [Lydia] doesn't understand the views of most of us hold to: Markan priority, the existence of a collection of Jesus' sayings which Matthew and Luke independently of each other used and supplemented their Markan narrative in creating their own Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 
This out-of-the-blue suggestion that I have no knowledge of the theory of Markan priority and the two-source hypothesis concerning the synoptic Gospels is particularly gratuitous, since it serves no clear argumentative function in the debate. (The debate was about John.) It was quite unclear how this alleged lack of understanding on my part was supposed to explain or lie behind my differences of opinion with Evans, and Evans gave no good explanation. The statement seemed to be a rhetorical attempt to dismiss me on the grounds of surmised ignorance due to outsider status. I was glad, of course, of the opportunity to show Evans how wrong he was in suggesting my ignorance.

Given these recent, public credentialist implications by two prominent scholars with whom I am disagreeing, I've decided to address the issue head-on.

First, both Tim and I are analytic philosophers. Tim (who has recently publicly criticized literary device views) holds both a degree in that field and a teaching position and chairmanship in that field.  My PhD is in English, as Dr. Licona has been at pains to note. I do not in fact acknowledge the irrelevance of a degree in literature to the current disagreements, since much of what is being done by NT scholars (and apparently some classics scholars as well) is merely poor literary criticism. It reminds me of the way that humanities scholars are often captivated by a theory and cease to understand the burden of proof that they bear, which I saw a good deal of during my English PhD studies.

It also may be somewhat relevant to point out that my undergraduate degree is in Bible (from Baptist Bible College, now Summit University, in PA) and that I was something akin to a child prodigy in a Baptist household and was memorizing long Scripture passages from the time that I was less than two years old until I went to Bible college at the age of sixteen. A sheer knowledge of the contents of Scripture is often relevant in these matters, as it was for several of the blunders I caught Craig Evans making in our recent debate.

For this post, though, I'll be writing most about philosophy.

My credentials as an analytic philosopher, which I'll come back to in more detail below, are found in my extensive publication record, spanning two decades and including many articles and a technical book in epistemology. My CV is here. (To maintain the integrity of the reviewing process, it does not include my work that is currently under blind peer review at journals. No under-review articles are listed below, either.) Nor are anywhere near all of these publications co-written with Tim. As Tim will attest, I have been an extremely full philosophical partner in co-written publications, including (or especially) those that are highly technical. In recent years I have branched out and published alone in the sub-disciplines of analytic epistemology and probability.

Analytic philosophy in general and epistemology (theory of knowledge) in particular are well-suited to prepare one to investigate and even, upon investigation, correct problems in a more concrete field. Analytic philosophy trains one in logical and epistemic rigor, disambiguation of terms, the ability to evaluate arguments, the ability to keep a variety of lines of evidence in mind at once, and a focus on arguments rather than persons. Perhaps this is why, when William Lane Craig suggests that aspiring apologists get a credential, a degree in philosophy is one of his main suggestions.

Now for a bit of old history: Having already established ourselves in classical epistemology, Tim and I first came fully to the attention of the apologetics community after a friend asked us, about fourteen years ago, to respond to an argument in Warranted Christian Belief in which Alvin Plantinga took on Richard Swinburne and tried to claim that the historical evidentialist argument for Jesus' resurrection was subject to a devastating technical rebuttal. At a conference in 2004 where Tim presented the first version of the response (that version written by him, with input from me), Richard Swinburne was personally present and warmly, publicly endorsed the work. Eventually Philosophia Christi hosted an exchange between Tim and me (co-writing) and Plantinga in which we refuted his "argument from dwindling probabilities." Already very concerned with the empirical details, we argued that he had not done nearly enough work to support the lackluster, off-the-cuff probability estimates he made concerning the strength of the case for the resurrection. Beyond that, we showed (and repeated the point in our later article on the resurrection) that Plantinga had committed an elementary probabilistic blunder, mistaking the prior probability of theism and the resurrection for their posterior probability.

It was likely as a result of that symposium, published in 2006, that William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland asked us to contribute the argument on the resurrection to the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, generously making a huge amount of space available in the volume for the article. (Draft version available here.) In no way did Craig or Moreland think that Tim and I were unqualified to write that piece because our work and previous publications were in philosophy rather than in biblical studies.

Let me emphasize here that the Blackwell article on the resurrection defies narrow disciplinary categories. We were expressly told at the time of writing that we were not simply supposed to analyze the form of the argument for the resurrection; we were supposed to make the argument for the resurrection. We certainly use probability theory and philosophy, but we use them in the service of modeling and making a particular, concrete, historical case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In the course of doing so, we make statements concerning the historicity of the New Testament and the content of the disciples' testimony. As I noted here after a quotation from that piece was recently brought to my attention, at that time we overestimated the extent of scholarly consensus with the facts we used, but a benefit of that one-sentence error was a stronger argument than we would have had if we had restricted ourselves to the consensus permitted by scholarly hyper-skepticism; we have since then done extensive work defending the facts we used in that article. In no way was the Blackwell article solely a philosophy article; if you considered us qualified to write that piece and have admired our work in apologetics since then, you are in no position now to say that you have merely admired our work "in our own field" (meaning philosophy as sharply distinct from New Testament). Indeed, it is of the very nature of apologetics and philosophy of religion that they are interdisciplinary, and the Blackwell article showed this quite well.

After the Blackwell article was published, Tim went on to develop a speaking ministry in apologetics, speaking in venues all over the country and making available extensive information on the authorship of the gospels, answers to alleged contradictions, the reliability of Acts, and more. (His two-part 2015 debate with Bart Ehrman on the Unbelievable show is here and here. My followup, directly concerning New Testament studies, is available here and here and gives additional information that didn't come out in the debate.) In 2014, Tim received a Templeton Grant for three years to study Special Divine Action. His extensive knowledge spans several centuries of arguments for Christianity, with a special emphasis on the New Testament and arguments for the resurrection, and the grant both recognized the learning he already possessed and gave him the opportunity to extend that learning. See the Library of Historical Apologetics, with many downloadable old books.

As a result of Tim's work and passionate desire to bring back from past generations what we have lost in the defense of the faith, I became aware of and fell in love with the argument for the reliability of the Gospels and Acts from undesigned coincidences. In 2017 I published Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, with a foreword by Craig Keener and 5 1/2 pages full of endorsements. Several of the New Testament scholars who endorsed the book were the same scholars whom Licona considers to be endorsers of his own work--these include Keener, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, and even Craig A. Evans. I do not list these scholars to say at all that they agree with everything I wrote, much less everything I would say about the New Testament. The point is that they did not consider my book beneath notice or beneath endorsing because it is in the field of New Testament and my formal credentials are not.

At no time in this entire time period of over a decade did anyone evaluating our work, inviting Tim to speak, inviting us to conferences, asking us to write articles, or following our work in apologetics and the defense of Jesus' resurrection state that we were not qualified to do that work because we were merely philosophers rather than having degrees or publications in New Testament studies.

It is only now, when we have ventured to criticize New Testament scholars, though we have continued on the same trajectory that we have followed all along in our positive arguments, that those we have criticized and/or their followers suddenly insinuate that a philosopher is unqualified to speak on these matters and/or undeserving of an answer to concrete arguments. In my case, this insinuation is partly assisted by the fact that I do not have an academic teaching position, making it easier for Dr. Licona to "disappear" my hefty publication record--a record that many a tenured philosopher would be happy to have--and to imply quite falsely and insultingly that I am merely some "blogger on the Internet." Anyone who does not find my CV and who finds out that I am in fact a blogger and also a home schooling, stay-at-home mother, might be confused by his dismissiveness and his rhetoric. But since he has taken a stand on the need for a credential in one of a highly specific set of fields (emphatically not philosophy), his criticisms apply to Tim as well and indeed to anyone who ventures to take a stand, especially a controversial stand, on the subject of NT studies with "merely" credentials in analytic philosophy.

Having established the fact that philosophy has been and should continue to be considered a legitimate disciplinary background for this sort of work, I would like to list just some of my professional philosophy publications that are particularly relevant. This is not even close to a list of all of my philosophy publications; in particular, I'm not including here several publications related to the intersection of probability theory with Intelligent Design and/or the fine-tuning argument nor many of my publications in theory of knowledge generally, such as our book in metaepistemology. See my CV for the whole list of accepted publications to date. In addition to my own publications, listed on the CV, I have also reviewed professional articles for a variety of fairly prestigious journals, including Erkenntnis, Philosophy of Science, and Synthese.

Let me add that most journal publications in analytic philosophy, especially those in highly-ranked journals, have to run the gauntlet of an extremely rigorous and very slow process of double-blind peer review before they are accepted. Reviewers are often highly critical and even sometimes hostile, encouraged by journals to reject articles because of their overload of submissions. Very often two reviewers have to concur in acceptance, and an article can be rejected in the case of a tie, though some editors will send the article to a tie-breaking reviewer. It requires hard, patient, demanding, rigorous work, not to mention a thick skin, to publish in this field.

With Timothy McGrew:

“On the Historical Argument: A Rejoinder to Plantinga,” With Timothy McGrew, Philosophia Christi 8 (2006):23-38.

Discussed above.

“Foundationalism, Probability, and Mutual Support,” With Timothy McGrew, Erkenntnis 68 (2008):55-77.

This highly technical, complex article, published in a prestigious journal after the full process of blind peer review, takes some of the insights we gained through our response to Plantinga and applies them in epistemology more generally, showing how mutual support is properly modeled within a foundationalist schema. I can remember beginning work on the approach that would eventually develop into this article on an airplane on the way home from Biola in 2004, where Tim presented the initial version of the response to Plantinga. This approach to mutual support is relevant in many places, including the philosophy of religion, where many independent lines of evidence for the existence of God can be thought of as mutually supporting one another, though without violating the requirement for foundational bases.

“The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 593-662. Preprint version (posted with publisher's permission) here.

Discussed above.

"The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous." With Timothy McGrew. In Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Jake Chandler and Victoria Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 46-63.

This article was the result of an invitation to both Tim and me to co-present at a conference on formal epistemology in the philosophy of religion in Leuven, Belgium, in 2009. In this article we map out a more nuanced way of understanding witness reliability than had been heretofore available in the literature. We use Bayes factors, arguing that these need to take into account the relationship of a witness to his surrounding circumstances as well as the nature of the subject matter. This further expounds upon and also uses the work we had done on witness testimony in our Blackwell article.

By Lydia McGrew, published alone:

"Historical Inquiry," In The Routledge Companion to Theism, ed. Victoria Harrison, Stewart Goetz, and Charles Taliaferro. (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 281-293.

This invited article addresses the relationship of historical inquiry to belief in the miraculous. In it I argue (contra New Testament scholar John Meier) that the conclusion that a miracle has occurred does not lie in some special realm outside of the purview of empirical disciplines like history and science, nor does it require (contra philosopher of science Elliott Sober) special knowledge of God's innermost thoughts.

"Tall Tales and Testimony to The Miraculous," European Journal of Analytic Philosophy. 8.2 (2012):39-55.

In this heavily peer-reviewed technical article (it had to go to a tie-breaking reviewer before acceptance), I argue against philosopher Robert Fogelin's attempt to revive a Humean objection to miracles based upon the analogy of a friend who tells tall tales. I used the concepts I was developing at this time concerning increasing dependence to show that Fogelin made a blunder when he tried to compare a friend who tells repeated tall tales to a single event (such as a miracle) that has a low prior probability.

"Probabilistic Issues Concerning Jesus of Nazareth and Messianic Death Prophecies," Philosophia Christi 15:3 (2013), pp. 311-28.

This article was written for a special issue of Phil. Christi on what the editors called "ramified natural theology," which includes not only traditional philosophical arguments of natural theology but also hands-on arguments involving more empirical matters. I argued for a high Bayes factor for the fulfillment of several messianic death prophecies in the passion and death of Jesus.

"On Not Counting the Cost: Ad Hocness and Disconfirmation," Acta Analytica 29 (2014):491-505.

This blind peer-reviewed article gives and argues for a unique definition of ad hocness, the subject of a very large philosophical literature. Ad hocness is particularly relevant in historical inquiry, biblical studies, and the arguments for miracles. My research in ad hocness has been quite helpful to me in my later work in New Testament studies.

“Evidential Diversity and the Negation of H: A Probabilistic Account of the Value of Varied Evidence,” Ergo 3:10 (2016), Open access. Available here.

This blind peer-reviewed article argues for a previously unknown theory on the well-trodden subject of the special value of diverse evidence. Philosophers of science have written a great deal on this subject. My work in this area has been especially important to me in my New Testament studies work, as I have found that NT scholars frequently make mistakes specifically about the subject of what makes for independent multiple attestation. That is precisely the subject of this professional research. 

“Accounting for Dependence: Relative Consilience as a Correction Factor in Cumulative Case Arguments,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 95:3 (2017), 560-572.

This blind peer-reviewed article, written around the same time as the previously listed piece but accepted and published later, develops a measure of coherence and its component parts that are used to evaluate the relevant kind of independence for increasing confirmation. The issue is particularly relevant for evaluating testimony and historical documents. The measure that I develop here can be used to model the force of undesigned coincidences.

“Bayes’ Theorem,” entry in Dictionary of Christianity and Science. Edited by Paul Copan and Trevor Longman III. Zondervan, 2017.

This invited short dictionary article shows a variety of way in which Bayesian inference is relevant in arguments for Christianity.

“Of Generic Gods and Generic Men: The Limits of Armchair Philosophy of Religion.” Accepted as of December 2017 in The Journal of Analytic Theism.

This blind peer-reviewed article, currently accepted and forthcoming, argues against Thomas Crisp, who attempted to revive something akin to Plantinga's Principle of Dwindling Probabilities against the historical argument for the resurrection.

I'll jump back in time to mention one other article, in this case "published on the Internet," whose status is therefore a little difficult to describe. "What Grandma Can't Know" was written for and presented at the previously mentioned 2004 conference at Biola. It criticizes Alvin Plantinga's entire approach to religious epistemology. I was told by Plantinga himself via e-mail in 2009 that he, so far from dismissing and ignoring a critique "published on the Internet" by someone without a formal credential in the field, actually had a group read and discuss the article from my web site. He said "last year we read and discussed," by which I assume he meant a class of his, but he might have meant a reading group. (Our 2006 book, published by Routledge, also focused on Plantinga's Reformed epistemology.) Once I realized that this article was probably getting more attention by being on the Internet and hence readily and freely available for Plantinga and others to use than by being published in a book or journal, I left it there and did not attempt to publish it in another venue.

None of this public work, nor the rest of it on the CV, shows the extensive correspondence on issues in apologetics, philosophy, probability theory, and New Testament studies, and the intersection of all of these, that I have been carrying on for years. Nor does it represent the younger philosophers, some of them Tim's students, whom I have mentored and helped with their technical work.

If anyone is well qualified to learn a second field by self-study and to demonstrate that new learning by way of high-quality content, wherever it happens to be published, it is an established, highly credentialed analytic philosopher who already learned that difficult field by personal hard work without formal training, who has proven herself in that field by many professional publications, and who has published extensively in closely related and interdisciplinary areas relevant to the second field. Having a husband who is one of the foremost scholars in the world on the history of ideas concerning miracles and the Bible and who loves to share his knowledge is also helpful, to say the least. My "pure" New Testament work speaks for itself, and the arguments I make deserve  to be considered on their merits, not on the basis of what degrees I have and do not have nor even on the basis of where they have been housed or published.

I have pointed out repeatedly the kinds of mistakes that New Testament scholars make that an analytic philosopher with a specialty in dependence and witness testimony is particularly well qualified to spot. My study of New Testament has allowed me to see these problems, many of which I have written about or spoken about in webinars. I can document instances of all of these. These include the following:

--Anti-inductive confusion in the use of the criteriological approach
--Outright mistakes concerning independence in alleging "multiple attestation."
--The fallacy of equivocation on multiple terms and a related refusal to make and maintain crucial distinctions; confusing term redefinition.
--Blatant violations of considerations of simplicity by leaping over simpler explanations common in our known experience to Byzantine explanations. (As Tim says in his lecture, when you see hoof prints, think horses, not zebras.)
--Acceptance of complex literary theories on the basis of no evidence besides the fact that a scholar thought of them. (Failure even to begin to satisfy burden of proof.)
--Probabilistic non sequitur: inability to see that a fact does not support a conclusion at all and/or supports it only extremely weakly
--Carelessness about basic relevant facts, asserted as evidence. (This was especially evident in my recent debate with Craig Evans.)

Indeed, the extreme problem that NT scholarship seems to have with credentialism itself (which is in my experience less of a problem in analytic philosophy) shows that some disciplines are more resistant than others to such anti-intellectual arguments from authority, more willing to stick to arguments and evidence. Popular fallacies do not cease to be fallacious when well-known scholars, from any discipline, engage in them.

At this point, it is appropriate for those who care about the truth of these matters to investigate them on the ground, including reading my work, rather than dismissing my work on the basis of credentialism. Please see the links at the beginning of this article for some places to start.

Thanks for your patience to anyone who reads this post and who is not pressing credentialism. I hope that readers of good will find the information here useful to counter those who are doing so.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Evans-McGrew debate--podcast and analysis

A week ago today the podcast came out of my debate with Craig A. Evans on the reliability of the portrait of Jesus in John's Gospel.

The debate podcast itself is here.

A helpful reader (thank you, Sean) has put up a transcript, here. (I have not yet read the transcript to check for typos or other errors, which are hopefully small.)

My three posts analyzing the debate are here, here, and here.

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.